Sunday, September 30, 2007

Meron-pan Project: Shana I eps 19-24

Episode 19: Inside the Battle

Summary
Shana has to protect her rival, Kazumi, and bring her to Khamsin to tune the city, while Professor Crazy and his sidekick, Lotus Domino, continue with their plan. Kazumi tells Yuuji in spite of everything she learned she still considers him human and he cries like a little girl, er, I mean, he cries Manly Tears. Khamsin blows up the Hindenberg that Professor Crazy was arriving in, and it looks like the Flame Hazes have won--but back at the Hall of Justice, Bel-Peol, Sydonay, and Hecate aren't concerned, with Professor Crazy reporting the preparations for the real plan are complete...

Impressions
Margery must be taped in pretty good to keep from just falling the hell out of that yukata--if she ever has kids, they're going to be seriously well-fed. After initially folding like a deck of cards, Kazumi manages to pull herself together to her credit. Still don't like her though. While Shana was out of line earlier, it's hard not to be pissed off at Yuuji for making her cry, then not going with her when she went to fight Professor Crazy. About now is when Kamina needs to appear and knock some Manly Sense into Yuuji so he doesn't keep screwing around. Either he likes Kazumi or Shana, make a decision already...if you can't tell, I'm hoping the triangle doesn't feature prominently in season two...

Episode 20: Heartless Wilhelmina

Summary
Shana runs into Wilhelmina, who's not happy that Shana's upset about Yuuji instead of focusing on her mission of kicking Denizen ass. Wilhelmina and Shana end up at Yuuji's house, and Chigusa invites them in, but Chigusa's powers don't win over Wilhelmina, who's determined to be a bitch. Yuuji resolves to leave the city with Shana, but Wilhelmina is determined to end the rabu triangle by killing Yuuji, so Shana and Kazumi can get into some hot yuri action. Or she wants to kill Yuuji so the Ball Masque, a Denizen gang that Bel-Peol, Sydonay, and Hecate belong to, can't get the Reiji Maigo. Either way, Yuuji's going down. Oh, and Margery blows out of town and ditches her henchmen.

Impressions
A good episode, as the drama kicks up, with Shana torn between her duty as a flame haze and loyalty to Wilhelmina and wanting to be with Yuuji (specifically, a not-killed-by-Wilhelmina Yuuji). I'm surprised Shana is taking this much time to think about it, but if I remember right next episode she comes to her senses. A little disappointed in Wilhelmina's attitude--she showed some signs in the flashback of caring about Shana, but now she's ready to kill the guy she likes, and doesn't seem to care about much of anything except for her mission as a Flame Haze.
On a side note, Wilhelmina can say it all she wants, but no one does -de arimasu like Keroro. No one.

Episode 21: Diverging Feelings

Summary
Shana stops Wilhelmina from killing Yuuji, and convinces her to let him live (for now), but Yuuji and Shana have an argument, as Yuuji tells her he wants to leave the city to protect everyone, while Shana wants him to leave the city for a different reason, namely the chance to get some Hot Flame Haze Action with her. Margery's henchmen offer to go with Yuuji when he leaves, and everyone gathers at the bonfire of the festival decorations to see if Yuuji's hunch about there being some other purpose for them is right. It turns out there is another purpose to the decorations, as when the flames reach them they activate a huge Unrestricted Method. The Palace of the Stars, Ball Masque HQ, appears over Misaki City, and Sydonay makes a move to grab Yuuji to get the Reiji Maigo--Wilhelmina moves to kill Yuuji so the Reiji Maigo won't fall into the wrong hands...but Shana gets in the way, getting run through and saving Yuuji yet again.

Impressions
Ouch...Shana getting run through like that's definitely going to leave a mark. I'd say she should break out the neosporin, but this is a little beyond that... Any normal person would be dead before they hit the ground if they got run through like Shana did, but since she's a Flame Haze and there's three more episodes and a second season to go, I'm going to give her an excellent chance of survival. I don't think Wilhelmina looked sufficiently horrified at what happened--she seemed to view trying to kill Yuuji as necessary "collateral damage", but after gravely injuring Shana, who she helped raise, you'd think she'd have a bigger reaction. If Wilhelmina was ever going to break her cool exterior this would be the time, but I guess she really does have a heart of pure ice.

Episode 22: The Flickering Flame

Summary
Kazumi angsts again because--well, that's all she can do...meanwhile, Shana's recovering, and Wilhelmina thinks the best course of action is to go the Palace of the Stars and kill Yuuji. Margery's back in town, but she's got her hands full as Wilhelmina and Shana go to the Palace of the Stars, where Hecate is using Yuuji to make Reigi Maigo generate almost limitless power of existence, threatening the whole city...

Impressions
I'm noticing a pattern here--whatever the situation, Wilhelmina thinks the best solution is to kill Yuuji. Ball Masque's in town? Kill Yuuji! Ball Masque captured him? Well, we could go and rescue him but--nope, kill Yuuji! We're out of orange juice? Kill Yuuji! What did he ever do to her? Did Yuuji run over Wilhelmina's puppy with a truck, then back over it again for good measure while she watched in horror? I know she doesn't want Ball Masque to use Reigi Maigo, but how about rescuing him and then hiding him or something?
Anyway, a solid episode as we get closer to the conclusion.

Episode 23: Battle at the Dawn Star Temple

Summary
Shana and Wilhelmina reach the Palace of the Stars and run into their first obstacle--an army of Tetsu-jin 27 1/5ths produced by Professor Crazy and a machine that sucks away their power of existance, making it harder to fight. Wilhelmina gets an arrow in the shoulder and Shana gets shot right in the zettai ryouiki, but they keep fighting and Margery shows up to blow up Professor Crazy's machine, enabling Shana and Wilhelmina to fight at full power again. Wilhelmina asks Shana if she'll kill Yuuji, and she says no--she'll fight to save Yuuji and prevent the world's balance from being disrupted, as Shana and as a Flame Haze.

