2015 new winter shows #3

Saekano begins with female flesh, and irony.
Saekano begins with female flesh, and irony.

There’s really no story to Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata 1. Instead, it’s an episode-long character and background information episode that mocks the concept even while doing it. For instance, the girls are introduced by Tomoya, the unabashed nerdy male lead, while one of them, Utaha the scriptwriter, complains about the infodump way he’s going about it. We also learn, through narrative techniques that Utaha would prefer, that the five girls and one boy are doing a dating sim for comiket. And that he’s probably closest to Kato, the girl no one notices but him. That’s about all we learn. The rest of it is stuff like an onsen scene with lots of flesh while the girls complain about anime that start that way, and countless scenes of the girls jerking Tomoya around, often literally.

Utaha is a hands-on type of scriptwriter.
Utaha is a hands-on type of scriptwriter.

This would be all right in a show where the fourth wall isn’t there, but there’s no indication that the characters are aware that we’re watching. In that train scene, Tomoya continues to give the girls introductions while they sit there and wonder why he’s doing it, and so do we. He’s not talking to us … In the onsen scene, it feels like they’re trying too hard to be self-referential. On the other hand, some of it IS funny, because there’s something resembling plot AND attempts to screw around with the plot at the same time, like the heartfelt but predictable speech by Tomoya undercut by the girls finding new ways to mess with him. So, can this series succeed in using old anime tropes and explain them away by mocking them? Can it get away with showing an excessive amount of female skin (and almost all the girls do) by making references to it? Can it have its cake and eat it too? Well, it’s great to look at, and it IS sometimes funny, and its attempts to do whatever it’s doing knocked me off my pins a few times.

Koufuku Graffiti starts with oinarisan and sexy eating.
Koufuku Graffiti starts with oinarisan and sexy eating.

Koufuku Graffiti stars Ryou, a high school girl living alone after her beloved granny dies (parents are away on business, as in most anime families). She’s mostly over that, but she’s worried that her cooking has gone off without grandma’s influence. Then a cousin named Kirin, the same age as her, but looking and acting much younger, comes to stay a night or two after a fight with her mother, and they both realize things about themselves and family through the all-encompassing concept of delicious food.


Though Shaft has proven it can pull off different types of shows using their trademark style, this still seems like an odd fit. It’s not that the episode doesn’t work; it’s a pleasant if a little dull way to begin a series, but with the camera angles and art style I kept expecting something weirder and kinkier to happen. They save the latter for when Ryou eats–even Kirin notes that she looks erotic. In fact, all the food scenes have a sensuality to them that Shaft’s dirty minds happily exploit. But it feels low-key compared to what they usually bring us. I wonder if Shaft can contain themselves to just food and eating. Never mind. It looks great, and the story seems pleasant enough.

Fafnir starts with a city being attacked before moving on to the fanservice.
Fafnir starts with a city being attacked before moving on to the fanservice.

Next it’s Juuou Mujin no Fafnir, where we get a backstory of dragons attacking earth, then vanishing, only for people to appear with dragon powers, useful for defending us against the real dragons, which apparently have not disappeared after all. In more mundane matters, our hero, Yuu, is sent to an all-girls “Type-D” school as the first male “D.”, and the first thing that happens is that he catches one of the girls naked. There follows the usual scenes introducing Yuu to his beautiful and skeptical classmates, and then he watches them train, which means a mild transformation, allowing us to ogle each girl in succession, while we get dull talk about defeating dragons. Next week, a real dragon will show up.

... and bores the hell out of the audience.
… and bores the hell out of the audience.

A shame I won’t see it. This was a completely routine episode one, uninteresting in every way, and made worse with the transformation bits. Did we need to see so many? There is nothing to Yuu at all, and all the girls we’ve met are all types, when they show any personality at all. The mock-battle scenes have the screen fade out and images fizzle, which I suppose is supposed to look cool but instead made me wonder if the file was messed up. Nope. Often even a weak show will have just enough of a crisis at the end that I decide to watch next week. With this one I just don’t care.

Cinderella Girls' opening is appropriate enough.
Cinderella Girls’ opening is appropriate enough.

I watched the last iDOLM@STER series and liked it well enough, but am I ready for a spinoff? All these new girls to remember, the silly emotions, etc. On the other hand, the first series was a pleasant surprise for everyone. This new series: The iDOLM@STER: Cinderella Girls, starts differently in that the new production company hasn’t even been formed yet. We meet Uzuki, a girl who failed her first Cinderella audition but is still determined, idiotically say “yes,” to a creepy guy who wants to be her producer. Next, he tries to recruit another member, Rin, who is much more sensible and tells him to fuck off. But he’s persistent.

Someone get Uzuki an agent for her protection, or a cop.
Someone get Uzuki an agent for her protection, or a cop.

