Gleipnir – 09 – The Third Faction

The first third of this episode resembles a pleasant hiking trip (they even take a break to eat watermelon) through the woods, but it’s clear that the closer they get to the crash site, the more powerful foes they’ll encounter. When they take a detour around a site marked as turf by a rival group, that detour takes them to a very exposed riverbed, leading Claire to wonder if that was the enemy’s goal in the first place.

Sayaka may have stirred her troops with her speech—she’s clearly a good leader in that regard—but the fact remains she led her group into a potentially deadly trap simply by discounting the possibility her group could be outwitted by the selfish savages who inhabit the woods. Worse, her lack of any offensive capability make her an instant liability in an actual battle with a member of this third group.

This monster, Morita, runs ahead of his allies to cut Sayaka’s group off and stall them, taking Sayaka hostage and holding her limbs (and boobs) with his many arms. Due to the usual way things go in Gleipnir, I didn’t think Sayaka would ever leave Morita’s grasp with her life (or all her limbs attached). Enter Yota, who reveals his superior offensive capability for the first time by freeing Sayaka, ripping Morita’s jaw out, and leaving him in a defeated pile.

When Morita’s allies find him, they declare him useless and are excited at the prospect of putting him out of his misery and moving on, since they never liked him. But their leader, who unlike Sayaka is the most powerful among them, takes pity on Morita, rips out one of his own teeth to share in the pain, and promises he’ll make the one responsible pay dearly.

Taking the form of a massive gorilla, the leader rushes Sayaka’s group and punches out Isao, believing him to be Morita’s attacker before Yota saves Isao from being pummeled by a log. Yet even Yota has trouble with this guy, meaning the Weak’s last best chance of surviving this latest encounter is for Claire to climb into Shuuichi and do their thing.

After a couple straight episodes of interesting relationship dynamics, that’s all set aside this week for the sake of the plot moving forward. You could call that a demerit on a show where the characters are more compelling than the story, but it’s good to see the show strike a balance. After all the talk about external threats, this was a confrontation that needed to happen sooner rather than later. We’ll see how many of the Weak come out of it in one piece.

P.S. The sub-7 rating of Gleipnir on MAL is frankly a joke. This is easily a 7.6-7.8 anime at worst. Remember to keep taking those with a grain of salt!

Gleipnir – 08 – Filling In the Shadows

Claire and Yatou find Shuuichi and Chihiro (and Chihiro’s wallet), then return to the hideout where there are finally formal introductions of the remaining members. One of them, Isao, is a mild-mannered plant-lover who just happens to remember Shuuichi playing with friends at Yamada Cram School.

Shuuichi just happened to dream of the school, but woke up before he met any of his classmates. And yet Shuuichi insists to Isao that he was the only student at the school, which aside from being very odd (wouldn’t he just have a tutor?) reinforces the idea that his memories have been supremely messed with.

Claire is naturally suspicious of Chihiro, and doesn’t believe she doesn’t remember anything about the battle after she and Shuuichi were smushed. This scene is akin to your typical high school drama confrontation between romantic rivals, just as entering Shuuichi is akin to sex.

Claire insists she’s “irreplaceable” as Shuuichi’s partner, but Chihiro speaks with some authority that the two will never “become one” before walking away. Claire’s fear Chihiro might just be right—and dread of the loneliness that could result from that truth—likely conspire to keep her from taking a shot at Chihiro.

On the way home for the day, Claire brings up Shuuichi’s “experience” with Chihiro, including asking straight up if she was “better” than her, and even half-jokingly proposing real sex with him as a means of reasserting their exclusivity. What’s so heartbreaking is that the truth is, from a combat perspective, Chihiro was better.

Because Chihiro and Shuuichi shared the same goal in that moment (perhaps nothing more than a desire to survive their smushing), she was able to exact a transformation—and a closeness to Shuuichi—Claire hasn’t come close to achieving. She can say “you and I are one” all she wants, but Shuuichi and Chihiro really were a single entity.

