The final finales: Asobi, K-ON!!

The finale of Asobi ni Iku Yo does what you expect it to. The good cats win, the bad dogs lose. But it was hard for me to get interested in it.

Focus, damn it! FOCUS!

It starts out well enough. The Cathian rescue ship needs thirty minutes to fuel up but there’s NATO tanks and helicopters on the way. We get a nice land battle between NATO and the maids and their matter-converting thingamajib weapons, but then it gets interspersed with more Manami and Aoi arguing about who gets Kio (who, thankfully, is totally oblivious to what they’re talking about). It gets so bad that ditzy Eris asks them to stop. When they turn on her, she suggests a foursome. This shuts the girls up, though it’s out of shock, while Kio remains clueless.

Things don’t get much better after they reach orbit. Threatened by Dogisian ships all three girls must first kiss Kio before undressing in front of him to change into their spacesuits. I guess the foursome’s on. Someone should tell Kio what it is. Then, thank heavens, we leave that plotlline alone and get to more action. The problem is that it’s unclear how each unit is progressing. Okay, we get an idea of the Dogisian/Cathian space battle, but there’s Kio’s whimsically old-fashioned looking spaceship plunging into warp, then slamming into the captured Cathian ship and meeting hardly any resistance at all. The Dogisians are good at infiltration but not much on defense. I kept waiting for their reinforcements and all we get is a giant dog-robot. Kio shoves it over, or something.

Computer room.

Meanwhile Manami, Aoi and Eris do some of your usual anime space battle offensive work (a “super spacial graviton cannon”) and then risk their lives preventing the Dogisian ship from crashing into Okinawa. Aoi’s “I’m just a mercenary” theme comes up again, such a big ongoing issue with her since it was first presented one episode ago. Bah. Everyone is saved. And Kio makes the ultimate sacrifice:

This final story arc felt wrong. I have nothing against epic space battles, but one of the reasons I watched this silly show to the end was because of its light touch. Happy, buxom alien cat girls cavorting in sunny Okinawa with the locals not caring one jot, with some gun battles here and there. This finale felt too cosmic.

And though it ends with a pretty image, I can safely say I’m done with this series now. I’ll leave it to the characters to work out their foursome.

K-ON!! finally wraps up with a thoroughly appropriate episode where nothing much happens, laced with more goodbye stuff.

Azusa's welcome to the club. I have no idea what the others are up to.

I don’t know exactly when this episode is supposed to be, before episode 23, maybe. After a typically bizarre opening bit of memory we move to the nitty-gritty of the show, such as it is, the dreaded yearbook photo picture revelation. Yui looks just fine but wants advisor Sawako to have it changed before publishing. But Sawako is out with the flu. So off they go to visit. My only fear was that they were going to damage the facsimile, but that doesn’t happen. What we get instead is typical HTT behavior in Sawako’s apartment.

Sawako's home life is less unsavory than they had hoped.

Nothing much happens. Sawako won’t change the photo. There’s the mystery of a ghost hand in another photo. Yui gets into Sawako’s wardrobe. They decide to cook dinner and do her laundry. Nothing more than usual, except, like all of this season of K-ON!! at least, it’s put together with great skill. I’ve quibbled with this series plenty of times but one thing it has always done well is combine great art and detailed animation with ensemble acting that puts it above just about every other anime series out there. Even when the characters got on my nerves I enjoyed looking at it.

They must throw in sentimentality somewhere, and it’s Sawako’s turn to do it. She got a few chances in the graduation episode, but this one, I think, works better. Half asleep at the table, she looks at the yearbook, photos she helped them make, while her charges fold her laundry and cook dinner. She can only smile. What about? Because she’s fond of the girls? Because she’s remembering her own school days? Probably both.

They throw in a little subplot where Azusa is secretly rehearsing with other girls for a surprise performance at “the reception.” When was that? How come we didn’t hear about it before? And then, because there’s still a minute to kill, we get the girls running outside to jump in the air “Hard Day’s Night” style. It’s an appropriate way to end things. Girls acting silly and goofing up.

Except it’s not over. There’s a movie coming out. Now that we’ve seen them go through school I wonder if I want to watch their adventures all over again. Well, when the time comes we’ll see.

