Mahoutsukai no Yome – 05

The sorcerer Renfred and his apprentice Alice turn out not to be of much concern, as their attempts to turn Chise against Elias fall on deaf ears. Not knowing from whence she came, they totally misunderstand how she feels: far from wanting to be freed, she wants to belong to Elias, the first person to ever call her family. Out of her shadow, Elias appears, and a whole mess of thorns push the sorshies back.

With that over with, Chise, Ariel, and the King of Cats proceed with the plan to cleanse the corruption, which is truly growing out of control. Chise makes contact with the miasma and enters the memory of the corruption, able to watch what unfolded, yet unseen by everyone there, as what she’s watching has already come to pass.

And as horrible and heartrending a story as it is, it hardly came as a surprise. Even before we see a desperate Matthew meet with a super-sketchy sorcerer, things unfolded super predictably: the sorcerer tells Matt the only way to save his beloved Mina is to slaughter cats and make a medicine from their blood and guts.

When Mina catches Matt slaughtering cats, it breaks her heart, but he and the sorcerer force the potion down her throat…and naturally, it doesn’t work. What I didn’t predict was that she’d explode, suddenly and awfully, right in his arms. Jeez.

The sorcerer shrugs it off, thanks Matt for helping him with some practical research, and is on his merry way. But Matt has a breakdown. Before he can slaughter more cats, believing he can still bring Mina back, the cats come for him, led by Mina’s pet, Tim.

Due to the combined horrendous circumstances of the deaths of Mina, Matthew, and the cats, all of them forgot how to return to the cycle of life and death; they are lost in between, and Mina tells Chise the only thing to be done is erase all their existences, lest they become consigned to an even deeper, darker void (harming the living world in the process).

Chise’s like nah-ah, Minal; I’m not erasing you. Instead, with the help of both Ariel and the King of Cats (on her ninth and final life), she guides Mina to where she belongs, with Matthew, allowing the two to happily pass on together and rejoin the natural cycle.

In the gorgeous meadow of blue flowers after they have passed on, Chise stands there, musing about how she was born without a place or purpose in life, but now she has a “perch”, thanks to Elias. As such, she’s less inclined to die soon…but being a Sleigh Beggy, how long does she truly have?

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Mahoutsukai no Yome – 04

Before waking up with her head in Elias’ lap on a train “not meant for humans”, Chise has a dream about a sickly woman in bed, telling her cat how she wishes she could have one of its nine lives. From there, a messenger appears in the form of a cat. No wait; it’s just a regular cat…who can talk.

To be precise, Chise learns cats can converse with mages and other magically-inclined people, including her. Like people, they have countries, and their king, a female named Molly, has a task for Elias and Chise in Ulthar – a land where cats are loved and cared for by the humans living there.

There is a growing mass of “corruption” on an islet in the heart of the lake, which will soon wreak havoc on cat and human alike.

As soon as Molly tells the tale of a man who once tortured and killed scores of cats—who was ultimately killed by a whole mess of cats organized by the first Cat King—I began to suspect the source of the corruption had something to do with that cat-hater.

A suspicious hooded woman snatches Chise, carries her into the air, and drops her in the lake.

At the bottom of the lake Chise meets Mina, the sickly woman from her dream earlier. Mina’s husband Matthew turned into the corruption, with her at its core; she begs Chise to kill them both so they can be free.

Oh, and Matthew? He hates cats, and they hate him. HMMMMMM. He’s clearly hiding his dark inclination from Mina, who rarely leaves her bed and probably hardly ever leaves the house.

Chise wakes up in Elias’ arms (again), and he has another task for her: to don robes and perform a cleansing ritual with the help of Ariel; something he with his incompatible shadow concentration cannot do himself.

Chise starts to walk out to the corruption, with Mina’s plea ringing clearin her head, and worried about Elias losing faith in her if she fails. Then she’s suddenly captured again by the red-hooded woman. She’s joined by her master, the sorcerer Renfred, who doesn’t want the corruption cleansed.

