Charlotte – 08

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Charlotte follows its best episode (and one of the best episodes of the Summer) with another powerful outing, though not quite packing the same punch. It has Yuu returning to school and to the routines he had abandoned after Ayumi’s death. It’s all here, from Joujirou’s fanboying and bleeding, Yusarin’s spells and music videos, Tomori’s standoffishness and drop-kicking.

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But just when Yuu (and I) think the wet guy is going to show up with the next ability user, Tomori says he’s not coming. Instead, she has a second ticket to a ZHIEND show tomorrow, and wants one of them to go with her. Citing their honest ignorance of and disinterest in post-rock (look it up on Wikipedia), the process of elimination makes Yuu Nao’s “date,” and when she says it’s nice to have a breather now and then, he agrees and accepts.

Later that day while walking home, he bumps into a fuchsia-haired blind woman who mixes English in with her bizarre accent and is on a quest for “modern-yaki.”

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Yuu takes her to a okonomiyaki joint for some hiroshima-yaki instead, and learns that she’s none other than Sala Shane, the lead vocalist for ZHIEND. Not only that, Sala is a remarkably down-to-earth person who picks up instantly on Yuu’s still-raw wounds of grief, and decides to spend the whole day with him.

Yuu calls Nao to join them, but she seems utterly disinterested, which I took to mean she might have somehow arranged this, because the fact of the matter is Yuu benefits from hanging out with Sala, even as he still reflexively pulls out his phone to tell Ayumi he won’t be home for dinner.

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Sala once had the use of her eyes, and was once far bigger and more popular than she is now with her “dull” little post-rock band. But when things got out of hand with the fame and the money and the way the people around her changed, she gave it all up, making a deal with God to take her sight in exchange for a smaller, more peaceful life.

I couldn’t help but notice the similarity of her sitting in a dark, trash-filled house with nothing but the light of the TV to similar sights of Yuu in the same position. She remarks that the day may come when he too has to make a deal with God, and tells him to “handle it well” when it does.

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We learn where Yuu is taking Sala when we see the rest of his phone call with Nao, in which he tells her he’s bringing Sala to her brother’s hospital, betting she might be able to help bring part of him back from the fog. Where Nao almost seemed annoyed earlier in the call that she’d jump at the chance to see her heroine (in stark contrast to Joujirou, who worships the dirt beneath Yusa’s feet), here she expresses gratitude as the sun sets before her.

The highlight of the episode is Sala’s stirring solo a capella performance to an audience of Yuu and Kazuki. Sala is old enough that she would no longer have a power, and yet there she is, soothing the soul of a fellow adult, as someone who still has their power listens intently.

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Kazuki does come back; Yuu wins his bet, at least for now. Nao rushes to her brother’s side, then calls Yuu back to thank him from the bottom of her heart. Yuu doesn’t need Sala’s other heightened senses to detect Nao’s sincerity.

As for Yuu, he takes what Sala said to heart about him knowing good people, which have changed him without him knowing it. Last week, Nao straight-up saved him from falling off a cliff of despair. This week, without even thinking about it, Yuu repaid Nao’s kindness by helping her brother. Thanks to his experiences in these first days back in the post-Ayumi world, Yuu can see the light, and himself, and is happy with what he sees.

But he still gets nostalgic when he hears ZHIEND. Will he reach another breakthrough at the concert with Nao?

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Charlotte – 07

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Charlotte doesn’t hold any doors open, nor does it waste any time or pull any punches: Yuu survives the injuries incurred by the debris, but Ayumi is gone. And it’s only in that moment and in the days to come that Yuu realizes how much he took her presence, and her cooking, for granted. He thought he was taking care of her, but it wasn’t a one-way street, and Ayumi’s death leaves a yawning chasm in Yuu’s heart, a stinging sense of loss and helplessness that pervades this powerful but heartbreaking episode.

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Having failed to protect or “repay” his sister, Yuu surenders and shuts down. He tries to fill the hole with cup ramen and television, and either ignores or lashes out at anyone who tries to wrest him from his self-imposed punishment, from Misa and Jou to even Yumi, whom he once worshiped. Liking and pursuing her must feel like a sad joke compared to the situation he’s in now.

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Then sketchy men in black show up, and Yuu starts to think (perhaps not wrongly) the government is about to capture him. So he gets away, where he thinks the soaked kid can’t find him, and his “home” grows even smaller as he squats in an anime cafe eating pizza and mochi balls while continuing to escape from life by playing violent video games that he probably used to not care about in the least.

