Star Driver 25

Gahh, I just watched the second-straight finale of a Fall 2010 anime in which the bad guy is defeated by an Epic Punch To The Face. Only in Star Driver’s finale, both the puncher and punchee were characters of consequence, with stakes of even greater consequence still. Youthful super-evil/vain father, Tokio/Head, wants to destroy/rule the entire world, and by breaking the last seal, Wako, and Sugata and Samekh under his command, he can do it, too.

But Takuto/Tauburn won’t go away quietly, nor let his dad get away with hurting his friends, which leads to the eventual punch to the face. To get to that point, he depends on all of the members of Glittering Crux expelling Head, retaking their reborn cybodies, and fighting alongside Tauburn (both out of simple morality, but also because he scorned them, using Crux as pawns all along). Thus we get an epic multi-cybody battle with the same bite-and-burn animation we’re used to, only turned up to 11. To paraphrase one Crux member, they finally get to fight in a battle that matters, not just one that serve’s Head’s schemes.

But what of Sugata and King Samekh? Sugata is ready to sacrifice himself to seal him off once and for all and prevent the end of the world Head talked about. However, Takuto and Wako share a deep long look at one another, and Takuto then decides to destroy Wako’s cybody and break the last seal anyway. WTF, you may ask; but they simply couldn’t and wouldn’t let the love triangle be resolved so cheaply; by Sugata’s death. Takuto follows Samekh into Earth orbit, where he destroys him and saves Sugata. Thus Wako is still not forced to make a choice she apparently can’t make. And neither is the show.

So yeah, Star Driver. It’s been a long ride, and I have to say I enjoyed it overall. The Tauburn introduction scene got really old, but for the most part the weekly battles stayed fresh and brief. Takuto was a hero who was always upbeat, never angsty; the core of him, Wako and Sugata had great chemistry from beginning to end, and their romantic dilemma was never annoying. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get lost keeping all the characters and Crux factions in check, but having seen the series reach its conclusion, there would be value in re-watching it someday. Rating: 4

Series Mean Ranking: 3.615

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Star Driver 24

Another seal bites the dust, as Keito reveals herself to both Crux and Takuto/Wako as the East Maiden, while Sugata too removes his mask and prepares to drive King Samekh. It’s a chilling moment when Keito essentially offers herself to the cause, having already been fulfilled by Sugata in a previous meeting with him at the Eastern Shrine. She has nothing left to lose. Everything goes dark and all of the swirling Zero Time psychedelia we’re used to changes with frightening speed and permanence.

For the island and its ordinary inhabitants, this is very bad news. With only one seal left to break (Wako) and the means to do it (Head has a new cybody, and who knows what Sugata will do with his new phase), the resultant shockwave will probably destroy the island with a combination of earthquakes, tsunami, and erupting volcanoes. Crux has been striving so long to break the seals, one wonders if any of them have cold feet, or if its simply too late to turn back. Kanako for one exhibits sympathy for the “civvies” by having her massive yacht (it’s a cruise ship, really) prepared to take on evacuees.

With that in mind, and after so many generations of the maidens maintaining balance, breaking all their seals and unleashing that power will likely have global, and not just local, implications. Takuto has won every single fight he’s fought in as Tauburn. Many were victories pulled from the jaws of defeat; victories that would not have occurred had outside forces not acted on Takuto’s behalf. Now that he’s essentially the only thing keeping Wako safe, he’ll have to win one more battle, and it will be the toughest. Rating: 3.5

Star Driver 23

Star Driver returns to its more-or-less standard form: the love triangle heats up, while Takuto finally meets (and plants) his dad Head/R. Wako is fine with going on dates with both Sugata and Takuto on the same day, interrupted briefly by a Zero Time battle where Tauburn must go one-on-three with a very hungry Vanishing Age.

