BokuBen – 03 – Acts of Defiance

In direct and efficient 78-second cold open, Yuiga’s mission is suddenly made tougher: Furuhashi and Ogata must receive an average score or higher on the upcoming midterms. Both the headmaster and their former tutor (pink hair) believe its in the best general interest to steer the girls towards the fields of study in which they excel, believing their desire to study elsewhere frivolous.

The ex-tutor even considers it negligent not to press more strongly for the girls to get in their lane. The adults aren’t factoring Furuhashi or Ogata’s dreams or happiness into the equation. But Yuiga has been here before himself, and so he’s uniquely equipped to empathize with and fully support them in their bold endeavor to forge their own paths based on their passions, not their natural gifts.

Of course, only Furuhashi and Ogata overhear the headmaster and tutor, and now feel the pressure to succeed lest another tutor—and their favorite by far—be relieved of his duties (though I can’t imagine that would have stopped him from tutoring them anyway). Takemoto wonders why they look so down; she can sense the sudden heightened pressure now on their shoulders, and Ogata’s commitment to get results.

Now that all parties (save Takemoto) are aware of the raised bar for those results, Ogata, whose Japanese midterms come first, asks Yuiga to come to her house to supervise her studying. The fact she’s so comfortable not only inviting him, but also interacting with him at her family’s udon restaurant, speaks to the evolution of their relationship from adversarial and suspicious to something far more like a real friendship.

Meanwhile Yuiga isn’t just doing this so he’ll get a free ride; he has a philosophical horse in this race, plus he just likes these girls and wants to help if he can…not to mention Ogata looks fantastic in her restaurant outfit. He doesn’t know he’ll be fired if they fail, so Ogata simply asks the rhetorical question of what will happen if she fails. His answer—they’ll just keep studying for the next test—is comforting…as is his patting of her head.

When the day of the test comes, Ogata is immediately fearful when she sees parts of the test are areas she didn’t study as thoroughly, but resolves to do her best, and lo and behold, she scores an above-class-average 71, to her own bewilderment and Yuiga and Takemoto’s delight. Ogata refrains from mentioning out loud that a little bit of dumb luck factored into that score, but that’s just another reason to keep at it.

That means it’s up to Furuhashi. Only problem is, she has a cough and a high fever. Yuiga suggests she delay and take the make-up test; she declines, as it would mean an automatic 20% deduction in score (which hardly seems fair). To prepare, she invites Yuiga and Takemoto to her house…which turns out to be huge, with a genkan with more square footage than Yuiga’s living room.

Being unaccustomed to visiting female classmates at home, Yuiga takes Furuhashi’s “just come on in” too literally and walks in when she’s topless. Yuiga realizes the error of his ways and stays out until needed.

Just like he saw Ogata in a new light at her home, Yuiga learns something new about his old pal Takemoto: she’s a superb cook. When he likens her appearance to that a new wife, Takemoto’s imagination conjures a scene of domestic bliss between her and a salaryman Yuiga.

Turns out Takemoto was right: some hot food and rest were just what Furuhashi needed, and she feels ready for the midterms. Like Ogata, she voices her hope that he’ll keep tutoring her, and that she trusts she’ll reach her dreams if she sticks with him. Yuiga is flattered, but urges Furuhashi, whos pajamas a a little see-through, return to bed.

Furuhashi manages a score higher than average as well, impressing the headmaster and further irking the former tutor. Yuiga and the three girls celebrate at a family restaurant. Yuiga may not know that his tutoring job and VIP consideration was just saved.

With Ogata and Furuhashi out of the woods, the second half of the episode focuses on Takemoto Uruka, and IMO reinforces her standing as Best Girl. Her swim club friends, impatient with her pureness and lack of progress in nabbing Yuiga, take matters into their own hands by taking her to a hip clothier and dressing her up all adorable-like; a way in which she can’t help but feel extremely self-conscious.

In this suddenly out-of-sorts state achieved by her caring friends, Takemoto has no idea how she’d act around Yuiga, but immediately gets her chance as the two cross paths in town. Since she’s right next to the bookstore, she tells him she’s going to buy some textbooks; he decides to join her, while failing to remark on her very different and extremely cute new look.

While initially weary, Takemoto soon finds comfort and joy in being so close to Yuiga; feeling the warmth of his shoulder and feeling his breath in her ear as he talks. A little boy points at them and declares them a couple, and when a kid does that you know you look like one.

Outside the store, they come across a store selling an accessory Yuiga’s sister wants; but the competition to win it is couples-only. Sensing another opportunity, Takemoto seizes Yuiga by the arm and leads the way.

The competition turns out to be a “princess carry” endurance contest, and Takemoto is worried she’s too heavy because she’s recently gained a lot of muscle in swim club. She soon tears up about the prospect of being too heavy for Yuiga, but he interprets those tears as abject embarrassment over having to be held by him, and he commits himself to winning the contest, which they do.

Takemoto is happy beyond words. Her friends dressed her up cute so she’d more easily “attack” Yuiga, but the fact is she’s always wanted to be a princess; people have just noted her athleticism and placed her in the “tomboy” mold, and inertia has kept her there.

It was immensely fun to watch Takemoto’s girly side openly expressed. She was the third of three girls this week defiantly moving against the grain set for them by others, and her resulting glee really emanated through the screen. She may not have confessed—and perhaps never will!—but spending a day as a couple was at least something, and seemingly enough for her for now.

Shuumatsu no Izetta – 06

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While most of Izetta and Fine’s scenes this week are kept pretty lightweight, the episode also demonstrates how precarious Eylstadt’s situation remains despite the early success of the White Witch’s unveiling. It also shows the lengths to which the enemy will go to learn of Izetta’s weakness, and the lengths to which Sieg will will go to stop them.

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As Berkman gains access to the Empire’s ultra-top-secret “Division 9” research “workshop”, Elvira attempts to stuff Izetta in a tight corset, then makes her practice dancing with Bianca. Finally, Fine and Izetta “disguise” themselves as townfolk in order to sample some desserts from a cafe Fine used to sneak off to before she was Archduchess.

