Week 3: From the New World vs. Space Brothers – Atmosphere

This particular post isn’t really going to focus in on this week’s episodes, because the atmospheres created by From the New World and Space Brothers have been in my mind for a while now. While the two series may not seem to have that much in common, both are trying to bring unfamiliar settings to life for the audience, and both are produced by A-1 Pictures.

From the New World

The titular “new world” is actually Earth 1000 years in the future. Rather than being dominated by technology, the world has been shaped by Power (a versatile force residing within select humans that can warp existence in many different ways). It’s a world of wilderness, folktales and demons, and in such a world, an evocative atmosphere can make all the difference.

The art is strange and inconsistent. What's intended to be creativity can come off as silliness.

The art is strange and inconsistent. What’s intended to be creativity can sometimes come off as silliness.

A-1 Pictures uses a bright palette with clearly defined foreground colours. Sometimes, particularly when describing a folk story or past event through unusual imagery, the effect is striking and powerful (although they can overdo it). When showing the real world to the audience, though, I found the style less successful. The characters have similar looks and expressions, with hair, build and voice being the only real ways of telling them apart. Much of the past few episodes has been spent in snow and sometimes blizzards, but it doesn’t look cold or treacherous. Everything looks too smooth, too separate and distant from the characters.

The snow doesn't seem to affect the characters, their belongings, the buildings... nothing. Artistically, the pink tinge, reminiscent of Maria's hair colour, is a lovely touch.

As it falls, the snow doesn’t seem to disturb the characters, their belongings, the buildings… nothing. On the other hand, the pink tinge, reminiscent of Maria’s hair colour, is a lovely touch.

I have to wonder if A-1 Pictures’s artistic style was a good fit for this anime, especially considering all the time the characters spend out in the wild. Nothing about the environment affects anything unless it absolutely has to for the sake of the story, possibly because the studio likes their vivid and distinct foreground elements so much that they don’t want the background to mess with them. There is also evidence to suggest that it could be down to laziness or a tight budget – episode 13 was particularly poor for not having their characters leave ski tracks at times (even though they were pursuing Mamoru by following his unnaturally fresh ski tracks!).

There’s some deft creative flair on exhibit in From the New World, but at the end of the day, the atmosphere fails to be truly immersive. So how did A-1 Pictures do in their other anime?

Space Brothers

Space Brothers also takes place in the future, but only a decade or two away. The reason that the setting is unfamiliar is not because of the time, but because of the place. You see, the last few episodes have primarily taken place on the moon.

Compare this shot with the one above. The shadows have more of a shape, and the characters feel like they're part of the environment.

Compare this shot with the one above. The shadows have more of a shape, the tracks look more realistic, and the characters feel like they’re part of the environment.

It’s obvious that A-1 Pictures put more work into the visuals here. The palette is still bright, but the foreground doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb, and there are nice details like regolith being shifted by the buggy that I miss in From the New World. Perhaps the studio expected this series to be a bigger seller, so they devoted more resources to it? Whatever the case, little things like that make a big difference to me, especially when it’s sharing an experience that I’m not likely to witness in my lifetime. Potential problems and procedures for situations on the moon seem to have been researched too, though this is likely down to the author of the original manga more than anything.

There’s one thing that the author couldn’t have influenced here, though, and it’s impossible to judge from any screenshot. The use of sound. Hibito shouldn’t hear any sound beyond his own internal thoughts and his breathing, because there’s no atmosphere on the moon. But you hear every footstep, every button press… everything you’d be able to hear on Earth. I can’t wrap my head around why A-1 Pictures did this, especially considering the situation Hibito and Damian are in. Both are close to death, and their problems both stem from the fact that they’re on the freaking moon. When I hear something I shouldn’t hear, I don’t feel the danger as intensely. It would have been easy to cut out all that sound, and just have Hibito’s breathing. Since this series is quite slow-paced, they could even have put quiet music over this for the less intense segments so that the impact hits harder when the music is taken away. The Artist, last year’s Best Picture winner at the Oscars, did something similar to great effect. But Hibito’s situation just feels too familiar. Not paying attention to the lack of an atmosphere ruins the atmosphere. How ironic.

