Durarara!!x2 Ten – 12 (24, Fin)

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The conclusion of the second of three cours of Durarara!!x2  is marked by two major plotlines: Mikado’s Dollars vs. Masaomi’s Yellow Scarves, and the whole Yadogiri Jinnai business. In both cases, there’s a lot to be hashed out in the third and final cour next January.

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Ten, like Shou, ends with Mikado and Masaomi very far away; or as the former puts it, the threads of their bonds are so tangled up that perhaps it’s best just to burn those threads and start over. Celty thinks Mikado has gone mad, and is even more upset when he insists he isn’t. She also laments that for all her centuries of experience, she’s unable to stop two young friends from going to war and possibly destroying one another, simply because neither is willing to budge, and Anri isolated from both of them.

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Ten, like Shou, also ends with Izaya outmaneuvered by Jinnai (who isn’t an individual so much as a network of old-man decoys led orchestrated in the shadows by Kujiragi Kasane, who has the red eyes of Saika. That I was not expecting, but it does mean we may see more of both Anri and Haruna (who also carry Saika within them in some form or another). It also establishes the latest “monster” threat for the final cour, running parallel to the “human” threat of Mikado and Masaomi’s war.

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I also daresay Celty is as confused as I was by suddenly coming home to find so many disperate characters assembled in her and Shinra’s apartment. There’s Shinra’s parents, Namie, Egor, Seiji, Mika, Togusa, and Walker. Their gathering isn’t explained any further than the fact no one assembled was able to resist being brought together.

How will this seemingly random collection of people make their mark on the third cour? I have no idea, but like every season of Durarara!! it’s going to be a very full plate.

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Durarara!!x2 Ten – 11 (23)

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The Dollars supposedly doesn’t have a hierarchy or a “symbol”, just as it doesn’t have a color, but as far as Shinra is concerned, the unofficial twin chief deterrents of the Dollars are Shizuo (armed) and Kodata (psychological). And I can’t really argue with him that things could crumble quickly now that one is in a coma and the other is arrested, even if Celty believes things won’t be that different.

Meanwhile, Anri is with Erika as the two wait for Dotachin to wake up; one because of everything he’s done for her, and the other for the same reason, but also so that she can tell Walker and Sabura as soon as Kodata awakes, hoping to stop them from doing something rash, like, say, toss a molotov into a karaoke bar.

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Just the Dollars lose two very visible, well-known and feared pillars, Kida is back in town, re-mustering the Yellow Scarves to “save” Mikado from himself, even if he has to “kick his butt.” As far as Kida’s concerned, Mikado is in the wrong pool and out of his depth, and he’s going to pull him out, whether he wants out or not.

As Aoba leads Mikado and Blue Square to a new hideout (the same one where there was the yakuza dust-up) Mikado doesn’t seem interested in quitting. In fact, he seems both shocked and a little excited that Aoba invited Celty to join them, proposing she fill one of the void left by Kodata; and after meeting with Izaya, Akabayashi shows up, wanting to join and possibly fill the void left by Shizuo.

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Seemingly more peripheral to the apparently imminent showdown between the Dollars and Yellow Scarves (with the Dragon Zombies possibly involved as well), Namie is abducted by her uncle Seitaro, who also plans to capture Seiji and use him to get her to cooperate. It’s Yadogiri Jinnai’s secretary Kujiraji Kusane who subdues her.

And again floating above it all, though not aware of everything yet (such as who is using one of his screen aliases in the chat room) is Izaya, Namie’s former employer. That mysterious chatter is spreading rumors of the Yellow Scarves using Kodata to declare war on the Dollars.

Ikebukuro is a tinderbox once again, and there are a variety of potential sparks that could set it ablaze. We’ll see who ends up setting the fire, and how much damage it will do next week, in the final episode of the Ten cour.

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Shiki 21.5

After watching numerous seasons of Buffy and True Blood, I feel I entered Shiki with a little more sympathy for vampires as people than the typical person. Especially during the last extra episode (#20.5, reviews here), I noted there was virtually no way I could root for the ordinary humans, whose savage, sadistic, predatory behavior was no better than the worst vampires. Sure, they’d been taken to the edge of desperation, and their loved ones were being killed, but I didn’t care. Tying up Nao and the others to burn in the dawn is not appropriate behavior for any decent being in my books.

Anywho, this episode does things a little differently, essentially giving us an abridge re-telling of the entire series and its five months of horror, almost entirely from the perspective of a new character, Maede Motoko, a devoted mother of two with Sonic the Hedgehog hair! Aaaand I’m sympathizing with the humans again! Seriously, to say Motoko had a rough half-year is an epic understatement. Her family is taken by her one at a time, starting with her father-in-law and husband. When her daughter becomes pallid and eventually dies, she kills her horrid mother-in-law. When her son shows the symptoms, she sits in a bathtub with him until he dies and decomposes.

