Kuzu no Honkai (Scum’s Wish) – 1

Attraction, love, fulfillment, and an emotional bond. Human beings are quite complex, but we were never meant to live alone. Scum’s Wish is a show that speaks to my very soul – as an adolescent we discover who we truly are, what kind of person we are, what we believe in, and look to carve ourselves into the world. I too recall these many twists and turns in a time of my life that was volatile, turbulent, and exploratory. There is something absolutely wonderful about that sort of self-exploration and the ways that we look to stave off our own loneliness.

Hanabi Yasuraoka, our protagonist, is actually quite taken with her older friend from childhood. Unfortunately, he is interested in another woman, Akane Minagawa. Hanabi meets a young man Mugi Awaya, who in parallel with her, pines over Akane. Their straits are similar – neither one can currently be with their beloved due to these circumstances. They end up spending a lot of time together and through no other reason then their mutual loneliness, decide to become involved with one another. Although they make it clear that there are two terms to their engagement (Neither of them can fall in love with the other and if their targets of affection are ever up for market, the relationship is off). While there is something truly sad about the two young adults with a void in their heart, I think it’s a testament to mankind’s ability to persevere that they are able to comfort one another in survival. The terms of their relationship appear to be completely sexual, as though to fill the gap their unrequited love is supposed to fill.

While under normal circumstances I think some would find this creepy, because of the nature of both Hanabi and Mugi, it takes on an entirely different nature. From Hanabi’s perspective, she is completely innocent and broken – Mugi might have some experience himself.

Hanabi may be broken and scorned, but her spurning by omission shapes who she is – her desires to fill the gap in her heart and explore adult levels of intimacy may guide her as a young adult or it may give her a false sense of reality. We’ll see where her character ends up.

Rarely do we see a show willing to explore the dark depths of these human aspects – almost a cruelty of monogamy and seemingly unfair twist of fate. The overall theme of adolescent identity development, sexual exploration, and involved discourse on human nature is definitely thought provoking – it’s up to Scum’s Wish to show us how far it’s willing to explore these themes.

Joker Game – 2

Unable to find evidence, it’s time to commit seppuku, that’s definitely how it works for anything you fail at in Japan.

Ok, so obviously the stakes were raised for Sakuma, as Miyoshi and the others have used his life as the ultimate sacrifice in their game. Luckily, Sakuma figures out what is going on before ending himself – the american spy had his contraband and ciphers located in a spot that was previously undiscovered by the previously unknown first round of searching.

By following the logical string of thought and extrapolating what this means, it is clear that Sakuma was set up in some fashion. Eventually tracking it back to his superior and cornering him, he ends up finding he has more in common with the spy agency than originally thought. To Miyoshi and his superior, it is clear that Sakuma is more than what they expected and clearly is more than just a common soldier.

Maybe I didn’t pay enough attention to the first episode but I wasn’t extremely clear on Sakuma’s allegiance and relationship with Lieutenant Colonel Yuuki/Colonel Muto compared to the agency, so the implications of “Why did he send us to search this place if he had already done so?” didn’t hit me quite immediately. On second examination though, things line up – just make sure you’re paying attention, unlike me!

It’s hard to say whether or not we have a “formula” in place yet for Joker Game – I can only imagine that much of the action is going to revolve around espionage and mystery; that is to say, we may see much more of the “retracing our steps” segment that we saw today.

It’s worth noting that Joker Game’s source material does not fall into one of our three typical candidates for an anime: It is in fact a typical novel. Without a light novel or manga to pave the way, there is something to be said for every decision that the anime makes given that there is no strict rubric as we know it for this story’s source material. Pay close attention to the direction and what it chooses to focus on, as if done well it will starkly contrast with what we’re used to.

Bungou Stray Dogs – 1

Bones has certainly been busy this season.

…Wait, didn’t we watch this show already? It was called Hamatora, right? With the group of detectives that have supernatural abilities but work together to ultimately cover one another’s shortcomings? Or is it To aru majutsu no index, where the main character can nullify any magical ability with his hand or finger?

