Mawaru Penguindrum Finale, where I nearly throw up my hands.

I should have known. I wanted certain things in the finale of Mawaru Penguindrum and I knew there were things I wouldn’t get. I wanted craziness, wild action, I wanted a rock ‘n roll fight, something on the level of Kanba’s chase for the hat in that early episode. I got very little of that. And only one of my predictions came true: the finale was almost incomprehensible. Well, mostly.

The subtitle is accidental and misleading, but I couldn't resist.

Let’s go to the very end, after the transfer of fate, Ringo’s punishment being taken by Shouma, that “scorpion fire” phrase (I don’t want to even try and figure that out), to the point where Ringo comes over to eat with Himari. Good friends. Uncle and Auntie are late, so it’s just them. No brothers, just a stuffed bear and a strange note. And outside, the boys, much younger, walk by talking about the apple being a reward for those chosen to die for love. The apple that Kanba cut in two so that he and Shouma could both survive in their boxes, also the penguindrum, Shouma’s heart, which, when given to Himari, splits in half (And I had been wondering during the box scenes why Kanba didn’t just split the apple in two and give Shouma half. When he finally does it felt like an anticlimax), and let’s not forget the apple curry the girls are eating. Anyway, it’s rather a deep thing for two boys to be discussing, and then they go off … somewhere. The penguins, carrying bags of something, follow. I am assuming that they are now dead, or in another existance somewhere, taking on the curse and sparing the girls they love. Or so I think. But why? Is this their punishment? That’s the thing that bugs me. I can never accept that these kids deserve or need to be punished for anything. I also don’t accept the concept of fate. And why are the boys the ones to be “punished,” if indeed they are?

“Let us share the fruit of fate!” I knew Double-H’s song would come to play here. But after all we had seen, I felt a letdown when I learned the great, cosmic phrase that would start the transfer of fate, the uncoupling of fate cars, to the sidetracks of fate, or to become dining cars of fate, whatever. Just as I wondered why Kanba didn’t split the apple in half to begin with, I was thinking “that’s so simple. Why didn’t they recognize it before?” When you bring everything together into one simple phrase, it’s probably going to sound too simplistic. Yet, of course, I wanted something like this, because I wanted to understand what was going on. What does it add up to? They had forgotten what they had done for each other in the past, but not what had been done for them? They needed to be reminded that they were a unit that needs the love of each of them to survive this fate nonsense (which I’m just to declare is Ordinary Life)? But if that’s the case, why do they wind up split apart like that? Ringo was perfectly willing to share their pain, but, out of love, Shouma rejects her offer. Himari isn’t given a choice, either. And my mind just said “Well, the APPLE was split apart, so why can’t they?” and so now I have to shoot myself.

I could go on, watch it a couple more times, write more things like that last sentence, but I’m going to give it a rest. At some point I’ll go back and rewatch it, and things will make more sense now that I have the whole story behind me. But not yet. Mawaru Penguin is an amazing work, one of the best anime series of the year, but its challenging themes and strange imagery also work against it. It’s beautiful and entertaining, but HARD in terms of satisfaction, the way some great works of art are. Oddly enough, about the only complaint about Madoka that I agree with was that it at times felt distant toward the characters, that it was hard to emphasize with them. That’s often how I felt about Penguindrum. Maybe it’s my fault. Watching it every week I would get so caught up in trying to entangle all the images and words that it often became more of an exercise than an entertainment. Still, I’m glad, and somewhat amazed, that with all the talk about anime’s decline I’ve heard in the past couple years, you can still get a show this beautiful and difficult on the air. I look forward to the rewatch.

One more.

Penguindrum 23, Working’!! 11, Horizon 11

I’m not sure why, but Mawarau Penguindrum 23 seemed to have absolutely no sound to it. Okay, voices talking (Sanetoshi’s low voice especially), the alarm noise used to introduce flashbacks, and clocks ticking, and a song during the closing credits, but everything else around them felt completely silent, like unimportant things had been stripped away. The episode was tense and sorrowful, although, again, no one is actually dead yet.

