Annotated Anime

Annotated Anime: Plastic Memories episodes 7-8

May 29 // Josh Tolentino
I am, of course, being facetious: It's terrible, and symbolizes pretty much the entire "against" argument for having Plastic Memories be a love story instead of, say, an essay series on the rights of potential future android companions like I secretly crave. I made that face, and wanted to yell at my screen "BITCH you do not have TIME to get your butt flustered about your girl touching your BOXER SHORTS. She will be DEAD in under a MONTH. GET YOUR PRIORITIES STRAIGHT."  Honestly, I do like a sappy romance as much as the next lonely nerd, but seeing these cliches play out, only to be followed up by a bog-standard "I want to take her on a date, but what should I doooo~" episode - a template that Plastic Memories already used in episode 3 - is singularly enervating. Thank goodness, then, that episode 8 not only furthers the romance angle in a more interesting way, but also goes full-on sci-fi, raising interesting issues about the premise  and the world of Plastic Memories, and linking it back to the core love story.  The issue at hand is what happens to Giftia androids after they get retrieved. Up until now, a retrieved Giftia was as good as scrapped. Tsukasa, Isla, or any other Terminal Service person comes over to put the Giftia in that weird coffin-thing and off they go, case closed. Except Giftia owners do have other options, like what amounts to what people in the real world call a "refurbishing" - a new OS and personality are inserted into the Giftia, and life goes on. The issue, of course, is that the new OS effectively makes the Giftia an entirely new person. That's the case with Andie, a Giftia from a different Terminal Service branch, who used to be Olivia, a childhood friend to Eru, the mechanic. Except Andie is not Olivia, though she has the same face and ample bust.  Now, by now anyone with even a cursory interest in SF can see the kinds of fun dilemmas arising from these new facts, as well as the questions raised. Just what happens to Giftias that are released by their owners at the end of their lifespans? Does the company sell them off again, with new personalities, to new customers (like one would do to a used cellphone, wiped and factory-reset)? It must be real hard for someone to see a person who looks exactly like the child, lover, or friend they knew for nine years, except that person...isn't. And let's not even get into the kinds of philosophical problems it raises if we agree on Plastic Memories' base thesis - that Giftias are as much people as any human.  Just trying to think about all these weird questions makes the show worthwhile, which just makes it all the more disappointing that its actual attempts at romance are so bland and cliche-ridden. Tsukasa makes his big confession, and surprise, surprise, Isla can't handle it. This is the kind of song and dance routine we fans of sappy romance anime have been dealing with since Love Hina, and it's kind of a bummer that we haven't grown that far past it. As the rest of the episode shows, there's other, more interesting ways to go about this cliche.
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Face of Love
This face right here. That was pretty much what I looked like when episode 7 opened, with the ever so interesting gag of seeing Tsukasa freak the eff out about Isla doing his laundry for him. It's an amazing scene, one unprecedented in Japanese animated romance stories, surely!

Annotated Anime: MY Love STORY!! Episodes 6-7

May 27 // Nicole Helmeid
When Ai and her brother confront Yamato about her secret, Yamato launches into a list of Takeo’s physical traits that get her heart racing. I was dying of laughter as her and Ai agreed on all of his good points while Makoto shrinks into the background. Yamato’s big problem was that she wanted to move forward on the physical side of her and Takeo’s relationship, but fears it would crush his “pure” vision of her. Ai is a little shocked but gives her the confidence to tell Takeo exactly what she wants. Ai is still struggling with her love for Takeo, I think she knows he is the happiest he has ever been. She is full of regret for not telling him how she felt sooner and is still incredibly jealous of Yamato. Yamato and Takeo finally clear up the misunderstanding and Yamato also confesses she lied about how she found his place in the beginning and also left her cell phone behind on purpose. I find it really cute that her big lies and “impure” thoughts are still so sweet and innocent. It’s really refreshing that a show of this typically-drama-filled genre can be so lighthearted. Takeo feels the pressure to be a good man for Yamato and is embarrassed to have messed up something as simple as hand-holding. He comes to Suna with a request- teach him how to kiss. Suna obviously refuses but Takeo cannot be stopped.  He traps Suna and puts saran wrap over his face because that makes it "OK" in Takeo's eyes. The episode cuts away and ends right as the kiss is happening, to the dismay of any fujoshi watching this series (myself included.)   In episode 7, Takeo is recruited by the Judo club to help with a tough match. He agrees without realizing it would cut-down on his time seeing Yamato. But in her usual sweet manner, she cheers him on and meets him after practice to deliver rice balls. There was a bit of filler in this episode with a training montage- but with the great animation, the overlay of text messages between Takeo and Yamato, and a few gags thrown in (like his mother using him as an ironing board) it was still very entertaining. Takeo told Yamato not to meet him after practice anymore since the area had warning signs for gropers. But since he isn’t the most eloquent man, he simply tells her not to come rather than explaining why. This worries Yamato so she goes to visit Sunakawa. Suna is now a master of interpreting Takeo and Yamato, so he calms her down and she realizes it must have been a misunderstanding. The day of the judo match arrives and Takeo’s opponent (who looks like a character out of Cromartie High School) declares Takeo has already lost since he has a girlfriend. Someone sounds jealous! When it is Takeo's turn to fight, the two school’s teams are tied. His opponent is pretty evenly matched and there are a few moments where Takeo falters. Usually Takeo has ridiculous superhuman strength so I’m glad he was paired up with a character that could produce an exciting match. Takeo eventually wins with a toss, to the amazement of everyone in the crowd. Even the stoic Suna is impressed.  The next episode is Titled "My Friend" so I'm hoping something good happens to Suna in return for his loyalty and devotion to Takeo.   
MY Love STORY!! Ep 6-7 photo
Communication is key
Yamato is still in turmoil over a secret she can’t tell. 

Annotated Anime: One Piece episode 694

May 26 // Anthony Redgrave
From last week's episode, Luffy and the tag alongs are still fighting the giant soldier nutcrackers that seem to be invincible. All the gum gum attacks and blade of beauty slashes can't seem to keep these monstrosities down. And that might be partially because the girl with the Toy Devil Fruit has regained consciousness. There is an excellent scene where she is presented sausages by long nosed henchmen despite her new found fear for 'stick shaped' things. Its funny because One Piece's 'red shirts' are almost always generically drawn characters and never have a defining feature like a long nose but they all seem to have congregated around Sugar in that one moment.    Robin's jump squad are ambushed by Gladius who is able to bring down Robin and Bartolomeo but Rebecca escapes to the Level 4 with Law's key. Unfortunately Law is stuck on Level 3 so we have to wait even longer before Law can stop whining like a bitch and become useful. Finally, things are starting to be set up for some great fights as Robin orders Luffy's group to continue so she and the Straw Hat fanboy take on Gladius and the rest of the nutcrackers. Again not much happens in terms of plot in this episode but there are a lot of set ups for future instalments. I can't wait to see Usopp display his god like sniper ability since its always so damn rare and team up fights are always great to see. Even though it was filler, the team up fight with Sanji and Usopp against the ice skating couple is still a personal favourite.
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Are we still in Dressrosa?
The Dressrosa arc had the potential to be one of my favourite arcs. The main bad guy was the enigmatic Donquixote Doflamingo, it carried on from Punk Hazard so we got to have more Law, and Dressrosa is a great locat...

Annotated Anime: Stardust Crusaders episodes 38-44

May 25 // Josh Tolentino
Indeed, the last six weeks of Stardust Crusaders have been all about "carrying on". Carrying on into the scary house where your mortal enemy resides. Carrying on past your enemy's toughest minions, no matter their tricks and powers. And sadly, carrying on even when you've lost friends. Indeed, after a pitched battle between Iggy, who takes a hit and learns the meaning of getting even in his fight against Dio's evil, Stand-using pet bird, the team finally enters the lair of the beast, only for Joseph, JoJo, and the newly returned Kakyoin to be separated into a confrontation with D'Arby the Younger, kid brother to the gambler from before.  Like his brother, D'Arby the Younger gambles for souls, but doesn't need to cheat nearly as directly, thanks to his Stand's power to predict the actions of his opponents by reading their souls. The contest, this time, is one that's near and dear to my heart: Video games! Playing knock-offs of F-Zero and RBI Baseball, Kakyoin unfortunately botches his return by getting his soul taken...again, leaving JoJo to once again leverage his unflappable nature to pull off another epic bluff. If this sounds familiar to you, it should, as practically beat-for-beat the encounter unfolds in a similar way to the Elder D'Arby's fight, all the way down to the D'Arby being driven nearly nuts by JoJo's win. Worse still, David Productions missed a golden opportunity to add some their own flair to this otherwise true-to-source adaptation: They could've used sweet retro graphics to show off the games, instead of falling back on boring-ol' regular CGI. Remember, Stardust Crusaders takes place in 1989, just as awesome pixel art was saturating the game market.  Sadly, those are minor quibbles compared to the underwhelming nature of the fight itself. The original D'Arby confrontation played out in a cool way, but the plot need not ahve been reused so quickly. Then again, had I known of the tragedies about to follow, maybe I'd have stayed in that status quo for longer. I blame Vanilla Ice. Vanilla Ice is Dio's last Stand-using minion, and thanks to his black hole of a Stand, inflicts the greatest casualties the team has suffered yet.  Avdol, sadly, dies a sudden, unexpected, and violent death, eaten from toes to elbows by Vanilla's Stand, nothing but a pair of hands left. And as if to rub insult to injury, Vanilla even beats poor Iggy to death. The kicker here, is seeing them both depart the coil in some kind of spirit form. I don't think they're coming back, and I already miss 'em. Rest in peace, Avdol and Iggy!  
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All Ye Who Enter Here
Well, it's been weeks since we last checked in with the Stardust Crusaders, a group name, which, come to think of it, doesn't make all that much sense in the grand scheme of things. I mean, sure there's a "Star" in "Star Platinum", and Egypt has a lot of dust, as well as a few Crusades, but...well, I guess it does make sense, after all. So let's carry on, then!    

Annotated Anime: One Piece 693

May 20 // Anthony Redgrave
Luffy, Law, Kyros, and Cavendish head towards the Palace while the rest of the Gladiators fend off Doflamingo's executives and their lackeys Zoro fights off Pica allowing Bartolomeo, Robin, and Rebecca to rendezvous with Luffy's group as they have the key to Law's sea prism cuffs Sabo duels Fujitora to prevent his pursuit of Luffy Usopp does nothing with King Riku and Violet The Sunny Protection Squad and Sanji still haven't been seen since episode 662 Kin'emon finally finds his samurai friend Kanjuro Franky busts into the SMILE factory but still has to deal with Senor Pinkand There was a new intro. Nothing particularly catchy or memorable  This episode picks up with Luffy's group taking out the extremely creepy toy soldiers on the third level. These guys would look menacing since they are giant, move abnormally, and appear from the fog but Luffy and the others defeat them with such ease that there isn't much tension. In fact they have a Legolas/ Gimili style competition to see how many they can take down which Luffy ends up winning much to Cavendish's chagrin. Kin'emon meets up with Usopp and King Riku with his new samurai friend Kanjuro in tow. Kanjuro has the same ability as Sai from Naruto except he is a Samurai not a Ninja (can draw things that then come to life). This guy is great. He's another good source of comic relief that prevents One Piece from taking itself too seriously. Although having a giant calligraphy brush with a Katana handle is really weird.  After outsmarting Senor Pink, Franky gains access to the SMILE factory but is instantly met with opposition in the form of Kyuin, the manager. She is a big masked woman that wields a hoover because even in One Piece they conform to gendered stereotypes. Through some affectionate means Franky subdues Kyuin and turns his attention to Senor Pink. They talk about being Hard Boiled as the tramps swoon. I don't quite get it but I assume its a concept I'll understand once I have grown more than 2 chest hairs. I was really enjoying this arc at first but its beginning to lose traction. The pace has slowed down to the point the plot is barely moving even though they are finally making their way to fighting Doflamingo. I hope they focus on Zoro's fight against Pica soon or explore Law's backstory that was hinted at earlier. 
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Ah~ So Hard Boiled!
Yo ho ho! Ensign Redgrave back on the helm to deliver the SS Japanator through the Grand Line safely and to document the adventures of the Straw Hat Crew. I've been MIA for a while so I'll summarise the missing 9 episodes in bullet points. 

