With fifteen different clubs requesting budget increases, the student council must allot them in a creative but fair fashion. To that end, they arrange an inter-club aquatic meet composed of four unique challenges, the first of which is underwater ball-basket. Medaka raises the stakes by announcing she’ll triple the budget of any club that beats the student council, which is also competing, much to the chagrin of Kouki and Zenkichi. Several teams tie at 20 points in the first round, but the opportunistic swim team manages to earn their points faster than even Medaka.
Ah, just when we thought it would be one to two stores per episode, they throw a two-parter at us, in which only one of the planned four challenges is completed. By episode’s end, Medaka has performed well, but the cutthroat swim team did better, though risking their lives to do so. Her two associates are non-factors, as their flotation devices prevent them from reaching the bottom of the olympic pool (though curiously, Medaka’s natural flotation devices fail to slow her).
Does a two-part pool episode slow the momentum of this series? In a word, yes. We would have preferred if this were all wrapped up in one part. The color commentary by Shiranui (as she snacks constantly, as she is wont to do, which isn’t funny) is uninspiring, and her banter between fellow dwarf Aso is clear padding. The Swim Team, meanwhile, is equally ho-hum; we see two possible outcomes next week: Medaka beats them and puts them in their place…or they beat her, but she takes the usual high road. Either way, it’s likely she’ll change swimsuits at least one more time.
Rating: 4 (Fair)
First half: Kanoya, a Medaka dissenter and former candidate for class president, tries to recruit Zenkichi to his side as he plans a coup d’etat. However Kanoya underestimates the depth of his recruitee’s devotion to Medaka, and Zenkichi personally quells the rebellion. Second Half: Judo team captain Nabeshima Nekomi requests the council help her choose a successor, but it’s really a gambit to get Zenkichi on the team. Zenkichi, who was avoiding the club altogether because of rival Akune Kouki, must now fight him, and if he loses, Akune will replace him at Medaka’s side.
I’m loath to bring up Game of Thrones in an anime review, but the relationship between Medaka and Zenkichi reminds me of that between Stannis and Davos. Davos needs no god or gods but his king, while Zenkichi needs only his princess. In both cases their loyalty is absolute; beyond question. So we didn’t have any doubt that when that loyalty is tested by the downright putrid Kanoya, Zenkichi would not only decline his offer, but put the two-percenter in his place. He’s simply not capable of turning on Medaka. As for a school allowing 30-year-old students to hoard pipes and maces in a classroom, well…that’s just a really progressive school. Like Waldorf!
The Kanoya incident was very similar to the Kendo club – a bunch of punks who needed to be quashed. The Judo club is another story, with two new motivations working in tandem. Crafty, cat-faced captain Nabeshima wants Zenkichi on the team; he’s good, and like Kanoya, she believes his talents are better used elsewhere. Her underling Akune, who’s known Zenkichi and Medaka since middle school, wants Zenkichi’s job. So Akune and Zenkichi will fight for the right to Medaka’s curvaceous side. We’re kinda doubtful Zenkichi will lose, and the pseudo-love triangle this episode wrought isn’t encouraging, but we’ll stay cautiously optimistic.
Rating: 5 (Average)
P.S. There was a nice brief scene between Isahaya and Ariake that showed the staying power of Medaka’s inspiration, and her hope that those she reforms “pay it forward.”
In the first half, a second-year track team member comes to them seeking solace from a threat she recieved warning her to quit said club, along with a pair of vandalized shoes. Medaka narrows down the possible suspects from observing the note and shoe damage and sends Zenkichi and Shiranui out to find suspects. When they spot the likely culprit, Medaka asks her upfront, and she attempts to flee. However, Medaka catches up to her and decides to believe her false denials. Shamed, the girl buys her victim a new pair of shoes. In the second half, there’s a request to find a lost dog, but when Zenkichi and Shiranui find it, it’s a dangerous, bad-tempered Borzoi that resists all attempts to be caught. Medaka, who loves animals but is feared by them for some reason, dresses like a sexy dog and startles the stray dog into submission, allowing them to return him to his owner.
Sket Dance-style, Medaka and Zenkichi carried out two separate missions this week, as befits the nature of the suggestion box…there are many suggestions, and not all of them will fill a whole episode, whereas some may take up more than one; we’ll see. What we like about both this week’s missions is that they both reveal something about Medaka’s personality; things her good friend (essentially brother) Zenkichi already knows. That he can flash back to moments when he and Medaka were wee ones adds richness both to their characters and to their friendship. Zenkichi isn’t your typical led-by-the-nose president’s bitch. He’s here by choice, because he cares about Medaka, and wants to support her in any way he can and make up for her weaknesses.
Speaking of weaknesses, Shiranui did not ingratiate herself with us this week; she comes off as an overly surly little smartass most of the time, and that’s kind of her only note. We were kinda hoping the dog would eat her :). Meanwhile, the guests this week – the the despairing Ariake and even the petty Isahaya, were more likeable. Other things we liked: the badass-looking Borzoi that radiated evil vibes (a most drastic disconnect from the childishly-drawn ‘lost dog’ poster); Medaka’s stray hair swaying whenever she’s in thought; everyone asking about Zenkichi’s sweater; and Zenkichi’s line about usually being the one to deal with those Medaka gives a pass for their transgressions, but deciding to go along with her vis-a-vis Isahaya.
Rating: 6 (Good)
Hitoyoshi Zenkichi’s overachieving childhood friend Medaka Kurokami has won the election for student council president by a 98% landslide, and just knows that she’ll drag him into her business. She starts up a suggestion box, and the first request asks her to clear the kendo dojo of the punks who hang out there. She convinces them to pick up kendo and the dojo is cleaned. The person who submitted the suggestion, one Hyuga, tries to intimidate the reformed punks, but they stand up to him, and Zenkichi punches him. Medaka proceeds to fulfill another request by improving Hyuga’s rotten personality. Zenkichi agrees to stay by her side, as always.
When we learn that Gainax is doing a new series, we’re going to take a look by default, since we know their work will rarely disappoint. This premiere validated our policy; Medaka Box is hardly flawless, but it is a bright, fresh, and confident school series that does a good job laying out what it’s about and who the players are. We’re particularly smitten with President Medaka who is brimming with charisma. Sure, she looks down on people (and indeed the rest of the universe) but at her core she’s a kind person who only wants to help…even if you don’t know you need it. Her boobs are a little on the big side, but overall the moderate levels of fanservices didn’t concern us, because it wasn’t the only note the episode played.
Aki Toyosaki voices Medaka, and after Last Exile’s cutesy-voiced Fam, it’s good to hear the throaty, assertive Aki. When she’s talking, people just have to listen. We also like Zenkichi Hiroyoshi, the male protagonist who has known her since they were two (i.e., their whole lives). He’s neither weak, nor boring or annoying. Even if he has no idea why, he’s Medaka’s rock; and he can’t help but support her in her new role as Queen of School. A pleasant setting, colorful characters, sprightly action, quick pacing, and plenty of energy and charm – there’s not much we dislike here. Good start.
Rating: 7 (Very Good)