My frustrations with Red Data Girl can be summed up by one scene where the ghosts that showed up at the festival form a sort of parade and go back … where are they going? Have they been released? Are they just going back to ghost land? Maybe the clues were dropped in earlier scenes, but they were so obscure that I, for one, couldn’t catch them. And there was the moment when Izumiko, moping in that other plane, thinks that she’s always been the Himegami, but later she talks about rejecting that fate, or maybe not. Yeah, the spiritual stuff in this series wasn’t handled very well. It didn’t mix.
On the other hand we have the human versions of these dissonant spiritual powers. It’s easier to deal with them. Izumiko wants to be a normal girl. Miyuki doesn’t want to serve her. In a satisfying moment he tells her that he can’t follow her like you would a goddess (perhaps he can’t fully believe in her in that role, which would make his struggles with those soldiers understandable), but instead he suggests an actual human bond. That idea isn’t resolved, but the image of them sitting on a bench, falling asleep together, was a nice way to end that story, even we don’t get an answer. The Mas- family members are more complicated. It’s hard to take Masumi’s deserting his siblings seriously, since he doesn’t really take anything seriously, and when Wamiya comes to drive him away he cheerfully leaves. Izumiko’s plea to Miyuki to come at once (another good moment) must have convinced him.
In the end the spiritual threat is secondary to the emotional ties these characters have for each other, a good decision to make dramatically, but, as I said, the two sides weren’t mixed very well. The supernatural stuff was often elegant and beautiful to look at, but we weren’t sure how it fit in with the characters. And the human side’s sometimes charming (Izumiko), often dull (the siblings) struggles to find roles for themselves were muddled with the supernatural duties they had to perform. So, depending on how you felt about Canaan, this is perhaps PA Works’ weakest show. It didn’t have the smart writing and direction that Hanasaku Iroha and Tari Tari had, I could never get involved with the characters, and even the art and animation seemed weaker. It all seemed matter-of-fact, it just happens with no real impact. A shame, but I’m still looking forward to their next series.
Shingeki no Kyojin 11’s story doesn’t move very quickly, but important things need to be done before the next step, Eren’s mission, can happen, and the story would be remiss if they don’t address them. First, the troops have to be rallied. A lot of the soldiers are at their wits’ end, and this new plan they’re ordered to execute is absolutely insane. It takes a rousing, if eccentric speech from Dot Pixis (who’s become one of my favorite characters) to point them back to their goal. The speech works because Pixis doesn’t hold back. He points out that if they leave to be with their families, their families will eventually be eaten by giants. He even touches on that mission four years ago and the cynical reasons for it that no one can voice. After that it’s just prep, and another speech from Riko to Eren, inspirational but of the “don’t fuck up” variety. Around these speeches, it’s prep. Glad to see Armin getting some respect from seniors while plotting strategy. Yeah, it’s a drag that we can’t see the mission unfold, but the show needed to do it, and on the other hand, the few seconds of action we DO get make a hell of a cliffhanger. I wonder if Eren’s little argument with Mikasa just before didn’t have something to do with it. Probably not.
In Chihayafuru 2 23, with Chihaya no longer in it, we switch at last to the other players, well, two of them. For two interesting matches.
They contrast each other. Arata and Shinobou are going for the A level championship while Taichi and Rion tangle for the B, and if Taichi wins he’ll become an A player at last. A and S are two otherworldly players who play coldly and efficiently, while at the start T and R have a competition over who can bumble the most. T and A are playing mind games with each other, well, I don’t know what Shinobou’s mind is all about. She mutters things about how it’s best to play alone, and she’s rebuffed by Arata simply smiling at her. T and S’s mental battles are with themselves.
Which is more interesting? That’s a dilemma for Chihaya, too. She would love to see Arata play and study the queen some more, but it’s her steadfast friend Taichi in the other match. That she chooses Taichi says a lot about the possibly-nonexistent love triangle, so much so that when Taichi sees her come into the room he loses his sense of purpose for the first time all day. Luckily for him, Rion is facing issues of her own. Her team resents her success because of her failure earlier against Chihaya, but she regains her purpose when they turn back to her side, and soon it looks like another failure for Taichi, who hasn’t beaten five players in a row before. But, as we learn, neither has Rion.