Annotated Anime: Unlimited Blade Works episode 19

May 17 // Josh Tolentino
But let's not blow things out of proportion: Six good episodes outweighs a seventh less-good one, but it's hard to imagine that anyone but a Type-MOON fan with an *ahem* an especially hard lore-boner would get maximum enjoyment out of this week's installment. Given the need for Ufotable to fill some time I honestly hadn't expected the show to move straight ahead to Shirou's showdown with Archer. In a way it hasn't, since the episode saves the actual fight for next time, but I had assumed from the epilogue of episode 18 that episode 19 would be shifting focus to some sideline event while the Rin Rescue Rangers™ made their way to Einzbern castle. This was not the case. Instead, we skip straight to the main event, or rather the opening to it, as the squad arrives to confront Archer, though the primary confrontation that occurs here is of the conversational variety. If Rin's dream-time monologue gave viewers an insight into Archer's state of mind, this installment's lectures get deeper into the facts of Archer's past - and by extension, Shirou's (possible) future. At this point it's been long enough since I first played Fate/stay night to know how much of what's revealed here is new or expanded information, but they certainly get into much more detail than the Unlimited Blade Works movie ever managed to, exploring the circumstances of Rin's summoning Archer, his nature as a "Guardian" (an unusual type of Heroic Spirit), and to hearing the motivations for trying to murder his past self straight from the horse's mouth. The results, while intriguing for the dedicated fan, delve perhaps a little too deep into the weird rules of Fate creator Kinoko Nasu's "Nasu-verse" than is productive, especially not for the more casual, Fate/Zero-originated audience Unlimited Blade Works seemed designed to cater to. It doesn't help that what's actually said doesn't really make it clear just what Archer is, either. I'll take a stab at it, though. At some point in his future (detailed in the cold open), Shirou made a deal of some kind wth a big ol' CG effect, agreeing to become a Guardian in exchange for the power he thought he needed to fulfill his ideal of saving people. Except that as a Guardian, Shirou (now Archer) was more akin to a force of nature, an agent of balance. And forces of nature are rarely known for their compassion and life-preserving qualities. The tension between the merciless mandate of Guardianship and the broken little boy that just doesn't want anyone to cry took its toll, leading to the Archer of the present, now possessed of the belief that things would be better had he never existed, or at least never stuck to his heroic ambitions. But of course, Shirou won't ever give up on his ideals. It's who he is, for better and worse, and Archer knows it. Hence, the goal of murdering his past self. Honestly, it's a powerful conceit, and gets straight at the heart of Fate/stay night's three scenarios and their exploration of one's relationships to one's ideals and dreams. Unfortunately, it's all too caught up in Nasu's love of esoterica and oddball fantasy rules, and the strong core message gets drowned out the way Ufotable's digital effects can sometimes drown out the nice 2D linework (I'm looking at you, guy who adds too much damn smoke to all the fight scenes!) We also catch up with Rin, who suffers quite roundly. First there's sexual harassment from Shinji, who's even more of a dipshit here than he was in any previous take on Fate, then the reveal that Kirei was not only alive, but also murdered her dad back in Fate/Zero. And she's tied to a chair, and her Servant turned out to be a real tool. Being Rin is suffering. If there's anyone who comes out ahead here, it's Lancer and his fanbase. Ufotable's been especially kind to the Hound of Culann, giving him no shortage of badass moments in recent episodes, and even laying the groundwork for a fun little Rin x Lancer ship. If you've ever wondered why Fate/Extra's version of Rin showed up to the Grail War with Lancer in tow rather than Archer, their interactions from the last few episodes should make that particular story angle a no-brainer. But, as many fun little asides there are in this installment, it's hard to avoid the impression that Unlimited Blade Works is trying to run out the clock a little. There's more elegant ways to go about conveying this information, but unfortunately, the show's scheduled for several more episodes. [Watch Unlimited Blade Works on Crunchyroll!]
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Where You See Yourself In 10 Years
Ufotable's take on Unlimited Blade Works may be in many ways the Fate/stay night adaptation fans always wanted, but it's not without its sticking points. Besides the usual caveats that can be attached to a prop...

Annotated Anime: Unlimited Blade Works episodes 16-18

May 11 // Josh Tolentino
The pain train's next destination, of course, is the newlywed's paradise of Kuzuki and Caster. The most successful pair of Grail War participants this time around finally meets their end, but not before some of the best action of the season so far, as Shirou and Rin take the fight to their foes, with some unexpected help from Lancer. In fact, Lancer practically steals the show, his gruff Irish charm causing Shirou to get all possessive of his new girlfriend. After seeing both DEEN and even the game continually give Lancer the shaft in terms of characterization (there's a reason his Carnival Phantasm incarnation can't stop dying), having Lanceer  Everyone gets a chance to show off (though Kuzuki shows off by practically feeding Shirou his own ass), but the marquee attraction is the big ol' fight between Lancer and Archer, and it's a doozy. Once again Ufotable does Lancer some small justice by emphasizing just how good a fighter the guy in blue tights really is, and how powerful his Noble Phantasm, Gae Bolg, can be. Indirectly, this also makes the fact that Archer had planned out the whole engagement even more impactful, as to hold back when the other guy is playing for keeps isn't usually a survivable strategy. Rin's fight with Caster is also a treat, if only to see Rin get right up in Caster's face, right as the witch was monologuing, and punch the piss out of the mature lady. The show may have worked hard to make Caster a more sympathetic antagonist, but damn, it does feel good to see her get knocked on her ass. Atsuko Tanaka, Caster's voice actress, has turned gloating into an art form, and seeing that act taken down a peg is immensely gratifying. But, as is written, the final blow goes to Archer, who had been planning to ambush Kuzuki and Caster from the start. His latest betrayal of people who trust him is given more weight here, as well, as in the Unlimited Blade Works movie it was shown as a storm of swords flying out of nowhere. Here, even Kuzuki gets a final, ineffectual blow in, as if to twist the knife into the sides of Caster's fanbase.  Following that up is the big reveal: Archer is Shirou from the future. But, of course, every Fate fan already knew that part, and Ufotable all but spells it out through flashbacks, lengthy character analyses delivered by Rin's dream sequences, and Saber saying, out loud, that Archer is Shirou's "...". If it wasn't clear before, it sure as hell is, now.  We also get the much-anticipated use of Unlimited Blade Works itself. Archer's wasteland of an inner world is full of copied weapons, and since Shirou is Archer, it's the place where takes the first step on the road to becoming the person he will be. This is where Ufotable cheated a bit, by opting not to animate that bit where Shirou deflects a rain of swords through the power of discovering his abilities, but then again, the time it actually was animated didn't turn out quite so well: [embed]33802:4730:0[/embed] I'm willing to let it pass, on that. Besides, there's some good payoff right after, in the form of a deeper conversation between Rin and Archer. Whereas in even the game the bond between Rin, Archer, and Shirou seemed somewhat taken for granted (a bad situation considering that Rin isn't the obvious love interest out of Fate/stay night's shipping selection), here it gets shape and texture. Like seeing Archer "sell out" his old Master, as if to punish her for having the temerity to read him like a book. Even Gil could tell, and when he takes notice, you know you're probably not in the best position. Next week...I actually don't know. We've a few episodes left before Unlimited Blade Works has to wrap up, so only time can tell just how Ufotable have managed to fill in those gaps.
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They've Got The Touch
The last time we checked in with Unlimited Blade Works, we'd seen the lengths Ufotable was willing to go to give the passing of Ilya and Berserker the gravitas that moment deserves. It worked, for the most part, though t...

Annotated Anime: Plastic Memories episodes 4-6

May 10 // Josh Tolentino
But first, the egg's on my face. Last time I wrote about the Plastic Memories, I had declared it largely uninterested in exploring its more science-fictional aspects, more specifically the "big questions" raised by its premise of Giftias as android companions. I was wrong. Well, sort of. The last three episodes don't quite explore the concept per se as instead reveal more of the world around the characters of the SAI Terminal Service. Given that this is a work of fiction rather than, say, a documentary, that's how you start grappling with questions of any kind. And it works! Sort of. It works because we're finally shown more of the show's darker side. This is where I was most wrong. I predicted that we wouldn't be seeing much in the way of the good old "androids gone berserk" trope at work in Plastic Memories. After all, if SAI was confident enough to sell Giftias as surrogate children, parents, and lovers, surely the androids were safe enough not to go nuts and kill all humans.  But...nope! Isla and Tsukasa's toughest case yet - retrieving Marcia, a Giftia's that's been little sister to an orphaned little boy - doesn't just pull at the heartstrings, but reveals much more immediate consequences to not retrieving a terminal Giftia in time. Overdue Giftias don't just lose their memories and personalities, but also risk becoming "Wanderers", androids that walk around with their physical limiters off, prone to harming themselves and others in a fit of robo-mental-breakdown.  Honestly, if there's one aspect to this that doesn't quite jive, it's that people would wait so long to retrieve a terminal Giftia. If Wanderers posed such a threat - and they do, judging by the way a Wanderer was responsible for most of Michiru's backstory as well as ending Kazuki and Isla's partnership - then the retrieval deadlines for a Giftia would be much farther from their actual expiry date. You know how milk or food will usually be just fine to eat for a couple of days even after their listed "best by" date? Imagine that, but farther ahead for Giftias. Furthermore, retrieval should be a much more compulsive action. In fact, given the damage just one Wanderer can do, it's likely a cop or government agent would be the one to retrieve your Giftia, not a couple of teens with smiles on their faces. That aside, it's an interesting angle, especially considering that up to now no one's ever questioned the inherent goodness of being with a Giftia. I suppose that questioning the central premise of the show would be a bit too meta and potentially self-destructive for Plastic Memories to risk exploring. Can't blame 'em. But ultimately, Plastic Memories feels more like a show about mortality and confronting loss than a show about androids and their place in society. The central metaphor certainly supports that reading better than any more traditionally sci-fi approach. That metaphor: Retrieval as the impact of terminal sickness or death, gets underlined in episode 6, as Tsukasa finally gets the big news: Isla will be gone in just over a month. This being a love story, of course, brings us at last to the foregone conclusion of the show: Tsukasa wants to be with Isla. No tiny amount of time, or effort on her part to stay a distant machine, is enough to break that kind of fairytale relationship. Now, it'll be up to the pair to see how she reacts to the news.  [Watch Plastic Memories on Crunchyroll!]      
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Let's Go A-Wanderin'
A month and change. That's actually a very short time, when you think about it. For example. I haven't written a recap of Plastic Memories in almost three weeks. That's about half the time Isla's got left on her android clock, and with the latest three episodes, we're just about ready to start plumbing the show's potential depths.

