Mayonaka no Occult Koumuin – 02 – Another Bang for Another Buck

After two episodes, one thing that stands out about MOK is the quality of animation…or rather lack thereof. There’s a number of things drawn in a fast, iffy, haphazard way that all combine to distract from a story that probably needs better production values to hold my interest.

Which is a shame, because MOK is as strong with the Japanese mythology as it is weak in actually showing it, from the nekomata Yuki who reunites with Arata (who thought Yuki was just a regular cat years ago) to a mysterious nine-headed kishi that threatens to cause further Another disturbance.

Arata and the other midnight occult civil servants are putting in overtime to investigate a string of recent burglaries involving very particular magical objects. Arata, with his “Ears of Sand” that can understand Anothers, is immediately one of the more in-demand members of the office, as if it wasn’t for him, they wouldn’t be able to gather the information they need to connect the dots.

There’s also a weird tension between Arata’s desire to reason with all Anothers through dialogue and his co-worker’s belief that’s naive and even reckless. They maintain that Anothers are distinctly another, and that they and humans just aren’t going to see eye-to-eye on things. I tend to side with Arata on this; after all, the position of the others is due largely to the inability to ever properly communicate prior to Arata’s arrival.

Still, Arata manages to do something stupid and touch a magical circle of some kind before determining whether it’s safe. He and Kyouichi are teleported deep beneath a mountain, where the “oni” who was riding the kishi, stole all the magical objects, and created the magical circle, is there to welcome “Abe no Seimei” with a horde of kyoushi, or Japanese zombies.

That last-minute reveal finally introduces some serious peril to what had thus far been a mostly harmless job; the kyoushi can’t be talked to or reasoned with, so Arata had better hope he can convince their master to make them stand down. I bet Arata wishes he’d listened to his grandpa more…

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Mayonaka no Occult Koumuin – 01 (First Impressions) – Believe What You See

MOK’s first episode takes place entirely at night, as Miyako Arata reports to his first shift at the Shinjuku Ward Office “Nocturnal Community Relations Division”, the exact nature of which is something Arata himself is a little fuzzy about.

He meets two of his new colleages, the bishounen scientist Himezuka Seo and their bespectacled shift leader, Sakaki Kyouichi. They’re both warm and friendly, and inform Arata most of his shifts will take place outside, which only compounds his confusion with what their division does.

Kyouichi and Seo take him to the entrance to Shinjuku Gyoen, unlock the gate, and head inside for a “rite of passage” that involves spraying a “helper spray” that makes fairies and other supernatural creatures visible to those who aren’t able to see them.

Arata meets a tiny (and somewhat surly) pixie, a giant, cuddly Cu Sith, and more, and learns that it’s the NCR Division’s job to maintain good relations with the various supernatural beings that inhabit the forests. It’s most comforting to learn that Tokyo’s ultra-urbanization over the decades hasn’t resulted in the destruction of these beings.

Rather, they exist much like conventional city animals—pigeons, crows, raccoons and squirrels—they’ve adapted to exist beside humans, albeit out of sight to most. Only occasionally, they can cause a disturbance, such as a fight breaking out between angels and tengu.

Arata discovers that an angel and a tengu are lovers who wish to elope, but neither the angel’s older sister nor the tengu’s father approve, and since the two races just naturally don’t get along, it isn’t long before their bickering spills outside of the park and into the city proper.

While Arata can tell the angels and tengu mean no harm, Kyouichi and Seo both seem to ignore them and present a defensive posture, ready to use gas grenades and the like to disperse them. However, Arata informs them that he can hear what they’re saying, and manages to defuse the situation by being the one person who can have a calm dialogue with everyone.

Arata’s colleagues are amazed that Arata can understand what the angels and tengu are saying—it’s a rare if not impossible gift for a mere human, and sure enough when an elder tengu appears and addresses Arata as Abe no Seimei, it’s all but confirmation Arata isn’t a mere human at all.

MOK follows a long tradition of night-oriented Tokyo-set shows like Tokyo Ghoul and Durarara!! in creating a rich and lived in animated version of the Eastern Capital. It also follows the latter of those two shows with a usually laid back, upbeat tone, helped in no small part by the jazzy score by Evan Call (previously of Violet Evergarden and currently of YU-NO). I found MOK—or Midnight Occult Civil Servants—clever, cozy, and cool.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 02

Mari’s seething wanderlust, as well as her determination not to waste what’s left of her high school youth, makes her extra susceptible to Shirase’s Antarctic plans. When Shirase tells her to get a part-time job at once, Mari is looking for ’em (interestingly, both of them come across the same sketchy job offer for “hospitality” work with guys).

Megumi thus plays the crucial role of managing Mari’s expectations. The expedition Shirase wants to join is in dire financial straits. The safety of those who join it is not guaranteed. They’re not simply going to let high school kids join them just because they really really want to.

When Megumi’s pragmatism slips into Mari’s interactions with Shirase, Shirase can smell the doubt and hesitation, and snaps at Mari, storming off. But Mari doesn’t doubt Shirase, and she does want to do it…she just wants to do it right. As Mari forlornly walks alone, it isn’t long before Shirase returns, realizing she was too harsh, but assuring Mari she does have a plan in place.

