Yep, I’m afraid these exams kinda take precedence over blogging Rebuild of Black Lagoon and Teeny Beboppers. Naturally, you’re devastated. Instead, go read blogs by clever people like Inushinde and swabl (though he’s at the same university as me, so I would imagine his posts will dry up soon too but OH WELL). We’ll meet again in June. You will all be here when I return, right? Right???

Kids on the Slope – Episode 4

Kaoru seems stiff at his next jam session at the record store, his confession to Ritsuko and the frosty relations with his aunt weighing heavily upon him. However, Jun lightens the mood when he reveals that they’ve been booked to play in a bar for American soldiers at Christmas – also the day of Sentarou’s birthday. Kaoru goes shopping for a present, but bumps into Ritsuko. Having purchased a new set of drumsticks, they find that it is snowing – as Ritsuko frolics, Kaoru completely misinterprets the moment and kisses her. This goes about as well as you might expect, as she runs off crying… in full sight of Sentarou and his siblings. Our protagonist lashes out at his friend, jealous of the good relation he has with his family – he couldn’t possibly know how it felt to feel like an outsider in his own family.

Sentarou forces Kaoru to go with him, taking him to his church and showing him a photo album. A much younger Ritsuko is in all the pictures, along with an unrecognisable boy of mixed race. Sentarou reveals he is the boy – his father was an American soldier, and his mother was a Japanese citizen. His grandmother cared for him, but made him feel unwelcome at every turn. The day of the performance comes around, but Sentarou seems distracted when he sees Yurika in the audience. Some quick thinking by Kaoru snaps him out of it and all seems to be going well, until a drunk interrupts their song by saying he can’t stand black jazz. Sentarou confronts the man and is too flustered by the whole incident to continue, but Jun saves the day by singing (in English!) But Not For Me. Yurika is clearly smitten with the young man, adding yet another branch to the tangled web of relationships.

A packed episode this week, with a lot to talk about – so much so, in fact, that I may well make a separate post to talk about one of the darker aspects of the episode. This was an episode of contemplation and of worries. Kaoru is deeply affected by the wait for an answer from Ritsuko, and that affects his playing – though the other musicians interpret it as a futile attempt at perfectionism from the classically-trained pianist. Sentarou gets all hot under the collar when he notices Yurika in the bar, and then even more agitated by the racist heckler, to the point where he can’t continue playing – very unlike Sentarou. He and Kaoru become much closer friends as a result of him opening up about his past, something which he had never even done with Ritsuko. From our initial perception as the pair being polar opposites, we’re finding that they have more and more in common than we could have ever imagined.

This was a fantastic episode, no doubt about that – the best I’ve seen in 2012 so far, even – but I couldn’t shake the feeling that the events seemed slightly out of order. It seemed like Ritsuko had no recollection of Kaoru’s kiss when she saw him at the show, and it turns out that this is because the anime changed the order of proceedings from the manga. In the manga, the performance happens before Kaoru goes to buy Sentarou’s present. If the episode had followed the manga progression, the final moment would have been Kaoru reflecting on Ritsuko’s love for Sentarou: “My love feels so petty in comparison.” (WhyNot) This isn’t the greatest moment to end on – it’s not really definitive enough, nor is it a great hook for the next episode. Again, this seems to be a result of changing the source material. This line instead reads as follows: “I don’t think I stand a chance at making this love succeed.” (sukikatte) That is a far greater bombshell than the anime version, and more significant in the long run than Yurika becoming infatuated with Jun. Is the anime version any worse off for switching things round? Minor continuity issues aside, I think not, and to me the end result, while slightly messy, is a testament to the quality of the source material.

Jormungand – Episode 4

The chase between Orchestra and HCLI comes to a juddering halt as both vehicles are totalled. Jonah and Koko jump into the sea to avoid Orchestra’s weapons, but are pinned down by Chinatsu and her mentor as they emerge from the water. A short firefight ensues, ended when Lutz shoots the mentor through the heart, and then through the head. Chinatsu swears revenge, while Koko is taken in by the local police force (aided by CIA agent Scarecrow). Her connections means she is quickly released however, with the police covering up the day’s events. Three days later, Chinatsu scales the wall of the hotel the HCLI team are staying in, but Koko is one step ahead. With snipers covering the roof, Chinatsu is disarmed and given a chance to join HCLI. She refuses, and fast draws another gun, but Lehm snipes her. In her death throes, she sees a vision of Koko as a monstrous, Medusa-esque being. Koko arranges another cover-up with the police, with Jonah listening to her phone call in secret.