Annotated Anime: MY Love STORY!! episode 5

May 10 // Nicole Helmeid
He hands him off to Sunakawa who once again gets the praise for Takeo's actions. Takeo borrows Suna's comically-small gym clothes and the three eat cake in the park. Takeo thinks to himself how pure Yamato is- nothing like his former-wrestler mother which is a hilarious and perfect family background for his character. Later the couple takes a stroll to see the stars and when Yamato mentions how secluded they are in the park- seemingly hinting at the romantic situation. He interprets it as fear of being alone together and declares he won't lay a hand on her until she is "all grown up." Suddenly, a love rival appears?!   In an unexpected turn, Sunakawa's beautiful older sister Ai comes home for a visit and is distraught upon learning Takeo has gotten a girlfriend. Hey- it wouldn't be shoujo if there wasn't a love rival! Her brother had no idea she had feelings for Takeo and she proceeds to throw a tantrum. She demands to meet the new girlfriend to judge her character. Sunakawa and Takeo head to the park to meet Yamato while Ai secretly follows them. Ai senses something is bothering Yamato, who has mixed up sugar with salt in her latest batch of cookies and seems to be a bit on edge. Ai declares to her brother that Yamato is hiding a secret from Takeo and wonders whether she is cheating on him. Takeo finally notices something is up when Yamato tries to tell him something on their walk home but instead just says goodnight. In an attempt to understand her, Takeo turns to teen girl magazines at the convenience store. Ai comes across this scene, as passersbys take photos of an oblivious Takeo, and offers to help talk to Yamato for him. We'll have to see if she uses this as a chance to drive a wedge between the couple. [You can watch MY love STORY!! on Crunchyroll with new episodes every Wednesday.]
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A Rival Appears
After last week's explosive episode in which our seemingly super-human protagonist saved two of Yamato's friends from a burning building, we are back with Episode 5. With the title "I'm Dense" this episode deals with Takeo m...

First Impressions: MY Love STORY!!

Apr 30 // Nicole Helmeid
Makoto Sunakawa looks like the stereotypical shoujo protagonist, but is actually Gouda's best friend since childhood. Quiet, seemingly cold, and good-looking, he receives many confessions from girls but turns them all down. One day they are riding the train when Sunakawa spots a girl getting groped by a strange man.  Gouda steps in and saves the girl, named Rinko Yamato, who falls in love with Gouda at first sight.  She begins baking sweets for Gouda regularly to thank him.  Gouda has a crush on Yamato but since he is used to girls not liking him, he believes Yamato is in love with Sunakawa.  He vows to help them become a couple while being oblivious to Yamato’s advances. The anime is currently on episode 4, and it has proven it can skewer the stereotypes of the genre while still being funny and romantic.  One of the aspects of shoujo that drives me crazy is a character’s inability to realize their romantic interest likes them back.  The annoying “will they or won’t they” then drags on for the whole series. Thankfully My Love STORY!! doesn’t fall into this trap, even though Gouda is thickheaded enough for it to be a believable plot point.  Thanks to a trick pulled off by Sunakawa,  Yamato and Gouda confess to each other and are surrounded by sparkly shoujo bubble bliss.  Madhouse’s animation is another great characteristic of this series, and you will especially appreciate it if you are an avid manga reader.   Sunakawa’s written thoughts and the aforementioned shoujo backgrounds always give me a laugh.  Since this is still a shoujo series I’m excited to see what drama is in-store for this atypical couple.   [You can watch MY Love STORY!! at Crunchyroll with new episodes every Wednesday.]
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Nice guys finish first
 MY Love Story!! (or Ore Monogatari!!) is an unconventional shoujo manga that’s received an anime adaptation this season.  The story follows unlikely protagonist Takeo Gouda, an extremely tall and strong high ...

Annotated Anime: Plastic Memories episode 3

Apr 23 // Josh Tolentino
In fact, the episode is full of classic romance cliches from the out. Tsukasa is asked to live in Isla's apartment due to company policy, and after finding that Isla spends all her time ignoring him, asks his co-workers for advice on connecting with her. The results are many awkward moments and absolutely priceless reaction faces from Michiru. Honestly, I haven't seen this many good reaction faces since The Devil is a Part-Timer!. And naturally, as the trope goes, Tsukasa only really manages to connect with Isla - who seems to be actively avoiding close contact with others in an attempt to "be a machine" - after he just acts like himself. It's a classic resolution to a classic rom-com dilemma, and it's executed here adeptly. Naturally, Isla's stoniness is absolutely related to the fact that she's got three months before retirement herself, which leads one to ask if it's right that no one's told Tsukasa. I mean, it's absolutely her business not to tell if she doesn't want to, but they work together and her decline is relevant to their job performance, not to mention Tsukasa's feelings. And it's not as if others couldn't do it either: Kazuki nearly spilled the beans in episode 2, but didn't. It just seems cruel to leave Tsukasa in the lurch like that. Beyond that, more interesting questions arise when you wonder just who would buy an android that you'd have to provide living space for. And if Giftias really are so close to humans that most people don't see a difference, then many more problems would come out of the fact that they're being sold as commercial products. Last I checked, trafficking in people was a crime, after all. Weird stuff to consider. [Catch Plastic Memories on Crunchyroll!]
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Her Face When
If you were looking for more intriguing world-building or sci-fi details to chew on in this installment of Plastic Memories, you may be disappointed. On the other hand, if you came for tender and chuckle-worthy romantic hijin...

Annotated Anime: Unlimited Blade Works episode 15

Apr 21 // Josh Tolentino
The fight alone between Gilgamesh, in all his cruel glory, and Berserker, in all his savage might, is an able representation of how far we've come since Studio Deen's adaptation of the arc back in 2010. I've said it before, but their animation on this broadcast TV series regularly puts that feature film to shame. Of course, I can't blame them too much, either. Circumstances were different, then, and if nothing else, Deen's take condenses out the Fate franchise's propensity for tedium. Then again, quite a few of the fans appreciate that "tedium" as important world and character-building, so maybe it isn't so bad (it isn't).  That aside, the fight is interspersed with looks back at Illya's own past, exploring just what happened to her in the wake of Fate/Zero. In many ways, Illya was an more important - and explicit - link back to Fate/Zero than even Saber, Kirei, and Gilgamesh were, despite the three all being involved in Fate/Zero's plot to a much greater degree. That's because Illya represents the ultimate result of Fate/Zero's dense tangle of plots: A little girl who lost her parents, fated to suffer some ominous doom in her future. This wasn't nearly as clear back in the original game, naturally - Fate/Zero was nothing more than a twinkle in Urobuchi's eye at the time - but during this run, Illya's own actions and motivations have been thoroughly shaped by Kiritsugu's choices. Revenge on Kiritsugu through Shirou, curiosity about her new "stepbrother", and as of this week, the machinations of Grail-kun, have all built her into walking proof of this show's status as the current, definitive representation of Fate/stay night at large. Yeah, I said it! It's also a testament to Ufotable's own graphic sensibilities. The violence on display, particularly in the flashback where Illya's chased by wolves, or when Gilgamesh finally ends it all (with Rin having to manhandle Shirou to keep him from interfering and getting everyone killed) is unsettling, to say the least. It's far from "gore porn", though, and if anything it underscores how cruel he can be. At the same time, though, it's almost possible to sympathize with this devil of a man. He's cruel, ruthless, and his sadistic streak does his reputation no favors, but he's kingly in his villainy, in the way philosophers have always claimed that rulers are held to a different moral standard. It's weird that as a viewer, I can say that Gil is awful, but at the same time think that Shinji doesn't deserve to have him as a Servant. That's what good characterization is, and I'm of the opinion that it couldn't have happened for Gilgamesh without all the additional context that Fate/Zero and now this show have provided. And that's what's happening for Illya and Berserker here. Despite barely being present in Zero, and missing for much of this show, the extra breathing room and Ufotable's apparent carte blanche with regards to new plot development have given her a depth that was far harder to discern  in the source material. That makes it all the more sad that she's dead now, doesn't it?  Rest in peace, kiddo. 
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No Brakes On The Berser-Car
And so ends one of the sadder stories (and backstories) in Fate/stay night's large (some might say overly large) collection of sad backstories. Of course, having a sad backstory is par for the course in a Type-MOON-based fiction, so that's not remarkable in and of itself, but Ufotable's presentation of such in their take on Unlimited Blade Works is certainly worthy of note.

Impressions: Knights of Sidonia: Battle for Planet Nine

Apr 19 // Josh Tolentino
I'll get back to that "era" thing I mentioned in a bit. But first, a bit of background. I didn't "drop" the site recaps of Sidonia halfway through out of dislike. On the contrary, by my reckoning, it's easily one of the best science fiction anime in years, though to be fair, that's not saying much considering the state of anime these days. Still, the point is Knights of Sidonia's good, and the best thing about it is that it's one of the few shows that really builds a sense of place into the setting. In a medium not especially well-known for subtlety, the show is a comparative master class in giving the viewer a sense of the kind of home the Sidonia is without resorting to lectures or explicit narration. Sci-fi and fantasy settings, due to being different from the world we know, are especially prone to falling into that expository pit. Despite my love for them, series like Log Horizon, Fate/stay night, and even Legend of the Galactic Heroes should serve as cautionary tales against that tendency. Knights of Sidonia has its own moments of "lore-dumping", but manages to cut down on that need by using things like environmental cues to communicate the state of the world and other key world-building tasks. I suppose we shouldn't be too surprised, though. Sidonia is, after all, is based on the work of Tsutomu Nihei, who created an entire sci-fi setting in Blame! and its related manga, and communicated that world through many, many, painfully detailed environmental frames, often without dialog or even activity.  What's interesting here is how Polygon Pictures has approached world-building in this adaptation, partly due to the differences between Nihei's hand-drawn artwork and their use of CGI. In the manga, Sidonia is portrayed as a very "lived-in" space, having been home to what might be the last of humankind for hundreds of generations. In the manga panels and the commercial-break eyecatches on the show, it almost looks as if the climbing, wall-mounted living spaces onboard the Sidonia (Side note: The "vertical" orientation even serves as a clue related to how the ship is laid out!) were carved straight from the concrete/asteroid hull, like the humans of the far future lived in a spaceborne rendition of Meteora.  By comparison (and particularly in the less graphically-impressive first season), the CGI version of the Sidonia looks cleaner and more sterile. Lines are straighter, corners sharper, and curves less curvy. Part of that was due to the CGI models being unable to fully represent the "grit" of the worn-down, lived-in nature of life onboard Sidonia. Polygon Pictures seemed to know that, but rather than settle for what would ultimately be an "inferior" representation of the manga's world, they leveraged Nihei's vision of Sidonia life into a visual style that was almost aggressively monochrome. Look at all that black, white and gray, broken up only by the occasional dusty red or green. The lack of color in the show's aesthetic recast Sidonia as less a rock-hewn community and more like something closer to a sterile, but decaying hospital or public building. You've probably been in one yourself. You know the look: Crumbly concrete, grit that's been cleaned off but leaving stains. The result is a setting that looked akin to an urban spelunking course than a vision of the future. Ultimately, both the manga and anime arrived at the same basic portrayal: That of Sidonia society being one of precarious, decayed beauty, in two different ways. Add to that the show's masterful audioscape - Sidonia is the anime that made me care about sound effects in anime, like Battlefield is the videogame that made me care about sound effects in games - and its interesting use of HUD graphics, and the first season was an aesthetic achievement rarely equaled, even by traditional 2D rivals. Sadly, Knights of Sidonia's narrative doesn't carry as much weight as its aesthetic. Between this, Blame! and the rest, Nihei's forte seems to be more in places than people. The theme of desperation and humanity on the brink still goes strong (in that way Sidonia differentiates itself from its rival Attack on Titan, thanks to their seemingly opposed moods), but the actual goings-on revealed a somewhat generic hero's story. Nagate Tanikaze, after intriguing viewers by being the last "normal" human among a population of kids that can photosynthesize, sort of dropped the underdog act midway through the first season. In some ways it couldn't really be helped. His circumstances and skills as the ace pilot of the Tsugumori mecha made him a natural hero. And yet having all the girls (including the third-gender Izana) fall for him in one way or the other, considering the way Sidonia normally comported itself. In short, we don't need these harem hijinks! And this is coming from Japanator's resident harem apologist.   Thankfully, the future seems to be brighter for the second season. Despite somewhat stiff character animation, the mecha scenes in the first two episodes of Battle for Planet Nine are smoother than ever. The plot seems to be picking up as well, with Kunato, the asshole squad leader that framed Nagate and got Hoshijiro killed, now under the control of the arch-villain, Ochiai. Ochiai's work on hybridizing Gauna and human apparently caused such a disaster that the Sidonia's population was reduced to less than 500 survivors. Considering modern studies suggesting that an ideal space-colony breeding population would need to be Original Macross-sized or better, one can only imagine the chaos that ensued in that man's wake. And now he's back, and turned the Hoshijiro-shaped Gauna placenta into...a teenage-girl-shaped bio-mecha, "Shiraui Tsumugi". One with a crush on Nagate. It's like a rom-com show set in the Macross universe where one of the girlfriend characters is a full-size Zentradi. Except Tsumugi also interacts with the human-sized world via an adorable tentacle, too, so all those bases are covered. Thankfully aside from these unfortunate (though hilarious) character dynamics, the moves being made in the shadows serve to deepen Sidonia's story. For one, Captain Kobayashi's made her move, and pulled a coup to take over from the creepy tank-people who served as the Sidonia's elder leadership caste. It's high time that the show's did more to portray the captain as a more ambiguous figure with regards to her intentions. She's one of the few people Nagate obeys without question, so seeing his naive ideals conflict with her ruthless pragmatism should make for interesting viewing as things develop further. Now, what's all this about "Planet Nine"?
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The Knights Who Say 'Eeeh!'
And...we're back! Yes, it's been quite a while since the last time Japanator went in-depth with Knights of Sidonia. In fact, we're verging on a full year since the last recap. That's partly my fault. You could say I mimicked ...