That same evening, Mari has a part-time job, at the local convenience store. There, she meets fellow 16-year-old Miyake Hinata (Iguchi Yuka, doing her Araragi Tsukihi voice), who shows an eager Mari the ropes.

The subject of The Trip comes up, and Hinata wants IN. Thankfully, Shirase isn’t particular about who else comes along, and so now the two are three. And while Hinata’s decision to join them seems abrupt (and it kinda is regardless), she’s a person who’s never liked blending in with the crowd, which is why she bypassed high school and is working towards college.

Her time working at the konbini also made her good at observing people, like the students of Mari and Shirase’s school, including the two of them. She always saw something different about them; something she calls “honesty”. Genuine-ness, earnesty, whatever you call it, she knew they were special, and wanted to be a part of what their noble undertaking.

Next stop: Shinjuku, and these three girls from Gunma stick out like a sore thumb-ma (sorry, that was really lame). The intense sights and sounds of the big city make all three a little crazy, but nobody more than Shirase, who reveals that her grand plan was to crash the Antarctic expedition meet-up (in Kabukicho of all places) by…seducing the guys.

The moment Shirase points her head up and tries to act like a “college student” like it’s no big deal, she’s immediately picked up by a guy, and becomes understandably flustered. She’s also adamant that she can’t be the one who attempts the seduction of the expedition team, because they know her.

So Shirase and Hinata shove Mari out, and her old-fashioned sexy pose utterly fails, they shove Shirase out. The people who know her spot her, and the chase is on. Why do the girls run? I’m not sure, but neither are they. Well, Shirase knows, because this isn’t the first time she’s tried to join the expedition.

But despite the fact Shirase’s plan is crumbling before our very eyes, the fact of the matter is that she, Mari, and Hinata are having a hell of a lot of fun running around Shinjuku…Youth In Motion. Unfortunately, none of the three (even Hinata, good in short-distance sprinting) can beat the stamina of their pursuers.

I love how I was just as taken in by the legitimacy and precision of her plan as Mari and Hinata, even with Megumi offering early words of caution. And yet, even with the adults here telling Shirase “this isn’t happening”, even when they refuse her part-time Antarctica fund…even if what she’s doing amounts to chasing her mother’s ghost, I’m still on Shirase’s side.

She has to go to Antarctica. She can’t not. What kind of show would this be if she failed? It’s just, she’s gone about it the wrong way. Seduction and bribes won’t be effective, but maybe something—or someone else will be. Someone like, say, the daughter of the wealthy-looking woman who was with the expedition team.

That girl happens to be on the same train as the other three girls, two of which—Hinata and Mari—vote to relieve Shirase of her leadership role. It’s for her own good. She’s been trying and failing to get on that ship her way for the better part of three years. Now it’s time to see if others have more luck.

Gorgeous, charming, emotionally satisfying, and brimming with the energy of determined youth, and the anticipation of adventure writ both small (Shinjuku) and large (further south), Yorimoi is a no-brainer Winter keeper.

The Garden of Words (Film Review)

Tokyo is one of the largest, busiest, most lively cities in the world, but there’s an oasis of tranquility right near its heart, and I’m not talking about the mostly off-limits Imperial Palace Grounds. I speak of Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, once a private estate in the Edo period, and also the primary setting of Shinkai Makoto’s 2013 film The Garden of Words.

I’ll admit my review comes very late—so late, in fact, in the time between the release of the film and the day I’m writing a review of it, its co-lead Akizuki Takao would be 19 (not 15), making a potential romantic relationship with Yukino Yukari, who would be 31 (not 27) more socially acceptable. But here it is!

Akizuki loves rainy mornings. He loves them so much, he’ll skip school to visit Shinjuku Gyoen and enjoy it. One day, while preparing to sit at a sheltered bench overlooking the gardens, he encounters Yukino: a beautiful, mysterious woman in work clothes drinking beer and eating chocolate alone.

While 15, Akizuki is wiser and more mature than his years. He finds high school a major drag, and mostly stresses about a practical way to support himself doing what he loves: designing and making shoes. But when he visits the park and shares the bench with Yukino, he feels like he’s in a more mature environment, where he can sketch shoes or just shoot the breeze with her.

Their encounters also become important to Yukino, who we learn is preparing to quit her job, and is clearly in the park to escape said job and the stress/pain it causes, which was apparently bad enough that she lost her sense of taste for a time, only being able to enjoy beer and chocolate.

Not only is the hard-working Akizuki a shoemaker-in-the-making, he’s also a part-timer at a restaurant and cooks a lot at home, making him a better cook than Yukino. Thanks to the meals he shares, Yukino starts to enjoy eating again.

Wanting to help him with a woman’s shoe design, Yukino removes her shoe and lets Akizuki hold and measure her bare foot, in an intimate, even sensual scene that also happens to be practical.

That intimacy is heightened by the made-for-a-couple sheltered-bench and the gorgeous environs. But while she’ll give him her foot, Yukino never talks about herself, her life, or her struggles, no matter how much Akizuki talks about his.

Unfortunately Akizuki has to find that out when he spots Yukino, or rather Yukino-sensei, at his school—she’s a teacher there. He had no idea of that, or that she’d been taking days off because the boyfriend of a student fell for her which led to unsavory rumors about her being promiscuous and verbal and emotional abuse from her upperclassmen students.

