AKB0048 finale, Muv-Luv 4

I didn’t expect a finale in the middle of a season … So what’s next for AKB0048?

But as it turns out she’s not going anywhere yet.

I had expected a two-season series but was wondering (when I think about this show at all) what they’d do to top the return to Lancastar. When they return I guess they’ll concentrate less on the new girls and more on the starting lineup, including what to do with Kanata, now no longer in line to take the role of Takamina now that Minami went and did something heroic at the big concert. Then there’s that whole center position thing, brought to the forefront again when it looked like, for a moment, all the understudies were going to center heaven together. Yuuko and Tsubasa want some answers to that, too.

I’m going to miss these scenes.

Not to mention all the other weirdness that made this series watcheable. The kirara, who mutated so much this episode that I figured there was something radioactive in one of the Lacastar mines. How about that cosmic lightshow that brought the girls back to Lancastar after having to pull out, okay, that’s that center thing again. What about the DES? Why do they hate entertainment so much? Is this simply a pure love vs. pure hate battle (well, yes)? What’s behind that apart from human nature at its extremes? Or is it something else ..? When Nagisa’s father said in wonder “Is this entertainment?” my brain replaced it with “deculture.” It’d be fun to go back replace that word through the entire series and see what you get.

Even while giving pep talks Nagisa’s father is still a dick.

As for the episode itself, it rushed to fill in what plot holes they needed to. You have to wonder what DES has in store for Nagisa’s dad now. Yuuka gets another goodbye scene with that kid. The concert is full of light and sound and battling, as it should. Everyone gets a brief moment. It all feels abrupt, but that may have been just me expecting another thirteen episodes. I suppose I will watch the next season when it comes. The show mostly managed to dazzle enough to hide the not very interesting personal stories. Not to mention the sheer, glorious weirdness of the whole thing.

Until next year …

Moving on to less colorful matters, but plenty of angst …

Every time we see Bridges this episode he’s giving this look.

Muv Luv Alternative 4 … It’s clear now that the first two episodes were little more than a feint, or something to give us a taste of the BETAs, or to give the BETAs a taste of us, rather. The actual story looks much blander and derivitive. Which means I may have to drop it after all. The most interesting thing is Bridges’ sense of identity. He believes he’s 100% American and has been raised to despise his Japanese side by his grandfather and the people around him. Yet now he has to pilot a Japanese mecha, can’t do it well, and is getting shit from it from his Japanese commander. But coming to grips with one’s cultural heritage isn’t very new, plus we can already see what’s going to happen. The other thing of interest is that he gets captured and almost “interrogated” because he stepped foot on the wrong part of the airbase. What kind of dysfunctional lot are these allies, anyway? No wonder they’re losing the war.

AKB0048 12, Space Bros 16, Muv-Luv 3

But all they give her is one teeny scene.

AKB0048 12 is full of little drama-bits but manages to keep its direction until we get to the understudies performance. Let’s see, we get Takamina, still not 100% after her injury, considering retirement, or graduation as they call it, to make room for Kanata. Heavy stuff, but there’s so much going on here that it only gets one little scene. Then there’s Orine, who’s just made the horrible discovery that she used to help build weapons for DES, the enemy. That deserves a little more time, and there’s Chieri, who is really just as blameless or guilty as Orine is, to talk sense to her. And then there’s … I forget, who gets injured and can’t perform, ruining her chance to finally take the stage with … I forget. There’s just too many damn girls in this show. On a happier, though bittersweet note, Yuuka and her ex-boyfriend Mamaru, make some sort of peace. Mamaru says he would not love the Yuuka who isn’t in AKB0048 (a complete turnaround for him from episode one), but he could love the one who is. But he’s in love with Suzuko. Such mixed signals don’t seem to deter Yuuka and we get a tearful goodbye bit during battle. And I really thought Mamaru was going to get killed this episode …

But the big stuff lands squarely on Nagisa’s shoulders. Learning that her father is in prison for being on the pro-entertainment faction, she announces that she’ll rescue him. The WOTA soldiers are all for this sudden and dangerous change of plans, such devotees are they, and soon she’s at her father’s cell, but he refuses to leave. Talk about mixed signals! He still thinks he can talk to the ruling DES members and says he can’t be rescued by a traitor. I don’t know who the bigger fool is, Nagisa for thinking he would leave, or her father for believing he can talk his way out of this. Also, he acts like a total dick to her, but I guess he’s always been like that. Then, after passing by her mother’s house and seeing its unkempt state, it gets too much for her and we get an iDOLM@STER type crisis–she loses her voice. You’d think that none of this can’t be solved by a good concert, but that’s canceled before it gets very far. Whatever’s going to fix Nagisa up, whatever decision Takamina makes, will have to wait until the next one. I wonder if we’ll see this planet again?

