Finales: Darker than Black, Seitokai no Ichizon, Sacred Blacksmith

I was hoping for something epic in at least one of these final episodes, and Darker came close, but …

Poking around the intertubes to see who had a better understanding of what the hell happened in the Darker than Black finale I found most people are just as bewildered as I am. That’s sort of a relief, I’m not as stupid as I thought. I thought that all would be come clear, but it left me scratching my head, and cursing because the story and the world are definitely not done yet.

All this time I thought Izanami and Izanagi were Yin and Shion, or vice-versa, but then we get this:

Huh? Wha?

TWO Yins! And they want Hei to kill her, or them. Well, that’s what he had come to do, anyway …

And Shion has created an alternate earth, apparently, and Suou is now in it, along her entire family, and July (and Misuzu and Babo–nice touch). Kirihara runs around, moments too late for everything. She wasn’t well used in this sequel. And the CIA has taken over Tokyo, for no other reason, we’re told, than that they’re Americans and tend to do this sort of thing.

Of course the core of the show is Suou. She makes it to the gate, meets Shion, who dies at the hands of Izanami/agi, and July, who is showing more emotion now, who also dies. And then she pretty much dies, too, at least that’s how it felt. There’s a heart-wrenching scene where we see her memories and watch them burn away, for she is losing them. This is as close to a death scene as you can get with no death. For the heart of the series to end up like that, even if she’s now a happy schoolgirl on Shion’s world who thinks now and then that she’s missing part of her life, is tragic to watch.

But that’s one of the reasons DtB is so effective. It’s not afraid of doing just about anything to the characters, as everything is part of a bigger story. Suou’s has been subsumed. Hope to see you again, Suou, as soon as they come up with the next series or OVA.

Seitokai no Ichizon doesn’t have a confusing ending because there’s no story to end. But the characters are fully aware that this is the last episode, such is the type of show this is, so they do try to give us a wrap-up (After they deal with Mafuyu’s confession by making it anticlimatical). They all try to think about what they’re going to do when they grow up …

Then, in this the final episode, they introduce a new character, Nakameguro. Here the series goes from silly to touching, as we learn how grateful Ken is for the girls. It’s better than some of the show’s attempts at sentimentality, but it still lets the air out of the episode. Thankfully, they end silly, and totally aware of it.

It was a silly show, and I will miss it.

The Sacred Blacksmith has a satisfactory ending, though the show as a whole wasn’t particularly notable for anything. Just your run-of-the-mill fantasy anime, old Europe division. When the last episode ended all sorts of monsters are running amok in the city, but we start with a quiet moment where Luke and Lisa talk things out, though we know what each side is going to say. Luke is sorry he burdened Lisa with the old Lisa’s baggage. As for our Lisa:

Then we get on to the fight. Nice to see the city militia, useless in most monster fights, put up a good effort this time. But things drag because we all know what the big scene will be: the fight between Luke and Siegfried, the most annoying snickering talky villain I can remember. I should have expected Cecily to show up at just the right time when Luke is injured.

I'll miss Cecily's gumption.

And the climax is exciting enough, with Cecily using the katana Luke forges for her (while Siegfried waits. At least he can be polite). Meanwhile we see the flaws in the show stand out, Cecily’s fight with Siegfried’s guard which is there only to get Aria out of the action so she can’t be used in the real fight, and to kill time, and the long speeches by Siegfried, who could have killed them all if he’d have just stopped smirking and get to it …

No, nothing notable about this show. Darker than Black’s ending packed a bigger punch, confusing as it was. But I congratulate it for keeping me interested enough not to drop it, in spite of its banal story and lack of depth.

Seitokai 11, Trapeze 10

Because of its lack of plot and predilection towards quick, meaningless gags, sometimes it’s hard to find anything to say about Seitokai no Ichizon. Ironically the girls in episode eleven have a hard time thinking up anything, too, because Ken is out with a fever. But they somehow manage get through an afternoon of silly talk, though it wears them out.