Yukino is pained to hear all this treatment, and that she’s quitting because of it, but likely also hurt that Yukino never told him anything, or that she could even possibly have known he was a student at the school but kept him in the dark.

Whatever the case, he decides the injustice done to Yukino should have a response from someone who has come to care about her, so he confronts the upperclassmen, starts a fight, and loses. After school, they meet at the gardens, but he doesn’t tell her he fought to protect her honor.

After giving her the correct answer to her tanka poem from their first encounter, Akizuki and Yukino find themselves caught in a torrential downpour, and even when they get back under cover, they’re both soaked.

They apparently take it as a good omen, and go to Yukino’s apartment, where they change into dry clothes, and while he’s waiting for his uniform to dry, Akizuki makes Yukino a delicious meal, both noting they’re having some of the happiest moments of their lives, right there and then.

Like the sunlight, it doesn’t last, and as the sky darkens with more rainclouds, a sudden confession of love from Akizuki is countered by Yukino correcting him: “Yukino-sensei”. Akizuki hears her loud and clear: he’s a kid; she’s not, and that’s the end of it. So he changes into his still-wet clothes and storms off, just as the storm outside picks up.

Yukino doesn’t want to leave things there, so after stewing, suddenly alone in her apartment, with even Akizuki’s coffee still steaming, she does the romantic movie thing where one comes to their senses, rushes out of the house, and chases after the one they love.

When she finds him paused on a balcony, he takes back his confession and starts spewing vitriol about her intentions, but later in the rant it becomes more about why she couldn’t simply tell him, a stupid little kid, to piss off and stop bothering her. Why she never said anything to him while sharing that bench.

Yukino’s response, also classic romantic movie, is to run into his arms and sob just as the sun peeks back out from between the clouds, finally telling him why she went to that bench again and again, and how being with him helped her “learn how to walk on her own” again; how he essentially saved her.

Yukino still moves out of that apartment, back to her hometown, where she’s still a teacher. But she later writes to Akizuki, and as he reads the letter in the park where they met and spent so much time and where they taught each other how to walk, he seriously considers going to her hometown someday to see her.

The Garden of Words is gorgeous, as is expected of a Shinkai film, with its near-photorealistic exteriors, lived-in interiors, and fantastic lighting and details all around. At just 46 minutes, it runs brisk but never feels rushed, but rather feels just as long as it should be.

It also felt like a particularly intimate/personal film, though not for the reason you’d expect: I once sat at the exact same bench in Shinjuku Gyoen they sat at, unhurriedly sketching the gardens and writing about my day (though as you can see, the real one has an ashtray.) If you’re ever there I highly recommend it, just as I recommend this lush and moving little film.

Owari no Seraph – 10

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A bunch of vampires go up against a bunch of humans this week, and in a show that I’ve felt for a while now has only eight or nine tenths of the budget it should, the seams were more visible than usual this week.

Showing everyone posing and looking menacing is all well and good, but once the action actually starts, much of it is slow and choppy, or simply not animated at all. The pans of still shots with moving scratches on either side is an old trick when you can’t animate everything you want, but they looked cheap.

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Since there’s a flashback to when Mika first proposes “doing something” about his and Yuu’s family escaping (something Yuu thinks is inconceivable, calling Mika a weirdo), we knew the reunion between the two brothers was imminent. However, several events delayed that…and worse, they kind of felt like stalling.

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After Yuu and Shinoa drop the corporal off at the hospital, Yuu hears that a unit of three Demon Moons are in trouble. Assuiming it’s Shiho, Yoichi and Mitsu, he ignores Guren’s standing orders to help them out. Shinoa follows, because like him, she cares about her new family.

Their friends turn out not to even need their help (while Yuu and Shinoa both save Shiho and Mitsu from attacks from behind, they were the ones who distracted them in the first place). But Yuu tells Shiho it’s not that he doesn’t trust them to carry their weight or survive their fights. It’s the fact that they’re family, and if he hears they’re in trouble, his first priority is to them.

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Helping them and ensuring they’re safe has not become as if not more important to him as killing vampires. But you can’t help but think one or more of his new family will lose their lives at some point, and it’s important not to fall into a cycle of love and despair; that’s no kind of life.

The more elite Demon Moons are having a little trouble with Ferid’s similarly elite squad, and Guren has trouble with the incredibly strong (and arrogant) Mikaela. Again, the battle is made more underwhelming thatn it should have been with the same technical problems I mentioned earlier. Guren resigns himself to the fact he’ll need to take two pills; I was left wishing the show had taken two pills.

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And while Mika, Ferid, and a lot of other vamps and humans spent a lot of this episode standing around talking about fighting rather than actually doing so, Mika decides not to give Guren twenty seconds for his pills to kick in, and stabs him in the chest.

Before he can land the killing blow, more humans arrive, and when Mika turns around and sees Yuu’s face, he freezes. Yuu stabs Mika in the heart with full force, but half a beat later, recognizes him. And just like that, childhood friends and adoptive brothers, reunited with blood and steel. Considering the casualties on both sides, I imagine a mutual retreat next week.

