Erased Eps. 10 & 11

Erased 11-4

Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. To obtain, something of equal value must be lost. That is alchemy’s first law of equivalent exchange.

Fullmetal Alchemist by Arakawa Hiromu

Erased is a show that thrives off twists and turns and subtly placed hints and red herrings. So the fact that its biggest mystery — the identity of the would-be murderer — turning out to be a remarkably obvious solution might be its biggest twist so far. Yes, Yashiro-sensei, the seemingly benevolent homeroom teacher, revealed himself as the would-be perpetrator and faceless councilman Nishizono-san. His reveal was somehow blindingly obvious and shockingly unexpected at the same time, and the reason it worked has been thanks to Yashiro’s dichotomous portrayal. His character portrayal’s been a beautiful example of dramatic irony: the deliberate camera work and frames of shot to the cagey music and atmosphere — Erased’s cinematography and narrative had been pointing its fingers at Yashiro from the moment he was introduced, and Yashiro himself was the biggest red herring because he had done absolutely nothing but show that he was a seemingly good man and responsible teacher. All the other potential suspects, from Sachiko’s former colleague Sawada, to Kayo’s mother, Yuuki, and Yuuki’s father — each of them had acted suspiciously at some point in the story, but none of them had been portrayed as suspiciously as Yashiro had been through the story. So I’m not mad at all with this non-twist; Erased clearly had this whole reveal planned from the very beginning, and its execution was a lot more suspenseful than I thought it would be. What I was less happy about was Yashiro’s character development; the psychopathic monster reveal felt like a cheap trick stolen from an episode of Criminal Minds, and it only underlined Yashiro’s role as nothing more than a plot device in Erased’s overarching story.

The greater and more tragically ironic twist is this tale is, of course, Satoru’s fate. Satoru ended up being Yashiro’s first victim, who set a trap that played right into Satoru’s desire to constantly play the hero. Yanagihara Misato, the girl who’d accused Kayo of stealing lunch money and was now ostracized because of her actions, was a perfect red herring because we’d seen this play out before with Kayo’s story arc. But the foreboding in this episode was also heavier than an Antarctic blizzard — there was Satoru saying goodbye to his friends as though he wouldn’t be seeing them again, as well as pretty much every moment after Satoru got into a vehicle with Yashiro.

After all the lives he’d saved with his ability to change the past, it was as though Erased’s universe was punishing Satoru for possessing that ability and actually daring to use it. Satoru actually dying was a non-option, but Satoru nearly drowning and falling into a fifteen-year coma was still a risky move. It was a direction that was completely unexpected and somehow completely worked, mainly because it was a direction that felt oddly both mundane and refreshing for a show that uses time travel as plot element, but also because it brought Satoru full circle with his mission to change the past. Fifteen years into the future, Sachiko again proved that she is the world’s best mom, Yashiro got married and somehow ingratiated himself as a local councilman, and in yet another slap in the face from fate, Kayo and Hiromi got married and had a baby.

But many, many questions remain about Satoru’s Revival. Why didn’t it work when he was nearly drowned? How did he even gain that ability in the first place? How does it actually works? I was wondering these same questions some episodes ago, and my feelings about them haven’t changed: I wouldn’t be mad if Erased never gets those questions answered. This episode made pretty clear that Erased’s focus was never on the origins and mechanics of his ability, but the implications and consequences of possessing such an ability, and these two episodes certainly provided much symbolism and metaphors for discussion on that front.

Erased also wrapped up the Nakanishi Aya storyline quickly and albeit somewhat conveniently, which I was actually more thankful than annoyed for. Kayo’s story was the emotional center of Satoru’s story, and with her arc complete, it made a lot more narrative sense to shift the story to the would-be killer’s reveal. The fifteen-year time jump also introduced a lot more questions than answers — do Airi and pizza place manager exist in this timeline? Did Yashiro continue on his predatory path after getting Satoru out of his way? Does Satoru even remember his time-bending ability after his memory loss? Satoru was also remarkably good-natured despite being asleep for fifteen years, and there’s a boatload of issues that the episode didn’t get into, and not just his memory loss; there’s his identity crisis as a former 29-year-old who was in the body of his 11-year-old self who is now 25-years-old in a brand new timeline separate from his 29-year-old self. Even if you could wrap your head around that psychological conundrum, it’s pretty unlikely that Erased will delve into his mental state with only one episode remaining, but I’ll reserve judgment until I get to that final episode of what’s been an extremely enjoyable, if occasionally bumpy, but often emotional ride.

Other random thoughts:

  • The montage of Sachiko going about her daily routine before returning home to her comatose son pretty much killed me.
  • The scene of Kayo visiting Satoru with her baby came close to killing me a second time.
  • Satoru hiding his sketch of Kayo from his mother hurt slightly more than I thought it would.
  • In this timeline, it seems that Kenya took over Satoru’s investigative role alongside Sawada-san. I wouldn’t mind seeing an entire series devoted to Kenya investigating Satoru’s attempted murder for the past fifteen years.
  • It seems that the biggest insult to an 11-year-old Kenya was to call him childish.
  • Satoru was completely absent from the OP in the eleventh episode.
  • 11-year-old Satoru doing the voiceover for 25-year-old Satoru was a nice touch.
  • It’s not unexpected that Satoru would have such severe memory loss, but man, Yashiro visiting him in the hospital was horrific and audacious and terrifying on so many levels.
  • The attention to detail is what makes the strengths of this show, like Yashiro’s finger-tapping habit that sparked Satoru’s memories, which had been hinted at several times in past episodes.
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Week 10 impressions

Ansatsu Kyoushitsu S2

We wanted to get lots of reaction shots out of them. But those cooking anime have a monopoly on that.

