A few more quick ones …

Fortune Arterial 10 has Erika’s continuing struggle to sustain herself on blood pouches (and why those aren’t as nutritious as blood from a throbbing vein they don’t tell us). And it has not only more “Let’s work together!” festival preparation scenes, but a beach trip and firework-watching with yukatas as well. You begin to get tired of the BOOM effect whenever the craving strikes Erika, but at least here they manage to time it well with fireworks. And I gotta say, Kohei is way too accommodating.

By Amagami SS standards, episode 23 is pretty eventful: Founders Day preparations lagging behind, girls starting rumors, confessions, more girl-fighting. Junichi and Tsukasa even seal their relationship with a kiss with an episode to spare. And Tsukasa drives it all forward. For the most part Junichi stands on the sidelines, apart from an attempted rescue when girls try to gang up on Tsukasa for dodgeball. He observes her as her mood swings from sweet to vicious, sometimes within seconds. Her sweet mode at the end was downright scary. For the first (and last) time on Amagami, Junichi has a wacko girlfriend on his hands.

Otome Youkai Zakuro 10 starts out as usual, with the Spirit Affairs team attending a fun festival and innocent spirit hijinks, until the plot kicks into gear. I have to say that Zakuro gets herself captured pretty easily. The other main characters mainly stay out of the way as she learns all sorts of stuff. Hanadate, er, Omodaka reveals himself, we see what he wants. We see that Rangui is subordinate to him, and that she’s jealous enough to kill Zakuro, who, meanwhile, is slowly befriending Byakuroku. Zakuro is used well. We see her anger, confusion, and a compassion which makes her abandon her escape when she sees a half-spirit mistreated. It’s good to see her act on her own for a change.

Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru 10 brings us the usual two stories, the difference being that both are great fun, if a tad unbelievable. The first more so, as it involves Hotori innocently picking up a dangerous alien weapon only to have two alien robot things show up and fight over it. The second isn’t more believable, but since it involves a ghost it’s more in keeping with the show. I mean, in a slice of life show you don’t expect alien weaponry, but the occasional observant ghost is acceptable. And it’s lovely stuff, an old man (turns out it’s Uki’s late husband) walks around encountering local people who can’t see him, and wondering just why the hell he hasn’t moved on yet, though he doesn’t care much. Overall I prefer this story to the former, but the former made better screenshots, so that’s why I chose it.

And, for the foreseeable future, this truly is the end of the blog. See you.

Zakuro 9, Soredemo 8

It looked at first that Otome Youkai Zakuro 9 was going to be another silly filler episode in a series that is running low on episodes, but at the end they toss a little surprise.

A Kokkuri is a sort of manifestation of maidenly thoughts of love. One’s been going around freaking people out. Hanadate requests Spirit Affairs investigate. This is fine for the annoying servants, as this means attracting it and then asking embarrassing questions, such as “Who does Zakuro love?” With all the characters sort of paired up but not at the romance point, you can imagine how they feel about it. And I’m thinking “Just great. They’re running low on episodes and they’re going to waste another one.”

The trouble with the Kokkuri is that they can’t get rid of it with their usual magic. The thing is not a spirit. So the new plan is to find the thing and say a few false words of woo in its presence. I was not getting any happier with this episode by now. I understand it’s a romantic show as well as an magical-adventure one, but I saw no need for characters to say they love each other when they might not. Story-wise, what’s the point? But I hadn’t counted on Hanadate inviting himself along.

In the end, it’s Hanadate, whom Zakuro gets all blushy about, who says the words of love to Zakuro. Zakuro says them back, and the Kokkuri vanishes. Hanadate adds the zinger. “I’m a poor liar,” implying that his words were the truth. Naturally Kei gets depressed. He shouldn’t be. He tried to say the words but Zakuro stopped him because she didn’t want him to say something he might not mean, suggesting she takes their relationship seriously. She had no problem with herself saying words to a different person. And I’m still thinking that they’re wasting too much time with all this until the ending, where we learn something about Hanadate that we didn’t know before that brings the story arc right back into the mix. So I guess it’s okay. But they’re still running out of time …

Both stories in Soredemo Machi ma Wamatteiru 8 are pretty good. The first one is more of the silly time-wasting type. In the second one, stuff happens.

The girls are stranded and drenched outside a laundromat. Hey! Let’s dry our clothes in here. No one will come while there’s a downpour, right? So of course you expect that someone will. Possibly that cop. But no, they dry their clothes and hang out. They try out the weird vending machines and say a lot of pointless things (apart from Hotori’s splendid question about weathermen having batting averages. You know, they should). Nothing more to it. But it’s done well enough. Some shows can get away with nothing but aimless banter.

