Magia Record – 03 – My Friend Whom I Hate

As Iroha finds herself witnessing a friendship of three girls strain against deep-seated resentment, she has another dream about Ui, this time with her two friends Toka and Nemu. The three are very smart and build amazing things together (which also make amazing messes) but Ui is constantly the glue holding Toka and Nemu together; the Momoko to Kaede and Rena.

Before Iroha can investigate the lead her new dream has provided, her new Kamihama friends Momoko and Rena have a more pressing problem: Kaede is trapped in a Staircase!

The three visit Coordinator Yakumo Mitama, who offers to “adjust” Iroha’s Soul Gem to possibly awaken more power, and also connects them with Nanami Yachiyo, the unfriendly magical girl who already warned Iroha not to return.

Yachiyo puts aside her animosity for Iroha (whom she believes to be so weak as to be a nuisance) and agrees to help the others rescue Kaede. The four have their Magical Girl transformations, all of which are very cool and very stylish. Yachiyo’s sandals and Iroha’s sheer top are particular fashion standouts.

 

Yachiyo and Momoko attempt to draw out the Witch by writing their names on the steps and then apologizing, and when that doesn’t work, Rena tries to apologize to Kaede, but it’s insincere. Finally she goes off on a rant about how she actually hates Kaede, and she’s sorry for “making” Kaede her friend.

That brings for the Witch and an elaborate Labyrinth of branching staircases. They find Kaede, and she and Rena eventually reconcile, promising to compromise in their relationship so that Rena isn’t always made out to be the villain.

Momoko and Yachiyo detach the Witch’s core (in the form of a bell) from the Labyrinth’s summit, and Rena and Kaede combine their powers to eradicate it. But oddly, there’s no Grief Seed, which means the entity they just defeated might not be a Witch.

Rena disguises herself to gain access to the medical center, and learns that while no one remembers Ui, they do remember her friends Toka and Nemu. They were eventually discharged, though they don’t remember where. It’s the first concrete proof Iroha’s dreams aren’t just dreams. They contain truths about the past.

That brings us to a post-credit sequence in which a Magical Girl from the original Madoka series makes an appearance: Madoka’s mentor and friend, Tomoe Mami. Kyuubey has summoned her to investigate the strange goings-on Kamihama City—including the phenomenon that renders him unconscious whenever he tries to enter.

We know that Iroha interacts with a “Baby” Kyuubey in Kamihama of whom “Adult” Kyuubey isn’t aware. It seems inevitable that Iroha will cross paths with Mami at some point. As mysteries continue to be revealed and twist together, my enthusiasm for this new series grows.

Magia Record – 02 – With Friends Like These…

Iroha keeps dreaming of her little sister, Ui. Kyuubey questions if Ui is or was even a real person, wondering why anyone would bother erasing her. But let’s not forget: Kyuubey is a trickster and can’t be trusted! Iroha’s apparent wish was to cure Ui, a wish that might result in Ui being cured, but doesn’t preclude her from disappearing, both from Iroha’s physical world and her memory.

There’s a medical center in her dream that’s a real place in Kamihama, so she sets off in the off-chance Ui is still a patient there. Her bus ride is interrupted by a Witch, who charms all of the passengers and lures them into a Labyrinth. Iroha transforms and follows, but again she is outmatched, as is a red-haired magical girl Akino Kaede. Fortunately Kaede has friends in Togame Momoko and Minami Rena.

Momoko, ostensibly the Mama Bear of their Kamihama trio, offers to help Iroha find her sister. Iroha supports Momoko, but Rena is opposed to any activities that deviate from their mission to investigate and stop the Chain Witch.

Iroha inadvertently serves as the catalyst for a huge dust-up between Rena and Kaede that leads to the latter saying their friendship is over, and Momoko only makes things worse trying to smooth things over. It’s clear that it’s hard in any universe for magical girls to get along, let alone maintain amicable friendships.

The thing about Rena is, she can shift her form to someone else, making a search for her the next day difficult. Momoko and Kaede want reconciliation, and so does Rena, but she’s held back, be it from pride, shame, or regret.

That’s when the infamous “Chain Monster” arrives, fulfilling the urban legend about writing your name and the name of a friend on a certain staircase to formally end your friendship. Just two episodes in and things get dark in a hurry, as the most cheerful and innocent of the magical girls is swallowed up by chains and dragged into the staircase. Rena and Momoko can do nothing to stop it.

The question is, is the Chain Monster the same as the Chain Witch, is the staircase a Labyrinth? If so, perhaps they can go in, rescue Kaede, and defeat the witch in one stroke. Or maybe Kaede is gone, forever. You just don’t know with this show!

Magia Record – 01 (First Impressions) – Changing of the Guard

Same system, new universe. Magia Record’s English subtitle is quite clear: this is a side story, starring a new pink-haired protagonist in Tamaki Iroha (Asakura Momo). She’s an independent, reliable, somewhat lonely low-level magical girl whose school friends are unaware of her double life. Once in a while a Witch will interrupt her elevated train commute and force her into a trippy Labyrinth where she must do battle.

Lately Iroha has been trying to determine what her Wish was—the one Wish granted by Kyuubey in exchange for becoming a Magical Girl—but she’s forgotten, possibly due to part of the wish itself being for her to forget. Meanwhile, a number of Magical Girls are having the same dream about a mysterious girl telling them they’ll be “saved” if they go to Kamihama City.

Iroha’s comrade Kuroe (Hanazawa Kana) intends to visit the city to see for herself. Iroha misses her stop and accompanies her, but on the way they’re enveloped by another Labyrinth and attacked by another Witch, this one too powerful for either of them. In the ensuing fracas, Iroha encounters a tiny, apparently younger version of Kyuubey.