Both shows have fascinating tales to tell, and their atmospheres can be great… in places. It only takes a single element to destroy the atmosphere and ruin the illusion, taking the viewer out of the show and plonking them back on their seat, and unfortunately, that’s what both of these shows have done. Their stories are absorbing enough to keep watching, but with a little more care, these stories could really have been enhanced by the power of animation. Which anime wins this battle? Neither.

Week 2: Chihayafuru 2 – Limelight

Chihayafuru 2 is at that slightly awkward stage of a show where it wants to introduce new characters, but doesn’t want to marginalise old ones. Being a second season, it also wants to reintroduce us to the relatively obscure (even in Japan) game of karuta and the second years of Mizusawa High’s karuta club. Should a show do all of that equally, or will the limelight inevitably drift towards one aspect? Most importantly, can Chihayafuru 2 avoid being a straight recap or an information dump and keep us entertained?

Now, I absolutely loved the first season of Chihayafuru. In fact, it was my favourite series of 2012 (yeah, I know it started in 2011, but I could hardly call it the best of 2011 when it was only halfway done). But I didn’t like the way Kana, Komano Desktomu and Nishida Porky were introduced. It felt forced and formulaic to me. So this part of Chihayafuru 2 was always going to be a bit worrying. However, I think the situation is handled much better here, possibly because of how important it is not to marginalise old characters at the start of a new season.

We relearn karuta through the eyes of Sumire Hanano, who seems more interested in Taichi than karuta.

We relearn karuta through the eyes of Sumire Hanano, who seems more interested in Taichi than karuta.

Potential member Hanano is the focus of the episode. Recently dumped, she has quickly developed a crush on handsome club member Taichi, and so her interest in the club has little to do with karuta. Her situation feels fresher than that of previous recruits – everyone else was unsure about whether they should devote lots of time to karuta, but they always had that interest from the beginning. Hanano’s interest clearly lies elsewhere.

Hanano is trying to learn more about Taichi and why he likes karuta, but the very reason that Taichi is at the Shiranami Society is because Chihaya spurred him on to reach class A. It’s pretty clever how the motivations of three characters are brought together like this, and it highlights the fact that Hanano has no chance here. I don’t quite feel sorry for her because I don’t think this is real love, but she proves to be one tenacious girl throughout the episode. And if there’s one thing that unites the karuta club, it’s passionate determination – in time, I could definitely see her fitting in.

This line begins "Hana no", and it seems to stick in Hanano's mind. Kind of similar to Chihaya's connection with the "Chihayafuru" card.

This line begins “Hana no”, and it seems to stick in Hanano’s mind. Kind of similar to Chihaya’s connection with the “Chihayafuru” card.

Back at Mizusawa High karuta club, things aren’t going so smoothly. Chihaya is crushed at the low number of new members, but Desktomu and Porky both think that training newbies this early is a waste of time with preliminaries for the high school team championships coming up fast. The team dynamic is rightly an important part of the show, and it’s good to see the story introduce some conflict between older characters too.

Tsukuba's ambition is an interesting contrast to Hanano's indifference.

Tsukuba’s ambition is the complete oppsoite of Hanano’s indifference.

Beyond being a bit creepy and his contrast with Hanano, Tsukuba isn’t that interesting yet. I feel like his screentime has been sacrificed a bit because the show wants to focus more on Hanano, which is fair enough. I’m sure he’ll be developed more later on in the series.

The team is united once more into training the first years when Chihaya reveals that a reason for her wanting new members is to avoid being forced to retire from the high school team championships like last year. This neatly sums up a common misconception about Chihaya – her actions may seem narrow-minded or a bit uncaring, but there’s much more to her than that if you scratch the surface.

My favourite scene of the episode was Kana going to comfort Hanano when she let her feelings for Taichi slip in the clubroom. Having been left to ponder Hanano’s stance on the Hundred Poets as “a bunch of love poems”, Kana realises that Hanano didn’t mean that dismissively – she really does feel the emotions expressed by the anthology, which is subtly different from Kana’s appreciation of the beauty of their poetry.

"I think crying in embarrassment" precedes this line. From Kana's lips, this sounds so genuine that I choked up a little.

“I think crying in embarrassment” precedes this line. From Kana’s lips, this sounds so genuine that I choked up a little.