All kidding aside, Bungou Stray Dogs is it’s own beast (no pun intended). Enter Osamu Dazai, apparent leader (?) of the Armed Detective Company who was actually trying to kill himself (Hello, Itoshiki). He was saved by an orphan Atsushi, who had been kicked out of his orphanage for reasons he believed was because “They no longer could afford to feed him” but we eventually learn the real reason is “He turns into a giant wolf at night”. Yeah, generally fair grounds for being kicked out of a communal home.

Osamu is wise to this though and is prepared to defeat him, not soon after offering him admission to the Armed Detective Company.

It’s worth noting that Bungou Stray Dogs has a distinct feeling from Hamatora, with the former with more industrial overtones and the latter more modern and at least superficially more goofy. That is not to say that Bungou is not goofy at times, but there is a distinct air of morbid oppression in Bungou that is not present overall in Hamatora. As of right now I couldn’t possibly say that Hamatora doesn’t have darker themes though – child experimentation, underground societies, or the character Morale as a whole.

Kunikida I had pegged as the character who would “keep the episode on track” but it seems Osamu is quite perceptive and serious beneath his exterior. No doubt they are the classic foils for one another and I’m sure we’ll see more of that to come.

I expect to see a few episodic detective stories with small hints of overarching plot and for the plot to explode somewhere near the 9th episode into the finale. That would be the formula, but will Bungou break free of that? I don’t think they necessarily have to if they can execute it well.

One Punch Man Chapter 56 – 56th Punch

The fight between Metal bat and Garyou rages on, with metal bat refusing to give up. I am confident that if left unchecked that these two would fail to down one another and that the battle would continue on to the point that the two of them would pass out – what does this mean?

It means that it’s a perfect opportunity for a third party to enter and break things up a bit. Metal Bat’s sister certainly has some guts.

Metal Bat himself is no slouch – his resiliance is certainly fucking something if not impressive. The man just never goes down and stays down, instead, he keeps getting up with even more determination to destroy you than ever before. This fight may be over, but what of the elder centipede? I’d hope Metal Bat didn’t forget about him.

Joker Game – 1

Joker Game is a show about eight ostentatious fucks that enjoy cosplay so much they’ve made it their professional hobby.

Well, I’m just having some good natured fun. For a first episode, this shows a lot of promise. Let’s dive right in, shall we?

Taking place in the 1930’s just before World War II (an uncommon setting for anime, even if it may not be for movies), Japan has prepared the training of several spies. These spies are not soldiers but men of above average intelligence from nearby universities. The end goal is for these young men to assimilate in the far reaches of the world and provide intel from their positions for the good of their home country – a very Japanese sentiment.

The men utilize their free time by playing card games with the card game being a front – the real game is who can essentially get the other “non-combatants” to sell out another’s intel for their own use. May seem like cheating, but such negotiation is often involved in war itself (and also something that might get me in trouble when I play risk with others).

Quite rare for an anime to not only star an all-male cast in such a mature setting, but to nary crack a single joke in order to keep a tense atmosphere of a country on the brink of war. That takes not only guts but integrity.

The weeaboo who’s house they raid is loud and annoying, but well prepared. Eh, I don’t care how, but I hope someone kills him in the next episode. Hey, I don’t ask for much!

I’d assume the meat and potatoes of this show is going to focus on a few themes:

1) The rules of the game (What is fair, what is not fair)
2) How do we, as humans, make use of what we have?
3) Typical anime “Your beliefs are wrong!”

That’s still pretty remarkable considering the first point is relatively unexplored. I await the inevitable endless slew of “your life is a game” metaphors that I’m sure this show will have in store for us. We’ll see.

Noragami Aragoto 4 – 6

Yato is pissed.

Who wouldn’t be in his situation? From his standpoint, Hiyori was done in by the underhanded tactics of Bishamon. Determined to destroy her through any means necessary, Yato rushes in a frenzied rage to confront her and finally settle things.

