Two more finales: Nodame, Hanamaru

Nodame Cantibile – Finale‘s, er, finale is uncertain, with things left up in the air while also trying to give us some closure for the side characters. The manga’s creator, Tomoko Ninomiya, fell victim to some physical ailments, not to mention pregnancy, and you get the feeling that later, sporadic efforts to continue the series left it rudderless. We will probably never know how she intended to finish the series. This is all we get.

Only the manga-ka knows for sure.

The biggest casualty is Nodame and Chiaki. It was assumed that they would become an official couple, well, I guess they did, but then there was the recent strain in their relationship, and the episode does little to clear that up. By the episode’s end Nodame is off doing her things, another concerto, another recital. Her career’s taking off. Chiaki is there, watching her perform at the very end, but you don’t get the sense that they’ve completely made up. She says she always thought these feelings about performing music came about through Chiaki, but she’s discovered she can do it anywhere. So now, in the very last episode of the series, where is their relationship?

Interesting that while Nodame’s career grows, Chiaki is stuck with a little-known orchestra doing gigs at onion festivals.

It’s even odder because they do get together earlier in the episode. Chiaki bursts in and announces he wants to do a concerto with her. She’s worried that she won’t be able to match her London performance. So he drags her off to his family’s villa where he has her do a duet. In a splendid nod to the beginning of the franchise they play Mozart’s sonata for two pianos, the first piece they ever played together—then Nodame jumps him. It’s a great scene, reminding us of the mutual love they have for music, while reminding both of them how the other has matured and improved. But what does it lead to? Are they now just two busy professionals who can’t find the time for each other?

We say goodbye to the side characters. Yunlong returns to China. Tanya stays in Paris and they insinuate that the relationship with Yasunori is going well. Frank and Rui are playing together. We get glimpses of the gang in Japan. In all these cases it does feel like closure. But for the two main characters this story feels supremely unfinished.

Still, it was a good series. I thought it better than the Paris Chapter. It felt more focused and looked better, especially the concert scenes. As for Nodame and Chiaki, well, I see in Wikipedia that a new installment (Nodame Cantabile – Opera Hen) is coming out. Maybe this isn’t the finale after all.

Hanamaru Kindergarten‘s finale again demonstrates what I’ve said: the stories are better when the kids are involved. For this reason, part one works better than part two. Anzu has a christmas wish dream.

All kids Anzu’s age have wild imaginations, and it’s always fun to see just how Sakura’s raising of Anzu has affected her’s. It livens up what is actually a predictable sequence. She goes out to find Tsuchida (dressing first, thank heavens), they meet up, is it destiny, etc. But lucky for us the other characters show up, too.

Grown-up Hiiragi and Koume.

And it’s a lovely touch that when she wakes up, with her friends and parents around her, she is delighted to be with them. Like anything disappointing was going to happen.

The second part combines more memories of Sakura and Tsuchida in school, and adds to that another attempt at confessing to Yamamoto. He told her not to give up on the guy she loved and go for it. Now, Sakura’s told the same thing to Anzu. Go for Tsuchida!

Later, Anzu tells Tsuchida he should do the same thing to gain Yamamoto’s affections, once again tripping up her own plans. Only Hiiragi sees the irony in this. And once again Yamamoto is too clueless to understand that he’s confessing. We’ve seen this before and we know how it would turn out. So Hanamaru’s finale is uncertain as well. If there will be another season will it play out the same stories over and over again? If so, I’m not certain I want to watch. I had a good time with this series. It was often amusing and always cute. The closing sequences were always something to look forward to. But if it’s going to be more of the same I would eventually tire of it. Twelve episodes is a good place to stop.

Durarara 12, Baka to Test 12, Hanamaru 11

After the wildness of last episode Durarara 12 almost feels like a final episode. Things settle down, life goes on. On the other hand there’s a lot of talking about what to do next. It’s as if the show itself isn’t really sure. But this is after a rather large revelation.

Mika Harima didn’t die. Shinra did some cosmetic surgery to make her look like Celty’s head, and Seiji fell for it. The fallout is extensive. Seiji is crushed. Celty angrily goes back and confronts Shinra. His motives are overt. He doesn’t want Celty to regain her head because she might leave him then, or disappear, which amounts to the same thing. Celty is torn. She has an attachment to Shinra, but it’s her head, damnit! But she is afraid of death, and fearful of what might happen if she does indeed get her head back.

