Little Witch Academia – 18

Miracle Magical Shining Tornado Punch!

The Gist: Constanze is the side character of choice this week and the setup is a popular ghost hunting event called Wild Hunt, which Croix has somehow gotten Constanze permission to participate in. Akko wouldn’t have any role to play at all, were it not for her ability to cause havoc (she destroys one of Constanze’s mech helpers) and her neurotic urge to ‘help’ (she feels righteously driven to make up for destroying the mech, no matter how much additional damage she causes and how many times Constanze chases her away)

There’s a lot of legacy Gianax/Trigger going on here, with TTGL-style mecha fights — pushing to the limit — as well as Space Patrol Luluco style anachronistic aesthetic blends. (Rocket Powered Pirate Ship) While these nods are executed very well, with all the tongue and cheek over the top delivery you would expect, they are transparent call backs to better series from the companies past, and that ultimately points out how not-glory-days LWA is itself at present.

As to Constanze herself… there isn’t a lick of dialog. Nor, really, is background provided. She’s this generation’s only technomage, but she doesn’t have a strong connection with Croix (they are never in the same scene together) and that tech/magic blending doesn’t even draw comment from the other students or teachers. That’s stuff we already knew of course and the only additions are the implication that she is a deeply unhappy girl, a loner, who’s parents took a family photo in front of a swedish tall ship once… yeah, not much there?

You could probably argue that Constanze experienced character development this week. Slowly accepting Akko, even seeing value in Akko’s silly mech-drawing, and ending on a smile… but who cares? Constanze has existed as little more than background art for seventeen episodes so far. Again, who cares?

So we have another generic Croix-villain plot, featuring another B-cast member tagging along with Akko, that ends with Croix closer to whatever her villainy is but Akko gaining another friend, which will probably be necessary to unlock the final word or words. No word was unlocked this week and nothing consequential about the plot was revealed to the characters. Sucy and Lotte aren’t even in the story, save some background elements. Diana isn’t in the episode at all.

So why do am giving this week a higher rating than last? For all its negatives, in a vacuum, this episode just had more charm — and a heck of a lot more creative visuals too. Yes, it was completely generic by Trigger’s elite standards but those standards provide powerful emotional anchors and excitement all the same.

The Verdict: as a series, LWA is profoundly ill constructed. Gradually introducing more classmates as part of Akko’s world is fine but giving them stand alone episodes in the last act of a second season is idiotic. Even more so when it cuts the main cast out of the story. (I guess Diana’s research into Ursula’s true identity is just gonna… wait a bit) Beating the villains doesn’t feel earned and the world-building-elements just come out of nowhere. (For a show so full of details, I kinda wish we’d had more build up for the wild hunt… or a pay off)

But as a self contained episode it was fun and, if it had happened 10 episodes ago, it would have done wonders to round out the classmates. That said, if the pattern holds, next week will feature the girl who’s always eating… and I can not imagine that being remotely as interesting.

Little Witch Academia – 17

The Gist: Shiny Rod indicates the 5th word is nearing but, before Professor Ursula can tell Akko much more than ‘it has to do with tradition’ she’s whisked away by school duties. So Akko and a very angsty Amanda O’neal head of to the Appleton Academy, which may be the hiding place of the Holy Grail. Hey, if the Holy Grail isn’t traditional enough, what would be?

Unfortunately, AA is an all boys school full of rich jerks that hate magic. Surprisingly, Amanda is able to pass for a while, but not before king of the jerks Louis Blackwell more or less becomes the main character of the episode. His father is chairman of the school and the Nation’s Minister of Defense but… its a very questionable decision to introduce another new character for an already bloated cast seventeen episodes in. Even less so when he’s just an assier version of Andrew…

Speaking of Andrew, he has a nice conversation with Akko which demonstrates how different their world views are. He is driven by duty and nearly only does things he is required to do, where she is driven by a sense of purpose and personal desire and almost never does what she is expected. The message clearly started to connect with Andrew, and was driven home even more when Akko wanders off before he finishes a tirade. (before he notices she’s left)

Eventually, Andrew has to intervene when Louis captures the girls. Being Andrew, his solution is to propose a formal duel, as is tradition at the academy. This goes well for Amanda twice and, as she’s saved Louise’ life by the end, she is free to go. Maybe the witches even gain a few young allies to boot!

The Verdict: LWA continues to do everything wrong but somehow be just charming enough to keep my attention. I appreciate that Akko doesn’t unlock a word this week but, in structure, the episode unfolds the same way it would have if that had been the case. It’s a weird throw-away module featuring mostly side characters and barely hinting at the core plot.

Amanda x Louis’ duel was nice enough (Amanda’s Chun’Li spinning kick was totally boss) but Amanda herself isn’t a terribly likable character and resolving that she will ultimately stay at school with Akko due to friendship solves a problem we didn’t have before this episode.