The first scene flat-out tells us what is going on. Sanetoshi was going to kill a lot of people sixteen years ago, but Momoka stopped him, at some expense to herself, and thus were born two penguinhats and two dark bunnies. As an aside, why one black hat and one white one, while you get two black bunnies? Anyway, this itself feels like the sort of fairy tale they were banding about many episodes ago. Maybe because it’s far in the past that the story’s rough edges have smoothed down to something more universal. If that’s the case we have to assume the fairy tale hasn’t ended, since the hats and bunnies aren’t done yet.

Interesting comment ...

We learn a few things and see a few that seem to break the show’s rules. Masako dies but is brought back by Sanetoshi, simply to prove a point. But she seems aware of what happened and refuses to accept it, only that Kanba stop listening to Sanetoshi. Kanba, apparently, is now the lost one of the family that he now denies having, well, apart from Himari. Meanwhile, Shouma, in vigil over Himari’s anticipated deathbed, has a dream where Himari articulates this. It’s as if Shouma has replaced Kanba as Himari’s rescuer. While in my mind I’m thinking “Wrong person to ask. Shouma hasn’t done anything all series.” Indeed, Kanba shows up and dispatches (but does not kill) Kanba rather easily, making me wonder what’s going to happen next week, when it’s down to him.

Tick ... tick ... tick ...

Indeed, Kanba/Sanetoshi seem in full command of their battles. Ringo is stopped. Both halves of the diary are burned (unless Yuri pulled another fast one, but I doubt it. I think her role in this series is done). Maybe it’s the ease with which Kanba/Sanetoshi achieve their aims that give the episode its serious, silent feel. There was little visually to surprise or delight us. They have showed us all the symbols already. There was only the completely unexpected (and, frankly, wrong-feeling) moment where the penguinhat actually talks to Shouma. There is no one left to speak for it; I guess it had to talk on its own. That’s the only reason I can think of. Next week is the finale. I have no idea what is going to happen, but I’m hoping to find out what the hell a penguindrum is, and for more life and energy. And more sound.

This serious-looking moment is actually silly as all getout.

Working’!! 11 spends some time with Satou, oh, and with Yamada looking for her stuffed bear. It’s a typical Working’!! instance of misunderstanding. He tells Mitsuki to leave Yachiyo alone, which Yachiyo overhears and assumes means Satou’s confessing to Mitsuki, I think. So both Satou and Yachiyo go around in a funk for a while, long enough that we pay a visit to see how Takanashi’s sisters are all doing (fine). And another conversation where both parties discuss something the other doesn’t know anything about, Working’!!’s specialty, and it’s resolved in that everything is the same as it was before. One thing to remember about this show is that nothing much really changes, unless they introduce a new character. I am relieved, however that the episode is not only not Inami-centric, but that we barely see her at all. Come to think of it, whatever happened to the normal girl, the one with glasses? The best moments, sadly, have nothing to do with the main story, and involve the sisters, and the bit where everyone just walks away from Yamada.

The Pope!

Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon 11 has a few battles of more or less equal inanity. The first one has Mushashi’s God of War (two girls) attack the bad guys’ massed army by flinging something at it. It seems to work. Bodies fly everywhere. Everyone else on that side just stand around watching as Neito Argent Loup Mito Tsudaira (cal her Mito. Her title is even longer) finally lands. They continue to stand there as Mito, the enemy, walks right past them and up to Toori, sho gives her noogies of appreciation. She goes back to fighting the army, who JUST STAND THERE, until Pope President Innocentius of KPA Italia tells them they weren’t the good soldiers anyway. Here’s his real army. And top prove it, he casts a spell using his mortal armament, the “armament of mortal sin for lust, stateis Porneia,” that seems to tak away all the enemies’ strength. I bet that other army wished they had that kind of support. So Toori signs a quick contract that endows him with 1/4 of the ether in Musashi, provided his offering of happiness remains. He can’t be unhappy. Since I’ve never seen him without a smile on his face, this should not be a problem. He plugs into the good guys, literally, and they start pushing the enemy back. Meanwhile Masazumi, (botched sex change, remember?) challenges the Pope to a one-on-one, and some other guy takes on Galileo, who has armed himself with “Ptolemaic theory” defense, but is undone by punching by the months of the year. I didn’t quite get that. Oh, and Futayo takes on Tachibana Muneshige again, but loses this time. So now there’s a big gun pointed at Mushashi; there’s a lot of talk about what this means, but a big gun pointed at something is always serious business. That’s all we need to know. Or want to know.

