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?

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.

 

Week 7 impressions

I’m a week late, but why talk about such distasteful things when we can talk about anime instead?

Ansatsu Kyoushitsu S2

A flower’s beauty negates human caution and opens the heart.

– The Reaper is a poet

Ansatsu Kyoushitsu has lulled me into a false sense of expectation. With its latest episodes focusing on feel-good stories and comedy, I didn’t expect much when this episode opened with another tribute to Karasuma and Irina’s floundering romance orchestrated by the matchmakers of class E. So I didn’t see the Reaper coming at all until he casually strolled into the E classroom, and many episodes of Irina being the butt of jokes made me forget that she’s still a top-tier assassin. It’s just as Karma realized:

I was actually most afraid of not being afraid.

– Karma getting bad karma

So it looks like Ansatsu Kyoushitsu is finally moving past its fluffiness into more serious territory, and unlike the threats faced by class E in episodes past, the Reaper seems on a whole other level. His pleasant, unassuming façade coupled with his decisive wipeout of the E class was effectively unnerving, but I found it hard to believe that Irina would choose to betray her kids within the space of single episode. I’m pretty certain that she’s playing some kind of ploy (her specialty is, of course, espionage) because her sudden change of heart without any real prior development feels a disservice to a character whom we’ve known since early in the first season.

Other random thoughts:

  • I genuinely believed that Nagisa was going to take out the Reaper when he went to badass mode. But he got soundly beaten, and kudos to Ansatsu Kyoushitsu for again playing with expectations so effectively.
  • Ansatsu Kyoushitsu doesn’t offen get praised for its attention to detail, but they’ve shown that they’re pretty adept at following up on brief hints of characters and elements that they’d dropped in previous episodes
  • Thank goodness Karasuma isn’t as dense as the students make him out to be.
  • This episode also highlighted something that wasn’t very obvious before: the dichotomy between the adults and the kids in class E. They may be assassins in training, but they’re still very sheltered, and the maturity gap showed when they were duly admonished for underestimating the skills and aptitudes of their elder assassins.

Musaigen no Phantom World

Come on Haruhiko, take a picture!

– Ruru-chan says something useful for once

I don’t know how to feel about Phantom World anymore. This episode was a mess from start to finish, but it was also entertaining, like the kind of entertainment you get from watching videos of people fall off boats on YouTube. The animation was like Alice in Wonderland on meth, while the feline-related hijinks managed to be amusing just by its sheer ridiculousness, and I’m not even going to tackle its attempt to juxtapose a philosophical analogy for quantum mechanics against an entire school transforming into a crazy cat lady’s fantasy. Either way, there really wasn’t much to garner from this episode other than what already know: Phantom World’s main attractions are its doped-up animation and slapstick humor; everything else, from its weekly themes to character dynamics, are pretty much an aside.

Other random thoughts:

  • It took students sprouting cat ears and cat tails for Haruhiko and gang to realize that something weird was going down. Because students falling asleep in feline positions all over campus wasn’t a big enough sign?
  • The Phantom of the week looked like a cross between the castle in Howl’s Moving Castle and the lion turtle from Avatar: The Last Airbender.

HaruChika

Apologize to the fathers of this country!

– Chika the social justice warrior

Seven episodes in, Haruchika finally seems to be hitting its stride. This week’s mystery was easily HaruChika’s best so far, with the way it used the radio talk show as a common point between the disparate characters and plot elements. None of the plot devices felt contrived, and even with new characters with potential sob stories, HaruChika opted not to indulge in pitiful histrionics and focused more on the ways Kaiyu and Aso worked to overcome their depression, although it was a little too neat Kaiyu turning out to be the final prominent member of the brass band club. Meanwhile, Chika continues to be equal parts irrepressible and charismatic, and her scenes remain funny and endearing even when she’s studying alone in her room. The dynamics between her and Haruta are still entertainingly organic, and kudos to HaruChika has finding its recipe to making Haruta much more palatable, even if it took them a few episodes to get there.

Other random thoughts:

  • I’m glad that HaruChika also spends time other kooks in Haruta and Chika’s high school. The student council president and his student blacklist definitely add to HaruChika’s deliciously offbeat humor.
  • Chika in studying mode is the living embodiment of every study-related post on Tumblr.
  • Perhaps I’ve grown accustomed to the histrionic antics seen in many a high school drama, but I fully expected Chika to go into full-on sympathy mode after hearing Haruta spill his secrets on the radio. But Chika can’t be moë no matter how hard she tries, and her reaction was unexpectedly hilarious while still completely in line with her character.
  • Maren and Miyoko might be the most talented members of the band, but the fact that their playing overshadows everyone else’s doesn’t do the band any favors.
  • The animation has never been HaruChika’s strong suit (and this is coming from P.A. Works, which made Nagi no Asukara and Shirobako), but man, there were some seriously off-model character shots in this episode.