In turn, Hanano realises that when in Rome, do as Romans do, and she rethinks her stance on cutting her nails. After all, she believes that devoting herself to karuta might improve her chances with Taichi.

So in the end, the limelight definitely shone on Hanano this episode. But by having her as the focal point, we’re seeing karuta from a new perspective, and seeing characters in new situations. There’s definitely enough new stuff here that isn’t all about the new characters. Did some characters suffer? Yes, but the episode didn’t dither, progressed the story and was entertaining. In a 25-episode series, the pace feels really good so far, and I think Chihayafuru 2’s approach of shifting the limelight a little with each new episode will pay off in the long run.

Week 1: Kotoura-San – Plot holes?

Kotoura-San’s first episode was very exciting for me, because it was my first glimpse at any new series in 2013. I certainly wasn’t expecting multiple emotional breakdowns in the first ten minutes, and people seem divided on how successful the first half of the episode was in establishing Kotoura as a sympathetic character. Many who didn’t feel sympathy for Kotoura argue that the ways Kotoura and the people around her deal with her special ability are ridiculous and far-fetched. So, how valid are their points? Does Kotoura’s childhood make logical sense when scrutinised? Do we already have plot holes in episode one?

Haruka Kotoura has ESP. As a youngster, she can't distinguish between words and thoughts.

Haruka Kotoura has ESP. As a youngster, she can hardly distinguish between the words and thoughts of others.

Kotoura’s mouth tends to cause her problems. If Kotoura didn’t let on that she has ESP to anyone, people would treat her normally. Since thoughts and words seem similar to her, this is very difficult for her at a young age, and one time, she accidentally hurts people in her class by revealing their crushes publicly. This seems like a foolish thing to do… but why do we think so? Because we’re older. Kotoura probably thought that liking someone could only be a good thing, and didn’t understand why such feelings needed to be kept private (she did ask “Why are you all lying?”). Or maybe she didn’t have a crush, so she couldn’t empathise.

Then she makes a similar mistake with her parents. Didn’t she learn from the first time? Well, I think the situation is slightly different here. Kotoura herself has been called a compulsive liar by her teacher (and surely also her classmates, since other parents were complaining about her). So she’s happiest with her parents, but they haven’t all been together as a family very often because her father spends much of his time away. She may be being a little selfish here:

Kotoura wants to go with her mum on her date. The poor girl hasn't had much fun recently, after all.

Kotoura wants to go with her mum on her date. The poor girl hasn’t had much fun recently, after all.

Also, there is never any mention of either her mum or her dad liking either of their dates, so Kotoura wouldn’t have understood why revealing this information would make either of them angry. But it did, and Kotoura suffers for all the stress her mother has accumulated from her ESP by being disowned.

What about after that? Since we only see her friends from another school telling her that they don’t want to be friends any more, it’s not clear what led to that. We only see the accusation one of the girls lobs at Kotoura:

Before this, the girl says "I always thought something was weird", which implies that Kotoura hasn't been flaunting her ESP.

Before this, the girl says “I always thought something was weird”, which implies that Kotoura has been more secretive with her ESP.

Did she let something slip that she wasn’t supposed to know? Possibly. Kotoura cannot turn her mind-reading abilities off, so she must have a flood of information pouring in day by day. As time goes by, it would be increasingly difficult to remember what she is and isn’t supposed to know, and she may let several little things (or one big thing) slip.  This isn’t a problem that you or I would have, so it’s easy to overlook this possibility. Maybe her reputation preceded her from elementary school, and people were more on their guard than usual.

And now we come to high school. By now, Kotoura has given up, resigned to a life of loneliness. She doesn’t even try to hide her powers, replying tersely when anyone confronts her with a negative thought. And really, how many of you out there don’t make snap negative judgments about someone you don’t now and then, even if it’s just once and it’s not directed towards someone you hate? I’m guilty of this, even if my rationale has more to do with me than the target of my thoughts.

The amount of perceived negativity and deception surrounding Kotoura combined with her awful childhood must have skewed her world view pretty badly.

The amount of perceived negativity and deception surrounding Kotoura combined with her awful childhood must have skewed her world view pretty badly.

