DanMachi II – 00 – The Story So Far

Yes, the first Saturday of the Summer season does not start with the first episode of the long-awaited, non-spinoff sequel to 2015’s DanMachi. It was your typical colorful, energetic J.C. Staff series that distinguished itself from other fantasy shows not only by not being an Isekai, but also featuring one of the more endearing untraditional boy-girl (or rather boy-goddess) pairings—though it can be argued he has a harem, Cranel Bell’s first loyalty is to Hestia.

In this zeroth episode, the two cheerfully narrate a recap of their adventures so far, culminating in the grand final boss battle that while a bit rushed at the time still provided a satisfying topper to a series that had plenty of potential for a second season. Instead, we got a pretty weaksauce spinoff (Sword Oratoria) with an entirely different cast which I quit after four episodes. It will be good to see the main characters back in the spotlight…but for that we’ll have to wait another week!

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Boruto: Naruto Next Generations – 02

Last week I felt bad for Hinata stuck at home as a housewife and mom when she, Naruto, and their friends once did battle side-by-side on the front lines…but I just might have it all wrong. This peaceful life, both for themselves and for their children, is what they fought for in the first place. But some youngins are restless, and long for a time they probably romanticize since they weren’t even alive for the worst of it.

One such knucklehead, Aino Iwabe, picks on Denki, leading to Boruto challenging him. It’s the second straight week Boruto saves Denki from a bully or bullies, only this week there’s much more emphasis on Boruto as a brat riding his illustrious dad’s coattails. After all, he crashed a train into a mountain and just got a slap on a wrist.

Between that incident, the lenient punishment, Yamanaka Inojin’s shade, and Iwabe’s taunts, Boruto has to work for acceptance by his peers (at least the ones who aren’t Denki or Shikadai). That means the class dismisses itself for a good old-fashioned schoolyard duel.

Boruto is able to keep up, but gets thrashed around quite a bit by the older and clearly more advanced Iwabe. Even Uchida Sarada, who had put up a haughty dismissive front to that point, seems to fret over the outcome of her childhood friend’s fight with the older kid.

In the end, Boruto all but convinces Iwabe that everyone has their individual circumstances, but blaming “the times” for one’s failures, not to mention picking on those weaker than you, is way uncool.

When Iwabe loses his temper and readies an earth-based weapon, he is quickly stopped by Inojin, who despite his earlier shade, gained respect for Boruto for defending Denki and proving through his skills that he’s not simply riding coattails.

When class reconvenes, Iwabe is right there behind Boruto, and they exchange cordial greetings. And Boruto is no longer unpopular, getting lunch invitations from many a classmate. Another peaceful resolution in a peaceful world. No one knows how long such peace will last, but they certainly can enjoy it while it does.

Boruto: Naruto Next Generations – 01 (First Impressions)

This spin-off of and semi-sequel to Naruto starts at the end, and in a pretty dark place with Naruto’s grown-up son Boruto fighting some baddie among the ruins of Konohagakure. Looks pretty serious and hardcore, but it is only a small taste of what will supposedly come to pass many years hence.

Rewind to when Boruto is just a little punk kid, on the eve of the Academy entrance ceremony. He spots a boy being bullied and later learns his name is Denki and he’ll also be attending the academy, but only because his father is making him as part of his duty as heir to the family business empire. Boruto can probably relate to dad’s casting long shadows, as his own is none other than the Seventh Hokage.

Back home we check in on Boruto’s little sister Himawari and his mom and Naruto’s wife Hinata. Seems like a nice enough house but if I recall correctly Hyuuga Hinata was and is a pretty large badass kunoichi, and frankly looks rather bored looking after the ol’ homestead while Naruto is buried under paperwork at Hokage HQ. But this show ain’t about the parents; they had their time in the limelight…fifteen years and 720 episodes’ worth, to be precise.

Naturally Boruto and Denki don’t simply arrive at the opening ceremony on time and get on with classes, because that wouldn’t be that exciting. Instead, Denki’s bitterness at being rejected by his dad causes him to be possessed by an evil aura, which Boruto is able to see with his trick right eye.

Denki sets it up so the bullies will get killed in a head-on collision of two trains (built and run by his dad’s company). Boruto gets him to snap out of it and cast off the evil aura, and with Boruto uses his clones’ combined reach to pull the switch that avoids the collision. Everybody’s safe and sound, and both Denki and the bullies learn a lesson and bond a little through their shared ordeal.