Suffice it to say, this is extremely reckless behavior during a time of war, even if their disguises were any good (they were not). The episode tries to have Fine pass off their exposure as a good thing, furthering her popular tomboy image and such, but I wasn’t buying it; this whole detour to the bakery was nothing but problematic.

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It’s Sieg who serves as audience surrogate when he says gently but firmly, “no more” to Fine regarding sneaking off into town. She’s not a precocious tomboy anymore, but the leader of a country that still hangs by a thread. One of the frays in that thread is swiftly dealt with thanks to Sieg and his crack counter-espionage team.

That means the death of Jonas and an uncertain fate for the Germanian spy who didn’t gain any information. I enjoyed Jonas as an everyman on the front lines to this point, but unless Sieg was as ineffective at protecting Fine’s interests as Bianca was this week, Jonas’ death warrent was signed the moment the spy knew he knew something.

With one problem taken care of relatively easily, Sieg leaves it to Fine and Izetta, travelling by flying gun on a circuitous route, to persuade the powers meeting in Britannia to do something about the Germanians, preferably before they unveil a secret weapon of their own from Division 9.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 23

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Commander Carta Issue is ready to accept the consequences for her latest humiliating failure at the hands of Tekkadan, but Lord Iznario says she’s being given one last shot to redeem her pride honor. It’s thanks to an unlikely benefactor: McGillis himself, whom Carta can’t help but blush before when they meet on the stairs.

Carta may believe herself a worthless, humiliating failure, but she forgets that when she and McGillis were kids, she always treated him as an equal, despite everyone around them saying they weren’t because of Gill’s low parentage. All that mattered to Carta was that McGillis was a Fareed, and he should always stand proud and strong.

Now McGillis is simply asking her to do the same, and she will. But who knows the true reasons he wants her to fight Tekkadan once more, and how that coming battle fits into his grand plan to reform Gjallarhorn.

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As the Edmonton Express proceeds unabated, Merribit is increasingly concerned that the orphans of Tekkadan, including Orga, have gone mad in their thirst for revenge, and that it can’t possibly end well. But those same kids she wants to keep out of the fight tell her to back off. They’re fighting for Biscuit, and they will not be denied.

If only Gaelio could fight for his dead friend Ein. We see the toll Ein’s transformation into essentially a half-Gundam takes on Gaelio. Just as the Tekkadan kids are being metaphorically hardened into killers (which Merribit hates), Ein has been literally weaponized. He no longer has the luxury of choice, nor does he want it; he is still “alive” to avenge Crank and his other fallen comrades.

I never thought I’d be comparing Gaelio and Merribit, but here we are: both are appalled and scared of the sudden turn things have taken, but I don’t think either will be able to resist the force of the currents they’re caught up in.

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Even more unsettling is that Carta is, on some level, being thrown to the wolves by McGillis, with Gaelio and Ein sure to follow. Carta doesn’t realize the extent to which killing Biscuit radicalized Tekkadan.

She also quite wrongly assumes their patience and willingness to have a good old-fashioned 3-on-3 duel to decide whether they may pass or whether they hand over Makanai and Kudelia. Mika, in particular, isn’t having it. Why should they? Chivalry in this situation doesn’t do them a damn bit of good.

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Carta magnanimously gives Tekkadan 30 minutes to prepare, but Mika doesn’t need one. He rushes Carta and curb-stomps her two McGillis lookalikes. He doesn’t just disable their suits, he kills them, and then starts mercilessly whaling on an overwhelmed Carta. Even Lafter gets a little squemish at the sight of the carnage.

She rants about how this can’t be and who she is, but Mika doesn’t care about any of that, and neither do the kids who are watching (and won’t let Merribit send them away). Carta and Gjallarhorn are the enemy, and they’re in the way, so they’ll get crushed.

For a few moments, Mika is the bully, the antagonist in this fight, and Carta is like a lamb in the snow I’m feeling sorry for, even though she shouldn’t have expected anything else. It was a little hard to watch.

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A weeping, utterly defeated Carta is only spared from death at the last minute by Gaelio, but her injuries draw comparisons to Ein’s when he was last defeated. Could Carta end up the brain of another Gundam, like him? I don’t know, but Gaelio doesn’t have the heart to tell her he isn’t McGillis. McGillis, presumably, has moved on to other steps in his big plan.

The train makes it to the gleaming city of Edmonton, on time and ready to deposit their passenger right smack-dab in the parliament when the time comes for elections. Orga calls the city “the enemy’s grounds.” Mika listens, as he pops a snack in his mouth, unsurprisingly none the worse for emotional wear after his 3-on-1 beatdown.

But he used to just follow orders; take out those who he’s ordered to take out, because orders were orders. Now he’s finally seeing those he takes out not just as targets, but as enemies; those who stand in the way of Tekkadan getting to a place where they belong. If anything, this realization only makes Mika a more potent weapon.

As for Merribit, she seems to have taken on the thankless mantle of Tekkadan’s conscience, thinking about a future beyond the next battle’s outcome, like Biscuit did before. But is that future the “Final Lie” of the episode’s title?

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 22

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This episode doesn’t stray far from the familiar patterns associated with the aftermath of the death of a major character. Rain clouds gather. Tekkadan’s march forward is suddenly halted. Their leader Orga withdraws to his room to be alone, racked with grief and guilt over the decisions he made that cost Biscuit’s life. The iron flower’s petals are wilting.

As predictable as this reaction and its resolution may be, it’s important to remember why they’re predictable: because they’re realistic. The loss of someone both dear to the Tekkadan family and integral to the Tekkadan business reveals that yes, indeed, these are still a bunch of kids. Even Orga can’t deny how few years he’s been alive, nor can he conceal the fact this is the largest loss in his life to date.

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Naturally, as the other kids of Tekkadan deal with their grief without their leader around to share in it, the adults don’t skip a beat. Fareed’s father orders Carta home, telling his chosen pick for Prime Minister that Carta has only proven to be a “worthless tomboy,” which is pretty harsh but not inaccurate. Carta’s job was to stop Makanai, period. She could not attain that result even with superior manpower and equipment. Carta is furious over her latest defeat and wants to keep going after the “space rats”, but follows orders.

