Sousei no Onmyouji – 02

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Oji-san has passed SnO to me (he was not a fan), but I’m a little more amenable its jaunty juxtaposition (or sometimes, smashing-together) of super-serious and super-goofy tones. But hey, it’s hump day; I don’t need to be transfixed by high art or anything (that’s Sunday!)

I find SnO competent enough in what it’s trying to do, which is capitalize on the success of similar ‘dark-and-funny’ shows like BleachBlue Exorcist, and Akane ga Kill! to entertain without too much thinking. It is not as good as any of those, but I found myself charmed enough to sit through the entire episode.

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There’s a kind of cheekiness to watching Benio— her pride hurt by someone who has all the ability but none of the interest in being an exorcist that she has—shuffle off after exchanging names…then ending up at Rokuro’s house, where she’s to begin living. It reminds me of Rukia helping herself to Ichigo’s closet…she even has a fiery familiar who could well be a friend of Kon’s.

Rokuro didn’t steal all of Benio’s power the way Ichigo accidentally did to Rukia, but like Rukia she’s a rich, privileged, mildly arrogant kid whose kegare-killing parade was rudely rained on. Seeking redemption (and some restored confidence) she goes with Rokuro’s roommates to Magano, but is disappointed to find a far weaker foe than Rokuro took out.

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Naturally, since they’re now living together, Rokuro walks in on Benio, but she’s all covered up with a towel, not nude, and she responds not by screaming, but by arming herself and going after Rokuro, whom she’s already established is tough enough to endure such behavior.

Rokuro ends up plowing into a dude in his underwear who turns out to be Head Exorcist Tsuchimikado Arima. Believe it or not, I’m not done referring to Rukia yet, because just like her Arima uses crude but expressive crayon drawings to explain things, like why he’s inj his underwear (prior to arriving he was caught in flagrante delicto with a yakuza’s girl, and had to split sans threads)

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But while his manner of arrival is silly, the message he bears via oracle is not, and he summons both Benio and Rokuro (along with their grizzled guardians) to the subterranean Five Mirror Chamber. There, he presents the two as dual candidates for the Miko, the savior of exorcists over the Kegare. Then he makes them duel.

Rokuro wants no part of this, but Arima eggs him on by spuring his dead friends (the once who caused him to cast off exorcising in the first place) and he joins a fierce battle with Benio. Seriously, the best part of this show is its stylish, quick, and punchy combat, as demonstrated here. A steady helping in each episode will go a long way to mitigating the well-worn character traits and plot elements.

What’s also interesting: Arima never intended for one “candidate” to kill the other, making the survivor Miko. No, he intends to marry Benio and Rokuro together, and the child they produce will be the Miko. I didn’t expect they’d be anything other than grudging allies who gradually form a bond. This raises the stakes and makes things a little more interesting, if a bit neat and tidy.

In spite of an already heavy workload which includes another superior show I’m far more invested in, Ushio to Tora, I shall tune in at least one more week, then attempt to peel myself away.

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Sousei no Onmyouji – 01 (First Impressions)

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Within its first two minutes, SnO leaps from a wounded boy apologizing to a burning pile of children-corpses, to a young girl taking a bath while a Ranma 1/2 style ‘micro old woman’ talks to her about foreboding exorcist politics, to an over the top confession/rejection scene on a school playground, which ends with Rokuro running head-first into boobs.

SnO is the definition of jarring, awkwardly composed, tone deaf anime.

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Even the character name text boxes are over active—they literally pulse into life, zoom the camera, wiggle, and morph out. It’s an interesting play on the convention of having characters named graphically and avoids expositional dialog but it feels out of place during the setup scenes.

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What’s the gist? Rokuro was a super prodigy exorcist but he lost a lot of friends in a monster fight gone wrong and now he refuses to be an exorcist. Benio has been the best of the best in her small world outside Tokyo, where she’s been summoned for some meeting.

Several monster fights ensure, first at a train, then when kids are stolen by the river. Benio is super good but not good enough to beat the final boss, which Rokuro obviously beats with one punch, a bunch of angst, and roll credits.

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The fighting is stylish and character designs are okay, if not slightly over designed and slightly generic. The way the monsters laugh and occasionally eat each other is pretty rocking too.

But SnO’s real hindrance is Rokuro & Benio: his obnoxious, girl crazy, ‘tragically wounded’ archetype isn’t likable and her stoic yet selfish, self-indulgent superiority complex isn’t likable either.

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In short, SnO is paint-by-numbers anime. It’s well-built visually, it keeps the T&A relatively tame, and its easy to follow. But you’ve seen the show before and can predict almost every line of dialog as it comes—you could even snap your fingers on cue for the boss to arrive or Benio to bump into Rokuro for the first time or for Rokuro to win the day and say his pithy ending line.

If that’s good enough, that’s all it has to offer.

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Kamisama Hajimemashita 2 – 04

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Nanami is given a warm welcome in the Netherworld (and a tray of food she can’t eat if she wants to leave), but her host Lady Izunami makes it clear as crystal that she’s not taking the human back with her; he’s already dead. Nanami’s response: thems may be the rules, but she won’t accept them. She’s going to do everything she can to get out of here with Kirihito. To that end, she eats the food, making her an official resident with free roam.