There! All the finales are finalized. Now it’s time for the Fall season! And, er, Amagami and Shiki.

Asobi ni Iku Yo 11

I’ve seen better setups to big finales than Asobi ni Iku Yo 11.

A rather glum strategy session.

Not to say that what they did last week wasn’t effective. The Cathian ship taken over and heading toward the outer atmosphere, the crew hiding in a wormhole, the captain, the only one able to give the ship commands unconscious … it’s well thought out by the Dogisians. It does indeed look dire for our heroes, until, suddenly, it’s not. The captain had entrusted her cosmic bell-thing to Kio. So not only can he act as captain, he has the power to create a spaceship to get him to the ship he’s captain of. But they need a rocket to get the ship into orbit, so they call on Antonia. And Rulos isn’t dead, either, but shows up to be some useful device or another. I didn’t understand that part. And Ichika helps by making charms to unfreeze the ship’s crew. In other words, they think they have no resources to fight back and all of a sudden more resources pop up all around them. It could have been handled better, but it wasn’t bad.

The Dogisians spice up the game.

The show then gives them setbacks. Antonia can’t get hold of a rocket because the Dogisians got to the countries first. They have to go to Russia where one of Antonia’s servants is pals with an officer there. Kio still has to imagine the darn spaceship in order to create it; that can’t be easy. What’s more, there’s a NATO army heading towards them and it will arrive in three hours. Okay, this makes it more tense, but it’s been mostly talk about what they are going to do and reaction when they learn about the setbacks. Nothing in the way of physical action. Asobi likes to balance goofy catgirl antics with gunshots. I was waiting for the latter.

Focus, girls, focus!

Worse, the girls just can’t leave the love issue alone. After last week’s battle they find time to talk about Kio even before assessing the damage. Then when they reach Russia Manami asks Kio point-blank how he feels about Aoi–while he’s busy trying to envision spaceships. Naturally Aoi overhears it and confronts Manami over it. Ladies, you’re in a huge crisis? Can’t it wait? And don’t give me that “But what we all die before I tell him my feelings?” line. First things first! … That was bad enough but then they invent new emotional shit, when a rogue Russian guy tries to abduct Kio (the only physical action we get. Gunshots!) and gives a speech to Aoi about how she’s just a cold-blooded mercenary. This guy was last seen in the beginning of the very first episode! NOW they’re going to bring him back to inject some guilt into Aoi?

Kio creates a spaceship.

That man is caught and hopefully forgotten. Things move on. Kio, manages to put abduction and love issues thrust upon him out of his head and makes a spaceship. The episode ends with them ready for takeoff while a narrator says uninteresting things. With hindsight I see that this episode wasn’t bad in what it set out to do—get the rescue mission going. I was hoping for a little more excitement and a lot less about love triangles.

K-ON!! 23, Asobi 10

The final episode of K-ON!! is already out and everyone but me has seen it. Nevertheless I’m going to write about the previous episode, because, er, I’m behind. In this episode the girls set records for dithering, and for once I don’t mind at all.

It’s the day before graduation and the seniors are not required to be in school, but the girls decide to come anyway, even if there’s nothing for them to do. It may seem like a strange thing to do but I understand it perfectly, even if the girls couldn’t articulate it. This is their opportunity to say goodbye to the high school. Much of the episode has a bittersweet feel. Classes are in full swing but the girls aren’t in them. They visit their old classroom (Yui, natch, hasn’t cleaned out her desk) and wonder at the empty feeling. High school will go on without them.

It feels bittersweet but the girls’ high spirits make up for that. After they grow bored of the music room they take up with Nodoka as she finishes Student Council duties, then go bug Sawako, beg Azusa to buy bread because they’re embarrassed to, and it goes on. In this way they say goodbye to little parts of the school. Back where they started they have tea for the umpteenth time, then actually do something practical—clean the room. Meanwhile chimes periodically ring to mark the start and end of classes going on without them.

