October 2011 Anime Season – Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai Episode 3

This certainly is one very…daring episode…

Sena is still in gaming mode, but for some reason she’s playing a H-game in the clubroom. Yozora can’t resist the opportunity to torment Sena and makes Sena read the dialogue of a ‘scene’ out loud. Sena stumbles through it then gives up and flees. Upon returning home, we get to see Kodaka’s younger sister, Kobato, who dresses up loli-goth style to mirror a character from ‘Full Metal Necromancer’. The next day, Sena makes the comment that she can’t swim. It ends up leading to a trip to a swiming centre for Sena and Kodaka so she learns to swim – so it’s the first time we get two see more than one member of the club outside of a school setting together. It goes well for Sena and there’s service in plentiful supply in this part of the episode – but nothing absurd. The conversation between the two over lunch reveals some interesting things – Kodaka’s dad and Sena’s dad were friends for a long time. Sena is actually fond of being called ‘Meat’ since it’s her first nickname.  While Kodaka uses the bathroom, Sena gets surrounded by a bunch of guys and her mouth further inflames a bad situation. Kodaka uses his ‘image’ to scare the guys away. Sena replies with her usual manner – and Kodaka doesn’t let her get off lightly. The severity of Kodaka’s words gets through to Sena and she temporarily shows a moment of indirect gratitude before going back to normal. But the effect lingers – Sena is finally able to see Kodaka as a person she values and not just another guy. Sena’s manner in the aftermath is smoother and grateful. There’s a service moment with Kobato shortly afterwards that’s appropriately censored (thank flock) and the scene quickly switches to a flashback. It is revealed Kodaka once had a dear friend in his childhood – and it’s Yozora…The preview to the next episode indicates the reverse trap and mini-nun characters will appear in Episode 4.

So…this was definitely a more loaded episode. The ecchi factor was ramped up for sure this episode and I think it will remain to be on a similar level of stimulation from now on. Still, no character got degraded. Sena’s swimsuit was revealing, but in all honesty, clothing that revealing at swimming centres, the beach and general garb during summer is quite revealing anyway. Sena’s attire isn’t cheap or demeaning. I actually found the scene to be fairly well animated. Rather than relying on the cliche effect of breast bouncing or butt-flexing, Sena’s movements weren’t exaggerated – she is naturally a looker. It also helps that Kodaka didn’t act like a lecher plus he avoided overreacting like a lot of generic males in the genre. And when he needed to be the man but not a prick when Sena needed bailing out, he pulled it off. The scene with Kobato was clearly to appeal to those who like their lolis (I sure don’t…) but it wasn’t creepy or anything and thankfully didn’t last long. Although it must be said Kana Hanazawa is a good choice to voice Kobato – she sounds naturally suited to the role and sells it well. Plus the heterochromia is a nice feature. As for game references, I hope they don’t pop up every episode or the Sena-Kirino similarity will be overemphasised and hurt Sena’s popularity.

About Sena – she definitely got some significant character development this episode. It is clear that while she acts superior generally, Sena does yield to Yozora rather easily and is provoked into a reaction soon after. Yet with Kodaka, we get to see the other side of her. The Sena that genuinely wants to have a good time, be happy and hang out with friends. The day out with Kodaka serves as a lesson to Sena that she can see males as potential friends/actual people rather than just typical guys who lust after her. Kodaka’s rebuke also serves to show he isn’t the typical guy or harem guy. He isn’t going to be their beat-up toy or plaything. He will demand their respect and make that clear. It evokes an interesting change in Sena’s persona when someone not submitting to her normal behaviour makes her realise it is that behaviour that has created the issues that prevented her from making friends. Sena now realises Kodaka does genuinely care about her – and Sena finally lowers her boundaries, daring to be nice to Kodaka in return. As hoped, Kodaka is not just excess baggage – he is an active participant and important to the mix. Now the dynamic is not just between Yozora and Sena. There is now a dynamic between Kodaka and both females. And in the case of Sena and Kodaka, it is now at a state one can call friendship as Sena now has openly acknowledged the fact she does want to spend time with Kodaka on a regular basis. This episode sets Sena apart from Kirino big time – for which I am grateful. Sena is able to communicate without being violent or majorly condescending – something Kirino could never quite do.

