Kaguya-sama: Love is War – 12 (Fin) – The War Continues

Last week ended on a hopeful note, but there was still a lot that could go wrong with Kaguya and Miyuki’s big night at the fireworks festival. And what do you know, it does! Just as she’s ready to head out, one of the butlers not named Hayasaka vetoes her outing as too dangerous, so she has to text Chika that she can’t go, and she’s sorry.

Kaguya enters heretofore unplumbed depths of dejection, but Hayasaka tells her to regain her Kaguya attitude that would have normally had her trying to sneak out by now. Hayasaka aids in all the ways she can by posting a tweet to Kaguya’s feed that Miyuki picks up on, then disguising herself as Kaguya so she can swing Tarzan’s Jane-style over the wall and to a waiting taxi.

While getting out of bed and sneaking out of the house was a big win, Kaguya still has to get to the fireworks before they’re over…and she isn’t able to succeed. The taxi is stuck in traffic, and there’s only so much ground she can cover in yukata and geta. She’s able to glimpse the fireworks closer than ever before—between buildings—but by the time she reaches the meeting spot, the display has concluded and the crowds are cleaning up after themselves (what a concept!) and heading home.

Of course, all this time, we know that Miyuki has been racing around on his bike, attempting to intercept Kaguya on her ill-fated solo mission to reach the fireworks. He manages to pick the right alley where she’s chosen to cry, then takes her by the arm and tells her he’s going to make sure she sees some fireworks. He accomplishes this with help from Yuu and Chika, who are waiting with the same taxi  Kaguya took before, driven by one of the Four Ramen Kings.

The driver takes liberties with the speed limit and gets them under the Aqua Line towards Umihotaru, where the fireworks display will still be going on for another twenty minutes. There’s an action thriller flavor to their undersea tunnel trip, and an ultimate feeling of triumph when they emerge at the other side to a sky full of gorgeous fireworks. Only now, that she’s closer than ever to those fireworks, all Kaguya can watch is Miyuki’s face, and all she can hear is the beating of her own heart. Daaaaaw.

While the fireworks night turned out to be a great victory for everyone, pulled from the jaws of defeat numerous times, the real proof in the pudding of whether Kaguya and Miyuki’s relationship has grown would come in the aftermath. We get a glimpse of that as the new school term begins, and both of them are so bashful and self-conscious that every time they try to approach each other, they end up sailing by like ships in the night—or two dogfighting planes.

Again and again they swoop by, with Chika eventually getting into the spirit of things with an “asterisk” before Yuu arrives and unwittingly makes it a “triangle.” Kaguya and Miyuki then banish both Yuu and Chika (“shooting them down”, as it were) in order to get the privacy they need to finally confront each other about last night.

Kaguya just wants to thank him for everything he did, but as they finally meet and end up bumping into a kind of half-hug, her broomstick juts into his chest, and she says the very words he feared she’d say as an appraisal of his “egotistical” behavior and “cringeworthy lines” the other night: “it must be painful.” Of course, she was talking about the broomstick, not his behavior. But he runs off anyway, and Kaguya gives chase, and henceforth everything is pretty much back to normal.

Surely other situations will come in the future where the two will be able to hang out and do fun stuff and experience moments of beauty and honesty together—but due to their stubborn pride and persistent self-consciousness, any such interactions will only come after much hand-wringing and hesitation. Perhaps, given enough time, it will get easier. But as long as they think something that manifestly isn’t a war is, it’ll remain akin to pulling teeth. But hey, a romantic can hope!

Made in Abyss – 03

I’ll just come out and say it: three episodes in, and of all the anime we’ve watched this Summer at RABUJOI, Made in Abyss is the best. It effortlessly grounds a fantastical world (primed to become more wondrous still) with deeply human characterization, in particular the bottomless (no pun intended) curiosity and stubbornness of kids.

Riko’s friend of many years Nat is against her going down the Abyss. He stays against it for the entire episode, right up to the moment she actually descends. He doesn’t change his mind. He’s worried she won’t come back. He’s angry she won’t listen to him when he’s trying to keep her safe. And he’s scared of being alone after she leaves.