Taichi is undone partly because he wants to finish early so Chihaya can watch the other match (not that there’s room for her), but when he finds his answer and finally gets the monkey off his back, we get one of the most moving scenes in the season so far. He grabs Chihaya by the arm to drag her upstairs, but she collapses in tears. He’s Class A now. She’s unbelievably happy. Meanwhile, Taichi had forgotten all about the rankings in his attempt to do what he thinks is best for Chihaya, maybe only now realizing that watching him was what she most needed to do. Well done. Next week we’ll get the tail end of the Arata/Shinobou slugfest.
Something interesting finally happens in Red Data Girl 11, and instead of mailing in the conflict like every other one, they actually do something interesting with it. That is, eventually. First we have more cultural festival scenes, where the kids enact the fight for the castle in, er, cultural festival ways, such as a backgammon tournament for the generals match, and capture the flag for the soldiers and in the latter we got a lot of ghosts from the original battle standing around looking unhappy. Among our main characters Izumiko is somehow entranced by Takayanagi, so subtly that I was saying “What the fuck is wrong with her?” while Miyuki runs around frantically looking for her. This works because the manipulation is subtle, no special effects, and because we don’t like anyone messing with Izumiko’s head. So it’s more satisfying when she snaps out of it, whipping up the wind around her, and, so she thinks, totally ruining any chance she has to become a normal girl. I guess that’s what the finale is all about.
Suisei no Gargantia 9’s big revelation, “We have met the enemy, and he is us,” was hardly a surprise. I was betting on the Hideaze being evolved or mutated squid, and I was half right. The second-half flashback sequence had me scratching my head. Was this video data the only thing they could salvage? Was it arranged in chronological order by Chamber, and if so, why would he do it? Not to mention that the video blurs and pixel moments, meant to make it look realistic, were just annoying. And was it always snowing during the global cooling event? Whatever, the whole thing certainly had an effect on Ledo, and I wasn’t buying it for a second. He’s too hardwired to suddenly fall into despair upon hearing the truth. The Hideaze in space, after all, are still trying to kill humans, and vice versa. Surely his instincts as a soldier would kick in. I don’t care how cute those little baby Hideaze was, or that adult that was in more human form, a cheap attempt at invoking an instinctive human reaction out of us. Nope. I’m disappointed.
Shingeki no Kyojin 9 dithers around for awhile before getting around to the big question: WTF happened to Eren? I think they wanted to
piss us off tease us before getting to that so they showed us a little story about the elite Recon Corps, commanded by Levi, who strikes me as a male version of Mikasa, and who just happened to be out of the city during the latest attack. Honestly, what was the point of those scenes? Is this show so bad at introducing and developing characters that they feel they have to stick a chunk of new material right at the show’s most tense moment to date? … Well, yes, it is.
As for the big questions, we get a nasty scene of Eren inside the giant’s gullet, swearing revenge for the thousandth time, and the next thing you know an arm’s popping out of the giant, followed by the rest of the giant with abs. We get the present moment, with soldiers pointing guns at Eren, Mikasa and Armin and calling them traitors. A tense scene. The commander is obviously partly out of his mind by this time and is capable of giving any order. Eren doesn’t know what’s going on and would be as surprised as the rest to learn. Armin tries negotiation and Mikasa tries intimidation. And it really doesn’t matter. The commander was going to fire no matter what Eren’s answer was. What happened next isn’t going to make him any new friends in the military either, but it’s another glorious WTF moment in this show, and another great cliffhanger. It more than makes up for the crappy characters.
Finally, even though I wrote about Red Data Girl last time, a new episode has shown up, so I might as well take care of it now. It’s about the only show I’m managing to keep up with, god knows why. In episode 10 the school festival has started and you get the impression that various spiritual forces are jockeying for position for … damn, the show hasn’t really told us. There’s something weird going on in the haunted house, and a curse that the middle school girls are afraid of, but it mostly gets subsumed into the mundane festival activity, like people pulling off Izumiko’s headdress to reveal her adorable rolled braids. The best part was the haunted house, where actual ghosts show up to appeal to Izumiko and she’s too nice to blow them away with a defense spell, which might reflect a later chat with Mayuri who suggests that his eating of lost souls is a demonstration of compassion. Nice idea, and maybe it will have to do with the story arc, if they ever decide to pull it out of the daily routine and polish it up a little.