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When some roughs are using that video game too long Yuu takes the bait and starts playing games with them. One gang after another, no matter how strong or numerous or feared, falls before his body-swapping ability. He creates chaos among the group, and it’s in that chaos in which he’s able to work most effectively to defeat them. He’s using his skills not to help people, but to entertain himself.

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He learns “real life”, with real bodies and real blood, is more fun than the games. The hole he’s filled becomes infected and festers. He’s becoming a villain before our eyes, and the path he’s walking looks more and more like a one-way street. When he finds some drugs on one of his victims, he’s about to take things to the next level when Nao kicks them out of his hand, appearing out of nowhere. Where is Nao in all of this, I asked myself throughout Yuu’s self-destruction kick. Was she so guilty about how she handled the Ayumi case, or so upset about what became of Yuu, that she couldn’t face him?

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No, she was right there, by his side…the whole time. Last week’s cliffhanger kept open the possibility that supernatural powers would have some role to play in the story’s resolution, but magic couldn’t save Ayumi from her own power, nor could it save Yuu from drowning in grief and despair. But with her power, Nao could stay by his side, invisible only to him, with no time limit, and wait for him to get better. When it’s clear he won’t, she makes herself visible to him, in order to make him get better.

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And why? Not just because she feels partially responsible for Ayumi’s death, but because Yuu is, at the end of the day, someone she cares about, and if she can help it, she’s not going to let him destroy himself. So she makes a deal with him: if he has one bite of the food she makes for him, he’ll never see or hear form her again. At Joujirou’s house, she painstakingly recreates the same super-sweet omelette rice Ayumi always made for him. And he can’t have just one bite. He eats every bite, and agrees to come home.

It’s not words or actions that pull him out of deep waters of despair that are all to easy to slide into following the shock of a loss. It’s food; it’s a smell and a taste, and all of the better times and happy memories tied to them. It’s a reminder that he is still alive, and there are better ways to live, and better ways to fill the holes in your heart.

Brilliant portrait of a broken Yuu, and a equally brilliant scheme to save him by Nao. I’m still drying my eyes from the heavy emotions this episode so eloquently expressed.

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Charlotte – 02

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Yuu’s first day at Hoshinoumi Academy is fairly eventful, as Joujirou demonstrates the incredibly destructive and unnecessary way he buys lunch. But while his demonstration and its resulting wounds is played for laughs (and it is pretty funny on its face), the show delves into darker territory with regard to the effects special abilities have on the people who possess them.

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But first, Nao and Joujirou show Yuu how they operate, using the location pinpointing and power identification skills of a “comrade” to locate ability users who, like Yuu, are up to no good. In this case, it’s the archery captain, who uses his “thoughtography” ability to produce images of girls in their underwear which he then sells…to help support his struggling family.

Nao and Joujirou put Yuu to work immediately, using his body-swapping ability to get the name of the culprit and foil his attempt to blackmail Nao (who is nonetheless flattered that the culprit thinks she’s attractive). It’s clear Yuu is a good fit, and that he’s now on the straight and narrow stopping people from going too far with their powers or using them for nefarious purposes.

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The StuCo he’s now in less about punishing the ability users and more about protecting them from themselves. Those who get discovered are often taken away by the powers that be to have their brains poked and prodded. Nao knows this because her own brother, the first youth who had a power awaken in them, underwent just that kind of intrusive experimentation, leaving him a husk of the person he once was.

The importance, and indeed nobility of The StuCo’s cause is underlined greatly when Nao brings Yuu to see her brother. At this point, Nao is used to him not reacting to anything, despite his hospital being in the most gorgeous, P.A.Works-y environment possible. She even buys lunch and eats it on the train like they’re on some workaday errand, not visiting her profoundly wounded brother.

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Her casual attitude may be Nao attempting to live as normal and happy a life as she can in her brother’s stead, because she managed to escape the same fate. But however you interpret it, it’s a brother-sister dynamic Yuu doesn’t repeated with him and his beloved Ayumi. While initially resistant to all the crazy crap going on at Hoshinoumi with Nao and Joujirou, perhaps Yuu will continue to be more smart with his powers and get with the program.

After all, as Nao says, any of them could be captured tomorrow and their lives and the lives of those they love irreparably ruined. For all its goofy or laughable moments, Charlotte doesn’t fail to bring the gravity either. That combo makes sense: for those with lives almost always on the brink and an ongoing mission that may not end until they lose their powers at adolescence, one must have fun, goof off, buy beef tongue and destroy a cafeteria now and then to maintain their sanity.