Nat’s objections aside, Riko still plans to go first thing tomorrow. And after his very first cave-raiding, Reg decides he’ll accompany her, now that he knows the curse doesn’t affect him (at least not as bad as humans). Riko needs to find her mom. Reg wants to find out what he is and why he was made, and what he was meant for.

Against these lures, Nat doesn’t have a chance, even after Siggy unfurls a gorgeous map of the Abyss and describes all of the exotic hazards and trials that await Riko and Reg (while the Abyss’ equally gorgeous xylophone leitmotif plays). Even though Sigy is merely describing the levels while pointing to illustrations on the map, the limitless grandeur and wonder of the Abyss comes through crystal clear.

Nat finally goes to far trying to dissuade Riko by telling her the most likely possibility is that her mother died long ago, and there’s nothing for her down there. It’s a horribly mean thing to say, and Riko runs off, but Nat immediately regrets hurting his friend.

Sigy and Reg get it, and neither of them want Riko and Nat to part ways without making up. So when dawn breaks, Sigy enlists the help of none other than Nat to lead them to the rarely-used entrance to the netherworld in the slums where he grew up collecting rags before he was admitted to the orphanage. He says he’s sorry and Riko immediately forgives him.

The slums become denser, darker, and dingier, until they finally reach a rickety wooden platform extending over the Abyss. Below them is only inky blackness. It might as well be the end of the world. It is, quite simply, terrifying.

But it’s also tremendously exciting, with a momentous, THIS IS IT kind of vibe. After a thoroughly tearful farewell to Nat and Sigy, the 12-year-old Riko, possibly braver than I could ever be, grabs hold of Reg; he lowers them into the void, and they’re gone, just like that.

How long will that darker-than-darkness last? How accurate is that map? What wonders—or horrors—will await them down there? I won’t speculate—I’ll just keep watching.

Little Witch Academia – 06

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The Gist: Akko continues to struggle with magic and is forbidden to attend the school’s banquet for heads of state. So, Akko attempts to visit a forbidden magic location on campus instead.

Along the way, she meets Andrew, a handsome boy who considers magic outdated and is totally her love interest. Together, they are chased by a polar bear, saved by that professor who is totally not secretly Chariot, and gain an the understanding that magic takes hard work and dedication.

Roll credits…

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While this week continued LWA’s streak of filler episodes, it did contain a few gems. I loved that Akko’s transformation spell, which requires the caster to ‘imagine what the result will look like,’ literally turns Andrew into an Ass. The story also benefited by Andrew having no interest in Diana, thankfully removing any love triangle distractions from future episodes. It was also nice for Akko to finally get a reality check, which may allow future episodes to be framed with greater purpose.

On the down side, the episodes narrative points were heavy handed. Seeing Professor Ursula’s hair change from red to blue makes it obvious that she is Shiny Chariot. It was also unnecessary, because her interaction with Akko immediately after Akko witnesses Chariot’s school-days-montage already implies that to the viewer. I’d argue the entire chase scene with the polar bear was superfluous too, because it only results in the viewers seeing the Ursula/Chariot reveal, and gives no real development for Akko/Andrew.

And that’s saying nothing of Frank, Andrew’s friend who’s existence in the plot serves no purpose at all. Between Frank and Andrew’s father, and the uneventful moments of the banquet, not much happens. Rather, those non-scenes isolate Akko and Andrew’s argument about magic scene and the polar bear chase scene in a way that makes them feel ‘not enough’ to float the over all episode on their own.

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Are the twin dark-complexioned girls an homage to Harry Potter’s Pavarti twins?

The Verdict: The image above captures my frustrations pretty well. There are a lot of characters, few of which we know or care about, standing around doing nothing. The world is full of details, but we are told nothing about them (presuming the different color details on each witch’s costume means anything).

Akko and Chariot are the only central characters who get screen time this week, and Chariot was and still is a compete enigma. Why is she hiding? Why does she care about Akko? (beyond having a similar backstory) Why should we care as viewers when Akko’s narrative purpose is barely more than ‘she will learn magic?’

