ReLIFE – 07

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While we learned a lot more about An in the last episode, it was still mostly driven by Kaizaki’s reactions to those revelations. This time, it’s Yoake who gets top-billing as protagonist-of-the-week, in an episode that takes place while he’s still supporting Subject 001.

The truth about An gave us an glimpse of the world of ReLIFE Lab that this episode expands by setting Kaizaki’s story aside and showing us how Yoake came to support him instead of An (who we see is very enthusiastic early on about the prospect of being Kaizaki’s support).

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ReLIFE Lab is portrayed as very much like any other workplace, just as Lacuna in Eternal Sunshine is very much like any other doctor’s office; a neat amalgam of the mundane and the fantastical. There’s a kind of bizarre magic in what ReLIFE does, and yet Yoake still has to deal with a board of suits concerned with their branch’s rep and interested in results.

My one gripe about this otherwise lovely episode is that we don’t really get much in the way of info about Subject 001, which seems like a cruel tease. However, ReLIFE has been so good up to this point I’m willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt on this. Maybe they’re saving that 001 reveal for later (and 001 went to Aoba High just like Kaizaki) or maybe they’ll never reveal it.

As for Yoake and An, neither seem interested in the other romantically, but one can’t deny there’s have chemistry and warmness to their rapport. Maybe it’s just a senpai/kohai thing, or the fact that their peculiar line of work, what with all the masquerade and stalking, can be isolating. Their scene on the bridge in the rain was very nice; so many complex emotions going on.

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I also got the feeling that while An is obviously disappointed Kaizaki was transferred from her to Yoake, at least it was Yoake, whom she knows and trusts, who got him and not someone else. That, and she’ll be right there at school with both Yoake and Kaizaki.

The episode ends back in the present, with Yoake surveying all the people Kaizaki has changed as a result of gaining the confidence to act. In the past Yoake mentioned Kaizaki had the “trauma of losing someone”, and the uncertainty of knowing if he did enough when he should have led to present part-timer status.

Watching Kaizaki gradually overcome those issues through his ReLIFE is having an inspiring effect on Yoake, who is also pleased that he seems to have found a proper “distance” from Kaizaki that he lacked with 001. And so yet another ReLIFE character has been wonderfully rounded out and humanized, while the world has been further enriched without answering too many questions.

With everything going so well, I reckon it’ll be time to rock the boat again pretty soon!

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Macross Delta – 03

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The plot: Mirage and Messer don’t like Hayate and Hayate isn’t helping his case. He skips class and doesn’t take his training seriously and only survives his final examine because Freyja sings to him.

And until Hayate needs help, Freyja was under-performing as well. However, in her case she both takes the training seriously and her fellow songstresses are far more supportive and understanding.

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The Problem: This episode paints a bleak picture for Macross Delta. When all the extraneous, predictable and force-fed nostalgia is stripped away, all that is left is a beautifully-rendered but vapid show.

Worse, there are so many characters fighting for screen time, and each is so distractingly over-designed, that there’s no room for the main characters to breath. For goodness sake, the three street children from last week’s throwaway phone joke did not need to become recurring secondary characters.

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 4.03.25 PMIncluding the girl with the ai octopus hairpiece on her head, 5 of these characters have speaking lines and I have no idea who any of them are beyond ‘pilot’ or ‘deck crew’

Counting the slap-stick Mercat, who’s antics are clearly telegraphed as a teaching tool for Hayate to using in his exam, this episode features sixteen secondary characters, three main characters and that’s not counting the Aerial Knights who teaser us after the ending credits. Too much!

Even if Delta weren’t choking to death on frivolous characters and predictable plots, other plot elements feel purely nostalgic. Flying in VF-01 trainers (and being told they are ‘cute’) feels forced and without in-show purpose.

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You will probably enjoy it: because it’s wondrously rendered and packed with details. Even Elysion Colony floating in the bay itself is a visual callback to Frontier and Macross 8, and anchors this show within the greater universe.

You may not enjoy it: because the plot is predictable and the characters, what little we get to see of them, are Macross archetypes: Low-stress anti-war fighter ace, bright eyed loli-songstress whose spunk will win the day, and a rainbow of inconsequential ‘advance the plot’ secondary cast characters.

Sadly, Mirage’s tsundere character is about the most original thing here, and it’s only somewhat original to Macross, not anime in general. I am seriously tempted to rate this a 7.