Meanwhile, Kazuma and Hiyori are captured by Kuguha, who has executed his plan to create a feud between the former god of calamity and the god of war with unceasing proficiency. The whole conflict between Bishamon and Yato was most certainly the biggest elephant in the room when it came to Noragami, but to see the emotional tension rise so high and stakes to surpass even that is jarring.

I won’t bother recapping everything that happened in these episodes (as I’ve made it clear since my captain earth blog post that I’m not interested in recaps anymore) since so many things happened. The way that Kazuma and Bishamon’s trial of trust played out was satisfying and lacking of ass-pulls, which was pleasing. It is clear by Bishamon’s answer to Kazuma’s seemingly earnest intentions that she has faith in her servants who seek to due the correct thing, even if it is not the same correct thing she might have been anticipating.

As powerful as the entire stage was leading up to and including the rage induced, nothing left to lose fight between Bishamon and Yato, perhaps the most powerful moments came from her picking herself up after the death of half of her family, reconciling with Yato over a long misunderstanding, and leading the rest of her family to victory against invaders despite her beaten, wearied state. This took true resolution and finally added some much needed characterization to her personality.

Kuguha’s story is certainly interesting. The only reason I can see why he’d bother belittling Bishamon after everything he did is because I believe he is actually quite selfish deep down. The show tries to make it seem as though “his intentions were good” but to be honest, he’s quite twisted and did everything for his own selfish whims – to see his idealized Bishamon. The ends do not justify the means.

Yato, Kazuma, and Bishamon can finally put this ordeal which was satisfyingly wrapped up behind them, with the most growth coming from Bishamon herself. I was duly impressed by the execution of this arc and I can say with certainty that this was the best arc in the show. The next 6 are entertaining enough but suffer from some strange pacing issues towards the end. More on that later!

Shakugan no Shana – 1 – 3

Yes, I finally went insane.

Shakugan no Shana is a show I first watched in 2008 and followed all the way through to its finale, eagerly waiting on every episode that past. Because of the time I saw it, what was happening in my life at the time, and how much I enjoyed the characters and the story it left a profound impact one me; even to this day, I fondly recall the trials and tribulations of the flame haze, shana, yuji, wilhelmina, and margery. Sometimes I recall past motivations and battle that took place in the series. Even though 8 years have past, it has truly never left my mind.

For many years, pretty much ever since the 3rd season ended I’ve been meaning to rewatch the show and experience it, start to finish, all over again. My world is so different now than it was then that it might offer different perspective, right? Then I was 17, a high school student, in love for the first time, ready to enter a new stage of my life, with a job and old friends that are now nothing other than an old memory. Now I’m 25, I’m married, I live with my wife, I have a full time job – so much has changed.

Shakugan no Shana weaves a beautiful tale of love, war, and anxiety. Where do we fit in the world? How do we belong? Will our feelings mean anything after we pass on? Powerful stuff, no doubt.

Re-watching the show would be great, but what would bring me greater satisfaction is chronicling this journey here so that I can remember it for time to come. Let’s go down this path together, shall we?

Sakai Yuji, our protagonist, awakes in a state of confusion. Where is he? Why is his surroundings red? What is the giant doll about to eat him? Why has nobody noticed their presence?

And then she appears.

Sakai Yuji, in truth, is just a regular high school student. His friend, Ike Hayato, is his booksmart friend from childhood, joins him in his new adventure. After all, it’s high school – the place where you not only begin to explore but begin to truly define the person you will inevitably be for the rest of your life, and I’m not just talking about what you “learn from books”. After an abrupt bump in with two ruffians named Keisaku and Eita, Yuji sits next to a young girl named Hirai Yukari, who helps him out when he’s in a pinch. He ends up meeting her again at a record store after, and through a little investigation finds out she has a crush on Ike. Yuji wryly smiles at the thought of his good friend having such an attractive girl interested in him.

Without realizing it initially, time stops, and the sky turns red. What is going on? The dolls from our in medias res intro enter, devouring a pale light from inside the other nearby frozen humans. Get ready, because this is where Ootani Kou begins to show the strength of the Shakugan no Shana OST that continues all the way until the end.

