Shingeki no Kyojin ends with a hodgepodge of meanings dragging behind it. More than once we’re told that people who live safely behind walls don’t deserve freedom, which I guess was the point of the final battle between Big Eren and Big Annie, ripping each other’s body parts loose and crashing around the safest place of the city, killing off hundreds of people who I guess don’t deserve freedom, including that bloody, crying little girl, who probably doesn’t even know what’s going on. As Armin says at one point, it’s complicated. You have Erwin, who in the end doesn’t seem to care about the lives lost, feeling it’s necessary for mankind’s survival, but not saying why. Levi, who’s seen many friends and comrades die, might be the voice of conscience, but most of the time he just says “I hope you’re right,” and nothing else. The show makes pains to show how inept those who hide behind that inner wall are, but gives us no reason for why their lives are thus less valuable than any others.
So let’s move on to the fight. It was better than I had feared. At first it looked like Annie, with her superior fighting ability, would win again, but Armin lets his blinding rage take control and becomes a mad flaming beast. It’s crazed, bloody action (especially with all the civilians getting squished) and it comes to a fitting conclusion when Mikasa stops Annie from climbing the wall and Levi stops Eren from eating Annie. The little guys on wires manage to get something done. After that it’s a letdown, all speeches about mankind, becoming monstrous to destroy monsters, and the philosophizing noted above. And in the end mankind doesn’t seem any better off than they were before. No matter. That’s not why the series has become a hit. It’s because it’s full of action, and it’s monstrous. The former was very well done and made up for the occasional artistic lapse, and the latter caught the audience’s imagination. Of course there will be a second series. The only question is when.
The Toaru Kagaku no Railgun S finale had to do two things. It had to top, or at least match, the terrific first season finale, and it had to somehow make this final story arc compelling. One out of two …
The battle was just as exciting and nutty as I had hoped. It was also messy. There were tides turning throughout but most of them were forgotten in a minute. The bad guys jam the good guys’ signals? Is that so bad? Their enemies are right in front of them. And when friends arrive with reinforcements, well, that’s good, but it doesn’t seem to matter much. Just keep smashing things. With continuity issues, for me at least, the Index franchise can get away with almost anything. And, of course, everyone shows up at just the right time, says a line or two, and proceeds to kick ass while the techno score thumps on. I frankly hadn’t expected Mugino and her pals to appear, and when they did, I was delighted to see that they had their own agenda for being there. About the only ones that don’t show up are Accelerator and Touma.
There are too many great moments and lines delivered during the battle, so I won’t list them. It was great fun, and topped by Misaka doing the railgun thing–IN SPACE! And everyone ends up smiling. Let’s turn to the things you realize after all the craziness didn’t work, or at least left you scratching your head. The worst thing is this entire story arc. This bad guy organization was the dullest on record, a bunch of smirking bespectacled esper wannabees that I couldn’t care less about. Febri was just a cute little girl in danger, and we never really meet Janie, though we see her near the end, out of her pod, happily chatting with Febri. Those filaments were never really explained. And that entire missile business was confusing; I never understood what what going on (but nice touch using the sisters to help solve the problem, since they didn’t participate in the battle and I was just beginning to wonder where they were). And don’t get me started on Misaka’s speech to Aritomi, or that fact that it seemed to have an effect on him. Saten summed it up better when her robot was beating up a bad robot after the pilot had cursed all the espers: “Just so you know, I’m level zero!”
But who the hell really cares? The show promised us a big battle and it delivered, it used all the characters well and gave them moments to shine. And if a lot of it was confusing, or just over-the-top crazy, well, that’s one of the reasons we like it. Railgun (and Index) knows how absurd it is, doesn’t care, and occasionally, thanks to the Sisters’ pithy lines, winks at you about it all before going back to the bizarre, endearing characters and wild action. I miss it already.
Shingeki no Kyojin 24 builds well and leaves us waiting for another big giantXgiant battle next week. But two things occur to me.
