Finales: UN-GO, iDOLM@STER, Ben-To

Happy Holidays everyone! I had a great Christmas, I hope you had the same. Now it back to work. Today we say goodbye to three series and start to wrap up another season. Damn, this has been a good year.

There he is! Hey guys! Kaishou's right there! Listen to me!

UN-GO came and went, delivering either a mystery that I didn’t have the wits or mystery-reading training to follow, or not-so-original thoughts on modern technology, politics and culture, not to mention the more philosophical questions of truth. So with the finale we get the “one of you in the room is the murderer” scene, even though the supposed victim shows up halfway. Heated accusations and denials fly, evidence is presented … at one point everyone gets a weapon, but then they hardly do anything with them (what’s up with that?). While I’m not fit to criticize it all as a mystery, my more general, fiction-reading instincts gave much of it away. Of course Kaishou would show up, even with the misdirection over who the real one is. Meanwhile, Kuramitsu the politician is there to help present the energy/political side of things, though they don’t go far with it apart from suggesting the current state of Japan isn’t very good. The higher concept of truth degenerates into a monster battle. I blinked at that. But Inga is his/her old self, so it’s all right. And at the end, everyone is more or less happy, except for the culprit (correctly guessed, not deduced, by me, using those fiction reading instincts I mentioned). In other words, UN-GO could get pretty messy, but that’s fine. NoitaminA has had a bad year, but with UN-GO it at least tried to give us something different and challenging, not the bland SF pap it otherwise tossed to us. That’s what they used to do all the time. Now, if they could avoid any more Guilty Crowns in 2012, I’ll be happy.

No huge drama for iDOLM@STER 25. They took care of the last shred of adolescent angst in the last episode. Okay, there were two major events in the episode. The girls were sad that the Producer would miss the big concert, but he shows up anyway. The other is a trivial last-minute shot by Kuroe concerning 765’s new digs, but frankly, moving to a hi-rise didn’t seem right for them anyway. No, the bulk of the show is taken up by the concert. Good thinking. iDOLM@STER’s concert footage is always great to watch. It is again, but frankly it didn’t have the same emotional charge earlier ones did; none of the members had crises to overcome. On the other hand, you might like this one better. You didn’t have to worry. This one was a celebration. And so, hats off to the creators of iDOLM@STER. It’s hardly a compliment to say this show wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been, but when you consider that the very concept of an iDOLM@STER anime series would make money, it would have been tempting to just mail it in and watch the bank account grow. But the creators obviously cared about this show. The girls were mostly clich├ęs but they were almost always used to good effect, and they wound up showing more depth than I expected. Their character designs were expressive and fun to look at. And there were so many of them that you’d never get bored of one. The story arcs went along predictable lines, but were told well enough that I didn’t care too much. And, as I said, the concert scenes were amazing. Fluid, detailed, energetic, the camera glancing at one girl for a moment before swooping around and through all of them. Watching these scenes you could see how much care was put into them. So, again, well done!

Ben-To 12 had two disappointments. We don’t get to how Orthrus is beaten, and we don’t get to see the Ice Witch in action. But these were problems that just occurred to me now. Otherwise the finale was great fun. When we learn how the Club of Hercules “defeated” (if that’s the word) Orthrus it gave the concept of battling for bento a new wrinkle. Tired of losing, Hercules convinced the others to simply wait and let the invincible twins take what they want. By refusing to fight, they humiliated Orthrus into not returning. This sounds like rather dishonorable behavior for wolves; I wonder how any of them managed to handle the shame on their end. Now Hercules is back and it looks like he’s doing the same thing. (Other wolves, I’m ashamed!) This might be the only possible way for me to sympathize with Kyou and Kyou, and it shone a light on what this whole bento thing is about: fighting. Or so I thought. Satou returns, ready to muck up Hercules’s plan, and the story turns ludicrous (okay, the CONCEPT is ludicrous. I’m talking comparatively), and fun as hell as he reminds everyone of the missing element: hunger. In other words, he convinces everyone to fight two people who will likely kick their ass, in order (partly) to redeem the people who will kick their ass. There follows another great Ben-To fight, bodies flying to a thumping soundtrack, and just as Orphrus, redeemed, welcomed, enters the fray … we jump to the aftermath. Oh, well. They added a good twist at the end and managed to emphasize what the show is about, apart from lunacy. Ben-To was the most consistently entertaining series of the fall season. It took a premise weird even for anime and made it exciting. I said at the beginning that I didn’t know if they could sustain such an idea for an entire series. Well, they did, and I’m wondering now if they have plans for a sequel.