One more thing: why does nobody try to do something to help her? She gets taken to doctors by her mother, but when someone walks up to a doctor and asks if there’s a medical reason their child has ESP… well, they’re not going to be taken seriously. Why don’t any of her peers sympathise with her? I think the answer links to why people thought there were plot holes with this first episode – it’s very hard to place yourself in the shoes of someone who’s in a totally alien situation. If something seems off to you, your first thought shouldn’t be “Man, I wouldn’t have done that”. It should be “Why did she act that way?”, especially if the event couldn’t happen in the real world. It’s worth noting that it’s even harder for her peers than for us watchers, because they might feel paranoid about what secrets Kotoura might unearth about them with her ESP.

The really heavy stuff all takes place in the first half of the episode – any prospective watchers should not be put off by how dour some of this sounds. It goes by pretty briskly, and the second half is more comedic, heartwarming and hopeful.

I won’t deny that some of the sadder and angrier emotions displayed by Kotoura and her mother felt like they were pushed too hard for the sake of drama and setting up a contrast with the second half. But are there plot holes? I don’t think so. You’ll notice there are a lot of indefinites here, but you’re not going to have every motivation and rationale spelled out to you in a story like this, so I don’t think that invalidates my arguments. I enjoyed the first episode of Kotoura-San, and hopefully the futures of the protagonist and the series will both be equally bright.

Back and butter than ever!

I can’t comment on every single episode of every single show I watch on Crunchyroll. I just don’t have enough to say about every episode week on week, so I’m going to try going about things another way.

Every week, there is always an episode of something that sticks out in my mind for one reason or another. It could be for a good reason or a bad reason, but it always happens. So here’s how it’s going to work. At the end of every week (it should be Sunday, but two/three of the shows I’m watching air on Sunday, so no promises), I’ll pick the episode that had the biggest impact on me for whatever reason, and just talk about it. It will probably focus on a specific thing the episode did well or poorly rather than be an episode summary like I did when I started this blog, because that’s what stays stuck in my mind at the end of the week. There may sometimes be more than one episode that has a big impact, and in such cases, I’ll do two posts – one on Sunday and one on Monday. I don’t envisage three episodes having an equally strong impression in one week, but I guess if it happens, you’ll know. If two episodes tackle something similar in a week, maybe I’ll do a vs.-style showdown (I might have done Kokoro Connect vs. Sword Art Online on how they dealt with love back in Summer 2012 had I been going with this model then, for example).

Because of this, I have no idea which show or shows I’ll be talking about in the coming weeks. Hopefully, everything will make a strong enough impression for me to talk about it at one point or another. Here’s what I plan on watching on Crunchyroll in Winter 2013:

  • Chihayafuru 2
  • From the New World
  • Hunter x Hunter
  • Kotoura-San
  • Little Busters! (but only after Crunchyroll have streamed the first 13 episodes)
  • Space Brothers

The next post will be on Sunday, and it’ll discuss an episode of one of the above shows!

Dissatisfaction and this blog’s future

I know it hasn’t been that long since I started this blog, but I’m not happy with it in its current state. I feel a bit like I’m forcing myself to overanalyse these series in my head, which I feel is taking away some of the enjoyment I get from watching them. I do love anime, and writing about it is fun, but I don’t want to become someone who just thinks about shows as a list of pros and cons.

At this time, I don’t know how much of a future this blog has. If I can figure out a way of talking about currently airing anime in a less analytic way that better gets across my love for it, I would gladly keep it maintained. If not, then this blog is likely to die. Whatever the case, it’s unlikely that I will make any more posts until the autumn season of anime starts in October.

Sorry to those who have appreciated my content so far, but I really don’t feel that this is the right way for me to do things.

Humanity Has Declined 11 – pre-genesis

Remember how I said that chronologically, last week’s episode belongs at the beginning? Well, this episode belongs before the beginning. If that wasn’t confusing enough, it’s about the Mediator’s school days, but she’s not a Mediator yet… so what do I call her? Well, since Mediator is her post-school profession, I’ll just call her Schoolgirl for now.

Schoolgirl is almost ten, but being new to school, she has to start at the bottom with the younger kids. She faces a trial almost immediately, having her door mysteriously padlocked. A riddle points her towards the key, but upon the discovery of a second riddle, Schoolgirl decides to screw the riddles and instead finds a workaround in the form of maintenance robot RYOBO 230r.