First, why didn’t Eren transform sooner? He lay there in the wreckage for several minutes, had two pep talks, one from Jean, the other from Armin. At first it’s understandable; he couldn’t believe that Annie was really that Titan, even after she transformed right in front of him. Some people need time to digest shocking news, so I don’t mind that bit, and I appreciated that chilling moment when Mikasa suggested there were “other” reasons why he couldn’t transform. Never has Mikasa looked so scary. But in the end he practically had to will himself to be angry and focused enough. There was no other reason. He couldn’t see the fighting from where he was lying, couldn’t see Mikasa knocked flat, twice. The reason is, of course, that they wanted a big buildup before he came to the rescue, but that’s a poor reason.
The rest of it, however, was fantastic. There were people flying around everywhere, getting squished by Annie, who, having a brain, keeps coming up with inventive ways of squishing them. Mikasa’s two attempts at Annie’s head, though failures, showed her at her most furious and brave. And the camera swoops and glides around everyone like it was on wires on its own. It was a joy to watch … and that’s the other problem. The men and women fighting on wires, small and vulnerable though they are, have a poetry to them; the two giants are just going to duke it out like two people in a cage. No matter how much money they throw at the animation, it simply can’t match up. Well, never mind. It’s bound to be exciting anyway. But many shows’ peak moments come in the buildup. I’m worried that this will be one of them.
We start Monogatari Second Season‘s Nadeko Medusa arc with that very same character brutally killing Araragi and Sengoku. With that cheery future event to look forward to, we move past the OP (a pretty good one) and follow Sengoku Nakeko around as she has Monogatari-style conversations. In the first one we meet Ougi Oshino, who nearly runs her over, tells her that they will meet in the future, so this is a screw-up, and lectures her on victims and aggressors. Basically, You can be one or another, or both, and which one is Sengoku, anyway, because you’re not purely the victim, Sengoku, ARE YOU? It makes little sense to Sengoku, or to me, but never mind, this bizarre bicycle girl who talks like Hidamari’s Miyako triggers the new arc.
While I was trying to remember exactly how Sengoku could be blamed for anything, we get a monologue about her class in school being fans of those charms that that con-man was peddling a while back, and why they’re all so melancholy now. So maybe Sengoku is guilty by association? No, she and her friends are victims here. But that snake that pops up and engages her in the final conversation of the week give us an answer, or the snakes’s answer, anyway. I don’t trust the snake. There’s more at work in Sengoku’s mind than guilt over killing a bunch of snakes back when she was trying to save her own life. It probably has to do with that snake that Araragi got to leave back in Bake–. Why kill him and Shinobou over that? Well, the snake will let us know soon enough.
Uchouten Kazoku 12 brings us the big action promised last week, but it’s undone pretty quickly, then redone, and we wind up with a bizarre confrontation brewing in the final episode. Fun as it was (and this episode was all about fun) I was a little surprised that Yajiro did his streetcar impersonation so early in the episode. It meant a turnaround thanks to more of the twins’ treachery, but I didn’t anticipate another turnaround, thanks to Yashiro. I should have seen the flying trolley bit coming, it happens so often in anime. The other great surprise was Akadama’s sudden appearance right when things were getting the most grim. I should have seen it coming, but unlike Yajiro’s train job, even if the previews hadn’t given it away, I didn’t. Great to look at though it was, I’m more interested in next week, when we get the Friday Fellows meeting a room full of tanuki. I’m looking forward to the reactions on both sides when they find out. I just hope they do it without ignoring all the questions we have about Benten, or are they pretty much done with her? Never mind. Remember what Yasaburou (and half of the rest of the cast) says this week:
The big reveal in Shingeki no Kyojin 23 should come as no surprise, except to those of us who had forgotten who giantess is. The show’s had problems establishing characters from the start. Even after the opening scenes where we see her sympathizing with an overly zealous outer of corruption named Marlo while telling him that he’s a complete idiot, we’re still not sure why she does the things she does, just that she doesn’t like the corruption in the system. But after that, at least story-wise, the episode wasn’t bad. Armin’s plea to Annie suggested a different and just as logical turn of plot than what we got, which meant the buildup at the stairs was well-done because we weren’t sure what was going on. That said, we got questions, like how did Armin get permission to use Eren and Mikasa for this trap, what were those townspeople doing helping out, and again, why is she doing this?