The only problem in the second story is the lack of surprise. The girls want to participate in the school festival, Futaba has a slot in the performance section, but no band. Anyone who’s watched the end credits knows that when Hotori says she can play a keyboard instrument and Toshiko knows a stringed instrument knows they don’t mean organ and guitar. A joke in episode 8 was given away at the end of episode 1. Never mind. The rest is good fun.

Sounds about right.

They add some stuff about practicing in the cafe, and they work the nonexistant Toshiko/Sanada romance angle, and waiting backstage, but then they go out and perform. … And they’re pretty good. The song works with their odd instruments, the lyrics are nice and snarky, and the crowd loves them. My favorite line “This song’s a little too hipster for me.” What’s more, the girls are having fun. For one of the few times in the series with no overall story line, or even a story, characters set out to do something and then actually do it. They really ought to keep the band together.

Imouto 8, Zakuro 8

Ore no Imouto 8 feels more serious than usual. I think it’s because of these guys.

I must say that Kirino is simply incredible. Already a successful model, she turns to cell phone novels and gets one published, and now they want to produce it as a anime! Kirino is, not unexpectedly, ecstatic, and nervous enough that she invites Saori and Kuroneko along for the first meeting, leading to another “If you really want to …” and “Well, I’ll go because I just happen to be free …” scene. Saori’s just along for the ride. The fact is that all three are excited. The first meeting scene is amusing at the start, Kirino whipping out impossible requests for voice actors, artists and songs. Then it turns serious when she is shot down. She goes home to mope.

For the first time I can recall, Kirino runs into a wall of hard reality. We learn that the company had another show fall through and are looking for something they can easily churn out to take its place. Since we haven’t read Kirino’s novel (thanks heavens) we can’t tell whether the novel would need some changes in order to make it a work of dramatic art rather than a novel, but they also want to change the sex of the main character to appeal to the male demographic, rather extreme for an original work that has become a best-seller. So the choice is hers: bend over and let them make the changes and create a lackluster show, or stand up for her book at the risk of losing the project altogether. Kirino is too young and inexperienced to make that decision. Naturally, Kyousuke steps in, or rather, Kuroneko.

Unbeknownst to Kirino, Kyousuke and her friends attend another meeting, and he tries to argue on her side. It goes from bad to worse, the animators arguing that they need to make these changes, and maybe they should just cancel the production. Then Kuroneko steals the scene. Her subsequent speech sums everything likable about her character. She’s blunt, insulting, and absolutely right. She doesn’t spare anyone, not even herself. She admits to jealousy over Kirino’s apparently effortless success and hints that the scriptwriter is also jealous of this middle-school girl. Maybe the most fascinating thing about it is that she veers off-topic and asks Kyousuke why he’s making such efforts for her, and in the next scene, on the train, we see a hint of envy in her that Kirino has such a devoted brother. So an episode supposedly devoted to Kirino’s career includes a sort of character study for Kuroneko. Nice job. … I’d be jealous of Kirino, too.

As for Otome Youkai Zakuro 8, I think the main story arc finally got moving. Kei and Susukihotaru (I’m sick of spelling that out; from now on I’m calling her Susu) meet up in town and get kidnapped.

The perps.

Actually, there are three things going on in this episode. The first is the search and rescue of Kei and Susu and the slow unfolding of the main story. The second is the affirmation of love and respect that the humans and spirits share. There’s two scenes even before the action starts where someone outside a couple comment to a member of a couple about the couple. Kei talks to Susu regarding Riken, and Riken talks to the twins regarding Ganryu, and there’s more to come. The third thing is Kushimatsu refusing to allow Zakuro to help in the rescue. Here we don’t know whether she knows something terrible or is simply behaving like a mother refusing to let a prized child out when she could get hurt. But the story wouldn’t move too much if she got her way, so Amaryoju overrules her.

The perps, sisters Daidai and Byakuroku, get some time showing off how evil they are. They come see Kei and Susu, locked in a cellar, to tell them they’re bait for Zakuro. There is no reason for them to do this; they’re just gloating. There’s also no reason when Riken and Zakuro show up (a little late because Riken has to thank Zakuro for loosening up Kei, and Zakuro has to tell Riken that because of him Susu is more confident—Come on, there are people to rescue!) to tell them that rainwater has been diverted to the cellar to drown Kei and Susu. All that does is REALLY piss off Zakuro.

