Sunday, February 24, 2013

February 24, 2013 -- We Meet Again...

My inability to stick to schedules for the most part is a constant source of amusement for everyone who knows me. Luckily for you, though, I typically find a way to get things done eventually. I'm actually gearing up for something I plan to do next month, but we'll worry about that later.

For now, I plan to spend the week revisiting some old friends. This week, we're watching some more iDOLM@STER, finishing an arc in Umineko, and having a laugh at the expense of Amnesia, my new favorite narmy shoujou harem romance.

Come catch up with the gang after the break!

iDOLM@STER Episode 14

Or "Their World Begins to Change".

So as we went over in my first viewing of iM@S, it was evident that the show intended to explore the girls' rise to idol fame, a move which I really liked. After all, there's a far more interesting show to explore through that premise than there would be by starting the show with them being idols and just using it as an excuse to churn out another generic moeblob anime.

When I can't think of a joke, I just use this picture.

For the most part, they succeeded in that regard. There were still a few episodes that really had nothing to do with idoling, including one where the Futami twins played detective to find out who ate Iori's pudding (ugh) and the obligatory generic beach episode (double ugh), but even those stories at least pretended to have heart, still exploring various aspects of the characters' personalities and how they blend and clash in unique ways.

And for the first 13 episodes that was the case. For those of you who aren't awares, 13 episodes is a pretty standard season length for anime. Some refer to the 13 episode mark as a half-season, but I've always thought of a season as being 13 episodes as that's when anime series tend to wrap up whatever arc or story they're on and continue the story. For iM@S, episode 13 is the point where the girls have had their first big concert and are now established names in the entertainment industry.

I wouldn't say the show takes a radically new direction, but it's established pretty early on that life is different now that they're established professionals. For one thing, they can't even go out in public without being recognized by their fans, so they have to disguise themselves using the tried-and-true Clark Kent method of wearing glasses and pretending to be someone else.

"I must get these to HaruHaru-chan, or Lex Luthor
will murder my waifu! That would be very
From the outside, it seems that the idols have it made. They're hopping around town, getting acting jobs, TV spots, and interviews. They even have a magazine cover shoot, which is the focus of this episode's plot.

For whatever reason, the theme of the photoshoot is fruits, and this is one of those things about Japan that confuses me. Having the girls dress up like assorted fruits, is that supposed to be cute? Sexy? A little of both? I'm not sure what I'm to make of it. Either way, the photoshoot introduces us to who is likely to be the antagonistic force of the rest of the series, and much to my disappointment, it wasn't Iori.

Why are you so terrible?
You see, when the girls' world changes, it enters a multiverse of the cutthroat world of singing and dancing on sparkly stages, gaining the attention of the dark overseers of all things idol.

I'm kidding. The producer of a rival idol group doesn't want the 765 Pro All Stars stealing the spotlight of his all-male idol ensemble, Jupiter.

Yes, ladies, there are male idols in this multiverse.

How is it that the men who sing and dance in tight pants are still
somehow less fabulous than the male characters in Amnesia?
You meet Jupiter earlier in the series. Haruka runs into them by accident during a different photoshoot in episode 2, and they make an appearance in episode 10 during the idol olympics. And now I will go on a ten paragraph tirade about why episode 10 was The Worst Thing because not only was it a thinly-veiled attempt to do a "sports fair" story without all the characters having to attend the same high school, but also because it contained a woefully underwhelming use of Go My Way as the ending theme.

On second thought maybe I won't do that, but the phrase "idol olympics" should give you some kind of hint that episode 10 was kind of stupid.

Back in episode 14, Haruka once again runs into Jupiter in the halls, and they're not being very nice to her. They speak very cryptically about how they must reap what they sow and how they deserve what they get. All the while I'm afraid that Haruka or Yayoi are going to wake up with a severed horse head in their bed the next morning.

Bitches still get stitches. Sleep tight, you filthy harlots.
I find it very hard to take threats from these guys seriously. Come on. Makoto is more manly than the three of them combined anyway.