And at the end we have a classic K-ON!! digression. School lets out and they decide to record all their songs for posterity … but first they have to decide on the song order … but before that, how about some more tea? It goes on like that until you wonder if they’ll ever actually get around to it. Scenes like this usually drive me up the wall but hell, it’s the pentultimate episode, they’re graduating the next day, let them dither. Besides, they DO actually get around to recording. Nice episode.

Asobi ni Iku Yo 10 has two stories going for it. One has to do with the Dogisians and is actually exciting. Then there’s the other story.

Girls, would you please talk about something else for a change?

It’s getting close to Christmas (interesting that in Japan you can have Christmas-themed stories year round, while here in America (and I suspect most other places) it’s sacrilege if you do one outside of November-December. Manami, as you can see, is still bugging Aoi to make a move. Man, I’m getting tired of this. The only decent moment in it comes when Manami pulls out her own regrets to make her argument, though this might actually work against them, since Aoi is considerate toward Manami’s feelings. But they’ve been through this so many times I just don’t care anymore.

Happily the Dogisian attack gives us some sustained action. They’ve attacked a few times in the series and never had much effect. I was about to write them off. But this time the evil Jens and the Dogisian who sounds like Muttley (and is named Madley, a tip of the hat, perhaps) pull off an organized plan of action which soon has the Catians reeling. Start by firing a harmless shot so that the Catian ship destroys them, only to have Dogisian assistaroids sneak through in the rubble. Meanwhile the Earth-bound Catians are also under attack.

Tune in next week ...

So the Catian ship is frozen and will fall to the Earth in two weeks, the bridge crew is hiding in hyperspace, the captain is unconscious, Eris’s own craft is presumably destroyed. Oh, noes! On the other hand, the last image we get is a determined Kio punching his fist in his palm. Earlier he had been given a bracelet that can generate a power-suit, so the good guys aren’t out of it yet. How they’re going to get up into space is anyone’s guess. Oh, well, it was good to see the show get back to the action.

Shiki 10, Asobi 9

A very interesting episode of Shiki. We learn a lot about the Risen, the most important thing being they’re not a cohesive group.

The episode jumps back and forth between a three-day span. We jump back and see Tatsumi issue orders to the Risen to assault the clinic. In spite of their supernatural nature the briefing is not supernatural at all, more like “Okay guys, here’s what we’re gonna do.” In other words, the Risen still behave like humans and must plan their plans like them. Then Natsuno is named as another target (the girl with the mannequin is with them), which disturbs Megumi. At first I thought it was because she didn’t want Natsuno to suffer the same fate, but it turns out she wants to do the dirty work herself, the poor, lovestruck vampire! More importantly we see that the Risen can disagree amongst themselves. Tatsumi even brings up the concept of “purging.” So they can and have disobeyed in the past, enough that there’s a punishment for it. The question for now is—how will this knowledge play out for us?

But since we already know what will happen at the clinic we spend more time with Natsuno. By the time he gets home that mannequin girl had vanished. I wonder what the point of her being there was. All right, she gets an invite. But does that cover all the Risen, or only her? And if it’s only her why did she then back off? Why was another person chosen to bite Natsuno? All right, these are technical questions that don’t matter much. What does matter is that it’s Tohru who’s been chosen. A “sadistic” choice, as Megumi calls it. In a nice, odd scene, Tohru says he’s doing it because he’s protecting Aoi and Tamotsu, that he doesn’t want to do it. On the other hand, the vampires seem to take delight in biting the people they love the most. Nao wanted to bite her mother … Megumi wants to bite Natsuno …

But when the first opportunity comes Tohru runs away. Is his conscience overriding his duty? I remember Masao being disgusted by the idea of biting a child. Natsuno stupidly goes to look for him, the only friend he had in the village. There’s obviously a bond there, and I begin to wonder if this is where the Kirishiki’s plans will break apart. But then, when Megumi and Tatsumi corner Natsuno and close in, we get a shocking conclusion. Once again this series presents an episode that makes it impossible not to watch the next. I’m wondering if Natsuno’s knowledge of the Risen (and he might remember Tatsumi mentioning Toshio) will lead him to the safety he now needs. I’m also worried because the previews show Sunako bearing her fangs at an unsuspecting Seishin …

Asobi ni Iku Yo 9 is a quiet, melancholy episode which I can’t figure out no matter how hard I try.

