Sorcery in the Big City

Welcome, all, again.  The holidays are bearing down upon us, and Christmas parades have begun rolling down city streets.  Is it any surprise, then, that the Christmas specials have already begun airing?  And now there’s a new one to watch(!)–Sorcery in the Big City from producers XFLAG and studio SANZIGEN, the same studio that brought us such amazing works as Black Rock Shooter and Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova.   It began airing on 01 December, and can be seen on either YouTube [] or Crunchyroll [], but the English subtitles are better on Crunchyroll.

So, what’ve we got, here?  Well, Akari Kido is an officer of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police who is coming to New York City as part of a police officer exchange program.  She is actually returning to the city where her father served as a police officer, but he was killed in the line of duty on Christmas Eve fifteen years ago.  Now Akari, like her father before her, is protecting its citizens.  But she herself is protected by Apple, the pink stuffed bear that her father gave her the night he died, which she brings with her from Tokyo.  And I do mean protected by, because on her first night back in NYC, things get weird.  A witch/magical girl figure named Liberty flies through the city giving life to toys and holiday decorations, which then wreak havoc.  Worse yet, Apple catches her eye and a wave of her wand, leaving Akari to awaken alone and distraught.

Still, Akari doesn’t have time to mourn this very personal loss, as she soon finds herself facing the mayhem caused by Liberty’s animated minions.  She transitions quickly from traffic control to emergency response, but just how does one subdue such beings?  Her answer swoops in, a super-powered girl in a pink bear outfit whom Akari recognizes as a very changed Apple, but even Apple is overwhelmed by the destructive power of a creature accidentally released by the battle between Akari and Liberty.  Can Apple protect Akari long enough for Akari to protect New York?  You’ll have your answer in just 40 short minutes, so grab some milk and cookies and enjoy watching the Big Apple’s most unorthodox Christmas parade!

Recognizing The Moment You Fall in Love

Welcome, all, again.  I’m running a little behind this week, due to a training workshop I attended–as the old saw goes, “Time is the only precious commodity.”  But I’m back, this time offering a brief review of The Moment You Fall in Love, the second HoneyWorks anime movie.  HoneyWorks, for those unfamiliar, is a Vocaloid unit comprised of two composers and an illustrator, as well as supporting musicians and illustration/video production folks.  Their previous movie was released last year (2016) and streamed on Crunchyroll under the title I’ve Always Liked You.  Additionally, they released their fourth album in February of this year, and were working on the development of a smartphone app game.

For Miku, love is war. . .

Now, as these anime features are inspired by song, it is important to recognize that Vocaloid expressiveness has come a long way in a relatively short time.  Early on, these synthesized voice banks simply did not emote well–and that’s probably being kind.  But magic was worked and tweaks were tweaked, and one day a song screamed revelation! at me: “Love is War,” as performed by Hatsune Miku.  Four minutes of pure emotional turmoil and angst bled out of my speakers, and I realized that I had just witnessed a sudden and irrevocable shift in the musical landscape.  These noisy little entities (and I am myself a firmly devoted fan of the Utauloid, Kasane Teto!) were here to stay, bolstered by oft-captivating visual representations.  Little wonder, then, to see the spirit and story of certain songs interpreted through the kindred medium of anime.

Good times, good times!

The Moment You Fall in Love is just over an hour’s worth of slice-of-life realism, weepy and frustrated and confused.  (And who doesn’t spend a large chunk of middle school and high school frustrated and confused?)  It follows the same basic group as the first movie, although emphasis is now placed upon the younger siblings.  Our primary protagonist is Hina Setoguchi, younger sister of Yu, who was one of the leads in the prior movie.  Hina has developed a crush on her senpai Koyuki Ayase, but just doesn’t know what to do about it.  At all.  Meanwhile, next-door neighbor and childhood friend Kotaro Enomoto is struggling to express his own budding realization of his love for Hina.  And that would be difficult enough to sort out, but there’s an entire high school’s worth of kids busy interacting, all learning the harsh truth that nothing else slows down just because you need some extra time.  Adolescence sees an upswell of emotion for which few are adequately prepared, and our little cast limp through their own individual misadventures of the heart while trying their best to support each other.

