3-gatsu no Lion – 28

Hina is the focus again this week, and the show is all the better for it; it’s good to see that while he still has plenty of doubts, in this situation Rei is the one who isn’t emotionally at sea, and even has a concrete path he’s following for the sake of the girl who saved her. Hina has been all but a co-protagonist this season, giving Hanazawa Kana some really good material to work with and simply letting her do her thing.

In case her middle school life can never return to its former normalcy (and even that was a bit of a charade), Rei continues to familiarize Hina with shogi, which served Rei well in the past as an escape from unfavorable conditions, and is now the game that pays his bills. Rather hilariously, Rei proves as bad at going easy on Hina (even though he’s trying) as he is good at competing professionally.

Sitting alone with Hina in her room (for the first time), Rei feels it’s a suitable time to ask Hina to tell him, in small bits, in her own time, what’s going on at school. Hina describes, among other things, an oppressively awkward and hostile atmosphere and “an invisible hierarchy” in which “your ranking decides how loud you can laugh or how much freedom you’re allowed.” In other words, every damn middle school classroom, ever.

Of course, not all classrooms are like that, but by no means an uncommon atmosphere, and both Hina and Chiho are partly victims of bad luck, and partly victims of their own selfless personalities. While changing that atmosphere may be nigh impossible, it’s much easier to bypass it.

Takahashi asks for Hina by name and invites her to play catch with him during lunch. He tells her Rei came by his house to play shogi with his dad and granddad—a granddad usually bedridden, but a spring chicken before Rei and a shogi board.

In any case, Takahashi understands the situation, and tells Hina if the classroom is ever too much, they can simply play catch. Hina is overjoyed.

The joy—and the prudence of Rei involving Takahashi—is short-lived, and the bullies escalate by scrawling slurs on Hina’s desk (albeit in chalk; these girls aren’t yet to the point where they’re gouging the wood).

Their leader also calls Hina a bitch under her breath, but Takahashi seems to hear it, or at least can read the room, then invites the three hellions to join him and Hina in their game of catch.

Before I could ponder whether Takahashi was trying to quell the conflict through inclusion, he unleashes some game-level heat at the fawning bullies, sending them running off.

Then Takahashi tells Hina why he did what he did: Chiho once gave him half of her lunch when his bento box fell in the dirt. He knew then, as he knows now, that anyone who shares their food with you is a good person, and he doesn’t think Hina should be afraid to show she has allies in this war.

It’s sweet, sweet revenge and a wonderful sentiment, but I knew its effects would be temporary, and perhaps even cause further escalation. That night, while playing shogi with Hina, Rei apologizes for introducing another element into her problem so recklessly.

But Hina is grateful for everything Rei has done, and is happy he is always asking her what she wants. She’s just frustrated that she doesn’t know…or that she does know, but knows there’ll be no turning back if she does that, because two wrongs don’t make a right and such, right?

Rei has always felt that Hina is stronger than him, and he’ll never surpass her in that regard. The bullies may be having their fun drawing awful stuff on the chalkboard, but they’re not just causing Hina pain…they’re making her madand toughening her. Rei realizes that his pacifist nature may not apply to Hina, and that simply becoming invisible, shuffling off to stare at bushes or play shogi may not be the best options for her.

So when the teacher asks Hina for an explanation, she stands tall, proud, and tearless, and tells the truth: she doesn’t know; she didn’t write that; it was written there before she came to class. The teacher seems to remember the Chiho situation she handled so badly (Chiho is now in psychological rehab, unable to even respond to Hina’s letters). One can hope she’ll handle things a little better this time.

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Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – 09

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Things are a little more focused this week (though there was no way it was going to be as jumbled as last week’s), as we finally build up to the great culmination of all of Arthur Gaz’s designs: his resurrection by Black Chaika, using the parts collected by the others.

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It’s a scene the show’s been building towards for two seasons. So why did it feel a little…flat? Why was I only half-invested in all of this? ‘Chaika Fatigue’, perhaps. Also, Penultimate Episode Syndrome, where the second-to-last episode is either better or worse than the last. As our heroes mostly stand around and gawk at the mustache-twirling bad guys as the shit hits the fan, it seems like the latter.

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That’s not to say this episode was a failure on all counts. For one thing, it succeeded greatly in destroying pretty much all hope of White Chaika performing a funeral for her father, and not just because he’s not her father and he’s no longer dead. There’s also something so very wrong about Black Chaika birthing the reincarnation of her father beneath her skirts while making moaning and wailing in apparent…arousal.

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Final Fantasy-style final chapter cutscenes are notorious for the rambling speeches and grotesque transformations of the Big Bad(s) as the good guys stew in the corner with clenched fists. In that regard, this episode succeeds admirably. Before you start fighting the final boss, the game wants to make sure you hate him as much as possible, but also learn his twisted worldview. And the simple reveal of Young Gaz — who looks a lot like Guy, not accidentally — had an understated awe about it.

