Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 12 – The Butler is Up to Something

This week’s opening scene practically oozes foreboding, and Yuna D. Kaito has never looked more suspicious as he prepares tea for Akiho. Whether there’s something in that tea or not, the scene all but confirms he’s operating against Sakura behind the shadows—unbeknownst to Sakura, Syaoran, and even Akiho.

It’s also pretty much certain Akiho is the cloaked figure in Sakura’s dreams, and that the dreams are being shared between the girls, with neither of them know the other is in them. All Akiho knows is the feeling of wanting  something the other person has. That thing is Sakura’s key, and Yuna seems pleased the dream is “progressing”, most likely in his favor.

By laying out some meaty plot progression right off the bat, the more slice-of-life ball sports tournament at school feels more earned and less like more stalling (though if you’re not watching Sakura at least in part for her high school slice-of-life…why are you watching?). 

It helps that the sports are a lot of fun, as watching BasketBaller Sakura toss no-look passes, crossover dribble, and nail shots from downtown is just as fun—and smoothly-animated—as watching her battle and capture cards.

The school doesn’t allow students to film the events, but Tomoyo finds a way around that by using Kero-chan, who is more than game to redeem himself after the playground footage debacle.

The sports tournament again demonstrates not only Sakura’s athletic skills, but those of Syaoran and Akiho, the latter two specifically in the field of badminton. I loved how seriously Sayoran was taking his match, which Akiho was keeping very close, and how Sakura wanted to root for both of them.

Just as she hopes for a tie, a surprise hailstorm rolls in, ending the match in a tie and sending everyone scattering for shelter. Sakura stays out, because she’s pretty sure this is a new Card. Unfortunately, as of yet she has no fire-element Clear Cards, and Reflect only sends hail into the building, causing damage.

Syaoran, still sore about not being able to put Akiho away (if he was even capable of doing so!), summons his fire sword to help out his girlfriend. His initial lower-powered attack isn’t effective, so he breaks out a bigger spell that stops the Card in its tracks, allowing Sakura to secure it.

It’s a great bit of Sakura/Syaoran teamwork, and shows that her friends will be there to fill in her weakness (in this case, no fire Card). Now, at least, if she comes upon a fire Card, she’ll have Hail to counter it.

After the battle Akiho comes running, and when she sees Sakura in the poncho Tomoyo made, she assumes it’s for another play that doesn’t really exist, but Sakura doesn’t correct her. That night Sakura turns in early, seeing as how it was a very active day and she overslept that morning.

Upon falling asleep, Sakura’s right back in Clockworld with Cloaky, who we can now assume is an unwitting Akiho, possibly working as Yuna D. Kaito’s puppet in the dream. She again tries to steal Sakura’s key, but Sakura grabs it back, and a giant dragon appears just below Cloaky, ready to swallow Sakura up.

She wakes up before that happens, and checks to make sure she still has her key before going back to bed. But she’s definitely unsettled than ever before. The figure is not only taking things up a notch in the dream, but perched on a utility pole just outside Sakura’s house. Some great semi-revelations this week that really escalate the tension.

That all of this is going on without any of Sakura’s allies’ knowledge makes me feel all the more worried for Sakura. If she were to lose her key, she wouldn’t be able to capture or use cards. That…would be bad!

Hoe Count: 4

P.S. Going forward, we at RABUJOI have agreed to use more descriptive (if not always the most perceptive) titles to our posts. We’ll see how that goes!

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Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 11

In what felt like a brisk episode, after a class lesson in formulas and equals gets Sakura thinking about how similar the Clear Cards are to Clow Cards she once captured, she has lunch with friends, during which Yamazaki informs everyone the ball sports tournament will begin soon.

On the way home from school, Sakura, Syaoran and Akiho encounter Yuna D. Kaito, who escorts Akiho the rest of the way home. Syaoran, meeting Yuna for the first time, is spooked—the butler is definitely a magic user. Eriol tells him via video chat that there’s an order in the UK that grants it’s highest-ranked magic users “D”—and for Syaoran to stay on his toes.

CCS is nothing if not adept at suddenly shifting from ordinary life to weird magical scenarios. After dinner with her brother during which she notices he switched up a recipe to include butter, she senses the presence of another card, which leads her and Kero to Penguin Park, the venue of a Clow card encounter in previous series.

Tomoyo placed Kero in charge of getting Sakura dressed up and filming her in case of her absence, and it’s a good think Tomoyo isn’t there, because this card loves pulling things off or out of the ground, inverting them, and smashing them back to earth.