Sprinkel in a ton of unanimated panning shots, a very straight forward ‘Croix is still up to no good’ thread, and you have a big pile of meh?

Little Witch Academia – 16

The Gist: Team Akko visits Lotte’s family and immediately befalls an outrageously rare curse that slowly turns everyone into moss. (before eventual death) Without adult supervision, the Girls must band together and collect the ingredients for a cure. However, Akko quickly becomes the only one left and, not knowing the area or as much about magic as her friends, she struggles until the end.

But this is LWA we’re talking about. Akko learns patience and, coupled with her natural endurance, and Shiny Rod, she saves the day and unlocks another word! (MAYENAB DYSHEEBUDO)

This week gave us some great set pieces like the Yeti who’s self conscious due to internet bullying, the irritated reindeer who’s poop Akko must collect, and the general goofiness of the curse.

It also carried the usual Akko/Sucy/Lotte charm, with Sucy’s love of the Hapansilakka pies (and Akko’s hatred of it) playing for some good laughs.

However, episode 16 is absolutely rushed and it’s point about Akko needing to learn patience was too simplistic. The fact that we learn anger is the most efficient medium for magic to be absorbed by the villain’s robo/magic devices doesn’t really add anything. More so, because we see this from a disconnected viewer-point of view, and not through a revelation to our heroes.

If LWA was only 12 episodes long, I could forgive it, but that’s not the case. More importantly, many of the first 12 episodes felt rudderless and pointless diversions from the central plot.

The Verdict: From the moment Professor Ursula says the next word is something Akko lacks and really needs to learn, the entire point of the episode becomes groan-inducingly clear. It’s all delivered well enough, with plenty of quirky LWA details and nice animation, but there’s nothing creative under the surface.

Hopefully, Akko will learn the next few words through a more dramatic (or at least touching) process. Otherwise, the gains the show has made by establishing it’s long term focus will quickly fall apart.

Little Witch Academia – 15

The Gist: Professor Croix’s villainy is finally revealed, as is Akko’s destiny. This is in large part because Akko is lured to Croix’s lab and experimented on in her sleep, in the name of learning more about Chariot (and Shiny Rod). All of this leads to a magic battle with Ursula, which results in an anticlimactic stand off, despite some impressive effects leading up to it.

Having no time to waste, Ursula lays out the history of the great tree, of which only the leylines remain, and the importance of the 7 words, and that Akko’s spirit has been reviving them. She literally walks Akko through the memories of waking these words, which fills Akko with purpose and joy.

However, for whatever reason, she does not reveal that she is Chariot, nor does she warn Akko of Croix’s motives…

The good bits stuck close to Ursula this week. While the resulting face off with Croix was anti-climactic and unnecessary, Ursula’s battle up the steps of the new moon tower was nicely animated and gave us a great look at the powers of a competent witch. It was also nicely foreshadowed, as Akko walked past the dangerous looking archer statues and creepy decorations.

Ursula’s motherly explanation to Akko about the words was full of great feels too. While I don’t think a secret mother-daughter plot will be revealed, the filial love and pride was all there, and it was delivered with respectable subtlety.

As interesting side notes, there’s division amongst the students over Croix. While some students carry their tablets openly (reading ongoing stories about the shooting star no less) others like Amanda don’t see the point. If magic and science are the same thing, what is the value of magic in the first place?

Meanwhile, Diana Is starting to figure out Ursula is more than meets the eye. I suspect she will reveal the identity to Akko, which will pose a short term betrayal twist for Akko/Croix vs Ursula, before Akko x Diana join forces to save the day… but I suspect that’s many episodes off yet. (Diana is still looking for Ursula in the old Luna Nova year books)

The Verdict: Unfortunately, Little Witch Academia remains a not especially well constructed narrative. This is most obvious in the show’s use of repetition of scenes, which feel like a mix of filler and a lack of confidence in the audience to get (or even remember) what was important in previous episodes. Given the sluggish pacing and lack of focus, that lack of faith may even be deserved, but it feels no less like a cop out.

Take Croix as an example of LWA’s clunky structure. Not only is Croix not foreshadowed or built up in the first 13 episodes, but Croix herself claims to have been secretly observing Akko all this time. This makes her appearance as an antagonist feel rushed and tacked on and that lack of build up robbed the first season of purpose.

Compare this to the bizarre choice to keep Shooting Star as a recurring element that will, no doubt, play a roll in Akko’s eventual success — or compare it to Diana being in the crowd behind Akko at Chariot’s show during their childhoods’ — and you just have to wonder why Croix didn’t receive the same treatment? For goodness sakes, Andrew has had more build up than Croix, and he remains without any relevant narrative purpose…

In the end, the heart and rendering style carry LWA just above a 7, but not by much. I may go so far as say it’s the most disappointing show I’ve reviewed in a while, and the most disappointing I would still recommend you view.

