Working!!! 3 – 09

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Working!!! starts off with a typical scene—Yachiyo talking about Kyouko to Satou while Souma smirks—with the added element of a rapt Popura. Turns out she’s noticing something different about the two, surprising Inami, who assumed Popura already knew Satou was in love with Yachiyo.

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One person who barely gets noticed ever is Otoo’s wife Haruna. Her almost nonexistent presence, and the fact she needs to be chained up in order to avoid losing her again, remains one of the more entertaining teritary characters in the show. Even better, ever since Otoo married her, his own presence has gradually diminished, making them a “stealth couple”, which considering how rarely they show up in the show, makes perfect sense.

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Another tertiary character who hasn’t appeared in a while is Minegishi, who comes to Wagnaria to report Yamada’s mom is “back on track” as one of Takenashi’s mom’s executive assistants (a job he lets slide involves assassination, among other things).

Souma sent a vague report about Takenashi and Inami to her, but Takenashi sends him away before he can mention something important to him. When he comes back to try again, he encounters Inami out back, and when he touches her to get her attention, something happens that hasn’t happened seemingly all season: she slugs someone.

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Minegishi runs off, and Inami is mortified and ashamed, but Takenashi is there to assure her that not only did Minegishi of all people deserve to be punched (and he actually enjoyed it due to his masochism) but it inspired Minegishi to seek out a punch he had missed: that of his ex-wife, Takenashi’s oldest sister Kozue. He rather embarrassingly re-proposes to her at work, and she says yes!

Besides all that, Takenashi takes Inami’s hands in hers, and when she doesn’t feel the compulsion to punch him, he takes it as evidence she’s still cured of her androphobia, and her fists merely struck someone who both deserved and didn’t mind being struck. It’s a nice acknowledgement of the progress she’s made personally, and in her relationship with Takenashi, even though neither of them have yet to be clear about their mutual feelings.

Minegishi comes back not to scold Inami, but to thank her, as well as to tell Takenashi that his mother, a powerful politician and VIP who is on the news (his co-workers never watch), is returning home, much to his consternation. Considering the myriad personalities of her kids, Mama Katanashi could be literally anyone…I look forward to meeting her and watching everyone I know bounce off of her!

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Working!!! 3 – 08

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Yamada may have moved back home, but she remains at Wagnaria after Otoo and Kyouko allowed her to keep coming in like Takanashi’s little sister to help out, and spending the night there when her mother isn’t home. So in a way, there hasn’t been a major change in the status quo, aside from the fact Yamada is usually going home and is now on better terms with her mom—though not her brother Kirio.

After that Aoicentric episode, this one is more of a grab bag, with a little story involving just about everyone from Otoo reuniting with his wife to Souta having to get a birthday present for Yachiyo (he actually gives her four for the four years he’s liked her).

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Many of these stories involve a Yamato in one way or another. Takanashi is annoyed that Kirio is talking so pleasantly with Inami, because he likes Inami, but won’t acknowledge that. He ends up beating Kirio up too much, and must recite a long-winded compliment that Takanashi thinks sounds like a joke, and it’s also how Inami interprets it, embarrassing her. So no real movement there.

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In another non-Yamada-related tidbit, Takanashi notices Popura may have shrunk, and Souma confirms she’s lost around 2cm, causing her to become depressed, because as much as she likes being pet by Katanashi, she also wants to grow more, not less. Turns out she actually did grow a centimeter, only because Takanashi grew three, she didn’t gain any ground, causing her to become depressed again.

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Back to Aoi, who convinces her mom over a period of six weeks to buy her a cell phone, then sends her mom a text, waits 30 minutes, and gets a blank reply back. Kirio, full of hidden talents, interprets the blank text as a long-winded inner monologue going on in their mother’s head about what Aoi’s original text meant and how best to respond.

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Finally, Kirio is sick of Aoi not acknowledging him as her true big brother (thanks to that natto theft incident), so he tries to become her big brother by becoming Souma’s little brother, which he attempts in the most ridiculous, true-to-the-Yamadas manner possible.