When the girls return to the offices of 765 Pro, they're celebrating their victory and success when Iori returns with a copy of the magazine and a sour look on her face. I'm starting to find that this is Iori's job throughout this series: show up when people are having a good time and ruin everybody's day.

She presents the magazine, which rather than featuring a cover image of the girls in their fruit-dresses features the members of Jupiter holding some fruit. It turns out that their producer pulled some strings to have Jupiter featured on the cover and not 765 Pro All Stars. As fate would have it, the president of 765 and the president of 965, the group that produces Jupiter, have a long standing rivalry. They used to be friends, but 965's president produced his idols using the dark arts and unsavory tactics of raising idols to be evil.

Or something. I wasn't really paying attention, because the whole thing is actually kind of stupid.

Iori is mad that the Jupiter gang would do something so underhanded, so she decides to do what every Rie Kugimiya character decides to do: throw money at their problems to make them go away. Using the resources of her family, she decides to fight fire with fire to get back at team Jupiter.

Then the producer says they shouldn't do that because it would only be stooping to their level, and Miki agrees. Miki, the 15 year old girl who by now is being disturbingly flirtatious with her mid-to-late 20s aged producer, gives a speech about working hard and overcoming Jupiter without having to resort to cheap tricks.

Even though we can all agree that an engrish rendition
of "Surrender" would be AWESOME.
And then the episode ends. Yeah. I guess this plotline was so stupid that even the anime decided to just let it peter out into nothingness. I'm starting to think I liked this show better when it was more about the girls trying to make a name for themselves in the industry. Granted, they get what they want and its satisfying to see their hard work pay off, but now that we're here I'd like to focus more on developing the characters.

There's a hint that something might happen with Chihaya when she recieves a fan letter with a picture of a young girl and her little brother. Seeing the photo seems to have an affect on her, as she spaces out for a second after she sees it.

This show proved in episode 7 that it is very good at developing its characters and presenting backstory to expand the overall focus of the narrative. Let's hope we get to see more of that.

Umineko No Naku Koro Ni -- Episodes I-III through I-V

I just double-checked, and Battler is still a really stupid name.

Things really heat up in the last three episodes of this arc, as people that we probably should care about start dropping like flies. With the inheritance arguments out of the way and Maria safe in the WASPy arms of the Ushiromiya house, everyone settles in as the typhoon slowly makes its way across the island of Rokkenjima.

Umineko, understanding that children are inherently creepy, goes to great lengths to show Maria acting as crazy as possible throughout the next few episodes. I'm starting to think that beating her senseless for crying about a flower wasn't the smartest decision.


...What? The damage is already done, right? Hitting her a few more times won't hurt anything.

Anyway, Maria is convinced that Beatrice is real and is ready to wriggity-wreck the lives of the Ushiromiya clan in the most bloody and violent way possible. Over the next few episodes, she slowly begins to quote passages from the bible, thus making her more knowledgeable about scripture than most practicing Christians.

"As Moses said to the Pharaoh, 'Your ass is grass, jackhat.'"
Sure enough, she turns out to be right as the bloody chain of sacrifices kicks off with the death of several servants, including George's beloved Shannon. Devotees will recall that George had proposed to Shannon in episode 2, but didn't get a definitive answer. When they discover her body, he finds out that she's wearing the ring he proposed to her with on her left ring finger. She'd accepted his proposal.

And so begins this week's installmant of Bad Things Happen to George Ushiromiya.

You mean worse than that tie? Eek!
Because the next people to die are George's parents. My first thought, naturally, is that whoever is doing all of these killings just really doesn't like George. It's probably because George is a lying miscreant who tries to screw over as many people as he can to get sex and avoid hard work. I immediately discarded this theory because I realize I'm thinking of George Costanza, not George Ushiromiya.
Besides, this George would have immediately regretted
proposing to Shannon and wouldn't have been sad when she died.
Honestly, there's not much else to say without giving away minor plot details, which I don't want to do since I think this show is worth watching so you can find out for yourself. However I will say that I really don't understand why this show is the red-headed stepchild of the No Naku Koro Ni franchise.