Little Witch Academia – 14

The Gist: Luna Nova’s faeries form a workers union and go on strike. This is due to the very meager amount of life-giving magic energy shared with them by the school but the school cannot afford to give them more. Magic is fading from the world, after all.

An angry Akko attempts to break up the union but manages to be swayed by their argument. So much so that the faeries make her the union’s general secretary, which leads to a great scene where Akko shuts down Diana with chants of ‘Aristocrat.’ Also, the faeries seal off the philosopher’s stone, which shuts off everyone’s ability to cast magic.

Enter Professor Croix on a flying Roomba, who will teach modern magic and has begun integrating magic and technology, and is most definitely not secretly behind the strike, with her robots nor her need to get the school to buy into her research program. Her program, Sorcery Solution System, can fix the dwindling magic issues for everyone, and does, for now…

The Good: This week was full of clever details and subtle humor. From Croix’s flying roombas being the ‘evolution’ of brooms, to the headmistress’ “Oh my, what a textbook downward trend” response to a magic PowerPoint presentation, to the Shooting Star being featured on the back of Akko’s newspaper again, the world and the people in it all get a great deal of building up. (and it’s funny and charming to boot)

It’s also interesting to see parallels between Akko x Diana and Ursula x Croix, and to play with Akko being quite taken with Croix, and still unaware that Ursula is actually Chariot, the one witch Akko would align with most strongly in the world. (But may no longer, since Ursula has cocked up revealing the destiny plot for so long)

The Meh: The new opening credits sequence is clunky. It presents the Akko x Diana conflict and future Croix x Ursula conflict way too obviously, with little visual flair and forgettable music.

It’s also jarring to introduce a central villain in the second season of a show and, while that villain mirrors other themes established in the first season (magic’s inability to adapt to a technological era), it’s just so out of left field. (“Oh here’s the new teacher” is literally quipped by the headmistress.) More over, the ‘tragedy’ of Ursula not being able to tell Akko about her destiny comes off as hamfisted McShakespeare.

The Verdict: Little Witch Academia is the Anakin Skywalker of Anime. It’s the theoretical perfect storm of natural talent, it plugs into something we want to see more of (anything from Trigger) but the production around it is constructed with such a solid lack of common sense and competent story telling that you could often be excused for thinking you could write something better.

Will it go Darth Vader and kill all its younglings, or will it stay focused and never give me a reason to use a clunky Star Wars metaphor again? Only time will tell!

Little Witch Academia – 13

The Gist: The Samhain Festival is quickly approaching and Team Akko can not escape their fate as sacrifices to the sorrowful ghost Vajarois…and Sucy and Lotte can not escape the feeling that Akko’s plan to make that sacrifice more fun, is just a lot of wasted effort.

However, things begin to turn around when Diana’s lackeys Hannah and Barbara pull Akko aside and chew her out for the ‘trick’ she played on her. While making fun of Akko’s place in life, they go out of their way to throw shade at Lotte’s lack of presence and Sucy’s creepiness…while those two are within earshot in the hall. And why not? Team Akko isn’t anything but the laughable leftover losers in their eyes, and in the eyes of much the rest of the school.

The Samhain Festival gets underway and it becomes quickly apparent that the guest witches’ opinion of Luna Nova isn’t much better than Andrew’s muggle father’s. The traditional events largely bore them, or are done incorrectly like the bubbling pot that spits slime at them or the dancing flower that eats one of the girls casting the spell.

Curiously, the guest witches heap much of their criticism at the feet of Luna Nova’s Grand Mistress, Miranda Holbrooke. This struck me as a bit strange, only because Holbrooke has come off as stodgy as Professors’ Badcock and Finneran (At least, she had until Akko had raised her father from the dead a few episodes ago). Regardless, the visiting witches don’t give any examples of why Holbrooke’s management has been deficient, though she certainly lets Team Akko run with their tradition breaking idea—going so far as to restrain the other professors from interfering.

Speaking of Team Akko, with an energized Sucy and Lotte now by her side, Akko puts on a slapsticky ‘Sacrifice Show’ for Vajarois and the guest witches. While many of the laughs are at Akko, whose magic transformations teeter on the edge of failure, the crowd is laughing and, eventually, the trio manages to lift Vajarois’ curse in a fantastic display of light and pleasure.

The emotion of it all even reaches Diana, who can’t wrap her head around what she’s seeing, and who she’s seeing do it. More interestingly, she’s shocked to learn that Akko’s group isn’t even allowed to qualify for “Moonlit Witch,” because they broke the rules, in spite of creating a good and unexpected result appreciated by all in attendance, including the dissipating ghost herself…

Thankfully, winning “Moonlit Witch” was never really the point for Akko. As much as she said otherwise, all she wanted was to do some magic that other people thought was fun, and to do it with her friends.