It’s actually Souta, whom Kirio asks for advice, who tells Kirio to take this route, in order to best annoy Souma as payback. But it isn’t long before the plan backfires and Kirio is annoying Souta to the point he must retreat from his own kitchen. Don’t get involved with Kirio; it isn’t worth it!

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Working!!! 3 – 07

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A lot of the interpersonal conflicts that arise in Working!! come down to people interpreting each others actions, words, or lack of words incorrectly; making the wrong assumptions. So it’s no surprise that the core conflict of Yamada Aoi—that she’s run away from home—comes down to such misinterpretations. After all, she’s one of the strangest communicators out there, having a running third-person commentary of her life as she lives it.

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Aoi is also bright and friendly and warm and cute—when she’s not being impetuous, cocky, or a huge hassle to others. Her mom is not any of those things. She comes off to many like a robot, and Kirio and Aoi were even furnished with “mom manuals” in order to interpret her subtle facial expressions, since she speaks so little. Aoi is in conflict with her mom because she never RTFM.

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As such, Aoi interpreted her mother foisting huge books on her to mean she was coldly forcing her to cram, even though her mother inside was simply worried about Aoi’s future. And Kirio eating her special natto (which he didn’t think was so great) is the last straw (or natto strand). Aoi tries to form a new family in Wagnaria, then Takanashi’s house, but her proper place is with her family; it’s just a matter of being convinced.

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The issue is brought to the forefront, and resolved, by two side characters. Aoi’s mom happens to be Takanashi’s eldest sister’s masochistic ex-husband, and Otoo’s often-lost wife Haruna convinces Aoi to go back home based on the principle of “ships passing in the night”, or family members and friends who may have wildly different ways of looking at and interacting with the world can still bump into each other on occasion, which is something to be celebrated.

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Aoi thus learns the conciliatory, re-connecting value of a hug from her mother (who tracked her down, ninja-style), and returns home, even though she still considers Souma a better big brother than Kirio. But while this means Aoi will no longer be living either at the restaurant or Takanashi’s, I’m sure she’ll still be “working” there on occasion; as long as it doesn’t interfere with her studies.

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Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 11

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It sounds like Hannah was pretty disappointed about her show squandering its promise…though that’s partly on her for even remotely thinking that show was going anywhere daring or compelling.

Not to be smug, but didn’t have that problem with this latest Saekano. Last week focused heavily on the wild card Machiru, setting her up as someone who could genuinely challenge Tomoya, who was in need of some challenging in the midst of all his ladykillin’.

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What last week failed to do was show us what would happen when his harem came into direct contact with his purple-haired, skantily-clad cousin. The results were momentous; everything I hoped for and more. Utaha hawkishly defends otaku culture, while an initially flabberghasted Eriri even finds some common ground when Machiru mentions that, on some rare occasion, Tomoya can be cool and come through for you.

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We also find that exposing oneself to Michiru isn’t enough to convince her to compose your dating sim’s soundtrack; far from it. In fact, part of what gets Utaha so steamed is Michiru’s outsider-looking-in perspective of Tomoya, and his obsession with otaku culture, is something to mature out of rather than cultivate. When Michiru disses Tomo, she disses everyone in that room. Except for Kato…who is definitely in that room…watching and waiting.

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Michiru’s reasons for not jumping into Tomoya’s project go beyond her semi-maternal dubiousness with his present course in life. She’s got her own dream of being in a band, after all. When she says she needs a manager to appease her dad, Tomoya is eager to step in, but when she tells him it won’t be a part-time job, it becomes her dream versus his. That’s right: Michiru isn’t perfect; she’s selfish too.

What’s so awesome is how much sense her selfishness makes. She’s known Tomoya all their lives; and she has an idea what he could and should be that just doesn’t jibe with what he is and wants to be. But it’s her affection and concern for him, not merely her own self-interest, that comes through when she says this manager job could be just the excuse he needs to drop this whole gamemaker charade.

And she calls it a charade because she had a good look at his fellow circle members. While she’s well aware that they all have their reasons for being in that circle (calling Tomoya a sly dog in the process), she doubts their commitment to making the game is anywhere near Tomoya’s level.