Episode dump; iDOLM@STER 23, UN-GO 10, BakumanII 12, Ben-To 11, Tamayura 11

Another iDOLM@STER character spends time with her outer child.

iDOLM@STER 23 continues the Haruka story, rather, it’s her turn to wander off in a funk and think things out while everyone else worries about her. It’s practically a mirror image of Chihaya’s crisis, though this one has no ridiculous bad guys behind it or painful past to overcome (but she does sit around at home and even meets her younger self, just like Chihaya did). Rather, she’s worried about the future. The drifting apart continues, people still aren’t making it for the New Years rehearsals. Not to mention that the producer is in the hospital because of that trap. One of the weirder moments of the story arc is that while everyone is worried about him, the show pretty much ignores him except for some words of wisdom for Chihaya which sets the girls plan in action. Other words of wisdom come from Touma, Jupiter’s former lead asshat, who’s happier with the smaller-scale productions they are forced into because he enjoys the sense of community. And so on. Meanwhile I waited and worried that there wouldn’t be anything to spice the inevitable reunion up … until a typical kids in the park sequence, where their little voices transform into those of 765 Pro, an unexpected and beautiful moment that made me gasp and fumble for the rewind button. And yes, we get our reunion bit, though everything else felt flat compared to that moment before.

But he's still alive, or maybe he's not, or he's an AI or ... my head hurts.

I had a write-up for UN-GO 9 all written up, but it went missing, overwritten, probably, or copied over … Or maybe Kaishou didn’t want me to post the explosive truths contained in that post, so he used that software he made!! YEAH!!! Anyway, episode 11 goes farther out of its limb concerning The Truth. Let me just say that I hope the series doesn’t wind up with a pat conclusion such as “there is no absolute truth or reality.” I hate it when creators do this, unless he’s Philip K. Dick (on the other hand, at least this show’s source material isn’t simply ripping Dick off). But I think Shinjuru agrees with me on this. He seems pretty certain that there is a truth. Not to mention that Inga could force it out of people (But this would explain why he/she’s at a loss when Bettenou’s around). As for the plot, I’ll say again that I suck at mysteries. I was following along quite happily until they got to the humming and the handkerchief and suddenly Shinjuru was running off somewhere, throwing Kazamori at somebody, at which point my eyes glazed over. I didn’t really focus again until Shinjuru held up that invitation. Well, all will be explained next week unless it’s not the truth, or THAT’s not the truth, or THAT’s not, ad nauseum.

Lovers' tiff.

The straight line in Bakuman 2 12 is the growing relationship between Miura and the boys, or that’s how it felt like, and looking at it that way it makes a nice contrast with the episode’s theme of love and relationships in general. Starting with an embarrassing text dialogue Kaya jokingly reads aloud, we next get Nagai falling in love with Kato (poor sap), Aoki’s new editor putting the moves on her (what a slimeball), and Aoki’s subsequent meeting with Aiko at college. I had forgotten completely about her, but she’s the one who rejected Takagi because he wanted to write manga, or did he reject her? I forget. Now she meets Aoki, and the scene feels completely different, like the beginning of a romantic story not at all related to Bakuman. Where it will go, I don’t know. But back to the heroes and Miura. The arguments about whether or not to do a gag manga, not to mention the exhaustive research on sales Miura makes, then his saying the wrong thing and having to apologize, after the boys had realized how much work and care he had taken (shown in a gift package full of gag manga with extensive, scrupulous notes) for them, feels like a manga-ka equivalent of any relationship past its first stages and at the point where you start to learn what your lover is really like.

Who is this guy and why is he barging into our story arc?

After the trauma of last week, Ben-To 11 comes as a disappointment. Two or three things go on. First, we learn about the Sawagi twins’ happy childhood, kindergartners entranced by a violent bento fight, and we get some more of Kyou (not Kyou)’s dual identities. Then there’s Satou visiting Sen the day after and learning she has a cold, and that’s maybe why she lost. The scene is inflated with the usual Satou fantasies, which never really work for me. Meanwhile other people try to figure out where Othrus comes from. We find out. And the usual Oshiroi bit. Satou loses again to Othrus but we don’t see it. The only interesting thing comes at the end, when some totally unmentioned newcomer, who three years ago beat Othrus so badly they still have nightmares (well, Kyou does. Not Kyou), shows up to do it again. Where did he come from? Why is he messing up with our perfectly good but currently slow-moving story arc? Especially with only one more episode to go?