Final Impressions: Sword Art Online II

Apr 15 // Salvador GRodiles
When Phantom Bullet’s final battle transitioned into the real world, I was a bit skeptical on how the show would resolve the situation, since it might place Shino in the sideline while Kazuto played the role of the hero during the last part of the confrontation. Because of this situation, SAO II was in a scenario where episode 14’s resolution would make or break the program’s third arc for me. Luckily, the former occurred, as Shino role in the showdown was greater than I expected. While she didn’t resort to using a firearm-like weapon, her finishing blow was a nice final topping in the sundae that made up Shino’s development. Aside from Shino’s story, it was a big surprise to see that A-1 took their time to get viewers acquainted with Gun Gale Online’s setting, along with throwing in some dialogue segments to set up for the show’s big events. This actually helped strengthen the main moments in the series, (such as the key events leading up to the final confrontation against Death Gun), since it gave us the time to absorb each scene in the program. If it wasn’t for this format, we might’ve not cared too much about Shino’s struggle or break into joy after she and Kazuto defeated their adversaries. Hell, none of this would’ve been meaningful if they chose to recreate the Aincrad Arc’s quick pace, since we might’ve missed out on the key moments compliment Reki Kawahara’s improved skills. Overall, A-1 were able to wrap up Sword Art Online II’s Phantom Bullet nicely. We got to see Shino slowly recover from her trauma and the show did a decent job in explaining the process behind Shinkawa and his older brother’s evil scheme-- even if their scheme had some far-fetched elements. To top it all off, they were able set things up for the next big storyline in the series, which might be covered when the show’s inevitable third season gets green lit-- assuming that this’ll be a thing. While SAO II’s first half came to a satisfying conclusion, the program’s second arc felt a bit underwhelming. Compare to Phantom Bullet’s progression, Caliber felt like a random filler arc from a long shonen anime series. While I don’t mind side episodes that develop the show’s characters, the events in the program’s fourth storyline didn’t move the plot forward. If there’s one thing that’s relevant to SAO, it’s the weapon that they found during the quest, since it might play a big role in the later arcs to come. Sadly, Caliber lacked that special ingredient to get many viewers to care about the group’s quest this time around. Thankfully, this story wasn’t the last thing that SAO II had to offer, as the second season’s final saga left us with some emotional moments that made up for its earlier fumble. The first thing that sets Sword Art Online II’s Mother’s Rosario Arc from the other storylines is that Kirito sits back while Asuna takes the lead. Due to this change, the show’s final arc was a breath of fresh air, since it lets us learn more about a character who was mostly stuck as a supporting character. Nothing against Kazuto, but his story felt complete after he saved his girl from a crazy madman who wanted to use virtual technology to control individuals; therefore fulfilling the requirements of a fully developed character. Seeing that Asuna wasn’t too involved in the previous storyline, this direction gave viewers the chance to view the series through an entirely different angle. Combined with the girl’s situation with her mother trying to control her life, Mother’s Rosario had the right ingredients to spice things up for the viewers. While it was neat to Asuna as the star of the show, one of Mother’s Rosario’s strongest segments was the situations with Yuuki. Considering that SAO mostly dealt with dangerous situations that occur in virtual gaming, it was hard to expect the series touch upon a character who was suffering from HIV. Surprisingly, Yuuki’s inclusion in the plot didn’t feel forced, since the entire storyline did its best to build up the reveal without making it feel so sudden. Because of A-1’s handling of the source material, the meat of Mother’s Rosario ended up being one of the most depressing parts (in a good way) of Sword Art Online to date. For a character who’s meant to exist in once in the series, the series did a great job in getting the viewers invested in her situation. At the same time, her situation is relatable to many viewers, since the concept of losing someone at an early age is very devastating. Seeing that I lost a friend back in December, watching Yuuki experience her final moments on Earth hit me right at home. Coincidentally, my friend was also a fan of MMORPGs, which shows how a series can strike one’s emotional cords from time to time. Even though this arc didn’t feature a big threat to the virtual gaming world, Mother’s Rosario was able to give us an interesting adventure that covers the series’ theme about life in an online game. Not only that, the arc managed to remind us why Asuna’s a force to be reckoned with, which is a great plus for anyone who was a fan of the character. In regards to the things wrong with Sword Art Online II, the problems with the series weren’t the various shots of Sinon’s butt or Kamen Rider Kirito RX stealing the show, but the way how A-1 adapted the source material this time around. The whole Laughing Coffin story felt like it came out of the blue, since the anime’s first season implied that Kirito overcame his trauma from SAO when he gave it his all to rescue Asuna during the Fairy Dance Arc. Unfortunately, this is an outcome that can occur when a studio decides to leave out certain monologue segments that were present in the original story. However, once the show got passed this conflict, SAO II was able to get back on track, which prevented Phantom Bullet from becoming a disaster. Other problems include the show’s bad habit of changing its progression speed during SAO II’s Phantom Bullet Arc, which was likely the result of the team trying to avoid passing the program’s 24-episode limit. Perhaps if the series ran for 25 or 26 episodes, then the show could’ve moved at a steadier pace. That, or they do what Shaft did with Bakemonogatari and air the rest of the episodes online. Then again, that sort of privilege might be rare among studios, so it might be an impossible for A-1 to take this route. As for Sword Art Online II’s animation, it had its ups and downs. The show’s major battles utilized the right angles and timing to ensure that each shot and/or slash would feel fulfilling. However, this doesn’t apply to the minor segments in the series, since there were a few moments where A-1 would draw the animation frames with a zoomed out or side shot, which would make the characters' attacks and/or movements feel underwhelming. Nonetheless, the studio was able to bring Gun Gale Online’s world to life with the way how they drew and colored the title’s post-apocalyptic setting. When you weigh in all of the positive and negative outcomes, the show’s visuals and character movements were handled decently in the long run. Even with its issues, Sword Art Online II managed to be an enjoyable installment in the series. While Phantom Bullet hit a slight bump before the big tournament, the real treat was watching everything unfold as we watch Shino overcome her fear of firearms. Thanks to A-1’s decision to throw in some more exposition into the story, the series managed to shed light on the new game’s mechanic, along with expanding on the characters themselves. On top of that, it improved the show’s pacing, which made up for the first SAO season’s tendency to move at a quick pace. Despite the weird execution with Kazuto’s own issues and the underwhelming Calibur storyline, the rest of the program still had its entertaining moments. Combined with a final tear-jerking segment, I think it’s safe to say that SAO II ended nicely. However, the show still doesn’t come close to the quality found in titles like the .hack franchise and Log Horizon. Then again, does it need to? When viewed on its own accord, the Sword Art Online series is equivalent to a random snack found at a convenient store. It’s not going to fully satisfy your need for delicious anime, but you might like what you find in the bag’s content. Since the show’s taste was enjoyable, there’s a good chance that it’ll get better if a new season comes around. Who knows, A-1's inevitable adaption of the next SAO arc might be more consistent than before. [Catch Sword Art Online II on Crunchyroll and Daisuki]
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Preemptive Tears!
There’s something wonderful about having a show make you feel emotional-- especially when you were certain that the series couldn’t top its first half. One moment you’re expecting the program to fall apart w...

Annotated Anime: Plastic Memories episode 2

Apr 12 // Josh Tolentino
I mean, really, Giftias, as a business, don't seem to make a lot of sense, but highlighting the reasons they don't make sense says a lot about Plastic Memories' higher concepts and setting. Let's get back to that question: Who'd buy an android that has to pee and poop? The kind of person that would end up seeing the android as just as "human" as they are. That implies that the world of Plastic Memories has somehow grown beyond the need for "working" androids, which is the classic role of nearly every sci-fi artificial sentience. Let's remember the Blade Runner comparison, where Replicants are made to do the work people won't. In comparison, Giftias don't seem that much more suited to working than people are. Isla certainly isn't that good at her supposed job (extenuating circumstances aside), and Giftias don't seem that much more practical, unless we're talking about a situation where SAI can avoid having to pay the Giftias, thus saving on payroll, medical care, and other "human resource" expenses. Since people are still doing actual work, like repairing cars, robots and automation hasn't obviated the need for labor just yet. Earth clearly isn't off-limits to working robots, and no one seems especially afraid of being murdered by their android girlfriends or children. Does that mean that robotics and artificial sentience is either so pervasive in society or so absent from it that Giftias are given the same treatment as people? That might not be the case all over, since Michiru implies that their branch is an anomaly in the way it prioritizes amicable Giftia/owner bonding, but even in places where Giftias are more callously regarded, the acceptance of artificial life is far higher in Plastic Memories' future than any realistic projection. Just look at the Terminal Service itself. In a world even slightly more hostile to android integration, agents would likely be armed, their "partner" Giftias tricked out to subdue a rebellious android or defend the product from rioters or whatever. Plastic Memories isn't that kind of show, though, and in not being so, paints a very interesting picture of our robotic future. Naturally, I might be speculating like this pointlessly, as Plastic Memories seems to want to be a relationship show rather than a meditation on human-cyborg relations. In fact, the most pertinent cultural touchstones for examining the series are rooted less in Asimov or Star Trek than they are in shows about people with cancer, AIDs, or other largely fatal conditions. The show itself seems to reinforce that. Think about it: The most important and concrete fact we know about Giftias - and about Plastic Memories - isn't that they're androids, but that they "die" after 9 years and 4 months. That concept is the keystone to the whole premise, and after the revelation that Isla has less than 2,000 hours left on her clock (about three-odd months), the focus will naturally be on how Tsukasa and Isla can make the most of their time together. With that in mind, it makes more sense that the first episode opened on Tsukasa falling in love at first sight: She's going soon, so the usual plodding steps that open anime romances need to be sped up. That doesn't keep the decision from being annoying, though. If nothing else, their revealing the limited-lifespan conceit reveals hope that the show has more narrative gambits up its sleeve.  It might be a good sign that in light of the revelations about Isla's condition, as well as Giftia's apparent inability to halt their decline, the title "Plastic Memories" seems to a reference to neuroplasticity, or the theory that the brain can adapt its functions, like memory, speech, and such, to compensate for damage or trauma. If the show plays its cards right, the potential for a genuinely rewarding narrative might be borne out.
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May-December Drinking Buddies
Who would ever buy an android that has to go to the bathroom?  Worse still, who would ever buy an android that, though it doesn't age, degrades in much the same way that people do when its up there in years? These are questions I'd like to ask of SAI, the big company behind Plastic Memories' setting.

