Sonny Boy – 10 – The Girl Who Knew Too Much

This week’s Sonny Boy experience comes from the POV of Tsubasa, AKA Sarah Plain and Tall With Broken Arm. We learn her power is “Monologue”—the ability to hear everyone’s inner voices. In order to not be ostracized, she’s kept the power a secret from everyone. She listens, but she doesn’t act in a way that would arouse suspicion.

Tsubasa likes Asakaze. She knows he’s kind of an ill-natured prick, but it doesn’t matter; she still likes him. But as she can read minds, she knows it’s unrequited; she also knows Asakaze likes Nozomi. He doesn’t like how close Nozomi is with Nagara. All the while, he’s unconsciously closer to Tsubasa than anyone; only she can hear his inner voice.

Tsubasa can’t help but like Asakaze, but while you’d think she’d try to use her power to try to make him feel the same way, all she does is quietly admire him from a distance. She hears all his thoughts about Nozomi, all the while dreaming of the day all his other romantic options will be exhausted and he’ll “land at her feet.” But between Nozomi (who doesn’t return his feelings) and Aki-sense (who is only wielding Asakaze like a tool), there’s too much competition.

Tsubasa and Nozomi end up accompanying Asakaze and Aki-sensei on the “grand task” he wishes to complete: defeating “War” before he can cause undue destruction. Tsubasa can’t fault Asakaze for liking Nozomi, because she knows that Inner Nozomi is just as wholesome and noble and honest as Outer Nozomi. Everyone practices some degree of deceit…except Nozomi. On the treacherous hike in “War’s” strange ceramic world, it’s Nozomi who comes to Tsubasa’s aid when she twists her ankle.

When they encounter “War” while falling down an endless gorge with a blood red bottom they never reach, he’s a student constantly falling and buffeted by the wind like the Maxell guy. Tsubasa can’t hear his thoughts; the guy is totally empty. Kinda like warD’YOU GET IT?!?!! Ahem…anyway, Aki-sensei (and apparently God AKA Dr. Strangelove) wants Asakaze to eliminate “War” from this world by creating “Death”, leading Nozomi to take him to task for trying to play God.

This causes Aki-sensei to retreat with Asakaze somewhere where she can bury him in her bust and keep him under her thumb. But as Tsubasa always knew since the drifting began, the only person who could truly change Asakaze was Nozomi. Nozomi won’t pretend to pander to him. Asakaze can probably sense that there’s never any deceit with her.

So when Nozomi says “Even if I’m dead, I can accept my own fate,” she means it. Maybe that’s why, after he turns “War” into a gun and the red into white, when the cliff crumbles and she falls, Asakaze doesn’t use his power to save her. Or maybe he can’t.

Meanwhile, Nagara picks up the mantle of island researcher from the long-departed Rajdhani, and continues to experiment with Mizuho’s powers. When he orders a chicken with Nyamazon and then kills it, it stays dead. When Mizuho orders one and he kills it…it comes back. Between having three wise talking cats protecting her and the potential power over life and death, I’m starting to wonder if Mizuho is the true God around these surreal parts.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Sonny Boy – 09 – 3 Cats and a Kotatsu

I’m still thinking about Episode 8, so I knew it would be hard to top it…for anything to top it anytime soon. Episode 9 doesn’t come close…but it does begin with the three Nyamazon cats shooting the shit like three wise old farts under a kotatsu. It’s just the latest reminder that predicting what Sonny Boy will throw at you from one week to the next is like trying to predict every move in a chess game when you’re not in the same room.

The cats, famous lovers of warmth, are under the kotatsu because outside the kotatsu is a frozen, snowy world. Nozomi, Nagara, Yamabiko, and their human Mizuho have traveled there to try to settle a thousands-of-years-old battle between two twins over who has the most hairs on their head (one claims to have one more). But it’s also a look back at Mizuho, and how the white cat Sakura believes she can’t survive without the three of them.

Honestly, the twin story is a bit dull, but it at least ties into the concept of duplication, which we learn is to be Mizuho’s true power. Everything the cats deliver to Mizuho and the others is a copy of products from the original world they came from. While Mizuho’s inner circle certainly wouldn’t hold it against her, the cats, who have been with Mizuho since she was a kid and still believe her to be one, are determined to keep it under wraps.

It’s Yamabiko who approaches Sakura with his suspicion that everything the cats deliver is copies. Sakura then admits that Rajdhani had previously figured out that Mizuho had copied everyone from the world, and now they’re drifting as copies of the people they once were, both the same and different, like the twins. Mind you, this dawned on Rajdhani when two copies of a tick dating Game Boy game(!) arrived, even though he knows there was only ever one in existence.

Yet Rajdhani didn’t tell a soul, proving to the cats he had “a fine character, for being so hairless”. Two copies were made of Sou Seiji, like someone accidentally ordering two of something on Amazon by clicking twice.

Sakura is caught in a bear trap to be a sacrifice of one of the twins, but Mizuho and Yamabiko save her. When armed with a gold ray gun by the shit-stirrer Aki-sensei, the other twin ends up with another ray gun, resulting in a duel that ends with only one twin standing, only for that surviving twin to take his own life.

Mixed in with this is how Asakaze seems to be making a habit of lashing out at Nozomi for not liking him romantically, leading to her spending the night outside sulking. One of the cats keeps her company all night, and in the blood red morning Nagara joins them, thanking her for “showing him the light”, leading him to change.

In a world full of copies and sheep, Nozomi, Nagara, Mizuho and Yamabiko (not to mention Rajdhani) stand out as one-of-a-kind souls who all thank the likes of Aki-sensei or Asakaze to let them pick their own places.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Sonny Boy – 08 – Canis Dei

What if you befriended God? Yamabiko pretty much did, as he tells the tale of how he became a dog to Nagara and Mizuho as they sit beside campfires in wastelands and traverse various gorgeous landscapes. Kodama was special. She could “direct” all things, and so quickly became worshipped by all her classmates. She became their “whole world.”

Then, out of nowhere, their world became something else: a pandemic struck the class. Horrible red tumors grew on their bodies, including Kodama’s. But Yamabiko, ever her loyal subject, refused to say she was ugly. In fact, he felt very much the opposite: she was hard to look at because she had become too brilliant. When one of her tumors burst and her blood flowed, he lapped it up, and transformed into a dog.

