The lineup going forward is going to be: Galilei Donna, Kill la Kill, and Samurai Flamenco. I’ll start by explaining why the others didn’t make the cut…
Gingitsune #2—Makoto’s new friend Yumi isn’t getting along with the student council vice-president, who turns out to be, like Makoto, from a family filling a traditional role that has already largely determined her path in life. Trying to get everyone to just get along, Makoto winds up inviting both of them to a slumber party at the shrine, where things are patched up and Gintarō assures her that the three girls will be friends for a long time. Yay.
So, it loooks like that’s the standard pattern for this show: one life lesson and one interesting shrine-related fact per episode. It’s not a bad show, but it doesn’t allow for much discussion or analysis.
Arpeggio of Blue Steel #2—Before making the perilous journey across the Pacific, Gunzō and crew have to bust the blockade at Yokosuka and actually pick up the thing they need to deliver. And before that, they have to cross a typhoon which contains the heavy cruiser Takao, which seems to have developed new abilities.
If you’ve never heard the term, “war porn” is a description often used of Western military sf when it seems more interested in salivating over every little mechanical detail of ships blasting each other to smithereens than moving the plot along. Here’s the anime equivalent. The entire episode is I-401 and Takao periodically lobbing ordnance at each other, interspersed with a lot of frowning at displays and talking over plans. Next episode will have to be I-401 vs. the Yokosuka blockade, and maybe the one after that they’ll finally get hold of the package and turn eastward.
There’s not much to complain about other than the pacing and a continuing slight case of Uncanny Valley in the animation, but the pacing is enough. This is going to be less a full-throttle adventure and more for the sort of viewer who needs to know exactly which torpedo tubes are being used in every salvo.
Hunter x Hunter #99-100—One hundred episodes! Gon’s had a lot of adventures since he left home to become a Hunter. We’ve seen him go from flat-out adventure mode to a tournament arc to a crime story to gaming to sf. But Hunter x Hunter‘s current genre theme is looking more and more like the middle book of a trilogy.
It is, perhaps, possible to have too many ideas. Every episode we’re seeing new opponents with ever more strange and interesting powers. But, like Arpeggio of Blue Steel, all the details of fighting are dragging down the plot. Going by a reasonably authoritative online reference, at the current rate, it will be well into next season that everyone finally makes it to Ant HQ for the final battle.
I don’t want to discount the show as a whole. It’s provided some great times, and I heartily recommend everything up to the beginning of the current story arc. But I think it’s time to shelve it for now, and give it another look at the next genre switch.
Kill la Kill #2-3—Having just barely survived her first fight, Ryūko staggers off the field and is taken in by Mako’s family, allowing her to see how the surrounding town works. Meanwhile, the Honnōji Academy Sewing Club is conducting dangerous experiments into futher human enhancement, and Satsuki gets hold of a uniform just as powerful as Ryūko’s.
Let’s talk about the overtones of the setting. Honnōji is well-known from Japanese history as the place where famed warlord Nobunaga Oda died. After nearly unifying a badly fractured Japan and ending the Sengoku (literally, “thousand kingdoms”) period, he was betrayed by one of his generals, surrounded at Honnōji, and either killed or forced to commit ritual suicide. Unification was completed by Ieyasu Tokugawa, who established a dynasty of military dictators ruling via puppet emperors.
Tokugawa society was highly stratified. The top level of nobility consisted of their close allies who were given the major domains. Underneath them were the various ranks of samurai, then the peasant caste, then the caste of artisans, tradesmen, and merchants, and finally the outcasts.
So you can see some of the parallels: Isshin Matoi as Oda, the Kiryūins as the Tokugawas, and the rigid organization of the town. But the late Sengoku period and the life of Nobunaga Oda are popular historical topics and have already been given plenty of bizarre spins in anime. Militarism in the context of modern Japan, on the other hand, as touched on at the beginning of episode 2, is a much more sensitive issue, and Kill la Kill seems to be aiming for it with all the delicacy of a charging rhinoceros. Let’s see where this goes.
Samurai Flamenco #2—Japan has a reputation as one of the most polite and civilized societies in existence, but Samurai Flamenco knows that beneath that shining exterior is a spreading mold of criminality: umbrella theft! And when it bursts into the open, he will jump onto his folding bike of justice and crush it! While riding safely with his helmet on and stopping at red lights!
The best moment in this episode is Masayoshi’s Superman moment when he pulls his shirt open to show Goto the costume underneath. Goto’s expression says “You have got to be kidding me,” but you know that in that moment, he has fully bought into the craziness at last.
Back on the less-crazy side, we also get to see a bit of the life of the entry-level Japanese celebrity, as Masayoshi makes a guest appearance on a game show and has a bit part in a music video. (Please, please, please let there be an episode where he appears on a show that is basically Iron Chef.) All very glamorous, but the only person to remark on his good looks so far isn’t actually attracted to him, but speaking to his manager, as if congratulating her on having a good eye for livestock. It’s a dismal existence he’s looking forward to if this superhero thing doesn’t pan out.
Galilei Donna #2—The plausibility meter moves up a bunch as we learn that Hozuki built the goldfish airship not completely on her own, but rather from a set of plans, and after much study of existing airships. And then it moves right back down again with the information that she’s been working on it in the basement for three years and none of the other people in the house suspected a thing.
It’s all moot now, with both her parents apparently dead (though I suspect not really) and the three sisters fugitives from the Italian police and other, more mysterious organizations. Now things look set for an epic airship journey, dodging sky pirates and unravelling riddles along the way.
For all that it’s set in the future, this feels very much like current steampunk, just without the veneer of gears and the whole pile of awkward -isms that have to be worked around in a Victorian Age setting.