Ozma finale, Space Bros 4, Moretsu 16, Natsuiro 3

Ozma‘s mini-epic comes to a close. The last episode had a cut feel to it. It was too short to convey all the cosmic stuff effectively, but since they didn’t have the budget anyway, this comes as no surprise. Most of it could be predicted. Sam, Maya, and Mimay get “eaten” by Ozma (which we now get to see full-bodied. Any surprise it looks like a gigantic whale?)–my god, it’s full of stars! Maya merges with Ozma while Sam screams “MAAAYYYYAAA!” a lot. Some exposition about Ideal Children dying out and the next life force to inhabit this planet, which we already knew or guessed. Meanwhile Bainas gets ready with the weapon that will, I guess, capture Ozma. The bad guys are dropping depth charges which do nothing but piss Ozma off, so they’re pretty much destroyed. Also Gido, now returned as Dick, locks himself in some chamber or another which detaches so he can ram the great whale-machine. There’s also a tearful goodbye bit between Dick and Bainas which didn’t have nearly the effect it would have if the series had had any time to develop that angle. And then, frankly, I don’t know what the hell happened. But we get the expected end, glowing tendrils leading to flowers and fully-formed fish and a voice-over about mankind’s role on the planet. Roll the credits. Ozma might have done better for itself if it had been longer, but none of the ideas or stories they gave us were particularly new, so maybe it’s just as well. And so this six-episode, would-be epic comes to a close. Let’s move on.

Mutta's interview wasn't like this, it only felt like it.

Space Brothers 4 works because it does the best job yet of showing Mutta’s state of mind in a competitive, career and life-changing situation, and we can follow along because we’ve all been in the same situation. Even if we don’t intend to go into space some day, we’ve all had the pressures of facing the Dreaded Interview and the emotions that come with it. We’ve already seen how Mutta’s thoughts can be somewhat inappropriate for someone who’s supposed to be as heroic as an astronaut (not admiring a picture of Hibito because he’s weightless, but because he’s got two babes floating with him), but of course we’re actually all like that. We also see it in Serika as she leaves her last interview thinking about food. Now we get to see Mutta as he thinks he nailed the last interview, then deciding he failed because of one possibly botched question, changing his mind from one second to the next. The only thing constant is his rediscovered desire to go into space and the steely will that appears in him when he thinks this.

Cosplaying high school girl pirates!

Once you figure it out, Moretsu Pirates can get pretty predictable. You know that Marika will be presented with a challenge, and that she will overcome it with only minor glitches and/or an embarrassing incident. In other words, nothing dangerous is really going to happen. This episode, with the Bentenmaru temporarily run by giggling schoolgirls, it’s just as well. In fact, it starts this way. Last week Marika announced they would jump in spite of problems with the engine. This episode begins with the girls eating. Then the crew is briefed on the procedure; any one of a hundred things can go wrong. The crew is worried. I’m not. And after a rocky but successful docking the crew gets to the part that might worry you the most, the actual piracy. But how could the passengers and crew complain about being raided by a bunch of cute girls in cosplay outfits? The Bentenmaru should have charged extra. Even the sneaky behavior of Lynn, the new Yacht Club president, turns out to be more or less benign. Hey! But in the previews people are actually shooting at them! Maybe we’ll get some real action! Or not.

Yuusuke needs to work on his stalking technique.

I was worried about Natsuiro Kiseki after the endless running last episode, but #3 is better told and more interesting. Natsumi’s little brother Daiki’s buddy Yuusuke happened to see them flying back in episode one. I’m actually a little impressed that the show bothered to take that into consideration, frankly. Yuusuke is supposed to be smart and all, but based on what he saw he is convinced that not only did they fly but that the girls are witches. This doesn’t go down well with Daiki, and now the girls try to patch up the relationship. Which leads us to the thing that maybe interests me the most about this series: the big rock. I’m having a good time trying to figure out why it grants some wishes and not others. The girls feel the same way but have less fun about it as the rock fails to deliver at the show’s big moment. Yet it stuck Yuka and Rinko together (revenge for last time) when the other girls wished it to. Also, it let them go after they have a chat with Daiki about his problem. So why did it refuse in the end? Because they had already made that wish? Because seeing the girls flying for witnesses could be a breach of contract they made not to talk about the rock to outsiders? Yes, I’m talking a lot about the rock, but I will add that the girls are beginning to grow on me, too. Except Rinko needs more screentime. She hasn’t done anything yet.