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Macross Delta – 02

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Delta quickly wraps up last week’s cliffhanger with Mirage swooping in to rescue Hayate & Freyja’s falling, crippled variable fighter and the Aerial Knights retreating, having collected the data they were after.

The remainder of the episode sets out to establish more of the world, context for Freyja’s ability, character relationships and how Hayate & Freyja ultimately join Walkure.

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From mer-cats to gilled street kids with webbed fingers selling organic fish cellphone bracelets, the world around Macross Elysion, Delta Platoon’s HQ, is a fantastical buffet of extraneous but enjoyable details.

It’s all lovingly rendered but Hayate literally grabs Freyja and runs her out of the scene because they have so little narrative purpose, beyond a minor nod to Ranka Lee’s squeezable organic cell phone in Macross Frontier. Even the brief scene in the Aerial Knight’s mountain castle, which includes a column-like pipe organ in the background, only repeats information we’ve already been told.

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As to the joining Walkure part, Freyja is given an audition, which she fails and Hayate is outright offered a piloting position by Delta Platoon Arad Molders. Later, on her way back to the city, Freyja’s tram suddenly halts and one of the passengers goes var-mad. Freyja is knocked to the ground but she sings her way to safety and passes Walkure’s final, secret audition test.

Delta deserves serious credit for its solid sound design.  Music cues are tight. We can feel Freyja’s frustration in the droning elevator-pop of the tram ride and feel her surprise as that music cuts off with the lights and is replaced by something more ominous. Subtle too, that omens music is fun-house style goofy, which softly hints that not all is as it seems to the viewer.

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As to the character relationships, Mirage and Hayate are immediately set up as rivals (and, probably, long term love interests) due to Hayate’s natural skills and matter of fact criticism of the military and rules following. It doesn’t help that Mirage was out of sync during combat too and they both know it.

More broadly, we see Arad’s fatherly relations with with his pilots and other admin, as well as how most people are scared of Elysion’s Captain Ernest Johnson, who is probably Zentradi but looks like an adult version of Teen Titans’ Beast Boy. We also see the Aerial Knights have a lot of internal conflict, which will no doubt be their undoing.

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Stray details and speculation: The Aerial Knights’ SV-262 Draken III’s appeal to be capable of docking with a Ghost on the end of each wing. This not only looks pretty cool, but could imply reliance on artificial intelligence to bolster their numbers. (AI is also generally outlawed in the Macross universe, following Sharon Apple’s rampage in Plus and whatever the heck the androids of Macross Galaxy were up to in Frontier)

Also worth noting the Aerial Knight’s resemblance to the pre-space era earth villains in Macross Zero. The fighters look similar, also had purple, and the characters had feudal sounding titles and ranks…

Also also, Walkure’s VF-31 “Siegfrieds” are named after a dragon slayer, which is important because “Draken” means dragon in swedish.

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Delta’s strength is that it is very well produced: tremendous precision went into its sound design, visual styling, animation and world building. It somehow even keeps its 17+ characters recognizable and coherent.

Delta’s weakness is it has 17+ characters to show us, tons of world building to get through, and some technobabble about singing/fold-space potential, and even more alien races than Macross has ever tackled before.

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It does a good job balancing that all out, but there is so much packed into this episode, I found it hard to absorb in one sitting. More critically, despite the extraneous detail scenes that serve as points of ‘rest,’ the shows maximum level of information density stops individual elements from standing out.

It’s like playing a game for the first time with 2 years worth of DLC turned on from the very beginning!

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Macross Delta – 01

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Note: This is a repost of my January review of the preview special, updated with the rest of the episode that more recently aired.

Cute, quirky, idealistic heroine whom the serious male protag helps out? Check. Rather than Ranka Lee, we have Freyja Wion. She’s also voiced by a first-time seiyu (Suzuki Minori), who does a pretty good job balancing goofiness, earnestness, vulnerability and determination.

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If you’re not put off by Freyja’s bubbly enthusiasm, you’ll want to root for her almost immediately. She’s on the run from an arranged marriage to audition for Walkure, a “Tactical Sound Unit” that uses music to fight the Var, which unlike the Vajra aren’t a primal alien race, but a disease that infects everyone, potentially making anybody a weapon in its arsenal.

While there’s a lot of terminology right out of the gate, Delta doesn’t drown you in it, and also assumes this isn’t your first Macross rodeo (my other exposure to the franchise is the excellent 25th anniversary series Macross Frontier). Like that show, the world is lush and detailed, only the visuals here in 2016 are even more smooth and refined, particularly where CGI is concerned.

