Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 04

So, the pretty new transfer student Shinomoto Akiho is totally the cloaked figure in Sakura’s dreams, right? Someone her same height (and even a similar-sounding name) shows up way too concurrently with the arrival of the cloaked figure in the real world at the tail end of last week’s outing.

If Touya doesn’t let on like he knows anything concrete (for now), he certainly seems to sense Sakura is out of sorts the morning after her disturbing vision of the figure. As for Sakura, she and Tomoyo are bowled over by Akiho’s beauty and eager to make friends with her ASAP.

Whatever, I say, could go wrong here?!

Syaoran certainly seems suspicious of Akiho, even if the others are just as charmed by the newbie as Sakura (then again, remain suspicious of Syaoran…what a tangled web we weaved). Akiho seems singularly invested in making Sakura like her as much as possible, flattering her when they’re alone in the hall, and again when Sakura gets an answer right in class (apparently not a common occurrence!).

After giving that answer, Sakura notices the trees getting up and walking around outside, setting off a series of Sakura’s patented all-purpose catchphrase, HOEHHH! At this point I always look forward to every time she does that, and hearing all the subtle variations on that exclamation. Tange Sakura is a treasure.

It’s Tomoyo to the rescue, having the class believe Sakura is not feeling well. Of course, she also has ulterior motives, and has prepared a Chinese-style costume for Sakura to don during her next card-capturing escapade.

Sadly for her, Tomoyo doesn’t get to film much of the spectacle, as Sakura encloses the runaway trees within Siege, then floods the cube with water from Aqua to immobilize their scampering roots.

Every action sequence thus far in CSS has been a delight to watch, from the novel ways in which Sakura achieves victory, to even the more repetitive elements like her chants and pose-striking (week-to-week variety to which is achieved by the varying costumes).

Her next card, “Action”, thus secured, Sakura takes it to Yukito, whose alter-ego Yue inspects it and concludes that it also seems to lack magical power; it’s all, apparently, in Sakura’s key and staff. The visit gives us the opportunity to see both sides of Yukito/Yue, and learn more about the interesting dynamic he has with Sakura.

Then Syaoran calls, and we’re treated to another heart-melting romantic exchange between the two, with Syaoran accepting Sakura’s offer to make him a lunch sometime, then asking her to call him if anything unusual happens, and Sakura taking it further and asking if she can call him even if it isn’t something unusual.

While Sakura is calling from Yukito’s porch, bathed in gorgeous light of the setting sun, Syaoran is holding the phone at arms length, holed up in the shadows, because he is clearly up to some shadowy shit. He immediately calls Eriol, who isn’t returning Sakura’s calls, and reports on Sakura, Akiho, and the new card, before these words are exchanged:

Eriol: I’m sure it’s hard on you, but this is not the time.
Syaoran: I came here to be ready for that time, when it comes.

All the while, the true mastermind, the dreaded teddy bear, looks knowingly, menacingly on.

I kid, but seriously, what is Syaoran’s deal? Has he been deceiving Sakura with a fake lovey-dovey act (I won’t forgive him), or is there a less sinister explanation, like he’s working in the shadows to protect her? While it’s still a bit too soon to tell, things are not looking good…and that’s not an accident.

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Musaigen no Phantom World – 07

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Aaaaaand I think I’ve about had my fill of Phantom World! It’s a show with lush visuals beyond reproach that for some reason seems intent on out-twee-ing and out-moe-ing itself with each passing week. This week, which opens with the seventeen-millionth adoption of Schrodinger’s Cat in an anime (and presented as if it’s being used for the first time), and devolves from there, was the breaking point.

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When the kitten of one of Kurumi’s friends goes missing, everyone at school starts acting like, then slowly transforming into, cats. Due to Haruhiko’s pre-OP explanation, we knew this was what was happening, but it still takes the crew, including Haruhiko himself, one entire half of the episode to figure it out.

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Look, the sight of a whole school of students curling up and napping, or Mai and Reina stretching like felines, or getting excited by fish or toys is cute and all, but there isn’t any substance to any of it. It’s just pure eye candy, and the characters are just along for the ride. I frankly just couldn’t roll with it this time.

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Their investigations, if you want to call it that, lead them to a bizarrely abandoned mansion near the school (why?) and the gang ends up hopelessly lost, their senses inundated with confusingly trippy scenes. These visuals would be a lot more engaging if there was anything profound behind them, but it seems the artists just wanted to draw cool stuff, and stuffed it all into this episode with a cat theme slapped on.