– Fuwa Yuzuki on her favorite genre of anime

If it’s one thing that Ansatsu Kyoushitsu consistently does well, it’s their ability to make the most well-worn, high school anime tropes feel new and fresh. This was essentially a recap episode, disguised as a high school cultural festival episode with a sprinkling of the ongoing competition between the A and E classes. None of the episode’s individual elements were remotely original, but Ansatsu Kyoushitsu ddid just enough tweaking and splicing to make this another fun addition to the season. Nothing here advanced the story at all, but with its latest attempts to veer into more serious subject matter turning out rather disastrously, a return to its bread-and-butter of off-beat humor might be just what it needed.

Other random thoughts:

  • If we can forget Nagisa’s mother’s psychotic break from last week when she nearly burned down her son’s school, her turn around here comes across as quite endearing.
  • Rio apologizing for her teasing to Nagisa was a nice touch, though it was still funny seeing her rescind so quickly from her apology to push Nagisa into coaxing rich kid Yuji into overspending at their café.
  • Yuji was one of the many past characters who made random reappearances in this episode, but the only non-regular character who made an actual substantive addition to the episode’s storyline.
  • Of course Asano can riff on an electric guitar like a legit rock star.
  • I’m still not sure how Koro-sensei managed to incorporate an ecology lesson into a high school festival episode.
  • Ansatsu Kyoushitsu made the right move by focusing more on class E’s café exploits instead of their ongoing competition with class A. Asano and his minions remain painfully one-dimensional, and it was nice seeing the E class show off their resourcefulness within the comforts of their environment.

Musaigen no Phantom World 

Weary of such a life, I was convinced that I’d have to die on the streets.

– Ruru-chan’s being watching too much anime

For a few weeks now, Phantom World has been leaving me with the same weary questions: what is this show about? What is it trying to do? Where is it taking its characters? Is there an actual cohesive story here or is it just trying to get the LOLs even though its comedy isn’t even that great? This week wasn’t any different — we got an episode centered on Ruru-chan, but like other character-focused episodes that Phantom World has put out, it born no development Ruru-chan’s character or Phantom World’s non-existent overarching story. We did learn that everyone, even Haruhiro, is quite fond of Ruru-chan, even though that affection was already apparent from earlier episodes. Everything else was well-trodden fare too: the obligatory summer festival with Ruru-chan getting huffy with Haruhiro before saving his life, all topped off with a bucket full of moë. The one bright spot was her dramatic sob story, which was a lot funnier than I thought it would be because it played out like a parody of every sob story that’s ever been told in anime.

Other random thoughts:

  • Seriously, doesn’t Kurumi-chan have her own school to go to?
  • Ruru-chan was as annoying as a human as she was a fairy. She should just stick to trolling Haruhiko, one of the few truly funny things about this show.
  • As clichéd as the storyline was, the Phantom witch character was quite intriguing. She appeared to be fairly benevolent, but it was interesting that there are Phantoms that exist mainly to serve other Phantoms.
  • Will this show ever delve more deeply into the concept of Phantoms? Maybe it still will if it indeed goes two cours, but given its track record of dealing with more heavy-handed concepts, I’m not sure if it’ll be an improvement over what been served up so far.

HaruChika

He’ll live together with me! It’s possible I might have to live my entire life alone! So I thought I would have him take financial care of me!

– Haruta keeping it real with his dating prospects

HaruChika finally makes it to its first band competition, but Haruta and Chika first need to solve their obligatory mystery of the week. For the most part, HaruChika has been good at making their mysteries character-driven affairs, but this week’s Judgment-of-Solomon-inspired mystery was complete filler just to fulfill its weekly mystery quota. As always, Chika’s comedic timing and Haruta’s smarts were on point, and seeing Haruta lose all integrity over that very huggable Tibetan Mastiff was a pretty amusing bonus. But there really wasn’t much here at all, and I’d rather not waste time over bland appetizers when we’re so close to the main course of the season.

Other random thoughts:

  • We continue to hear more about Kusakabe’s reputation as a former up-and-coming conductor.
  • For a regional band competition, there sure is a lot of press, even if most of them are there because of Kusakabe-sensei’s reputation.
  • Naoko should officially join the band already, because we all know it’s a foregone conclusion.
  • Poor Chika — everyone continued to take shots at her even when she was down.

Akagami no Shirayuki-hime S2

What kind of farce is this?

– Kiki has had it up to here with Zen’s bullshit

Akagami no Shirayuki-hime continues its vintage run of form, but still manages to throw in a few pleasant surprises. The first surprise is, of course, Kiki’s backstory, which was revealed in the most unexpected way of possible: through a phony marriage with the second prince of Clarines. We learn that Kiki is a daughter of a noble and on the list of possible suitors for Zen, thereby enabling Zen to request his attendant’s assistance in getting marriage propositions off his back. Ironically, the only reason the twist worked was because Kiki’s background had been a complete mystery up to this point, and she still remains somewhat of an enigma: how did the daughter of a count wind up as an attendant to the prince? Fortunately for everyone involved, the farce worked, and perhaps too well: Shirayuki had heard of the marriage interview way before Zen had a chance to clear the air with her. But Shirayuki, being the smart, capable woman that she is, continued gamely about her daily routine despite clearly looking troubled. It summed up everything I admire about Shirayuki’s character — cool-headed without being coy, straightforward without being brusque, and vulnerable without being needy. And finally there’s Izana, whom I didn’t at all expect to throw his hat on to the Shirayuki x Zen ship. Like Kiki, Izana’s been very much of a closed book. We know that he’s a prince extremely conscientious of his responsibilities and the expectations that come with it; this week we learned that his opposition toward Zen and Shirayuki’s burgeoning relationship was more of a test of Zen’s mettle than anything else. I don’t feel that this will automatically remove all the hurdles that potentially lie in Zen and Shirayuki’s way; Shirayuki-hime might only have two episodes left to its season, but I have no idea it plans to wrap up their relationship. Shirayuki-hime‘s simple, straightforward storylines are what makes each episode of feel fresh and coherent and surprisingly unpredictable, a combination of qualities that don’t come together very often.

