2013
12.29

When I did my first writeup for Valvrave (episode 1 for the 2013 Spring Clusterfuck) I simply dismissed it as a standard Sunrise robot show. The plot was pretty basic: an angsty kid’s girlfriend dies a horrible death so for revenge he jumps into a nearby super robot, unwittingly turning himself into a monster as a result. If it had continued in that direction, the show would have probably been ok, utterly unmemorable, but ok. Alas… it didn’t. Said girlfriend turned out not to be dead, and would have been the most idiotic character in this year’s anime slate if it weren’t for a certain Gatchaman with vocal tics. The villains became more and more irrelevant and campy (seriously… trying to destroy the Valvraves with GIANT FUCKING WAFFLE IRONS!!!) before the series introduced goofy wizards with silly hats to take over and be even more absurdly camp. The main cast turned out literally to be a bunch of vapid teens who did things for not very good to downright stupid reasons. And then… those damn flash forwards that made it seem that a grand story was at play, only to not deliver on it.

And all of this was in season one alone!

Season two was… kind of an improvement. It did make some positive strides towards trying to make a less asinine product. Characters who acted like idiots frequently in season 1, stopped acting like idiots in season 2. The plot seemed more like an actual plot with much of the goofy hijinx stripped out, and some honest to goodness DRAMA introduced. And the villains, if still fairly camp, became somewhat creepier as the concept of infiltrated governments and secret powers behind the scenes were introduced. I found myself actually kinda liking Valvrave 2 for a very brief period (namely eps. 15-17) and it seemed that the worst was actually behind us.

Unfortunately, the perceived improvement was ultimately undone by a rushed episode count, a plot made out of swiss cheese, and the introduction of The Runes, a plot device that arrives so randomly and abruptly, you could almost see where the writers scribbled it in at the last minute. Yes we knew Haruto fell victim to VVV-induced urges both carnal and sensual (Ye Olde “Valvrave The Penetrator”) in Season 1. That said sex and blood was necessary to generate power for the Valvraves came off as borderline comic (it doesn’t help that the show immediately forgot about that the very next episode). The memory loss issue was also rather haphazardly introduced as Marie Inobi was just a background joke character in season one and her amnesia felt completely random. I’ll let that one slide though because the Marie arc was easily the strongest of the season for me.

What I won’t let slide though is what happened to Saki, or more precisely, what DIDN’T happen to Saki this season. It seems the writers lost all interest in the character so she basically got shoved in the fridge for five episodes, with only the occasional 90-second cutback to remind the audience that Saki existed, as well to get impaled by the Chancellor in episode 20. Then again, considering how she tries to hit on Haruto, her actual honest-to-god rapist, in the first episode of season two, maybe that was for the best.

Likewise Shoko was also absent for most of the season, and there are a few ways of looking at it. On one hand, there’s the view that Shoko was horribad in season 1 and the less of her the better. On the other, you could see the position that she was finally becoming a far mature character towards the end of said season with the death of her father, and that absence put a screeching halt to her development. A lot of commentators on the finale over at the MAL thread were actually legitimately angry that Shoko was allowed to survive into the far future. I… actually don’t have a problem with this. Makes perfect sense really. Becoming VVVI’s pilot is basically Shoko’s way of dealing with the guilt of what she did to Haruto, not only by inadvertently causing him to become a Kamitsuki in the first place but also by selling him out to Dorssia in the end. It actually makes quite a bit of sense and is one of the few, perhaps only, good ideas to come out of that otherwise rather embarrassing finale.

I’ve already elaborated on that finale in the last part and how it managed to feel unsatisfactory by leaving so much unresolved. I generally believe that time skips need to have a point for them to matter in the long run. The time skips in this series do not serve point whatsoever other than HEY LOOK ITS THE FUUUUUUTURE OOOOOOOOOH! Now in comparison, my second favorite anime of the 2014 calendar year is From The New World, and that had three major time skips to divide the arcs as well as a final one show how the main protagonist was narrating the story in the future. The difference between that show and Valvrave was those time skips mattered and they had a pay off. Valvrave, by comparison, left us high and dry with a coda that ultimately seemed hollow.

So that’s Valvrave Season 2. While not a particularly good show in the end, it wasn’t nearly as horrid as its predecessor. I suppose in the end that was all that was necessary, simply don’t be Valvrave Season 1. That being said, please stop writing anime Ichiro Ookuchi. I already suffered through Guilty Crown enough…

FINAL AVERAGE SCORE OVER ALL TWELVE EPISODES: 5.3/10

2013
12.28

And there was much rejoicing...

So here it is, the final Valvrave. In 25 minutes, writer Ichiro Ookuchi will have to provide an ending that ties up all the loose ends, finally dispatch the villains in a satisfactory way, and explains what the hell was the deal with all those weird flash forwards the show gave us now and again.

Unsurprisingly, he utterly fails at all three, suggesting that my fear last week of a Valvrave Final Plus may be warranted.

I call that a bitch slap!

