Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody – 02

The battlemage whom Satoo saves is one Zena Marientail, who calls off her suspicious comrades and gives Satoo a ride to their mutual destination, Salue City, a lovely walled and terraced town with friendly faces and reputable businesses.

After securing proper papers (denoting him as Lv.1 despite his much higher level), he is snagged by Martha, the daughter of the keeper of the Gate Inn, where Zena’s comrade Iona recommended. Throughout these interactions, Satoo utilizes trickery, persuasion, bartering, and other skills he’s amassed.

The innkeeper tells him about a Demon King that a chosen Hero must defeat, but Satoo settles for some cold quiche and cabbage to sate his hunger. I for one have always lamented the fact one cannot taste all the different foods one finds in an RPG; watching Satoo enjoy it is the next best thing.

While Martha shows him around, Satoo learns about the strict caste system; commoners cannot use the public baths, and there are a good number of slaves, many of them demi-humans whom the other humans fear, distrust, and in some cases outright hate. When Satoo is nice to a couple of young demis, Martha seems confused, but quickly changes gears to other things.

Upon returning to the inn, Satoo happens to spot Arisa—who bears the inauspicious titles “Exiled Witch” and “Crazy Princess”—being ridden on a cart, presumably with other slaves. I’m sure he’ll see her again, but first, he has a hearty supper of veggie soup, wild boar, black bread and mead, which proves so tasty he has seconds against his better judgment.

As he tosses in bed with an upset stomach, he ponders his situation, and concludes it might not actually be a dream, but…something else. After all, the “game” he’s seen so far doesn’t really match any games he knows of or has helped to develop; rather it’s something unique.

As he rushes out into the night to explore the city some more—it’s very pretty at night—he decides that whatever is going on, it behooves him to soak up as much as he can, that he might become a better game developer by what he sees, hears, and experiences in this fantasy world.

I don’t really blame him; he’s flush with cash and overpowered to boot. I wonder how he’d fare right now against that Demon King. Of course, he’s nowhere close to encountering such an overboss; instead, he gets a surprise visit from Zena, who has come on her day off to thank him for saving her life by spending the day with him.

Desumachi continues to be nothing groundbreaking, but I cannot deny it scratches an itch; that of a fantasy slice-of-life that takes its time unveiling its world and not skimping on the details, be it currency, society, cuisine, and relationships. Basically, it’s comfily low-stakes and entertaining enough to keep watching for now, though my socks remain firmly un-knocked-off.

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Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody – 01 (First Impressions)

Here we go: Another anime about another black-haired dude somehow ending up transported to another fantasy RPG where he’s soon surrounded by another group of ladies. It’s directed by Oonuma Shin, whose resume includes Kokoro Connect and Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry, which weren’t bad. And hey, neither is this! But it isn’t what I’d call great, at least not yet. It is merely good.

I won’t say it started bad per se—I actually liked how we spent a good amount of time in the real world to watch Suzuki Ichirou’s “death march” at the game company where he works. But the time there clocks in at nine minutes; personally I would have been fine with a much shorter montage to establish the guy.

That would have given us more time in the the virtual world of War World where Suzuki ends up. But once he’s there, things get much more interesting.

By “interesting”, I mean “a little nerdy”, since the programming jargon of the real-world act is replaced by the clean, smooth heads-up menu interface of the game, which Suzuki, AKA “Satoo” is able to navigate with his mind.

He assumes he’s merely dreaming a very elaborate dream, and since he’s known nothing but RPG programming for 30 hours without sleep, it stands to reason that dream would be about the game. Oh, and he’s also been de-aged to around fifteen. Seiyu Horie Shun raises his voice when he’s talking out loud, while his thoughts remain in 29-year-old Suzuki’s voice.

Satoo starts out at Level 1, but when a horde of Lizardmen numbering 300, all with levels hovering around 50, and he unleashes a Meteor Rain that takes them all out, raising his Level to 310.

Suzuki doesn’t realize this until one last lizardman standing with critical HP tosses him a sword and challenges him to a final duel, and Satoo takes him out without any difficulty.

With the defeat of all those lizardmen, Satoo is suddenly maxed out in all attributes, HP, MP, and Stamina—the kind of levels it would normally take hundreds of hours to reach.

From there, he inspects all of his new skills and loot, tests his Meteor Rain ability again (then promptly turns it off because it’s too damn powerful), then kits himself out and starts to explore War World’s world.

It’s not long before he comes upon a city, which is then attacked by a Wyvern – one he could easily defeat. Instead, he sits back and watches things unfold with the city’s mostly medieval defense force, in which archers direct the beast and mages throw spells at it (nice use of distorted voices to portray the spells being chanted).