Other random thoughts:

  • I loved that Kiki and Obi were completely remorseless at being caught listening at Zen’s door.
  • Anyone would have quailed under the amount of side-eye Kiki was giving Zen.
  • I also loved the subtle changes in character design for the younger versions of Zen, Mitsuhide, and Kiki.
  • Poor Mitsuhide. He’s never been able to catch a break with Kiki, and that’s been going on since the day they met.
  • Lest we forget that Shirayuki is still an apprentice herbalist, it seems her final exams are coming up soon.
  • Since we seem to be staying put at the castle for the remainder of the season, hopefully that means we’ll get more scenes of Obi and Ryu being adorable together.

Durarara!! X2 Ketsu

Honestly, how much more complicated is this going to get?

– even mad scientist Kishitani Shingen can’t take it anymore

This week, the Orihara twins closed the chapter on Durarara!!’s infamous chatroom, which means that we’re drawing closer to an epic conclusion to Durarara!!’s potpourri of storylines. At least, that’s what Durarara!!’s trying to make us think. For some reason, Takashi continues to be the show’s biggest plot mover, even though he’s by far the least interesting character in Ikebukuro and biggest all-around douchebag. Meanwhile, Anri finally realizes what everyone watching already knew: her fears of being rejected for her lack of humanness were unfounded. It took way too long for Anri to get to that point in her character, and it would have been worth the wait if her development hadn’t been so bumpily handled. Masaomi and Mikado also meet for the first time since the first season, with Mikado looking unnervingly unperturbed and Masaomi dissolving into an emotional mess. It was an interesting contrast to their personalities harkening back to Durarara!!’s early days, when Mikado was the more nervous and compliant one while Masaomi was always cool and collected. Consider we’re extremely to the show’s end, this was a slower episode than I’d anticipated, and my biggest worry for Durarara!! is no longer whether it can stick the landing (which, let’s be honest, was something I’d pretty much given up on since the middle of its second cour); it’s whether the big climax will be as exciting as its season-long buildup has been promising that it would be.

Other random thoughts:

  • Izaya might believe Shizuo is the biggest monster in Ikebukuro, but Izaya himself might not be fully human: not many people would have survived being batted by giant metal girder into a skyscraper halfway across the city.
  • Anri continues to mourn her friendship with Masaomi and Mikado, which might be the biggest cautionary tale for honest, open communication among friends. Especially friends who each happen have either gangster connections or demonic possessions.
  • In line with the episode’s theme of honesty, Mikado finally tells Masaomi that he’s the founder of the Dollars.
  • As an interesting counterpoint, if Mikado, Masaomi, and Anri had been completely open with each other, they might have ended up like Shizuo, Izaya, and Shinra, none of whom remotely prescribe to the utility of white lies for the sake of friendship.
  • Erika continues to be the breakout character of the season: who else would happen to carry around red contact lenses and be able pull off the best impression ever of the Saika zombies?

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu Eps. 6 & 7

You’re so close it makes me jealous.

– Miyokichi’s words that mean more than she realizes

Find a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life — so goes the most famous of aphorisms, which like many other axioms of inspiration, greatly simplifies the complications of reality. Rakugo Shinjuu brought the question of passion to the forefront in this episode, and as Kikuhiko learns, in his constant questioning of his own capabilities, passion for a profession isn’t something that is as black and white as Confucius once alleged. Passion, talent, and persistence inextricably and often inexplicably intertwined, like when Kikuhiko gets inexplicably lauded for a performance of an art that isn’t his forte, but doesn’t get anywhere the same level of praise for the art that is supposedly his forte. It was a painfully ironic reflection of how’d always lived his life — obedient, subservient, and compliant, from the time he was apprenticed out by his geisha guardians to the local rakugo master, to his effortless ability turn on his charm when the situation requires it. Kikuhiko didn’t choose rakugo of his own volition; he resigned himself to love rakugo because it was the only path available to him. Sukeroku, on the other hand, wasn’t given a rakugo apprenticeship; he demanded and beseeched for it, and nothing (except booze and girls) now matters to Sukeroku but rakugo.

So it’s not just talent that separates Kikuhiko and Sukeroku: it’s also passion. That realization was almost debilitating — not only does Sukeroku seem to know Kikuhiko’s performance style better Kikuhiko does himself, Sukeroku knows exactly the inspirations that drives his rakugo. Kikuhiko has a full-out existential crisis — why and for whom does he practice his rakugo? What defines his drive, his fire, his dogmatic devotion? Can his passion even be considered legitimate without being unequivocally validated But much like his showstopper the week before, his epiphany came to him under the gaze of his audience — he performs rakugo for himself, not for anyone nor anything else. It’s a strangely simple conclusion and another interesting contrast between the two friends — Sukeroku’s inspirations are completely external, but Kikuhiko’s inspiration comes from within. For Kikuhiko, who had constantly used Sukeroku as a standard bearer against his own abilities, it was only natural that he would extend that comparison to even their personal motivations.

Unfortunately for Miyokichi, Kikuhiko’s epiphany doesn’t bode well for their budding relationship, although there might not have been even a single bud to begin with. I can’t quite gauge Kikuhiko’s feelings for Miyokichi, since he seems only fond of the apprentice geisha whenever it’s convenient for him. For all his stately mannerisms and sartorial elegance, Kikuhiko isn’t very emotionally mature: he is terrible at communicating his feelings, leading her on while simultaneously pushing her away. It’s a classic case of “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone”, and with Kikuhiko leaving for a month to travel with his master, we’re on track for sparks to start flying between Sukeroku and Miyokichi. Unlike Kikuhiko, whose personality can be colder than a Sapporo winter, Sukeroku’s heart is permanently plastered on his sleeve, which by default makes him a much better communicator than the even-keeled Kikuhiko. Both Sukeroku and Miyokichi are open books when it comes to their emotions, and it’s poetically fitting that they’re both drawn to someone who is completely unlike them in character and comportment. Kikuhiko might be dismissive of their antics, though it’s clear that he enjoys that attention, but with the unspoken caveat that those interactions are on his own terms. You can’t have your cake and eat it too — so goes another well-known aphorism, which in this case, portends the unfortunate future that we know will come to pass.