Penguindrum 22

Late in many series we have the episode where all the bad stuff happens at once. Mawaru Penguindrum 22 is that episode. But on the other hand, I’m not sure we can start counting corpses. This show likes to tease too much. And too many people are unaccounted for.

Like Shouma, the one who’s done little but watch and have things done to him, and who we see in a box at the end of the episode? It’s about time he did something besides accept his curse. Sanetoshi says that that’s the only way to save Himari. Maybe that’s true, maybe not. Sanetoshi’s appearance with the two behind him (who are, let’s remember, NOT his mother and father)(I think …) suggests that everyone involved in this is part of the same conspiracy to cause mayhem on an unfair world, but neither the world or the conspirators have been very fair to Shouma recently. Will he take Sanetoshi’s advice and be useless for the final two episodes? And speaking of people still having a role to play, how about the girls in Double-H who show up first thing to see Himari and leave with Ringo a gift for Himari? Then they leave. Surely that’s not the only thing that’s going to happen with them. Unless the fact that they have acknowedged Himari as a friend was the point of the trip to the colorful little Mika house. And the fact that Ringo’s still hanging around, even though she has nothing whatsoever to do now, suggests she’ll be doing something active later on. One forgotten character who plays her role out is Yuri’s former lover, who stabs Keiju for no reason. Maybe the creators felt they had a loose end to tie up. Keiju apparently will survive, after his comment about how kids should be told that they are loved.

But these are all side notes. The real story, of course, is Kanba, and the two women who have both been sisters to him, and not, trying to stop him from what I consider to be the real curse, the thought that an individual can and should act on their own for the behalf of the ones they love, even if that causes great pain to innocents. First it’s Himari’s turn, hugging him from behind (as Masako will later) and trying to talk him out of it, which never works. Later, it’s Masako, who follows him to a secret lair and is discovered with him by the police.

The contrast is interesting. Himari is truly defenseless. She expects to die and has come to accept it. She hates the thought that Kanba is wants to save her by doing something terrible. But if words won’t persuade him than there is nothing she can do. She makes a prayer and finds herself back where it started-the aquarium. Maybe her prayer of self-sacrifice is granted, or maybe what the doctors said is simply happening. We leave her lying on the ground with her penguin half-transparent–but still there. I wonder if the show really intends to kill off one of its central characters with two episodes to go. I don’t think so.

Masako, typically, is more proactive, and probably makes a mistake. Caught with Kanba when he slunk back to a discovered hideout to erase some data, she tries to get him to surrender (I told you, that hugging from the back trick never works!), and when he fails to listen to her (maybe a further rejection of her as a sister, but then again he rejected his “other” sister the same way), and then falls taking the gunfire intended for both of them, which suggests the opposite of a rejection, or at least a desire to keep another person he cares for safe, she stays behind to take on the deadly special OPs team with her little slingshot. Heroic lighting, etc. She, at least, is almost certainly dead. But why? In order to help Kanba escape, so he can continue to carry out the destruction he was dishing out through the entire scene with his bowling game app. Because he helped her escape the worst of the retribution as a child. Noble, I suppose. But her words also show that she has come to believe in the misguided things that Kanba does. So she has doomed herself. Unless she lives. Who knows? In spite of all the tragic events we saw this time, no one has actually DIED yet. I think.

So next week maybe we’ll Shouma finally do something, with Ringo helping out, armed with her part of the diary, returned to her by Yuri. Er, does that mean all the running around during the first half is completely forgotten now? What ABOUT the diary? Momoka? Mario? Double-H? The cat? We have only two episodes more to tie it all together.

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 …

Penguindrum 20, Chiayafuru 8, C3 9 and Bakuman 9

Mawaru Penguindrum 20 was more low-key than others, but the confusion factor is raised yet again.

The show loves to work with phrases and images, such as “survival strategy” or, this episode “low-lifes who will never amount to anything.” But this time they are both said by the father Takakura at one of his secret meetings, before the attacks. He has never uttered them before, at least not on the show. It’s a shock to hear him say them. Then come the visuals. The young Masako is standing with Mario, beside Kanba. To her right is a crate filled with red balls, the ones she would fire at people later in life. And the wall is covered with notes, maps and pictures of the Antarctic, where penguins come from, including the picture the expedition the father went on, with penguins. “This is a frozen world,” he says, meaning the corrupt modern society he’s trying to rip apart. So what does it mean, that picture of him and his crew when they were, literally, in a frozen world? Also, it all suggests that he is behind the entire penguin thing the kids are undergoing. But that can’t be, can it?