With that, all that’s left is to get to the ceremony on time, and Boruto and Denki just make it, by making one hell of a ridiculous entrance, aboard the derailed train car, which crashes into the side of Naruto’s face. Not his real face, but the colossal stone face carved into the mountain with the other Hokage. Symbolism, much?

This week is the Boruto & Denki show, sprinkled with a bit of Nara Shikadai, with naught but a cameo by Sakura and Sasuke’s daughter Sarada. The episode gets the job done: introducing the title character, demonstrating his considerable but still very-raw abilities and very familiar personality, and giving him a mission-of-the-week to carry out with Denki.

I’ll admit to dropping Naruto: Shippuden about two years in after completing Naruto, but there’s a nice fresh-start feel about Boruto, a newly-revamped take on an old, familiar world. The production values are higher than I remember (granted, back when Naruto started there was no widescreen or HD). It’s nothing fancy, and is by definition unoriginal, but there’s a inscrutable easy watchability to it nonetheless. Whether you’re a big fan of the franchise, a complete noob, or somewhere in between like me seeking ‘shounen comfort food’, it’s worth a quick glance.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie: Rebellion

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I’ve always been more a fan of continuations than re-tellings or re-imaginings, so among the three Madoka movies, this was the one that I anticipated the most. I only skimmed through the first two, which were only recaps of a show I finished watching over four years ago, but which remains burned in my brain as one of my all-time favorites. Heck, Sayaka is my avatar.

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I also recently dropped Sailor Moon Crystal, because a straightforward magical girl tale just never appealed to me as much as a subversion or deconstruction of same, which Madoka is. With Rebellion, the recaps are over, and I finally get to see what happened after Madoka sacrificed her very existence in order to save Homura and her friends. And I have to say, I liked what I saw.

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After Madoka, Sayaka, Mami, and Kyouko dispatch a “nightmare,” Rebellion begins as if a reset button had been pressed. Madoka awakes and goes through the same morning motions as she does in the first episode of the tv show. Then a twin-braided, bespectacled, friendly and cheerful Akemi Homura transfers in, befriends Madoka and the others, and soon joins them in their periodic nightmare battles.

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Even when their classmate Shizuki turns into a nightmare, they’re able to change her back into a normal human without any harm done. This is an ideal world in which everything is too good to be true. Ironically, it’s a world I, as someone who wants these girls to simply be able to enjoy such a life without further hardship, don’t have that big a problem with! Everyone’s alive; everyone’s friends; everyone is working together; and there seem to be no consequences to being magical girls.

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Homura goes through enough of this that she eventually begins to suspect something is very wrong, as memories of past worlds she inhabited begin to surface. In this way, the movie starts with the “Happily Ever After.” But Homura’s returning memories, vague as they are, become a splinter in her mind she cannot ignore, so both the Happy and the Ever After eventually fade for her.

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Homura takes Sakura with her to the town where Sakura says she used to live, yet doesn’t remember much about it. Yet no matter how many times hey take the bus or even walk, they can’t seem to leave Mitakihara City; as if there’s nothing beyond it. In a movie full of memorable sequences, this entire surreal journey to nowhere is particularly goosebump-inducing, with sound and image in perfect strange harmony.

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This leads Homura to believe this is a false city where she and the others are being imprisoned. She suspects Bebe, Mami’s familiar whom we’ve never seen before, of being a witch, but Mami, having no idea what’s going on, intervenes and threatens punishment if Homura hurts Bebe. But Homura isn’t about to let the mastermind behind this plot go.

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That can only mean one thing: Mami and Homura square off with lots and lots of guns and acrobatics in what I’d describe as one of the best one-on-one battle sequences in the Madoka franchise. It wasn’t just the speed and complexity of the battle that excited, but all the twists and turns it took, from Homura threatening to shoot herself in the head, causing Mami to drop her guard so she can shoot her in the leg, only for her target to be a decoy Mami set up. All because these two girls couldn’t talk it out and let tempers flare.

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Sayaka flies in frees Homura from Mami’s custody, while a Bebe in human form comes to explain things to Mami. When they’re alone, Sayaka asks Homura why things can’t just stay the way they are if everyone’s happy. But her knowledge that something isn’t right is proof that while this is the “real” Sayaka, she’s more than just a magical girl now.

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Later that night, Madoka finds Homura drifting in a canal boat (another gorgeous, lyrical sequence), and they discuss what’s eating her: that being the thought that nothing here is real and there was another time when she lost Madoka and tried desperately to bring her back. Madoka assures her those were all just bad dreams; they’re together here and now, that’s all that matters.