“Thanks, I was wondering where my hairbrush went!”

You might recognise the white-haired girl as a younger Y (from episodes 3 and 4). Turns out she was the one who locked poor Schoolgirl out. Y has nothing against her in particular, but she kicks her and calls her Broom-head, and no-one goes to support or console Schoolgirl. After that little incident, Schoolgirl strives to become as unnoticeable as possible (although she never does anything about that hedge of pink growing from her head) to avoid being bullied. To achieve this, she studies extremely hard so that she can skip grades and stop standing out as the oldest student in the class. Schoolgirl is also mistrustful of other children, refusing to socialise even with smiley classmate Curly, who goes out of her way to be nice to Schoolgirl (Schoolgirl even accuses Curly of being the mastermind behind the bullying).

It’s unclear whether Schoolgirl’s introversion is just part of her personality or a consequence of Y’s padlock trick. The prank seems a pretty weak justification on its own (I’m not convinced it was a good idea to include said scene because of this), so it’s probably the former. Whatever the case, Schoolgirl soon finds herself reading up on fairies. Her first encounter with one comes when she rescues a fairy from a group of boys.

Much better than that yucky blocky, white sandwich. I love fairy logic!

This is the lightest section in the entire episode, which is probably intentional. Maybe we’re seeing the rationale for Schoolgirl becoming a Mediator form before our eyes? The fairies are completely innocent and trustworthy in a world where Schoolgirl struggles to trust anyone. In a rare period for her (during this episode, at least), she has a smile on her face the whole time she talks with the fairy. It’s uplifting to see the fairy as a beacon of hope, especially when soon after, Schoolgirl breaks under the weight of all her loneliness.

Schoolgirl can’t hold her emotions in check any longer. This is the most upset we’ve seen the protagonist – past, present or future.

After this outburst, the fairy does… something. What exactly he does is made deliberately vague, but there’s some kind of neurolyzer flash that wipes Schoolgirl’s memory of the fairy. Soon after, she skips to the third grade, as does Curly, who for some reason has become even more pushy about making friends with Schoolgirl (randomly moving into her dorm room, for starters). Is this the fairy’s interference, or is Curly feeling lonely too? Either way, the episode ends with Schoolgirl reluctantly agreeing to accompany Curly to a tea party with a pained grin on her face.

The non-linear chronological structure has paid dividends here. Knowing what the Mediator is like as an adult (or is she a teenager? I don’t know), it’s interesting to see how her past experiences shaped her character and her career. It’s a shame that Y and Curly seem pretty one-dimensional, but this is the Mediator’s origin story, so it’s not a big a deal as you might think. Next week is the final episode, which looks as though it will loop back to the future with the Mediator’s school friend dropping by for a visit. This series has been an unexpected gem, and I’ll be sad to see it end.

Sword Art Online 10 – action beyond the battlefield

Last episode, Heathcliff challenged Kirito to a duel for custody of Asuna. It sits a little strangely with me, because Asuna’s a capable swordswoman in her own right, but it’s a chance for Kirito and Asuna to go adventuring together without any ill will from the Knights of the Blood Oath, so Kirito accepts.

Let me apologise right away, because I already knew who was going to win the duel before it began because the thumbnail for the episode on Crunchyroll revealed the outcome (the thumbnail has since been changed). I can talk about the artistry of the duel, though, and I think it was a step up from previous battles (though still not amazing). The fight is close-ish – Heathcliff’s defence is near impenetrable, and his ability to attack with his shield is a pleasant surprise. Kirito is able to land a few cuts, and the sheer force of his assault is enough to knock the shield aside, but then…

Kirito’s sword is about one inch from Heathcliff’s head. Somehow, Heatchliff manages to block it and counterattack, defeating Kirito.

The end of the duel goes for shock value in that Heathcliff’s defence seems so unlikely. Too unlikely for my taste – it felt like a lame deus ex machina. Still, I think it’s important for Kirito to lose once in a while, because it’s difficult to get behind someone who can battle too well.