One of those mages is Zena, who fires off a particularly big spell at the wyvern, but gets tossed high into the sky. One of her comrades slows her fall, but it’s Satoo who leaps up to catch her in midair. Now that he’s rescued a fair maiden, Suzuki’s checked off another box in the stuck-in-an-RPG conventions.

Who Zena is or how she’ll react to being saved is a question for next week; again, blame the nine-minute prologue if you must. I must also report that this show did not impress with its visuals (the wyvern was particularly iffy compared to, say, Bahamut or  Zestiria), and aside from the piece that played while Satoo traversed the overworld, the music was also unremarkable. If you’d told me this was made five or even ten years ago, I’d believe you.

Despite its technical shortcomings I honestly enjoyed following Suzuki/Satoo around as he gathered his bearings, and will be back to see what he gets up to, and who he meets, next week.

 

Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku – 11

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Well, Cranberry didn’t think Swim Swim would be able to kill her, and she was right…but she didn’t account for Tama and her hole-making ability at a crucial moment, leading to the unfortunate state of affairs above, one of the most surprising (not to mention awesomely gruesome) sudden deaths of the show. Cranberry was supposed to be above all this; she was the last girl standing once before, after all. But she wanted to fight strong enemies, and got her wish – and dug her grave in the process. R.I.P. Cranberry.

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For her, well, dog-like loyalty (and complete and utter lack of guile), Tama is swiftly dispatched by Swim Swim, ever looking out for Number One. Tama saw Swim Swim’s true form, after all, and one of the edicts the late Ruler instilled in Swim Swim — in real life a small, impressionable, dedicated young girl — was to never let anyone learn your true identity. Swim Swim decided that even meant her last and most loyal ally. R.I.P. Tama.

(Incidentally, we got Tama’s backstory as she bleeds out, confirming her guilelessness and indicating she, like Alice, simply wanted to be useful to people. Pretty rote stuff.)

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With the shocking exit of Cranberry (and the far less shocking exit of Tama), the last three magical girls remaining are Swimmy, Ripple, and Snow White. Ripple asks Snow to meet, but Ripple just wants any and all intel Snow might have on Swim Swim, nothing more. Snow argues killing Swimmy now will only make Ripple a murderer, but Ripple don’t care. If Snow won’t help her, she’ll go it alone.

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Ripple seems to live only to avenge her friend and mentor Top Speed, the aftermath of whose death has been hard on her. Snow lost a friend last week in Alice, but it was essentially a friend she didn’t know she had. Swim Swim, showing a tinge of the innocence of her real self, sheds a tear at the loss of Tama, but Tama wasn’t really her friend, either, more of a sidekick.

No, Ripple and Top Speed were the best-realized duo on the show — more even than Snow and Pucelle — and it was something Ripple didn’t know how badly she needed until it was gone. Top Speed could see a side to Ripple — to Sazanami Kano — no one else could, either because they were too busy looking her up and down, or because she wore her mask so well.

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Interestingly, Ripple gets a full-on Sailor Moon-style transformation sequence prior to heading to the dam to duel Swim Swim. The fact it’s a dam means there’ll be plenty of water there (good for Swimmy), but Ripple at least has the hint from Fav (who seems kinda miffed by Swimmy’s apathy with her new role as master) that light and sound are her weaknesses.

I don’t know who will prevail in that duel: judging from past battles, Swim Swim always seems to get the upper hand in the end, but she’s out of allies and now occupies the same seemingly invincible space Cranberry once stood. I can’t rule out a Ripple victory.

Heck, maybe they kill each other, leaving Snow White as the last girl standing by default. That’s the least satisfying outcome: Snow is still clinging to her ideals of what a Magical Girl should be. It stands to reason a show that loves taking things away would take that away from her before all’s said and done.

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Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku – 10

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What do we have here? The first magical girl backstory that actually made me feel something, and elicit something other than an indifferent shrug. Like all the other backstories, it still comes too late to be as impactful as it could have been, but it still connected. And what do you know, it’s Hardgore Alice’s alter ego: Hatoda Ako.

One reason Alice looks so dark is because Ako comes from such a dark place. Her father murdered her mother, making her a pariah at school. While her auntie seems nice enough, Ako knows she’s not needed by anyone; she’s just a burden. Then she heard about Snow White, and thought they would make a pretty sweet black-and-white duo.

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Of course, this is MagiPro, so that turned to shit pretty fast. Mina disguised herself as Alice’s stuffed rabbit in order to learn Ako’s home address. Once Swim Swim knew that, all she had to do was ambush Ako when she wasn’t in her invincible form.

There’s a special twist of the knife in play here, what with Alice trying to reach out to Snow White as a friend, but simply being unable to say the right words at the right time.

That time is when Koyuki is simply freaking out about all the horrible things happening (which is justifiable), but that doesn’t make it any easier when Snow White is holding a bloody, dying Ako in her arms and learns it’s her would-be only friend in the world.