Annotated Anime: Unlimited Blade Works episodes 13-14

Apr 11 // Josh Tolentino
Fans who know how this story goes won't be surprised: We're pretty much at the nadir as far as fortunes go for the good guys. To recap: Shirou and Rin are alive, but have lost Saber to Caster's cheat-dagger, the Rule Breaker. Shirou's been stabbed through the shoulder (by Excalibur, no less), and is no longer a Master, due to Caster stealing his Command Seals. Everything's turning up villain, too, as Caster has taken over Kotomine's church to try to summon the Grail herself, and played dress-up with Saber in this arc's most creepily erotic scene. Look, I get that Fate/stay night had to have its sexy times for commercial purposes, but wedding-dress Saber with the panting and whatnot feels even more gratuitous now than it was in the original. As a fan, I'm sort of happy they left it in (and it certainly is done now than Deen managed in its 2010 movie adaptation), but it's kind of gross. Then again, the show's done a lot to make Caster seem like a properly formidable antagonist, so I guess this could be counted as a net gain, since it makes her look like a real creeper. That aside, heroic hopes are crushed a bit further when the big twist hits: Archer completes his face-heel turn, and betrays Rin to free himself from their pairing. The sting's made all the more painful in this go-around because just earlier that morning Rin seemed to have come to an understanding with her jerk of a Servant. Their bond of mutual respect and closeted admiration had finally set in, only for Archer to break it once again upon the altar of opportunism. What a dick! Well, if nothing else, fate (and Fate) throw fans a bone, because there's always a silver lining. That silver lining is the closest anyone in this show comes to confessing their feelings, which, for a tsundere like Rin, really does take being pushed to the edge of disaster. And it's adorable. I had wondered back when this show began, how ufotable would make the most of twenty-four episodes when Deen could stuff the whole plot into a not-terrible feature-length movie. It turns out that going long with it was the right decision, as the character arcs and relationship-building feel much more natural and less forced when given this much space. It also helps that ufotable's been able to fill the gaps adeptly, to the point that I've begun to consider this work a more "definitive" take on the Unlimited Blade Works scenario than even the original game. It's not even so much a question of "canon" as of presentation. Just like Gintama and Naruto work better when animated than in their "lead" manga formats, having it done this way just feels more "right" to me. And just in time to validate my view comes this week's episode fourteen, which fully capitalizes on ufotable not just having that extra time to fill, but also its experience making Fate/Zero. I've mentioned in previous recaps that the most interesting viewpoint one could examine for your average Unlimited Blade Works audience member isn't that of the die-hard Type-Lunatic or the fresh eye that's never seen anything else, but of the Fate fan who got their start by watching Fate/Zero first.  From their point of view, episode fourteen's examination of both Caster's tragic past and Shirou and Rin's attempt to visit Ilya in her castle feels completely at home, a natural extension of the work ufotable's been doing with Fate/Zero's adaptation. Caster's backstory, which as far as I'm aware has never been flashed back to before, is a scene straight from the Zero playbook, with Caster's first Master being exactly the sort of clean-shaven monster Gen Urobuchi likes to pen. It's genuinely disturbing to see this jerk liquefy little girls to make magic crystals, then beat on his Servant for daring to be the better wizard, so much so that you feel relieved when he gets his comeuppance, and feel a little more pity for Caster's lot in life (and the afterlife). Forever to be used, abused, and betrayed, it's no wonder that she herself became a monster. In fact, you almost feel retroactively angry at Archer for his contemptuous dismissal of Caster's character. "You don't know what she's been through, man!" is what you want to yell at the screen when rewatching those episodes. Seeing Ilya again, after so long, is also a good callback to Zero. She was always a bit of a non-presence in the original game Unlimited Blade Works scenario, relegated to get fridged by Gilgamesh practically off-screen. But now, callbacks to Fate/Zero, as well as speaking roles for her maids Leysritt and Sella, deepen her character, as well as shedding light on her motives in this and other scenarios.  All in all, episode fourteen feels like a checklist of why everyone was so excited back when it was first announced that ufotable would be adapting Unlimited Blade Works. It shows that they "get" the material, and have both the talent and wherewithal to improve on the original.
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Welcome to Wedding Night
When last we checked in with Unlimited Blade Works, ufotable's big, fabulously expensive-looking adaptation of Fate/stay night's most beloved story arc left our heroes in the lurch. Though an adorable date opened episode twel...

First Impressions: Plastic Memories

Apr 10 // Josh Tolentino
Indeed it is, because my complaining about shit not making a huge amount of sense indicates that I care a bit about Plastic Memories' world-building right in the very first episode. To be honest, I have to give a hoot about the  world-building, because there's not a huge amount else that's compelling right now. Plastic Memories opens in a world where the huge SAI has created the Giftias, a type of android that's virtually indistinguishable from humans, and sold them to people for companionship. New graduate Tsukasa Mizugaki is the newest face in SAI's Terminal Service Department, an understaffed, unloved branch of the company dedicated to retrieving Giftias at the end of their nine-year-four-month operational lifespan. He's paired with Isla, a veteran Giftia that seems, at first, to be anything but competent, and the two take on their first assignment: Retrieving a little girl Giftia from a grandmother who's grown too attached to her android granddaughter. It's a simple enough plot to start off with, and helpfully introduces cast to each other, including the tsundere Michiru, the over-friendly Ren, the chip-shouldered senior Kazuki, and three other Giftias: Sherry, Zack, and Constance. Where Plastic Memories shines is in the sheer potential of its premise. It's Blade Runner meets Sad Girls In Snow, a fertile sci-fi angle softened and colored by troperrific rom-com relationships. I've always had a soft spot for shows that can rev up my imagination. Busou Shinki was terrible in many ways, but I loved it because it got me thinking about the kind of world where you could buy miraculously intelligent and deadly android waifus for not much more than the price of a gunpla kit. Thinking about Plastic Memories and the seeming place Giftias hold in its world scratches a similar nerd itch, which it tilting me in its favor already. I love that the show is basing its setup on a little-explored aspect of future-tech settings: Disposal. Many stories are caught up in imagining the implications of a radical new technology as it's introduced, but here in Plastic Memories it looks like everyone takes the "human" qualities of Giftias: Their personalities, intelligence, and sentience for granted, and the problems are arising where their nature as "products" can't be safely ignored. The concept also dives indirectly into discussion of how to deal with mortality. Giftias and the process of Retrieval could easily be a stand-in for debates about end-of-life care, euthanasia, and when to pull the plug on a loved one. Simply put, from a conceptual standpoint, Plastic Memories is solid, appealing sci-fi. What's less convincing is the show's character dynamics. It's a little early to be complaining about where the story's going, but if the big "twist" they're planning is revealing that Isla's almost "terminal" herself (how else could she be a "veteran" on a mere nine-year lifespan?), Plastic Memories may turn out underwhelming. The chemistry between the characters also feels a bit undercooked. The first episode opens with Tsukasa meeting Isla in an elevator after a bout of contemplating his mortality (who even does that?), then falling in love with her like some kind of putz. Of course, I'm not being fair to the characters at the moment. We've barely had an episode to let them grow and compel, but hey, this feature's called "First Impressions" for a reason.  And my first impression is that these characters can't quite carry the weight of their jobs just yet.  Still, there's a lot to like in Plastic Memories at the moment, so I'm definitely willing to stick with it and see how it shapes up.
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Moe Moe Blade Runner
There's a lot I don't get about Plastic Memories. There a few critical points that I encountered in its first episode that don't make a huge amount of sense to me, nor would they to any sensible contemporary person. That's great!

Annotated Anime: Stardust Crusaders episodes 36-37

Apr 09 // Josh Tolentino
I am, of course, referring to the desperate strike mounted on Jotaro and co. by the deadly combo of Hol Horse...and Boingo (aka Mondatta), the younger brother of the Oingo-Boingo duo from several episodes back. We're quickly reminded of Boingo's power to predict future events using his comic-book-shaped Stand, Thoth, but given how great that particular "fight" turned out, it's hard to forget. Hol Horse ropes Boingo into backing him up as he tries to eliminate the good guys once and for all, and once again, problems come up constantly as the duo try to bring about the events predicted in Boingo's book. I honestly don't want to talk more about the actual chain of events, as it would ruin so much of the fun of seeing things play out. Instead, I'm going to explain why I think the episode borders on having a truly profound message, particularly about the pitfalls of prediction and fortune-telling. There's no denying that Boingo's prophecies are true, but the events of the fight - as well as the previous run-in that left the elder brother maimed and hospitalized - prove that the problem with fortune-telling predictions isn't accuracy...but precision.  For example, it would be very accurate of me to say that the sun will rise tomorrow morning. Unfortunately, my information would be quite useless to pretty much anyone. Had my prediction included more precise information, like the exact time of tomorrow's sunrise, then the information would be more useful and relevant, at least for some purposes. It's the same deal with Boingo's comics. It's one thing to happily exclaim that Jotaro and his companions will be lying half-dead in the street, but without better, more precise information on how and why Hol Horse sticking his fingers up Polnareff's nose can lead to that, the only result from the prediction is fear, nervousness, and crisis. And it's not even Boingo's fault either. The prediction's are accurate, but it's the human errors that tend to muck it all up, like having a watch that's a few seconds fast. Too bad for Hol Horse though. It's funny to think that he seemed like such a threat back when he was shooting Avdol in the forehead. It's a sad, yet hilarious way to go for a surprisingly appealing villain.
Stardust Crusaders photo
How you greet people in Egypt
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure may be best known in this day and age for helping define the landscape of shonen storytelling conventions, but one thing that shouldn't be ignored is ome of the sheer creativity creator Hirohiko ...