The man is tall and frightening, and when he speaks (which isn’t often) its in a deep undertone. It’s supposed to be funny. They’re trying to show the producer as creepy-looking but misunderstood. Doesn’t matter. If you solicit adolescent girls on the street for anything, you’re creepy. And Uzuki’s blind acceptance of anything the man says and asks made for some disturbing viewing. When the girls finally sit and talk, I expected Rin to set Uzuki straight, but apparently she’s not immune to flattery herself, and so now the man has two girls. At least with two of them they can compare notes. I don’t think I want to watch any more of this.

Assassination Classroom wants you to know what class it is from the start.
Assassination Classroom wants you to know what class it is from the start.

I had heard enough about Assassination Classroom that I was pretty certain I wouldn’t care for it, but I quite enjoyed episode 1. We start with just another day in school, only the kids all whip out rifles and shoot at the teacher, a squidlike thing with a happy face. Then we follow student Nagisa (who I thought for sure was a girl for half the episode) into flashback land and learn the origin. This teacher, Koro-Sensei, blew up most of the moon and will do the same to Earth unless this class can kill him, and he’s got super powers. So we watch a few attempts at his life and get accustomed to this weird situation, as the kids also do.


Since I knew what the setup was, it would take more than that to entertain me, and much of the time the show did just that. I loved the OP with the students happily dancing at their desks, and the government’s explanation to the kids. I also like that Koro is a humane, caring teacher that this class (full of dead-end kids) responds to as students, and that he doesn’t mind all the attempts on his life, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the class. And when Nagisa is forced to put his life on the line in one attempt, Koro admonishes the classmates that made him do it. Anime loves giving us weird, neurotic, ditzy teachers, so it’s ironic that one of the few good ones we’ve seen is an alien set on destroying the earth. But how far can they take this? Are we in for weeks of failed assassination attempts? I’m not sure I want to watch that, but episode one surprised me; let’s see if they can keep it up.

Finales: UN-GO, iDOLM@STER, Ben-To

Happy Holidays everyone! I had a great Christmas, I hope you had the same. Now it back to work. Today we say goodbye to three series and start to wrap up another season. Damn, this has been a good year.

There he is! Hey guys! Kaishou's right there! Listen to me!

UN-GO came and went, delivering either a mystery that I didn’t have the wits or mystery-reading training to follow, or not-so-original thoughts on modern technology, politics and culture, not to mention the more philosophical questions of truth. So with the finale we get the “one of you in the room is the murderer” scene, even though the supposed victim shows up halfway. Heated accusations and denials fly, evidence is presented … at one point everyone gets a weapon, but then they hardly do anything with them (what’s up with that?). While I’m not fit to criticize it all as a mystery, my more general, fiction-reading instincts gave much of it away. Of course Kaishou would show up, even with the misdirection over who the real one is. Meanwhile, Kuramitsu the politician is there to help present the energy/political side of things, though they don’t go far with it apart from suggesting the current state of Japan isn’t very good. The higher concept of truth degenerates into a monster battle. I blinked at that. But Inga is his/her old self, so it’s all right. And at the end, everyone is more or less happy, except for the culprit (correctly guessed, not deduced, by me, using those fiction reading instincts I mentioned). In other words, UN-GO could get pretty messy, but that’s fine. NoitaminA has had a bad year, but with UN-GO it at least tried to give us something different and challenging, not the bland SF pap it otherwise tossed to us. That’s what they used to do all the time. Now, if they could avoid any more Guilty Crowns in 2012, I’ll be happy.

No huge drama for iDOLM@STER 25. They took care of the last shred of adolescent angst in the last episode. Okay, there were two major events in the episode. The girls were sad that the Producer would miss the big concert, but he shows up anyway. The other is a trivial last-minute shot by Kuroe concerning 765’s new digs, but frankly, moving to a hi-rise didn’t seem right for them anyway. No, the bulk of the show is taken up by the concert. Good thinking. iDOLM@STER’s concert footage is always great to watch. It is again, but frankly it didn’t have the same emotional charge earlier ones did; none of the members had crises to overcome. On the other hand, you might like this one better. You didn’t have to worry. This one was a celebration. And so, hats off to the creators of iDOLM@STER. It’s hardly a compliment to say this show wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been, but when you consider that the very concept of an iDOLM@STER anime series would make money, it would have been tempting to just mail it in and watch the bank account grow. But the creators obviously cared about this show. The girls were mostly clich├ęs but they were almost always used to good effect, and they wound up showing more depth than I expected. Their character designs were expressive and fun to look at. And there were so many of them that you’d never get bored of one. The story arcs went along predictable lines, but were told well enough that I didn’t care too much. And, as I said, the concert scenes were amazing. Fluid, detailed, energetic, the camera glancing at one girl for a moment before swooping around and through all of them. Watching these scenes you could see how much care was put into them. So, again, well done!