Madoka Magica’s trademark radical shifting of visual styles carries over into this series, and I can say with confidence that whether inside or outside of a Witch’s Labyrinth, this first episode looks like a million bucks. Iroha’s hometown of Takarazaki with its skinny, towering apartment blocks and hanging gardens are among the standout vistas to which we’re treated. The Labyrinth also blasts the girls high above the clouds at dusk. Gorgeous.

Iroha and Kuroe eventually come down to earth, crashing into a huge arcology-like skyscraper in none other than Kamihama City. Their savior is a dark blue-haired witch whose powers vastly surpass theirs, but more than anything she’s miffed to find two interlopers operating in her territory. She tells them that contrary to the dream, Kamihama is no haven for Magical Girls. There are more of them, and they’re more powerful because they have to battle tougher Witches.

Iroha and Kuroe return home with a warning from the third girl not to return, and to discourage any other girls from attempting to visiting; they’ll be considered enemies. Iroha ends up having another elaborate dream as she watches scores of seemingly brainwashed girls headed to Kamihama, luggage in hand, assured of their salvation. Then she remembers her Wish to Kyuubey: to save Ui, an ill girl who may be her sister.

With a stylish presentation, super-cool wardrobe, stirring soundtrack, and cloudy mysteries waiting to be tackled, Magia Record looks to pick up where Madoka Magica left off, showing us the darker sides of Magical Girldom in a new setting with new players. I for one am full steam ahead on this one!

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 07 – You Mustn’t Become Boring

At the inn where he was extorted by Hitoha to take the Lit Club, Yamagishi-sensei is perfectly content to spend the evening with his folks, until he’s confronted by Hitoha in a particularly frisky mood. Forget her literary ambitions, she just wants to get with Milo-sensei, period. But thank goodness, he says four words that start to restore my faith in him: “Will you please stop?”

Sure, he’s pretty mean when he laughs at her inability to handle an imminent (but ultimately aborted) kiss when she was talking big about letting him lift her up by her thong and toss her to the floor. And when he tells her not to “bite off more than you can chew.” Hitoha may consider herself “a wretched sight,” but the alternative—if Milo-sensei had given in—would have been far, far worse.

As Momo withdraws from the baths, she can’t get the image of a totally naked and uninhibited Niina out of her mind, eliminating any doubt that she has a crush on her. Not only that, when Sugimoto RINEs her with a number of in-your-face stamps enthusiastically inquiring about how she’s doing, Momo almost seems resentful—how dare you, vapid boy, try to occupy headspace I’d rather have occupied by the fair Miss Sugawara?

Just before Momo returns to the bedroom, Rika is also exchanging innocuous texts with a boy—Amagi—the difference being Rika is loving every moment of it. Still, not so much that she’d let Momo know, as she rushes back to the brainstorming table. Momo muses that the idea of guys being simple and shallow is “an urban legend in itself,” and wonders why girls are supposed to couple with them instead of what she deems to be simpler girls she finds cuter.

Rika initially believes the two of them are far apart when it comes to how they feel, but in reality, they both liken how they feel to the bittersweet taste of a dark chocolate Pocky. They’re both interrupted by a rejected and thoroughly pissed-off Hitoha, who barges in with an urban legend about sweethearts wearing matching thongs…not knowing that might actually work for someone like Momo!

While the nature of the distance may vary, the love interests of all five girls are far away. Niina and Kazusa are unique in that they likely share the same love interest. It’s Niina who is there when Kazusa comes out of her overheated state, which is really for the best, as Niina gets to instigate the fight they really need to have in order to move forward, either as friends or something else.

The other three interrupt the fight, in part deeming it unfair due to Kazusa’s heat-fatigued state, but the five come up with a solution that serves everyone: a lively, no-holds-barred pillow fight. It’s a wonderful, semi-cathartic release, and thankfully Yamagishi-sensei has precisely no part in it whatsoever, keeping a distance and letting these girls in their savage season have it out with one another in an aggressive (fight) yet gentle (pillows) way.

The night Kazusa returns, she has dinner with Izumi’s family, but Izumi himself isn’t present. In another beautiful sequence, the two end up encountering one another from the windows of their respective bedrooms—a cliche to be sure, but an effective one in this case, especially as both had just been thinking of one another; specifically the fact they like one another.

Having learned a lot from her trip and gained quite a bit of confidence and courage, Kazusa draws on what she and only she knows—that Izumi is particularly into retro trains—and tosses him one in the form of a keychain. Izumi first thought of Kazusa as a girl when he could throw a baseball further than her. But this time, both the keychain and her feelings make it to him. It’s a small step, but definitely one in the right direction.

Back at school, Kazusa makes sure to apologize to Niina for being presumptuous about her stealing Izumi, but does so under the impression Niina has no interest in Izumi, which is actually just another presumption on her part! Ironically, Kazusa takes another confident step in volunteering to be the role of the girl to Niina’s boy in the lit club’s cultural festival performance.

As Momo adjusts Niina’s costume and blushes at the sight of her nape, and Rika continues to flush her relationship with Amagi down the toilet, Kazusa continues to reiterate in her head how she loves Izumi, and has always loved and treasured him back when she was his big-sister figure. But while Kazusa has probably never been more at peace, that peace is built on shaky ground.

As Kazusa confides to Niina that she’s just about ready to confess her feelings to Izumi, Niina is not quite ready to concede Izumi to her so easily, though she might ultimately do so out of respect for their friendship. Where she goes wrong is seeking advice from her middle-aged pedophile former acting coach Saegusa, whom she visits just as he’s calling his latest prized talent “boring”…apparently for being so obedient.