Tamayura – Hitotose 11 presents us with possibly the most excruciating type of story (for me) imaginable: doing a stage show. Because I’ve done a lot of theatre I know what can go wrong, so I can’t help but feel nervous along with the poor performers. This episode promises to be even worse, for it’s Maon who’s going to perform. But right away they do some things right. First, it’s not a whistling exhibition! (Insert cheers and fireworks here). Rather, it’s going to be a recital drama, where she’s going to stand up there and tell a story, or something. Here’s where the unwelcome pressure comes in. Since it’s for the “Ourselves Festival” she wants to try out her material in her home town, at her family’s inn, for whoever’s around. But word gets out, big posters are made, people invite other people, and soon they have to rent out the Virgo Theatre, a large space where, ironically, Maon has always dreamed of performing. Also, she has no material to try out. What keeps this from getting to be too much is the gentle overall tone of the series. There’s that tranquil piano music playing throughout even Maon’s worst moments of fear. You know the show is not mean-spirited enough for worse-case theatrical scenarios. And while her nervous recitation of a text any 2nd grader could write wasn’t all that great (we are fortunate to only see a little of it), and was no more than a metaphor for her making friends and growing up, everyone watching is a friend. It could have been a lot worse. For one thing, she could have chosen whistling.

Last Exile Fam 8, Tamamura 9, UN-GO 8

And I thought that the last episode of Last Exile – Fam had some exciting scenes. Episode 8 is even better. As you remember, the bad guys, led by a not-impulsive older guy aboard their flagship Anshar, have tailed Fam to the Silvius and are demanding they hand over Millia.

There’s a brief discussion. Millia wants to avoid bloodshed on the Silvius, but who really believes that the Federation’s going to let them go scot-free anyway? Besides, we’d lose out a hell of a battle if they did. So there are lots of scenes of Millia being upset and guilty, and Fam as well, since she considers herself responsible. But nothing to be done. Battle stations! Release the vanships! Open up the ports to let the explody things out! And in a great moment, the martial music slowly dies away as the vanships take flight, and there’s only the sound of wind and engines, until stuff starts to blow up.

Neeeeaaaaaoooowww BLAM! Ratatatat! Boom! BOOM! Pew Pew Pew!

I swear, I got my stupid-grin on for just about every minute of these scenes. They’re absolutely amazing. As for the battle itself, the good guys manage some good damage and evasive maneuvers (why are the bad guys always surprised by smoke screens?), but they’re taking hits themselves. The bad guy captain is no fool. They outnumber the Silvius and know a few tricks themselves. And then there’s the little fact that they’re all near the Glacies border. We’ve seen their pilots already, noting the foreign craft and muttering in what I assume is Russian. The fact the show dwells on two of them suggests they’ll have a bigger role to play later. “They” meaning the two women. Glacies gets involved pretty quick. But until then it’s beginning to look bleak, and when they’re this bleak, it’s time for Fam to step in and suggest something heroic and absolutely insane.

(sigh) Fam ... Fam ... Fam ...

What Fam is actually going to do out skyfishing out there while everyone’s trying to blow each other up is anyone’s guess, and I lost track on just what was going on. We do know that the Silvius blows a hole in a weak fissure of a cliff, momentarily escapes into Glacies territory, and lets the Russians start blazing away. But it’s still badly damaged and now there are TWO nations trying to get at it (and each other). Meanwhile Fam and Millia(!?) fly around, spot one of the Glacies pilots trying to do some skyfishing herself in her wounded aircraft, and prop her up with their aircraft. Why? I don’t know. Having saved her, they go after the Anshar and Millia manages to fire a single shot right where the Anshar is most vulnerable, like that shaft on the Death Star. And down she goes! Utterly ridiculous and fun as hell to watch.

Fam, doing something ridiculously heroic and dangerous again.

But when a show presents itself so well you gniggle about the lapses in logic later. You can also wonder why Gisey wasn’t with Fam, or how she’s feeling at the moment (lousy). But at the time you enjoy the show’s strengths: a young, impulsive hero (who’s not a jerk), big countries with big agendas and big armies, and art and animation you just don’t see anywhere else, though Fate/Zero certainly has its moments. Sigh, I suppose next week they’ll have to settle down and throw some intrigue at us. It’ll be a letdown.