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Charlotte – 01 (First Impressions)

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What is it? Otosaka Yuu abuses his power to possess another person (for just five seconds at a time), which has twisted him into a kind of Yagami Light Lite, with troubling megalomaniacal and sociopathic tendencies and poor moral fiber. He cheats at both tests and in love, until he’s caught by a camcorder-wielding silverhair named Tomori Nao.

Nao, who can become invisible (but only to one person at a time) insists Yuu join her and her colleague Takajou (who can teleport, but never knows where he’ll stop) at Hoshinoumi Academy, a school specially suited to people with special powers like them. Facing expulsion at his present school and getting dumped by its idol Yumi, and faced with the enthusiasm of his little sister Ayumi, Yuu grudingly agrees to the transfer.

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Why should you watch? P.A. Works’ last effort that I watched, Glasslip, was a huge disappointment. Charlotte is much livlier, funnier, and flat-out better right out of the gate. Unlike a kid just dealing with teenage angst or longing, Yuu is a pretty confident dude, but also unprincipled, and selfish, literally causing traffic accidents to get a date with a girl. He’s the kind of swine you love to hate, like Light or Kanie from Amaburi. Yet I can’t help but root for him as I hope his new colleagues will work to reform his character somewhat.

The episode efficiently lays out the possibilities and limitations of his power, and the fact that if he could possess people as long as he wanted without them knowing, then he might be able to act so high and mighty and godlike. But he doesn’t. His power is half-baked, and so are those of his colleagues, so things can never quite get that out of control.

However, when they get a little out of control, such as when Takajou races around the city like a bull in a china shop chasing Yuu, or Yuu makes someone do something that causes a chaotic chain reaction, it’s great fun to watch. It’s also a just episode, in which Yuu gets all the misfortune coming to him…but doesn’t overdo it.

We see all the sides of him, like the side that sees Ayu as his only family and loves her so much he won’t tell her his omelette is too sweet.

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Why shouldn’t you watch? Like all previous P.A. Works, this show is gorgeous, and it got off to a great start, but if you still feel burned by Glasslip, I won’t begrudge you passing on another high school drama…is what I would say, only the drama so far is pretty pretty understated; in its place is just comeuppance and a healthy helping of comedy. If we’re just talking about Charlotte in a vacuum, its flaws are few.

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The Verdict: Charlotte gave us colorful, dynamic, flawed characters with clashing personalities, punchy dialogue, justice, and the usual P.A. Works dreamily beautiful yet everyday setting. It lured us in and held our attention throughout. Its superpowers are in-your-face and impactful without dominating the proceedings.

It also smartly set up the introduction of the fourth main character as the next target of the other three: the J-pop idol Nishimuri Yusa must be using her power in some underhanded way in order to achieve fame. I’m looking forward to the reveal of that power and watching Yuu clash with Yusa. This is a definite keeper.

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Ao Haru Ride – 08

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“Today, no matter, what, I will definitely, definitely tell Yuuri properly!” As soon as Futaba said this, we were convinced she’d lose her nerve when it came down to it, a fear reinforced when two seconds later she says “I bet I’ll still lose my nerve when it comes down to it.” The odds of her telling Yuuri drop even more when Yuuri, unaware of the hammer Futaba’s trying to bring down on her, invites Shuuko to join them for ¥100 donuts.

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Prove me wrong, I said to the anime I like to think is based on one of Nozaki-kun’s shoujo manga: show me you can move forward and resolve this shit.” And what do you know, Ao Haru Ride answered the challenge. Even with Shuuko around and Yuuri going on about Kou, Futaba still gets it out; gets it all out, in the first five minutes of the episode. That was as welcome and refreshing as a cold shower on a searing summer day (though we’ve had precious few of those round these parts.)

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And wouldn’t you know it, Yuuri takes it extremely well…at first. Her immediate reactions involve saying “You too?”; noting how she’s not surprised, as Kou’s so totally hot and all; and acknowledging she’s at a disadvantage since Futaba’s closer to him. Then she goes to the bathroom and we get the first of two instances of characters crying for multiple reasons (Futaba’s the other, later on). One could say Yuuri is crying because her friend loves the same guy as her, which means she could potentially lose of them.

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But she’s also crying because Futaba obviously went through hell getting those words out, but she did. As Futaba thinks to herself earlier, this is the crux of her growth as a person: no longer “friends in name only” with anyone, she’s allowed to say what she wants, and in this case, needs to say. She wants to be honest, even if it could create conflict. Having friends you care about opens you up to hurting and being hurt, but the rewards are immeasurable.