So to speak.
This first arc wasn't terribly exciting outside of the main killings, focusing more on the WASPy inheritance dispute as a means to set up the events that are likely at the core of these mass murders. It wasn't as exciting as Higurashi, which established its core ideas while delving into Keiichi's slow descent into madness as he questions the motives of everyone around him and winds up killing everyone he cares about.

Then again, this show didn't have to do that. This show isn't Higurashi, and psychosis and mental breakdowns don't really seem to fit the themes of this series, which presently seems to focus more on the murder mystery and less on the horror elements. There's horrifying aspects to it, and there's disturbing imagery (particularly at the end when Battler's denial of Beatrice's existance causes everyone to slowly disappear from existence as the wounds that killed them reappear and painfully kill them), but at least in this arc I'm not seeing the same caliber of frightening imagery that Higurashi brought to the table.

It's still worth watching. The acting is solid, and Rie Kugimiya is even listenable. She plays Shannon, but you'd never know that just by listening because she isn't shrieking and calling people "baka" ever other line. She's a good actress, but it seems like she just has a bad habit of getting cast as terrible characters. Umineko is still worth your time, and I definitely look forward to the rest of the series and seeing how this mystery plays out. Is Beatrice real or is there some other force at play? I'd like to believe for Battler's sake that there are mortal forces at work here, but the appearance of an old friend at the very end of the arc is starting to make me think otherwise.

Spoiler warning?
And just for kicks, let's send off Umineko in the only way I know how.

Amnesia Episode 2

 Oh Amnesia, I can't stay mad at you. Sure you might act silly while simultaneously demanding that I take you seriously, but you're so thoroughly harmless that I can't help but admire you for it.

When we last left our heroine, The Heroine, she was confronted by some street toughs who were threatening to...

Um... Give her an old lady haircut, I guess? I guess she was so terrified at the prospect of losing her hair flower and sidebraid that she passed out.

Yup. That's what happened. I don't know, I really don't remember anything that happened after I saw Kent's ridiculous coat of belts. I think I have some kind of medical condition that's affecting my memories somehow. Maybe the more of this show I watch, the more my memories will return to me. Let's give this a shot.

We start out immediately where we left off, with the jealous girls cornering The Heroine outside of the mailbox of her apartment building while yelling at her about breaking a promise which she, of course, can't remember. A fourth woman arrives on the scene and she--

... Is dressed like that. Is this why everybody treats The Heroine like their own personal punching bag? Is there a month-long ridiculous outfit contest where people try to out-narm each other by wearing things that nobody with common sense would wear outside in the middle of August? Maybe that's the promise she forgot about: that she would wear a silly costume everywhere she goes like normal people instead of a sensible dress and a smart cardigan. I mean just look at her!

Not a single belt in her entire ensemble, to say nothing of her lack of ruffles or inappropriate accessories (flowers notwithstanding). God just looking at it makes me SO ANGRY. CUT HER HAIR! SHE DOESN'T DESERVE TO LOOK HUMAN! GRAAAAAAAH!

Anyway, she passes out (presumably from sympathy heat stroke for the woman dressed in a full victorian-inspired dress in the middle of August) and finds that the women who cornered her are no longer there. I'm guessing they were running late for their appointment with another girl they promised to hassle for talking to a man they stalk.

Back in her apartment, Orion (whom I will now call "the ghost"), decides that it might be a good idea to keep details of her amnesia as close to the vest as possible. Those four crazy ladies have proven that not everybody can be trusted, and since she has no way of knowing the details of her relationships, it's better to not talk about this to anyone until she's absolutely sure that they can be trusted.

The next day at work, she meets her friends, Sawa and Mine. Sawa apparently got the memo from Kent and was able to incorporate two belts into her outfit, though hers are at least worn on her waist, not on her arms.