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It’s yet another selfless act by the benevolent Nanami, but the fact remains she knows not who (or what) it is she’s sticking her neck out to save. That’s what makes Nanami such a promising god: she doesn’t care who or what he is; she’s going to save him, and that’s that.

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As she searches for him, Kirihito finds himself back in a darkness similar to the kind he found himself in for centuries after the gods cast him into it, after he had probably made such a nuisance of himself that he gave them no choice (what with all the murdering). We learn how he got his human body: the real Kirihito offered it to him in exchange for delivering a message to his mother.

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In spite of himself (he only agrees on a whim), Akura-oh is so floored by being back in the living world of light and warmth, he holds up his end of the bargain, apologizing on Kirihito’s behalf. Not surprisingly, Kirihito’s mom, who has no reason to suspect the boy in the hospital bed is anything other than her son, doesn’t give it a second thought. All that matters to her is that he’s okay.

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Unfortunately, Kirihito’s ‘goodness’ doesn’t end up rubbing off on Akura-oh, who spends his time working tirelessly at the very limits of what a human is capable of doing to get his old form back, including gaining shikigami. But now he’s back in the darkness, right on the edge of panic…when Nanami suddenly opens the door to the cell where he’s being held.

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Turns out Nanami is on a confidence streak, and her talismans are proving useful not only in finding Kirihito, but the Netherworld’s exit as well, which is good, because Izunami sends her cat familiar after them. Unfortunately, the War God has sealed that exit. Fortunately, Tomoe has learned that Nanami is lost in the netherworld, and has come to rescue her.

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And rescue her he does, but not before Kotetsu hits him with the shrine’s lucky mallet, turning him back into a yokai so he can overpower the war god (which he’d have never been able to do had he remained a familiar). On the one side, I’m a little bummed, Nanami couldn’t save herself here, but on the other, she did put her life on the line to save Kirihito—more than once. She did good. Along with Kirihito waking up in the hospital (a recurring scene this Winter), Nanami and Tomoe’s reunion is a heart-lifting moment.

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That leaves Kirihito, whom Nanami hadn’t really thought much of beyond being a human in need of her help, but whom Tomoe immediately knows is not a human, but something else in a dead human’s body. Kirihito realizes pretty early his old fox friend Tomoe is Nanami’s familiar, and even gets to lay eyes on him before passing out. I wonder how long he’ll keep his true identity from Tomoe, who is now a yokai again.

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Kamisama Hajimemashita 2 – 03

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Nanami arrives at the Divine Assembly and actually stands her ground against the War God, who then threatens to kill her, until the host, bishonen Lord Okuninushi, intervenes, and sets Nanami on her next adventure immediately.

That’s right, just when we thought we were going to get into the nitty-gritty of divine politics (or at least partying), Nanami is sent off on a mission no other god has the nose for. Nanami seems to get that Okuninushi is almost looking down on her by offering this job, but she accepts it anyway, in exchange for his assistance in locating Mikage. I guess she’s learning the politics after all!

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The job involves clearing out the yokai who take advantage of the mass god absence to stir up trouble around Yomotsu Hirasaka, the entrance to the Netherworld. Kirihito (the wan lad Nanami met in the park) happens to be there, strong-arming some lesser yokai small fry into doing his bidding, when he’s shoved into the entrance, which is bad, since humans start to decay as soon as they near the gate, let along pass through it.

Nanami, believing him a victim of the yokai, plunges in and saves him, reasonably confident that she’ll survive since she’s a human god…but really having no idea what will happen. But that’s Nanami: quick to risk her life for a stranger.

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Meanwhile, Tomoe is utterly depresed and lonely with Nanami gone, and decides to drown his sorrows in sake at the local tanuki brothel. That’s right, I said tanuki brothel. Where else would a fox go to get into a little straaange?

Just one casual rumor by one of the girls sets a Dark Tomoe backstory into motion, as their madam once apprenticed at another brothel where Tomoe and his traveling companion Akura-oh once paid a visit.

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Akura-oh arrived first…and then slaughtered everyone there. The madam, only a child, managed to escape outside, where Tomoe found her and deigned to let her go. It was an act of kindness she never forgot…even though it was six centuries ago.

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To repay him for that kindness, the girl (named Mizutama) who would become the madam often kept Tomoe company, including the two decades between Mikage leaving and Nanami appearing. What Mizutama is, then, is the woman where Tomoe sought comfort and companionship in between masters.

It’s sudden trips off the main road like this that really add a vibrancy and warmth to this world, warmth Tomoe also found with Mikage, Mizutama, and now Nanami.

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The fact that a Nanami recalls him to the shrine in a dream turns out to be merely Kotetsu in Nanami cosplay, and the school P.A. announcement-like (complete with chime!) letter from Nanami tug Tomoe roughly back into the here and now.

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Back in the Netherworld, it takes a full sixty seconds before Nanami’s about to eat a dumpling offered by yokai that would keep her from ever leaving. Fortunately for her Kirihito knows the ways of this place…though she can’t fathom how, considering he’s a human who shouldn’t even be alive here.