Final Impressions: Gundam Build Fighters Try

Apr 06 // Josh Tolentino
Really, Build Fighters may have the scrappy, underdog attitude, but the loud, proud commercials for the HGBF line of new plastic models, carefully timed to come after every opening theme and every credit roll, speak to the depth of support the show actually has. Hell, the first season was the Gundam show of its season, with no other "name" to share the slot. It wasn't a one-off, never-to-be-repeated side journey. This was Bandai doing what Bandai does with Gundam, and growing a new limb in the series' ever-branching fictional universes. The Build Fighters universe stands as an equal peer along the siblings that birthed 00, SEED, and the rest. Heck, in a meta sense, it might even last longer, since some of the modularity and universality introduced with the Build Fighters models is sure to trickle into future lines, long after the series have come and gone. But back to the thing I said about scrappy attitudes and such. Regardless of how much of a sure thing Sunrise and Bandai did or didn't believe it would end up, Build Fighters went in like a show with something to prove. It never let up and reaffirmed that the most important thing about Gundam in this day and age isn't sudsy ruminations about war and peace, or about pretty boys getting angry with each other, or even the sci-fi applications of large robots and the mysterious particles that power them. Don't get me wrong, that's all pretty important, but most important thing is having a love of plastic models (especially Bandai's many Gundam-branded plastic models) and the buying, assembling, and customizing thereof. As in the case of Reiji, a love of the Gundam fiction isn't even required, just a love of Gunpla and Gunpla Battle, which represents the prime good and ultimate virtue of joyful competition.  In a sense, then, it's all the more fitting that Build Fighters Try ends at the Meijin Cup, a thinly veiled reference to the yearly Gunpla-customization contest that Bandai holds, though of course, the Build Fighters-verse's Meijin Cup is a contest held with all the pageantry of the Oscars or Golden Globes, all to celebrate some hot-ass customs of all your favorite plastic robots.  The Meijin Cup is right where everyone loves Gunpla for what it is in both this and other worlds: a lovely little modelling hobby. It's where models are judged not on their battle prowess but build quality, where a young Sazaki brother can build a budding bromance with the sickly little kid that never used the stickers, and where you can put together designs as conventional as a Zeta reinterpretation of the Lightning Gundam to...a horrifically embarrassing tribute to everyone's favorite Try Fighter, Fumina. Side note: The designer for Super Fumina is none other than than Fumikane Shimada, known to girls-with-robot-bits-on-'em connoisseurs as the guy behind Strike Witches and more than a few Kantai Collection Fleet Girls. And he did a pretty good job, too, referencing Fumina's first Gunpla, her Powered GM Cardigan, in the design. Anyway, the episode's basically a long victory lap, waxing eloquent about how transformative Gunpla fandom can be, or more philosophically, being a fan, and engaging (positively, of course!) with the subculture that fandom provides. It makes a best-case scenario for when subcultures conquer the world (though to be fair, Gunpla is mainstream "over there" in ways it will never ever be in our universe), and treasures the joy that can only come from experiencing the deeper aspects of fandom for the first time. That said, for as much thematic weight as this last episode carries, structurally it falls prey to the same weaknesses that doom Build Fighters Try to live in the shadow of its predecessor. With the drama all over last week, this week's episode feels weightless, as inconsequential as it is in truth. It's quite similar to the "Gunpla Fair" episode in season one, as it features lots of downtime, low-stakes dustups, and friendly, "let's all be Gunpla Battle fans together" character dynamics. And like season one's version, it would've been much better before the final fight. It's all well and good that Build Fighters Try is striking out for itself, and building its own mythology and stable of original designs. Frankly, I'm not that big a gunpla fan, so I don't even care that most of the biggest stars of the show couldn't possibly be reconstructed using stock parts, the same way that the Star Build Strike, Zaku Amazing, or Wing Fenice were "based" on something "real" to the Gundam fiction. It doesn't really matter that Sekai had to have had access to a 3D printer or nanomachines to have made his Kamiki Burning Gundam a reality, because this is a show where magic fairy dust makes the dolls move like they do in the cartoons. Ultimately, the problems with Build Fighters Try were more in the narrative than in its world-building. Chief among these is that unlike the previous season, the kinds of rivalries and friendships that got built up over the whole series didn't get the room they needed to breath, grow, and establish themselves. In part this was due to the team structure. Many of the most compelling rivalries were between people who would never end up fighting each other. I'd have loved to see how Fumina could match her Star Winning against Sekai or Yuuma's Gunpla, and the series itself acknowledges as much when it refers to Wilfrid and Adou's never-to-be dream duel. But that's small change compared to the way earlier competitors were muscled out of the way once the Nationals started. I can guess that the creators were intent on giving the Try Fighters good opponents from the get-go, to avoid the stint of mook-victories Sei and Reiji went on on their road to the World Championship, but that only makes the pain of seeing Gyanko and Simon Izuna sit on the sidelines for episode after episode more acute. Sure, the Gunpla Academy, Sekai's senpai, and even the SD-R triplets were more compelling adversaries, but it's impossible not to imagine how much better those matches would've been had we, the audience, been nursing a desire to see them fight for realz on the promised day. We cared about the fight between Fellini and Reiji because Fellini had spent most of the series mentoring Reiji - it was a classic master-student showdown. We cared about the fight between Sei and Mao because Mao had been so friendly and helpful every other time, and this was finally were the gloves had to come off. And so on. Build Fighters Try needed to let those relationships grow to bear that sweet emotional fruit, but sadly the show planted the seeds halfway through, instead of at the start. That aside, Build Fighters Try's only crime is in being less impressive than its forebear, and being slightly less awesome than something that's pretty awesome is a decent enough failure to live with. I for one, can't wait for the planned OVA to surface later this year. 
Build Fighters Try photo
A Good Try
In my mind, in the story I've built for myself for lack of genuine information, Gundam Build Fighters is The Little Gundam That Could, a show and concept that someone in the bowels of Bandai or Sunrise had to fight ...

Annotated Anime: Gundam Build Fighters Try episodes 23-24

Mar 30 // Josh Tolentino
If you were thinking that Sunrise would be using up two of the season's last three episodes for the battle everyone's been waiting for - the championship bout between Celestial Sphere and the Try Fighters - you'd be wrong. Episode 23 is all prep work, which feels a little bit ludicrous. Don't get me wrong: I'm no fan of overly drawn-out fights, but honestly, the kind of pep talks and character building and introspection involved in episode 23 hardly merits taking up all the allotted time. If I were in charge, I'd have compressed the sequence to the first half and spent the second half and the rest of episode 24 on the fight proper. For better or worse, though, I'm not in charge, and episode 23 reiterates a number of points we've heard before, including the not-exactly-new revelation that Sekai considers himself an amateur, unqualified to truly call himself a "build fighter" (title mention!) due to his inexperience with the building and Gundam lore aspect of the Gunpla Battle scene. That seems a bit at odds with Build Fighters' "enjoy Gunpla however you like" philosophy, but it does stand to reason that the idealized Gunpla Battler would be someone who's at least willing to try engaging with Gunpla on its most involved terms. Let's remember that even if Reiji never watched a Gundam episode in his life, even he got to building his own Gunpla. Besides the brief episode introducing Minato Sakai, Sekai's yet to fly his own work, content to win in Sei, then Yuuma's assemblies.  But of course, now's not the time to play snap-build, because there's fightin' to be done and championships to be won, and while I have my issues with the pacing of the episodes (and the series as a whole), there's no denying that this final battle is one of the most intense Sunrise have delivered for the franchise to date. Going above and beyond the previous encounters, everyone involved in the championship match gets a moment to shine, as well as work together as a team. There's something for every kind of battling fan here: For the teamplay enthusiasts, seeing everyone cooperating, doing combo attacks, and actually using tactics is a treat. Fans of one-on-one dueling and precious drama get that in spades too, as Fumina, Yuuma, Adou, and Shia all take each other out of contention with all the theatrics and epic, trope-filled Gundam gloriousness expected of a marquee mecha show. Heck, Adou and Yuuma even experience the classic "pilot's face dissolves into a white outline" mecha-explosion "death" moment, and it's great. In the end, though, there can only be one (against one), and it's Wilfrid and Sekai that close out the proceedings with a sudden death overtime match, their gunpla cobbled together from the parts of their partners' devastated machines. I can't help but wonder if Bandai will be selling Sekai's Try Burning Frankenstein's Monster, because that'd be a pretty good opportunity to sell gunpla fans on the modular nature of the GBF model kit line. Universal polycaps are almost literally the key to victory in the fight to end all the fights, and even enable Sekai to pull off some truly inventive combinations using the features of the Lighting, Winning, and Burning in complement.  As expected, though, it's the Try Fighters that come out on top, ending the Gunpla Academy's six-year winning streak, rewarding fans with the only glimpse of Sei Iori we're likely to get, and hinting at potential future seasons as the Try Fighters prepare to resolve their respective subplots. After all, Fumina at least has to beat down her heroine, Lady Kawaguchi, right? Then again, there is still one last episode to go. I doubt that this is a thread Build Fighters Try intends to tie off, but you never know what can happen in a denouement.
Gundam Build Fighters photo
Fun, Isn't It?
Welcome to the latest installment of Annotated Anime, brought to you by the Church of GunplaBattology. In the header you can see the benefits being a Build Fighter™ can bring to your life. Our two latest recruits have g...

Final Impressions: Shirobako

Mar 28 // Josh Tolentino
Honestly, there's not that much more to say: After the director and Aerial Girls creator Nogame worked out their compromise in the previous episode, the only hurdle remaining was to actually produce the episode and get it under three weeks. Of course, animating five hundred cuts and ten thousand tween frames at a quality needed to cap off a popular series is a monumental task in and of itself, but at least there's no crisis like the wrath of "God" affecting production as last week. Nevertheless, it's an all-hands-on-deck effort, as pretty much everyone at the studio, and many more beyond, are pulled in to work on the Aerial Girls finale. Even Segawa transfers to the office proper, resulting in much strange awkwardness from Endou and fueling the imaginations of a thousand fanfic authors. There's even a hilarious reference to Nichijou, another anime series which I'm positive was as much a "passion project" for Kyoto Animation as Shirobako is for P.A. Works. Even the show's final challenge, an epic six-way cross-country scramble to get the final on-air tapes to broadcasters out in the boondocks, feels almost perfunctory. Fun as it is to watch it's little more than a way to hark back to Aoi's drifting talents in episode one, and see their roots in office manager Yuka Okitsu's past career as a legendary production assistant. Then again, the train ride home from Hiroshima serves as a way to tie up Aoi's character arc, in its own way. Viewers paying attention will note that Aoi's been struggling to find her own "reason to fly", and trying to find out why she perseveres. In that respect, the creative and technical types like Midori, Ema, Misa, and even the long-suffering Shizuka have it a little easier: They've tailored their skills towards making anime, so that's naturally what they'd try to do. By contrast, Aoi's experience in production is more managerial, only rarely interacting with the final product. The episode even implies that with enough time, Aoi's future career could mirror Okitsu's, with even less involvement with the things Musani makes. Given how much anime and manga life advice tends to hinge on finding one's niche and leaning into it - seriously, how many times have you read a line like "This is something only you can do!" - that's a tough challenge for a generalist like our Oi-chan. And what it takes is a bit of soul-searching and deciding, for realz, that making anime is what she wants to do. That might not seem like a big step, but consider how many people go through life only thinking about getting to the next day. Aoi declaring, with confidence, that this is what she wants to do, is probably the most important thing she could ever do at this stage in her life. Good on her. As to the "why" of it, that's covered in her speech at the after party. Honestly, it's almost cringe-inducing in its earnestness. Hell, if you replaced the references to anime-making with stuff about ninjas and "The Will of Fire" you'd be able to slide her comments into a chapter of Naruto without missing a beat, it's that sappy. And I still effin' adore it, and her, for saying it. This is because, as I said last week, Shirobako is not a documentary. It's an ideal, a love letter, and a statement of intent. It celebrates the making of anime and the people who make it, and hopes and prays that everyone's doing it because they love doing it. That's not the same as "whitewashing" away the industry's many, many problems, though. There's no question that the show is light at its core, and never intended to be the kind of tough wake-up call that some think is needed. But that's sort of the point, in a way. Shirobako's intent is to put the spotlight on the people who "make it happen", and focuses on the good. But the bad's still there, lurking in the margins. Heavy drinking, bad food, worse pay, and lengthy hours are all more than evident, enough that anyone paying enough attention might actually be scared away. No one is going to come away from the show thinking that any of it is easy, and that's all that really needed to be said. And so ends a lovely little series with a whole lot of heart, about how tough it can be to do a good job, but how wonderful it can be to see it through all the same.
Shirobako photo
(Do)Nuts About Making Anime
Spoiler alert: Shirobako ends happily.  Of course, that's really only a spoiler to the most stubborn and obnoxious of curmudgeons. There was really no other way for this show to end. And to be frank, it ended as it should have: Full to bursting with sappy, sentimental, idealistic, feel-good cliche. I love it. 