Yamabiko never thought he did much with his human form, an ill-natured youth wandering the worlds alone and bitter. But one night he was pulled out of the literal muck by Kodama. He found himself in a “peaceful, easy world” where she and the others lived contentedly. But she admits it’s dull, as living their cut them off from new information.

Yamabiko couldn’t understand why anyone, much less someone akin to a god as Kodama, would be kind to him. It disturbed him, so he attempted to flee. Remind you of anyone Yamabiko is currently traveling with? Naga-er, Yamabiko tried to sail a raft across the sea, only for Kodama to catch up to him with a hot meal. When he tosses it over the side, she dives in and makes a giant goddamn soup fountain that Yamabiko couldn’t help but lap up.

The more time he spent with Kodama, the more he thought he had come to the end of his once endless wandering, to his destination. But then the pandemic struck, and a man appeared who seemed to fare worse than any of them. This man was the first and only person to call Kodama “ugly”. It both shocked and pleased her, that someone would tell her the truth. That was the whole point.

This mysterious man, named “War” (which…okay) indicated he was not the sole cause of the pandemic, but a side effect of the otherworld in which everyone dwelled. In this world, mental wounds became physical tumors. As for who made this world, well…when Yamabiko was pulled out of that muck, he was being pulled into a world of his own making, which is why Kodama’s godlike powers could not stop the pandemic.

Yamabiko learns to late that had he “changed” himself and flown voluntarily out of the shell he had created around himself, he could have saved Kodama and everyone else; even met them on the other side, in another world where the pandemic didn’t exist. But he couldn’t. Even when Kodama was the last one alive and all but consumed by the red crystal-like tumors, he stayed by her side like the dog he was…loyal to a fault.

Then Kodama died, and Yamabiko finally fulfilled his promise to Kodama by flying out. He’d stayed there till the end because he feared losing the light that she represented. As for actually flying out, it took him five thousand years to do so.

As Yamabiko completes his tale, he, Nagara, and Mizuho reunite with Nozomi, and learn that while they believe they arrived precisely on the day agreed upon, time moves two weeks faster for her. No matter; Nagara takes her phone and re-syncs their times.

That night, beside another fire, Nozomi catches up on what Yamabiko has told the others. He also tells them that this “War” fellow was trying to kill God. Nagara wonders whether it would make a difference even if such a thing could be done while roasting a marshmallow.

So yeah…Yamabiko’s been through some shit. Kodama immediatley asserted herself as one of the most impactful characters of the series in just one episode, and much of that is due to Taketatsu Ayana’s virtuoso performance.

Combined with Tsuda Kenjirou’s dulcet tones, a lush, moody futuristic soundtrack, all those gorgeous, painterly vistas, and some truly gut-wrenching moments, this Sonny Boy stands as the most raw, unrelenting, and personal outing yet. I’ll be watching this many more times in the future, no doubt gleaning new insights or noticing new details each time.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

 

Sonny Boy – 07 – Nagara Inverted

Sonny Boy loves starting episodes in media res, and this week is no different, as we sit in on the 601,344th meeting of the Drift Victims Society. If it’s a weekly meeting, that means it’s been going on for 11,564 years, give or take a decade. Needless to say, the majority of those assembled are looking for someone to blame for this predicament.

Now they know it’s Nagara, and they condemn him and promise justice, whipping the enraged mob into a bitter froth.

Meanwhile on the island, the Mizuho, Pony, and Yamada watch Hoshi’s faction loads up the Ark with supplies in preparation for a journey from which they won’t be returning. Yamada, who’s been around as long at least half of those meetings, describes the thousands of other castaways, and how it’s taken thousands of years for them to figure out how to travel between worlds.

That this newest class was able to do it in a matter of weeks or months means whatever this “culling” is that God is doing, it’s breeding more capable students with each generation.

When Nagara liberates Rajdhani’s ant farm before he lets the ants start eating each other, he comes upon an exercise bar, and when he decides to flip himself on it. That’s when the episode goes full Patema Inverted, as his world is flipped upside down. A strange student who is completely covered by a giant folded umbrella greets him before he starts falling…up.

Nagara wakes up in the middle of a shift, with helmeted students working tirelessly like worker ants building an endlessly tall tower (but oddly enough, carrying the building blocks downward). Nagara being Nagara, he tries to keep his head down and roll with the punches. He’s bailed out and befriended by the kindhearted Futatsubushi…who’s been at this for over two centuries.

Futatsubushi is charmed by Nagara’s “new guy” aura. Everyone in this world were students of the same school, but now all they’re doing is building the tower…and eating gross invertebrates and insects during their breaks. Hakuna Matata, I guess. Futatsubushi makes it feel like a simple, honest life, even if its seemingly dead-end one.

That night, Nagara is ready to return home, only to find he can’t use his powers. That’s because the “Host” or boss of this world—a guy with glasses who wears a tall sock on his head and is umbrella guy’s associate in an elite group of castaways called Beatnik—is able to nullify those powers. The two hang out atop Babel, basically waiting to see if and when Nagara can figure his way out of this place.

While striking out with Futatsubushi to discover the urban legend of shooting stars, Nagara instead discovers a macro version of the predatory luminescent bugs Rajdhani once showed him. We don’t watch his gruesome “end”—only his screams—but before that he has a very bittersweet monologue about how it’s important to believe in nonsense or continuing to go after a hope, even if it’s false…because otherwise, what is there?

The question of “if not this, than what?” seems foremost in the mind of Nozomi as she watches the cubic Ark carrying Nozomi and most of the rest of the class off to parts unknown grow smaller and smaller in the sky before disappearing altogether. It’s such a simple image as presented, but so haunting and lonely. Meanwhile, the prickly but loyal Mizuho searches diligently for her friend Nagara.

Futatsubushi probably inspired our guy to keep going forward and putting in an effort, even if Hoshi has said many times before that getting home is not in the cards. After remembering when he’d try to flip on the exercise bar as a child while another kid nicknamed “Koumori” (“Bat”) flipped with ease.

Once he’s up at the top of Babel, he walks straight out the railing-less balcony…and re-inverts to his original orientation. Since he figured things out, both Sockhead and Koumori (the same kid he saw that day in his youth) let him go.