Rather than give you another scene in that damn pod, here’s Mutta having a pleasant dream.

Space Brothers 16 finds them all STILL in those damn pods. They’re getting more agitated, and so am I. Didn’t I write the same thing last week? Well, it’s even worse. Though we do get some answers. JAXA is basically playing mind games with the applicants. Now group B has the broken clock, and group A has the alarms ringing in the middle of the night. In other words, we get to see the same accusations all over again, except with different groups. Another annoying thing is that no one has bothered to notice that Serika had been preparing too much food. You’d think the team would think to have someone else also keep an eye on the inventories. Other than that it’s the usual pointless bickering from the usual suspects. Get them out of there!

Meet Venus, Macaroni, Hobbit, and Top Gun.

Muv-Luv Alternative 3 … Interesting. Yui, the girl we followed through two episodes of dread, mayhem and despair, is all grown-up now … and apparently has been shunted aside. All she does this episode is standing around and disapproving of everything, especially the hot-shot American pilot new to the Yukon base, where all the overrun countries build more mecha. Bridges, the hot-shot, apparently sent here for fighting with another pilot, otherwise doesn’t seem to deserve this treatment. But mainly this episode is about all the new pilots fighting and bonding. We got Tarisa, the feisty little one, VG, an Italian who makes romantic asides during battle, and otherwise smiles and shrugs a lot, and the Swedish babe Stella. They try to one-up each other, they team up for mock battles, they invent nicknames, the usual. It’s routine but after the doom and gloom we had before it’s rather a relief. Oh, for a change of pace we meet the team of Cruska and Inia in all their cold, incestuous mystery.

Hyouka 12, AKB0048 11, Tari Tari 2

I kept waiting for the mystery to show up in Hyouka 12, it’s probably already started, but who cares? I was too busy marveling at what I was seeing to notice.

It’s cultural festival time and everyone more or less is excited about it. The lit club is less thrilled about accidentally ordering 200 copies of their annual volume, and some of what little plot we get deals with how they’ll sell them all. Inabe has her own issues with the manga club and cosplaying, but they seem to be dealt with. Houtarou gets his dream job, manning the lit club booth in such an out-of-the-way place that no one even knows they’re there. Meanwhile, Eru goes around trying to find another location for it, or something. Does it matter what she’s supposed to be doing? Eru steals this episode.

We have a naturally curious girl loose in a particularly lively cultural festival, she’s going to forget her goal of talking with the exec committee. Look! Calligraphy! Kurata! (If she was in a certain other school Chihaya would be dragging her to their clubroom in a flash) Something fun every few steps! Eru gets distracted at every one, and she does so in her usual breathless, arm-pumping, adorable way. Every time they switched to a different character I felt disappointed. Not to mention that this is the lushest, richest depiction of a cultural festival I’ve ever seen. It is absolutely amazing to look at. There are details and movement everywhere you look. It would be hard not t0 get distracted.

Which would make this week’s mystery even more enjoyable. We see so many things that it would be impossible to figure out what clues there are. But, apart from some missing apple juice, and that switched pen, and that fashion-club guy, there’s no mystery yet, and Houtarou has made a point to avoid the sensory overload the festival would give him. Whatever happens next week probably won’t involve most of the things we saw this week. Not that it matters. I don’t even care if there’s no mystery (next week’s title, “A corpse by evening,” suggests there will be). I just want to see more of the festival. I wish I could be there in person.

AKB0048 11 has something to distress just about everyone.

For the story, Nagisa.