Compare this to the final scene, where Izaya is talking about what he wants to do next, all the while carrying Celty’s head around like a football. He imagines that Celty, and all dullahans, are the same as valkyries, and she is simply awaiting for a battle which will reawaken her. So maybe we get an inkling of what’s to come. But where will the fighting come from? Yagira Pharmaceuticals?

I swear, Izaya is everywhere this episode. He pops up unexpectedly to needle people before sauntering off, or running away from Shizuo.

In between we have sort of a filler between story arcs series of scenes. Izaya tells Mikado that what is strange and exciting at first will become mundane shortly, and you must keep evolving to overcome it. Mikado broods on this before deciding to hit on Anri. Celty becomes at peace with herself. Has she given up on the search? Seiji has accepted Harima, at least for now, and even makes peace with Mikado. As I said, it’s almost as if the show was ending and they were tying up loose ends. Or maybe they’ll focus on some new characters now.

Baka to Test tired me out again. There’s so much going on, puns and sight gags and weird action, all of which I love, but not so much when it’s tossed in haphazardly. This episode is a little better. There’s a single goal: Defeat Class-A!


Now, supposedly the battles are supposed to be won and lost by test scores, but you can get a good individual matchup against a better student who happens to be weak in one area, or simply gang up on an individual. So running around the place looking for an advantage plays a part, too, something Class-F uses. They feel they’re more practical than the other classes, and more cunning, and they’re almost right. It also adds physical slapstick to the virtual avatar battling. This improves the show’s flexibility but can lead to wearying moments when they try to do too much.

Line of the week.

It’s not a bad idea. Con or give favors to have the other classes mock-attack Class-A first in the hope of tiring them out. Then set elaborate traps for them. It almost works, until Yoshi’s avatar-thing blows up and the school roof collapses. After that there’s a sweet scene where Yuuji rescues his opponent and torturer Shouko and Yoshi rescues Himeji. And I collapses from fatigue. One more episode …

Hanamaru Kindergarten 11 is a low key episode that concentrates on the adults. The only child that has any significant screen time is Anzu.

You might think that this is an episode where Anzu tries to help and makes a mess of things, and there is a little of that, but the focus belongs to Tsuchida, who’s got the blues. He messed up his confession to Yanamoto and has been down ever since. He’s also wondering why he became a kindergarten teacher in the first place. This events around him, with Anzu coming over repeatedly to clean or do his laundry, forms a background of irony.

He takes Anzu home and talks with Sakura. She asks him to write about nineties videogames for her magazine because she’s got a huge deadline and employee shortage, and he’s good at it, suggesting he is good for other things besides being a kindergarten teacher. And he wonders if he was working so hard just to impress Yanamoto. But he chose this profession before he even met her … Doesn’t make sense. I think Tsuchida just has the work blues. Like Izaya said in Durarara, the strange and interesting become mundane pretty quick.

Meanwhile, there’s Anzu to keep him occupied. In a cute little scene, broken up between bits with the Yanamoto sisters, comparing their density, he tells Anzu a story that encapsulates his entire situation. Anzu is delighted by the story. Tsuchida seems delighted to be telling it. All’s really well, in Hanamaru-land. Just working blahs.

Sora no Woto finale, Hanamaru 8

War is over.

There were many things in Sora no Woto 12 that didn’t make sense, but that was true for the entire series. Frankly, I don’t care too much.

They made much of the idea that the soldiers didn’t want to return to war, only their superiors did, Hopkins (“War advances civilization and science”), the tank commander … And they contrasted that with Kureha’s reluctance to disobey orders, no matter how she really felt. She was a soldier, and soldiers obey orders. But the picture of the war changed significantly through this episode. Rather than country against country, with contrasting takes on the same legend, this began to feel like a small group of people who were going to send their men to die no matter what—never mind about the civilians–when no one else, including their leaders, truly want it.

The girls in battle.

But this wasn’t simply a case of peace and love vs. men with guns, simplistic, hippy wish-dreams. Filicia actually threatened Hopkins with a gun. The girl actually have to go into battle themselves to help spread news of the cease fire that no one was really sure about. Peace is not so easily won, and these often silly girls all know it. They’ve lived through it.

