Musaigen no Phantom World – 06

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Like Reina’s phantom-created illusory ideal world, this week takes place predominantly takes place in a world other than the one in which are characters usually spend time. It’s not nearly as trippy, despite the Alice & Wonderland aesthetic of the inside of Kurumi’s head.

It’s “cuter” too, and I don’t mean that in a good way. It’s very nearly too precious; too overt in its efforts to melt our hearts. Then again, this episode’s heroine is only in the fourth grade, so the more childish innocent milieu is understandable.

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Setting aside issues of why a fourth grader needs to fight beside high schoolers, the fact is Kurumi is so painfully shy and introverted and dependent on the constant presence of her “security blanket” Albrecht, when Haruhiko simply trying to keep her from falling in the street triggers a phenomenon that sends bother him and her into the depths of her mind.

There are bears everywhere because the word “bear” is present in nearly every aspect of her life, and she’s also recently read a fairy tale. Here, Albrecht is an amplified version of what he is in real life: a protector. A literal knight who walks and talks rather than a symbolic shield in her arms. With, as Ruru says, a damn smooth voice!

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Her fears are manifested in a rival clan that seeks to gain dominion over her, but when Albrecht is wounded by the clan’s archer, she must choose to either continue relying on him, which may lead to his demise, or start to stand on her own and protect him for a change.

It’s a pretty obvious choice, considering Kurumi feels indebted to Albrecht for being her bear for virtually the entirety of her life. Keeping him close, she slowly learned how to talk to others and make friends, but when the opportunity arises here to take one big next step towards facing her fears and fighting them alone, she takes it.

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When the rival clan leader (also a bear) shows up in a great big mecha, Kurumi’s rake necklace grows into a weapon she can wield, while she undergoes a classic Sailor Moon-esque transformation into a magical girl.

There’s no escaping the fact that this is all pretty derivative, but the design and animation is solid as always, and Kuno Misaki, who is one of the seiyus specializing in voicing young kids, turns in a decent enough performance.

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Kurumi fights, Kurumi wins, and Kurumi and Haruhiko exit her head and end up back in that crosswalk. Kurumi accompanies Haruhiko in joining Mai, Reina, and Koito (largely out of the picture this week), who are about to go on a phantom hunt. Haruhiko worries that Kurumi is exhausted from her ordeal, but she insists on coming, confident she can hold her own with them.

Like most of MPW, this episode is best described as generally pleasant, often adorable, occasionally chuckle-worthy…but ultimately unexceptional. I’m loath to drop now that the team has finally been fully assembled (and each girl given a focus episode, with Reina’s being the best).

But I’m under no illusions that this is a guilty pleasure. A very pretty show that’s not much deeper than the puddles on that crosswalk.

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Divine Gate – 03

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As Arthur summons Oz (that’s right: the Wizard of Oz…oh my) along with Loki, not necessarily for their aid but to at least bear witness to the impending discovery of the Divine Gate, the show takes a closer look at the cheerful, energetic Midori, who not surprisingly is dealing with demons just like Aoto, which affects her focus and performance in a sparring exercise, and may prove more of a crippling liability as the quest to find the gate heats up.

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We haven’t even been formally introduced to three of the six kids in the core group, but as Akane talks with them, one makes clear that Midori’s intense belief in the Gate, or something related to it, could be hampering her development, like an anchor holding back a boat (not the most flattering metaphor, I’ll admit).

As Aoto is initiated into the academy, he still declines warm food and has trouble putting into words why exactly he’s there (as opposed to how he came to be there). But it’s a brief outburst by Midori about “being number one” that shifts Akane’s attention to her later.

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Midori decides to open up Akane, telling him about her friendship with Elena, someone who only wanted one friend: her. When Midori, a far more outgoing girl, inevitably made other friends at school, it poisoned the bond between them, culminating in an ultimatum from Elena that Midori simply could not accept. This was a decent, no-nonsense execution of the Obsessive Friend theme.