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Nazo no Kanojo X 2, Ozma 5, Space Bros 3, Acchi Kocchi 2

In Nazo no Kanojo X 2, Tsubaki and Urabe are dating, which leads to conflicts as to what that actually means. It leads to some disappointment moments from Tsubaki. Here he’s got a girlfriend whose drool he is addicted to and who has told him that they will eventually have sex. But this isn’t good enough for him. He wants a girlfriend he can do the usual romantic things with, even if he isn’t sure what those are and has to repeatedly ask his friend Ueno. This is a step backward. I kept muttering “Tsubaki! don’t screw this up! You’ve got the coolest, weirdest girlfriend in town! Normal high school romantic techniques won’t work! Make up your own rules!” Yet he tries, and gets rebuffed. What was that hug all about, anyway? However, we do learn that Urabe can put those scissors in her panties to good use, i.e., she can defend herself, the drum solo being a nice touch. But you get the idea that Urabe herself is putting out feelers, testing Tsubaki, and that culminates in another–ick–drool scene a little more intimate than the usual, and another one after the dream, well, I’m surprised the two can still stand each other.

Nice shot Bainas!

Ozma manages to make a pretty entertaining episode out of its old-school cliches. We still get little moments of stupidity, like a shot of the cook, the least important character at the moment, going “What? What?” over and over, but mostly the characters reacting in character to a major crisis, like discovering an underground paradise under all that sand–okay, I didn’t say it made any sense. The battles and rescues were ridiculous–good catch, Mimei!–but in the spirit of the show. And they threw in a plot-whammy I didn’t expect when Gido is revealed to be the long lost Dick. As for the yet-unexposed Gido and his monomaniacal speech, it was really no different from Luscinia’s in Last Exile Fam. The main difference is that this show is only six episodes. So, yes, revelations that work (and I didn’t even mention Maya’s), a fresh environment, interesting questions, it looks like this dumb show might actually have a satisfying conclusion.

In Space Brothers the second round exams are from from over, and most of the time is spent watching Mutta go through the humiliating physical exams and mutter about how he’ll never make it. Plus, there is the added pressure he has because Hibito is already an astronaut, so he not only has to live up to his younger brother’s achievements but fight the rumor that his brother is somehow helping him. He fights it by not responding, happily, and then overachieving in the lung capacity test, something Hibito couldn’t help him with, and proving he still has some physical abilities superior to people ten years younger. Then we turn to Itou, the girl, who seems to excel in everything, and, I wonder, romantic interest. Hard to say about that. When she catches him in an embarrassing moment (really, not all that embarrassing. He could have just explained it), she’s reminded of her father. So probably not. Meanwhile I’m wondering how long they’re going to take with the examination portion of the series. I’m happy they’re not glossing over anything, but there is a limit to the number of scenes I can take of Mutta worrying about screwing up.

And I still can’t figure out why I don’t hate Acchi Kocchi. I have some ideas. I actually think it’s cute. In spite of its leisurely feel it actually moves along quickly, never lingering (much) on the cuteness on the screen because they have more to fit in. The episode was over before I was full. Mayoi cutting into the chocolate filled cat-cake was actually funny. Oh, I don’t know. For the record, in episode 2 they stop by Sakaki’s sister Miiko’s cafe to dry off and taste-test cakes. Then it’s valentine’s day and everyone eats more cake. And candies with frog in them. Yet I’m still looking forward to next week’s episode.

Space Bros 2, Moretsu 14, Ozma 4

Like the first episode, Space Brothers 2 does some things extraordinarily well and stumbles on other things.

Meet Sharon, Mutta's cool aunt.

First, Mutta’s application has been accepted, but the odds of passing all the tests and the interviews are so small that he decides not to follow through. This is a very human decision to make. But he’s reminded of his dreams when he visits his aunt Sharon, who has an observatory on her third floor, owns a number of musical instruments that she can apparently actually play, and constantly wears a lab coat. In other words, she’s cool as hell. Mutta and Hibito used to hang out there all the time, and I can understand why. But the actual scene between Mutta and Sharon made me scratch my head. I wasn’t expecting a inspiring speech or a flash of revelation, but when Mutta leaves he’s focused on astronaut work again. Well, maybe it was what Sharon’s partner says: Mutta always shows up when he’s got something on his mind, i.e., he hadn’t given up on his dream, he just needed some affirmation. It’s not like his ridiculous mother gives him any.

