Gatchaman Crowds Insight – 00 (First Impressions)

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What is it: A sequel to the stylish, upbeat Summer 2013 series. Thanks to his gamification of mass altruism through the online app Crowds, cross-dressing tech whiz Ninomiya Rui has brought a measure of harmony and stability to the world.

After a brief recap of the story so far, this half-episode introduces new threat in the red Crowds of an organization called VAPE that wants to prove the defeated alien Berg-Katze right. They go after the Prime Minister’s state jet, but Rui, Hajime, Sugane, Jo neutralize the threat in grand fashion, before preparing to meet a newly-awakened Gatchaman living in Niigata.

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Why should you watch? If you watched and enjoyed the colorful, zany CGI-enhanced hijinx of Gatchaman Crowds, this looks like more of the same. Only now, rather than battling an evil alien, they are battling a faction of society that still believes Crowds can do more harm than good, using the same tech as the Gatchamen to create chaos to prove their point.

The visuals are as slick and lush as the original, the action is fun and inventive but never flies off the rails, and the soundtrack is as bumpin’ as ever (though it will be hard to beat the original OP).

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Why shouldn’t you watch? If you didn’t watch the first show, the three minutes of backstory hardly do it justice, so I don’t see why anyone would start with Insight. Also, while the show looks and sounds good, the messages and motivations of its characters can be a little loosey-goosey. Hajime in particular is a cool, likable heroine who gets the job done with a wink and a song, but rarely lets us into what kind of person she is.

The Verdict: I for one will be watching this “happy cyberpunk” variant of the magical girl/guy—genre. The tech is magical, but it’s driven by good old-fashioned, perpetually dueling human concepts of altruism and egoism; of hope and fear, with all the gray in between. I’m also interested in learning what the new characters bring to the mix, hoping they don’t make the show too, well, crowded.

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 24

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UBW really kicked into high gear as expected, delivering a powerhouse finale to the battle to save the world from Gilgamesh. From the moment Shirou got back to his feet, to Rin’s beautifully dorky victorious thumbs-up, it was an intense ride, with some of the best action sequences yet delivered on a show that specializes in such things.

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As Gilgamesh and Shirou continue to bandy words, the latter begins to understand what his magic is all about, and why he’ll be able to defeat Gil without Saber’s help, a laughable proposition to the king. But it’s because he’s a king that Shirou, a warrior who’s very body is made of infinite swords, will always be able to stay one step ahead of GIlgamesh one-on-one in the reality marble of his making.

 

Gilgamesh owns swords, i.e. Noble Phantasms, and stores them in his treasury. But it’s still a finite number, and he’s mastered none of them, just like Shirou. If any other servant was the last one standing, he or she would easily defeat Shirou with their mastered Noble Phantasm.

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That…actually makes a lot of sense, at least relative to the show’s mythology. Speaking of warriors, Saber comes to Rin’s aid, but is a bit too late and Rin and Shinji are consumed by the Holy Grail goop. Rin’s about to give up and Saber is about to obey her command seals and blow the whole thing up, but a brace of arrows from the sky cut Rin free. Turns out Archer, our Archer, is still around, which makes sense, since he made it clear he remains irrevocably trapped between life and death.

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With Rin out of harm’s way, Saber gives in to her command seal and unleashes Excalibur on the Grail/Servant Monster, blowing it to bits in an awesome display of light and power. But using the Holy Sword means the end of Saber, who wishes she could stick around, but is content in knowing Rin is around to take care of Shirou. (She also probably realizes that if she stayed, the love triangle that would persist would be a pain in the ass ;)

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Saber’s exit is quick, but not unexpected, because the show had foreshadowed quite a bit up to now that she’d be the sacrifice necessary to save Shirou and Rin and end the war. With the grail destroyed, it’s left to Shirou to continue hacking away at Gilgamesh, who is forced to “go all out.” Even so, Shirou slashes his arm off before Ea can touch him.

The reality marble vanishes as Shirou runs out of mana, but Gil can’t kill him because a remnant of the grail attempts to make him its new vessel. Gil, not wanting to die, tries to tether himself to Shirou with a chain, but Archer helps Shirou out one last time by delivering an arrow to Gil’s head. He’s sucked into oblivion. And just like that, it’s over. Cue victory fanfare and calculation of loot and EXP.

