April 28, 2012

Mysterious Girlfriend X Ep. 03

They cover a surprising amount of ground in this episode.  Before the opening credits, Akira, in the course of his duties as that week's Nicchoku (Student who takes care of attendence etc - a subtitle note nicely provided by SubDesu, and merely translated as "Class Monitor" by HorribleSubs.  They also differ as to whether it's a one week or one day assignment.) catches his friend Ueno in a classroom after school kissing a girl.  This is the guy who previously told him he had no girlfriend, but it turns out he's been seeing this little slip of a megane-ko since first year, and wants to keep it a secret.

Kind of an odd pose IMHO.  But they're in the same class and Ueno is taller than everyone else.

I really can't get over the whole translation differences thing, when the same line comes out so differently:

"Ueno, you're going out with Oka?" - HorribleSubs vs.
"Ueno, were... were you dating Oka all this time?" - SubDesu.

"Ueno mae, Oka to tsukiatta da no?" - My pitiful attempt at romanizing the line.  Even slowing it down didn't make it easier, and it doesn't seem right even to what little Japanese I remember from college, and I can't find that one proper word for dating at Nihongodict.  I suppose I should appreciate the difficulty of the translation process more.  HorribleSubs tends to be more dramatic and less literal, and SubDesu sometimes more awkward, but by being more literal, a little more subtle information comes through.

Anyway, story wise, this moment gets Akira thinking the next day about a) how his buddy kept that relationship a secret for so long, b) that they're at the kissing stage, c) how his relationship with Urabe is also secret, and d) how he'd like to be kissing.  She seems to notice his musings.

(I suppose he might get further along if he started thinking of her as Mikoto instead of Urabe.  How long do Japanese kids have to be dating before they get on a "first" name basis?)

On the way home, she diverts them to the park just off their route, ostensibly to do their short homework assignment on the bench, and he mentions this scene to Mikoto.  At first, she has no reaction.  Akira might not have noticed this, but I have - She often takes time to think through her reactions, and often comes up with odd, but very thoughtful responses, and this is no exception.  After a moment she asks if he wants to kiss her, and in typical anime boy fashion, his surprise at hearing what he wants to hear sends him stammering until he can finally grunt out the affirmative.  But instead of a kiss, she calmly pulls out a test tube from her bookbag and hands it to him (I don't question the kinds of preparations a girl who holsters scissors in her panties makes), steps away from the bench, and assuming a martial arts stance begins to twirl, and once she stops, she takes the test tube, lets her saliva into it, and tells him to taste it before bed.  The subject then is closed.

Akira goes to bed early, and he has a dream where he and Mikoto are walking back from school, and she pops a piece of candy into her mouth (as she has done before).  She asks if he wants one, he says yes, and she goes mouth to mouth with him to transfer her candy, before putting the second piece in her mouth.  He's a bit put off by this, saying that that was their first kiss, but he wanted it to be something more special.

The next day she leads him into the woods, and asks him again if he wants to kiss her.  He shows that he has learned the lesson, replying that he wants to wait.  She smiles.

He chose wisely.  If this were an adventure game, he'd be headed towards the good ending.

"I feel the same way too," she says, as if it were his idea.

What she has done is communicate her thoughts and feelings through the pheromones in her saliva, and Akira has translated them into his own viewpoint in the dream.  The reason for the twirling is that apparently she needs to be in a more excited state than normal in order to make them more potent and to carry a more specific message.  Previously she stripped naked in that abandoned house in order to demonstrate to Akira how intense their chemical bond was.  Her fear and excitement (she was afraid he'd break his promise to keep his eyes closed, and ruin everything) was strong enough that Akira ended up with a pounding heart and a bloody nose just from the taste.

This plays a strong part in the next bit.  It turns out that the class handsome Jock has also had his eye on Mikoto, although one might have doubts about his motivations when he makes his pitch.  After class, as the students are cleaning up the classroom, Mikoto leaves to take a load of trash to the incinerator, and he follows her out.  Akira has noticed this, but he hasn't connected the dots yet.  Ogata, the Jock in question, catches up with her in the breezeway and offers to carry it for her.  After he takes it, she turns around and walks back towards the classroom.  I Love this about her.  She's not oblivious about what's going on, she just goes her own way.  (One could say her perceptions are unfiltered by culture.)