The other two, non-shamed members of Carta’s childhood triangle, McGillis and Gaelio, are busy as well. McGillis makes Gaelio confront his prejudice and ignorance over the A-V system (the only thing at this point that can save Ein) by showing him the A-V research that continued even after the war. Gaelio laments the “loss of humanity” needed to embrace A-V, but McGillis remarks, not wrongly, that every time the world has changed, either for better or for worse, it was because someone abandoned or exceeded their humanity.

Revealing a squadron of new (or really old?) mobile suits, McGillis reveals his “plan”: Ein and Gaelio will both undergo the A-V procedure, and together with him eliminate Tekkadan and prove that they should be the ones running Gjallarhorn. In reality, McGillis intends to keep propping up Tekkadan and Kudelia as a relevant threat in order to use them as a stepping stone to power, i.e. overthrowing Gjallarhorn. In other words: he may only be their ally as long as they do what he wants them to do.

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Meanwhile, aboard the Montag ship, one of the “kids” is also moving forward without stopping. That’s Kudelia, and it’s no surprise: she already went through the pain Orga and the others are enduring after the loss of Fumitan. She decided long ago that no matter how much blood ended up on her hands, she wouldn’t stop fighting to become Hope.

That’s an important distinction from becoming a leader, as Makanai suggests after hearing her plans to get him to Edmonton via a train in Anchorage. A leader is just a person. She wants to be more than that, more than a mere human agent whose power is extinguished when she dies. She seeks an enduring transformation and influence. That’s the same area where McGillis is operating.

The adults on the Montag ship are powerless to do anything about the low morale. Merribit wants to do or say something to Orga, but isn’t confident she can get through to him. Laffter and Azee are more comfortable with their role right now, unable to fix the morale, but still committed to doing what they came there to do: support Tekkadan on behalf of Naze.

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As I supected, it’s Mika who breaks Orga out of his funk. Merribit is inches from knocking on his door, but Mika appears, and she suggests they both simply leave him be. But Mika comes right back and crashes Orga’s pity party with some cold hard truths. Way back when they were kids, they had an agreement, one that predates even meeting Biscuit: Mika would do anything, kill anyone for Orga, as long as Orga took the both of them to that place where they belong. That place was never simply an abstract concept for Mika: it’s a place.

Up to this point, since Biscuit died, Orga hadn’t been telling Mika anything. That ends right here and now, with Mika grabbing Orga and asking again and again what he wants him to do. He stands there, ready and waiting to carry out his will. He also puts it to Orga: are they there yet? No. So they must keep going. After bringing Orga back into the present with his eyes re-fixed on the future, lightning strikes; a nice, if on-the-nose touch.

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Orga emerges from his room, musters his boys, and tells them the best way to honor Biscuit is to make sure he rests easy knowing they’re continuing the job they have to do. At the same time, he makes it more about a job, which he probably has to considering how much of a jolt the kids need to keep going; he makes it as much about revenge.

After Orga’s pep talk, Tekkadan gets back to work, and the iron flower’s petals re-sharpen. As the credits roll, we see Makanai and Tekkadan already aboard the train bound for Edmonton, meaning they didn’t have any trouble getting to Anchorage or securing transport. That indicates the next three episodes are going to start taking care of business in earnest.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 01 (First Impressions)

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I enter Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu a little late–it almost flew past my radar–until a commenter mentioned it as one of the season’s best – and I’m inclined to agree.

SGRS‘s first episode may be 47 minutes long (and they don’t fly by quickly), but it starts off strong, immersed me in both sides of the obscure world of rakugo – and offered numerous fantastic performances on and off the stage. It’s also the rare show that made me laugh out loud and get me all misty-eyed.

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Recent parolee and former gang member Yotarou begs the great rakugo master Yakumo, who once performed at his prison, to make him his apprentice. On a lark, the initially reluctant Yakumo agrees, and brings him to his house. Which is good, because Yotarou had no Plan B!

Yakumo doesn’t live alone, however: he’s the guardian of Konatsu, the daughter of his late rakugo colleague, Sukeroku. From first glance, Konatsu looks interested in following in her father’s footsteps, but hides her practicing from Yakumo, who apparently doesn’t approve.

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After moving in, Yotarou gets to experience Yakumo live once more, amidst a packed and enthusiastic theater Yakumo has eating out of his hand, and not by any trick. He’s simply extremely good at telling comedic stories with multiple voices that draw the audience in, and you can bet I was drawn right in with ’em.

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But while Yakumo has the adoration of many in this small niche of theater, he betrays his prickly side when he learns of Konatsu studying her father on the sly. Konatsu loses her short temper (it’s clear Yakumo knows exactly how to push her buttons) and is held back by Yotarou in a very theatrical and beautifully-framed shot, seen above.

This is a show whose main characters are all, well, characters, and you get the feeling they’re playing roles even when there’s no audience (other than us, that is). And when these strong personalities clash, like Konatsu and Yakumo often do, the atmosphere crackles with electricity.

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The show puts a roadblock ahead of Yotarou’s journey to become a rakugo star before it even gets off the ground when his old boss from the gang shows up with another job for him. This guy’s a rakugo outsider, for sure: both ignorant to and unwilling to learn about its charms, having already deemed it “tepid rubbish.”

He’s also someone Yotarou was always extremely obedient to, so I was glad when Konatsu spoke up when it looked like he was wavering. Ultimately, it’s Yakumo who resolves the standoff, entering the room and instantly snatching all the authority in that room, sending Yotarou off to practice and inviting the boss to come see his old soldier’s first very show in front of a crowd.

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This long episode’s centerpiece is Yotarou’s performance of “Dekigokoro”, in which he uses his vocal talent with his own crime experience to get consistent laughs out of the sparse but intent crowd. This is a ten-minute long sequence with no interruptions, and it was spellbinding, particularly when accompanied by jazz.

His old boss laughs once he sees the light, and how well-suited the chatterbox is to rakugo. Konatsu also can’t help laughing, though she tries to stifle it. As for Yakumo, he seems proud that Yotarou was able to send his old boss away with his performance, but he also seems a bit miffed that his apprentice is eschewing his tight, precise style for the looser mode of Sukeroku.