Now, can someone tell me what’s going on with the families? It’s official that Himari is not related to the Takakuras by blood, in a oddly chilling moment, both boys acknowledge this in a way that makes it sound like they’re beginning to reject Himari. Either that or they’re trying to separate themselves from her for her sake, so that she won’t receive the retribution being unfairly handed down to them. If that’s true, it won’t work. The reason Keishu targeted Himari was to take something away from them, while they had to go on living with that loss. And rejecting Himari would please Masako no end. Because, apparently, she and Kanba are sister and brother. Great! Now I gotta go back to the Masako episode with that tool of a father she has, and try to figure out where THAT fits in. Meanwhile, it’s clear that her father and the elder Takakura are part of the same organization. How else are they related? And when she sees Shouma outside fooling around with an apple (another metaphor that’s driving me crazy, with not only it being the Fruit of Fate, but Ringo’s name …), she asks Kanba who he is. Kanba decides not to tell her (or HE doesn’t know, which would make me collapse from mental exhaustion). Either I’ve missed something obvious or they’re going to whip out more family links in the handful of episodes that remain. Probably both.

Much of the episode shows us Shouma befriending Himari. And more familiar metaphors show up, enhanced by another cryptic discussion between Himari and Sanetoshi, about running and chasing, the useless of trying and the useless of getting caught. All I got from it was that Himari is again worried about her place in the world, especially if her beloved boys go elsewhere. That and the fact that Sanetoshi is doing the chasing in his own game. But back to the flashback, where Shouma tries to chase(!) down a garbage truck that has their adopted(!) cat in it. They gave the cat a ribbon, which was removed before the landlords took the cat away. Himari has a scarf, given to her by Shouma, but she keeps it, and later, he rescues her. And later, the rescued Himari takes up knitting … Ribbons, scarves, yarn, red strings of fate, god my head is going to explode. All right, creators, I think you’ve done quite enough with the metaphors now. It’s time to take them all and wrap them up. No, that was not a metaphor.

Chihayafuru 8 brings the team one more member, and so it becomes legal, so to speak. I barely remember the fat kid. He went up against Arata early on and lost. Chihaya hasn’t forgotten.

More recruitment.

Porky, or, as he understandably prefers, Nishida, is on the tennis team, and in a nice rejection of stereotypes, is a splendid player. For the next ten minutes, however, that’s the only decent thing we see. Chihaya, doing her usual dorky stalking of potential, spies on him as he effortlessly fires one volley after another. She overhears him mutting 100 poets lines and instantly, miraculously, surmises that he’s using tennis as a coverup for karuta, that his heart truly lies in slapping little cards about. Sad thing is, she turns out to be right. He had loved karuta until he started playing to win and lost the sense of fun, and no one can beat Arata anyway, etc etc. So, we wait for the turnaround, which naturally comes from playing a match against Chihaya to get her off his back.

Chihaya sends another cameraman to the hospital.

Bit by bit, the show’s been sneaking in more karuta rules and strategy. Well, not really “sneaking,” since Taichi spends time teaching the newbies these things, which is about all they get to do this episode. I can’t follow the strategy too well, so I spent time trying to figure out if the rule about touching the wrong card on the same side was a metaphor about Porky, I mean, Nishida’s conflicting interests. Meanwhile, the match is close and fun to watch. And so Nishida rediscovers his love of karuta, though he loses out on a month’s worth of pork buns. Meanwhile, the gang have probably made an enemy of their science teacher/tennis coach. Not the most subtle episode, but now the team is complete and we can move on.

Like Penguindrum, C3 can be confusing too, the trouble is that it doesn’t intend to be. Episode 9 is a little lull between story arcs. We meet the adorable Kuroe, another doll-person, and just about the sweetest thing in the world. She’s working off her curse and is almost done with it. We also meet the evil person who’s after her, Alice. After some of the twisted facial distortions on other villains on this show it’s a relief to find one who’s so polite. When she first shows up and states her intentions I was wondering why Haruaki didn’t just invite her in for tea. Surely they could work out their differences. It’s also refreshing that Kuroe’s chanting when she casts a spell didn’t really mean anything. She just thought it sounded cool. As for the episode, it just lurches about between foreshadowing and fanservice until the end, where Alice, who’s just had Kuroe, her prey, cut her hair at Kuroe’s salon (that’s how polite she is) says something that, if she were a more unpleasant woman, sound threatening.