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Owari no Seraph – 09

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Owari no Seraph brings the action this week, starting with a gloriously ridiculous cold open in which a squadron of Vampire Apaches are taken out by a line of Demon Army archers, before two higher-ranking Vamps fly a C-130 into Shinjuku’s barrier wall, blasting a huge hole in the humans’ defense.

It looked for all the world like a suicide attack, but not only do the two co-pilots survive without a scratch, but they even carry on a casual, Joss Whedon-style dialogue, like it’s just another day at the office.

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Things are a bit tenser for our young Moon Demon Company members, as the war literally comes to them and doesn’t ask if they’re ready. Thankfully, they are, and we get to see the whole gang flying and slashing through the air in a brilliant sequence that captures the tense chaos. Unlike many action blockbusters, the relatively steady camera makes it pretty easy to see what’s actually going on, which I appreciated.

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As I said last week, the setting of all this fighting couldn’t be more gloomily appropriate: the ruins of Shinjuku are a constantly unsettling reminder of what’s already been lost and how little is left. Particularly striking is the shot of a school—once the site of silly clubs and laughter and columns of teammates chanting “Fight-o”—converted to a field hospital. Even if all the vampires were to drop dead, we’re not even sure humanity’s gene pool is diverse enough for the species to survive. And many humans will die before this new offensive is over.

I also liked the contrast between the urgency of Yuu & Co. with the relative calm of Guren and his immediate subordinates. They’re veterans who have seen it all, or close to it, and they seem a little more comfortable in their skins and confident in their abilities. Even when Guren spots Feris with a scope and Feris stares right back, it doesn’t faze him. He’s also on a first-name basis with the others, like the power-punching Mito.

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Like Guren, Feris is just kind of chilling as the underlings get valuable battle experience; ready to swoop in if there are any problems. Mika is with Feris, but soon goes off on his own. Feris’ insistence he drink someone’s blood takes Mika back to his first days as a baby vamp, during which Krul Tepes was trying to get him to do the same.

Mika refused a human boy’s blood, and knocked a cup of Krul’s own blood out of her hand…but the sound of that blood pouring and splattering on his face has a visceral effect, and in a moment of possible weakness, possible necessity, he finally digs into her arm. She’s very clear: Mika is her dog, and will always be her dog. In the present, he still carries vials of Kurl’s blood—no one else’s—and he has 10 days of it before he needs more, during which time he hopes to find Yuu.

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That makes Krul’s blood a drug that keeps Mika alive and not a reasonless demon. Turns out, it’s also drugs that, in a pinch, give the humans the edge they need to have a chance against higher-ranking vamps. Shinoa whips them out as casually as Bleach’s Kuchiki Rukia introduces the body-swapping Soul Candy to Ichigo.

In both cases, a fundamentally terrifying biological transformation is treated like taking your Flintstones vitamins. But that’s Shinoa for you; always keeping it light and breezy.

Then there’s the fact that she gives everyone, including Yuu, more than the maximum of two the human body can tolerate, almost assuring that when he’s in a tough spot, Yuu might get stupid and take more than two.

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There’s a foreboding to the truck driven by Corporal Nagai taking them to the front line, but that’s replaced when an Apache ambushes them. The team works together to save Nagai and destroy the chopper, but they end up separated when the street collapses and they fall into the subway below. Yuu is with Shinoa and the unconscious Nagai and head for the nearest base, while Mitsuba, Yoichi and Shihou head to the defense line where they’ll ideally meet up later.

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Meanwhile, as Mika is milling around, looking for Yuu, a cloud of dust is kicked up, and a detached vamp limb flies by his face. As the dust clears, we see Guren, ready to exterminate his next target. It’s kind of fitting that Yuu’s brothers, past and present, meet before Mika and Yuu, though I don’t see either defeating the other, nor do I see Yuu being brought up unless Yuu himself enters the fray.

However this goes, the buildup in the end, presented without music—just the falling rain and a cut to silence—was very effective. Guren v. Mika: Who ya got?

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Owari no Seraph – 08

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Ahh, good ol’ Omotesando Station… I remember it well, travelling on the Ginza Metro line between Shibuya and Shimbashi. It was in a far better state of repair when I was there. On Owari, after the fall, it’s been re-purposed as a creepy lair for the team’s next targets: seven vampires. Shinoa says they’d probably do okay fighting individually, but better to work together and defeat them without a scratch. For once, Yuu agrees.

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They enter not to find fello Metro users like myself, but the vampires’ thralls, who give their blood in exchange for protection from the monsters above ground. They glare at the soldiers as they press on to their primary targets; saving them is secondary, and for once, Yuu doesn’t protest. They glare because they wish they had the power to choose a different fate for themselves besides this or death.

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When Mitsuba gives the order to prepare their weapons, Yuu takes it upon himself to cut down an unarmed vamp, their first catch of the day, following the letter but not necessarily the spirit of his orders. This irks Mitsuba, but he catches her hand before she can slap him again, then maneuvers her out of the way of a second vamp’s strike, whom he takes care of without any trouble. Two down, five to go, and Yuu’s first rescue of Mitsuba.

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When they confront the final five, three more pop out from behind Mitsuba, and one of them grabs her by the throat. But in one of the vamps’ sillier choices, he decides not to kill her immediately, but wait until Yuu and the others have engaged his comrades to do it, by which time it’s too late, and Yuu slices him in half.