As is expected of such a non-confrontational fellow, Shuuichi remains passive in this brewing love triangle for now. He seems destined to continue having women slip into his zipper as long as he ends up in situations where he needs to become stronger. Claire is right on one count: Shuuichi needs someone around to spur him to decisive action.

Who is best for that role depends on what he wants his role to be. And whether it’s encountering his classmate Abukawa burying a dog that was (allegedly) run over, or fixing Mifune’s bike, he wants to use his power not for himself, but to protect normal, powerless people like them. (Incidentally, Ikeuchi is spying on him when he’s with Mifune, and concludes he’s an inveterate womanizer.)

That night, Chihiro calls Elena, using the number she found on Shuuichi’s phone. She’s desperate for answers about what happened to the two of them, and Elena generously explains that what happened is Shuuichi’s special power, and how only someone who shares his goals can fully join with him, as Chihiro did.

Chihiro, it turns out, not only remembers the entirety of the battle while she and Shuuichi were joined, but was privy to all of his memories, many of which were full of “shadows,” or unnaturally erased details memories. Whether it’s the fact he had classmates at cram school, to the fact he and Elena were clearly in some kind of relationship, Chihiro is new link to memories Elena thought were lost.

I’ll just add that this episode was full of great dialogue between seiyus Hanazawa Kana and Ichinose Kana, whose voice many compare to a younger Hanazawa.

Chihiro could glean from those memories that Elena wasn’t a bad person, and pleads with her to join them. She’s assuming Elena is that same not-bad person, and it’s clear she isn’t; people change. Still, Chihiro’s revelations could pave the way for a possible redemption of Elena, provided a lot of conditions are met.

The next day the Weak reassemble and set out in search of more coins, with Sayaka noting the pattern of their locations indicates the path of the alien ship, which is their ultimate goal to 100 coins. Elena, meanwhile, told Chihiro “someone” (either her or someone she’s aligned with) already has 100 coins. So the Weak certainly have some catching up to do.

Speaking of coins, Claire reveals she’s been hiding one in a book in her apartment, meaning she can cash it in to gain her own alternate form. She may not know for sure what we know about the extent of Chihiro’s connection to Shuuichi (or how much “better” it was), but I’m sure she suspects the worst, and might feel like she’s suddenly being left behind. Things continue to get very messy indeed.

Gleipnir – 07 – Fell Deeds Awake

Claire’s pact with Sayaka, the leader of the Weak complete, so Sayaka tells her how she knows Elena. When she transferred to a new school after her lover committed suicide, Sayaka withdrew into herself, but Elena was always friendly, kind, and determined to draw her out. Sayaka sees Elena has having had a positive change in her wretched life, so she can’t simply can’t fathom the murderous demon-woman Claire describes.

Thanks to Ikeuchi’s voyeuristic recording abilities, Claire learns of Shuuichi’s whereabouts, but if she reacts to Chihiro climbing into Shuuichi, she sure doesn’t show it outwardly. Since Chihiro is involved, and Claire is now one of them, Sayaka sees their retrieval as a matter for the whole group, and has the best fighter of them, a fresh-faced 19-year-old named Murakami Yota, to join Clair in the search.

When Shuuichi and Chihiro pick up the scent of her wallet in the hands of Elena’s overpowered allies, Shuuichi decides he’ll make up for letting Hikawa die by facing the threat head-on rather than thinking only of saving himself. It’s a classic case of not knowing when to run. Shuuichi’s fear didn’t kill anyone; it kept him alive. What good can he do to anyone dead?

When Subaru, a blonde kid who can summon a two-headed beast he addresses as “mom and dad”, sneaks up on Shuuichi, the ensuing battle isn’t really a battle, but someone smashing a mere bug between their hands. It’s a sickening scene that took things to the Worst Case Scenario so quickly my head was spinning. It looked for all the world like Yoshioka Chihiro was history, being horribly smashed within Shuuichi’s body.

