Saekano 2 – 03

Tomoya and Eriri find themselves suddenly confronted by the Hashima siblings, whose Rouge en Rouge game company put out a demo of a game very similar to their own.

While Megumi does her best to keep things diplomatic, it isn’t long until Eriri and Izumi are coming to blows.

Sure, they’re low-impact blows, and each seems to want to empower the other to do their utmost to beat each other (at art, not physically), but then there’s the fact that, at the moment, I don’t much care particularly how well Blessing’s game does relative to Rouge’s.

Isn’t it enough that the team works hard and puts out a game they can be proud of, into which they put their blood, sweat, tears, and passion?

In between acting like she and Tomoya have been married for years, irking certain male classmates, Megumi is preoccupied and fired up by Utaha’s surprise story revision.

But the only way they’ll know whether it works or not, and which script to choose for the game, is by implementing it. That means a lot of work just to catch up to the Rouge demo, with no guarantee their output will surpass their rival’s.

When one all-nighter involving Tomoya and Megumi only nets 20% of the work, other measures need to be taken. When Michiru suddenly arrives, appalled that Megumi spent the night, Tomoya sees an opening, and asks his cousin to recruit her Icy Tail bandmates into doing the gruntwork necessary to plug Utaha’s new story into the game.

They pull a second all-nighter, and considering how late I’m writing this on a Thursday night, I can’t say I don’t relate to their exhausted state when they’ve completed their task.

All that work makes it that much more harsh a slap in the face when Tomoya meets with Utaha and utters the line above. Apparently, after story, art, music, and programming have been combined, neither of Utaha’s stories cut the mustard; at least not now that Tomoya is convinced Iori has a better story up his sleeve.

He requests a complete rewrite—certainly his prerogative as game director—but I assume Utaha is dismayed by his blunt assessment, as I was. In an attempt to outdo Rouge, could Tomoya be overplaying his hand? By demanding perfection when perfection may be unattainable, will he only end up driving his partners away one by one?

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Saekano 2 – 02

Utaha has finished her script, and to celebrate has Tomoya take her out for a day of shopping, dining, and watching films that aren’t poorly-received (i.e. ghosty, shelly) live-action anime adaptations.

It’s a date, no doubt about it, at least as far as Eriri is concerned, observing the couple’s interactions from afar like, well, a stalker, with Megumi forced to tag along for plausible deniability.

But Utaha doesn’t merely toy with Mr. Ethical: she makes it a point to bring up the fact that now that the script is complete, her job with Blessing Software is also done, and she’s looking to the future.

She asks Tomoya his opinion not only on where she should attend university (out in Kansai or fifteen minutes away) as well as to pick which script should be used: she wrote two. She’s basically telling the director to choose a direction; not unreasonable.

When Eriri and Megumi meet with Tomoya (thanks to Megumi having a key to his place!) they see the ending and see Tomoya’s dilemma. Eriri both acknowledges Utaha’s artistry, comparing it to the Metronome of Love series she claims to have never read, while complaining that it’s a lot more work.

Still, she doesn’t automatically reject this new ending, nor does Megumi: they, like Utaha, leave it up to Tomoya. Sorry dude, gotta make some hard choices, and not everyone is going to be happy. Especially with Izumi’s doujin game already out there in demo form, living in the same genre as their game.

Saekano excels when Tomoya is one-on-one, as he is with the lovely Utaha most of this episode. But I also liked how their interactions were shadowed by Eriri and Megumi (especially the difference in Utaha and Eriri’s reactions to the movie, which chose a “childhood friend-friendly”, and thus Eriri-friendly, ending).

I can’t say whether the script of Saekano is cliched per se; all I can say is that it is unafraid of commenting on the very genre and medium it exists in, or of being almost self-back-pattingly self-referential and irreverent of those institutions.

But the dialogue is expertly delivered by the actors, and the character design is strong, so even if this show’s ‘weakness’ is its script (which I’m not saying is the case), it’s more than capable of making up for it in other areas, which makes this show enjoyable to watch on any given week.

But I don’t think it needs a live-action adaptation.