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That leaves Snow White, Ripple, Swim Swim, Mina, Tama…and Cranberry. And in case you haven’t been paying attention in the last few Cranberry scenes, Cranberry isn’t like the other magical girls. In fact, she seems to be some kind of facilitator from the magical world, overseeing what is in fact a super-bloody selection process that is nearing its end as the ranks dwindle.

For the record, Cranberry would have preferred to simply kill off all the weak ones right away, but has seemingly left the administration of the game to Fav (and whoever is controlling/speaking as Fav).

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Swim Swim has proven to be a one-girl wrecking crew, and when she comes to Cranberry’s forest to take her down, Cranberry uses is as an opportunity to get to know Swimmy a little better. She’s impressed by her, if not her sidekicks (she kills Mina with ease, in one of the show’s more unceremonious killings), but she still doesn’t think Swim Swim can beat her.

As for Ripple, who is out there on her own with only revenge on her mind, I’m not sure how she’s going to be able to actually exact any on Swim Swim. The first time they fought, Swim seemed to have her number, and that was with Top Speed’s help. And then there’s the possibility Cranberry will kill Swim Swim before Ripple can get to her. In any case, it’s never a dull moment in MagiPro Land.

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Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku – 04

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In Magipro, Ruler is what Mokuou Sanae can’t be in the real world: in control. She always ranked at the top of her class, but speaking out of turn at the office where she worked got her reassigned by a boss who wanted her to learn her place. She always saw everybody in the world as idiots to be brought to heel. It’s how she ruled as Ruler, and it was her downfall.

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Getting Ruler’s backstory was a sure sign that she’d be the next victim, despite having come up with a devious scheme to steal Snow White’s Magical Candies. As it happens, her desire to keep distance from her subjects by insulting them at every opportunity became her fatal flaw when she relied on Swim Swim to transfer Snow White’s candies while she held her pose to keep Koyuki from moving (the flipside of her magical power to control).

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As such, Swim Swim took it upon herself to doublecross Ruler, only taking half of Snow White’s 50,000+ candies and distributing them evenly to all but Snow White herself, La Pucelle…and Ruler. That puts Ruler in last place at the time of the rankings, and it kills her.

Tama seems torn up by the coup, but the twin “angels” are fine with it, and acknowledge Swim Swim as their new leader. In a nice twist, Swim Swim was the young girl who Nemurin said could be a princess if she tried hard enough. But Swim Swim couldn’t be the true Ruler until the old one was eliminated. And so it comes to be.

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The entire situation disgusts Koyuki, who was ready to die rather than let anyone else die in her place before she learned Swim Swim only took half of her candies. But Souta isn’t so dedicated to Koyuki’s ideals, especially if it means Koyuki’s death. So La Pucelle re-vows to be Snow White’s knight, doing whatever is necessary to keep her alive and safe – whether Snow White wants such treatment or not.

With the sixteenth magical girl entering the field, Koyuki will no doubt continue to need protection, not just from those who would eliminate her, but from her own stubborn refusal to defend herself at the cost of others.

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Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku – 03

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Once Sister Nana and Winterprison find a recording of Fav telling Cranberry retired Magical Girls die in real life as well, it isn’t long before they make the connection to the sudden real-world death of Sanjou Nemu, and start to worry about their own lives. It’s no longer a fun game. The lives they have as magical girls are the only lives they’ve got..and they’ll have to fight for them.

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We spend a fair amount of time with Ruler’s gang: twins Yuna and Mina, the doglike Tama, and the quiet but equally loyal Swim Swim. Ruler keeps emotional distance from her “subjects” by calling them idiots and useless, but she clearly cares about them and has taken it upon herself to make sure no one drops out.

Yuna and Mina initially try to depose Snow White with a PV, and get close, finishing second in popularity polls. But once the truth of their plight is out, that petty jealousy is twisted into a competition for their very lives.

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Koyuki reacts to the news exactly how you’d expect someone with as much purity and empathy as she has: lamenting her situation and even feeling guilty about always taking the top spot.

Souta tells her it’s good and right to feel that way, but for now all they can do is keep surviving for the day they can perhaps find a hole in Fav’s oppressive “that’s the way it is” system. I doubt that will actually happen before most of the girls die, but still! Until then, Souta vows to be Koyuki’s sword.

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She’ll need it. Ruler wastes no time plotting to exploit the “update” to the game that allows girls to exchange candies. She believes it’s a move by the game’s admins to egg the girls on into taking candies from one another, now that they’re exchangeable. And there’s no more tempting target than Snow White, sitting on hundreds if not thousands of candies, and with no personal desire to hurt her fellow magical girls.