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The male protag, Hayate Immelmann (probably named for the turn), is initially put off by Freyja’s weirdness, but ends up rescuing her, though having been someone who’s dreamed big in the past and gotten nowhere, he remains skeptical of her lofty aspirations.

Something tells me his attitude will have changed when this episode concludes in April. He even seems to come under a little bit of a spell from her overflowing charisma—until she loses her foothold and he has to catch her in an awkward position that has him at gunpoint for suspected perversion by Mirage, a soldier in Delta Platoon, Walkure’s escort unit.

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The misunderstanding is corrected just in time for a city-wide Var Alert. The Var infect the local Zentradi base (as in Frontier, the green-skinned giants are normally allies of the humans here), and Freyja and Hayate become naught but two more ants on a massive battlefield, running for their lives.

Then we’re introduced to the four members of Walkure who run towards the danger, transforming into their magical songstress forms: You have the Sheryl Nome-esque star Mikumo, the tomboyish Reina, the girly Makina, and the sporty leader, Kaname.

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Working in concert with the Delta Platoon, they neutralize the effects of the Var with their music, as the battle on the ground is essentially one big music video. This is a departure from Frontier in that the effects of the singing on the enemy aren’t known until later in the show. Here, Walkure is an active participant in the combat, and also in protecting the hordes of citizens with swarms of multidrones.

As one would expect of an experienced and practiced pop music group, Walkure knows exactly what to do and carry it out swiftly and efficiently, but also with an ample helping of style. So confident is Mikumo in her powers of charm, she gets right in a Var-infected Zentradi pilot’s face and cures him on the spot, getting him to exclaim that iconic line, “Deculture!”

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But that’s not all for enemies. In orbit, the planet’s space fleet is attacked by the Aerial Knights, a group of badass male warriors who look to be the Walkure Girls’ rivals and foils. When they engage the Delta Platoon on the surface, they learn they’re more than a match.

Be it the Huge Capital Ship Getting Blow’d Up Real Good in orbit or the Zig-Zagging Dogfight in the skies, Delta doesn’t separate itself much from Frontier in these areas, but it does distinguish itself in sheer quality and refinement. There’s nary a frame out of place, and as previously stated, the CGI is far better integrated into the regular animation than the older work. The plane, ship, cockpit, and HUD designs are also new and very cool-looking, all with a welcome nod to the past.

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With all the big battles and explosions going on, the episode could be excused for completely forgetting about Freyja and Hayate, but when the Knights push Walkure and Delta into a corner, we come back to them, trying not to get caught in the crossfire. Then Mikumo emerges from the pile of wreckage, ready to rumble anew, and changes the tune—literally—to a more aggressive but still upbeat song.

Freyja’s little heart-shaped stone on her head starts to glow (as it did when Hayate fell on her), and she can’t resist singing along and running towards the battle rather than away. It’s an inspiring sight for young Hayate, seeing her risk her life with a smile on her face and a song in her heart, without a care in the world that things won’t work out.

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So…what does the newly-aired episode add to the preview? Nothing that changes my original score of an 8. Right after Freyja runs off, Hayate commandeers a partially-wrecked mech to back her up. As Walkure detects Freyja adding her voice to theirs (and it’s a nice voice), Hayate takes out baddies with the grace of a dancer.

Eventually, he gets lost in the song, and he and Freyja spend a little time in Glowing Naked Blue Sky Land before enemy fire snaps Hayate out of it, and the two start plummeting to the Earth. With their fates uncertain (though not really; they’ll be fine) the episode really just replaced one ellipsis with another, only now Walkure and Delta Platoon have seen a little of what these two crazy kids can do.

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Macross Delta (Preview Special) – 01

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A couple of things: First, to my surprise, Macross Delta won’t be airing until April as a Spring 2016 show (which is for the best, as I wasn’t sure I’d be able to handle both a Gundam and a Macross at the same time). Second, while this isn’t a complete episode, it is comprised of 391 of the 450 frames of the first episode, or over 86% of the total. So we get a pretty good look.

A lot of those 391 frames contain some pretty familiar stuff…but this is Macross, so you go in fully expecting that.  Cute, quirky, idealistic heroine whom the serious male protag helps out? Check. Rather than Ranka Lee, we have Freyja Wion. She’s also voiced by a first-time seiyu (Suzuki Minori), who does a pretty good job balancing goofiness, earnestness, vulnerability and determination.