Impressions
A good episode, as the smackdown at the Palace of the Stars begins. Although I almost wish they hadn't translated the name in the DVD subs, because 'Palace of the Stars' sounds too much like something you'd find in Las Vegas. Wilhelmina redeems herself a little here, respecting Shana's decision and telling her she believes in her, -de arimasu.

Episode 24: Crimson Thoughts

Summary
The Final Battle--Margery faces off against Sydonay, with Wilhelmina taking on Bel-Peol, as Shana confronts Hecate. Hecate orgasms while 'touching vessels' to Yuuji to copy his memories, but Yuuji can tell Shana is there to save him, and tells Hecate she can't be fulfilled just by borrowing memories from someone else. Shana frees Yuuji, and Hecate goes batshit insane like Shiro, releasing enough power of existence to destroy Misaki City. Shana and Alastor can only find one way to absorb it all before the city is destroyed--have Alastor manifest in this world to consume it, although that would have the side-effect of killing Shana. Yuuji can't escape either, but he takes Shana's hand and tells her he'd decided a long time back to go wherever she did--and as they walk into what looks like oblivion together, Shana tells Yuuji she loves him...
Of course, she doesn't die--she just wakes up on the school roof, and Alastor says her 'vessel' turned out to be big enough that she didn't get destroyed after all, while Yuuji was protected by Friagne's ring. Cue the ending credits and epilogue...

Impressions
A good final episode, with some panty shots thrown in for fanservice during the Shana-Hecate fight--the "oh wait, turns out you didn't die after all" at the end seemed a little contrived, but it was much better than the series ending with Shana and Yuuji dying, so I can't complain too much. The moment where Shana and Yuuji were walking into the firestorm hand in hand was really well done. I remember the first time I watched this I was surprised they ended the arc with Bel-Peol, Sydonay, Hecate, and Professor Crazy all just getting away unscathed--even Lotus Domino got away. I was just waiting to hear Bel-Peol say "I'll get you next time" or something, followed by maniacal laughter as she disappeared. Now I'm wondering if they'll finally get what's coming to them in Shana II, namely a chance to check out the sharp side of Nietono no Shana up close, or if they'll just be forgotten, living out the rest of their days in some Denizen Retirement Community.

Final Thoughts

While it wasn't perfect, overall Shakugan no Shana was a fun series to watch--it passed the re-watch test well, and had a good mix of action, character development, drama, and romance. A few random thoughts:

- The Shana-tan Specials are just awesome, especially Evil Kazumi: "I'm definitely going to kill her..." or "Good luck then, Shana-tan" with an evil smirk. Chibi-Shana sitting on Yuuji's head eating melon pan, while he complains about all the crumbs, is just classic. Alastor ending up at the South Pole was good too--I'm hoping with Shana II we get some more short specials like this when the DVDs come out.
- Especially watching on DVD, there are a couple work-saving measures JC Staff took that get old--Alastor's 15-second spiel at the start of every ep before the OP, and the up to a minute-long recap of the previous episode before the title screen after the OP. It reminds me a little of Hayate no Gotoku, with the easy-to-animate 'Butler Network' taking out time at the end of every episode they'd otherwise have to fill with real animation and plot. I guess if you're watching on TV and you forget what happens week to week the recap is nice, but most other series get by without one fine...not a big deal, though, since that's what fast-forwarding is for.
- I know Noiji Itou illustrates a billion light novels and games and I really want to like her drawing, but I have to admit I just don't like her character designs as much as the anime's. Unfortunately for me, the region 1 DVDs all have her representations of the characters on the covers, while I'd much rather see the anime versions. In a perfect world, the covers would be reversible and you could pick, but no such luck.

Meron-pan Project: Shana I eps 13-18

Episode 13: The Declaration of War Behind the School Building

Summary
Tiriel and her brother, the tonsil hockey-playing Denizen siblings, seem to have the upper hand, but with help from Yuuji and Margery they end up taken down by Shana. Sydoney, the third Denizen, runs away, after fighting Margery.

Impressions
So Sydoney is supposedly nicknamed "Thousand Changes" and can assume any form he wants presumably--so WTF was up with the lion crossed with a chicken? You can't bring anything more badass looking than that? How about a dragon? Hell, even a freaking panda would inspire more ph34r. That was one fugly Denizen...if I was Yuuji I'm not sure if I'd be scared or just bust the hell up laughing.
There's a LOT of collateral damage in this series--just 3:30 into the episode, five innocent people are taken out by one of the Denizens' Rinne. By the end of the second season, Misaki City will have a population of about 300,000 torches and about a dozen real people left.
More Shana in action, with the flaming hair and sword combo--combined with the invincible zettai ryouiki, it's hard not to like her. Kazumi has no idea how formidable an opponent she has. And given Yuuji was prepared to kiss Shana at the end before he ended up with a faceful of melon pan instead, I'm thinking Shana will beat Kazumi down in the end. It's not called Shagukan no Yoshida-san for a reason.

Episode 14: A Remarkable Person

Summary
This episode starts the flashback arc, as we see Shana before she entered into her contract with Alastor. Shana was living at the Palace of Heaven's Road, being trained by a Flame Haze called Wilhelmina and a skeleton named Shiro. The Palace of Heaven's Road is a concealed floating island in the sky, and seems idyllic enough--but Evel Knievel and the Invisible Man are closing in on them fast. Shana tries to trap Shiro with ketchup, making him go batshit insane.