Only Kanata had heard Rio’s trumpet call. Because it’s Kanata, the rest of them (save Kureha) believe it too. And off they go in their spider-tank (Why they took a badly injured Aisha along is anybody’s guess), because they trust her. They also trust, and forgive tormented Noel, for innocently creating those weapons, but the most important forgiveness comes from Aisha, who was one of her victims.

Deus ex big-ass machina

There are things that didn’t work. Recasting the whole angels legend in the current day definitely did not. They hadn’t played up the legends enough for us to remember or care about them too much. Also, it takes away from the fact that the girls and townspeople were acting on their own. They shouldn’t be considered simple pawns in a repeating spiritual cycle. I hate it when fiction plays this trick. As for smaller things, I can’t believe that Kanata’s trumpet would carry over the rumble of armored tanks, or that “Amazing Grace” could suddenly freeze the men like Zentradi encountering Ranka Lee. And no one noticed that a third army was coming onto the scene? Rio’s deus ex machina appearance; I didn’t mind that so much. You know she was going to make it into the episode somehow. I’m sorry she had to get engaged to the Roman Emperor or whoever to help seal the deal, but she did what she had to do for the peace, I guess. I also can’t believe he would permit her to return to Seize and resume her old duties. Some honeymoon …

Yes, you can moan and complain about it all you want, you can even go back to mocking the character designs. I don’t care. I could nitpick Sora no Woto to death, in fact, I just did, but it did way too many things well for me to hold anything against them. The characters were developed naturally, the story unfolded the same way. It was just beautiful to look at. The world they live in is full of life and detail. The strengths far outweighed the weaknesses. I’m sorry it’s over.

I accidently skipped ep8 of Hanamaru Kindergarten, so watched it tonight so I wouldn’t have to think too much. Let’s see, the first part concerns Aoi, whose parents run a fish shop. She loves to watch them work, but they won’t let her help, until the other girls come over and prove they can sell fish with cuteness and knowledge of nutrition.

While this part isn’t much, it was nice to see a girl with working-class parents rather than the suburban mommies they usually feature. Nice, too, that the father is a good man who sees that maybe he’s been neglecting his daughter too much.

Part two is more interesting. Ojou, a yakuza daughter (interesting change in families all around), announces she’s going to marry Tsuchida.

Love how Kusano is enjoying herself in the back.

While it plays out as expected, it does take a couple nice turns. Ojou learns (from the kids, natch) that Tsuchida likes Yamamoto, but when she meets her, she winds up admiring her too much to stand in Tsuchida’s way. Of course, Yamamoto is totally clueless as to what is going on. More fun is that after announcing she’s dropping her proposal of marriage, Anzu freaks out and tells her to keep fighting. I guess she couldn’t resist. That was enough to make it entertaining.

Ookami 11, Baka to Test 11, Hanamaru 10

Ookami Kakushi‘s story ended with episode 11, but there’s still one to go. Probably some silly filler thing. So, after all this time, I never figured out the situation. Gods and fallen gods, wolf princesses wearing white, it all became a dull blur in my mind. But at least this time they were able to concentrate on an immediate crisis, stopping Sakaki from opening the dam.

Sakaki’s evil plan to destroy the town has to be one of the stupidest ever. Not the opening the dam part, because that would certainly work, but instead causing a ruckus at the funeral, telling people he’s going to open the dam, then stopping even before he’s finished doing it, simply staggering off. First, why didn’t he just go and shoot the dam guy and open it before? Because he wanted to warn the humans? But how was he going to do that without warning everyone? So in the end Nemeru and her cohorts managed to get to the control room and seal the dam up before the damage grew too great. And why hide the bullets in the forest?

On the other hand, we get to see Hiroshi finally take matters into his own hands. Standing in front of wounded Isuzu, giving brave speeches, even leaping at the gun as Sakaki is about to shoot Nemeru (and weren’t these godlike figures awfully weak and defenseless this episode? All they do is offer Sakaki the chance to shoot them), and getting the gun pointed at his head a few times. He feels responsible for the entire situation and tries to act. Very good, Hiroshi! Unfortunately, for all the bravery he shows this episode, he’s still a scrawny boy, and he spends a lot of time getting flung around by Sakaki before Kaori and her gang show up. Well, at least he tried.

Darker than Black 2's ending was more confusing. But that was a better show.