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If you’re not put off by Freyja’s bubbly enthusiasm, you’ll want to root for her almost immediately. She’s on the run from an arranged marriage to audition for Walkure, a “Tactical Sound Unit” that uses music to fight the Var, which unlike the Vajra aren’t a primal alien race, but a disease that infects everyone, potentially making anybody a weapon in its arsenal.

While there’s a lot of terminology right out of the gate, Delta doesn’t drown you in it, and also assumes this isn’t your first Macross rodeo (my other exposure to the franchise is the excellent 25th anniversary series Macross Frontier). Like that show, the world is lush and detailed, only the visuals here in 2016 are even more smooth and refined, particularly where CGI is concerned.

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The male protag, Hayate Immelmann (probably named for the turn), is initially put off by Freyja’s weirdness, but ends up rescuing her, though having been someone who’s dreamed big in the past and gotten nowhere, he remains skeptical of her lofty aspirations.

Something tells me his attitude will have changed when this episode concludes in April. He even seems to come under a little bit of a spell from her overflowing charisma—until she loses her foothold and he has to catch her in an awkward position that has him at gunpoint for suspected perversion by Mirage, a soldier in Delta Platoon, Walkure’s escort unit.

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The misunderstanding is corrected just in time for a city-wide Var Alert. The Var infect the local Zentradi base (as in Frontier, the green-skinned giants are normally allies of the humans here), and Freyja and Hayate become naught but two more ants on a massive battlefield, running for their lives.

Then we’re introduced to the four members of Walkure who run towards the danger, transforming into their magical songstress forms: You have the leader, the Sheryl Nome-esque leader Mikumo, the tomboyish Reina, the girly Makina, and the sporty Kaname (thanks Starqo).

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Working in concert with the Delta Platoon, they neutralize the effects of the Var with their music, as the battle on the ground is essentially one big music video. This is a departure from Frontier in that the effects of the singing on the enemy aren’t known until later in the show. Here, Walkure is an active participant in the combat, and also in protecting the hordes of citizens with swarms of multidrones.

As one would expect of an experienced and practiced pop music group, Walkure knows exactly what to do and carry it out swiftly and efficiently, but also with an ample helping of style. So confident is Mikumo in her powers of charm, she gets right in a Var-infected Zentradi pilot’s face and cures him on the spot, getting him to exclaim  that iconic line, “Deculture!”

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But that’s not all for enemies. In orbit, the planet’s space fleet is attacked by the Aerial Knights, a group of badass male warriors who look to be the Walkure Girls’ rivals and foils. When they engage the Delta Platoon on the surface, they learn they’re more than a match.

Be it the Huge Capital Ship Getting Blow’d Up Real Good in orbit or the Zig-Zagging Dogfight in the skies, Delta doesn’t separate itself much from Frontier in these areas, but it does distinguish itself in sheer quality and refinement. There’s nary a frame out of place, and as previously stated, the CGI is far better integrated into the regular animation than the older work. The plane, ship, cockpit, and HUD designs are also new and very cool-looking, all with a welcome nod to the past.

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With all the big battles and explosions going on, the episode could be excused for completely forgetting about Freyja and Hayate, but when the Knights push Walkure and Delta into a corner, we come back to them, trying not to get caught in the crossfire. Then Mikumo emerges from the pile of wreckage, ready to rumble anew, and changes the tune—literally—to a more aggressive but still upbeat song.

Freyja’s little heart-shaped stone on her head starts to glow (as it did when Hayate fell on her), and she can’t resist singing along and running towards the battle rather than away. It’s an inspiring sight for young Hayate, seeing her risk her life with a smile on her face and a song in her heart, without a care in the world that things won’t work out.

Even though Freyja stowed away on a ship to the wrong planet, it looks like she’ll get her audition after all—we’ll just have to wait until April to see how it goes. Until then, I know I have a big, bold, upbeat new Macross to look forward to when the chill breaks.

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Aquarion Logos – 01 (Part I)

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Gosh, has it only been three years since Aquarion Evol? I’m getting too old for this shit. Now it’s apparently the tenth anniversary of the Aquarion franchise, the first installment of which I never watched. Evol felt kinda like Macross Frontier’s younger, less accomplished, more sex-obsessed red-headed cousin, complete with mecha battles set to pop ballads.