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With Mitsuba rescued by Yuu once more (who regards her as his family), the team closes ranks and mops up the remaining vamps, armed with second-rate weapons no match for their cursed gear. In all, it’s a good first subterranean fight, packed with peril but ultimately not too difficult to pull off with the lessons they’ve learned.

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The girl who told them about the vamps in the station lowballed the figure to save her own friends/family, something Yuu doesn’t hold against her when they return to base camp, where other former thralls are being tended to by the army. When Mitsuba learns from Shinoa about Yuu’s past, and how it so closely resembles her own, but his denseness annoys her and she storms off without telling him anything. There’s pretty textbook romantic bonding exercise in practice here, but not unearned due to solid fundamentals and decent voicework by Iguchi Yuka.

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The second half opens with Shiho getting a derelict Hummer H2T running again to shorten their trip to Shinjuku. While Yuu grows up a lot in this episode, the comedic scene the show allows as a breath between life-and-death ordeals successfully reminds us he still is a kid, judging from how stoked he is about driving a car for the first time. This is Yuu as a charming, wide-eyed kid, not an annoying angsty or arrogant; and it’s nice.

The shot of Shiho gathering the others, as Yuu drives into the frame and crashes into a lamppost, demonstrates decent comedic timing (plus it looks like Yuu is having a ton of fun, which I can speak to having driven one of those brutes). Shinoa sitting in the drivers seat is a nice sight gag, as is her off-camera revenge over the lads for laughing at her.

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Once everyone’s aboard and they near the Shinjuku barrier wall, they spot a Vampire Noble, the first we’ve seen in action since Yuu ran from Ferid. Everyone bails as they set the Hummer on a collision course with the vamp, but he stops the three-ton SUT with one hand and flings it back at them like a toy. *GULP*. They had a relatively easy time with vamps up till now, but it’s clear this will be a little different.

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The noble is so fast he’s upon Shinoa before she can raise her weapon. Yuu is able to block his blow and disarm him, showing her yet again why he and Shiho are Guren’s favorites. The noble is a little impressed as two more noble vamps descend from the sky, flanking him.

Yuu asks if they should retreat from this. Let me repeat that: Yuu mentions retreat. But it’s too late; Shiona believes they’ll still have a chance if the five of them work as one unit at the very limit of their demon power, but she doesn’t pretend there won’t probably be a casualty or two.

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The lady vamps have come to bring their comrade to the front lines, and he grudgingly goes along with them, sparing Yuu & Co. from a fight but promising he’ll drink their blood when they meet again, casually tapping him on the shoulder before flying off. That easy arrogance really ticks Yuu off, but Shinoa is still visibly terrified from the bullet they just dodged.

Even if Yuu had what it took today to take that noble on one-on-one, his friends would get killed as he fought without teamwork. Shinoa also does what Mitsuba couldn’t: thank him promptly for saving her life, noting that as Guren said, he really does care about his friends. Her gratitude brings the bashful boy out in Yuu.

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Those nobles were pretty damn scary, but they’re gone for the moment, and while the episode ends with the team staring down a Shinjuku under assault, about to enter that inferno themselves, it ends with an upward pan right into the smoke, as upbeat music plays. It will be tough going from here on, but they’re going in together, and whatever they face in there, they’ll get through it with teamwork.

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Hataraku Maou-sama! – 03

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The day after Emi spends the night at Maou and Shiro’s, the guys are picked up by the cops when Maou’s bullet-ridden bike is found. After someone calls Emi at work threatening to kill both her and Maou, she goes to the cops to grudgingly sign off as their guanantor, and explains the situation. Chiho arranges a date with Maou in Shinjuku to discuss the earthquake, but Emi and Shiro tail them. Chiho tells Maou she’s heard voices and he realizes the other world is trying to contact him. A large earthquake strikes, ravaging the underground mall and trapping the four in rubble. Emi uses a spell to put Chiho to sleep after reassuring her, and Maou emerges in his true form, to attempt to free everyone.

We figured Chiho would get dragged deeper into this alternate world heroes-vs.-demons mess sooner or later, and she does this week, by hearing communiques in the aether intended for her ears, but which she can hear and understand nonetheless, likely do to her extended proximity to Maou. The title “Maou-sama goes on a Date” doesn’t do justice in an episode where a lot more goes on than a date. Both Yusa and Maou have a mutual enemy; he’s already taken shots at them. That means as much as Emi has been conditioned to loathe Maou and his general, a temporary alliance is in everyone’s best interests.

This is especially true if Emi wants to minimize harm to innocents, which she does, because she’s a hero. Here’s the thing: when it comes to Chiho, it would seem Maou’s a hero too. He’s talked of his return to glory once he regains his powers, but once he finally gets them back after the earthquake, his first thought is to help others, not further his own goals. Emi even considers pulling out her trump card to slay him in this opportune moment when they’re isolated, but doesn’t go through with it simply because, well, Maou just isn’t acting evil. In the other world, things were black-and-white, but here, so far, things are different.