Bakuman II 9 came as a surprise. Quite frankly, I didn’t expect the boys’ series to be cancelled. It’s only when I look at the whole episode that I see it was inevitable. The hiatus didn’t help, and then when rankings stayed low they panicked a little and tried to throw in fan suggestions. The artists for Jack have always pandered a little to their audience, but it was a relief when Miura nixed the new turn. And Trap kept dropping and dropping. Nakai and Aoki are in the same position, and there’s nothing they can do but keep plugging away–until the inevitable. When, after they’ve been axed, they sit back and reflect that they had accomplished a hell of a lot for their age, I began to see the bigger picture. Yeah, it’s depressing to be cancelled, but this was their rookie effort. Now look at them: they’re still very young, but that means they have energy and drive. AND now they’re experienced pros who know something about the industry and their own abilities. And I was getting tired about hearing about Trap. Time for a fresh start! Besides, they can’t keep Miho waiting until she’s 40, right? Good episode.

Penguindrum 19, Last Exile Fam 6, Ben-to 6, Kimi to Boku 7

Mawaru Pengundrum 19 … I am about to give up trying to figure out this show.

This, at least, I could figure out.

After the crazy events of last week the show settles down to gather what what we’ve gone through–and twist it around again, just to annoy us, I think. Kanba being in touch with their father was expected after his hemming and hawing last week. To actually SEE them was a bit of a surprise, but we don’t have long to dwell on that. Soon it’s time to celebrate with Himari, Shouma and Ringo as Himari has returned from the hospital, happy yet full of doubts. At first it seems only that she is seeing the people who care for her beginning to move on with their lives, while her life at the moment has always revolved around them. She wants it to stay that way forever, but this is naive and unreasonable. Sanetoshi tells her that only she knows where she belongs, but her lack of answer feels a little strange. As it should, as we find out. For Sanetoshi gets a little more spooky when Masako, sitting in the same chair Himari did, asks Sanetoshi some questions of her own. As usual for Sanetoshi, and for this show, his answers are cryptic. He wants to put the world back on track, children must do what their parents failed to, and after Masako storms out, unsure about the diary, he admits that he can’t do anything while it still exists. Does its ability to “transfer fate” interfere with his own plans? You know, this show would make a lot more sense if we knew where the key players stood. But it wouldn’t be as much fun.

One thing that has been rock-solid throughout are the three’s devotion to each other, to make a family where they belong. Once again, I should have seen it coming. Masako comes to their house, and of people, goes after Himari, the one in the group who has done the least to her. While I sit back in my chair and think “it’s curveball time.” Ball is the right word to use, too, as after Masako demands Himari give Kanba back, because she’s not her real sister, despite all evidence to the contrary–photos, etc), she whips out a blue ping-pong ball of truth, and then the front yard is full of giant concrete balls and we got a chase on our hands. And then, to really smack us with images, the giant fans are back, old, disused, and we’re back in the child-roaster and learn something about the truth. What it means … you’re asking me? All I can do is remember that Kanba was in Masako’s flashbacks, and no explanation was ever given. So now we have to wait for next week. How soon is that?

Not much violence or heartbreak in Last Exile Fam 6. No action scenes, either, alas. Instead it’s all pluck and guile and obtaining little things you need.

And some pretty scenes.

Mainly, it’s about settling in, meeting your captors, and, for Fam, making good on that rather ludicrious promise to obtain for Titania fifteen ships. That’s the kind of wild promise and over-optimism that you want to see in Last Exile franchise heroes, but even for them it’s kind of steep. Good thing the Sylvius pirates see capable fellow-pirates when they see them, or rather, the entire ship kind of falls over backward to help them prepare for their first heist. Olaf, the maintenance boss, likes them immediately, and rest of the crew is honored to have princess Millia aboard. And their success is absolutely absurd, though it comes at the hands of that guy they conned in the first episode. Why Ades hasn’t sent him to the firing squad yet, I don’t know.

Turan, the first indoor country.