I assumed Logos wouldn’t have anything to do with Evol or the first Aquarion, but this first half of the first episode would seem to be a kind of commemorative prologue/forward/episode 0 before getting into Logos in earnest. It also seems like an attempt to squeeze a feature-length movie into 26 minutes. It is packed, and it rarely makes sense.

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But Aquarion has never been about making a whole lot of sense, it’s about shoving as much stuff onto the screen as possible as youths do battle in elaborate CGI mecha with super-elaborate attacks with goofy names fueled by love and/or lust. Casts from both previous shows appear as though from different dimensions, along with a couple new characters residing in a third in 1966 Japan, Yuno and Shin, who look just like Yunoha and her dearly departed friend Jin from Evol.

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The reason for the dimensional merging/out-of-whackness revolves around an old book in a language only Yuno could read, until Shin came along and read it. They accidentally tear the book in two, and we’re off to the chaotic races, with the two of them being whisked from one bizarre, trippy inter-dimensional setting to another, all while some old fart lectures about tadpole awareness as they grow into frogs in his hand. Are you getting all this?

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Anywho Yunoha’s stuffed frog travels to a dimenison and forms a froglike Aquarion with Yuno and Shin, who combined with the other Aqarion crews, manage to zip up the dimensions and get everyone home (or kaeru, which also apparently means frog.) Yunoha wakes up to see her hand being held by an apparition of Jin. I kinda wanted everything that had happened before to be her dream, but nope, all that stuff happened.

But now what? This first half reached dizzying heights of nonsense masquerading as profoundness, but l was frankly pretty disoriented throughout, having been just thrown back into a franchise I hadn’t watched in over three years, and which I thought would be moving on from what I had watched. The preview for the second half suggests it will do just that…so maybe this was just one last curtain call for the last two shows? I guess I’ll find out.

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Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 02

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Aki Tomoya is in a tough spot. He finds himself at a cafe with the girl who inspired him to finally start his grand dream of creating the ultimate dating sim, but while just about everything about Kato Megumi is perfectly fine, he is confounded by her utter lack of presence. The camera continues to be shy with her, focusing on just about anything but her, while her seiyu Yasuno Kiyono gives her a soft, measured wisp of a voice.

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Kato is utterly unremarkable, but so utterly unremarkable that an incredulous Tomoya simply can’t stop obsessing about her. But while she doesn’t have braids, glasses, or freckles like Tomoya’s fantasy, what’s so great about Kato’s character is that she’s really not as “normal” as Tomoya deems her to be; otherwise, she wouldn’t react so calmly to his many outbursts at the cafe. Dare I call her…meta-moe? Para-moe? A more attractive Ann Veal?

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Kato even assumes Tomoya is dating Eriri or Utaha (or both), since she sees them both through the window, looking none too pleased. They’re even more outraged to find that Tomoya ditched them for someone so…Her. This is the circle (sans Tomoya’s cousin) together for the first timebut neither of the two school beauties can behave themselves in front of Kato, and start leg-sparring under the table.

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In other words, she fades away and lets the louder girls take over the scene, to the point where she disappears completely without them (or me) even noticing, demonstrating her Stealth Mode for the first time. By golly, that girl can get lost in a crowd! And she didn’t even leave out of disgust; she just wanted another drink! Nothing fazes her!

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Still, as awesome as you and I already know Kato to be, Tomoya is still under the misguided impression he needs to “fix” her by imbuing her with moe conventions. The next day, a Saturday, he invites her to his house for “Dating Sim Heroine Boot Camp,” apparently completely unaware what he has on his hands here is a relationship with a 3D girl in the works. Naturally, Kato agrees to come without any reservations.

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Kato is further unflustered by being in a notorious otaku’s room (it’s exactly what she expected) and dutifully plays a dating sim he highly recommends all the way through while enduring his constant spoilers and commentary. That means they’re alone together in his room all day long. It’s astonishing how quickly time passes, and yet the amount of fun they’re both having simply hanging out together doing not much of anything is clear to see.

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Fueled by the fun he’s already had and the complete passivity Kato has exhibited (albeit a passivity laced with quick, sharp deadpan retorts), Tomoya decides to be a little adventurous and see just how far that passivity goes, by asking her to spend the night and play the sequel to the game she just finished.

His proposal, complete with him eliminating any need to worry about the ramifications (there’s no school tomorrow, his parents are out) plays both like an innocent request to keep hanging out, and something a little more adult. Kato, of course, is fine with whatever, though we do see her finally blush at Tomoya’s choice of words.