This is not a foreign scenario – in fact, we’ve seen this scene before in several anime concepts. Boy lives normal life, and is suddenly thrust into a supernatural experience unexpectedly. But to that person I would say that they should be paying more attention to the execution rather than the elements themselves. While arguably no idea in Shana is groundbreaking and the pacing suffers from issues at times, the execution and attention to detail is spot on.

Enter our flame haze. She has no name, no background. She dispatches the Rinne, or servants, in an instant with no effort. In a failure to understand what’s going on, Yuji protects the rinne thinking that perhaps our flame haze is the aggressor. The rinne calls Yuji a “mystes” several times. What does it all mean? Before long, Yuji is cut, expecting to die, but the truth is plain: He is already dead.

Pay attention to the allusions to tenmoku ikko, as we will meet him later.

Who are the flame hazes? Protectors of balance in the world that fight against the Guze no Tomogara (Crimson denizens) who fulfill only their selfish desires with no regard to the world’s “balance”. This flame haze is among them, complete with a vessel called a cocytus around her neck that houses her contractor, Alastor, known as the flame of heaven. Alastor is also a tomogara himself – so why hunt down his own? More on that later.

After explaining that Yuji is dead, she explains that his existence has already been replaced with a “torch”, or temporary replacement in order to not disrupt the world, just like those around him in this closed space. A closed space is a spatial distortion opened up by a flame haze to ensure that no damage or disruption occurs to the world around them. Hirai unfortunately was caught in this chaos, and thus she becomes a torch. At this moment, she officially died. But what of Yuji?

To think at the time I had originally watched this I had only been dating the woman who is now my wife for about two months. Time flies…

The second episode remains to this day one of the most impactful I’ve ever seen. Hirai’s existence is fleeting, and Yuji is hoping he can help her hang on to any bit of life that she has. What happens to torches? Our flame haze explains – they eventually cease to exist, leaving behind any trace they ever existed. This is because the tomogara do not eat “the people” but rather their “power of existence”. Power of existence is a coveted resource in this tale.

Yuji refuses to let the youthful Hirai die out. Futilely he seeks out ways to make her remember who she is, but it is obvious her existence is fading – she has a zombie-like enthusiasm about everything. Ike draws out the most positive response from her – proof that she still feels love for him under her icy exterior. In a heartwrenching scene that haunts me to this day, Hirai sadly goes over to the bank at sunset, commenting that the view is nice. It’s over for her – the picture she took of her and Ike falls to the ground and she ceases to be. Perhaps it’s just me, but the thought of a young girl in high school with hopes, dreams, and love for another passing away without anyone even knowing she ever existed is just simply too sad.

This is where the show presents its brilliance. To tell you that a torch’s existence is cruel means nothing. To show you is something else entirely, and to not back out of consequences it set up on itself takes remarkable integrity. To this day I believe I would rank this episode itself in my top 10 anime scenes that I find moving or sad.

Pay close attention to our flame haze’s personality and demeanor, especially in this moment. Her development over the course of the series is beyond substantial. She coldly comments that this is the inevitable nature of a torch. Yuji, in an attempt to what I can only believe was to make this flame haze realize that they’re more than just objects, remarks that he has the feelings of Sakai Yuji, and that she has the feelings of a flame haze. They’re not just “tools”. But this flame haze does not have a name. She is known as the flaming haired, red eyed hunter, or the flame haze that wield Nietono no Shana. Yuji decides to give her a name in one of the series’s most iconic scenes and dubs her “Shana” after her own weapon.

Shana becomes frustrated at Yuji’s disposition. How can he calmly live on, knowing he is already dead? Why would he give her a name? Why has he not given up hope like all the others? Alastor, her contractor, muses that Yuji may fall victim to the same depression the other torches have in time.

Shana enters Yuji’s school and quickly takes Hirai’s existence over. Why? Because it’s most convenient. Yuji is a mystes, which means he is a type of torch that contains a treasure tool, or a magical item created by the tomogara. It is inevitable that the previous Rinne’s master will come after him, so she needs to keep a close eye on him. Yuji is surprised at Shana’s lack of empathy for the deceased Hirai.

