Night Raid 4, Daimaou 5, Working!! 5

Senkou no Night Raid 4 doesn’t push any overriding story arc, unless you count the brief appearance of the long-haired guy for the second straight episode. Rather it’s a character study of sorts between Aoi and Kazura.

It’s also meant to be a comic episode. It doesn’t work terribly well. Basically Fuu gets the boys to photograph her restaurant’s food in order to draw customers. While doing so Aoi and Kazura talk, mainly argue, about the proper way of doing things (There is one interesting moment when Aoi says he doesn’t think Japan ought to be the ones to decide what happens in China, which Kazura thinks is ludicrous). When the bag with the film vanishes, their approaches for finding it are supposed to demonstrate their disparate techniques. Yet they keep winding up in the same place.

Aoi and Kazura track down the perp, by looking to the right.

Even when they discover the culprit, their routes toward finding kitty differ, though frankly I can’t see much of a diffrence. Aoi uses the direct approach, Kazura goes more roundabout, and again they wind up in the same place, which is, of course, the point. As a postscript we get a scene where Yukina says more or less what the episode had already shown us. Well, good to have it official, I guess. As for Aoi and Kazura, we know about as much about them at the end as we did before. They have different techniques and bicker a lot. No, not much to this episode at all.

On the other hand, Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou 5 has way too much going on. I sat there as they threw plot bomb after plot bomb at me until I gave up trying to figure it out.

Don't ask what Fujiko, Keena and Junko are doing there. I barely know myself.

I partly gave up because none of it was making sense. Everyone has their own reason for collecting the three treasures (which are surprisingly modern, considering), or for stopping others from getting them. I don’t know what the hell Eiko was on about here. Junko says she’s a government agent, or something, but apparently all she really wants to do is get Akuto alone for some shenanigans. When Akuto “chooses,” i.e., rescues Junko, she runs off in a naked huff. Oh, yeah, there’s a naked girl swordfight in a hot spring, just for cheap thrills. Fujiko is looking for information about her disgraced dead brother. But what makes the least sense is that the whole thing was set up by the student council. Except that they do it in ruined underground cities where relics of the demon lord are kept. What a great place for a scavenger hunt involving a future demon lord!

Actually, Akuto looks pretty comfortable up there.

But we also get surprises! Fujiko learns the truth about her brother (We already knew, but she didn’t)! The dragon they wake up accepts Akuto as his master and has a sense of humor! Apparently Akuto also seems a little more content with this demon lord stuff. Really, this was one of the most confusing story arcs I have ever seen. Or maybe I was distracted by the naked swordfight in the hot spring.

Not too much to say about Working!! 5. The first half consisted of dithering scenes that didn’t do much except play the characters against each other. Souta decides that the girls’ weirdness level increases with their height. There’s a bit where Hiroomi tries to communicate with Inami via cellphone, because he’ll get hit if he gets too close …

Then there's the weird relationship between Satou and Yachiyo.

It’s fine with me, really. This is a slice of life show made of little vignettes; the quality is determined by how well they work. Though I have one qualm I’ll bring up later.

The second part has a consistent story. Souta can’t come in because of his sick sister, so they’re understaffed. And the restaurant fills up with men, meaning Inami can’t help out much. They all switch places. The cooks do the waiting, Inami becomes the cook (Never mind that it means there’s one cook in a packed restaurant. There are things in any show that must be ignored in order to enjoy it). It works well enough, but I think the show is getting a little heavy on Inami’s side. All the other characters interact with each other for the laughs, but Inami’s tendency toward violence sort of trumps all that. It’s become the dynamic of too many of the little stories. As much as I enjoy Inami, they might want to ease up on her a little. And they will, for next week is all about Souta’s very interesting sisters.

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Five Leaves 2, Angel Beats 5, Daimaou 4

In spite of Akitsu’s samurai training and the gang’s line of work, it looks like House of Five Leaves is going to deal with characters rather than action.

Akitsu doesn’t want to be involved with the kidnapping trade, but he can’t seem to extricate himself from it. Pressure from the gang, well, from those who actually want him in, is working on him. He’s been a shy and lonely man, who can’t make enough to feed himself. Suddenly he’s surrounded by people who already accept him as a member, and he’s getting free meals to boot. Then he goes with Ume on what is called a shopping expedition only to discover that they’re transporting an unconscious boy out to the country side while they wait for the ransom. Like it or not, he’s in.

But why do they want him? Yaichi finds him interesting, which is interesting in itself. He’s a smart man in a dangerous business. He wouldn’t just take in a new member just because of that. On the other hand there’s a carefree attitude about him that Akitsu finds fascinating to the point that he follows him around. Some of the others, particularly Ume, aren’t so sure about him and aren’t afraid to say it, but they listen to Yaichi. And so the episode goes, with small arguments and discussions and not much action for a show with a samurai lead. But it looks good, and I can’t help but get pulled in, wanting to learn more about these droll characters.