Behind its rich traditions and cultures, Rakugo Shinjuu is telling a very simple story, one that’s been told a hundred times before. But like all good stories, the essence isn’t in the plot, but in the execution. Rakugo Shinjuu’s best decision was to singularly focus their story on Kikuhiko and Sukeroku’s friendship; they could have been alien fishmongers on a mission to capture a mermaid princess for all I care, but it all comes down to a classic tale of friendship between two compelling and well-rounded human beings.

Other random thoughts:

  • Every rakugo performance has been a lesson in effectively using camera angles, character expression and body language, and sound and music to tell a story.
  • I loved how Kikuhiko’s performance was framed to come right after Sukeroku’s to contrast their different performing styles.
  • The reveal that Kikuhiko had once wanted to be a geisha paralleled Konatsu’s desire to become a rakugo performer that we saw from the first episode.
  • I hope we get more background to Kikuhiko’s upbringing in that geisha house.
  • Kikuhiko and Sukeroku are both incredibly stubborn, which is the one thing they have in common.
  • Sukeroku is a classic case of being too talented for one’s own good. His passion for rakugo is obvious; his perseverance less so.
  • I could almost feel my heart break when Sukeroku started telling Kikuhiko about his plans for them to one day do a two-man show.

Hai to Gensou no Grimgar Eps. 8 & 9

Grimgar ep 8-8

Grimgar has gotten a lot of attention for its leisurely yet focused pacing, but its most underrated trait may be the orderly structure of its episodes. Each of these episodes were partitioned into distinct, substantive parts, and only this show, which has made the slow-burning episode into an art form, would decide to devote an entire episode to the characters taking a day off from their daily grind of goblin slaying.

But that doesn’t mean Grimgar doesn’t know how to turn up the excitement when it needs to. The battle scene between the team and the goblin camp in Damuro was bloody, brutal, and filled with the imperfect combat skills that we’ve come to expect from our team of misfits. There were no MVPs on this team, only greatly improved teamwork, and even both Moguzo and Shihoru reminded us that they’re just as tenacious and resilient as their teammates. Grimgar has also never glamorized its battle scenes as an escapist adrenaline rush — I honestly thought Mary was a goner when she got shot in the back — because our heroes are flawed enough that any wrong move might end in their deaths. I’ve also appreciated how Grimgar’s always managed humanize its goblins, even though no one would have batted an eye if the goblins were portrayed as typical RPG peons. The goblins of this world are intelligent and seem to have actual emotions, as we saw with the goblins going about their business at their camp. But the most powerful scene was at the end of the battle, where the goblin commander lay bleeding out on the chessboard that he’d been playing a game at just minutes before.  As Ranta said, it’s either kill or be killed, and it’s a harsh reality for both the humans and goblins of this world.

Meanwhile, the team finally managed to get their volunteer soldier badges, and it turned out that their raid on the Damuro camp had as much to do with closure as it did with retribution for Manato’s death. Even though Manato’s death and its aftermath has been a huge part of Grimgar’s overarching story, the effects of his death still feel somewhat incongruous with his character, mainly because the team had known Manato for a very short time. But his death still hurt, badly, and while a lot of its effectiveness had to do with Grimgar’s pacing and world-building, an underrated component was Manato’s own personality. Manato was the likable older brother we all wish we had, but that was the only aspect of his personality that was ever shown. Even Haruhiro had only viewed Manato as the older brother archetype, never really questioning the character behind that veneer. Haruhiro and team weren’t just mourning the person they’d known; they were also mourning the person they could have known. The team walking away from Manato’s grave was them finally moving on the loss of those two persons, walking toward the present and a future where they could become the team that Manato had always wanted.

In typical Grimgar form, nothing much actually happened in these two episodes, with the only two notable events being the team’s raid of the Damuro goblin camp and their decision to switch combat bases to the Cyrene mine, where Mary’s teammates had met their deaths. But sandwiched between that was half an episode devoted entirely to the team taking a day off, which could have been hopelessly banal if it had been handled by less skilled hands. It’s the little details that count, from the short, awkward pauses in between dialogues, to the scenes in Moguzo’s kitchen and the vendors in the marketplace, and Haruhiro wondering out loud as to what people actually do on a day off. We find out that Ranta enjoys fishing and that Yume is a ridiculously skilled rock-climber, and we also got to enjoy Ranta’s awed reaction seeing Yume scale that rock face like a lizard that lost its tail. Meanwhile, Mary’s been slowly but steadily ingratiating herself into the team, but I like that she’s been much warmer to her teammates without completely losing her reticence. When she finally confided to Haruhiro her fears of returning to Cyrene Mine, it was as though her body was being loosened from her emotional restraints, played out against another beautiful backdrop and a refreshingly sensitive Haruhiro.

But in all honesty, everything that’s happened with Grimgar so far could easily have been compressed into three episodes. At least, that would have been my complaint if Grimgar hadn’t been doing such a great job at turning the mundane into purposeful reflections of the characters’ psyches and the humdrum concept of work. With only three or so episodes left to the season, with its patient and deliberate world-building and character development, it’s becoming clearer that Grimgar is invested in this for the long run.