Saegusa doesn’t want to witness obedience, on the stage or off it; he wants to see rapture; the explosive moment when a girl spreads her wings and takes off, transforming into a woman, even if that woman holds no interest for him beyond the “final moment” of transition.

With that in mind, and considering his loyalties lie nowhere else, he urges Niina not to be boring like his young student, but rather to damn the torpedoes. It’s a heartbreaking scene, not least because it’s quite likely Niina will do whatever her old mentor says, no matter how much it might hurt her and/or Kazusa.

But like Momo’s near-total disinterest in boys, Rika’s near-total inability to be the girlfriend Amagi wants, Hitoha’s near-total commitment to pursuing a forbidden affair, and Kazusa’s near-total confidence in her love for Izumi, Sugawara Niina is beholden to the road paved by the sum total of her life experiences thus far.

As much as she might want to, she has yet to escape Saegusa’s influence, and can no more turn off that road than Momo can start liking boys. And so, it seems a war with Izumi is inevitable—and no longer the kind with mere pillows.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 06 – Solo Sumo

The cultural festival committee, wanting to boost outside attendance this year, come to the lit club requesting they come up with a romantic urban legend. Little do they know how sensitive a subject romance is for all five of the girls, for very different reasons. And yet, just when the other four are ready for a vehement refusal from Rika, she quietly agrees to take the job.

Hitoha, meanwhile, feels like she’s in a sumo match all by herself, as she’s walking around in a cold, uncomfortable black thong, part of another example of her dangerous “indirect play” with Milo-sensei. It’s all about the fact she’s wearing it, he knows she’s wearing it, and she know he knows she’s wearing it, but he doesn’t seem that excited.

Instead, when the pretty (and age-appropriate) Tomita-sensei shows up, he leaves with her, and while flirting lets loose an important nugget Hitoha will use later. I still hold out hope Milo, the adult, will stop this before things go too far.

There’s a different match going on between Niina and Kazusa, and Momo is ill-equipped to referee. The problem is, the Niina and Kazusa girl are playing with different sets of rules. When Niina tells Kazusa to imagine how she’d want her love story with Izumi to start, Kazusa brings up how beautiful Niina is and how she lacks the same confidence over her looks.

When Niina presses, saying Kazusa is cute and in any case a relationship isn’t all about looking perfect, Kazusa flees. Momo tells Niina that she should clear it up with Kazusa that there’s nothing going on with Izumi, but Niina would rather exercise some “tough love.” For one thing, if there’s nothing to spur Kazusa or Izumi on, they’ll remain in limbo forever. Not to mention Niina is (rightfully!) mad at one of her supposed best friends Kazusa for assuming what so many others have—that she’s out to “steal their man.”

Rika, the one lit club member who has “won” her match and now has a boyfriend, has no idea what to do next. Amagi is eager to sing out their relationship from the rooftops, but she’d rather find a way to hide it in a forest. She wants to ask Amagi for a little more time to do so, but going public seems like something very important to him. This couple will need to learn to find a middle ground, lest it wither like an unpicked fruit on the vine.

Bereft of good ideas, Hitoha suggests a club field trip to an inn…the inn run by Milo-sensei’s family which she heard about while he was flirting with Tomita-sensei. Hitoha has since been given the run-around by her “editor,” saying erotica is no good and purer “young love” pieces are what’s hot now (the girl who published erotica ahead of her didn’t fare so well). Hitoha now finds herself perfectly positioned to draw from her own life for this new literary direction. She promises Milo she’ll thank him “with her body.”

The change of scenery doesn’t do much to get the creative juices flowing, particularly for Kazusa due to an incident on the train when Niina mentioned she had tea with Izumi. While Niina hoped being aggressive would spur Kazusa to action, it’s having an unexpected effect of making Kazusa retreat ever further into her burrow of self-loathing.

A break for baths is called when in the brainstorming session Kazusa suggests an urban legend about blowing up the school so you can be with the one you love in heaven forever. Dark. Shit. But even in the baths, Kazusa can’t escape her worsening inferiority complex, as Niina walks in without even trying to cover herself, showing off a body against which Kazusa doesn’t think she has any chance.

Niina is right to think neither Kazusa or Izumi will come out of their shells without external action. She’s also right to be hurt by Kazusa assuming she’s trying to steal Izumi, as well as the fact she believes Niina is the better choice because of her looks. But the difficulty level is way too high, and by episode’s end Kazusa has literally burned out in the bath. Whether Niina takes it down a notch for Kazusa’s sake depends on whether she honestly has zero interest in Izumi—the jury’s still out on that.

As for Momo, she’s mostly caught in between other conflicts this week. While there’s not much additional evidence this week to support viewers’ growing opinion that she’s into girls—and has a crush on Niina in particular—I would definitely welcome further exploration of that development. For now, she’s trying her best to keep the peace, because Niina vs. Kazusa could get ugly, fast.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 05 – A Completely Different Creature Entirely

This week picks right up from the last but flips the POV, from Kazusa to Niina and Izumi. I’m not going to say they don’t flirt with each other quite a bit on their train ride, but it’s certainly not the sweaty tryst Kazusa’s out-of-control imagination makes it out to be.

While it isn’t clear whether it’s a coincidence that Niina’s old acting coach Saegusa is on the very same train, she ends up utilizing Izumi in much same way she used Kazusa a few weeks back: as a prop in a fiction. In this case, she makes a big show of being with her “boyfriend” in front of Saegusa, who nods a gentle approval before taking his leave.