No sooner does Nagara return, having been found by Mizuho and Yamada, is it revealed that Rajdhani is also off on his own personal voyage of discover and wonder. Nozomi, a tearful Mizuho, and Nagara all give him big hugs, and I have to admit this completely unexpected goodbye scene really made the air in my room dusty.

With Rajdhani gone, apparently the only ones still on the island are Nagara, Nozomi, Mizuho, Yamada, Asakaze, and possibly the members of Aki-sensei’s faction that didn’t leave on the Ark (Aki-sensei, it’s revealed, is just another student). I almost wish it’s just the five of them left. While the ideas and allegories are growing bigger and more complex, I’m excited at the prospect of the cast getting drastically stripped down to the basics.

Sonny Boy – 06 – Director’s Cut

When it comes to anime, or any television or film, really, I’d rather not quite know what’s going on and be entertained than know what’s going on and be bored. Sonny Boy is definitely the former variety, and this is its trippiest episode yet.

I honestly had no idea what was coming from one scene to the next, but was thoroughly enjoying the ride the whole time. Heck, it starts by revealing that the voice in Hoshi’s head that knows the future is none other than Dr. Strangelove, timeless avatar of contradiction and inscrutability.

It becomes apparent that Dr. Strangelove of Sonny Boy is this universe’s God, or at least one of them, and likely the God of whom Aki-sensei speaks and acts on behalf of. Heck, by manipulating Asakaze, she’s built something of an army on the island complete with barracks and barbed wire for the express purpose of tracking down Nagara and his co-conspirators before they bring about the end of the world. Shit got serious in a hurry.

Still, even in its creepiest or most reality-bending moments, Sonny Boy has never put the lives of its students in mortal danger. No one has died. The “penalties”, while essentially torture, did not result in permanent damage. There isn’t even a shortage of food or supplies, the usual problems with your students marooned on an island.

But then Mizuho encounters a big black dog named Yamada Kunihiko in the Costco where she’s grabbing lunch for Nagara and Rajdhani. Yamada was not only once a human, but a student at their school. Yet despite being three years younger than them, he’s been trapped in This World for five millennia. In that time he’s taken on the velvety lilt of Tsuda Kenjirou—who I’m a little surprised wasn’t chosen to voice God.

Yamada is certain it’s too late for him, but Nagara and the others still have a chance to get home. It’s not impossible; just improbable. That hope proves feasible when the gang stumbles upon a world full of film reels, including reels of the original world where they came from.

After fiddling around with the projectors and reels in this world, Nagara and Rajdhani figure out how to edit the reels and splice and layer them together to create a “director’s cut”. This is the latest and best hope of returning to the world: building it from the myriad parts at their disposal, along with Nagara’s ability.

They only have one, no, two…actually three problems: the three other factions. There’s Hoshi and the StuCo; Aki-sensei and Asakaze, and then Ace and his group of no-longer-it-people. Hoshi, who again has heard the future will be and that it doesn’t involve going home, has instead built an “ark” that will protect his faction from the coming “storm”.

Here’s when things get a little nutty, in the episode’s version of a “battle scene”, as Aki-sensei and Asakaze battle Nagara and Rajdhani’s adventurous director’s cut, all the while traveling aboard Hoshi’s cubic ark. The visuals become downright kooky as groups of people simultaneously stand around statically and fly through wildly undulating landscapes and psychedelic patterns.

By the time reality “settles” back into the world and the school they know, it soon becomes clear that it’s not actually their world; or at least not anymore. Time has gone on and their class is graduating, but there are changes, chief among them that Nozomi died. While other students observe their alternate future selves, no one can see or hear Nozomi, and she phases right through people. It’s a nightmare.

Dr. Strangelove eventually confronts Nagara (while standing, oddly enough), telling him he didn’t create any worlds, but only observed them, thereby opening a “box of possibilities.” The alternate world where Nozomi is dead exists because the Nozomi who lives is on the island, along with Nagara and Mizuho and everyone else. They have been sequestered, and judging from Yamada’s fate, that sequestration is meant to be permanent.

They are unneeded copies, not chosen to continue in the world they used to inhabit. This is just the luck of the draw, mind you; just like being born with natural talent or into money. They got the short end of the stick…or did they? The world they caught a glimpse of didn’t seem “all that great”, to borrow Nagara’s words when questioning Hoshi’s ability to read the future.

It’s certainly not a world Nozomi liked, considering she was dead, but it also might explain why she and no one else can see a light up in the sky; it’s the same light her other self must’ve already stepped into when she passed away.

While others may contemplate whether their lives are better or worse—Nozomi now knows that this life here is all she has. Then again, it’s all any of her classmates have too. They may have split into multiple facets, but they’re still on the same island, in the same boat, with identical status of not being chosen.

If that sounds like a huge bummer, I’m still not convinced it is, especially when I think of the friendships Nagara has forged and the exciting adventures exploring new realms with them. If there’s a set limit to how far they can travel before bouncing off the boundaries of the island, well…how is that any different than the bounds that, with vanishingly few exceptions, keep us fundamentally tethered to our world?

Sonny Boy – 05 – The Creator

If you thought Sonny Boy was going to pick up right where it left off with the Bond Girl-like arrival of a teacher (like ahem me) well…you haven’t been paying proper attention. Sonny Boy, you see, picks up where and when it feels like it: in this case, a 2D Pac-Man-like world that Nagara, Nozomi, Asakaze and Mizuho manipulate in order to “liberate” all of the digital mice.

Their “reward” for “conquering” (i.e. clearing) this world is a corded desktop mouse with the power to unravel things, from computer code to sweaters. Turns out each time a world is conquered, a new power is “unlocked”. Back at Rajdhani’s lab on the beach, he’s recording and cataloguing all of the team’s successes and failures, gradually narrowing down what can and can’t be done…slowly unraveling the big tangle that is their predicament.

The rest of the class probably would have tolerated this as long as they were kept fed and busy, but along came that Aki-sensei, who claims to have been sent by “God” and only seems to be their to stir up some shit. She immediately plays favorites with Asakaze, and encourages him to take up the mantle of the class’s savior. With him, she’s less Swiss Family Robinson and more Mrs. Robinson.