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Archer visits Rin one last time to say goodbye and laugh at the “state” both of them are in. His usual scowl and tough-guy talk gone, he looks and sounds more like the Shirou. He urges her, as Saber did, to take care of Shirou so he won’t end up like him, before vanishing before a gorgeous sunrise.

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With Saber and Archer gone, we’re left with two humans (three, if you count Shinji, which I don’t). There’s a big exhale and feeling of heady relief as Shirou suggest to Rin they go home, clean up, get some food in them, and get some rest. Having wrapped up all the big stuff here, UBW can give the entire last episode over to epilogue, an arrangement I can get behind. Let’s see what all this fighting and sacrifice wrought.

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Sword Art Online II – 06

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One of the nice things about SAO is that the previews are simply a static screen with the title of the next episode, as Kirito says “Next Time: [Episode Title]” It doesn’t spoil what’s to come, so we had no idea the show was about to hit fast forward on the BoB preliminaries and deliver what we’ve been waiting for: the first battle between Kirito and Sinon.

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By SAOII standards, that came in a hurry, but a welcome one. The second episode showed us how a GGO battle works and how good Sinon is, but fell down on both stakes and emotional resonance, since we hadn’t yet learned about Sinon’s troubled past, and the parties in the battle were fairly inconsequential, beyond reminding Sinon she has to get stronger.

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This episode improves on all of that one’s shortcomings, and while the vistas were cooler in that one, the quality and pace of the combat is maintained, only this time we care more about the outcome, which ends with Sinon conceiting defeat and surrendering. It also repairs the rift caused by a misundrstanding last week that drew Sinon away, and also turned her idea of the “strength” she seeks on its head. For all those reasons, I think this was SAOII’s best episode to date.

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Up until now Sinon had fathomed strength as the thing that allowed her to slay the most powerful foes with ease, and which allows Kirito to stand still and still dodge her sniper fire, or slice her final bullet in two in their final duel. Kirito sees all that as merely skill, not strength. He also relies on luck and circumstance; his interaction with Sinon after the first round wasn’t a calculation on his part, but it affected her aim from then on regardless.

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No, to Kirito, strength is the thing that allows you to continue living with yourself after having chosen to kill, and kill more than once. Even if it was to defend his comrades and the woman he loved, he still took their lives. Sinon also killed to protect herself and her mother, but both of them have the same problem: Sinon has been unable to move on from that event, and now that Death Gun has reawakened his crimson memories, neither can Kirito.

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Kirito and Sinon, sittin’ in a tree…A-N-G-S-T-I-N-G…so now Sinon may well belive that she’s found her soulmate, but Kirito is, not surprisingly, unaware of the connection, since he doesn’t really know about her past. He also already has Asuna. But in any case, he and Sinon are now no longer enemies, which means she could prove a valuable ally in the coming fight with Death Gun, should he choose to involve others. Of course, he’s said he’s done with killing, but up against a killer, he may have no choice.

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Stray Observations:

  • I really dug the GGO victory fanfare that plays when the battles are one. I counted at least three instances of it here.
  • Particular kudos are in order for Sawashiro Miyuki on her voice-acting in this episode. It’s always nice to hear her voice a leading lady, though her villains are pretty great too.
  • Notable Kirito and Sinon contrasts: she’s primarily in white, he’s black; he charges his opponents in a mad rush, she hangs way back and snipes.
  • I dug the flashback to when Asuna was still rocking her Knights of the Blood garb. Too bad we didn’t get to see her fight much. She remains a tragically underused character.

Ryuugajou Nanana no Maizoukin – 10

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After scouting out the site of the last ruin this 11-episode show has time for, Juugo arrives home with the brown sugar pudding Nanana requested, and is relieved she hasn’t disappeared permanently, but she is clearly hurt by his refusal to tell her why he needs to clear the ruin in such a hurry. You can really feel the melancholy in this scene; Juugo is just as upset he can’t tell her as she is he’s keeping secrets.