After some idle conversation, the girls remember that they're meeting after work to talk about a trip that they're taking together as part of their orientation for part-time help. I wish we did stuff like that in America. The closest thing to an orientation trip I had when I worked at Target was my occasional trips to the freezer where I pretended I was in the ice ruins from Mega Man Legends 2. 

"Megaman! The 4th of July cookies we're looking for
should be just past the reaverbot in the next room! Be Careful!"

Wait, does this mean I'll get to see Kent standing on a beach in full creeper-coat regalia as he glares in dour disapproval at how few arm-belts are present among the beswimsuited masses? Will I ever let the arm-belt thing go? No, because I find it hilarious and will never tire of it.

The Heroine muses to Orion about whether it's a good idea to go on the trip in her condition, but is interrupted when Kent, in a tender, romantic moment, says "Hey, you. Take this cake to table three." Truly a romance for the ages. As the waitresses take the cake to its destination and sing happy birthday to the patrons, the sparklers prove to be a spark (Ha!) for some of The Heroine's missing memories. The sparklers on the cake remind her of the time that Shin told her he once killed a man. Ha! Classic Shin!

... Wait, WHAT!? That wasn't a joke. At one point, Shin straight up told her that he murdered a dude. At this point I just feel bad for the guy who was so bad at self-defense that he allowed himself to be murdered by a guy in a plunging V-Neck shirt, a dog collar, and thigh-high boots.

Orion and The Heroine continue to discuss her amnesia as they walk home, remarking that Mine and Shin might be wise to her condition. Their conversation is so distracting that she manages to cross the street into oncoming traffic. Unfortunately, she's never seen Love Live!  so she has no way of knowing that cars can't hit you as long as you're dancing.

This show is ranked in the top two of shows that the
Japanese were most satisfied with. I'll let that sink in.
Fortunately, she is saved from certain doom by

oh my god

They're not even trying anymore. I really can't stop laughing. This guy looks like an undercover police officer disguised as an optical illusion so that he can arrest magicians. Clearly he saved our beloved The Heroine because he too shares her opinion that the monobraid is a valid hairstyle in these tough economic times.

The next day, everybody's on the train to go on the big orientation trip. They admire the beautiful countryside while Kent and Ikki play what I can only assume is an erotic game of Othello. They finally arrive and get settled into their hotel. The first thing the gang decides to do is

this is the greatest show ever made

Every time I think I've seen it all, this show gives me a New Best Thing. Let's break this down for a second. A paddleboat shaped like a swan is spotted. Ikki deduces that logically, Kent will be on board for this. The look of silent disappointment on both of their faces tells the rest of the story. The only thing that would make this picture funnier is if the swan were spinning in a circle in the middle of the lake due to Kent outright refusing to paddle a boat with a "dirty belt hater" like Ikki.

Shin keeps staring at The Heroine the entire time, and she begins to think that he knows she's lost her memory. It starts to rain on their special paddleboat time, but Waka, their boss, tells the rain to cut it out. The rain stops, but not before The Heroine has a partial flashback to a walk through the rain sharing an umbrella with Kent, who was talking about making a promise with her.

It is at this point that I notice that Kent is roughly a foot taller than the heroine, and it makes him look like a giant. I begin to hope that there's a scene in this show at some point that will involve him playing basketball while still refusing to take off his frightening coat.

When she asks Kent about her vision, he seems confused, perhaps even unaware that they'd ever gone to a festival, let alone shared an umbrella together. Kent doesn't even seem like the kind of guy who'd own an umbrella unless he could somehow fasten it with buckles and make it completely impractical.

There's a meteor shower that everyone is going to see, but while they wait for night to fall, they decide to play some air hockey. Ikki and Kent dominate the tournament, but not before this little nugget shows up.

I'm sure you are, Ikki. I'm sure you are. I'm sure just offscreen, Kent is rolling his eyes.

When they go hiking to get to the viewing point for the meteor shower, The Heroine gets tired and starts to lag behind. Coincidentally, this puts her and Shin in close company. Alone. With no witnesses nearby.

Remember, Shin killed a man.

