Three new shows and an old one: Usagi Drop, Baka to Test, Penguindrum, Idolm@aster

Usagi Drop, the second NoitaminA show is about a bachelor who takes in an abaondoned waif to live with him. I suppose we’ll get all sorts of episodes where the girl (Rin) does something a kid would do and Daikichi learns patience, responsibility, love, etc. I’m not a big fan of this story. But the first episode is promising nonetheless.

Daikichi’s grandfather has died and he returns home to help with the funeral arrangements and meets Rin, the illegitimate offspring of his grandfather. And we get to meet the family, the mother who’s ashamed, and uncles and sisters who’d also rather have the girl not there as well. These are nice little scenes; the family isn’t hostile to Rin, they just don’t know what the hell to do with her, and if they agree to take her in we get a sense that they’re abetting grandfather’s shameful act. Daikichi is the only one who takes any notice of her.

The kind, supportive family.

But why? Maybe at age 30 he is tired of living alone. Maybe he’s stung by the accusations that he doesn’t participate within the family as much as he should. Maybe it’s because Rin, though skittish, seems to like him. For the most part she’s floating at the sides of the gathering, not participating or being asked to participate, picking flowers, staring at the trees. The family even thinks she has a speech problem, since she doesn’t talk. But she talks to Daikichi and even falls asleep on his hand (to his discomfort). Then there’s the fact that she clearly loved her father, er, Daikichi’s grandfather (Daikichi is the only one who finds any humor in the situation), and one family member tells Daikichi that he looks like him at age thirty. So off they go together. If the girl is going to cause any trouble it’ll start next episode, and the show is slow and patient, admiring little moments, so I don’t think the crises will be big.

Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu is back. Apart from a “ni” at the end of the title, nothing whatsoever has changed. Akihasa is still stupidly earnest, Kirishima keeps gouging out Youji’s eyes, Mizuki is still pink, Minami is still flat, Voyeur is still Voyeur, and they won’t let Hideyoshi on the beach without a top. For this is a beach episode. You can probably imagine the scenes already. But I don’t care. It may be a stupid show, but it’s good-spirited. My only complaint about the episode is that it wasn’t as frantic as the show’s best episodes, but then there were no test-battles, either.

The plot of Mawaru Penguindrum seems to be this: Shouma (our narrator), his brother Kanba and their sister Himari live together. Then Himari dies, only she doesn’t, for an entity is inhabiting her body and prolonging her life so that the boys can obtain a precious item. In anime terms, this is a perfectly acceptable storyline. But the way it plays out … heh.

After a nice domestic scene in a very colorful little shack, the boys take Himari to the aquarium. It’s all happy, until she keels over and dies. I’m fuming. “So, it’s going to be this kind of show: get us to like a character and kill her off immediately.” Then the show, which up to now had just been eccentric, gets outright weird.

I’m tempted to list all the strange things that happen, but that would take a long time. I will say that not only is there weirdness, but it escalates. At one point Himari shouts out her (I assume) signature phrase “Survival Strategy!” and we (and the boys) find ourselves in either a magical transformation scene or a song-and-dance number, or both. This is when I hit my WTF state. I stared at the screen, open-mouthed, unable to believe I was seeing this. Not a lot of shows do that to me. Utena did, so I wonder if it’s a coincidence that this show has the same director. That may also explain the disturbing incestuous scene at the end. The other sobering element in the show, apart from Himari maybe being doomed, is the concept of fate and the characters relation to it. I’m sure we’ll get more of that. I hope they surround it with odd girls with more power-hats and helpful penguins. The new season has just become worthwhile.

I’ll say this about The Idolm@ster 1: it wasn’t as bad as I had feared.

The girls, learning that the documentary is a fake, turn on the cameraman.

Oh, it was pretty annoying at times, but the mock-documentary format they used to introduce the characters worked. They were only able to work in one song. Sadly, real life idol training is probably a lot more cutthroat than the happy day-in-the-life we see here. The girls probably don’t spend so much time cutely chasing hamsters, for one. We’ll probably see the regular format starting in episode 2, whereupon I’ll probably drop it.

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