And his chair is wonky, too.

But there are other questionable things. Mutta gets a job as a mechanic. Turns out he’s a whiz at fixing cars. Why didn’t he try for a job like that in the first place after he got fired? It’s not like the work he was applying for was any more dignified. It’s as if the series was dead serious about the space stuff and just cobbled together everything else without much thought. And we have a pre-interview scene where he accidentally flushes his cell phone down the toilet. What the hell was that about? Never mind. I wish they had spent more time showing the testing and interview process, because I was curious about it. Instead they focus on Mutta simply getting through it, and introducing two new characters, potential friends and rivals, but they throw in a gag when Mutta is caught staring at the girl. The creators treat most situations assuming we’re adults, so it’s sad when they suddenly go juvenile on us. On the other hand, the loose screw bit was interesting, partly because the guy who played the trick doesn’t explain why he did it. This whole show is five steps forward, one step back.

Moretsu Pirates runs true to form, too. It brings up a potentially dangerous situation which really turns out to be a lark. We think there’s serious danger when Misa hears a noise, pulls out her gun and sees two dozen eyes in the dark, whereupon Marika doesn’t hear from the Bentenmaru for too long (why didn’t she try calling THEM?) but no, it’s cute little monkeykitties! Oh, but they carry a malicious man-made virus, oh no! But all it does is give you a bad cold … The whole episode is like that. Marika has to recruit new crew and do one job or they’ll lose their license, so she goes to a spaceport disguised as an businesswoman and talks to unpleasant-looking people in seedy joints. She’s not alone because Gruier is tagging along, but I still worried for her safety, especially when an especially big scary one offers his services, oh no! But it’s really Chiaki’s dad Kenjo! And so on. On the other hand I rather like the idea that the yacht club going to do the job, in fact I should have seen it coming. I’m curious what sort of problems they’ll cause. It will probably work out like the rest of the show and seem very serious but turn out to be nothing at all.

Bainas gets poetical during battle.

Four episodes in and Ozma seems to be going through the motions of making an adventure show. They needed a scene where the hero runs off half-cocked. They needed a battle (which wasn’t bad, actually, though repetitive with those sonar pings and torpedoes that always just miss), for emotion they added another Bainas flashback to her boyfriend, Dick. But it doesn’t add up to much. We had the Dick thing figured out already. Sam’s moment of half-cockedness ends for naught when the enemy ship just dives and leaves them there. As I said, the battle wasn’t bad, a nice battle of wits actually, but the ending was simply bizarre. Both ships surface and the captains face off … for what? The only interesting thing was Gido’s decision to gain leverage on his commander by letting Maya (who’s not just a queen, but a goddess) take the ship where she wants, i.e., to an Ozma place, I assume. Again, the only character having any fun was Bainas; she got to shout orders with that great voice she’s got and managed to bamboozle Gido. Everyone else just grits their teeth and follows her orders, or play the stereotypes handed them.

Ozma 2-3, Moretsu Pirates 13

Ozma‘s no-frills storytelling rolls along, bumpily.

Not in space, not underwater, but in SAND!

Episode 2 is mostly about the Theseus Empire or Federation, well, Theseus ships commanded by the masked Gido trying to track down the Baldaros, which has escaped with Maya, while Bainas, its captain, tries to escape. Suddenly, in this world of sand and spaceships, we have a submarine combat scenario. Gido launches detectors and tries to use sonar while the Baldaros tries silence and drifting about in underground reefs of rock to mess up the signal. Then something like depth charges are dropped, and anchor things. It’s all very tense and we get lots of threatening horns and tympani punctuations while we watch the good guys sweat it out. Sweat being the word. Under the sand they can’t diffuse heat unless they keep moving, so it starts to get very hot down there. I once read a Clarke novel where they had this problem, but then proved that the heat would peak and get no worse, but apparently no one working on this show has read any hard SF. This is all “transition fields” and clones. Anything to explain away the story. Well, it WAS a tense moment.

