Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 08 – Forward March!

There’s a palpable sense of anticipation in the sight the Eizouken putting the finishing audio touches on the cultural festival preview of SHIBA8 vs The Pistol Crabtle, lit only by a single office lamp and the editing monitor. As director Midori displays a uncanny knack for knowing when to time music and sound effects to the visuals.

Unfortunately they didn’t have time to record the voice actors so they’ll be doing it live in the auditorium, adding another set of things that could go wrong, from both technical and personnel-wise. But the show must go on, and it will. The main challenge is to create sufficient buzz at the festival to lure a sufficiently large audience.

Throughout this episode from start to finish, Tsubame’s rich actor parents loom large, but not as villains ready to undermine the Eizouken, but rather as parents who find they’ll have time to visit their daughter’s school festival. They almost seem eager to do so, well aware of how their careers have made it tough for her to get a fair share of time with them throughout her childhood.

Like just about every shot in this episode before the festival starts, the scene of Tsubame’s mom discovering she never came home is lit so beautifully, with the light of dawn just behind the horizon but already lending a hazy blue color to the sky.

Even more magical is the scene of the Eizouken trio tucking into campfire ramen outside their ramshackle studio. The warm firelight dancing off their relaxed figures as the ethereal purple dawn rises in the background. There’s an intoxicating combination of comfort, coziness, and a sense of impending drama.

The three don’t seem to notice how gorgeous and almost iconic their surroundings are, but that goes without saying: they’ve been working without sleep for who-knows-how-long and are in strict ramen-scarfing mode. Will they remember this meager fireside feast before the premiere of their first large scale effort, or will the day’s excitement cloud these quiet, delicate, hauntingly gorgeous earlier moments? I hope not.

Just as the Eizouken’s robot project dwarfs their gas mask short in size and complexity, Shibahama’s Cultural Festival’s unrestrained chaos makes the earlier budgetary committee look quaint by comparison. Competition ferocity is on par with the Serengeti, and one could see Midori and/or Tsubame getting absolutely lost in the stampede.

Fortunately, both Sayaka and the Robot Club have taken care of everything and are prepared for virtually every eventuality. The Robot Club also breaks a few school rules, using water rockets and megaphones to amplify their cause. This draws the ire of the StuCo and Security Clubs, who initially target Tsubame as the amateur-model-ringleader for arrest.

Thanks to the expert distribution of similar-looking cardboard robot costumes and Sayaka’s birds-eye-view of the premises, Tsubame is able to take direction from Sayaka via walkie-talkie and gradually navigate her way to the designated auditorium where the screening will take place—and where her notoriety is key to drawing a big chunk of the crowd.

Sayaka also successfully blackmails the normally untouchable HVAC club (all of whom are caught wasting A/C on a hot day) into ensuring the auditorium will be enticingly cool for audience members coming in from the outside. Sure, Tsubame enough could be a good draw, but the A/C draws in even those few who don’t know her or about robots or anime.

In another impressive demonstration of intricate planning, logistics, timing, and luck, Robot Club’s Ono takes a zipline across the breadth of the campus, with a huge banner trailing behind him notifying the gawking masses of the impending screening.

Like Tsubame, the cat-and-mouse chase between him and those who would shut them down takes on the feel of a madcap video game, complete with platforms, mazes, obstacles, and end-goals. It’s just a tremendous amount of fun and imagination—and all before we see a single frame of the movie!

Everything goes off without a hitch. The auditorium is nice and cool and the crowd is huge. Even Tsubame’s parents attend, eager to see what their daughter has been up to (turns out using MIBs to discourage her from anime pursuits was her dad’s idea). There are no technical difficulties with the video or audio or the live-voicing setup.

The crowd watches the robot-crabtle battle with stunned looks, the screen glowing in their eyes. Tsubame’s parents admire the animation with prime, and are able to see Tsubame’s love of capturing motion through art in this manner. Pride washes over their faces. They realize this, not live-action acting, is what their daughter loves and excels at.

After the screening, and a brief autograph/handshake session, Tsubame is dispatched to get lunch for Midori and Sayaka, and runs into her parents. The three have a cordial mini-lunch together, and Tsubame draws upon her parents’ careers as artists for perhaps the first time, asking if they’re ever satisfied after a performance.

She’s relieved to hear neither of them are, because neither is she…and we no neither is Midori. They’re relieved Tsubame has been off doing her own thing, and it’s something they’re not going to try to hold her back from anymore. To do so would be to prevent her from “performing” the way she knows best: with pencil and paper.

Finally, her parents poke their heads in a shed where the Eizouken 3 are taking a break from all the hubbub, and about to scarf down the lunch Tsubame brought. Her parents ask if these are her friends; Midori responds that they’re comrades. The bonds of comrades, joined not by blood but by common cause and common fate, surpass mere friendship, for even the best of friends can have vastly different goals.

It’s no surprise Midori is donned in full camo combat fatigues. The cultural festival was the Eizouken’s greatest battle yet, and victory was achieved. Not flawlessly, mind you—Midori estimates she’s only 20% satisfied with the product they presented—but enough to get the job done.

The fact Tsubame’s parents can no longer be counted among their enemies is both strategically advantageous and a timely boost to unit morale. On to the next battle!

In / Spectre – 07 – Turning Truths Into Lies

The sudden murder of Detective Terada in the middle of the night has made things way more difficult for Kotoko, Kurou, and Saki. Whereas before they had to deal with a moderately nasty spectre spreading fear and havoc within a relatively small sphere, now they must contend with a nationally known monster who has truly gone viral, only increasing the strength of its existence.