Ben-To 12 had two disappointments. We don’t get to how Orthrus is beaten, and we don’t get to see the Ice Witch in action. But these were problems that just occurred to me now. Otherwise the finale was great fun. When we learn how the Club of Hercules “defeated” (if that’s the word) Orthrus it gave the concept of battling for bento a new wrinkle. Tired of losing, Hercules convinced the others to simply wait and let the invincible twins take what they want. By refusing to fight, they humiliated Orthrus into not returning. This sounds like rather dishonorable behavior for wolves; I wonder how any of them managed to handle the shame on their end. Now Hercules is back and it looks like he’s doing the same thing. (Other wolves, I’m ashamed!) This might be the only possible way for me to sympathize with Kyou and Kyou, and it shone a light on what this whole bento thing is about: fighting. Or so I thought. Satou returns, ready to muck up Hercules’s plan, and the story turns ludicrous (okay, the CONCEPT is ludicrous. I’m talking comparatively), and fun as hell as he reminds everyone of the missing element: hunger. In other words, he convinces everyone to fight two people who will likely kick their ass, in order (partly) to redeem the people who will kick their ass. There follows another great Ben-To fight, bodies flying to a thumping soundtrack, and just as Orphrus, redeemed, welcomed, enters the fray … we jump to the aftermath. Oh, well. They added a good twist at the end and managed to emphasize what the show is about, apart from lunacy. Ben-To was the most consistently entertaining series of the fall season. It took a premise weird even for anime and made it exciting. I said at the beginning that I didn’t know if they could sustain such an idea for an entire series. Well, they did, and I’m wondering now if they have plans for a sequel.

Episode dump; iDOLM@STER 23, UN-GO 10, BakumanII 12, Ben-To 11, Tamayura 11

Another iDOLM@STER character spends time with her outer child.

iDOLM@STER 23 continues the Haruka story, rather, it’s her turn to wander off in a funk and think things out while everyone else worries about her. It’s practically a mirror image of Chihaya’s crisis, though this one has no ridiculous bad guys behind it or painful past to overcome (but she does sit around at home and even meets her younger self, just like Chihaya did). Rather, she’s worried about the future. The drifting apart continues, people still aren’t making it for the New Years rehearsals. Not to mention that the producer is in the hospital because of that trap. One of the weirder moments of the story arc is that while everyone is worried about him, the show pretty much ignores him except for some words of wisdom for Chihaya which sets the girls plan in action. Other words of wisdom come from Touma, Jupiter’s former lead asshat, who’s happier with the smaller-scale productions they are forced into because he enjoys the sense of community. And so on. Meanwhile I waited and worried that there wouldn’t be anything to spice the inevitable reunion up … until a typical kids in the park sequence, where their little voices transform into those of 765 Pro, an unexpected and beautiful moment that made me gasp and fumble for the rewind button. And yes, we get our reunion bit, though everything else felt flat compared to that moment before.

But he's still alive, or maybe he's not, or he's an AI or ... my head hurts.

I had a write-up for UN-GO 9 all written up, but it went missing, overwritten, probably, or copied over … Or maybe Kaishou didn’t want me to post the explosive truths contained in that post, so he used that software he made!! YEAH!!! Anyway, episode 11 goes farther out of its limb concerning The Truth. Let me just say that I hope the series doesn’t wind up with a pat conclusion such as “there is no absolute truth or reality.” I hate it when creators do this, unless he’s Philip K. Dick (on the other hand, at least this show’s source material isn’t simply ripping Dick off). But I think Shinjuru agrees with me on this. He seems pretty certain that there is a truth. Not to mention that Inga could force it out of people (But this would explain why he/she’s at a loss when Bettenou’s around). As for the plot, I’ll say again that I suck at mysteries. I was following along quite happily until they got to the humming and the handkerchief and suddenly Shinjuru was running off somewhere, throwing Kazamori at somebody, at which point my eyes glazed over. I didn’t really focus again until Shinjuru held up that invitation. Well, all will be explained next week unless it’s not the truth, or THAT’s not the truth, or THAT’s not, ad nauseum.

Lovers' tiff.

The straight line in Bakuman 2 12 is the growing relationship between Miura and the boys, or that’s how it felt like, and looking at it that way it makes a nice contrast with the episode’s theme of love and relationships in general. Starting with an embarrassing text dialogue Kaya jokingly reads aloud, we next get Nagai falling in love with Kato (poor sap), Aoki’s new editor putting the moves on her (what a slimeball), and Aoki’s subsequent meeting with Aiko at college. I had forgotten completely about her, but she’s the one who rejected Takagi because he wanted to write manga, or did he reject her? I forget. Now she meets Aoki, and the scene feels completely different, like the beginning of a romantic story not at all related to Bakuman. Where it will go, I don’t know. But back to the heroes and Miura. The arguments about whether or not to do a gag manga, not to mention the exhaustive research on sales Miura makes, then his saying the wrong thing and having to apologize, after the boys had realized how much work and care he had taken (shown in a gift package full of gag manga with extensive, scrupulous notes) for them, feels like a manga-ka equivalent of any relationship past its first stages and at the point where you start to learn what your lover is really like.

Who is this guy and why is he barging into our story arc?