Renfred also ridicules Elias (whom he refers to as Pilum Murialis) for “putting a collar” on Chise and using her as his “latest experiment”, without telling her the fate that awaits all Sleigh Beggys—early death.

Not that I blame Elias for taking it slow with Chise, but it now looks like a rift could form based not upon lies, but omission. Unless…as he grooms Chise he’s also looking for a way to prevent her from sharing the fate of her kind.

Re-Kan! – 05

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After working hard on getting their haunted house ready for the cultural festival, Hibiki’s crew meets her dad Asahi, a widower with white hair from “being through a lot”, but who is grateful Hibiki has such kind friends to depend on. He and Narumi tend to get frightened by the same things, which is to say anything involving Hibiki.

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Of course, Hibiki’s dad knew what he was signing up for the day he met her mom Yuuhi, who was just as beautiful and mysterious as their daughter would turn out to be. It was the ghost of a pigeon that brought them together, warning Yuuhi that a young man was going to get hit by a car trying to recover his pigeon corpse.

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The next day at the festival, Narumi (in Sadako cosplay) is the first to encounter Hibiki’s dad, and they have a nice chat about Hibiki. Specifically, Yuuhi’s ability to not only see ghosts, but see the future.

Yuuhi knew she would die shortly after giving birth to Hibiki, and she knew Hibiki would go through pain and anguish, but she also knew she’d find friends. As scary as it was and is to live with the ladies in his life, Asahi wouldn’t give it up for the world, and is elated that his late wife was right.

Narumi is modest and bashful about praise, as always, but she also feels bad about being so hostile about Hibiki’s sixth sense, now that she knows it was passed down to her and is actually a pretty amazing gift.

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Unfortunately for Harumi, when she’s wearing her Sadako wig all the school ghosts think she’s Hibiki, and put her and Asahi through a haunted gauntlet that results in her hair turning white like Asahi’s; not from fear, but from an incident at the okonomiyaki booth.

Another fine effort from Re-Kan: blending personality-based comedy and slapstick with a good dose of feels.

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Re-Kan! – 04

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Predictably, Re-kan! breathes new life into the beach episode formula by infusing it with its charming brand of supernatural embellishment. They have the beach to themselves because it’s haunted.

The ghosts are so thick around Amami, Kana can’t get a photo that doesn’t feature them streaking across the frame in such a way that makes Amami look like she’s being censored even though she’s wearing a perfectly normal swimsuit.

The ghosts also thwart Ero-Neko’s numerous attempts to harass the girls by land and sea; again, the cat’s hilarous voice sells what is otherwise a filler role. The Roll Call Samurai dutifully splitting the watermelon for the hapless Amami was also a nice touch.

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The episode downplays fanservice for practicality: the students needed a chaperone for their beach trip, and Yamada provided his big bro, who happens to be a cop, which makes Esumi, a former delinquent, uneasy. Elder Yamada joined the force because he wanted to be a hero, and views Amami’s sixth sense as akin to a superpower to be treasured.

While Amami could certainly have a future in criminal investigations (and I would watch the hell out of that!), for now she’s content to use that power to make the people around her, living or dead, happy. To whit: she uses messages in the sand and the breakers to get the scoop on the local fireworks display, best seen from the train (along with a somewhat unnerving famous ghost cliff-jumper).

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After a great bit about Kana having to deal with Amami’s ghost answering service, the balance of the episode is focused on stories of peoples’ pasts. Amami recalls being scared of sleeping alone, until friendly ghosts comforted and stayed with her until she went to sleep. That segues to the story of the “Fire-Haired Messiah” the unwanted nickname of Esumi Kyouko back when she was a yankee; a time Kana can’t help but mention.