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Yakumo takes this opportunity to get another dig at Konatsu, calling her out for what he considers her attempts to “bring her father back to life” through Yotarou, even though he has “no skill” and is only a “passing fancy.” This jealousy, pettiness, and cruelty he displays comprises a “dark side” he shows only to a select few people closest to him, and it’s ugly; he makes Konatsu cry, but to what end? His own self-aggrandizement.

In the episode’s dramatic and emotional apex, a distraught Konatsu visits the friend of her late mother, begging her to tell her the truth about what happened. The friend only tells her what she’s already heard, but can’t accept: her parents died in an unfortunate accident, and no one was to blame.

Konatsu survived the accident, but now she curses she was born a woman, because she’ll never be accepted as Sukeroku’s successor. I hope she’s wrong about that. Both her grief and frustration were strongly felt through the screen; Kobayashi Yuu does stunning work throughout the episode and here in particular.

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After Yotarou stays up too late the previous night listening to Sukeroku (sent to bed by a flattered and concerned Konatsu in a lovely scene between them), Yakumo makes him open one of his own performances with zero notice. The packed crowd only has sporadic polite applause for him, as Yakumo watches him in the dressing room, still not over Yotarou’s apparent obsession with his late rival.

Then Yotarou commits a seemingly unforgivable sin of dozing off just offstage. His snores momentarily interrupt Yakumo’s story, but because he’s a master, he smooths over the disturbance with a little bit of improv. Still, when the performance is over, he formally expels Yotarou, calls a rickshaw in the thick snow, and heads home without him.

The rickshaw is a great touch, as Yakumo is imperiousness incarnate with his wheeled throne and arrogant pipe as Yotarou prostrates himself in the snow to deaf ears. The Winter snow is also an easy way to up the stakes for Yotarou, who will literally be out in the cold if the expulsion sticks.

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I honestly felt really bad for Yotarou, despite pretty heinous screw-up. But the fact his expulsion is as much about Sukeroku as it is the snoring is not lost on me. It’s Konatsu who takes pity on a freezing Yotarou loitering outside her house, and gets him an audience with Yakumo once the latter had time to cool down.

While Yotarou and Konatsu probably won’t ever be a couple per se, their many interactions this week built a solid a foundation for a close relationship hovering somewhere between friends and adoptive siblings.

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After having time to think about it, Yakumo takes a more pragmatic approach to Yotarou, realizing that the rakugo flame will go out when he dies if he discards young people who wish to carry it on. It doesn’t redeem him entirely–he still doesn’t seem open to Konatsu being a rakugoka-but it does paint him as a complex human being, with good and bad parts interspersed in his character.

So he gives Yotarou three conditions for reversing his expulsion and moving forward with his apprenticeship: he must memorize everything Yakumo gives him; he must find and nuture his own rakugo, not merely continue to imitate Sukeroku’s or his own; and most importantly, he must outlive him; which considering Yotarou’s criminal past, isn’t necessarily a given! He also makes Konatsu promise to outlive him.

Yotarou agrees to it all, though he’s not sure at that moment if he’ll be able to follow through, he’s not going to squander his second chance. Then Yakumo tells the two to get ready for a long night, because he intends to tell them the story of a promise he and Sukeroku made. I can’t wait to hear it!

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 03

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Don’t look now, but despite the lack of asterisks or wars, The Asterisk War is not only eminently watchable, but getting better with each passing episode. We pick up at Ayato’s evening rendezvous with Claudia in her sumptuous Page One chambers. But it’s nothing so course as a liason, nor has Claudia tricked Ayato; she has a job for him. There’s someone out there injuring Festa participants, and Julis is their next target. Because he’s developed such a good rapport with her, Claudia is depending on him to keep an eye on her, should she come under ambush.

Speaking of ambushes, Claudia offers a sexy reward for his service, but which also serves her own desire to see the look on Ayato’s face when she offers it. Claudia was probably expecting Ayato to flee from her advanced advances, as the young lad probably doesn’t know the first thing to do with such a beauty as herself. Yet in her comments about him not paying attention to her (or at least the attention she wants) there’s a tinge of jealousy. She wishes she had a guy who cares about her the way Ayato seems to care about Julis.

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The next morning, Ayato does know what to do when he sees Julis’ out-on-the-town clothes, which she claims she just “threw together”: compliment them. Good Ayato! They proceed to have a lovely date that gives the two a chance to bond more, and for Ayato to prove he’s as tough as Julis thought (staring down the still-ridiculous Lester at “WCDONAID”) but also labeling him “unfathomable.” Um, I think that’s Ayato’s line for you, highness!

What the date mercifully lacks is unfortunate trip-and-fall accidental groping silliness, or overt tsunderity on Julis’ part (no running away in tears or embarrassment, either). Instead, there’s a lot of smiles shared between the two, suggesting Julis isn’t so quick to deny actually she’s enjoying herself on this mission to repay her debt, and Ayato is obviously not going to complain about hanging out with a beautiful princess. She even wipes ketchup off his face without blushing.

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The highlight of the date has to be at the end, when they witness a rival school brawl that the sharp Julis quickly sees is actually another ambush. Her line about going to “grilling them for answers” and Ayato’s game reply, “keep it to medium rare or so” is a wonderfully dorky buddy action movie exchange, but it shows how far the two have come in just a few days of interaction.

Julis deals with the thugs without any trouble, but spots cloaked figures in the woods and goes after them, alone. Ayato, naturally, follows her, becomes another one of their targets, but eventually forces their retreat without a head-on confrontation, with the parties obviously loath to reveal who they are. Ayato is fine except for a ripped shirt, but Julis thought his participation in the chase was “a bit careless.” Again, that’s Ayato’s line!

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That night, it’s Julis’ turn to invite Ayato to sneak into her chambers from the window, and when she tells him they’re going to “get it over with” and orders him to “remove his clothes”, well, Ayato’s mind understandably races. No worries, Julis simply wants to mend his shirt with her sewing skills. Get your head out of the gutter, Ayato!