Toaru Kagaku no Railgun 22 is again mostly talk, with a pointless action scene in the middle, and it raises more questions than answers. Judgement and Anti-Skills manage to find information on the head bad guy, Aritomi, when Kongou happens to spot his face on a database Uiharu had opened up, which is the way these two agencies tend to work. Mugino and her pals get a job to look into something and there’s nothing there, but they blow stuff up anyway, hence our action scene. Misaka mulls a lot over her conversation with Therestina, partly about clues but more often about that darkness image. And guinea pigs; that’s the new one. The questions involve those capsules with the hair in it, who hired ITEM to attack that old factory, why Shinobou, knowing that the information in that factory was bogus, went in there anyway. Well, that last question is more a question of plotting, not a story factor we’re supposed to consider. In the end, Shinobou and Misaka prove to be even stupider than Aritomi, actually believing he’ll give them the poison neutralization, especially Misaka letting herself get paralyzed, unless she has some trick up her sleeve. Yep, a lot of questions, some of them not the ones the show wants us to ask.
(Note to self: when writing about these two shows, stop mixing up the names Mikasa and Misaka.)
Shingeki no Kyojin 22 is, er, not very cheerful.
We get two action scenes, the first being the pursuit and rescue of Eren, that is to say, the incapacitating of the female giant who ate him. It’s an interesting look at Mikasa in blood rage compared to the much cooler and more effective Levi. In fact, Levi is so adept at making the giant a hunk of useless meat in human form that you wonder why he didn’t do that when the giant was chasing them all earlier. Well, it doesn’t matter, Eren is rescued, though Mikasa wasn’t given the chance for revenge. Maybe next time. The second bit of action was a cautionary tale about recovering the bodies, which wound up creating another body or two. I’m fully on Erwin and Levi’s side on this one. Dead is dead.
The remainder involves the army’s inglorious retreat to the city, and the show takes great pains to compare it to previous inglorious returns, the ones that the young Eren looked at with such admiration. There’s even a little kid playing the Eren role, which probably cheered Eren and Mikasa up a little, but the whole thing was so heavy-handed that I felt more like Erwin and Levi at that moment, stoically moving on while townspeople asked about sons and daughters or jeered about the terrible loss of life. That’s how I felt about the scene, anyway: just keep moving, they’re laying the sorrows of war stuff on too thick, but the scene will be over soon. Things promise to get more interesting next week when it’s back to the courtroom. Oh, shit, another courtroom scene with stereotypical societal faction members give ridiculous speeches? Maybe not so interesting. We’ll see what Armin has up his sleeve …
On the other hand, Monogatari Second Season 10 is a pretty cheerful episode … overall. I didn’t expect this arc to finish so quickly.
We start with the initial shock of Araragi returning to the present only to find his world overrun by zombies. Rather, as Oshino helpfully explains in a letter, this is actually an alternate timeline, and not the inevitable consequence of saving Mayoi. I think. I’m not really sure. Time travel stories always confuse me. Anyway, after the zombies are driven away (with rice?!), we and our heroes get the delightful surprise of seeing Mayoi fully grown and in survivalist mode. What’s more, she has a letter from Oshino that explains the situation. As far as conversations go it’s straight and too the point–surprisingly so, I thought, and I sort of wished Araragi had told her the truth of the situation. I’m sure she was wondering what’s going on.
After that it’s time to meet Kiss-Shot Acerola-Orion Heart-Under-Blade, or the person wielding it. I had forgotten who this person or thing is, only thinking when they briefly showed her face during the Oshino letter visual rush, that she looked like Shinobou. Along the way, of course, we have a conversation, and given the circumstances (possible death from an opponent far more powerful than them) it’s a brave and positive one that showed the bond that these two odd people have made, mostly on the idea of “saving the girl in front of you” and choosing between the girl and the world. They’re both smiling and laughing throughout. They’ve made their choices and don’t regret them.