The flashback scene was very effective and allows Yozora to have her moment this episode despite getting little airtime during it. Yozora certinaly seems like the childhood friend from Kodaka’s earlier years. Okay, this plot point is fairly cliche, but the scene had impact because of the timing, execution and good source material to back it up. This was not your generic revelation scene. It allowed the viewer to feel for Yozora but realise her stubborn nature is a major hurdle and going to hinder her from being able to move forward. Five seconds was all Yozora needed to be able to match the impact Sena had over ten minutes. This scene sets up a key difference between Yozora and Sena. Yozora is unable to admit her feelings when it comes to the crunch – or at least nowhere near as easily as Sena can. The potential for romantic possibilities between Kodaka and either girl have been set up – and with that comes a lot of potential tension between the trio. Still, at this point, there are plenty of reasons to like both girls, which is a good thing.

Again, this show continues to do what it does well – provide some light, silly fun with a bit of steam. And the arrival of the reverse trap and the nun are bound to kick things up a few more notches! For being nothing out of the ordinary, it’s excelling at character development and key moments a rightside better than most series this year.

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October 2011 Anime Season – Mirai Nikki Episode 2

Business has definitely picked up big time in Episode 2! Episode 1 was child’s play compared to what goes down this time!

Yukiteru is not handling the scenario he is in well at all. Fortunately, Yuno is willing to do ANYTHING to make sure Yukiteru lives. With his ‘Bystander Diary’ and her ‘Love Yuki Diary’, they have a formidable combo of predicting the future. Certainly doesn’t help Yukiteru sleep at night though!

Things get worse for the pair quickly. It becomes glaringly obvious their home room teacher was Third – and his sudden disapperance bring more competitors into the fray. Ninth appears first – and is one bomb-happy bitch, to put it lightly! After blowing up an entire floor to get everyone’s attention, Ninth is seemingly ready to blow up the entire school to take out Yukiteru and Yuno. A thrilling game of cat and mouse ensues with the pair barely evading attack after attack. Yukiteru’s attempts to check on his ‘friends’ result in betrayl and being captured for Ninth. And then comes the real reason Ninth set up this ordeal – to draw out Fourth, her real target, who just happens to be a cop and have a diary that tracks down criminals. Yuno makes a very yandere-like move to throw a spanner in the works of Ninth’s plan and provides Yukiteru with one chance to end the ordeal without a major catastrophe being the result and saves the day with Yuno’s guidance, but Ninth manages to escape thanks to her ‘Escape Diary’. All four competitors live to fight another day. The episode ends with Fourth proposing a triple alliance to take out the more evil competitors of this twisted game. Yukiteru agrees and Yuno also complies – but for much more ‘personal’ reasons. The time points on Yuno’s dairy indicate Episode 2 took place on May 2 and that as the game stands at present, it could end on July 28, meaning this show’s duration would take place over a three-month span.