After the rescue (and two more couple comments, Kei taking to Susu about Riken, and Susu talking to Kei about Zakuro, as they try to hold the door against the flood) we get some affirmations, the Kei-Zakuro scene being the best. Zakuro is mad that Kei almost died and shows her affection by crying and calling him stupid. He simply holds her. Then the contrast of a more sinister relationship between Lady Rangui (the Black Widow) and her failed assistants. One of them (I can’t tell them apart yet) says she hates Zakuro for having a happy home, and when you see how Rangui treats her and her sister, you can’t blame her for thinking that way.

Well, it’s good that the series story arc got some attention, since there’s only five episodes to go …

More sevens: Star Driver, Zakuro

In Star Driver 7 Sugata wakes up, but what has he become?

The first half is all about the aftermath of Sugata’s apprivoising and subsequent coma, the type that no one has woken up from. Wako is devastated because he did it to save her. Takuto begins to question his own purpose on the island. One of the Drama Club girls talks with him, says that his arrival made the Wako/Sugata duo into a trio. While Takuto isn’t so sure, he is reminded that he came here for a reason and has a goal. This all done, by the way, to elegant string music, starting with a long tension-filled violin section playing a single note, and slowly building up. The soundtrack to this show has a grandness that I really like.

Glittering Crux is also worried about Sugata, but for other reasons. They decide to make sure he’s unconscious or dead, and Ivrogne is told to finish the job she botched last episode, and before you know it it’s Zero Time! My favorite time of the day, when you see giant mecha battle on LSD. The big complication is that Sugata, still unconscious, is also there, floating in his own bubble. The battle is another routine one, this week’s gimmick being that Ivrogne can “swim” under the floor. It’s complicated a bit when Sugata’s bubble breaks and Takuto has to catch him. Takuto wins (we don’t see Ivrogne stumble out of the “coffin,” something I’ve always enjoyed), everyone heads back.

Now, during the fight Sugata woke up, good news, except it was in Zero Time. In real life he’s awake but disoriented. Now we have the Fish Girl’s story to deal with. In this latest installment, Sam tells the king that he doesn’t want the kingdom, only the galactic ship, and the king says okay, but to power it he has to spill the blood of the girl he loves. I had always figured Takuto to be “Sam,” but all of a sudden we get Glittering Crux members asking woozy Sugata to lead them. What’s more, Scarlet Kiss kisses him. So is Scarlet Kiss now the girl he loves, who’s blood must be spilled, instead of Wako? Maybe Glittering Crux, in its desire to take control of Sugata, has made a tactical error. Or I could be talking out of my hat.

Another episode of Otome Youkai Zakuro with no sign of the overriding story. Even in last week’s decompression episode we had portents and memories. This week they don’t even hint at it. Instead, a girl arrives at Spirits Affairs, hugs Kei and begs him to come home for a visit. Kei says yes, invites Zakuro along as an “assistant,” and, oh, Zakuro, would you hide your ears, please?

You can imagine that Zakuro is in a foul mood for much of the episode. Meanwhile we all wonder just why Kei was asked home, and why he brought Zakuro along. A family crisis? A spirit to deal with? While we wait we get some more evidence of bad spirit/human relations, this time exhibited by Kei’s tool of a father.

So on top of everything else, Zakuro has to listen to that sort of stuff. So I figure that somewhere along the line Zakuro’s ears will be revealed, leading to to a father/son confrontation. But no, instead we get nervous scenes between Tae, the servant in love with Kei, and Zakuro, who hasn’t figured out her own feelings. Oh, and many years ago Kei saw a spirit, his cat Itsue disappeared, and he’s been afraid of spirits since. Zakuro takes care of that little problem.

Itsue turned into a cat demon and has been around the entire time. Kei is grateful. Everyone’s happy. And the reason for the visit? The family just wanted to see him, and Kei wanted Zakuro as a buffer between him and his father. That’s it. Apart from learning a little about Kei’s background, it’s hardly a story at all. Oh, for what it’s worth, Kei’s mother knows Zakuro’s a spirit, and little Kumiko can see Itsue. Can we get to a story arc, please?

Yosuga no Sora 6 (dropped), Zakuro 6

I’ve reached my limit with Yosuga no Sora.

It's not you, Akira. It's the entire show.

We get to the conclusion of the Akira arc. Briefly, there’s confusion over whether maybe Akira and Kazuha were switched at birth. And should anyone bother to find out? Haruka thinks so, because he sees that Akira feels cut off, “unwanted.” So they do the DNA test. Negative, but Kazuha’s mother accepts her, anyway, and it’s all happy. Then Akira and Haruka have sex. Now, I was willing to put up with the fanservice if the story was good. But it isn’t. This is cheap soap-opera material with nice artwork and lush strings playing in the background to try to heighten the poignancy so we feel we’re watching something arty and profound before getting to the sex. I’m embarrassed that it took me this long to figure it out. Next week they’re resetting the story with another girl. Amagami SS does the same thing, only far better.