In her hotel room, which she bitterly resents is separate from the one in which her boyfriend resides, Kotoko taps away at her laptop, gathering as much information—as much truth—about the rapidly expanding fantasy of Steel Lady Nanase as possible. Time is of the essence; if they wait just one day, her legend will be too powerful to overcome no matter how convincing the logical fiction.

I’ll be honest: not a heck of a lot actually happens this week. The three leads basically sit in a hotel room and discuss things until Kotoko lands on some possible solutions to the problem. The thing is, In/Spectre is able to draw us into its world so subtly yet completely, even an actionless episode such as this feels consequential.

That’s due in no small part to the show’s hauntingly beautiful soundtrack. It’s a shame the anime’s composer isn’t listed anywhere obvious, because this wouldn’t be half the show it is without the music, which I find casts a kind of wondrous spell on me during otherwise interminable exchanges of exposition.

Through the lengthy scene in the hotel room, Saki observes that her ex has developed a nice rapport with Kotoko, depsite his protestations that the last thing he wanted was to go out with her, along with the fact that Kotoko is nowhere near his type. As for who is his type, Saki introduces the woman who was 100% Kurou’s type: his older cousin Rikka, a frail woman who nevertheless had a profound impact on the lad. We’ll see next week how she figures into this tale.

Made in Abyss – 01 (First Impressions)

Just a minute or two into Made in Abyss and I was already thinking What have I been doing these last five weeks, not watching this? I don’t know how it goes from here, but you can scarcely do a first episode better than this right here. Grandeur. Wonder. And sure, a little cutesiness. Abyss offers it all in spades, plus one of the most surprising, badass anime soundtracks I’ve heard in a long time.

Abyss goes into Tell Mode, but not until the very end, once it’s showed a whole lot. Seriously, it gets the showing down pat in no time, as the ethereal soundtrack plays over an otherwise soundless montage during which the fantastical yet cozy world is unveiled, bit by tantalizing bit. This is after the heroine saved her friend by drawing a monster to her, only to herself need prompt rescuing from a mysterious “robot boy” she takes home.

Home is the Belchero Orphanage—Riko and Nat are orphans—a grand place that has vertical classrooms with desks nailed to the wall accessable by ladder. That right there is some good fantasy, along with the familiar and yet otherworldly scenery, architecture, and clothing.

But just as gorgeous as the scenery, vistas, and lived-in interiors is what’s going on between the characters. As I said, they’re little kids—and I’m most certainly not—and yet they are never for a second annoying. They remind me more of the Goonies or the kids in Stranger Things, because they’re so easy to watch and imagine ourselves at that age having adventures, getting one over on the stodgy adults (and older kids)…and stubbing our toes while running. And the android Regu is just the kind of friend you’d want if you were a little kid: one who shoots powerful beams and has extendable arms.

Having successfully escaped responsibility and punishment for causing a blackout in the orphanage, Riko takes Regu to the best spot to watch the sun rise over her magnificent city of Orth, which surrounds the kilometer-wide-diameter aperture of the titular Abyss, the true depth of which no one knows, and the depth of previously unknown relics and treasures seems to similarly know no bounds.

Riko wants to follow in her late mother’s footsteps by going as deep as a human has ever gone in that Abyss, and bring back something new and amazing. But she may have already stumbled upon that discovery in Regu, without even descending more than 100 meters. It’s a great start for her, and for Made in Abyss. I’m fully onboard.

Midweek Music: Mahouka OST: “Miyuki”

At the end of its first cour, I just couldn’t go on with Mahouka. It’s not that it was a terrible show, just a bad fit. But it did have some elements to it I liked quite a bit: one of them was Shiba Miyuki, who while often subservient to her dear brother, was always portrayed as a total badass with impeccable manners and frightening magical power, who could hold her own against practically anyone, her brother included. Hayami Saori was a great choice to voice her.

Another element I liked a lot was Iwasaki Taku’s soundtrack, which nails the “futuristic/magical high school” aesthetic. My favorite piece is “Miyuki”, which I believe we first hear when Miyuki visits Tatsuya in his room to show him her Mirage Bat uniform, then suddenly notices he’s floating above his seat, and proceeds to test out his new flying magic. It’s certainly not the most important scene from a plot perspective, but I consider it one of the best of that first cour, and the music that accompanies it is a huge reason why.

“Miyuki” is an ideal theme for Miyuki, as the overlapping female vocals represent her innate beauty, grace, elegance, and gentility, while the sick electronic beats symbolize her strong will and formidable magical power. In hindsight, it was probably Iwasaki’s soundtrack that kept me watching the show as long as I did. Like the OP and ED of DRAMAtical Murder, I simply enjoyed listening to the music.

Monday Music – Kill la Kill “Blumenkranz” (Kiryuin Ragyo Theme)

One of the many great things about Kill la Kill is its soundtrack, which is just as over-the-top and bombastic as the visuals. One of our favorite tracks is Ragyo Kiryuin’s theme, which is sung in German.

Monday Music – Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Soundtrack – “Death Game”

We know, there’s still a lot of OPs out there to choose from…but we thought we’d do something a little different to get the week started. Here’s what we consider to be a rippin’ good dungeon track from the Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII soundtrack. It’s called “Death Game”, and it was composed by Suzuki Mitsuto.

We’re of the mind that adamant guitars and power chords are more than appropriate for RPG dungeons, along with the steadfast drumbeats and synth elements. “Death Game” is loud, brash, and highly motivating, indicating that something’s on the horizon and you’d better get to it before it’s too late.

Note that this is an extended version of the track, so it loops at about the five-minute mark.