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Homura is convinced this Madoka is the real one too, but she wants to test one last thing: whether she herself is even a magical girl. She does this by tossing away her soul gem and traveling past the maximum distance she can be from it (a tried and true method from the original show). When nothing happens, she knows things aren’t right in the world. Then that world starts to deteriorate around her, and the reality descends upon her that she is a witch, and this false city is a construct of her own making.

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The world around her starts to deteriorate, as the reality descends upon her that she is a witch, and this is false city is a construct of her own making. Then Kyuubey shows up and starts talking. More precisely, Homura is a magical girl on the cusp of becoming a witch, due to the despair of losing Madoka and being the only one who remembers her. The Incubators placed her in an isolated space as an experiment to lure the godlike Madoka, the “The Law of Cycles”, whom they hoped to control in order to maximize the energy they can harvest from magical girls becoming witches.

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When Madoka came to where Homura was, she lost the memory of her duty and powers as the Law of Cycles, and became trapped in the false city along with her two assistants, Sayaka and Bebe. While this sounds a little convoluted on paper, in practice it’s perfectly consistent with vulnerability of the damaged Homura the TV show (and previous movie) ended with, and the cold opportunism of the Incubators.

It also makes sense that Homura would choose to complete her witch transformation at the cost of her own soul, in order to keep the Incubators from screwing with Madoka anymore. Because it’s not a self-preserving move, it’s a move they don’t see coming. But the other magical girls arrive and go against her wishes, freeing her from the false city and find her real body in a desolate wasteland.

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It’s a move that restores Madoka’s memories and powers as Law of Cycles back, but at a price: Madoka is once again exposed to the Incubator’s meddling, not to mention the still-alive Homura’s own desires. When she descends upon Homura to clear her soul gem of despair, Homura grabs her and releases the contents of the gem, which isn’t despair, but love, the ‘most powerful of emotions’ and the one Kyuubey is least equipped to understand. This is Homura following through on her promise never to let Madoka go, having been given an opportunity she didn’t ask for, but did hope for.

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Things get more and more out of hand from there, with Homura suppressing Madoka’s godlike powers and transforming into a kind of Anti-Law of Cycles, calling herself a “demon” in contrast to Madoka’s angel-like form. With her new powers, she rewrites the laws of the universe just as Madoka once had, only this time both of them are alive and well in a real world, not a mere illusion caused by the experimentation of the Incubators.

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In this new world, Madoka is the transfer student rather than Homura, and sports a yellow ribbon rather than red, which Homura sports instead. Homura still has all her memories of what went on in the previous universes, and it shows on her universe-weary, glasses-less face. Her love for Madoka is a twisted, possessive love now, borne from pressing countless reset buttons and literally going to hell and back.

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So, all’s well that ends well, right? Well…no. This is Madoka we’re talking about. Homura merely suppressed Madoka’s Law of Cycle powers, and her memory of them. The powers are still there, and even while she’s showing Madoka around the school, a momentary recollection has her suddenly about to transform back into that godlike being.

Homura has to embrace her tightly to stop the transformation, but a time will probably come when she can’t, and the angel and demon will become enemies with opposing goals. In other words, all’s well that ends well for the time being, if you happen to be on Homura’s side. This is very much in keeping with the franchises refusal to hand out happy or even easy endings, preferring qualified, ambiguous, or just plain strange ones. After all that’s happened, consequences and compromises were inevitable. The show doesn’t rule out future problems…nor future rewrites of the universe.

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The post-credits sequence is strange indeed, but again, nothing new for this franchise. Sitting high above the city she in effect controls, apparently content with the way things are (again, for now), and fully equipped and prepared to defend the way things are, whether it’s keeping Madoka from rising back to godhood or keeping Kyuubey neutralized.

If Homura has to be “evil” in order to share the real world with the one she loves by suppressing her true nature, so be it.

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Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta – 13 (Fin)(?)

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Well now, that was something completely different! This final episode wrapped up the story we’ve seen so far, but towards the end felt far more like the set up for a sequel than the closing of the book. Whether this sequel is a sure thing or merely wishful thinking on the part of the shows’ creators, we don’t know. But if you were going to be content with a single 12-episode season and went into last week thinking that would be the final episode (like we did), this felt a bit strange and extraneous.

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We’ll admit it was pretty cool to finally see what the world of PIlot’s Song looks like: something like one of those goofy-looking fountain things you can by at a garden center. We kid; it’s actually a pretty far-out design, much like Last Exile’s hourglass world. But the show didn’t show the slightest sign of caring about any of this until just now. But what was going to be a one-way journey became round-trip thanks to the Holy Deus Ex Machina Empire, so Kal, Ari, and the rest of their class who survived the battles return home to a hero’s welcome.

