Monday, January 31, 2011

Bakuman - 17

It really felt like this week's episode of Bakuman was a payoff for a lot of reasons - patience rewarded. We had the most Eiji-centric episode yet, and it really focused on the dynamic between he and Masahiro. We finally had the long-awaited introduction of Fukuda, one of the most popular characters in the manga. And it delved into the world of the assistant for the first time in any real depth.

Fukuda is an interesting one. He's introduced alongside a character we've fleetingly seen - Nakai, the 33 year-old assistant. Fukuda is neither the failed manga artist in decline or the up an coming teenager - he's in his early 20's, had some success, but struggling to get beyond "Next" and holding down two jobs to support himself. Arrogant he is - impatient with dealing with Eiji's quirks and dismissive of Nakai's status in life. In fact, it's Fukuda's treatment of Nakai that's his most unappealing trait in the episode. Nakai is a veritable fossil by the standards of the industry - ten years removed from a one-time publication and acting as a full-time assistant while still clinging to his dreams. Fukuda respects his skills as a background artist but generally treat him as a pathetic failure.

Into all this walks Masahiro, looking for inspiration in the work of the genius Eiji. He's too kind to join in the abuse of Nakai but represents another youthful rival trying to get ahead. Eiji continues to work in his bizarre, erratic manner - bypassing names and drawing all his own effects and backgrounds. That renders assistants useless, of course, so Fukuda spends most of his time working on his own name. But when Eiji realizes who his new assistant is his interest perks up - this is Asharagi Muto after all - and Masahiro eventually talks him into rewriting the new chapter of "Crow" and even writing a name. After much feedback from Msahiro and Fukuda Eiji responds as only he can - soaking it all in and churning out a name in 5 minutes flat.

That entire sequence in Eiji's apartment was fascinating for a number of reasons, and among the best of the entire series. The entire ep bar a short cutaway to Takagai and Miyoshi focused on Eiji's apartment and the manga process. Eiji proved himself willing to take feedback and adapt, and he even apologized to his editor - he continues to evolve as a character from the bizarre caricature he started out as. I really enjoyed the dynamic between the three young guys and Nakai - you could really feel his frustration at feeling like his career was over before it had even had a chance to begin. Will he end up chasing his dream after all, I wonder? There's a lot of pathos to his character and I don't think it will be wasted.

Fascinating - and perhaps the most ominous moment of the episode - was when Fukuda suggested Masahiro write his manga himself. Problem is, everything he said was true: Masahiro does know a ton about the industry and had great suggestions for Eiji. Solo authors get to keep all the money, and working as a partnership is really hard. Msahairo certainly doesn't see the worth of those arguments, but if the seed is planted surely he'll think about what Fukuda said - if he wasn't doing so already. This marked the first time that Masahiro and Takagi were never together for the entire episode, and Masahiro is going to grow in confidence as he experiences what being a professional artist is like. Sure they'll work it all out eventually - but for now the ride may get a little bumpy.

Tegami Bachi Reverse - 17

There's no question we're being trolled a bit on the whole Gauche/Noir thing at this point. Not only do we not have an answer but based on the events of this week, we're no closer to one. It all depends on how you interpret what happened on screen.

The funny thing is, none of the characters seem to know either. Not Lawrence, who ordered Gauche killed. Not Garrard and Valentine, who appeared to be convinced he was Noir by the end of the episode. Not Roda, who doesn't even know what to call him. And certainly not Lag and Sylvette.

The cat is certainly out of the bag about Garrard and Valentine, though - Largo and the gang at The Hive know beyond a doubt that they're Reverse agents. In order to save Sylvette from their interrogation, Lag goes into drag again - posing as Sylvette while Niche (whose follicular shapeshifting seems to know no bounds now) poses as her wheelchair. Garrard and Valentine are fooled (a little too easily, seems to me) and take the pair of them to the Reverse hideout, where they correctly figure Nauche is hiding. Except he's not hiding - he's waiting for them, asking to go back to Reverse - but they're skeptics. Lag's cover is blown, combat ensues and Goir offers prove his loyalty by offing Lag with a standard handgun. Just in time to save the day arrives Jiggy Pepper, the baddest baddass among the Bees. He rescues Lag, though the Reverse pair assume the boy is dead, buried beneath the rubble.

Here's where the maddening interpretation game comes into play. Lag seems convinced that Noir really tried to kill him, but there's more than a little obscurity to that. After all, Niche's hair shields or not, none of those bullets hit Lag - and what better way to allow Lag to escape than to bury him in rubble - knowing Niche would shield him? Jiggy himself seems to believe that, though Lag is unconvinced and Niche outright skeptical.

Me, I'm sticking to my guns here - this guy is some weird hybrid of Gauche and Noir who doesn't know himself who he is. Maybe it's true, as he says, that a heart lost can never be returned - but even so, the memories Lag gave back to him could surely change his nature. That remains the big question for now - the manga readers seem worried that we're diverging off towards an anime-only ending, which is always dangerous ground. For now, I haven't seen a slip in quality so I'll continue to hope we get a conclusion that feels true to the characters.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Gosick - 4

Gosick is newly revealed to be 24 episodes, a relative rarity in this one-cour world of anime we currently reside in. That's welcome news, though the series has yet to make the jump from good to great for me.

I actually found the mysteries a little more interesting this week, though they were apparently one-offs. As was the trend with the last arc, though, the seemingly independent mysteries tend to be interconnected - which means that while we seemingly have two murders solved, there's still the matter of English transfer student Avril Bradley and her connection to one or both cases.

The first murder could hardly have been more obvious, but to be fair I think that was intentionally spilled to us at the time - they practically showed the wire strung between the trees. As for the case of the mummy knight, that was an interesting one - and seems likely to be tied into Avril and the mysterious book she retrieved from the crypt. But what of that strange injury to her hand, and the blood on the wire from the first case?

As always, the interplay is ultimately more rewarding than the mysteries themselves. Victorique certainly has a good time mocking Kazuya for his randy impulses, not least of which is his interest in the beautiful exchange student. But at the same time she forces herself to eat his offering of the kaminari-okoshi (one wonders where Kazuya found such an item in 1924 Europe). I loved her line about boredom being her greatest enemy and a commotion her second-greatest - and how Kazuya drove away the first, but was the second. I'm also growing increasingly irritated at Grevil and the way he treats not just Victorique but Kazuya, too - the "baby squirrel" thing is arrogant and petty. And what did he mean with his "gray wolf" comment? I'm going to trust that there's a comeuppance for him at some point, because seeing him hog all the glory while Victorique stays locked in her tower is pissing me off. The odd thing, of course, is that she seems quite content to stay there - afraid of the alternative, in fact. Is she just socially retarded, or does Grevil have something held over there that we haven't seen as yet?