Oh, and Shana essentially gets the upper hand of all her teachers. We’ve seen this scene hundreds of times in anime, but this is also my personal favorite instance.

It isn’t long before the rinne, Marianne, shows up to attempt to retrieve Yuji. Shana easily dispatches of her and meets her master, the hunter Friagne. Friagne is a tomogara no different that Alastor. Friagne sets his sights upon Yuji and retreats.

Several of the students in the closed space were gravely injured. Shana suggests using Ike’s power of existence to restore the room, but Yuji volunteers his own, not looking to sacrifice his friend. Shana is flabbergasted. Let’s face it: she doesn’t want to admit it, but this torch is definitely something else. Have you noticed yet?

Shana has already begun to change from the indifferent ice machine she was in the first episode. Her frustration only fuels this development later. All her life she had been raised with a single objective, and carried that objective out without thought. This is the first time she’s ever felt this way.

She notices that Yuji’s weak flame regenerates, restoring his life as a torch. Alastor appears to know why that is.

Why is that? Well, I know, but I won’t spoil the surprise. Let’s just say that Yuji has an extremely value treasure tool inside him, and you can probably guess as to the effects.

Humble beginnings, but flawless execution and musical tunes. Serieux, one of the best songs on the entire OST also makes its debut in episode 3. Make sure you’re paying close attention!

Noragami Aragoto 1 – 3

Noragami returns! You might remember that there was at least one plotline that was briefly touched upon but never resolved from the first season. Why does Bishamon harbor a grudge against Yato, and did Yato really kill all her kinsman? What sort of debt does Kazuma owe Yato? What really happened way back then?

Prepare to have those questions answered.

The first episode spends its time reintroducing us to our main cast, that being Yato, Yukine, and Hiyori. Not much has happened since our last encounter with our heroes – Yato is still taking paltry, measly jobs, Yukine is still starving, and Hiyori is finally entering high school.

We learn a lot about Bishamon in these episodes – she is unsurprisingly a kind soul who ends up making every lost soul she finds her regalia in the hopes of saving them. IN this fashion, they enter a large family under her leadership, even if she never uses them for combat. This causes friction with her doctor/regalia Kuguha, who is planning a plot to seemingly usurp her or destroy her – we even see him plotting with Nora, Yato’s former regalia.

Yukine also meets a friend – another regalia like him, who belongs to Bishamon. Yato advises caution but does not stop the two of them from becoming friends. It isn’t long until Kuguha shows up to kill Suzuha, Yukine’s friend. It’s clear that Kuguha’s aim is to cause chaos between Yato and Bishamon. Long story short, a lot happens with Bishamon leading to a downward spiral for her, including her being seemingly blighted.

Yukine ends up in Takimagahara with Kazuma, Bishamon’s “guiding voice”. Bishamon finds out that Kazuma assisted in a ablution with Yato, and in her unsatiable anger banishes him. Aiha, one of Bishamon’s regalia who is working with Kuguha, ends up capturing Hiyori in an attempt to pin it on Bishamon, with the hopes that Yato will go to reclaim her. Let’s just say he’s not too happy about that.

Kuguha’s aim is obviously to stir trouble between Bishamon and Yato for the purpose of either birthing a new god or usurping her position entirely – that is not clear. Kuguha is our typical crafty motherfucker we often see in shonen, but I feel as though a lot of what he has orchestrated will be hard to explain even when things do eventually calm down. Without Kazuma, it’s hard to say if Bishamon will even be herself – in a lot of ways, he is what restrains her from acting wildly.

Senki Zesshō Symphogear GX – 12 – 13 (END)

Good end.

What could have been the weakest entry in the Symphogear franchise yet ended up being a bit stronger than the weakest link thanks to the presence of Dr. Ver, who kept things hilarious and unpredictable enough for me to recant my initial thoughts. Ver ended up actually being the hero he wanted to be, providing support for Maria’s group to destroy the Chateau all the way up to his unfortunate demise. What a strange thing to say, because I thought he was a detestable individual beyond redemption prior to his actions in this series.