We pick up where we left off last week with the blogosphere incensed by the revelation that the Dorssian Chancellor is a space vampire. However, the Magius are finally able to cut the transmission, giving Golden ARUS News (a none too subtle parody of a certain American cable network) the chance to whitewash it as JIOR doctored footage. However we completely forget about that as Haruto goes in to fight Cain. Eventually he’s joined by R-Drei and X-Eins, with Q-Vier flanking Cain. The battle increases Haruto’s rune leakage and eventually ends up crashing into the sphere dome where Haruto is rejoined by L-Elf.

...cuz being Alibaba is suffering!

Meanwhile the Royalists are finally making their move on the Space Nazis and lauching a series of coups around Dorssia. Despite their new alliance, ARUS sits on their hands, refusing to jump in and hoping the Magius Council get killed to boot. L-Elf, claiming that Haruto doesn’t have the skill or the speed to defeat Cain alone, offers his neck one last time. X-eins dies rather anticlimactically and R-Drei finally kills that little rat Q-Vier, much to the annoyance of yaoi shippers everywhere. Haruto, in L-Elf’s body, finally kills Cain, but at the cost of his last remaining runes. He briefly asks L-Elf who he is and how did he get there before finally kicking the bucket. …which was pretty damn obvious from three weeks ago.

Good Night, Sleep Tight, Young Lovers

AND THEN THE DENOUMENT… where we finally get to find out who the hell mystery kid is, how did the space empire begin, who the hell were those pirate guys in cattle shaped robots from episode 7, etc. etc. And the answer is… not given. The show doesn’t tell us anything that makes any of these flash forwards have a lick of sense ever since they started to slowly spread them out. What we do find out is Satomi marries Boobs McTits (err yay I guess), Akira is also alive 200 years in the future where everybody wears costumes the cast of From The New World thought were silly, and, most importantly… Shoko apparently became VVVI’s pilot after Haruto died and makes an appearance. There’s also something about an appearance by a “hostile organism” in the form of a half melted gummy bear, but who gives a shit. The show don’t so I don’t.

Why don't you go jump in a river Shoko...

Valvrave ends the way it began, in the form of a chaotic mess. Too many dangling plotlines are left up in the air, characters are shunted to the side, very little is adequately resolved, and ultimately the feeling you get is that of a half-assed message that ultimately doesn’t add up to anything… at all. “Oh but Dalek”, you might say, “This is Sunrise! They never know how to end a mecha show well!” Well that’s true to a certain extent (see Gundam Seed Destiny, which needed an additional 30 minutes to salvage an ending that was already too fargone), its still too much of an excuse to cover general laziness and incompetence on behalf of the production team. At the end of the day, this ending fucking sucked. Hell even MAL, that bastion of sunshine and lolipops which liked SAO 21, hated it, and that say’s more than words I can type.

Yeah fuck this show.

Next time, a wrap-up of season 2 and Valvrave in general. Also my final averages for the show (odds are they won’t be particularly high)

3/10.

2013
12.24

Yup its this episode!

2013, when all is said and done, will probably be remembered as a slight improvement on its immediate predecessor. It gave us some instant classics (Kill la Kill, Samurai Flamenco, From The New World); some utter horseshit (Flowers of Evil, Il Sole Penetra Li Illusioni, Unbreakable Machine-Doll amongst other steaming garbage); and some memories that will stick with us for a very long time. One of the latter is the subject of this article, Valvrave The Liberator Season 1 Episode 5: “Sakimori Academy Sings”…

At one point, I actually thought this show might be ok...

…which is, without a doubt, one of the most rancid, putrid, insipid, inane things committed to digital animation this year. No really! If Valvrave only produced its first 12 episodes and didn’t do a second season, I would be hard pressed to declare it the worst series of 2013 based entirely on this episode and this episode ALONE. It is really that bad and its only fitting that I give it a write up expunging on its grotesque inanity.

Behold... THE REAL Valvrave.

The plot…there isn’t one. Basically the Sakimori gang abuses their newly found independence too much that they blow a fuse in the Dome’s climate control system making the core temp to drop to single digits. While Raizo and that nerdy guy who’s name I can never remember try to fix the thing, the rest of students huddle together, leading to awkward sexual tension and Shoko breaking into an impromptu engrish-tastic performance of Jingaru Berusu. Once the system is rebooted, they have Saki Watanabe (revealed to be a one-time ex-idol this week) do a We Are The World-style charity single to show JIOR survivors they’re alive and want more money. This being Valvrave Season 1 of course, suddenly Sakimori is flush with bit coins. To celebrate, Saki tries to ride Haruto’s dick. However, she won’t actually “succeed” at this for another five weeks.

WHAT DID WE DO TO DESERVE THIS?!?!?

Valvrave 5 is basically a calm before the storm episode. Its the last one from when Haruto was the only Kamitsuki active (Saki gets VVVIV the following week), one of the few remaining with the entire original cast (Aina’s still alive), and actually has few shots of VVVI outside of the opening titles and the very end. That said, that calmness also manifests itself in how utterly stupid these people are. Left to their own devices, The Sakimori students vandalize property, rampage through grocery stores, and play dress up in bridal gowns. Even after the little incident with the air conditioner, its not obvious whether the teens have learned anything at all, probably not.

I'd take Beiber autotune over this....