After Kirito’s loss, Asuna apologises for involving him by trying to leave the guild. Kirito… doesn’t apologise for accepting the duel and losing. Real smooth, hotshot. At least he opens up to Asuna about Sachi and co.’s deaths in episode 3 when she enquires why he’s so reluctant to join a guild.

Time for some training with Godfrey and that guy who’s evil because he doesn’t trust beta testers, Kuradeel!

Godfrey’s the latest meathead who doesn’t take the whole “death is real” thing seriously enough, deciding that it’s a good idea to take all the healing and teleportation crystals into his possession. And guess what? It turns out it wasn’t such a good idea after all! Seriously, it’s been two years since the game began, and I don’t think I’ve seen a single death that wasn’t down to recklessness. It’s an easy way to create dramatic situations, but it doesn’t make sense to me.

It turns out Kuradeel spiked the drinks with a paralysing agent, and before Godfrey can use an antidote crystal, Kuradeel knocks it out of his hand. No RPG that I know allows you to steal someone’s item just as they’re about to use it, but this is just another example of Sword Art Online forcing the drama a little, and I’m tired of talking about that. Instead, I’ll talk about how Sword Art Online is a conducive environment for psychotic nutjobs.

In case you were wondering who this week’s psychotic nutjob is, it’s this guy. Trust me, I have a sixth sense for this kind of thing.

It’s easier to be a crazy killer in Sword Art Online than in the real world, because there aren’t any hard laws in place for dealing with murderers in Aincrad. In fact, the killers form their own guilds for protection and to share the latest assassination tips (hey, it’s safer than publishing a magazine). It’s a bit disturbing, really. Is it a statement by the author that there’s a homicidal maniac within many of us, and the reason we don’t unleash the beast is for fear of justice catching up with us? Actually, wait – this is Sword Art Online, the show that will do pretty much anything for drama. I’m obviously thinking too hard.

Kirito struggles to pull Kuradeel’s sword from his leg, but he can’t manage it due to the paralysis. Just in the nick of time, a seriously pissed off Asuna appears! Sure, it was an expected entrance, but it’s so good to finally see Asuna do something. Too long has she seemed like an ineffectual fighter who exists solely to give Kirito some impetus, but this time she knocks Kuradeel back, heals Kirito, then outclasses the hapless Kuradeel with some quick swordplay. She mercifully stops short of killing him, but Kuradeel seizes the chance to disarm her and gets ready to strike. Luckily, Kirito gets his hand in the way and stabs Kuradeel through the heart with his other hand, killing him. There’s no way one slash from Kuradeel would have taken out Asuna (who was at full HP), but it was still pretty cool to see Kirito have his hand cut clean off because he wanted to save her. The murder is extreme, but you can see why Kirito did it. I think it’s likely to bite him in the bum later, though.

Then Asuna apologises again (she does that far too much for things that are hardly her fault) and says that she should leave Kirito because she keeps causing him trouble. Kirito rejects this idea with a kiss, and the two head back to Asuna’s for some cybersex.

…no, I’m serious. Take a look at this:

With no idea this was coming, Kirito’s quite disconcerted by Sexy Asuna Online.

Okay, so it’s not 100% certain that they did the deed, but Asuna wakes up naked in bed, so I’d say it happened. Then they vow to get cybermarried and have their cyberhoneymoon at a cybercottage away from the front lines to catch a break from mortal cyberdanger. I’m glad that Kirito and Asuna have gotten closer because they’re both more interesting characters together than they are alone, but this feels… off. Kirito seems attracted to Asuna because she makes nice food and saved his life, and Asuna seems attracted to Kirito because he’s a refreshing alternative to her oppressive guild. Less than 24 hours ago in the Kokoro Connect 10 post, I talked about how you can’t break love down into necessity and logic, but I honestly don’t see much more in this partnership than that. The series has been focusing so much on action and out-of-nowhere plot twists that there just hasn’t been enough time to develop the relationship between Kirito and Asuna convincingly enough to justify this turn of events.

Careful development is not the series’s strong point, and this let the episode’s conclusion down. On the whole, though, this episode was an improvement on the last few – the action was better, and Kirito and Asuna both had at least one awesome moment each. Cool action is not mutually exclusive with sense and subtlety, though, so the series can definitely improve there. The new couple is looking to escape from the action next week, so the bigger weaknesses of the series could be in the spotlight next time. Can Sword Art Online cope with this?