ReLIFE – 07

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While we learned a lot more about An in the last episode, it was still mostly driven by Kaizaki’s reactions to those revelations. This time, it’s Yoake who gets top-billing as protagonist-of-the-week, in an episode that takes place while he’s still supporting Subject 001.

The truth about An gave us an glimpse of the world of ReLIFE Lab that this episode expands by setting Kaizaki’s story aside and showing us how Yoake came to support him instead of An (who we see is very enthusiastic early on about the prospect of being Kaizaki’s support).

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ReLIFE Lab is portrayed as very much like any other workplace, just as Lacuna in Eternal Sunshine is very much like any other doctor’s office; a neat amalgam of the mundane and the fantastical. There’s a kind of bizarre magic in what ReLIFE does, and yet Yoake still has to deal with a board of suits concerned with their branch’s rep and interested in results.

My one gripe about this otherwise lovely episode is that we don’t really get much in the way of info about Subject 001, which seems like a cruel tease. However, ReLIFE has been so good up to this point I’m willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt on this. Maybe they’re saving that 001 reveal for later (and 001 went to Aoba High just like Kaizaki) or maybe they’ll never reveal it.

As for Yoake and An, neither seem interested in the other romantically, but one can’t deny there’s have chemistry and warmness to their rapport. Maybe it’s just a senpai/kohai thing, or the fact that their peculiar line of work, what with all the masquerade and stalking, can be isolating. Their scene on the bridge in the rain was very nice; so many complex emotions going on.

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I also got the feeling that while An is obviously disappointed Kaizaki was transferred from her to Yoake, at least it was Yoake, whom she knows and trusts, who got him and not someone else. That, and she’ll be right there at school with both Yoake and Kaizaki.

The episode ends back in the present, with Yoake surveying all the people Kaizaki has changed as a result of gaining the confidence to act. In the past Yoake mentioned Kaizaki had the “trauma of losing someone”, and the uncertainty of knowing if he did enough when he should have led to present part-timer status.

Watching Kaizaki gradually overcome those issues through his ReLIFE is having an inspiring effect on Yoake, who is also pleased that he seems to have found a proper “distance” from Kaizaki that he lacked with 001. And so yet another ReLIFE character has been wonderfully rounded out and humanized, while the world has been further enriched without answering too many questions.

With everything going so well, I reckon it’ll be time to rock the boat again pretty soon!

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Girl Friend BETA – 03

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Oddly enough, we begin with Murakami Fumio examining a book of nudes by “Gilbert Royal Thorpe,” who Fumio knows is her friend Mochizuki Erena’s favorite photographer. Those who know Fumio are a bit surprised Fumio is friends with someone like Erena, and Erena’s friends are surprised she’s friends with Fumio. After all, the energetic, gregarious, impulsive Erena and the solitary, quiet, bookish Fumio look on the surface like complete opposites.

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In this case, opposites attract, as we go back and learn precisely why Fumio and Erena aren’t just friends, but good friends at that. It all started when an initial encounter on the subway got Erena to notice Fumio, who tends to keep to herself and read. Erena, a photog-in-training, is enchanted by Fumio’s quiet good looks, and appoints her as her muse.

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Erena asks Fumio to be her model for an upcoming contest, but Fumio never really gets a clear response out, and gets caught up in Erena’s rhythm. This could be construed as a form of stalking and voyeurism if it wasn’t being done by the innocent, well-meaning Erena, who’s oblivious to the possibility Fumio has something to say but just can’t say it. The communication logjam gets so back, Fumio ends up smacking Erena’s camera away and the wrong words come out.

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Things are a little awkward for a while, and Erena considers giving up on the contest  now that her muse has rejected her. But when she invites Fumio on a cake date, the truth comes out: it isn’t that Fumio didn’t want to be her model; it’s that she thought she wouldn’t be good enough, since she’s always seen herself as plain, inexpressive, cool. All Erena has to do is show her a photo she took just a moment ago to see how wrong she is. Erena isn’t interested in fake smiles or poses, but genuine, candid emotion.

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Wait…there are GUYS in this school?!