Which I suppose was the intent, for this older, bitter Shinobou they encounter is the person who didn’t make the right choices and regrets it. I expected a long, bloody battle with bitter tongue-lashings from KSAOHUB and Shinobou both, but the only blood we see comes from KSAOHUB’s eyes, and then Shinobou’s, as they’re both in agreement. “I made the wrong decisions and now you’re standing before me happy.” “My decisions were pretty close to yours, so I can’t figure it out.” “Me neither. Well, you better kill me.” “‘kay.” And that’s it. So rather than a fight, we get another conversation, a short, sad one. All Araragi gets to do is pat KSAOHUB’s head. Mission accomplished. Araragi saved Mayoi and then the world she was in, then returns and meets the Mayoi he knows in typical fashion, but reversed. I didn’t expect that at all, and it was beautifully done.
After and during a lot of dire warnings by frogs, Uchouten Kazoku 10 brings us the long-awaited Ebisugawa plans for winning the election, and it’s pretty cruel, actually. The father actually wants to wipe out the Shimogawa family, and we see them one-by-one fall prey to the attacks. Okay, we only see two of them and can only imagine what happened to the mother, and Yasaburou is surrounded at the episode’s end. All for a petty love squabble many years ago. We also, finally, get the details of Souichirou’s capture and death by stew, but as Yasaburou mutters, he sort of had figured it out already. In short, this is one of the bleak episodes that many series have before the tables slowly turn closer to the end, in this case, two episodes away.
When, last week in Shingeki no Kyojin, the female giant got herself devoured to prevent capture, it meant we’d have to wait a few more dragging episodes before we saw her again. Happily, I was wrong.
It STARTS that way. From their various locations in the forest the characters talk about the implications, Armin as usual making the most sense, Erwin pondering future strategies and battle philosophies while fleeing. The danger is still there. There is a traitor in their midst and they don’t know who, so there’s an edge to these scenes, but really you want the big girl back. Fortunately, Erwin’s speculation that the traitor may have to transform again is proven true, and we get what we wish. But then it begins to look like another pointless chase through that never ending forest, complete with another Eren “should I or shouldn’t I?” scene, but we get another twist: those elite corpsmen get the upper hand of the giant for a minute or two, then get crushed. … Well, Levi DID say there was no right or wrong answer, right?
It’s on! And it’s also weird as hell, and a bit kinky, especially when Eren straddles her and then pauses, as if he was thinking thoughts he hadn’t considered before. But no, he’s just thinking the usual things, revenge, kill, rage rage rage, the boring stuff he always feels. Meanwhile his opponent, already wounded, is clearly thinking about the battle more than Eren is. She’s on the defensive most of the time, but she’s clearly buying herself time to regenerate and waiting for the right moment, which comes so fast that you’re not sure what happened except the top of Eren’s giant head is falling off. And guess who shows up just in time to watch what happens next?
Watching what happened next I fully expected to see Misaka actually kill the giantess. We all know that she’s a great fighter, and, unlike Eren, she uses her rage almost like a weapon unto itself, motivating her to make moves on the giantess that would be suicidal for other corpsmen. And we’ve seen enough of the giantess to know that she was afraid. If she hadn’t had that crystallizing ability … But even though Mikasa didn’t succeed, her righteous anger is a joy to watch. The scene also made me think. The giantess hadn’t eaten anyone before. What’s more, I believe she swallowed Eren whole. If she had wanted to kill him she could have mashed him like she does all the others. In other words, she wants Eren alive. This is a giant version of kidnapping. I want to see what they do with this.
Genshiken Nidaime 9, like many of the other episodes, moves along in a leisurely way, tossing out little plot and character bits along the way, until a small crisis I don’t understand in the slightest pops up at the end. Most of it works. They spend too much time with Hato realizing that others might also know about Madarame’s interest in Saki, but they also introduce a bunch of new characters, all of them old friends of the main group who have come to say hello during the festival. It’s fun to see the type of people they used to hang out with. Yoshitake and Yajima’s friends make sense (passionate and mousy), and we’ll learn more about Hato’s next week, including whether they’re actually friends or not. Meanwhile, that room is getting awfully crowded. Plenty of potential for fun next week.