And then there’s the song… oh god… Aside from being utter crap, it only seems to scream “Hey we got Haruka Tomatsu in our cast! Might as well sing a song!”, although funny enough, the show also has Yui Horie in it and so far we’ve been spared from her. In the end, they spend four minutes of run-time on this thing, proving this episode really was a lot of bad ideas the production team had to stick in because they were running short on time.

Oh just you wait...

Overall… a source of shame for everyone involved in it. The only character who comes out looking good is L-Elf, and only because he’s a peeper on Haruto and Saki in the end.

-175/10

2013
12.20

Famous last words.

In this, the penultimate installment of Valvrave The Liberator, lots of ground has to be covered. This is not surprising as Valvrave, due to MBS’ apparent policy for Animeism shows to be in the twelve episode range (don’t be surprised if Kill La Kill only has 24 genuine eps) and its own oddball split season sked, is short one episode. Last week’s, while necessary to clear out all the secrets that Haruto, Shoko, and L-Elf were keeping from each other (outside of the one where Haruto raped Saki, but thats for another time), ultimately didn’t add anything else to the equation other than said infodumps leading to a badly written, and rather boring episode. Happily this week’s episode is an improvement. While not a great episode by any stretch, it sets up the finale suitably enough that hopefully episode 24 won’t need a 50 minute director’s cut next Christmas (HAHAHA fuck you Seed Destiny).

He's back bitches...

We begin where we left off last week with X-Eins about to kill R-Drei…and then he doesn’t. You see X-Eins knew the whole time that Cain had killed H-Neun via an audio recording the latter made on one of his little earrings. The two set off to overthrow the Dorssian emperor only to conveniently run into L-Elf who has re-infiltrated Dorssia’s base. With R-Drei now knowing that L-Elf didn’t shoot him in the eye, the three are able to let bygones be bygones and L-Elf finally gets his Dorssia uniform back (congratulations resident TZ Newsbot River26, you were right! Eventually! But not really!).

So long Raizo... we hard knew ye.

This is all part of L-Elf and Haruto’s plan to show that the Magius have already infiltrated the world. Basically it entails L-Elf assassinating the ARUS president and Dorssian emperor on live television and millions watching them miraculously heal. However that plan dictates that the Magius can’t cut the feed so the surviving Valvraves head off to a large satellite to firewall it. A lot of the usual pre-battle focus this week is on Thunder because, to noone’s surprise… this week he dies. Seriously you know somebody’s going to die in an anime when they give him too much focus in the pre-battle prep.

"...and that's what you get for calling me JoJo!!!"

The battle goes rather badly for the VVVs with Haruto losing nearly every single memory of Shoko in the process but they get the job done in the end, minus Thunder of course. Akira’s insane hacking skills creates a firewall on the satellite and thus millions see Emperor Koyasu’s neck get slit only for him to emerge without a scratch. The stage is set for the final battle as now the only threats are Cain and that little twirp Q-Vier, the sole remaining asshole of the original Karlstein bunch.

Well that didn't take too long did it?

Episode 23 is just a decent, if rushed, action episode. The problems with it are pretty simple. A: the death of Thunder which comes off as rather matter of fact, much like Kyuuma’s a couple weeks ago, and B: the L-Elf stuff which seems a little too easy with there not being enough residual animosity between the trio of former comrades, suggesting that the writer did not have enough time to work on this arc and just wanted to get it over with. You can chop it up to the shortened episode count, or the simple fact that Valvrave is, as it has always been, one of the worst written anime in recent memory.

Next week is the finale. As usual, I’m not getting my hopes up and boy is there a lot more ground to cover. 7/10.

 

2013
12.20

Ech man for hymself, ther is noon other.

As seasons change, so do our nature. Just as Ryuko grows enough to outmatch anybody in front of her, the oceans widen for big fish to become mere minnows. A titan in a sandbox is a mere footman in the stadium. Whatever strength or vitality we see in ourselves only dwindles when our world broadens, necessitating the desire to become stronger. This is the ultimate vexation of the food chain, that there will always be a challenger to our climb up the top. Those with ambition must carry the knowledge that they are one among many, no matter how much they ascend. But despite such toil, that dream of being better than our peers is what fuels the human spirit, no matter if we gain or lose from that fancy.

Harime signifies the barrier to that dream. All of her actions throughout the past two episodes involve disrupting a set system. Both sides become ensnared by her actions; making our two leads drive themselves into fury. She dances where others march, which gives me a theory: She’s not a person, but a creature made out of Life Fibers. She spits out cotton when being attacked, with her eyepatch resembling fabric used for old ragdolls. I see her as the playful doll that Satsuki’s grown too old for, yet can’t let go. By spouting lines to the effect of “How does it feel for the project you put your heart and soul in to stab into your heart and soul,” she creates a playing field more fit for bogeymen and fair folk than warriors of rational thought.

So beckons Ryuko’s transformation into a monster, filled with jagged teeth and corpse-like appendages. The new form brings to mind abominations from other worlds, resembling Ryuko just like a graveyard resembles a civilization. To fight inhuman beings, she must sacrifice her humanity. The grotesque juggernaut thinks in ways that a sound fighter cannot, who hungers for blood instead of victory’s honor. Her terror inspires, causing those thought to be villains to become crusaders in shining, white armor. Despite Mako’s consolation, this is only the first of a metamorphosis. If someone like Harime can exist, then there will be more like her to force Ryuko out of worldly skin and into hellish casing. In one swoop, she gives Satsuki the reason to answer her dreams, to become the ruler who smites discord, because to do otherwise would be to envelop oneself in eldritch garments.