As for Kaori’s appearance and subsequent sacrifice of her life, I’ll just say it adds to the confusion. Was Kaori actually Sakaki’s deceased fiancee, transformed into a wolf princess or whatever she’s now called? Sakaki acts like she both is and isn’t. He’s horrified when she gets in the way of the shot, and he goes over the cliff with her like it’s a romantic double-suicide. And after that, it’s like nothing happened at all. Time passes, everyone behaves like normal (well, like humans) and no one talks about it. We just get some ruminations from Hiroshi on why can’t we all just get along, and that’s about it. Talk about a letdown …

As I said, there’s one more episode, but from the preview it looks a little silly.

Speaking of silly, we next turn to Baka to Test 11, where we have two epic battles in one episode! Unlike other episodes which run this way and that, this one is nothing but strategies and battles, little of it making sense, but that’s the way this show rolls.

Apparently doing battle here requires strategy. You have to find good matchups against the other side, and then find a teacher to open the summoning field. This all means we get a confusing array of diagrams and damage reports along with the actual battling. Many jokes fly by which are understood by people other than me.

So I just sit back and enjoy the battles. Never mind that I don’t know who the hooded guys with scythes are, or why Yoshi could just use his avatar and slam a hole in the wall—is that allowed? Or what the deal was with the 46 year-old virgin math teacher, or countless other things. It’s loud and has a lot of energy. But once again the show wears me out before it’s over.

Hanamaru Kindergarten brings us sports day, and Koude worrying that she’ll come in last place. Kusano trains her. She’s ahead in her race but falls. It takes her older brother at the finish line to make her continue. It’s sweet, but not much more.

No, it’s the second story that matters. I’ve said that the show is better when the kids are involved, but here the best scenes feature only adults. The teachers go out for some drinking, and the pressure is on Tsuchida to confess to Yanamoto. It’s a fun scene. Kusano and Kawashiro conspiring, Tsuchida drinking more to get his courage, and Yanamoto sitting there, utterly clueless. The subsequent little bunny hop sequence the characters do is inspired.

Thanks to the alcohol Tsuchida can’t remember what her answer was, and the kids find out about the confession, thanks to Kusano.

I must say I’m warming to Kusano. She likes to mess with Tsuchida’s head as much as Sakura does, and she has more opportunities to do it. Add this to the straightforward encouragement she gives Koude while they train and you’ve got a fun character. I wish Tsuchida was this much fun. He’s only fun when people are messing with his head.

And ANOTHER outstanding closing sequence. I think they might be the best thing in this show, apart from Hiiragi, Sakura and Kusano. You can tell that Gainax is having a great time with these. I’d put in a screenshot but then I’d have to put in dozens.

Letter Bee 21, Hanamaru 9

It’s been a long week and I’m tired, but I’ll try to write a competent post …

Letter Bee 21 goes completely off the main story and sends us an extended flashback, about the professional career of herbologist Mana Jones.

Even without seeing part 2 we know it’ll end happily, so there’s not much tension there. It’s how they intend to resolve it that matters, and I’m not sure from this half that there’s anything interesting in continuing. Mana works researching plants at the Bee Hive, but she hasn’t gotten any results. She causes an accident and damages her eyes, and despairs of continuing. It’s her friends Gauche and Dr. Thunderland Jr. to try to change her mind in bizarre ways.

I don't think offering to dissect her is helping, Dr. Thunderland.

And they do, but even at the hive it’s publish or perish, and now blinded Mana has only a week to produce some scientific research that justifies her work. And the episode ends. Say what you will about herbology not being a legitimate science (in this wonderous land of amber spirits and gaichuu you would think they’d broaden their theories a bit), it’s a legitimate demand. But a week? And she doesn’t have the use of her eyes? The administrators have a mean streak. Well, maybe next week’s episode will improve things.

Hanamaru Kindergarten 9, for a change, has two good sections to it, and they’re both a little odd. The first concerns a mangaka named Hanamaru. I’m still scratching my head about that. He’s late with his latest Panda-Cat story, and Yamamoto, no, not that one, but her sister Mayumi, is dispatched to see what the trouble is, then returns as he’s thinking to himself in the park. He’s just met some kids.