As Momoko tries (mostly in vain) to reassure Kazusa that there’s probably a harmless explanation for the two on the train, Hitoha just happens to be ridden past their exact position on the bridge. She’s in Yamagishi’s car, where he continues to make it clear he’s not into high school girls, and causing Hitoha to cry, as she doesn’t know what else to do; having her authorial debut is everything to her.

Meanwhile, we and Izumi learn about Saegusa and what a phenomenally creepy dude he was, singling Niina out when she was 11, rubbing his face on her shoe, and taking her out alone to shows and meals. But Izumi is only grossed out on the most basic level of suspecting Saegusa of being a paedophile. He doesn’t realize how deep and fucked up the bond became between Saegua and Niina.

And yet Niina declares Saegusa never laid a finger on him…even when she was fourteen, starting to get that kind of attention, and the age when she decided to ask why he wouldn’t do it with her. But he told her he could never love her as a woman, only her girlish nature, and to touch her would be to instantly transform her into something else entirely—something he had no interest in.

All I can say is…Damn. Poor Niina. Unfortunately, she’s very far from the only victim of this particular brand of push/pull mind game bullshit. Niina loathes attention because the only person she wanted it from utterly rejected her. But that does make a nice segue to her original subject of conversation with Izumi: his willingness so say something so “cruel and heartless” to Kazusa—the very same thing Saegusa told her.

But the fact is, Izumi didn’t see it as cruel or heartless at the time, because didn’t even know Kazusa had a crush on him until Niina let it slip right then, assuming (reasonably, and at the same time totally unreasonably so) he did. Indeed, Niina is rather shocked (and amused!) by Izumi’s denseness, having pegged him as someone quick on the uptake. Clearly, he has a significant blind spot…which sports a bob cut.

While she keeps up a brave front in front of Momo, when left on her own in her room Kaz’s mind continues to race, as she deliberates over how impossible it would be to compete against a goddess like Niina. Kaz gets so worked up, she doesn’t realize she’s thinking out loud, talking about being way too obsessed with sex just as her mom steps into her room.

Turns out Kazusa’s and Izumi’s families go out for bowling night on occasion. That has to be the most goddamn fun thing I’ve ever heard! Sure, it’s a little awkward for Izumi and Kaz, especially when…Izumi…sticks his fingers…in the three holes of the ball…GAAAH, anyway things calm down when Kazusa goes to grab some refreshments and Izumi follows her, now knowing exactly what’s eating her.

What follows is the second most heartwarming scene of the episode (the first most comes later): the two, knowing each other so well, recall each other’s childish likes (Kaz a bit of milk in her Calpis; Izumi with melon soda). In this moment they remember how close they are and have always been, and that even with their raging hormones, they can find such moments of peace if they try.

Izumi even sets Kazusa’s mind at ease, first by almost reading it (she wants to bring up Niina, but he beats her to it), then by saying Niina is “more weird than pretty.”

Switching to Momoko, now a much more visible and compelling character, she goes on a date with Sugimoto and it’s…fine? Kinda meh? She honestly doesn’t know how to feel or act or speak, and is basically just relieved to be on the train home.

She’s surprised to find “opening up” by saying she has no dad is such a big deal to him. In any case, it’s a clear case of Momo…just not feeling it. Is it just because of the guy, or is she not into guys, or girls, or anyone? Not enough data to know yet, but I’m intrigued.

As stated last week I’m much less enamored of Yamagishi doing anything at all with Hitoha, and predictably, he decides to continue indulging Hitoha by ruling out direct eroticism and settling for indirect methods, such as Hitoha staking out a spot where he and only he can watch her show him her panties.

Hitoha is apparently getting what she wants—personal sexual experiences with which to improve her writing and hasten her debut—but without getting overbearingly paternalistic, I still fear for her. She’s doing this, at least in part, because she feels she has no other way to achieve her dreams.

That desperation, her limited years and Yamagishi’s more numerous ones all conspire to call her ability to consent into serious question. Yamagishi is the adult here. It’s completely on him to stop this, and endure the cascade of hate from Hitoha. She will get over him, in that situation. She may not get over where this is headed.

The first time Kazusa sees Niina at school, Niina calls Izumi “weird” just as Izumi used to describe her, and the wheels in Kazusa’s head start spinning all over again, helped not at all by a reading in club by Rika that describes exactly the means by which two people think and speak alike. If they both think each other are weird, that doesn’t bode well, Kazusa thinks, and she may well be right.

While we leave Kazusa trapped in a typhoon of suspicion, indecision, despair, and longing, the episode thankfully ends on that first-most heartwarming note I mentioned earlier, as Rika meets Amagi on the rooftop to deliver him his report, which she’s marked up in red to correct his errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation…oh, and on the last page where he asked her out, she wrote in tiny letters if you would be so kind. It’s a yes!

Rika had hoped not to be right there when he discovered that note, but when Amagi sees it, he starts leaping around the flying pages of the report in unabashed joy. Rika most certainly is abashed, at first covering her ears on the stairs, then chiding Amagi for being so loud about his happiness.

Rika is happy no doubt; but she’s no doubt scared shitless. The territory couldn’t be more uncharted if she started reading Shounen Jump. Not to mention, what if she ends up becoming a completely different creature entirely? Boy or girl, every single one of these kids is going to eventually become that—whether they like it or not.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 01 (First Impressions) – Crazy Train

Onodera Kazusa is an almost aggressively normal high school girl. She doesn’t really stand out anywhere, and is part of a literature club whose members include both a budding author, a glasses-wearing prudish type, and a serene senpai who is perfectly comfortable reciting very steamy sex scenes in the book they’re all reading.