Fumio has more of that than she ever imagined, and Erena was the one who helped her clear up a misconception about herself. Fumio changes her mind about being her model, and Erena ends up wining the contest. And because the rest of the school sees a warm and joyful side of Fumio they’d never seen before, she ends up meeting more friends as a result. This isn’t exceedingly complex stuff, but it hit some solid emotional notes about art, inspiration, and friendship that resonated with me.

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Ao Haru Ride – 08

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“Today, no matter, what, I will definitely, definitely tell Yuuri properly!” As soon as Futaba said this, we were convinced she’d lose her nerve when it came down to it, a fear reinforced when two seconds later she says “I bet I’ll still lose my nerve when it comes down to it.” The odds of her telling Yuuri drop even more when Yuuri, unaware of the hammer Futaba’s trying to bring down on her, invites Shuuko to join them for ¥100 donuts.

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Prove me wrong, I said to the anime I like to think is based on one of Nozaki-kun’s shoujo manga: show me you can move forward and resolve this shit.” And what do you know, Ao Haru Ride answered the challenge. Even with Shuuko around and Yuuri going on about Kou, Futaba still gets it out; gets it all out, in the first five minutes of the episode. That was as welcome and refreshing as a cold shower on a searing summer day (though we’ve had precious few of those round these parts.)

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And wouldn’t you know it, Yuuri takes it extremely well…at first. Her immediate reactions involve saying “You too?”; noting how she’s not surprised, as Kou’s so totally hot and all; and acknowledging she’s at a disadvantage since Futaba’s closer to him. Then she goes to the bathroom and we get the first of two instances of characters crying for multiple reasons (Futaba’s the other, later on). One could say Yuuri is crying because her friend loves the same guy as her, which means she could potentially lose of them.

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But she’s also crying because Futaba obviously went through hell getting those words out, but she did. As Futaba thinks to herself earlier, this is the crux of her growth as a person: no longer “friends in name only” with anyone, she’s allowed to say what she wants, and in this case, needs to say. She wants to be honest, even if it could create conflict. Having friends you care about opens you up to hurting and being hurt, but the rewards are immeasurable.

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Witnessing a genuine exchange between two friends who love each other has a significant effect on Shuuko, who only tagged along because Yuuri asked her too and she had nothing else to do. What’s amazing about this first act is that this is the first time Shuuko is hanging out with people after school since she started high school. Far from fearing socializing is always this intense, she realizes what she’s been missing out on.

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It’s the perfect environment for her to get something off her own chest: that she’s in love with Tanaka-sensei. Futaba’s utter shock at this confession serves as proof Yuuri never spilled the beans, which comforts Shuuko further. When Aya passes by and happens to spot Shuuko hanging out with friends—and enjoying it—it puts a spring in his step and a tune to hum. He’s happy for her, as are we.

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One of Futaba’s best expressions yet: the “yeah I’m stalking you deal with it” look!

Yikes, I’ve only covered half the episode! That’s not to say the other half isn’t interesting, because it was, but it didn’t have quite the cathartic, warm-and-fuzzy power of the first. That could be because after running into Kou by chance, who is playing with the stray black cat, then says he won’t adopt it because “caring for things brings a lot of trouble” in the most obnoxious angsty way possible, Futaba decides to spend the rest of the night stalking him!

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This is why I like to think Nozaki-kun wrote this manga. He truly understands girls’ hearts, and in shoujo, if you like a guy and stalk him, he’ll eventually like you too! I kid, I kid…sort of. But really, if he doesn’t want Futaba following him he could be more forceful about it, but he’s very wishy-washy about it, and by the end puts on the air of a protector by lecturing her on the risk of being assaulted by going out in the night alone, culminating in the closest they’ve come to a kiss.

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Perhaps its because he was genuinely worried that Futaba would do that to try to get closer to him that he was cross with her. But at least Futaba isn’t just hiding in her head and actually trying to act on her feelings. As Shuuko so eloquently puts it, it’s ultimately up to Kou to decide between Futaba and Yuuri, or to reject them both. But if he has feelings for Futaba (and let’s face it, he does), then he shouldn’t be allowed to get away with toying with her much more.