Akagami no Shirayuki-hime S2

The red-headed girl you’ve meddled with is the only one in Tanbarun to have been given the title ‘Friend of the Crown’!

– Turns out Raj is a troll

Operation Rescue Shirayuki finally comes to a head this week, but was the climax worth the climb? It was, even as most of the episode felt like a desperate dash to the finish. Raj continues to show his growth and acknowledge his past mistakes, and his ability to make in-the-moment, life-or-death decisions is a far cry from the one-note, frivolous prince we met in the first episode of the first season. But I like that he’s still a bit of a pampered brat, which makes him much more rounded and believable as a character. Meanwhile, Shirayuki continued to show why she’s the one of the best non-ass-kicking heroines to grace the anime screen. She’s smart and vigilant in high-pressure situations, and the fact that we only see her agitation after the battle is cooled speaks a lot fortitude and resilience. Her connection to Lions of the Mountains is finally revealed, which turned out to be a rather predictable and anticlimactic affair, but should at least lead to some interesting interactions in the next few weeks as Akagami no Shirayuki-hime finally returns to its more mellow roots.

Other random thoughts:

  • The biggest downside to Operation Rescue Shirayuki being resolved so quickly was Kiki failing to do anything of significance in the episode.
  • Was Umihebi’s motivation for kidnapping Shirayuki just for ransom? She made a pretty decent antagonist, but a little more insight to her actions would’ve been nice.
  • Zen has been completely overshadowed by Raj and Obi this season, so it’s good to finally see him get a well-deserved moment alone with Shirayuki.
  • Sakaki is the best right-hand man Raj could ever hope for.

Durarara!! X2 Ketsu

People might call you a stereotypical loser who should never, ever go online and write blogs. But don’t mind them. That right there is a bona fide human reaction.

– Izaya, troller of trolls

This final cour of Durarara!! has been an interesting one, even in comparison to its previous seasons. Things have been happening at a very rapid pace in a very short period of time, but I finally get the feeling that the pieces are moving toward some kind of conclusion. Mikado looked extremely unsettled for the first time in a while when an unhinged Namie let loose on him in his chatroom sanctuary, while Shizuo finally comes face-to-face with Kasane and Varona before going off to presumably incapacitate Izaya after he’d tried to crush Shizuo with a crane. Meanwhile, Celty’s fate as a sentient being seems to hang in the balance, and we finally get some answers regarding Kasane’s motivations. I’ve been enjoying the dynamics between Varona and Shizuo — they’ve shared a brother-sister, mentor-mentee, frenemy-type relationship thus far, which might be the healthiest and most normal relationship in Ikebukuro outside of Shinya and Celty. Yep, you know you’re watching Durarara!! when a demonic headless horsewoman and Yakuza-employed doctor are relationship goals.

Other random thoughts:

  • Poor Saburo. He finally realizes that he is one of the few sane people in the cast.
  • Not that long ago I would have bet that Aoba was firmly in control of Mikado’s actions. But after his meeting with Izumii, it seems pretty clear that Mikado is the one with his hand held tight around Aoba’s neck.
  • The Orihara twins reappear in the chatroom just to troll both Namie and Mikado.
  • Half the season’s gone by, and we finally get news that Dotachin is doing fine, since he apparently walked out of his hospital with no problem at all.
  • Kasane again talked about her envy for someone she deemed as inhuman, which certainly speaks to her lack of human empathy that she so seemingly craves.
  • Somehow Masaomi still thinks that keeping Anri in the dark would allow him, Mikado, and Anri to eventually return to the good old times. Thank goodness Chikage is around to talk some sense into his delusional head.
  • That final phone conversation between Shizuo and Izaya was a sure sign that shit’s gonna go down real soon in Ikebukuro.

 

Week 6 impressions: Part 1

The fact that I am finding difficulty in curtailing my so-called weekly impressions to a concise paragraph is pretty telling of my newness to anime stream blogging. Meanwhile, I’m now almost 4 episodes behind on Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, but let’s keep the self-aggrandizement to a minimum, shall we? You probably didn’t come here to read about me mope about my failings in life. And on that note, let’s jump into the first part of me thinking about the shows I watched this past week!

Ansatsu Kyoushitsu S2: Ep. 6

You may have grown too strong. Drunk on your own power, you forgot to put yourself in the shoes of someone weaker than you. That makes you no different than the students on the main campus.