Kazusa has a best friend in fellow lit club member Sudou Momoko, and she has a childhood friend in the train-loving Norimoto Izumi. She and Momoko are each other’s main source of verbal and emotional support in these trying adolescent times. She and Izumi were once as close as brother and sister, but have drawn further apart due to his increasing popularity—particularly with other girls.

Kazusa is voiced by relative newcomer Kono Hiyori, who does a splendid job modulating her voice for Kazusa’s vulnerable and frustrated inner monologues. It also helps that she closely resembles Shizuku from Whisper of the Heart, a rare Ghibli film grounded in contemporary life and one of my favorite anime works.

It helps because Shizuku never strayed past the “pure and innocent” phase of her romance with Seiji; the film ended (spoilers!) with her suddenly proposing marriage after they bike up the highest points in West Tokyo and watch the sun rise on the city. It’s beautiful, and it marks a major milestone in their trudge toward adulthood…but it’s incomplete.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season (written by the great Okada Mari) is not incomplete. It reveals all of the insecurities and worries and downright dilemmas far beyond simply developing feelings for someone and being frustrated by one’s comparative lack of accomplishment. By the end, we have a nearly complete picture of who Kazusa is (just a kid), what she is gradually becoming mentally and physically (an adult) and how she feels about that (not so great so far!)

When Kazusa’s mom—whom she says many describe as “child-like” even though she’s most definitely not a virgin due to Kazusa’s existence—asks her to take some food to Izumi’s next door, the comfort of their familiarity is evident, but so is a growing awkwardness punctuated when Izumi asks if he should talk to her around other people.

Kazusa’s wishy-washy reply (depends on who and where) doesn’t help matters. Talking about their issues clearly would be optimal, but again…these are kids. She’s aware enough to know she didn’t handle her interaction with Izumi in a satisfying way, leaving so much up in the air and unclear, but she doesn’t yet possess the tools to do so, hence her frustration and very Shizuku-like private mope on Izumi’s front stoop.

Back in lit club, Sugawara Niina, with her confident stride, ever-calm tone, and shorter skirt, all indicate she’s more mature than the other four members. To put it far more harshly, some boys consider her a diamond atop a pile of dung. But when a story with the premise of “doing something before you die” comes up, she blurts out “have sex,” because as mature as she looks and sounds, she’s still a virgin—still in the bubble with the rest of them. Despite all the classy smut they’ve read, it’s still a totally unknown world.

But her stated desire to have sex before death brings that subject too the forefront, like poking at the bubble until it bursts. Now sex is the first thing on the minds of the four other girls, from Rika (glasses) telling some gals to shut up about sex and being verbally abused by some classmates and then complimented by another; to Kazusa overhearing two of the girls who like Izumi talk very openly about wanting to take his virginity.

The more Kazusa hears about Izumi and sex, the more those two seem like something possible and thus terrifying—a far cry from the little boy with which she used to run around, fall over, and wade in the kiddy pool. The boy who’s crazy about trains. With the bubble of obliviousness popped by Niina, Kazusa finds herself on the deep end, her surroundings growing darker and more morose. But she has to kick and swim and breathe, or she’ll drown.

Things already feel like they’re starting to spiral out of all control for Kazusa, who asserts that she doesn’t like this and isn’t ready for it at all, but she has no idea what’s coming down the track to knock her off the rails of innocence for good, where she was once only teetering and threatening to fall. In an absolutely stunning sequence that plays like, well, a train wreck, Kazusa hears music inside Izumi’s, and so enters through the unlocked front door.

She makes her way up the stairs to Izumi’s room, where the door is cracked but not closed, and lets herself in without knocking. Izumi is inside, his pants down and his feet on the desk, masturbating to porn on the internet. The director lets the two just sit there in the moment of horror, completely silent but for the (likely fake) orgasmic screams of the woman on the laptop. Izumi gives a half-hearted “Hey,” then asks if she’ll keep this a secret. Pretty smooth, considering one of every guy’s worst nightmares just came true.

Kazusa…snaps. She bolts out of the house screaming and just…keeps running and screaming (the action animation is superb) through a market district. Naturally, every food sign is a double entendre, lending credence to her lament that there’s just too much god damn sex in the world.

Worse, her pure, innocent Izumi has changed forever. The boy is dead; a man has taken his place. The last time he saw her penis it was tiny and harmless. Now, not so much. As she stops on a bridge over a train track to catch her breath, she tearfully declares out loud that “that won’t fit in there!” Then, in a moment perhaps almost too on the nose but also pretty damn effective, a train passes beneath her, lining right up between her legs, and enters a very tight tunnel. “It fit,” she says, relieved, but she soon collapses back into a heap of adolescent frustration.

O Maidens is a refreshingly bold, sincere, brutally frank depiction of sexual awakening and its maaaany pitfalls. So far the experience is largely horrifying, terrifying, and overwhelming for Kazusa, and it’s sure to continue to be so. But the show balances the drama and comedy, never letting you forget these are human beings with human being minds and parts, all of which are in a state of open rebellion, but all of which are also very complicated.

The stakes for Kazusa and her friends are far higher than looking fit in a bikini for the summer. This is for all the marbles. All we as viewers can do is ball our fists and hope she hangs on for dear life to this train ride that can’t be stopped, until the ride becomes at least little smoother, if not joyful. I’ll be in the cafe car, quietly cheering on these maidens in their savage season.