She also insists that no matter what they do, none of the students will ever be able to return home. She also assigns a scapegoat in Nagara, cultivating the idea that the only one of them with the power to teleport was trying to escape the world they came from, and happened to drag them all along with him. The StuCo brings Nagara before the class, but due to his social anxiety and ineloquence, his answers only make them more suspicious and angry, and even Hoshi can’t sway them to take it easy.

Happily, Nagara at least gets a small respite from all the finger-pointing when he joins Nozomi for some nighttime fishing. When she spots “guardian angels” in the otherwise inky black water, she dives in without hesitation, and pulls Nagara in with her. Under the water they soon become surrounded by a shimmering silver school of minnows, a wondrous and beautiful moment in an episode full of bleak cynicism. Nagara is glad he jumped in. He’s also glad he met Nozomi.

Things go south when Nagara is again confronted by the class, with Aki-sensei apparently trying to get everyone to turn against him as the one villain on whom they can pin all their blames. One student even shoves Nagara to the ground, causing him to run away once again. As she pulls Nagara down she builds Asakaze up, as he demonstrates he can cut through the world Nagara teleported them to and return to the island.

But that’s the first clue that Nagara’s power isn’t actually teleportation. He ends up escaping to a burned version of the island from before they set up a barter system that obeyed the world’s rules of fair exchange. Nozomi, Mizuho, and Rajdhani end up being able to travel to this burned island where they find Nagara. Mizuho in particular masks her genuine concern for him by being super prickly with him upon their reunion.

But the fact that the burned island wasn’t healed, but a second island created, seals one of the many theories Rajdhani’s simmering in his head: Nagara isn’t a teleporter…he’s a creator. Each and every one of the worlds they’ve visited was made from his power.

With Aki-sensei grooming Asakaze into Nagara’s nemesis, destroyer of those worlds, and savior of the class, all while painting Nagara as the devil, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before things boil over into something ugly.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Magia Record – 17 – Back Into the Lions Den

In a usual cour, there’d be time and space for a cooling off episode, but with only eight episodes to work with, this lean, mean second season of Magia Record has no time to waste. And you know what? That’s just fine with me!

Not only did the entire first season feel more like an introduction and explanation of this world and its expansive cast, but it just makes sense to the flow of the story that once Iroha got caught up on what’s going on, she’d make a beeline for Nemu and not spend half the episode tidying up Mikazuki Villa with Yachiyo and Kuroe.

It also totally tracks that Iroha is almost fanatically eager to do her part in this story. Last week’s dreamy rescue mission got the ball rolling, but this week is where Iroha reasserting herself as the protagonist of this story really picks up momentum. Yachiyo is certainly weary of Iroha jumping right back into the dangerous realm of Magius, while Kuroe is a follow-not-lead sort.

So it’s really quite exhilarating to see Iroha take the initiative, get her friends aligned and on board; she’s both the glue bringing everyone back together and the lodestar guiding everyone to what’s good and right while Kuroe guides them through the fanciful book-filled caverns below Hotel Faint Hope. Unfortunately, in order to get those two through the portal, Yachiyo had to stay behind to keep the Amane sisters at bay.

Fortunately, it’s not long that due either to fate or coincidence—hell, why not both?!—Iroha encounters the ena, who is on her way out after deciding to defect from Magius. She has a very weak and vulnerable Kaede in tow, whose Doppel looks ready to pop out and kill everyone.

Again, alacrity demands that this reunion eschews the usual pleasantries; after all, all four girls are in a hurry with good reason: Nemu says she’s dying, while Kaede looks close to death, or a fate worse than it. But with the portal Iroha and Kuroe used closed, the four decide to team up for now.

What I’m glad there is time for is to check in with the Puella O.G. (including yours truly), who appear to have arrived in Kamihama City judging from the Alina Gray posters and Magius recruitment flyers. Besides it always being great to see these girls, it’s even more gratifying to know that there’s an actual reason for their inclusion here.

They’ve essentially crossed the dimensional barrier to find their beloved Mami, whom we know to be in way too deep with Magius. I like how their fish-out-of-water status is accentuated by the fact their colors are so much more muted than those of “native” magical girls like Iroha & Co. I can’t wait for if and when Madoka and Iroha meet and join forces.

But while on the way to the main exit (Rena and Kaede) and Nemu (Iroha and Kuroe), Iroha follows Little Kyuubey to another inconvenient truth about Magius: they’re farming witches. Knowing full well how fuzzy the line between magical girl and doppel, and goppel and witch, Iroha demonstrates why she’s the beating moral heart of the show, as she declares her distaste for this whole enterprise and questions what could possibly justify it.

Mind you, Iroha is not infallible in her role, and in fact her strong sense of what is right and what just seems wrong clashes with the real-world realities and wholesale suffering not only of less fortunate magical girls who lacked both the strength to defeat Kamihama witches and the support network to make up for their weaknesses. Iroha’s no Yachiyo (no one is) but she’s no slouch in terms of power or friends. Her moral certitude comes from a place of privilege.

But its that certitude and that privilege that make Iroha so well suited to leading the charge. When the girls are attacked by some kind of Uwasa sentry, Kuroe ends up cornered and her soul gem blackened, and almost takes the easy way out by using her doppel for perhaps the last time.

But Iroha won’t let her; instead, she clears Kuroe’s gem, and then the two Connect and their combined power obliterates the sentry. Magius is an organization that is hoping magical girls like Kuroe give up. Iroha’s selflessness and refusal to sacrifice anyone is anathema to them, because it’s explicit proof that their way isn’t the only way.

A new crisis emerges right on the heels of the defeated sentry, as Kaede has hit her limit. Her doppel emerges and goes berserk, and in another positively virtuoso battle sequences, Iroha, Kuroe, and Rena fight together to tame their gentle friend—turned chaotic monster.

As is usually the case with anime like this, stills just don’t due the battle animation the slightest bit of justice. Suffice it to say that in terms of artistry, grace, eclecticism and pure uninhibited style, there are few series out there that can match Magia Record. The benefits of putting 12-13 episodes worth of budget into 8 are on full display here.

Another estranged member of Team Mikazuki Villa, Momoko, arrives with Mitama shortly after the other thee girls manage to neutralize Doppel!Kaede. Mitama seals Kaede a big glass sphere, then wheels it into a gallery absolutely filled with similar spheres: an isolation ward for troubled doppels.

