Hinamatsuri – 03

This week three of Hinamatsuri’s young women learn the value, rewards, and pitfalls of hard work from three very different vantage points, starting with Anzu. Anzu is unable to return to her mystery home, so she is homeless. She resorts to petty theft in Utako’s shopping district, but the constant chasing is getting exhausting, and one never knows when she might accidentally cut loose with her powers.

The hobo that once gave up her location to Sabu takes Anzu under his wing and shows her how to make honest money to pay for food. It’s a lot of work for a pittance, and even when she and Yassan show up to the hobo camp with sake to share, the mostly old men there treat her like crap…until she sings them an old nostalgic song that brings many of them to tears.

Anzu is rewarded with a canned drink and membership into the tribe, with all the benefits that entails. But the next day it’s back to the drudgery of searching for stray coins and collecting cans, during which time she runs into Nitta. Seeing her situation and seeing through her half-hearted explanations, Nitta assumes the worst and attempts to solve it with money.

The same stubborn pride that keeps Anzu on the streets also makes her angry at the handout, and she throws the 40,000 yen back in his face. However, when she remembers the hobos talking about how steel and aluminum price drops will cut deeply into their haul, she swallows her pride, chases Nitta’s car down, and accepts his gift.

When she’s immediately surrounded by Usako and the other proprietors she stole from, she loses more than 39,000 of it as repayment, and returns to camp dejected and ashamed. But Yassan assures her it’s for the best: she’s no longer wanted for theft; she has a fresh start as a “homeless girl.” If she keeps working hard as she can (and accepts gifts like Nitta’s when they come), she’ll be able to survive, as they have. Without using her powers.

Next we move on to Mishima Hitomi, who already knows the value of hard work and has applied it to studying, resulting in her position as top student in class, a position she takes great pride in. However, after her impromptu go at bartending last week, Utako wants her to keep working there, and is willing to blackmail her with an incriminating photo to make it happen.

Hitomi counters with a recording of Utako blackmailing her, and Utako takes a different tack, suggesting they both delete their data on each other…but Utako had already downloaded the photo to her PC, so it’s Game, Set, and Match Utako: Hitomi starts working at her bar for 1,500 yen an hour. She is a hit, not because she’s a middle schooler, but because she’s just too damn good at mixing drinks.

Just as at school, she works hard, takes no shortcuts, and comes to take great pride in her good work at the bar. But her two world collide when her homeroom teacher comes into the bar with the vice principal (who is already drunk), trying to nab the position of head teacher.

The teacher is not drunk, and quickly recognizes Hitomi, but decides its in both their best interests to keep the secret to himself. But he still doesn’t let Hitomi off the hook: as something of a mixology aficionado, he challenges Hitomi to make him a Million Dollar, and then a Bartender, to test her shaking and stirring skills. Hitomi passes with flying colors, and he’s duly impressed in her skills, as Usako and the other patrons knew he would be.

While a misunderstanding and her own passivity got her into the job to start, and she was blackmailed into continuing it, her natural talent for the job keeps her coming back…and the mad stacks she’s depositing into the bank account her parents don’t know about don’t hurt one bit! Not only that you watch Hitomi work behind the bar, you can tell she’s in her happy place.

Anzu expanded her world by transitioning from theft to a modest but honest living, while Hitomi expanded hers by adding paid labor to a repertoire that had once been unpaid study, though that will pay off when she needs to get in a good high school and college. And because she’s making so much bank, she needn’t worry about burdening her folks with tuition.

That brings us to the young woman at the top of the social ladder, simply by having her egg land in a rich yakuza’s apartment and that yakuza having a heart of gold…in other words, privilege and luck. Though she may have helped Nitta out off-camera, since the first episode she hasn’t really worked. Having seen Anzu surviving on the streets, Nitta wonders out loud why Hina couldn’t try to do the same thing (is he half-joking? quarter-joking?)

Hina gets the message, and after a frightening dream in which she’s filthy and destitute on the street while Nitta walks past with a glamorous Anzu on his arm, Hina adopts a more genial and eager-to-please attitude that understandably throws him off. When he goes off to work late, she attempts to work hard so he won’t throw her out.

But unlike Anzu and Hitomi, Hina’s hard work ends up working against her goals, not towards them, while her attempt to expand her skills through various household chores ends in one huge mess after another. Her comedy of errors, while predictable, is nonetheless cleverly depicted. I especially liked her attempt to air out a blanket, only for it to fly away into the Tokyo cityscape like a  magic carpet.

Worse, when things get messy, Hina simply gives up and moves on to the next chore, and when she finds a bowl of ikura in the fridge marked “rewards for Hina” she unilaterally decides she’s worked hard enough to give herself the reward.

Fittingly, as Nitta tells his associates, it’s been so long since Hina has done anything to earn a reward, the ikura in the fridge has gone bad, something Hina’s stomach suddenly realizes while she has every dish in the house levitating and dripping soapy water all over the hardwood floors. The dishes shatter, she goes down, and Nitta, who was impressed by how nice she was being before he left, is poised for a rude surprise.