Rating: 8 (Great)

Stray Observations:

  • Emi speaks passable English, but the true awesomeness was when she attempted to converse with her enemy while maintaining the pretense that she was chatting with another customer. She doesn’t entirely succeed, but it’s an excellent, well-written exchange that is simultaneously serious and funny…something this series is proving good at.
  • We enjoyed Emi’s comment to Shiro about how an empty fridge is a sign he’s failing as a general in this new world.
  • However, Shiro proves her wrong by breaking out a strategic fund to upgrade Maou’s wardrobe from his usual “Uniclo” (not that there’s anything wrong with Uniclo!) Chiho notices.
  • We love how Chiho doesn’t back down from Emi for a second, beliving her to be a jealus ex of Maou’s, which is actually the most logical presumption, from where she’s standing.
  • A hotel we’ve stayed at is in an establishing shot of Shinjuku.

RDG: Red Data Girl – 02

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Izumiko gets a new cell phone from her mother Yukariko in the mail and with it, an invitation to meet up in Tokyo. Izumiko and Miyuki use their school’s class trip to Tokyo to do so, but everywhere Izumiko looks, she sees dark, shadowy, threatening figures. Sagara surprises them by appearing, and telling them they won’t be meeting Yukariko after all. Crashing in an apartment for the night, Izumiko is possessed by some kind of divine being, and tells Sagara that Izumiko will probably be her last vessel.

As the OP helpfully points out, “Red Data” is a reference to The International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species, or Red Data Books. Obviously, this suggests that Suzuhara Izumiko is a rare girl whose preservation is Sagara’s priority. Last week we saw a lot of what makes her different from ordinary humans, but that was just scratching the surface. As it turns out, she’s never been able to use cell phones or computers. This essentially makes her a culture of one: stuck several decades in the past and unable to avail herself of the technology that the rest of modern society takes for granted. A girl like this needs to be protected, and while Miyuki will follow Dad’s orders and stay by her side, it doesn’t mean he isn’t going to complain or question the efficacy of the task.

This week we fly to Tokyo (a very accurate Shinjuku, to be exact) with them, in hopes of meeting with her very busy mother (who works at the “public safety something”). But this meetup never happens. It’s almost as if Izumiko’s trip was a test to see what threats show themselves. In the end, Miyuki finds out what makes her so special, besides the technophobia and ability to sense creepy figures mixed in among the masses: this girl is a vessel; for whom exactly we don’t know. Moreover, the entity who inhabits Izumiko (imbuing her with an ethereal aura and gorgeous yukata) states Izumiko may be her last such vessel…endangered species indeed. While the nature and mission of this entity and her specific powers remain a mystery, there are parties out there who want that power, and Sagara fears his son alone is not sufficient protection against what’s coming.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Car Cameos:

Kamisama Dolls 9

Moyako arrives in Tokyo, tagging along with Koushiro and Kirio, and hangs out with Kyohei, Utao and Hibino. The next college term is starting up, and Kyohei reflects on leaving the village. Aki remains at large, but is actually crashing at Kuuko Karahari’s house. Her dad the detective is snooping around everywhere, and she herself has discovered Kurakami village. Finally, a new character is introduced – Mahiru, who instantly attaches herself to “Kyohei-sama”.

Not a ton of earth-shattering stuff this week nor any action at all (save a brief flashback) but still a very solid episode all-in-all, full of great character interactions. Kyohei struggling with his worth and his feelings for Hibino, Utao nervous about Karahiri, Kuuko teasing Aki, Kirio making nice with Utao – good stuff, all. Mahiru (finally revealed in the ending sequence as the shadowy figure) looks to add an interesting dynamic. Also on full display was the series’ attention to setting detail – the stonework on the ground at the West Shinjuku station promenade and the park next to city hall were great to revisit in anime form.

Considering this is Tokyo, I’m not that surprised the growing group of sekis can’t locate Aki, though it might do them some good to pay another visit to Kuuko’s, if he goes back there. She’s an interesting wild card. For his part, Aki is sick of the person he’s become, and believes the only way out is to utterly destroy Kurakami village, thus avenging his lover and his beloved pet. That’s a big task, but he does have a kakashi and gobs of angst – I have no doubt he can get it done if no one stops him. Kyohei won’t be able to stay on the sidelines if and when Aki tries something.


Rating: 4

Tokyo Trip Journal 5

8 June, Heisei 22 (Tue)

Riding the subway is actually quite fun, especially when you don’t have any set schedule or anywhere in particular to be. Also, you can ride it all you want for 1000 yen (a bit over $10), so I figured I’d get my money’s worth. It threatened to rain all day, but only momentary sprinkles here and there until something resembling a drizzle at sundown.

I took the subway to Roppongi, and to a very trendy (and Westerny) quarter called Roppongi Hills, right next to TV Asahi HQ. Another art gallery sat upon a high place; in this case the 52nd floor of the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower (Mori owns many towers in Roppongi). The Mori Art Museum made the Sompo Musuem seem a little dowdy, not least the which because it was full of much newer and flashier pieces and installations of audio and video. The prices in the museum shop were, shall we say, optimistic?

I made a brief stop in nearby Akebanebashi to check out the Tokyo Tower, which was tall, white, and international orange. Then to the nearest station, Daimon, which via Shimbashi led me to Ginza, of of Tokyo’s swankiest districts. I took a look at a lot of fancy stores like Adidas and Sony, saw the new Nissan Leaf, and got lunch a a fast-food chain called Lotteria, which had very good cheeseburgers and emerald green Suntory Melon Pop to wash them and the fries down. I also bought a bottle of sake.