The other girls are not okay with this situation any more than what Magius is doing with witches. But Mitama is unmoved by their outrage, reminding them with almost Kyuubey-esque haughtiness that she warned them not to overuse their doppels.

She also reports that Kaede the other afflicted girls likely won’t wake up—let alone return to normal—until Magius’ “plan has succeeded”—an objective Iroha, Yachiyo, and now Rena and probably Momoko are committed to thwarting.

Again, Iroha serves a focusing and uniting role, corralling and calming the hotter heads and offering a possible Other Way. Even after all that has happened since returning to Faint Hope, her mission is the same: meet with Nemu, find out what’s going on, and find a way to save her.

Iroha has already demonstrated what can be accomplished by bringing the “family” together in a single, clear effort. Why can’t it be so with this? After all, unlike Touka, Nemu remembers Iroha, and the bond they shared. He’s hoping Big Sis gets to meet with her soon.

 

Sonny Boy – 04 – Monkey League

While cliff-jumping into a pool of…voidness, Nagara is almost dashed on the rocks, but his latent power kicks in, transporting him and everyone else seemingly back home, if only for a moment. Everyone, especially Asakaze, is convinced that Nagara can get them home if he would just give a shit and try. The thing is, I’m not sure Nagara cares what world he’s in. He’s just not tied to the world he came from like some.

But enough about that; let’s play some baseball. Yep, after Nagara and Mizuho’s friendship was forged in last week’s buddy detective story, this week is a straight-up sports episode. Turns out there’s a baseball diamond on the island, which is used by a league of mysterious invisble monkeys who were taught the rules of baseball. Cap bends everyone’s ears off singing the praises of that noble league.

Nozomi and Mizuho, who settle into a nice rapport this week, are eager to see these monkeys, requiring a special flashlight only Ace, the pitching star, possesses. His girlfriend, however, doesn’t like Mizuho or Nozomi, so no dice. Ace decides to challenge the two girls and Nagara to a one-inning game. If they win, they get the flashlight. If he wins, well…he only whispers to Nagara whe he gets in return.

The ensuring three-batter game starts as you’d expect, with Mizuho wildly whiffing far too late to catch up to Ace’s fastballs, followed by a more capable but still outmatched Nozomi striking out. It’s all up to Nagara, who at no point throughout their rigorous practices had any confidence whatsoever he’d ever be able to hit one of Ace’s pitches.

Even so, the story of the Monkey League umpire who ruined an immaculate game for the pitcher, his team, and all of the amassed spectators resonates as Nagara prepares for the third pitch. That monkey umpire did not bend to the will of the people, but held fast tot he rules of the game as they stood.

His call was correct and just, but it didn’t matter; he was killed by the mob. Nagara ends up using his warp in the middle of his at bat and adopting a more assured stance, but still swings and misses for strike three.

That means Nagara has to do what Ace asked of him: use his power to warp him and everyone else home without delay. Ace, you see, wishes more than anything to return to the place where he’s “properly appreciated.” But since Nagara doesn’t share that wish, he’s unable to warp them back home. Indeed, he confirms he has little to no control over where he warps.

Just when Nagara was being primned to be the savior of the class, he lets most everyone down when they all return to the beach, having gotten all their hopes up and then dashed them. But just when they return, they spot a woman coming out of the surf: one of their teachers, Aki-sensei, who declares that the “fun and games” are over.

This was an episode that really got lost in its invented Monkey League lore and quick-and-dirty underdog sports story, but also managed to develop Nagara’s ability while giving us some fun Mizuho-Nozomi camaraderie. Still, Cap’s elaborate stories did go on a bit long, and if they referenced real-world Japanese baseball history, it went entirely over my head.

Sonny Boy – 03 – The Detective Is Already Snarky

Nozomi, Nagara, and Asakaze have turned out to be a pretty good survey team, with Nozomi locating new worlds with her Compass, Nagara being able to access them, and Asakaze bailing them out with his powers of flight.

When we check in they’ve already found thirteen new worlds, and Rajdhani is soaking up the data like a sponge at his beachfront laboratory. Their survey work is interrupted by an unsettling trend of students starting to freeze in place and turn pitch black, like voids in human form.

Since she’s the one with the most time on her hands owing to the immense wealth her power provides, Mizuho is put on the case, and she chooses Nagara as her Watson, partly to share what sounds like a hassle of a case, but also because Nagara…was nice to her previously, and she enjoys his company.

That said, she still initially treats him as a rank servant, making it clear that this isn’t a collaboration of equals. That said, she still orders a gaudy couch big enough for both of them, and even gets Nagara the same fast food order she got. When it comes to sharing the wealth, she’s fine sharing it with Nagara.

The uniting quality of the two students (who later become three, then four) who fell victim to the freezing phenomenon is that they kept to themselves, hardly anyone noticed them when they were around, and no one noticed when they suddenly vanished.

While Nagara is busy with Mizuho, Nozomi and Asakaze fail to find any new worlds. Despite this, Asakaze drops in specifically to tell Nagara that he’s not needed and that Nozomi doesn’t care if he doesn’t come back. Nagara brushes this off, and that ineffectual passivity irks Mizuko.

Eventually, Mizuho and Nagara break the case wide open when, no doubt due to Nagara’s unspoken power even he may not even be aware he has, they discover a portal to the space where the four students ended up.

They walk through a honeycomb of blackout curtain walls separating the four spaces of the students, all of whom are content to stay right where they are and keep doing what they’re doing indefinitely. It becomes evident that while they may be content, this wasn’t originally their doing, but another rule of the world, separating those no one else wants around or cares about.

After Nagara and Mizuho’s nightly debriefing with Cap and Pony, a minor disagreement causes simmering underlying resentment to boil over for both of them. Mizuho points how how watching Nozomi follow him around like a puppy grosses her out; Nagara accuses Mizuho of lying to show off and being “ill-natured” because she’s just another recluse; Mizuho tells Nagara to die and storms off.

It’s a testament to how much these two have come to know each other that they each know the precise buttons to press to sting hardest.

But because the two really do care what the other thinks of them despite words to the contrary, both of them feel bad about the spat. Fortunately, back at Rajdhani’s lab, Nozomi offers a clue Nagara hadn’t considered, and he texts an apology to Mizuho, along with a promise to be waiting by the blackout curtains tomorrow.