He catches her and tells her he wants to talk to her, and by the bike racks, he makes his pitch. "Urabe, well, you're kind of unusual.  Very different from the other girls.  You're "Mystical" I think.  And actually, ever since you transferred here, I've been attracted to you." She looks down "Don't freak out - I'm not asking for a serious relationship.  Just that we start out slow, like walking home from school together.  And once we get to know each other after a while... is what I'm thinking.  What do you say?" (Subdesu).  HorribleSubs makes it sound even worse: "You're a little strange.  You're not like the other girls.  There's something mysterious about you.  To be honest, I've been watching you since you transferred to our school.  I'm not asking you to get in a serious relationship.  We can start by just walking home from school together.  Once we get to know each other better, then maybe... What do you think?"  Creeeee-pyyyyy.

"Do you feel a breeze?"
(Notice the gradient in her hair highlight.)

On the way home, just as Akira is about to ask her about it, she stops him and tells him first that Ogata has asked her out.  And when he asks what she told him, she says she told him to wait a day for her answer.  He is ready to go tell Ogata to back off, but no, unlike a woman, she isn't wanting him to fight over her.  She tells him it's her issue to deal with.  Akira has some angst over this.

The next morning, Mikoto is preparing for school (And unless they re-animate, the shower scene is not BD bait).  She gets dressed, but after some thought, decides to not put on any panties.  The why of this becomes clear later.  Unfortunately it's a windy day, which gives her some difficulties with her skirt.  Akira gets no chance to talk to her before she slips out of class at lunchtime and Ogata follows her.  Outside, he asks her for her answer.  She asks him to close his eyes, and gives him the oral wet-willie.  Then she asks him if he feels any different.  When he replies no, she tells him that he has no chance of ever being her boyfriend.  On the way home, Akira asks what happened, and she says she turned Ogata down.  Akira confesses his worries, and Mikoto answers him in her own unique way.  Her daily dose of moistened finger is special today, causing Akira a nosebleed. 

You can see her eyes, you can tell they're connecting.

You see, Mikoto left her panties off that day to give herself a bit of a thrill, which would have been very evident if it had worked on Ogata.  She explains this after handing Akira the panties from her pocket (at least they're clean...).  To her, this proves that her bond with Akira is special.  It means their emotions are in sync.  That phrase has been associated with the desire for a kiss, so Akira gets a bit excited and tries to hug her (grab her is more like it), which she evades with a superhuman leap.  This is the second time he's made this dumb move.  The last time, last episode, she went at him with the scissors and the stack of boxes behind him paid the price, being instantly reduced to an outline of his body.  This time he's a little luckier, with no panties, no scissors.  She catches herself before inadvertently giving him a show, then pulls her scissors from her bookbag and gently reminds him not to do that without her permission.

Makes me think of Leeloo from The Fifth Element. "Never without my permission."

But he has made SOME progress, as she takes his hand for the walk home.

(Hmmm, I notice I picked mostly pictures that show her eyes, which is actually pretty rare, but on the other hand, they show during significant moments in the story, so it's only natural.)

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April 15, 2012

Mysterious Girlfriend X Ep. 02

(Quick Preface, if you ARE going to start watching this, Get the SubDESU version, which is under the Japanese title Nazo no Kanojo X. The translation seems to be a lot better, they don't edit out the interstitial, and they translate the songs.)

I'll get back to Deadman Wonderland shortly (I've recently downloaded a different translation), but I just got episode 2 of Mysterious Girlfriend X and I had to say, at least this far, it's very interesting where this is going.

Akira is struggling with the idea of having his first girlfriend, and has no idea of what to do. He's asking his friends for "Hypothetical" advice, which isn't entirely helpful because they haven't got much experience either, and yet, he doesn't want to admit to anyone he's seeing the weird girl. But nicely, they haven't gone into the "wacky hijinks of trying to hide their relationship" thing. I'll be disappointed if they go there.