Mitsudomoe Zouryouchuu! - 4

Ika-chan!  Noooooooooo!
There's been no pure comedy in the last few years as fearless, hilarious at the top end and most strikingly, creative as Mitsudomoe. The level of sophistication in the humor is deceptive and at times absolutely stunning, as was the case with the final sketch and ED this week. This is as good as anime comedy has been since the first season of Minami-ke - the tragedy is, since this is only an 8-episode run the season is already half over.

There were no losers this week, though the finale was the clear class of the field. If there was a theme this week it was the pool, beginning with Futaba's dunderheaded - now there's a surprise - scheme to make a water slide out of floorboards for the school pool. Most of the girls, including Futaba and Sugisaki, end up tearing a big hole in the butt of their school swimsuits on a nail and spend the rest of the skit trying to figure out how to cover it up. This is a rare sketch in that Futaba has an almost happy ending.

We also get a good dose of Chiba in pervert mode, this time working on another secret move - the upside-down shirt flip. As Shin-chan points out Chiba's moves are getting increasingly more specialized and useless, but just when Chiba figures he's got a winner and can pull the rare double-bill of panties and chest by flipping Hitoha's one-piece, she foils him by having bloomers and a Gachi belt underneath. Sugisaki has her turn in the spotlight, trying to freak Mitsuba out by photoshopping Hitoha's face as a "ghost" in a series of photos of her older sister, but it ends up blowing up in her face when Matsuoka and Hitoha - who's very unhappy when she recognizes her own face as the ghost - get involved. And Shin-chan gets humiliated yet again, but not before a pretty heartwarming number where Futaba shows beyond a doubt how much she cares for him when he falls ill at the summer festival. Alas, as he ends up on his mother's doorstep with sexy panties on his head his reputation is tarnished even with his mother.

All that is a prelude, though, to the final sketch. That's where we get genius approaching the barrel sketch from episode 10 of the first season. It's back to the pool, this time the water park. Hitoha can't swim and rejects all advances to teach her from Soujirou and Futaba. She finally ends up relaxing in the "lazy river" pool on an inner tube and starting to enjoy herself, but her peace is short-lived. We're now treated to a string of fabulously staged camera shots and visual and musical humor, starting with Futaba's quite literally falling from the sky as seen from Hitoha's POV. I can only speak for myself, but when the strains of "Nearer My God to Thee" started and Hitoha looked up to see first, a string quartet on the pool deck and second, her inner tube leaking I absolutely lost it. It's one gem after another from this point - Hitoha's "death scene", Futaba's rescue, and the special ED which ends with Hitoha - again quite literally - breaking the fourth wall. Fantastic.
Don't make endings where I die!

I'm noticing that the writing staff have done a great job involving all the characters in the comedy this season - even more important given how short it is. Though we've only had three non-Gachi episodes everyone has featured in at least one sketch. It's clear to see the influence of director Masahiko Ohta here - he's really proving himself as good with comedy as anyone in the business today. The voice cast is truly stellar too, with Haruka Tomatsu (Hitoha) especially superb this week.  Even the PV got in on the greatness - with Futaba's line about Shin-chan sounding just like his mother. Makes perfect sense given that they have the same seiyuu...

To Aru Majutsu no Index II - 16

The "Queen of the Adriatic" arc concludes with a lot of very substantial-feeling direction, music and dialogue - if not all that much Earth-shattering in terms of actual events. The arc was a lot of fun, but I see it as empty calories to an extent - it seems less in retrospect than it did while watching it.

For starters, though, if you can't enjoy listening to Norio Wakamoto ham his way through a scene you've a barren soul, indeed. He's a joy as Bishop Biagio, though of course in the end all of his characters are basically a version of himself - Wakamoto-san is the Jack Nicholson of seiyuu. The troll here - there's always a troll with Index plotlines - is that the true target of the attack isn't Venice at all. The "Appointed Time of Rosary" spell is a key to unlock the limiters on the Queen of the Adriatic, allowing the Roman Catholics to use it against anyone they want. In this case, that's Academy City - the center of all the science the church despises. Yes, Biagio happily tells Agnese, we can destroy half the world in one fell swoop - praise God!

Of course it falls to Touma - with some limited help from Orsola and Index - to save the day with his right hand. There's a very cool sequence where he punches through the illusory structure of the ice ship room by room, evading ice knights and eventually finding himself one on one against Biagio. The Bishop's attacks are magically transforming crosses, which he launches with a twist of Christian verse. He thinks Touma crushed and turns his attention to Agnese and the Rosary spell, but Orsala keeps Agense alive just long enough for Touma to show up and Falcon Punch Biagio. Eventually Biagio - after hinting that launching the Queen spell now wasn't his idea - decides to self-destruct and take out the entire fleet along with the enemies of the church on board. Touma actually uses his unheralded left hand in a counterattack, vanquishes the bishop and ends up on a hospital gurney with Index grinning down at him. The frog-faced doctor calls and orders him home immediately before the Italian doctors get a look at him, and Kaori gets a scolding from Tsuchimikado for putting Touma into danger. Could maid cosplay be in her future?

I can't help but laugh at the way the Roman Catholic church comes off in this series. They certainly have a lot to answer for, but it's absurd the stuff they get up to here - world destruction seemingly at the core of most of it. They're definitely the bogeyman of the series, but there's a "Scooby-doo" quality to the way those damn kids always foil their plots before we ever really get to see them in action.

It was obvious from the presentation that this was an important arc for the series - no OP or ED and an actual appearance from the Pope, just for starters. Touma is now own the official enemies list and is to be eliminated, according to the order the "Right Seat of God" - the girl with the nasty acne and Alois Trancey-like tongue - gives His Holiness. As I said, it doesn't seem like all that much actually happened now that the arc is over, though. Next week looks like a veritable pander-fest, with anyone and everyone making an appearance - Biri-biri, Kaori, Accelerator (and by extension, Chibi-Misaka), Kazari, and Tomoe at the least. Given the traditional strengths and weaknesses of this series, that could definitely go either way in terms of quality.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Yumekui Merry - 4

I'm interested in the changing personalities this series has offered so far. What struck me after watching the 4th episode was the stylized animation - quite different from the first three in its use of theatrical gestures and comic effects.