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What I liked about the tale of Esumi’s past was that she was a righteous ne’r-do-well, protecting the weak and taking any hand that reached out to her in need of help, even if the arm turned out not to be attached to anything! That ghost led her to her first encounter with the elder Yamada, who is just as impressed with Esumi’s good deeds as he is with Amami’s sixth sense. To him, Esumi is a heroine, living the dream and righting rights; the kind of person who inspired him to become a cop so he could help people too.

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Esumi grudgingly accepts his praise, but admits she’s more scared of people than ghosts (or specifically, disembodied arms). But like Amami, she can’t help but help; it’s just who she is. Despite her past use of violence to solve problems and her semi-earned rep as a brawler, her heart’s in the right place.

If only she and Kana could do something about their eyes-through the hair…their hair design in the flashback was far less distracting!

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Mikagura Gakuen Kumikyoku – 02

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I’m really digging Mikagura’s reverse-gender shonen story and its boisterous, manic energy. But as rowdy and enthusiastic as Eruna is, she remains homeless and hungry, and joining the Going Home Club only netted her an extra minute in the shower and a tiny portion of natto. She has to start winning battles…but how?

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Eruna decides to visit all the high-ranking clubs seeking advice. Kuzuryuu ignores her, Himi will only help if Eruna buys her dessert (which she can’t afford), Seisa doesn’t even let her in the house, and while Imizu Asuhi is so cute and feminine Eruna could swear he’s a she, she ends up accidentally setting off his telescope gun. The recurring theme of these encounters is clear: this is something she needs to figure out for herself, as they did. If she can’t, she doesn’t deserve to be there.

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With no direction whatsoever, Eruna takes a game Shigure up on his offer to assist her, and while she comes up with cool names for the moves she tries on him, at the end of the day, she’s only hitting him with her bookbag and sleeping bag, then getting pulled back into her dating sim and her beloved 2D GF Yuriko (the timing of this joke is great). The rest is merely her delusions…and she knows that…but she’s not sure what else to do.

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When she crosses paths with Seisa, she delivers a confession of sorts; that the whole reason she came to the school was because she wanted to hang out with a lovely person like the girl in the brochure, and she’s committed to trying her very best to make her proud of her.

The exchange reminds me of what a male character of similar background and personality might say to the girl he likes (if he had he the guts to do so), only Eruna happens to also be a girl (and does have the guts). She’s just a super-likable character I can’t help but wanna root for. I know, that’s the point, but she show hit the mark well.

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But as her battle neared, and Eruna showed no signs of being remotely prepared, I’ll admit I started to feel a little apprehensive. Eruna can imagine whatever positive outcome she likes and delude herself that’s it’s going to happen, but she gets a cold dose of reality when what she considers a pretty clever ambush attempt is foiled easily by the experienced Himi. Himi is also pretty cocky, remarking how she wants to wrap this dawdle up soon so she can go eat some snacks.

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Just when the weight of what defeat would mean begins to slowly descend upon a limping, winded Eruna, she comes across a door covered in seals that release when she touches it. Inside is a room full of light where a slightly more throwback version of herself tells her to awaken her power; the power she had inside all along, but just didn’t know how to tap into. After this encounter, a switch goes off, and suddenly Eruna is dodging Himi’s attack with ease and flying through the school like a bat out of hell.

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As Eruna’s strength, speed, and agility rise exponentially, she’s overcome by a combination of disbelief and excitement, and the animation of the episodes gets bolder and jauntier to keep up with her. With a great beam of light emanating from her index finger, she shatters all three of Himi’s crystals simultaneously, earning her a decisive upset win.

Perhaps her delusions of greatness were really an expression her hidden power trying to emerge. Now they have, and that greatness is no longer just a delusion.

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It’s a win the whole school watched from their smartphones, including Seisa, who certainly looks impressed with what she saw, and all of a sudden Eruna is no longer the over-fantasizing, hapless rookie underdog…but an imposing upstart who’s only just cracked the surface of the potential her bloodline has passed down to her.