After the trauma of last week, Ben-To 11 comes as a disappointment. Two or three things go on. First, we learn about the Sawagi twins’ happy childhood, kindergartners entranced by a violent bento fight, and we get some more of Kyou (not Kyou)’s dual identities. Then there’s Satou visiting Sen the day after and learning she has a cold, and that’s maybe why she lost. The scene is inflated with the usual Satou fantasies, which never really work for me. Meanwhile other people try to figure out where Othrus comes from. We find out. And the usual Oshiroi bit. Satou loses again to Othrus but we don’t see it. The only interesting thing comes at the end, when some totally unmentioned newcomer, who three years ago beat Othrus so badly they still have nightmares (well, Kyou does. Not Kyou), shows up to do it again. Where did he come from? Why is he messing up with our perfectly good but currently slow-moving story arc? Especially with only one more episode to go?

Tamayura – Hitotose 11 presents us with possibly the most excruciating type of story (for me) imaginable: doing a stage show. Because I’ve done a lot of theatre I know what can go wrong, so I can’t help but feel nervous along with the poor performers. This episode promises to be even worse, for it’s Maon who’s going to perform. But right away they do some things right. First, it’s not a whistling exhibition! (Insert cheers and fireworks here). Rather, it’s going to be a recital drama, where she’s going to stand up there and tell a story, or something. Here’s where the unwelcome pressure comes in. Since it’s for the “Ourselves Festival” she wants to try out her material in her home town, at her family’s inn, for whoever’s around. But word gets out, big posters are made, people invite other people, and soon they have to rent out the Virgo Theatre, a large space where, ironically, Maon has always dreamed of performing. Also, she has no material to try out. What keeps this from getting to be too much is the gentle overall tone of the series. There’s that tranquil piano music playing throughout even Maon’s worst moments of fear. You know the show is not mean-spirited enough for worse-case theatrical scenarios. And while her nervous recitation of a text any 2nd grader could write wasn’t all that great (we are fortunate to only see a little of it), and was no more than a metaphor for her making friends and growing up, everyone watching is a friend. It could have been a lot worse. For one thing, she could have chosen whistling.

Chihayafuru 10, Working’!! 10, iDOLM@STER 23, Horizon 10

In Chihayafuru 10, I find it improbable that Chihaya’s team would go to their first tournament and actually win the thing. It doesn’t feel right for a series that has done so many other things well, so far. On the other hand, they have a crisis and overcome it, and everyone uses their strengths to overcome the team’s weaknesses, so it’s all right.

Not really a team, yet ...

It starts lightly. They’re wearing traditional clothes and feel a little embarrassed, Chihaya recognizes some old enemies and treats them as friends. Poor Retro-Kun doesn’t seem to know what hit him. The matches start, and Kana actually gets a win! Yay! But the crisis is upon them, actually, two or three of them.

First is Desktomu, he of great brains and some arrogance, but almost no playing experience. He gets wiped out in his matches and lets his immaturity come out. Feeling he’s bringing the team down he announces he’s leaving. They don’t need him there, anyway. Basically a poorly-timed sulk. Taichi may have some issues of his own, but he shows a moment of good leadership here. He tells him that he can sit out the semifinal match but to be ready for the final. In other words he smacks down a subordinate junior and at the same time reassures him that he’s needed. It works. But Desktomu’s sulk has bad effect on Chihaya.

Just breathe ...

Part of Desktomu’s rant was that he believes Chihaya wants to get to the nationals in order to meet Arata again (well, that’s his excuse, anyway), and that he’s just a pawn in her plans, a fifth member because they need five members. This knocks Chihaya sideways and she finds herself losing in her semifinal match against a mutually supportive, upbeat, not to mention loud and distracting team. A real team. Chihaya’s side hasn’t meshed that well yet. Here’s when Taichi shows his second good moment of leadership. He scatters cards all over the place and while picking them up goes to each member and gives them reassurance. Breathe, Chihaya. And you get your come from behind victory with the sound of hands slapping mats amplified and the swelling music, etc. I would like to point out just how effective the show is with the hand slapping. It’s a percussive motif that punctuates every important moment of the match. Well, as I said, I don’t buy how they made it to the final match (and I guess we’ll learn a lot more about the smirking villain on the other side next week), but as usual the show was executed well enough to cover for it.

