End-of-Month Rundown – January 2012

As the first month of 2012 comes to a close, the Winter 2012 season is starting to take shape. We started with eight series, dropped two, and await one. Here are the rankings with some quick verdicts: 

1. Aquarion Evol (4.0) – The clear champion in production values, and its story and ensemble cast aren’t half-bad, either.

2. Moretsu Pirates (3.875)  – The more deliberate and analytical of the two sci-fi shojo series, with lots of cool sci-fi process tempered by lots of heart.

3. Rinne no Lagrange (3.625) – The consciencious mecha series in which the heroine worries about every person and every building that may be crushed.

4. Another (3.375) – The horror series which is getting the fundamentals right, even if it isn’t breaking any particularly new ground.

5. Nisemonogatari (3.5) – The sequel to a very talky, sedentary, seductive series you’ll either strongly like or dislike. We like.

6. Baby, Please Kill Me! (3.0) – The simple, straightforward skit comedy with cutesy design that’s dumb, charming fun.

Black★Rock Shooter – The Winter trump card that hasn’t been played yet.

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Spring/Summer 2011 Wrap-Up

Out with the old, in with the new. This weekend RABUJOI said goodbye to the last of the Summer series and Spring carryovers, with one exception, Mawaru Penguindrum, which will continue into the Fall. In all, it was a decent season, with lots of variety. We love the sense of completeness that comes with wrapping up a season – two in this case. Here’s a list of who won what:

• Best Overall Anime: Mawaru Penguindrum. Every episode has been excellent, in our humble opinion.

• Most Gore-tastic Series: Blood-C…the censors were awfully busy.

• Best Series Dealing With Sudden Parenthood: Usagi Drop. Really down-to-earth, heartwarming stuff.

• Best NEET Detective Series: Kami-sama no Memo-cho.

• Best Life-At-An-Inn Series: Hanasaku Iroha, which finished very strong.

• Best Telepathically-Controlled Mecha Action: Kamisama Dolls.

• Best Period Mystery/Action Series: Dantalian no Shoka.

• Best Goofy Superhero Series: Tiger & Bunny.

• Best Series Set in Paris at the Turn of the Century: Ikoku Meiro no Croisée.

• Best High School Club Series: Sket Dance.

• Best Post-Apocalyptic Series with a Number for a Name: No. 6.

• Best Shounen Series Where the Characters Were More Fun to Watch Than the Action: Ao no Exorcist.

• Best Score: (tie) Kamisama Dolls and Mawaru Penguindrum.

• Best Female Seiyu, Spring 2011: Chiaki Omigawa as Minko Tsurugi/Minchi (Hanasaku Iroha)

• Best Male Seiyu, Spring 2011: Hiroaki Hirata as Kotetsu T. Kaburagi/Wild Tiger (Tiger & Bunny)

• Best Female Seiyu, Summer 2011: Marie Miyake as Ringo Oginome (Mawaru Penguindrum)

• Best Male Seiyu, Summer 2011: Hiroshi Tsuchida as Daikichi Kawachi (Usagi Drop)

[C]: Control: The Money and Soul of Possibility 11 (Fin)

What’s worth saving, today or tomorrow? I think I’d have to go with Yoga and say tomorrow. The case for Mikuni’s way got weaker and weaker, as his numerous uses of Midas’ rotary press essentially bankrupted Japan. It was finally Yoga’s turn to stand up to him and fight to get Japan’s future back. The first half is almost non-stop action, as their duel reaches fever pitch. The combat system of [C] was always a bit dorky, but never boring, and this week was no exception. More than anything, it was basically what the whole series has been: ambitious, creative,  intriguing, and weird.

That said, there was a breakthrough, as Yoga saw Mikuni’s most powerful asset, Q, for who she was; Mikuni’s sister Takako. Q is a crazed demon-like fighter, but while fighting Mashyu, who all but became human thanks to Yoga, snapped her out of it. Yoga defeats Mikuni, and the latter ends up in a 2001-style time warping sequence in Takako’s hospital room. Basically, she wants him to stop fighting. She wants the future to unfold as it should, not be stuck in the present.

