Net-juu no Susume – 08

Sakurai Yuuta was adopted by a wealthy, elderly couple. When they passed away they left their sprawling home to him, but he moved somewhere more reasonably-sized, both because he couldn’t maintain it himself, and because the empty house only intensified his loneliness.

In MMOs, specifically KanterSG, he found the sweet spot where he could be alone without being lonely; where he could meet and interact with people without leaving his digs; where he could regain that feeling of family and mutual support.

And in KanterSG, he met Yuki, whom he strongly suspects to be Molly/Hayashi/Morioka, despite the perceived ridiculousness of such a coincidence. To find out for sure, he decides to rely on whether she remembers him as he was, by adopting the same look as his KanterSG character, Harth.

At first, it seems to Sakurai that he might be mistaken, as Yuki doesn’t seem to react to the name “Harth.” However, she actually has, she just needs a little nudge to start the memories flying, and that’s hearing him pronounce it. After logging out, Morioka calls Sakurai to ask if he ever knew a character named Yuki, giving Sakurai the opening he needs to say it was him.

The ensuing phone conversation is one of the most adorable—and best—things this show has ever done; the elation of both Sakurai and Morioka at the news they’ve always known each other positively radiates through the screen like warm rays of light. Morioka’s torrent of expressions and gestures are wonderful to behold.

Unfortunately, Sakurai’s phone dies before he can volunteer one more crucial nugget of info: that he’s not just Harth, but Lily as well.

Morioka and Sakurai bump into each other in the street, and act in that combination of awkward and giddy that you expect of two people who suddenly find themselves much closer. Sakurai offers his coat and a snack to a hungry Morioka, whose stomach-growling reminded him of the time they both ordered Christmas chicken at the convenience store.

When Morioka starts to go on about Lily, how much she reminds her of him, and how they should play FdM together as a trio sometime, Sakurai must tell her the truth, and he does: he’s Lily. Morioka’s reaction seems to be of surprise if not shock, but unfortunately we leave things right there.

How will Morioka feel about Sakurai having kept the truth from her for so long? Will she be mad at him, or, more likely, blame herself for not having figured it out, even though she was aware of the similarities? I don’t know, but I’m excited to find out, and glad the show and its couple got to move forward as much as they did here, with just two episodes remaining.

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Saekano 2 – 11 (Fin)

Megumi and Tomoya go on a date, not just because it seems like the thing to do after the rest of the harem has cleared out, but to cheer one another up. It’s clear it’s not a one-sided case of Megumi cheering Tomoya up from the look of a soundless flashback in which she reacts dramatically to Eriri’s news she’s moving on from the group.

Megumi also seems to take great joy in shopping for clothes and shoes with Tomoya around. Even if he has no fashion sense or money to speak of, his company is appreciated and their instincts—like the one to hold hands in the crowded section—are often in sync.

By the end of the trip, Tomoya is feeling much better, as is Megumi, and the former makes sure they stop by a hat store so he can get her the same white hat she was wearing when he first envisioned her as his main heroine, as thanks both for her company and for getting him glasses last time.

Megumi is touched by the gesture, and when they return to that fateful hill, she tells Tomoya “she’s not giving up”. It strikes me as having dual meaning, as she intends to move forward with the doujin group even without Eriri and Utaha…and intends to make Tomoya fall completely for her.

Tomoya agrees they should move forward, but when his laughter turns to tears of loss, she reaches out to embrace him, only to then pulls back.

Now sufficiently cheered up, cried out, and ready to move forward, Tomoya takes it upon himself to see Eriri and Utaha off, surprising them both on the platform of their train to Osaka. Their looks say it all; Eriri in particular can’t believe he’ll forgive them.

But it’s not about forgiveness at all for Tomoya; it’s about wishing his two dear and wonderfully talented friends good luck on their exciting new venture. And I don’t think he’s putting on airs—one doesn’t turn down something like Fields Chronicle, and he thinks their “god-tier” talent can make it the best ever.

This sendoff, complete with a Megumi phone call with the same positive, concilatory intent, is enough to bring Eriri, Tomoya, and even Utaha to tears. It’s a bittersweet moment, one perhaps made a bit more silly when after Eriri removes Tomoya’s glasses, intending to keep them, then leans in to kiss, it’s Utaha who steals a big, long smooth with Tomoya, and Eriri is forced to whip out her twintails for the first time in a long while. They also miss their train in the excitement.

But no matter; they’re on their way. Post-credits, Tomoya and Megumi are both on first name terms, now seniors in school, chattering away with their usual excellent chemistry and bonhomie. Then, to their surprise, Hashima Izumi appears, a recent transfer, and Tomoya understands Iori’s words about sending his sister to a place where her talents can be put to best use.