Otome Youkai Zakuro 6 is mainly talk. There are hints of threat, but they are either memories or hints of what’s to come.

Zakuro has her first cookie.

Much of the talk has to do with the aftermath of the Black Widow affair. We start with Hanadate, who has the decency to be embarrassed by how he handled himself and, to make up for it, offers the Spirit Affairs people cookies. You might say this is a cheap way out, but the spirits have never eaten cookies before. Meanwhile, Zakuro is bothered by the Black Widow’s mentioning her mother but switches moods from withdrawn to joyful by the tiniest things. I honestly don’t know what’s going on with that. Kei later tells Susukihotaru that he believes the joy is forced, but I don’t believe so. Not all of it, anyway. Her reaction to Hanadate’s name and the first taste of a cookie were too spontaneous.

Ganryu feels unworthy of a cookie.

Then there’s the inevitable discussion between Ganryu and the twins. He feels he has let them down, so they proceed to tell him the story of how they were first rescued and taken in by Kushimatsu, where they met Zakuro. The moral being they no longer want to remain hidden in the dark while someone they love is taken away from them, so that’s why they protect Ganryu. I can’t see how this can cheer the boy up. It surely can’t get rid of Ganryu’s sense of failure to protect them, be it from honor or simple male pride.

There are no cookies in eerie flashback scenes.

This thought of returning the favor links to the later conversation between Kei and Susukihotaru. Zakuro’s presence makes Susu’s abilities stronger; she wishes she could do the same for Zakura. In fact, a lot of people want to help Zakura, but her troubles come through memories, nightmares and odd visions where she is being pulled away. She doesn’t understand it, and Kushimatsu won’t tell her. But, for this episode at least, every time it might be brought up something happens. Kei comes to her room, and we think it’s to talk with her, but all he wants to do is get a kite out a tree from her balcony. Later she climbs the tree herself, hears her mother warning her, slips, and Kei catches her, breaking the mood. For this moment, at least, Kei is able to help Zakura.

You know a series is working when they hand you an episode of mostly talk that’s not dull. On the other hand I wish they’d get to the main story they keep hinting at. I’m getting a little tired of the tree climbing dream and the Zakuro walking around in a trance sequences. I think Zakuro is, too.

Fives: Imouto, Zakuro

After Ore no Imouto 5 I’m wondering just how long Kyousuke is going to demean himself for his sister, especially one who keeps acting as selfishly as she does. The episode also hints at why he’s doing it.

Returning from Comiket they run into Ayase, Kirino’s best friend, who discovers her otaku side for the first time. At this point I’m not sure whether she’s offended because of that part or because Kirino’s been lying to her about it. There’s something not quite right about Ayase’s feelings here. Exposure to incorrect, biased media about otaku is forgiveable, but her insisting that Kirino give up the games for her sake strikes me as the act of an emotionally needy girl who must be loved without distraction—or else.

So now they’re no longer friends. Naturally, Kirino blames her brother. Without a reason to, he tries to repair the damage, even to Saori and Kuroneko, innocent bystanders in the first scene. Ayase remains the big problem. Kyousuke confronts Kirino about it and we get a typical unforced but overly-long scene where Kirino spits out the line above. They’ve lived for years indifferent to each other, so what IS he doing now? Maybe he’s trying to make up for lost time? Later Kyousuke manages an answer.

You never know how Kyousuke's interventions will turn out.

He talks to Ayase again and provides some further detail about a so-called otaku attack (which doesn’t change the situation much. What does one isolated incident prove?). Then up pops Kirino, who delivers her own impassioned (and too long) speech about what she is. Still no luck. Ayase still can’t accept the hobby. Step in again, big brother! And he does, with another speech from Mars that would normally get him locked up or moved to a different household at least. But in the middle of it he mentions the games Kirino has made him play, that they’ve allowed the two, for the first time, to develop a bond. The one true statement in a speech filled with incest talk. So it ends happily, except that Kyousuke has made himself even more of a social pariah, at least among his sister’s friends. I don’t know whether to tell him “good job!” or not.

In Otome Youkai Zakuro the gang gets to go to a fancy dress ball to track down some sort of spider woman. But that’s almost a side point here.

Susukihotaru and the twins are excited (and nervous) because they get to wear western-style clothes. Zakuro is pissed off for the same reason. And off they go. I had thought that this episode would feature Ganryu and the twins, and there is plenty of that, but each pairing gets some time of their own. Riken and Susu get the least, but they had an entire episode last week. The most interesting comes from Kei and Zakuro, the latter being crazy about Hanadata (who ironically is the next one bewitched by the black widow), the former, jealous. In a nice turnaround it’s Kei who rescues Zakuro from some bigoted soldiers.