Basically, Hina could learn a lot from Anzu and Hitomi about the importance of being competent at the hard work you are attempting. She did it before with the forestry (and the raid of Nitta’s rivals); she can do it again. She just needs more practice! Ultimately, everyone, even Hina, wants to feel needed, and to strike a proper balance between taking and giving.

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Hinamatsuri – 02 – Savin’ the Nation, then Hittin’ the Clubs

When another telekinetic middle school-aged girl suddenly appears naked in the street at night, then promptly dispatches the entire bike gang whose path she barred, it occurred to me we could get a new super-powered egg brat every week. It also occurred to me that might be too many brats, but this episode would come to allay my fears.

This latest one, Anzu, is not only a problem because she didn’t materialize in the apartment of one a mild-mannered and reasonable yakuza, but because she is on a specific mission to find and eliminate Hina.

All Anzu says its that it’s “orders from the brass”, but the less we know about where Hina and Anzu come from, the better, I say. The whys and wherefores aren’t necessary; just the fact that they’re here, and Nitta has to deal with it in a responsible way.

Nitta first hears about a little girl taking out the bike gang from his subordinate Sabu, but it isn’t long before she’s at the same ramen shop trying to dine and dash. Nitta pays for her, again placing the responsibility for an extremely powerful and dangerous being on his admittedly broad shoulders.

Nitta realizes that by treating the arrival of Hina the way he has, he may well have saved the nation, a fact he casually remarks to Sabu (who can’t possibly know what he’s talking about). He doesn’t shrink from his duty to save it again, this time from a potentially cataclysmic battle between two unchecked adolescent espers.

Once he gets a tip about Anzu’s position from Sabu via the network of homeless they pay to keep their eyes and ears open, he brings Anzu and Hina together, but gets Anzu to agree to a game of “look-that-way” rock-paper-scissors, with the two using their powers to try to make the other look in a certain direction.

Not only does the execution of this plan eliminate the threat of cataclysm, it also results in some seriously hilarious faces from Hina and Anzu as they try to force-pull each others faces up, down, and to the side.

Ultimately, Hina defeats a frustrated Anzu with ease, but when Anzu realizes how much Hina has changed since they last met (she talks and everything!), she decides it’s enough to take a lock of her hair and tell the bosses that the deed is done.

Hina, in turn, invites Anzu to hang out a bit before she returns home (wherever that is; I don’t want to know). After some video games, dinner, and a load of laundry, Hina and Nitta send Anzu on her way…only for her red ball teleporter thingy to not function because it was in the wash, leaving Anzu stranded and homeless (again). Maybe this time gangs will keep a wider berth.

While this leaves open the possibility Hina and Anzu will cross paths again, and I wouldn’t mind such crossings, she doesn’t wear out her welcome here, and isn’t present in the episode’s second half, in which Nitta realizes that ever since he took in Hina, he’s been off his Game.

His bartender/occasional date Utako thinks he’s joking when he asks her out with Hina sitting nearby; his usual girls at the girly club have heard rumors he’s put his Don Juaning on hold in order to lavish time, love, attention and money on his “daughter.” Nitta is appalled. He’s got to get his game back.

He does so in a less-than-subtle way, essentially ripping the time-consuming Hina off like a band-aid, leaving her alone in the apartment with a cold can of mackerel while he hits the bar or club or goes out on dates. Hina finds the mackerel novel and tasty at first, but soon it gets old and tedious, and she doesn’t like the loneliness.

Hina decides to take matters into her own hands, first by insisting she get to go out with him (resulting in a hilarious chase in which she’s waiting for him on the subway at the end, and he lets the doors close without getting in) to enlisting the aid of her too-nice-for-her-own-good classmate Hitomi. Hina learned from TV it’s better to use more than one person to follow someone, but she promptly ditches Hitomi at Utako’s bar, which is closed.

There’s a distinct feeling of not belonging in such an adult place, yet when one of the regular lushes lumbers in to tie one on, he’s no so much confused as delighted that the new barkeep is so young. He doesn’t even mind she doesn’t know how to make a highball; he’ll teach her.

And thus Hitomi, who as I said is way too nice to turn down an old drunk man’s offer to teach her how to make cocktails for him, ends up tending bar all night. When Nitta finally shows up, she’s relieved, but when she calls him Hina’s “dad” he gets upset and becomes another customer (rather than rescuing her).

Meanwhile, Utako ends up crossing paths with Hina, and tells her Nitta won’t understand what she wants unless she tells him straight up. It’s a great little playground scene that’s made more “Hinamatsuri-ish” by the fact Hina levitates off the swing and does a few lazy flips in the air while Utako is dispensing advice.

By the time Utako and Hina get to the bar, Hitomi has, just, like, become a bartender. I didn’t think I’d ever come across an anime not only in which a middle schooler is ditched in a closed bar, but accidentally becomes a thoroughly competent bartender over the course of an evening, without even particularly wanting to! It is ludicrous and amazing.