And Mikoto of course, won't have any of the "normal stuff". Everything is on her terms. Not even holding hands while they walk. She also demonstrates a new skill, which I will call Scissor Fu, a Martial-arts style of paper cutting. She carries a large pair of scissors tucked into the side of her panties, and she can whip them out and slice the hell out of anything in microseconds. Maybe there's an anime trope for the dangerous powers girls can have, dating all the way back to Lum's lightning bolts. Anyway, she's got it.

Scissor-Fu! Fear it!

When your possibly psycho girlfriend says "Sit here", you sit.

There is a Very Important scene in this episode, important not only because it's obvious "buy the BD bait", but because it completely explains what's going on with the drool thing. And I'm going to actually be a little cagy here because I am enthusiastic enough about this show to want others to see this. Basically she takes him someplace private, an abandoned building up beyond a shrine, and makes him close his eyes so that she can demonstrate just how special what is going on between them is. Remember what I said about how important visual metaphors are in this show? Well as I watched it, I thought the images of ants stripping a dead cicada were just part of showing how decrepit the building was, but after it was over, I realized,

What REALLY surprised me was that it worked both ways. That is the first time I have EVER seen a girl in anime get a nosebleed, and her reaction was totally unexpected, unless you account for how anti-anime girl she is.
"But let me say this. When the time comes, I will not be wearing a strange doll on my head!"
- Best line ever! (HorribleSubs version)

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April 10, 2012

Mysterious Girlfriend X Ep. 01

A lot of people read the various fall preview Synopses and upon reading the bit about the drool, said "Ugh, not for me." I can totally understand that. But for some reason I decided to give it a try (The anime, not the drool), and I'm actually kind of glad I did. (Although since it's the HorribleSubs translation, I'm curious what I'm going to miss). As usual here, I'm NOT going to hide spoilers, since I'm often talking about shows nobody else intends to see.

Our Hero is Tsubake Akira, who has been having strange dreams lately, being of that age where he's learned about sex, but hasn't had any experiences. He is about as ordinary a high-schooler as you can get. Things get interesting, as they do in most Anime, when a new transfer student is introduced. Urabe Mikoto is clearly an odd bird, so odd that the true depths of her oddness are probably yet to be plumbed. She is definitely withdrawn and in her own little world, and mildly amused by the rest of us, when she can be bothered to pay attention. Right from her introduction you can tell how apart she is, from the funny little martial Left Face she does upon entering, to the way her face is hidden behind her bangs, to her traditional introduction speech, which consists only of the word "Yoroshiku."

Naturally the only open desk is next to Akira, and being the bright innocent soul he is, he offers to give her any help she needs.

What she really needs is a course in how to be Japanese, because throughout the rest of the day she demonstrates how she is completely the opposite of every behavior trait the Japanese have been taught since birth. At lunch, she rudely blows off the girls who try to welcome her to the class so that she can continue to sleep face down on her desk. And in the middle of Algebra, she bursts out laughing so hysterically she falls to the floor.

But you know, that moment is actually what won me over. There was something charming about it. Also, her voice actress has a very unique voice, totally atypical for anime girls, but appealing.

Then comes the infamous drool scene, which many critics jump on saying "Why would he do that?" Well, aside from flashing back on that oddly prophetic sex dream, Akira too suddenly exclaims "Why am I licking her drool?!" and runs home. But that night, he starts thinking about her, and soon, she's appearing in his dreams.

And at this point, I should mention that there are a lot of visual metaphors in this show. You need to pay attention to what you're seeing, whether it's echoes of shapes in pools of various liquids, or the far more telling one of Mikoto's hair. Those bangs represent her barrier to the rest of the world. When Akira wakes her up to tell her school is over, he suddenly gets a look at her whole face, and that glimpse resonates with something in him, even though it takes him a while to realize it.