By answering truthfully, our hero Sam proves what an idiot he is.

Meanwhile Maya, who we’re told though we already know is some unique being, one that doesn’t like extremely hot submarines (sandmarines? No. Subsanders? Subdeserters? Nah.), falls ill, mainly so that the doctor could discover these things about her. While she recovers we have a mess-hall fight that puts the “old” in “old-school,” and meanwhile Maya vanishes after Sam stupidly shows her some intact hovercraft at a shelter known as, er, the “Shelter.” You may have noticed that I’m growing a little annoyed with this show.

A bit more budget and this could have been an excellent scene.

It isn’t the concept of “Ideal Children,” i.e. modified clones running the empire, or the sub-sand warfare; that’s all typical SF-fantasy stuff. It’s the hackneyed way they’re presenting it. Maya, fleeing in that hovercraft, muttering clich├ęs, that whole mess-hall fight, the crew’s stock lines, the bad attempts at humor, often make this show hard to watch. It’s a shame, because when they get to a big moment they generally do a decent job. For instance, the moment when Gido retakes Maya and it’s standoff between Sam and some armed guards, when Ozma, apparently called for by Maya, decides to appear. Here, the only badness is in the animation quality. On the other hand, the series is now half-over, and tolerable enough on the whole for me to keep watching.

Taking their time on a lazy evening of a filler episode.

On the other hand Moretsu Pirates 13 is a between-the-arcs filler episode where nothing much happens at all. You expect some plot-seeding, but apart from Marika receiving her father’s ring (which can circumvent Bentenmaru’s security) from Gruier, I didn’t see much that will matter in the future. Gruier and Grunhilde bond with Marika a little. I suspected Marika invited them over to learn more about her father, but they don’t even mention that, or it’s forgotten after Grunhilde eats some hot mustard. Mami makes her a new pirate uniform because Marika’s a celebrity for her hand in Serenity’s new peace, yet the yacht club has trouble recruiting. They do get four, and since we’re told their names we know they’ll do something eventually. Yeah, very little of anything. Since the show isn’t six episodes long, the characters can relax once in a while.

Nisemonogatari ends (I think) early, Ozma begins early, Bakuman plods along

I’ve seen other blogs call Nisemonogatari 11 the final episode, and it certainly acts like one, but ANN says the series is twelve episodes long but elsewhere says it’s ended. Don’t ask me.

In terms of the story, this is actually a good thing.

Episode 11 feels like an ending from its start. The conversations are straightforward, not sidetracked. After important background information about the phoenix, actually a cuckoo, where we learn that Tsuhiki didn’t displace anybody to be there (important because it means Tsuhiki isn’t an imposter, she started in the womb like she is), Araragi meets Karen at the destroyed front of their house. He asks if she would die for him, or her sister. Of course! she says. And so would he: a key point for later. He goes up to where the reattached Tsuhiki is sleeping and kisses her awake which leads to sputterings and talk of thefts of first kisses and the like. Normal stuff, nothing weird about it at all. Even the kiss feels like a simple joke. Again, no digressions. He’s just checking up on her before going to settle the matter of Yozuru. I don’t recall a time in this series when Araragi’s been so calm and single-minded. He simply talks about family. Another key point for later.

This sense of purpose continues on the bike ride. Shinobou says she might help out. She likes Tsuhiki, to the point she even remembers her name. Everything is pointing at the confrontation, and there will be no conversations to slow things down. Oh, there’s plenty of talking. Yozuru talks throughout her one-sided fight with Araragi. But we’ve heard her speech before. She’s a Good Guy. She’s trying to eradicate an intruder in this physical world, and even if Araragi doesn’t mind the intruder, it doesn’t mean his feelings should take precedence. What about his family? What would they say? Araragi’s too busy getting beaten beyond recognition to say much.

Then it’s Araragi’s turn. The other early talking point comes up. This is a fight that must be won with talk. It would be a disservice to the show if it was settled with fisticuffs. It’s a little disappointing, but Araragi’s never been the strongest talker. He points out that the people Yozuru claims would be hurt by learning the truth aren’t “other people,” they’re family. It all boils down to that. What’s unspoken is that Yozuru is also forcing her beliefs on others by trying to kill Tsuhiki. Anyway, Yozuru has no real answer. She mutters some lines about the perceived value of imitations to sidestep the issue and drags Yotsugi off with her. The good guys win.