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They finally determine the entire mansion is a giant cat-house phantom, which is manifested in a form lifted straight out of Howl’s Moving Castle. How does the lost and quickly catifying group overcome this phantom? All too easily and neatly, unfortunately. Kurumi literally meows at it to give up the kitten in drew in, and the phantom just kinda vanishes, apparently satisfied…for some reason. It sure went through a lot of trouble only to fold like a cheap catsuit!

This was a mansion owned by a wealthy couple that loved cats, and after they died, you expect me to believe their valuable property was simply left to rot? Why wasn’t the building inherited by someone, or fall into public trust or something? How is it they’re able to clean the place up so quickly, when it had sat abandoned and dilapidated for years? You expect me to believe some mops and elbow grease will fix the foundation, wiring, plumbing, etc.?

You see, I’m so disenchanted with this show, I’m resorting to bestowing unfairly lofty expectations of practical logic on it. Definitely time to say so long and thanks for all the fish.

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Musaigen no Phantom World – 06

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Musaigen no Phantom World – 05

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This week focuses on MPW’s member of the team who isn’t really a member yet, the aloof, distant Minase Koito. We learn she gained her powers at a young age, and at the cost of never being close to friends or family ever again. A chimera-like beast who loves preying on animals is the phantom that first awakened her powers, and she wants payback. Only she has two problems: she can’t take the phantom on alone, and Haruhiko won’t leave her alone.

It starts with one of Haruhiko’s friends saying something mean about Koito with Koito right behind him. Haruhiko means to apologize, but ends up caught up in the fight with the phantom. Koito saves Haruhiko from the brunt of its attack, but gets a face full of voice-nullifying gas, and without her voice, Koito can’t do squat.

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The episode is basically a progression of Koito realizing again and again that the phantom is too much for her to take on alone, as Haruhiko, Mai, Reina, and newcomer Kumamakura Kurumi (the girl who was observing the group from afar last week). Turns out Kurumi’s teddy bear Albrecht can balloon into a huge golem who fights for her

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Koito doesn’t take kindly to having her personal affairs intruded upon by meddlers like Haruhiko and Mai, but Haruhiko, feeling responsible for her voice getting damaged, can’t help but stay near her side as she tries in vain to take out the phantom. Mai, meanwhile, is very obviously miffed by Haruhiko’s sudden obsession with Koito, a classic childhood friend reaction.

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Koito’s voice heals enough for her to go at the phantom one more time, but it isn’t long before it breaks out the gas and she finds herself in a tough spot. But thanks to Ruru, Haruhiko was able to locate her. He summons Marchosias to distract the phantom while Kurumi uses Albrecht to pummel him into submission.

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From there, it becomes a group affair, with Reina healing Koito, Mai employing her elemental magic, and Haruhiko sketch-sealing the phantom. Himeno-sensei then notes that the phantom isn’t the same one that awakened Koito’s powers years ago after all; Koito was chasing after the wrong phantom.

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After Haruhiko & Co. went the extra mile for her sake without claiming the quarry she meant to claim, Koito can’t help but ask Himeno for Haruhiko’s address so she can wait outside his place as he waited outside hers, in order to apologize and thank him for his help. Which for someone as introverted as Koito, is real progress.

This episode got repetitive at times – Koito faces off against the phantom; loses; gets bailed out; then protests the others’ interference – but it was a decent enough fleshing out of the heretofore least fleshed-out member of the team…aside from Kurumi, who seems to exist in the show for “cuteness (as opposed to comic) relief.”

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Pupa – 12 (Fin)

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With Utsutsu and Yume free from their captors and totally fine with their living situation, this final outing looks back to a less fucked-up time in their lives, when they, as young children, went unsupervised to a toy store to replace Yume’s busted bear (her dad busted it…such an asshole).

Having insufficient funds, Utsutsu attempts to win a new teddy for her. He loses, gets a harsh life lesson from the cock-eyed mascot running the lottery, and actually gets four more chances from his friend Arita and his three sisters, all of whom we meet for the first time and seem a bit sinister but aren’t.

On his last chance, he wins seventh prize; the pink hairpin Yume has worn ever since, which is fitting, as she gave him his four-leaf clover pin, which has clearly given him luck, as he possesses the ability to heal no matter how much Yume nom-noms him!