As we expected from the previews, Toaru kagaku no Railgun S 8 features Misaka against a formidable enemy. A pity that this enemy is a smirking loli.
We’re introduced to ITEM, a quartet (at least) of supergirls-for-hire, as they’re given the job of covering the two research facilities that Misaka hasn’t destroyed yet. And while it’s nice of the show to give us an early glimpse, before the fighting, it didn’t do much to humanize them and thus make the story more interesting. The only other reason to introduce them so early would be because they’re recurring characters. We’ll see about that. Anyway, Frenda, the loli, asks to defend one of the places herself and so we get a, er, man-to-man battle that isn’t as exciting as it should be.
It looks good on paper. Misaka we know about. Frenda is apparently powerless, but skilled in espionage and mayhem, while Misaka isn’t. So we get bombs and fiery trails befuddling Misaka at first, until she figures a few things out. It helps that, not for the first time, Misaka’s opponent underestimates her. And so the battle goes back and forth for awhile until Frenda cons Misaka into not using her electricity and gains the upper hand. Seriously, at this point Misaka ought to be dead. Fortunately for her, Frenda’s a smirking loli who likes to say gloating things in between attacks, giving Misaka a chance to avoid further damage. Unfortunately for us, it also means any momentum the battle manages to build up gets frittered away whenever she opens her mouth. To be fair, the same happens when Misaka has a voiced thought, and some of Frenda’s antics WERE funny. But I’d much rather have had Misaka up against one of those other girls. They look like they can keep their mouth shut and fight. Happily, it looks like that’s what we’ll get next week.
While Railgun had its moments, it didn’t really live up to expectations. Meanwhile, Chihayafuru S2 21 was a great episode.
We had the usual side points but most of the time was spent watching two matches. First, Chihaya, trying to figure out how to play Karuta at a high competition level with her left hand–during the match, against a player bent on revenge for her team. Okay, her winning was a tad improbable, but Chihaya’s finding a way to win was the series at its best. There are setbacks (at the beginning she can’t even figure out how to sit right) and then discoveries, like how her opponent, like most people, isn’t used to playing against lefties, and a moment that I found terribly funny but perhaps the show didn’t, that she hadn’t thought to reverse her card layout. There’s a reason to love Chihaya: beautiful, determined, brilliant at karuta, but stupid at practical things. So she survives this match and wins the next, though it’s an afterthought, as in round two we switch to Nishida’s match against Arata, or “The Agony of Porky.”
Arata scored more than a perfect game in the first round and isn’t about to lose here (because, you know, the plot …), and Nishida’s confidence and high spirits come crashing down as the guy who beat him again and again growing up beats him yet another time. In spite of Nishida’s constant practice and determination, he’s simply not as talented as Arata and never will be. All he can do is keep fighting, which he does, and which only gives him a moment or two of respect in Arata’s inner monologue between executing dazzling moves that leave Nishida dumbfounded. Not only that, Nishida’s failures in the team matches the previous day leave him convinced that he’s let the team down–never mind the victories in the finals–and that he is the worst-motivated player among them. Utter bullshit, but losing a little can do that to you. It will be interesting to see if the series gets back to that. They won’t have time this season, in fact, since next week will certainly be Chihaya/Shinobou, I don’t know how much we’ll see of Nishida or the other teammates after this.
Meanwhile, Red Data Girl prepares its big story arc and leaves me hopelessly confused. It’s not the fact that I don’t know shit about Japanese gods, spirits or legends, but it’s all explained so poorly in this show that I don’t know what’s going on. In the story the school cultural festival is gearing up, and everyone in the know talks about it either as a school doing a warring states theme about defending an old castle, or about some contest between rival spiritual forces, since just about everyone in the school is infested by one or has one as a buddy. Much is made about Izumoko unbraiding her hair for costumes, which might unleash the himegami, unless it doesn’t. When the himegami DOES show up she does so with no glowing (boo!), just Izumiko in her school uniform, braided hair, only some overdone, tacky makeup to let us know, that and her haughty tone of voice. The Hime talks about humanity ending, or her ending, her powers, and other things to poor hapless Miyuki, and at the end comes on to him. Hmph, some goddess. But it makes you think that maybe being endangered is a good thing, if they’re going to act like that.