Other random thoughts:

  • The fanservice award of the week goes to Haruhiro’s teacher, whose comically impractical outfit and somewhat sadistic and extremely flexible martial arts moves were obviously meant for titillation. At least the scene only lasted about three minutes long.
  • That awkward and half-hearted “go team” at the top of episode 8 was pretty great.
  • Favorite battle move so far: Moguzo roaring THANK YOU each time he crushes an enemy with his titanic sword.
  • Shihoru and Haruhiro had their conversation about birds and fresh bread on the same bridge where she and Manato once shared a moment watching the sunset.
  • But Shihoru really needs to have a character moment that doesn’t involve the boys in her life.
  • It’s ironically fitting that Ranta is type of person who wakes up early on his day off to go fishing.
  • Moguzo is so earnest and lovable, but I really want to know more about him other than his bread and soup recipes.
  • Haruhiro might seem like your typical male protagonist but so far he’s proving otherwise. He’s unafraid to show emotion and uncertainty, and his tears always feel genuinely in-the-moment and never contrived for melodrama.
  • I love how the camera deliberately kept away from Mary’s face while the gang was discussed switching raid locations to the Cyrene Mine.
  • Grimgar has had an insert song for almost every episode now (most of which have been in English), and I don’t remember any anime that has utilized this many insert songs within its run of episodes. I felt that the insert song during the battle slightly undercut its intensity, but the other folksy-sounding songs in these two episodes were very much on point for the tone of the moment.

Erased Eps. 8 & 9

I’ve been having a hard time writing about Erased lately. This isn’t because it’s doing its thing badly — on the contrary, it’s been consistently entertaining and suspenseful — but it seems to have settled into a formula with very little room left to grow for its characters. The big takeaway from these two episodes was that Satoru FINALLY catches a break and saves Kayo from death’s scythe, and what we’re left with is for Satoru to do the same with the other two potential victims: his childhood friend Hiromi, and Nakanishi Aya from the school next door. We’re now moving into uncharted territory, which should technically be exciting, but Erased had invested so much into Kayo’s story that her redemption felt like the actual conclusion to this story. We just don’t know enough about Hiromi or Aya to care as much about their story arcs as we did with Kayo. With only three episodes left, I’m not sure if Erased will be able to do the justice to their characters while also wrapping the many questions that linger from the past and the future.

Those are all gripes that I can live with, but what’s more worrying is the lack of clues to the identity and motivations of the would-be murderer. Probably the most compelling aspect of this time-travel murder mystery was that the perpetrator was hinted to be someone whom Sachiko knew from her past, but there are too many questions, too few answers, and too little clues that paint Erased’s primary antagonist as nothing more than a villainous trope, and I don’t know if the inevitable reveal will bear as much emotional catharsis as Erased hopes it will. Yashiro-sensei remains the only real suspect, but the guy has had so many red herrings painted on his back that I’d be disappointed if he did turn out to be the villain, though I’d be even more disappointed if the bad guy turned out to be someone whom we’d never met before. Erased has been so effective at using its cinematography, music, and animation at consistently misdirecting its audience, but its own cleverness might have backed its narrative into a corner.

Erased’s lack of emotional catharsis was also most apparent with Kayo’s mother: the reveal that she was also a victim of domestic abuse made narrative sense but did little to sympathize her character since we hadn’t seen anything other than an abusive mother over the course of the season. The sudden introduction of Kayo’s grandmother was way too convenient, and it was clear that she was there as a device to help wrap up Kayo’s character arc.

But there were some pretty great moments in these two episodes, particularly with the wrap-up of Kayo’s character arc. The flashback to Kayo’s mother past didn’t work as well as it could have, but it worked much better for Kayo; seeing a time when Kayo was once protective of her mother made her subsequent abuse much harder to stomach. Kayo’s words and actions, from her apathetic ‘nothing could make me happier’ when told that she would soon be free from her mother’s abuse, to her looking away from her mother’s pitiful sobbing, and her breakdown at seeing a home-made breakfast — Erased has made us feel for Kayo without falling to heavily into excessive melodrama. While Erased still has a lot of ground to cover before its conclusion, here’s hoping that it remembers that its characters are what keeps its story grounded and relatable.

Other random thoughts:

  • Kenya and Sachiko also continue to be best friend and mother of the year respectively.
  • Hiromi grabbing Satoru’s hand could be interpreted in many ways, but I’ll reserve judgment until more is revealed.
  • Yashiro-sensei being revealed as a candy hoarder was a pretty great moment.
  • I can’t help but wonder how much about Satoru’s life would be different if he’d ever told someone about his Revival ability.
  • One of the bigger questions remaining is how this permanently altered past changes the future. Did everything we see with Airi and company from the future still happen in that new alternative timeline? Or will nothing change at all, with the murderer’s deeds averted but not completely thwarted?

Week 9 impressions

Ansatsu Kyoushitsu S2

Koro-sensei saw right through me. I’m not the hero of my own life. I’m in round two of the ‘Mom’ RPG.

– Nagisa on how life can be summed up with an RPG

With Ansatsu Kyoushitsu, you need to be able to suspend some disbelief to get over the idea of middle school kids being trained as assassins, or the possibility of a tentacle monster threatening to destroy the Earth while posing as a middle school teacher. Those are the restrictions that Ansatsu Kyoushitsu set up for its universe, and anything can be credible as long as it stays within the show’s logical confines. So while it makes sense that a 15-year-old boy can incapacitate an adult (and presumably experienced) assassin, it doesn’t make sense for someone to get away with kidnapping and attempted arson. I’m glad that Nagisa got some much-deserved screentime that traced his effeminate appearance and genteel personality back to his upbringing, but everything about her, from her facial expressions to (possibly) bipolar personality and criminal actions, was so outrageously over-the-top that it overshadowed everything satisfying about this episode. Their broken relationship wasn’t just due to persistent miscommunication between mother and son — Shiota Hiromi is emotionally abusive and psychologically ill parent who DRUGGED her own child so she could force him into BURNING down his own school. No, Koro-sensei, that is a relationship cannot be solved by open-minded communication; it’s something that needs counselling and lawful intervention. I got where Ansatsu Kyoushitsu was trying to go with Hiromi’s character, but parental abuse and mental illness are things that should not be portrayed just for spectacle, and seeing Hiromi not being given the due consequences for her actions struck a blow against the credibility of this usually smart and intuitive anime.