– Koro-sensei’s lecture of the week

One of Ansatsu Kyoushitsu’s constants is its theme of underdog hardship, which makes this episode a nice change in tone as it finally acknowledges the E class as individuals with powerful and potentially dangerous abilities. “With great power comes great responsibility” is the most clichéd adage in superhero lore, but class E learned its lesson the hard way when they accidentally hurt an old man while parkouring across building rooftops. Of course, the old man also happens to run a daycare center for underprivileged kids, and Koro-sensei has the class babysit the kids for two weeks as remuneration while the old man recuperates.

This is one clichéd mess.

– Yoshida Taisei, self-appointed voice of the audience

The daycare center scenes were rather heavy-handed with its “triumph over adversity” metaphors, but was balanced out by the self-aware humor that Ansatsu has become so good at deploying. On the other hand, Koro-sensei forbidding class E from studying for their midterms made very little narrative sense — that there are more important things in life than acing exams was an obvious lesson — but it rang hollow after his class had worked so hard to get their rankings up during the previous midterm exam arc. At least we got to see Karma’s hard work come to fruition when he revealed that he’d come in second in his year overall. Meanwhile, Nagisa reminds that there are only five months left until Koro-sensei’s assassination deadline, perhaps hinting that Ansatsu Kyoushitsu might finally be ramping its narrative to a higher gear.

Other random thoughts:

  • If I had the agility of anyone in class E, there wouldn’t be a day that I wouldn’t parkour over rooftops to get to work or school.
  • The scenes at the daycare center were pretty well-tailored to each character’s defining traits.
  • The cheese was almost too much this episode, but that being said, the old man and his kids were quite charming, and it was nice seeing the E class in roles outside of their classroom comfort zone.
  • Sakura-chan observations on the brutal reality of child bullying was depressingly astute.

Musaigen no Phantom World: Ep. 6

Bears everywhere. That’s why the world in your mind is filled with bears.

– Ichijo Haruhiko, armchair psychologist

So this is how you make a good episode of Musaigen no Phantom World: get the writers on drugs, or some combination of honey and mushrooms. Unlike Mai, Reina, and Koito, Kurumi’s backstory was pleasantly devoid of any dramatic trauma, and her foray into her subconscious stemmed more from self-doubt than any kind of personal ordeal. Rather than relying on verbose character exposition as it had done in the past, Phantom World illustrated Kurumi’s psyche by letting its colorful metaphors and symbolism do the majority of the talking. Kurumi also had a relatable innocence that made this episode much more appealing than its predecessors; letting go of your childhood defenses to face your self-doubts and is something that we’ve all grappled with, and Phantom World did pretty well in nudging Kurumi’s maturation, with or without that magical girl transformation. The bear symbolisms were probably a little overdone, but at least KyoAni made delightfully charming work of Kurumi’s fantasy of cuddly bear knights, honeyed castles, and mushroom forests. The weekly themes have also gotten significantly less high-brow, and Phantom World is doing better with these more grounded themes that require less obtuse elaboration.

Other random thoughts:

  • Koito takes a diabetic amount of sugar with her coffee. I have a feeling that might become something significant in the near future.
  • Whatever criticisms I’ve been having with Phantom World’s storytelling, its well-drawn visuals remain imaginative and enchanting.
  • I wonder if Albrecht is the only stuffed animal that Kurumi can summon as a giant bodyguard.
  • I don’t think I’ve seen a male character as embarrassingly as unfit as Haruhiko since Code Geass‘s Lelouch Lamperouge.

HaruChika: Ep. 6

I can’t calm down unless I see Sensei several times a day.

– Kamijo Haruta on his daily placebo

HaruChika’s opening scene didn’t bode well for the rest of the episode — a lone child, surrounded by broken toys in an empty room, dramatically pledging her life to music — it reeked of the overwrought and inconsequential drama that had plagued HaruChika’s first few episodes. So I was pleasantly surprised that this ended up being HaruChika’s strongest episode to date. I’d always felt that the character comedy was one of HaruChika’s stronger suits, especially Chika’s antics and her sharp banter with Haruta. Chika’s hilariously reckless and spontaneous personality has been criminally underused the past few episodes, and it was clear this week that the show needs her to balance out Haruta’s coolly cavalier and often insufferable character.

This week we’re introduced to yet another character and potential band member, Serizawa Naoko, and was the first character to not be defined by a tragic backstory. HaruChika gave Chika free rein to interact with Naoko, which allowed Naoko to expand her character much more organically than Haruta did with Miyoko and Maren, and the mystery surrounding her character felt better integrated into HaruChika’s larger story. Her introduction also brought the club’s competition goals into perspective for the first time, and it’ll be interesting to see how the club continues to deal with its shortcomings in the upcoming episodes. I’ve given HaruChika a lot of (well-deserved) flack so far, but I’m glad to see it coming into its own as we inch past the middle mark of the winter season.