It's a testament to just how good Hourou Musuko is that, despite its large cast, each one is indelibly imprinted on me as an individual. Yumekui Merry is a pretty good show, but beyond the two leads and the osananajimi's dad, I'm having a hard time putting names to faces. We seem to be trending towards an episodic format where Yuemji and Merry interact with someone in trouble with the dream world, and this week its Mei, the president of Yumeji's literature club. I really had no impression of her going into this week, so her storyline wasn't especially gripping - but she seemed to be hooked up with a muma that was neither good or evil, but somewhere in between - a being named Chris who contacted Mei via texting and ended up using her body to enter our world.

Yumeji and Merry are apparently an official crimefighting duo now, using the moniker of the series title (Dream Eater Merry). They manage to rescue Mei and banish Chris back to the dream world, or at least to the limbo region where Yumeji found Merry. Isana also enters into the picture, forcing some interaction with the unfriendliest girl in school, Kawanami. To be honest if we've met her before I've forgotten about it, and I'm not exactly sure what her role is yet. But she seems to be the brooding, silent type, so that means she has a secret we're sure to learn more about in the weeks to come.

Most of the episode was more reminiscent of the relaxed pace of the third episode than the breakneck of the second. There was lots of slice-of-life here - a trip to the karaoke room, video games, maid outfits for Merry. Honestly, none of it really amounted to much and it didn't really seem to advance things, but it was pleasant enough to watch. There's a decent sense of style and flair here and enough humor to lift the otherwise rather pedestrian plot above the tolerable level to generally interesting. I'd like to see more of the deeper emotional exploration and fast-paced plot development of the second episode, though - right now this is a show that seems to be struggling to find its identity. That variety can be interesting but I'm ready for a little more pointed and purposeful development.

Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica - 4

After last week's shocking episode, MSMM takes us on a different journey of darkness this week. This was emo, but generally in a good way - a depressing, bleak ep full of foreboding, death flags and an overarching sense of impending doom.

It appears, at least for now, that Mami really is dead and isn't coming back. Madoka has - at least for now - decided to heed Homura's advice and avoid becoming a Puella Magi. She's by far the most broken up about Mami's death - breaking into tears at home, at school and at Mami's apartment - where she runs into Homura. Kyuube appears to back off Madoka, but Sayaka seems to have reacted to Mami's death with anger rather than sadness. Her visit to Kamijo doesn't go well - angry at his fate, he lashes out at her for "torturing" him by forcing him to listen to music and cuts his hand smashing his MP3 player. Coincidentally (Ha!) Kyuube shows up outside his hospital window at that very moment, like a vulture on a telephone wire.

That's not the only coincidence at work here. After having rejected Kyuube, Madoka suddenly finds herself caught up in a wave of "zombies" all wearing the witch's mark - including Hitomi. Brainwashed, they're heading towards an empty factory in apparent intent to commit some kind of ritual suicide. Madoka tries to stop them and eventually finds herself trapped and surrounded by angry zombies, then pulled into a witch maze being pulled apart by fiendish little cherubs. Sayaka shows up just in time to save her - having signed her soul away to Kyuube. Kamijo wakes up at the hospital, miraculously able to move his fingers, and a new magical girl shows up in town - Magical Kyoko (To Love Ru, anyone?) and she appears to be pissed about the new girl inheriting Mami's territory. She and Kyuube seem pretty chummy, too.

I can't imagine Kyuube will have many defenders left after the events this week - it's pretty clear he's a ghoul manipulating little girls for his own still dubious ends. Sayaka, alas, is a victim of her own feelings for Kamijo. I can't imagine his recovery is going to end well - I suspect Kyuube is something of a monkey's paw when it comes to wishes. Whether Kamijo's recovery is a false one or whether, being recovered, he leaves Sayaka rejected and in despair I can't say - but it's not going to end well for her. Pretty much every death flag in the cliche hall of fame has been raised for the poor girl and things are almost surely going to take a turn for the worse for her.

As for Madoka, she's still free of Kyuube's curse for the moment. She seems to be the big prize the little demon wants but Homura is a formidable opponent, and determined to keep Madoka out of his clutches. Madoka seems totally out of her depth here - she's sweet and kind and very naive. In other words, a perfect sap for Kyuube. Why she's so important to him I don't think we can say, yet - but I can't imagine him giving up until he has her soul. This series has the feel of a tragedy in the making at this point, a locomotive headed in a very bad direction with no brakes.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Infinite Stratos - 4

Memo to Ichika: sometimes "sweet & sour pork" doesn't actually mean sweet & sour pork.

The ante gets upped this week as we have some actual danger instead of war games. Rin and Ichika are certainly in the midst of their grudge match and the Second osananajimi clearly has the upper hand. Ichika, fighting with the weapon his sister used to become world champion, is about to bust out a secret, one-time only move when an explosion rocks the arena. For the first time in the series the secure bubble of the Academy is broken, and it's an IS of a type no one has seen before breaking though their security perimeter that does it. We don't get much inside info about the attacker in this episode, but we do know that it's an unmanned drone and has a vaguely "Transformers" look to it. We also know that nothing Rin or Ichika do seems to have much of an effect on it, until Ichika hatches a new secret plan involving Rin shooting him towards the beastie with her cannon and late entry Cecilia - still all deredere - finishing it off with her long-range attacks. It works, more or less, though Ichika wakes up in the hospital with Rin about to play Natsumi to his Kotarou.

The fights are fairly well-done here, but the real interest lies in the harem aspects of this one. Cecilia is certainly a long shot, but right now both osananajimis seem to have a real shot. Rin definitely pulled into the lead this week, as Ichika actually confronted a romantic thought when he finally figured out that the sweet & sour pork promise had nothing to do with Cantonese cuisine. They're certainly both full on tsundere, which is kind of wearisome - but maybe in time one or both of them will develop beyond that. Frankly, I think their greatest competition might be Chifuyu-nee, as Ichika seems to have quite a sister complex. But for now, Houki, Rin and Cecilia all seem to have more or less formally declared, so the battle is on. And a new element gets added next week - competition for Ichika in the form of another male student, the French representative candidate. But I suspect there's more to Charles than meets the eye...

Hourou Musuko - 3

It's no secret that I find this to be the best show of the season, and it won't shock me if it's the best of the year. But it's certainly interesting to see the reaction of the fan community. In this case, it seems that the non-manga readers are considerably more positive than the manga readers - which makes me glad that in this case I started the manga after I started the anime. Even the choice of voices seems to have sparked a divide. I think part of the issue may be that the manga readers starting reading about these kids when they were fifth graders, and on some level perhaps they still do see them that way, even as they intellectually watch them grow up.