Then there’s this very nice scene with Ayato patiently waiting as Julis sews away, and he notices a photo of her with her friends from her home country. Julis then gives away more of her backstory then she probably thought she would that night, explaining to Ayato how she was once a palace-escaping tomboy who ended up in trouble in a dark alley. She was saved by a group of other young girls (girl power) who lived at a nun-run orphanage (more girl power). She became fast friends with the girls, without telling them who she really was (though not ruling out that the nuns knew).

The orphanage has since fallen on hard times, and since she’s unable to secure funds for a “money-losing welfare program” with her name (her royal family is only a puppet regime of the Integrated Empire), she’ll make the necessary money with her own power, in this “vulgar, insignificant city” that also happens to be the one place anyone can get what they desire.

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Claudia is here to restore the academy to greatness. Julis is here to save her friends’ orphanage. So…what’s Ayato here to do? He hasn’t been quite sure of that…until the end of the episode, when he says “good morning” to Julis, but she’s distracted by a suspicious letter and soon runs off on her own again. With her debt to him officially repaid, has she reverted to treating him aloofly like everyone else, not wanting a friend?

Claudia doesn’t think so; on the contrary. Julis is leaving Ayato out of whatever she’s running to not because she doesn’t trust him, but because she’s trying to “protect what’s in her hands.” Ayato can now count himself as one of those things. But he gets a say too, and it finally occurs to him why he’s here: to protect her right back.

Claudia tosses him Ser Veresta and he rushes out after Julis. She’ll probably protest his presence, but she can’t simply lock up otherwise capable people she cares about for their protection, when they can be of much more help by her side. Like post-credits CGI Claudia, I’m looking forward to seeing how far Ayato and the Ser Veresta go.

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Aoharu x Kikanjuu – 02

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After a clever and fun first outing, things get a little more tedious as Matsuoka whisks Hotaru off to an airsoft field, where she proceeds to have a lot more fun fighting and gradually making a new friend than I had watching her. We’re introduced to Matsuoka’s antisocial friend Yukimura, who calls Hotaru “prevert-san” and bristles at Matsuoka’s bringing in of a third person. He doesn’t want anymore friends, because he was betrayed by so many of them before.

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And there’s the issue: we see his friends tearing up a notebook of what is presumably his drawings, but the exact nature of the betrayal escapes us, and Yukimura just isn’t that interesting a character anyway, even though we see several sides of him. There’s also the fact that Hotaru continued to hide her true gender from both of them, and while I thought for a sec Yuki figured it out, that was also ultimately unclear (did he give her the S&M manga because he assumed it would freak her, a girl, out?)

At any rate, it doesn’t really matter. The airsoft combat was brief and uninspiring due to their opponents being generic assholes (though they do eventually end up prostrating before their favorite mangaka Yuki), Yuki’s turnaround felt to rushed and forced, and it’s likely this show is going to keep going with Hotaru pretending to be a guy for the time being, even though the most interesting thing they could to is get the truth out there. My impatience with that major gripe will likely continue to sap my enthusiasm for this show, so it’s better if I exit early.

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Aoharu x Kikanjuu – 01 (First Impressions)

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What is it: Tachibana Hotaru, a girl who many mistake for a guy, is StuCo president at her school and obsessed with defeating evil as a hero of justice. Her first day living on her own, she meets Matsuoka Masamune, a handsome but brash man she pegs as an evildoer. When her friend Kaoru reports she was hustled out of her money by a host, Hotaru races to the club to confront him, and it turns out to be Masamune who Kaoru met with.

Masamune, who has a huge following at the club, accepts Hotaru’s challenge to a duel, but only if its with airsoft pistols, with him having a handicap of only one pellet. Hotaru ends up losing when she uses all her ammo, and she now “belongs” to Masamune, i.e. must join his airsoft team. All the while, Masamune didn’t hustle Kaoru after all (she merely spent all her money gorging herself after she was thrown out of the club for being underage). Also, Masamune is unaware Hotaru is a girl.

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Why you should watch:  Well, first of all, because Hotaru is awesome. The way she dealt with those “toughs” at school was a real eye-opener (I was worried she was all bark/no bite) and she can handle herself in a variety of combat situations; it’s only her inexperience with airsoft that let her down here, and she’s sure to overcome that before long.

Komatsu Mikako (a RABUJOI fave) nicely bridges the vocal gap between male and female, and I’m glad Hotaru isn’t overly hiding her gender, but is the regular victim of external misunderstandings and “classic” Japanese gender archetypes.

You shouldn’t just watch because of Hotaru, though; Masamune is a pretty interesting guy, too. While I don’t doubt he’s a playboy, he’s not the evil scoundrel Hotaru believed he is. I even liked Hotaru’s friend Kotaru, whose omission of certain facts actually got Hotaru in this whole mess. That being said, Hotaru’s many punches, leaps and kicks this week prove she’s do fine in the world of airsoft.

There’s also the whole romantic angle of Hotaru suddenly being in the cross-hairs of her beautiful neighbor…if only he’d shut up long enough for her to tell him she’s a girl.

Finally, it’s hard to beat the scene of a whole swanky host club full of elegantly-dressed patrons suddenly donning airsoft goggles, like this happens there all the time.

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Why you shouldn’t watch:  If you’re familiar with survival games and airsoft, either in anime or real life, you might find the ample explanatory dialogue a bit tedious (“Pull the trigger to fire the gun.” …ORLY?). It could grow more tedious still as Hotaru leans the ropes.

Hotaru seems like a pretty direct person who’s not trying to harbor a secret, so if her real gender remains a secret too long, those who mistake her for a guy will seem increasingly dumb.

Finally, there’s the whole matter of these toy guns looking exactly like real ones. Something tells me just walking around in public with one wouldn’t end well…

The Verdict: A surprisingly clever and fun first outing for a show with a tough, but naive young lady just starting to strike out into adulthood, who has essentially been tricked into starting a hobby she had no interest in before, but may help further her overarching desire to become a better hero of justice, both in terms of combat skills and people skills. I’ll keep watching for now.

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Houkago no Pleiades – 05

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The cosplay club’s class is doing the play “The Lady in the Tower”, and pegged the elegant Itsuki as the princess and the tomboyish Aoi as the prince. Aoi, who is actually pretty girly, gets all gung-ho about making a dress for Itsuki, and Itsuki maintains a pleasant composure and lets everyone do what they want…but she seems a little uneasy, and wigs out when Subaru pulls her bangs back.