Impressions
Wilhelmina must have a Costco card or something to have that much freaking ketchup in the house, since Shana went through at least a dozen bottles. I mean I like hot dogs as much as the next guy, but do I have a whole bucket worth of ketchup in the house?
Not a bad episode, since Shana plus Chinese dress is an excellent combo, and it's interesting to see some of Shana's life before she met Yuuji. They say she was adopted as an infant, and being raised by Wilhelmina, I guess I can see why Shana's a little emotionally distant when she first meets Yuuji. For a minute, I thought I was watching Munto with the whole Palace of Heaven's Road on an island floating in the sky...speaking of Munto, it's too bad Gass isn't in this, he'd be a kickass Flame Haze.
I guess Shiro went nuts because the ketchup looked like blood to him and triggered his Dororo Trauma Switch or something...I'd think just life as a fleshless walking skeleton would be horrifying enough by itself, but fortunately I can't say it's an area I have a lot of experience with.

Episode 15: The Day when the Flame was Born

Summary
Evel Knievel arrives at the Palace of Heaven's Road, along with Tenmokuikko, a Mystes that lives to fight and kill strong warriors. The Invisible Man fights Wilhelmina, while Shana enters into a contract with Alastor, reaching her dream becoming a Flame Haze.

Impressions
A solid episode with some good action--Shana didn't look hurt enough to need THAT many bandages though... I wish they'd elaborated a little on Shana's 'hidden feelings' which turned out to be doubts about the cause the Flame Hazes were fighting for. It seems like she's gotten over any doubts she had, since up to this point she's been cutting down Denizens like nobody's business.

Episode 16: The Flame-Haired Scorching-Eyed Slayer

Summary
We get some of the past of the last Flame Haze to contract with Alastor--she died using an ultimate attack of sorts, but not before asking a Denizen who had fallen for her, Merihim, to train her successor. Merihim turned into Skeletor and did just that, but back in the present he changes back to his original bishonen form to kick the Invisible Man's ass. Shana defeats Tenmoku Ikko and claims his sword, Nietono no Shana, and her and Wilhelmina part ways, now that Shana's a full Flame Haze and her training is over.

Impressions
Shana's battle with Tenmoku Ikko seemed kind of anticlimatic for fighting a monster Mystes that's supposedly taken down all kinds of Denizens. She does a backflip, stops the sword with her hands (one of the few areas of her body not covered in bandages), and before you know it, it's over. She even took him down without a weapon of any kind, and he had a freaking sword. Not a bad episode overall though, and closes out the flashback arc, setting the stage for the last arc of the series to start.

Episode 17: A New Beginning

Summary
Shana asks Chigusa to help teach her to cook, and Kazumi asks Yuuji to the Misago Festival. Khamsin, another Flame Haze, arrives in town, and tells Kazumi about torches and what's going on in the town.

Impressions
I love how Chigusa keeps trying to set Yuuji and Shana up, with Chigusa helping Shana cook and then suggesting she wear a yukata and go to the festival with Yuuji. Too bad Yuuji the man-whore has already accepted an invitation from Kazumi, although Chigusa and Shana don't know that...
I think that split second just before the title is the only time Khamsin smiles all season--it just looks out of character on him. I keep wondering if Khamsin is going to end up liking Kazumi or not, but we'll see how big a role he plays next season soon...
At least Kazumi's first reaction when she found out about torches was asking about her family, and not Yuuji--if she'd thought of Yuuji first and her family was just an afterthought, I'd have been kind of annoyed.

Episode 18: A Shattering Wish

Summary
Kazumi discovers Yuuji is a torch and freaks out; then Shana goes to the festival and finds Yuuji chasing Kazumi, tries to stop him, but fails. Professor Crazy Denizen activates a Unrestricted Method over the whole town, and Khamsin asks Shana to find Kazumi to help him tune the city before Professor Crazy causes more distortion.

Impressions
Khamsin isn't very good at finding reliable help--he should have picked an obaa-san (old woman), not only would they know the town even better than Kazumi, but obaa-sans are completely freaking fearless. If you've ever seen a time service at a Japanese grocery store, you know not to get in their way, or they'll just run you the hell down with their carts. If an obaa-san was up against a Denizen, I'd put all my money on the obaa-san.
For a second, I thought Yuuji was going to slap Shana when she was telling him to just ignore Kazumi, but to his credit he didn't. Then again, he was probably just afraid she'd kick his ass.

Meron-pan Project: Shana I eps 7-12

Episode 7: The Two Flame Hazes

Summary
Shana trains Yuuji by hitting him on the head with a stick. Margery chases after Lamies, intending to kill him since he's a Denizen, and we learn she's looking for a silver-flamed Denizen who's not going to show up this season. Shana and Yuuji hurry to try to protect Lamies, since if he's killed enough energy will be released to seriously mess up Misaki City.

Impressions
Maybe it's because I just watched Kanon, but Yuuji's mom reminds me of Akiko a little--she gives Shana training Yuuji the 'one second approval' just like Akiko would. It's starting to be more obvious Shana likes Yuuji, but not being exactly experienced, she's not really aware of it herself. Got to love Shana telling it like it is--"Yuuji, you're really weak. No, really. I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone worse at this shit than you are." Shana's definitely not much for politeness, but she's probably also a wildcat in the sack, so Yuuji's smart to just walk it off.

Episode 8: The Beautiful Goblet

Summary
Margery finds Lamies' hiding place and tries to take him down, only to get her ass kicked by Shana and Yuuji. Yuuji finally has something useful to do, now that he has Friagne's fire-repelling ring.

Impressions
Good battle between Shana/Yuuji and Margery/baka Marco--J.C. Staff did a solid job on this episode. Some background on Margery too, although I wish we had more detail on exactly what went down between her and the Silver Denizen...but I guess that's what Shana II is for...

Episode 9: The Poolside of Love and Desire

Summary
Pool episode, which means swimsuits! Moe~!