From Ginza, I took the Ginza line west, all the way to Shibuya, yet another cosmopolitan/bustling/chic ‘hood full of stores selling stuff no one needs at exhorbitant prices. I’m beginning to see a pattern. No matter; I realize these places need to exist. In any case, Shibuya has some of the largest crosswalks; at one notable intersection all automotive traffic stops so pedestrians in all directions can cross. It’s really something to behold and to experience firsthand. From Shibuya I took the Fukushotin line to Meiji-Jingumae, the station closest to the Meiji shrine in Yoyogi Park. I did a bit more walking than I should have, but it was worth seeing such a serene and gorgeous place.

Back in Shinjuku as night approached, I grabed dinner at a hole-in-the-wall eatery packed with smoking diners…after much constirnation and head-wrining about where to eat. The simple matter is, there is so much choice, it can potentially be paralyzing. This restaurant has a machine that tilts a mug and slowly pours Kirin beer, pauses briefly to let the fizz subside, then tops it off. Also, the average diner was smoking 3-4 cigarettes during their meal, not after. Smoking indoors is very much allowed at most restaurants and bars. The diners here ate very fast, too…and loud slurping of broth is not frowned upon. Dinner was 1000 yen.

Tokyo Trip Journal 4

7 June, Heisei 22 (Mon)

Here’s when I thought things would get a bit…tricky.

I was a bit anxious about using public transportation, not knowing what all the flashing characters were trying to tell me, but after using it all day I have no idea why I was at all; it was easy as pie. There’s a slight learning curve to the iconography, but with a combination of bilingual signage and distinct colors for lines and numbers for stations, I had no problem navigating my way around Tokyo.

First, I followed the enormous mass of suited salarymen (and women) clutching phones and coffee to Shinjuku station, the busiest train station in the world by daily passengers (more than 3 million) A typicall trip on the Toei or Tokyo Metro subways costs 160-170 yen. I took the Toei Shinjuku line (leaf green) to Kudanshita, a station near the Imperial Palace complex. The imperial gardens and nearby museums were closed, it being Monday, so I hopped back on the subway on the Metro’s Tozai line (blue) at Takebashi bound for Nihombashi. The whole business district area east of the palace is called Marunouchi. The red line is named after it.

Nihombashi had a 19th century stone bridge with intricate bronzework, but was concealed by a highway overpass. In Tokyo, hardly anything save the palace is sacred, and they will build over/around/on top of whatever they don’t feel like tearing down. I also saw the Tokyo Stock Exchange, but couldn’t go inside. After mailing a couple postcards with the help of a very nice postwoman, I got on at Ometachi station and took the Tozai line to Iidabashi (missing Kudanshita from brain fart). That was okay, because Iidabashi was a junction for the yellow Yurakucho line, which I’d take to my next destination, Ikebukuro.

One of Ikebukuro station many exits led up into a Gallery-like mall, where I was surprised to find a Krispy Kreme – they’re all but extinct in Philly. I was fascinated by suddenly being in the same city where the anime Durarara!! takes place, and from what I saw the show portrays the look of the city expertly. In Shangri-la, which takes place in the future, Ikebukuro is a thick and poisonous forest. Here and now though, the place is surging with people and activity. I float around in no particular hurry until lunchtime draws near.

Rather than eat here, I hop on the brown Fukushotin line to Shinjuku-Sanchome, then back on the Shinjuku line to…Shinjuku. After a brief stop at the hoel for a shower, then searched Shinjuku by my hotel for sushi. I espied several businessmen entering a promising place and followed them, and was not disappointed. Utilizing once again the big pictures on the menu, indicated my choice and received large amounts of delicious, dead raw fish and sea creatures, all for under 1000 yen.

As miles of walking in my Nikes had virtually ruined my ankles/knees, I decided to bite the bullet and purchase decent walking shoes with arch support. I went to Keio, one of the massive department stores positioned around Shinjuku Station along with Odakyu and Mylord. Each has at least eight floors, the bottom of which are massive gourmet food markets selling every kind of food imaginable. I wasn’t hungry, unfortunately, but I did need shoes, so I took the elevator up to the fifth floor. The elevators were attended by extremely well dressed and groomed, polite and soft-spoken ladies with white gloves. I found some comfy Gore-Tex Brooks for 15,700 yen, for which I was able to use a credit card.

Thus equipped, and having purchased Buffrin (the only pain medicine with western letters I could decipher; don’t want to be wrong about labels where drugs are concerned) I hoped to lessen the fatigue on my walking bits as the week continued.

Tokyo Trip Journal 3

6 June, Heisei 22 (Sun)

Wake up aound 5:15 AM. Bed is comfortable and surprisingly, long enough for my frame. A/C is not too harsh. I felt a bit killjoyish sleeping through a Saturday evening, but again, I was a walking corpse and in no condition for sensory overload yet. Didn’t have an appetite for anything other than water and sleep…slept about 12 hours total and woke up refreshed and more or less adjusted to the time, somehow. My Verizon phone even displays local time, but is roaming.