But despite that revelation, the knight must still play the king. Satsuki must put on a campaign to bolster her power, to prove her desire is not without meaning. To justify absolute order, she must bathe herself in conflict to establish her might. The horror of war must be embraced in order to acknowledge and vanquish future bloodshed. That’s why she keeps Ryuko alive, telling her she ordered the doll into her father’s home to reclaim her hold against her rival. Swords cannot be sharpened without good practice. The shadow must be upheld to prove why light needs to exist. Illumination cannot rise without darkness to show it the way. After all, who is the knight without her dragon?

But who wields the sword to guard, and who raises the flame to blaze?

2013
12.14

Strike a pose, readers.

Since I have taken the reign in blogging Kill la Kill, now’s a better time as any to discuss the show’s counterpart this season. Kyoukai no Kanata, or Beyond the Boundary in case this ever gets dubbed, has proven to be an irksome watch. You might ask me why I would continue this show if I dislike it, but there’s a certain catharsis in seeing a show stumble like this. I often feel like I’m watching a mirror of the former show, illustrating the foil that turns left every time Kill la Kill goes right. In a sense, that’s what describes Kyoukai no Kanata. Kill la Kill is the high school dropout with high ambitions, whereas Kyoukai no Kanata is the college undergraduate with no real goal in sight. Despite having more refined production values, KnK doesn’t have the zest that its contemporary has.

Early criticism for Kill la Kill weighed heavily on how the show’s depiction of female characters, with some declaring the show as sexist due to Ryuko often being shown in revealing clothing. In time, that accusation became questioned as only a surface criticism, with any perceived misogyny only coming from a cursory analysis of the show instead of looking further. Plus, saying that women wearing revealing clothing are demeaning goes into another implication, with how we expect people to be dressed. Does an open costume mean that the character should be judged on that merit, while not looking into the personality to see if there are flaws from a narrative standpoint instead of any skin-deep demerits? That’s why debates on slut shaming have raged on the Internet, with people assuming that a woman who wears little clothing is not an ideal human being.

That ideology annoys me, and casts concern as to why there has been relatively little controversy about Kyoukai no Kanata. Except for one episode that begs to be forgotten, the main character Mirai has the fashion sense of a middle-aged librarian. Men from the Victorian era would think she was too heavily dressed. But compared to Ryuko, I see Mirai as less developed in terms of character. Mirai seldom fights for herself or her own goals, but instead that of her newfound friend Akihito. And despite being a demon slayer (or Spirit World Warrior, if you want to be retentive to the show’s mythology), the majority of scenes are dedicated to making her the clumsy kid that Akihito has to help. While that’s normal for the hero to need help from their friends, their relationship is too one-sided to be healthy. There are moments throughout the show where Akihito talks about having a glasses fetish, which is fulfilled by Mirai wearing oversized spectacles. He often has to help her barely function in society. One scene even goes by where he fantasizes about her “unspoiled thighs” in front of her, and she hardly objects to being seen this way. If that were Ryuko, she would have made a scene and fought Akihito for viewing her as something to lust after.

Maybe that’s me playing favorites with shows, but the supernatural action premise calls for someone who can stand up to the challenge, not a Mikuru Asahina clone. The show does try to resolve that concern though. They give Mirai a tragic backstory for instance. But does that really improve anything if she can seldom react to these issues, with anytime she overreacts being played for comedy than anything else? As December ends, so does the Fall season of anime. And as Kyoukai no Kanata nears its own finale, I see attempts to address those issues. I see a director who wants to improve what they have in front of them. But so far, over two months of evidence makes any objection within the next two weeks too late to improve what I have found to be a laughable series.

2013
12.13

Now... time for Carousel!

Last week’s episode of Valvrave was the Valvrave for people who hate Valvrave as hundreds of vapid teens were mowed down by underpaid government bureaucrats armed with submachine guns. It was disgusting, it was insipid, it was the most entertaining 24 minutes this morose lumbering trainwreck has yet produced. For my part, I can say that me and my colleagues in the Thaumatroop were quite entertained by the bloodbath, however judging from some random tweet I got after this week’s episode, the fanbase thought last week’s was the “WORST. EPISODE. EVAR!!!!”

…said fanbase also thought Episodes 5 and 10 were good television. To borrow a page from the late Roger Ebert, may I suggest that they are not “properly evolved”.

See... it did make more sense when you were dead Shoko!

Right, with that out of the way on to Episode 22! Last week, Haruto’s deep dark secret was finally exposed to Shoko and the gang. This week, the rest of those secrets are revealed. We being once again in the far far future where Saki Watanabe, Satomi Renbokuji, and Prince MichaelMaybe are paying a visit to “holy ground”. Said holy ground being the remains of Sakimori Academy, overgrown and disused recalling the climax of everybody’s favorite 70s scifi epic… “Logan’s Run”! Hundreds of years earlier however things are in a much more dismal state. Shoko is untrusting of the two remaining Valvrave pilots because of what happened with Haruto and won’t let them protect her. Haruto and L-Elf, now sporting trendy space suits stolen from the set of Planetes, are stuck in some large (and rather colorful) crater on the moon. And Saki is forced to get coumfy with R-Drei in their little story arc that went nowhere.

