The Reflection premiere – If the involvement of Stan Lee wasn’t a big clue, The Reflection is a show attempting to use the machinery of anime to make an American-style comic-book show about superheroes. Most of this episode is devoted to a bunch of them having a classic smackdown on the streets of New York. Almost none are given names, but there’s a bat dude, a frog dude, a flying powersuited dude who possibly also has the power to control giant TV screens, an undead water-controlling dude, and, because this is classic comic-book New York, a black dude in a hoodie. There’s also one hero who appears to have the power to copy his opponents’ powers, which should be ridiculously overpowered, but he works with an organization which is so totally incompetent that all the bad guys immediately escape again.
You may gather from the above summary that the writing is a mess. Actually, everything about this show is a mess. The thick-lined comic-book stylings go right past homage to unintentional parody. The editing gives it a weird tempo full of inexplicable pauses. The sparse and muffled audio sounds like it was recorded in a basement in 1973. Stan Lee has a weird pronunciation of “Excelsior”.
Many wonderful things have emerged from the freedom that anime has to experiment. Unfortunately, not all of those experiments will succeed. This is the most brilliant and ambitious failure of the year.
And that, finally, wraps up premiere time! The shows below are now confirmed as our lineup for the rest of the season. Take a moment, you’ve earned it.
Chronos Ruler #3 – In the headquarters of the mighty Chronos organization, all is supposed to be revealed, but instead Chronos turns out to be badly wounded and desperate to reclaim the artifact keeping Victo alive. Things immediately get off on the wrong foot when the welcoming committee is a creepy, boundary-pushing dude obsessed with schoolgirl uniforms. In most shows, he would be the comic relief character providing fanservice to the target audience of straight males, but in this case, this turns out to be an early warning that he is not a person to be trusted.
Another little subversion of anime conventions happens when Victo seals the entrance to Chronos. Conjuring more cards than he could possibly be carrying would normally be waved off as comedic overkill, but the fact that Kiri is later asking himself how it could happen suggests that there is an important clue here.
Possibly it has something to do with Victo’s artifact, which turns out to have much greater powers than previously revealed. And Chronos has lost track of it for a thousand years, meaning Victo either obtained it after leaving them or kept it hidden somehow. If that was before his Horologue-inflicted wound, then he had some other agenda all along — one which even he doesn’t fully know anymore.
Katsugeki Touken Ranbu #4 – The team has jumped forward to the year 1868. Edo, soon to be renamed Tokyo, is surrounded by an army loyal to the emperor. To avoid excessive bloodshed, the head of the army attempts to negotiate a surrender for the remains of the shogunate. In our timeline, this worked, and the emperor officially assumed full control of Japan (though the fighting would continue here and there for another year or so).
The Retrograde Army’s goal seems to be generally to throw Japan into chaos and confusion and let it be overrun by other powers. Even if the negotiators were killed, the army would still be there to sweep in. Even if the movement to restore the emperor could be fully stopped, the last shogun was losing his grip on the country anyway. Without the Meiji Restoration, Japan remains weak, divided and backward; it doesn’t spend a couple decades of the 20th century trying to conquer all of its neighbors, but it also doesn’t then become the technological powerhouse of today (and, presumably, the 23rd century that our heroes are being directed from).
For most of the domestic viewing audience, it suffices that the Retrograde Army wants Japan to fail. But I’m curious if this show has a specific reason for why they want that. Is there an event in the future timeline that they want to prevent?
Made in Abyss #3 – Riko has decided that a message that could have been planted with her mother’s journal by anyone is a good enough reason to skip all the training and head straight for the bottom of the Abyss right now. This means doing an end run around the authorities that control access to it, both at the orphanage and in the city.
While not much action takes place, a lot more work is done on fleshing out the atmosphere of general dread and sketchiness around the Abyss. The orphans are aware that the authorities deliberately choose to ignore some reports about the depths. Is that because only people who have been trained to deal with its effects can be trusted, or is it the inevitable conspiracy to hide some important truth?
Reg, on his first trip back to the Abyss, finds another skeleton in prayer. But it’s not just a skeleton in prayer; like the one Riko found in the first episode, it’s trapped under a stone slab. Are these graves? Sacrifices? Do they actually date to the catastrophe that ended the civilization there, or are they more recent?
And how does the rumor of children disappearing on their birthdays tie into this? The urban legend apparently does connect to some grain of truth, as Kiyui’s decreasing energy suggests. But what does that have to do with Riko and Reg’s journey? What is even the point of setting this up when they are about to leave their city forever? I have only vague suspicions and none of them are pleasant.
18if #3 – Kayo has been fighting a terminal disease for a long time and just wants a normal life. When she calls upon the witch power, she’s able to stave off the end long enough to enjoy the high school life of her dreams — literally. She gets a boyfriend, goes on dates, sees the town, and enjoys a high school cultural festival, beautifully rendered as a fantastic event full of impossible creatures because it is something she has no real-life experience with.
A quieter episode this time, but something that helps establish more about the parameters of the dream world. The power of the witches isn’t specifically tied to Sleeping Beauty Syndrome, and they aren’t all going to be cackling demons. And Haruto may wind up in the dream worlds of incipient witches before they fully manifest.
In fact, from a certain perspective, it looks like maybe the witch power followed Haruto into Kayo’s dream. Perhaps he himself is the catalyst for it. Which brings us back to the question: who is he really, outside of the dream world? When he looks around the classroom and says “this takes me back”, is he speaking as the teenager he appears to be, thinking about his first day as a freshman, or as an adult, looking back on school in general?
Magical Circle Guru-Guru #3 – Guru-Guru is very much a bag of odds and ends this week. Kukuri and Nike finish off last week’s boss with the help of Kukuri’s newly summoned “Bēmu Bēmu” monster. (I can’t help but wonder if “BEM” crossed over into Japanese at some point.) After returning to a hastily modified memorial service, they head for home, wind up in the castle, defuse a plot against the kingdom, and get whisked away by a mysterious new ally(?). And there’s the flashback to Kukuri’s first friend, which helps identify another person in the credits, but doesn’t yet have any connection to the rest of the story.
The joke count has taken a worrying drop this week. Hopefully, that’s just because the story needs to catch its breath and get things in place for the main adventure.