I’m happy to say that Angel Beats 5 brings the surreal humor of the previous episodes, along with a couple surprises, the important one being the SSS’s nutty scheme to bring down Angel actually works.

It doesn’t look like it will. They intend to switch her exams to a fake one to bring down her average and remove the moral strength she carries as Student Council Leader. They’ll switch exams while creating diversions.

Like I said.

After three exam sessions the jokes begin to repeat and wear thin, so the show moves to the aftermath. Angel is removed from her leadership role, and Otonashi feels a bit of remorse. Yeah, she was a destructive machine bent on quelling the SSS activities, but she is also perhaps lonely. Now they’ve cut her down to being just another student.

Losing her meal ticket.

It’s brought out by another Operation Tornado, where she buys a meal ticket, then loses it when the fans start to blow. The SSS are so surprised they don’t even try to shoot her. Otonashi winds up with her meal ticket. Most likely she was depressed and wanted some comfort food. Now she’s a sympathetic character. Maybe more so because the new Student Council Leader has a power fetish and looks like a more formidable enemy. And they can’t shoot him. Gotta hand it to this show. I never thought they’d turn Angel around like that. Every time you think you’ve got Angel Beats pinned down it squirms away and becomes something else.

Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou begins a new story arc in rather a roundabout way. We’re led to believe the episode will involve Akuto spending time alone in the Mental Self-Discipline Chamber to get a hold over his crazy magic abilities (after blowing up part of the school, and poor Junko—again!).

Proper atmosphere is important for meditation.

There are shenanigans within the chamber, but the real story comes with the discovery of a treasure map in the chamber wall. Fujiko confiscates it, but to her annoyance copies are posted all over the school. In a weird turn of events caused by no one believing Akuto would behave in any other way than that of a demon lord, he sets out to find the treasure himself.

Meet Eiko.

It works well enough. Everyone involved in this show seems to have an ulterior motive. Fujiko’s is already known, the Student Disciplinary Leader seems to know more than she’s letting on, Junko is off doing something mysterious, and there’s this new girl, Eiko, who brazenly invites herself along on Akuta’s quest for reasons only she knows. Only Akuta himself, the so-called demon lord, has no ulterior motives, but no one believes him. I enjoy this; it makes him more sympathetic. I could do without the nudity and the panty shots, but the rest of the show hasn’t run out of steam yet.

More threes: Arakawa, Daimaou

Arakawa Under the Bridge 3 gives us a single story, albeit in two sections with a meaningless afterward. The Sister asks Recruit to attend confession, which is actually a place for Hoshi, the star-head guy, to confront him about his relationship with Nino.

What’s refreshing is that this time it’s someone besides Recruit who’s shocked and defensive, while Recruit is merely annoyed at the questioning. Recruit tells him the whole sordid truth: Nino often crashes at Recruit’s place. Hoshi is shocked! Shocked! The Sister is there to verify that he’s telling the truth; apparently he can do that.

But it does get Recruit thinking. Maybe, if he and Nino are actually lovers, he should take her out on a date. He gets a fancy car and dresses up, but Nino has no idea what a date actually is. “Sounds sinister.”

At the start of the episode Recruit is pondering the size of the world and how one gets close to anything in it. Now maybe he has a clue, via Nino. He realizes that she doesn’t like leaving the bridge, or at least the river. She has made her world (though she’s a Venusian, she says) small enough for her to handle. So the date’s ambitious plans are scaled back to those dimensions. That’s my theory, anyway.

Oh, and there’s some filler at the end while some members of the bridge compete using jokes and impressions. Not sure what that’s all about.

Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou 3 again contrasts darkness with silliness, as Akuto learns more about the school and about himself. The silly comes mainly from Keena and Korone, particularly the former’s speech about the wonders of rice, and Korone’s deadpan commentary. Keena’s bit is all right. Korone might become a one-trick pony, however. I wonder if every episode will involve Akuto trying to turn her off by pulling the tail just above her butt while she makes pervert jokes.

The dark part comes when members of the school’s underground ambush him, at which point he becomes a dangerous, powerful mage who has no distaste for breaking limbs and torturing people, even if they WERE in the wrong, and had beaten up Akuto’s little sidekick. While it’s a pleasure to watch Akuto kicking butt, it’s also disturbing the lengths he’ll go to (I think they overdid it with the limb-breaking), and how calm he is while doing it.

Junko’s disturbed, too, as she arrives, once again too late to get the whole story, and blaming Akuto. So she pulls out an old rule and has the entire school attack him for one hour. It’s interesting that Akuto just can’t work himself into the cruel mindset he had the day before, probably because he has no interest in hurting these people. … And silliness returns to save the day, thanks to Keena, Korone and some drugged rice. Akuto and Junko are temporarily reunited and Fujiko’s evil plot is turned around on her, with hilarious fanservicey results. The mood swings in this show are something fierce.