As if the show didn't flashback us into knowing that already....

Deciding that to protect those other surviving morons that are in her shuttle she’ll have to use VVVI, Shoko finally enters the cockpit of the unit only to instead end up in a conversation with Pino. And thus, through the magic of stock footage from previous episodes, Shoko learns exactly how Haruto turned into a monster, why he turned into a monster, and more to the point why he was trying to keep her from turning into a monster. To say the least Shoko doesn’t take it very well. Neither does Haruto when L-Elf finally spills the beans that he…kinda killed Shoko’s dad back in Episode 11 (ah the good ol days when this show would have the protagonist accidentally murder his ex’s dad in one scene only to propose marriage to his new girlfriend whom he had just raped the next!). Ah but this game of one douchey revelation one-upmanship has to keep going as Haruto dumps the sad fate of poor Lieselotte on L-Elf…

...and hackneyed writing. P.S. BUY OUR ANDROID AP!!!

Naturally this leads to a one-sided fight where L-Elf just punches the hell out of Haruto. What then follows is a very strange borderline non-sequiter scene where Haruto has a vision of the currently deceased trio of Kyuuma, Aina (megane-girl for those who don’t remember) and Marie telling Haruto he should go die or something in the most cheery, heartfelt way possible. BUT THEN! “Shadow Haruto” (for lack of a better name), a reprentation of Haruto’s physical self…or something, I don’t know anymore this episode was fucking weird and boring, convinces him not to. Likewise, L-Elf has a vision of Lieselotte who tells him to get over it. Green Magius energy is generated by Haruto, because why the hell not, and the two get saved by Saki in VVVIII whom R-Drei just kinda let get away…because that arc fucking sucked.

So yeah... I fucked Saki. AW YEAHHHHH!

It wasn’t much of a surprise that Valvrave could not sustain the pace generated by last week’s episode however it is a surprise that they would follow last week’s episode with easily the worst episode of the season so far. I hesitate to call it a recap episode despite all the callbacks to previous events and recycled footage (one of which literally is a video clip) since its 70% new stuff, and I’d like to think Mitsuo Fukuda had a hand in this week’s episode at least. However what’s really annoying is the rather baffling ending where Haruto and L-Elf both have weird spiritual transcendence hallucinations and get rescued by a deus-ex-machina. The fact that this ending makes absolutely no sense is one thing , the fact that its the kind of nonsensical magic bullshit that this show has shoved down our throats on multiple occasions and the fan base just loves is another. Yup, that’s why they liked this episode… its the long belated of good ol’ retarded Valvrave from Season 1. I hope you’re happy Marquis…

1/10

2013
12.13

Somebody tell me what the Kanji on her right eye means.

We are almost a few episodes away before mid-series, and there’s already a huge reveal involving the parasol girl, Harime. Harime looks like she comes out of a completely different show, which amplifies how disturbing her entrance is. She just appears out of nowhere, makes an ass out of Sanageyama, and reveals herself to be the real instigator to Ryuko’s quest. Normally, that would be horribly stupid and something only a hack writer could do. But here, it establishes that Satsuki’s not going to be the apex of Ryuko’s problems. She’s only been challenging a single school, when there’s a whole world full of factions like Nudist Beach and such. After being comfortable with beating the Elite Four one by one, Ryuko’s thrown back into the unknown, and all these advantages she’s accumulated through the Life Fibers are now tested.

And while I would have been happy with another Sanageyama fight, this move illustrates how the show like to bait and switch. The show always pulls that trap to confuse the viewer, like the Satsuki fight in episode three. Whenever there’s the feeling the audience can figure out what’s going on, something happens to shake that expectation. For instance, I was thinking that Mako would be the final villain before that “get rich” episode occurred. There’s a teaser at the end of the episode where Senketsu talks about how some of the oddest life choices as being just youth. If youth were predictable, then wouldn’t it have been an easier ride than most of us remember? Youth is the chaos that a lot of teenagers think they can control, but never really can.

That’s what Satsuki wants to stop. And seeing how Harime is outclassing her, she fights a losing battle like everyone else. You can tell from the flashbacks and hands-off relationship with her mother, she’s fighting against a system just like Ryuko is. She wants to be the king instead of the pawn, trying to enforce her idea of order when rebelling against another status quo. However, nobody can master youth. Satsuki can use whatever money and manpower she has, but she can control neither the future nor serendipity. That’s how Ryuko’s been besting her so far, due to adapting to her strengths while being too much of a loose cannon to accurately predict.

That ties back to the show’s game, playing with your mind by giving you false expectations only to provide a swerve. For example, the Kamui outfits made people think this show would be fanservice bait, only to switch that trope around with Satsuki’s argument that she doesn’t let looks get in the way of her agenda. Now, there’s something that even turns that dispute around, with a couturier that can dispel almost every trick we’ve seen in the show so far. After three months of using Senketsu as her trump card, Ryuko’s forced to think on her feet like a sniper who run out of bullets. And that hindrance makes the fight next week all the sweeter.