For the umpteenth time, Takuto is on the verge of defeat, but Sugata evens the odds by finding a way to be useful: by offering himself as a Tau missile for Takuto to shoot through the three enemy cybodies. I don’t really understand the meta-science or mechanics surrounding how that works, but its of little importance. Crux is dealt yet another humbling blow. Suffice it to say Takuto/Sugata can do whatever they want here in order to win. This makes it unlikely they’ll ever lose, which reduces the tension somewhat.

Still, the outcomes aren’t nearly as important as the character strides made in their leading-up. Last episode, Sugata finally woke up while Keito was present, exposing her as the heretofore-unknown East Maiden. Only by this episode’s end is this revisited, when Sugata shows up as King, the latest, greatest member of Crux. Does this mean Sugata’s now a Bad Guy, sharing their goal to break the last seal? Has he finally cast his ambiguous future with his betrothed – Wako – aside, in favor of Keito?

Earlier, following a duel that apparently ended in a draw (mirroring their stalemate regarding Wako), Sugata warns Takuto that his “bendable free-spirit” approach to facing challenges may not be enough to fully protect Wako, as opposed to calm, logical preparation. Could he have been warning Takuto about his own plans to join Crux? Stay tuned… Rating: 3.5

Star Driver returns to its more-or-less standard form: the love triangle heats up, while Takuto finally meets (and plants) his dad Head/R.

Wako is fine with going on dates with both Sugata and Takuto on the same day, interrupted briefly by a Zero Time battle where Tauburn

must go one-on-three with a very hungry Vanishing Age.

For the umpteeth time, Takuto is on the verge of defeat, but Sugata evens the odds by finding a way to be useful: by offering himself as a

Tau missile for Takuto to shoot through the three enemy cybodies. I don’t really understand the metascience or mechanics surroudning

how that works, but its of little importance. Crux is dealt yet another humbling blow.

Last episode, Sugata finally woke up while Keito was present, exposing her as the heretofore-unknown East Maiden. Only by this

episode’s end is this revisited, when Sugata shows up as King, the latest, greatest member of Crux. Does this mean Sugata’s now a Bad

Guy, sharing their goal to break the last seal? Has he finally cast his ambiguous future with his betrothed – Wako – aside, in favor of Keito?

Earlier, following a duel that apparently ended in a draw (mirroring their stalemate regarding Wako), Sugata warns Takuto that his

“bendable free-spirit” approach to facing challenges may not be enough to fully protect Wako, as opposed to calm, logical preparation.

Could he have been warning Takuto about his own plans to join Crux? We’ll see… Rating: 3.5

RABUJOI’s Top 15 Anime of 2010

15. B Gata H Kei – A surprisingly solid and funny series that really delved into the unclean mind of a teenaged high school girl approaching the threshold of adulthood. Her antics and attitudes toward her eventual boyfriend were the source of constant entertainment.

14. The World God Only Knows – Having a character with a ridiculously obsessive gaming habit really invigorated what would have otherwise been a placid but uninspired sequence of romances. That his vast gaming experience gave him such an edge in analyzing and conquering real-life girls’ hearts proved a winning theme.

13. Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt – No shows matched the manic intensity and sheer irreverance for dignity as this latest Gainax installment, which had excellent, diverse animation and a kick-ass soundtrack.

12. So Ra No Wo To – The first anime-only “Anime no Chikara” series didn’t turn out to be the best, but it was still quite good, being perhaps the anime that most closely resembled a Miyasaki-like alternate fantasy world, richly depicted.

11. Katanagatari – Spreading out its twelve installments over tweleve months gave this series the most presence this year, and when each month ended it created great anticipation for the next. Some months were better than others, but the chemistry, music, and clever battles were more than enough to put this epic journey on the list.

10. Working!! – Sometimes you just need a simple, happy, straightforward slice-of-life without villains, monsters, or the world on the line. Working!! was just the ticket, with an eclectic cast of oddballs just working at a restaurant.