Other random thoughts:

  • Naoko was checking the snare drum and timpani for a childhood friend, who also happens to be only character in the OP yet to be introduced. Of course, ponytail-drummer guy is hinted to have a tragic backstory, and I’m praying that HaruChika handles his introduction with the same nuance as it did with Naoko.
  • I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve used the words “tragic backstory” while reviewing this anime.
  • It’s inevitable that Naoko will eventually join the club, but it was nice to finally see someone stand toe-to-toe against Haruta other than his sister.
  • Kusakabe-sensei reply to Naoko’s question about his current role as music teacher and past aspirations to be a conductor was most revealing for its brevity and quiet resignation.
  • Chika has made considerable progress with her flute-playing skills, but she’s still pretty terrible compared to everyone else in the club. Nice to see HaruChika reminding everyone that mastering a musical instrument is no easy feat.
  • Chika had a lot of great moments this episode, but my favorite was her ecstatic reaction to receiving a fancy cream bun as remuneration from the driver of a car that nearly ran her over.
  • Haruta and Chika bickering over Kusakabe-sensei continues to be one the best elements of the series. On paper, two characters fighting for the attention of an older man is so sexist and clichéd that it shouldn’t work, but it works for Haruta and Chika because their infatuations for Kusakabe-sensei aren’t their characters’ only memorable traits. That their contrasting personalities have fantastic chemistry in during  the more impassioned scenes also helps.
  • On one hand, I really want HaruChika to delve deeper into Haruta’s psyche and standing as a gay male adolescent. But on the other, I’m really enjoying the refreshing normalcy in which HaruChika is treating his sexuality as just another aspect of his character.

Week 5 impressions

The biggest issue I have with these write-ups is that I always end up taking much longer than I anticipate. Leaving aside my tendency to overwrite (which is pretty much a given anyway), there are screenshots, and then editing, and finally uploading and doing a final round of edits before publishing. And I also keep finding myself behind the airing schedules of the shows I’m covering. It’s more work than I originally thought, but I’m still enjoying every moment of it. It’s an extremely gratifying feeling putting up piece of writing that you feel (at that moment, anyway) is worth sharing with others on the Internet. Anyway, on to my one-week-late impressions of week 5!

Ansatsu Kyoushitsu S2: Ep. 5 

Ansatsu Kyoushitsu delivers another feel-good, character-focused episode, even as the plot keeps inching forward at the pace of a snail. This week the spotlight is on Isogai Yuma, class E’s esteemed leader and all-around man’s man and lady’s man, who is also dirt poor and has to work part-time in a restaurant to support his family. Unfortunately for Isogai, part-time jobs are against Kunugigaoka’s rules, and is of course found out by Asano, class A’s leader, who challenges the E class to a game of pole-toppling, promising to keep Isogai’s job a secret if class E manages to win. And of course, Class E does win the challenge, with the odds stacked mightily against them.

This is Ansatsu’s tried-and-true story formula, one that manages to feel satisfying however many ways it’s been spun. All the tropes are there — the last boss villain and cartoonish minions, the roundabout strategies and unlikely champions. But Ansatsu always makes episodes of this type more enjoyable than it should be. Part of its success lies with its creative humor, but the secret lies with its perpetually likable main cast. Ansatsu makes it easy to root for class E, even as it keeps pumping out episodes that aren’t incredibly substantive.

Other random thoughts:

  • The jokes throughout this episode were again focused on the relatively one-dimensional aspects of each character. I’m getting a little tired of Kaede’s flat-chest jokes, but I chuckled at the majority of the other quips in the episode.
  • Good on Ansatsu for getting actual American voice actors for those American giants. Heck, even the way they behaved screamed “Look how American I am!!”
  • Most of the blogosphere seemed put off by some of the students’ Engrish. But which would be more realistic — Japanese students speaking English with a Japanese accent, or Japanese students speaking English with an American/British/Australian/anything non-Japanese accent?
  • Asano may be an arrogant prick, but at least we’re slowly learning more about the upbringing that led to his current psyche.
  • Isogai’s proclivity for Social Studies didn’t come out of nowhere; he was the class’s top scorer during last season’s exam arc. As superficial as it may be, I’m still happy that Ansatsu remembers these little details while writing its stories.