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Of course she is. Nothing fazes her. Perhaps that’s because, well, she simply likes Tomoya. Tomoya clearly likes her too. What Kato is, then is a very “boring” girlfriend in the making, but a damn good one, too. His night with her gives him the clarity and inspiration to know precisely what to tell Eriri and Utaha what he envisions for the game, next time he sees them. More importantly, gets a sleep-deprived Kato (and the change in her voice in this state is priceless) to agree to join his circle.

I foresee big, exciting things on the horizon for the game, for the relationship, and for this show, which, a prologue and two episodes in, has been above reproach. Kato may not stand out in any conventional way, but so far she’s the shining light bringing warmth to my Winter.

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Stray Observations:

  • I don’t want to understate just how well the show kept things interesting through character and dialogue in the most humdrum settings: a cafe and a bedroom.
  • n ongoing joke is the fact Tomoya is constantly acting like he’s just met Kato, while he’s actually known her more than a year.
  • Depsite his low opinion of himself, her opinion of him is quite high, naming him one of the school’s three celebrities, along with Eriri and Utaha.
  • One of the reasons for his popularity is the fact he screens anime at school…and we see that anime includes the prologue of the very show they’re in! Nice.

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  • Tomoya’s “Fantasy Kato”, who acts in all the ways he expects an ideal dating sim heroine to act, is also a nice cutaway touch.
  • Kato isn’t just a great character in her own right, but a symbol of the show’s raison d’etre, presenting all the conventions but subverting them wherever they can. It’s immensely refreshing
  • Throughout her long Saturday with Tomoya, Kato starts occupying more and more real estate in the frame until she’s sharing pretty much equal space with her host, and gets a lot more close-ups.

Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 01

Morning, alarm clock, slow to rise, quick to leave, Ittekimasu!
Morning, alarm clock, slow to rise, quick to leave, Ittekimasu!

It’s an oft-used quote, but apt: “And now for something completely different.” Though Saekano’s zeroth and first episodes aren’t quite completely different. Let’s slightly modify the quote: “And now for something mostly different.” In anime, you must Slightly Modify or Die, be it existing stories, settings, characters, or all of the above.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: I’ve watched high school rom/coms before. Dozens, spanning the entire spectrum of quality and seriousness. So if something hasn’t been slightly modified enough to be worth watching, believe me, I’ll know, and probably not watch.

So believe me when I say Saekano has got it goin’ on

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Episode 0 can be seen as collection of delectable hors d’oeuvres, but also a taste of dessert, as it takes place in the future, once Tomoya has already gathered his team. Here in episode 1 we backtrack, but all of our “first encounters” with the characters come with built in knowledge of who they are, thanks to Episode 0—and thus built-in interest.

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TWIN TAIL ATTACK!

Saekano already sold be the characters; all of them, and it did so with admirable efficiency. Last week we saw the shiny, completed Lego project on the box; this week we see the foundation bricks being set into place.

Like last week, the super-moe, light-and-dark, blonde-and-black Eriri and Utahu dominate the frame throughout the episode. They are objects of universal worship at school, and are elevated even higher when Tomoya so passionately asks them to join them, and being the tsunderes that they are, refuse, out of some unsaid past between them.

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Still, I like how Tomoya is neither wimp nor suck-up in the face of such intimidating beauties, because, well, he has dirt on them both. And yet, he’s not a manipulating prick, either. He comes to the two girls because he needs an artist and scenario writer, and they’re both at the top of their game. There’s no blackmail, only respect and enthusiasm. Eriri and Utahu are the two who can realize his dream.

But like I said, these two girls are front-and-center. Last week they, along with Michiru essentially canceled each other out, allowing the calm, quiet, barely-visible Kato Megumi to swoop in and steal the show. That happens here too! This week we learn that a chance summer encounter with the noise-cancelling Kato was the genesis of his desire to realize his dream, and thus recruit Eriri and Utahu.

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And what an encounter! In romantic anime terms, it’s about as cliche a meeting as you can get; chasing down the girl’s beret and an explosion of cherry blossoms as they meet face-to-face. And yet, we don’t see the face. Tomoya says he’d never be able to capture its beauty with his own paltry rendering skills; it appears even his memory was somewhat overloaded or inadequate. Such is the power of Kato.

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Eriri and Utahu make it seem like they’re doing Tomoya a huge favor by showing up where and when he tells them to, and when they meet each other there, they attack each other for what they are: an artist and an author, respectively. And yet they are the ones stood up by Tomoya, as he happens to bump into Kato in the hall and forgets about the other girls completely.