Other random thoughts:

  • So how does Nagisa’s father not step in to prevent his wife’s continued abuse?
  • Being a nurse or a maid really shouldn’t be considered solely feminine, and by extension, second-class professions.
  • Nice getting some insight into Karma and (rather arbitrarily) Nakamura Rio’s aspirations, even if Rio’s entire backstory was essentially info-dumped for speed and convenience.
  • Also, I like that Nagisa is self-aware enough to recognize his talent for stealth and assassination.
  • Irina decided to wear off-the-rack clothes and all the boys’ noses subsequently exploded.

Musaigen no Phantom World

This is all I’ve been doing since that monkey.

– Mai is so over this nonsense

So my decision to no longer hold expectations for Phantom World turned out to be a wise decision. Phantom World managed to fall short of last week’s absurdity, but it was still stubbornly focused on levity without much thought for anything substantial, story-wise or character-wise. It’s as though Phantom World heard my gripes about the thematic obtuseness of its early episodes and completely stopped bothering with anything meaningful or consequential. Phantom World will possibly run longer than just a single cour, which would at least make its current frivolities less transgressive in the long run, but still doesn’t excuse its current string of flops. The animation remains strong and the comedy is at least minimally amusing (albeit only for its sheer inanity), but at some point Phantom World really needs to pull up its pants and give us something to care about.

Other random thoughts:

  • Is it too much of me to expect  an explanation as to why Kurumi-chan was not attending her school, but showed up to get inexplicably dragged to whatever farce Haruhiko and gang got themselves into this week?
  • But I love Albrecht and his crazy jujitsu skills. He can show up every week as far as I’m concerned.
  • Why would a Phantom knowingly go to the Phantom Slaying Club for help?
  • How do the members of the Phantom Slaying Club know how to act or even set up staging equipment??
  • Out of all the Phantom fighters, why was Kurumi-chan the one handling a firearm???

HaruChika

Being a high school student is his assumed identity. Actually, he’s a famous detective with the little grey cells. Along with the bumbling detective with the rose-colored brain cells, I’ll leave them both to you, like a hamburger meal set.

– Katagiri’s decription of Haruta and Chika is the best of all time

HaruChika’s mysteries have been very hit-or-miss, but this episode mystery was its best since the sixth episode. For one, I was already invested when Kusakabe-sensei collapsed within thirty seconds of the episode, which made me care about the week’s mystery more than I usually would. The mystery was low-key enough to be solved within 15 minutes of the episode’s runtime, but also smart enough with it step-by-step deduction to keep viewers guessing until the solution’s reveal. Similar to when Naoko was first introduced in episode six, HaruChika’s decision to focus on Sakai-sensei’s voluntary suspension, rather than the conundrum of Asmodeus, hit all the right emotional notes by the episode’s climax. Haruta is still an attention-loving drama king, but he’s now at least able to show off his smarts without coming across as an obnoxious know-it-all. But HaruChika’s off-the-wall comedy remains its greatest strength, and by off-the-wall comedy I mean Chika, who continues to steal every scene she’s in with her constantly peppy personality.

Other random thoughts:

  • Haruta and Chika’s dynamic never fails to amuse, especially whenever she gives him a swift kick up his bum.
  • “Bring the gorilla’s head!” – Haruta terrifically pissy reaction after learning that his beloved Kusakabe-sensei had been spread too thin due to Sakai-sensei’s suspension.
  • Fujigasaki High School is so fancy that it has traditional paintings hanging in its main hallway.
  • The Peeping Tom turning out to be a Peeping Jane was a nice twist on the usual creepy-dude-with-a-camera trope.
  • Kaiyu has an unnatural attachment to his drumsticks. He must also have seriously deep pockets to always be able to carry them around with him.
  • Perhaps I’m ignorant of some Japanese teaching norms, but a teacher having a tattoo in an unexposed part of her body doesn’t seem like a very big deal. Was it really something worth getting suspended or fired over?

Akagami no Shirayuki-hime S2

That man is free tonight.

– Kiki basically saying that she doesn’t give a damn

Perhaps I’d gotten accustomed to the suspense that Akagami no Shirayuki-hime had been inhabiting with its past few episodes, but I was definitely on edge the moment Trow strutted into that inn. But of course, the episode’s climax wasn’t remotely dramatic, and was the moment I realized that we were officially back to the free-and-easy pace of the first season. It’s not a bad place to be; we got some nice little character moments from everyone, even as Obi was the real focus of the episode. Akagami no Shirayuki-hime’s first season was defined by its subtle storytelling, and this episode was no different — we learned a lot about Obi’s past and current mindset, even though we still  know very little about his life before he came under Lord Haruka’s employment. Obi’s always been a lone wolf, but he realizes for the first time that being a lone wolf isn’t going to gain any favors from comrades who genuinely care for him. I like Trow a lot as well — she’s like a more reckless version of Obi, if such a thing was possible — and I particularly enjoyed how effectively her motives were misdirected, like when she eyed both Shirayuki and Obi in the episode’s opening scene. Shirayuki and her apple-red hair have been the center of all kinds of trouble for the better part of two seasons; who would have expected that Obi was the real center of Trow’s attention? This was a vintage episode of Akagami no Shirayuki-hime: where nothing much happened but we still learned new things about our favorite characters.

Other random thoughts:

  • Zen and Shirayuki continue to be innocently and frustratingly coy about their relationship. At some point they’re going to have to be able to hold hands for longer than ten seconds.
  • Akagami no Shirayuki-hime somehow managed to use a bathhouse scene to deliver subtle moments of character development.
  • Mitushide’s priority in life is Zen’s well-being. Obi’s priority in life in also Zen’s well-being. We’ll have Kiki to thank if Mitsuhide x Obi actually materializes.
  • Kiki is the team’s calm and observant mother figure who doesn’t seem to know the meaning of flustered. Do I want to see Kiki show a more vulnerable side to personality? Absolutely. But I appreciate Akagami no Shirayuki-hime having an unflappable and level-headed female character who isn’t the token tsundere of the show.