A couple weeks later Akira is so sick, he starts missing school. Mikoto comes to visit him, totally unexpectedly, and begins explaining things to him. She is remarkably blunt and straightforward, and so un-Japanese, her weirdness manifests even more manifestly (:-) as she tells him why he is sick. Somehow she knows what he did after she left the classroom. Somehow she knows things she couldn't. But on the other hand, it's not so easy to take her word for it. Unlike some say, sorceress or demoness explaining how things are going to be from now on like you'd get anywhere else, when she starts telling him he's going through withdrawal he rightly doesn't believe it. But she denies there's anything special about her saliva (nobody seems to notice its thick, honey-like consistency), and that he's just lovesick for her and that's why he's feeling withdrawal.

It's a very peculiar scene, especially once you notice how her hair works, and because of how matter-of-factly she says he must be in love with her, but she doesn't really seem to react to it. It's oddly dispassionate, but there's something behind it, a mystery that will take time to work out. You really do begin to wonder if she's maybe an alien, or something occult, or really, just a very strange little girl who is leading him into her strange little world.

That gets you about halfway through the episode. The remainder is the beginning of their relationship, which is as others have said, very quirky. You find out why she was holding back earlier, and Akira finds himself getting drawn in more and more. And frankly, I'm very curious how this is going to turn out.

Now I do have to say, this is definitely a show for which the TV Tropes definition of Author Appeal was written.  Yes, clearly someone involved in the creation of this has a near spiritual obsession with drool, or more specifically, women sleeping and drooling.  This is especially evident in the end credits where most of the female cast gets the treatment.  But if you can put that aside for the moment, it's really just a vehicle for this story about a very strange girl and a very ordinary guy who end up getting together, and I think it will become a remarkably unusual, but strangely charming love story.

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April 02, 2012

Renton Thurston goes to Jail (Deadman Wonderland Ep. 1)

Seriously, that's what I thought the moment I saw the character design. Igarashi Ganta reminded me entirely of Renton Thurston from Eureka Seven. You have a 14-year old boy whose main "Character trait" is alternating between despair and determination like a manic-depressive on crank, all the while being completely unaware of what's really going on around him, and screaming "Why?" about everything not working the way it should.

Right off the bat this series commits Steven Den Beste's cardinal sin. It introduces a cute girl just to kill her brutally in the first scene. It does this so that another character can be said to resemble her, but seriously, I don't see it.

In the first episode, Rent, er, Ganta's classmates are discussing their upcoming class trip to "Deadman Wonderland" a Prison/Amusement park where the prisoners are the attraction. And everyone is okay with this. The discussion also introduces what will surely become an important plot point, that Ganta forgets the past really easily. It helps with his constant state of bewilderment.

Suddenly this monstrous red man floats outside the window and blows the place to bloody smithereens, killing all of Ganta's classmates, and when he comes to, the first thing he sees is his friend Mimi's decapitated head hanging by her hair from the monster's hand. No, wait, apparently he has zoom lenses for eyes and only sees her head at first and asks her if she's okay, THEN he notices that she's bodiless and hanging by her hair and he freaks out. Framing tricks work for cameras, not eyeballs, Mr. Director. Anyway, the big bad man forms his blood into some kind of crystal and jams it into Ganta's chest.

Next, he's in the hospital, and the police come in and charge him with Mass Murder. Evidence? We don't need no stinking evidence. A public defender introduces himself, and one quick trip to Kangaroo Court later, Renton, er, Ganta is sentenced to death. Then the director, in a fit of brilliance, AFTER the sentence is passed has someone pop up some doctored video of him confessing in front of the Public Defender. That must be the overwhelming evidence the Court was talking about, because it sure didn't come up at the trial. This is also the first display of his gear shifting, because he goes from numbly going through the motions stunned at what's happening to him to screaming about it, for all of ten seconds before he collapses on the floor.

Now mind you, this all goes screaming by so fast because they really don't care about HOW he got here, they just need to push him into the "Wrongly accused guy in prison" role as fast as possible. They've got a lot of set-up to get through, and they've got to get through it fast or else you'll start questioning the stupidity.

So Ganta gets shipped off to Deadman Wonderland, which being privately owned, apparently the prisoners are property with no civil rights at all, and everyone's okay with that. Oh, and in passing it's mentioned that Tokyo was wiped out by some kind of black hole thing ten years ago, but moving on, that's not what the story is about. Just know that the proceeds from the prison/tourist attraction are gonna be used for reconstruction, so it's all good.