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Witnessing a genuine exchange between two friends who love each other has a significant effect on Shuuko, who only tagged along because Yuuri asked her too and she had nothing else to do. What’s amazing about this first act is that this is the first time Shuuko is hanging out with people after school since she started high school. Far from fearing socializing is always this intense, she realizes what she’s been missing out on.

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It’s the perfect environment for her to get something off her own chest: that she’s in love with Tanaka-sensei. Futaba’s utter shock at this confession serves as proof Yuuri never spilled the beans, which comforts Shuuko further. When Aya passes by and happens to spot Shuuko hanging out with friends—and enjoying it—it puts a spring in his step and a tune to hum. He’s happy for her, as are we.

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One of Futaba’s best expressions yet: the “yeah I’m stalking you deal with it” look!

Yikes, I’ve only covered half the episode! That’s not to say the other half isn’t interesting, because it was, but it didn’t have quite the cathartic, warm-and-fuzzy power of the first. That could be because after running into Kou by chance, who is playing with the stray black cat, then says he won’t adopt it because “caring for things brings a lot of trouble” in the most obnoxious angsty way possible, Futaba decides to spend the rest of the night stalking him!

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This is why I like to think Nozaki-kun wrote this manga. He truly understands girls’ hearts, and in shoujo, if you like a guy and stalk him, he’ll eventually like you too! I kid, I kid…sort of. But really, if he doesn’t want Futaba following him he could be more forceful about it, but he’s very wishy-washy about it, and by the end puts on the air of a protector by lecturing her on the risk of being assaulted by going out in the night alone, culminating in the closest they’ve come to a kiss.

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Perhaps its because he was genuinely worried that Futaba would do that to try to get closer to him that he was cross with her. But at least Futaba isn’t just hiding in her head and actually trying to act on her feelings. As Shuuko so eloquently puts it, it’s ultimately up to Kou to decide between Futaba and Yuuri, or to reject them both. But if he has feelings for Futaba (and let’s face it, he does), then he shouldn’t be allowed to get away with toying with her much more.

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Stray Observations:

  • Komatsu Mikako is doing great understated work as Shuuko; her laugh sounds like the first laugh she’s laughed in years.
  • Come to think of it, Uchida Maaya is also showing she can handle non-chuunibyou dialogue with the best of ’em.
  • Aw, why not? Kudos to Kaji Yuki, while we’re at it. No one does sensitive/whiny angst like Yuki. This is Hope we’re talking about, after all.
  • Steelers? C’mon, animators. Surely you can think of a better team to slap on Kou’s t-shirt.

Ao Haru Ride – 07

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If you think this episode felt like stalling or a staving off of Futaba’s upcoming confrontation Yuuri, then this is the wrong show for you. Good shoujo anime often delve deep into the heads of their heroines and make their inner dialogue an interesting and crucial part of the story. What actually happens almost becomes secondary to how the heroine arrived at what to do or say.

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Ao Haru Ride succeeds in making Futaba wrestling with what to do, as it becomes more and more apparent what she must do, an pleasantly entertaining affair. Sure, there are times when it seems she’s going around in circles, but that repetition is helpful to her eventual understanding that she may not be able to love Kou and be Yuuri’s “precious friend.” Her procrastination helps her arrive at this conclusion.

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A good shoujo anime also tries to minimize the utilization of pure dumb luck and coincidence in the heroine’s dealings, or at least tries be subtle about it. But there was nothing subtle about Futaba’s “chance encounter” with her former friend Yumi, who in middle school was in the exact situation Futaba finds herself in now, thus serving as a very convenient cautionary tale.

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What works better is the fact that Yumi’s presence allows us more backstory that deepens our understanding of how Futaba came to be a tomboy in high school. She was once as passive and cute and docile as Yuuri continues to be, but she surrendered when things got tough, and is only now trying to figure out who she is. Yuuri, meanwhile, remains committed to being herself, no matter the social cost.

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Futaba hoists Yuuri upon a pedestal all this time, while her interactions with Kou this week demonstrate that her cute vulnerable girly side is far from gone, and Kou seems to bring it out without trying, even leading her to be self-conscious about her bag and change her shampoo. She’s worried Kou doesn’t see her as a girl…but if he loves her, who cares how he sees her?

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The main issue here is that no matter how loving and kind and sweet and forgiving Yuuri is, Futaba won’t know how she will react to the news she also likes Kou, and furthermore liked him first (though I’m not sure she’ll elaborate). And the harsh truth is, losing her as a friend is a possibility, though not a certainty. What is certain is that she has to tell her. Now she knows that without a doubt.

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