And there, to a somewhat sloshed Nitta, Hina tells him straight-up what she wants: to go to a girly club with him. In’s an odd request, but Nitta gives in to the booze-lubricated mood of the room and agrees.

But rather than just Nitta and Hina, everyone comes along: Utako closes the bar and comes, the regular drunk comes, a comple random salarymen come…and Hitomi comes too. The increasingly drunk Nitta even lets Hina levitate a bottle of champagne over a tower of glasses (even though such a service has to be specially ordered).

Finally, Hitomi gets a call from her worried-sick mother, who doesn’t believe her for a second when she tells the truth about where she is so late at night. The question Hitomi wants answered is why is she there. I can think of two main reasons: Hina, and passivity.

In the morning Nitta wakes up on the couch, in his boxers, with a hangover, an invoice for 2.5 million yen ($23,000) and a Hina eager to go out that night and do it all over again. Nitta pumps the brakes; from that day until further notice it will be a frugal household. Break out the mackerel!

Hinamatsuri – 01 – Not Your Average Brat (First Impressions)

Nitta Yoshifumi is your typical low-to-mid-level yakuza, doing pretty well for himself without getting his hands bloody, preferring the art hustle to less civilized ventures. He has a fine condo with fine furniture, fine objets d’art, and fine wine.

Then quite suddenly (as these things tend to happen), a strange metal egg with a face falls from above. Nitta decides to pretend its not there and go to bed. But of course, it’s still there in the morning, and he presses the red button as the face instructs to reveal Hina, a blue-haired brat with telekinetic powers.

Nitta…goes with it. I mean, Hina doesn’t give him much choice, wordlessly threatening to destroy all the fine things he owns unless he acquiesces to her demands, which range from “clothes” of any kind to cover her up, to over eight thousand dollars worth of merch at the mall.

Hina isn’t the expressive sort, but lots of TV-watching gives her a vocabulary Nitta can immediately identify when she uses it. He finds himself feeling like a caregiver all of a sudden, rather than somebody only in this life for himself and his organization.

When Hina decides she’s going to school, Nitta gets her to promise not to use her powers, lest chaos ensue. As Hina makes a fine first impression by forgetting her assumed last name, then sleeps through every class, Nitta wrings his hands at a meeting with his fellow yakuza, worried about how she’s doing—and they misinterpret his intensity for being gung-ho about taking on a rival group.

Well, chaos ensues anyway, because she neglects to tell him that if she doesn’t use her powers for too long, the power builds up and explodes, trashing his whole place. I loved the suddenness with which this escalated.

Since she has to use her powers anyway, Nitta tries to find a practical use for them, and finds one in a forest-clearing job for a shady developer. Uprooting mature trees, cleanly stripping their branches, foliage, and bark, and filling the holes in the ground is child’s play to Hina, who privately wonders why this Nitta guy is being so nice and not ordering her to kill people.

Nitta makes a killing on the tree job, but gets no congratulations from the Chief, because in his absence the Boss got shot, requiring their group to respond in kind. Nitta doesn’t even think of taking Hina with him, but resolves to take care of it himself, despite lacking any credible bona fides in the violence department.

Hina tags along (and scares the shit out of Nitta in the car) of her own volition, asking him why he won’t give her orders to kill the men in the building. Nitta’s all-too-decent response is a revelation to Hina: “Why should you have to do that? This has nothing to do with you!” Touched that he cares for her, she smirks and decides to take care of business without orders.

Hina is as efficient at clearing out the rival groups’ hideout and serving up their boss as she was clearing the forest, and we listen along with Nitta to the screams and grunts of the building’s occupants as she goes floor-to-floor, tossing every peron and piece of furniture out into the street (though notably never hitting Nitta with anything).

Everybody wins: Nitta is promoted for his excellent work (he neglects to mention his “brat” did it all; not that he wants it known she has powers), and Hina gets to exercise her telekinetic valves. Nitta generously rewards her (another concept unfamiliar to Hina from her previous life) with the finest kind of her so-far favorite food (red caviar), and the two settle into a mutually beneficial situation.

Post-credits, Nitta accidentally locks himself in the metal egg Hina arrived in, and Hina exacts a bit of revenge by leaving him in there all night, only releasing him in the morning after he’d wet himself (the moment of his release is played exactly like Ahnold’s arrival in Terminator, only with a cloud of piss.)

Hinamatsuri is a ton of fun. It’s also an absolute hoot. I was snickering or laughing for virtually the entire run time, as Nitta’s reactions to Hina’s deadpan remarks were constantly entertaining, as was the physical comedy of the telekinetic hi-jinx. There were too many hilarious lines to list.

The show has a marvelous sense of comedic timing in both dialogue and editing, but the comedy never overshadows what is, at its heart, a warm and sincere story of a man who suddenly has someone to care about, and a former human weapon who suddenly has the freedom to be a normal girl, even if she occasionally has to literally blow off some steam. I’m on board!