But it’s not the end for either of them. Instead, their bloody remains merge into a single berserk avenging form. Shuuichi is the raging id, lashing at Subaru’s “parents” and actually making a fight of it; Chihiro is the superego assessing things from a distance and attempting to reel her counterpart’s surging anger. It’s phenomenon we haven’t seen yet, but it has the effect of helping us understand more the bond between Shuuichi and Elena prior to his transformation.

As it turns out, the two were friends, and possibly more. Elena was apparently the one who first found the crashed alien ship, while Shuuichi was the first one to drink the energy shot that transformed him. This means Shuuichi’s memories of Elena are either lost forever or suppressed, and it took a third party in Chihiro to excavate them from his unconscious.

The fight with Subaru ends in a stalemate when Elena arrives to stop the fighting. She insists Subaru save the full extent of his abilities for when they’re needed. Threats from Subaru ring hollow, as Elena is certain that she won’t be allowed to die until this is all over.

The merged being eventually reverts back to an unconscious Shuuichi in Mascot Mode, and a fully-healed Chihiro sleeping inside of him. This is how Claire and Yota find them. Will Chihiro remember what she saw, and more importantly, will she be able to tell anyone? Will Claire be angry with Shuuichi for letting someone else “in”, or just be happy he’s alright? Things just keep getting more interesting…

Kimi no Na wa. (Your Name.)

Simply diving into a review immediately after watching a film as devastatingly gorgeous and emotionally affecting as Kimi no Na wa is probably not a great idea, but this is an anime review blog, so here goes.

Kimi no Na wa isn’t just a charming body-swap rom-com, or a time-travelling odyssey, or a disaster prevention caper, or a tale of impossibly cruel temporal and physical distance between two soul mates, or a reflection on the fragility and impermanence of everything from memories to cities, or a tissue-depleting tearjerker.

It’s all of those things and more. And it’s also one of, if not the best, movies I’ve ever seen, anime or otherwise.

After a cryptic prologue, Kimi no Na wa starts out modestly: Miyamizu Mitsuha, Shinto shrine maiden and daughter of a mayor, has grown restless in her small town world, so one night, shouts out tot he night that she wants to be reborn as a boy in Tokyo.

This, mind you, happens after an odd incident in which Mitsuha essentially lost a day, during which all her family and friends say she was acting very strange and non-Mitsuha-y…like a different person.

That’s because she was. She and a boy from Tokyo, Tachibana Taki, randomly swap bodies every so often when they’re dreaming. As such, they end up in the middle of their couldn’t-be-any-different lives; the only similarity being that both of them yearn for more.

Despite just meeting these characters, watching Mitsuha and Taki stumble through each other’s lives is immensely fun. And because this is a Shinkai film, that enjoyment is augmented by the master director’s preternatural visual sumptuousness and realism. Every frame of Mitsuha’s town and the grand vastness of Tokyo is so full of detail I found myself wanting to linger in all of them.

As the body-swapping continues, the two decide to lay down “ground rules” when in one another’s bodies—albeit rules both either bend or break with impunity—and make intricate reports in one another’s phone diaries detailing their activities during the swaps.

Interestingly, Mitsuha makes more progress with Taki’s restaurant co-worker crush Okudera than Taki (she like’s Taki’s “feminine side”), while the more assertive Taki proves more popular with boys and girls when Taki’s in her body.

Taki happens to be in Mitsuha’s body when her grandmother and sister Yotsuha make the long, epic trek from their home to the resting place of the “body” of their Shinto shrine’s god, an otherworldly place in more ways than one, to make an offering of kuchikamisake (sake made from saliva-fermented rice).

While the three admire the sunset, Mitsuha’s granny takes a good look at her and asks if he, Taki, is dreaming. Just then he wakes up back in his own body to learn Mitsuha has arranged a date with him and Okudera—one she genuinely wanted to attend.