Perhaps most important, people will start to stop looking down on her; not just because she can soar high into the sky now, but because she made the same breakthrough all of them made before her. Now she really is one of them.

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Mikagura Gakuen Kumikyoku – 01 (First Impressions)

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My watchlist has suddenly become stuffed with halfway-decent coms, be they rom or not. The latest to grace my LCD is MGK, which delivered a dense, crisp, madcap romp around the suddenly far-more-interesting life of the orange-haired spark plug that is Ichinomiya Eruna, who dominates the episode. This is not a bad thing.

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Just as there are many moods and sides and expressions to the show in which she stars, Eruna is a satisfyingly-realized, complex goofball of a girl who gets lost in her dating sims (in which she dates girls, whom she seems to prefer), and we get lost in them right along with her. She occupies a very interesting character zone: like girly than Sakura Chiyo; less hulking than Onizuka Hime; less…male than Katsuragi Keima (Did I mention I love all those guys?), and yet far more than the sum of her parts.

She’s sorta like a chuuni with her delusions, which are a means of relief from the mundane world in which she live. She’s the dashing heroine in her daydreams, but looks and acts like the dashing heroine in real life too—complete with her cape-like scarf—only that life isn’t taking her seriously. She longs for a place that does…a place where she can spread her wings and have some fun.

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Eruna’s cousin Shigure (who seems to have a one-sided thing for her) manages to pique her interest in Mikagura High where he attends, but because of the fact their uniforms kick ass. And you know what? They DO. Not only that, Eruna decides if Mikagura is the kind of place she can meet gorgeous angels like Mikagura Seisa, the principal’s granddaughter…well, where does she sign up?

Having established that Eruna is not really just shallow, but yearning for a more interesting existence, Mikagura feels like a good fit right off the bat. For one thing, everyone customizes those awesome uniforms just like she does with her yellow scarf. For another, the clubs battle each other with their club skills in exchange for more favorable living conditions, pride, and other perks.

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Mikagura is full of colorful characters who flaunt the dress code. Eruna is beside herself with glee at the sight of all the cuties, who she meets in a kind of gauntlet of cute. To her credit, she manages to express her excitement in different ways each time. She’s truly a girl of a thousand expressions.

When she learns the rough side of the coin—that she’s starting at the bottom of the pile with nothing, she doesn’t despair. So what if right now all she has is a sleeping bag in the drafty hall, side dishes for dinner and navy showers? She has a feeling she’s going to have fun here…and she won’t be on the bottom forever.

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To her delight, she also gets to meet the cover girl herself, Mikagura Seisa, the water to Eruna’s fire if ever there was one. Eruna watches in awe as Seisa calmly douses a minor dispute between Mr. Artiste and some green-haired (literally), green-horned (figuratively) whelp.

When Seisa approaches Eruna, whose enrollment was recommended by the floating cat Bimii (well, that’s what Eruna calls him), things get even better, as Seisa personally invites her to join the illustrious and exclusive “going home” club, on the condition that she sub for her in the next club battle. Eruna is, not surprisingly, SO DAMN OKAY WITH THIS.

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That brings us back to the show’s cold open. The tense atmosphere, dark aesthetic, and scenario of one student fleeing another who corners and appears to waste her with a camera flash initially had me thinking this might be more of a Braverade number, a la Akuma no Riddle. Only when Eruna met her in the end did I learn the girl chased and flashed was Seisa.

Was this a flashback or forward? Was this a taste of some heavier things going down in the future, or just a tease? Considering the bright, playful tone of the episode that followed, I’m inclined to think the latter, but that’s okay. I’m fully on Eruna’s side, and whatever club activity she ends up choosing, watching her stumble, fall, get back up, dust herself off, and kick some ass should be fun.