My biggest problem with season one of Working’!! was that Inami and her androphobia overwhelmed the rest of the show. I know they were playing the romance angle, but there were plenty of other good things in the show that we didn’t see enough of because of it. Season two has largely kept the punches and romance in a better balance, but now the series is in danger again. We recently had an episode featuring the two, and now we have another. Well, it was enjoyable enough. Everyone played to their strengths. My favorite bit came early on with Satou and Inami on break at the same time. Inami frantically tries to make conversation and not hit him, while admiring Satou’s calm exterior, while Satou’s real thoughts deliver the punchline. Poplar throws in some good moments, and Souma even manages to add some well-timed comments while not for once being despicable. Actually, it’s unfair to single him out for that. Everyone working on the show has refined the comic timing that even a Inami-weighted episode is still fun to watch.

iDOLM@ASTER 23 brings us the bad vibes that were temporarily held away from their most recent triumph and the holiday episode. It really is a good thing, you know, that everyone’s so busy. Haruka knows it, and when she reads an article about some of her coworkers in a magazine while the taxi rides past billboards and TV screens showing other idols also making good, we feel the pleasure she’s feeling. But when the bad vibes start happening you’re not sure exactly what she’s feeling bad about. Is it because everyone’s so busy they can’t get everyone to the New Years show rehearsals? Are we going to see them on stage, unrehearsed and failing? Is it because she’s not seeing any one of them? She’s seeing quite a few. Her beloved Producer isn’t exactly ignoring her. Because they won’t be doing that daytime show any more? Is it because they’re going their separate ways? Because that was inevitable. Is it because Miki told her that she definitely wants the role they’re both going for, so that “working together” wouldn’t be accurate (I know exactly what Miki means, and she’s nice about it, but she really could have phrased that more gently)? Or is it because the stage crew didn’t close the FUCKING TRAP IN THE FLOOR??? WHERE WERE THOSE ASSHOLES TRAINED, ANYWAY?? … I vote for all of them.

Your lesbian techno-witch image for the week.

Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon 10 manages to bring us what is meant to be a thrilling battle AND its usual endless backstory and techno-cult-babble. Which is not so amazing considering one side of the battle seems to freeze when the other half gets going. Let’s see … Horizon is still captive, behind a disintegration wall. In this world, disintegration means you will see your greatest sin replayed before your eyes before you’re devoured for it. You can avoid that by denying your sin, but who can deny their sin? While the theologians among you sort that out, we see the enemy’s Tercio formation (which exists, BTW), and that is discussed until Toori decides to just run ahead and start the battle. We see the danger of the Tercio immediately, when it opens up to reveal a HUGE gun in the middle. But Adele rebuffs the shot with her heavy armor retainer (big mecha), which causes her some pain and a little annoyance. Everyone on both sides stops to marvel at her old-fashioned suit for a few minutes, then the good guys line up directly behind her and push her in front of them. So the Tres Espana and other bad guy airships launch missiles, but they are rebuffed by maids wielding bows and that one whose name I forget. Who am I kidding? I’ve forgotten almost all the names in this show. So the now-burning Tres Espana unleashes a God of War (flying mecha) and the lesbian witches go to fend it off after a magical girl-style transformation, using Techno Magic. The sleepy blonde witch is knocked unconscious but is revived by a pep-talk from an old guy. The blond sets up her big attack by saying “White magic creates plus power. Black magic creates minus power. Guess what you get when you combine the two?” I’m thinking that this is the least inspiring description of a weapon I’ve ever heard, but it works. Then the ground forces, who have all paused to admire the battle going on in the sky, get back to work. The good guys are split in two! But they launch a god of war of their own. End of episode. So much for THIS show until next week.

Penguindrum 21, UN-GO 7, two iDOLM@STERS and Horizon … oh, who cares?

Mawaru Penguindrum 21 is comparatively light on new metaphors, but they make up for it with plot developments which are just as weird. By the end, the Takakura “sibling’s” “family” is shown to be as flimsy as the gaily-colored house they live in.

There’s a reporter snooping around who’s discovered that Kanba is getting Himari’s treatment money from the remnants of the Kiga group, the ones responsible for the deaths. Much of the episode revolves around this situation. He talks to Himari, Shouma, and Ringo, and while his information isn’t news to us, it’s of great significance to them. Most of all, Himari. She’s the one causing all the trouble, anyway. By living. This is straightforward, almost soap-operish stuff, and I didn’t know whether to be relieved by the relative normality or disappointed by the lack of mind-fucks. Turns out they were saving the latter for later. Though we get a taste of it when Himari follows Kanba and discovers the bright, warm diner he uses to meet his father. Only it’s not.

And we learn more about Sanetoshi, in one of his weird talks, this time with Himari’s first doctor. He was the father Takakura’s “talented assistant,” and should be dead, too. And he’s trying to try what they couldn’t do again, by passing “my will to their children.” He suggests that he is a ghost, or a curse. I’m going for the latter, here. He is a curse, and the children are his victims. So is he keeping Himari alive in order to extract more revenge out of them? I’ve had this thought before. Then things begin to come to a head. Shouma confronts Kanba about the money and Kanba beats him up and tells him they are no longer family. Then he rather effortlessly makes the reporter die. And Himari visits Masako and learns that Masako and Kanba are blood siblings, apparently, the only ones in the entire series. Who’d have thunk?