Ruler doesn’t plan to eventually take all of Snow White’s candy. As far as she’s concerned, it’s written in stone that Snow White will die, tonight. She is not messing around, and while her subjects aren’t the most reliable, they are still magical girls with unique powers.

Whether Koyuki survives depends on how capable Souta is of protecting her, as well as how far she’s willing to forsake her cherished ideals of purity, righteousness, and beauty. Because shit’s about to get ugly fast.

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Sasami-san@Ganbaranai – 12 (Fin)

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Edogawa Jou and Arahabaki execute a plan to summon Kuzuryuu to further her plans for world conquest. Tamamo-no-Mae uses Kagami’s natural counter to defeat her, a barrier is cast upon the island, locking out Tsurugi and her brother, and Jou drugs Tama and “eats” her. Tamamo-no-Mae appears before Tama as a golem, and through Tama implores Sasami to save innocent lives by swearing to become Arahabaki’s priestess and earthly liason in the new world they’ll create.

Sasami is only stalling for time, as she has placed her entire house within Tama and is therefore within the island’s barrier. Kagami reveals she hid herself within Tamamo’s golem. She defeats her and undoes the damage done to the island, and Sasami and her house materialize. Tsurugi’s brother stops by to defeat Kuzuryuu as he tries to escape, and Jou and Sasami are thrown into the sea. They wash up on the shore and Sasami declares them friends, at least until the day Jou kills her.

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At long last, here is our review for the final Winter finale, for a series that we’ve had trouble at times following along with due to all of the references to Japanese mythology, overt or otherwise, but this was a great episode that accomplished a lot more than we expected it to. It went in the not unpredictable direction of making Edogawa Jou a legitimate threat, while maintaining her new-found humanity, and therefore, our connection with her, right till the end. As opposed to being a random, one-dimensional evil threat, she is redeemed…mostly.

In one of her best moments, she confesses to Sasami she was a little scared of succeeding, because conquering the world would make her alone and unable to live as a normal human. Sasami’s desire to simply exist in the world she was born in, without any desire to lord over it, or any obligation to protect it; her desire to sleep in all day and goof off on the internet; her desire to make friends and share experiences – this desire is contagious. Her influence brought the Yagami sisters “down to earth”, so to speak, and it works for her would-be nemesis, too.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • We liked how the scene in which Tamamo-no-Mae corners Tama as a Golem was done in a 16-bit JRPG style. She was a boss, after all.
  • We weren’t sure who Tsurugi’s bro was supposed to be…but we probably would if we knew our Japanese gods and goddesses. In any case, his homing death beam is a nice piece of kit.
  • Two aesthetic choices reminded us of Evangelion: first is Edogawa’s arm puffing up and then popping off; second is the scene where she and Sasami wash up on the shore, much like Shinji and Asuka in that famous final shot of EoE.
  • A very nice touch with the ED: after a whole season of chatting, goofing-off and tone-deafness, the song is finally sung properly and in full. It’s actually quite a pretty song, and it was great to finally hear the whole thing! You can listen here.

Sasami-san@Ganbaranai – 03

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Sasami types about her family, the Tsukuyomi clan, descended from the first human to have the power of Amaterasu. She was given intense training at a remote shrine to become the latest vessel for her powers, but she got sick of it and left with her brother. When a third arm comes out of her chest as she’s typing, it represents a part of her personality that was repressed as part of her training – a sense of desire. It tells her her brother has returned to the shrine. Sasami follows him, accompanied by the Yagami sisters, who destroy the shrine. Tsusugi reveals she is actually Amaterasu, and she and her “sisters” came into being because of Sasami’s wish. With that, Sasami learns she, not her brother, had Amaterasu’s power all along.

This episode finally provides some concrete context for what the hell has been going on in the first two. It contains a lot of exposition and backstory and revealed identities, but still contains just as much excitement and action as its predecessors. A ton of revelations are dished out, not the least of which is Tsurugi’s true identity as Amaterasu incarnate, and her sisters aren’t really sisters, but gods she created from parts of herself she tore off. Tsurugi, Kagami, and Tama are here because of Sasami. She desired a normal life free of the responsibilities of being a vessel Amaterasu’s powers, and they coalesced to protect that life.

Her brother was a MacGuffin all along, having no divinity at all. Instead, he remains her steadfast, loyal, obedient, loving brother, whose duty is to protect her from sadness and harm. Even knowing he has no divine powers, Sasami seems to give herself a kick in the pants and march outside to make her brother’s efforts worthwhile. It turns out a curse made her a hikikomori, so now she can go outside with ease. But how far will she “try at life” before she finds herself with responsibilities and duties once again? If that happens, the Yagami sisters will be there to stamp it out, preserving Sasami’s god-given right to be as lazy and useless as she cares to be.


Rating: 8 (Great)