9. Star Driver – While only half over, this series was the best of the fall, and firmly established its penchant for gorgeous vistas, short-but-sweet battles, cinematic score, and intricate tangle of characters, most with dual personas.

8. Senko no Night Raid – The anime that went there: China in the 30s, to be exact. It told a story different from history, but it didn’t go all nationalistic about it; there was no black-and-white here. But there were spies with superpowers, which was awesome.

7. Durarara!! – This show did such a good job establishing the rich, energetic city of Ikebukuro, Tokyo, the real place was one of my first stops on a summer trip there. But it wasn’t just the soul of the city it captured, but the complexity of its people and their hopes and dreams. It could have ended better but few series started as good as this.

6. Angel Beats! – From episode one, this series pulled you straight into the afterlife and played by its own rules. An etherially beautiful yet confined setting, a sizable cast of lost souls, a soaring soundtrack, and the right dose of comedy earns Angel Beats! its high standing. More than anything, it was just fun.

5. House of Five Leaves – Though I was originally hung up on its creepy and altogether unattractive character designs, I wisely stuck with this ultimately gorgeous, atmospheric story of a time in Japan long past when life was tougher. It’s a well-told, well-acted, authentic story that really drew me in.

4. Occult Academy – In any series here deserved 26 episodes, it was this third and latest “Anime no Chikara” series. It did a great job developing Maya’s character, but too often went on side-tangents and had an incredibly-rushed ending. Still, the best episodes of this series can be counted among the best single episodes of the year for the sheer awesomeness they packed.

3. Shiki – Shiki started off slow and strange, but its meticulous build-up paid off in the best way. It too suffered from odd character design, but once one was acclimated to it it really complimentary to this dark and twisted horror story. Vamps and werewolfs are so overdone these days, but Shiki really contributed something unique and terrifying. Its soundtrack was also among the best of the season.

2. The Tatami Galaxy – Density. That’s what this series had in spades. Visual and verbal. For those who could keep up with the rapid-fire narration, it was an immensely satisfying and hilarious ride, with an ending that tied it all together.

1. Armed Librarians – The Book of Bantorra – This cool, confident, unrelenting anime wrapped in late January, making it just eligible for a 2010 list. January was a long time ago, but the awesomeness of Bantorra still shines clearly in my memory. No series throughout the remaining months packed so many interesting characters, stories, twists and turns into its run.

Fall 2010 Anime Rankings – Thru Week 9

Don’t know about ya’ll, but we love charts and statistics. It’s why we love sports, cars, sports cars…and anime. We were wondering how we’d rank the anime we’ve watched so far this season, and then realized, we’ve already done that; we just needed to organize them and tally the averages. Below is the result. (Click here or the tab above for an explanation of our Rating system.)

No big surprises: Star Driver is the top-ranked series, fueled by four 4 Ratings, while an inconsistent MM! brings up the rear, owning the only “Mediocre” 2 Rating among the shows on the list. Zakuro, Yakumo, and Yosuga no Sora are exactly tied, interestingly enough. Note that none of the series stray too far below our 3 Rating of “Recommended”. If they did, well, we wouldn’t be watching them!

You’ll see an updated version of this chart when the season concludes.

Episode # : 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 AVG

Star Driver 3.5 3.5 3.5 4 3.5 4 4 4 3.5 3.722
Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt 4 4 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 4 3.5 3.5 3.667
Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 4 4 3.625
Bakuman. 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 4 4 3.611
Kuragehime 3.5 3.5 3.5 4 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.571
Ore no Imouto 3.5 3 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.444
To Aru Majutsu no Index II
3.5 3 3 3.5 3 4 4 3.5 3.438
Shinryaku! Ika Musume 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3 3.5 3 3.389
Arakawa Under the Bridge x 2 3.5 3 3.5 2.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.313
The World God Only Knows 3 3 3.5 3 3.5 3.5 3.5 2.5 3.5 3.222
Otome Youkai Zakuro 3 3 3.5 3 3.5 3 3 3.5 3 3.167
Psychic Detective Yakumo 3 3 3 3 3 3 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.167
Yosuga no Sora 2.5 2.5 3 3.5 3.5 3.5 3 3.5 3.5 3.167
Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls 2.5 2.5 3 3 3 2.5 3 3 3.5 2.889
MM! 2.5 3 3 3 2 2.5 3 3.5 3 2.833