This was a good watch.  At just over 60 minutes, it was long enough to draw its audience into the story without overtaxing viewers’ interest.  The characters, while often exaggerated, feel true and believable; it’s easy to empathize with them, whether singly or en mass.  The artwork is consistently good and occasionally great, while frequent song insertions lend mood and create atmosphere.  In all, this proved a relaxing and quietly enjoyable way to pass a short space of time.  And I already know that I’ll be back to watch it again.


Schooled by Eromanga Sensei!

Welcome, all, again.  Regular readers might be a little surprised to see Eromanga Sensei as the subject of this review, especially given the unkind dig I took at the series during my review of Sakura Quest (14 April).  But I’ll be the first one to admit being wrong about something, especially when I turn out to be this wrong!  And, yes, I really blew this one early on.  Good thing my son was familiar with the source material, because my two-episode rule would have done me no good this time.

So, what gives?  Well, as I so indelicately pointed out during my Sakura Quest review, Eromanga Sensei seems to start out as yet another story about two siblings getting the hots for each other.  A worn-out trope to be certain, but where did this even come from?  And why does it keep showing up?  What’s the big deal with the incest?  Oh, and just to quasi-legitimize things, we’re both told and shown in the very first episode that Masamune and Sagiri aren’t actually blood kindred.  No, their parents married and created a little hot-pot family that can just cook down however it wants.  Good thing, then, that the parents conveniently disappear, else we might have ended up with a show called Daddy Loves Loli!, or maybe even Crouching Cougar.  And didn’t The Brady Bunch already cover this “we’re not blood, so it’s good” thing–40 years ago?!  Anyway, that’s the baggage I carried into watching this series.

And for the first two episodes, I was right.  And since two episodes is my rule, I got ready to move on to other things, which I mentioned to my son.  To my surprise, he seemed disappointed.  He reads a lot of manga, and assured me that the story was on the verge of recovery by way of redirection; just try two more episodes, he urged.  Turns out that I didn’t even need to–episode 3 saw a major shift in focus.  But to explain that, let me address the actual plot: put simply, Masamune is a high school student who writes light novels, novels that he does not at first realize are illustrated by his recluse of a little sister, Sagiri.  And if his storytelling can be somewhat questionable, her artwork is undeniably erotic.

And that’s pretty much the opening premise.  Brother and sister living together (although she remains secluded in her room), but also working together, albeit in ignorance of the fact.  Other characters pass through, but nobody makes much of an impact until the arrival of Elf Yamada, an author both younger and much more successful than Masamune.  She is introduced in the latter half of episode 2, but by episode 3 she gains enough presence to completely redirect the story.  [This actually prompted a little discussion between me and another expat writer from Crunchyroll’s old Takeout newsletter, edsamac, who agreed that Elf’s presence revitalized the show.  In fact, he’s written quite a bit about this series on his own anime review blog:]  Anyway, Elf shows up and we suddenly have a trio of characters interacting: Masamune now has competition for Sagiri’s artwork; Elf finds unexpectedly strong competition in storytelling; and Sagiri for the first time experiences competition for Masamune’s attention.  Things get much more interesting and, thankfully, a lot less icky.  The show’s still pretty out-there, but it becomes a lot more fun to watch.

Now, to be fair, the incestuous desires thing doesn’t necessitate that an anime is DOA.  While it is an overworked (and I dare say much over-appreciated) trope, it can really make a story pop in the right hands.  Interested in comedy?  Recently, My Sister Is Unusual plays for laughs when a little sister becomes possessed by the ghost of a girl who had a crush on the possessed girl’s older brother.  That series has so much that is just so wrong, but it’s always done with a nudge and a wink.  The slice-of-life comedy Listen to Me, Girls, I Am Your Father! takes a very delicate approach to showing the oldest sister’s crush on her college-age uncle.  Sure, it’s used to garner laughs, but never to the point of devaluing Sora’s feelings.  And who can forget the poignancy of the emotionally nuanced relationship between the Wakatsuki twins, Shusuke and Shuri, in the anime version of Myself; Yourself?  Even their own father assumes incest between them (and even seems a little jealous).  My point is that even this tired trope can legitimately contribute to a story’s progression if applied deftly and with an understanding that it has already saturated its medium.  So make it original or make it something else!