Impressions
Love triangles can be interesting, but the Kazumi-Shana-Yuuji triangle just irritates me for the most part. It really just makes Yuuji look like an indecisive coward--coward's a strong word, but when two girls like you and you don't have the guts to make a decision between them and/or tell them how you feel, there's no other way to put it.
I think the love angle in Shakugan no Shana would have been much more interesting if Yuuji had been dating the real Hirai Yukari, who was killed by Denizens in the first episode. Then you'd have a more complex situation like Kaze no Stigma, where Yuuji would have to choose between a past that's no longer there and the present/future. You could have a Denizen create a Yukari-look alike using some of her memories and try to use it against him...there are a lot more interesting possibilities. Instead, Yuuji just comes across as indecisive and impossibly dense. Although at least this isn't School Days, so he's not getting Kazumi pregnant, then giving Shana chlamydia and having gay sex with the gym teacher...wow, there's an image I don't want...
Anyway, this episode was particularly easy on the eyes, since we get the cast in swimsuits--although Shana's swimsuit is...not moe. As Konata would say, maybe there are "special needs" people who like it, but I think the frills need to go. I'm a little disappointed in Yuuji's mom, since she picked it out.
Overall, still an enjoyable episode, especially when Yuuji's getting the top of his head pummeled by oppai.

Episode 10: Entwined Feelings

Summary
Ike keeps trying to set Kazumi and Yuuji up, this time putting away books in the library after school, and Yuuji's depressed because in spite of training with Shana, all he's getting better at is getting hit on the head. Kazumi gets all hot and bothered because she can't get the balls to ask Yuuji what Shana means to her, and the sibling Denizens show up in town, along with Hang in the Background Sunglasses Dude.

Impressions
A decent episode, mainly because Chigusa, Yuuji's mom, kicks ass--fortunately, Chigusa has better taste in dresses than in swimsuits, and we get to see Shana wearing something other than her school uniform for once. Also, at the risk of sounding like a criminal in Fumoffu, ponytails are totemo moe.
The two new Denizens, however, are kind of weak as bad guys go--they're brother and sister, but they have a habit of exchanging power of existence by french kissing. Now, if they were both girls, I'd have no problem with it at all, but when they're siblings it's more than a little nasty...

Episode 11: Yuji, Shana, and Kisses

Summary
Shana wonders what the meaning of a kiss is after seeing one on TV, and asks Chigusa. Alastor becomes alarmed and arranges for a phone call with Chigusa to ask her not to talk to Shana about such things anymore, but in the end he ends up impressed by Chigusa's argument.

Impressions
Chigusa really is up there with Akiko in the top anime moms list (although granted, anime mom mortality is high, cutting down on her competition)--she not only always gives good advice, she's even able to convince Alastor her view is correct. I keep thinking there has to be more to her than meets the eye--does she really know what's going on? It wouldn't surprise me if she knew Yuuji was a torch and had the Reiji Maigo...
It's cool that the writer didn't take the easy way out and have Yuuji living by himself with his parents working overseas in Oregon or something, like it seems like every single harem anime series does. Chigusa's an interesting character, and I'm hoping we'll get some more screentime for her in Shana II. I'm also curious what Yuuji's father is like--to marry Chigusa he's got to have something going for him.

Episode 12: Flowers Bloom in the Cradle

Summary
Kazumi angsts after seeing Yuuji and Shana together, and it turns out Ike likes Kazumi, making the love triangle a love square. Fortunately, the soap opera gets broken up by the Denizen siblings attacking. Shana goes after them alone while Yuuji searches for the source of their power, and Shana vs. Denizens is looking like the Denizens will win.

Impressions
Have I mentioned I don't like Kazumi? She's perfectly capable of being bitchy to Shana but can't do anything but simper around Yuuji--thank Haruhi for the fast-forward button. It doesn't help that the Denizen brother and sister who have major PDA issues aren't my favorite bad guys in this series either, I'm remembering as I watch this that it was my least favorite arc. But at least we get Shana in Badass Winged Flaming Mode.

Meron-pan Project: Shana I eps 1-6

Shakugan no Shana aired back in fall of '05, and quickly became popular with a combination of action, drama, comedy, romance, and of course, the sword-wielding, melon pan eating heroine, Shana. A J.C. Staff production, it was an fun series to watch over its 24 episode run, and I went ahead and bought it when it came out on region 1 DVD. Shana's character development over the course of the series, and a decent male lead in Sakai Yuuji, were a big part of what made it worth re-watching for me, along with good animation quality and action sequences. With the second season starting this fall, I figured now was the right time to marathon it (not all in one sitting though...unfortunately, I don't get enough vacation to take a "Shana sick day" to watch it all in one go).

To give a very basic summary of the story: Sakai Yuuji is an ordinary high school student--or at least he thinks he is--until one day on the way home he gets caught in a 'sealed space' and encounters a Rinne, a monster that consumes people in balls of fire. It turns out that unknown to ordinary people, there's a deadly battle being waged between the Denizens of the Crimson World, who are consuming people for their 'power of existence', and the Flame Hazes who hunt down Denizens to prevent the balance of the world from being disrupted. Yuuji is saved by a Flame Haze, Shana, but she surprises him by telling him he's already dead...

Without further ado...here's the play-by-play for the first series, one episode at a time (heavy spoilers, so be warned...):

Episode 1: The End of Everything, the One Beginning

Summary
Yuuji is having an ordinary day--until suddenly he finds himself in sealed space, with a Rinne facing off against Shana, a Flame Haze. Shana nearly cuts him in two, kills the Rinne, puts him back together, and to top it off tells him matter-of-factly that he's actually dead, merely a 'torch' that's a copy of the original Yuuji who was killed at some point in the past for his "power of existence." This is the kind of day that's really bad at the time, but years later you look back on and laugh about...well, maybe a lot of years later...