No connection between this screenshot and the Fam entry intended. Really.

I was pleased that UN-GO 8 didn’t continue asking questions about what reality is and rather, went back to investigating why the hell Shinjuru was placed in that prison when he had committed no crime. It was more satisfactory to have Shinjuru active and in control rather than reacting to strange events. If that meant another long string of detective musings and figuring out who the murderer is, that’s fine. For the story splits in two. Shinjuru comes to his senses (zap!) but won’t leave until he discovers who killed the “director.” But really, what set this episode apart is that line above, spoken by the woman in the fake world where there was no war, where people play war instead. A fantasy, comforting, but oblivious to the potential of war and with no true understanding of its consequences. UN-GO always wishes us to compare its fictional society to our own, and this is its most chilling comparison yet.

Time for something quiet. Tamayura – Hitotose 9 has a pointless little story about Momoneko, that white ball of fluff and a wild boar. The second story was better as we meet Shimako, the girl who said she was going to confess at the festival. She returns to town, binge eats, and acts like she’s drunk, until a friend comes to fetch her and teach her about love, using reckless driving as a metaphor. Screams are heard, tears are shed, and the kids all watch. Not much to it.

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 …

Episode dump: Guilty Crown, UN-GO, Kimi to Boku, etc etc etc

Guilty Crown 4-5 brings us Shu’s indecision between following a repressive regime who thinks it’s saving the world from evil viruses, and the rebels headed by a megamaniacal handsome guy who everyone claims is wonderful. He wonders if he’s just jealous because of Gai’s charisma and the fact that everyone follows him blindly and tells Shu to shut up whenever he asks why, jealous because Inori seems to be shacking up with him, pissed off because Inori lied to him about her feelings (in fact, the lie is a lie, as she broke orders during to raid to rescue Shu). And he has that little pen which could bring the regime down on him. Meanwhile he is training with the Funeral Parlor, so we get all the “newbie in over his head scenes.” Shu is a wuss and maybe a turncoat (he hasn’t decided), but I share most of his suspicions. I don’t like either side. At least the show makes it clear that we’re not supposed to. And now that they’ve apparently blown Gai up, who knows what will happen next. It’s done in a ham-fisted way, but once again, the action scenes are great.

Now THAT'S how you introduce your corpses.

With UN-GO 5 the pattern is pretty much set. Shinjurou will try to find a murderer, while the crime’s circumstances lead to the exploration of more philosophical issues. With this one it’s the concept of sacrificing your life for others. Cynical Shinjurou doesn’t believe it’s possible; people are too cowardly and venal to do it of their own free will. He’s wrong, and meets his first humiliation of the series because of it. However, it only leads himm to refine his view. People can die for others, and it’s beautiful, and it makes the people who survive because of it even scummier. Or something like that. To prove it, we get the gold bricks denouement, which really doesn’t prove anything except that Shimada was a scummy guy. On the other hand, that was a terrific way to introduce the murder: have the corpses roll out of a sculpture during a public unveiling. Excellent bit. Oh, and I’m glad that Kazamori is going to be a regular in the series from now on.

I’m thinking of dropping Kimi to Boku, and I’m rather sad about it. I liked the first episode very much, the deadpan delivery, the slow, lazy nature of the whole thing, but after episode 2 it became clear that that was all it had. Yuta and Yuuki will continue to antagonize Kaname no matter what, the blond kid will remain forever clueless … It’s a wonder they’ve remained friends all this time. If they don’t throw in a new wrinkle soon I’m going to lose my patience completely. As for episode 6, it’s mostly flashback about when Kaname started to wear glasses, with the usual cat metaphors.

It's hard for me to drop a series that looks like this.

C3‘s latest story arc has left such an impression on me that I thought I had skipped an episode, because I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what was going on. Konoha was injured or something? All I remember was Sovereignity and dolls. Not that it really matters. With Horizon I watch because it’s more fun not to know what’s going on. With C3 I watch because of the endless visual treats it gives me. Who cares about Fear’s curses, or the curse of Savernity, or whatever. Give us more moments like the above.