Millia has problems of her own. She can’t do pirate stuff, and her country is pretty much gone, except for her. And Ades is annexing it in a couple days. So she basically has no country, nor any real status aboard the Sylvius. Reminded that SHE is now Turan, and inspired by Fam, and at first defeated in attempts to wile the Sylvius crew, she decides to do some annexing of her own, waiting for a battle stations order to barricade herself in the kitchen. It’s little steps. Not everything comes from big battles, and not every Last Exile episode has a battle scene, but this is good enough for now.

Kimi to Boku 6 finally puts one of the twins in a position where they’re not being dicks. Yuuta gets a confession from a shy, nervous girl named Takahashi, and, to everyone’s surprise (once they find out), he agrees to go out with her. Half of the episode has the other boys, who discovered this romance by accident, tailing the poor couple and speculating on the normal things you’d talk about, but also, why the hell didn’t he tell them? But the other half shows us the relationship from the people actually in it. It’s fascinating to see Yuuta (though it could just as easily be Yuuki) deal with the situation. We can’t read him at all. We don’t even know if he likes her. His manner is like it always is. But this time the lines coming from him aren’t meant to annoy or confuse, but to settle down this painfully shy girl, and his indifference becomes a quiet, benign, no-pressure interest in Takahashi. And later, when she is inadvertently hurt by her friends’ gossip, he does the same thing, listening, accepting what she says. It’s a sweet episode that works better than the usual ones because the sincere and snarky are balanced well.

Maybe I’ll finally catch up on all the shows one day … So it’s been long enough that I still hadn’t watched the scintillating fight which polishes off Ben-To 6, where Sen, Satou and Shaga do a three-on-one to bring down the evil Monarch. If that sounds unfair, consider that they had to fight off Endou’s goons before getting to him, and Endou had sent other goons to soften Sen up before she had even gotten to the store. Other than the satisfaction of watching Endou go down, and a weird planning meeting to begin the show, there wasn’t much else to the episode. In the end, I couldn’t figure out what Endou’s real goal was. To defeat the Ice Witch? Something about Macchan? To get that title that didn’t make any sense even after it was explained to me (probably not the show’s fault)? No matter, it was another great fight scene, and the wolf pride’s pride is saved. Or something.

Penguindrum 18, Chihayafuru 6, Ben-To 5, Bakuman II 6

Another dazzling episode of Mawaru Penguindrum this week. It’s one of the most suspenseful, yet doesn’t sacrifice any of the eccentric imagery and humor that defines the series.

It starts with an impressionist painting in Keiju’s flashback, and continues to tell Keiju’s story in a beautifully executed series of images and sounds, up until his rescue by Momoka at that generic factory setting. It looks great, and as we learn what Keiju has lived through, the premature, self-imposed stifling of his talent to salvage his mother’s love, and we can understand why he did his heel turn. And I was kicking myself for not realizing that every character in this show has something twisted in their past and a hidden motive, so why not Keiju? He can’t just be a pure voice of reason. Purity of that type doesn’t exist in this show. I’m guessing even Momoka has some more surprises to her. Too many people regard her as a saint for her to actually be one. But while we can understand why Keiju worshipped Momoka, given his rescue at her hands, why this would propel him to punish the Takakura children for their father’s crimes I don’t understand. Well, I don’t understand why any of them are trying to hurt these kids. But, of course, it’s not as simple as revenge. Keiju is convinced that Kanba knows where his father is, that he’s the one providing the money for Himari’s treatment. I’m sure he’s right. It’s hard to read Kanba, because he manages to look sneaky no matter what he does, and while he seemed earnest in his denials I wonder if he isn’t wondering about it himself.

As for the big crisis, Keiju is surprised to see Kanba refusing to let go of Himari’s cable in spite of her entreaties (so sad and earnest that for a moment I thought she was really going to die this episode), exactly what Momoka did to save him years ago. And … it hits home. He rescues them from the trap he set and walks away, calling himself a failure. I suppose because he doesn’t have that kind of devotion to anyone, except maybe Momoka. He can’t comprehend it. A failure? Maybe. But for me he became a failure the moment I learned he hadn’t grown beyond his bad experiences, that he wasn’t actually the steady person who can help the ones around him get on with THEIR lives. On the other hand, he could have exacted revenge, but didn’t. Kanba announces that he has taken the punishment, but he’s talking about his injured hand, though he couldn’t have known about Keiju’s hand, or Momoka’s. In other words, I’m not sure what happened. Kanba doesn’t, either. Shouma, missing out in the end, certainly doesn’t.