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In another Minato’s Garden sequence that calls into question where exactly Subaru actually is during such sequences (it seems likely they’re either in a shared dream or Subaru’s), Subaru likens Minato to the lady in the tower, only he doesn’t see any point in ever leaving; maybe because he doesn’t know what’s out there, or maybe because he’s exactly where he should be.

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In any case, he motivates Subaru to have another go to see what’s up with Itsuki, and they end up “going for a drive” which is a great euphemism (if a bit understated) for ascending into low earth orbit at dusk (they’ve collected enough fragments that this is now child’s play even for Subaru). There, Itsuki tells her about the time she herself was a tomboy, who’d put herself in danger.

While climbing a tree, the wind took her hat, and believing she could fly, leapt off the tree to catch it. The fall gave her a scar, for which her parents blamed her brother. From that point on, Itsuki vowed never to cause problems for others again. The wound on her forehead was still fresh when she saw the Pleiadian ship break up, the event that brought her together with the other girls.

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While up in orbit, the Pleiadian alerts Subaru and Itsuki to a “nearby” fragment, that he tries to draw to them, but instead it draws all of them to it. This results in the expected but still awesome expansion of the scale of the girls’ playground to include the rest of the solar system. In a particularly thrilling and charming sequence, the girls pass Mars, the Belt, and Jupiter while describing all of the foods their colors remind them of.

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When they finally come to a stop in a dense field of ice beads, the camera pulls way, way back to reveal they’re floating over the rings of Saturn, arguably the system’s most photogenic and charismatic planet. The pull-back creates another grand sense of scale; a scale larger than anything that came before. Indeed, the show even mentions the rings are as wide as five earths.

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Naturally, Minato (who may or may not be the same Minato in Subaru’s garden scenes…I’m just not sure yet) was able to follow the girls and tries to snatch the frag, but loses sight of it. Itsuki comes up with the idea of barreling through the rings, which flow like a river, to reveal the frag’s hiding spot, since its mass varies from the ice beads). It’s deeper science than one would expect from a Magical Girl show, and I like it!

Minato tries to go for the frag when they uncover it, but Itsuki decides to, well, not let her hair down, but pull her bangs up, throwing caution to the wind to beat Minato to the frag. I like this more fallable, defeatable Minato better than the bully of earlier episodes. I also liked Subaru and the others’ assurance that Itsuki shouldn’t fear causing problems for them; in fact, they would be honored if she did.

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Her bangs, and the scar below, were kind of like a tower Itsuki built around herself, along with the determination to avoid causing trouble, even if it meant suppressing who she was. If everyone wanted her to be a princess, she’d be one.

But now that she realizes that causing problems for those we love and care fore, and vice versa, is just part of the territory, she makes another bold move that’s true to herself by swapping roles with Aoi in the play. And it really works!

The awesome planetary adventures with dash of hard sci-fi combined subversion of Itsuki’s role in the group as “the elegant princess”, were all factors that contributed to my generous rating. Pleiades is on a roll.

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Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 11

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It sounds like Hannah was pretty disappointed about her show squandering its promise…though that’s partly on her for even remotely thinking that show was going anywhere daring or compelling.

Not to be smug, but didn’t have that problem with this latest Saekano. Last week focused heavily on the wild card Machiru, setting her up as someone who could genuinely challenge Tomoya, who was in need of some challenging in the midst of all his ladykillin’.

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What last week failed to do was show us what would happen when his harem came into direct contact with his purple-haired, skantily-clad cousin. The results were momentous; everything I hoped for and more. Utaha hawkishly defends otaku culture, while an initially flabberghasted Eriri even finds some common ground when Machiru mentions that, on some rare occasion, Tomoya can be cool and come through for you.

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We also find that exposing oneself to Michiru isn’t enough to convince her to compose your dating sim’s soundtrack; far from it. In fact, part of what gets Utaha so steamed is Michiru’s outsider-looking-in perspective of Tomoya, and his obsession with otaku culture, is something to mature out of rather than cultivate. When Michiru disses Tomo, she disses everyone in that room. Except for Kato…who is definitely in that room…watching and waiting.

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Michiru’s reasons for not jumping into Tomoya’s project go beyond her semi-maternal dubiousness with his present course in life. She’s got her own dream of being in a band, after all. When she says she needs a manager to appease her dad, Tomoya is eager to step in, but when she tells him it won’t be a part-time job, it becomes her dream versus his. That’s right: Michiru isn’t perfect; she’s selfish too.

What’s so awesome is how much sense her selfishness makes. She’s known Tomoya all their lives; and she has an idea what he could and should be that just doesn’t jibe with what he is and wants to be. But it’s her affection and concern for him, not merely her own self-interest, that comes through when she says this manager job could be just the excuse he needs to drop this whole gamemaker charade.

And she calls it a charade because she had a good look at his fellow circle members. While she’s well aware that they all have their reasons for being in that circle (calling Tomoya a sly dog in the process), she doubts their commitment to making the game is anywhere near Tomoya’s level.

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Of course, we know better, and so should Tomoya, but Michiru’s words create genuine conflict in his heart. Suddenly he’s not just the fumbling leader of a haremy doujin circle, but a guy trying to find out whether his dream is really as quixotic as she says. But Kato is up all night at Eriri’s working on the game, knowing Tomoya is a week behind; and Utaha is up too. They’re all working their pants off while he worries.

He then makes the best decision of this episode and calls Kato early in the morning, and they have this lovely, natural boyfriend-girlfriend phone conversation, in which he voices his anxieties.

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Yet again, Tomoya luxuriates in the very thing he has no idea he has with Kato, yet simultaneously must know on some level he has. Kato gets him out of his house, where he’d been worrying all night rather than working, and gets some breakfast into him, ever the practical mind. But in an ingenious gambit, she talks through the game prototype to comfort and reassure him.

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And in an even more ingenious and somewhat diabolical scheme, she keeps her hand firmly planted on Tomoya’s and the mouse as the dialogue starts going to places Tomoya rather wouldn’t; things about having feelings for attractive cousins, something to which she can relate.