Musaigen no Phantom World: Ep. 5

Musaigen no Phantom World keeps chugging along with another character-centric episode, this time with the tsunderrific Minase Koito. Episodes like these are pretty cut-and-dry — male protagonist tries to make friends with aloof female character, male protagonist gets shut down, female character’s tragic past is revealed, female character gets into trouble, male protagonist and friends save female character, the formerly aloof female character starts becoming friendlier with male protagonist and his friends.

I think I’ve come to temper my expectations for Phantom World — at this point, it’s probably not going to overcome its clunky storytelling or penchant toward plot-splaining. The characters aren’t unlikable, but they haven’t endeared beyond their stock personalities. But Phantom World’s universe remains captivating and eclectic, and Haruhiko’s dilettantish behavior does provide interesting insights to Phantom World’s creative inspirations. My only hope of Phantom World is that it goes deeper into the Phantom mythology — the pixelated phantasms are the subject of every episode but remain as much of a mystery as Ruru-chan’s continued existence.

Other random thoughts:

  • I am serious about Ruru-chan as the show’s biggest mystery — everyone just seems to accept her as a troll with wings who doubles as Haruhiko’s personal assistant — what kind of Phantom is she, where did she come from, and why does she choose to stick with Haruhiko?
  • Phantom World is really starting to feel like a harem anime, which I’m not excited about at all.
  • Kumamakura Kurumi is a tongue-twister of a name.
  • Himeno-sensei is a troll of a teacher and I rather like it.
  • Albrecht, Kurumi’s stuffed bear and bodyguard, is hinted to have a malevolent purpose, which makes me feel both dread and excitement for the next episode.
  • The Phantom Control Agency was mentioned once again, and I’m wondering how big of a role the agency will play if Phantom World ever decides to expand its narrative beyond club activities.

HaruChika: Ep. 5

Haruchika went all-in on its mystery of the week, while also introducing yet another character, Goto Akari, whose personality was unfortunately as generic they come. The mystery she presented had an intriguing set-up — an amnesiac grandfather, three similar paintings differentiated only by a single color, and an elusive color known as elephant’s breath — and the seriousness in its presentation was clearly meant to deliver some emotional heft. The problem was that Haruchika didn’t do the groundwork to draw emotional investment toward the story — Akari came off self-absorbed and tactless, and her grandparents felt less like actual characters than plot devices. Even the solution felt implausible and contrived — somehow Akari’s grandfather, while trying to make it as a painter in Chicago during the riots of 1966, got drafted to fight in the Vietnam War, and began suffering from PTSD when he returned to Japan in the 1970s. There was a fair amount of art and American history woven into the narrative, which was the crux of this episode’s problem — there was far too much plot-splaining of the historical context that just couldn’t into 20 minutes, and what we got was an episode shortchanged in terms of any character growth or emotional drive.

To his credit, Haruta actually showed some restraint in the hospital confrontation scene, which may have been due to his historical knowledge than actual character development. Meanwhile, Chika, Miyoko, and Maren were reduced to generic, teenaged bobble heads, and we learned that Kusakabe-sensei is inexplicably well-versed in Vietnam War weapon operations. The trombone-playing Akari doesn’t even go to Haruta’s school, but given the pattern of the past episodes we can probably expect to see her again.

Other random thoughts:

  • Please bring back Haruta’s sisters.
  • For some reason, Haruta’s problem-solving skills are conveniently renowned across local high school brass band clubs.
  • Egregious grammar and misspellings in English texts might be the most overlooked problem in all of anime.
  • The invention club may or may not have met had a transaction with Takanashi Sota from Wagnaria.
  • We need to see more of student council president Hinohara and his Invention Club lackeys.
  • Chika’s flute-playing skills are actually starting to be in tune, and I was genuinely surprised by Chika’s ability to make a delicious bento lunch.

Akagami no Shirayuki-hime S2: Ep. 5

Akagami no Shirayuki-hime presses on with its journey into uncharted waters this week, while Obi and Raj continue their fight for the season’s new male lead. Obi and Raj share one thing in common: their feelings for Shirayuki are murky, but the same feelings that propelled both of them into action this week. Obi maintaining his cool, genial façade was somewhat unnerving, and the moment when he snapped felt very natural and well-executed. The animation also kept pace with his transformation to a more visceral being, visible in his animalistic movements and facial expressions, especially during his second fight with Itoya. Raj’s reactions were much less extreme, but it was satisfying seeing him take try to take action despite his limited skillset.