Tamayura – Hitotose has found its groove. Episode 5 is cute and sweet and gentle without being dull or cloying or annoying. The fact that it begins with Fuu meeting a biker gang certainly helped. That was the last thing I expected to see in this series. Even after it had settled down and reintroduced the teary Chihiro, it floated along smoothly in that way these type of shows are supposed to do. At one point the girls are admiring the view, the music is fading out, and I expected a new scene to start. Instead, the scene continued, the silence now making its own statement. The episode’s main point, that shy Chihiro was glad that Fuu had new friends but was lonely herself, was understood throughout but so understated that no one bothered to bring it up untl the very end, when the girls all pronounced themselves new friends of hers. I hope this show can keep it up.

Working’!! has been in a groove for a while; episode 6 just keeps it going. Having the manager’s minions come in to botch things up work, was a good enough story. “I fell in love with the way she beat up my brother,” is one of the show’s better lines. The second half was more affecting. Part of it was some satisfaction I felt when Takanashi finally snapped. I can’t say his answer to Kyoko’s question was any better than hers, but he’s put up with way more shit than anyone else in that restaurant. It’s about time he let some frustration loose. The resolution was sweet, and the inevitable gag was perfectly timed.

Hey, I’m sorta kinda getting caught up! Only 12 more episodes in my queue!

UN-GO 4, Tomodachi 5, iDOLM@STER 18, Tamayura 4

Who's talking to who?

UN-GO 4 had a satisfying end to the Kazamori story, and a typical reaction from me when I watch a mystery: I follow right along until there’s a moment I get distracted by something I forgot, and it’s downhill from there. People say things, point at each other, other characters show up and I don’t remember seeing them before … Until the show reaches the revelation whereupon I usually nod and note to myself that I’d be a lousy detective. Still, the end was satisfactory because of this. What we had seen so far had been so predictable it’s hardly fair to call it mystery, so see it behave like one at the end (and confuse me) was a good thing. Not that it matters. The world detective Shinjurou and Inga live in is a lot more interesting. To me the mysteries are only there to add depth to the world, okay, except for some of the dated, stereotypical uses of technology. In spite of this, monstrous legislation like their “Information Privacy and Protection Act” strike too close to home, even if its dangers are more easily combatted or circumvented here. And we’re just now learning about Inga, a being so oddly out of place in their world that the RAI who knows everything has no idea. I think the show’s beginning to gel. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next.

The forces of light and dark begin their epic battle.

Ever since we met Kobato, and saw Kodaka’s innocent neglect of her in Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai, I’ve been waiting for the inevitable scene where all those wistful looks she gives out between the “ku-ku-ku’s” and minions of darkness talk bubbles out into a tearful scene with accusations of neglect. This would be that episode, except the show, again, works above my expectation. Mostly. After all, most of it involves playing yet another computer game, this one with full sim goggles. It’s the usual Yozora betrays Sena, or vice versa, while the other characters look on. We saw it a couple episodes ago. But then Kobato makes her entrance. Oboy, I said, here come the tears. But Kobato is no shrinking violet, she doesn’t just start crying. She’s proactive. She sought out the club to see what was distracting Kodaka so much and gets to verbal and physical sparring with Maria for daring to call her onii-san onii-san. That’s the spirit! The other characters shrug; she fits right in. So now I think this splendid cast of outcasts and weirdos is complete and united. There might be better series out there, but this might be the one most look forward to each week.

iDOLM@STER 18 is predictable as it gets. Ryuuguu Komachi have a “secret concert,” which apparently means something I don’t know, since there’s nothing secret about it at all. One of them gets the mumps, so Ritsuko, former idol, now producer, steps in. So the tables are turned on the Demon Drill Sergeant, she sweats a lot and gets stage fright. You knew when, early on, someone mentions her old fanbase that they would show up for the concert right when the jitters were getting too much. Actually, that was a nice scene. Concert scenes in this show are usually pretty good. I could have done without the pep-talk from sick what’s-her-name, but that is the sort of thing you expect from this show. More satisfactory is Miki turning down the opportunity to fill in with the group she nearly quit 765 over, because Ritusuko was a better fit. Still, not much to this one.

I fell two episodes behind with Tamayura – Hitotose, but didn’t realize it, which should tell me something right there. In spite of that I don’t really want to drop this harmless show … as long as fuu doesn’t harp on her father and Maon doesn’t whistle. Well, episode 4 is dedicated to her, but she doesn’t whistle TOO much. Instead the girls visit the inn where she grew up, there’s an important question about whether she’ll take over the inn when she grows up (I can’t see Maon as Madame Manager), or pursue her other dreams, but since she’s in middle school and her parents are actually kind and perceptive, the question is important only to Maon and her friends. From our perspective, of course, she has all the time in the world to decide. This isn’t a pressure-type show. Another reason to keep watching.

