A lot of finales … and Polar Bear 13 because I thought that was ending too

I think I’ve seen every season-ender for my shows except Acchi Kocchi. Now I’m ready for the deluge!

The big fight in the Moretsu Pirates finale is underwhelming, but in a different way than usual. A great start, though.

Coorie’s game face.

We see the pirate fleet prepare and sync up. Marika and the crew are taken aback by three Grand Crosses showing up–for maybe two seconds. Coorie is using three of her limbs to type, she’s so busy (the fourth is probably to stick Pocky in her mouth). The pirate fleet(!) is synchronized. From her little meta-cyber-cockpit that looks like she had watched Penguindrum, Quartz is smirking. The music is building up. And it’s on! The pirates have a game plan; they send in decoys and use physical weapons more effective than beams. Lots of things blow up, including one of the Grand Crosses! Yay! Meanwhile I’m watching, noting the time, and waiting for the inevitable counterattack …

The Grand Crosses didn’t put up much of a fight, really.

… Which never comes. The pirates have seen enough of the Grand Cross and its firing and zig-zagging patterns that they can blind the enemy with chaff and sneak more weapons in when they try to evade them. Quartz is overwhelmed. I suppose there’s a point to be made here. Quartz tried to fly all three ships herself. And she’s defeated by a fleet of ships run by coordinated humans. A dozen against one. The hubris of advanced technology, or something like that. But it made the battle one sided, and therefore, disappointing. On the other hand, it was better than having the whole battle stages, or rigged, as the show has done so many times before.

But in this story arc that was partly about the nature of piracy, Marika took me by surprise by doing something pirate-y. She boards the surviving Grand Cross. I had not expected that, which is why I’d probably make a lousy pirate. Once there, she meets Quartz and delivers an unsatisfactory answer to the “Why do we have pirates, anyway?” question by saying, essentially “Well, I’m a pirate. So there!” But the scene does manage to stress that there is a wider galaxy out there and that Marika should explore it, in fact some people dearly want her to. I suppose that’s what we’re going to get when the movie comes out.

A good pirate captain never neglects her studies.

But for now, Marika has exams coming up. (I wish they had given us the hinted-at scene where the pirates learn why Marika scheduled the battle when she did) The show manages some rushed denouement. Ririka and KaneII talk about Marika. Chiaki has to figure out what she’ll do next. We need to see the yacht club girls again, of course. And it’s over. This show did well what two-season anime shows often attempt: give us a heroine and put her on a journey that changes and develops her, prepares her for a large conflict. It got annoying that Marika often went into these dangerous situations protected from real danger, but soon enough she did encounter real danger. I thought the Bentenmaru’s crew grew to trust her instincts too quickly, but that’s no big thing. She never let them down, and often surprised them with how good she was. That said, she didn’t really grow as a person. She was either Schoolgirl or Pirate. The other characters and story arcs were often silly, but the show was fully aware that it wasn’t really a big, serious space drama (just look at the title, er, titles), but a fun, slightly girly pirate adventure story. As for me, I started by wanting to mock everything in the show, but now it’s over an I wished there was more. Well done! Looking foward to the movie.

One more time!

Sankarea could have ended decently at episode 11, but I suppose it was nice to have one more to take care of some issues. For the story, only two issues mattered. First was the Ranko/Rea rivalry. Nicely done by Ranko. Done in only one scene, she accepts Rea into the group, even putting on her yukata for her, while establishing that they are actually rivals. The other was what to do with Rea. Her basic situation had remained the same. She was pretty much limited to staying at home, dependent on the people around her… Okay, she’s a zombie now and the family she’s with is much nicer and isn’t keeping her from doing anything … but APART from that! I find this more interesting than the idea of her rotting away, since, right now, she isn’t. I was delighted when she decided to return to school. that’s a step forward. The only other issue, apart from the postponed rotting, was Chihiro’s occasional mumblings about whether he’s up to the responsibility. Since we know he actually is, it’s not worth spending the time on. So a mixed bag of a finale. This was a good series. The plot stumbled here and there. Some characters deserved more screen time, and not just with with highlight episodes like it gave Ranko and Meru. I would have liked to see them more involved in the action. On the other hand I bring this up because the characters were all a load of fun and deserved more. It was great to look at (a lot of shows are these days). I liked how it juggled the danger and the humor. So, are they planning another series?