2013
12.12

Before we begin, it’s my civic duty to inform you that this review does not contain any spoilers. However, you probably won’t get much out of this movie if you haven’t seen the Puella Magi Madoka Magica TV series. So, if you’ve yet to experience it, go watch it right the heck now, because you missed out on one of 2011’s best anime! You can read the review afterwards. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

Relax, Homura, this is a good movie!

Picking up right where the TV series left off (though perhaps not in the most obvious way), Rebellion is a direct continuation of everyone’s favorite (the only?) story about suffering magical girls fighting cotton balls with mustaches. All the puzzle pieces and themes expected of Madoka Magica are present in this two hour extravaganza, except this time Shaft actually has money, so it looks and moves every bit as well as it deserves to. The colors pop, the labyrinth scenes are a magnificent feast for the eyes, and the animation quality is consistently fantastic. It looks good. Really good. A lot better than I ever expected from this studio, to be honest.

While it can be tiring at times, I’ve always been a fan of Akiyuki Shinbo’s unique method of direction. Some have tried to cop his style, but his work is practically inimitable; it always treads a fine line between bizarre and nonsensical, and thankfully Rebellion lies firmly in the former camp. The weird camera angles and bits of experimental art/animation fit perfectly in the context of the movie, and work far better here than anything else I’ve seen from him of late. However, his directing also shines during more conventional scenes, such as a breathtaking duel roughly halfway into the movie that I’d personally consider among the absolute best fights in anime, if not film in general. Throughout the entire movie – but especially here – an incredible sense of kinetic energy can be felt from just passively watching the screen. Every scene is expertly framed and full of eye candy in a way quite unlike any recent animated feature I can think of. The new transformation sequences given to our five heroines are beyond wonderful, a sublime blend of nonstandard animation and themed musical composition. And keep on the lookout for a sign welcoming you to the cinema at the film’s outset along with another one asking if you’re enjoying the film later on.

I think what really makes Shinbo’s direction succeed here is that Rebellion is very much an art film, similar to 1997’s excellent End of Evangelion, which it has been compared with by nearly everyone. These comparisons are apt, as the two movies serve similar functions; both are extended followups to finished TV anime that focus just as much on surrealism and eye-popping imagery as they do on continuing their respective stories. That said, Rebellion is more plot-oriented and much easier to understand than EoE. It’s a lot more insane and unfiltered than someone who’s just finished watching the 2011 series might expect (even taking me by surprise), but it never goes into full-on French arthouse cinema mode either (probably for the better).

Speaking of the story (you thought I forgot, didn’t you!?), it’s airtight and very well-written. In fact, the more I think about the plot, the better I find it – a rare occurrence. Despite how weird it is, I struggle to think of any glaring holes or issues I have with it. There’s a lot of foreshadowing throughout, and even the most minor events often end up becoming important, thus tying everything together in a big bow that only gets tighter the more I rack my brain attempting to find problems I may have overlooked. While it does lean a bit too heavily towards exposition near the beginning of the third act, the information provided therein is necessary for the audience’s understanding, and the dialogue never feels unnatural or overwrought. Gen Urobuchi has always been excellent at writing expository scenes, especially in comparison to other anime and visual novel authors, and that still rings true here.

Rebellion is structured similarly to the original series. The first bit is relatively normal magical girl fare, but after a certain point, something changes, and it starts to get increasingly darker and more depressing with each passing scene. Fans of the show will no doubt have feelings of discomfort from the very beginning, and whether or not they’re warranted will only be known by those who see the roller coaster all the way through to its conclusion. The hard to anticipate plot twists arrive fast and furious, constantly taking the film in different and unexpected directions, eventually leading to its highly divisive conclusion that almost no one could possibly see coming. Despite the aforementioned exposition, the pacing is consistently excellent, and the two hour runtime flies by in a flurry of candy-colored visuals and impressive cinematography. Wait, does an animated movie even have cinematography? Ah, whatever. The “camerawork” is great.

It’s impossible to review Rebellion without discussing the ending, but there are no spoilers here, I promise. The TV show ended on an uplifting yet bittersweet note, but this movie takes Madoka Magica in an entirely different direction. While its intention is apparently to set up for another sequel (think Middle of Madoka rather than End of Evangelion), I personally feel that it could serve as a logical and satisfying ending to the story on its own. It’s characterized by a deliciously mean-spirited sense of irony, a conclusion that turns everything about the original ending on its head while still being believable in the context of the film. Everything – and I mean everything – in this movie is nothing but buildup to its final ten minutes, and while some will undoubtedly disagree, I feel that they are perhaps the finest ten minutes of any 2013 anime.

When you think about it, Rebellion is a pretty unnecessary sequel. Of course, “unnecessary” doesn’t always have to mean “bad,” and when it comes to the latter, this picture is anything but. Regardless of how one feels about its ending, fans of both Madoka Magica and film in general will find a lot to like in this movie. The superb direction, fantastic animation, and excellent writing ensure that Shaft’s first true feature film will go down as one of the finest this decade.

10/10

(Okay, yeah, it’s not perfect, but I think it fully deserves that score.)