Uchouten Kazokou 9 is pretty much the same as Genshiken. Little scenes that want to establish characters rather than move plot forward. We get a brief scene between Yasaburou and the professor about procuring a tanuki for their feast, perhaps there to show the prof’s reluctance to find one at all, another scene where the candidates for the election (and I hope both lose somehow) bow before the center stone (with an amusing flashback), one where the tanuki try to get stubborn old Akadama to preside at the election (handled by Yasaburou–contrasting the earlier scene where Ebisugawas try to bar the Shimogamos from the meeting, here the tanuki part to let Yasaburou in), until we get to the main bit, a conversation between Yasaburou and Kaisei, whom we finally get to see, though Yasaburou can’t and maybe never has. Not much to the scene. We already know that the girl doesn’t like her family, but has some sort of affection for Yasaburou, at least. There’s a hint of threat at the end, but we already figure that the Ebisugawas are going to go on the offensive again. Not that I care. And, like every week, the episode breezes by so quickly that I’m surprised when it’s over.
I expected Shingeki no Kyojin 20 to push Eren into a corner, where he’d have no option but to transform, with a confrontation at the end of the episode (and a giant slugfest next week), but the show makes its own decisions. Eren is pretty much a bystander this week, someone to bounce philosophy and military ethics off of. Elsewhere, at the edge of the forest, Armin does the same (while Misaka says hardly anything and Sasha made me laugh again). Last week they made a big point of trusting your fellow soldiers and superior officers. This week they play with that point a little. Even Levi, loyal to the end, is beginning to wonder if Erwin’s big casualties are worth it. Armin actually has a big speech about how you don’t gain anything unless you’re willing to risk everything. Inspiring stuff, to be sure, but I note that Erwin is always standing in those trees watching other people get slaughtered.
After they’ve finished beating that concept into the ground, they get to have some fun with the giantess, whom I once again find myself rooting for. Even while restrained by hundreds of wires, she shows off a couple neat tricks, like calcifying her hands covering her nape so the soldiers can’t hack through them. Then, in an odd moment, Levi lands atop her head and talks about nasty things they’ll do to the person inside. The giantess responds by giving a series of dreadful screams, and the regular giants, milling outside the forest, charge in and eat her. So much for the Survey Corps’ plan. And we’re also back to the idea of abandoning everything, because the giantess just did. Were all the bodies worth it? Now we have a traitor in the ranks, as if the Survey Corps didn’t have enough trouble. You have to wonder when the cost of life will prove to be too much …
Genshiken Nidaime 8 features another lengthy scene between Hato and Madarame in the latter’s flat, except that this time Hato is dressed as a girl. I could compare and contrast the differences in the conversation between this and the first one, but to some it up, Madarame comes off as more or less the same: a friendly mentor type. It’s been a surprise and sort of a pleasure to watch the man grow up a little, still passionate about the same things, but with more experience under his belt. Early on we had some “He’s a guy! He’s a guy!” inner hysterics while the scene began to play out like an eroge game, but reality came back in after that. Madarame’s not stupid, and neither is the show. It simply likes to play with the contrast between fantasy vs. reality.
The conversation veers from innocent chat to wild fantasies to chat again, mainly because, even if Madarame seems more sure of himself these days, Hato, a college freshman, certainly doesn’t. At times it looked like he wanted to jump Madarame’s bones. At others, he’s trying to invent an elaborate BL scenario with Madarame, Kousaka, and maybe Saki. While this is mostly internal on Hato’s part, Madarame obviously knew what the lad was thinking, and it’s a sign of his maturity that he doesn’t overreact. As for Hato, Kousaka/Madarame fantasies notwithstanding, I think he’s falling in love with Madarame a little. It would explain why everything his senior does Hato believes to be reflection of his own sorry actions, such as his reaction to Madarame thinking of looking for another job. It might spice up later episodes.