So now the family has been destroyed. This is odd. Their core was Himari, and she’s still there, wanting Kanba and Shouma there. That seems to be impossible now. But there are no tears. Himari and Shouma seem to think that it was inevitable, that they were doomed to fall apart. But there’s someone they can save, and it’s not Himari (apparently she’s going to die soon, no matter what), it’s Kanba, who thinks that only he can save Himari. That’s why he beat up Shouma, and why he’s accepting money from people who tried to kill a lot of people, why he just killed someone himself. He’s become the sort of monster that his father was without knowing it, the type of person who accepts no other opinions except his own. The belief that anyone else is capable of doing anything doesn’t cross his mind. He doesn’t even tell anyone where the money’s coming from. But we see now that Kanba is only interested in saving Himari, even if that means ripping apart the family she loves and needs so much. “Gosh, I must stop him soon,” has never been a more apt phrase. Why he sees his father as alive and healthy when he’s actually rotting in that diner may just be an allusion to the deluded futility of his desires, but he’s got plenty of clout to follow them. But one more question. What is Shouma in all this? Since he’s the only person who’s remained the same since the beginning, you KNOW he’s going to do something in the final episodes. But what can he do? What will he accomplish if he tries? What’s left for him, now that even Himari has said goodbye to him?

I probably shouldn’t have watched UN-GO 7, or any of it’s episodes, after Penguindrum, but I didn’t know this one would be especially strange. After the talk with the “novelist” in his cell, where we learn that Shinjuru is the man’s protagonist, his great detective, Shinjuru passes out and winds up as a cameraman helping with a movie where no one yet knows the ending. No! That last thing I want after Penguindrum is Pirandello! But on it goes. We have three actresses who, in the movie at least, are running around escaping something while wearing little clothing. Off the set they talk about the movie, including a long conversation about the asshole director saying they’re prisoners of the war they’re depicting, for in this world there is no war so they have to make movies of them. Shinjuru manages a few WTF moments during all this, but otherwise settles into this other world, maybe happy there hasn’t been a war here. Then the director gets rather nastily murdered, and Shinjuru becomes both suspect and detective. It’s interesting enough for now, but every now and then it feels like the creators (I mean the animators, not the movie people–OR DO I??) are trying to squeeze their source material into a format and genre not fit for it. Right. On to something that won’t tax my poor brane. Oh, I know …

No, but it would make me happier.

I thought the whole Chihaya thing was cleared up last week, but iDOLM@STER 21 decides to make more of it. This is okay. It’s a problem with series in general when a character breaks through an emotional issue to assume the problem is gone forever. More often it’s a series of two steps forward, one step back. So when the girls’ accompaniment CD gets screwed up (thanks to you-know-who) and they have to work without music, the show spends a lot of time with her announcing that she wants to try singing anyway. Rather too much time, really, because there’s the suggestion she makes to whats-er-name, and that talk, and then asking the rest of the girls who are all, naturally, there for her. However, it does pay off in another nice onstage moment, when the sound guy says fuck it and brings in the music he’s claimed to have lost. Was he bribed, or what? Meanwhile, Jupiter quits, and everyone except them go off to a nightclub to watch Kotori sing. This is maybe the best moment. We get a view of someone who loves to sing but didn’t want to do all that idol business, who’s found an outlet for her desires and is happy. Oh, and a weird moment where we learn that Kuroe, apparently isn’t all that bad a guy after all, at least that’s what someone says. Could have fooled me.

And after all the nasty events of the past few weeks the show takes some plot time off to give us a slightly early Christmas episode. In a way it’s a letdown. Everyone wants to celebrate together, but they’re so busy these days it looks like they won’t be able to. You know they’ll find a way, or rather, the producer (who gets so much praise heaped on him this episode it’s disgusting) will find the way for them. So we get the early “I don’t think I can make it” bits, which are nothing more than that, while we at home aren’t fooled at all and wait for the party to begin. They could have done more with it. On the other hand, they make a nice point about how their success means being so busy they never see each other anymore, and they sow a few seeds for the next plot thing. Also, while it’s all predictable, there’s a lot of unabashed, silly, jingle-jingle fun in the episode anyway. Really, the iDOLM@STER is just the place for us to wallow in it for our once-a-year fix. I’d have felt let down if the series HADN’T given us at least one Christmas song, complete with sleighbells.

Your average lance vs. boobs battle.

From sophisticated and complex, to silly and fun and seasonal, right down to completely inane, I watched Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon, where Futayo (I think) is about to duke it out with Galileo (no, not THAT one) when King Maron of Musashi, the one who looks like a playing card, steps in, pointing out that Futayo is one of his royal guards and therefore one of the students should fight her instead. After a discussion, and a flashback by Maron about how he was forced to become king (usually you’re forced to stop being king), Kimi, Toori’s big sister, announces she’ll fight Futayo. She has no combat powers but has a sexy dance and is pretty fast. Toori is so impressed that he starts flirting with a bucket, and Kimi’s just getting started. Soon she and Futayo are on a dance floor and she’s doing a song which, we are told, is the the Song of Passage reimagined as a dance number. Then there’s a flashback to the only time Kimi ever cried, a touching scene where she makes a despondent little Toori face his life again, but all I can think is “Damn, she looked like Taiga. I wonder if Taiga will ever get boobs that large?” Of course not. No one can have boobs that large, but I digress … Futaya is further flummoxed in the battle by being asked the question in the picture above, which is not only an interesting line but “the Q&A for the dance’s intermission.” Futaya loses, I guess, gets a blood lipstick makeover and sees the error of her ways. There follows more political banter than I couldn’t write down or even endure, but according the the Peace of Wesphalia which ended the Thirty Years War, they’re now all going to rescue Horizon. … I thought that was decided a month ago …

Chihayafuru 7, Bakuman II 7-8, iDOLM@STER 20, Guilty Crown 6, Horizon 8

Chihayafuru 7 brings us a new player, Tsutomu, or “Desktomu” as they say, because he never leaves his.