2013
12.09

Apparently they're really big Spider-Man fans for some reason

So, what role do the villains have to play in all of this? Villains, as you will find out, is a rather broad and vague term in the world of Hunter X Hunter. In this case, though, the arc chooses to focus on the Phantom Troupe as the primary antagonists. These are the so-called ruthless bastards that have been behind seemingly hundreds of crimes, including the massacre of the Kurata clan and the theft of their scarlet eyes. They are also a group of individuals that grew up in a wasteland together, were never officially recorded by any form of government or establishment as ever having been born, and who basically had to stick together and fend for themselves. So basically they are as much a loving family as they are pretty freaking evil. We got an example of what they are willing to go through with the brutalizing that Uvo endured from Kurapika before finally being off’d for good. The other members of the group show no less devotion to each other when it really comes down to it. In one scene, Nobunaga, Uvo’s closest friend, actually sheds a few tears over the guy when coming to terms with Uvo’s death. This even manages to both surprise and piss off Gon (being held captive at the time) who feels that he has no right to act in such a way after all of the people he’s killed (a shining example of how Gon’s simple-minded nature doesn’t just apply to positive-thinking). Of course, while we do get a feel for each of these characters as individuals, only three of them in particular really get special focus.

They're all just really bummed out that I'm not talking about any of them

We already touched on Uvo, but what about the leader of the group? Rather than waiting multiple arcs to reveal much of anything about the guy, Togashi shows the fans some mercy and lets us understand just what kind of guy he is. Chrollo is, quite simply….the perfect figure to be a leader. He operates on rational thought based on the best interests of his followers, and keeps emotion entirely out of the equation. One surprising instance of this is when the troupe is attempting to find out Kurapika’s identity and whereabouts. While the majority of the group are out for his head, Chrollo expresses interest in enticing Kurapika to join their ranks. This does not mean that he doesn’t give two shits about Uvo. Hell, the guy even composes a requiem for him (in his own really twisted sort of way), and you really get the sense that the guy does truly care for his own. Yet at the same time his rational thinking leads him to believe that someone who was powerful enough to kill Uvo would be much more useful as an ally than as their enemy.

And this is basically Kurapika's response to his generous offer...

Of course, Chrollo’s way of thinking can also be rather problematic, as he doesn’t stop to consider that if someone like Kurapika is out for revenge, there’d be no way they’d bend to his will. He also can be a bit too nonchalant for his own good, going so far as to not even hassle Hisoka (a more recent member of the group), despite clearly knowing that he’s up to no good behind his back. That said, despite any disagreements that they may have with him, the rest of his followers practically worship the guy, not in a hopelessly misguided way, but in a form of respect that any good leader would deserve. After all, he was the one with enough charisma and wit to bring them all together and not only help them to survive, but prosper. He has utmost trust in his followers as his legs, and they have the utmost devotion to him as their head (the analogy is to that of a spider). Unfortunately, that trust and that devotion are the very things that lead to this group’s downfall.

You see, we also have the third member of the troupe, whom in particular gets far more focus than even their distinguished leader. Here, we are talking about Pakunoda. A member who is just as devoted to Chrollo and the rest of the Phantom Troupe as any other member….or perhaps even more so. Yes, there can indeed be such a thing as too much devotion, and Pakunoda really walks a few steps across that line. It is first of all heavily implied that she has romantic feelings toward Chrollo, but of course she is smart enough to know that there is no room for romance within the troupe, so that alone doesn’t get in the way of anything.

And with lady-charming skills like that, who wouldn't FALL for this guy?...I...It's a pun, guys...because she FELL after he knocked her----Oh, just fuck it!

It just so happens that it does in fact cause big trouble after the troupe find themselves in a very intense situation. Toward the climax of the arc, as the Phantom Troupe are hunting down Kurapika (they still do not know his actual identity, at this point), they somehow get the opportunity to capture Gon and Killua (for a second time) during a blunder made by Kurapika. Now they finally seem to have an edge on him.Unfortunately, the protagonists in HXH are smarter than those of most other series, so they retaliate quickly and effectively. When the troupe attempts to use the two kids as bait to draw out the chain user, Kurapika one-ups them by capturing their leader in return. Now each side has bargaining chips. Upon getting the chance to finally meet face-to-face, both Kurapika and Chrollo quickly realize something crucial about each other. For Kurapika, it’s that Chrollo has put no value on his life and cannot be bargained with, so Kurapika will have to focus on holding him hostage and trying to get the Phantom Troupe to give back Gon and Killua unharmed in exchange for him. For Chrollo it’s that he now knows that Kurapika is a guy who places more importance on the safety of his friends than his revenge (I could totally take a stab at Sasuke from Naruto, here, but I’ll play nice for now). Chrollo comes to the conclusion that, as long as the Phantom Troupe does not comply with Kurapika’s bargaining offer, they win.

Chrollo's Inner Thoughts: "Pakunoda, please don't fuck this up."