In a rare interruption of Sakura’s capturing routine, it even lifts her off her magical circle. It’s only thanks to Kero diving in to catch her that she doesn’tsuffer a big bump on the noggin…or worse. But he wouldn’t have been able to save both Sakura and Tomoyo simultaneously.

Sakura figures out that up and down don’t matter if she’s already in the air, so she activates her Flight Card and secures the “Reversal” Card while airborne in a short but sweet little burst of action.

Unfortunately, just like last time the inverted playground equipment attracts the attention of bystanders and ends up a news story on TV; Sakura and Kero are able to fly home without being seen.

Back home, while chatting with Tomoyo, they also learn most of Kero’s footage is useless since the camera shifted when he caught Sakura. Tomoyo, containing her rage well, orders a training session for Kero so such mistakes aren’t repeated.

Keppeki Danshi! Aoyama-kun – 01 (First Impressions)

Morita-san is taciturn. Tanaka-kun is listless. Sakamoto is…Sakamoto (haven’t you heard?). And Aoyama-kun…is a clean freak. He’s also a elite young soccer talent who was selected for the national team’s under-16 squad.

But unlike Tanaka in particular, there’s not much to Aoyama beyond those dual main qualities. His constant scrubbing, and the adoration of his legions of mostly-female fans, becomes tedious pretty fast.

His soccer senpai (and advantaged rich kid) Zaizen also grows weary of Aoyama’s shtick pretty quickly. We get it; dude’s a germophobe…though even that’s arguable, since he doesn’t wear surgical masks everywhere and doesn’t seem to have much of a problem being outside.

We learn in the cold open, and it is confirmed when the team practices against a rival elite team led by the washboard abs-bearing Takechi (who is trying to poach Aoyama) that Aoyama is indeed a singular, if bizarre, soccer talent; applying his obsessive “cleanliness” with a gameplan completely devoid of physical contact, combined with sharpshooter precision on passes and shots. But look to someone else for checks and headers.

Admiring Aoyama from afar (and possibly content to keep it that way) is the very cute but also clearly fixated Gotou Moka, who would like to think she’s locked in on what Aoyama thinks and does, since they’re soulmates or something.

But ostensible side characters like Zaizen, Takechi, and even Moka herself are all more dimensional characters than Aoyama, simply because they have more to say and we see things from their perspective.

Don’t get me wrong: Studio Hibari has rolled out a very good-looking anime in Keppeki Danshi; many of Aoyama’s moves in slow motion are cinematic in their presentation. The character design is clean and crisp. Overall the production is competent. The comedy is well-timed if unexceptional so far (the abs-bearing guy is particularly lame). Colorful—if still shallow—personalities abound.

But the main problem so far is the titular character. Aoyama is little more than cleanliness and soccer ability, and he’s always observed from a distance. He has to develop as more of an actual human being if the audience is going to be expected to connect with and keep rooting for the guy.

There’s a slight but promising glimmer of that when Aoyama suddenly comes to life with five minutes to go, even getting dirty in service of winning the game because he really hates losing.

But if we don’t see more of stuff like that, and continue in the vein of “OMG look at what clean-freak thing Aoyama’s doing now!” ad nauseum, Aoyama-kun won’t just be a “Cleanliness Boy”…he’ll be a Boy I’m Not Watching.

Yuri!!! on Ice – 12 (Fin)

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“If you retire now, I’ll make you regret it for the rest of your life” – Yurio, snatching Gold from Yuri by .12

The Gist: 6 skaters give 6 performances, marked with their own narration of objectives. The many competitors and supporters who we’ve come to know watch along as the scores come in. JJ seals third place by growing stronger emotionally and in performance as he goes, just shutting out the Khazak skater. But the first big upset is Yuri, who blows the crowd — and the judges — completely away with a world record setting performance. Above even Victor’s world best.

But Yurio is having none of it. Frustrated that ‘beating Victor’ is good enough — that just retiring after only one good year — Yurio puts on 3 minutes of beautiful animation plus flashbacks that add to our understanding: that he was in that bathroom all the way at the beginning of the series because he was intrigued by Yuri’s footwork, but disgusted by the emotional damage he saw.

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Yurio wins by .12, entirely due to his advantage going into the second round but the result is the same. Yuri holds a silver at the end and finally comes to realize he never wanted to give up skating. Nor does he have to worry about Victor, who too will rejoin next year’s rotation.

After a lovely duet preluding the next season to come, Yuri find himself training with Victor and Yurio the way they had before, but as truer, closer friends. Their feels out in the open.