If all this sounds abstract, it is, but it was still cool. And the animation, while a bit choppy and far from perfect, was at least really bright and vivid. When Yoga reverses the rotary press, the financial district becomes all sparkly and pretty, like there are christmas lights everywhere. It is here where Mikuni says goodbye to Takako, and Yoga bids farewell to Mashyu, who now well and truly loves him. Their passionate kiss seems a bit strange after Yoga earlier saw her as a daughter-like figure, but whatevs.

When he returns to the real world, things look pretty good – the Sky Tree is back, and the city is clean and cared-for, people are prosperous. The teacher’s family appears to be back. Hanabi also seems back to normal, but doesn’t seem to know him anymore. In an interesting twist, Japan is now using dollars, the yen having literally vanished into nothingness (a nice tie-in with the opening sequence). But the financial district isn’t gone, and neither is Mazakaki, or his godlike boss, who makes a cryptic appearence here. Still, I don’t see Yoga going back to Midas anytime soon. He could never get back everything he lost. He’s learned the cost of playing around with the future. Rating: 4

P.S.: About a year ago this month, I snapped a picture of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Nihombashi. Coincidence? Well, yes, actually.

AnoHana 11 (Fin)

That was a properly fitting and satisfying finale. It cemented its place as the best series of the season by far, along with perhaps the most consistent, moving and best-executed eleven-episode series I’ve ever seen. I was expecting a good ending, but I could never have predicted just how totally it would kick all ass. Nothing in it felt the slightest bit contrived or out of place; it remained fiercely true to its characters, and above all, was a surprisingly happy ending, and the perfect place to close the book.

After Menma fails to pass to heaven, the busters regroup and it turns into an all out cryfest, with everyone pouring their guts out. Even Tsuruko gets worked up for the first time. Even Poppo lost his composure. And in this mega-catharsis, they all finally realize that none of them are alone in their inconsolable grief or guilt. They’re all in the same boat. They can all forgive each other, and themselves. They all love her. And I’m sorry, but Anaru’s little eyelash moment was the perfect way to re-lighten the mood.

After this, Jintan races home to collect Menma so they can finish things and say goodbye. But she’s fading fast; it turns out, her wish was inadvertently granted: the wish to make Jintan cry. She promised his mom she’d do it. More specifically, to make him break out of his shell and properly grief, embrace the pain and the love that’s released, and to be able to live his life. By the time he reaches the base, he can’t see her anymore, and is sent into a panic. “Oh no,” I thought; “Will this just end with him still crazy?”

Thankfully, I had no reason to worry. She says goodbye to them all by hastily scrawling goodbyes to everyone, which sets off another cryfest. All that’s left is to finish the game of “hide and seek” – at the end of which everyone can see Menma – and get Jintan to cry once more, and then she disappears, content and with her wish fulfilled. Closure at last!

What follows is a phenomenal end-credits epilogue, in which Jintan goes back to school and shows signs of giving Anaru a chance; Poppo is working construction and studying for a diploma; and Yukiatsu and Tsuruko become an item (her tiny smirk is genius. I honestly wouldn’t mind these two as the focus of a spin-off).  This series was an emotional roller coaster, and its makers knew the viewers wanted and deserved this ending and wrap-up. Menma’s ultimate gift was bringing these friends back together.

So what have we learned? Well, first of all, director Tatsuyuki Nagai and scriptwriter Mari Okada put on a romantic drama clinic, and I shall most definitely be looking out for their next works. Secondly, don’t collapse within your own grief. Everyone has it; let it out and make your true feelings known. Don’t let ghosts haunt you. Er…don’t go up to a hotel with a guy you just met. And, of course stay in school! Rating: 4 ~Series elevated to Favorites~