Let’s see, they talk part-time jobs, discuss what’s in Ken’s bag, but mainly they talk about how it’s not as fun with Ken around. So they decide to visit him. I’ve said before that the show doesn’t work as well when it gets serious or sentimental, but here’s an exception. In spite of Ken’s antics, they do worry about him. Their concern comes off as sweet and honest. Especially Mafuyu’s, even when they encounter two losers boys who knew Ken from middle school and rag on his past transgressions.

Which leads to a surprising confession by Mafuyu. Now, all episode they had been leading toward this, beginning with a confusing dual scene where Ken is either chatting online with someone named Snow or is comforted by Mafuyu IN the snow, but the “I love you” still comes as a shock, especially when there’s only one ep left. Seitokai being what it is they might just ignore it.

Not a bad episode, but the show indeed suffers when Ken isn’t around.

Well, I thought I had wrapped up the episode tens, but I still had Trapeze (and Fairy Tail).

Trapeze 10 is one of its best. Newspaper mogul and baseball owner Tanabe is suffering from panic disorder, possibly brought about by flashbulbs going off, an unavoidable occurance for a public figure like himself. The fact that he’s cured of it isn’t what’s amazing (well, in this show, it kind of is), it’s how it happens, and the fact that the whole show was leading me on.

Irabu starts by trying an experiment even he couldn’t screw up, turning off all the lights, and then, er, screwing it up. Even Mayumi is surprised.

The doctor at work.

As usual he follows Tanabe around in his ever-shifting guises, and I’m beginning to see the reason for this. I thought it was simply because he was weird, but actually he’s trying to present his patients with opportunities to help themselves. Most of the time it leads to nothing, but it only has to work once. He does this by helping Tanabe escape the press by driving him away in his convertible, rather than the dark threatening limo, and Tanabe sees a bit of Tokyo.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Tanabe is shown as young and vital, seeming not really needing that cane he walks with. Japan, he says, is not grown up. There are things he needs to do. Yet the memories that come with his attacks are of an older Japan, starting from just after the war. And here’s where the lovely bits start. As they drive along, seeing familiar sights, Tanabe remembers how things were before and the things he did. And I finally realized the deliberate disconnect between what we’re shown and how things actually are. It’s one of the series’ best sequences.

Disconnect.

In addition we get the usual wild attempts at therapy, the weird and funny imagery, and a ton of self-references. I caught: Bandooo!, Nomora, Ikeyama, the Yakuza guy, the Reporter, and that book appears again. And it’s all good.

I Quarrel with Letter Bee 10, Seitokai 10 and Trapeze 9

For those of you who were tired of backstory in the last episode, Letter Bee 10 is mostly backstory again, even with it being Lag’s first official day on the job.

Lag and his brand spankin' new letter carrier togs.

Aria tells us what happened, let’s see, 12 years ago on day 311 or something like that, when the artificial sun that puts the entire country in a weird twilight decided to flicker a little.

I find this interesting. Are we to suppose that their planet hasn’t a genuine sun anymore? Or the fact that it was night simply mean it was really night? If they had waited, would the real sun have come up? But it would come up anyway, and I have a feeling it would overwhelm the artificial light’s sun. So … no sun? What happened to it? Or am I worrying too much? You see, all this time I assumed that the fake sun was there to mask something the empire doesn’t want them to know. Well, I still believe this. Will it ever be explained?

And there’s a lot to explain! Gauche had been staring right at the sun when it flickered and he loses part of his heart, while Sylvette was born at the same time. And so was Lag. And a dirigible crashes, the biggest WTF moment of the ep. This backstory, at least, is full of questions and weirdness. So later, when Lag helps other Bees wipe out giant beetles with guns that shoot out part of their hearts, all I could think was: “Ah, back to normal.”

Seitokai no Ichizon knows what it is and what it is not. It’s a show full of interrelated vignettes that can head off into random areas of another planet in a single line. The trouble is, often the show tries too hard to be what it is not: serious and touching. No matter what the characters happen to think.

No, but it can pass as an anime series.

So near the end, when the show tries to get a little touching, with kurimu giving a touching speech to the school, and the girls staying behind to help Sugisaki clean up, that’s when the show takes a nose-dive. Happily, the first two-thirds of the show is nothing but the student council goofing up. They do so by making up a serious story for the school festival, which gets more and more ridiculous with each character’s contribution.