They diagnose what’s wrong with him, he’s in love with Mayumi, which isn’t what’s bugging him but is nevertheless true. They do cute things to cheer him up, coincidentally involving Panda-Cat exercises, and urge him to confess, which, of course, he doesn’t do. But he cheers up after seeing some kindergarteners’ drawings. I was intrigued by the self-referential names business, so maybe that added something to the story, because now I can’t think of a particular reason why I enjoyed it so much, though the irony of both Yamamotos knowing that a guy likes the other, but being personally dense about the one who likes them, was a nice touch.

The second one starts with what you want to be when you grow up, and each one gets into bizarre fantasy territory.

Grown-up Anzu greets her hubby after a hard day at the kindergarten.
Hiiragi's dreams aren't bad either.

The fun drops a bit when the teachers sit around and discuss why they all became teachers, but it’s still not bad. Then a little more weirdness, when fitness-crazy Kusano invites Tsuchida over, only to watch a movie so she can admire an actor’s back muscles. This is maybe the most bizarre moment in the episode—scratch that: Anzu describing what her mom and dad do when they come home tops it. Small children with huge imaginations is one thing. In this series, normal, respectable adults behaving oddly is more bizarre.

Oh, another nice end credit sequence which for the second straight week has little to do with the episode. The images remind me of Gainax (well, surprise!) in their Kare Kano days, and the song sounds like late Cocteau Twins.

Sora no Woto 9, Hanamaru 7

For anyone wondering if we’re going to see an actual war in Sora no Woto, ep9 tells us nothing. The peace talks are still going badly, we discover that the frantic person who phoned Rio last week is her father (She hung up on him), and there’s Klaus delivering her an important message (It must be important—it’s in a tube), which she doesn’t open, at least not this episode. All this happens as misdirection to the main story, which is about looking up to people, even when they don’t want to be looked up to.

When Rio's worried, she switches to jazz.

We think all this stuff I have mentioned is going to be the main thrust of the story, we’ll find out why Rio is so distracted these days, etc, but everything gets interrupted by frantic villagers trying to find a missing kid, Seiya. And it sets up scenes between Klaus and Kureha, who adores him and thinks he’s a famous tank commander. Actually he’s a courier with not much battle experience, and when it looks like they’re about to get swept into the river he finds his, well, I don’t want to say cowardice, but inexperience in a crisis begins to overcome him. Meanwhile, watching the danger from a distance, Rio begins to lose it in front of the other squad girls, all of whom look up to her.

Both Klaus and Rio are redeemed (well, Rio just gets a hold on herself). Klaus saves Kureha’s life, because she knew he would and he couldn’t let her down. The crisis is well-done; I know it because I gasped when part of the house got washed away. It’s a satisfying enough episode, but it doesn’t answer any of the questions we have about the possible war. I believe there are only three episodes to go, so that may answer my question. And there were way too many panty shots.

Hanamaru Kindergarten 7 is a single story this time, rather than two. It’s the week off, and Sakura decides to drag Tsuchida off to see their home town, and invites the tots and Yanamoto as well. Five females and one male.

Sakura, messing with Tsuchida's head again.

Naturally, Sakura is playing her little games again. She’s trying to get Tsuchida and Yamamoto together, but I wonder if that’s her only reason. I suspect she’s also doing it in order to mess with Tsuchida’s head some more. Indeed, the first half of the episode is all about messing with Tsuchida’s head, or making Satsuki mad because her brother won’t spend enough time with her. Of course, he’s wrangling three pre-schoolers, so he’s a bit busy. She seems to realize this, but gets mad anyway. I can understand her frustration. For two days she has to see people who are closer to Tsuchida’s daily life alternately praise and mock him, and she’s left out. All she wants is a little quality time with him!

Of course, they make it up and everyone’s happy. But I think they’ve been spending a little too much time with Satsuki the last couple of episodes, and some of the things brought forth, like Tsuchida’s new responsibilities, are retreads from last week. Well, they’ll go home soon. And to close it out, another innovative closing credit sequence, though I have no idea what it’s supposed to refer to.

Ookami 8, Cross Game 46, Hanamaru 6

Ookami Kakushi 8 continues to answer a questions only to raise a couple more. We learn that the hospital is trying to develop a vaccine for the curse, and they want Sakaki to help, but he’s got his own agenda, basically revenge for the killing of Miera, I believe, but isn’t it really Kaori who did it? And why did she almost cheerfully take on the title of Lady White Wolf? Don’t even get me started on this whole wolf thing.