Boruto: Naruto Next Generations – 02

Last week I felt bad for Hinata stuck at home as a housewife and mom when she, Naruto, and their friends once did battle side-by-side on the front lines…but I just might have it all wrong. This peaceful life, both for themselves and for their children, is what they fought for in the first place. But some youngins are restless, and long for a time they probably romanticize since they weren’t even alive for the worst of it.

One such knucklehead, Aino Iwabe, picks on Denki, leading to Boruto challenging him. It’s the second straight week Boruto saves Denki from a bully or bullies, only this week there’s much more emphasis on Boruto as a brat riding his illustrious dad’s coattails. After all, he crashed a train into a mountain and just got a slap on a wrist.

Between that incident, the lenient punishment, Yamanaka Inojin’s shade, and Iwabe’s taunts, Boruto has to work for acceptance by his peers (at least the ones who aren’t Denki or Shikadai). That means the class dismisses itself for a good old-fashioned schoolyard duel.

Boruto is able to keep up, but gets thrashed around quite a bit by the older and clearly more advanced Iwabe. Even Uchida Sarada, who had put up a haughty dismissive front to that point, seems to fret over the outcome of her childhood friend’s fight with the older kid.

In the end, Boruto all but convinces Iwabe that everyone has their individual circumstances, but blaming “the times” for one’s failures, not to mention picking on those weaker than you, is way uncool.

When Iwabe loses his temper and readies an earth-based weapon, he is quickly stopped by Inojin, who despite his earlier shade, gained respect for Boruto for defending Denki and proving through his skills that he’s not simply riding coattails.

When class reconvenes, Iwabe is right there behind Boruto, and they exchange cordial greetings. And Boruto is no longer unpopular, getting lunch invitations from many a classmate. Another peaceful resolution in a peaceful world. No one knows how long such peace will last, but they certainly can enjoy it while it does.

Boruto: Naruto Next Generations – 01 (First Impressions)

This spin-off of and semi-sequel to Naruto starts at the end, and in a pretty dark place with Naruto’s grown-up son Boruto fighting some baddie among the ruins of Konohagakure. Looks pretty serious and hardcore, but it is only a small taste of what will supposedly come to pass many years hence.

Rewind to when Boruto is just a little punk kid, on the eve of the Academy entrance ceremony. He spots a boy being bullied and later learns his name is Denki and he’ll also be attending the academy, but only because his father is making him as part of his duty as heir to the family business empire. Boruto can probably relate to dad’s casting long shadows, as his own is none other than the Seventh Hokage.

Back home we check in on Boruto’s little sister Himawari and his mom and Naruto’s wife Hinata. Seems like a nice enough house but if I recall correctly Hyuuga Hinata was and is a pretty large badass kunoichi, and frankly looks rather bored looking after the ol’ homestead while Naruto is buried under paperwork at Hokage HQ. But this show ain’t about the parents; they had their time in the limelight…fifteen years and 720 episodes’ worth, to be precise.

Naturally Boruto and Denki don’t simply arrive at the opening ceremony on time and get on with classes, because that wouldn’t be that exciting. Instead, Denki’s bitterness at being rejected by his dad causes him to be possessed by an evil aura, which Boruto is able to see with his trick right eye.

Denki sets it up so the bullies will get killed in a head-on collision of two trains (built and run by his dad’s company). Boruto gets him to snap out of it and cast off the evil aura, and with Boruto uses his clones’ combined reach to pull the switch that avoids the collision. Everybody’s safe and sound, and both Denki and the bullies learn a lesson and bond a little through their shared ordeal.

With that, all that’s left is to get to the ceremony on time, and Boruto and Denki just make it, by making one hell of a ridiculous entrance, aboard the derailed train car, which crashes into the side of Naruto’s face. Not his real face, but the colossal stone face carved into the mountain with the other Hokage. Symbolism, much?

This week is the Boruto & Denki show, sprinkled with a bit of Nara Shikadai, with naught but a cameo by Sakura and Sasuke’s daughter Sarada. The episode gets the job done: introducing the title character, demonstrating his considerable but still very-raw abilities and very familiar personality, and giving him a mission-of-the-week to carry out with Denki.

I’ll admit to dropping Naruto: Shippuden about two years in after completing Naruto, but there’s a nice fresh-start feel about Boruto, a newly-revamped take on an old, familiar world. The production values are higher than I remember (granted, back when Naruto started there was no widescreen or HD). It’s nothing fancy, and is by definition unoriginal, but there’s a inscrutable easy watchability to it nonetheless. Whether you’re a big fan of the franchise, a complete noob, or somewhere in between like me seeking ‘shounen comfort food’, it’s worth a quick glance.

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 12 (Fin)

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Now that he’s killed the Daddy who never loved him, and is well on the way to destroying the capital with the sister he turned into a monster, there’s not much for Biba to do but sit on the throne and…wait. Wait to be defeated by Ikoma, that is.

There wasn’t really much doubt of that, as this show has typically stuck to tried-and-true plot developments. That being said, Ikoma and Kurusu storming the city, going to town, and leaving piles of bodies in their wake is a sight to behold, as is the latter’s understanding that he’s to waste no time ending the former should he go Full Kabane. (Never go Full Kabane; the audience can’t connect.)

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While on the outside Mumei is at the core of a grotesque yet also oddly beautiful fused colony, in her mind she’s fighting memories of being weak and stamping them out. It’s as much a prison for her mind as her body.

As for Ayame, she’s able to break some locals out of a prison of fear and rigid lashing-out simply by getting in their face. Not sure that wouldn’t have resulted in someone accidentally pulling a trigger on her, but she’s always had relatively good luck.