What really appeals to me about Hourou Musuko is how authentic the emotions are, and how vibrant all the characters are. In most animes it takes several eps to get to the point where all the faces connect with the names, especially when there's a large cast. Not so here - from the relatively minor supporting characters like Momo on up, these kids are alive - they're complex, interesting and fully-formed (if still developing) personalities. Of course this is a series about gender confusion and that plays a large part in the story, but much more so it's just a story about growing up.

This week it's the boys - especially Mako-chan's - angst about their voices changing. And it's Yoshino's horror at the notion that she needs to start wearing a bra. It's Chi-chan who mischievously bur quite innocently points it out after a basketball practice. Yoshino is shocked about all this for numerous reasons - she even tells Nitori that she wishes she were flat like him, a rarity for anime. But time is a relentless enemy whether you're 12 years old or 50, and the only constant in life is change. But when you're 12 and used to things staying more or less the same, waking up one morning and finding out that life now seems to be nothing but change is hard to deal with.

Against this backdrop is Chiba's suggestion that the class do a "genderbender play" for the culture festival. Her ulterior motive of course it to see Nitori in girls' clothes, which we learn she has quite a fetish for when she invites him to her house. Nitori takes the notion of writing a play for the class quite seriously - an original story where the men and women in the world suddenly change places. But so does Chiba - she writes an update on Romeo & Juliet where each wishes they were the other - and the teacher (who Mako appears to be developing a crush on) decides both stories are good and that the two should write the play together. The tension between them is palpable,, driven by Chiba's jealousy of Nitori's feelings for Yoshino. But there's also plenty of tension between Notiro and Maho - who walks in on he and Mako cross-dressing in the living room and worse, so does her boyfriend. He seems an understanding chap and doesn't ridicule the boys, but he does blush when he sees Nirorin being forcibly undressed by his sister.

It's hard to root for Maho at this point - she seems a very typically self-obsessed and cruel 14 year-old. But everyone else is already a sympathetic character and all are being fleshed out. Mako is still in the shadows to some extent, but we're beginning to see his nature - he's thoughtful, considerate, more self-aware than Nitori in some ways. But he's also acutely aware that he's not pretty like Nitori, and this hurts him - fueling his desire to catch himself on tape as a girl while he's still at least a child physically. Chiba is an enormously complex figure - pushy, combative, opinionated - and her feelings for Nitori are still hard to figure out. She's a fetishist when it comes to dressing him up like a toy poodle - but does she really care for him, romantically anyway? She's certainly jealous of Yoshino, for what that's worth.

I'm sad that the manga readers don't seem to be able to enjoy this show as much as I'm enjoying it, thought it's certainly understandable - it's a much-loved property and once you've formed an idea of what a series should be, it's hard to accept it any other way. For me, this seems like a perfect distillation of a complex and lengthy series for an 11-episode format - the events playing out on screen never feel rushed and never strike a false note. This is certainly the best series about kids this age since Dennou Coil. While superficially very different - that a sci-fi series with an intricate plot and only very innocent focus on romantic feelings, this an emotionally intense slice-of-life with no boundaries of subject matter - they both manage to capture the interior world of the adolescent mind beautifully. Some have commented that these kids seems preternaturally mature and their emotions too intense for their age group, but I don't see it that way - I think their reactions and dialogue are quite believable. The writing is both fearless and compassionate and there's no trace of a trope anywhere. That's really something to be cherished.

Fractale - 3

So - will the relentless nattering of the Yamakan bashers settle down after the shocking third episode? Oh, probably not - dissing the guy seems to be an international sport these days, and he certainly puts his foot in his mouth often enough. But the episode certainly delivered big-time.

Back on Funimation this week with happy thoughts all around (unless you downloaded One Piece), Fractale gave us a ton of exposition and a few jarring surprises. As suspected, Enri and her brother belong to a rebel group - some (including Clain) would say a terrorist group - resisting the influence of Fractale. Calling themselves The Lost Millenium, they live in a state of comparative deprivation in a hidden village. Having removed their "terminals" they no longer receive instantaneous medical care and the other necessities of life - they have to do everything for themselves, including grow food and (such misfortune!) make coffee. Idealists they are, of a sort of Luddite school - a "back to nature" anti-technology sect that's not unlike some you might find in the rural Western United States. They see Fractale as a cult in its own right, and Clain and all the others like him as slaves.

How does this all tie in with our heroes? According to the leader of Lost Millennium (Sunda, Enri's big brother) Phryne is a priestess who stole secrets from the temple at the center of Fractale - "doppel data" - and hid it inside Nessa somehow. So now Clain and Nessa are basically hostages, though treated pretty well. Clain is thrilled at all the antique technology and at his first taste of real food, which Nessa can neither taste nor contextualize - so she asks him to explain taste to her in interpretive dance. An odd moment, but it works. Here's where things take quite a turn, though - our cartoonishly drawn villains who act like Team Rocket and serve their prisoners tasty meals are actually terrorists after all.

It would be hard to imagine anyone not being surprised by the scene at the "Star Festival", the ritual called by the Fractale Temple. Lost Millennium flies off to disrupt it with Clain and Nessa (uninvited) in tow. It turns out that the festival is basically an excuse for Fractale to update everybody's internal software and make sure they don't start thinking rebellious thoughts, which tends to happen after a while. Through the special glasses Sunda gives him Clain is able to see the truth - these people are being brainwashed. Lost Millennium is pretty much the good guys, eh? Then they get out the machine guns and start mowing down the priestesses and the worshipers alike. The Priestesses start to fight back and all hell breaks loose - it's an orgy of graphic violence that catches the viewer totally off guard. Bodies and blood fly everywhere, and among the victims is Enri's comical henchman Butcher. Through all this we see another Nessa dressed in the Priestesses' robes - is "our" Nessa but a copy? - and none other than Phryne shows up. Nessa Mark II calls her "Onee-sama" and things are altogether a

Where did that come from? Quite a bold and nasty turn for a series that, if anything, resembled Miyazaki's gentler works of the 80's. As suspected this is turning into a discourse on freedom - what it means to be free, and what price is worth paying both to give up your freedom and to try and get it back. There were no good guys in that last scene - certainly not the cult leaders brainwashing their people, and even more certainly not the "freedom fighters" gunning them down in cold blood. Clain and Nessa are good, certainly - Clain is nothing worse than naive, and Nessa is an artificial being, a walking illusion. Whether Phryne is a good guy or not seems very much in question after that ending, though in my heart I still don't believe she's evil. This looks like it's going to be a pretty ambiguous morality play - and the arc is going to be Clain's development as he realizes both the futility of existence under Fractale and the cruelty of the world outside its influence. As a techno-skeptic and an antiques otaku he would have seemed a natural recruit for Sunda, but judging by his reaction to events at the Star Festival I can't imagine him having any sympathy for their methods. Perhaps he and Nessa will end up on the run, isolated from both sides.