Confronting traditions seems to be the major theme this week. That, and that witches are overly focused on magic without practical application, and don’t appreciate that practical application is needed in their world, and needed to justify them to the non-magical world.

Like AkkoAmanda, Jasminka and Constanze put on a great show of skill cleaning up after the failures of the traditional performances and, like Akko, that trio is payed no mind at all because of their place in life (magical janitors).

Even Diana’s masterful performance rings a bit hollow, as summoning a magic unicorn doesn’t serve a practical application in comparison. Diana hasn’t made that exact connection yet, but it will be interesting to see if she carries more respect for Akko and the others into future episodes. Because she was impressed, even just for the magic’s sake, this time around.

The Verdict: LWA has re-tightened it’s grip on my heart these past few weeks. Putting aside the lackluster episodes that weakened that grip mid-season, LWA knows how to charm with western style slapstick (Sucy’s casual pointing as Team Akko plummets to the ground is pure Bugs Bunny) and simple power of friendship themes.

The battle against tradition is an interesting focus as well. Consider how strange it is that Luna Nova has had the ability to lift Vajarois‘ curse for ages—right there on the shelf—but none of the witches have bothered to investigate, let alone try it out. Its little wonder that a baffoon like Akko is needed to shake up their world.

How this all plays into Chariot’s secret identity and the greater magic words plot, who knows? (I didn’t see Akko unlock another word this time out) Regardless, it moved the characters along, the world along, and was a hoot to watch throughout!

Little Witch Academia – 12

I’m pleased to report that this week’s LWA did not squander the goodwill earned in last week’s exemplary outing, as there is now a significant event at Luna Nova, the Samhain Festival, which will take us to the halfway point.

Akko knows that Chariot was named “Moonlit Witch” at her Samhain Festival, so naturally wants to pull off the same honor. She doesn’t accept the “sacrifice” duty she drew from lots, and her friends’ discouraging (if realistic) words only make her more mad, so she storms out of her dorm.

She happens upon an exchange between Committee Chairman Diana and some students who have collected some mirrors for their duty. The one Diana recommends is a “prankster” variety that, when Akko looks in it, gives her Diana’s form and voice.

Some decent comedy ensues, with every passerby asking Diana for help, including her two groupies, who Akko decides to pull a prank on by telling them they’re cursed, drawing on their faces, and leaving them in the courtyard all day and night. I’d say that’s harsh, but these girls have been asking for her wrath, and they get it here.

But thankfully, while masquerading as Diana, Akko learns a little bit more about her rival, specifically, that Diana doesn’t take her status and pedigree for granted. She works very very hard, and juggles many many responsibilities. She and Akko are also after the same thing: making the world a better place for magic again.

Akko-Diana is found out by the real Diana while trying in vain to cast a life-breathing spell on a giant statue of Jessica. Diana not only takes care of the statue, but returns Akko to her normal form. She also mentions that Akko skipped out on her meeting with her, Lotte and Sucy for her sacrifice duty.

Diana chastises Akko (and rightly so) for making big bold claims without anything to back it up, wanting to excel as a witch without putting in any of the necessary hard work, and pitching hissy-fits whenever she doesn’t immediately get her way. Akko’s only comeback is yet another big bold, baseless claim: that she and not Diana will be Moonlit Witch at Samhain.

But later, while reflecting on her own, Akko regrets those words and laments the reality: her chances of fulfilling her claim are pretty much zero, in the face of Diana’s talent, bloodline, and work ethic.

Chari-err…Ursula, who promised her mentor she’d aid Akko in the quest to revive the seven words, tells Akko what she thinks Chariot would do: only what she can do, and not compare herself to others.

When Ursula leaves her, the Shiny Rod lights up and directs Akko back to the Fountain of Polaris. This time, Akko asks it what only she can do, and she’s shown someone’s memory of talking to a younger Chariot as she’s practicing various amazing transformation magics.

But what strikes Akko about this memory, is how joyful Chariot seems as she’s performing her magic, and that it doesn’t at all look like she’s training to win the Moonlit Witch contest, but merely honing the magic that interests her; doing only what she can do. A light bulb goes off in Akko’s head: now she knows what only she can do…though she isn’t so kind as to tell us.

We’ll just have to find out what that is, and whether it helps her chances at Moonlit Witch, next week, when the Samhain Festival begins in earnest. We’ll also see if Akko manages to escape sacrifice duty.

Little Witch Academia – 11

Finally, finally LWA stops spinning its wheels with skeleton chases and fancy balls and throws us some juicy story meat, revealing the role Akko will play (or rather, is playing) in reversing the accelerating decline in magic throughout the world.