Carol and Hibiki essentially go back and forth on who can power up more ridiculously until eventually Carol is overwhelmed, after Hibiki and the others release all safeties on the ignite module. Carol reveals that miracles are the very thing that caused her father’s death, and seeks to see them all destroyed, including those that Hibiki is drawing strength from.

Carol of course realizes that she twisted her father’s intentions like the moron she is and comes to her sense, albeit a bit too late. Hibiki saves her anyway. Despite being unable to be found (and Elfnein’s condition growing worse) she eventually turns up with no memories and refuses with Elfnein. My question is: who becomes the dominant personality? Elfnein or Carol? It would seem the former is the case if the final scene in the control room is any indication at all.

Hibiki also reunites her father and mother in a touching scene, where her mother was reluctant to let her previous husband back into her life. Who could blame her? Personally, I think Hibiki’s dad is a cowardly douche. Ok, he did redeem himself somewhat, but his previous actions left a sour taste in my mouth. Where does Hibiki draw upon that inner strength that she has from? Certainly didn’t come from her father!

Symphogear GX definitely was trying to draw a correlation between our fathers, mothers, and family’s effect on our daily lives and motivations. Sometimes in the case of Carol, our family is our motivation, but as you can see that can be something entirely different depending on what you make of it; compare Hibiki’s desire to protect to Carol’s twisting of her father’s intentions, and this becomes obvious. Tsubasa’s love for her father gave her the power she needed to defeat the autoscorers, and Maria, Kirika, and Shirabe’s encounter with the “phantom” Nastassja was definitely attempting to evoke the same symbolism. It’s not extremely profound, but its cute and meaningful enough. Thanks Symphogear!

Season 4 is already happening, by the way. I hope the subtitle is something equally dramatic like “A robot arm burning in my oven, a galaxy filled with twix bars, I used the monkey bars at the jungle gym (they were green monkey bars (it was at the playground (I don’t know where the gym is)))……”

Senki Zesshō Symphogear GX – 9 – 11

Fuck Carol.

I actually debated having this blog post just be those two words, I am not even kidding. I figured I shouldn’t be a tremendous douchebag though so you’re going to get a real blog post.

Also Dr. Ver is back. I mean it when I said I laughed, out loud, loudly when he returned. His return is as unexpected and fucking hilarious as a dead character who has no relevance anymore appearing again after 2 seasons. About the same impact. This fucking wacko was probably the best villain in the symphogear universe – utterly despicable, no redeeming qualities at all, and you just want to hate him so much.

The overall theme of GX is finally hitting us over the head (rather than the subtle references we had before) – your relationship with your father is important, and so is family. Tsubasa has daddy problems that she gets over or discovers that she misunderstood (and her dad is a lot cooler than Hibiki’s POS father anyway). Hibiki also has major daddy issues that having been rearing their head since the first episode, with the only problem that Hibiki is right and her dad is a fucking douchebag. For what it’s worth, he redeems himself after looking like an embarassingly cowardly idiot.

I’d like to congratulate Chris on being the only symphogear user to not horribly job, as she took out one of the top two autoscorers not once, but twice. She also did this unassisted, without Kirika or Shirabe’s help. I was getting sick of seeing the heroes with daddy issues looking horribly incompetent so Chris thankfully restored my faith and re-assured her status as best girl in this show.

All the autoscorers are done, but Carol isn’t finished. She’s summoned her giant ass sky castle and is using it to increase her phonic gain in her symphogear form. Hibiki suggests using their combination attack, but Tsubasa shoots it down because…why does she shoot it down? No real reason other than “The plot won’t let us! She has plot armor for the next two episodes!” The two gear users split into two groups of three – the original 3 symphogear users and “Team Maria.”

I really wanted Ver to kill Carol rather than the other way around – he’s a better villain; Carol is a single-minded moron who doesn’t have a grand vision with stupid motivations. Ver isn’t dead though, nobody ever dies by falling down a huge pit in anime. Sometimes they get blown up and torn to shreds and still find a way to get better.