We even mange to learn the one thing that Chrollo made sure each of his followers knew: that any one of them should be ready to step up as the head and lead the group if he were to fall (or be captured). He had literally made it a point not to place value on his life above their status as a whole, functioning group. That said, Paknoda apparently ripped up the memo, because she’s having none of that. So, despite the protests of the other members, Pakunoda promptly takes Gon and Killua to Kurapika’s designated meeting place. There, she sees Hisoka and realizes that he’s a traitor who had been leaking information to Kurapika about the Troupe all along, but despite her dismay, she can’t do shit to him at this point. Finally meeting with Kurapika, they make the exchange. So, what’s to stop them from attacking Kurapika and killing his friends once the exchange is made? Well, before it actually goes down, Kurapika displays his last hand of cards. He uses his ability to set conditions for both Chrollo and Pakunoda. For Chrollo, it’s that he can’t ever use Nen from this point OR come into contact (physical or otherwise) with ANY of members of his group, otherwise the chain placed around his heart will pierce it and kill him, instantly. For Pakunoda it’s the same cost of life deal, but with the condition that she cannot divulge any information relating to Kurapika’s identity to anyone. Thus, Kurapika is essentially crippling the group by getting rid of its head and simultaneously wiping away any traces leading to him.

"Goddamnit, Pakunoda! You fucked it up!"

Then that means Kurapika wins, right? And was that really all there is to Pakunoda’s character after I said that she got the most characterization out of any villain in this arc? Well, after this whole mess is done and over with, Paknoda’s mental state isn’t exactly stable. For one thing, she realizes how disappointed Chrollo is in knowing that she did the one thing he warned his group to never do, and thusly made them ultimately worse off for it. There is no doubt that she is ashamed of herself, but she still goes through with the deal. Of course, that extreme degree of her devotion does not just end with that. Upon having the boss walk off to an unknown location and leaving Kurapika’s sight, she returns to her group with a determined look. While most of them are ticked off at her abrupt actions which now just got their damn leader sent off, she redeems herself almost instantly by….giving them all of the information that she had gathered relating to Kurapika. And then she dies on the spot. This shocks the rest of the group who, despite finding out Kurapika’s identity at this point, also take the time to lament Paknoda’s death, yet are prepared to not let her sacrifice go in vein.

It was at that moment in which I realized that Togashi had managed to write villains who were every bit as compelling as the protagonists. These guys went through the same kinds of trials and hardships that you’d expect of any grand group of heroes, but they clearly were not of that breed. It was then that another realization hit me, that despite the status of these characters, Togashi had written them as nothing more than characters. Whether they were protagonists or villains only came down to technical story-telling directives. Other than that, the Phantom Troupe were fully fleshed out characters who felt three-dimensional, particularly the main three focused on within this story arc, as they could very well operate on emotions (save for Chrollo), and would downright die for one another just like any of the protagonists would be expected to do.

Gentlemen, this lady has balls. Big, manly balls...

So, how does this arc ultimately conclude?

Well, Kurapika collapses from a high fever shortly after the exchange is made, and he still has a bunch of those scarlet eyes of his clan left to collect, and a bunch of very pissed off Phantom Troupe members still left alive somewhere. Needless to say, he doesn’t exactly have much closure here. What of the Phantom Troupe, themselves? Well, their group is crippled with their leader gone to a location that they are not aware of and two of their members dead. They also can’t go after the chain user right away, since they don’t even know of his current whereabouts. And even freaking Hisoka didn’t get what he wanted! He desired to fight Chrollo himself, only for Kurapika to screw him over too and take away Chrollo’s Nen. So, in the end of this arc, rather than a big epic battle or super thrill-inducing climax, we got a surprisingly subdued game of wits between the two opposing sides. Both sides managed to screw each other over in some way and in return neither got what they wanted and both even had some losses (one group arguably had it way worse than the other, of course). Basically, things boiled down to a bitter grudge match in which nothing was resolved and everyone was left rather unhappy with a sort of depressing tone to the whole scenario. But hey, at least they all still have that FRIENDSHIP stuff….hooray?

Hooray!

The Verdict:

To sum up my thoughts on this arc as a whole, I think its main strengths lie in its execution. The plot itself is great, and that is of course attributed to great writing and great characters. I only really covered Kurapika and the villains because they were the real heart of this story, but there are other intriguing sub-plots and plenty of other fantastic characters and character moments that simply would have taken forever to write about. I think what makes this arc work so well, though, is that Togashi takes what is honestly a very unoriginal and even tired theme for a shounen series and makes it into something that feels fresh and unique. We get that friendship is important, but it’s a story arc like York New City in a series like Hunter X Hunter that actually explores the positive and negative aspects of something that is usually meant to come off as an after-school special message in everything else.

There are some flaws, mind you. You could probably pick out a plot-whole or two if you looked closely enough, and sometimes I did find instances in which we got certain portions of the plot that were largely irrelevant to the rest of the story arc, but these moments were few and brief. I think what stuck out to me the most, however, was just how unapologetic all of it was. It didn’t have a happy ending at all, and throughout the whole thing we saw horrible things happen to both sides. Now, in most instances I find such things to be nothing but cheap shock value, but within this arc I truly felt like Togashi knew what he was doing and at least had a point to the violence at hand. On each subsequent viewing of this story I always felt like there were new layers to the whole thing that I was slowly uncovering, what with all of the action, double-dealings, and hidden sub-text within this character-driven plot. Of course, when everything was said and done, the most important thing about this story arc, which makes it one of my favorites to begin with, is that it was always really damn interesting to sit through.