Natsuiro Kiseki gives us a more perfunctory finale than I expected. That was a sort of relief. Much of the episode dealt with trying to get the endless day to stop, and that meant leaving everyone satisfied. Yuka’s nagging complaint is solved when she gets through the audition without screwing up. That left Natsumi getting over Saki’s departure, and to my immense relief she manages to do that through sad glances and a nice speech at the rock before they undo the wish, or rather say goodbye to the wishes in general, I think. I’m not sure what the hell they were doing there. Nice touch that Rin’s mom knew about the rock but did not interfere in any way, trusting her daughter and the others to resolve it in their own way. So the wish ends, they finally get to move on. They managed the finale well, but then, this show did just about everything it chose to do well. It falls into the “much better than the premise” category. There was never a monkey’s paw wish or a “leave everything alone; that’s for the best” moral lesson shoved down our throats, well apart from Saki’s inevitable departure, but the girls never actually wished for that. They were sensible about their miracle. They used it to clean things up and make each other happy, and finally, to give themselves memories. A nice, unpretentious series.

On his mother’s grave. Sheesh.

Nazo no Kanojo X also had an unpretentious ending. There was little to it. Urabe meets with Youko, Tsubaki’s older sister and surrogate mom, who tells her a few thing about her late mother. This sparks a completely normal interest in Urabe. She asks Tsubaki to show her the grave, leaves appropriate offerings–and then she and Tsubaki exchange drool while touching the headstone. In a show full of sexual urges subsumed into odd everyday moments this one still managed to stand out. Though the dead mom seemed to like the idea, what with that flower blooming and those petals flying everywhere. But that was the only acknowledgment of the show’s weird premise. Otherwise it was simply about a girl who’s getting more interested in a boy and deciding she wants to take the relationship farther, not necessarily in a sexual way, though that’s implied, but by learning as much as she can about him. It’s appropriate. Some blogger said that the show’s source material may seem a little sick, but that it was actually a rather sweet love story. I don’t know if “sweet” is the word I’d use, though there were certainly moments. Urabe is a bit too odd and withdrawn, and control-happy, for that word. On the other hand we basically had the story of two kids doing their best at this romance thing who have a very odd bond between them. Good thing, too. If you took away the saliva, and the scissors, the show would have been dull. But couldn’t they have chosen anything other than exchanging drool? I never did get used to that.

I watched Polar Bear’s Cafe as well, but it turns out this series runs 24 episodes. That’s fine. I’m not sure what I would do without my show to watch on Saturday or Sunday night when I’m too brain-dead to think rational thoughts. This week they worked on amiable schlub Handa’s crush on the cute Sasako. I’m all for this romance. Handa deserves a girlfriend and Sasako couldn’t get a nicer guy. The show emphasized the possibility by showing her in loving closeups, something they have never done before, and Handa is made to be almost handsome. The other good bits in the episode were the Tanabana wishes and Full-Time Panda’s speech about the use of pandas in human relationships.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The distraction concert.

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

Moretsu 24, Sankarea 00, Space Bros 12, Polar Bear 11

Moretsu Pirates 24 begins with action and then settles down for some intrigue and surprises.

The Grand Cross firing into the air while the Bentenmaru flees.

What’s interesting about the battle in the first half, where the Bentenmaru is suddenly confronted with the Grand Cross in all its nastiness, is that Marika’s bold declaration to fight was partly smoke. They had some ideas of what to do against the warship many times as powerful and maneuverable as they are, but only enough to keep them from getting blasted in the first few seconds. Soon the Bentenmaru is weaving about, avoiding fire, while Marika comes up with a way to get the hell out of there without being overtaken first. Drawing them in, then zipping by before they can take advantage works, but for the first time in the show the Bentenmaru has taken serious damage. Still, it’s another example of Marika thinking on her feet (and what occurred to her during the battle, anyway? “Don’t let them get above us! Although they do …).