After briefly exploring my hotel, I buy a UCC Black Iced Coffee and start out; around 6 AM. Unlike my afternoon arrival, the city is almost deserted and silent, with the crowing of enormous ravens and bus engines being the dominant sounds. The skyscrapers loom overhead like a grove of mammoth trees. Like yesterday, my route is somewhat random…N, E, N, S, NE…but I am hungry so when I happen upon the first of many Tokyo McDonalds, I go there to grab breakfast. The place is three stories, everyone working there is pleasant and affable, the food looks precisely like it does in the pictures, and the portions aren’t immeasurable. An Egg McMuffin, hash brown and OJ cost 460 yen.

After a few attempts, I find an ATM that takes my card (at a 7 Eleven; Family Mart ATMS will only take Citibank) and procure funds for the coming days. Then I continue weaving through the streets of Shinjuku, passing soda/coffee/tea/cigarette vending machines every 100 feet or so. They’re absolutely everywhere. I swear, I don’t see how anyone who has 120 yen could ever be thirsty in this city.

As I walk, my legs grow weary, so I head south to the lovely and expansive park called Shinjuku Gyoen, only to find it’s not open yet (too early) so I do a loop around it, find a smaller park to rest at and then head back to the gyoen. On the way I experience how cars/pedestrians/motorbikes negotiate the narrower streets of the city, and am also absorbed by the feeling of a pleasant, sunny Tokyo Sunday morning.

Shinjuku Gyoen is gorgeous. There’s a Japanese garden, in addition to English and French gardens, and a picturesque asian pavilion from which to view the scenery. There’s a more modern facility under construction near the entrance. There are sun worshippers here, but no dogs allowed. As the morning grows later, more people arrive. I spot an Oriental Stork in a pond, as well as a turtle identical to a friend of mine’s floating in the same. As I write this, we’re closing in on noon. I’ve walked more than two miles, and need lunch.

I procure lunch at the park’s cafe. A common means of getting food involves inserting cash or credit (its very much still a cash economy) into a machine, pressing the buttons that light up for what you want to eat/drink, and it prints out a ticket. A waitress shows you to your seat and rips the ticket. When you get your food, which I got promptly, she takes the stub. Wonderful procedure. Soba with Prawn Tempura isn’t bad, either, and quite filling. Along with a bottle of ringo (apple) juice, the whole meal is 1000 yen.

I head out of the park shortly thereafter, passing through what appears to be a mini Barnes & Noble just for anime/manga. When I return to the shopping blocks I’d passed through much earlier, they are all open and bustling. The shops sell clothing, cameras and electronics, watches, anime/manga, and restaurants and pachinki/slot and karaoke parlors are interspersed between them. Whatever the business, most of them have someone outside the entrance beckoning for customers to take a look at their wares and handing out fliers.

All the walking (~5 miles) have taken their toll on my ankles/shins, so I walk back to my hotel to recharge; buying a Kirin Cola and some broth-flavoured chips and relaxing in my room with some televised Go and, I find not soonafter, Japanese baseball, which is quite entertaining. The fans in the stadium are constantly singing/chanting like they would at a European soccer game. The teams are typically named after corporations/holding companies rather than the cities they play in, in this case the Hanshin Tigers vs. the SoftBank Hawks. Teams have the occasional white or hispanic player on their roster, just as MLB teams have the occasional Japanese player. When it becomes an 8-2 lead in the Tiger’s favor, I take a shower and head back out.

I end up on the 42F of the Sompo Japan Building, one of the skyscrapers that make up the Nishi-Shinjuku grove. This floor is an art museum, exhibiting a retrospective of the French painter Maurice Utrillo, as well as three permanent pieces in a special dark gallery – flanked by a Gaugain and Cezanne is Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, purchased by the museum during the Japanese economic bubble for 5 billion yen. It’s pretty neat to see it in the flesh, and the views of Tokyo from the observation lobby are well worth the price of admission.

Back down to earth, I find a Japanese barbeque restaurant in the basement of a building (most buildings have 2 or 3 basements with more shops/restaurants, in addition to those above ground) and settle in. The hostess and waitress didn’t speak English, but they were extremely friendly, polite, and helpful, and thanks to a menu with pictures (a necessity for me here) I successfully order a platter containing all kinds of delicious morsels, including grilled marinated beef. With beer, dinner didn’t cost much more than 1000 yen. They provide customer service cards you can mail in, but I don’t seen how service would ever be anything other than exlempary. Three food joints today – McDonalds, the Shinjuku Gyoen cafe, and the barbeque joint…three very tight ships.

It isn’t just cashiers and waitresses though…whenever I asked a random Japanese passerby something, they tried their upmost to assist me, despite usually not knowing any English. A security guard on duty led me nearly a whole city block away from his post to point out where the Art Museum was. There’s something to society here that’s lacking back home; a sense of pride in their work and in themselves and a strict decorum to business that isn’t allowed to come up short. If anyone was unhappy in their jobs, they didn’t look it. Far cry from heart-on-sleave Americans in low-wage jobs, who can rarely contain their contempt for their plight. To that end, I felt it my duty to clean my plate completely, to honor those who served me so well. I returned to the shopping blocks as night fell, getting my first tast of the electric circus Tokyo is famous for, but by 9 PM I had been up 17 straight hours and needed sleep.