We do get some interesting internal action. Not only is Sakaki working for his own interests, but Nemuru, the White Wolf Kannon, is beginning to rebel. Cold and laconic to her friends, she continues to spare them when they “fall,” or like Kaname, ask the wrong questions. Nemuru frees Kaname, stops whoever-they-are from abducting Hiroshi, and remember she had also spared Isuzu a couple episodes ago. Though Isuzu hasn’t been seen since. Her family and the cult they’re in do not approve.

The episode ends with Sakaki, having managed to capture both Nemuru and Hiroshi, chuckling to himself about “the truth.” Maybe the two captives can swap a little more information in that shack. Not that I’m convinced at this stage that Hiroshi is capable of acting on his own. He spends most of the episode moping and thinking. On the other hand you can’t blame him too much. He reached out to Sakaki, who then betrayed him because he’s, I dunno, “tempting” to the wolves or whatever they are in this town. He talked to Kaname and she vanishes (though we’ll see her next episode). He has no way to get through this alone, and no one he can trust. But I’m still rooting for him. He’s a powerless wimp, but all of us are powerless wimps in certain circumstances. Hiroshi, don’t let us powerless wimps down!

I should have seen it coming, even in a series as leisurely as Cross Game, that they would line up two momentous events to occur at the same time: the finals game to get to the Koushien, and Akane’s surgery. I’m a little disappointed. I suppose we are getting close to the end and we need a big finish, but Cross Game has never been too interested in big melodrama, just small, inconsequential ones—that is, after we got past ep1.

Although we don’t know when the surgery will happen until the preview for next week, word gets around that she’s going to have it, and it affects everyone in different ways. Akane suspected it would, and she’s insightful enough to deliver the line above to Akaishi, therefore making it impossible for him to continue his slump. Aoba is visibly the next most worried, as she thinks about Wakaba. Kou, annoyingly, shows no concern unless he’s asked, and then says the right things to Azuma. Meanwhile, everyone interacts with each other and little things are spoken. The question of Aoba’s worth comes up, Akaishi considers making a play for Akane, telling Kou, who seems just fine with it, even delivering the game ball to her on Akaishi’s behalf and calling him the hero of the game (in an 8-1 blowout, well Akaishi did hit two homers).

I lost count of how many times he says this. Finally Deebu has to hit him.

For there was also the game. Their opponents have a knack for scoring late and edging the other team by one run, and it’s indeed tense for some time. And the show teases us by pretending it’s still close only to reveal that Seishou had actually built up a big lead. Even the opposing manager seems unaware of this. But it’s the way they merge the play on the field with what’s going around around it that makes this one so exceptional. Akaishi remembers Akane’s warning and hits a dinger. From the hospital, Akane watches on TV and falls asleep immediately after they win. Aoba thinks back to Wakaba’s death, young Kou at the grave, a framed photograph, and then a blazing fastball slices through the image, and she’s watching the game again, as if the past is giving way to the present. Lovely moment.

And Kou and Azuma find four leaf clovers by the river. Someone should tell the Honey and Clover gang about that spot.

Hanamaru Kindergarten
6 begins with a fun day at the pool. Anzu wears a sexy swimsuit to dazzle Tsuchida, but her plans are foiled when Yamamoto shows up.

I know she didn't plan to wear that swimsuit, but still, for a kindergarten class?

… So much for Anzu’s initial plan. But she doesn’t give up. With Koune and Hiiragi’s help she tries alluring him with syncrhonized swimming, and then a life-or-death situation.

Which only makes him angry. On the other hand, he was paying way too much attention to Yamamoto in her bikini, so Anzu’s distress later on is justified. This half of the show works better than the second half, because much of the show’s humor lies in the kids’ imaginative plans. Although the second half has its moments. Mayumi, Tsuchida’s tsundere sister, has come to visit.

Apparently she and Haruhi Suzumiya go to the same school.

And because it relies less on the kids and more on the adults, a fun edge has been taken off. On the other hand, Mayumi’s reaction to her brother’s work was amusing at times, though we could see the end a mile away: Mayumi’s harsh opinion of Tsuchida will soften when she sees he does mostly good things with the kids. And so it happens. And there’s a fun closing credits sequence.