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Of course, we know better, and so should Tomoya, but Michiru’s words create genuine conflict in his heart. Suddenly he’s not just the fumbling leader of a haremy doujin circle, but a guy trying to find out whether his dream is really as quixotic as she says. But Kato is up all night at Eriri’s working on the game, knowing Tomoya is a week behind; and Utaha is up too. They’re all working their pants off while he worries.

He then makes the best decision of this episode and calls Kato early in the morning, and they have this lovely, natural boyfriend-girlfriend phone conversation, in which he voices his anxieties.

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Yet again, Tomoya luxuriates in the very thing he has no idea he has with Kato, yet simultaneously must know on some level he has. Kato gets him out of his house, where he’d been worrying all night rather than working, and gets some breakfast into him, ever the practical mind. But in an ingenious gambit, she talks through the game prototype to comfort and reassure him.

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And in an even more ingenious and somewhat diabolical scheme, she keeps her hand firmly planted on Tomoya’s and the mouse as the dialogue starts going to places Tomoya rather wouldn’t; things about having feelings for attractive cousins, something to which she can relate.

While Kato claims the dialogue was simply random, let’s get real: there’s no way it was random. This was calculated payback for Tomoya “steppin’ out” on Kato, and it was absolutely glorious. For the first time in a while, she’s able to make Tomoya squirm as much as Michiru.

At the same time, she proves how good she is for him by picking up his slack without even being asked to, and not feeling forced or obligated to. It’s a brilliant dynamic.

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His confidence in the project thus restored, and his apology delivered, he shares an earbud with Kato so she can hear Michiru’s music, and she agrees that she’d be perfect for the soundtrack. And it could be that Kato’s little piece of mischievousness also inspired Tomoya to come up with a plan to snag his cousin.

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As he is a man of wide-ranging otaku means and connections, he’s able to get Michiru’s band a slot at a live performance, a gesture he uses to prove to her he can be an effective manager. In turn, Michiru lets him see her get teary-eyed for the first time since he carried her on his back when she twisted her ankle years and years ago. She also apologizes, admitting she was being selfish.

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Thus, Tomoya has his cousin right where he wants her: in his debt. Tomoya looks awfully proud of himself as the episode cuts to black, but I’m certain more compromises are in store for him, and managing both Michiru’s band and a circle full of girls competing against each other won’t be a cakewalk either.

Still, I’m willing to come out and say these past two episodes cemented Michiru’s place as my second-favorite girl after Kato. As she demonstrated quite emphatically, there’s simply no beating Kato!

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P.S. I’ll be watching Saekano’s final (for now) episode later tonight and hopefully have a review of it up not long thereafter.

Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 10

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AND THEN THERE WERE FOUR. Or FIVE, if you count IZUMI. OMG, WHY AM I SHOUTING AT YOU WHERE ARE MY MANNERS?!

Anywho, everyone’s favorite purple-haired tomboy Hyoudou Michiru is here, and her timing couldn’t have been better. Why? Because after a seemingly long string of episodes in which Tomoya is fawned over by one girl after another for various reasons, this week Tomoya is the fawner—perhaps not by choice, at least at first—and not the fawnee.

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Tomoya is content to bury himself in Blessing Software, as he holds teleconferences with his staff and make progress on the dating sim (though Kato’s line deliveries either need more work or none at all, bwahahaha). Then his only cousin Michiru appears, topless, in his bathroom, having run away from home after the latest disagreement with her dad (Tomoya’s uncle).

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Whether she is oblivious to her power over her cousin of the same age (who was born on the same day in the same hospital as her!) is having fun torturing a horny teenage boy, or is herself into Tomoya (the truth is likely a combination of the three) calling Michiru a disruptive force in Tomoya’s little otaku world would be a grim understatement.

The sudden 3D onslaught nearly drives Tomoya to insanity. The camera reflects his uneasy but utterly-unable-to-avert gaze, and it’s all over the voluptuous, scantily-clad Michiru. This episode features the most fanservice since the prologue; possibly more.