The reason Charior is so intent on helping Akko isn’t out of regard for her biggest fan: it’s because she believes Akko could be the witch to stem the tide of magical oblivion. Of course, Akko still doesn’t know Ursula is Chariot, and it stays that way, but Ursula still relays a very Chariotesque saying: “That which is dreamed cannot be grasped, but work towards it, day after day, and you will find it in your hands.” 

She’s telling Akko not to be so focused on the future and her ultimate dream—to become an amazing witch like Chariot—and instead focus on the extremely hard day-to-day work that’s needed just to become a competent witch. And Akko has been working harder, with Ursula giving her after-school lessons every day for a month.

By mentioning the blue moon, Ursula probably did not intend to send Akko digging through her trading cards, finding one that references a “blue moon apparition” in the bowels of Luna Nova—but that’s where Akko goes, when the moon is high, notably without Lotte and Sucy tagging along.

Akko’s journey deeper into the abyss is a return to the sense of awe and wonder I got from earlier LWA episodes. Watching Akko continue to move forward even in the midst of terrifying stone witches (and even a false Chariot trying to discourage her), earned her back some serious likability points in my book.

As she explores deep below the school, Diana searches the towering shelves of Luna Nova’s deep archive on her broom. The same blue moon that guides Akko also shows Diana the book related to the quest Akko doesn’t even know she’s already on: the unlocking of something called the Arcturus using seven words to unseal the “Grand Triskelion” that will “change the world.”

I can forgive Diana’s largely expository role because the archive is so cool-looking. As for the seven words, Akko unwittingly revived the first when she opened the portal to Luna Nova back in the first episode. This week she unwittingly reives the second.

She does so by rejecting the future the “blue moon apparition” offers to her, for the low, low price of, oh, her entire past, including memories of everyone she’s known, even Chariot, as well as all the mistakes she’s learned from.

She’d rather achieve that future on her own rather than taking a shortcut, and by saying the magic words that translate into Ursula’s words (about “that which is dreamed” being attained through day-to-day toil), she not only turns the Shiny Rod into an axe but uses it to free the apparition from the wood to reveal a beautiful otherworldly woman.

That woman is Woodward, the professor who inspired Chariot when she was a student at Luna Nova. Woodward was testing Akko, and for once, she passed: the second of seven words has been revived.

What happens when the remaining five words are revived? The Shiny Rod, AKA Claiomh Solais, will break the seal of Arcturus and release the Grand Triskelion, which will “change the world,” presumably for the better as far as witches and magic goes.

In a way, this episode felt like a seal had been broken, not only unveiling the overarching plot and indicating a clear path for Akko, but restoring the show’s wondrous atmosphere, was well as my faith in it going forward. For now, at least, my concerns have been nicely allayed.

Shoujo-tachi wa Kouya wo Mezasu – 02

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Now that Bunta has agreed to make a bishoujo game with Kuroda, he must be properly initiated into the world, which Kuroda achieves by leaving a choice selection of games in his shoe locker. She also shows him where the magic will eventually happen: the room she has reserved for the “Marketing Research Club”, which she helpfully points out is just a front in another quirky discussion between the two.

The Bishoujo Club has a producer in Kuroda and a writer in Bunta, but they’re short, a minimum, four more staff positions: for lead animation, programming, CG Art, and voice acting. She uses English-based acronyms to describe these jobs, but since this isn’t my first otaku rodeo, I found her explanations to Bunta somewhat redundant.

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Despite Kuroda’s belief his social skills would make him the perfect recruiter, Bunta brings back a bunch of unmotivated poseurs. Then Yuuka and Atomu barge into the club to look around, and Bunta realizes Yuuka would be perfect for the voice actress role (of course she is; she’s Hanazawa!) and Yuuka herself is interested in voice acting, even if she doesn’t much care for games.

That leaves Atomu, who isn’t sure how he can contribute, and fails to impress Kuroda…until the subject of dating comes up, and he goes on a bitter rant about how fickle girls are and how he wants nothing more but to abandon the 3D world for 2D paradise. That gets Kuroda’s applause, and she appoints him assistant director.

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Kuroda continues the initiation of her new club members by returning to Akiba. Strangely, Bunta acts like he’s there for the first time despite having gone there just last week with Kuroda alone. Maybe now that he’s into games he’s seeing the place with freshly opened eyes?

There, Kuroda shows them some very nice doujin works (including some by pros) and boldly proclaims they’ll create a game that will leave all the others in the dust. This isn’t a labor of love for her, results matter. Especially when her brother runs a highly successful game company.

After the group breaks up for the day, Bunta visits a maid cafe…where his classmate Andou Teruha just happens to work part-time in secret under the work name “Luka.” I thought sparks would fly, but both parties keep their cool, with Teruha switching from her normal deep voice to the bubbly Luka at the drop of a hat, while making clear her job will remain a secret (she doesn’t have to say “…or else”).