Now that’s more like it, Jormungand. This was undoubtedly the better of the two parts of this story, mostly thanks to not devoting 90% of the episode to a single action scene. Talking of which, the action in this episode was a lot better than last week. Rather than the two teams simply sitting behind cover and occasionally shooting at each other with a level of accuracy normally associated with an episode of The A-Team, we got the conclusion to the car chase, some creative weapon use (mounting a Browning on the back seat of a pickup truck, nice) and that climactic scene on the roof of the hotel. There was some rather dubious decisions by the characters, however – I don’t understand why the mentor broke cover like he did, for example. He knew there were snipers – Chinatsu’s hat had just been shot off her head, and she warned him about the threat. Yet still he steps into open ground, and he is easily killed by Lutz. Chinatsu then tries to kill Koko on the rooftop by drawing a concealed gun when, once again, she knew there would be snipers in position. As a way of getting revenge, it was utterly incompetent.

There isn’t really an awful lot to talk about with this episode. It was mostly action, with very little exploration of characters or motivation. What little we did get was centred on the pair of snipers, Lutz and Lehm. Lutz refuses to shoot Chinatsu, even when he has a clear shot – he will not kill a child, even one who is hellbent on filling Koko with several pounds of lead. Lehm, however, has no qualms about shooting her, doing so almost for the converse reason: he will not lose any more comrades if he can help it. Koko herself remains an enigma, and the shot of her as Chinatsu dies only complicates matters as far as understanding her goes. My best guess is the show’s obvious link to Norse mythology is something to do with it, even if that wild hair put me more in mind of Fenrir than Jörmungandr. The introduction of Scarecrow feels like a long term thing rather than the enemy of the week for the next story – not like Chinatsu and the mentor, killed off after nary an hour of screentime.

Phi Brain is the best show you’re not watching

And here’s why.

What would you say is the most annoying thing about anime these days? Excessive fanservice? From what I can see, the trend for fanservice peaked years ago. Moeblobs? Sure, they’re still about in shows like Acchi Kocchi, but they’re far from the norm unless you restrict yourself to KyoAni shows. An air-headed s’life plot about nothing? Eh, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, it just depends on execution. No, I believe the most annoying, irritating and infuriating thing about anime is the trend for personality-devoid, ineffectual, inconsequential, milquetoast male protagonists. You know what show doesn’t have an incompetent idiot for its main character. Goddamn Phi Brain, that’s what.

Kaito Daimon may look like a rejected character from the development of The World Ends With You, but he is infinitely more proactive and more worthwhile than the Yuji Everyleads that anime has thrown at us in spades for years now. Kaito gets shit done. When he believes that his childhood friend is trapped in a deadly puzzle, he doesn’t bitch and moan about it, and he doesn’t spend half an episode angsting about what to do. He just goes to save him – Kaito Daimon gets shit done. Kaito Daimon doesn’t put up with your bullshit. He pushes through setbacks and he is fiercely loyal to his friends, and that’s a lot more than can be said about Guilty Crown’s Oh Ma Shoe or Kamisama Dolls’ Kyohei. I’d go as far as saying that Kaito Daimon is the best protagonist of ‘typical shounen’ shows in recent times.

I am the first to admit that Phi Brain sounds incredibly stupid when you read the plot summary on MAL or Wikipedia or whatever. Yes, the show is about a guy who solves puzzles; puzzles are serious business in Phi Brain. Sneer all you want about sudoku and Rubik’s cubes, the complexity and intensity of the puzzles is constantly ramping up throughout the first season. The strict adherence to the puzzle format is what makes Phi Brain so great. The initial idea is taken to unusual extremes – the guys making this show know that the premise is silly, so they just have as much fun as they possibly can. This approach brings about insane puzzles like a tower filled with eight-foot-high flying buzzsaws or an out-of-control gondola filled with explosives zooming through the canals of Venice; these are the sorts of scenarios a platformer can only dream of.

Give Phi Brain a chance. I urge you, don’t get hung up on the fact that it’s about puzzles. The cast is diverse and fun, with the standout character being the eccentric Gammon, voiced by Jun Fukuyama in all his shrieking glory, and the soundtrack is so good there’s actually a copy of it in a plane somewhere over Asia with my name and address on it. At first, I admit, I was enjoying Phi Brain at least partly ironically due to the sheer lunacy of it, and then somewhere around halfway into the first season it became genuinely brilliant. The designs of the puzzles, the overarching, potentially apocalyptic plot coming into the fore and the explosive finale… Somewhere along the line Phi Brain stopped being hipster-good and started being actually good – excellent, even. For many, many months now, Phi Brain has been the show I look forward to most in the week, even in a season as good as this one. Phi Brain is the best show you’re not watching.