While he's on the bus, we first see Shiro, which is a VERY imaginative name for an albino girl, don'tcha think? She mentions that Ganta is coming, by name, somehow knowing this from her perch atop the prison. She is very athletic, wears nothing but a white bodysuit with some red designs painted on it, some sort of oversize collar, and what look like boxing gloves that are strapped on. Now supposedly even though she's albino, and dressed like some kind of circus gymnast, and has uncut hair, Ganta thinks she looks like his late classmate Mimi, who had straight black hair cut in bangs (Plus she's got a different voice actress, and their eyes aren't even the same shape). Sure. How could I have missed it?

Maybe it's the smile. But you could chalk that up to the style.

Now I have to say, the Albino nutgirl is the only reason I decided to stick with the series. She's the single most nonsensical thing is this pile of nonsense, which ends up making her the most appealing thing there. In a later scene, when Ganta is moping around saying he wishes they'd just execute him and get it over with, she says "If you wanna die, I'll be happy to kill you," in a cheerful voice, and tries to brain him with a pipe. She uses the fact that he dodges (several times) to prove to him that he's lying about wanting to die, and therefore he should cheer up. Absolutely a nutjob, but she makes more sense than anything else.

"If you wanna die, I'll be happy to kill you,"

Why'd you move?

"Why'd you move?"

Slightly before this scene, we get our obligatory prison commandant intro. Captain Makina is the perfect fetish prison mistress, with high heeled boots and an enormous chest stuffed into her tightly tailored uniform. She carries a sword and freely slashes the chest of one inmate just to prove she's crazy-bad tough. And one of the new arrivals has to prove what a lowlife he is by talking about her boobs. Unfortunately this is a HorribleSubs job, and they prove how correctly they are named in this scene, because even with my sketchy Japanese, I can tell they've taken some liberties.

Makina: Koko made de nani ka shitsumon wa? (This far, are there any questions?) "Any Questions this far?"

Inmate: Ano, nani cuppu desu ka?(Those, what cup(size) are they?) "How big are those titties?"

Makina: G da. (They're G) "G-cups."

Well, glad we cleared that up. But that prisoner's line is pretty off. Makes you wonder how unreliable the rest of the translation is.

"Thank you Mistress!"

The scene also introduces the control collars, ripped off from god knows how many crappy sci-fi prison movies. They've got tracking, and tasers, and some other stuff in them. But the writer forgot to mention the most important thing, so he had to crowbar in a scene later to explain that for those inmates on death row, the collar doses them with a slow-acting poison and they must earn the antidote candy by working the park in the most deadly attractions every three days.

And yet, the "Slow acting poison" is SO predictable, that the collar has a digital countdown that can be relied on to the SECOND for when the poison will suddenly cause instant death. They show this by having some other death-row inmate take a hostage, and Makina tells the guards and her assistant to just make small talk while he expires. Hmmm, what about the built-in taser?

We also see Makina go up to the office of the prison's director, and what do you know, it's the Public Defender! I DID say it was a Kangaroo Court. Apparently he knows all about the Monster that killed the class, and he wanted Ganta in his prison because of it. Makina though, has been kept in the dark about this.

Then there's a final scene where we discover that Ganta too has this blood-borne power. Hey Prison Director, nothing like blowing up a tower in the middle of your amusement park full of the public to try to drop it on him to force his power to come out. Wish I had your confidence.

The end credits feature photographs of all the characters in their pre-prison pasts. And apparently there are pictures of Ganta and Shiro together as little kids. Good thing Ganta is so forgetful, I can't imagine an albino playmate is the kind of thing anyone with a normally functioning brain wouldn't remember.

Okay, so I'll stop this here for now. I know it's probably pointless to keep reviewing last spring's series, but I've got a LOT of stuff to catch up on, and I finally found a copy of the OVA to cap this off. So I hope my single reader isn't disappointed that I'm not going over Moretsu Space Pirates like everyone else.

One advantage of reviewing old stuff is it really doesn't matter if I reveal spoilers.

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