Kokoro Connect 10 – the fifth jigsaw piece

As usual, Inaba is a bit detached, but things feel a little different this time. She’s incredibly tense after Heartseed’s warning, and her emotions start to leak before long. To see Inaba’s reactions to Taichi escalate is equal parts amusing and nerve-wracking – she ignores Iori begging Taichi to carry her up the hill, then she gets a bit flustered when she and Taichi have a friendly chat for the first time in days, then she goes into a jealous courgette-chopping frenzy after Taichi compliments Iori’s culinary skills, and when Taichi grabs her hand to disinfect a cut, this happens:

After rushing off, Inaba can’t resist kissing the spot where Taichi touched her.

She hadn’t reckoned on Iori following her, though. Inaba could have salvaged the situation here – she might have been able to bluff her way out by claiming that she was sucking on the wound. I’m not even sure whether this was intentional, but a more emotionally stable Inaba might have spotted that potential way out. Instead, she hurriedly hides her hand behind her back, which is enough to confirm Iori’s suspicions regarding Inaba’s true feelings. If that was intentional… well, I have to applaud the writer, because small quirks like that make the characters of Kokoro Connect feel more real.

In a secluded forest clearing comes the inevitable confrontation between the two girls. And let me tell you, it’s a mammoth! This is a completely different beast from the resolutions of the problems in the Hito Random arc, mainly because Inaba is desperate not to accept help from Iori, and both girls have opposite views on how to tackle the situation. Okay, let’s dive in… *deep breath*

Inaba believes that revealing her feelings for Taichi will destroy her friendship with Iori, so this ultimatum puts her between a rock and a hard place.

Already half-thinking that she’s lost Iori, Inaba tearfully tries to rationalise her decision to encourage Taichi and Iori into a relationship, saying that she believes they work well as a couple because they need each other, and that either her or Iori is guaranteed to lose out whatever happens. Here’s a life lesson for free: trying to break the complex emotion of love down logically like that is a terrible idea. When Iori angrily asserts that Inaba shouldn’t have bottled up these fears of destroying the group, Inaba argues that if she opened up, her frailty would show and she’d get dumped by her friends because she’d lose her image as an unshakably calm confidante. Here’s another life lesson for free: trying to simplify friendship like that is a particularly terrible idea. As misguided as Inaba’s logic is, she’s clearly terrified of losing the only friends she’s ever had, and panic can make you believe that the tiniest nudge will bring a tower tumbling to the ground. I know, because I’ve been there.

Iori’s assertion that she’d like Inaba no matter how much of a mess she was is strikingly similar to what Taichi told Iori when she was worried about not having a definite personality. Inaba’s still worried that their common love for Taichi will ultimately mess things up, but Iori’s sheer passion and her declaration that Taichi will definitely not ruin their friendship coupled with her desires probably being unleashed (if her sudden burst of anger was anything to go by) finally convince Inaba to return to the clubroom and act on her feelings for Taichi. This is definitely an Inaba-centric episode, but it’s wonderful to see Iori so passionately angry, because she’s been bottling feelings up herself – aggravation over her friends abandoning her in the clubroom.

The morbid sentence with a grin is good, but those tears disqualify Inaba from nabbing a role on Humanity Has Declined.

As if this drama wasn’t enough, Heartseed suddenly possesses Iori and informs Inaba that Taichi has fallen. Thinking that he means the cliff, Inaba turns and runs without another word (I like this – a pet peeve of mine in anime is when people ask for additional info when their first priority should be acting on the immediate problem). Upon discovering that Taichi only fell from a tree, the relieved Inaba breaks down in tears in front of the group for the first time ever. In the end, Heartseed didn’t do anything drastic, but his warning to Inaba was enough to change her (and consequently, the dynamic of the group).

So, like the fi- wait, we’re not done with the episode yet?? Nope, there’s one last surprise scene in store – Inaba confesses to Taichi, assures him that she’ll keep fighting for him after he rejects her, steals a kiss, and ends the episode feeling on top of the world.

Can you think of a better way to end the arc than with a new-look, deliriously happy Inaba? I can’t.