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Speaking of awe, Neo-Gaz wastes no time killing Hartgen (with a casual but lethal one-word incantation — “Pierce”). Harty was just a pawn, after all, whose power, clout, and charisma were used to gather both the Chaikas and the masses of bloodthirsty warriors. War only appeals to Gaz in that it is the state of civilization that nets him the most powerful emotions and memories which make the magic he feasts upon. He’s less a megalomaniac and more a force of nature at this point: an all-consuming storm.

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And Chaika? Not only was she never his daughter (he has none), but “Chaika” is merely the term for the magical technique he used to resurrect himself. Pawn, tool, technique, doormat — however Chaika wishes to call it, as far as Gaz is concerned her task is complete.

After destroying the flying fortress Red Herring with his personal Gundo Niva Lada, he uses her to activate a heretofore dormant fortress in orbit. Space Fortress. Now we’re talking. Where the heck to the good guys go from here? I don’t know, but the fact Gaz and his underlings are too arrogant to bother killing them all immediately proves they have a chance.

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Space Dandy 2 – 04

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There are Space Dandy episodes I can run out onto the parquet dance floor and bust various moves with, and then there are those where I’m just kind of chilling in the periphery of the venue, sitting on a folding chair, sipping some punch, and tapping my foot, half to the beat, half impatiently. This was one of those latter episodes.

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Dandy has done a lot of different stuff, but hadn’t tackled the “high school musical” genre yet. But it just didn’t feel like its heart was in it in the same way it is for all of its trippy, metaphysical, and high concept episodes. As Dandy remarks upon first meeting his future prom date, much of the episode had a “well-honed plainness” to it. Much of the ground it covers has already been covered in better ways.

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A good musical, high school or no, has to have good songs, but most of the songs here were seriously lacking. The lyrics were dull, simplistic, and repetitive, and the pacing of the song and dance numbers dragged on way too long: the Queen Bee describing the school’s caste pyramid took up way too much time, and even if the awkward pacing was intentional, it just felt like stalling.

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That said, it was still a fun episode with some good bits: Dandy getting shot down by increasingly alien girls, and the 80’s-style pre-prom training montage, and the fact the girl was the rare alien Dandy enrolled to the school to find in the first place, but he, QT and Meow simply forgot about by the end. With Dandy, if you don’t like one episode, just move on to the next.

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Akuma no Riddle – 11

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With all of the assassins defeated save Nio, the rhythm of the show changes this week. Instead of trying to figure out who’s going to target Haru and when, she and Tokaku are rewarded for their victory with a “true orientation” that reveals big, hard truths, most of which had been hinted at, but now brought into the light.

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Now theres no more doubt: Class Black wasn’t assembled to assassinate Haru, but to test her readiness to take the reins as the “Queen Bee” of the ultra-powerful clan that “controls every aspect of the world.” That last bit sounds kind of silly, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was a good test, and she passed it.

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Unfortunately, the power and potential she exhibited in the process aren’t going to entitle her to the normal life she wants so badly (and apparently had earlier in life), but condemn her to serve. A Queen Bee isn’t designed to live for herself, but to ensure the survival of the hive, even at the cost of her life. Nio drives the point home by taking Haru to a massive clan graveyard deep below the school, full of people who died for the clan’s survival.

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Nio continues to glare and bare her teeth from time to time, but her true motives are still a mystery. Could it be she too is a potential queen, who will kill Haru and ascend if Haru refuses to accept her fate? A few moments of apparent sincerity aren’t enough to make me forget about all the two-faces we’ve already encountered and trust her. She’s still dangerous. Otherwise, why would she have those awesome tattoos?

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Tokaku doesn’t take these new revelations well. She’s been lost all this time trying to figure out the toughest riddle of all; why she wanted to protect someone she was told to kill. She has no way of knowing whether her relationship with Haru was nought but an artifice built by Haru’s innate charisma. Whether she used it to manipulate Tokaku consciously or not is beside the point; it’s possible; likely even.

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It’s with that in mind, and with a great appreciation for the things Haru made her feel and think about for the first time, that she decides to turn on Haru after all. Kaiba tells her the riddles he’s sent have no right answers. Really, they were meant to spark independent thought. After a life of completing tasks and following orders to the letter, Tokaku’s time with Haru and the other assassins has taught her a great deal.

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This wasn’t just Haru’s initiation, then, but Tokaku’s as well. Haru’s purpose was already determined from the start, and Class Black was just a means of validating it. But for Tokaku, Class Black helped her define herself and her purpose. Haru never really needed Tokaku’s protection, but becoming allies facilitated Tokaku’s advancement to where she is now: in the ideal position to eliminate the target.

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Akuma no Riddle – 10

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With Nio apparently content with hanging back and observing (for now), Hanabusa Sumireko is the only assassin still around to threaten Haru, and threaten her she does: with sweet smiles, impeccable etiquette, a gorgeous dress, and an invitation to a very special tea party on the school’s 99th floor. Behind every smile and perfectly-formed sentence lurks an immensity of pridefulness and malice.

