How many gears does that thing have?
That was a nice comeback from arguably Tari Tari’s weakest episode last week. I still don’t find Sawa all that likable a character, either in perfection mode or sulky hellion mode, and that limits how much an arc focused on her is really going to appeal to me. Of the characters that have a realistic chance of being at center stage in this show I find Wakana vastly more compelling than either of the others, so it’s hardly surprising that these last couple of episodes have lacked the same punch her arc did. But this episode had a bit of the feel of the first “Choir” arc, with more focus on the group and less on Sawa than last week’s, and it was the better for it.
Of course, this arc also has the merit of being – apparently, though I wouldn’t bet a steak dinner on it – only two episodes long. That’s good, because while I get that Sawa’s dilemma over pursuing her dreams is a valid teenaged drama, I don’t find watching her pout about it and she and her father verbally assault each other all that entertaining. I don’t think enough was invested in the character to make Sawa’s transition from ever-smiling and supporting ojou-sama to angry and borderline anorexic train wreck believable. We’re all capable of putting up a façade that hides terrible pain underneath, not least teenaged girls – of that I have no doubt. But the change in Sawa’s character here was really too arbitrary to be believable.
Wakana continues to be the most engaging of the girls by far, and I’ll admit one could make a case that her transition has been almost as dramatic as Sawa’s. The difference, I think, is that we were given a good deal of exposure into what contributed to the Wakana we saw in the first few episodes. Not only is the crisis she deals with substantially more gripping, but we see her deal with it almost from the beginning, and both sides of Wakana are visible even when she’s in her darkest hour. What’s emerged from the chrysalis after her ordeal is the person she really was all along - a kind, determined girl sensitive to the problems of others. I was very pleased with the way she dealt with Sawa here – she gently tried to nudge her in the right direction, but she didn’t apologize – pointedly did not, in fact – for something she didn’t do wrong. She also let Sawa know kindly but in no uncertain terms that whatever her issues with her father, she had something Wakana would never have – an opportunity to make them right. Sawa was rightfully embarrassed by her behavior as soon as Wakana did this, but it took some time for her to get to the point where she could actually show her contrition.
My hope – and the preview supports this circumstantially – is that Sawa’s side story is basically wrapped up to the point where she can be absorbed back into the main story. The difference between TT and Kokoro Connect is obvious in the way this show didn’t go for the drama with her head injury, but moved past it quickly. As she does battle with her father, there’s also drama playing out over the issue of the Choir, who’ve been booted out of their practice room even as the Vice-Principal tries to get them to withdraw their application to perform at the upcoming school festival main stage. I’m not fond of the over-broad characterizations of the Vocal Group and the V-P as arrogant and dismissive arch-villains, though it’s obvious that the V-P and her link with Wakana’s mother are growing ever closer to taking center stage. That’s going to be the final arc, probably – as for Sawa, I don’t really see any way out of this for her apart from acceptance – she’s simply too big to get into the school, although her father does score some points for trying to browbeat them into accepting her in spite of the entrance requirements with threats of hellfire and damnation. There’s still loose ends to be tied with this thread (Sawa refuses to apologize to her father, for one) but I’m hopeful it isn’t milked for another full episode.
What of The Professor and Mary Ann? Well, they’re here – and Wien actually gets a step closer to relevance when he invites the gang over to use his house as an alternative practice venue. It’s heartbreakingly obvious how lonely he is by his eagerness to have them over, and his house is interesting – a large mansion that belongs to “the company” that his family is living in temporarily. He again shows a fascination with all things Super Sentai , even snapping at Konatsu (the first sign of anger from him in the series) when she plays with one of them. He also says that the missing red figure in on a “special mission” – presumably with the person he’s been writing letters to. Sadly the piano clearly hasn’t been played in years and is hopelessly out of tune, but this amounts to the most extended tease of Wien’s backstory we’ve received so far.
As it often does, Tari Tari scores quite a few points by deflating some of the drama with quirky and well-timed humor. I enjoyed Wien’s insistence that Taichi must have ninja friends, who were no doubt in hiding, and Konatsu is still playing out her fantasy that Sawa has in fact been dumped by an older man and not an equestrian academy. There’s also Sawa parking Sabure in the bike rack after riding to school to try and join the others in time to audition (which wouldn’t have been necessary if she hadn’t been home pouting), and she makes it – but only after Wien almost invokes disaster by deciding the hero thing to do would be to pull the fire alarm to delay the audition. Happily Wakana proves her worth yet again by phoning the school and having the V-P paged – very clever that – setting the stage (literally) for next week’s ep to begin with the audition. There are also several moments of really breathtaking P.A. Works background art – some of the best of the series – which really show off what this studio can do. Even if they don’t lead the industry in terms of fluid animation, their visuals have a sense of style that almost no other studio can match – they may not be the leaders in the craft of animation, but they take a back seat to no one when it comes to the art.