So, like the first arc, Heartseed’s little trick has represented a general, deep-seated issue with one of the characters. Before this little story, Inaba couldn’t be open with her friends, and unleashing her desires was the very thing she needed to do to feel good about herself and her friendships. The series is definitely big (some may say too big) on the drama, but it’s built up so well in previous episodes that the drama rarely pops out inexcusably of nowhere. Personally, I see all the drama as a positive thing. It means that stuff happens every single week – important stuff that develops the characters and moves the story on.

What kind of stunt will Heartseed pull next? With Inaba being the underlying focus of this set of episodes, I get the feeling that the next set will bring someone else into the spotlight (if I had to guess, I’d go for Yui). There are some things I can’t guess, though, chief among them being the nature of Heartseed’s third supernatural curse (or should that be blessing in disguise?). We’ll just have to wait to find that out!

Natsuyuki Rendezvous 10 – welcome back, dialogue!

Okay, so this time, Hazuki really doesn’t want to stay in the sketchbook dimension. Tired as I am of this repeated realisation, this time Hazuki makes some progress!

Hazuki (looking like Shimao) discovers that sketchbook-Rokka is actually the embodiment of Shimao’s personality from when he illustrated the book.

Sketchbook-Shimao has been pulling Hazuki’s strings all this time, trying to break his spirit by raising his hopes, then dashing them. He presides over the sketchbook dimension, so he could just keep Hazuki from Rokka forever. So why does he need to play with Hazuki’s feelings? It seems to me that Shimao wants his undying, exclusive devotion to Rokka to be validated by Hazuki giving up on her. Hazuki calls him out on selfishly claiming that Rokka belongs to him, so sketchbook-Shimao decides to eject Hazuki to the real world as a ghost so that he can feel the agony of being an ineffectual observer for himself.

This exchange made me feel a little bit sorry for Shimao – it must be awful to observe the love of your life for three years while being unable to communicate with her. Ultimately, though, I have to side with Hazuki, because he’s totally blameless here. All he did was fall in love with Rokka, and he’s being given a really tough time because of it. Still, Shimao’s been portrayed as a standoffish, unlikable mess before, so I appreciate it when I see parts of him that I can sympathise with.

Back in the real world, Rokka is still emotional after realising that Shimao is using Hazuki as a vessel, whereas Shimao is pretty subdued. Maybe he’s trying to suppress his guilt for hijacking Hazuki’s body?

The ghost of Hazuki can only watch as Shimao receives the tenderness he longs for.

It’s a reversal of roles – Hazuki is now a ghost that only Shimao can see. Their conversation is the first between their current selves that we’ve seen since episode 4, yet it feels like a bit of a retread of Hazuki’s talk with sketchbook-Shimao earlier on. That said, having characters interact at all is preferable to lots of inner monologues and flashbacks in my book. Shimao seems conflicted as to whether or not to return Hazuki’s body – he seems to suggest that he will, but his nature is so fickle that it’s difficult to believe him. We are getting near the end of the series, though, so it seems likely that Hazuki will get his body back one way or another.

Rokka soon discovers roughly how long Shimao has been in Hazuki’s body. When she said “Then… Then the Hazuki-kun that I fell in love with…” I was sure that she was going to segue into something like “was really you all over again.” She surprises me, though, and instead says:

Although she grieves for Shimao, it looks like Rokka still has Hazuki on her mind.

And the episode ends there. It’s a nice change to see Rokka dictating things for a change – the conflict between Shimao and Hazuki has been the focal point of many an episode to the extent that it has often felt like Rokka’s affections have been more under their control than Rokka’s. I enjoyed this episode a lot more than the past couple, mainly because it now feels more like a story about three people rather than three disconnected stories. It’s still pretty slow-paced, but somehow the pace is easier to deal when the characters are talking to each other. Character interaction drives the story forward in a series like this, and now that we’re edging closer to the climax, things are getting more interesting.

Coloring (Listen to Me, Girls, I’m Your Father! ED)

I still haven’t thought of a regular weekly feature, but in the meantime, here’s the ending theme from Listen to Me, Girls, I’m Your Father! in Mario Paint Composer. The series aired in winter 2012 on Crunchyroll.