Okudera seems to notice the change in Taki from the one Mitsuha inhabited; she can tell his mind is elsewhere, and even presumes he’s come to like someone else. Taki tries to call that someone else on his phone, but he gets an automated message.

Then, just like that, the body-swapping stops.

After having cut her hair, her red ribbon gone, Mitsuha attends the Autumn Festival with her friends Sayaka and Teshi. They’re treated to a glorious display in the night sky, as the comet Tiamat makes its once-every-1,200-years visit.

Taki decides if he can’t visit Mitsuha’s world in his dreams anymore, he’ll simply have to visit Mitsuha. Only problem is, he doesn’t know exactly what village she lives in. Okudera and one of his high school friends, who are worried about him, decide to tag along on his wild goose chase.

After a day of fruitless searching, Taki’s about to throw in the towel, when one of the proprietors of a restaurant notices his detailed sketch of Mitsuha’s town, recognizing it instantly as Itomori. Itomori…a town made famous when it was utterly destroyed three years ago by a meteor created from a fragment of the comet that fell to earth.

The grim reality that Taki and Mitsuha’s worlds were not in the same timeline is a horrendous gut punch, as is the bleak scenery of the site of the former town. Every lovingly-depicted detail of the town, and all of its unique culture, were blasted into oblivion.

Taki is incredulous (and freaked out), checking his phone for Mitsuha’s reports, but they disappear one by one, like the details of a dream slipping away from one’s memory. Later, Taki checks the register of 500 people who lost their lives in the disaster, and the punches only grow deeper: among the lost are Teshi, Sayaka…and Miyamizu Mitsuha.

After the initial levity of the body-swapping, this realization was a bitter pill to swallow, but would ultimately elevate the film to something far more epic and profound, especially when Taki doesn’t give up trying to somehow go back to the past, get back into Mitsuha’s body, and prevent all those people from getting killed, including her.

The thing that reminds him is the braided cord ribbon around his wrist, given to him at some point in the past by someone he doesn’t remember. He returns to the site where the offering was made to the shrine’s god, drinks the sake made by Mitsuha, stumbles and falls on his back, and sees a depiction of a meteor shower drawn on the cave ceiling.

I haven’t provided stills of the sequence that follows, but suffice it to say it looked and felt different from anything we’d seen and heard prior in the film, and evoked emotion on the same level as the famous flashback in Pixar’s Up. If you can stay dry-eyed during this sequence, good for you; consider a career being a Vulcan.

Taki then wakes up, miraculously back in Mitsuha’s body, and sets to work. The same hustle we saw in Taki’s restaurant job is put to a far more important end: preventing a horrific disaster. The town itself may be doomed—there’s no stopping that comet—but the people don’t have to be.

Convincing anyone that “we’re all going to die unless” is a tall order, but Taki doesn’t waver, formulating a plan with Teshi and Sayaka, and even trying (in vain) to convince Mitsuha’s father, the mayor, to evacuate.

While the stakes couldn’t be higher and the potential devastation still clear in the mind, it’s good to see some fun return. Sayaka’s “we have to save the town” to the shopkeep is a keeper.

Meanwhile, Mitsuha wakes up in the cave in Taki’s body, and is horrified by the results of the meteor strike. She recalls her quick day trip to Tokyo, when she encountered Taki on a subway train, but he didn’t remember her, because it would be three more years before their first swap.

Even so, he can’t help but ask her her name, and she gives it to him, as well as something to remember her by later: her hair ribbon, which he would keep around his wrist from that point on.

Both Taki-as-Mitsuha and Mitsuha-as-Taki finally meet face-to-face, in their proper bodies, thanks to the mysterious power of kataware-doki or twilight. It’s a gloriously-staged, momentous, and hugely gratifying moment…

…But it’s all too brief. Taki is able to write on Mitsuha’s hand, but she only gets one stoke on his when twilight ends, and Taki finds himself back in his body, in his time, still staring down that awful crater where Itomori used to be. And again, like a dream, the more moments pass, the harder it gets for him to remember her.