Er, Shouma, get her to the hospital, like, NOW, okay? Shouma?

So where do we stand? Yuri has half of the diary. Natsume the other. Keiju’s had his fun and I suspect he won’t play a major role in the final episodes, no, leave that to his wife in his “pretend family.” She’s a more interesting character, anyway. But as it stands the series feels like it’s at a crossroads. Apart from Masako probably taking another shot at Kanba next week (gosh!), which is nothing we haven’t seen, it’s impossible to say where the show will take us for the final episodes.

Apart from a couple of pointed moments, Chihayafuru 6 finally turns away from Arata. Good thing, too. They’ve done all they can do with that relationship for now; it was getting to feel stifling. Instead we watch as Chihaya and Taichi meet a potential new member, an odd, flighty girl called a lot of things, but I’ll call her Kana.

They say she was born in the wrong era. She reads “old books” and since her parents run a traditional clothing store, that’s what she wants to wear. She’s attracted to the Karuta club because the invitation poster had Chihaya in a kimono. She is disappointed when she sneaks a peek and sees Chihaya and Taichi wearing regular gear. In other words, she’s a bit of a nut, but then, so is Chihaya. She’s also quite sensible, like Taichi, though she’s not such a stick-in-the-mud. She and Taichi see the problem immediately. Chihaya is interested in competition (or Arata, but she’s still working that one out, as shown by a moment of silence when Taichi mentions that very thing), while Kana loves the history and tradition of the game. This marriage can’t work … except I remember that Chihaya wears a kimono in the OP.

The inevitable occurs when Chihaya visits Kana’s store and mentions her favorite karuta poem, only to learn from Kana she’s interpreted it all wrong. This sets off her formidable nerdiness and soon she’s asking Kana to explain ALL 100 of the cards. And the next day she’s crushing Taichi in practice because the poems have come alive to her. Two things I don’t buy here, well, three. She got explanations for all the cards in one sitting? I’m sure Chihaya can memorize fast, but to simply take down the information would take even longer than it would for the sun to set outside the store window. Second, she had absolutely no idea or interest in the 100 poems before this? None? And third, she could assimulate this information almost immediately to improve her game? No, I’m not buying it, but the whole sequence gives us some nice visual things to look at, we learn a possible significance to autumn leaves we saw so many of earlier in the series, and the karuta club, on Kana’s insistence, is going to look a lot classier than it does now. As a whole, the episode was just what we needed. Kana is a fun character, and we see more of the game than we’d seen before. It’s like they opened the window and let a fresh breeze into this show.

Reactions to Satou's new clothing style.

Ben-To 5 (I know, I’m a week behind) leaves me scratching my head over how this series works, why it’s so effective. We get Satou, in his underwear, again on the run from a school somebody or other, meets a new weirdo named Asebi, who is pretty much forgotten after stealing her scenes, threatening talk from the Gabriel Ratchett and heir leader, the Monarch, who wants to destroy Satou for some reason, all leading to Satou wearing a girl’s uniform over his trunks and a silly hat and getting the shit beaten out of him by the Monarch, who wants to take over the west side of town. And just about all of it works! From quick-dialogue reactions to Satou’s outfit to the fight scene itself, as wild as the others. I’m hoping that the underlying cause of the Monarch’s plans, which involve another new character named Matsy, won’t bog down the organized oddness that’s carried the show so far. That is to say, I don’t want it getting too serious on me.

It is indeed a sad dilemma that Saiko and Takagi face in Bakuman II 6. Should Saiko get the rest he badly needs and risk his manga’s new-found popularity, or draw on despite the odds and make himself sicker. The answer for everyone, apart from maybe Takagi, is the former. Even Jump’s editors say the health of the artist comes first, okay, while they’re also reconsidering the wisdom of subjecting highschoolers to the pressures of weekly deadlines. Only Saiko is fine with continuing the schedule even though they’re going to take a PART OF HIS LIVER OUT because of it. In the end, sadly, it comes down to the woman (Miho) supporting her man in spite of all common sense, in spite of the fact that she has to put the pen in his fucking hands. God, this show drives me crazy sometimes.