Ironically, the character styles that made me stop watching Guilty Crown after seeing Episode 2 a few hours ago are the same for the two leads in Mirai Nikki. Yukiteru is somewhat weak and he knows it. Yuno is obsessed with Yukiteru and is willing to do literally ANYTHING to have him – even if it means being used. However, within Mirai Nikki this dynamic actually works rather well. And here’s why. Yukiteru’s paranoia and reluctant action are believable – he’s been thrown amongst a bunch of psychos! Who wouldn’t be rattled?! Furthermore, he realises that all his life, he’s been a bystander and never taken action. He hates that part of himself and wants it to stop. As for Yuno, she is quite a magnetic personality. It’s hard to not be enthralled by how determined and passionate Yuno is towards Yukiteru, or the insanity of the degrees of her actions. In the second half of the episode, Yuno is appalled that Yukiteru’s supposed friends betrayed him and gave him up to Ninth and adds in the fact if she doesn’t take drastic action, everyone dies right there. Her resultant action – evade Ninth’s elaborate bomb network and to make sure resultant explosions take out anyone who betrayed Yukiteru! Yuno is definitely one twisted girl – but she is so damn captivating because she is able to cast morality aside when needed and do what needs to be done to survive with such optimism. Morals won’t keep you alive in a game filled with the crackpots and psychopaths this one is loaded with and while some of Yuno’s actions would be shocking if another person did it, it really enhances the yandere qualities of Yuno’s character and makes the darker side of people go ‘Damn…that girl is something! Crazy – but she sure is something!’ While Yuno is willing to be used in some ways, she is able to dictate action by herself and be the one directing Yukiteru around when she wants to or has to. The pragmatic nature of Yuno is the only relative safe option for Yukiteru. He will live if he sides with Yuno for now and appreciates the fact but doesn’t take it for granted. Throw that in with Yukiteru’s determination to no longer be a bystander and he somewhat breaks out of the typical shounen emo male lead archetype. This oddball pairing has a very bizarre appeal, but they deliver thanks to some solid writing and not being the victim of crude/untimely service attempts or the story/characters warping into something other than was promised. Yukiteru and Yuno both know what they will get from siding with each other and accept the consequences. And those staying with this show will get a good laugh out of Yukiteru having to pair with a sociopathic yet optimistic stalker to live – the situation is so absurb yet so hilarious! You wouldn’t want to see it in real life, but on the screen – it’s very gripping.

There still are a few problems. Helmet-hair animation was a bit annoying. The music soundtrack in-episode is weak – a better soundtrack could have made this show utterly delectable, but thus far the content has been so gripping it’s still quite delectable. And ultimately, the system of this twisted game provides a potential flaw. Is there a way this show can end in a way that will be worth remembering? Thus far, I see three options in this order of likelihood:

1. Yukiteru ends up being Deus ex Machina due to something he finds out late in the game or Yuno killing herself because she could never kill Yukiteru.

2. Yukiteru and Yuno are the last two alive and avoid ending the game or take out Deus ex Machina – staying as the twisted couple.

3. The curent Deus ex Machina was just bored and kills the last/final two survivors because he’s had enough of the game and would never give up power anyway!

I can’t see one of the other contestants winning – the care factor for it would be virtually nil. Which means one of those two are going to win. As it stands now – Yukiteru is utterly mortified by this all and the concept of Deus ex Machina. Yuno wouldn’t want to end the game because she wants to be with Yukiteru no matter what. But Deus ex Machina doesn’t seem the type of guy who would let them get away with that – unless something even more twisted comes up between those two.  So Option 1 seems the most likely – not to mention in line with the twisted nature of this show. The key to figuring this out is something we don’t know yet – WHY Deus ex Machina has put this game in motion. WHY Deus ex Machina would put itself in a scenario where it is potentially replaced by someone else. And I get the feeling that will be held back until the closing stages. So that minefield won’t be explored until the final stanza of the game. Option 2 could happen – but considering the very twisted, chilling nature of this show – I doubt it. Either way, the lead-up to the end promises to be rather entertaining. Whether the ending can deliver on that and potentially surprise us – or do a predictable ending but execute it well – is the real question and will determine whether this show ends up being good or great.

October 2011 Anime Season – Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai Episode 2

This series just continues to make me laugh in a way I’ve wanted to all year. It’s not pretending to be spectacular. It merely promises entertainment that is neither highbrow nor lowbrow.

The trio of Yozora, Sena and Kodaka are intent on determining how to find friendship. Yozora makes the suggestion of games as a method to strengthen friendship. Teaming up on their PlayingStates (Got to love those copyright-altering names!), the trio get into an RPG game. But the effects are not as intended – or perhaps they actually were! Yozora and Sena merely use this as a medium to beat each other up with amusing results. Their dislike of each other is more intent than ever, particularly with Yozora calling Sena ‘Meat’ on a regular basis while Sena fires back with ‘dumb witch’. After seeing the purpose of this exercise fail, Sena suggests playing a dating-sim. (I’m serious – it happens!) Perhaps the most amusing aspect is not that Yozora and Sena both see this as a way to learn how to makes friends with females – but that it actually causes the two to get along for a while! Their reactions to characters within the game and related events are virtually identical, although it could be argued Sena is more emotionally invested in it. Episode ends with Sena revelling in her ‘success’ and getting Kodaka to do his own playthrough.