This is when Seitokai is at its strongest. The dialogue is quick, the scenes get stranger with each line, and the voice actors again work as a splendid comic ensemble. I suppose you have to work in some serious along with the silly, but it’s a shame this series can’t do it all that well. Stick to goofiness, Seitokai. It suits you.

I’m not sure what conclusion Trapeze 9 comes to. It’s not a new dilemma in fiction: a child actor (Yasukawa) known for a cute smile, tries to make it as an adult, but can’t seem to grow out of his image. That is, he smiles all the time. And it’s hard to get roles with that schtick. Our wise Dr. Irabu springs immediately to work—by hitting on Yasukawa’s agent.

Mayumi looks amused ...

The ending, however, is unclear. Yasukawa discovers that pain will pull the smile off his face and so wears nipple clips to a serious audition. Irabu tells him repeatedly that he never had an image to begin with, and I have a lot of trouble with that conclusion. Finally, he’s reborn as a variety show star, smiling away. So what the hell was he going to therapy for in the first place? It’s not that he’s come to terms with being smiley all the time. Presumably he could have gotten variety show gigs before. Who told him he had to serious-up? His agent? Why wasn’t she getting him roles that emphasized his strengths in the first place? Fire her! Oh, she quit.

Oh well, as long as he's happy.

Next week it’s a baseball owner. Expect some scenes with BANDOOOO! Sorry. I love saying that.

Seitokai no Ichizon 9, Kimi ni Todoke 9, Trapeze 8

I suppose I shouldn’t have watched any anime yesterday after seeing Kiki’s Delivery Service for the first time. Anything else is bound to be a letdown. So I chose Seitokai no Ichizon 9 in hopes that its fast delivery and silly, referential humor would provide at least a change of pace. It pretty much succeeded.

Non-sequitors help, too.

The ep starts odd with an unexplained scene showing Chizuku comforting Sugisaki over something or other. I figure it’s a reference to another show. Then the silliness kicks in, then it gets serious again as Chizuku walks out to reconcile with a girl who once bullied her, while the others read a letter intended for her but addressed to the Student Council. More silliness, but the acoustic piano music comes in (a sure sign of mood change) and we get another quiet moment.

It sort of works. With this show we can never tell if a quiet scene is meant to be serious or a setup for a gag. Since we don’t know what the hell happened in that Chizuku/Sugisaki scene, or the reason why they seem closer at the end of this episode, it left me scratching my head.

But I usually like the sillier moments, so it's okay.

Then, the next day …

Kimi ni Todoke 9 still takes its sweet time getting anywhere. The major event is that Kurumi comes out and makes nice with Sawako, even calling her a friend.

Yano and Yoshida seem worried about this, Kazehaya less so, but goodness, what goes on in that boy’s head, anyway? And most of this happens in the final scene. The rest of it concerns practicing for the sports festival, a fun routine where Sawako considers getting a perm, and a slow buildup to Sawako and Kurumi’s new “friendship,” which, of course, is anything but.

There’s also too much of Sawako’s squirming and sighing any time anyone has a reaction to anything she does. This ep lays it on thick, but there’s something else going on, too. Since we’re viewing this show mostly through Sawako’s point of view we see firsthand how insecure and shy she is, but we can also see the bigger picture. Sometimes we see it when the POV switches away from her, as it did for a second to learn what Kurumi really meant when she said Sawako was “like a doll,” but other times we stay in Sawako’s head and can still see the important things she can’t. This makes her seem even more helpless and vulnerable, and I usually have two reactions: one is to sympathize with her, the other is to yell at her to get her head together, because it’s obvious Kurumi only pretends to like you because she wants Kazehaya, damn it! Sawako! Listen to me!

Ahem, sorry. Why is it fictional characters never pay any attention to us? Anyway, here are two images that single out much of what I do like in this series, apart from Yano and Yoshida.

And now it’s time for my shot. In Trapeze 8 we have Iwamura, whose career as a reporter is jeopardized by his obsessiveness that he left the gas on, or the kettle, or a lit cigarette in an ashtray, etc. Dr. Irabu applies therapy in his usual, professional, clinical way.