Durarara!! X2 Ketsu

What’s this? I have no idea what’s going on here. How am I supposed to take this? How am I supposed to interpret this? What the hell am I supposed to do?

– Akabayashi is as confused as the rest of us

Zombies are gathering, superhumans are battling, and gang leaders are drawing their swords; it’s all happening in this latest episode of Durarara!! This is starting to feel like 24: everything that’s taken place in the last few episodes has happened within the past few hours of Durarara!!’s universe. On the plus side, these protracted plot threads have worked wonders for a suspenseful set-up, though I’m still not confident that it’ll be able to completely stick landing. But on the minus side — and this is a complaint that isn’t remotely original — there are so very many characters and still so very many unanswered questions. At its best, Durarara!! can effortlessly meld character growth with overarching plot, but lately it’s been more plot than character, with barely a moment to breathe before another block of wood is thrown on to the tower of wobbling storylines. Which was why the flashbacks to Shinra, Izaya, and Shizuo’s high school days have been a welcome reprieve. It’s no secret that there’s never been love lost between Izaya and Shizuo, but Shinra was the original conspirator that brought them together, and Shinra is the one person who knows both of them the best. His analysis of Izaya’s sociopathic tendencies was pretty spot-on: Izaya “loves” humans because he doesn’t want to feel the emotions that humans feel. So he toys with them instead, like a little girl with her dolls, but Shizuo is an exception. Shizuo refuses to be one of Izaya’s dolls, and so to Izaya, who would rather his humans stay delicate puppets, Shizuo is a monster, an invincible aberration amidst beautiful fragility of Izaya’s humankind, and something that Izaya had made his goal to destroy.

Other random thoughts:

  • Kasane’s definitely taken a backseat to the action since I proclaimed her Durarara!!’s trump card a few episodes back.
  • A Kasane-centric episode is also way overdue. But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised given that she was only introduced at the end of Ten.
  • I’m very certain that things aren’t going to end well for Hayashi.
  • Why is Shijima even with Hayashi in the first place?
  • I’m still surprised at how few people know that Anri is a Saika wielder. Just how many misunderstandings could have been avoided if she, Masaomi, and Mikado had been honest with each other way back in the first season?
  • Hell hath no fury like a teenage girl with a creepy shark backpack.
  • I almost thought that Shizuo was a goner, but Celty jumped in and saved his life, possibly indicating that her memory loss isn’t as irreversible everyone thought it would be.
  • I’ve been over mopey Masaomi for a while now, so it was nice seeing him striking up a fun rapport with Chikage.

 

Week 8 impressions

This week was a week of meh.

Meanwhile, I realize that my write-ups are also getting shorter by each passing week, which was a deliberate choice because pumping out eight write-ups was starting to eat into real life. Writing shorter essays are actually more challenging that writing longer essays; conciseness and precision are definitely a practiced art. But anyway!

Ansatsu Kyoushitsu S2 

Just do whatever you want! The boys with their usual pent-up lust, the girls with their usual envy of my beauty — just let it all out in an explosion of sexual violence!”

– Irina letting loose on her innermost desires

So after last week’s disquieting introduction of the Reaper, this week he turned out to be as threatening as a temperamental kitten. At least that’s what it felt seeing Karasuma-sensei so easily dispatching a villain who’d been hinted at since the second season premiere, but I did like the Reaper’s defeat was thanks to Karasuma’s experience and guile instead of a never-before-seen ability pulled out of his top hat. Meanwhile, Irina’s character arc unfortunately turned out to be as clichéd and convenient as I’d feared it would be. To be fair, her character’s actions in this episode did make sense with her background; the problem was that her background felt crammed into the episode as a convenient way to explain away her actions of the past two episodes. And yes, we’d seen glimpses of her background in the past, but her sudden betrayal and swift reconciliation with the E class still felt like a shortcut to genuine character development. It also didn’t help that Irina, despite her credentials as a world-class assassin, was essentially reduced to the role of blushing-damsel-in-distress. In the end, the characters came out of this story arc the same going in, which makes these two episodes feel like cannon fodder even though the build-up was clearly intended for something greater.

Other random thoughts:

  • Of course Class E had a secret stash of camouflage spray.
  • The government isn’t afraid to use the students of Class E as collateral, which could become a potential storyline further down the line.
  • We’re only just a quarter of the way through this two-cour season, so I’m hoping that “Operation Last Assassination” at least turns out to be less than this dud of an episode.
  • Clichés and sentimentality aside, Ansatsu Kyoushitsu’s contradictory themes (like insisting that the students be in safe place so they can kill) consistently make for good viewing.

Musaigen no Phantom World 

What’s with this texture? It’s like the bristles are dancing. What softness… what softness… what softness! It’s like a top-quality canvas!

– Haruhiko delighting in the texture of Mai’s bum

It’s finally happened — Phantom World has now officially jumped the shark. In retrospect, I shouldn’t be surprised; Phantom World’s absurdity levels have been steadily increasing for a good few weeks now, but this episode wins the season in terms of unabashed tomfoolery. At least there were absolutely no pretenses about what this episode was trying to do: 100% slapstick comedy, 0% substance, and about 1000% fanservice, where pretty much every female character got the chance to be fought over like the last piece of fresh meat at the morning wet market. But despite the nonsense, I was actually laughing out loud at brazen lunacy of it all. We’re almost three-quarters of the way through the winter season and Phantom World decides to do an even more lascivious twist on the infamous bathhouse trope that has absolutely no consequences on the story? That’s the last card Phantom World needed to show to let us know that we should harbor absolutely no expectations for the rest of the season.

