Yes, I did notice the shocking lapses in animation quality, especially in the second half of the episode. The scene where Tsubasa and her manager Ogawa Shinji (Houshi Souchiro) were walking away from the “friendship meeting” was jaw-droppingly bad. But as a poster over at Animesuki pointed out, this may not be so much a question of budget as scheduling: Thomas Romain mentioned on his blog that the first episode of this series was finished 30 minutes (!) before airing, and that the show was only conceived nine short months ago. Satelight is a studio that normally finishes an entire series before airing (see Ikoku Meiro) and we know Mouretsu Pirates has been in development forever, so this was of doing business is odd for them. Hopefully they’ll catch up with themselves and we won’t have any more unintentional self-parody like that scene again.
Aside from the animation issues, my take on the content front is just about where it was – it’s a bit of a confused muddle, Yuuki Aoi is wonderful (apart from the singing) and I find the characters appealing and the story overall has a lot of snap. As in many throwback anime are we’re still seeing a pastiche of styles, and while I still see lots of Madoka and KamiDolls here there were hints that the story with The Noise may take a sort of quasi-religious turn, almost in the mode of Evangelion or RahXephon. When the new girl shows up at the end Tsubasa makes reference to her wearing “Nehushtan Armor”, which is a reference to the Old Testament and specifically to powerful sacred relic made by Moses, a “fiery serpent”. And indeed, The Noise sort of feel like a cross between the witches from Madoka Magica and the Angels from NGE.
We did get a fair amount of plot exposition this week – for one, we saw Kazanari actually mix it up in combat – and show some serious moves – in stopping Tsubasa from doing Hibiki serious bodily harm. Tsubasa’s resentment towards Hibiki is fairly broadly played and rather obvious, and Hibiki innocently makes it worse with talk of “replacing Kanade” and grand pledges to fight for the common good. Sakurai really brought her loli/yuri proclivities out into the open, actually biting Hibiki’s ear at one stage (which I think scared her more than any encounter with the noise or an angry Tsubasa. There was the revelation that The Noise’ activity seems to be centered directly above 2nd Division HQ, where they’re digging for relics which anyone could theoretically use at 100%. And we get a recurrence of one of the major anime themes of 2011, xenophobia, as the Americans are painted as another potential enemy lusting after relics and hacking the 2nd Division’s computers.
The most effective part of the episode for me was the way it portrayed the impact her new secret life is having on Hibiki’s old one. The way the desires of a “normal” life never go away was one of the most effective and moving parts of Madoka Magica, and while Senshogear is obviously not in that class, it’s doing a good job of showing how these worlds are colliding in Hibiki’s life (it pissed her off so much that Dark Hibiki reappeared). Much of the credit goes to Aoi’s funny and authentic performance, and it’s interesting to see the way her modest abilities as a singer are playing into that. Clearly she’s well-outclassed by Mizuki Nana, though that’s to be expected, but there’s really no effort being made to cover up the difference in the quality of their singing. Aoi Yuuki isn’t known as an idol for a reason, but she’s done theme song performances – so I really wonder if she’s sandbagging here, just a little, to play up the vulnerability and fragility of her character.