Taoru Kagaku no Railgun S 19 is essentially a lost child episode, and I’ve seen better ones. They spend the entire show trying to figure out where Febri comes from, and each girl gets to bond with the little tot, including Kongou, who’s not part of the core team. The joke being, of course, that Misaka is the only one that Febri doesn’t seem to like. It takes a garbage robot drone attack, and Misaka’s rescue, to get Febri to change her mind. All terribly predictable. The only nice bit was Uiharu, still a bit lonely without Haruue around, getting to take her home. Nice of the show to give her the opportunity, unless the worst happens and Febri turns out to be some sort of living organic bomb, or worse. Meanwhile, the villains who are monitoring her don’t seem terribly threatening at the moment. That one guy didn’t even recognize Misaka until she wiped out the robots. All those sinister faces in that darkened room, and even Judgement seems to have more on the ball than them. Not a good sign for the bad guys.
In Monogatari Second Season 6, Araragi finally slips back into the main character seat and wastes no time getting girls to talk to him. In fact, we start mid-conversation with someone named Ougi, talking about the paradox of danger associated with traffic lights, and how they’re all red from time to time, for three seconds. I’m trying to connect that with what happens later, but I can’t. Ougi, like all the girls, tells him things, insults him, seems utterly sure of herself, but obviously needs Araragi for something. Maybe we’ll find out what it is later. Then we move on to Ononoki, talking about her experience being dead, as well as Mayoi (who is without her backpack. THAT can’t be good), and Araragi, who has the backpack, though it took me most of the scene to realize it, what with the usual quick cuts to written statements and scenery changes that are odd even for this show..
The rest of the episode is between Araragi and Shinobou, with more talk about Mayoi, and the sudden realization that he has no time to do his summer homework, a plot device so lame that even the show makes fun of it. So let’s go back in time! The conversations from here on are even more entertaining than usual. Shinobou makes a time portal, Araragi is dubious about stepping through (though he does), and even after, he’s got a lot of questions. It’s been clear to us from the start that Shinobou’s bullshitting her way through this whole thing, she probably just wanted to try out time traveling herself. But she’s never fucked anything up before, has she? And suddenly we’re confronted with the real plot, but the episode’s over. Our hero and his vampire are in a position I certainly didn’t expect, and I have come to expect just about anything from this franchise.
Just as I figured. In Shingeki no Kyojin 19, Eren never gets around to biting his thumb and transforming, but it’s a good episode, anyway.
It’s marred somewhat by the fact that the female giant, in spite of outrunning them, and Eren saying things along the lines of “She’s right on top of us!” too many times, she never actually catches up. This is one of those fictional things that must be handled just right. You can stretch time to get people’s thoughts in, or in this show’s case, entire conversations, but after a couple of lines like that we start getting impatient for the giant to actually do something besides run and slam whoever’s foolish enough to take her on into trees. It’s up to others to provide the action at this point. Eren does well enough.
That said, you could argue that the whole staring at his thumb for multiple scenes went too far as well. I think this balance worked better because you could see that the lad was actually torn about what to do. He’s got the squad urging him not to do it, he’s got people dying while protecting him as well. Plus, we get the flashback to before, a seemingly failed test plus interesting information about what he needs in order to transform. The self-abuse is only one trigger, the other is that he needs a clear goal, even if it’s to reach for a spoon. Good to know, but then they’re back on the horses and Eren must make a decision: trust Levi and the squad or take matters into his own hands. It’s just enough to make the too-long chase bearable, and then we get a bit of a surprise. But, like Monogatari, we’ll have to wait for next week.
Nothing much story happens in Genshiken Nidaime 7, either, but, unlike Eren, the show doesn’t need a clear goal to transform into a giant, monstrous epis- … Nah, just forget that metaphor, please. The club turns to what to do for the school festival, or whatever they call it in college, and before long all sorts of anxieties and bad memories come out. Ogiue gets temporary artist-block when she thinks Hato might be a better manga artist than her, while Hato tries and fails to draw a manga, and we get some freakish information about him. He can’t draw unless he’s cross-dressing, and then it’s all BL. The others talk about this weirdness for a while, how it could be a form of self-hypnosis, then it turns to romantic experiences in high school, and a few awkward stories and lots of blushing. It looks like Hato might have the weirdest story of them all, but then Kuchiki interrupts. And in the end, they’re no closer to producing a festival publication than they were at the beginning. Still, it was an entertaining trip. But is Yoshitake right? Do women dress up in order to put other woman in their place? Interesting …