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With Kurusu by his side, Ikoma continues to carve his way to Mumei, leading to a minor boss fight with one of Biba’s lieutenants, who tries to run a train into Ikoma but is thwarted when Ikoma’s super-Kabaneri power allows him to blast the train straight off the rails and into mid air. He then kills the guy himself with his arm-gun, justifying the killing by saying the guy kill too many. No arguments here.

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There’s just one last obstacle before he can save Mumei: Biba himself, who takes the stage excited to “hunt” a rare, fearless foe such as Ikoma. In her fever dream prison, Mumei sees Ikoma as the one blue butterfly in a cloud of red ones, because butterflies have never been used in this way in anime before.

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In all seriousness, as we’ve seen, Biba is highly skilled at combat, but when you don’t seem to be fighting for much anymore, but when up against a singularly motivated and nigh unkillable Kabaneri, it was only a matter of time before he took a hard lick that took him down.

Biba doesn’t stay down, however, even after Ikoma downs him and gives Mumei the magical white blood, reviving her and bringing her back to normal. It isn’t Ikoma who delivers the killing blow to Biba; he’s unconscious. It’s Mumei, who repeatedly implored Biba to stop hurting Ikoma, and stabbed him through the heart when he didn’t.

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With Biba dead and Mumei back to normal, she and Kurusu (with Ikoma on his back) race back to the Kotetsujou, which seems like a rather manufactured final hurdle, even though I did like how happy she looked when she saw the whole gang ready to catch her with a big fabric net.

The only real problem is that Ikoma won’t wake up…until he does, on Mumei’s insistence. When he does, she embraces him closely, her shield returned to her by white blood Biba must have injected before being killed, a last act of selflessness and compassion in a life full of violence and hatred.

With Mumei and Ikoma both alive and relatively unhurt (amazingly), the Kotetsujou steams off into the sunset, ending a very dark show on a very bright—if awfully tidy—parting note.

Kabaneri initially grabbed my attention with superior visuals (and audio) and thrilling action. But once the novelty of that quality wore off, the shows shortcomings grew more conspicuous, keeping this show rather far from greatness. Still, it was a hell of a rousing watch…most of the time.

If a second season comes one day, I will definitely give it a look—I’d like to see Mumei’s humanity restored, for one thing—but if it’s all the same to Wit Studio, I’d prefer a second season of Attack on Titan first.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 11

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Both Kuromukuro and Kabaneri managed to reignite my passion for watching them in their eleventh episodes. I didn’t really know what to expect after last week cliffhanger would have had us believe Ikoma had been stabbed through the heart and tossed into the sea for dead by a Mumei now lost to him. This week quickly debunks the first assumption and paves the way to debunk the second, even though shit is still hitting the fan, as it were.

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First, Kongokaku: it’s a grand, peaceful, and impressive place when the Kotetsujou arrives at its gate, but we see from the shogun eliminating a messenger with knowledge hat could sow public panic, theirs is clearly an uneasy peace, especially with Kabane lurking right outside those “impregnable” walls.

Biba doesn’t need to besiege his father’s seat, however; he comes in through the front door; a “captive” of Ayame; a role she’s forced to play because he’s holding her people hostage. Of course, going by his script only proves to Biba that’s he’s weak, and it’s become painfully apparent that the weak don’t live long once they meet him.

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To his credit, the shogun immediately knows Biba is up to something; he just doesn’t know what until it’s too late. Biba uses the same fear his father used as an excuse for stabbing him in the dark as a child to destroy his father. The dagger he gave him contains a hidden needle that infects the shogun with the virus, and his own men gun him down in a panic.

Biba need only deal the killing blow with his sword, and just like that Kongokaku is his. The Kabane in his hold are released onto the city to stoke up fear, paranoia, and people killing people, but he simply sits on the throne, not smirking an evil smirk, but remembering a day when he rode a horse with his father. Do I detect a hint of…weakness, AKA love? No matter; there’s no one around to punish Biba for it.

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While all that excitement is going on, Ikoma, having washed up on a shore not in the greatest shape but very much alive, is temporarily incapacitated by the immense weight of the guilt and regret over what went down, including Takumi’s death. He didn’t run, he was tossed out, and he’s right that at the time there was nothing he could do.

Kurusu, who has one of Biba’s scientists captive, finds Ikoma, and is actually patient with him as he goes through various stages of grief. In the end, Kurusu makes Ikoma set aside all the reasons he should simply die, and asks him why he’s still alive in the first place: his chest wound is so precise, Mumei must have intended to miss his heart, meaning she is not totally lost.

Granted, as we cut back to the capital, we see that Mumei is considerably more lost than the time she spared Ikoma. And she’s just as helpless here as Ayame, or as Ikoma was back on the train. Biba controls every aspect of her life, and despite all he’s done she still harbors loyalty to him, because she’d have died long ago (and been “beckoned by the butterflies”) were it not for him.

That combination of coercion-by-obligation, as well as the reality that Biba has kept Mumei weak and unable to oppose him even if she wanted to (and she did try), have led to her simply giving up. She will let the butterflies come, with the small consolation that at least she was able to free Ikoma a similar fate.

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Only thing is, Ikoma hasn’t given up, thanks largely to Kurusu and the captive he has for some reason (I forgot why; sue me). That scientist just happens to have on hand two serums: one is white, and could save Mumei; but to get to her Ikoma knows he needs to be stronger (and apparently, less scruffy) than he is.

So he injects the black serum, an accelerant that indeed causes him to undergo yet another transformation. When we leave him, he seems that much less human, and particularly stable, but fueled by his resolve to stop Biba and save Mumei, odds are he’ll be able to endure. I certainly hope so, because Mumei deserves better than the same fate as Horobi—who also didn’t deserve it.