Will Izumi be the artist for Tomoya and Megumi’s game? Perhaps, but it’s a certainty that Michiru will score the music once again. Hey, remember Michiru? The show makes sure to let us know it’s in on the joke regarding her absence for the back half of the season (which, frankly, was fine).

But notably, Michiru is conversing with Eriri and Utaha, who are watching Tomoya from afar. Eriri is still enrolled in the school, but the graduated Utaha is there because “it’s a free country.” The more things change, the more they stay the same!

Saekano 2 – 10

It’s very rare indeed for an episode to come around that gives you everything you wanted; everything you held out hope would come to pass but didn’t dare expect. And yet, well, here we are.

The completion of Cherry Blessing was an arc closure at an odd time in the run of a season, but the groundwork that was laid thereafter pays off wonderfully here, as Kashiwagi Eri decides to Take Her Talents to Rouge Beach, thus enabling Kasumi Utako to come along for the ride.

We start in the aftermath of that hellish meeting with Akane, still shaken from the abuse they were forced to endure. Utaha is no less honest and upfront as Akane was: she’s steaming mad that she’s being treated as an afterthought; a James Jones, if you will.

But as much as she hates Akane for doing so, she still agrees with the producer that Eriri is many years too early and too green to presume she’s “in a slump.” If Eriri agrees to do Fields Chronicle, Utaha will strive to crush her, even as they collaborate.

Of course she does. Competition, even outside one’s own field, drives a creative like Utaha. She wouldn’t be who she is if she didn’t treat Eriri as a rival; and when such a massive job comes around such as this, her’s is the name she’ll want spoken first in praise of the game.

Eriri laments that Utaha is dumping such a huge decision on her alone, but Utaha points out she’s not the one doing the dumping; that’s Akane. Utaha never had a choice. But if Eriri says yes, she’ll work with her, and not just because she’ll be able to as part of the deal with Akane, but because she believes the two of them can move forward together.

Not long thereafter, Eriri calls Utaha out of the blue, inviting her to join her back at school, where Eriri announces she’s defeated her slump and has her drawing touch back.

She forgot to bring the sketches to prove it to a giddy, over-the-moon Utaha (who curses Eriri for being so damn useless), but Eriri doesn’t need them, and instead proves it by sketching then coloring a gorgeous portrait right before a stunned Utaha.

She is indeed back, and Eriri responds to Utaha’s approval with smiles and laughter, but those turn to bitter tears when Eriri thinks of the reason she can draw again. As much as she wanted it to be because Tomoya wanted her and because of his support and love, she can draw again because of the less-than two minutes Akane spent insulting her.

Akane’s tirade did what it was meant to do, whether Akane meant to do it or not: Rattle Eriri’s cage; rattle it until the latch slips loose and Kashiwagi Eri can be fully released from behind the iron bars of Tomoya’s safe, comfortable doujin group.

That place is no longer conducive to the creative growth required for Eriri to be as amazing as she can be—and as Tomoya said she could be. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but Eriri does so, and Utaha offers a comforting hug in the process. You heard right: Eriri and Utaha hug. 

In return for her empathy, Eriri warns Utaha not to let Akane look down on her. Utaha had seemed thus far to be taking Akane’s words as gospel because she’s so experienced and successful, but Eriri, staunch Kasumi Utako fan, offers a different view: Akane “isn’t anything special” if she would so blithely underestimate Utaha’s talent.

That, in turn, elicits tears from Utaha, but she wipes them before bumping fists with Eriri, the first step on their new and exciting journey that is almost asssured to make them a part of video game history.

That leaves Tomoya Aki, whom I half-expected to blow his top and throw some kind of temper tantrum at the news that not only would Utaha be backing out of his group, but Eriri would too, thus “betraying” him for the second time in their long years together.

But I found that such a half-prediction was selling Tomoya short. He’s certainly not elated by the (off-camera) defections, but he’s a big boy, and he’ll get over it. I was pleased with how mature he acted, while Hashima Iori, who left rouge en rouge with Izumi for, presumably, the same reason Eriri and Utaha left Blessing (to grow), urges Tomoya not to quit game developing and creating just because he lost his two “golden geese.”

And I totally get why: Eriri and Utaha were just as much training wheels as geese; he’ll now have to test his producer mettle other people; creatives who may not be as hugely talented, and people who won’t be lured into working for him by the feelings they harbor for him!