Two’s: Daimaou, Giant Killing

Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou 2 adds some new characters and ups the intrigue level with upperclassman Fujiko.

But let’s start with Kurone, the green-haired android, your typical soft-spoken, nay, monotone girl. These type of characters can be hit or miss. It all depends on how much life they seem to have working beneath the quiet persona. Yuki Nagato is a perfect example of one that works. Kurone works as well. While fulfilling her duties in a robotic manner, she allows herself some fun. The answer to Sai’s question in the picture above was “A little.” Mix that in with her persona and we have a character that might be fun, though I thought the scene in the bathroom, with her taking a dispassionate interest in the other boys’ body parts went on too long.

Last season it was scythes, this season it's heads in jars.

There’s also Soga, who runs around naked and invisible and right now makes no sense at all—but she has a ring Sai gave her many years ago, so there’s a connection between them that must be explored. Right now that’s the only interesting thing about her. No, the other important character we meet is Fujiko, the only girl in the school who’s actually nice to Sai. Naturally he turns to her for help, and naturally she is actually evil and intends to make him her slave. Sai might become the demon lord, but Fujiko’s the only one dedicated to the cause. I’m not crazy about the character, a two-faced vixen who so far seems one-dimensional, but it’s her first episode, so I’ll give her time.

The same with the show. It’s heavy on the fanservice and hasn’t yet found the balance between its light storylines and dark undertones, but it’s been good enough.

Giant Killing 2 starts with the battle between the starters and the scrubs, with the scrubs newly appointed as the starters, causing confusion and dismay for everyone but them, including the disgruntled fans. It should come as no surprise who wins: the scrubs are the ones with more stamina, and they’re told to make the opponent chase them a lot.

But the scene is more than that. It works nicely as a duel between Murakoshi and Tatsumi. With the former we read his mind as he struggles to keep his squad together, remembering the past and the pride he has given to ETU. It works well, especially when his own legs start to fail from the strain. He’s a character we all want to see succeed, even if the main character’s strategies undermine his efforts. As for Tatsumi, he watches the match with an evil gleam in his eye, slowly unfolding his strategy to Yuri. You have to admire his cunning, but on the other hand you have to dislike him, at least a little.

That all comes to a head in the second half. Tatsumi removes Murakoshi from the team captaincy, and we get the confrontation we expected. Murakoshi says everything that most of the cast has wanted to say ever since Tatsumi returned: he has no loyalty to the team, he’s doing it for his own ego. Tatsumi’s replies are more vague. He wants Murakoshi to find ways to win without being a captain. What this entails is anyone’s guess. Murakoshi doesn’t know. But the scene does show that both men desperately want to win, and that Tatsumi, in spite of his antics, needs Murakoshi.

One thing that worries me is that the soccer scenes are confusing to watch. We don’t get the flow of the game, just one-on-one situations which, when repeated like they are, drag down the action. I hope this is something they can improve as the show goes on.

More firsts: B Hata H Kei, Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou

B Gata H Kei is all about Yamada, high school freshman who is trying to live her dream, to lose her virginity and have 100 sex friends. This is the point where I nearly turned it off.

It goes as you would expect, with Yamada making her first choice in a guy, Takashi, who conveniently sits next to her in class. There is quite a bit of fanservice and, to my surprise, a few chuckles. But only a few. What humor comes from Yamada, who wants to be deflowered but has no experience in coming on to men, and poor Takashi, who is completely bewildered by the mixed signals she inadvertently gives him.

What’s more, it’s clear that, in spite of her intentions, Yamada just isn’t ready for sex. At one point Takashi thinks it might be okay to kiss her, and he gets … excited—and Yamata freaks out at the sight. This dynamic keeps the episode, and hopefully the series, from being totally useless. I’ll watch another episode of B Gata H Kei and decide then.

Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou is a mixed bag. There’s a heavy start where a woman leaves her baby at a church muttering about his future. Then we meet Sai, all grown up, a nice lad off to a magic academy. He makes a friendly bond with a girl named Hattori. It gives off a Harry Potter odor, which is not dispelled when this show’s equivalent of the Sorting Hat tells him his future occupation.

From here it devolves into something resembling Ladies vs. Butlers, with Sai desperately trying to placate everyone and saying the wrong things. Further attempts to make everyone happy just make it worse, and soon he’s running away from one woman and running into another. And his friend Hattori now wants to kill him.

The thing is, he starts manifesting some unnatural powers every time he’s threatened. And they play up the fact that being on the side of the demons is a Very Bad Thing, no matter what his noble intentions are. It’s a strange mix of slapstick, fanservice and gothy horror theatrics. Trying to figure out which would come next made me keep watching, but I don’t know how long I’ll stay with the series.

Oh, one more thing. Did anyone else notice Celty’s head in the closing credits?