Finales: UN-GO, iDOLM@STER, Ben-To

Happy Holidays everyone! I had a great Christmas, I hope you had the same. Now it back to work. Today we say goodbye to three series and start to wrap up another season. Damn, this has been a good year.

There he is! Hey guys! Kaishou's right there! Listen to me!

UN-GO came and went, delivering either a mystery that I didn’t have the wits or mystery-reading training to follow, or not-so-original thoughts on modern technology, politics and culture, not to mention the more philosophical questions of truth. So with the finale we get the “one of you in the room is the murderer” scene, even though the supposed victim shows up halfway. Heated accusations and denials fly, evidence is presented … at one point everyone gets a weapon, but then they hardly do anything with them (what’s up with that?). While I’m not fit to criticize it all as a mystery, my more general, fiction-reading instincts gave much of it away. Of course Kaishou would show up, even with the misdirection over who the real one is. Meanwhile, Kuramitsu the politician is there to help present the energy/political side of things, though they don’t go far with it apart from suggesting the current state of Japan isn’t very good. The higher concept of truth degenerates into a monster battle. I blinked at that. But Inga is his/her old self, so it’s all right. And at the end, everyone is more or less happy, except for the culprit (correctly guessed, not deduced, by me, using those fiction reading instincts I mentioned). In other words, UN-GO could get pretty messy, but that’s fine. NoitaminA has had a bad year, but with UN-GO it at least tried to give us something different and challenging, not the bland SF pap it otherwise tossed to us. That’s what they used to do all the time. Now, if they could avoid any more Guilty Crowns in 2012, I’ll be happy.

No huge drama for iDOLM@STER 25. They took care of the last shred of adolescent angst in the last episode. Okay, there were two major events in the episode. The girls were sad that the Producer would miss the big concert, but he shows up anyway. The other is a trivial last-minute shot by Kuroe concerning 765’s new digs, but frankly, moving to a hi-rise didn’t seem right for them anyway. No, the bulk of the show is taken up by the concert. Good thinking. iDOLM@STER’s concert footage is always great to watch. It is again, but frankly it didn’t have the same emotional charge earlier ones did; none of the members had crises to overcome. On the other hand, you might like this one better. You didn’t have to worry. This one was a celebration. And so, hats off to the creators of iDOLM@STER. It’s hardly a compliment to say this show wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been, but when you consider that the very concept of an iDOLM@STER anime series would make money, it would have been tempting to just mail it in and watch the bank account grow. But the creators obviously cared about this show. The girls were mostly clichés but they were almost always used to good effect, and they wound up showing more depth than I expected. Their character designs were expressive and fun to look at. And there were so many of them that you’d never get bored of one. The story arcs went along predictable lines, but were told well enough that I didn’t care too much. And, as I said, the concert scenes were amazing. Fluid, detailed, energetic, the camera glancing at one girl for a moment before swooping around and through all of them. Watching these scenes you could see how much care was put into them. So, again, well done!

Ben-To 12 had two disappointments. We don’t get to how Orthrus is beaten, and we don’t get to see the Ice Witch in action. But these were problems that just occurred to me now. Otherwise the finale was great fun. When we learn how the Club of Hercules “defeated” (if that’s the word) Orthrus it gave the concept of battling for bento a new wrinkle. Tired of losing, Hercules convinced the others to simply wait and let the invincible twins take what they want. By refusing to fight, they humiliated Orthrus into not returning. This sounds like rather dishonorable behavior for wolves; I wonder how any of them managed to handle the shame on their end. Now Hercules is back and it looks like he’s doing the same thing. (Other wolves, I’m ashamed!) This might be the only possible way for me to sympathize with Kyou and Kyou, and it shone a light on what this whole bento thing is about: fighting. Or so I thought. Satou returns, ready to muck up Hercules’s plan, and the story turns ludicrous (okay, the CONCEPT is ludicrous. I’m talking comparatively), and fun as hell as he reminds everyone of the missing element: hunger. In other words, he convinces everyone to fight two people who will likely kick their ass, in order (partly) to redeem the people who will kick their ass. There follows another great Ben-To fight, bodies flying to a thumping soundtrack, and just as Orphrus, redeemed, welcomed, enters the fray … we jump to the aftermath. Oh, well. They added a good twist at the end and managed to emphasize what the show is about, apart from lunacy. Ben-To was the most consistently entertaining series of the fall season. It took a premise weird even for anime and made it exciting. I said at the beginning that I didn’t know if they could sustain such an idea for an entire series. Well, they did, and I’m wondering now if they have plans for a sequel.

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