The shots above show the pure variety of ways Nanami is drawn depending on the situation. I must say I’ve really missed her expressiveness and spunk.

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Of course, I’ve also kinda figured out that Kirihito is really Akura-oh in a human body. I don’t think it was meant to be hard to figure out, as among other similarities, both are voiced by Suwabe Junichi. But while I know Nanami can take care of herself in a pinch, I would still feel much better when she’s out of that creepy Netherworld and no longer along with this sketchy guy!

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Kamisama Hajimemashita 2 – 02

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Preparations for and the start of Nanami’s trip to Izumo for the Divine Assembly provide plenty of fodder for comedy and intrigue alike, kicking me back into that “Oh yeah, that’s why I liked this show so much!” gear that I wasn’t in last week.

Like Tomoe pretending it’s a chore to help Nanami with her necklace, yet jealously defending the duty when Mamoru takes human form (“grade school size” as Nanami cheerfully puts it) and offers to do it for her. Or Tomoe and Mizuki bickering to the point Nanami gets smacked in the head with some random wooden box.

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She leaves the two to play a game of shogi (a game neither has ever played) to determine who will accompany her to Izumo as she runs errands with Mamoru. She’s jumped by a host of former gods who warn her not to go, but she stands her ground. When a human male in the park gets injured, she uses Mamoru to dispatch the baddies, but the dude is more annoyed at her than anything else, then tries to steal a kiss, forcing Nanami into swift retreat.

That dude turns out to be more than just a random guy, but a god in human form who is scheming to leave it so he can once again rule the world (or something). Someone to watch out for later, to be sure.

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That dude turns out to be more than just a random guy, but a god in human form who is scheming to leave it so he can once again rule the world (or something). Back home, Tomoe beats Mizuki, but Nanami picks Mizuki to go with her anyway, fearful that if the other gods pick on him or her, things could turn ugly.

Tomoe must pose as Nanami while she’s gone, and while her classmates are fooled he’s her, they feel his nasty aura, one of the details I forgot from last season, but now that my memory has been jogged, I remember how much I liked that fact. Body-swaps done right, are the best.

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Of course, we don’t see much of that at all, because the focus here is Nanami. Mizuki promptly drops her on the way to the Grand Shrine, and she wakes up without Mamoru or her bag in front of a huge procession of gods.

The only one who even speaks directly to her is the war god, but when she can’t impress him, he zooms off with the others, warning her not to speak to him, or anyone else. It’s hardly a warm welcome for lil’ Nanami, but to her credit she sounds super-serious when explaining her gift for white talismans.

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With Mizuki stuck at the gate with a by-the-book guardsrabbit, Nanami is alone, and soon gets lost in the strange space between the world of the living and the divine. Even her guiding flame goes out, she seems on the edge of panic, but a glowing butterfly god leads her the right way.

That’s not all he does: Nanami was unable to give the war god a straight answer about her special skill, but the butterfly guy knows what it is: among all the myriad gods, she’s the only one who can see and feel with the eyes and heart of a human. That makes her just as special and valuable as all of them, and it’s something she should carry with pride.

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Buoyed by those kinds words of the nameless butterfly, Nanami enters the assembly hall with her head held high and with big, pretty brown eyes unclouded. Her reception is cool, save the assembly’s host, who “chooses” her on the spot. Nanami wondered what kind of god lived in such a grand shrine; it’s looking like he’s some kind of casanova.

While last week was pleasant and charming enough, it didn’t really enchant me; this episode remedied that by stripping Nanami of her protection and plunging her deeper than ever into the surreal realm of the divine, while reinforcing her worth and right to stand among them. Intolerant gods underestimate this high school girl at their peril!

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Kamisama Hajimemashita 2 – 01 (First Impressions)

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It’s been two years and eight seasons since I last glanced at KamiHaji, so I for one was glad for the quick refresher at the beginning. In fact, much of the rest of the episode that followed felt a bit like the show knew we needed to be eased back into things, and so revisited a common pattern from the first season.

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Tomoe is overprotective; Nanami rebels, gets in over her head, and has to be rescued a couple of times; and then she finds a new wellspring of power (a baby monkey shikigami she names Mamoru) and rescues both Tomoe and the day. Sure, it’s not the most original formula, but it’s one this show has executed entertainingly, to the tune of an 8.08 average rating here and an 8.09 MAL score its first go-round. It’s a really charming, feel-good kind of show, and can be very funny when it wants to.

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Nanami says “Don’t come inside me!” to the yokai. Was that meant to be a double entendre, or is that just my dirty mind?

The question is, can that formula be sustained for an entire second season, and is KamiHaji 2 something I want to review in a Winter season that’s far lighter than Fall but features a lot of promising non-sequels? Looking back on my first season reviews, I didn’t express any particular burning desire for a second.

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It’s too early to tell. This is my first taste of Winter 2015, and it was very much a re-introductory episode that part of me appreciated but at which another part simply shrugged. Perhaps the goings-on at the Divine Assembly in Izumo next week will help me form a stronger opinion one way or t’other.

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