We meet Rauri, the first assistaroid, built 1000 years ago and intended to come to Earth but her ship was caught in a warp accident and only recovered 800 years later (the show uses “cycles” instead of years, but we’re told they’re roughly the same). Now she wants to come and see what she missed. Okay. In the meantime we get a digression about a TV show called Captain Future, which (quick Google) actually exists. And the enemy alien dog watching TV.

Eris has mixed feelings about the visit. Back then assistaroids were humanoid in shape and that led to all sorts of abuses and nearly a war. Eris feels responsible even though it happened over 200 cycles, er, years ago. While it’s not often we see a troubled, pensive Eris, I’m not sure this would be the thing to be so worried about. Meanwhile I’m thinking that it’s about time that someone attacks and blows things up, or gets naked, or both. This show has certain rules it must follow.

Not this time. Rauri says she came to Earth in order to sing a song her original master was going to sing when he arrived, an Earth song, before she dies. Turns out it’s a bland pop ballad about a lonely spaceman (no Captain Future connection that I can see), never mind that it must have been written by an earthling hundreds of years ago. Never mind that every member of the cast has been listening to it and that they each sing it, even if they didn’t know that she would. And never mind that we see Rauri on the ship departing Earth (where we hear the song again), and then after the credits see her falling into the sea. No, never mind all that.

Well, give the show credit for trying something apart from their usual silly stuff. But next time try to have it make sense, okay?

Highschool 9, Asobi 8

If you’re wondering about what Saya’s mom was doing pulling off a big rescue last week you’ll just have to wait. Highschool of the Dead 9 follows Takashi and Saeko as they try to reunite with the rest after being cut off.

At first it’s simply their adventures. They find an amphibious buggy and manage to escape to a sandbank on the river. Zombies, apparently, can’t cross water. That doesn’t make much sense. More worrisome is that now they seem to be reacting to more than just noise, but the episode doesn’t expand on that. Anyway, the sandbank scene gets a little strange. Saeko is embarrassed because she’s dripping wet and her clothes are clinging (when earlier she was going around in no more than a thong and apron) and Takashi, out of the blue, asks her if there’s a guy she likes. If he is falling for Saeko it’s going to make future scenes with Rei very interesting.

Surprisingly, the episode takes off a little later, during a fight where Saeko freezes up at the sight of zombie children and nearly gets bitten. After they retreat to a nearby shrine it becomes confession time for Saeko, and we hear her story of being assaulted and injuring the man—and realizing to her disgust that she enjoyed doing so. What the sight of those zombie kids did to kick this feeling to the forefront of her head I don’t know. Takashi, meanwhile, takes on the role of confessor and hears her out. Of course, at the moment there’s nothing he can really do but comfort her. How far he goes in this is left to our imagination.

The power of persuasion, Takashi-style.

It’s in a battle the next day (again, how did the Zombies know they were there?) that Takashi snaps her out of it, practically giving a confession of his own, telling her she’s the coolest girl he’s ever seen and to please live and fight for his sake as well as her own. Naturally it works and we get a minute or two of furious Saeko action where she’s dealing death on all sides and enjoying every second of it. And they make it to Saya’s mansion. Takashi later muses that he said all that in order for them both to survive, nothing more, but he’s always thinking this way and I don’t really buy it. Everyone in this cast has shown that their instincts lean more to decency and support than to killing, Saeko’s blood-lust and Kohta’s wicked grin notwithstanding.

Next week it looks like we’ll be meeting more new people. As we’ve learned already, the living can be as troublesome as the dead for our heroes.

Asobi ni Iko Yo 8 meanders around for a while before getting down to business. As usual it has to do with the girls and Kio.