This would matter less if the show was just a slice-of-life piece, but that would require stronger relationships between the characters, and a greater emphasis on day-to-day living in the world, which LWA does not really do (Lotte’s episode was the closest we’ve seen of that…and half the reviewers didn’t like it).

In closing, I’m pretty disappointed with LWA. It’s well-animated, has a potentially interesting setting, and characters that could be charming. However, its focus on Akko is structured too much like a destiny piece to let that world grow, but isn’t focused enough to feel like an epic journey and the characters come and go from each week’s story in too disposable a fashion. You just can’t care for a character if they aren’t there.

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Little Witch Academia – 05

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The Gist: Akko and Amanda are at each other’s throats this week, which quickly lands them in detention. Fortunately, or not, this positions them perfectly to witness a flock of dragons fly off with the Sorcerer’s Stone, which leads the adversaries to pool their collective trios for a witches verses dragons chase.

Along the way they meet Lord Fafnir, an ancient but financially forward thinking dragon, get into a robot dragon fight complete with shotguns and rocket-propelled grenades, free the school from its debts (via Diana) and land back in detention. Akko and Amanda even become friends…at least, for a short period of time.

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Akko-centric ‘outbursts’ aside, this week was all about story at the edges…

Unfortunately, this week is far less than the sum total of its parts. Despite Akko’s wonderfully elastic facial expressions, her squabbling with Amanda just isn’t interesting. Similarly, when Akko flips Amanda backwards out of her chair and spends detention scowling and belligerent with everyone, our ability to empathize with her plucky underdog status is greatly reduced. Combine that with Akko’s lack of impact on the plot, her story doesn’t feel like it had any purpose (She is the reason for the six students to witness the plot’s resolution, nothing more.)

The addition of Amanda, Constanze and Jasminka to the plot presents its own issue. What value does a third trio of student witches add to the narrative? Sure, Constanze’s inventions are cute, and her mechanical broom is a plot device to get the girls to the dragon’s hideout, but she and Jasminka aren’t actually characters. Beyond their physical characteristics and plot-devices, they don’t speak and do not physically interact with the rest of the cast. This lack of presence prevents them from even serving as counterpoints of Akko’s Sucy and Lotte or Diana’s lackeys.

This is a very strange choice for characters that get as much screen time as Amanda this week. It’s too much exposure (and design work) to serve the background role they otherwise appear to have been asigned.

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Lord Fafnir, in front of his stock exchange monitors…

The Verdict: If this week’s purpose was to not have a purpose, then it succeeded. More precisely, several of the episode’s elements are best described as ‘not being important in the first place.’

Diana revealing the school’s debt is a lie? Despite being mentioned in every previous episode, its rapid resolution with no zip or humor saps any fun from the payoff. Not that the dragon was built up in any previous episode, nor has the core cast suffered due to the financial conflict. So the debt, itself, was not a consequential conflict in the first place.

Akko x Amanda’s relationship reset? Amanda has barely been in the show so far, and her only contributions have been Akko x broom rides related. So who cares?

Ultimately, competent visual design and quality rendered action give it just enough to be watchable. It’s the power of ‘stuff happened coherently and it looked good’ but not much more. Compared to last week, which I enjoyed more than Preston enough to take over reviewing it, color me not pleased…

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Little Witch Academia – 04

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We’ve got ourselves a Lotte-centric episode, with Akko and Sucy simply along for the ride. After Akko steals a tart (not a pie; she wants that made clear) from the kitchens, all three roommates are punished, and Lotte’s weekend plans to attend a new book release are dashed.

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Akko comes up with a very simple plan to sneak the three of them out of school and into town, and Lotte’s fully on board because this is a can’t-miss event: the release of volume 365 of night fall, which is a pretty blatant (and only intermittently humorous) parody of Twilight and the crazed fandom that surrounds it, a world which Akko and Sucy are decidedly not a part of.

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While some of the ridiculous snippets from the bowels of night fall’s vast milieu elicit a chuckle or two, and Akko learns there are people who don’t simply try to become those they idolize, but are content to support them…but it’s a pretty thin premise, and the episode lacked the visual panache and, more importantly, the heaping helpings of Akko-moxie that characterized the first three.

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