But there’s another reason Tomoya will be just fine: his harem has been shattered, and with it all the myriad routes he could have chosen to take. Now there is one route, and it leads him up the same sakura-scattered hill, where a familiar figure seems to be waiting for him…

That figure is, naturally, Kato Megumi, the girl who is best suited for Tomoya, and always was; a girl he won’t be stifling creatively, because they work so well together. She’s returned to the short hair that first inspired Tomoya into making a video game about a nice, astonishingly ordinary, “boring” girl.

Tomoya, in turn, drew Eriri and Utaha into his orbit. Normal as she may sound and appear, without Megumi there’s no Blessing Software, no Cherry Blessing, and no Fields Chronicle offer. She was their heroine, the heroine, and now he’s his. And like any good heroine, she makes the first move, suggesting they go out on a date at once.

Sounds good to me! Well done, show: Satisfying resolutions, character growth, and so many feels.

Saekano 2 – 09

After the high spirits attained by watching Tomoya and Megumi finally reconcile last week, the angst and despair prevalent in this latest installment of Saekano presents a stark contrast. It’s a place we know the show is as comfortable with as the goofier comedy, and it’s fairly apparent by the end of the episode that whatever happens, things won’t be the same…or at least they shouldn’t easily revert back there.

After meeting Utaha after her graduation and presenting his proposal, which she reads and gives high marks, Tomoya asks if she’ll be on board for the new game, and Utaha says she can’t. She can’t for precisely the concessions Tomoya offers to persuade her to do it: he will only ask her for as much as she can handle when she has the time.

Essentially, Utaha cannot work for a producer who won’t push her to make sacrifices and challenge herself. Because of Tomoya at its head, Blessing Software is no longer a place where Utaha can feel she’s being the best creative she can be. That realization was probably reached on her own in some form, but it was certainly helped by the meeting she had one month ago.

In that meeting, the famous, ultra-successful and popular Kousaka Akane offers Utaha the task of writing the story for the newest in a celebrated, 20-year-old line of RPGs, Fields Chronicle. Not only that, Kousaka offered Eriri the job as character designer. In fact, she wanted Eriri more than Utaha. And Tomoya is just now hearing about this.

As Tomoya stews in despair and wonders if this is all really happening, we rewind one month. Utaha talks with Eriri about her slump, and about the same issues with Tomoya she brings up with him a month later.

Ever since her art from the winter villa, she hasn’t been able to draw anything as good, but takes comfort in knowing Tomoya will give her all the time she needs, and forgive and stick with her if she never draws anything again.

Utaha can relate – she once “lost herself to a guy” and it negatively affected her ability to be the best creative she could be, but Eriri won’t admit that’s what’s going on, even as she states Tomoya will never be the asshole producer-type he actually needs to be to get the most out of his creatives.

Then Utaha’s editor tells her about the meeting Kousaka wants with her, and Eriri comes along, not because she’ll be willing to hear anything Kousaka wants to say, but to try to stop Utaha from being drawn into Kousaka’s web and agreeing to the RPG project.

But while Eriri ostensibly came to provide a stronger front against the older, more experienced, and more successful (and therefore seductive) Kousaka, neither she nor Utaha come out of the meeting unscathed.

Kousaka may be drunk when they arrive, but she’s perfectly lucid in her no-nonsense approach. She’s makes it clear it’s Kashiwagi Eri she wants more than anything, and if Kasumi Utako can’t bring her on board, she isn’t needed. Eriri tells Kousaka it’s too big a job and she’s in a bad slump, but Kousaka laughs in her face and calls her trash.

While one could easily dismiss Kousaka as a horrible person, there’s no doubting her passion for her work and the work she spearheads, and it’s clear this is a knock-down, drag-out cage-rattling. Eriri’s piddling excuses are of no consequence to her; no doubt she had the same excuses before she came into her own as an artist.

It’s also a big deal that after watching Eriri and Utaha go at each other as near-equals for nearly two seasons, the proven pro Kousaka considers Eriri the superior talent, the end. That’s gotta sting for Utaha, who hasn’t always felt superior but has rarely hesitated to push all of Eriri’s inferiority buttons in their interactions.

So I don’t think she’s wrong in trying to get both Eriri and Utaha to give up on silly little small-potatoes doujin work and really push themselves. That being said, it wasn’t fun watching the two get put through the ringer like that.

As for Tomoya? I can’t say I feel bad for the guy. For one thing, it was presumptuous enough to ask a writer and artist of Utaha and Eriri’s caliber to help him make one game. For another, he doesn’t have the proper producer mentality (in part because they’re all friends) to properly push them.