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The episode’s camera does a phenomenal job keeping Kato’s face out of sight right until Tomoya lays eyes on her himself. Even he didn’t notice he was the girl with the beret at first, assuming it was just some random classmate. The camera’s reluctance to center or focus on her built tension for the FLCL-style 3D fly-around and ultimate reveal of her face in all its serene glory.

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So cute

Meeting Kato and catching her beret wasn’t just the start of Tomoya finally coming up with an idea for a game. That alone isn’t the “destiny” he spoke of. While he’s been a 2D girl kinda guy up until now, Kato authoritatively pulled him back into the third dimension, just by being the girl she is. She is his destiny and his muse. And after just one prologue and one episode, I think I’m in love too.

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Ya'll been stood UP.
Ya’ll been stood UP.

Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 00 (First Impressions)

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Man, considering Violin Girl had a down week, I kind of regret not watching this last night instead. Saekano is rip-roaring fun, a show that has the audacity to analyze and review itself as it’s going on. I know what you’re thinking: “It self-references itself? Zane, that sounds awful!” But here’s the thing: it just isn’t. It’s glorious. 

The episode begins with character decrying a “lame harem anime with loads of panty shots and nudity”; the anime’s advocate praises its consistent artwork, fluid motion, and cute characters; then the first girl says “it’s the people who worship any anime with good artwork as a classic who are behind the decline in the anime industry”.

I don’t think I have to point out that this is a harem anime with good helping of fanservice, but also looks frikking fantastic, as A-1 anime are wont to do. But it’s not lame. Saekano has LEGS.

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What so great about this show is its LAYERS. There’s the standard harem surface layer; there’s the fact that they’re all very talented members of a doujin circle that have come to a remote, serene hot spring for inspiration; there’s the layer of all the girls going after him (or not) in very different ways; there’s the fact that their intricate discussion of the dating sim they’re working informs anime they’re in.

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Saekano isn’t just throwing skin at you (though the skin is plentiful and lovely), but it’s also reaching through the screen into your brain and heading off whatever reservations you may have for it. It also lays bare its process, and yet wields a kind of inscrutable magic in entertaining you. This is a show that wants you to love it. And I do.

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But my love extends far beyond the bones of the show or its deliciously meta technique, to the brilliant cast. We have the half-British loli childhood friend (Eriri Spencer Sawamura), an exacting painter; the elegant raven-haired maiden (Kasumigaoka Utaha), the scenario writer; the athletic, flirtatious cousin (Hyoudou Michiru), the musician; and the rather plain, quiet one (Kato Megumi), the heroine.

The episode shuffles the protagonist Aki Tomoya’s encounters with them nicely, fleshing their specific personalities, roles in the doujin circle, and particulars of the harem dynamic with a seemingly effortless deftness. Not a single line of dialogue or scene is wasted.

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The four girls express their hots for Tomoya in different ways: Eriri by pining for her one true love, stolen by the interloper Utaha; Michiru gets super physical, but in a teasing way; and Utaha hides her sweet nothings behind the conceit that she’s only using him and her in order to come up with scenarios, and can thus be forthright and fearless in going after him.

These three girls are certainly the loudest and most flirtatious through most of the episode, essentially cancelling each other out when they accidentally get drunk on alcoholic chocolates and in their shameless state, prepare a sexy prank for Tomoya.

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And even this has a practical purpose: they’ve been worked to the bone for six months without a kind word from Tomoya, the game creator, and they’ve come to collect their due, ignoring his impassioned speech about his dreams for the doujin circle as they play rock-paper-scissors to determine who takes what position (though Eriri is a sad drunk, and so just watches and broods all the more).

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Eventually, it’s the calm, sober, sensible Kato who saves Tomoya; a character who had so nimbly lurked within the background of the frames, not making a bit production of her presence. Machiri calls her “stealthy”, which is apt, especially since she shares her name (if not the spelling) with the Pink Panther’s wily assistant.

Kato is the titular “Boring Girlfriend”, and Saekano’s secret weapon. She’s is the heroine of the dating sim because, well, she’s Tomoya’s heroine. He never looked as natural or comfortable as he does strolling down a gorgeous bamboo grove, their wooden shoes softly clop-cloping, complimenting her longer hair.