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Majimoji Rurumo – 02

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The book of magic tickets are Kouta’s life (something only he and Chiro know) so even when he desperately wants more female members in the Occult Research Club, he daren’t make any more reckless wishes. But the club quickly learns that their witch-summoning was successful, putting Kouta in the unusual position of having to stop his clubmates from stalking and peeping on Rurumo as she camps in the woods.

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So once again, Kouta uses the tickets to help Rurumo (to protect her honor, specifically). And by using her magic, he learned that that was what she and Chiro were doing camping in the first place: waiting for him to use it. She can’t go back to the Underworld until her training is complete, which I take to mean “until Kouta uses up all of his tickets.” In other words, she can return when he’s dead? Something to ponder going forward.

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But first things first: Kouta doesn’t think it’s right for a delicate little witch like Rurumo to live like a dirty hobo, so he invites her into his home. His family consists of his mother, who knows what kind of horndog he is and is constantly staring at him, as well as his little brother and his dad (whom we don’t see). Worried by how bringing a girl home might look to his mom, he tries his best to keep it a secret. Between Rurumo’s loud slipper-shuffling and Chiro yelling in the bath, his clandestine guests don’t make it easy.

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Indeed harboring a magical trainee is no cakewalk, physically or psychologically, as Kouta is so stress out about being discovered he neglects to realize that for three days he has, essentially, been “living with a girl not related to him in the same room before marriage”, which as it happens is the official SI definition of Living Together. In other words: he has arrived, at the “highest stage” of his life, almost by accident.

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The bliss of sharing his room with Rurumo is all too fleeting, however, as his mom storms in the room, and…it looks bad. The situation looks like exactly what she suspects: that he’s abducted a girl and is keeping her captive in his room. Kouta only saves his mom from committing filicide by expending more tickets to magically create a cover story for Rurumo, which is that she’s his sister.

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That means the whole family now accepts Rurumo’s existence in the house as perfectly normal, but it also means she gets a separate room, much to Kouta’s dismay. Still, he’s alive (and not in jail) and Rurumo is safe and secure, so he doesn’t have too much to complain about…though I wonder how many of those 666 tickets remain.

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Sailor Moon Crystal – 02

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This week we’re introduced to Mizuno Ami (Kanemoto Hisako) and witness her progression from quiet genius girl, to brainwashed tool of the enemy, and finally to Sailor Mercury. This second episode also suggests the show wants to balance the main serialized storyline with smaller, more episodic plots. Like the first, it moves briskly and embraces the goofiness, even coming off downright cool in some moments.

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The story of the week is that Ami, despite having perfect scores, is suddenly attending the equivalent of a cram school (and a very evil looking one, at that), along with an increasing number of students. Like the jewelry women last week, they all wander willingly into the trap, and then the enemy has them. Unlike Usagi, Ami is first conscripted by the enemy, albeit after she’s brainwashed.

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Yet again, Usagi’s weaknesses as virtues: just as she was too poor to buy any evil jewelry, she’s not…ahem…academically inclined enough for the brainwashing CD-ROM(!) to work on her (i.e. girl dumb as brick, yo). But this episode showed that her most powerful weapon wasn’t her crass materialism, ignorance, or quickness to tears: it was her profound kindness and loyalty.

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While other classmates were intimidated and stayed away from Ami, Usagi, after Luna provides an opening, extends a hand of friendship. Having just become a sailor guardian herself but discussing it with neither family nor fiends, Usagi gets that there’s more to Ami than her cool exterior. Sometimes it takes a fluffy black kitty to bring out one’s warmer side. Unless one’s allergic.

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Usagi’s kindness gets through even to a heavily brainwashed Ami under duress from the fake teacher (though it’s ironic Usagi warns Ami while dressed as a fake doctor). The teacher is really a demon servant of another servant of Queen Beryl. The higher-ups seem to employ a lot of delegation rather than doing things themselves.

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That strategy is looking increasingly flawed as the Sailor Scout ranks expand. When Usagi transforms into Moon and gets whaled on by the demon, taking blow after blow for Ami’s sake Ami snaps out of it, produces the pen she won at the arcade, and then we get the second elaborate CGI sailor guardian transformation, that of Ami into Mercury…Game, set, and match.