First, having an understudies concert on Lancastar is bound to disconcert our heroines, who all came from there, but it’s an understandable and good PR thing to do considering how many girls came from there. What’s not so understandable is having Nagisa do “Seaside Cherry,” a solo, with the odd combination of Chieri, Suzuko, and Makoto as her dancers. But later, when they’ve landed and seen the miserable state their town is in, with her father arrested because of her, it’s clear why she was chosen–for dramatic reasons, anyway. Just imagine the big heartfelt performance she’s going to give, with tears, kirara floating around, etc. But logically it still doesn’t make much sense. Naturally we get an “exasperated Yushiyama” scene for emphasis. And Chieri goes into another funk.

Also, the understudies also get a new song–unheard of. You can imagine how that goes over. Yuuko isn’t happy at all, and while the others put on their best, supportive smiles, you can tell there’s some bitterness from more than her. As for the Lancastar girls, Yuuka gets to confront Mamarou, the boy who spurned her, leading to the funniest moment of the episode. It’s nice to see a Suzuko fan for a change. And at the end Orine gets her own moment of angst, and perhaps serious injury/death, when she realizes that she helped make the parts for the DES machine that’s about to mow her down. It’s trite, but I can’t help but think “You can’t go home again.”

Well, at least two of them made it.

The most interesting thing in Tari Tari 2 is that they have the big rehearsal by the end of the episode. This series could have been about all the little stories that lead up to it, and in fact this episode, with the advisor injured, Takahashi on leave, everyone rushing every way they can to get to the theatre, and Miyamoto getting on stage almost alone and making up for her hilarious failure last year, felt like a final episode. So the show now has to find something else for its characters to use. It’s pretty much as smart as the first episode, and the dialogue is as good. My only quibbles are Waka and that song they maybe shouldn’t be singing. The song obviously means something to her, of her time with her late mother, but it feels like a cheap device to reveal her background. The whole “you owe me ___ cakes” business was only a little better, though there are worse ways to demonstrate that she’s coming around to Miyamoto’s way of thinking.

Uta Koi 1, AKB0048 10, Yuru Yuri2 1

One of the reasons this story was more interesting than the second one.

Chouyaku Hyakunin Isshu: Uta Koi is the 100 poems we learned so much about in Chihayafuru brought to animated life, with the good and the bad that that brings with it. It looks like we’ll get one or two of the hundred poems each week, so I figured 50 episodes, but the narrator and supposed author of the poems (which would explain the blond hair and blue eye …) wants to concentrate on the love poems, 43 of them, roughly a full season’s worth. Odd how that works out. The stories in episode one concern two brothers, a womanizer who falls for the emperor’s future bride and his brother with his loving, beautiful and dutiful wife, set up the tone for us. Elegant art surrounding two lovers who aren’t always as elegant as the backdrop, especially when they drop into cartoonish mode (Fujiwara’s son almost made me burst out laughing). The first story is more interesting because the characters are. The second is dull because the couple are married and devoted to each other. It looks like a serviceable production but nothing in this episode strikes me.

AKB0048, figuring you can’t have a thrilling idol show and battle every episode, does some development this time. We learn of a Center position girl who didn’t vanish and who promises to fight Tsubasa if she tries to bring the position and, we got Kuuko pushing Tsubasa to bring exactly that. Chieri is still worried about her kirara glowing when Nagisa’s around, but not when she’s alone. “Then why does the kirara hang out with her, then?” is the question I want someone to ask. None of this is very interesting in the short term, so it all takes place during a gravure photoshoot on a paradise island, and the highlight involves Makoto’s boobs and a jellyfish, and a camerawoman who seems to have a yuri fetish. Well, if you’re not going to have a firefight in the episode, why the hell not?

For more gratuity we turn to YuriYuri 2 1, that is, after I checked Wikipedia to remember who has the hots for whom. That’s easy for the core group but it gets convoluted when you add the side characters. Anyway, by way of reintroduction we get Akari’s dream where she’s beloved by all the other girls, allowing them to fawn over her (and introduce themselves) one by one. It’s a clever way to get us back in the loop, but it went on too long, especially when you know the punchline. After that the show wastes no time and we get a hot spring-half episode. Surprisingly the bathing scenes are a little tame, but I suppose you’re not going to get any jumping when they’re all together. The ping-pong scenes work the best, but the magical girl show was pretty good, too. I didn’t much care for this series the first time around but wound up watching it anyway. I predict the same this time around.