Armed with Rajdhani’s bizarre, whimsical instruments, the two get down to business lifting the blackout curtains and freeing the students. This is Sonny Boy at its most Eizouken, particularly with the fantastical machinery and Yuuki Aoi lending Mizuho such a wonderfully husky, distinctive voice.

With the case solved and the afflicted students retrieved, Nagara and Mizuho make up with a handshake; what was said when heads were less cool and frustration was mounting is water under the bridge.

As much if not more than their surreal surroundings, what I enjoyed most about this episode was just reveling in this nascent friendship between two people who don’t normally do so well around others doing just fine around one another. I daresay I wouldn’t even mind a whole cour of these two solving cases together.

On the periphery were some interesting inroads into the larget questions about this place, with Hoshi admitting a voice told him this would all happen, and Nozomi being the first to suggest that while she can spot new worlds, Nagara alone has the power to create portals between them.

Magia Record – 16 – Will the Real Iroha Please Wake Up?

Shortly after entering the Eternal Sakura, Yachiyo finds herself being woken up in her bed in Mikazuki Villa by Felicia, Sana, and Tsuruno. As soon as they mention Iroha, Yachiyo rushes to her room and finds her sleeping there. But something, of course, is off: for a split-second, Iroha’s face turns into that of her Doppel.

Yachiyo and Kuroe have been absorbed by Iroha’s Doppel, who is holding Iroha hostage after a fashion by keeping her happy and at piece in an ideal fantasy version of her life. In this fantasy, Iroha’s Mikazuki friends all know Kuroe even though they’ve never met IRL. As for “Iroha” herself, she’s clearly under the spell of her Doppel.

When Yachiyo mentions Ui, she and Kuroe are transported first to a train, and then to Ui’s hospital, where Kuroe learns Iroha’s sister shared a room with Nemu and Touka, and where Kuroe tells Yachiyo that Nemu created all the Rumors in Kamihama City. But when Ui is finally presented, she’s not human, but a stuffed animal. Yachiyo determines that this fantasy is neither Nemu’s nor a Rumor’s doing.

Yachiyo goes through an Alice in Wonderland-style tiny door to another part of the dream, ordering Kuroe to stay behind where it’s “safe,” but is really not willing to accept help from a member of Magius. Kuroe learns when Yachiyo isn’t around, Iroha’s Doppel creates one, and sees the appeal of such a peaceful, pleasant dream, which matches the gentle, cheerful nature of the Iroha she knows.

Meanwhile, in a lush flower-strewn meadow, Yachiyo locates the Ui stuffed animal, by far the most suspicious thing in the dream. When another Iroha arrives, it’s clear the Doppel, and not Iroha, is talking to Yachiyo, warning her not to ruin the perfect dream world she created. Meanwhile, Iroha’s Soul Gem continues to darken.

When Kuroe breaks the reality of the dream by asking Iroha why Ui is a stuffed animal, Iroha transforms into a Doppel and restrains Kuroe. The Doppel explains that when Iroha fell to the bottom of a Uwasa, she was filled with fear for her sister as well as despair over knowing the truth of the magical girls, so the Doppel overwrote her nightmares with new and happier dreams.

Yachiyo rescues Kuroe, but despite urging her to stay out of the fight, Kuroe transforms and the two connect their powers to bring the Doppel down. Yachiyo doesn’t care how much work went into this fantasy world; she’s taking Iroha back so they can take back her real sister, the real Mikazuki Villa, and their real friendship.

She and Kuroe succeed in suppressing the Doppel and freeing the real Iroha, who falls to the soft grass at the base of the Eternal Sakura where an elated Yachiyo is waiting for her. The two embrace, join hands, and celebrate their reunion. Iroha mentions that she promised she wouldn’t die, and she didn’t…she just needed to be rescued from a dream prison created by her Doppel to protect her from anger, fear, and sorrow.

Magia Record’s second season’s third episode is by far the most straightforward, as Yachiyo and Kuroe are basically on a simple rescue mission. There’s a wonderful dreamlike atmosphere distinct from either the “real life” of the show or the more textured witch realms, and it’s a clever way to check in with the other members of the villa, even if they were only dream versions.

With Iroha back, could she and Yachiyo help bring the others back from Magius? Will Kuroe’s loyalties to Magius conflict with her friendship with Iroha and now Yachiyo, whom she fought beside to save their mutual friend? And what’s up with that post-credits appearance of Madoka? For now, I’ll do as Yachiyo does and simply revel in the unbridled joy of having the real Iroha back.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Sonny Boy – 02 – Kindle Blue Fire

While technically a beach episode, there’s not a ball or a bikini to be found. There are crabs—you gotta love crab—as well as a makeshift open-air classroom with rows of desks and a chalkboard, but otherwise the sand is just another flat surface for Nagara to lie on and wile away the hours.

When Nozomi catches a crab, it cuts her hand up pretty badly with its claw, but she soon heals; just another one of the rules of this “This World”, as the egghead Rajdhani calls it while explaining the situation.

While most of the class is in tents on the beach, Mizuho has, presumably through the three cat Amazon power called Nyamazaon, built a Disney princess castle full of stuff, but otherwise isn’t that different from Nagara in her fondness for straight chillin’.

Another girl steals makeup from Mizuho’s vast collection of things with impunity, but that and other items acquired from Nyamazon start to burst into blue flames, rumors spread that Mizuho is doing it intentionally.

Mizuho doesn’t help matters by stirring the shit on social media that the recent election was rigged in Michi’s (AKA Pony’s) favor—which is the truth; the extremely Kyuubey-like Hoshi helped rig it. Pony and Hoshi learn Mizuho is behind it and try to exact an apology, but Mizuho is stubbornly refuses.

When they confront her at the front gate, Hoshi uses his power of showing everyone potential futures to depict the entire island covered in blue flame; everything destroyed. On top of it all, Mizuho is exhausted and filthy from looking for one of her cats, who has gone missing.

While the rumor may have well gotten started since Mizuho is a natural target for envy and resentment among the other students due to her extremely cool power, Nagara still blames himself for blabbing about Mizuho knowing something about the flames, which got twisted into “Mizuho is responsible for the flames.”

But thanks to Rajdhani’s research and a retro Game Boy, it is determined that the blue flames appear every time someone receives something without a fair exchange. Among the things that burned-up, only Raj’s Game Boy was exchanged for some toys he made with his power, and only it escaped those flames. Therefore, it isn’t Mizuho’s doing, but the Rules of the World.