Impressions
Wow--the animation quality for the fight sequences was better than I remembered. Shana makes a dramatic first impression, and the direction throughout was just top-notch. Yuuji's narration set a dark, dramatic tone from the very beginning, giving you a glimpse of what's to come, with the scenes of normal school life interspersed with glimpses of the world in the shadows Yuuji's about to be drawn irreversibly into. Overall, a great episode. Damn, it's too bad Yukari-chan is going away in the next episode, because I'd pick her over Kazumi in Saimoe any day. I remember at the time this aired a lot of people criticized Yuuji for being cowardly--but come on, the guy stepped between a girl with a sword and a complete stranger to defend her (bad luck for him she turned out to be one of the bad guys). I doubt many of Yuuji's critics would have the balls to do the same thing, in that extraordinary a situation--most people would run like hell, and I couldn't blame them if they did. It's interesting seeing how cold Shana is in this episode--seeing where she started just reminds me how good the character development is as the series goes on.

Episode 2: The Lit Flame

Summary
Yukari Hirai, a classmate of Yuuji's who likes his friend Ike, became a torch after the Rinne's attack, and her remaining time is running out--but Yuuji tries his best to make her last moments memorable and preserve her memory. After Yukari disappears, Yuuji confronts Shana, asserting torch or not, he is Sakai Yuuji.

Impressions
Friagne and his minions must pay--killing bishoujo like Yukari is a serious crime. It's a crime she's only in the first two episodes...
It's hard to watch this episode without thinking of Yorito's sorry ass in Sola--in the same situation as Yuuji, Yorito's reaction is about a million times weaker. I think Yuuji's reaction is more realistic--if you think, you are, after all, and whether he's technically a torch or not, he's the only Sakai Yuuji left, and he thinks and feels the same things the 'real' one would, so who's to say he's not real? That last scene where he's arguing with Shana was especially well done--we finally see the first glimpse of dere-dere Shana when he gives her a name.

Episode 3: The Torch and the Flame Haze

Summary
Shana takes Yukari's identity to attend school and keep an eye on Yuuji, expecting the Denizens to make a move. She proceeds to bitchslap the entire faculty, pointing out mistakes in what they're teaching and making them flee the classroom in despair. Friagne the doll-loving Denizen appears, after his doll attacks Shana and fails, he makes the standard Bad Guy 'I'll get you next time' speech, and leaves. Yuuji turns out to have a special treasure, which regenerates his power of existence every night at midnight.

Impressions
The little touches JC Staff puts into this are collectively impressive--the shinkansen going by in the background, the sound of the wind flapping her jacket as Shana stands outside, the embers dancing in the air when Shana's in Badass Flame Haze Mode. Shana verbally laying the smackdown on her teachers was hilarious--she may be four foot nothing tall, but mess with her at your own peril.

Episode 4: The Confused Flame Haze

Summary
Shana ends up staying at Yuuji's to keep an eye on him, and at school smacks down the gym teacher this time. A new Flame Haze, Margery Daw, arrives and proceeds to kick Shana's ass.

Impressions
Iwata Mitsuo is one of my favorite seiyuu (Gan-chan in Mini-Goddess, Sato in Stratos 4, and a bunch of other roles), and he does a great job as Marco, Margery's smart-mouthed sidekick. I think every role he's ever done has cracked me up, and it provides some welcome comic relief. But who am I kidding, the real selling point of episode 4 is Shana fanservice! Although it's not just service--while Shana's getting nekkid in Yuuji's room, Alastor is doing plot exposition. Now that's multitasking.

Episode 5: Respective Feelings

Summary
Yuuji gets set up on a date with Kazumi, Margery recruits two of her classmates to help her and fails to catch Friagne, and on his date Yuuji meets with Lamies, a Denizen who's been collecting power of existence from fading torches. Shana, meanwhile, is getting pissed off because she lost her fight with Margery and thinks it's because Yuuji's keeping her from concentrating--Alastor suddenly suggests killing him, which I guess is one way to solve the problem...

Impressions
I know Kazumi has a lot of fans, but her type of character really doesn't appeal to me. Yes, the great Kawasumi Ayako is her seiyuu, but Kazumi is no Lafiel. Kazumi is your stereotypical 'the guy I have a crush on means everything to me and I have no personality of my own', and I really can't imagine a more boring girlfriend or wife. If this was School Days, Kazumi would be sleeping with Makoto like the rest of the hos, while Shana would take a pair of pruning shears to his wang. At least on re-watch I don't feel bad fast-forwarding through Kazumi fidgeting and pouting about a guy she barely knows.
Watching this episode also reminded me how many open questions there still are from the first season--what is Lamies collecting power of existence for? Hell, what are any of the Denizens collecting it for, why can't they just get it in their own world and leave ours the hell alone? Hopefully Shana II will give us more answers...

Episode 6: Complication - Invocation - Confrontation

Summary
Shana almost follows Alastor's advice to kill Yuuji, but hesitates--meanwhile, Rozen fan Friagne activates his plan to take over the city, which works OK, I guess, until the part where Shana shows up and kills him.

Impressions
So Yuuji always gets his power of existence recharged at midnight by Reiji Maigo...but what if he changes time zones? If Japan goes on Daylight Savings Time at some point in the future, does Reiji Maigo know to "spring ahead, fall back?"
Kind of disappointing how easily Friagne was taken down, although he was having mental health issues at the end...but it was very cool how Yuuji found a way to be useful to Shana, rather than just assuming he can't do anything. I also give JC Staff a lot of credit, they animate flames really well, especially on Shana's sword.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Funimation versus Fansubs


A piece of news just came out that I'm sure will be blogged to death, but I might as well pile on too--apparently Funimation is sending Cease and Desist letters on behalf of Gonzo, specifically to demand Shinsen stop subbing Romeo x Juliet (which isn't licensed). It's very possible Gonzo will enlist Funi to send C&Ds and lawyers after other groups subbing their series as well. Since I'd rather watch "Bass Fishing with the Stars" than most Gonzo titles this doesn't really affect me personally--but the more alarming thought is that this could be the start of a trend where Japanese studios enlist the region 1 anime distributors to crack down on fansubs in general.