While Kato claims the dialogue was simply random, let’s get real: there’s no way it was random. This was calculated payback for Tomoya “steppin’ out” on Kato, and it was absolutely glorious. For the first time in a while, she’s able to make Tomoya squirm as much as Michiru.

At the same time, she proves how good she is for him by picking up his slack without even being asked to, and not feeling forced or obligated to. It’s a brilliant dynamic.

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His confidence in the project thus restored, and his apology delivered, he shares an earbud with Kato so she can hear Michiru’s music, and she agrees that she’d be perfect for the soundtrack. And it could be that Kato’s little piece of mischievousness also inspired Tomoya to come up with a plan to snag his cousin.

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As he is a man of wide-ranging otaku means and connections, he’s able to get Michiru’s band a slot at a live performance, a gesture he uses to prove to her he can be an effective manager. In turn, Michiru lets him see her get teary-eyed for the first time since he carried her on his back when she twisted her ankle years and years ago. She also apologizes, admitting she was being selfish.

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Thus, Tomoya has his cousin right where he wants her: in his debt. Tomoya looks awfully proud of himself as the episode cuts to black, but I’m certain more compromises are in store for him, and managing both Michiru’s band and a circle full of girls competing against each other won’t be a cakewalk either.

Still, I’m willing to come out and say these past two episodes cemented Michiru’s place as my second-favorite girl after Kato. As she demonstrated quite emphatically, there’s simply no beating Kato!

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P.S. I’ll be watching Saekano’s final (for now) episode later tonight and hopefully have a review of it up not long thereafter.

Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 10

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AND THEN THERE WERE FOUR. Or FIVE, if you count IZUMI. OMG, WHY AM I SHOUTING AT YOU WHERE ARE MY MANNERS?!

Anywho, everyone’s favorite purple-haired tomboy Hyoudou Michiru is here, and her timing couldn’t have been better. Why? Because after a seemingly long string of episodes in which Tomoya is fawned over by one girl after another for various reasons, this week Tomoya is the fawner—perhaps not by choice, at least at first—and not the fawnee.

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Tomoya is content to bury himself in Blessing Software, as he holds teleconferences with his staff and make progress on the dating sim (though Kato’s line deliveries either need more work or none at all, bwahahaha). Then his only cousin Michiru appears, topless, in his bathroom, having run away from home after the latest disagreement with her dad (Tomoya’s uncle).

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Whether she is oblivious to her power over her cousin of the same age (who was born on the same day in the same hospital as her!) is having fun torturing a horny teenage boy, or is herself into Tomoya (the truth is likely a combination of the three) calling Michiru a disruptive force in Tomoya’s little otaku world would be a grim understatement.

The sudden 3D onslaught nearly drives Tomoya to insanity. The camera reflects his uneasy but utterly-unable-to-avert gaze, and it’s all over the voluptuous, scantily-clad Michiru. This episode features the most fanservice since the prologue; possibly more.

But like that promising if totally out of chronological order start, the fanservice is never tiresome because a.) it’s also character-service and plot-service, and b.) it’s very well-done, right up there with Monogatari. For example, animators are notoriously bad at feet, but not here.

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For one reason or another it’s a long night for Tomoya, so in the A.V. clubroom, he’s all but asleep at the laptop, causing him to spout supportive dialogue that gets Utaha all hot and bothered—and forces Eriri to quarantine her in the broadcast booth, where she nonetheless continues to participate in the discussion via the P.A. system.

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I like how the show clearly isn’t interested in such tedious minutiae as why Tomoya’s circle has such unfettered access to such slick digs. You’d think the A.V. Club would be in there, or at the very least some paperwork and lobbying would be required to gain access to the facilities. But this isn’t that kind of show. Saekano doesn’t care, and nor do we. They’ve got a place at school to work, and that’s all we need or care to know.

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Just as the circle’s topic of discussion turns to determining who will score the game, a very big oversight to this point, considering the awesome power of music (cough-Violin Girl-cough), Tomoya gets a cheerful text from Michiru asking when he’s coming home and stating she’s ordering pizza (or possibly four pizzas in one).

It’s innocent enough, reflecting Michiru’s unique position as friend, family, and love interest. Kato, possibly exercising Stealth Mode, “can’t help” but glance at Tomoya’s phone and read every word.

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That maks Eriri curious, which in tern makes Utaha curious, and Tomoya has a full-scale riot on his hands. He’s tied up in caution tape and interrogated, and each girl stays true to character: Utaha remains her seductive self, but is clearly annoyed and maintains a certain intentional unpredictability to put Tomoya that much more on edge.

Meanwhile, Eriri recedes to the very edge of the room, flustered and on the brink of panic. Kato is just Kato; meaning she kinda stays in the background and lets the two heavies do all the outragin’.

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When Tomoya tells them who Michiru is and why she’s in his house, it hardly assuages their anxiety. On the contrary, it sets these two creatives types’ imaginations ablaze, as Utaha writes a scenario about the cousins on the spot, one so troubling it just about does Eriri in, which may have been Utaha’s intent all along.

But it’s true that while Utaha teases, often very seductively so, she can’t touch the inherent intimacy of Michiru, nor her fearlessness and utter lack of inhibition regarding Tomoya. Eriri, meanwhile, may be a childhood friend, but Michiru, who was present at Tomoya’s birth, is the Ultimate Childhood Friend.

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What I didn’t think I’d see was so much of the family side of Michiru. I’d thought all along that she was at least a little older than Tomoya rather than the same age, but even so Michiru lives in a more “normal” world than Tomoya, and takes immediate (and unsolicited) attempts to make him grow up, first by tossing all his otaku crap and replacing it with her own, more sober musically-themed room decorations.

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This means that in addition to having Utaha’s seduction and Eriri’s longevity beat, she also gives Kato’s domesticity and practicality a run for their money. Keep in mind Michiru is not being mocking, but giving her honest opinion as someone who’s known Tomoya longer than anyone, when she tells him he could easily get a girlfriend if he stopped acting like a weirdo. The fact that Tomoya wouldn’t be interested in that kind of girl is irrelevant; Michiru is looking out for a family member. One has to think about marriage at some point!