Even if the final two episodes deal with Tomoya getting them back, I’m not sure it will feel like a victory to me. A second game might be an accomplishment for Tomoya and Megumi, but it would be stagnation for the creatives. They’ve already proven themselves. Time to move on to bigger things…provided that’s what they really want, of course.

Saekano 2 – 08

~Revised from an earlier review~

Here it is: the much-anticipated episode in which Tomoya tries to make up with Megumi. He, and we, spend the entire episode with Megumi and only Megumi, for what feels like the first time in a long while. He ultimately succeeds, and she even ends up in his bed (get your head out of the gutter)!

I know full well no matter how “far” Tomoya seems to get with one girl or another, he may never actually choose one. And yet I can’t deny that one of the reasons I’ve stuck with the show is that there are episodes like these (and the previous ones with Utaha and Eriri) in which Tomoya comes very close to choosing, to the point where the featured girl is his choice of the week, and all others fall away.

Megumi straight-up dismisses the possibility she might like Tomoya, which is discouraging both to me and to Tomoya. But the truth is, Megumi’s dismissal of the possibility feels more and more hollow as the two to share a night of food (and underwear) shopping, cooking, talking, bathing, and finally sleeping over, that wouldn’t be out of place for an old married couple.

Megumi is reliably adorable throughout, and Tomoya is lucky to be in her presence. Entering his house first (where his parents are away), giving him a taste of her curry, wiping food off his face—this is the Tomoya and Megumi I love so much: glorious in their mundane domesticity.

The longer we spend with Tomoya and Megumi in such intimate environment, the less certain Megumi’s earlier rebuff of Tomoya’s “tentative” theory about her feels. I mean, if these two aren’t a couple, then nobody is, right?  I’m not taking crazy pills here.

While quick to reject Tomoya at the mere mention of being jealous of him and Eriri, Megumi couldn’t help but show her hand both then and throughout the episode. Tomoya is his usual dense self in accepting the rejection, but the evening he proceeds to share with Megumi surely have him questioning the finality of that exchange in the A/V room.

Saekano 2 – 07

It’s been two months since Winter Comiket, and Cherry Blessing has done well in both sales and critical reception. But with their first game released, Blessing Software is at a crossroads. Utaha is finishing up her newest novel, while Eriri is still blowing past art deadlines (what she’s painting, we never see).

Tomoya’s rival Iori surmises that Cherry was able to surpass his game in reviews (if not in sales) because both writer and artist grew and surpassed themselves. Now that the trio has been through it all together, the girls are far less careful about how they act at school around Tomoya.

Tomoya, Eri, and Utaha are all getting along swimmingly post-Comiket, but Tomoya has been unable to make any progress whatsoever in making up with Megumi. She gives him a listless “good morning” and doesn’t answer her phone when he calls her.

That ignored call is the beginning of Tomoya starting to actually stop and carefully consider everything Megumi had done for and with him, and the manner in which treated her in return. Because he took her commitment lightly and shut her out at a crucial moment, she’s not picking up now to discuss with him the pros and cons of a new, second game.

Valentine’s Day arrives, and when he brings up the possibility of giving her more work, Eriri simply wants more time to relax, not worry about such things, give him chocolate, take his arm and walk with him.

To her chagrin, he has lunch with Utaha, who also gives him chocolate, and offers to sign her real name (not her pen name) “all over his body”, in a classic Utaha tease that’s probably more sincere than Tomoya is willing to realize.

Utaha also released her latest novel, and plans to start another soon. Since she’s already in university, she won’t be coming to school anymore after today. So Tomoya asks her, almost desperately, if she’d write for him again.

Despite her resentment of Tomoya’s protectiveness with Eriri, she bashfully admits she wants to make another game with her. Eriri, out in the hall making sure Utaha doesn’t make any moves, hears Utaha’s warm tone.

If Tomoya can come up with an idea, it looks like Utako Kasumi and Kashiwagi Eri are all on board. Which leaves Megumi (sorry Hyoudou, you’re not a main!). Tomoya makes an effort to track her down, but she slips out just as school ends. He spots her eating alone in a cafe, texts her a request for a circle meeting, and watches her not ignore it, giving him hope that maybe their friendship hasn’t “run its natural course” quite yet after all.

Then he goes home, and late into the night, he plays Cherry Blessing through. Playing it brings up all of the memories he has of Megumi working tirelessly by his side to make the game such a success, and how little appreciation he showed in his words, actions, or lack thereof. So Tomoya curls up in shame. At last—a glimmer of self-awareness from the guy.