Weekly Average 3.2 3.2 3.3 3.3 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.5 3.4 3.345

Fall 2010 – Best Openings and Endings

Openings

Star Driver – The sequence was directed by Shinichiro Wantanabe, and it shows: few do rough+fluid better than him. The right-to-left side-scrolling mimics how you’d read a Japanese manga. I love how the cybody bursts out of the ocean at the end, and Takuto jumps in and blasts off: Alrighty, we’re ready to start this thing! A stirring rock number by Aqua Timez brims with hopeful lyrics and melodic diversity, matching and augmenting the energy of the animation.

Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru – I love jazz, and I love Japanese Jazz even more (Pizzicato Five is a good example). You can’t help but tap your feet to the number that accompanies lots of vibrant, syncopated animation in which the cast dances and sings along while performing maid duties. The title is a CGI spinning globe covered in lights. This opening perfectly encapsulates the soul, energy, and potential of the big city. I also liken the whole opening to Hotori’s imagined ideal of the city and her life: happy, upbeat, and full of promise.

The World God Only Knows – This opening could very well have been done by the same people who did Eden of the East (one of my favorite openings ever), as a lot of the style is simply lifted from there, but I don’t care. Like any effective opening, it’s an accurate depiction of the series as a whole: Keima is a god in the (2D) world of games, and uses that power in the real (3D) world. The transition from pulsing electronica to an impromptu aria is sudden, but it works, as it reinforces the religious undertones of Keima’s abilities.

Honorable Mention: Kuragehime – The numerous parodies to western popular culture (Star Wars, Sex in the City) are fun, but the main reason I like this opening is the sweet, earnestly-sung theme, “Koko Dake no Hanashi”, by Chatmonchy. It’s not an easy song to sing, requiring lots of range, but it’s beautifully pulled off with a nice balance of resolve and vulnerability.

Endings

Panty & Stocking – Both the ballad (“Fallen Angel” by Aimee B) and the animation are spot on in this short but sweet ending that captures the essence of the show perfectly, and in a refreshingly more serious tone than the show itself. The animation consists of the girls in simplified form about to be killed by various means (driving off a cliff, eaten by a monster, passing out in the desert and picked apart by vultures), all while bobbing their heads to the beat. The dark visual themes are lightened by the style in which they’re rendered…and the gorgeous vocals. In the end, the girls ascend to heaven, get their halos, come back down, and tip them like barbershop hats. The whole thing lasts only 58 seconds.

Arakawa Under the Bridge x 2 (episodes 1-5) The opening of Arakawa’s first season was one of my favorites, and season two’s, while fun, isn’t quite as good. This season’s ending is better than last’s, however, with a fully live-action sequence following Hoshi through a lush green forest and on stage, and Kappa along the riverbank. Even the real-life bridge itself makes an appearance. While the live action character’s faces are just plain creepy, I love it whenever anime jumps ino the real world (the splendid endings of FLCL and Kare Kano, for instance), and the haunting, slightly melancholy ballad is a good musical choice, though it couldn’t be further from anime Hoshi’s out-of-tune strumming.

Shiki (Second Season) – Many series pick one musician or group do the opening and one to do the ending, then switch them either halfway through the season or in the next season. A post/Gothic rock band called Buck-Tick did the stirring opening for Shiki’s first season, and it was excellent. This season, they did the ending theme. Slow pans of four key characters lounging nude in a foreboding, eerily moonlit pond full of blood. Combined with Buck-Tick’s dark, brooding theme, the atmosphere has the darkness and silky thickness of a warm pint of Guinness.