Spirit Affairs representatives on patrol.

As for the trio, they’re supposed to be keeping an eye out for the black widow using flower petals, but they seem to be spending more time goofing off. It gets more frustrating when we know Hanadata has already been led away. And when they get the sign they dally some more. It’s one of my least favorite things when characters who should be racing to the scene stop and talk about things not important to the matter at hand. Railgun and Asobi ni Iku Yo are good examples. One good thing comes out of it. Ganryu learns that the girls get hurt if their petals are destroyed. His first thought is to keep them out of danger. Noble of him. But …

Ganryu might be noble, and brave, but against a giant spider made of bones his size and strength are no match, and it’s Bonburi and Hozuki who have to rescue him. It’s a telling and humiliating moment for a young officer who has nothing but noble intentions and aspirations. I wonder what the show will do next with it. Oh, the others are waylaid by those folks in robes, and the dying black widow spouts some prophetic lines about Zakuro’s past, proving the show remembers there IS an overall story arc. Apart from the dallying instead of acting, this was a good episode.

Fours: Bakuman, Zakuro

Four episodes in, Bakuman seems stuck in its prelude.

Saiko and the G-pen.

Which is a little unfair. Saiko is indeed working hard at his drawing. Getting used to the pen his uncle could not master, giving Akito (which is to say, us) a lecture on how a manga page is put together, backgrounds, sketches, screen tone. Indeed, the episode’s first part felt like an informational lecture. This is not a bad thing. I like to know how things work and I don’t get bored when I’m told. One of the things we learn is there is a lot to learn. The more he realizes this the more awed Saiko becomes, and more determined to work, even if it means not studying. Even Akito admonishes him for this.

The boys learn that a Tezuka prize winner is younger than them.

Adding to the pressure of learning and time management they realize that there are plenty of other would-be artists out there, and some of them have a head start. This makes them more inspired. Pride! Effort! Luck! They agree to enter an easy high school (in spite of Akita’s grades) so they’ll have more time to work. Saiko tells inspiring artist/editor stories. They plan to submit something by the end of summer. The trouble is, it’s all talk. We HAVE seen Saiko at work, the trouble is that a man hunched over a drawing board is not very dramatic to look at, so all we get is quick little scenes while cheerful music plays. It’s hard to get a sense of their struggle, especially when they’ve barely started.

The other problem is that what they have shown us is a lot of inspirational speeches and shop-talk. The romance set up so early in the series gets shunted aside except for one scene, though it’s a nice one. And we can laugh at poor Saiko who can’t talk to Miho except indirectly, but he can’t even get up the nerve to ask her for her email. The funny romantic bit in episode one and the family argument in episode two have been about the only bits of actual drama in the series so far. On the other hand, they have a specific goal now. Maybe things will get moving. And if they DO decide to show us endless scenes of Saiko working, I’ll watch it if I learn something.

Last week it was Zakuro and Kei, this time on Otome Youkai Zakuro it’s Susukihotaru and Riken’s turn to spend some quality time together, bonding and fighting each other with swords. I must say, for two quiet, shy people, they move pretty fast.

The couple, along with the kid and the blondes (who get their turn next week) set out to investigate a mysterious sword currently in the hands of a sultry shop owner, Aya and Mugi, her cute little spirit assistant. That a human has hired a spirit is refreshing to the ministry members because, as we saw just before they arrived, the townspeople still look at people like Susukihotaru with suspicion (but it provides us with bonding moment #1). Susukihotaru sees the sword, freaks, and we learn a little about her powers: she can sense thoughts and emotions in people and certain inanimate objects.

This kind of character is problematic. They are, of course, useful members of any team but their role is a passive one. What’s more, they’re always quiet and, perhaps inevitably, sympathetic to everything, i.e., they’re usually dull. Susukihotaru is no exception. What makes it worse here is that Riken is both laconic and a gentleman. So we get a lot of scenes of Susukihotaru being flustered and Riken looking on, concerned but not moving the story along because he’s being respectful. Happily, the obviously evil sword livens things up.

So the sword possesses its wielder and causes them to murder. Two things managed to snap its control. It’s a good scene. Things Susukihotaru has witnessed before pop up, and she learns about Riken’s feelings for her, whatever they are. So now we have a budding loving couple. That settles that. It certainly took less time than I expected. As for the big story arc concerning Zakuro and that those damn persimmons, that gets shoved to the side this time.