Through the ep we see Iwamura get steadily worse, until something odd happens. Obsessively chasing a suspicious homeless poet around (and looping to a scene from another episode—spotting the references has become half the fun of this series. Earlier we got Bandoo! I love to say that), then distracted by an obsession concerning loose auto tires, and god knows what else, we watch as other things that might obsess him fly away, ignored. I don’t think that was the point they wanted to make. The point they DID intend is that thanks to these escapades he lands two, maybe three scoops, and his career is saved. Obsessiveness is an asset to a reporter. Irabu even points that out to him, though I have to wonder if encouraging the disorder’s more destructive aspects is a useful way to go about it.

You're not helping, Dr. Irabu.

And in the end, he’s not cured one bit. But like the guy last week, he starts to learn how to cope with it. Irabu drops a hint as to how. Nice job, Irabu, for once.

Oh, I dropped Kampfer. Why it took me so long to hate this series I don’t know.

Episode 8’s: Yumeiro, Letter Bee, Seitokai no Ichizon

After a pointless scene where Ichigo is ditched by the mean girls in the other class Yumeiro Patissiere 8 introduces two new characters. One is the school president Tennouji, the envy of the school, and may I say, isn’t there another student in the school besides Ichigo and her friends who don’t have some ulterior motive toward Ichigo?

Tennouji is intrigued because Ichigo was scouted by Henri, whom she has always wanted to impress. But there’s no sign of malice in her, yet. The other new character is the infamous “Ojou.”

She who must not be named, at least around Kashino ...

Apparently a even worse fuckup than Ichigo, at least last year. Worse, she’s in love with Kashino, and that sharpened his hatred toward women, they say (One of those lines you never expect to hear in a show like this). I should add that Ichigo’s poorly-hidden amusement at Kashino’s angst is the funniest thing in the episode. Ojou, like so many in the school, can’t handle the fact that Ichigo’s with the “A” team in the school, so next ep it’s going to be puddings at twenty paces! Ichigo has never made one, of course, but that won’t stop her. The formula is pretty much set now. Ichigo is challenged to do something she doesn’t know how to do, but with the help of her friends she’ll manage to do it anyway. But I still can’t get over the unbridled jealousy and malice so many of these students have. Well, I suppose it’s to contrast Ichigo’s unbridled earnestness.

Letter Bee‘s Lag Seeing is another one for the unbridled and earnest category. After taking in the shock that his hero Gauche was dismissed as a Bee …

… he goes to meet Gauche’s sister, Sylvette, who hasn’t heard from Gauche since the dismissal. This puts me in two minds about this episode. While Lag should be allowed some reaction scenes, and we needed to see Sylvette’s take on all this, I’m more than ready to get to the bottom of the whole mystery. But we get nary a clue, all the reactions and exposition bits take so long. It had to be something. Gauche would never desert his sister (though, to become a bee, he sort of does just that, but it’s for the long-term happiness, dammit! Maybe THAT’S what did him in). The only thing we get is that fellow Bee Aria is concerned, too. That Lag intends to get to the bottom of it is to be expected, but I wish they would start, already!

Though this was a lovely bit.

I’m not sure why I still like Seitokai no Ichizon, and it’s hard to describe in the type of post I’m writing here. It’s a mundane show where nothing much happens, everything gets lost in quick asides and rambling digressions (such as the math test section here), but that’s part of what makes it fun. This time around Lilicia plants her kid sister Elise into the council meeting room in order to get more dirt for her next expose. Elise takes a liking to Sugisaki, and that’s where most of the laughs evolve.

Sugisaki and Elise try to play games, but her versions are all twisted and adult. Some of the jokes work, some of them don’t. But what it all does is get the other girls suspicious of Sugisaki’s motives—again. Even though it’s obvious it’s the loli who’s pervying everything up.

The girls on this show are a mystery. They are disgusted when Sugisaki comes on to them or declares them members of his harem, but when he’s legitimately kind to a single one, or an outsider like Elise, they become shocked, SHOCKED! and jealous. Sugisaki can do nothing but roll with the punches. That’s one reason, and the fact that the show delights in its silliness, along with the voice actors’ sense of comic timing, and the fact that nothing happens at all, that I actually look forward to watching such a dumb show every week.