To put it politely, companies that think fansubs are the root of all their problems are run by idiots. ADV's not making as much money as they used to? Maybe that's because no market grows at 40-50% a year forever--if they hadn't slept through Econ 101, they'd have realized someday the market would mature and growth would level off. It's simple math, not piracy--if anime sales had kept growing at 50% a year then 20 years from now 99% of the Gross National Product of the United States would be spent on anime, and people wouldn't have any money left for food. Besides, no matter how much ADV might wish otherwise, Divergence Eve is not going to outsell Shrek 3--anime is a niche, and always will be. It's a niche even in Japan, for Haruhi's sake.

I have around two hundred region 1 DVDs, almost all of which I watched fansubbed before I bought them (the exceptions being old-school titles like Urusei Yatsura), so when I hear the corporate PR people bleating that fansubs = lost sales, it's hard not to projectile vomit in disgust. All fansubs really do from a sales standpoint is level the playing field between me and the average Japanese otaku, who can tape his anime right off TV Tokyo. If being able to get a copy of an episode for free means people won't buy the DVD, then why does anyone in Japan buy broadcast anime on DVD? How is me having a fansub any different than Joe Izusu in Tokyo taping Seto no Hanayome on his DVD recorder when it airs in the middle of the night?

But, you might ask, what about the kids who proudly say they r too smart 2 buy anime, because fansubs are free? I'm guessing most of those people are tweens/teens who have squat for income anyway--unless Mommy and Daddy win the lottery, does Gonzo really think they're going to line up to buy anime DVDs? Hell, no, they'll move on to something else, like crack or a Nice Boat.

I can say for sure in a world without fansubs, I would spend less money on anime, and I suspect I'm not alone. If instead of previewing anime on fansubs, I have to wait to rent my anime from Netflix a year after it airs, I wouldn't buy individual volumes like I do now--at that point it'd make more sense to wait for a cheap box set. I'm definitely not going to buy anime sight unseen because Funi's marketing department tells me it's the shiznit.

In the end, though, I find it hard to believe this latest salvo in the War on Fandom will really change anything--there were cries of doom and gloom for the fansub world after Media Factory unsheathed their C&Ds back in December 2004, and nothing really changed. Part of the point back then was to stop School Rumble from getting subbed--well, it ended up getting subbed to the end, the second season got subbed too, it got licensed in region 1, and volume 1 is looking at me from my bookshelf right now. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail, and Gonzo and others will realize stamping out free marketing won't make their sales triple overnight...

Friday, September 28, 2007

Da Capo II - Promo Video

Thanks to jwthechamp on the AnimeSuki forums for posting the link to the short video for Da Capo II at Crunchyroll (you have to sign up for a free account to view it). I'm glad to see feel is using character designs that I really like, similar to D.C.S.S. and Otoboku's, and hopefully the animation quality will be top-notch.

Da Capo II (or "D.C. II"--no relation to the city with "Taxation Without Representation" license plates) is the latest iteration of the Da Capo franchise, set two generations in the future from the first Da Capo, with many of the cast being grandchildren of the original Da Capo characters. Although I'm sure Key fans would violently disagree, I'm actually looking forward to this more than Clannad. I let myself be spoiled on the general plot of D.C. II--I'm not about to give anything away, but I think it could be better and more dramatic than the original. Of course, if you're too good for bishoujo series and think all anime should be deeper and more profound than the Mariana Trench, you'd be better off re-watching Lighter than White, or whatever it is the serious people watch.

Yume appears first--does this mean Yume gets The Win? Or am I overanalyzing? She'll be voiced by Yui Horie of Kanon, To Heart, Love Hina and eight-billion-other-series fame, so next year's Saimoe better watch the hell out.

Otome! My first choice for 'winner' of the series, which probably guarantees she won't win. Pink ribbons are so moe it's amazing the screen doesn't just burst the hell into flames when she's on camera.

Sakura, the youngest-looking obaasan ever. If her secret for not looking older ever got out, the multi-billion dollar anti-wrinkle cream industry would go knockers up in a New York minute.

If you were a Kotori fan in the first Da Capo, there's Shirakawa Nanaka in D.C. II, who I'm guessing is her granddaughter. Probably stands a snowball's chance in hell of winning though...

Did someone say Clannad will be better than D.C. II?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Potemayo

Potemayo was definitely the surprise of the summer season for me--I had zero expectations for it and I don't think I'd even heard of it until subs started coming out, but I picked it up and instantly fell in love. I won't say it's the greatest anime ever, and I don't think I'd even recommend it to most people because they'd probably just look at it and ask questions like "did that baby just pee on that guy's head?" with horrified expressions on their faces. But if you like your comedy served with leisurely pacing, watercolor backgrounds, a pinch of gradient hair, an interesting cast, and a metric ton of crack, then you might like Potemayo as much as I did.

I don't think I can do a decent summary without sounding completely insane, but the hero of our story, Sunao, is a reserved junior high student who's practically living alone--his mother died (I swear, anime parents have the worst mortality rate on Earth...) and his father is something of an absentee thanks to his job. So one day Sunao is walking past the refrigerator, hears a rattling noise from inside, and finds there's something in it that isn't food--a baby girl with cat ears and a rabbit-like tail, who he names Potemayo. Whereas your average person would freak out and call the police and/or Animal Control, Sunao keeps his shiznit together and matter-of-factly adopts her/it, only briefly wondering much later exactly what Potemayo is. Shortly after, Guchuko appears out of the fridge, a Potemayo-looking being that also has horns that can...er...move on their own and shoot frickin' laser beams at things, although she's conscientious enough to always tape things back together after she breaks them. She also has a scythe, but fortunately this didn't get the Nice Boat treatment, since she doesn't use it on people. Guchuko ends up living outside a classmate of Sunao's named Kyo's house, and takes a liking to Kyo, who gives her food.