Alice to Zouroku – 05

(In an attempt to balance our workloads, I’ve taken over Alice to Zouroku reviewing duties from Preston.)

In this episode apparently brought to you by SNICKERS® (You’re not you when you’re hungry. Eat a SNICKERS®.) Minnie C doesn’t easily give up her captives, so she and Ichijou Shizuku enter a long, sustained battle full of CGI effects that holds together reasonably well, considering the show itself has never striven for ufotable-level precision.

Minnie C puts on a good fight, but Shizuku eventually wears her down due to her superior power: the ability to summon any number of 666 weapons and 13 grimoires from a magical storeroom derived from an anime she used to watch.

That’s not as satisfying a powers-origin story as, say, Minnie C, but the major difference is that Shizuku is fighting for others, while Minnie is only fighting for herself, angry at the world for taking away her darling. When she runs out of energy and Shizuku stands triumphantly over her, I really feel for Minnie C when she apologizes to her husband for continuing to be alive, because she’s completely wrong: her husband wants her to live. That means finding another reason for living beyond being with him.

Meanwhile, the now-freed (and largely static during the battle) Alice celebrates and underscores her and Zouroku’s new freedom by floating with him high up into the sky, something he’s fine with after being cooped up on that container ship so long. He’s also fine that Alice is accepting of his and Sanae’s love and invitation to join their family, no matter what kind of being she truly is.

Minnie C is shipped back to the states, and the organization that employed her and the other ability-users and pursued is dismantled by the police. Alice takes to the granddaughter role with gusto, further charming her new big sister Sanae, who has no end of plans to use Alice’s newly-restored energy to have “fun”, a concept once foreign to Alice.

Shizuku and Ryuu rest easy, knowing all’s well that ends well. Ryuu almost seems to want to will the next crisis into being by wishing another “incident” would come along, but until then, it’s nice to see Alice, Zouroku, and Sanae simply having a normal dinner on a normal night, in the normal lives they hope to maintain even after all that’s come to light.

In fact, this could be the finale to a five-part miniseries, as it leaves me wondering what the show has lined up next.

Alice to Zouroku – 04

Nearly the entirety of this episode is spent in the cramped dark interior of a Hummer in which Minnie C continues to restrain Sana and lectures her about the fact that she’s not human, but rather a random but extremely powerful phenomenon that’s taken the form of a little girl.

Their scenes feel numerous and repetitive, until Sana meets someone who looks like her older self in her subconscious, then musters the energy to transport Zouroku into the car with her and Minnie C.

This occurs after Zouroku makes it clear he not only wants Sana back, but wants to make her a part of his and Sanae’s family. Sanae concurs, but hopes in the future her gramps will be more open and communicative with her and Sana.

When Zouroku is in the Hummer, he wastes no time lecturing Minnie C, who is unquestionably up to some of the “crooked stuff” he hates so much. Minnie can justify her beastly actions all she likes; as far as Zouroku is concerned, Sana is a little girl who doesn’t deserve this treatment…even if she isn’t really a little girl (and the jury is very much still out on that).

When Minnie starts shooting her service pistol, Sana tries to surrender, but Zouroku won’t let her call herself a monster or a waste of time. It’s his choice what he gets himself into, and now that he’s into this, he’s committed to her well-being.

That being said, neither Sana nor Zouroku have the power to oppose Minnie C, which is why seeing Ichijou Shizuku arrive at the scene to rescue them is necessary.

Her appearence in her suit left me doubting she was the same “cosplaying” girl who saved Sana from Minnie in the first ep, but now at least we know she’s a “Cabinet Information Research Office Secret Service agent”, and Ryuu and her superiors are well aware of her abilities.

This episode felt like it dragged the rescue out, and as a result, it was very monologue-heavy. Also, Ryuu’s assurances everything would be fine (which they turned out to be) kinda sapped the tension. I’m glad Sana and Z were rescued, and have a powerful ally who knows how to properly use her powers.

Alice to Zouroku – 03

In the aftermath of Sana’s big pig-conjuring hiccup, she’s loath to come right out and apologize to Zouroku (as any little kid would be), but playing Good Cop Bad Old Man, Ryuu manages to get Sana to wear a tracking device so he and Shizuku can help keep her safe.

He also wants Zouroku to go ahead and adopt Sana, which is a big step, but isn’t necessarily out of the question for the ol’ buzzard. Sana is a highly believable (and adorable) little kid throughout, constantly asking for juice but taking offense when Sanae asks if she needs help in the potty.

Meanwhile, Kitou takes of the kid gloves and sends in Minnie C Tachibana (again) to retrieve Sana. While en route to her mission we learn quite a bit about Minnie that makes her both a more sympathetic character and explains why she’s on the side of the bad guys.

Minnie met and immediately fell in love with and married an American marine, but when he was killed defusing a bomb in Iraq, she was a lost at sea (figuratively). That is, until she was reborn as a Dream of Alice out of a desire to be held in his big hairy arms – the arms we saw in episode one.