What’s SHE doing here??

After that it’s intrigue and surprise time. We get small scenes of little consequence, such as meeting the chef’s brother, one of four, at the Pirate’s cove, repairing the Bentenmaru, Coorie dolls herself up for no reason that I can tell, apart from maybe expediting repairs from smitten mechanics, and proves to be an utter babe, etc, but they’re mostly to fill in the gaps between more important scenes. Marika has a plan for getting all those scurvy pirates in line (providing they don’t get killed on the way there), but won’t tell Chiaki. Meanwhile, the captain of the Grand Cross, Quartz Christie, just shows up to do some trash talking before she vanishes. Turns out she’s trying her ship out on pirates for the reasons we already know; the surprise is that she’s there at all. The big surprises come late when it turns out some of the Bentenmaru crew aren’t what they seem to be. What they were planted for we don’t know, but at the moment we have two Kanes walking around. Oh, and there’s Ririka at the end, on her yacht … heh. This is going to be a most interesting pirate meeting indeed!

While we’re waiting for the next episode of Sankarea, an episode 00 has made its appearance. Considering the state of undress that Rea displays, I assume its for the DVD only. It’s seven months before … whenever, and we follow Rea’s family and Chihiro’s through key moments leading to the story’s beginning. That is to say, we don’t learn anything new about Rea at all. Her father is still a disgusting tool and her “mother” is a loveless lush. Thus Rea is sad. Chihiro’s story is a bit more interesting. We get the cheerful contrast we always get when switching from Rea’s family to his, and we get to see the happiness Rea must feel when she’s among them, or at least free from her dad. We also see Chihiro’s discovery of the potion book; it looks all the world like his late mother somehow guided him to it. This would open the world of ghosts up to this series as well. And we learn that her death is something grownups don’t want to discuss with the kids. And there’s a chance meeting between the two protagonists which neither would like to admit to. In other words, they’re planting seeds in an episode not intended for the regular television audience. Not sure that’s the way you’re supposed to do it.

In Space Brothers 12 Mutta’s luck continues to hold, and so does his tendency to make the most of it, even though he’s ashamed of it after the fact. But you know, he didn’t have to invent that story about knowing the average speed of the bus by guessing at the route and seeing the odometer both ways. What if he had just up and said he saw the clock on the bus’s dashboard? That shows resourcefulness, especially when none of the other candidates had done so. You have to admire the other team’s Tomii, however, for his deductions. Mutta’s luck holds with Serika as well, when he tells her that he likes her name and it sends her off to a happy memory of her childhood. Is Mutta just going to luck his way into her heart? Well, why not?

Polar Bear’s Cafe 11 … not bad. The night out with Grizzly was entertaining enough, though visiting the batting cages and the baths seems a bit tame for a grizzly. But really, nothing beats just the thought that Penguin was beaten to his beloved Ms. Penguin by a tortoise. I was thinking it would be llama, with the sexy eyelashes. I’m a little disappointed that there was a good reason for the date.

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

The test hasn’t even begun.

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

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

Legend of the legendary chef.

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

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

Under the stage.

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

* Ghostlightning understands it all and explains it fully here.

Three shows that are more or less about space, and one that isn’t

Earlier in Space Brothers I wished I could have seen more of the testing process. Well, I didn’t need to see all of the physical exams, but I wanted to see what sort of physical and mental testing astronauts have to go through. With episode 10 we finally get a better look. The whole procedure, getting on the strange bus, noting the cameras (or in Mutta’s case, a guy’s toupee), the switching of seats and the ten minutes of talking for each person. I start to wonder how I would do in such a test, especially when they were asked to evaluate the people they just talked to. They had to remember all the names? I terrible with names! We also get a look at the other candidates, an interesting assortment of oddballs, and it was fun getting into their heads, hearing their speculations, and wondering if they were right or wrong. In truth, no one on that bus really knows what this test is all about, and neither do we. That adds to the fun–if you’re not a candidate, that is. I was happy, by the way, to see that one of the candidates is actually older than I am. There’s still hope!