It's impossible to describe the humor in the series--it's something you have to see for yourself to determine if it's up your alley or not. But for me the cast and their interactions are hilarious to watch, and JC Staff develops the characters well enough that they can actually pull off some good more dramatic moments towards the end too. I enjoyed watching this every week just to see what they'd think of next, from flowers growing on Potemayo's head, to Nene making Mu-tan into her personal slave when he accidentally gives her chocolate on Valentine's Day, to Guchuko's various 'offerings' to Kyo, to Mikan's nosebleeding over her classmate and crush Sunao. (That's something you don't see very often in anime, a girl doing her best Ikuto impression...) Kawasumi Ayako did a great job voicing Mikan--her character in particular was a lot of fun to watch.

The animation quality is nothing to write home about, but JC Staff did a solid job overall, with watercolor backgrounds and simple, but consistently drawn character designs. I don't know why, but since Manabi Straight I've taken a liking to gradient hair, and that's out in force in Potemayo as well. The background music is light and matches the feel of the series perfectly, and the voice acting is solid too. It's hard to find anything to complain about, other than the narrator's voice--to me she just felt a little off for the tone of the series...but I'm probably just too hung up on hoping Onsokumaru would narrate every anime series ever made...

There are far better reviews of each episode at Tenka Seiha than anything I could write (even if I wasn't too lazy to do episode-by-episode reviews to begin with). I think the Earth will Crash into the Sun before Potemayo gets licensed in region 1--but if it does, I'd order it faster than Potemayo can say "honi honi ho".

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Shagukan no Shana: Off-Campus Class of Love and Hot Springs

Since I finished re-watching Shakugan no Shana, it made sense to watch the OVA that came out after the series too--while there's surprisingly few lines for everyone's favorite flame-haired, flame-eyed, flame-sword-wielding Flame Haze, it's still a pretty funny episode.

Plot summaries always put me to sleep, but here goes: the story is set before episode 17, after the PDA-loving twins got taken down but before Ball Masque made their move, and the whole class at Yuuji's school goes to an onsen.

That's about it...there are no major revelations, no changes in the relationships between the characters, not much character development, and there don't need to be any of these things since it's focusing on comedy. If this had been in the original series, you'd call it a filler episode--but for me it's worth watching just for the situations below:

- The worst two days of Ike's life. He gets violently ill on the bus ride there (fortunately not on camera, or it wouldn't be as funny). He passes out in the onsen trying to eavesdrop on the girls. He gets nailed in the head by a pillow thrown at Mach Two. After Oga falls over and accidentally almost suffocates him with her butt, she pummels him. And on the way home--he gets sick again. Sure, if Ike was thinking 'maybe I'll get to give Kazumi a baloney pony ride' his expectations for the trip would have been way too high--but this is still just about the worst-case scenario. Only thing that could make it worse is if it turns out Oga-chan gave him pinkeye.

- Oga-chan's overactive imagination, and her overreactions to it. I guess if guys can imagine Kagami and Konata as a yuri couple, it stands to reason Oga-chan can imagine Sato and Tanaka's friendship as...er...more than that. Oga's dream sequence at the beginning was pretty funny too.

- Oppai grabbing fanservice. I was disappointed when my wife informed me her sorority did not, in fact, have topless pillow fights like in Animal House, so I hesitate to even ask about oppai grabbing. I suspect real girls don't do this in onsens, but hey, don't hate on my dream.

For an onsen episode, the amount of fanservice is surprisingly tame, really nothing beyond would you could see in any given episode of the TV series. It's interesting they chose to sideline Shana and Yuuji almost completely, and focus more on Oga-chan and Tanaka, which is one of the less interesting subplots for me. Oga-chan likes Tanaka, sure, but they don't really explain why in the TV series, and they don't explain it in this OVA either--the lack of any background there makes it harder for me to care too much about what happens.

Still, a decent episode overall--definitely looking forward to Shana II, not much time left...

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Screw Elephants and Donkeys--Vote Moe!

Every year, I've read comments about Saimoe, the Japanese ultimate moe tournament, when they take the heroines (and minor characters) from every recent anime and throw them into matches against each other to see who reigns supreme as the most popular character. Kurogane has been providing SportsCenter-like coverage of the event in posts with results of each matchup--but actually voting in it is rather difficult. It's probably that I'm old and lazy, but the voting is Japanese-only, and takes place in threads on 2ch, which is about as user-unfriendly as you can get.

Fortunately, there is an alternative--we have the technology to make a moe tournament better, or specifically in Korea they do, where the Moe Tournament is in full swing. The elimination round started last week, with the final 64 characters duking it out, and they make it very, very easy to vote. Why should you vote? Well, unlike real voting, you don't have to worry about corrupt politicians screwing you over. I know that win or lose, Komaki Manaka is not going to sleep with an intern, start a war, or insult the intelligence of the electorate with political grandstanding. Manaka, win or lose, is Manaka, and that's why even up against Teana Hamster or whatever her name is, I voted for her.

How do you vote? Simplicity itself (well, simpler than Saimoe anyway). Go to this page, and download the code generator (if you're on a Mac you're out of luck--as a former Mac user, I feel your pain):

Launch the code generator, and click Generate, which will copy a long authentication code to the clipboard. Enter it in the Auth Code field and hit login and you're at the screen below.

From here, it's pretty simple--click "Result of Current Round" and then "Show all group" to see who has won this round's matches so far:

And then click "Voting Place" to cast your votes--the voting button is in Korean...but it's the only button to press, so it's pretty obvious what to do. No copying-and-pasting Moon Language into threads...this is how easy voting is supposed to be. Once you vote hit refresh and it'll show you who you voted for:

"Match Table" will show you all the upcoming matches--after this round ends, there will be new pairings of the 32 survivors, and so on until the winner is declared.

There's a new authentication code for each day, with the new voting day starting at 8am Pacific time. So if like me you work in a desk job with internet access, you can get into work, get coffee or whatever, run the executable to generate the current day's code, and vote away.