Again, nothing spectacular, nothing truly original and definitely no shirking off the link to Ore no Imouto. But honestly, SO WHAT?! Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai is a rightside better than that ever was! Firstly, the character dynamic is better. Kirino’s scenario was just too comfortable and she was made overly bitchy while Kuroneko was rather sedate and ‘safe’, but most of all, the concept these two got along overall didn’t really seem believable. In the end, Ore no Imouto geared itself to satisfy Kirino fans short term then provide the link for the Kuroneko-oriented series. I.e. It set the fandoms to war against each other and hurt the title – it was more a marketing tool than anything.

In the case of Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai, that doesn’t seem to be happening. Yozora and Sena may bicker – as all people do at times – but there are core issues that they agree upon, plus they share similar distrusts within people in general, which become apparent when they play the dating-sim. They both instantly distrust the overly nice girl and make the same slanders. They both like the intelligent girl and value intelligence as a quality more than anything. Both of them are fairly resistant to budge when presented the idea it could be them that are somewhat responsible for their failures to not make friends. The other key appeal is that it is actually quite fun to see Yozora and Sena argue. Yozora’s ‘Meat’ puns are genuinely funny and Sena’s facial expressions/barbs at Yozora/Kodaka are very effective dialogue. It’s not malicious – they’re natural human emotions that aren’t unnecessarily amplified to the point the two become unlikeable. The banter is great for the chemistry between Yozora and Sena. Thus far, I still have a fair number of reasons to like both, which is something that could rarely be said for the Ore no Imouto duo. Generally, people could usually only like Kuroneko or Kirino. This time, liking both Yozora and Sena is very plausible.

That said, there are noticeable differences between Yozora and Sena, though. Sena is more emotional while Yozora is generally somewhat cold. Sena seems to find the concept of having a male friend inconceivable yet Yozora doesn’t seem to have such an issue. Sena’s physical features are more extreme while Yozora’s aren’t and go for the zettai ryouki appeal. They’re distinct characters. They have valid reasons to dislike each other on some levels. But ultimately, it is rather conceivable they will get along in the long run.

There are several levels of appeal for me within this show. The art is pleasing – it’s not an overly-exaggerated moe style giving me diabetes. The animation actually looks like some effort has been put into it. During the battle scenes in the RPG section of the episode, weapon movements and effects were fairly smooth and somewhat detailed. Not on a Last Exile/Guilty Crown level, but the effort was noticeable. Costume/uniform designs were good. The reversal of clothes/roles during the dating sim was a very clever scene. The dialogue is very loaded and is entertaining throughout. There are fanservice moments but nothing over the top. There’s definitely an ecchi element to this show but it’s not overly exaggerated. It’s been dealt out in amounts that haven’t cheapened Yozora or Sena thus far. I hope that continues to be the case. Whether the inevitably increasing character cast changes that is another issue. Kodaka got little focus in Episode 2, but with the inevitable arrival of his little sister, the reverse trap girl that likes him and the science girl that tries to jump him – Kodaka’s airtime will increase soon. I’d like to find out more about him and see him progress.

All in all, this series is the light-hearted entertainment with a bit of steam I’d been hoping all year. This won’t be for everyone and it’s nothing that new. What is giving Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai its edge is a more balanced character cast, sharp dialogue and proper execution. I will never have high hopes for it but reasonable ones. If it continues to entertain with a bit of cheek, a bit of tongue-in-cheek, a bit of flesh and a bit of heart – I’ll gladly give it my time but remember that there are better shows out there this season.

Top Ten Kisses in Anime/Manga/VNs

Okay, been a few days since I posted. New anime season and all changed my schedule. Almost ready to do a post about the current season. But before that, I thought another regular feature that would be worth doing is some Top Ten lists, since they’re somewhat fun to compile and debate. The first one will be on ‘Kisses in Anime/Manga/VNs’. Now note this list is personal taste. I’m sure there’s plenty of good ones out there. But these ten really did it for me.