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Stray Observations:

  • Komatsu Mikako is doing great understated work as Shuuko; her laugh sounds like the first laugh she’s laughed in years.
  • Come to think of it, Uchida Maaya is also showing she can handle non-chuunibyou dialogue with the best of ’em.
  • Aw, why not? Kudos to Kaji Yuki, while we’re at it. No one does sensitive/whiny angst like Yuki. This is Hope we’re talking about, after all.
  • Steelers? C’mon, animators. Surely you can think of a better team to slap on Kou’s t-shirt.

Samurai Flamenco – 19

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Ah, the quiet life in a world with no evil, where there is only love, peace…and Maya Mari. Kudos to the show for putting all the world-saving on hold for a least an episode and putting the focus back on the lives of Masayoshi, Goto, and MMM (the Flamengers get abridged status reports, but they’re far less central characters).

While we knew the next global crisis was just over the horizon (being announced rather abruptly in the final minute of the episode), we’ll take all the Samurai Flamenco slice-of-life we can. Masayoshi learns Goto is going to visit his long-distance girlfriend back in his hometown. This is huge, as Goto’s girlfriend has been nothing but very animated texts since the beginning, and we thought we’d never see her face as following through with the joke.

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Turns out it’s no joke at all, more of a tragedy, as Masayoshi learns when he tells Mari about Goto’s plans and gets sucked into a four-hour bullet train ride followed by some standard stalking. During the trip Mari suggests something we had been pondering for a long while, which the show hadn’t so much at hinted at: the possibility of Masayoshi going out with Sumi. It’s a new world, after all: there isn’t much to do besides settle down and find love.

It’s when they meet Goto’s mom, and then find Goto himself waiting at a bus stop with a bouquet of roses and, as always, his cell phone in hand, they learn the heartbreaking truth: Goto’s girlfriend in question was his high school sweetheart who got on a bus and disappeared years ago; he started texting messages to himself as her as a way of coping with the crushing grief…and never stopped. All the time the show had laughed off the fact Goto never had any real contact with his girlfriend is brought into heartbreaking focus…and now we know why he’s a cop.

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Mari, who’s been pining for him all this time, is similarly devastated at being passed up for an imaginary girl, but at this point he’s been “talking” to her for so long, she may be just as real as Mari, if not more so. So while there seems to be no more evil in the world, there’s still pain, loss, anguish, and frustration. There’s still times when you just need your two friends to meet you at a hot spring to feast on lobster and de-compress.

Oh, and obviously, there still IS evil in the world, after all! What Samurai Flamenco did threatens all who—profit directly or indirectly—from that evil (the press and the police among them) The boy who shakes Masayoshi’s hand just before blowing up his apartment essentially tells him what Masayoshi (and Mari) were likely so uneasy about all along: that a world without strife is a world without movement or change, of stagnation and ruin.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Mawaru Penguindrum – 04 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 29 July 2011 – One of this series’ many strengths is its excellent, almost neurotic attention to detail. Every frame is replete with incidental sights, sounds, symbols and conversations, some of which turn up later (or earlier, in awesomely-presented flashbacks). Case in point: Ringo’s friend mentioning Kanba dumping an actress “like she was no big deal” last week. Not only do we meet this actress, but learn that Kanba has been set up for an ambush by her and two other women scorned, which hell hath no fury than.

But Kanba and Himari make only brief appearances on the periphery of this episode. This is primarily a Shoma and Ringo affair. Kanba orders him to tag along with her and sneak a look at her diary – stalking in plain view, as it were. And naturally, Ringo’s day plans include a birdwatching date in the park with Tabuki. Much to her chagrin, Tabuki has invited Yuri, his gorgeous blonde actress friend (lotta actress love interests in this, innit?), and with Shoma by her side, it’s practically a double date.