Shusuke & Shuri sneak back into town to see friends

Eromanga Sensei made it orginial–they rode that horse right up to the cliff’s edge, then sold the saddle and went hang gliding, instead.  It kind of reminds me of Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers, with the way the story so suddenly changes tone and direction.  And, personally, I’m very grateful for the change!  What began with an opening episode even more painfully awkward to watch than that of Sakura Quest has developed into a fun, sassy romp of a show!  It’s pointless, overblown, exploitative. . .and exactly what this season’s schedule needed.  And, yes, I’ll see you there.

[Parental Note: blatant fan service, as well as some pretty tasteless allusions and references to incest, particularly in the first two episodes.  Again, things get a lot better beginning in episode 3.]


Into Dimension W!

Welcome, all, again.  Having finally caught up with this season’s shows on Crunchyroll that interest me, I decided to go after some other recent shows that somehow got away, beginning with Dimension W.  To be honest, I lost track of a number of shows that I was planning to watch.  And the partnership that began between Crunchyroll and Funimation last September did nothing to help.  While I understand the move from a business standpoint, from my own standpoint as a paid subscriber to both sites, well, things got a bit inconvenient–especially when Funimation unexpectedly cancelled my membership for me.  That was both irritating and distracting.  So, half-a-year later and I finally managed to restart my subscription. . .and finally got around to watching Dimension W!

I’ll begin with a question: have you seen SoltyRei?  Because if you have, you’ll immediately slip into this show’s mindset.  A haggard, lone-wolf kind of guy with blatant antisocial tendencies and a distrust of technology bordering upon hatred finds himself saddled with a robot/android-like being with the appearance and demeanor of a human girl.  So the initial character pairing felt like a comfortable homecoming.  Kyouma Mabuchi is a collector [read as: repo-man] of illegal energy coils who confronts and eventually partners with Mira Yurizaki, described as a highly advanced robot.  Mira’s very existence is tied closely to Kyouma’s past, but both are ignorant of this link, which grows more important as the story progresses.   Like Solty Revant from SoltyRei, Mira conceives of herself as human and is discomfited by references to robotics.  One primary difference in character design between the two shows, however, is that Roy Revant is older than Kyouma and was married with a family that he lost.  This allows him to accept and even adopt Solty as his daughter, an emotional connection not really available to Kyouma.  He and Mira must first imagine some sort of relationship before they can create it.  The fun is in watching them try.

Well, it’s usually fun.  But one element of this show that leaves me cringing is the casual violence that Kyouma directs at Mira.  Quite beyond his constant belittling of her, when Kyouma gets angry or annoyed he occasionally lashes out and hits Mira–obviously thinking that it doesn’t matter because (as a machine) she cannot feel pain.  Now, aside from such [grotesque] logic, these incidents are even more disturbing for being random and gratuitous.  And the fact that this behavior is reserved solely for Mira makes it feel vaguely like witnessing domestic abuse.  Anyway, I could have easily lived without that little quirk in the show, and wish that I might have.  The story would be better without it.

Otherwise, this series hits all the right notes.  It’s fast-paced with plenty of action.  It offers some fun sci-fi to play with, and asks questions about reality that–however trite–still need to be answered individually to have real meaning.  For example, what are the nature and limitations of sentience?  Does sentience establish emotion, or possibly validate it?  Is our conceptualization of life big enough to embrace the non-organic?  Additionally, character development is unhurried and feels fairly natural.  And the military is portrayed in human terms, shown doing their job without being censured as tools (that scores big points with me!).

Is the premise believable?  C’mon, it’s a sci-fi anime!  There’s a bunch of background noise about Dimension W offering unlimited energy, and about the manifestation of possibility, etc., but the real story is embodied by the characters.  And so, implied wife-beating aside (a real shame, that), this show offers just the perfect bit of escapism.  I’m glad that I went back and watched it, and readily recommend it (albeit with reservation, noted below).