The last couple episodes or Red Data Girl were heavy on talk, and worse, exposition, and even worse, confusing exposition. It was only at the end of last week, when Manatsu jumped onto that spirit horse, that things looked more promising, and indeed, this week we get an episode that shows what the series is capable of.
Mostly the show is subdued and introspective, with a lot of normalcy belying its supernatural elements, so when something supernatural comes out the effect is increased. It’s been careful not to overdo that aspect maybe too much, to the point where I just want Izumiko to start glowing. It doesn’t help when you’re not sure what’s going on. But this episode they make it sort of clear. Manatsu and Masumi have a sort of connection that makes them closer to each other than to their sister Mayura. Now Manatsu says he wants to stop holding off the inevitable and stay with Masumi in his world. Is this all because that horse died? Geez …
To bring him back, Izumiko tries to become the himegami on purpose for the first time; naturally it doesn’t work, but she does get sent to some other, supersaturated plane, and the episode instantly improves. She discusses/argues with Masumi (or IS he? … Er, I don’t actually know anymore) and starts dancing and glowing to get past a boulder to where Manatsu is, only to learn that it’s not Manatsu but Masumi, and that Masumi isn’t really what we think he is. But before we can get confused we get a big flying snake thing, Miyuki sprouting black wings (which makes even Izumiko say “WTF?”), the real himegami (with that splendid dissonant chord they play), who’s actually kind of rude to her, and finally, Izumiko’s elusive mom. Trust me; it makes more sense when you see it. A pity, then, that they fall back into talk after the crisis is over, but at least this time the talk is understandable. Good episode.
Like many shows about nothing, Yuyushiki‘s first episode didn’t impress me very much, but now that I understand the characters a little better and have seen the show’s strengths it’s been growing on me. At first it seemed obvious: two annoying characters make fun of the straight man, who reacts, like a million comedy situations before. But you can get some funny bits out of it if the idiots have something going for them. In this show that means Yukari. She has a gift for non-sequitors worthy of Osaka; even her idiotic comrade, Yuzuko, doesn’t know what to make of her sometimes. But chances are one of the other two can take whatever strange utterance that comes out of Yukari’s mouth and play with it, batting the concept back to Yukari, or letting it fall, plop, as Yui tends to do when it’s time for the joke to finish.
So, even when I’m not sure how they got to a certain point, they usually manage to make it funny enough for me not to care. The dynamic’s biggest flaw is that they’re completely dependent on Yui. Nothing wrong with that, Yui’s a solid straight man with occasional flashes of lunacy of her own, but through seven episodes I can’t think of a scene that had just the other Yukari and Yuzuko; in fact, I can’t imagine one. And they’re really not complete without all three, either. The New Years episode had Yui/Yuzuko and Yui/Yukari scenes, but they weren’t very interesting apart from the “gorilla” bit, and that actually involved all three characters stretched between the two scenes to be funny. This dynamic will go stale eventually, but they’ve tried to introduce side characters, such as “mom” and Aikawa; they’re not really part of the flow yet, but they have potential to widen the show’s comic antics somewhat.
Attack on Titan 6 starts with some misdirection, featuring Armin trying to get himself together (and mostly failing) after watching Eren get eaten. We follow him as he thinks about how cruel the world is, the strong preying on the weak, etc, but then we get a complete change and follow Mikasa as she goes flashbacking to the terrible event that made her the efficient cold-blooded killing machine (and the most fun character to watch) she is today. It’s more strong-preying-upon-the-weak, and not terribly interesting, apart from the fact that she’s part “oriental” as they put it. One good contrast, if an unrealistic one: they show the helpless Mikasa watch as Eren as a child (showing as much maturity as he does as an adult) kill two of her captors and urge her to fight back against the third. Earlier we saw Armin being kicked around by bullies only to be saved by Mikasa and Eren. Armin never figured out how to fight back, Mikasa did. Though with her it’s as if super killing powers got zapped into her by some exterior force. But everything about Mikasa suggests otherworldly abilities, anyway.