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Mercury commands water, which makes sense with her delicate yet ambitious personality, and creates a fog that gives Usagi the chance to slice the demon in two with her boomerang. Tux Mask gets an assist as well, but only Usagi sees him and he vanishes quickly thereafter. Luna—ever the Good Kyuubey—rejoices that she’s found the “brain” of the group. Usagi and Ami seem more happy about the fact they’ve made friends.

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Sailor Moon Crystal – 01

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I’ve neither read nor watched any other iterations of the Sailor Moon franchise, nor do I plan to. When I first heard it was being rebooted for its 20th anniversary, I wanted to go in as green as possible, unfettered by prior knowledge or expectation. Even so, I was aware that Sailor Moon was an immensely popular and iconic cultural phenomenon that directly influenced countless newer series I’ve watched and enjoyed. That carries its own expectations.

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To be honest, I wasn’t expecting a masterpiece here, and I didn’t get one. But I was pleased with how pure, elemental, and straightforward the storytelling was. That’s kind of a given when you’re dealing with a show that isn’t just “a take” on the quintessential magical girl stories, but is the quintessential magical girl story, full stop. To that end, it sticks with a charming throwback aesthetic that you don’t see very often in contemporary anime.

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That simple story can be summed up thus: pretty but clumsy and unfocused girl steps on a cat on the way to school, removes band-aids from her head. The cat shows up in her bedroom window to bestow a magical talisman that turns the girl into something resembling a heroine. She defeats the villainess, frees the jewelry-grubbing ladies under her thrall, and catches a glimpse of the Dashing Prince of her dreams.

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I liked how Tsukino Usagi’s initial weaknesses ultimately worked to her advantage. Her abysmal test scores meant she wouldn’t be able to ask her mom to buy her any jewelry, without which she didn’t fall under the bad guy’s spell. And because she’s uncoordinated and late for school, she ends up stepping on a cat that gives her the tools to fight the bad guy. Heck, even her quickness to tears turned out to be a useful weapon.

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Usagi doesn’t just look like no one else in the current anime spectrum; she sounds like no one else, too, thanks to the veteran Mitsuishi Kotono, who has always voiced Usagi. Don’t get me wrong, so much of Usagi’s dialogue is sooo stupid, but Kotono’s line delivery is a wry blend of syrupy guilelessness tinged with wry irony. Whether she’s happy or sad or falling down the stairs, Usagi always puts on big, over-the-top productions, and I couldn’t help but chuckle at them.

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That theatricality is put to good use when she transforms, which is the episode’s big visual set piece, employing elaborate CGI that heralds the show’s official arrival to the 21st century. It was a nice surprise, akin to when the cartoonish-looking Panty & Stocking suddenly adopt realistic character designs when they transform. Usagi’s somewhat cumbersome sailor fuku accentuates her clumsiness, but in Sailor Moon kit she cuts a far sleeker, more mobile figure.

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Which is why her first moments as Sailor Moon are so funny: she looks the part, but has no idea what to do or how to do it, and is suitably flustered. Thankfully, Luna is there to tell her, and the bad guy is dispatched; perhaps too easily, but it’s only the first battle; it couldn’t be too hard. And for a few shining moments, Usagi shed the “hopeless dumb girl” act, believed in herself (and in the stuff Luna was telling her), and stood up against evil to protect others.

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This episode was a nice introduction to Usagi, her ordinary life, and the more exciting and trippy life that awaits her. She still has lots to learn, including how to juggle these two lives, but we know she’s going to meet allies, allowing for more interesting battles with tougher enemies. To conclude, despite harboring zero nostalgia for the franchise, this reboot stood pretty well on its own freakishly long, slender legs, and left me looking forward to the story continuing in two weeks’ time.

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