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After spending all night playing games he’s legitimately into, Kuroda’s next task is for him to acquire an artist. He’s not that good at discerning good art from bad, but that’s the person she wants searching for talent: if he’s moved by something, than it’s going to be something special.

Sure enough, while perusing the wares at a bookstore, he comes across a little sign drawn in a style that makes his heart flutter. His research determines it was done by  “Hokikiyo”, alias of the top-ranked-on-Pixi Yuuki Uguisu, who also just happens to attend their school as a first-year, and works at the bookstore Bunta visited.

However, she’s also a painfully skittish milquetoast, however, so the club’s aggressive attempts to recruit her fail at first (i.e., drawing her out with a love letter and then surrounding her menacingly).

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It’s when Teruha sits beside a frustrated Bunta and learns he’s making a girl game and looking for “Hokekiyo”, Teruha reveals she’s a fujoshi (another term defined by side-chatter), is familiar with her work, and helps recruit her, cornering her in the girl’s lavatory and bringing her to the club room. Everyone praises her enough to convince her to createart for their game, though she quietly confesses she really wants to draw for an eroge.

Teruha herself also joins the club as a programmer, and just like that, the team has been assembled, presumably leaving the rest of the show to the production of the game. On this efficiency, I’m a little torn: quickly getting the “building the team” out of the way is satisfying in its way, but it relied on an awful lot of convenient coincidences.

Also, and this is could be an ongoing thing if the two episodes are any indication: the characters all feel rather smoothed over, subdued; as if they lack sharp edges; Atomu’s “breaking”moment being the lone exception. The characterization and accompanying comedy often walks a fine line between understated and overly buttoned-up, even to the point of tedium.

I hope it doesn’t stray too far to the latter side. What with all the intros, there wasn’t a lot of time to go in depth with anyone. Perhaps the show will find a stronger voice once the game-making gets underway in earnest.

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Shoujo-tachi wa Kouya wo Mezasu – 01 (First Impressions)

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Haruchika and Prince of Stride had pleasant enough first episodes, but weren’t particularly dazzling or earth-shattering. To be honest neither is Shoujo-tachi wa Kouya wo Mezasu, but it did do something more often than those other two shows: it made me laugh, and it impressed me with its characterization and snappy-ish dialogue. So far, SKM reminds me of a quieter, less punchy, less fanservice-y Saekano.

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Continuing the theme of honesty into this second paragraph, none of the characters in SKM are staggeringly unique, but they’re well-executed and I quickly came to root for not only the hard-working, gregarious Houjou Buntarou, but also his little circle of friends, the “inconveniently popular” Kai Atomu and in particular his good female buddy/possible childhood friend Kobayakawa Yuuka, a talented girl who wants “to do everything she wants to do” whom Hanazawa Kana breathes life into.

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While the raven-haired loner maiden Kuroda Sayki gazes mysteriously from afar, “Bunta”, as everyone calls him, is always in the thick of it, whether it’s seeing to everyone’s needs at the restaruant where he works, to shooting the breeze with his neighbors, to settling classroom disputes amicably. He’s a nice guy; the only problem is, unlike Yuuka, he has no idea what he truly wants to do.

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Enter Kuroda. In a uncomfortably funny (but not vulgar) scene in the men’s room, she has a very interesting (and also funny) conversation with Buntarou, likely the longest one he’s ever had with her by far. It’s full of compliments: he’s observant, in tune with the needs of those around him, and knowledgeable about the “leisure areas” of town. Their talk ends with Kuroda asking him to arrange a date for them on Saturday, so she can tell him something she can’t say at school.

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From the get-go, I had the feeling this wasn’t anything as simple as a date with a girl who likes him, but rather some kind of evaluation by a girl who might find him useful. Nevertheless, Bunta proceeds as if it were a conventional date, complete with accepting Yuuka’s offer to put him in touch with an underclassman known as the “Bitch Queen” who offers him sage advice on tomorrow. Her line about “cladding herself in innocence for the sake of her bitchiness” was pretty amusing, and I hope we get to put a face to the voice.

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The day of the “date” arrives, and Kuroda encourages Bunta to take the lead, showing her a good time at the amusement park while responding to most of his personal queries with “it’s a secret.” By sundown, he realizes what we viewers realized, but like me, he knows there’s nothing sinister about her motives.

Rather, she takes him to a game store in Akiba, shows him the value of the successful games versus the failures, and lays out what she wants: to make a bishoujo game with him. She believes he has the writing chops and the personality to help make her dreams come true.

As for the details of those dreams, all she’ll tell him is that “the world is a wasteland” where “the innocent are only devoured”, and wants to strike out and stake her claim in that wasteland with Bunta by her side. Bunta, unsure of what to do up until now, has been given an intriguing opportunity; he’d best not waste it!