She and Shoma even swap clothes after a skunk attack – a skunk that was reported on the news on tv in the background earlier in the episode. While I was initially weary of Ringo’s stalking craziness (and her multiple elaborate daydreams that end with her screaming), I really liked her in this episode, and I’m fully behind her quirky, obsessed, but basically sweet character. She’s gonna make happen what’s written in her diary, and she does not give a shit who or what stands in her way. And just when I thought Yuri was too perfect, she reveals her other side, calling Ringo out and warning her she doesn’t have a chance with Tabuki. Mwrow!

Of course, while things that are written in her diary have always ended up happening, they hardly ever do quite in the way she envisions in those daydreams. It was written that she’d kiss Tabuki by a certain time, so she cheats by jumping into the drink to warrant rescue and mouth-to-mouth. But it’s Shoma who rescues and “kisses” her, not Tabuki. It matters not; she believed it was Tabuki, so in her mind, the fate written in the diary was realized.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Bakuman 2 – 22

Hattori advises Ashirogi Muto to play to their strengths: Takagi should try to find “serious humor”, which Ashirogi could enliven with his serious art. A clear direction fires them up, but coming up with a storyboard proves difficult, so Takagi suggests he and Mashiro tail Hattori in secret for a day. They witness him go about his business, learn new and unexpected things, and get further encouraged. After their adventure, Takagi knows what he wants to do: a ‘perfect crime’ manga. They swap Kaya’s present for Miho with an identical one to further experience the thrill and accomplishment of pulling small crimes off. They whip up a storyboard and deliver it to Miura…

After quite a few failures in a row and their careers on the line, finally a little optimism and excitement. Hattori’s “serious humor” advice really caused a light to go off in Takagi’s head. Both he and Mashiro are certain this is their best idea yet. We especially like how Takagi makes sure they’re on the right track by literally acting out the idea by tailing Hattori, then making the ol’ switcheroo. The whole episode was brimming with positive energy and discovery.

There are lots of nice touches: Takagi and Mashiro finally find out about Hattori’s “Iwase Problem”, when she meets him in a restaurant in a come-hither outfit – that Takagi has his back to her is an even better touch. We also like that Aoki and Kaya remain in touch, and how Aoki innocently leaks that it’s Ashirogi’s last chance. A concerned Kaya calls Miho, but rather than feel betrayed for Mashiro keeping something from her, she takes the high road and tells Kaya to chill out and believe in them. The dress-for-drawing swap was also pretty romantic. Of course, next week, we can expect this Perfect Crime Club manga


Rating: 3.5

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One of this series’ many strengths is its excellent, almost neurotic attention to detail. Every frame is replete with incidental sights, sounds, and conversations, some of which turn up later (or earlier, in awesomely-presented flashbacks). Case in point: Ringo’s friend mentioning Kanba dumping an actress like “she was no big deal” last week. Not only do we meet this actress, but learn that Kanba has been set up for an ambush by her and two other women scorned, which hell hath no fury than.

But Kanba and Himari make only brief appearances on the periphery of this episode. This is primarily a Shoma and Ringo affair. Kanba orders him to tag along with her and sneak a look at her diary – stalking in plain view, as it were. And naturally, Ringo’s day plans include a birdwatching date in the park with Tabuki. Much to her chagrin, Tabuki has invited Yuri, his gorgeous blonde actress friend (lotta actress love interests in this, innit?), and with Shoma by her side, it’s practically a double date.

She and Shoma even swap clothes after a skunk attack – a skunk that was reported on the news on tv in the background earlier in the episode. While I was initially weary of Ringo’s stalking craziness (and her multiple elaborate daydreams that end with her screaming), I really liked her in this episode, and I’m fully behind her quirky but sweet character. She’s gonna make happen what’s written in her diary, and she does not give a shit who or what stands in her way. And just when I thoughYuri was too perfect, she calls Ringo out; warning her she hasn’t a chance with Tabuki. Mwrow!

Of course, while things that are written in her diary have always ended up happening, they hardly ever do quite in the way she envisions in those daydreams. It was written that she’d kiss Tabuki by a certain time, which she cheats by jumping into the drink to warrant rescue and mouth-to-mouth. But it’s Shoma who rescues and “kisses” her, not Tabuki. It matters not; she believed it was Tabuki, so in her mind, the fate written in the diary was realized.


Rating: 4