Darker than Black 6, Seitokai no Ichizon 7, Letter Bee 7

Last night I started to watch Darker than Black episode 7, only to get confused. Wait, wasn’t there an ambush going on? What happened to the thingamabob everyone is after … Then I realized I hadn’t seen ep 6 … Well, that’s taken care of now. Quite an interesting episode. First there’s chasing down the thingamabob. Then we learn what the thingamabob really is! I’ll spare my hoorays for when we actually see Yin as more than just a ghostly thing.

The sad thing is Hei can't see her ...

Oh, and Hei has lost his contractor powers … But the true surprises are on a more personal level. All this time Suou is trying to work out this compassion and love thing, and can’t understand why it makes people act funny. She kills Norio’s contractor mom, because it’s what she’s supposed to do, but is quite taken aback when Norio is upset about it.

All right, she didn’t know it was his mom, but she isn’t quite ready to accept the fact that her actions have consequences for people she did not want to hurt. She’s also supposed to destroy the thingamabob/Yin, and would have if Hei, of all people, had not interfered. Hei is changing; Suou tries to figure it out. I can’t figure it out, myself. Hei telling Suou not to shoot anymore (“It doesn’t become you”) made me take a step back. And it looks like he’s going to stop drinking. It’s as if losing his powers is making him more human again, and part of that is making sure others don’t become less so.

Seitokai no Ichizon 7 presents us with a dilemma. The student council goes on a field trip to Tokyo. The possibilities having fun are enormous, yet they are the student council, after all, so once they get there, they don’t do much except hang around the hotel room.

They tell ghost stories, they change into new characters and put weird words at the end of their names. And most of it is funny, though bewildering for me.

... as so many things in this show are.

In short, the characters do all the same things they always do, except somewhere else. This is the intended irony, of course, but for me it feels like wasted potential.

Letter Bee 7 finally brings us to the exam stage, and happily it’s a practicum. But first they clear up one point of contention:

You tell 'em, Niche, whatever you said!

Lag, Niche and Steak must deliver a letter and battle a Gaichuu along the way. Their rival is obviously clueless about fighting them, so there’s not much tension here. He is instantly freaked out by the giant centipede (Well, I would be too), but the fun starts when Lag and Co. show up to save the day.

There’s a bit of shenanigans from the rival which is quickly exposed. It’s not much for an episode and seems too pat, until Lag discovers that Gauche, the man he looks up to, has quit the profession. That should sidetrack him nicely for a while.

Cross Game 31, Seitakoi no Ichizon 6

Time is a central theme in this Cross Game 31, well, time passing is a major theme to the entire series, but it stands out here. Kou’s father wonders that Kou still won’t attend the summer festival even six years after Wakaba’s death (Kou and Wakaba were going to go together) (EDIT: I was wrong. Kou always goes to the festival, but alone). Everyone hears the festival rehearsals and drift off into memories of the past. Aoba’s clock breaks. Time has stopped. Then everyone sees Akane.

crossgame31-3
It's all right.

crossgame31-1

crossgame31-2

Kou seems to have no problem attending the festival with her, but he’s always been a clueless sort. Well done, Wakaba, I mean Akane! In your first full episode you manage to freak out not only Kou, but Akaishi and all three Tsukishima sisters as well, and you don’t even know you’re doing it! All this is mixed in with the usual laughs and slow rhythms the show does so well, yet it’s a huge development that changes everything. Will Kou and Akane hook up, or is that too weird for him? How would Akaishi feel about that? Aoba?

Seitokai no Ichizon gets a little serious this week, as sisters Minatsu and Mafuyu announce they’re transferring “to the mainland” so their mom can be with her boyfriend. The other student council members scramble to change their mind. Mixed in with this is the question of the school festival theme.

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A little Power Rangers fantasy to distract you from the seriousness.

This show doesn’t work as well when it’s trying to be touching, though it helps that Sugisaki is the one who saves the day, in his usual strange way. Happily there’s still plenty of pop culture references and in-jokes to liven things up. I just hope I don’t hear any more contemplative piano background music in this series for a while.

Oh, and I dropped Nyan Koi. Just couldn’t take it anymore …