Back on the night of the Autumn Festival, Mitsuha, back in her time and body, takes over Taki’s evacuation plan. Teshi blows up a power substation with contractor explosives and hacks the town-wide broadcast system, and Sayaka sounds the evacuation. The townsfolk are mostly confused, however, and before long Sayaka is apprehended by authorities, who tell everyone to stay where they are, and Teshi is nabbed by his dad.

With her team out of commission, it’s all up to Mitsuha, who races to her father to make a final plea. On the way, she gets tripped up and takes a nasty spill. In the same timeline, a three-years-younger Taki, her ribbon around his wrist, watches the impossibly gorgeous display in the Tokyo sky as the comet breaks up. Mitsuha looks at her hand and finds that Taki didn’t write his name: he wrote “I love you.”

The meteor falls and unleashes a vast swath of destruction across the landscape, not sparing the horrors of seeing Itomori wiped off the face of the earth—another gut punch. Game Over, too, it would seem. After spending a cold lonely night up atop the former site of the town, he returns to Tokyo and moves on with his life, gradually forgetting all about Mitsuha, but still feeling for all the world like he should be remembering something, that he should be looking for someplace or someone.

Bit by bit, those unknowns start to appear before him; a grown Sayaka and Teshi in a Starbucks; a  passing woman with a red ribbon in her hair that makes him pause, just as his walking by makes her pause. But alas, it’s another missed connection; another classic Shinkai move: they may be on the same bridge in Shinjuku, but the distance between them in time and memory remains formidable.

Mitsuha goes job-hunting, enduring one failed interview after another, getting negative feedback about his suit from everyone, including Okudera, now married and hopeful Taki will one day find happiness.

While giving his spiel about why he wants to be an architect, he waxes poetic about building landscapes that leave heartwarming memories, since you’ll never know when such a landscape will suddenly not be there.

A sequence of Winter scenes of Tokyo flash by, and in light of what happened to Itomori quite by chance, that sequence makes a powerful and solemn statement: this is Tokyo, it is massive and complex and full of structures and people and culture found nowhere else in the world, but it is not permanent.

Nothing built by men can stand against the forces of nature and the heavens. All we can do is live among, appreciate, and preseve our works while we can. We’re only human, after all.

And yet, for all that harsh celestial certainty, there is one other thing that isn’t permanent in this film: Taki and Mitsuha’s separation. Eventually, the two find each other through the windows of separate trains, and race to a spot where they experience that odd feeling of knowing each other, while also being reasonably certain they’re strangers.

Taki almost walks away, but turns back and asks if they’ve met before. Mitsuha feels the exact same way, and as tears fill their eyes, they ask for each others names. Hey, what do you know, a happy ending that feels earned! And a meteor doesn’t fall on Tokyo, which is a huge bonus.

Last August this film was released, and gradually I started to hear rumblings of its quality, and of how it could very well be Shinkai’s Magnum Opus. I went in expecting a lot, and was not disappointed; if anything, I was bowled over by just how good this was.

Many millions of words have been written about Kimi no Na wa long before I finally gave it a watch, but I nevertheless submit this modest, ill-organized collection words and thoughts as a humble tribute to the greatness I’ve just witnessed. I’ll be seeing it again soon.

And if for some reason you haven’t seen it yourself…what are you doing reading this drivel? Find it and watch it at your nearest convenience. You’ll laugh; you’ll cry; you’ll pump your fist in elation.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica – 11 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 25 Apr 2011 – We feared the month-long hiatus would have killed most of the momentum gained after the milestone tenth episode that chronicles Akemi Homura’s odyssey through time and space to protect Madoka. Those fears were mostly allayed by yet another episode that, while not as action pack as last month’s, but was certainly full of crucial information and more startling revelations. Kyuubey figures out Homura’s power, but is never worried about it, and in fact is congratulatory towards Homura. This is because he believes by pressing the reset button so many times, Homura has allowed Madoka to become a more and more powerful magical girl, and thus her karmic burden grows more and more immense.