If Red Data Girl has any more episodes like #6, well, I dunno. There were two interesting scenes in it, one where a drunken Izumiko out-of-bodies herself to chat with Masumi’s ghost, and he suggests hitting on her, odd behavior for a ghost. Izumiko is drunk enough not to freak out, but simply ponder the implications. The other scene was a verbal confrontation between Mayura and Akinokawa over power at the school, and the only thing that makes it interesting was that it was a confrontation, because we have almost no clue what they’re talking about. Afterwards the show deigns to tell us what the judges, executive committee stuff and the SMF actually mean, but through a series of conversations so lifeless that I don’t really care. Since this show is made by PA Works, for whom slice-of-life is a speciality, maybe I should expect most of the supernatural stuff to come out in the form of discussion, but their previous shows did a much better job of it.
Episode 7 is a little better, but like the previous one, businesslike and often dull, tossing out scenes of this and that like a bored dealer, and giving us little clarification. First Mayura decides to test Miyuki’s abilities, leading to utter failure by Miyuki and more soul-searching by Izumiko about how his plight is all her fault, after all. Though, if this was a different show, the victors would be smirking and mocking the boy. Here they (the ones not brainwashed into attacking) just nod and say “Okay, now we know,” while Miyuki goes “I TOLD you!” One thing about PA Works shows is that their characters know when to go against type.
I mostly understood that part, but things got confusing again when Manatsu runs off to tend to Tabi the horse, leaving Masumi to cover. There’s potential for annoying humor here, but the show ignores it for the most part, the biggest problem being when Masumi is temporarily driven away by a ritual dance the executive committee does. Then, when Izumiko and Miyuka decide to check up on Manatsu, they find the horse has died and Manatsu is talking about not remaining with Mayura, only to have her overhear. She says she rushed to the brother who was the saddest. He says he no longer has Tabi to protect him (huh?), meanwhile a horse materializes out of nowhere and he rides off on it. A true WTF moment. Izumiko, Miyuki, and Mayura are shocked; I am completely befuddled. And only now do I realize that this was the siblings’ story arc. I only wish I understood it better.
Since I watched Red Data Girl #1-3 in preview format, it’s been a while since I’ve seen it. Episode 4, though fairly low key (apart from the homunculus and the computer blowing up), sucked me back in without much effort. Now things shift from the rustic and pastoral to a rich kids’ school. I expected a lot of class snobbery, but there isn’t much. Instead, all the petty hatreds of high school seem to be shifted to the otherworldly. The super rich and smart and snobby Takayanagi is set up as the enemy when Ricardo, Brazilian exchange student and homunculus (not much class snobbery, but the show here relies on “other people” as threats, even while taking pains to deny it by showing a couple others who are perfectly normal), is spotted as such by Izumiko. Still, it’s an effective threatening sequence overall. The end is marred by people stepping out of shadows (or through windows) to reveal themselves as more than they seem, but I’ll let that slide.
Then I watched episode four, where not only do more people step out of shadows but they have a lot of confusing things to talk about. We start with the confrontation between Manatsu and Takayanagi … some confrontation. Manatsu whips out a third version of himself (his sister Mayuma is the second) and we get an explanation which confused the hell out of me, especially the guy wearing the dress, while he wipes out Ricardo the homunculus and some flying glowing things to boot. I had to resort to Wikipedia to figure out what had just happened. It’s nice that the show is trying so hard to keep us informed, but it kind of makes the events lag …
We get something to latch onto after that, as the other Sagara joins the school as a lecturer and tells Miyuki to basically piss off. Miyuki goes into a snit, joins the student council (why?) and tells Izumiko to stay away, until he learns that Izumiko is meeting some other characters who have secret powers and their own stories to tell, whereupon he forgets his snit, and goes off to save the day, only to have Izumiko go into himegami mode and not need the help. It gets confusing here again; I think the new guys thought Izumiko was some sort of performance god, but Izumiko/Himegami tells them emphatically NO, even if she has her own light show.
Miyuki’s in a tough position. No one there (well, the list is getting longer) knows about Izumiko’s potential and Miyuki is partly saddled with helping her keep the secret (while Izumiko doesn’t feel like she should keep secrets from her friends, and that list is growing, too), but as the older Sagara’s arrival suggests, he’s not really powerful enough to do much on his own. On the other hand, the himegami wants him to keep Izumiko from taking on this role, which goes against everything he’s been trying to do and turns the plot on its head as well. I think so, anyway. A lot of this episode just made me scratch my head.