That was a wonderful feint by Yamakan - if he can continue to surprise and engage the way he did in this episode, even his critics might have to take a vow of silence - for a few moments, anyway.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Rebuild of Evangelion: 2.0 - You Can Not Advance

Evangelion. Where do I begin when talking about you?

It's no exaggeration to say that Eva was the series that made me a true anime lover. It was the series that opened my eyes to just how incredible and challenging and difficult a medium it could be. I probably saw it a little too early in my development - at the time I'd seen only a few series and none more edgy than Rurouni Kenshin (which I love, by the way) - but instead of bewildering me and turning me off, I was forever hooked.

Of course I'm not alone in this. Few properties in anime history have been as influential. Eva has been relentlessly admired, reviled, copied, and adapted. Even in simply looking at the "official" adaptations the volume is staggering - beginning of course with Hideaki Anno's own movie versions of the final episodes, Death and Rebirth and End of Evangelion (more on those in a moment) and continuing through character designer Yoshiyuki Sadamoto's manga to "Shinji Ikari Raising Project", "Girlfriend of Steel", and on and on. Then there are the doujinshis, parodies, and millions of words of fanfiction. Evangelion isn't a series - it's a genre in and of itself.

A great divide exists in the fan community between those who prefer the original TV ending and the End of Evangelion version. I won't rehash the debate at length or go into the byzantine politics and drama that led to its creation - if that interests you there are hundreds of articles on those subjects. I'm a purist's purist when it comes to Eva, I guess, because I love the original ending. I love it in it's low-budget, indecipherable, awesomely difficult greatness - because it feels true to the series. The End of Eva movies felt like a Hollywood version, beautifully animated but emotionally false. Anno claims the meaning remains the same, but whether that's true or not I'm much happier watching the TV and finding my own truth in it than in watching the movies and being hit in the head with noise, gore and emotional static.

So given all that, I was quite conflicted when news of the "Rebuild" movies broke. Was this a property that needed to be updated? What would Anno do with the opportunity to re-shoot the story from the perspective of middle-aged cynicism instead of youthful anger? It was an enticing prospect, if also frightening. It can't be ignored that for many younger fans, this was going to be their first exposure to Eva and if the new movies didn't do it justice, it would do great damage to the reputation of the series. At the same time, how could I not be enthused at the prospect of finally seeing the property that made me a fan get new life - to see Eva with the full benefit of modern technology behind it?

The first of four planned "Rebuild" films - You Are Not Alone - was a pretty low-key effort. It re-told the events of the first several episodes with relatively few changes. It looked great - Sadamoto was back with character designs and the budget clearly dwarfed anything the series had at its disposal previously. But it was with this second film that Anno really began to assert his will on the project again. It's getting a small theatrical release in the US, and though I'd seen the film on DVD there was no way I way I could miss the opportunity to see an Eva film on the big screen for the first time.

After this second viewing, a couple of thoughts stand out for me. First, this is a very good film. It's entertaining, looks and sounds phenomenal, and for the most part feels like Eva. Second, that one of two things has happened in the decade since I first watched the series. Either I've changed and in doing so, this material feels different to me - or these movies are different from the series in such a fundamental way that the impact of the material is considerably altered. And to be honest, I can't say which. I do know this - there are many more moments in this movie that feel ponderous and preposterous to me than there were in the series. Hideki Anno certainly poured everything of himself into Evangelion. In the series it felt raw, agonizing - all of this brilliant but troubled man's angers and fears bared on screen for all to see. In the movies it sometimes feels self-important - again, whether that change comes from me or not I can't say. The background music is dramatic and ominous, perhaps too intrusive for it's own good. And, to get the bad out of the way, we need to talk about Mari.

Sometimes she's known as "Mari-Sue" to her detractors. She's a new character - and to an Eva fan, that's a big deal. With the fan community already split over which pilot they prefer (Japanese tend to prefer Rei - so do I - while Westerners tend to like Asuka) - the notion of a new girl is either orgiastic or sacrilegious. Not only is she new, but she's British too. I don't have an issue with her existence, but more with the fact that I don't see her usefulness. Mari feels tacked-on to me - change for change's sake, an excuse for another pair of boobs to bounce about on screen. To be fair, we've two films to go yet to it isn't realistic to fully judge her character just yet.

Mari isn't the only change. There are some adjustments to the timeline and the actual events, but of more interest to me are the changes in the characters. Shinji is at the center of Eva of course, and he may be the most hated character in anime history. As for me, I think Shinji-bashing totally misses the point of Eva. Of course Shinji is the receptacle for all the traits Anno loathes in himself - but if you can't feel empathy for this kid, you've a cold heart. Shinji has been dealt a pretty crappy hand. His Mom is dead, his father may be the vilest man in the universe (I loathe Gendo Ikari, which I think means he's a great villain) and he's been drafted to one of the worst jobs anyone could wish on their worst enemy, piloting an Eva. Interestingly, if we're to accept Shinji as Anno's avatar, I think we must conclude that his self-loathing has lessened over the years. Shinji is definitely less miserable in this new incarnation - less self-pitying, more decisive, even willing to stand up to his father and smile occasionally. He's still morose and self-pitying, but there's more balance now. Though I always liked Shinji I consider that a change for the better.

Another change which many fans aren't crazy about is the hugely (so far) diminished role for Asuka. One of the prototypical and oft-copied tsunderes, she was always a huge favorite of the Western fan base. She's far less prominent in the first two films - not a huge problem for me as she was my least favorite major character in the series, but nevertheless a controversial change. Kaworu is almost absent here, but promises to be an even bigger player in the last two movies than he was in the series, if the advertising is to be believed. Most of the other characters are more or less recognizable as themselves here, with very little change - Misato, Ritsuko, Kaji, Pen-Pen... Rei may be a touch more emotional here - well, there's no "may" about it, she is - but I always felt those emotions under the surface for her. They're just more overt in this incarnation. There's less focus on Gendo and especially Fuyutsuki here, and less on Shinji's school chums Toji and Kensuke. There's less slice-of-life generally here, though it isn't totally absent - and I think is a shame. I think there's a reason so much of the spin-off material has focused on this aspect of the show - it was enormously appealing and over the course of a 26-episode series, absolutely essential to cut through the heavy and incredibly dark tone of the series. Maybe it's less vital in 4 two-hour films, but I wish there were more scenes in Misato's apartment and at the school.