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Prison School – 10

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What is that I see in Vice President Shiraki’s eyes, as she files Mari’s nails and then half-heartedly agrees that the school will be better off without the boys? Could it be a tinge of fondness for the five lads; a reverse-Stockholm syndrome, if you will? I don’t know, but I suspect her feelings are conflicted, at the very least. After all, if the boys are gone, who will be left to punish? Girls?

The council would certainly have some punitive measures in place for the likes of Chiyo, if they knew she was sneaking messages to Kiyoshi in his meals. By the way, why haven’t the two of them been doing this all along?

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In any case, the message she gets back is not from someone with any hope left, but someone saying goodbye and take care. The boys’ spirits are all but broken, and Gakuto is downright nuts, even faking out his buds with an absurd idea of sneaking themselves out with the meals like Chiyo’s note, and ordering fried grasshoppers for his “last meal” (a last meal that, by the way, seems to me like Meiko’s idea).

Meanwhile, Mari makes sure her father understands how things are going to go down, and to be ready to affix his seal on the necessary paperwork when the time comes. While it can be easy to deride Mari for exerting so much power while, at the end of the day, being beholden to daddy, it’s also a thankless position considering her dad’s abject inability to avoid exposing her to his latin butt fetish. He even kept the “mousepad” (a tremendous prop) while forgetting that glass is reflective.

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I don’t know if it was the taste of the grasshoppers or what, but Gakuto suddenly comes out of his psychosis, to the point he doesn’t remember ordering grasshoppers and rejects the dish outright. And yet, Meiko not only took that ridiculous order without batting an eye, she personally caught and fried the grasshoppers especially for Gakuto. This just isn’t someone in a big hurry to get rid of the guys. She’s someone who takes great pride in taking care of them, even so close to the end.

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And then there’s Prison School’s wild card, Hana, haunted by the feeling she’s forgotten something very important and impactful; something “that can’t be undone.” It’s only when the conditions of her last encounter with Kiyoshi are replicated that a switch flips in her head, and like Meiko, she doesn’t want the guys gone, but for a very different reason (so she can kill Kiyoshi, then herself).

But not so fast—just as a backlit Mari is smugly looking down on the boys as Meiko marches them up to the chairman’s office, the chairman is on his way down those same steps. Kiyoshi gave Meiko an appeal to give to him, but she tore it up. So what then, happened?

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Simple: the “appeal” was planted knowing Meiko would probably trash it. And that very obvious appeal would distract her from the fact Kiyoshi wrote the real appeal on his withdrawal form. And not just any appeal: a personal message to the chairman than he knows about his “buried treasure” out beyond the school walls. Once the chairman is in the prison, Kiyoshi quickly dismisses the notion that he intends to blackmail him; it was only to get him in the room.

Before he can consider postponing their expulsion to give them time to collect evidence of council malfeasance, the chairman has a very frank question: whether they prefer boobs or butts. Kiyoshi remembers the material he saw him with, and quickly states butts. But that’s not enough: the chairman wants to know why Butts.

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He makes a small origami sphinx out of Kiyoshi’s appeal just as Gakuto likens his riddle to that of the sphinx, about what has varying numbers of legs at different times (and the answer to which is “man”). As Meiko is eavesdropping, Hana tries to attack, but realizing the threat to the council a stabbed inmate would represent, she quickly neutralizes the Hana threat.

When Kiyoshi spots two round shapes from the window, he thinks it’s a butt at first, but it’s actually Meiko’s bust, the sight of which provides the spark to a response that will satisfy the chairman (who won’t hear any patronizing George Mallory-esque “because it’s there” BS). Boobs, Kiyoshi muses, only came about when mankind started standing upright, and no longer had the butts of those in front of them in their faces. Boobs are only a “pale imitation” of butts; butts are the original, accept no subsitutes.

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The discussion transcends its inherent dumbness with the pure seriousness and gravitas of its presentation, like so many other situations in Prison School (never before has shitting oneself in a computer lab seemed so goddamn noble before). As Kiyoshi get more and more worked up; as his idea takes a life of its own; he almost seems to become an “ass man” before our eyes in spite of his previous preference for the top bits. Performance or no, it’s more than enough to convince the chairman to give them one more day.

This outrages Mari, but the chairman, perhaps empowered by what he just witnessed, kindly points out to his daughter that he’s the boss, and he’s decided to postpone the expulsion one more day, and if she has a problem, tough. Like Chiyo, Anzu, and Meiko, he’d rather the male students not go, and wants to believe they can find a way out of their predicament.

Hana, meanwhile, is now a loose cannon consumed with a desire for revenge, even at (or perhaps especially) at the cost of her own life. She could represent Mari’s nuclear option, or contrarily, Kiyoshi and the others’ salvation. But like the lads, I’ll take that tiny strand of light as a sign things could still work out.

But guys, seriously: there’s no wet t-shirt contest. Meiko was just teasing!