Moretsu 25, Kanojo X 12, Hyouka 10, AKB0048 9

A really big issue comes up in Moretsu Pirates 25. Ironbeard brings it up. Will the pirates in this “frontier” area of space continue working under the letters of marque or will they go off somewhere and be real pirates? It’s rather different than the big issue I THOUGHT they were going to bring up: would the empire allow pirates to band together and become a possibly dangerous force? I guess they don’t care much. Anyway, this big issue is just tossed out there, almost lost among the confusing story line and dramatic moments and Marika and Chiaki making like idols.

Luca doesn’t tell us nearly enough about her vacation.

First, it took a long time for anyone to wonder what happened to the real Luna. This being the show that it is, they wonder for about five seconds before the real one walks in the door, but it was something I had worried about ever since the android double was shot in the head last week. Marika and the other pirates (and there are tons of them, including three who have a comedy routine they should have retired a long time ago) wonder about other infiltrators while Kane smiles a lot. Meanwhile Ironbeard and Marika’s mom Ririka are heading toward the pirates nest for whatever reason. The Parabellum had chased off the Grand Cross, so while we’re chewing that over Quartz Crystal shows up. I was sitting back and awaiting more confusion when things get fun.

Quartz isn’t used to the pirate dining hall’s dramatic lighting effects.

Quartz said it best afterwards. She showed up to get the drop on the pirates, but Marika wound up running the show, and Ironbeard hogged the spotlight. That’s almost literal. Surrounded by angry pirates, Quartz has got her “I hunt pirates routine” going when Marika interrupts. “Let’s fight!” The lights go out and a spotlight appears with Marika in it. Later Ironbeard ups them both by rising on a platform on the floor! Nothing like some grand entrances to relieve the confusion. The pirates nest dining hall has some nice effects built-in. Naturally, Ironbeard gets his own spotlight, but Marika, undaunted and on a roll, demands to know who he is. Quartz is so rattled during all this that when she gets her own spotlight she tries to step out of it.

So here we have a duplicate Kane, Ironbeard, and Marika’s mom, who’s not supposed to be there … um, plot? Can you explain some of this, please?

Ironbeard is there to escort her to safety, but before he leaves we get the Kane situation cleared up, but not Ririka’s. Why the hell is she there again? Why doesn’t she tell her daughter she’s there? Why did Kane switch with his twin when they both had the same motives? Never mind. We get the formal challenge, Marika and Chiaki doing a pirate song, nerds ogling Coorie (in nerd costume), all to get us revved up for next week’s slam-bang confrontation. This episode was confusing and full of flaws, but the show has much momentum now that it doesn’t matter.

Nazo no Kanojo X 12 sets its new standard for romantic moments, when Tsubaki insists on using the old, dirty gauze on his wound rather than get a fresh, clean one–because his girlfriend had put it on. Okay, so there are more traditional romantic highs also set, while the two lovebirds each try to fight off increasing feelings of lust. Tsubaki, as you would expect, is lousy at this kind of struggle (seeing Urabe naked last episode certainly doesn’t help) and so he’s the recipient of a drum solo. Urabe almost loses control as well, but there it shows itself by less-than-precise scissor skills, hence Tsubaki’s tiny wound. Urabe is a better character when something knocks her off-balance, such as Ako (forever stirring the pot) showing her that naked pic, or accidentally injuring Tsubaki, or seeing him hurt again when he tries to AVOID doing something questionable. It’s then when she stops being cold and formidable and we see other human traits from her, like remorse or even affection.

I’m not sure I read the ending of Hyouka 10 correctly. Or rather, I wish the story arc had finished up this episode. On the other hand, it would make sense to continue it when it looked like Houtarou had come up with the solution but actually missed something. The episode is full of moments when people tell Houtarou how clever he is, and so to show that he’s maybe not so clever after all Ibara mentions that thing about the rope. I forgot what Haba had said about it and don’t really want to go and look. Oh, well. We’ll get to that and whatever Chitanda wanted to say (not enough Chitanda this episode) next week. As for Houtarou, I don’t think the praise was getting to him but it’s clear he’s a sucker for certain types of women. Better watch that, Houtarou.