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The Verdict: That was a fantastic conclusion for all the obvious reasons. Animation, character, world building, sport, and above all else, enjoyable characters that bounce off of each other. Yurio’s reveal was especially fulfilling, as it gave his tsundere personality the final rounding we needed, following last week’s friendship growth with the Khazak skater.

Another fun trick was undermining Yuri’s first episode narration, in which he says this would be his last year as a skater, to retire on a gold. It totally played with our expectations all the way to the end, but gave him a believable reason to stay.

I can not stress how good this show is and how completely un-boy love too — despite the obvious bro-mancing between Yuri and Victory. There’s no date side episode or quiet ‘they did it’ episode. The sexuality isn’t part of the story at all, even if you can imagine it being part of their lives. If that changes your mind about giving YOI a watch, dive in. You will not be disappointed!

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Keijo!!!!!!!! – 12 (Fin)

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The Finale: Cockroach-chan’s showdown with Kaya, Maya’s abuse-fueld alter-ego is intense but ultimately morphs back into a duel with Maya, after a rousing pep-talk about wanting to be proud of the fight. Cockroach-chan wins, of course, having been upgraded by her team mates and having unlocked the full power of the vacuum butt cannon.

But all it well that ends well and the girls have a lovely banquet together afterwards. Despite their on-land meanness, team evil is all puppies and kittens now, and quickly becomes friends.

Final Verdict: This was pretty terrible. I get the point is exploitation backed by friendly non-objectifying girls who love (and take seriously) a sport but… nah this is just nipple-less T&A wrapped around generic fighting tourney tropes. There was no charm at the end, no humor to balance the final fight, and Team-evil never had a chance, nor was there 5 episode arc built up enough for it to have weight or stakes.

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Keijo!!!!!!!! – 11

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The Gist: Cockroach-chan takes Qi-girl head on and gets a whiff of victory… yes, literally. Ultimately, after a lengthy duel that breaks Qi-girl’s mind and turns her hair white, they are still at a standstill.

Meanwhile, Neko-chan and the other girls who’s names I don’t remember defeat a magician who pulls cards out of her butt and a girl with green hair who joins with the magician to form a combination-attack form. Yes, they literally share a swimsuit to do this.

Also there’s a heavy set girl who hasn’t lost yet but she isn’t given much screen time and doesn’t seem to be a real threat…

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The Verdict: there are a few truly fantastic moments of comedy this week surrounded by dull fighting tropes, unnecessary backstory elements for the villains, and sloppy pacing. Over all, this was a see-saw affair and how much enjoyment you get from it depends on how much the highs charm you and the lows irritate you.

The magician’s butt cards had me giggling like an idiot but her boob flashing and her ultimate KO were a snooze. The combination form with green hair chan was also great, especially due to the sound effects and the hilarious giant-robo style camera angle for their ‘hook up’ but the minutes spent ‘locked butt to butt’ with Pink-chan was totally uneventful on the flip side. Cockroach-chan sniffing Qi-chan’s arse — especially the poor voice actress doing a pig snort — was to die for but the fight itself was bland paste. I don’t care at all about Qi-chan and didn’t need her backstory or second form to pad out the episode :(

16rating_7

Yuri!!! on Ice – 11

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The Gist: the final 6 skate off, with Yuri giving the first performance, followed by the skaters from Thailand, Switzerland, Russia, Kazakstan, and Canada. Yuri lands in the middle, having fallen short of his new quad but otherwise performing his tough program well.

The surprise twist comes at the end, with the pressure to perform finally catching up to JJ, who crumbles into last place. Brave face and silly JJ hand signs flown high, he braves his crushingly low score and stands tall before an emotional audience.

The majority of the episode is delivered as a broadcast, with commentators explaining what is going on and skaters sitting in the press booth receiving their scores. These scenes are inter-spliced with interior monologs from the skaters, as well as observations by Yuri, Yurio and Victor, who’s early performances allow them to watch from the audience.

With the scores set, we are ready for the final, final, final show down next week.

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The Verdict: The long build up and tight scripting for each of the cast members is really playing off in the end. There is a strong sense of community, friendship, rivalries and engagement between the skaters and their support people. Yurio’s budding friendship with the Kazak is especially fun, as it pumps them both up in subtle ways, and the results hit JJ’s subconsciousness enough to nerve-him-out of contention.

The result is a believable world with a broad spectrum of likeable people — even when they are jerks — pushing themselves higher. Chris’ performance was especially well animated and, since we haven’t seen the Kazak’s routines at all, his time on the ice was a smart way to keep it fresh. All of the music was wonderful too.