We also learn, I believe for the first time, that Sana’s elaborately costumed saviour from that first episode was actually Shizuku; they have the same blue mirror gate, after all. What’s interesting about this is that while Minnie, the Twins, and the Artist are all under the control of the facility, Shizuku is not only free but leads a normal life.

This is probably why despite Sana possessing power many magnitudes higher than she, Shizuku is working to keep Sana free. At her young age, she still has a chance to lead a normal life. But controlling her powers is key.

And what powers. In another flashback we see Kaitou showing Minnie C the “Wonderland” Sana conjured with a thought. Among the Dreams of Alice, Sana is clearly the crown jewel for them, and the facility wants to keep studying her under it’s determined if others can gain the same level of power.

Minnie C is fully on board with this, because if she can attain Sana’s power, she might be able to bring back her husband. That seems like a long shot, but she clearly thinks its worth it and has dedicated her life to that goal, even though Sana’s power specifically does not harm humans…for now.

Minnie C and Shizuku, then are diametrically opposed in their treatment of Sana. Minnie C has absolutely no compulsions about violently restraining Sana and threatening to break her neck. Sana is The Objective, nothing more. For Shizuku, as well as Zouroku and Sanae, Sana is a little girl who deserves better than lab rat status simply because she has supernatural power.

We leave Sana in the firm hands of Minnie’s beloved, and the good guys only have the faintest idea where she might have gone. But Shizuku is flying through the city, hoping she’s going in the right direction, and won’t rest until she’s found and re-rescued. Hopefully she won’t be too late before Minnie C’s obsession allows Sana to be hurt any further.

Alice to Zouroku – 02

Last week Sana met the ‘vinegar’ (Zouroku); this week she meets the ‘honey’, Z’s lovely, kind, and capable granddaughter Sanae, voiced by Toyosaki Aki. Sana is in Defense Mode at first, but Sanae manages to disarm her with a pig puppet, something, incidentally, Leon did to get Matilda’s mind off the trauma she’d just endured.

Sana didn’t witness her family’s murder, but she did witness…something very bad, which is why she had to leave the facility. But outside the facility is extremely hazardous, both in terms of what could happen to Sana and what she could accidentally do to others with powers she’s not 100% in control of.

Still, the Kashimura residence is a great safe house to demonstrate her powers writ small, so to speak, if “writ small’ means conjuring a whole herd of pigs upon seeing Sanae’s puppet, to creating a mammoth pancake when she can’t wait the nebulous “a bit” for seconds.

Sanae gets Sana into more contemporary clothes, fixes her hair by hand, and fills her belly. All the while, Sana inspects the home, which is a stark contrast from the cold, sterile research facility. Also, that big pancake, like any food, required a massive transfer of energy, leaving Sana tuckered-out.

When the research facility comes up in conversation, Sana starts to talk, which is the best way to process what happened, deal with it, and move on. She mentions how everybody was either very professional or very nice, and how she didn’t even know how to communicate before meeting the twins, expanding our knowledge of Sana’s abilities. Interestingly, the memories seem to be narrated in two voices: the young Sana, and an adult Sana voiceover.

When talk of what she found in the deeper levels of the facility (which involved huge crystals and lots of blood), Sanae is there to give her a needed hug. This new place may be ‘weird’, and more cramped and less clean than the facility, but it is where she currently belongs, at least until a proper plan of action can be formulated. Sanae makes sure Sana knows she is safe, and that everything will be okay.

Energized by her meal, her nap, and her hug, Sana is ready to take on the facility now, and when she decides they’ll look for Zouroku, she and Sanae end up teleported to, in quick succession: high over Tokyo, on a tarmac as a plane lands, clinging to a rushing freight train…and Antarctica.

It’s clear, then, that while Sana has immense power to conjure anything and travel anywhere, she’s still a long way from controlling her powers, either their level, or keeping whims from becoming reality. Tackling the facility in this state would be reckless.

In another example of the unpredictability of those powers, Sana and Sanae finally return to Tokyo, it’s to Zouroku’s flower shop, and the pigs come along for the ride, destroying the shop in short order. It’s another blunder, but far better for such blunders to occur in a controlled, safe environment than at the facility where many other ability-users will be deployed against her, even the twins.

Sana still has her ability-using ally whom we caught a glimpse of last week—she said they’d “meet again soon.” But I’m glad Zouroku’s granddaughter has been introduced to smooth Z’s rough edges, and the warm and cozy slice-of-life with Sanae and Sana was appreciated and a nice respite from what is sure to be more action and danger going forward.

Alice to Zouroku – 01 (First Impressions)

The Gist: Sana, who belongs to a group of supernatural power-wielding humans known as “Dreams of Alice”, has escaped the research facility where she’s been held as long as she can remember.

While being pursued by the facility’s director, armed with other Dreams of Alice, Sana meets Kashimura Zouroku, an elderly florist, who gets caught up in the ensuing chaos.