There's still some humor, though it feels more forced and less organic. Anno isn't afraid to mock himself a little and pay homage to classic moments of the series - my favorite in "Advance" being the twist of having Asuka be the one Pen-Pen surprises in the shower, with the requisite change from toothpicks to beer cans. Cans, indeed!

So what's the verdict? As I said, it's very good, this second film - though in no way do I think these movies should ever serve as a replacement for the series. If you want to watch "Evangelion" watch the TV version. These movies can act as a kind of "director's cut", and I do think it's interesting to see what the years have done to change Anno's perspective as a writer and vision as a director. We still have two films to come of course - the two that will tackle the darkest and most difficult portion of the source material - and it's no exaggeration to say that how Anno chooses to do that will ultimately determine the worth of these films. Anno could (and I think most likely will) materially change the ending again and, if he does, that's a reset button of galactic proportions. That could be a disaster or a revelation or anything in between and I'm extremely (perhaps morbidly) curious to see what he decides to do.

In the meantime, perhaps I'll sit down and watch the TV again, just to see what the impact (pun intended) is after all this time. By all means, if you haven't watched the TV series please do so - whether you watch "Rebuild" or not. You may love it or hate it, but I don't think anyone who truly considers themselves an anime fan can have that gap in their experience. For me, Neon Genesis Evangelion is the one truly indispensable series in modern anime.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Dragon Crisis - 3

No sea changes for me after the third episode. I still see this series as solidly right down the middle. Nothing too exciting but quite watchable, and though the animation is hit-and-miss it has a very distinctive look that's well above DEEN's normal standards.

Onyx makes a pretty good baddie for so early in the series. He's full of power and quite the smooth talker to boot. His goal is to force Rose to be his bride - either by force (knocking her unconscious and kidnapping her) deception (telling her that all humans hate dragons, including Ryuuji) or threat (he'll kill Ryuuji unless she forgets about him). Rose is not easily convinced but certainly an innocent, and she seems ready to accede to Onyx's wishes. But there's more to the story - and Ryuuji - than we've seen so far.

Being the "Level 10 Breaker" that he is, Ryuuji is the only one who can unlock the power all the Type S Precious (Gollum, Gollum) his parents left for him, including a short sword that responds to his power and has indeterminate but kickass powers. He, Eriko and Dr. Tokura head off to the still under-construction high-rise Onyx is using as his hideout. There, as if in a thumb of the nose to his many critics, Ryuuji not only proves himself to be a badass in combat but also declares his love for Rose. Despite having to deal with Onyx' dragon form and getting sliced by a scale, good triumphs over evil as Rose and Ryuuji combine their power through magical runes on their hands and she heals his wound with dragon's breath. It can do that, you know.

Lots happened there, that's for sure. Ryuuji has pretty much gone the full cycle from total wimp to GAR and declared his love all in the space of three episodes. Not only that but Onyx had the definite feel of a head boss, but we've still got most of the series to go so clearly, there's much development to come. As mentioned, it's quite watchable but hardly breaking any new ground. Rose is arguably the weak point of the series so far - as interesting as it is to see KugiRie in a deredere role for a change, Rose is awfully one-note so far - Ryuuji, Erika and Dr. Tokura are far more interesting. But then, with love declared so early-on perhaps we'll get some focus on the odd relationship of Ryuuji with his parents, which seems potentially much more interesting than the romance with Rose. Next week, the trend of rushing things along continues as we get the beach episode out of the way in only the 4th episode....

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Level E - 3

You know, as great as it was this damn episode is going to be really hard to blog. You pretty much just have to watch it, because there's an inherent futility in explaining what happened. That won't stop me from trying, but you've been warned.

In a nutshell, everything that happened in the first three episodes was a troll. Yes, it was all faked - for the benefit of both the audience and the major characters. I don't think it took a genius to figure out Prince was up to something, but to carry this farce off the extent that manga-ka Yoshihiro Togashi did takes some real balls. The entire three-episode arc was a ruse cooked up the Prince - the amnesia, the crash, the cat, the fight - every damn speck of it. And the willing dupes (besides us) were Yokitaka, Edogawa, the Captain and his men. Supposedly this was the test the loyalty of his men, but Prince's real reason appears to have been boredom - apparently he's a super-intelligent brat who spends his intellectual resources exclusively on elaborate practical jokes. Oh, the Disckonians were in on the joke - they agreed to help Prince in return for the chance to observe Yukitaka, since they're huge baseball fans and most of the strong baseball areas are controlled by the Ellerians.

It takes real courage to play that game of chicken, to carry the gag all the way to the edge and then keep going - most writers would have chickened out far earlier. But it was the completeness of it that makes it work. Playing jokes on an audience doesn't always go ever well, but the fact that the clues were all there and almost every character got trolled too makes it enjoyable instead of infuriating. And this show really knows how to do comedy - the retrospective film the Prince made covering the whole ruse from start to finish was a classic.

So now what? Well, we have a time skip to three months later - and Yukitaka and Edogawa get a letter from Prince saying that he made a glorious success of the Galactic Conference. Not only that but he made the Earth part of his domain and he needs to move there to keep an eye on it. But the PV shows neither hide nor hair of any of the characters we've gotten to know so far - what's the deal there? That could be a troll too, or a side story - the manga readers know of course, but I don't so no answers here. I can't imagine we've seen the last of the Prince and Yukitaka but maybe things are going episodic from this point and we'll leave them for a while.

Kore wa Zombie Desu Ka? - 3


We got a welcome break from blood and guts this week in an episode that was heavy on the humor and slice of life, with a dash of plot development thrown in at the end. It wasn't the most eventful ep you could want but it solidified this series as a rather enjoyable one for me.

Things started out zany as Haruna had a rather amusing dream about her lost Masou Shoujo powers and battling a pudding, only to be awakened by one of the more bizarre alarm clocks this side of a Dali painting. For most of the episode she, Yuu and Sera are busily engaged in a series of contests to determine who gets the last pudding int he fridge - which should give you an idea of the lighter tone this week. These include Mah Jong, Twister (my favorite) and finally bowling. It's at the bowling center where they cross paths with Ayumu, accompanying BFF Orito on a sort of pity man-date. Hi-jinks ensue as Ayumu tries with predictable results to keep his new living arrangements secret from Orito while the latter engages in increasingly lewd and preposterous fantasy sequences about the girls while drinking "Dr. Popper".

Here's where things begin to take a somewhat more serious turn. Orito brings Ayumu to the hospital to visit his younger friend Kyoko. Kyoko, as it turns out, knows Ayumu from middle school - though he doesn't remember. She also pulls her hair into twintails at his request and he seems immediately smitten with her. What's more, Kyoko was a victim of the serial killer - who killer her parents and wounded her badly. He gently prods her for a description, which to his horror sounds exactly like Yuu.

