Sakurasou no Pet no Kanoujou – 10
I don’t think there’s any doubt that this episode is another step in the right direction for Sakurasou, though I’m still seeing the same pattern repeating itself. A big part of the progress comes from the integration of Ryuunosuke into the plot – he adds a totally different element from anyone else in the cast, both in terms of comedy and perspective, and it’s a welcome addition (not to mention quite fun to hear Hochan do her version of a punk – it comes off sort of moe). I do think it’s a bit odd for him to have been literally invisible for 8 episodes and all of a sudden just pop up as if he’d never missed a bit – I guess we chalk that up to school rules and the Nyaboron project, for which he’s obviously invaluable.
I do see danger in Ryuunosuke’s presence, though, given the tendency of Sakurasou to go for the cheap laugh and the lowbrow sexual comedy. That’s especially worrisome given his gynophobia – much more in evidence this week – and the fact that he and Rita seem to be setting up as sparring partners. I’d hate to see a descent into a bunch of badgering and harassment at his expense by Rita for comic effect, and the preview doesn’t do anything to allay my fears. Maria’s character is another one I think could go either way – she has an interesting story in her own right and does shed new light on Mahiro’s effect on others, at the very least. The theme of characters who are geniuses at one thing and childlike at everything else is prominent this season, and the theme of the impact they have on those close to them very much at the heart of this series.
To me, this show is the opposite of Zetsuen in many ways (ironic, given they’re both being adapted by Okada Mari). I started off feeling mild affection for Zetsuen that turned quickly to real admiration, and it’s been somewhat reversed with Sakurasou. With Zetsuen, the episodes tend to hit a point somewhere in the middle where they become completely absorbing and finish strong, while Sakurasou tends to have trouble finishing off good ideas. I find this another example of an episode where the series done many fine things with a story that’s challenging and has some depth, and then goes completely over to sap and easy emotional pickings for an overwhelmingly heart-warming end. It’s an odd trait – I don’t know whether it comes from insecurity about trusting the audience, but I hate to see a series with as much potential as this one continue to undercut its own impact with predictable and manipulative endings.
Btooom! – 10
This peculiar Survivor/Sengoku hybrid continues to be a pretty compelling watch as it nears the finish line. In fact, I’d say this might very well have been one of the best episodes so far, if not the very best. It managed to steer clear of most of the creepy excess that usually make me want to sit under a waterfall for an hour after watching it, and delivered a taut and tense 22 minutes that narrowed its focus to a few critical characters and events.
The two characters that have emerged as major players late in the game – the craven doctor Masahito Date and the glamor-boy soldier of fortune Nobutaka Oda – have both added a very strong presence that tamps down some of the silliness of Btooom and grounds it in solid, straightforward action-thriller territory (and it doesn’t hurt that they’re voiced by a pair of rock-solid seiyuu in Narita Ken and Nakamura Yuichi). Oda adds an especially interesting element as he’s an old classmate of Sakamoto-han, the popular kid who befriended the outcast Ryouta but eventually betrayed him. He’s also quite obviously an ace Btooom player, possibly the equal of Sakamoto himself, and it’s interesting to wonder if he’s completely gone over to evil of if he has some semblance of regard for his old friend left. Judging by his behavior generally and specifically towards his “partner”, Hidemi, the latter seems unlikely.
As for Date, he’s been pretty much a ticking time-bomb for the last two eps – in fact, I was even wondering if he’d been poisoning Taira, but that appears not to have been the case. Rather it seems he’s been biding his time, riding the alliance for as long as he felt it would prove useful – which he’s judging to be not much longer, it seems. It looks like only a tip from Murasaki to Himiko about Date’s old tricks saved Sakamoto’s life this time (main-character armor makes cliffhangers like this pretty suspense-free after episode 10) after Date finally shows his true stripes. There are a lot of people left alive on this island and only two episodes left, so it seems likely we’re going to see an ending other than one where only one or two of the main pair get out alive. I suppose even a non-ending is possible given that the manga is ongoing, but with a story of this nature that would be a pretty cruel move on the part of Madhouse.
Magi – 10
Considering that Ugo-kun is headless, he does a pretty good job of projecting emotion.
There’s a sense that everything in the first 9 episodes was pretty much the prequel, and the actual show started this week for Magi. We’ve seen bits and pieces of everyone’s power, starting with Aladdin and Ugo and on through the human cast, with a slow build towards the one who seemed to be the most powerful of all, Sinbad. But with the events of this episode, it appears as if Sinbad isn’t even in the same galaxy as the magi of this world.
Politics has been a big part of Magi so far, and continued to be this week. Possibly my least favorite part of the series is the tendency for the villains to be (often literally) mustache-twirling caricatures, but at least with the banker Markkio we have one of the very best seiyuu alive in Miki Shinichiro – and one who hasn’t been heard from nearly often enough in the last few years. The complicated political web is one of the most interesting and complex parts of the show, with the Kou Empire seemingly in the midst of a global power-grab of staggering proportions. Given what we’ve seen of their leaders so far (the Princess Hakuei seems set to return to the scene next week) it’s not all black-and-white with them, and that’s inherently more interesting than the alternative.
This week though it was all preamble to the epic magi battle between Aladdin and Judal – in Balabadd representing the Kou Empire himself, though he’s not much interested in the grimy politics of the moment. That battle with Aladdin is absolutely terrific – somewhat out of nowhere, in fact, emerging as one of the better non H x H fight scenes of the year. It’s well-animated, cleverly choreographed, and best of all does what very few battle scenes manage to do well (I think Lord of the Rings may be the best example anywhere of this skill) and that’s to be driven by emotion as much as the action itself. Judal and Aladdin make a fascinating contrast, and not just physically – as innocent and naïve as Aladdin is, Judal is ruthless and cruel – and Aladdin’s dedication to Ugo seems to be the thing that most separates him from Judal.
All this makes me especially curious to see what the other magi are like, of course. As for these two, it was really telling that their battle was taking place with all of the strongest fighters we’ve seen so far standing by, and for the most part they were helpless to do anything but stand and watch – though Morgiana and Alibaba did finally enter the fray in the end. It was quite powerful watching Ugo subject himself to all that punishment for Aladdin’s sake, but perhaps the most critical moment of the fight came when Judal accused Ugo of being “someone else’s djinn” because he kept fighting on despite getting no magoi from Aladdin. I don’t know what the story is there but it’s obvious there’s something in the Aladdin-Ugo pairing that’s different from all others of its kind. Alibaba is confirmed to be Aladdin’s king candidate of course – though we still haven’t been told exactly what that means – but given how powerfully the gap in strength between magi and humans was proved this ep, it’s possible to wonder if the humans aren’t going to end up feeling somewhat irrelevant in the overall story.