Back to ongoing shows: Chihayafuru 14, Last Exile Fam 12, Bakuman II 14

Now that I’ve survived the crush of new shows, it’s time to look at three that have been on awhile.

In Chihayafuru 14, Arata has promised Chihaya that they’ll play again, which means it would be in a tournament, but not this one. He’s gone just as quickly as he left. The only reason he appeared at all, as far as the present story was concerned, was to get Chihaya back in fighting form for the individual matches the next day. Well, okay, also to remind us that he’s still there. As for the individual matches, almost the entire episode was spent against Shinobu, the Queen. Never has the show spent so much time concentrating on one match before, and its an intense one. It also looks one-sided. She’s blindingly fast, even able to snatch away a card Chihaya was covering (be fair, Chihaya was getting rattled by then). Most of the episode is like that. Shinobu taking card after card, Chihaya (and Taichi and the tennis lady) watching with shock, wondering how the hell anyone can beat her. And soon there’s a huge lead. Any breaks in the intensity (or despair) come from odd moments, like Shinobu noticing Chihaya’s T-shirt and vice versa, or when someone accidentally douses the lights. And each time they do we go to “Chihaya reflection time,” where some moment from the past, a bit of advice, whatever, comes to her. But there are no quick turnarounds. The show is too smart to simply turn the match on its head because of one little insight. Instead, Chihaya’s little epiphanies accumulate. It’s only late in the match that she manages to score a couple of cards. Around the time I was grimacing because the match wouldn’t end this episode. She’s still way behind, but she got a card from Shinobu’s back row. Time for a comeback. I hope it doesn’t take all of next episode. My heart won’t be able to stand it.

Fam and Millia met earlier than they think.

The overall tone of Last Exile Fam 12 is so happy that I was a little disappointed that they had to throw Farahanaz’s assassination in at the end. For the most part it’s not only a flashback but a beautiful shared memory between Fam, Giselle and Millia, well, again, until the … Even some of the art, like the cheering crowds at the Grand Race, is cartoonish, though I’m sure that was simply budget. Come to think of it, the racing vanships didn’t seem as well-animated, either, or maybe it’s the same; since it’s a flashback and no one was shooting at anyone … well, again, until the end. But the overall mood is a good one. We see characters early in their lives, the cute meeting between Millia and Fam that surely neither of them remember now. And we get an idea why Farahanaz was so beloved as a queen. And there are just enough clues and foreshadowings to let us know that that it can’t last. That it might be impossible to live happily ever and enjoy a grand race every year. You wonder if this is what Fam is thinking when she wakes up from her dream in the back of truck plowing through a snowstorm. Or maybe that gives her the motivation to bring forth a day like the one she once had–minus the killings.

The only thing I’ll say about Takagi/Kaya in Bakuman II 14 is why the hell didn’t he tell her the truth straight up? And then Saeko makes it worse by saying their meeting was purely by chance, and now HIS relationship is screwed up, too. Apart from the little unrequited flutter in Aoki’s heart there’s nothing romantic about the situation. If she’s still pissed off by it, well, you can’t do anything about that. At least these little moments of are worked into the larger, more mundane story about working out their gag manga, wondering if they ought to be working on such a manga (the editors argue about this more than our heroes do), visiting all the other artists, none of whom seem to be having a good time, just working life. It just now comes to me that Bakuman is more than the story of two boys aiming for the top. It has become a story about daily working life. And while most careers don’t involve competing for a top spot in the manga world, the struggle to meet deadlines and work in a personal life are universal for anyone who’s out there in the job world. One more thing. What was Aoki thinking??

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