Full speed ahead! Fire when … oh shit …

Moretsu Pirates 22 starts up an interesting story arc. We see a pirate ship taken down by some powerful, unknown, really big ship, and then learn that there is something out there hunting pirates. Everything that happens afterwards is tinted with this threat, even Marika’s yacht club duties. And frankly, it’s hard to imagine an episode without seeing the yacht club girls, even if they just giggle. Marika’s plan is to escort another pirate ship, the Big Catch, though it’s unclear they’re even going to get attacked. While they do their duties there’s speculation on the nature of pirating, whether they should or can band together, and whether the empire or whatever it is would stand for it. Interesting stuff, and it makes you wonder further what the pirate hunter is after, because no one at this point has any idea. When the attack comes it’s by a ship with abilities no one has ever seen before. It zig-zags, for chrissake! I have to say whenever a captain who’s not a regular character orders an attack right off the bat you know they’re going to get creamed. On the other hand, this mindset probably saved the Bentenmaru’s hide, as they got busy collecting data and not attracting fire … yet. Then ANOTHER big-ass ship appears; alas, its commander looks like the villain in Ozma, which kind of ruined the moment for me. Still, it looks like the Bentenmaru is in deep trouble. On the other hand, the previews show a bit with Marika happily clinking glasses, so it can’t be all that bad.

AKB0048 6 brings us the life-lesson: haters gotta hate (and I hate that phrase). But in this show’s relentless efforts to take the most negative and ugly aspects of idol life and turn it into a learning lesson, haters can also show us what we need to improve on. At least that’s what the boy hater who has a fix on Orine does. The fact that he promised to bomb the upcoming handshake event suggests he may need some help of his own, but the show doesn’t worry about that. So we have scenes with Orine freaked out and running out of the dance rehearsal in tears (the second so far) and the inevitable pep talk from a real member, and the nervous handshake event itself. It was a satisfactory moment when Orine’s first greet was to a star-struck little girl, but the real fun begins when the DES attacks and the girls get backup by what would normally be another sinister side of idol fandom, the rabid otaku, here played as sort of citizen militia who helps them out. And so once again AKB0048 gives me a moment of slack-jawed disbelief. That’s why I’m still watching.

Acchi Kocchi 9 won’t rank up there with the great school festival episodes, but it succeeds in its goal to milk all the cuteness it can out of the situation. Dressing up Tsumiki, a cute little thing with cat tendencies, in a cat costume, almost felt like overkill. Other good bits include Sakaki’s nearly fatal head wound (nearly fatal because the others just stand around talking about it while he bleeds. For a show dedicated to cuteness this series can certainly get violent), Io’s feeding of the girls, and, er, Tsumiki’s cat costume.

Moretsu 21, Spacebros 9, AKB0048 5, Shining Bread 7

A hell of a lot of fun in Moretsu Pirates 21, one of those episodes where a lot of things could happen and they do–all at once.

Ai, blinded, having fun.

First they have to set it all up. Hakou’s dinghy team arrives to the obvious fear and consternation of the other participants and the Chairwoman, who remembers all too well what happened six years ago, the event that put Hakou on suspension. Turns out it was Lynn’s doing, though she was unaware of the carnage she helped cause at the “13th Tournament Nightmare,” as it is known today. Frankly, if I knew I was with a team with such a bad reputation I would swagger a little more, but swagger isn’t their style, alas. The chairwoman is convinced that they’re up to no good again, and when she learns Marika will be observing in a dinghy of her own, she’s convinced. And there’s that evil faction who’s out to get Marika because she’s a pirate, with their own plans. Oh, Chiaki’s around, too, because it wouldn’t be as much fun without her. As I said, a lot of potential for fun here.