Shirayuki’s fate is still up in the air, although we can say with some certainty that pretty boy Kazuki and elder guardsman Itoya aren’t as much of a threat as we thought them to be, which in part was due to clever misdirection from the writers. There were a lot of random clues and plot elements being tossed around — the mountain men whom Kazuki calls his friends, a mysterious old man whom Kazuki kept referring as his father, and the seafaring pirates known as the Claw of the Sea — it all centered around Shirayuki, who seems to be utterly confused of her role in this conspiracy. This is by far the most plot-heavy Akagami no Shirayuki-hime has ever been, and while it’s been a fun excursion from its reliable staple of character-driven slice-of-life, I’m getting nervous that it won’t be able to stick the landing. All I’m hoping for is that this storyline has some significance for Shirayuki’s character and background, which has been heavily under-illustrated thus far. The clues and plot pieces seem to be in place, now Akagami no Shirayuki-hime just needs to put them together.

Other random thoughts:

  • Kazuki mentioned that he was bringing Shirayuki back to where she belonged. If this isn’t another hint to her origins, I don’t know what is.
  • Poor Raj — even his own father has a painfully low opinion of him.
  • I wonder about the role of kings and queens in Tanbarun and Clarines, who seem to take much more passive roles in governing their kingdoms in comparison to their sons and daughters. This episode marked the first time that the word “king” had even been mentioned, there was some trepidation in the air when his request to see Zen and Raj was announced.
  • Zen really hasn’t done much this season, has he?
  • Some LOL-moments: the Claw of the Sea being made up of members with unique abilities and extraordinarily good looks, and Shirayuki and Obi exclaiming “bishōnen!” when they set eyes on Kazuki for the first time. I don’t know if the writers are being tongue-in-cheek or utterly genuine with its G-rated fujoshi-pandering.

Durarara!!X2 Ketsu: Ep. 5

What the hell is going on here?

– Togusa Saburo and everyone else watching

I’m beginning to think that the only way I can fairly review DRRR!! would be to judge it as a whole, with all the storylines resolved and episodes aired. Because right now, all its balls are up in the air and I have no idea where any of them will land. On the plus side, this episode felt five minutes long, but it was like five minutes of rapid-fire whack-a-mole. Last week I said that the Kasane was the biggest wild card in Ikebukuro, but I was only half right: Kasane has plenty of aces up her sleeve, and is set on upending Ikebukuro by whatever means necessary. Within the episode’s first minute, Kasane kisses Shinra, possesses him with her Saika, literally steals Shinra from Celty’s arms, destroys half her apartment, and shows off her spidey-skills as she battled Celty across Ikebukuro’s skyscrapers. It’s pretty clear that Kasane is a giant plot device, designed to forcibly push the rest of the cast into any kind of plot-driven action. But Kasane remains a complete mystery — her backstory, motivations, and aspirations are practically unexplored — but she’s messing with Ikebukuro’s status quo in ways that Izaya never could. If Izaya is the puppeteer in the shadows, Kasane is the bull-voiced director with a script only she can see. Kasane might drive DRRR!! off its already shaky rails, but at least it still promises to be a hell of a ride.

Meanwhile, other characters also did some stuff. It turned out that Kasane had hired Varona to steal Celty’s head and assist with Shinra’s kidnapping. Chikage lends an injured Masaomi a listening ear after rescuing him from Izumii’s mallet. Shizuo goes around the city scaring kids before teaming up with Celty’s horse/chariot/any imaginable vehicle, while Anri gets a visit from Mikajima Saki, who finally does something other than petting Masaomi’s moody blonde head while lying in bed. We do dive in a little deeper into Varona’s psyche, who continues to question the satisfaction of working as an assassin after enjoying a more peaceful period as Shizuo’s debt-collecting sidekick. But we didn’t learn anything substantial; Varona’s backstory and psychology had already been pretty well explored in the last cour, and this brief dive into her mind served to remind that she still has a role to play in Ikebukuro’s politics, as well as her charmingly offbeat relationship with Shizuo.

Other random thoughts:

  • I keep feeling that I’m watching more set-up than execution of plot. How many more dominoes can DRRR!! keep setting up before it accidentally knocks one over?
  • With Celty dissolving her consciousness into a ball of black energy, Saburo may be the only sane character not mortally wounded, experiencing an existential crisis, or starting up turf war among color gangs.
  • Kasane looked more alive than she’d ever been as she was being pursued by Celty.
  • Why would any parent let their kids roam the streets of Ikebukuro at night?

Week 4 impressions

I didn’t intend to end up full write-ups for all the anime that I was covering. As it turns out, putting out write-ups for eight shows takes a lot of time and effort, and while I’m definitely enjoying writing these, I decided that I would have to do more of a “weekly impression” thing and limit full write-ups to maybe three shows? Anyway! Here are my brief thoughts for week 4 of the winter season!