You know the type.

One of those diligent people, “shaped like a jelly bean,” who harbours resentment toward everyone because they’re stupider than he is, but prettier. Sort of like Kohta, but without the zombies to take out his rage on. We’re supposed to feel sorry for him; even before we learn about him we’ve seen his type, or have been his type in one social group or another. But there are some bad vibes around this guy, in spite of his cat-smile. It looks like without some kind of acceptance he’s going to grow up nasty. Good thing that there are other strange, blindingly bright people around him, and they’re interested.

Skills of persuasion.

Well, Chihaya is, anyway. Tsukomu is the second-smartest person in their grade. Definitely a plus. But Tsutomu has been so burned by so-called friends in the past that he doesn’t react at all to fact that now the best-looking girl in the school is interested in his brain. Trouble is, he thinks he’s a little too smart. Bah! A game! How will this help his studies. It’s stupid. But, points out Chihaya, it requires memorization. If they’re really so smart, play the game with the cards face down, says Tsutomu, whom I’m disliking more and more in spite of myself. And so they do. The result is not what I expected.

It makes me wonder if there is a popular variation of this game. It seems so obvious. Hardcore Karuta! Beyond that, we learn more about Chihaya and Taichi’s abilities. Chihaya, invincible before, too much so, in fact, works from instinct and blinding speed. She hasn’t had to learn to memorize. Taichi, the best student in their grade, pounces upon this chance to turns the tables on her, and wins. It’s a good study of both their characters. And it all nearly backfires on them. Tsutomu is already resentful of Taichi, smarter than him, better-looking, popular. To see him win drives Tsutomu away, and it takes a lame speech to bring him back. You know, the past two episodes have been nothing but side-character recruitment stories, but the show adds so many little touches to it that they feel like more.

Bakuman II 7-8 continues the ludicrious story where Saiko, working himself into a sickness so bad he needs part of his liver removed, insists on drawing anyway. The chief editor, quite rightly, says the manga will be on hiatus until he’s discharged from the hospital. BUT, it will continue that way until the boys graduate. Look at it from his perspective. It was a controversial decision to even let high school kids undertake the pressures of weekly serialization to begin with. Now that one of their three artists that age has gotten sick, it’s quite right to re-think the policy. I certainly think he has a point. But the show decides to make him the bad guy here, with all the other artists we follow boycotting until Saiko and Takagi’s manga is reinstated.

This decision comes out of the blue. I know they’re all loyal to each other, but to risk your own careers on what is, really, a reasonable decision done out of concern for a fellow artist, is doesn’t make sense. It does bring up some interesting questions, however. How will these artists pay the rent? Will this behavior lead to future ill feelings, and a possible blacklist among the manga industry? Is their fanbase big enough that they can survive being kicked out of the biggest magazine in the industry? And what about Jack? Can it survive losing some of its most popular talent? How soon before the readers simply go elsewhere? We’ll never get an answer, as Miura manages to turn the tide by showing that Saiko can draw even while nearly dying … I said it last time. This series drives me crazy sometimes.

Putting Chihaya's younger self on stage with her was a nice touch. *sniff*

I keep missing episodes of iDOLM@STER, and apparently 961’s been at it again, and now Chihaya can’t sing. Little brother tragedy and broken home, all that stuff, comes out in the tabloids. Even Jupiter’s pissed off now. Naturally the episode is mostly Chihaya saying she’ll quit and moping about, while Haruka can’t convince her to come outside her apartment. Until she does, thanks to an old sketchbook and a hastily-written song. It sounds trite, and it is. This is a trite show. But in spite of the dull angst everyone undergoes for most of the episode the final scene, where she gets help in regaining her voice, was done well enough that even I got into it, and I didn’t even see episode 19.

Guilty Crown 6’s maddeningly stupid moments: they were able to get into the satellite controller base with hardly any troubles, just your average gun battle where the good guys are never hit and the bad guys always are. This Daryl guy, a sadistic madman killer type who is unleashed to defeat the good guys once and for all, is, for the second time, defeated rather easily. Really, those mecha don’t have armor in the back and rear of the cockpit, so you can just climb up and shoot them in the head? The whole Gai-is-just-human thing was overplayed. Though it was nice to see him reveal some remorse and self-doubt. On to the good things: the climax of the battle, shooting down the wayward satellite, was well-done and had me going, though I wondered why Gai chose himself to be the sacrificial lamb when he didn’t have to be. … Yeah, that’s about it. More bad than good.