#10 – Otani x Risa in Lovely Complex – Now here was a couple that almost never was. They were a great comedy duo but almost at each other’s throats in the process. The true problem causing their relationship reset spam was that Risa had the guts to admit her feelings for Otani – eventually – while Otani was too stubborn to admit he liked Risa back. After several rejections, Risa had just about given up on Otani. Amusingly, Otani finally dropped a pair once the threat of Risa leaving his life was imminent. The icing on the cake was the kiss Otani planted on Risa when she least suspected it then followed it up with a second to calm her down. Short stuff finally acted like a proper man and took the lead when it was needed. And thus, the couple FINALLY got going!

#9 – Shuuichi and Reiko in Fault!! – Well, we couldn’t have a kiss list without one of the more saucy variety! ^^ This couple came from one of Tony Taka’s titles – Fault! Shuuichi and the females in the tennis club were constantly in heat. You can imagine what happened as a result. However, the stylish, enigmatic Reiko Date Wingfield got first crack at dear little Shuu, engaging in one long, sensual, intimate kiss – a rarity in anime full stop. Reiko takes the lead and Shuu complies, with scintillating results. And with Tony Taka artwork to boot, it looked darn good.

#8 – Lelouch and C.C. in Code Geass R1 – This was not your average duo. Man vs world and woman vs self. They were the only person capable of getting to each other or complimenting one’s faults with their own strengths. Episode 11 revealed a side of C.C. she never wished to reveal to anyone. It had an unexpected effect on Lelouch, who would show the odd moment of kindness to C.C. thereafter, whil. When C.C. was in the depths of despair once more, Lelouch fired the classic line ‘If you’re a witch then I’ll become a warlock’ Lelouch was hardly a romantic – he didn’t have time for that. But when it was needed, he knew exactly what to say to C.C. to keep her going. That counts for something. Perhaps it was that which compelled C.C. to give Lelouch a kiss during the closing minutes of the series one finale. Pragmatic since Lelouch needed a bit of drive at that moment – which only C.C. could give him. Still, it signified the bond between those two and what might have been in a not-so-flocked up world. It was still one delish kiss.

#7 – Chiaki and Kana in Minami-ke S1 – The Minami household saw a lot of wacky behaviour therein, despite Chiaki’s claim their lives were pretty normal. Now when Chiaki and Kana were in a fracas, Chiaki’s wit would win out nearly every single time. However, clever scheming allowed Kana to permanently get one up on Chiaki. The topic of kissing sent Chiaki into fear. Yet when Kana proposed Chiaki should give her first kiss to Haruka, Chiaki’s admiration of her elder sister made her comply with the idea. As Haruka was frozen in shock at the thought and Chiaki eagerly awaited with eyes closed, Kana swooped in and stole the prize. Chiaki’s reply was hardly positive.

#6 – Horo and Lawrence in Spice and Wolf S2– Yes, the Jun Fukuyama – Ami Koshimizu pairing gets a double dose on this list. Face it, the two are electric when pairing up with their voicing talents. Lawrence and Horo always had a good deal of flirty, loaded dialogue. But come the end of season two, after nearly losing Horo for good, it was time for Lawrence to stop treating the situation like it could idly last forever. Horo’s reaction was as expected – almost in denial then admitting reciprocation. The subtle banter between these two was delicious and that kiss was the cherry on top we’d been waiting for. I’m not picking the lips one this time. I’m actually calling the hand kiss in the closing minutes and the banter that followed, because the lip kiss earlier that series was a bit weak on the animation side. The leadup to this one was better, the animation was better and it was a nice touch to end a good second series. Besides, you don’t always need the kiss to be on the lips to be effective.