What seals this week’s 10 rating is its master treatment of skirmish before the final battle. I can name few, if any other shows that set the stage for their show down so completely, without being over the top or gimmicy. YOI is matter of fact about it, with real world constraints on the time spent with scores and people. We know those scores, and the emotional placement of each skater. All that’s left is to see who can seal the deal and bring home a gold.

16rating_10

Yuri!!! on Ice – 10

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The Gist: Victor narrates the pre-grand prix festivities in Barcelonna. We see a few relationships develop or reconcile from his perspective — even some he could not have seen like Yurio and the Kazakstani skater.

We also learn that Yuri got black-out-drunk after losing the previous year and had asked Victor to become his coach, after winning a drunken dance-off with most of the other top skaters. The photo-stream of the event, which we see in full during the credits, it just great and really grounds Victor’s arrival at the hotspring.

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While Victor is the only one to notice, almost every skater at the top has become stronger and happier because of Yuri…

The Verdict: I love the use of cell phones in YOI, and this week’s intermixing of twitter and photo streams with recollections of the past, and reveals were fantastic. I love that the characters see where the other characters are in real time from these feeds, see what’s popular with fans too, and I love that some of the touching scenes aren’t recorded. It’s an interesting note that Yurio doesn’t remember the Kazak skater from training — that they don’t have photos of it or do not check — but share an awkward but interestingly human conversation talking about it.

But the show stealer goes to Yuri giving Victor a ring as a good luck token. All the elements around that, how Victor (and the show itself) toy with the BL expectations, yet keeps it sincere and un-BL enough for the rest of us not into that genre to keep watching.

The only reason I’m not giving it a ten this week is because the chibi/deformed narration and recapping the story so far that took up 5 minutes of the opening was a little clunky. It wasn’t unusual for YOI as a show, but it lacked the passion that followed. Otherwise, still the best show airing this season – go watch it!

16rating_9

Keijo!!!!!!!! – 10

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The Gist: the second race is underway and, surprise surprise, Team Pompous gets mauled by our clever underdogs. First, two girls get flung overboard when The Ass of Varja and Hillbilly-chan sync-bounce the seaplane wings. Then Heart-Eye-chan takes out another girl with mutual annihilation. Finally, Hillbilly-chan and Aoba use their roommate attacks to bring down the last opponent.

Unfortunately, everyone is eliminated at the same time and, in a twist, the last Pompous girl uses propeller breasts to stay in the air a split second longer than Aoba, thus winning the match narrowly upon video review.

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The Verdict: while more watchable than last week, Keijo’s second act remains fairly generic by sports anime conventions. Yes, the various attacks and super powers are silly and raunchy but there isn’t much warmth to the character interactions and, honestly, the novelty has worn off.

Structurally, I don’t know how Keijo un-jumps the shark here? Introducing new girls and new abilities with more epic effects is just an extension of what it was already doing. There’s nothing unusual about the underdog team winning (or doing well against) the expected power house in sports anime either. Making them mean girl jerks doesn’t make them compelling characters to boot.

:/

16rating_7

Yuri!!! on Ice – 09

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The Gist: The Czech skater dances to techno with the theme of no longer being human, but he falters towards the end. The Italian skater dances a sad goodbye to his twin sister, also a skater, who wants them to move on with their lives as separate people, and his melancholy brings a masterful performance. The Korean skater falters under the pressure that built during the first section. But those were just the appetizers.

Yurio’s performance is grueling, fluid, and full of internal insight before and on the ice. He pushes 6 of his jumps to the second half of his performance to up the technical difficulty and point potential and he nails it, earning a personal high score and landing in the 2nd place slot of the competition.

Yuri’s performance is not as strong, though it is fluid and respectable, his mind isn’t as clear nor focused on the actual technique as much as the what ifs and long term motivations to keep Victor by his side. In the end, he places 3rd, just enough to qualify for the Grand Prix.

The episode comes to an end, arm in arm with Victor, a safe and healthy Vic-chan by their side, and a promise to win a gold, Yuri’s first gold, next time.

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The Verdict: Calling Yuri on Ice beautiful to watch is repetitive but this week’s 3 major animated performances were just that. But the beauty goes beyond that, and beyond the interior of of character and the depth that even quick check-ins among the many skaters gives us. This is a living community, with family, relationships, aspirations and realities. It’s a rich world and, were this not a middle arc episode, it could have won a 10.