The beginning of the race is beautiful to watch. We see much of it via Ai, who has no ulterior motive except racing her dinghy, even if all the other teams are dead-set on beating her and the other Hakou contestants, you know why. The actual course, we’re told, is much rougher this year partly out of spite, which doesn’t make much sense since all the other contestants have to endure it, too. But the race itself is soon overshadowed when the craziness happens.

Marika, not blinded, not having fun.

First, the chairwoman in her own dinghy trying to take Marika down, nearly taking out some of the actual contestants in the process. If that wasn’t enough for Marika, the evil people show up moments later and start firing–on everybody. This being the sort of show it is, we don’t see any innocent people getting hit, but still, imagine being in a race and having some goon shoot at you because you MIGHT be their target! But Marika learns who they’re after. Against the advice of the Bentenmaru Marika does the decent (and near-suicidal) thing and gets the goons’ attention, and while they’re firing at her, the chairwoman reenters the fray, and THEN … out of nowhere … Well … I should add that these scenes are directed and animated superbly. The whole thing is a delight, one thing after another, help from unexpected places, and in the end it returns to Ai, her computers are down but she can navigate by the stars, like every good sailor, the wind blowing away her cute hat. The joy of sailing gets the last word. This might have been the best episode yet.

Don’t ask.

Space Brothers 9 is filler, a chance for Mutta to look around at where he is now, prepare for what’s coming next, and find new things to doubt himself for. First comes the finding of Hibito’s will, but after some odd reflection it’s clear there’s nothing he didn’t know already about astronauts dying. Even his parents (who for once have a good scene) laugh it off. There follows a number of silly scenes while we wait for something to happen. Some snark about his brother from astronauts who didn’t pass … mostly ignored. Reflection from Kenji about his daughter growing up while he’s absent, heading to Mars … Mutta can sympathize, but he’s not in that position. It’s Serika’s goal to work on the ISS on a cure for the illness that killed her father that finally gets to him. Serika has a reason to be in space, Mutta feels that he doesn’t. And so the third exam will begin and Mutta has something new to dwell upon. We’re set for the next story arc.

No doubt: Tomochin is the creepiest of the Idols.

AKB0048 5 is also filler. The girls have been training hard and now get their monthly day off. It’s a little opportunity to watch the girls at leisure, but the fun of the episode is learning more about the utter weirdness of the AKB0048 operation, oh, and to introduce the official members to us. The more normal members, like Yuuko and Yukirin, divulge odd facts to their underlings, like no one is supposed to inquire as to the chief of the organization, known only as the belly-button stealing Sensei-Sensei, or that the center performer role was removed after the performers kept vanishing. On the far scale of the weirdness is Tomochin, one of a long line of Tomochins in AKB0048, almost clone-like, who marry men who resemble them and even slavishly learn the family bad habits. So Tomochin is officially the creepiest one of the group. Oh, Sae is apparently little more than a sidekick and Mayuyu is hungry all the time. Nothing else to the episode except Nagisa tries to bond with Chieri again.

She just up and admits it.

Shining Hearts Shiawase no Pan 7 has Rick pondering a lot of things, but not the one you’d think. Madera prompts him to go visit Xiao Mei about whatever is making his baking skills slip (Kagura, she of the perpetual coma, won’t even wake up for it anymore!), as if she knows what Xiao’s side job is. Maybe she does, she seems to know everything else. Xiao doesn’t bother to keep it a secret from Rick when he arrives, so the series has passed on one potential story, I guess, in favor of another. Neither does it occur to Rick to turn her in, even before he sees she’s basically doing a Robin Hood. No, what Rick ponders is whether he truly is (or should be) a swordsman or a baker, never once entertaining the possibility that he could be both. He’s open about his difficulties to his friends, but they don’t offer that answer either. So he makes his unnecessary either-or decision and gets back to baking. This is after many scenes, mind you, and me muttering for the show to get on with it and stop with closeups of each character giggling or frowning. FINALLY, at the very end, a huge, monstrous, unexpected mass of plot development happens, and the previews have Rick hanging out with sinister people. Oh did you know that not only Rick, but every harem girl in the series washed ashore? Did the island’s entire population?