Let’s see, the cat cult plans to scale down their operation and become more of a fanboy group. We learn something about the technology behind the charms used last week. Clarke’s third law is invoked. Sadly, in fiction it’s too often used to justify such magical items because the creators didn’t want to have to think up a rational explanation. The Dog race plot their next move. Manami, Aoi and Kio go to the holodeck or whatever it is to train, and Manami sneaks off to give them time alone. Aoi takes umbrage at this and confronts her, armed with bullets that destroy inorganic matter, which, of course, is simply an excuse to …

They both have rationalizations for their duel. Aoi says Manami is slacking off. Manami think’s she’s good enough already. The real reason, which they would both vehemently deny, is that they’re fighting over Kio. So off they go to the woods, followed by Doggie agents. The tracking down by both girls is used more as an excuse for alternating interior monologues. Manami’s is more interesting. Aoi is simply a girl with a crush who’s so far too shy to do anything about it. Besides, right now she’s on a combat mission. Manami takes the time to ruminate over her lost chance with Kio, and the fact that she still holds affection for him while putting on a brave face makes her situation poignant.

A lot of gun pointing in this episode.

When they do get around to fighting it’s entertaining enough. Aoi loses (out of bullets) and is forced to call Kio Kio-kun. The doggie agents interrupt with their own attack and are easily brushed aside by more science that is indistinguishable from magic, but the episode’s story had effectively ended by then. I really wish they’d get this harem business out of the way for a while and let the aliens play a little more. Especially that alien dog that sounds like Muttley.

Occult Academy 8, Asobi 7

Occult Academy 8 fixes all the things that went wrong last episode. Maya and Ami are friends again, and Shigeru proves again that he’s a cool dad. Too bad they had to throw in a monster invasion to do it, except the girls weren’t all that mad after all, so what’s the point of the monsters? Okay, I know this show depends on monsters and aliens and things like that, but … bah.

Chupacabra have no sense of timing.

I mean, after the usual tense school scenes where the girls don’t talk but go humph a lot, right when Maya and Ami meet at the shrine to sort it out, Kozue (natch) runs back with a little monster on her back, and then there are more, then a really huge one who takes Maya away. Why it didn’t just suck all her blood then I don’t know. That’s what they do to the cows (I was hoping we’d come back to that). We learn later that they’re pretty easy to kill; maybe it was afraid.

Shigeru and Kohta would get along.

The following scene stretches my credulity but in a way that’s very satisfying. Maya and Kozue rush over to Shigeru’s place babbling a story about monsters kidnapping Ami, the day after Shigeru had gone to extremes to give the girls a UFO experience. He’s got to believe that this is some kind of revenge hoax, right? Nope. Not only does he forgive Maya on the spot for her outburst that night, but he believes the story, arms himself, and off they go!

The rest of it is tracking the monsters to an old hut, fighting off the little guys (Uchida actually contributes here, which is nice to see), rescuing Ami, a final big-guy threat ended by Shigeru with a handful of nails. Some monster. Head came right off. As for the girls it’s the usual breathless apologies while whacking monsters. Saw that coming. It’s fun to watch, this show usually is, but it felt forced, especially since we were conned into thinking the girls had no intention of making up until the monsters showed up. Turns out that’s why they were meeting at the shrine in the first place. So a normal make-up scene gets hijacked by monsters for, I assume, our benefit. Gotta have monsters, right? I was more interested in the Maya, Ami and Shigeru. I say it again: Bah.

Asobi ni Iko Yo is the sort of brainless show that conveniently forgets anything that stands in the way of silliness, fanservice, or both. I seem to recall that Manami and Aoi have quit their dangerous jobs and thus stand in danger of revenge plots, so they’ve been staying at Kio’s. In episode 8 not only are they back in school, but so is everyone else in the cast.

They do add one amusing moment, when Antnie and her bodyguards are introduced, all with toast in their mouths because they believe it’s the custom in Japan. Hmm, maybe by now it is. Anyway, Kio’s in the film club, so Eris joins, so Antnie joins, so Manami and Aoi … you get the idea. And where do they go for the field trip? The beach! As if we hadn’t seen enough skin in this show.

It’s half swimsuits and half girls talking about Kio. I keep waiting for them to talk about something else, and they never do. Each talk comes back to him. This show fails the Bechdel Test every which way … well, there was that early negotiation scene, but does it count if the girls are cat-aliens? After the swimsuits and requisite barbeque it’s back to Kio again, who asks Aoi if she’ll teach him to fight. This is a pretty useful talent to have in his situation; Aoi’s the perfect one to ask, but it’s not quite what she was expecting. This is our poignant moment before the inevitable attack begins.