Notes won't help you, Toori. Take it from me.

Finally, on Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon 8, the show with more exposition than plot, Seijun starts to argue with Toori about what to do about Horizon. Save her and they get a country, don’t save her, and well, I guess they don’t. Then it’s on to the casualties of peace and just cause, until a black blob in a water bucket gives her a pep talk. There’s talk of absorbing Mikawa into Musashi to save it, but I’m not sure, because people keep talking over the exposition. Then the pope shows up to intellectually outwit her using arcane arguments from the Catholic Church’s long history until the other side says “enough, already!” (That’s how it was explained in the episode, but again, people were talking around it, so I’m not sure). When that doesn’t work, he tells everyone that Horizon OS includes “Encompassed Yearning,” which is part of the Envy Sin Armament, or maybe it was the other way around, and why should Mushashi/Mikawa have WMDs anyway, especially with Seijun being untrustworthy because of her incomplete sex change operation. Toori springs into action–and pulls down her pants. This fills Seiju with resolve, not to mention embarrassment, and she declares that Horizon has a right to her own emotions, even if they ARE WMDs, and so the country will fight according to school rules. So Galileo attacks them. End of episode. To quote Anna Russell, “I’m not making this up, you know.”

UN-GO 4, Tomodachi 5, iDOLM@STER 18, Tamayura 4

Who's talking to who?

UN-GO 4 had a satisfying end to the Kazamori story, and a typical reaction from me when I watch a mystery: I follow right along until there’s a moment I get distracted by something I forgot, and it’s downhill from there. People say things, point at each other, other characters show up and I don’t remember seeing them before … Until the show reaches the revelation whereupon I usually nod and note to myself that I’d be a lousy detective. Still, the end was satisfactory because of this. What we had seen so far had been so predictable it’s hardly fair to call it mystery, so see it behave like one at the end (and confuse me) was a good thing. Not that it matters. The world detective Shinjurou and Inga live in is a lot more interesting. To me the mysteries are only there to add depth to the world, okay, except for some of the dated, stereotypical uses of technology. In spite of this, monstrous legislation like their “Information Privacy and Protection Act” strike too close to home, even if its dangers are more easily combatted or circumvented here. And we’re just now learning about Inga, a being so oddly out of place in their world that the RAI who knows everything has no idea. I think the show’s beginning to gel. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next.

The forces of light and dark begin their epic battle.

Ever since we met Kobato, and saw Kodaka’s innocent neglect of her in Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai, I’ve been waiting for the inevitable scene where all those wistful looks she gives out between the “ku-ku-ku’s” and minions of darkness talk bubbles out into a tearful scene with accusations of neglect. This would be that episode, except the show, again, works above my expectation. Mostly. After all, most of it involves playing yet another computer game, this one with full sim goggles. It’s the usual Yozora betrays Sena, or vice versa, while the other characters look on. We saw it a couple episodes ago. But then Kobato makes her entrance. Oboy, I said, here come the tears. But Kobato is no shrinking violet, she doesn’t just start crying. She’s proactive. She sought out the club to see what was distracting Kodaka so much and gets to verbal and physical sparring with Maria for daring to call her onii-san onii-san. That’s the spirit! The other characters shrug; she fits right in. So now I think this splendid cast of outcasts and weirdos is complete and united. There might be better series out there, but this might be the one most look forward to each week.

iDOLM@STER 18 is predictable as it gets. Ryuuguu Komachi have a “secret concert,” which apparently means something I don’t know, since there’s nothing secret about it at all. One of them gets the mumps, so Ritsuko, former idol, now producer, steps in. So the tables are turned on the Demon Drill Sergeant, she sweats a lot and gets stage fright. You knew when, early on, someone mentions her old fanbase that they would show up for the concert right when the jitters were getting too much. Actually, that was a nice scene. Concert scenes in this show are usually pretty good. I could have done without the pep-talk from sick what’s-her-name, but that is the sort of thing you expect from this show. More satisfactory is Miki turning down the opportunity to fill in with the group she nearly quit 765 over, because Ritusuko was a better fit. Still, not much to this one.

I fell two episodes behind with Tamayura – Hitotose, but didn’t realize it, which should tell me something right there. In spite of that I don’t really want to drop this harmless show … as long as fuu doesn’t harp on her father and Maon doesn’t whistle. Well, episode 4 is dedicated to her, but she doesn’t whistle TOO much. Instead the girls visit the inn where she grew up, there’s an important question about whether she’ll take over the inn when she grows up (I can’t see Maon as Madame Manager), or pursue her other dreams, but since she’s in middle school and her parents are actually kind and perceptive, the question is important only to Maon and her friends. From our perspective, of course, she has all the time in the world to decide. This isn’t a pressure-type show. Another reason to keep watching.