Sunday, May 27, 2012

Nazo no Kanojo X - 08

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Those were the biggest meat buns I’ve ever seen.

The hours are slipping away and I have to be up early for a bone-crushingly full day tomorrow, at Fanime and otherwise, and I’d really planned to make this a fairly short post on MGX.  But dammit, now I just want to rave about how utterly thrilled I was with this episode.  I’ll sum it up with the greatest praise I can give it – I’m not sure if I've ever seen the first halting moments of teenaged physical contact portrayed as well as MGX portrayed them this week.  From the absurd comes truth – in this strange and surreal relationship we see the most realistic teenaged romance to hit anime in many a season.

As I’ve long suspected, Nazo no Kanojo X is the big brother to FLCL in many ways.  This is Naota’s absurd and painful head-on collision with puberty four years later – this is the “alien” girlfriend only this time, all the parties involved are just sophisticated enough to make the relationship something more than metaphorical.  And thank goodness for Miyu Irino and Yoshitani Ayako, because they’re every bit the equal of the material.  Irino is peerless at mining every drop of genuine emotion out of a character and capturing the restless insecurity of adolescence, and Yoshitani is utterly natural – a complete contrast to virtually every female seiyuu working today.

MGX is also a great example of the way a series can be stylish and distinctive on a minimal budget.  With no flashy KyoAni detail levels or expensive CGI, it manages to be be as visually arresting as any series this season.  How?  By being faithful to the retro look of the manga and taking it even deeper.  By constantly using ingenious camera angles and wildly original framings of the characters, and by a judicious use of simple visual effects – even the eyecatches are part of the charm.  It also benefits from the great soundtrack, which continues to subtly evolve and change every week while returning to the main themes, much like a stage musical.  A mangaka with a flair for the unusual, a fearless director with a great eye and a generally outside the box approach mean more than a budget in this case. 

This episode specifically was a marvel in the way the events played out so naturally.  For this the credit goes to the mangaka, but the pacing is surely Watanabe-sensei and the anime staff’s doing too, and they just flat-out nailed it.  Starting from Tsubaki’s dream (the dream sequences in MGX are always stellar) right through to Urabe’s apartment (complete with alien posters) was a symphony of rising erotic tension.  I loved every moment of those scenes in her room – Tsubaki’s thoughts as he waited for the coffee, sniffing her bed, the awkwardness after her return.  The lightning strike was fantastic in itself, a wonderful bit of symbolism and great physical drama, too. 

Again, I can’t recall anime doing a better job of showing the awkward fumblings of “first contact”.  The twin sides of Tsubaki were on display – the kind, respectful boy as well as the physical animal in the grip of urges he can barely control.  The event itself and the aftermath were spot-on – Tsubaki’s ultra-responsible protestations at Urabe’s suggestion that he touch her, the exuberance of that first touch of her breast (once and for all the real one exceeding the psychotropic one), the edgy moments that followed, the ear-licking.  And then Urabe realizing that she was feeling the same urges he was, just as his reason returned and the rational part of him became dismayed that he’d forced himself on her and made her cry – not realizing that she was crying from the power of her feelings, and not because she was angry.  If she was scared it was of her own feelings, not of Tsubaki.  But of course, he didn’t know that – he could only see that he’d become something terrible and hated himself enough to flee into the storm.

Dammit, that was genuinely touching stuff – no pun intended.  Romance is sex and love, even at 16, and MGX has always been about the sometimes uneasy but always inseparable link between the two.  And almost as if showing off, MGX gave us another bravura scene at school the next day – first a hilarious yet oddly powerful moment between Urabe and Oka.  While it was Oka explaining Urabe’s feelings to her, it was also Oka set back on her heels for once – because she’d never felt what Urabe felt with Tsubaki.  Brilliant visual style again on display here, with the expression of female desire through the pressing together of the legs, and the human special-effects machine that is Oka and her glasses.  And then that last conversation between Urabe and Tsubaki, where he was determined to be punished for his transgressions, and forced her to slap him – and then she insisted that she share equally in the pain, as he’d done nothing except make her feel things she’d never felt.  All of that – the shared pain through the drool, Tsubaki’s declaration that he never wanted to see hurt on her face – should have been silly or even maudlin, but the magic of Magical Girlfriend is that it was an emotional bulls-eye.