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Sumireko’s badassness has never really been in question, but nor has it really been explored thus far. She has demonstrated the colossal wealth of the Hanabusa conglomerate to which she belongs, but this is the first time we see her bear her fangs in earnest, and it’s quite terrifying. The dread builds slowly but steadily as she lures Haru and Tokaku into her web of death and destruction.

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Sumireko’s strength is previewed when Takehi Otoya of all people escapes from prison and sneaks back into school. But not only does Sumi block her best scissor shot with her bare hand, she crushes her scissors into crumpled bits with that same hand. This episode went on to deliver the most complex, intense, protracted, and best battles of the show, and it was everything I could have hoped for.

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The episode was full of misdirection and feints, starting with the possibility Haru could be able to negotiate some form of rapprochement with Sumi; no dice. All Sumireko lives for is to defeat Haru—the “queen bee” of an older clan—and proving her superiority as the one and only queen. Also, Takehi looks like she could serve as a wild card, but she accomplishes nothing and is later dragged away by Nio for committing a “no-no”…gulp.

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The last feint is the first time we see the whole gang assembled at the party; the cameras far back enough that it looks like the real deal, and then Gahh, creepy killbots, all of which turn on Tokaku when Sumireko dispenses with the pleasantries and gets down to business, tearing off her dress to reveal a skintight battle suit. Tokaku hangs around as long as she can, but her guns, knives, and flesh-and-blood limbs are no match against Sumireko, who sheds her suit to reveal a skimpier Kill la Kill-style outfit that reveals she’s bionic. You gotta hand it to her, she has a flair for the theatrical.

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It only takes a few fleeting flashes into Sumireko’s past to know what makes her tick: like Haru, she’s been targeted and scarred by enemies her entire life. The difference is, she’s never had a “worker bee” like Tokaku buzzing around protecting her. She’s borne the brunt, and had entire pieces of herself hacked off and replaced with stronger metal to help her endure even more (whether she wanted that or not, now she believes it. She has to). Her implacability is on full display as she delivers a merciless, bruising beatdown upon poor Tokaku.

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When Tokaku is out for the count, Haru proves yet again she’s no damsel in distress, staging an elaborate counterattack that consists of blowing out the door with a bazooka, luring Sumireko down an elevator shaft, and tossing many grenades down to her. That doesn’t kill her, and the chase resumes to the skyscraper’s rooftop, where Haru makes use of Sumireko’s own extended cables to sends her plummeting to the ground screaming—an unignified death for the self-styled “supremely powerful” royal.

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What’s best about the fight is that it felt really substantial, but Haru’s victory didn’t feel hollow, nor did Sumireko look particularly foolish or tactically unsound; Haru simply got the better of her, mostly by using her head, and exploiting the fact Sumireko was a bit too full of herself and underestimated her prey. And I loved the look on Tokaku’s face when she learns that even after everything she’s done for her, Haru still isn’t ready to tell her who she really is. One thing she isn’t: weak.

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P.S. It’s probably a coincidence, but Sumireko bears a passing resemblance to Takakura Himari from Mawaru Penguindrum, whom Arakawa Miho also lent her delicate, dignified voice, and who also dressed in skimpy outfits.

 

 

Oregairu – 02

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During lunch Hachiman observes how Yui’s more popular friend Yumiko treats her. He tries in vein to stop it, but it’s Yukino who arrives to put Yumiko in her place. Afterwards Yui finds the words to explain to Yumiko why she hasn’t been around. Chuunibyou sufferer Zaimokuza Yoshiteru comes to the Service club to ask them to read his light novel. Hachiman and Yukino get through it in a night (Yui doesn’t read it) and while their collective criticism is harsh, it ends up inspiring Yoshiteru to keep writing.

So it’s starting to look likely that each episode will open with a haughty monologue by Hachiman that looks down on society in some way in order to make him feel better about the fact he’s socially awkward. We weren’t big fans of the first monologue, and we don’t like this one that much either; something we and his teacher have in common! At any rate, while he may decry the pack mentality of high school, he can’t deny that he’s not alone anymore. He, Yukino and Yui have formed a pack of their own.

The episode did a fine job portraying the Queen Bee Yumiko as a self-involved bitch, but also the power of saying what you mean to say and not mincing words. When Yui keeps apologizing, it pisses her off, but once she speaks her mind, she’s at least somewhat receptive. The club’s next mission is rather underwhelming, involving giving a Chuunibyou (we’re a little Chuu-speak-ed out, frankly) their frank opinion of his light novel. But the mission does further underline the club’s commitment to forthrightness.

That can cause some prickly and even hostile interactions to occur. It’s also possible for Yukino and Hachiman to say bunch of stuff so the other will believe it’s them being forthright, when they’re actually concealing their true feelings. Yukino and Yui can’t possibly mean all the mean things they say to Hachiman, or why would they hang out with him?


Rating: 6 (Good)