Finally, she goes to the top of a hill and starts the fire that eventually envelops the village and requires all the survivors to evacuate, having descended totally into madness. Her transformation from cheerful mother to smelly ranting lunatic is extremely rapid and disconcerting. Shiki proves yet again it is not for the faint-hearted. The episodes final moments – in which she is consumed by the flames, grinning from ear to ear – just gave me flat-out c h i l l s, something Shiki does a lot. It was also nice to hear the quirky, eclectic soundtrack once more.


Rating: 3.5

Shiki 20.5

Last summer’s Shiki was a series that always made you question whose side you should pick. At first, when vampires were picking off innocent characters we’d barely gotten to know, one by one, they seemed like the bad guys. But once we got to know some of those so-called baddies, and learned that for the most part they maintained their personalities, we started to sympathize with them and question the ruthlessness of the remaining humans. After all, both sides wanted the same thing: to survive.

This extra episode, taking place before the final climactic two episodes that answers the question ‘who will win the village’ (answer: no one), definitely paints the humans as the bad guys. The vampires here, including a beside-herself Nao, are at their wits’ end, running from hunters and running out of places to hide. Cornered in a sewer that gets progressively narrower as they climb deeper in – like a nightmarish H.R. Giger drawing – they couldn’t get more desperate.

Yet, to the humans, led by an overzealous young man who seems to enjoy killing them a bit too much considering they retain a lot of their human qualities, basically bullies the less assertive members of his hunting party to wipe out these remaining vamps. When they run out of stakes, they tie them all up (including Nao) and wait for the sun. It’s a truly horrible scene – graphic and hard to watch, and another sign that the humans here may have pulses, but otherwise have lost their humanity. They had a choice in their actions, the vamps don’t (beyond suicide). You can’t help but lament Nao for her hideous plight. Rating: 3.5

RABUJOI’s Top 15 Anime of 2010

15. B Gata H Kei – A surprisingly solid and funny series that really delved into the unclean mind of a teenaged high school girl approaching the threshold of adulthood. Her antics and attitudes toward her eventual boyfriend were the source of constant entertainment.

14. The World God Only Knows – Having a character with a ridiculously obsessive gaming habit really invigorated what would have otherwise been a placid but uninspired sequence of romances. That his vast gaming experience gave him such an edge in analyzing and conquering real-life girls’ hearts proved a winning theme.

13. Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt – No shows matched the manic intensity and sheer irreverance for dignity as this latest Gainax installment, which had excellent, diverse animation and a kick-ass soundtrack.

12. So Ra No Wo To – The first anime-only “Anime no Chikara” series didn’t turn out to be the best, but it was still quite good, being perhaps the anime that most closely resembled a Miyasaki-like alternate fantasy world, richly depicted.

11. Katanagatari – Spreading out its twelve installments over tweleve months gave this series the most presence this year, and when each month ended it created great anticipation for the next. Some months were better than others, but the chemistry, music, and clever battles were more than enough to put this epic journey on the list.

10. Working!! – Sometimes you just need a simple, happy, straightforward slice-of-life without villains, monsters, or the world on the line. Working!! was just the ticket, with an eclectic cast of oddballs just working at a restaurant.

9. Star Driver – While only half over, this series was the best of the fall, and firmly established its penchant for gorgeous vistas, short-but-sweet battles, cinematic score, and intricate tangle of characters, most with dual personas.

8. Senko no Night Raid – The anime that went there: China in the 30s, to be exact. It told a story different from history, but it didn’t go all nationalistic about it; there was no black-and-white here. But there were spies with superpowers, which was awesome.

7. Durarara!! – This show did such a good job establishing the rich, energetic city of Ikebukuro, Tokyo, the real place was one of my first stops on a summer trip there. But it wasn’t just the soul of the city it captured, but the complexity of its people and their hopes and dreams. It could have ended better but few series started as good as this.

6. Angel Beats! – From episode one, this series pulled you straight into the afterlife and played by its own rules. An etherially beautiful yet confined setting, a sizable cast of lost souls, a soaring soundtrack, and the right dose of comedy earns Angel Beats! its high standing. More than anything, it was just fun.

5. House of Five Leaves – Though I was originally hung up on its creepy and altogether unattractive character designs, I wisely stuck with this ultimately gorgeous, atmospheric story of a time in Japan long past when life was tougher. It’s a well-told, well-acted, authentic story that really drew me in.