Annotated Anime: Stardust Crusaders episodes 34-35

Mar 24 // Josh Tolentino
Of course, the correct answer is: Because the battle anime in question is JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, and our main character is up to bat. Yes, Jotaro is the man to take on D'Arby - that's his name, not "Obie" or "Barbie" - master of the Osiris Stand and a guy with a gambling problem. Well, it's not much of a "problem" per se, for D'Arby, as he's never lost, and tends to win the souls of his opponents. But that's when he's facing normal people and confirmed mooks like Polnareff and old Joseph in games of "Bet on a cat's whim" and perhaps the most sober, high-stakes, dramatic round of Whiskey Pong ever conducted. Naturally, D'Arby isn't playing with a full deck - he's playing with several, all very carefully stacked against the heroes. What's surprising about the episode, though, is just how little the actual Stands come into play in this round.  Ultimately, both Osiris and Star Platinum serve more as narrative devices than the true backbone of the encounter. Osiris, in its ability to take a person's soul once they've conceded the bet, even mentally, demonstrates what's at stake. Star Platinum and its hyper-sensitive perceptions make any kind of normal cheating impossible, a fact demonstrated by its breaking of D'Arby's finger when he attempts some crafty sleight-of-hand. Other than that, though, the entire fight is mental, fought not with psychic powers but psychological gambits, and of this, Jotaro leverages his strongest character trait - his unbreakable stoicism - and turns it into the Ace in the Hole against D'Arby's foolproof cheats. In essence, Jotaro plays the bluff of the century, raising and escalating the stakes by betting his soul, Avdol's souls, and pretty much everyone's souls but the dog's, frightening D'Arby into thinking his cheats have been undermined. His fear is so utterly palpable that it literally ages him, turning his hair from white to elderly gray and basically driving him mad with anxiety. It's kind of amazing, to say the least, and a refreshing reaffirmation as to why, exactly this Jotaro Kujou fellow is the "JoJo" in this arc.
Stardust Crusaders photo
Always bet on JoJo
What is this, a gambling anime? Actually, scratch that. The better question is: Why are two episodes of a battle anime portraying the drama of gambling better than a number of actual gambling anime?

Annotated Anime: Shirobako episode 23

Mar 23 // Josh Tolentino
Despite being one of the "realest" anime series in years, and touching on points that are clearly quite close to home for the many people that create and enjoy anime, Shirobako is, and shall remain, fictional. If it weren't obvious enough: It's not a documentary. Whether it should be is a different discussion, one I shan't tackle here. What I'm getting at here is that episode 23 sees Shirobako - and by extension, P.A. Works - acting to tell and resolve a plotline, rather than reach deep and expose some of the guts from the anime-making process. Director Tsutomu Mizushima and his crew are being storytellers right now, not pundits or commentators. To step right out and say it: This latest climax was perhaps a little too narratively convenient, but screw being cliche, I loved it.  The crisis cliffhanger of episode 22 is out in full force here: Aerial Girls creator Takezou Nogame has rejected the whole of the anime's final episode outright, and given little feedback as to what he wants. It's essentially the character design crisis of earlier in Aerial Girls' life, but with the stakes at their highest possible point: "God" hates the ending you wrote. Fix it! A different story might have converted Shirobako into a tragedy: Stressed and out of options, Musani ends the show with a recap. Jiggly Heaven returns, to send Kinoshita's career down the toilet, along with any prospect of Aoi advancing. Show's over. Aria will never fly again, just like Nogame-sensei insists. Here's where I'm happy that Shirobako is not that kind of fiction, and I don't care that there's a risk of making the show lesser in the eyes of some, for seeking the lower-hanging fruit that is a happy resolution.  Musani finally gets a sit-down with Nogame, after Kinoshita commits a massive foul (in Japanese corporate politics, at least) by going around the editorial staff and contacting the author directly. The two have a meeting - after an epic action sequence featuring the director literally throwing his weight around to get into the Yotaka Booksellers building - and reach an accord. A compromise is arranged that will allow a happier ending for the series without compromising Nogame's vision of the manga. And the editor, Chazawa (aka Mr. "Funny Story") gets his comeuppance for being so willfully obstructionist about it all. After Hiraoka got his human side shown last week, he's the closest the show has gone to having an actual villain, much to the consternation of a few actual Japanese manga editors, who reportedly went off to complain on Twitter about unfair portrayals. And to be fair, episode 23 really isn't that fair to Chazawa. We never get a look at why he was such a jerk about denying access to Nogame (apparently against Nogame's wishes), and editors can and do serve an important role in their position between writers and the people adapting their writing. Then again, more unbelievable things have actually happened in the world of anime adaptations. Jerks also exist in real-life, and the reasons they act that way aren't always valid. In a way, Chazawa comes across as an amalgam of both Tarou and Hiraoka's worst traits. He's Tarou's incompetence made dangerous by Hiraoka's cynicism and uncaring demeanor, marinated in a pool of oily snark. I hate him already, which means P.A. Works did their job just fine. Honestly, though, I can forgive this seeming lapse in narrative integrity on Shirobako's part. One of my favorite movies is 2006's Stranger Than Fiction, and it's essentially about how having the classic "happy ending" is sometimes worth the price you pay to have it. Even if the resulting story is weaker for its presence.  As if to affirm that this conveniently happy resolution was in fact worth it, the tears in Aoi's eyes as she sees Shizuka finally, finally, finally land her anime voice-acting gig, voicing a new character in Aerial Girls, is our reward for this minor compromise. Really, seeing Zuka-chan's long train of suffering finally stop was worth a high price indeed. Well-played, Shirobako! Of course, there's still next week, the last episode of the season. And hell, they aren't even done with the episode yet. The damn thing's still gotta be made, and only then can we think about the future, and how close the five girls from episode 1 have come to their dreams. [Watch Shirobako on Crunchyroll!]
Shirobako photo
Showdown time!
Exposition. Rising Action. Climax. Dénouement. These should be familiar, if you remember your grade-school literature classes. Real life, however, isn't so convenient. More often than not, life is a lingering anti...

Annotated Anime: Shirobako episodes 20-22

Mar 16 // Josh Tolentino
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Shirobako is one of the most "adult" cartoons I've ever watched. And it's not because of boobs, gore, or dark themes. That "mature" stuff is what kids tend to look for and prize. Instead, what's adult about Shirobako is its constant reference to the kinds of travails that only grown people could truly, deeply understand: Office drama.  Sure, a schoolkid could comprehend what happens in the episodes, especially since it's signal-boosted through anime's natural penchant for exaggeration (not to mention that P.A. Works don't shy away from truly cartoonish antics on occassion). But only someone who's been through working life, at least for a while, can genuinely empathize with what people like Aoi have to deal with. Everyone's met their own Tarou or Hiraoka, or dealt with their own "Studio Titanic Incident", even if they don't necessarily work in the same field. In its way, P.A. Works made the right move by casting Aoi as the de facto lead character of the series. Her various duties in production make her day-to-day a closer match to the "average" experience of the modern company worker. She's the everygirl who just happens to work in the dream factory* that is the Japanese animation industry. At the same time, though, she's also an ideal. And let's make no mistake: Shirobako, particularly in its attitudes and message, is more of an ideal than a reality. We can hardly blame them for idealizing properly done work, but Hiraoka's situation, or at least his mentality, is closer to the norm than many people would be comfortable admitting. At the same time, it's refreshing to see that Hiraoka isn't made out to be some kind of villain, or even the kind of person we viewers can dislike unconditionally. Anime-making is a tough, stressful job like any other, and there are good places to work at and good people to work with, and there are the opposite. Every day people get their idealism buried under harsh reality. We (or at least I) can feel free to continue disliking Hiraoka because of his bitter cynicism, and his rather toxic attitude towards Midori (aka Diesel-san), but understanding where it comes from helps underline that people are making these things we like. That doesn't excuse bad work or mean we should pull our punches when giving practicing criticism, but better understanding on both sides is key to making good critiques to begin with. The train of pain doesn't stop at Hiraoka's station, though, as the longest-suffering member of the cast, Shizuka, continues to not have a job that brings her closer to her dreams. If Hiraoka was a broken man, Shizuka's being tested, drowning her sorrows in the dark while watching another up-and-coming voice actress, one who was, painfully, right alongside her in the earliest episodes, find success before she can. With only a few episodes left in the cour, one can only hope and pray that P.A. Works will show mercy. Shirobako may be somewhat realistic, but here's to wishing for a happy ending all the same. Not that it's just Zuka-chan on the hook, though. If you needed another reason to dislike Hiraoka despite his humanization, the position his corner-cutting has put Aoi in is a good one to add to the quiver. Being in charge sometimes means going to bat for your people, and like it or not, people like Hiraoka and Tarou (who remains barely competent despite being much more likeable these days) are hers, and she puts her own name on the line with Segawa to keep Hiraoka working. And just at the end, in true anime cliffhanger fashion, we hit the iceberg, and it wasn't even the fault of Studio Titanic. Funny story, it's about the author of Aerial Girls, who put the kibosh on the entirety of the last episode. And in the time of panic that is sure to follow, the Hiraoka doctrine of "Just getting it done" may end up looking more appealing than ever.
Shirobako photo
Working it at the office
As we roll into the endgame for Shirobako, our longtime Producer-san Jeff Chuang faces a crisis at his own day job, and called me in for support. So far, so Shirobako, and here I am to take over the weekly recap for the time ...

Annotated Anime: One Piece 684

Mar 15 // Anthony Redgrave
It turns out I was semi-correct in Luffy's escape from Pica's raging fist, he blew himself up into a balloon and used the air to propel himself and Law to safety. Finding Zoro and making a horrible joke about being 'hanged' they continue towards the palace. Along the way they encounter our favourite attention seeking pirate Cabbage Cavendish. He has had a change of heart and no longer wants to kill Luffy. Instead he returns Law's white cap and announces he will be the one to kill Doflamingo to obtain the undivided attention of the media. This annoys Luffy to no end as his desire to kick Doflamingo's ass is greater due to owing Rebecca for lunch. The gladiatorial get together doesn't end there as most contestants gather at Luffy's location, all proclaiming they will kill Doflamingo as gratitude for Usopp freeing them when they were toys. Much to Luffy's chargrin, he proceeds towards the palace with his new entourage. As they approach Pica, the group gets the attention of the stone behemoth by mocking his voice. Pica delivers another island shaking blow towards the gladiators but is stopped by the combined power of Chinjao and King Elizabello II.  Not a very plot moving episode this week but at least we got to see some good ol' One Piece humour. That's what I really enjoy about One Piece at the end of the day. It has some amazing lore and can get really serious as the arc starts to climax, but it still knows when to lighten the mood with wacky villains or having the main characters goof off.
One Piece photo
Let's all be friends!
Over the past few weeks, I've been re-watching Avatar: The Last Airbender with a friend. He enjoys the characters, setting, martial arts, and story because Avatar is a really good show. But the last two episodes we've seen; T...