Kanojo X 7, Hyouka 5, Moretsu 20, Kimi to Boku 8

Nazo no Kanojo X 7 has Urabe at her most mysterious, and at the same time at her most “normal,” and childish. Early on, taking a cue from Ako, she visits the flu-ridden Tsubaki, and after drool has been exchanged, leaves, not even showing him the swimsuit she had on underneath her coat, because she was shy. It’s like she goes through the motions of social behavior but doesn’t always understand the reason. Then at the end she almost grows angry at Tsubaki for suggesting she join the track club. We know why he’s doing it, because he didn’t want to hold her back from something she might enjoy. She determines through saliva that he wants her for himself, well, the legs, anyway. Apparently the idea that he wants to sacrifice his enjoyment of their walks together for her sake because he cares about her is too complex for spit to convey. For someone who can share feelings and emotions like Urabe can, she can be awfully insensitive.

The rest of the episode is confusing. Why did Tsubaki recover so quickly when Urabe’s spit wasn’t supposed to work? They switched sensations? Then why didn’t Urabe come down with the flu? On the other hand Ako keeps me entertained not only with the sophisticated and erotic ways that he handles Ueno (she can do better than him, really), but her ability to shake up Urabe and slyly come on to her. What’s her mother been teaching her?

Hyouka 5 surprised me by actually polishing off the story arc. I thought it was one that could go on and on if it wanted to. And the final answers Chitanda was looking for came to her. The only thing that seemed like a stretch was the “lame pun” in English that gave the club journal (and, perhaps significantly, that of the show) its name. Houtarou pulled that one out of thin air. The entire mystery was mundane, as most mysteries are after you solve them, yet the episode itself was vivid and powerful. Nothing new there. With this show I’m getting used to people sitting and talking calmly taking on great significance through imaginative visuals.

And this time there was the added weight of Itoigawa remembering a painful time of her life, to say nothing of Chitanda discovering the what her uncle had said that had made her cry. And when she cried this time (the arc would not be complete until she did), it was, as befitting the atmosphere, done calmly, a few tears and a smile. I kind of wish the club would next investigate what happened to Jun in India, but I suspect that would be too much for the club and this show that does just fine with small mysteries.

Ai will not be outdone! Not when she wears that hat!

Moretsu Pirates 20 patiently unfolds the new story arc. There are things they’re not telling us, just sowing seeds, like the new organization who’s trying to horn in on space, and apparently Marika might get involved. It’s odd to see shady, nasty looking people in black suits snickering about things while their goal is to actually protect the heroine, not do away with her. And we got the fact that someone’s trying to sabotage the annual dinghy race. Why they want to do such an EVIL thing as mess with people in dinghies they don’t tell us. Perhaps the answer lies in Marika’s high school being banned from the thing for interference five years ago. A lot of tasty mysteries. Then we get the mundane silliness of Kane training the girls through some extreme measures, simulations in the Red Spot, windsurfing while the Bentenmaru fires on them, and wearing a tiny Speedo. And, far away from intrigue, little Ai gets lots of chances to show off her navigation skills and radiate sheer joy while doing so. It’s a lovely contrast.

Kimi to Boku 2 8 is one of its sweetest and sneakiest episodes, even though it has a boy who asks too much from a girl and gets it. One irony is that the boy, Shun’s younger brother, Fuyuki, asks to touch Mamiya’s chest at a moment when mother-hen Shun has ceased to worry about him doing ecchi things with her. Another irony is that it’s possible none of the main characters have gotten as far with a girl as Fuyuki has, in spite of their advanced age. The actual moment, and the aftermath, is handled gently, with even the karoake noises stilled. The aftermath has bad vibes but turns comical, and we see that what we’ve got here is just two kids who are trying to figure out their urges. Plus an older brother who worries too much and his friends, along for the ride as usual.