#5 – Nana x Hachi in NANA – Now this is a duo of females with the same name, but one took the nickname Hachi to prevent name confusion. One was living the dream of being a rock star while the other was way out of her depth in the big city. Yet despite their differences, they were good friends all the way. This cute, flirty kiss was delivered by Nana early in the title as a form of gratitude. Nana took it in her stride while Hachi’s head almost exploded. That was par for the course for these two friends. Thankfully, manga-ka Ai Yazawa did it with taste and style. As the visual example, I gave the live-action shot. Hey, if it looked good with real people, you know it was win!

#4 – Tomoya x Kyou in the Clannad Kyou After bonus episode – Okay, confession. I don’t like Nagisa one bit. Kyou and Tomoyo were far and above the two Clannad females I was into. Mainly because they instilled change into Tomoya well before the mess he created in After Story in the Nagisa route. Tomoyo made Tomoya realise he wasn’t worthy as a man and he needed to fix up his life. Tomoyo was the one that instilled some long overdue maturity and made Tomoya work like hell to be worthy of Tomoyo’s love in the long run. If that climax scene in the snow had a kiss, it’d have been on this list for sure, but alas, it didn’t.  On the other hand, when it came to Tomoya and Kyou, it’s that scenario of two friends never being able to be fully honest with each other when there’s a third person in the mix. What gave Kyou’s arc an edge was that Tomoya realised what a cold-hearted bastard he’d been and that he should never have let both Fujibayashi sisters fall for him. Thus Kyou was the one who made Tomoya grow a heart at freaking last and come clean with his feelings. The heartbreak scene in the rain, the ‘disguise’ trigger for Tomoya’s confession and ending with that summer-swept kiss – this was a great series of Key moments. Kyou was the only one in the fold that had a similar mindset and attitude to Tomoya. You could imagine those two having fun for a long time.

#3 – Kousaka x Saki in Genshiken S1 – Hey, you didn’t think you could make an anime/manga kisses list without an otaku-style kiss moment?! Ah, Saki – the somewhat normal university woman looking for love. She thought she’d instantly found her dream guy in Kousaka. There was one slight problem – the dreamy-looking Kousaka who looked nothing like your typical otaku was actually one of the most hardcore of them all! It was hard times for Saki to handle Kousaka’s fanboy actions and painful for the other Genshiken members to see Saki get crushed the way she did regularly. Still, Saki persisted. Hey, if you can get over a future line like ‘There’s no way I could ever stop playing H-games!’, you can get over anything, really! With the Genshiken providing Kousaka with a wake-up call, Saki finally got the ball rolling long-term – albeit with a lot of obstacles along the way!

#2 – Akiko x Mari in Girl Friends – Now here was a rare example of a female-female relationship in this industry that was for real, earnest and taken seriously – albeit with a lot of humour and drama. Akiko was the incredibly popular blonde while Mari was the quiet, brainy short black-haired one. Milk Morinaga was able to accurately portray the agony, awkwardness and longing of two girls who cared for each other but struggled to find a way to make it happen. Face it – their kind of love isn’t generally approved of by society as a whole. Their first kisswas intriguing, where Mari, who had always let Akiko take the lead, dared to give a sleeping Akiko a tender one. But Morinaga gave the couple class and was able to achieve the rare feat of making the couple and what happened to them believable, albeit overly dramatic.

#1 – Okabe x Kurisu in Steins;Gate – Even if you put these two against the aforementioned duos, you’d still think this pairing was the wackiest of them all. Yet their insanity was a major part of their electric chemistry. Those two were on a level only they could attain. You loved to see them push the other’s buttons. You loved to see the way they combined to work through the logic of a problem with their own bizarre rationale. And when it came to the crunch, the two cared about each other. For those two to make it amidst the chaos they were engulfed in was rather touching. One of the better transfers of a character arc to an anime series, for which we are grateful. And one of the more refreshing tsunderes in Kurisu who was anything but the typical selfish, violent type – for which we are even more grateful!

So, how did you find that list? Got any examples you think were more worthy? Got any faves from those listed above?

Next time I should finally have a lengthy post about my thoughts on the October season. My IRL friends are already in a war of words on the AJAS forums. Apathy veterans vs fanboy greenhorns – always makes for amusing raging! Peace out all!