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(Almost a 9 based solely on the new Aimer ED, “Through My Blood”, which brought it)

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 10

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Thinks are bad for the good guys: Ikoma is in prison, and Biba’s goons are harvesting blood from the Kotetsujou to feed the Kabane, and they’re not exactly being nice about it. Like Mumei, these are people who weren’t taught to think of the weak as people worthy of compassion, but in this case they’re more like livestock. It ain’t pretty.

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When I saw Biba alone in a car with Ayame, my skin crawled, because I knew he wouldn’t be honoring whatever deal he was striking with her. He only needs her until she can arrange an audience between him and his father the Shogun; after that all bets are off; that’s just how villains operate, and Biba is a pretty conventional villain.

He certainly has the look down, as well as the way he creepily wipes blood off Mumei’s cheek, after appeasing her with another promise he won’t keep: that the passengers of the Kotetsujou will not be harmed.

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That’s because a group of passengers are doing the one thing that will make Biba come down on them even harder: planning a revolt. Ikoma is the ringleader, taking note of the comings and goings of the key man. When the moment is right, he breaks out and the group strikes.

Sukari was portrayed early as someone who apparently betrayed his friends because he knew resistance was futile, but I had him pegged as a double agent pretty quickly, and that’s what it turns out he is, having helped slip intel to Ikoma, thus earning a measure of Takumi and Yukina’s forgiveness.

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When Biba gets word of the revolt, of course he makes Mumei choose to either take care of the disturbance—killing Ikoma and her friends in the process—or stop receiving the medication that’s keeping her virus from spreading and turning her into a full Kabane.

At the end of the day, this is Mumei’s most damning weakness: her utter dependence on her brother’s good side, which never really existed in the first place. He even lowered her dosage, anticipating her possible betrayal, so that she doesn’t have the strength to get away when she does bolt.

As for Ikoma, for some reason he thought the key man had all the keys, but he doesn’t; why would Biba make it so easy for Ikoma to get to the most important part of the train? Instead, Ikoma and his men block Ikoma, and when Ikoma refuses to join his fight (an offer most conventional villains usually give the protagonist), his guys open fire. Only Ikoma doesn’t get shot, because Takumi took the bullet.

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So yeah, RIP Takumi, who at least managed to repay Ikoma for his getting show earlier in the run. Naturally, Ikoma isn’t all that pleased his best mate has been murdered in front of him. Unfortunately, that’s not all he has to deal with on this particularly shitty day.

That’s because Biba brings in Mumei, only she’s not really his friend anymore; likely she’s been “re-programmed” with drugs from the mad scientist car. Without hesitation, she drives her dagger into Ikoma’s chest and lets him fall out of the train, off a cliff, and into the sea.

Now, don’t think Ikoma’s dead, and neither do you—he’s the frikkin’ main character, for crying out loud. So the question then becomes, how will he manage to survive, and how will he get back to where Ayame and Mumei are? Talk about a stacked deck…

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 09

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This week, any illusions about Biba having a shred of good (or nuance) are wiped away for good: this is vendetta, against all who wronged him, and wronging him includes acts of cowardice perpetrated by the Shogunate. Ikoma and Ayame are in agreement that Mumei has to be taken away from this guy, but doing so is no mean feat, at least initially.

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Horobi, who we only just met, is given greater focus this week as Biba’s sacrificial subject. What’s so brutal is that she knows this, and is resigned to it, vowing her loyalty even while betraying a glimmer of regret and fear of death. For Biba has gotten it into Horobi’s head that he’s stronger than her, which means she’s expendable.

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No doubt Biba feels the same way about Mumei, and her time to lay down her life so he can walk over it will surely come soon; that is, if Mumei doesn’t get her mind right and escape. She and Ikoma actually get into quite close proximity this week, but Mumei is still following her brother, opening the gate to Iwato against Iwato’s wishes.

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Once Mumei has opened that gate, all hell breaks loose. Biba unleashes his army of captive Kabane on Iwato’s guards, and his meeting with Lord Maeda quickly turns to bloodshed. Ayame takes up a spear, but Yukina has to take a dart to the chest from Horobi. There’s a palpable feeling that the two are very very unsafe in this room with Biba and his true believer followers.

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Mumei quickly comes to regret opening the gates, since the Kabane proceeded to tear through the station, killing and turning hundreds of townsfolk. Of course, she blames herself, which is what Biba wants, as if perhaps she lacked something that would have resulted in a better outcome. That something is, of course, the awareness that her “brother” is an horrendously deluded evil dick.

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That dickishness is confirmed once and for all when, after Horobi goes berserk—first as the core of a fused colony, then a monstrous super-kabaneri killbot—her blade stops an inch from Biba’s throat. A bead of sweat rolls down his cheek just before he runs her through with his sword, taking advantage of her honor and loyalty to the end. RIP Horobi. We hardly knew ye.

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With Ikoma thoroughly “liberated”, as Biba rather unconvincingly claims, Ikoma, Ayame, and all her people are held at gunpoint and warned not to resist or interfere. Even Mumei has guns pointed at her, on order from her bro. Ikoma can’t really do much, and is beaten by one of Biba’s lieutenants, but if one good thing came out of this episode, is that it caused Mumei to wake up to the truth about Biba, meaning she and Ikoma are back on the same side.

The pace of Kabaneri, and Biba’s treachery in particular, has been breathless in its alacrity, almost to the point of not allowing anything to sink in deep enough, because there’s always more stuff to deal with. That being said, if this is only an 12-episode series, I’m not wholly unappreciative of the show picking up the pace for a showdown in the capital.

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