This is one last “f*** you” for Homura, who has apparently been working so hard to avoid creating exactly what her actions have created: a ridiculously-powerful Madoka. Worse still, even in this timeline, there is no way Homura can prevent Madoka from contracting. Everyone else is dead; Madoka is responsible, and even though she knows Kyuubey is up to no good, she is compelled to lend Homura a helping hand, even if it means abandoning her family. Madoka’s mind is made up once Homura finally opens up to her about what’s going on and why.

Homura initially tries to fight Walpurgisnacht herself, but not surprisingly fails, despite some impressive pyrotechnics (which seemingly destroy a fair amount of the city). Bloodied and beaten, Homura lies amongst debris, and for once, hesitates to turn back time; doing so would only hurt Madoka more, in her mind. With Homura down and out and no more magical girls extant, Madoka has to step in, stand tall, and make a bad deal with a cold, logical alien; taking her mother’s advice to stop being so good and do something bad for once.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Puella Magi Madoka Magica – 03 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 26 Jan 2011 – Madoka and Sayaka tread deeper into the world of maho shojos and witches as they happen to encounter a grief seed while walking around. By this point, we learn that Sayaka will most likely wish for her ill friend to recover, while Madoka’s wish is simply to become useful and be good at something.  It’s also hinted that she has the potential to become an extremely powerful maho shojo.

Mimi warns her that being a maho shojo (at least in her experience) isn’t any picnic, as there’s pain, anguish, suffering, no time for boys, and no one to talk to about the weird shit going on in her life. Mimi puts up a brave front, but inside, she’s a mess. Madoka tells her not to worry; they’ll be a team and she won’t have to wallow in her loneliness anymore. Mimi is heartened.

But Mimi also underestimates the witch (despite some really slick gunplay) and apparently gets eaten. Madoka and Sayaka are moments away from contracting with Kyubei when Homura steps in to clean up the mess. Homura hopes this is a lesson to the girls to not enter her world, but with Mimi apparently gone (and “miracle” in the next ep’s title), there’s a possibility Madoka’s wish will be to bring Mimi back.

We definitely like the conflict already arising between the perks of being a maho shojo (powers, looking awesome, helping people) and the potential pitfalls (saying sayonara to anything resembling a normal, long life; the temptation that comes with those powers). This is no choice for the faint-hearted, and Madoka is so far being presented as someone hardly ready to make such choices.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Puella Magi Madoka Magica – 01 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 6 Jul 2011 – Like Bakemonogatari, Puella Magi Madoka Magica immediately establishes itself as a very stylish enterprise. Very architectural, too. Ordinary settings like a house and a school are grand, impressive postmodern cathedrals. The polarizing Akiyuki Shinbo reminds me somewhat of Wes Anderson; with the tendency for his ‘camera’ to hang back and dwell on things and the careful attention to minute visual details. We like it.

We’ve never watched a pure “Maho Shojo” anime before, and it seems with Puella Magi, we still won’t; it’s obvious Shinbo wants to put a spin on the genre to shake it up a bit, while adding his signature (and very noticeable) style(s). The character design is simple, but clean. As discussed, the architecture is awesome and the entire world is bright and hopeful…until a witch shows up and starts bending everyone’s perception of it. The animation used there reminded me of the frenetic, freewheeling opening of (Goku) Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei.

Our protagonist Madoka (Aoi Yūki) and her friend Sayaka (Eri Kitamura) are faced with a choice right off the bat: continue their regular high school lives, or step into the world of magic. It isn’t for the faint-hearted: Homura Akemi (Chiwa Saito), who shows up both in Madoka’s dream and at her real-life school, warns her not to partake it if she loves her family and friends. But of course, she will enter the magical world. That’s what this is all about. We’ll see where this goes.


Rating: 8 (Great)