4. Occult Academy – In any series here deserved 26 episodes, it was this third and latest “Anime no Chikara” series. It did a great job developing Maya’s character, but too often went on side-tangents and had an incredibly-rushed ending. Still, the best episodes of this series can be counted among the best single episodes of the year for the sheer awesomeness they packed.

3. Shiki – Shiki started off slow and strange, but its meticulous build-up paid off in the best way. It too suffered from odd character design, but once one was acclimated to it it really complimentary to this dark and twisted horror story. Vamps and werewolfs are so overdone these days, but Shiki really contributed something unique and terrifying. Its soundtrack was also among the best of the season.

2. The Tatami Galaxy – Density. That’s what this series had in spades. Visual and verbal. For those who could keep up with the rapid-fire narration, it was an immensely satisfying and hilarious ride, with an ending that tied it all together.

1. Armed Librarians – The Book of Bantorra – This cool, confident, unrelenting anime wrapped in late January, making it just eligible for a 2010 list. January was a long time ago, but the awesomeness of Bantorra still shines clearly in my memory. No series throughout the remaining months packed so many interesting characters, stories, twists and turns into its run.

Fall 2010 – Best Openings and Endings

Openings

Star Driver – The sequence was directed by Shinichiro Wantanabe, and it shows: few do rough+fluid better than him. The right-to-left side-scrolling mimics how you’d read a Japanese manga. I love how the cybody bursts out of the ocean at the end, and Takuto jumps in and blasts off: Alrighty, we’re ready to start this thing! A stirring rock number by Aqua Timez brims with hopeful lyrics and melodic diversity, matching and augmenting the energy of the animation.

Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru – I love jazz, and I love Japanese Jazz even more (Pizzicato Five is a good example). You can’t help but tap your feet to the number that accompanies lots of vibrant, syncopated animation in which the cast dances and sings along while performing maid duties. The title is a CGI spinning globe covered in lights. This opening perfectly encapsulates the soul, energy, and potential of the big city. I also liken the whole opening to Hotori’s imagined ideal of the city and her life: happy, upbeat, and full of promise.

The World God Only Knows – This opening could very well have been done by the same people who did Eden of the East (one of my favorite openings ever), as a lot of the style is simply lifted from there, but I don’t care. Like any effective opening, it’s an accurate depiction of the series as a whole: Keima is a god in the (2D) world of games, and uses that power in the real (3D) world. The transition from pulsing electronica to an impromptu aria is sudden, but it works, as it reinforces the religious undertones of Keima’s abilities.

Honorable Mention: Kuragehime – The numerous parodies to western popular culture (Star Wars, Sex in the City) are fun, but the main reason I like this opening is the sweet, earnestly-sung theme, “Koko Dake no Hanashi”, by Chatmonchy. It’s not an easy song to sing, requiring lots of range, but it’s beautifully pulled off with a nice balance of resolve and vulnerability.

Endings

Panty & Stocking – Both the ballad (“Fallen Angel” by Aimee B) and the animation are spot on in this short but sweet ending that captures the essence of the show perfectly, and in a refreshingly more serious tone than the show itself. The animation consists of the girls in simplified form about to be killed by various means (driving off a cliff, eaten by a monster, passing out in the desert and picked apart by vultures), all while bobbing their heads to the beat. The dark visual themes are lightened by the style in which they’re rendered…and the gorgeous vocals. In the end, the girls ascend to heaven, get their halos, come back down, and tip them like barbershop hats. The whole thing lasts only 58 seconds.

Arakawa Under the Bridge x 2 (episodes 1-5) The opening of Arakawa’s first season was one of my favorites, and season two’s, while fun, isn’t quite as good. This season’s ending is better than last’s, however, with a fully live-action sequence following Hoshi through a lush green forest and on stage, and Kappa along the riverbank. Even the real-life bridge itself makes an appearance. While the live action character’s faces are just plain creepy, I love it whenever anime jumps ino the real world (the splendid endings of FLCL and Kare Kano, for instance), and the haunting, slightly melancholy ballad is a good musical choice, though it couldn’t be further from anime Hoshi’s out-of-tune strumming.

Shiki (Second Season) – Many series pick one musician or group do the opening and one to do the ending, then switch them either halfway through the season or in the next season. A post/Gothic rock band called Buck-Tick did the stirring opening for Shiki’s first season, and it was excellent. This season, they did the ending theme. Slow pans of four key characters lounging nude in a foreboding, eerily moonlit pond full of blood. Combined with Buck-Tick’s dark, brooding theme, the atmosphere has the darkness and silky thickness of a warm pint of Guinness.