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Midori fails to make up with Elena, who rather than attend the summer festival as they always do, heads off to find the Divine Gate on her own. Once Midori hears of a girl disappearing in the mountains, she rushes to a police-filled scene, and actually sees the massive gate looming over the mountain.

Ever since that strange, vivid experience, Midori has not only believed in the gate, but believed Elena was already there, waiting for her. She wants Elena to still be alive, but she also wants to repair the bond she broke by rejecting her ultimatum (which wasn’t an unreasonable move, but obviously came at a stiff price).

Aoto hears a little of the story, and it probably shows him that he’s not the only one with issues, but unlike her, he’s also got a little boy in his head telling him how messed up he is all the time. Akane and Midori can see him talking to someone they can’t see, and it worries Midori.

She does some digging online (on a computer with a keyboard that seems way too loud and disruptive for a library), but as soon as she accesses Aoto’s files, a red “Restricted Access” wall goes up, stopping her in her tracks and making her and Akane wonder what the heck Aoto did, or what was done to him.

Another episode that efficiently fleshes out one more character, Midori, without solving all her problems, but making us understand her better. I imagine the show will eventually do this with Akane and the other three prominent kids in the group, parallel to Arthur and the Round Table’s more abstract machinations.

However, I won’t be around to see it, because the mystery of the gate just isn’t doing anything for me, and there’s no indication the revelations (if they ever come, as we’re likely to be strung along for some time beforehand) will be any less half-baked than the characterization of iconic characters like Loki and Oz. So I’m making a discreet exit now; no hard feelings.

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Divine Gate – 02

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Divine Gate’s second episode delves further into both Aoto and Akane’s troubled (if very different) pasts, and there’s some okay character work going on as Aoto discovers a way to start moving forward.

But it paints with awfully broad and familiar strokes, and my initial enthusiasm about Divine Gate being an absorbing if imperfect diversion took a big hit when I was introduced to Loki, another very loaded character name.

The idea of a character who’s neither entirely good nor evil is good in theory, but the execution falls short, thanks to his really dumb clown/jester design.  I don’t particularly want this joker pulling the strings. Also, a name like Loki has inescapable baggage attached to it. Like King Arthur or Leonardo da Vinci, if you’re going to use a name, you’d better do something interesting with it.

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Meanwhile, the refreshingly normally-dressed Akane and Midori visit Aoto again, they see he takes care of alley cats, but not all the time, only “when he feels like it”, something Akane thinks is worst than not feeding them at all. But when the hungry creature in need shifts from cats to a little boy, Akane himself can’t help but help, even if he can’t always be there to do so.

When Loki makes a police robot go berserk and the kid ends up in mortal peril, and the father is too terrified and injured to save him, Aoto has to make a choice; like the one he made on the train last week.

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He chooses to help Akane and Midori, who destroy the robot while he extinguishes the fire. While the saved boy initially hesitates going to his inept father, and Akane curses the dad for doing nothing, Aoto can relate to consciously wanting to do something—like move forward—but being hampered by a subconscious that’s not in sync. The father’s fear overpowered his conscious desire to save his boy.

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I know all this because a little boy with white hair and red eyes in Aoto’s subconscious tells him and us, which is a bit clunky, truth be told, like the clowny Loki, the very sight of whom irritates me. But he apparently staged the whole crisis to shake Aoto off the shelf, and he succeeded.

Aoto goes back to the night his parents were murdered, and we learn it was his brother, the favorite son, who actually did it. When Aoto takes his hand, he briefly sees the Divine Gate, but his subconscious delivers a shock of pain to his brother, who separates their hands and walks off, never to be seen again.

So Aoto isn’t the parent-killer. Yet I felt that absolving him so easily was an overly safe choice that sapped his character of darkness and complexity. Being messed up because you killed your parents, and being messed up because your brother did, are two different things.

But it’s because his brother is still out there, and he wants to see him again, that Aoto joins the academy. Also, because Akane and Midori were “annoying”.

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