AKB0048 9 brings us a dilemma in storytelling. How it plays out here is simple: Takamina, injured last week, wants to go onstage for a difficult and dangerous concert on a bleak snowy planet controlled by DES, but is overruled. Kanata, the girl destined to someday replace her, is chosen instead. Until Takamina insists minutes before showtime. She nearly kills herself performing, is flown home by the inspired Kanata, etc. But really nothing has changed here. Sooner or later they’ll have to make a decision about when Takamina will bow out. We’re made to care about both characters, so I can only hope the show will handle that moment with grace.

The distraction concert.

The other story, actually making the concert, made me cringe at first. The mothership is hidden away but the understudies go out to play in the snow, then visit a town with NO IDOLS banners all over the place, and then do an impromptu performance for some kids. Why they just don’t put “Arrest Me!” signs on their backs I don’t know. What’s more, they kind of get away with it, and inspire a strategy for the big performance. This part is fun to watch. They pop up in spotlights and sing and duck away when the DES starts shooting at them. Meanwhile the main concert goes on, almost uninterrupted. Sure, the animation techniques don’t match up well, but that’s been true since the first episode. If you can get past that it’s great eye-candy.

Quick ones: Hyouka 9, Kanojo X 11, AKB0048 8

This episode they’re better at shooting down solutions.

I could say that Hyouka 9 was unsatisfactory in a lot of ways, but I’ve bought into the characters and the format, so to me it was another half hour of pleasure. But I can understand that others might disagree. It’s the driest episode yet. Houtarou and the others just sit there and listen to three people give their theories about who Hongou intended the murderer to be. The first one is abrasive, the second one smug. Only the third one is really any fun, but her theory was a little out there. The only thing we get to break the infodumps and cross-examinations are the usual amusing animation tricks and, of course, Chitanda getting drunk off whiskey candies (As you would expect, she makes an adorable drunk, but she’s nowhere near Clannad’s Nagisa level). And at the end, all they’ve done is reject theories. We still don’t know, because we, and they, don’t have enough information. Next week we’ll get more from Irisu. I’m still thinking the answer has more to do with the film club’s internal politics than anything in the movie. I guess we’ll find out.

Like every other male lead in an anime, Tsubaki doesn’t think to close his eyes.

I expected a few things out of Nazo no Kanojo X 11, such as Urabe showing up at the festival to keep an eye on Tsubaka, Oka and Ueno spotting Tsubaki, Hayakawa putting the moves on Tsubaki, and Tsubaki waffling a lot because he’s a hopeless case. I also expected some violence done to him, maybe with a drum solo. And indeed all these things happened, but not the way I expected. I didn’t expect Oka dress up as a maid, for Ueno to freak out when other boys take pictures of her, like Tsubaki did two episodes ago. I didn’t expect Urabe to appear during the seduction scene wearing a robot costume. I didn’t expect a drool-showdown between the girls. And no one expected that both of them would go through most of the scene naked. What a delicious agony for Tsubaki! This, er, distracted me from a rather nice scene, where Urabe and both take pains to let the beaten Hayakawa down gently, with the added eroticism of the nudity and Urabe reacting almost sexually to Hayakawa’s saliva. As for the violence, what else do you expect in a scene when the blindfold comes loose.

Minami, can that wait? Someone’s shooting at you …

Looking past the weirdness of the entire AKB0048 universe you get a straightforward story with some stock elements that work and some that don’t. I’m frankly getting a little tired of the “must try harder” lines that everyone seems to be saying now, and that the 76th generation SHOULD be saying because the 77th is getting gigs before them now … though I wonder if doing a show in a heavy DES territory isn’t actually a way to cull the ranks, you know, use them as cannon fodder … nah. Teammate jealousy isn’t my favorite plot device in the world. On the other hand, it was a fun, fluid battle at the end. And Minami does have an interesting dilemma. She wants Kanata to become a successor, but that means succeeding HER, and that leads to some angst during battle–that’s the part I didn’t like. You’d think she’d a bit more clear-headed when people are actually shooting at her … Well, it was a good battle, anyway.