Chihayafuru 4, Tamayura 3, UN-GO 3

Damn, I’m falling behind. I have two Ben-to’s to watch, two Working’!!’s, god knows what else. This always happens this time of the season, before I get serious about cutting shows.

In a way, Chihayafuru 4 ends much the same way that 3 did, with Chihaya gloriously happy for a minute or two until the whammy hits and her hopes are dashed. This time, however, there’s probably some hope. The situation is not out of their control.

Chihaya's between-rounds routine.

After another brief goodbye flashback, we follow a cherry blossom to the present day, with Chihaya as we first met her, a pretty, kinda weird high school girl, imploring Taichi to return to karuta and form a club with her. He is dubious, wants to join the soccer team, etc.. Basically he drifted away from karuta after he started going to a different school, i.e., didn’t get to see Chihaya all the time. It’s a variation on the question I’ve had about Chihaya, one that Taichi brings up during her match. Is she having so much fun playing because of the game, or because of the friends she played it with? Arata once told her not to dream for other people, but for herself. With Taichi it’s become clear that any passion he had for the game was because of Chihaya. And for, Chihaya, well, we don’t know her reasons yet. I doubt that she knows.

Another karuta-related cameraman death.

Most of the episode takes place at a qualifying tournament. The winner becomes Class A. Chihaya and a lot of other hungry players are Class B. The show doesn’t bother to explain any further. This show is pretty good at slipping us the game rules and subculture without dull explanations. Chihaya isn’t expected (except by herself) to get very far, but, of course, does. Taich and Harada watch and talk tactics. (They did a nice job aging Harada. He’s still the intense fan and trainer he used to be, but he looks smaller now, a bit more lined in the face) The final match is drawn out and exciting, and there’s an odd moment when Chihaya realizes she’s up against a player who’s also passionate about the game, and her eyes sparkle. Another variation of the question: is she playing for the game or for the people who play it?

The bad news we sort of expected.

And so we get to the whammy. Chihaya calls Arata to tell her the good news and … Well, again, this wasn’t fate, this was Arata’s decision. Since he’s a main character and it’s only episode 4 it’s hard to take it seriously. Besides, we know that Chihaya and Taichi are going to form a club together. Arata will be drawn back in somehow. I expect we just won’t see too many matches in the next couple episodes.

Good news. Tamayura-Hitotse 3 does not mention Potte’s father! Not once! Maybe now the show will truly settle into that quiet, enjoy-life groove it’s been looking for from the start. This episode shows promise. A kid named Komachi challenges Norie to a cooking duel over an elementary school boy they both like, I hope for different reasons. So it’s peach jelly and pancakes to the death! Okay, it’s a quiet, peaceful blood-duel, with lots of talk about how food makes people happy, and the thought of making people happy with the food you cook making you happy, which makes the food better, and I suppose it goes into a loop … meanwhile Potte takes pictures of everything. No, it’s not great drama, or even particularly deep thinking, but it made me hungry for pancakes; I haven’t had them in over a year. Everyone smiles a lot, especially when they’re eating, because the food is, of course, delicious. Nice episode, but can someone please tell Maon to stop whistling? It drives me up the wall.

Inga aids the investigation in many ways.

You know, it took me a minute to think after watching UN-GO 3 to wonder why they were continuing the story to the next episode. The mystery had been unmystified, right? And it was a clever way to end the episode, a second after the revelation. And if there had been no murder, there is no need for an investigation, apart from some legal issues concerning who actually owns the Sasa empire. Shinjurou can drag Inga and Rie off to look for workable smart phones for prostitutes. But, okay, there’s the problem of the original murder to overcome. That’s what we’ll be doing next week, I guess. As for the actual plot, any mystery involving people in masks and sophisticated AIs is going to lead you to some accurate conclusions. And when Inga does her thing near the end, you also know that it’s time to stop speculating, some of the fun is over. The anti-terrorist police state backdrop continues to bug me a little. They’re clearly referring to modern-day events, but the situation in this fictional Japan is more than public fear-frenzy after a couple of attacks. I mean, we see lots of combat flashbacks and people walking past miles of rubble. In other words: much worse. As much as I deplore the real state of events, what we see in this show is not the same.