Among the students, most of whom end up in the “Punish Mizuho” camp/mob, only Nagara and Nozomi want to help her. They both know she’s not doing this, but also know that she hasn’t explicitly defended herself, which isn’t doing her any favors. Nagara also finds the missing cat, and unlike two previous instances of letting birds die, this time he takes care of the animal like the non-heartless person he is.

The two decides to go to her—nay, run to her, just as she’s literally making it rain fat stacks of cash, which soon burn up and set fire to the whole island. Mizuho, overcome with relief her kitty is safe, admits that she should have simply stated her innocence from the beginning. It’s an all-around wonderful performance by Mizuho’s seiyu Yuuki Aoi—which comes as no surprise as she’s one of the best in the business.

Nagara, Nozomi, and Mizuho oversee the ruined island—the realization of Hoshi’s vision—and concede the fact that they can’t live there any more. But then something happens: as the sun rises over the ocean, the island essentially resets itself to before everything burned up.

It’s as if the island, which set the rule of fair exchange, is forgiving all of the students for their stumblings as they learn of those rules and correct their misunderstandings. Mizuho comes down from her castle and apologizes, but only for making it rain flammable money…not the stuff she was accused of doing but didn’t really do.

Mizuho also stops by the beach where Nagara is lying to give him a token of her appreciation for finding her cat: a hat to keep his face out of the sun. When he asks if he needs to give her anything in return for it, she says with a gentle smile that it’s “her treat” before walking away.

This episode was significantly less weird and frightening than the first, but that tends to happen when you take the inscrutable black void out of the equation. What it was was another relatively straightforward exploration of how the court of public opinion can be wrong—in school or life—and it’s up to those who know it’s wrong to speak up. Nagara grew as a person in this episode, as did Mizuho, and they each gained a friend in the process.

Credit also goes to Rajdhani for not giving up on trying to make sense of the place, thus confirming the injustice being done to Mizuho, as well as Nozomi, for lending Nagara the encouragement to correct the injustice. Just as she’s the “Compass” who can see the ways out of these other worlds, she’s also a moral compass; a check against both rampant authority and rampant apathy.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Sonny Boy – 01 (First Impressions) – Rules are Rules

Welcome to RABUJOI’s belated reviews of Sonny Boy! I will try to catch up before the end of the cour, but no promises—Braverade

More than anything else, this episode is full of uncertainty. Why is this school suddenly in a black void? Why do only some students have superpowers? Who did this, if anyone? What exactly is happening, and how is it happening? Will it stop, and when? Nothing is certain…hey, kinda like the times we live in. But enough about reality, let’s step into the land of surreality.

The void is intentionally creepy, both in its impenetrable darkness and its haunting stillness. I’ve always been drawn to voids in fiction, because they typically have a way of simplifying the universe down to…the contents within the void that are not the void.

While one egg-headed student is asking these questions, everyone else is going full Lord of the Flies (or at least that’s the vibe I’m getting; I only skimmed the book but I watched the Simpsons episode that references it). The approaches to coping with their new abnormal are as diverse as the personalities of the 36 students.

The three-person StuCo doesn’t have time to ponder the big questions; they were the authorities before the void, and if they don’t claim some degree of power and control everything will soon devolve into pure chaos. The little guy Hoshi may already have some answers, but he’s also shrewd enough to capitalize on the asset that is the class’s popular, if oafish, baseball star in Cap.

It isn’t long before the order that is established (through social media, natch) is challenged by some of the power-havers, who are already well on their way to drunk on that power, like Asakaze. He’s not about that with great power axiom; for him, if he has a power, he should be able to use it to his heart’s content.

If he’s drunk on his trippy glass-shattering power, Cap delivers the hangover in the form of a PENALTY, which asserts itself as a frighteningly sudden big black X on the faces of those who receive them. They are then forced to do something—in his case, long division of pi all night.

Hovering around the periphery of all this political push-and-pull are two outcasts in Nagara and Nozomi. Nagara would rather stay out of sight and out of mind; Nozomi would rather do what she wants when she wants to. She doesn’t have the power of the others but they share a distaste of authority.

When she politely declines the smartphone Cap offers her, then takes it and smashes it on the gym floor, she’s not immune to the PENALTY: a hundred laps around the school that leave her flat on her back on the homeroom floor—Nagara’s usual position as he apparently yearns to be one with said floor.

After a very unsettling shot of the school apparently very slowly sinking into the inky void, we get a flashback of sorts to just before the school went into the void.  Nagara finds Nozomi tearing up some workbook she got from the faculty office, and invites him to join her. Not eager to do anything with anyone, he turns to leave, saying he has stuff to do.

But he’s pressed by Nozomi about whether he actually wants to go somewhere and do something else other than where he is and what he’s doing. All the while, storm clouds obscure the blue skies. When Nozomi puts her hands on Nagara as he’s trying to leave, a lightning bolt flashes and just like that, the school is in the void.

Whether Nagara caused this on accident or not (and whether Nozomi was the catalyst for him doing it, making them partners in crime, like Flowers of Evil), it’s certainly not something in his control, nor was it ever. The StuCo is suddenly ambushed by power-havers who twist the school into either an Escherian nightmare…or a Katamari.

They declare that they’re in charge now, but Hoshi is unimpressed. Cap PENALTYs Asakaze’s two associates, but as he hasn’t broken one of the agreed-upon school rules, the PENALTY “power” doesn’t work on him.

Still, Cap uses brute force by hitting Asakaze with a baseball bat. Since that breaks the rules, it’s Hoshi who PENALTYs Cap into stripping naked and hopping around. Hoshi then drops another hint that he knows a lot more than everyone else, including the egghead (who is probably not on the right track trying to apply things like physics to this predicament).

When Asakaze won’t stand down, Hoshi demonstrates his apparent power: showing everyone a future where no one ever escapes the school and eventually become desiccated corpses seated beside each other. It’s the most overtly spooky and unnerving sequence in an episode full of weird shit.

Once again on their own wavelength, Nozomi takes Nagara by the hand, avoids all of the StuCo versus Supes drama, and seeks out that bright spot in the void she saw before. It turns out to be the same white feather she plucked from Nagara’s face in the episode’s opening moments.