The inevitable attack.

Of course, in this show it can’t just be a straightforward attack, if you can count attacking dog robots flinging old tires at assistaroids and gun-toting maids straightforward. They have to add fresh weirdness in the form of a girl named Ichika, who supplies Aoi with magic seals which give her superhuman abilities. So now we have another strange character in an already strange story. Okinawa gets more interesting every day.

Highschool 7, Asobi 6

Highschool of the Dead 7 may be its best yet. Not just for the action (terrific again) but for why they decide to go into action in the first place.

To start with they’re temporarily safe, resting, keeping watch, being nearly naked, and talk turns to how they can survive. Saeko says that in this hellish new world you cannot risk being brave and rescuing other people. Even the remaining living cannot be trusted. And to demonstrate we flash over to a nearby residence where a father is desperately trying to find a place for his little daughter to hide. He threatens to smash a door down, the terrified residents open it, skewer him and close the door on the girl. Here come the zombies. Highschool likes to put in at least one moral dilemma per episode. What gives this episode its extra energy is that Takashi and Kohta witness this from their balcony.

Kohta is the first to snap. The music kicks in, and soon everyone in the apartment (save sleeping Shizuka) is smiling. “We realized that we’re still human!” Exactly. The group is not simply surviving, they’re working to help others.

But rescuing the girl isn’t going to be easy. Takashi saves the girl from the immediate threat but soon they’re trapped inside the gated front yard while dozens of zombies try to get in. The stuff that comes next is almost as satisfying because of what it demonstates about the characters. Takashi shows his quick-thinking by walking ON the stone fence, very quietly, inches away from the zombies, not helped by a yappy, face-licking dog the girl has picked up. And now the rest of the team is energized and come to his aid.

I wonder if Kohta's ever had dreams like this.

Action-wise this tops the first fight, and it again demonstrates people acting like human beings. Takashi had gone off to rescue the girl. The rest come to rescue Takashi … and the girl. Again, I love to watch these characters when they team up. They know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and trust each other implicitly. It may be unreal for a team to bond like this so quickly, but consider how much they’ve gone through together. I could be cynical and point out they now have to protect a little girl and a yappy dog but instead I’ll look forward to what complications this brings them as they try to maintain their humanity.

Asobi ni Iku Yo 6 is a filler episode where characters split up and do different things.

Kio’s film club wants to film a SF story, so Eris is invited along. Again, I love how the people on Okinawa just happily accept the presence of aliens on their land, that high schoolers can get them involved in little projects. Unfortunately the scene doesn’t work too well. Eris doesn’t look like a space alien, the assistaroids are too cute, and the spaceship they fly in for FX looks like it’s dangling from a string. The film fails, and so does the scene. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before.

Talking to a virtual Kio.

Meanwhile the Cathians invite Manami and Aoi to use their holodeck. Aoi wants to learn to cook for Kio, and Aoi wants to fire weapons. Aoi sticks to her plan, so we pretty much ignore her. Manami, however, can’t help herself and conjures up a virtual Kio, giving in and finally just asking him how he feels about Eris, Aoi, and herself. In spite of the “truth revealed” cliché aspect of this, last seen in Occult Academy, Manami is not pleased with his answers. Virtual Kio tells her that he lost his fear of talking to her when he thought she had a boyfriend, i.e., they’re just friends. They’ve been working this aspect of Manami for a while now, where she pines for Kio while supporting Aoi in her attempts to nab him. This episode they ramp it up, even adding a sad flashback. Even pointing out later that she was talking to a virtual Kio and not the real one doesn’t really help. Since nobody’s going to do anything about it for the time being it’s just an anchor on this series.

A couple little things. The Cathians are aware that the Doggies are on Earth (but the Doggies do nothing this episode but talk evilly). Eris is given drugs to suppress her breeding season urges, so maybe she’ll settle down for a change. Oh, the cat-cult have established relations with the Cathians. Next week I think everyone goes to the beach. Oh, joy.