Thinking of her also inspires Tomoya to come up with a title for the upcoming game he’ll aim to release in time for Summer Comiket: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend. Meta! Here’s hoping he can make proper amends—and Megumi is willing to take the fool back.

Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 03

Poor Miranda! She never had a chance, and more than Coco
Poor Miranda! She never had a chance, any more than Coco did

Cross Ange is a dark, gritty, brutal, sometimes just-plain-wrong mecha series done right. As First Troop battles a battleship-sized DRAGON and its twenty-odd underlings, Miranda is simply told to keep back and stay alive, an order she cannot follow. Just when you thought, “well, maybe they’ll have Miranda resent Ange for Coco’s death later”, she dies too, just as she’s told not to!

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But just so you know, the show isn’t content just with killing off rookie redshirts, as the highly capable, experienced bad-ass Captain Zola also meets her end in the fiasco of a battle where Ange first tries to desert, then freaks out and flies around, then slams into Zola’s Paramail, preventing her from landing the killing blow on the DRAGON. For her trouble, Ange gets to await rescue as the blood from Zola’s empty eye socket drips all over her cockpit. Frankly, I’m surprised more pilots didn’t lose their lives out there: those DRAGONS are exceedingly efficient at tearing people to pieces.

Everyone hates you. You are the worst.
Everyone hates you. You are the worst.

Even if it’s not all due not entirely to Ange, her selfish actions contributed greatly. She’s also gone and made even greater enemies of Zola’s three lovers: Hilda, Roselie and Chris. And Jill even sent her official petitions to several nations: all were rejected, as no one has ever heard of the Misurugi Empire or a Princess Angelise. She hasn’t just been plucked from her world: that world doesn’t even exist anymore.

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Nice touch that Norma get their full names back when they die

Once healed up and out of her Gaultier Leeloo bandages, Jill has her lug the tombstones of the dead to their final resting places – the duty of the person responsible for their deaths. It’s here she learns her cushy mana-filled world is built atop the bones of the Norma, all fighting to protect a civilization that spits on them. When she learns fallen Norma get their names back, she starts to wish for death, to escape the hell and return to a place of peace, even if it is the afterlife – because she’ll at least once again be Angelise Ikaruga Misurugi.

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Villkiss – Ange’s (old) new ride

With her first paramail trashed, Jill bestows Vilkiss on Ange – while awesome-looking, it’s hard to control and has seen better days; the perfect ride for someone with a death wish. But the Vilk is no lemon; and in giving it to Ange Jill seems to be challenging the voracity of her wish.

Salia is the new First Troop Captain…for better or worse, as she’s extremely rigid and by-the-book leader, probably a better lieutenant than captain. When they find the DRAGON and it’s revealed it’s basically acting as a decoy for a sea-to-air attack, Salia kind of just freezes. She’s only saved from the fates of Coco & Co because Ange lures it away — not because she particularly cares about Salia (or anything), but because she’s trying to die.

Vilkiss, Resplendent in Assault Mode
Vilkiss, Resplendent in Assault Mode

That is, until that DRAGON grabs her paramail and stares her down, and she remembers the dying words of her mother: “Live on.” Her ring, which was returned to her, glows, and when blood from her head drips upon it, there’s a reaction that’s both surprising and utterly un-surprising considering Ange’s natural course from now on. She’s not going to die there, because she realizes she doesn’t want to die.

Ange's not ready to die yet after all
Ange’s not ready to die yet after all

To that end, she does what it takes to live on — wasting the dragon in a heated blaze of gun and sword attacks and ending the battle on an exclamation point, bailing out the tactically deficient Salia in the first sortie under her command. By the end, Ange is flushed with excitement, just as Zola said she’d get when she hit her back. Ange is still ashamed to feel this way, but she can’t deny she does.

I have Nothing. I am Nothing. I will live. Kill and live. That is all.
I have Nothing. I am Nothing. I will live. Kill and live. That is all.

She hasn’t been a knowing Norma long, and having not grown up as one doesn’t harbor the same deep scars, but she’s very quickly starting to understand what kind of living Norma must cling to. Even if it involves killing and a whole host of other nasty stuff, they have to take what they can get and find peace and solace however they can.

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So Angelise cuts her long flowing locks and tosses them into the wind, to join her name, her past; everything else she’s ever had or been. She decides she will live on, as Ange, at any cost; not die as quickly or easily as her mother or young comrades. Then she takes the pudding Coco gave her out of the dustbin and dutifully chokes it down. It tastes disgusting, but it will nourish her soul. When in Hell, you savor every compromised comfort you can get your hands on.

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