But like that promising if totally out of chronological order start, the fanservice is never tiresome because a.) it’s also character-service and plot-service, and b.) it’s very well-done, right up there with Monogatari. For example, animators are notoriously bad at feet, but not here.

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For one reason or another it’s a long night for Tomoya, so in the A.V. clubroom, he’s all but asleep at the laptop, causing him to spout supportive dialogue that gets Utaha all hot and bothered—and forces Eriri to quarantine her in the broadcast booth, where she nonetheless continues to participate in the discussion via the P.A. system.

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I like how the show clearly isn’t interested in such tedious minutiae as why Tomoya’s circle has such unfettered access to such slick digs. You’d think the A.V. Club would be in there, or at the very least some paperwork and lobbying would be required to gain access to the facilities. But this isn’t that kind of show. Saekano doesn’t care, and nor do we. They’ve got a place at school to work, and that’s all we need or care to know.

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Just as the circle’s topic of discussion turns to determining who will score the game, a very big oversight to this point, considering the awesome power of music (cough-Violin Girl-cough), Tomoya gets a cheerful text from Michiru asking when he’s coming home and stating she’s ordering pizza (or possibly four pizzas in one).

It’s innocent enough, reflecting Michiru’s unique position as friend, family, and love interest. Kato, possibly exercising Stealth Mode, “can’t help” but glance at Tomoya’s phone and read every word.

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That maks Eriri curious, which in tern makes Utaha curious, and Tomoya has a full-scale riot on his hands. He’s tied up in caution tape and interrogated, and each girl stays true to character: Utaha remains her seductive self, but is clearly annoyed and maintains a certain intentional unpredictability to put Tomoya that much more on edge.

Meanwhile, Eriri recedes to the very edge of the room, flustered and on the brink of panic. Kato is just Kato; meaning she kinda stays in the background and lets the two heavies do all the outragin’.

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When Tomoya tells them who Michiru is and why she’s in his house, it hardly assuages their anxiety. On the contrary, it sets these two creatives types’ imaginations ablaze, as Utaha writes a scenario about the cousins on the spot, one so troubling it just about does Eriri in, which may have been Utaha’s intent all along.

But it’s true that while Utaha teases, often very seductively so, she can’t touch the inherent intimacy of Michiru, nor her fearlessness and utter lack of inhibition regarding Tomoya. Eriri, meanwhile, may be a childhood friend, but Michiru, who was present at Tomoya’s birth, is the Ultimate Childhood Friend.

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What I didn’t think I’d see was so much of the family side of Michiru. I’d thought all along that she was at least a little older than Tomoya rather than the same age, but even so Michiru lives in a more “normal” world than Tomoya, and takes immediate (and unsolicited) attempts to make him grow up, first by tossing all his otaku crap and replacing it with her own, more sober musically-themed room decorations.

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This means that in addition to having Utaha’s seduction and Eriri’s longevity beat, she also gives Kato’s domesticity and practicality a run for their money. Keep in mind Michiru is not being mocking, but giving her honest opinion as someone who’s known Tomoya longer than anyone, when she tells him he could easily get a girlfriend if he stopped acting like a weirdo. The fact that Tomoya wouldn’t be interested in that kind of girl is irrelevant; Michiru is looking out for a family member. One has to think about marriage at some point!

Similarly, when Tomoya is finally able to segue into telling Michiru his dream of creating the ultimate dating sim, Michiru couldn’t be less impressed. In fact, she finds it ridiculous that Tomoya would try to make a living off his childish hobbies. She even strikes a concerned parent/wife pose…which wouldn’t look bad painted on the fuselage of a P-51.

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Tomoya has always had a blind spot for the non-otaku Michiru, who has flitted from passion to passion, always abandoning something when she’s bored, while it’s in his nature to stick to one thing like stink in a Basset Hound’s un-groomed ear. But here’s the thing: Michiru is really good at everything she tries. Of late, she’s been in an all-girl band, which was the cause of her argument with her dad. So we know she’s good at that too.