As I said, it feels like a final episode, maybe it is. We even get a nice beach scene with Araragi and Senjougahara at the very end, maybe because it would be wrong to end the series without at least one last look at her. If it is, well, I’m pleased. This series rambled more than Bakemonogatari, which rambled plenty. There was even less plot, but I don’t think many fans of the show watched because of the events. They watched for the fast, often bewildering talk, and for the equally quick and bewildering direction (Shinbo!) and the beautiful artwork. For a series where so little actually happens, so much actually did that it often left me both tired and energized from watching. I wouldn’t mind a third season. Or another episode.

If it IS the final episode, it’s a little early in the season. And next we have an early start. Ozma 1 shows up weeks before the new season is actually supposed to begin. And it’s about as different from Nisemonogatari as you can get. Watching one after the other nearly gave me whiplash. We’re talking old school here. The character designs look about twenty years old. The music is heroic and overblown. The story is straightforward adventure. I’m ready. Bring it on!

After some narration about how everything’s all dry now we get an OP of a guy driving around the desert in a floating hoverthing. He sees a woman in another floating hoverthing being chased by three enormous hoverthings with guns. The chase is cut off by something called an Ozma, a sand whale, which rises up and wreaks confusion by being huge, and in the confusion the guy rescues the girl. And worry enters my head. The story isn’t being badly told here, but it was impossible to tell what was going on, or how much danger the girl was in, only that the guy grabbed her hand and they’re flying away.

Never mind. We get back to the traditional storytelling as the guy (Sam) brings the girl (Maya) to his ship at Port Oase. For a wasteland, the town looks like a nice place to live. Everyone freaks out when they get a look at her, not least Mimay, a spunky girl who’s obviously Sam’s future love interest–until Maya shows up. Everyone wants to know “Where did she come from?” We at home already know Maya’s on the run from the Federation, or Empire, or whatever. You figure someone on that ship would put two and two together, especially when the bad guys show up in the town in force to take her back.

The best character in the show so far.

Which brings us to the Captain. She thinks Maya will bring trouble–she’s right. She’s also headstrong enough not to let that from keeping Maya safe, either from a sense of justice or because it’ll piss the bad guys off. She’s easily the most fun character we’ve seen so far. She’s cynical yet uses tarot cards to predict the future. She doesn’t take shit from anyone. She also wears a short skirt and stockings like Ririchihaya’s. And she is utterly confident. ZThere’s a moment when the bad guys are firing at her, near misses left and right, and she simply looks at them with contempt, swings her cape around, and leaves. This is what Marika will be after fifteen years of hard travel, ill-advised love affairs, and plenty of death. And so they make their escape–by diving into the sand. The Federation or Empire or whatever had no inkling they could go underground. Hmph, some bad guys. But again, the action scenes are too confusing. We don’t know what’s happening. Only lots of gunfire and wind. But otherwise this show could be fun. I like the old look, and it’s only six episodes. So why not?

You know it's serious when the boss uses the Gendou pose. Points off for no light reflecting on his glasses.

Bakuman 23 looks optimistic early on and becomes rather a nice study in grounding your optimism. The boys’ new story, Perfect Crime Club, impresses everyone who looks at it. It’s hard not to get fired up about their chances. The episode even takes extra time showing us the first few pages (which is sort of a giveaway if you figure they wouldn’t waste the time if the idea’s going to go nowhere). But you must remember their special circumstances. Perfect Crime Club can’t be just good enough for serialization, it has to be better than Eiji’s current series, or at least be more popular. And who can say? The boys are experienced enough, have been burned enough, not to let their confidence get the better of them. They can’t even enjoy their christmas dinner because they’re waiting for the serialization meeting results. As for the meeting, Sasaki shows that he was dead serious about making these conditions, making the meeting a far more tense affair than anyone expected, even if you’re trying to be realistic. Meanwhile, I wonder what’s going through his head. Yes, he made these conditions for a reason, but now he’s got a property that might be a winner, yet it might fail because it doesn’t win enough. What will the boys do instead? Take it to a rival company and make it a hit there? Not good business. Tune in next week …