He eventually agrees to let her stay at his place “for a while” as long as she helps him out and doesn’t use her powers.

A2Z, as I’ll be shortening it to, is a seinen anime, and as such, deals with what could have been a moetastic mess with a clear-eyed sobriety, a deliberate pace, and with a refined attention to detail. Zouroku is truly an Old Man’s Old Man, who wouldn’t be out of place in a show like Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, and the way the young Sana instantly starts cramping his old man style is highly believable as well as entertaining.

We’ve seen plenty of “I don’t need this” characters, but Zouroku immediately earns that attitude by having so many years under his belt, and to a degree, having earned the right to live his life the way he wants. If a bunch of magic-using urchins start messing up his Shinjuku, well, he has a problem with that. Of course, once he learns where Sana is from, and how she’s no doubt had to deal with stuff no little kid should, his position softens, without breaking down into 3-gatsu no Lion Gushy Grandpa Mode.

I also liked the application of the magic itself. It’s weird, fun, and creative without getting too whimsical. As soon as we saw Tachibana standing on the palm of a giant hand, I knew we were in for some weird stuff, and her short but exciting dual with Sana’s mysterious benefactor, as well as the Mini car chase with the chain-and-arrow-wielding twins, are very well-directed sequences. The CGI is very much noticeable, but not distractingly so.

What I appreciated was that mundane scenes of Shinjuku are treated with as much care as those action scenes. This may be a first episode and the animation quality may well dip, but for now the world of A2Z is lively and lived-in, avoiding being too flashy, surreal, or stylized. Similarly, the character design is very simple, but effective, calling to mind that of Madoka Magica. A little kiddy, belying its more mature themes.

We don’t know exactly what’s up with Zouroku and his granddaughter, but my take was that she passed away or maybe moved out on bad terms (it’s suggested she’s older than Sana in any case). The sudden appearance of Sana in Zouroku’s life suggests this won’t be a one-sided relationship: both parties will get something out of it.

Sure, at first, that means more trouble for Zouroku, but whether he was planning on it or not, it also afford the opportunity for him to do something more important than a floral arrangement for a yakuza’s girlfriend.

What exactly that is, and whether or not he’ll simply stay out of the way when Sana & Co. go off on each other again, I look forward to finding out. This confident double episode was a surefire way to get me quickly invested.

Concrete Revolutio: Choujin Gensou – 01 (Quick Glance)

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Concrete Revolutio: Choujin Gensou feels like it was designed by a committee. “What’s stylish?” “How about some retro characters and big one-on-one fights?” “Invisible aliens with conspiracies and quasi-government agencies that fight them?” “How about a transforming sports car with a gun sword?” “How about magic girls, complete with a transformation sequence, and cleavage?” “It can’t be a linear story though —we have to reveal the mystery through multiple time frames and out of order!”

…I could go on.

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To be fair, CR:CG’s Crock-Pot of miscellaneous tropes manages to gel into a coherent package. I don’t know why Aliens want the position of the zodiac, but I understand that they do and that it’s important that the super-human bureau to stop them and/or protect humanity’s super human allies, including a ditzy magic girl, which they induct into their ranks by the end of the episode.

I just don’t really care.

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No matter how much quantity this show presents, no matter how varied it gets, every aspect feels derivative. All the pretty colored outlines and halftone used in the background can’t change that.

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DanMachi – 08

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Syr makes Bell wash a lot of dishes, and Ryuu helps out. She says he has a difficult task ahead of him, and she’s only joking about the dishes, but it turns out to be true on another level, as he won’t be able to level up until he goes on an “adventure”, the definition of which is different for everyone.

There were also enough closeups of Syr for me to wonder if she’s up to something nefarious, or merely giving Bell a chance to clear his head with mindless dishwashing.

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Hestia doesn’t get a lot of time with Bell, who is so intent on discovering what his adventure is and executing it that he doesn’t even stick around for her to read the latest report on his stats. As far as he’s concerned, whatever that paper says, he’s not yet good enough.

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In his final spar with Aiz before her familia goes on a mission to a floor in the dungeon never before reached, Bell is finally able successfully counterattack her. She counters his counter, but his immense growth in so little time impresses her, and they part on amicable terms, telling one another good luck and to do their best.

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Still, Bell likely wishes he could have sparred more with Aiz and gotten to the point where he could fight on her level, but he is told to his face and behind his back that he may never be able to catch up to her. Not that he shouldn’t try, but surpassing her is not his “adventure” Ryuu speaks of.

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When the Minotaur that the Strong Dude in cahoots with Freya toughened up confronts Bell and Lili (just as they apparently planned), Bell freezes, and only survives thaks to Lili putting her body (and huge backpack) in harm’s way. She’s knocked out, but Bell tosses her aside to fight the Minotaur. When she wakes up, he ignores her desperate calls for retreat, telling her just to run while he buys time for her. Cue Epic Boss Fight Music!