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These two are on an entirely different wavelength as the other three, and they both like it there, Kato is also patient, not really paying the other three girls any mind and even letting them have a bit of fun with Tomoya, knowing when the dust settles he’ll want to walk and talk with her and her alone.

This just a brilliant, funny, and touching twenty-two minutes of rom-com goodness…and it’s just the damn prologue. I assume episode 01 will rewind to the time Tomoya first assembles the doujin circle. If it can keep up the quality in its less secluded school setting, I will be a very happy camper.

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Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 00

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Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works is quietly beautiful. Regal even. The first episode gives us peaceful landscapes and well paced introductions for all of protagonist Tohsaka Rin acquaintances and daily routines before introducing us to her other life. Her magic life.

If I had not been told that UBW was part of a larger, multi-series franchise, I would never have known. The world is shown to us without info-dump or talking head exposition characters and it is all very absorb-able.

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This 47-minute slow burn method is most definitely for the best, given how many characters UBW appears to be throwing at us. We’ve met nine of Rin’s fellow students and one teacher, with Rin’s relationship to each being implied through interaction as often as it is strictly spelled out.

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We’ve also met 3 ‘Servants,’ which are essentially familiars that help their mage-masters compete in a battle for the Holy Grail, which will grant its winner any wish, and through all of this we’ve learned about the world’s magic. Runes, gems, classes of Servant, the importance of timing, rings of binding and command, what fuels servants — a ton of stuff!

Yet I never felt blabbered at nor disconnected.

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UBW opens with a dream or a memory of young Rin saying goodbye to her father. Her isolation in the world, the magical-ness of that world, and her stranding in her family mansion are all clear through the setting, the filters and vibe.

Then teenage Rin wakes up and goes to school. She remarks on how empty it is — how no one seems around — and we know something is afoot. Something magical.

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Then Rin learns her clocks are all an hour ahead and that a perfectly reasonable explanation for the emptiness is around, but the mood stays and we know, as Rin knows, the world is still off without being told directly.

Though hinted at strongly in school, we don’t see Rin dabble in magic nor learn what that magic is until later. At home, she is warned that her time is up and only two Servants remain: Saber and Archer. Saber is the only one Rin wants.

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Rin performs a ritual, we learn a little bit about magic and can guess the meaning of other parts of it, and her Servant is brought forth. Upstairs. And he’s made a bit of a mess.

Unfortunately, Rin has forgotten her clocks being ahead and has mistimed the height of her magics (mana) and her new Servant has come in a bit off. While he doesn’t let this on immediately, he is not only testy but not entirely sure who he is.

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However, he is certain Rin is the only Master for him. Albeit, after Rin expends an unnecessary amount of magic and wastes a valuable resource she should have saved for later.

After some bonding, some probing of each other’s bounds, we become comfortable with Archer, Rin’s servant as much as she does and, for his benefit and our own, Rin skips school and shows Archer around her town.

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The following day we learn a little bit more about magic and the world we will be viewing. This time in the form of an evil barrier being built around Rin’s school, most likely by a novice but dangerous regardless. When activated, it will liquefy all the humans inside and allow their souls to be eaten by a Servant.

Later that night, while attempting to destroy the barrier, Rin and Archer meet their first enemy. Battle ensues and it is lovely.

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The battle ends quickly, but not before displaying animation skill saved for the best sword fighting anime sequences you will ever see, and an innocent is killed. Rin drains her pendant to revive the student (who we must wonder how and why he was there in the first place) but realizes later that the student will remain a target.

With Archer at her side, Rin dashes off to rescue the student again, or thwart her enemy along the way, only to run into Saber the servant she wanted to summon.

Then the episode ends.

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UBW is not very colorful in anime terms but it drips with detailed environments, depth of field focus, and a patience with everything that is enviable. That greatness aside, UBW’s magical fighting puts almost every anime to shame. It’s fluid, impactful, vibrant and the integration between the mage and her familiar is exciting.

The music, which is unobtrusive but masterful orchestral work, is good too.

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If I were willing to nit pick, I might ding UBW for Archer’s amnesia. It’s a bit …trope-y… but, I get the sense that it, too, is something we’re not being told about. The very fact that ‘Archer’ wields 2 swords and has yet to pull out a bow, and how he occasionally responds to his enemy and his master leads me to suspect he knows more than we do. More than Rin.

In short, Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works is nothing short of fantastic and utterly mind blowing as an opener to a show. Have an hour? WHY AREN’T YOU WATCHING IT RIGHT NOW?

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