First impressions, part 2

Two more quick first impressions here! I’m slowly but surely catching up with the backlog that I’ve accumulated in this less-chilly-than-normal January.

 

77838Durarara!! X2 Ketsu

Celty Sturluson is still the sanest person in the room. Only in the wacky world of Durarara!! can a headless motorcycle rider make that claim and have the audience nod in agreement.

DRRR!! X2 Ketsu picks up right at the end where the second season (X2 Ten) finished up — Izaya’s kidnapping, Namie’s apparent demise, and Celty returning to her loft to be greeted by an eclectic group of houseguests. As DRRR!! typically does, the episode skips seemingly arbitrarily between flashbacks and scenes of the present, filling in the gaps and refreshing the audience’s memories of what exactly the heck happened when we saw the last episode three months ago. This refresher isn’t exactly handled with subtlety — in one scene Celty literally summarizes, point by point, the climatic events of the previous season. Having a bunch of key characters gathered in one place was rather convenien, but it was still a treat seeing so many of the show’s eccentric characters bounce off one another.

There was a definite sense of foreboding in this episode (going off the way phrases like “brewing chaos” were being bandied about), which definitely has me excited to see how things pan out in Ikebukuro for this final cour. For all its plot machinations, DRRR!! is still very much a character-driven show, and I’m looking forward to seeing how its characters all converge in one chaotic mess.

Random observations:

  • The OP has added more characters to its montage yet again, and somehow there are still a few players who aren’t in it that appear in this episode (Namie and Seiji, for instance)
  • Speaking of Namie, her obsession with her brother is still not a selling point for me. She was so much more intriguing when she was Izaya’s wisecracking assistant/personal chef.
  • Since we saw Mikado’s true nature was revealed, his naïve and nurturing sides becomes so much more chilling. I don’t believe that his kindhearted nature is a complete façade. I have no idea whether this kid has more aces up his sleeves or is in completely over his head, but I’m so much more invested in his story than I’d been in previous seasons.
  • It seems like Izaya has met his manipulative match in Kasane Kujiragi, the mastermind behind Ikebukuro’s machinations not orchestrated by Izaya. Unfortunately Kasane’s character is blander than unsalted oatmeal, so I’d still prefer to watch Izaya ham it up in one of his soliloquys.
  • Another alliance (with Celty as its unwilling figurehead) is set up among the houseguests in Celty’s loft. The show seems to be setting up a showdown of sorts between Celty’s crew and Izaya’s crew (which we saw at the end of last season). Both are made up of people completely out of left field, which we can assume is DRRR!!’s prerogative, am I right?

 

Haru77835chika: Haru to Chika wa Seishun Suru

I wasn’t really buying what Haruchika was selling in the first twenty minutes. It seemed like a hackneyed combination of Hyouka (high school mystery) and Hibike! Euphonium (high school brass band) with inferior animation, and it didn’t help that both KyoAni shows were exemplary representatives of their genres. Haruchika’s first episode focuses on first-year high school student Chika, who joins her school’s severely underrepresented Brass Band in an effort to mold her image into that of a delicate maiden. Unfortunately for her, one of the current members of the band is Haruta, a childhood friend who quickly reveals that Chika’s desired image is nothing like her actual personality. The mystery aspect of this episode comes from a coded message (expressed as a series of musical notes, just to make sure the audience didn’t forget this series is also about music) scrawled on a classroom board, addressed to the band’s instructor, the bishōnen young and enigmatic Kusakabe-sensei. Haruta (quickly revealing himself as the Oreki Houtarou of this series) promptly solves, revealing that the message is actually a love letter to Kusakabe-sensei. What I did not see coming at all was the twist comes at the end — Haruta, who by the way, is a boy.

That simple gender subversion was all that was needed to hook me in, even though the rest of the episode was decent at best. Plot and character exposition were rather heavy-handed — the opening scene literally has the band members, getting ready to perform at a concert hall, talking about the MYSTERIES that led them to that point. Chika very loudly proclaims (multiple times) that her high school ambition is to shed her tomboy image and transform into a demure maiden, and her impressions of the effeminate-looking Haruta is thought aloud while the camera pans his more delicate features.

The mystery itself was actually quite good, though definitely not central to the episode — I liked how musical theory was incorporated into solving the case, and its unraveling was within the realms of reason. Clearly the so-called mystery was to further introduce Chika, Haruta, and Kusakabe-sensei to the audience. While Chika’s contrasting image and personality were practically hammered into the audience, Haruta’s personality is portrayed with much more subtlety. At first, Haruta seems to fit the mold of the gentle, slightly effeminate, best-friend type, meek and perpetually affable but nervously willing to stand up for his beliefs. But he possesses a quiet self-assurance that we can see through his interactions with Chika and his mystery-solving skills. But his character still retains some complexity — he is clearly shy about his crush on Kusakabe-sensei, but when Chika accidentally finds out his role as the perpetrator, he is unabashed in declaring Chika his love rival for Kusakabe.

We don’t see very many gay or bisexual male characters in anime — at least not characters treated as fujoshi-panderers or offensive stereotypes. Haruta is a dude, who happens to look slightly effeminate, who also happens to possess some typically masculine traits, and also happens to be into guys. He doesn’t fit into any of the overbearing stereotypes that has plagued anime through the years. So far he seems like a fully-realized character who just happens to like guys, and that realness is a pretty revolutionary thing.

Random observations:

  • The art style has a very bright and reflective palette, and the characters’ eyes (especially the females) look like Technicolor stained glass. I’m not a big fan of it, but it might grow on me over time.
  • Chika suddenly talking like a gang leader once she was in the safety of her home was one of her better character moments.
  • So obviously these kids are going to be solving some mysteries, but I’m still not sold as to how the writers are going to mold it with the musical aspect of the series.
  • I know Kusakabe-sensei is young, but it’s hard to take him seriously as teacher when he sounds like a barely pubescent high school student.
  • Incidentally, a love triangle between a teacher and two high school students is not ethically okay. Two one-way crushes isn’t a big deal, but I’m hoping Haruchika doesn’t sidestep into icky territory, which would completely undermine the goodwill they’ve set up here.
  • I completely missed it when I was drafting this review, but the reveal of Haruta as the sender of the message sets up some interesting questions about his behavior while he was “solving” the mystery.
  • I really like the ED; it has a very chill, folksy feel about it.
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