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Watching Kal and Ari reunite with their awesome family was nice, but we were less interested in Ari continuing to hide her secret love for her adoptive brother, preferring to keep it bottled in and lashing out when she gets nervous. We’re not saying she’d be any better off if she confessed to Kal, as he’s pretty deeply in love with someone else, but like this episode itself, her unrequited love feels somewhat extraneous. Rather than pine for someone she can’t have and be cast as a loser and victim of fate, why not make her as determined to see Ignacio again as Kal is to see Claire?

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As for Kal’s whole coming-out-as-Karl La Hire speech to the assembled masses (which appear to number in the hundreds of thousands) and his spearheading of a second Isla Plan, well…the idea that he’d convince Balsteros to start another war just to get his love back, and the quiet sneaky classmate being some kind of informant…it’s just a piling on of plot there’s no time to get into. That suggests a sequel, when we’re not sure we really want one. Basically, we were kinda looking for closure, but what we got almost felt more like a “To Be Continued.”


Rating: 6 (Good)
Average Rating: 7.615
MyAnimeList Score: 7.33

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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We wrote a review of the first HG film, so there was precedent to write one for the second.

“Moves and countermoves”, remarks the hilariously-named head gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee in the second installment of the Hunger Games film series, Catching Fire, suggesting and elegant and ultimately more effective fate for Katniss Everdeen as punishment for her act of defiance against the Capitol and President Snow in particular.

We’re reminded of the last episode of Valvrave, in which the Magius-infused Council of a Hundred and One fought a PR battle against a younger and less experienced foe. New JIOR lost and lost spectacularly. Considering the power Snow and the Capitol possess, you’d think arranging a similar frame-job for Katniss would be child’s play.

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In fact, both the wildly successful Catching Fire ($670 million-plus as of writing this) and its wildly successful predecessor hinge on the audience’s ability to believe that Katniss has a Snow-ball’s chance in hell against the oppressive regime, especially after Poison-Berrygate. On the whole, they have, as did we. The districts are a tinderbox; Snow daren’t make any overt moves against Katniss lest the explode.

Unlike the Magius’ near total-victory on Valvrave last week in turning New JIOR into a globally-loathed nation of immortal monsters, Snow and Heavensbee’s efforts to cast Katniss as “one of them”—uncaring of the poorer districts and thus undeserving of their love—results in far more mixed results, for reasons we won’t go into because of spoilers.

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Like the first HG film, we went into this one having not read the book, and thus without any possibility of being disappointed by the adaptation. But after reading the first book, we’re reasonably certain we wouldn’t have been disappointed anyway. There’s much talk about the film being better than the book it’s based on, if for no other reason than the book’s first-person perspective makes it impossible for us to see what’s going on with Snow and Heavensbee where Katniss isn’t present.

But this was also a more focused, mature, darker film than the last one. The shaky-cam is gone, there’s much more lovely world-building, the fellow tributes are less cartoonish and one-dimensional. And while both films follow similar patterns early on, we were shocked and delighted by the different turns this film takes. Unlike Star Trek Into Darkness, it broke new ground. It was one of those rare good sequels. Also, you can never go wrong with Jena Malone.

Shinryaku!? Ika Musume 2 – 01

After watching an action movie, Squid Girl starts believeing mortal threats and bombs are everywhere, and it starts to feel to her like she’s an invader again. Chizuru quickly puts her in her place. When Kiyomi and her friends pay a visit, Sanae gets jealous and spies on her. Squid Girl is picking jellyfish off the beach, leading to a beachwide competition that the scientists win by cheating.

Let’s get this out of the way: RABUJOI won’t be reviewing this series, it’s just here because it’s a slow week. Last fall, Ika was a charming, often witty diversion with a colorful cast and an extremely odd angle: a squid with human form plans to invade – but only ends up assimilating into human society. It ranked 9th of 15 Fall Series, with a respectable 3.375 mean rating. But part of what made the series so enjoyable was its freshness and novelty. From this initial episode, I fear the proverbial squid’s been out of the sea a little too long, and it’s starting to smell.

Nothing we saw this week was new. Ika still has an inflated sense of superiority over all humans that isn’t really deserved. She still resents Eiko’s scolds, is scared of Chizuru, and is annoyed by Senou, et cetera. It’s clear this series is going to run with the same formula as its first season, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, I think I’ve had my fill. It might have been interesting if a sequel took place years later, say when Squid Girl has grown older and more (or less) mature. Living with humans so long would surely change her personality. Alas, that’s not what this series is about.


Rating: 2.5