Annotated Anime: Gundam Build Fighters Try episodes 21-22

Mar 14 // Josh Tolentino
Despite the entry of Granada's team Von Braun, and the building up of Lucas Nemesis as a highly-skilled spoiler angling to take a crack at Sekai (and who isn't?), it's team Celestial Sphere and the Gunpla Academy kids that get the luck of the draw and treating viewers to a look at battle the way the pros do it. That's episode 21 in a nutshell, showing off a fight between two fully coordinated, committed teams. No offense to the Try Fighters, but in many ways, our three protagonists are essentially lucky amateurs, getting by on talent, heart, and the protection of narrative import. There's no denying their skill, but they're there as upstarts. Both Celestial Sphere and Von Braun, on the other hand, have been training for these kinds of moments for years, and it shows. In fact, Lucas may have been training for it for much of his childhood, judging by the way he name-drops his inspiration, Aila Jykiainen.  That isn't to say the passion is absent from the battle, but there's a coldness and almost clinical precision to the fight that even the hot-blooded antics of Adou and his Gundam-eating Gunpla can't dispel. Even the way Wilfrid wins his final clash with Lucas, after Celestial Sphere scuppers Von Braun's tactic of feeding Lucas' custom-tuned Crossbone extra Plavsky fuel, carries a kind of fatalistic air. There's no moralizing or speeches, no dirty tricks or discussions of philosophy in this match: Just two teams fighting to end each other the best way they know how. And Celestial Sphere comes out on top, thanks almost entirely to skill, and a bit of technical gimmickry, from Shia's highly convenient built-in Haro-powered repair system, and Wilfrid's own version of the Burning Burst System (it's the new hotness in heroic Gunpla action!). They certainly earn their victory, but the battle feels almost preordained. Contrast that to the next episode, featuring the duel between the Try Fighters and Minato Sakai's Build Busters, which is all hot-blooded passion, speeches, and the most bad-ass gunpla fighting you can ask for. The passion in question is Yuuma's. Minato  resents his eastern rival because he thinks Yuuma's a wishy-washy putz who can't commit, either to Gunpla Battling or Gunpla Building. And he has a point, Yuuma himself said as much, so one can hardly blame Minato  for his burning desire to be the blue-haired boy's...rival. Yes, rival. Just...rival. But again, it's all about passion. Minato 's passion to kindle their burning rivalry, Yuuma's passion to prove himself after being such a putz for so long, Fumina's passion to see herself and her boys take that Winning Road, the other Build Busters members' passion to have some good memories to leave high school with, and of course, Sekai's passion just to have a good fight. It's all hot, and all on display as the Try Fighters take on the Tryon 3 and its super duper mega ultra zebra Plavsky robot powers. Minato accuses them of not having respect for the romance of super robots when they try to interrupt the Build Busters' transformation sequence, but, c'mon, both teams are playing to win and you know that once a super robot gets its "gattai" on, winning gets a lot harder for the other guys. But this is (finally), Yuuma and Minato 's show, which provides Build Fighters Try another opportunity to display how weirdly dangerous Sekai's "Assimilation" gimmick is, after Tryon 3's Boomerang Stagger strikes the Try Burning in the spine. And it practically cripples Sekai! I can't wait to see what happens should team Celestial Sphere decide to kick the Try Burning in the crotch! The Try Fighters, thanks again to Fumina's incredible building skills - seriously, she's still admiring Sei Iori when from any reasonable standpoint, she's surpassed him in nearly every respect - survive the Tryon 3's ultimate attack, leaving Yuuma to finish the fight in a knock-down-drag-out brawl reminiscent of last season's duel between Sei and Reiji and Fellini. There's no draw, this time, though: Yuuma takes the win with a surprise beam burst that silences one of the only true Super Robots in Gundam history. Ye shall be missed, Tryon 3! These episodes seem designed to showcase two sides to the kind of passion people can bring to competition. Celestial Sphere's utter skill and professionalism as the incumbent champions, and the Try Fighters pluck, gumption, and other youthfully heroic passions. Now the two are set to clash soon, as the final match of Gundam Build Fighters Try kicks off.
Gundam Build Fighters Try photo
Ah, whiskey and pocky: The snack of champions. Gunpla Battle champions, that is! With the latest installments of Build Fighters Try out of the way, the road has been paved to the finals, with the buildup handled by two of the better engagements in the series' run so far. 

Annotated Anime: Stardust Crusaders episodes 28-33

Mar 07 // Josh Tolentino
After the last few scheming and plotting-intensive fights, we get a respite from what could be less charitably called "gimmickry" with a good ol' knock-down-drag-out fight, involving Anubis, a Stand so powerful it has no master, manifesting as a sword that memorizes all its opponents' techniques.  The real treat of the fight isn't so much the cleverness of Anubis (he's just a sword, really), but that he gives both Jotaro and Polnareff their toughest engagements  to date (though Polnareff quickly sets a new record in the following episodes). Jotaro even performs two classic fight-show moves, the "shirahadori" sword-stopping technique, and that thing heroes do when they pull a sword further into their guts to trap the blade. It's classic stuff, and keeping in mind JoJo's' age, it's possibly among the first times that's been depicted, as well. The other thing we're reminded of is that JoJo's never forgets to lighten up. Humor is part and parcel of this bizarre adventure, and the show always undercuts the moments when it's supposed to be at its most self-serious, no matter what it takes. Even if what it takes is some blatantly crass - so crass it borders on offensive, really - joking about, and in episodes 30 and 31, the poor victims are old Joseph and his best friend Avdol. We're all familiar with Joseph the joker, and even in his grumpy old man phase he's always been  a funny guy. No problems there. Instead, the true victim is Avdol, who's always been supportive and for the most part stoic. When magnetized by Bast, the Stand of some femme fatale named "Mariah", unfortunately, the antics the pair get up to to stop her make me feel really sorry for the master of Magician's Red. Even if the two won in rather dramatic fashion, the ordeal they went through would cement the fight as the sort of thing two men never speak of again. The next fight, though, is a trial all its own, and Polnareff gets his due as the star for the duration. He encounters Set, a shadow-based Stand under the control of Alessi, a weird guy who...well, likes to murder children. And Set can "de-age" any target whose shadow he can touch. Naturally, Polnareff catches the brunt of the attack, getting Benjamin Button'd all the way to seven or eight, with an equally childish stand to boot. Things take an even heavier turn as the childish Polareff gets taken in by a lovely stranger, who is also de-aged by Set...back to the fetus stage. And to think that many hardcore JoJo's fans regard Stardust Crusaders as a tad bit rote compared to later story arcs. All things considered, I actually find the material a bit uncomfortable. Perhaps it's because I'm a new uncle and am thus oversensitive, but violence involving children feels like a line that should only be crossed earnestly, and Stardust Crusaders plays it up for laughs. I can't deny that it's entertaining, but there's an undercurrent of "I like it but it's wrong" that I can't quite shake, and that I haven't felt the same for other parts of the JoJo's saga. I suppose it could just be left at, "it's odd", and move on. Another odd observation is how far the show bends over backwards to preserve Jotaro's essential aura of coolness, even down to making him a deadly machine, with or without a Stand, or even a proper age. It's hard to imagine a seven-year old sending a grown man flying with a single punch, but I guess I could concede that if anyone can do it, Jotaro could.
Stardust Crusaders photo
Asking the important questions
It's been a while since we last checked in with JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, but the fun thing about this kind of story is that not a lot of plot movement happens from week to week. The true character of the series really only u...

Annotated Anime: One Piece episode 683

Mar 01 // Anthony Redgrave
  The Straw Hats fight against Issho while Law is left on the floor like yesterday's garbage, but the intense marine on pirate action is interrupted by the appearance of our favourite stone golem thing, Pica. Turns out that Pica isn't a weird creature but a person with an uncharacteristically high voice. He's built like a giant but has the voice of a squeaky toy. Very amusing for henchmen and Straw Hats but not for Pica. We get some exposition regarding Doflamingo's backstory and why his crew is named the Doflamingo family instead of pirates. He killed is father and lost his mother so never really had a family. Instead he made one out of his executives and won't allow people to mock them. This is quite touching from a man that makes his earnings from underground slavery, illegal weapon sales, and trafficking.  Elsewhere in Dressrosa, the B team continue to head towards the palace to rendezvous with Luffy and the others. I'm guessing Luffy forgot about this seeing that he jumped off the palace to beat up Doflamingo. They continue round the colosseum and aim for the base of the palace only to be halted by the fact that there isn't a convenient way up the palace wall. Fortunately Robin's powers become useful as she makes a ladder out of her arms. Convenience comes in many forms and Robin's powers are sometimes the definition of that word.  During the ascent Pica makes his big play and becomes a colossus straight out of the Team Ico game. He's big, he's menacing, and from the citizen's comments this isn't the first time they've seen him. However the usually high voice is too much for Luffy and Zoro as the threatening tension is broken by the laughter of the Straw Hat captain. The episode concludes with Luffy and Law getting crushed by the enormous fist of Pica as Zoro is blasted away by the shock wave. My predictions for next time is; Luffy became a balloon so absorbed the impact, he punched the fist to break it, or Law uses room somehow in the nick of time and saves them both. If 683 episodes of One Piece has taught me anything, it's that anything is possible within some degrees of reason. Probably.  
One Piece photo
Rumble in Dressrosa
It seems wherever the Straw Hats go, there will always be chaos. It's pretty rare for them to land on an island, wait peacefully for the log pose to adjust then carry on without getting into an 8 episode fight. I'm ...

Annotated Anime: Shirobako episodes 16-19

Feb 27 // Jeff Chuang
Shirobako 16 actually wraps up the character designer arc. From a realism point, that sets back the production by a month, and in some ways that puts Miyamori in triage mode already. The new runner, Ochiai, seems veteran enough compared to the two new hires at the production desk, but he always seems to be doing something questionable. It's actually a bit amusing contrasting him with NabeP. The crunch as a result of the delay leads to the crisis in the following episodes. The episode that was outsourced entirely somehow fell behind schedule, and Yano returns triumphantly to stem the tide at Studio Titanic. She also manage to find a replacement animation director to slot in to the one that quit. Meanwhile the team had to contort the schedule and pull some late-nighters to push out a promotional video for the publisher's exhibition. Likewise, Miyamori was able to find a special art director, Ookura, who the currently assigned art director, Atsumi, looks up to. Ookura used to work at Musashino Pictures. In episode 19 the president Marukawa takes Miyamori back in a flashback, showing us how many of today's veterans came from the same animation studios, and just kept at it as the industry evolve. In this example, it would be the various veterans that used to work at Musashino Pictures, and those who came to work at Musashi Animation later on. It was a pretty charming sequence complete with a full Chucky ED.  And this is the charm that adds another layer of context that Shirobako is so good at, although previously it was largely available within the confines of the hardcore sakuga scene. Many of today's animators learned from the greats of yesterday, who worked on the classics of yesterday with their mentors' mentors, etc. In a way, it humanizes these works not only as labor of passion, but even in the way animation styles and techniques passes down. It reminds me of the way Itano's famous Itano Circus gets passed down to other animators who are interested in special effects animation, as people who may share a similar outlook as the famed animator, and how these people work on their subsequent projects. At the same time, because I am not in on the human histories behind today's classics, a lot of what went on in the recent Shirobako episodes felt more like setup than a welling of gut-punching feels. Thankfully I still get what it is doing, and Shirobako remains thoroughly entertaining. The suspense for Musani's new project is building, and I can't wait to find out how it will turn out. [Watch Shirobako on Crunchyroll!]
Shirobako photo
Catching up...
Shirobako remains my favorite anime since a long while, and since I last recapped, it continues to roll forward like an unstoppable boulder of heartful comedy. I can only apologize about the late update since you, and Shirobako, deserved better. Let's see how Shirobako's momentum knocks down the pins our ace project manager Aoi Miyamori manage to overcome to produce the Third Aerial Squad.

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