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It’s not as if she considers this the Ultimate betrayal or anything, but her disappointment and weariness is apparent. As for the ruins themselves, at first I was on the fence about whether the set-up quite topped the “Rigid Foam Maze” six eps back, but I decided it did after considering its complexity. First of all, finding it involves careful study of the mall’s plan and observation of its inhabitants.

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When Juugo finally finds the entrance and goes in with Tensai, Isshin, and Yuu, things get even more interesting, but not until Tensai goes “Aha!” and explains it to less brilliant parties present. The Golden Ratio, Fibonacci Sequence, and 13-sign Zodiac all play a role in cluing in the adventurer on where and when to move. Ultimately it takes Juugo’s brawn supporting Tensai’s brains to reach the chest several stories underground, another sign these two make sense as a romantic pair, if they dared to go there.

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Once there, the chest itself has a puzzle lock that looked to me like some kind of terrestrial or celestial map. Tensai starts to solve it in her head, and a good thing she doesn’t open it too soon, because Ikusaba Hiiyo crashes the party (Kagetora and Daruku were watching the entrance, but there was only so much they could do) Hiiyo’s first weapons are insults, possibly meant to get everyone mad enough to make a mistake, but it’s he who ends up regretting not taking them all out quick and quiet.

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The insults motivate Juugo to want to kick Hiiyo’s ass purely because he pisses him off, not out of a sense of duty to anyone. This may be a little thing, but is consistent with his desire to walk his own path by his own code, not one laid out by his father. Yuu is pissed off too, but neither she nor Juugo can score a hit on him; not until Isshin of all people steps forward and actually does something to deserve Yuu’s worship.

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Armed with Nanana’s “mimic glasses”, he’s able to fight at Hiiyo’s level and know which shadows he’ll emerge from. He also uses Hiiyo’s poor opinion of him to his advantage, opening himself up just long enough to get him to throw a punch he can’t stop, then duck in time for Yuu to deliver a very satisfying knockout blow, which is repeated for emphasis.

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So…Good team effort! Hiiyo has been put in his place, so now all they need to do is grab the treasure and be on their OH RIGHT, he’s got other tricks up his sleeve. I expected Tensai and/or Isshin to check him for other treasures on his person, but Juugo approached the dangerous wounded animal first, with his guard down, and got a collapsed lung for his trouble.

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Stray Observations:

  • That last scene last week where Nanana suddenly disappeared turned out to be a total red herring.
  • Kagetora and Daruku’s general uselessness this week was a sign of mild character bloat. Still, the former’s full body bandage, with just eyes and a couple hairs showing, is a funny sight gag.
  • Yuu and Tensai seem awfully touchy about Juugo possibly looking up their skirts. Then don’t wear skirts to a treasure hunt! Rock slacks, like Yukihime!
  • The whole scene with Juugo carrying Tensai as she navigates was great stuff. He even got her detective hat back!
  • Again the episode cuts to Nanana playing a game that mimics the situation of the others; in this case, fighting an annoyingly tough boss. I know the feeling…

Black Bullet – 07

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While Preston continues to bask in the warm, fuzzy glow of Nagi no Asukara’s finale, let’s talk Black Bullet, shall we? Last week’s episode ended with the implication that Enju had just gotten her ass handed to her (or worse) off-camera, by 98th ranked Tina Sprout. We later learn that Satomi’s power level is 2200% and Enju’s 8600%, but Tina’s is estimated to be 12900%. Not sure what that means, but it sounds impressive; you don’t see percents going into the tens of thousands often enough, if you ask me.

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But even if Tina’s power level were One Million percent, the chances of Enju kicking the bucket in the seventh episode were precisely zero. Instead, she’s hospitalized. The third meeting between Seitenshi and Saitake will happen before she’s expected to wake up, so he’ll have to defeat Tina without her. But that doesn’t mean he’s on his own. And he also gets the feeling she’s not killing people on purpose, as if, unlike the general consensus about the Top 100, she still has a soul, and is trying not to fully lose it.