I loved the continued expansion of the Coaches this season, with Yukov giving a little insight into what is going on, and about to go wrong, and what could be better. It grounds the whole spectacle in reality that the animation alone, and my limited familiarity with skating would not capture.

But the true stolen scene was at the end. Victor’s glow that Yuri’s declaration is like a marriage proposal hits the dancing nail of Boy x Boy or not Boy x Boy on the head. Male romance or not, on the surface or deep down, all that matters is the good company and growth as people.

Go on, this remains the season’s top must watch!

16rating_9

Keijo!!!!!!!! – 09

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The Gist: Judo-chan and Bi-chan survive a cringe worthy battle between a generic body-builder type, twins, and a sneering redhead who apparently knows Judo and uses synesthesia to understand body heat, movement and strength. And Yes, Judo-chan wins by giving herself a hard nipple to launch a Keijo-legal shoulder throw.

Evil-chan and team evil seem completely dumbfounded as they lose, despite obvious strengths and advantages shown early on by team good guys. Their mean-lady coach seems surprised too, again bizarre because everyone knows Judo-chan was a world-class judoka ahead of time, and that Bi-chan is the best of the best.

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The Verdict: Oh how the mighty have fallen… There’s no better description than generic for this one and, were it not for the production quality, this week’s pandering would have kicked it down to a 5 or 4.

As is, the episode felt gross to watch, contained no real humor, and was a predictable good guys beat the pompous bad guys first match.

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Yuri!!! on Ice – 08

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The Gist: We meet several new skaters in Russia, JJ being the only direct challenger to Yuri (and Yurio), and see some great skating. Yurio has a rough but acceptable start, and his relationship with Yuri and Victor gets a little boost when they cheer him on lovingly.

But on the eve of the final showdown, Victor’s beloved Dog Maccachin is rushed to the vet, having choked on buns left at Yuri’s family shrine. Maccachin may not make it and Yuri begs Victor to rush home just in case. In desperation, Victor asks Yukov to coach Yuri in his absence, which puts Yuri and Yurio on the same team in a way. The stage is set for an epic showdown.

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In YOI’s world, all skaters are crazy… but in a crazy family sort of way that obsesses internally about their relationships and reason for being…

The Verdict: Awarding a Masterpiece grade mid-season is always more challenging than the beginning and the end because a build up, even perfectly executed, is predictable by design. This is why successful shows employ a mid season twist — a sudden death of a loved character or a reveal that a greater enemy was lurking all along — to make the audience reassess their belief in the Hero’s chances of success.

What puts Yuri on Ice above the rest is how it spins this convention on its head — how it fully bends it to the show’s own style and needs. Yes,  Maccachin may die and that means Victor will not be beside Yuri during the second half of the performance, where Yuri is at his most vulnerable. Yes, Maccachin’s injury subtly setup and Yuri’s insistence that Victor go to his pup is emotionally resonant, but the masterwork is in YOI’s lightness.

Victor runs to his former coach, his current antagonist of sorts, and asks that he coach for Yuri on the coming day. This entirely reshapes the relationship between several characters, totally diverts what would be a strong but conventional conflict (Yuri’s coach isn’t there to bolster his nerve) and absolutely locks next week in for an exciting and totally unpredictable showdown.

16rating_10

Keijo!!!!!!!! – 08

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The Gist: The girls finish their training camp with 2 battles. Cockroach-chan eventually obliterates Twin-Tail-chan with a Meteor Hip but they become friends afterwards.

Flash forward 1 month and the girls arrive at the East-West War and immediately dislike Suruga’s girls. To be fair, they are trash talking and obnoxious ‘B-team’ character designs. So who can blame team Cockroach?

After some trash talk and lengthy character introductions, the girls are split into groups of 4 to fight in 2-round races. The first up includes Judo-chan and a jungle gym. Apparently, she’s going to take her swim-top off and get an erect nipple but what the hell that’s all about will have to wait for next week…

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The Verdict: while I appreciated the 1-month-jump forward to cut out any training between camp and the battle of east and west, while I appreciate that this choice trims fat and will make some new moves seen at the war ‘surprising’ …however. However, the episode itself was a completely conventional setup episode otherwise. We meet see Suruga’s team, know they are pompus jerk tools, and know the format for the war but nothing actually happens.

Combine that with the relatively pointless two battles that end camp at the opening of the episode, which really just repeat the joke about Cow-chan being fat and introduce Twin-Tail-chan as… another character of no significance, and the whole experience felt slow.

Judo-chan’s father says it best: “This is just not right”

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