While at the surface this series is all about comedy, there's some sort of hidden depth to it that hasn't fully revealed itself to me - I can sense its presence at this point rather than quantify it. It seems to be having a good time poking fun at anime cliches, but the humor is always just a little bid meaner and more absurd than it needs to be. The violence is always just a little more disturbing than you expect. The scenes at the end of both the second and third eps - Yuu slapping Haruna and the hospital scene - seem quite out of place with the rest of the episodes tonally. I can't help but feel that the show is going to get more serious as it goes forward and the true darkness lurking behind all these characters begins to reveal itself.

I'm reminded a bit of Ichiban Ushiro no Dai Maou at times watching this show, especially in terms of the comedy. That series could be dark too, but as violent as it got at times it still felt lighter than this one - this series seems to have a morose, brooding quality that only occasionally makes itself felt. As dressed up in absurdity as things are, if you really stop and consider the premise it's extremely bleak and depressing. I suspect this is not the sort of fairy tale where justice prevails and everyone lives happily ever after.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Mitsudomoe Zouryouchuu! - 3

She's not wearing any!
80% is a pretty good success rate for a sketch comedy, and that's about what Mitsudomoe hit this week for me. I'll take that if it keeps up every week - as for this episode only the "Emergency Drill" sketch didn't cut it. Kuriyama-sensei is definitely the least funny cast member for me, and any sketch she's heavily involved in tends to be less hilarious than the rest.

The theme for this week - and there's pretty much always a theme - is underwear. Everyone in this show is trapped inside their own cage, a prisoner of some elemental part of themselves that they can't shake no matter what. For Shin-chan it's getting caught in pervy situations that further diminish his good boy reputation. If he were as smart as he's supposed to be I think he'd just avoid Futaba altogether since she's the source of most of his problems - but then, Shin-chan definitely likes Futaba. He did pick her panties out of the whole drawer full, after all. There's always a moment that makes me LOL and rewind with this series and today it was when Futaba pulled up Hitoha's skirt to find nothing underneath. But the whole sketch was a winner - all that effort to draw a porno for Chiba, and he doesn't even like it...

I don't particularly care for you...
The aforementioned emergency drill sketch didn't do much for me, laugh-wise - it was, like most of the second ep of the first season, more crude than clever. But things smartly returned to form with the next offering, granting the always welcome chance to watch Soujirou squirm and be chased like a bad "Benny Hill" skit. The whole notion of a three-legged race featuring Soujirou and Youngest-san has disaster written all over it, but even I didn't see the "end" of this one coming. Chiba gets a turn in the spotlight next, eager to try out his new signature move, a bra-removal technique. But alas, the sixth grade is full of flat-chested and bra-less girls, and things go rather badly when he ends up reverting to a skirt-lifting on Sugisaki and Yuki. Poor Chiba's sex life may have ended before it began. Finally, it's the whole Marui clan on center-stage as we take another trip down memory lane to when Soujirou was a hottie of Shin-chan proportions, and we get to see than Mitsuba's vanity is bigger than her pride (but not, perhaps, her stomach). The whole scene with the girls visiting the home and ogling Soujirou's old picture was a classic, but by far my favorite part was watching Hitoha sit quietly by bemusedly watching things get more and more bizarre, and impending humiliation for Mitsuba get more and more certain. Her simple line of dialogue at the end deflated Sourjirou with exquisite finality.

I can definitely see why this series isn't for everyone. Frankly, there are times when I actually feel guilty for laughing as hard as I do. That doesn't make me laugh any less though...

Bakuman - 16

Did someone call for a plot twist?

After a pretty steady progression - well, slow but steady - in a uniform direction, we have one of our biggest tectonic shifts in episode 16. Some of the seeds planted in the last several episodes are finally being sown, and things are starting to feel quite a bit uneasy.

Angst was pretty much the theme of the episode. Things start out well enough - Takagi comes up with an idea for a name about killer angels and Masahiro finds inspiration in the notion of drawing Azuki as his ideal heroine. They come up with a name that even Hattori praises - but in a surprise, it gets turned down for both the "Golden Cup" competition and the new edition of "Next". The editorial comments are full of priase, but praise doesn't get you a TV adaptation and the boys are feeling the heat. Finally, Takagi makes the decision to go off on his own during summer break and try to write, but he ends up completely blocked and feeling guilty about slowing Masahiro down.

Meanwhile things are going better for the girls - which puts even more pressure on the boys. Azuki is well-received in her first anime appearance (yuri!) and even starts to get some press. Miyoshi decides on her dream - in order to fit in with Azuki and the boys she decides to become a cell phone novelist. Worse, she's basing her first novel on Azuki and Masahiro - and wants Takagi's help writing it. This causes even more tension between the boys, but that's just the beginning. One of Hattori's fellow editors wants the sudden hot commodity Masahiro to team up with another writer, a request Hattori turns down flat. But when Eiji's editor asks to have Masahiro work as an assistant for his difficult client, Hattori agrees as long as both boys accept it - which they do. But when Masahiro sees Takagi smooching with Miyoshi in the park when he's supposed to be writing, dark thoughts surely occur to him...

Surely our pair aren't going to permanently split over this, which admittedly diminishes the tension of the cliffhanger somewhat. But this is the first real dark energy between them, and it should prove interesting to see how Masahiro's experience working with Eiji turns out. In the first place, if I were Masahiro I'd be a little pissed that Hattori asked Takagi first - but even without that factor he's still probably seething. Azuki is getting ahead, Takagi appears to be slacking off after not contacting him for an entire summer, and for the first time, Masahiro appears to have eclipsed his partner in marketability - I could see where he'd think Takagi is holding him back. As someone who really likes Eiji as a character (I said last week that the Eiji-Masahiro relationship had a chance to be one of the best on the show) this is a great development.

I find myself wanting to shout at the screen when the guys keep spouting mainstream manga ideas. Of course they don't come off as original or surprising - because that's not what you're cut out to write! Now give it up already and go write "Eden" or "House of Five Leaves". No, of course you wouldn't be able to write those stories at 15 years old - maybe in 15 years. But you could surely write something wild and original from the perspective of really smart kids. And that would be way better than trying to copy what less talented writers are doing.

Lastly, I'm sure that for manga readers the best part of the episode was the PV. They know why - the character they've been talking about for four months is finally showing up next week. All I can say is, for all that buildup he better be worth it!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Gosick - 3

It's always interesting to see a Japanese take on a very Western construct - in this case the detective story in the Doyle/Christie tradition. BONES understands the genre well, and their effort has all the right parts in all the right places - but like so many times when West meets anime the final product is distinctly Japanese. In this case I think it comes from the characters, though most of the characters are in fact European. This series is to Holmes and Marple what "Engrish" is to English - in a good way.