[Parental Note: Again, I caution that Kyouma’s spoken disrespect and casual physical violence towards Mira are not only disturbing in and of themselves, but mirror domestic abuse.  Be prepared for some resultant uncomfortable discussions with younger viewers.]



“Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out”

Welcome, all, again.  My past few reviews have dealt with shows that were different shades of slice-of-life; so, too, does this one.  Gabriel DropOut is a special kind of show, one in which themes and their possible relevance are so fluid as to depend almost entirely upon the discretion of the viewer.  As a writer who creates something to be shared, it has long been my contention that an artist (whatever the chosen medium) shares the creative process with the audience, whose interpretation produces a final result peculiar to each participating individual.  For Gabriel Dropout to more fully espouse this notion, it would need to be a coloring book!  How so?

Gabriel Tenma is an angel descended to earth to study and eventually help mankind.  She was top of her class in Heaven but, freed from the strictures of that environment, feels justified in loosening up just a bit.  In military jargon, she goes in-country only to go native.  Because although sent to attend a human high school, Gabriel is quickly seduced by video games, instant noodles, and a generally self-indulgent lifestyle.  Her fall is rapid and transformative, to the point that her stipend from Heaven begins to see regular decreases.  Seems like somebody’s paying attention and is not at all eager to pay for a rebellious attitude.  But Gab’s not the only one disappointing her sponsors.

Milton’s epic work Paradise Lost casts Hell as a perverse mirror image of Heaven.  Well, certainly their foreign student exchange program mirrors Heaven’s, as Maiten High School is hosting two demons as well as two angels.  And Vignette Tsukinose is Gabriel’s polar opposite, quite beyond being a demon: she is kindhearted and considerate, responsible and helpful.  While Gab mutters about mankind not deserving help and even suggests blowing that trumpet to start the Apocalypse, Vigne is busy sweeping the walk in front of her apartment building and desperately vying to prevent Gab’s becoming a total NEET.  Strangely enough, Vigne also seems to be having bankbook difficulties.  (Personally, I wonder what might happen if they tried switching sponsors–a point I raised on Crunchyroll after watching episode 7.  Increased cash flow, surely!)  But what of the other two unearthly visitors?  The angel Raphiel Shiraha was second in her and Gab’s class, but upon descending to earth has revealed herself to be a sadistic, perverted deviant.  Meanwhile, demon Satanichia McDowell is dedicated to her assigned role but utterly incompetent.  Milton would weep.

But this is where things get really fun.  The show is entertaining enough on the surface–cute characters doing inanely cute things. . .or sometimes doing nothing at all [Gab!].  But the implications of and possibilities inherent in the premise magnify the humor exponentially!  This series exists within a Christian theology, but plays fast and loose with the accepted rules of such.  Whereas Hell was first created to punish rebellious angels transformed into devils, we witness a second rebellion of a demon returning instinctively to angelic behavior.  This, even as Heaven’s two most promising angels abandon themselves to their baser desires.  But where is the redemption, where the punishment?  Have the authors of the original quarrel become so bored with it?  Has a once-raging war degenerated into a perfunctory, bureaucratic process of demerits?  And could all of this mean that Gabriel is actually correct in that there’s no point in worrying with it?  Any of it?  Just slurp your noodles and go?  Beware, for larger questions loom in these shadows: why does a loving God allow pain and suffering?  And why do attributes so valuable in humans–such as independence, individuality, and the courage to act–lead to the condemnation of an angel?  But those questions are only there if you look for them.  Otherwise, it can all be viewed as just another group of friends living their own peculiar situations. . .

I have seen this series dismissed as fluff.  I have likewise–although much more rarely–seen this series accused of taking on topics beyond its scope.  My own opinion is that this series, more than most others with which I am familiar, becomes what its viewer makes it.  We the audience have a much more prominent role in deciding the finished product of this show than we are usually given.  And I like that.  Some days I want a light comedy, whereas some days I’m willing or even eager to explore a deeper meaning.  I appreciate having the choice.

[Parental note:  Yes, there is some fan service in this show, but nothing crazy.  Precocious children might, however, derive some interesting or uncomfortable religious questions from watching–so get those answers ready!]