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 11

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I was hoping something substantial would come of Zen’s stolen kiss in the watchtower last week (God, that just sounds romantic), rather than serving as a tease. I was hoping that kiss would start something that couldn’t be undone. This week, AnS’s penultimate episode, confirmed those hopes and then some with the loveliest, most upliftingly romantic outing of the show, that looked every bit as good as it felt to watch.

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It starts off with a speechless, stunned Shirayuki. Zen’s warm words of concern and his kiss have lit a fire in her heart, one that burns with a brightness and heat she didn’t know was possible. She’s got it so bad, she finds it difficult to even look at Zen, which obviously causes him to worry. Fortunately for both, Zen must off to Kihal’s island to negotiate a deal for the messenger birds. As Zen’s absence makes her heart only grow fonder, Shirayuki has at least a little time to process her feelings and figure out how to form a proper response.

While away, Zen shows the island elder’s he’s not a shitstain like their Viscount and impresses some kids, but while Kihal seemed especially nervous to travel with Zen, the two are never alone, dashing any possibility of a side-romance. As for Obi, he not only takes up an interest in Shirayuki’s herbalism, but also wants to help sooth her heart, which he suspects is troubled by something Zen said or did.

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He’s about to take her hand to comfort her when Zen re-appears, saying he’s right on schedule but still shocking both Shirayuki and me with the promptness of his return, just when Shirayuki was seeking someplace to think in solitude. Obi gives her one last assist by urging her to run into the forest. It turns out to be an assist for Zen as well, as he’s able to follow her into the forest to talk.

Once he actually gets her to stop running and look in his general direction, they simply walk around, enjoying the forest breezes, and end up in the same spot Zen once hung out with Atri; a place he’s been uneasy returning to since, but feels totally at ease thanks to Shirayuki’s presence.

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The opportunity for Shirayuki to tell Zen how she feels is here, and she doesn’t waste it. She tells him she loves him in addition to him being very dear to him and wanting to be his strength; her concern is whether it’s really alright to feel that way and look that way at Zen, to which the answer is obvious, since we’re in Zen’s head as much as we’re in hers.

Just as he lit a fire in her heart, she did the same to him, and he finally knows that there is someone out there who truly needs him, and doesn’t just go along with his wishes because he’s the prince.

The lighting, the music, the close-ups, and the gentle, precise animation as the two lovers draw closer together and finally kiss again, making official what had been an informal truth for some time; it’s all superb. As for Hayami Saori, it’s her best scene since Hatoko’s Rant in InoBato, though truly, she’s been on a roll all Summer with her work as Shirayuki.

I also appreciate that the mutual confession is now taken care of with an episode to spare, in order to bask in the afterglow, so to speak. Hopefully, Shirayuki can avoid getting kidnapped one last time!

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 10

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Shirayuki is finally herself again after recovering from Garack’s liquor prank, and by chance meets another beautiful young woman who, like herself, is committed to walk a path of her own choosing. This woman, Kihal Toghrul, has come to Wistal to ask Zen to weigh in on preserving a bird unique to her island’s culture which her new lord has decided to hunt for its gorgeous plumage.

Kihal, jaded by her dealings with Lord Brecker (a bit of a smirking dick), doesn’t think she’ll get anywhere with Zen, and indeed, Zen’s hands are tied as far as curtailing a lord’s activities on his own lands. However, Shirayuki backs Kihal up by mentioning the bird’s possible value to Clarines, with its potential to deliver messages faster than by horse.

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A test is set up, which is almost immediately corrupted by Brecker, who tries to strike a deal in which he’ll support Shirayuki in secret if she helps kill the test, and locks her up in a room when she refuses. Brecker spews the typical “status is everything” monologue that Shirayuki’s heard before. Not one to take lip from old assholes, Shirayuki puts Brecker in his place before leaping out the window to the lake below to recover the bell Brecker tossed away.

The bird points out the location of the bell to Shirayuki, who grabs it and sends the bird back right on time for the test to be a success. It would have been even more successful were it not for Brecker’s callous meddling, which gets him arrested. (I’d point out Obi was pretty dang hands-off as her bodyguard this week, leaving her alone with Brecker and all).

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When Zen rides to the watchtower and hears everything that happened from a guard, he races to the room where Shirayuki is resting and drying off. The arm injury she sustained from diving into the lake almost brings him to tears, and when she assures him she would never have hid it from him, he finally reaches a breaking point that was a long time coming, and kisses her; not on the hand or the forehead, but on the lips.

This is Zen acting on how he feels, and Shirayuki made it possible. This particular act was private, but whether it was a passionate impulse or a premeditated act of conviction, there’s no going back now. At least, I hope it isn’t laughed off, because I’m eager to see what happens if and when their relationship goes beyond mere friendship and mutual respect and into the realm of the romantic.

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