She then decides to put her life in the hands of fate by performing an experiment to see what happens when you leap from the physical school into that endless black nightmare. In a show with 36 characters, I wasn’t 100% sure this wasn’t the end for Nozomi just as soon as we met her.

Instead, Nagara grabs her arm just in time. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter, as the rusty railing breaks, sending them plummeting down the void until, suddenly, it’s not a void anymore. Their bodies and the piece of railing must’ve “popped” the void, revealing that the school is sinking into an unknown ocean, just off the coast of an unknown island with both lush green jungle and a slim, jagged alpine mountain peak, like the Matterhorn stretched vertically.

It’s probably simplistic to say this episode was a trip, but it was a welcome and thrilling one. Even at its most quiet and mundane, primal dread emanated from every nook and cranny. Nagara is somewhat of a nullity so far, but Nozomi, the StuCo, and the bristling supes are all fun to watch. I’m eagerly awaiting the next episode; whether it delivers answers or more questions, I know it’ll be another weird trip presented with a strikingly austere beauty.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Magia Record – 15 – Sakura Forever

Sorry to go right into a metaphor, but Magia Record reminds me of a traditional American fruitcake. Incredibly dense and rich, and beautiful with its golden brown color and speckled with red and green fruits like gems.

Like most Shaft works, Magia Record delves into extremely complex narratives but does so while serving up a sumptuously baroque visual and aural banquet. But as episode two marks a return to the “standard” world and vast ensemble of the Madoka spinoff, the bottom line is pretty simple: Nanami Yachiyo is too strong to escape her despair.

In the original wish that made her a magical girl, to survive, all of the members of her idol unit were sacrificed. Like countless other magical girls, she was duped by Kyuubey, never reading the fine print because she never asked to see it and Kyoobs didn’t bother to disclose it.

Yachiyo really is a great magical girl. She’s clearly one of the strongest ever. But that is the underlying tragedy of her existence: her strength thus far has only allowed her to survive, to endure, like Arwen in Elrond’s story about how she would linger long after Aragorn died; utterly alone. What good is surviving if you’re always the only one left?

Yachiyo didn’t wish for anything every other magical girl wished for to become what they now are. The difference is, a good number of them ended up becoming witches, or out of fear of becoming one, joined the monolithic, cultish Wings of Magius. Yachiyo didn’t wish for anything more or less than they did, but she’s so goddamn strong she’s been able to weather them…despite not really wanting too?

She believes her latest victim to be Iroha, but a part of her still clings to that friendship and to Iroha’s promise that she’d be the exception to the rule: she’d survive beside Yachiyo; she’d prove that being Yachiyo’s friend isn’t a death sentence. Yachiyo is not above blaming herself, but there’s plenty of blame to go around, and a good portion of it belongs to Magius, whom she’ll never forgive for their role in the sacrifice of Iroha.

Meanwhile, Satomi Touka has Big Plans for Magius, and isn’t about to allow Yachiyo’s destruction of rumor after rumor delay those plans. The bedridden Hiiragi Nemu, who creates all the Rumors, assigns Magius rank-and-file Kuroe (from the very first episode of Record) to find one of them, called The Eternal Sakura. It isn’t long before Kuroe encounters a Little Kyuubey…as she was clearly meant to.

Meanwhile, Yachiyo waits in the dark for the Coordinator Yakumo Mitama at her awesome elaborate office, and after receiving a mini-lecture about the nature of Doppel Witches (as much for our benefit as hers) demands that Mitama tell her where Magius HQ is so she can go wreck up the place.

Mitama insists her neutrality precludes her from disclosing that information, but in any case the entrance to Hotel Faint Hope is ever-changing and only accessible if escorted by a Magius member…which she isn’t.

Turns out Little Kyuubey leads Kuroe right to Yachiyo, just when Yachiyo is looking for a member of Magius and in a particularly sour mood. Kuroe doesn’t help her case by running from her, and when Yachiyo catches up and corners her, it looks very much like Yachiyo’s going to do whatever is necessary to gain access to Magius HQ.

That’s when Kuroe is rescued by Mifuyu, who tries to deescalate matters but only makes things worse with her defense of an organization Yachiyo has already decided to be unforgivable. Mifuyu says Iroha’s death was an accident, but Yachiyo isn’t ready to accept Iroha even is dead, even as she’s harboring a vendetta towards the group she believes had a hand in killing her. In short, Yachiyo isn’t thinking straight.

When Yachiyo and Mifuyu fight, it demonstrates just how overwhelming Yachiyo’s power is, and why Mifuyu and so many other magical girls like her sought safety and salvation in Magius, formed of, by, and for weak girls who may well have otherwise died or become witches. Yachiyo can’t empathize with them because she has no idea what it is to be weak.

Another case in point: rather than give into her anger, frustration, and despair, Yachiyo is able to suppress her own ridiculously powerful Doppel Witch mode and stop herself from killing Mifuyu in that fit of rage. Just as very few magical girls would even be able to summon such power, not letting oneself get completely consumed by that power makes Yachiyo rarer still.

Mifuyu lauds Yachiyo for that strength, but there’s also pity in her voice, because she knows her old friend will never understand what the girls of Magius are trying to do. Since there can be no understanding, she withdraws. Kuroe is in the teleportation bubble with her until Little Kyuubey runs off and Kuroe steps out of it, leaving her alone with Yachiyo again.

The chase continues as if Mifuyu had never intervened, but this time Kuroe follows Little Kyuubey into an Uwasa Barrier. Yachiyo follows her in, and within that psychedelic realm lies the very Rumor Nemu instructed Kuroe to find: The Eternal Sakura, Laputa-esque great tree that will bloom only when the three girls (herself, Ui, and Touka) leave the hospital and reunite with the “older girl” who’d visit them, and the cherry blossoms that bloom shall never fall from the branches.

Naturally, that older girl is Iroha, and Yachiyo and Kuroe find her there in some kind of doppelly-witchey form. Now that she’s finally found Iroha in some form, can Yachiyo summon that lingering faint hope that Iroha was telling the truth, that she can and will survive beside her, and not leave her alone like everyone else?

I have no idea, because this show is all over the place! But it’s still impressively compelling, and achingly stylish and beautiful to boot. Did I mention…I freaking love fruitcake!

Rating: 4/5 Stars