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The Minotaur destroys the armguard Eina gave Bell on their sorta-date, and it looks like it’ll be curtains for our young adventurer, but Aiz, hearing he’s in trouble from her comrades, breaks protocol and rushes to his aid…again. This is when Bell shakes off his pain and gets stubborn.

At first I questioned what was so wrong with her saving him again, but that wasn’t going to do this time: This, he decides, is his adventure. He gets back up, dusts himself off, and re-engages with the beast, in a grudge match that’s as brutal as it is thrilling. He swipes his foe’s sword, carves him up, then shoots firebolts into him, literally blowing him up.

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The minotaur goes up in smoke, but so do the Loki Familia’s preconceptions of Bell’s ability, as they were all spectators to his convincing victory. An examination of his back by Riviera indicates all of his stats are “S-rank”, indicating even more astonishing growth in an unheard-of pittance of time.

Unfortunately, he also passes out on his feet, unable to savor that victory or see the impressed looks of the Loki familia. He’s placed in bed to recover, tended to by Hestia, glowing with both relief and pride for what Bell achieved, but assuring him it’s only the first page of their journey, with far more trials in store. That’s certainly true if Freya—who seemed to get off on his fight with the minotaur—has her way…and I’m pretty sure she will.

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DanMachi – 07

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With her new animal transformation and unbuckled and Unbuttoned miniskirt, Lili is now officially Bell’s assistant, but she feels guilty about being forgiven so easily for all the crap she put Bell through.

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In order to officially officially be Bell’s supporter, however, she has to meet with Hestia and meet with her approval. Hessie believes Lili when she says she’ll never betray Bell again, but warns her to keep her grubby mitts off her man, making no bones about the fact that she sees Bell as a romantic target.

But being possessive only presents a challenge to Lili that she resolves to meet, the typical “I won’t lose to you” attitude. She later shows what a good team they make by providing long range support with a rapid-fire crossbow against some goblins and trolls.

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Both are at a disadvantage, because the girl Bell likes the most is Ais (or Aiz, depending on who’s subbing your anime). Only he’s deathly afraid of contact with her should he say or do the wrong thing and get rejected.

Up to this point he’s been able to believe he has a shot at her because he hasn’t had much contact with her. But she’s the one who initiates contact, and wants to apologize for causing him trouble. He in turn apologizes for making trouble for her. They’re like two peas in a pod, these two!

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For now, though, Aiz agrees to train Bell, who is still not that confident in his fighting skills, despite the fact he’s gotten to the tenth floor. Every day, and some nights, Bell spars with Aiz, and gets beaten up by Aiz, who doesn’t go easy on him, and acknowledges his skills are lacking in her stoic  way.

I like how much dignity Aiz carries at all times; not letting Bell embarrass her as he embarrasses himself, not being able to resist trying to kiss her as she takes a catnap, before backing off. She also tells Bell that being a coward isn’t always bad thing: cowardice breeds survival, after all. It’s an extention of fear being necessary in any kind of combat or life-and-death situation. Those entirely without fear have a huge blind spot against opponents who have a healthy amount of it.

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Naturally, when Hestia (working another part-time job to pay of Heph) spots Bell at the market with Aiz, she wigs out, making it as clear to Aiz as she did to Lili that Bell is hers, even if Bell doesn’t see her that way, and probably never will. Bell seems content in seeing Hestia as family; as sister—not a girlfriend or lover.

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Interspersed with the Bell and Aiz training and the Hestia jealousy and territory-marking, we see a very large and powerful man beating an even larger minotaur into submission, and starts to train it to use a more powerful sword. His training of the minotaur mirrors Aiz’s training of Bell, and in both cases, the training pays off, with the minotaur being able to withstand a magical weapon attack from an adventurer.

It would seem muscular guy has recruited the minotaur as his supporter…or maybe he has darker plans. In any case, I can’t imagine these two won’t be crossing paths with Bell at some point.

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DanMachi – 06

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As her cold open makes almost too clear, Liliruca Arde is a well-traveled student of pain, suffering, helplessness and loneliness. Orphaned by her parents who were killed in the Dungeon, the Soma familia took her on as a supporter and proceeded to screw her over at every turn, treating her like garbage. The bad guys are so irredeemably, comically, Nobuyuki Sugou evil in their treatment of her, it leaves no room for nuance.

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With her past, and present in mind, it makes sense that she wouldn’t trust Bell, and also would deceive him just as she was deceived. It worked for her tormenters, why not her? Besides, she hates adventurers…ALL adventurers. She’s just trying to do what she can to free herself from subjugation. She’s just going about this all the wrong way, and very nearly gets Bell and herself killed in the process.

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Hestia doesn’t trust Lili, nor does Eina, though they come to this opinion of her independently. As Bell heads into the dungeon to fight on the tenth floor in an obvious trap set up by Lili, both Eina and Ais overhear her Soma familia planning to take out a guy who matches Bell’s description, and Eina asks a favor of Ais.