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Rating: 4
 (Fair)
Average Rating: 5.250
MyAnimeList Score: 4.14

Witch Craft Works – 05

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Honoka decides to move to Ayaka’s house, and after meeting with his family (and his cliched “Loopy Mom”), they arrive at her manor, which is 41 stories tall and rivals the Unyuu residence in extravagance (though isn’t nearly as big or absurd). Just when we thought we’d be in store for more rom-com hijinx as he enters her room for the first time, the show throws something totally different at us: the escaped Medusa is in there waiting for them.

It’s a welcome surprise, and Medusa initially packs quite a whollop, requiring Ayaka to transform into a semi-beast-like state, a la Howl. She insists that Honoka flee while she fights her off, but Honoka, knowing his proximity will give her invincibility, stays right where he is. Then Ayaka gets petrified—which tends to happen when you’re up against Medusa—but Honoka stays by her side, his mind racing at what he can do, until he remembers that pill Chronoire gave him.

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He knows it’s probably not a good idea to take this forbidden fruit; he knows it’s most likely a trap; he knows there will be consequences down the road, and most importantly, he knows Ayaka doesn’t want him to take it. But with Ayaka a statue and Medusa staring him down, his options are limited, so he downs the pill. Doing so summons the demon White Princess Evermilion—perhaps the reason Ayaka calls him “Princess”?—who’s a bit of a character.

We like how Evermillion isn’t there to do all the work for Honoka, but rather to tell him where he screwed up (failing to believe in Ayaka’s strength actually diminishes her strength) and how to revive Ayaka (by kissing her like Sleeping Beauty.) She’s polite enough but sounds put out, warning Honoka not to summon her too often, perhaps for his own good. So while Medusa wasn’t the mortal threat we were expecting-yet, at least-her arrival required Honoka to take one more step closer to the deep end of the witches’ pool.

7_very_goodRating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • Honoka’s mom is a bit loopy, but she righteously calls her daughter out on her brother complex.
  • She also reveals she used to be Ayaka’s mom’s girlfriend. Because they couldn’t marry, they promised each other that their kids would instead.
  • Being from a family of means, Ayaka was able to have custom Honoka stress dolls made, which she hides too late for Honoka not to notice.
  • Ayaka’s kiss in the nurses office was pretty sweet, and there was a lovely surrealism to her pulling back the curtain to reveal Medusa and her five henchwomen just chillin’.
  • Another example this show has trouble fielding capable villains: Chronoire brainwashes all of the tower witches in town, only to be apprehended and imprisoned instantly by Ayaka’s mom. Where’s the challenge?

Witch Craft Works – 04

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Takamiya Honoka’s innate magical power is so great that when he’s in Kagari’s proximity, she’s virtually invincible. This begs the question: why hadn’t Honoka ever been attacked while Kagari wasn’t around? They’re close, but they’re hardly inseparable. This episode answers that question, both for us and the Tanpopo-led Tower Witches who make another ill-fated attempt to attack Honoka: someone else is protecting him. Namely, his little sister Kasumi (a very sharp, indignant performance by Kayano Ai).

In hindsight, we should’ve known Kasumi would step out of the shadows and margins of the frame and have a bigger presence, but we didn’t think it would be this fast or this big. Frankly, we liked the idea of keeping her in stealth-stalker mode for a few more episodes, but the whole reason she was doing that turns out to be because Kagari was stepping on her toes by hanging out with Honoka on a weekend. Kasumi is a jealous, possessive imouto who is resolved to protect her brother, who while slightly taller is far weaker in the magical tactics department.

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Faced with the intolerable prospect of more of her precious time with her beloved brother being sapped away by the Princess, Kasumi takes action, subjecting Honoka to a tense bathroom interrogation, then (successfully) guilt-tripping him by mentioning she’s being picked on by the masses at school upset with his closeness to said Princess. But when Tanpopo’s crew distract Kagari, it’s up to Kasumi to save Honoka, arriving atop a gargantuan stuffed bear. Tanpopo counters with a giant rabbit, and a huge, silly fight ensues, resulting in much destruction of property, but ultimately not as fun as last week’s broom ride.

Yet again, the baddies look like hapless fools, with two exceptions: Chronoire, low on mana after her first encounter with the “King and Queen”, smartly uses Tanpopo’s crew as pawns to keep the pressure on, and later collects all 30-odd Tower witches in town for a powwow. All the while, Tanpopo’s crew’s boss, Medusa, has escaped from SuperMax confinement, meaning we could soon see an “if you want something done right, do it yourself” scenario. Still, after their impressive displays of power and collective devotion to Honoka, we don’t expect Kagari or Kasumi to shrink in the face of whatever evil threats are converging.

7_very_goodRating:7 (Very Good)