So now The Heroine is looking for any excuse to get the hell away from Shin and be closer to the bigger group that is currently leaving her in the dust with no intention of stopping to check where she is. Employee orientation in Japan is super strict, I guess.

Shin seems concerned over The Heroine's fatigue, and offers to take her hand to help her keep her balance. When she refuses, he does what any gentleman would do. He forcibly grabs her arm to try and pull her closer to him. She pulls away, and tells him that they should try to catch up with the rest of the group. As she begins to jog briskly to find the group, she gets no further than two steps before tripping over a rock.

Shin exercises the speed and dexterity of some kind of murderer as he drops his flashlight and catches her before she falls. For a moment, she seems relieved to be in his arms, but then she remembers that he might have killed some dude, so she breaks out of his arms and begins to run the hell away. Shin gives chase, and then our favorite undercover police officer shows up and takes the flashlight Shin dropped.

Apparently he was hiding in a bush somewhere. He starts to monologue like a crazy person, and I get the sense that I'm supposed to be scared of his ambiguous intentions, but

Come on. He's not a bad guy. He just wants to try out his new spooky ghost story. He's worked on it for weeks and wants to see if The Heroine will think it's scary enough.

The Heroine keeps running away from Shin, but runs out of luck.

Also, the ground.
Between all the tripping and fainting this girl does, it seems like gravity will be the primary antagonist in this series. Yes, like Wile E. Coyote before her, she manages to unwittingly fall off a cliff, which shouldn't be as funny as I found it to be. I don't think The Heroine is truly stupid, but this is pushing it. Amnesia doesn't make you forget what a cliff is nor does it make you forget how to pay attention to where you're running.

Orion tries to save her from her fall, but he's unable to do anything, being incapable of touching anything in the physical world. And as the heroine plummets helplessly, her hat gently floats downward.

This makes for an excellent physics demonstration. See, acceleration due to gravity is independent of weight and size, but when factoring in air resistance, size actually matters a great deal. Her hat, which has not only a different cross-sectional area but also a different coefficient of drag due to its differing shape, experiences a greater influence due to air resistance than does The Heroine.

Also adding to this is the fact that terminal velocity, the speed in which the weight of the hat balances out with the force of drag (in this case air resistance), is very much dependent on the mass of the falling body. Since the hat is much less massive than The Heroine, combined with the fact that the drag force has a greater influence on the hat, the hat is able to reach terminal velocity and maintain a constant falling speed due to the balanced forces acting on it (See: Newton's Third Law) while she continues to accelerate at a rate of roughly 9.8 m*s^-2.

She wakes up in a hospital bed after what I can only assume is the second-worst vacation she's ever had. Shin enters the room, asking her how long she plans to sleep. She looks at the clock and finds that the date is August 1st. This alarms her, because she was pretty sure that it was almost August 8th when she took her impromptu BASE jump.

Shin is concerned for her fatigue and grogginess, so he wakes her up in the way that any gentleman would. He pulls her in and makes out with her.

Strange... Usually we have to wait longer for that in these types of shows. I've been reading Hayate the Combat Butler for about six years now, and Hinagiku and Hayate have yet to make out. Now I feel cheated.

The episode ends with The Heroine trying to talk to Orion only to discover that he's vanished. She cries out for him, but to no avail. We're left to wonder until episode three where our favorite androgynous ghost has disappeared to.

After the episode, Orion gives us some sweet air hockey tips and reminds us that two men should never ever share a paddleboat ride with each other.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: This is the funniest show of the winter anime season. To sum up why I enjoy this show as much as I do would be impossible, but I think that paddleboat picture says most of what I would say about that. It's a show that's trying to weave a compelling yarn about a girl trying to regain her memories, a story with the potential for seriously strong dramatic storytelling, but all of that gets lost under the silliness of strange outfits and hair, coupled with narmy scenes of paddleboat rides and ghost-story flashlight-holding.

I only hope that Amnesia hasn't run out of funny yet. Here's hoping for more surprises as I continue to watch this glorious show.

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