Other random thoughts:

  • A hot spring full of apes conjures itself in the school’s courtyard and barely anyone bats an eye. Is their school actually Hogwarts?
  • At least the animation and visuals were top-notch to match the ludicrous and ultimately ineffectual display of students’ powers.
  • And at least its cultural references remain refreshingly eclectic.
  • I just couldn’t even with the fanservice. And I thought it couldn’t get worse from what we saw in the first episode.
  • What the heck is Kurumi even doing at the high school on a school day?

HaruChika

Do you want to sleep together?

– only Chika can say this with a straight face

After two pretty strong weeks, HaruChika falls back to mediocrity again with this combination of onigiri, first loves, and weird animal metaphors. HaruChika has had penchant for laying on the metaphors while regaling its mysteries of the week, and this episode was a stark example of the HaruChika getting metaphorical just for the sake of it. The premise of the mystery wasn’t a bad one, but its execution didn’t do any favors by making it pretentiously obtuse until the very end. The other major problem was that it didn’t have any real significance to Naoko’s character development or HaruChika’s larger story; it was again trying to go for emotional catharsis without first laying the appropriate groundwork to get there. It also doesn’t help that the only characters with distinct personalities are Haruta and Chika, while everyone else are either bland as woodwork or just outrageously eccentric.

Other random thoughts:

  • Why was Naoko’s Aunt Kyoko consulting with a high school club in the first place?
  • Naoko is also not a child; I’m sure she could have handled the true story of her aunt’s first love without the animal metaphors.
  • Thank goodness for Chika’s presence. She’s shouldering almost all the laughs for the show on her own.
  • Chika gets a lot of great one-liners, but Haruta’s leanings to over-the-top dramatics is also pretty amusing.
  • Haruta didn’t get to profess his love for Kusakabe-sensei and the episode was considerably less entertaining without it.
  • Haruta and Chika have graduated to bickering husband and wife, and it’s pretty great.
  • Chika is actually starting to sound pretty good on her flute.

Akagami no Shirayuki-hime S2

Does that mean it doesn’t matter what I think?

– Shirayuki needs to get this printed on a T-shirt

Akagami no Shirayuki-hime is really making up ground for the lack of Shirayuki x Zen scenes — there was enough adorableness in these two episodes to last the rest of the season. We were also properly introduced to Mukaze, Shirayuki’s estranged father, and the encounter between them was about as uneventful and drama-free as you would expect from the first season of Akagami no Shirayuki-hime. The problem was that this second season of Akagami no Shirayuki-hime has been nothing like its first season, so while its understated resolution might have worked in the first season, it was a letdown here, especially after last week’s cliffhanger that framed Mukaze’s introduction as the culmination of this story arc. Another thing was the entire Claw of the Sea detour — in retrospect, it did nothing but build tension to a climax wasn’t there to begin with, and I can safely say there weren’t any substantial character moments that couldn’t have been developed elsewhere. The only possible exception is Raj, but we’d already seen plenty of growth even before Shirayuki was kidnapped. Despite my misgivings, I still enjoyed this episode; it was a pleasant throwback to the congenial air of the first season, and I won’t complain if it continues to stick with its bread-and-butter of low-key storytelling. But I’ve come to expect a little more than just “pleasant” from Akagami no Shirayuki-hime. It’s built a thoroughly immersive world inhabited by relatable characters; I just wish it had fulfilled its promise of upping the ante with its plot and character dynamics.

Other random thoughts:

  • I love that Shirayuki didn’t hesitate while turning down Kazuki’s request to stay on the village. She knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to say it.
  • I also love that Zen might be slightly jealous of Raj, which is a statement that would have sounded completely ludicrous at the start of this season.
  • Zen’s feelings for Shirayuki are about as clear as day, but it’s pretty notable that Shirayuki still hasn’t been able to bring herself to be honest about her feelings, even after having her life threatened by comically murderous pirates.
  • Kiki thanks Mitsuhide for worrying about her, which gives us more insight to Kiki’s character than we’ve seen through the entire series.
  • It’s been a while since we’ve seen a happy-go-lucky Obi.
  • A sassy Sakaki is always a delight.

Durarara!! X2 Ketsu

No matter how bizarre the incident may be, the second it happens it seems routine. Pay no attention. Let it slide. That’s my credo for living in this city.

– The Dummies Guide to Surviving Ikebukuro, by Tom Tanaka

It’s gotten to the point where I honestly can’t tell if Durarara!! has completely gone off the rails or is right where it planned to be. But by now, is there really a difference? About ten disparate events were happening at once in this episode, and it’s a given that things aren’t going to end well for most of the players in this spectacle. Izaya and Shizuo begin their death match, Dotachin finally makes his first appearance of the season, Tom gets trapped in Russia Sushi by Hayashi’s Saika zombies, Chikage hacks the chatroom and threatens Namie and Mikado with Seiji and Masaomi’s life respectively, and Celty is reunited with her head, rendering her with memory loss and promising to rain even more mayhem on Ikebukuro. There was a brief flashback to Shinra and Izaya’s high school days, reminding us that even a sociopath needed to be groomed, and the person doing all of the grooming was Shinra. Mikado’s secret gift from Izumii unspectacularly turned out to be a firearm, which Mikado has of course no idea how to use, but what promises to be more intriguing was his choice of meeting venue with Chikage. Things are quickly converging in Ikebukuro, and I’m hoping that the climactic crash will be entertaining at the very least.

Other random thoughts:

  • Hayashi is the stereotypical sleazebag character who is just waiting for a takedown.
  • Namie is the character who is closest to snapping like a dry twig, and that’s saying something when everyone in Ikebukuro is at least slightly deranged.
  • Poor Masaomi continues to be a hapless fool.
  • The Russians were really making their mark in this episode.
  • As though it isn’t bad enough that Celty hasn’t been in contact with her head for a good few hundred years, her head gets tossed around like a football before it finally reunites with its body.
  • The relationship between Mikado and Aoba continues to feel like an unsettling game of cat-and-mouse.