Similarly, when Tomoya is finally able to segue into telling Michiru his dream of creating the ultimate dating sim, Michiru couldn’t be less impressed. In fact, she finds it ridiculous that Tomoya would try to make a living off his childish hobbies. She even strikes a concerned parent/wife pose…which wouldn’t look bad painted on the fuselage of a P-51.

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Tomoya has always had a blind spot for the non-otaku Michiru, who has flitted from passion to passion, always abandoning something when she’s bored, while it’s in his nature to stick to one thing like stink in a Basset Hound’s un-groomed ear. But here’s the thing: Michiru is really good at everything she tries. Of late, she’s been in an all-girl band, which was the cause of her argument with her dad. So we know she’s good at that too.

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So good, in fact, that when she decides to defy Tomoya while he’s taking a bath by plugging her guitar into an amp and playing a piece she’s working on, Tomoya sees the same cherry blossom petals that flew by his face when he first saw Kato on that hill. Not only that, he sees the entire dating sim story unfold to Michiru’s stirring tunes.

He’s so spellbound, he forgets he’s in nothing but a towel when he enters the room, a reversal of their first encounter this week. Michiru is about to apologize, but Tomoya isn’t there to hear one. He’s there to ask her to join his circle as composer.

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Then his towel slips off, and Michiru gets the Full Aki. She neither accepts nor declines. She simply stares. Having been built up so much recently by the fawning of Utaha and Izumi and Eriri, Tomoya has come back down to earth and stands before Michiru, as naked as the day they were both born in the same hospital.

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Ao Haru Ride – 02

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When I think back on it, this show’s first episode had its protagonist in a very dark place. Of course, high school can be a dark place for a sizable chunk of youths; a place where you compromise and do what you have to do to just get through it; where you take advice given years ago about “always getting along with your friends” and you make that happen at any cost, because the alternative is being all alone.

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In other words, it’s a pact you make with yourself, and it’s a pact we thought Futaba would continue to honor for some time, both much to our chagrin and, evidently to Mabuchi’s as well. While he’s still hard to read, his words to Futaba about Asumi and Chie being “friends in name only” created a small fissure in the “High School Armor” she’d spent so much time and effort polishing; getting lost in its sheen and forgetting important things like emotional connections and trust.

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Those cracks spread when Futaba finds Makita—a girl who acts all cutesy around guys like she used to and pays for it by having to eat outside in the cold, alone—to have a perfectly reasonable explanation for why she acts the way she does—because that’s just who she is. She’d rather bear the petty ire of her peers than cease being her natural self. She doesn’t deserve the treatment she’s getting, but no one said high school was fair.

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That’s when Futaba, with her now badly-cracked armor, sits down with Asumi and Chie, and she suddenly can’t suffer any more bile directed at Makita. The real Futaba bursts out of the tatters of that false armor, giving her “friends” a thorough piece of her mind, thereby losing them in the process. But good riddance: real friends should be able to be themselves around one another. Futaba couldn’t be that around them, so they weren’t meant to be friends.

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She realizes this too, so it doesn’t hurt much when her relationship with the other two girls is officially rescinded. But while she lost those two vapid gossips, she gained a lot more: the respect, attention, and even affection of Mabuchi Kou (who she finally starts calling “Kou” rather than Tanaka, since that’s his name now), a new, real friend in Makita…and our regard as well. I gotta say; girl did good this week. I’m glad Kou realized that too, giving her a cute hug through the window, shielding her teary-eyed face from passersby.

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Her gesture to cast away the artifice of “getting along at any cost” and its fallout may have been modest in the grand scheme of things, but right here and now, in the jungles of high school, it was a significant, life-altering achievement. And no doubt Mabuchi was a catalyst for that change, whether he intended to be or not. I’m now hopeful there’s something about him that she can fix…no need to keep things one-sided!

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Ao Haru Ride – 01

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Futaba and Tanaka were both quiet, shy, unassuming middle school students. Then Futaba assumed that Tanaka would show up for their date after she yelled “I hate all guys!” in the hallway. He didn’t, then suddenly moved away, because of HER his parents moved. Even though nothing ever came of it, Futaba maintains Tanaka was her first love.

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Fast-forward to non-watercolor present, where Futaba is in the third term of her first year of high school. Little does she know her beloved Tanaka is not only there, but has been all year; he’s just not “Tanaka” anymore, having recently escaped from a secret lab that experimented on him with drugs and implants changed his name to Mabuchi after his parents divorced.

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He’s also taller and hunkier, which is one reason why Futaba never noticed him until the third term. Another big reason is that she wasn’t looking for him, and she was too busy reinventing her personality to fit in with her peers. When she was cute and girly, she got dumped on, so now she maintains a tomboyish persona so as not to offend anyone and risk their ire.

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It’s served her well, but it still seems like a goofy performance she shouldn’t have to force herself to do, let alone get used to, to the point when she can no longer separate who she is from who she’s pretending to be. And while she just noticed Futaba, he’s known she was there all along, and while he feigns indifference, he seems to disapprove of what’s she’s doing.

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While we know a lot less about what makes Mabuchi tick, it’s clear he made some changes of his own, ostensibly to fit in better with his peers. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was caught off guard by her hopeful, excited reaction to finding out he was “Tanaka.” His cold attitude could be more a sign of fluster and frustration it took this long than genuine acrimony.

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The road ahead for these two looks rather rocky; with Mabuchi making some very definitive statements like “that was in the past” right out of the gate. The fact of the matter is, Futaba’s pleasant, if somewhat forced, high school life has been upheaved, and I’m sure the more attention she pays to a guy instead of stuffing her face like a clown, the more she’ll see who among the girls is really her friend and who isn’t (hint: probably not a lot of them.)

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Is this a ride worth staying on? Too early to say. There were some decent moments of comedy and teen drama. It’s certainly very pretty, and the character designs are appealing (as long as you’re not weirded out by everyone’s very round, expressive eyes). But this is a jam-packed Summer season. Both this and Glasslip were serviceable but not outstanding. And between Kimi ni Todoke and Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun, I’ve already watched my fair share of above-average rom-coms that enjoyed better starts. So we’ll see.

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