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Even though Enju sits this one out, Satomi isn’t alone. Muroto-sensei tells him about the small, nifty “Shenfield” drones Tina uses in concert with remote machine guns to keep her foes at a distance. He makes full use of the Shiba training facilities. And when he finds Tina and goes after her, Miori has his digital back. But even with all this support, Tina is a 12900% handful. She’s also been warned by her master (named Ayn Rand, a very loaded real-world name) that if she keeps not killing people and having emotions or whatever, she can just kill herself.

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She’s committed enough that no amount of appealing to her humanity is enough to stop Tina from trying to kill him…but he is able to slow her down and get her to come close enough to stun her with a flash grenade. After that, he rains a proper Vanadium-plated beatdown upon her; that’s what stops her. As thanks for not killing Enju (even if that was actually just a mistake on her part), he spares her. And then she’s shot through the heart…not by Rand—whom we hear no more of the rest of the episode—but by Yasuwaki, the most over-the-top, insufferable, Worst Character Ever.

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Of course he’s the one to shoot her, right? Fortunately, Yasuwaki just fires a regular bullet that doesn’t kill her, and Seitenshi stands up Saitake in order to stop him.  She then promotes Satomi, and his first act as Yasuwaki’s superior is to shoot one of his fingers off, which is fine with us! It’s a little tidy that Kisara ends up hiring Tina, but as she says, Tina has nowhere else to go, and Tina is frikkin’ adorable. Ultimately, I like her more as an ally and a friend than as a mortal enemy, and look forward to her future contributions. Sounds like we’ll be getting back to the Gastrea. Yeah…remember those?

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Samurai Flamenco – 22 (Fin)

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First of all, we liked the choice of expanding on Goto’s grief and showing us how he came to message himself. Goto’s “long distance relationship” started out as something of a comedic element, but the more we’ve learned about the truth, the more tragic and compelling it became, especially when Sawada used it against him in what has to be the most emotionally charged deletion of a text message we can recall.

As Sawada predicted, erasing the last message Goto’s real girlfriend ever sent is like flipping a crazy switch. By the time Masayoshi arrives, all Goto wants to do is be free so he can kill Sawada. It’s all part of Sawada’s plan to sacrifice himself so Samurai Flamenco will have a traumatic past that will never leave him, turning him into a “dark hero” (a la Batman).

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Running in with nothing resembling a plan for victory, Masayoshi decides to fight crazy with crazy: refusing to put on the costume and stripping all his clothes off. This bizarre throws Sawada for such a loop he ends up dropping both the cuffs key and gun in Goto’s vicinity. With Sawada disarmed and thoroughly freaked out, now the still-naked Masayoshi has to convince Goto not to kill Sawada.

His method isn’t what we’d call elegant—he whips himself into a tantrum screaming “BAKA” over and over and oddly proposes to Goto—but the sheer ludicrousness of the situation snaps Goto out of his murderous rage. The idea that Masayoshi is so ignorant to the concept of love is a little silly, but in the end, his desperate improvisation wins the day. We’re glad no one was killed, but we still enjoyed Flamenco Diamond showing up to give Sawada a well-deserved beatdown for poisoning her friends.

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With Kaname recovered from his injuries, he opens up a new superhero museum which everyone attends, and we get some nice farewell moments with the Flamengers, Kanno and Ishihara (who have an awesome final exchange), and lastly, Goto and Masayoshi, who’s late for the opening. Goto receives a fresh text from his girlfriend (maybe she IS out there somewhere!), and Masayoshi runs after a litterbug.

7_very_goodRating: 7 (Very Good)
Average Rating: 8 (episodes 1-13), 7.111 (episodes 14-22), 7.636 (total)
MyAnimeList Score: 6.97

Gatchaman Crowds – 12 (Fin)

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O.D. taunts Berg-Katze into coming to the Spiritual Precipice. There, O.D. finally reveals his Gatchaman form and pummels Katze into the ground, retrieving Rui’s note in the process. O.D. returns teh note to Rui. With the increasing chaos, he knows he can’t do anything alone, so he appeals to the world, offering the Crowds ability to anyone who joins the “Tachikawa Crowds Game”, in which good deeds are incentivized. Millions join and have fun helping out in Tachikawa, and the Neo Hundred’s mischief is soon at an end. The Prime Minister decides that everyone should be allowed to keep their Crowds ability.