Ansatsu Kyoushitsu Season 2: Ep. 4

Ansatsu Kyoushitsu keeps chugging out solid but completely filler episodes, but I’ve genuinely enjoyed the experience of each episode so far. The comedy is smart and self-aware, and the characters are likable and charming despite remaining fairly one-note. The episode smartly made new kid Itona the star of its first act, focusing on the growing camaraderie between him and the rest of the class. Itona remains a bit of a cipher, but his unfiltered tongue made for some of the best lines of the episode.

The first act’s plot was rather weak — concupiscent adolescent boys using electronic gadgets to illicitly spy on their female classmates is as hackneyed a storyline as they come — but the military-style presentation and self-aware dialogue still made it work. Self-awareness was the name of the game (hah) in the second act; code-naming the students was a hilarious homage to the fact that Koro-sensei’s students are pretty much unidentifiable beyond a single defining characteristic. The unfortunately-named Masayoshi “Justice” Kimura was sort of the star of this second act, and I suppose not learning anything about him beyond having parents in law enforcement was some kind of twisted irony.

Other random observations:

  • Plot-wise, absolutely nothing happened, other than an extremely sinister but nubilous final scene involving Kunugigaoka’s malevolent principal and his sycophantic son.
  • Itona’s barbed tongue paired with his impassive countenance are an absolute delight.
  • Some of my favorite codenames: Da Densest, President Poverty, Womanizing Scumbag, Fluffy Stag Beetle, Director Mushroom, Picture-book Graduate(?), English Lass, This Manga is Amazing!, Dating Sim Emo Character, Box of Moë, Kunugigaoka’s Mom.

Haruchika Ep. 4

Haruchika surprisingly delivered a much more enjoyable viewing experience this week; I even laughed out loud at the moments I was supposed to. One of the biggest issues that I had with Haruchika was the lack of opposition to Haruta’s bullish character; Haruchika managed to amend that by introducing one of Haruta’s domineering sisters, who showed up after finding out that her brother been rendered homeless and living under the charity of his school’s Animal Care Club. Kamijo Minami kept Haruta under her thumb for the entire episode, which not only made him more tolerable, but also shed some light on how his family shaped him into the person that he is today.

This week’s mystery was forgettable as it was implausible — a seemingly haunted apartment complex that turned out to be giant piggy bank — but it was at least the first mystery that Haruta solved without coming across as an insensitive prick. Haruchika’s main problem right now is that its “mystery” components feel very disposable; their only purpose is to make Haruta look smart, but makes every other character seem like an accessory. I can’t help but compare Haruchika to Hyouka, which had similar themes but was much more exemplary at weaving character dynamics with the mystery of the week.

But let’s stick to the positives — Haruchika made great strides in making Haruta a much more likable character, a feat that I’d frankly thought was impossible after the last two episodes. They just need to make sure that at least one Haruta’s sisters is always around to keep him in his place.

Other random thoughts:

  • I absolutely love that Haruta is a shameless freeloader. He even has travel chopsticks!
  • Without their sob stories, Miyoko and Maren’s characters have become as flat as Chika’s flute-playing skills.
  • Chika and Haruta’s feud over Kusakabe-sensei continues to be amusing, which is surprising since gags like these tend to get old really quickly.
  • On the other hand, seeing Chika beat up Haruta never gets old.
  • Minami, and presumably the rest of Haruta’s family, don’t seem to be aware of his sexual orientation, something that I’m hoping that Haruchika will eventually explore in greater depth.

Musaigen no Phantom World Ep. 4

Phantom World’s turned its focus to the buffet-loving Reina this week, and despite some rather heavy-handed storytelling, it feels like Phantom World is getting into a pretty good groove with its character dynamics and changing themes. It helped that this week’s theme of family was considerably less high-brow than previous episodes, and there was much less explicatory dialogue as a result. I appreciate that Phantom World had been dropping hints to Reina’s backstory — her apparent jealousy of Mai and Haruhiko’s comfortable dynamic, her always calling Mai “Onee-sama” — so her family backstory didn’t feel like it had been sprung completely out of left field.

That being said, Reina’s backstory was handled with the delicacy of a treacle-laden mallet. I was pretty tickled by the bunny Phantoms and really liked fairy-tale-like quality of Reina’s fantasy home, but we didn’t need Reina to us that she was having family troubles; that security camera and hulking gate outside Reina’s house was more than enough. This is still Phantom World’s biggest problem — it’s relying way too heavily on expository dialogue and doesn’t seem to trust its own art and animation to tell the story. This episode was pleasantly less verbose, but Phantom World hasn’t done much better in making me empathize with its characters.