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So good, in fact, that when she decides to defy Tomoya while he’s taking a bath by plugging her guitar into an amp and playing a piece she’s working on, Tomoya sees the same cherry blossom petals that flew by his face when he first saw Kato on that hill. Not only that, he sees the entire dating sim story unfold to Michiru’s stirring tunes.

He’s so spellbound, he forgets he’s in nothing but a towel when he enters the room, a reversal of their first encounter this week. Michiru is about to apologize, but Tomoya isn’t there to hear one. He’s there to ask her to join his circle as composer.

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Then his towel slips off, and Michiru gets the Full Aki. She neither accepts nor declines. She simply stares. Having been built up so much recently by the fawning of Utaha and Izumi and Eriri, Tomoya has come back down to earth and stands before Michiru, as naked as the day they were both born in the same hospital.

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Sekai Seifuku: Bouryaku no Zvezda – 01

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There’s something highly amusing (and cool) about a well-dressed, lost-looking young lass on a pink bike (with training wheels) spouting off about world conquest and not only meaning it, but being able to back it up with zeal. With an already full Winter season, we were kinda hoping to fly under Sekai Seifuku: Bouryaku no Zvezda (which we’ll shorten to SSBZ henceforth), possibly saving it for marathoning later on (like we did with Sunday Without God, or what we’re going to do with Nagi no Asukara‘s second half).

Alas, it’s first episode was, like that out-of-place girl on her bike, too conspicuous to ignore, and too absorbing to put off. The premise of the show that neither tanks nor law and order are enough to protect the world; only “Conquest” will do the trick. For the purposes of this episode, “Conquest” means being soundly beaten and having “Conquered” branded on you. They  could be dismissed as inane ramblings of a petulant waif, were she not capable of actually supporting those ramblings with real tank-busting power, and supported by a very stylishly-attired retinue of loyal followers.

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Hoshimiya Kate (Kuno Misaki), is alone on her bike during martial law because she’s starting to question whether there’ll still be a place for her in the world once she conquers it. This is how she meets middle schooler Jimon Asuta, who’s trying to conquer a different kind of world (his life) by running away from the parts he can’t control. He’s a decent lad who offers Kate food and later catches her when she falls from her bike, and for his kindness, she recruits him as part of her world-conquering organization, Zvezda, immediately making his life far more interesting and fun than it had been earlier that evening.

We like the idea of Zvezda fighting against the same forces the Gatchamen would fight alongside; there’s a plucky, impish appeal to their selfish (not selfless) mission. Like Jormungand or The Unlimited, we’re watching things from the perspective of the bad guys, who can often be more fun to watch than the good. And like the dual-identity characters of Star Driver, Kate and her officers have no shortage of charisma, infusing every line and action with maximum panache. Finally, we appreciated that the momentum was never arrested with in-depth explanations of the nature or origin of Zvezda’s awesome powers.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Usagi Drop 7

The calm, placid little world of Daikichi and Rin is suddenly interrupted this week by Dai’s cousin Haruka and her loud daughter Reina. Haruka has left home, leaving her husband and his parents behind. She needs a break. She’s considering divorce. Can she and Reina stay at Dai-chan’s for a spell, onegaishimasu?

Daikichi is suitibly hospitable, and Rin and Reina continue to hit it off. Add Kouki into the mix and you’ve got quite a collection of rugrats. I love how Dai’s daily life changes when there’s suddenly two more women in the house, for a total of three. I especially like how he sheepishly explains to Yukari that Haruka “isn’t what it looks like.” He continues to tread very carefully regarding courting Yukari. Of course Haruka was the focus here, and we get a little insight into her not-so-happy marriage.

Like Dai and Rin, she’s perfectly content with just her and Reina; she sees the rest of the people in her home enemies. But after a couple days to cool down and reflect, Haruka goes back home. It’s what’s best for Reina, and even if it’s tough for her, it’s tougher still being a single parent. Dai admires the strength he sees in Haruka that he didn’t when she was a kid. Great characterization all around this week, and a bunch of funny little lines from the kids are thrown in for good measure.


Rating: 3.5