Space Bros 11, Moretsu 23, Sankarea 10, AKB0048 7

The test hasn’t even begun.

Space Brothers 11 continues with the third test and gets interesting in a new way. The candidates are put into three groups to live in sealed environments for two weeks before deciding which two of them should be accepted as astronauts. This is a cruel way of doing things as it turns what should be comrades into rivals, but I don’t buy the JAXA story for a minute, even with their “more maybe be selected” loophole. So now, there they are, Mutta, Serika, that rude guy, the old guy and the purple head guy, doing tests and trying not to go crazy. They’re only in the capsule briefly this episode, but the show gives us scenes of them, Kenji’s team, and JAXA people watching on monitors. I assume that’s how it will go, with Mutta’s scenes getting more intense and cutting now and then somewhere else to lighten the mood, though Mutta’s thoughts are entertaining enough. And then there are the puzzles. They’re practically inviting us to help them solve them at home, and we have a cliffhanger as Mutta has a confident answer to the first one that contradicts everyone else’s. But how did he do it? Tune in next week!

It occurred to me recently that Moretsu Pirates had passed some tests of its own. It has gone from a series that I could take or leave to one that I look forward to every week. I know what to expect from the characters, more or less. And if the situations are occasionally silly, that’s part of the series and I accept it. Also, Marika is no longer playing at pirate under the watchful eye of the Bentenmaru, she’s making her own decisions in increasingly dangerous situations and the crew trusts her to do so. Twice this episode they made reference to pirates “shining,” once through the eyes of the chef, son of the legendary chef, and the other, Marika seen through the eyes of Captain Stone. Considering the stronger emphasis on pirates and their traditions in this episode, this says a lot about her. It’s like the series is about to take a step into deeper waters … while maintaining its sense of humor as a relief.

Legend of the legendary chef.

Plus, the current story arc is very interesting. Who’d have thought that the second huge threatening ship to appear would blast away at the first threatening ship? The whole mystery of the Grand Cross (first threatening ship) and the Parabellum (second t.s.) and what to do about it make the information scenes bearable. Why does this Ironbeard (heh) fellow use a big hologram and pipe noises into the other ships? Why do Kane and Bloody Misa (heh) look so worried? And what will the empire do if the pirates do band together? A lot going on here. Not to mention a further sign of Marika’s new abilities and confidence–the unexpected cliffhanger. The Grand Cross better be ready.

I had heard that Sankarea 10 was going to be another side character story episode, which would make it the second in a row during the show’s big crisis, but happily they fit Aria’s story into the flow by making it a drunken confession to a captive Chihiro. It works well enough but I wonder what they’re going to make of it. Surely there’s no turnaround for her to make that would require so much time telling her story, unless she chooses to kill Dan’Ichirou or something. Two other reasons, then. They want to show just how unhappy and twisted Rea’s home life was, and in that case they succeeded, but they still didn’t need to devote so much time to her. We kind of got her story already by watching her make drunken, bitter comments from the sidelines. That said, there were some nice juicy details. The final reason would be to invoke pity, but after seeing her motivations and behavior I still find it impossible to feel any sympathy for her. I did enjoy the irony of her trying to give some love to a cat only to learn that it, too was a zombie. How did Babu get there, anyway?

Under the stage.

AKB0048 7, is now so loaded with girls, successors, understudies, etc, that it splits apart and tells a few different stories. The most coherent one comes when the other girls, including some 76 team would-be successors with a possible ax to grind, discover Chieri’s past, that her father’s company builds the weapons DES uses to attack entertainment. This leads to the inevitable tearful attempt to run away, stopped by Kanata, who if not for her own tearful scene a couple episodes ago, would be grinding her ax the most. Some girls are chosen to be stand-ins and get their butts worked off. Others use karaoke for practice, and then we have this week’s weird scene, where successors go under the stage an find a magical land and an explanation as to who is going to succeed whom, which I didn’t understand. I did catch that there’s been a change, the glowy mewling things have picked a Kanata instead of … er, I forget. * As I said, this show is loaded with girls. I’m frankly having trouble telling them apart now.

* Ghostlightning understands it all and explains it fully here.