Rui’s plans to update the world were based on the assumption that mankind is intrinsically good, and that in this age of evolved society, mutual altruism ensures rather than hampers individual survival. But only under certain conditions. In the blaze of fear and distrust Berg-Katze whipped up, a limited number of people with Crowds act for their own interests; they only care about changing the world insofar as they can control it. Berg gave people Crowds believing that if these stupid humans were given too much power, they’d destroy themselves. Rui successfully douses the flames by leveling the playing field in a risky move.

By giving everyone the power of heroes, he risked augmenting the chaos and accelerating the world’s self-destruction as Katze was hoping for. He does so by diffusing the fear and replacing it with hope and fun. Once he gives the initial friendly invitation, mankind essentially sorts everything out, with the now larger mass of balanced, moderate Crowds neutralizing the extremists. Throughout the episode Hajime asked in her singsong way, “what makes a hero?” The positive outcome answered that: once properly motivated and encouraged, heroes make themselves.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Stray Observations:

  • Having rallied everyone who needed to be rallied in order to win the day for the good guys, Hajime does very little besides mill around singing; not the usual role of the heroine, but we kinda like it that way.
  • Of course, JJ-sama does even less, and doesn’t even seem fazed when Katze crashes in and swipes his scissors.
  • It was great seeing Rui cheer up (and return to dressing in drag!) and come out of his shell, charming and entertaining everyone went a long way towards convincing them there was nothing to fear and to participate. 
  • Hajime apparently has Katze in her duck backpack and takes him along on a lovely day. He doesn’t seem enthused.

Nekomonogatari (Black) – 04 (Fin)

Shinbou lends Koyomi the oddity-killing sword Heartspan with which to challenge Hanekawa. Koyomi tricks her into coming to him by sending her an SOS text, using her better nature to draw her to him. He proceeds to tell her how he knows her personality has been intact the whole time and she’s been conscious of her actions. He tells her he’ll carry her stress for her, and even die for her. She slices him in half, but the oddity is injured as he his Heartspan inside him. Shinobu appears, heals him, swallows the sword and feeds on Hanekawa, drawing out the curse cat. Hanekawa loses all memory of the last nine days, and Koyomi decides he’s not in love with her, and will await someone else to fall for.

Whew, talk about an epic showdown, even by Monogatari standards. Sure, this final fourth of the Curse Cat arc is mostly talk, but pertinent, substantive talk. And the action that does take place is more visceral than ever, with Koyomi getting literally halved. We were hoping Koyomi would have some kind of plan going into his battle with Hanekawa Curse Cat, and he did, from the way he effortlessly summoned her (using her kindness against her) to the way he hid his trump card (swallowing a big-ass sword). Shinobu’s appearance  in which he scolds him then schools him on how to properly use it, was also deliciously awesome. (We also learn how she gets that helmet). Prior to the battle, Oshino tries to get Koyomi to understand: Hanekawa isn’t faultness in all this; in fact, he believes her entire situation is all her fault.

She lives every minute of every day in a flawless state of kindness and benevolence, he isn’t surprised her very-flawed parents couldn’t stand to live with her. (Koyomi even wonders if “family” is like an oddity to her.) But Koyomi doesn’t blame Hanekawa for being true to herself, even if it ends up hurting herself or others. After all, like the dead cat in the road, he was also an object of potential pity and sympathy as a recently-turned vampire whom Hanekawa saved, cared for, and taught him how to feel for others, without the slightest hint of pity or sympathy for him. She treated them as equals. And he’ll always be grateful for that, even if he and she will never be lovers. One other note: we like how the end of this miniseries butts right up against the very beginning of Bakemonogatari when Koyomi catches Senjougahara. Things seem primed to get right back down to business. We love endings that are also beginnings.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Accel World – 24 (Fin)

Haru summons Gale Thruster and flies into the sky with Nomi, and is about to finish him when Lime Bell “heals” Nomi” with Citron Call. However, Chiyu reveals her power doesn’t heal, but turns back time. She’d been going along with Nomi waiting for her chance to revert Dusk Taker to a time before he had wings. Vice abandons him, and Haru defeats Nomi. Back in the real world, Haru and Taku’s names are cleared, and Nomi has no memories of Accel World. Haru returns Gale Thruster to Fuko, bringing Hime along so the two girls can reconcile.