It's a concern when the mystery is the weakest part of a mystery series, and from my perspective that's certainly the case so far. The first plot wasn't offensively bad, certainly, at least not so much to overshadow what was great about the arc (more on that shortly). But it was pretty predictable - I think most of us knew Julie was the culprit. It also had a few holes that were never really filled - did Julie know that Ned was "the hunting dog", or not? More than anything, it lacked that exhilarating thrill of watching the great mind work as it reduced the puzzle to a solution, as well as the graceful elegance of a perfectly constructed mystery. There were some nice twists here - the WW I tie-in for one. I'd thought the horrifying night on the "Queen Berry" in 1914 to have been some sort of rich man's game or social experiment, but it was actually a part of a prophecy tied-in to the outbreak of the "War to End All Wars" (ha!). And I didn't see where the connection to the old fortuneteller's murder would come from though, to be fair, it would have been almost impossible to do so without foreknowledge.

But for all that, it still worked quite well for me and it really boils down to the characters. Specifically, I love the chemistry between Victorique and Kazuya. Aoi Yuki and Takuya Eguchi (ably filling in for the great Irinu Miyu) are really in a nice groove here. This is Aoi's best work since Kure-nai - it's a delicious part and she nails Victorique's bemused arrogance and underlying frailty. These two are opposite in almost every way - European and Japanese, blonde and dark, logical and emotional, intellectual and physical. That opposition makes them a fun pair to watch, with Victorique verbally leading Kazuya around by the nose but always with an underlying sense of affection. His motivations seem simple and straightforward, but you can see that Kazuya is a bit of a puzzle to Victorique with his Japanese way of thinking.

Of course, the revelation about Victorique's past puts a different spin on the entire story, including the relationship between the main characters. This gives them something in common - neither is the favored child in their family. Victorique turns out to be the illegitimate half-sister of Inspector Grevil - he of the corkscrew hair - her mother having been the mistress of a Duke (their father). Hidden away in a mansion she's dealt with a life as a virtual prisoner stoically. Kazuya reacted to his situation be rebelling against his family's traditions, by concentrating on studying and exceeding his brothers in that regard, and fleeing to a foreign land. He has a chip on his shoulder, and I suspect his way of dealing with his life will influence Victorique, especially in respect to her stoically allowing her half-brother to bask in the glory of her uncredited genius.

The verdict through one mystery and three episodes is largely positive - this is flawed, but full of virtue. It looks and sounds great as you would expect, and a great chemistry between leads is a huge asset for a series. If the mysteries rise to that level, the show could become a classic.

My First Ramune

After my semi-regular pilgrimage to Mitsuwa Marketplace today for Santouka Ramen (always the #9 - large shio ramen with special pork) I decided to pop my first Ramune today.   In case you don't know, Ramune is a carbonated soft drink popular with the younger set in Japan. Over the years I've managed to sample most of the popular items with Japanese kids - Pocky, etc. - but somehow Ramune always eluded me.

Ramune appeals to me because I really think it represents some of the quirkiness of Japanese culture.  Drinking it is as much a game as a dining experience - it's certainly the first bottled beverage I've had to Google instructions to open.  The bottle has a list of precautions longer than a list of ingredients - it's a little intimidating.  In the end it's pretty straightforward. really - you have to use the plunger built into the cap to puncture the seal, which causes a little glass marble to drop down into the bottle and make the thing go crazy with carbonation so that you have to press down on the top for about 15 seconds to avoid a bath.  The most interesting element is drinking it - that glass marble floats around the neck of the bottle and it's sort of like that toy where you have to get the marble into the clowns eye.  There are little depressions on either side of the bottle and you have to shake the marble into the depressions to drink the drink.  If that sounds bizarre - and how could it not - it's actually sort of fun.

Oh, and how does it taste?  Well, I really don't think that's the point - but for what it's worth, it's not bad.  The default flavor seems to be slightly citrus - maybe lemon - but it comes in a bunch of other flavors too, some of them with Doraemon and Pocket Monsters on the bottle.  No mystery who the target audience is here.

Tegami Bachi Reverse - 16

Looks like we've hit the reset button. Gauche is Noir again - or so it appears - and Lag and Sylvette are missing him and crying.

This is a development that was certainly flagged in the previous episode, both by Dr. Thunderland's comments and by the disappearance of "Gauche" at the end of the episode. Things pick up right at that point and Lag and Sylvette go off to find him, starting with Sylvette checking at the hive. Instead of Noir, Lag's search leads him to find first Hunt and then Sara, from the first season's "Honey Waters" arc. Hunt is working as Dr. Thunderland's assistant and Sara has opened an employment agency for dingos (who knew?). She's also taken Roda in, having found her disheveled and starving on the street, being harassed. Roda is as upset to see Noir acting as Lag's dingo as Lag was to see Noir working with Reverse, and ends up taking shelter at Sara's agency.

Roda is in the fact the center of much of the episode. This is one of Yui Horie's grittier roles, and it's interesting to listen to her work here. Noir is quite literally Roda's entire world - she seems lost without him. She ends up fighting with Niche who, dismayed to see Lag and Sylvette crying, decides to find Gauche herself. She finds Roda instead and proceeds to pretty much kick Roda's ass with her newfound mad skills taught by her sister. But Noir steps in at the last minute and saves Roda - though I doubt Niche would have hurt her badly.

So now we're left with the fundamental question of the day still unanswered - who is this guy? He was Gauche for 17 years, then he was Noir for a while, then Gauche for a bit, now Noir again. I stand by my belief that it isn't that simple - this current young man is both Gauche and Noir, and always will be. Maybe Lag's shindan was capable of returning only Gauche's memories and not his heart, but those memories will change who Noir is. He clearly cares for Roda, and I think the evidence is pretty strong that he cares for Lag and Sylvette too, based on the fact that he didn't hurt them (he certainly could have) and left quietly. Could Gauche be unchanged, knowing all the details of the wrongs committed by the government as he does? Could Noir be unchanged, knowing the depth of the love Lag and Sylvette feel for him, and that he felt for them? As with much in this series I think right and wrong are subtle here, not black and white - and Gauche/Noir more than anyone is caught squarely in the middle of all that.

Next week looks exciting, not just for a potential confrontation between Lag and Gauche/Noir (Nauche? Goir?) but for the return of the guy every bee boy is crushing on, Jiggy Pepper himself. Jiggy otakus all over the hive better get ready.