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Setting up the naive Bell is child’s play for Lili, and when the time comes to reveal her true colors and re-steal his knife, she doesn’t hesitate, and actually shows off some pretty good skills…if only she focused her energies for good instead of selfish purposes. Mind you, with everything she’s been through I can’t really begrudge her doing what she thinks is best for herself, but we also happen to know this isn’t what’s best.

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That becomes painfully clear when her ridiculously evil familia show up, ambushing her and taking everything she has, while getting some good stomps and punches in for good measure. The episode really lingers on this disturbing scene, but when a bruised and beaten Lili is left for dead, a decoy for a host of killer giant ants, Bell shows up with his Firebolt to take them all out, saving Lili once again.

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That resolution was a pleasant surprise. I expected Eina and Ais to corner Lili, rather than her fam, but instead Ais takes care of the orcs while obscured by the gloom, allowing Bell to rush to Lili’s aid. And why does he save her, as she asks, almost hysterical at the sight of his dopey, noble face? Because he felt like it.

He tells Hestia as much before he heads off to what he might have known could have been the trap it became. But he doesn’t care; he knows Lili’s kind, because he used to be the same before he met his goddess. And he’s not going to stand by and let her be destroyed or destroy herself. I especially like how Hestia defers to Bell here, and it pays off.

The villains were a bit over-the-top, but I’m glad Lili’s eyes are now open to the possibility not everyone in the world is awful.

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DanMachi – 05

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Another DanMachi, another sweet domestic scene between our quasi-husband-and-wife duo of Bell and Hestia, with the goddess being out too late getting her drank on and the adventurer providing not only a moist washcloth, but the offer of a fancy dinner sometime, due to all the cash he’s raking in. Since the whole reason Hestia had a little too much was because she saw Bell “cheating” with Lili, she decides she doesn’t have a hangover anymore, and that “sometime” will be “today.”

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Alas, while cleaning up at the divine bathhouse (boob comparo alert) Hestia attracts the attention of a bevy of curious deities, and she and Bell end up spending their entire date running and hiding from them. They end up in a romantic starlit spot, and Bell promises dinner another time. Hestia tries to say something, but doesn’t, choosing instead to lean her head on him. So…no real progress in the romance arena.

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That same night Lili is busy paying off her fellow Soma familia members with the generous cuts she’s getting from working for Bell. She seems to think she’ll be close to completing her debt soon, but c’mon, how naive can you get? I don’t see those guys calling it square anytime soon.

To protect Bell, Lili reflexively uses a magic weapon she’d been concealing from him. He, in turn, continues to surprise her with his kindness, letting her have all the days off she wants, and even sharing the lunch Syr made with him. She still doesn’t fully trust him. To be fair, he does seem ridiculously nice, to the point of “weirdness”…at least among the sorta people she’s been around most of her life; i.e. scum.

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In a rather clunkily-deployed plot development, on his day off Bell asks Syr what she does on her days off, and she says “reading,” and the one book in the tavern she just happens to lend him is a magic grimoire. His reading of the magic tome is a half-trippy, half-goofy sequence in which he’s talking to different colored copies of himself, before being shaken awake by Hestia, as if he’d just gone on a Salvia trip.

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Hestia discovers he now possesses a magical fire ability; one he can cast without an incantation. She urges him to try it out in the dungeon tomorrow, so of course he runs off on his own that night after she falls asleep and gets so drunk with his new power he overextends himself and “minds out,” leaving him deep in the dungeon and at the mercy of any number of beasts and bosses.

I understand his excitement with his new power, but honestly, this was a clown move on Bell’s part. Had Ais and Riviera not just happened to be in the same part of the dungeon and found his unconscious idiot self, he’d have been killed and Hestia would have been alone. All because he couldn’t hold his horses. Then again, maybe at this point Bell expects to be bailed out by his increasing phalanx of friends, admirers, and supporters.

Among them is Ais, who blames herself for Bell’s minotaur mishap in episode one, and whose battle damage conveniently created underboob she proceeded to put right in Bells face. Subtle!

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The next day Bell learns that the grimoire is now blank now that he read it, meaning he has to go back to Syr and the landlady with hat in hand. While it struck me as odd Hestia doesn’t give Bell any significant dressing down for his blunder last night, I did enjoy Syr’s cute attempt to distance herself from Bell’s “spot of trouble”—something he calls her out on.

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From there, it’s back to the dungeons with Lili…only when he arrives at the meeting place Lili is being accosted by brutes, while a slimy-seeming guy sidles up to Bell and asks him if he wants to get in on their racket working Lili to the bone and taking her earnings.

Frankly, Bell lets both these thugs and Lili off too easily. The thugs should have gotten a beating, and Lili should have been made to explain what the heck is going on. Instead, Lili seems to think because Bell was talking to one of the thugs, he may be in cahoots with them, acting as the “nice guy”…or maybe Lili just doesn’t want Bell involved in her problems.

Whatever the case, we know Bell isn’t putting on an act, and won’t hesitate to help Lili if he senses she’s in trouble, even if she doesn’t want his help.

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