Damn, I’ve rambled on for a full-length post over all.  What can you do?  Great anime makes me want to go on and on – and the last 48 hours have seen some of the best anime since I’ve been a fan.  Sakamichi, Tsuritama, E7: AO, Hunter X Hunter, MGX – none of these series are even remotely alike, and that’s the sign of a truly great season.  There’s certainly nothing like MGX airing now, that’s for sure, and maybe there never has been anything quite like it.  This is not ecchi, not sex for its own sake – but it’s undeniably sexy, and neither treats teenagers as oversexed airheads or ignores the role desire plays in their lives.  Maybe best of all, in my view, is that it tackles desire head-on – and while acknowledging that it’s something most kids are embarrassed about, tells us it’s nothing they should be ashamed of.  Physical desire is a wonderful thing, as long as it’s paired with genuine affection and empathy for your partner.  Why that should be so difficult, both in life and in art, I don’t know.  But it is – and MGX is making it look ridiculously easy.

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11 comments:

  1. Very good episode. Played off the interplay between "what you want" and "what's a good idea" and the confusion that leads to. Especially for those still growing up.

    The voice acting was great. Including Oka's deadpanning, at points, in confusion about what was going on.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. If you look back at the previous episode, Oka was momentarily taken aback by the effect of her bikini cure.

      Delete
  2. what did I tell you about the preview last week Enzo? ;)

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    1. I'd forgot, but yes - you were dead-on James.

      Delete
  3. The Crunchyroll stream of this episode is really dark, so I suspect censorship.

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  4. as much as I have loved Toradora, School Rumble and Kare Kano, this show is setting itself up as THE primer for handling the personal transition from adolescence to awakening adult better than any other. Personal growth arcs, realistic issues of desire, angst, doubt and it just blows through them intelligently and with humor. Not saying that we don't continue to grow its just that these years are so important in shaping who we are and how we interact with others.

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  5. I'll join you in praising the great work done all around here,the directing,the music and the cast of course.Yoshitani Ayako is doing a marvelous job as Urabe,I've seen other live action girls do seiyuu work and the novelty factor kind of wears off after a while,but not here,she's pulling off a great performance.She really has a great chemistry with Miyu Miyu that seems to have grown as the episodes went by.

    To me the scenes at the school the next day were like the extra point after the touchdown that was the scene in Urabe's room.
    The bedroom scene was already a marvel but without the scenes that followed I would have been left wanting for more,I guess you could say that means I expect a lot of this show,but how could I not when I see episodes like this?
    This episodes centered around touching a girl's breast,that's a recipe for disaster in the vast majority of animes,howeverer this episode is further proof this this isn't like the majority of animes.It really tries to deal with the issue in a sensitive manner and not just for laughs.It helps that , as you've said, behind the surreal atmosphere there's some very real characters.
    I got really scared when thunder struck,I feared Tsubaki would accidentally grab her breast but this anime/manga is above that,and for that I'm very thankful towards everyone involved.

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  6. One thing bothered me about this episode. Urabe was totally cool with Tsubaki feeling her up but she still won't even let him hug her on a normal day? What? Other than that it was a great episode but the moment where she said he could feel them if he wanted to made me do a double take considering in past episodes she hasn't even allowed platonic types of physical contact.

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    Replies
    1. I think the issue is twofold. One, she doesn't like being surprised. She told Tsubaki he could touch her breasts - if he'd asked her if it was OK to hug her, she might have said yes to that earlier.

      Second, it's buildup. Everything that happens before this episode happened in a different universe. Now that first contact has occurred, it's a new paradigm.

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  7. lol it's true!!!! tsubaki ... not to embrace ever asked .... XD!! ... I think just by asking, would embrace it ... XD

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  8. I'm having trouble envisioning this anime's endgame. The obvious answer would be the realization of the voice Urabe (i.e. have sex with Tsubaki) heard in the first episode and a happily ever after ending. After all, we have witnessed bodily liquids in terms of saliva, sweat, and now tears; what else is left? This is probably the likely ending, given this ending would fit in with the theme of a purely adolescent relationship (i.e. no outside conflicts).

    But this is Mysterious Girlfriend X, and Urabe is not your typical high school girl. Since Urabe does iterate that she does not want to have a typical boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, I am keen to believe MGX will throw us a blinder, albeit one that will make sense using MGX logic. We have seen this happen so many times: Urabe undresses in front of Tsubaki, Urabe gives Tsubaki her underwear, Urabe listens to the conversation between Tsubaki and his previous crush, and Urabe pegs Tsubaki to touch her breast. Analyzing all of these events using MGX logic, one can view them as Urabe's attempts to better understand herself and her connection with Tsubaki. So, I don't think the first contact will result in a new paradigm, but is the logical progression of Urabe trying to understand herself better. Going by this logic, the obvious ending wouldn't make sense; Urabe wouldn't do something so typical without it being significant to her characterization. All this leaves me at a dilemma, unsure how this anime will end, making me more excited than ever.

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