Other random thoughts:

  • I’m still not a fan of Haruhiko’s intro lecture, but it was fun seeing Haruhiko in various Aztec-inspired vestments.
  • Haruhiko snaps out of his trance while doing his thing on the toilet, because bathrooms are apparently mystical portals to other dimensions.
  • Reina has a talk with her parents and they give her permission to stay on in Phantom Fight Club. After all that conflict and build-up and talk of how her parents despise Phantoms, this easy resolution felt like a major let-down.
  • Phantom World really is rich with symbolism and metaphor, and I would enjoy those elements more if the writers would cut down on the plot-splaining and let the world do its own talking.
  • The Phantoms continue to be the show’s most fascinating component. We’ve seen them manifested as memories, subconscious desires, and suppressed emotions — I want to see Phantom World tackle these philosophical abstracts head on, but I have a feeling that we may never get to that depth because Phantom World hasn’t shown that level of dexterity.

Akagami no Shirayuki-hime S2 Ep. 4

Akagami no Shirayuki-hime did something that it had never done before: it ended its episode on a cliffhanger. This show couldn’t be further away from the thriller genre, and yet Akagami adeptly handled the converging plotlines with a real sense of tension. We still have no idea who Kazuki is, what his motivations are, or who he’s working with, but at this point in the story it didn’t really matter, because Akagami has invested so much time in making us care deeply about the main characters.

Meanwhile, Raj is slowly turning the love triangle into a love square, and is even becoming one of my favorite characters this season. Raj had always been an overindulged brat, but was never a pernicious personality, and it’s a testament to Akagami’s deft character work they’ve been able to distinguish between those attributes and gradually mold Raj into much more respectable human being. As always, the character interactions are wonderfully nuanced and multilayered, even as Akagami continues to move its story forward with an untrodden sense of urgency.

Other random thoughts:

  • Zen declaring his wish to marry Shirayuki in front of his brother was very much in character, but probably not the wisest move. On the other hand, Shirayuki couldn’t even say out loud she that she misses Zen, even after being nudged by Obi.
  • Poor Obi. I would ship Shirayuki x Obi so hard if Shirayuki x Zen hadn’t boarded the S.S. Love At First Sight and sailed off into the horizon.
  • Rona is one perceptive and meddling princess, and thank goodness for her brother, otherwise she might have sunk two ships even before Kazuki and company could arrive at Tanbarun.
  • Izana continues to play the obstacle in Zen and Shirayuki’s path, but I like that his objections are based in concern for his kingdom and not the snobbish whims of a blue-blooded royal.

Durarara!!x2 Ketsu Ep. 4

Durarara!! continues its dance upon the circus tightrope, and I’m genuinely amazed it hasn’t yet fallen into a safety net of illogically convenient plot and character resolutions. Chikage and Izumii return to for payback against Masaomi and the Yellow Scarves, Anri resolves to use Saika for benevolent purposes, Shizuo gets released from prison, Varona steals Anri’s head, Haruna gets kidnapped by her pervy old teacher, and perhaps most importantly, Erika invites Kasane to join her Cosplay Club.

Anri’s identity crisis as a Saika-wielding continues to intrigue, because it ties directly into how she continually doubts her value as a friend to Mikado and Masaomi. As Kasane pointed out, Anri is virtuous by nature, and is too kind to wield Saika’s full potential, but is also still believes that her meek nature makes her a parasitic friend. Kasane is as robotic as she was last week, but there was a chilling efficiency with the way she dealt with Anri and Haruna as nothing more than a normal business transaction. Each of Ikebukuro’s players are rapidly making their moves, but Kasane, now a self-proclaimed villain, remains the biggest wildcard of the bunch — she seems to be making the rounds across Ikebukuro, maneuvering Ikebukuro’s players for her own crytic plan.

Other random thoughts:

  • Yes, Durarara!! is still chaos personified. But part of its fun is unraveling its tangled web, and Ketsu remains enjoyable because it managed to find some of the heart that went missing in the earlier cour of the season.
  • I didn’t realize Masaomi was such an agile fighter. I’d also forgotten that Chikage is almost as invulnerable as Shizuo.
  • I doubt Haruna’s old teacher is working alone, but I can’t think of anyone in the cast who’d be willing to work with such a sleazebag (that even includes Izaya). That being said, we got glimpses of some upskirt ickiness near the episode’s end, and I’m hoping that we won’t go further down that route.
  • I get the feeling that everyone will be playing hot potato with Celty’s head for the rest of the season.
  • Erika continues to be Durarara!!’s MVP.
  • Some of the characters were getting a little off-model in this episode. This also started happening in the last two cours at around the same time; both Shō and Ten managed to get itself sorted out, so hopefully Ketsu will get a little cleaner by its conclusion.