Why did Nomi lose? Because he didn’t have any friends. If Haru were the friendless one, he’d have lost Accel World a long time ago. Luckily for him, despite his timid, pathetic personality and ridiculous physique, Haru has lots of friends to support him. He doesn’t coerce them with threats or blackmail; he’s just a nice guy. That’s ultimately his power: the power to get along. Nomi, meanwhile, pissed off Chiyu enough that she devised a devious long-term plan to put him in his place right at the moment he thought he was victorious.

Frankly, Haru & Co. did Nomi a favor; he was a horrible human being when he was a Burst Linker, though perhaps some of that was due to mistreatment by his brother’s hand. Again, we’re not shedding any tears for the guy, but his abrupt fate and change of personality was a mild shock, and he was certainly a symbol of what happened if Haru, Hime, or anyone else lost all their points (this also happened to Hime’s friend Megumi.) After beating Nomi, Haru basically gets lots of hugs and apologies, and life basically goes on. He also delivers also a loftily-worded, somewhat corny final speech. All in all not a bad ending.


Rating: 6 (Good)

Medaka Box – 11

As his showdown with Medaka continues, Unzen lures her back indoors and unleashes a volley of balls containing strings that create a net that stops her in her tracks. She counters by moving the school the strings are attached to, bringing down the entire building to wrest herself free. With no more offense or defense, Unzen admits she’s stronger, but she hasn’t won, because he won’t be reformed, and derides her trying to coexist with humans. Her final blow is stopped by Kikaijima, Akune and Zenkichi, who hold her back. She reverts to normal Medaka and apologizes to Unzen, then heads to the hospital.

Unzen wasn’t the most interesting adversary in this series, despite his strength and staying power. He tends to introspect and over-analyze during battles too much, shonen-style, which kind of slows said battle to a crawl. But he does make some good points this week as he increasingly realizes if he can’t beat Medaka, he’ll at least question her very humanity and existence with his dying breath. After all, what is Medaka? As this episode demonstrated, clearly neither a saint nor a pacifist. But he does see a weakness in her, and it’s the need to not only love other humans, but to be loved by them too.

Unzen dismisses her as an inhuman monster; a lonely soul who represses her true, godlike self so humans won’t fear and shun her. Unzen, meanwhile, is just another human; if Medaka kills him, she’ll be killing the very thing she loves. So it’s very fitting that Medaka’s friends refuse to abandon her and prove Unzen wrong; she isn’t alone. She has friends who love her as much as she loves them, and there’s no human alive she won’t try to befriend. Unzen can scorn her all he likes, but he can’t touch her spirit. And clearly, judging from how he treats his underlings in the aftermath, he doesn’t hate all humans.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Ao no Exorcist 24

Yukio is possessed by Satan, who swears a lot and laughs like a jackass. Shura, Shiemi, and Rin try to get Yukio to snap out of it, but only Rin succeeds, after sufficient yelling and a few tears. They manage to free Yukio, but Satan is still on the loose, and the massive Gehenna Gate remains open.

The Satan in this series just doesn’t work for me as a character. I just hate him. I know, we’re supposed to hate him, but he’s so implacably evil and unlikable, there’s never any doubt that he will ultimately be cast aside and defeated. I hate that he’s a weak, goofy, one-dimensional villain. Why there was a flashback episode with Yuri and Satan I don’t know, but it certainly didn’t rouse any sympathy for the Satan character. He’s a big jerk, period. And yet this whole episode does nothing but prove that point ad nauseum, along with provide the predictable heartfelt beseeching Yukio to wake up.

Thankfully, Cardinal Ernst didn’t have any stupid longwinded religio-political speeches, but the line of the episode had to be (former) Paladin August’s: “But genocide using a weapon of mass destruction contradicts the Order (of the True Cross)’s principles!” Seriously? That line was written? And it actually had to be spoken by somebody?


Rating: 2.5