You can easily argue 'who cares about some popularity contest' and that's true, but it's still entertaining to me at least, to check each morning to see if my picks advanced or not--maybe it's a guy thing, but to me it's like anime crossed with March Madness, which in my mind is only a Good Thing. Too bad you can't bet on matches.

Mad props to you if you know which game the character on the main page comes from...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Anime is like Falling Sakura Petals and Stuff

One of the great things about anime, especially for people with short attention spans like me, is that you never have to wait long for something new. There are very few anime series that get more than two cours (seasons), except for the ones that run on for eons like Detective Conan, and every three months you can look forward to a new crop of anime. The short length of most anime also helps lend itself to providing good pacing and closure--Kanon didn't have to pad its run with filler episodes, and end each season on a cliffhanger, because from the beginning everyone's storylines were prepared to be tied up perfectly in 24 episodes. Of course, the bad part of anime being shorter than your average TV show is that every spring and fall, you have to say goodbye to practically all of your favorite series, most of which will never return to the air.

Here's a few random thoughts on what I'm watching:

Seto no Hanayome - My favorite series right now, this consistently has the ability to make me crack up like an idiot on laughing gas. It's true that it's more batshit comedy and less romance than the first couple episodes may have led some to believe, but it's hilarious batshit comedy. I was a little worried early on that the SD expressions and characters delivering their lines with a yell would get old, but it hasn't yet. Impressively for a two cours series, the whole cast manages to get their time in the limelight. The dialogue, characters, sound effects, everything, are all in perfect harmony, designed to make you spew whatever you're drinking out your nose. This will be hard to top for a while, when it comes to comedy.

Lucky Star - As I mentioned last post, this was another of my favorite series, and ended on a solid note. Not all the time laugh out loud funny, at least not as much as Seto no Hanayome, but still a good series to bring a smile to your face. I'll probably go into Dororo's Trauma Switch mode when I finally realize this is over, but for now I'm re-watching it.

Potemayo - I don't think I can even describe this without sounding insane, and after the first episode I was wondering what the hell I was watching, but it's turned out to be one of the series I really look forward to each week. The whole thing with the plant growing on Potemayo's head...I can't even imagine what the last episode will be like. Another example of a very, very memorable cast. MUTAAAN!

Nagasarete Airantou - Even though the Ikuto nosebleed routine gets a little old, and the animation isn't stellar all the time, the characters are fun enough to watch I'll miss this when it's over too. Not as laugh out loud funny as Seto no Hanayome, but Machi and Ayane in particular are great.

Hayate no Gotoku - I loved the manga but the anime's been uneven--some episodes I really like and some just kind of fall flat. It's running for a full four cours though, so there's 26 more episodes to go to give Hinagiku some more screentime. I just wish they'd put in more references to other things that I actually get...

Kaze no Stigma - I almost didn't watch this at all this season, didn't pick it up until the first seven episodes had already been subbed, but it's been addictive. Ayano finally wore something other than her school uniform almost a dozen episodes in, and while the animation's so-so, the plot and characters are interesting. I really like how they made the love triangle different from what you're expect--it's really between Ayano, Kazuma, and Tsuo Rin, and Tsuo Rin is dead, making it a choice between past and present. Kazuma's a badass, Ayano is a classic tsundere, Ren can even be cool when he's not getting kidnapped and/or yelling 'onii-sannn!', and while the whole game setup for the ending is a little weird, I still loved ep 23 and am looking forward to the ending.

Nanatsuiro Drops - This is the kind of series I normally would like, and I was looking forward to it before the season started, but Sumomo just killed it for me. It's not just her voice, it's the fact she finds something to cry about every episode. I was hoping for something like Cardcaptor Sakura, but Sakura's more mature than Sumomo and would kick her ass in a fight, even though Sakura's at least four years younger.

To get ready for Shana II in October, I'm also rewatching the first season of Shakugan no Shana--I'll probably be posting a review over at Otaku Community Blog soon. It's a great time to be an anime fan with D.C. II, Shana II, and a ton more new series coming out this fall.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Lucky Star - Parting Thoughts

When I first heard Lucky Star was airing this spring, I had conflicting thoughts--on the one hand, I've liked almost every series Kyoto Animation has done, including oft-forgotten Munto, and that made me look forward to it. On the other hand, the fact Kyoani was working on Lucky Star meant I'd have to wait even longer for more Haruhi, and having read ahead in the novels I can't wait to see some of that material animated. In the end, Lucky Star turned out much better than I expected--it always takes a couple episodes for me to get into 4koma-to-anime series, but I loved the cast and before long I was eagerly looking forward to this every week. Whether it's a novel, manga, TV show, movie, or anime, only the best of the best have characters that you truly grow to know and care about, people who at the very end bring a tear to your eye, when the screen falls dark and you know you've been part of their adventures for the last time. While it doesn't try to be anything profound or dramatic, to me Lucky Star was that kind of series.

The cast is really makes or breaks slice-of-life/comedy anime like this, and fortunately the whole cast is a lot of fun to watch, especially Konata and Kagami and the banter between them. Lucky Star breaks every rule your Literature teacher used to say about storytelling, completely dispensing with a plot, and just following the everyday lives of a group of high school students. Like Azumanga, there's almost zero interaction between the sexes--it's kind of unrealistic none of the cast even has a crush on anyone else throughout the whole series, but this is a comedy, not a romance or harem series. The references to other anime, especially the Haruhi references in practically every episode, always made me laugh--the highlight probably being when Keroro Platoon did the next episode preview in one of the early eps. For me, Lucky Star is the opposite of Hayate no Gotoku--while in Hayate I generally have no clue what they're paying homage to, in Lucky Star I almost always get it. It probably makes it a little less accessible for people who aren't anime fans already, but Lucky Star has that 'made by otaku for otaku' kind of feel to it anyway.

Lucky Star is really two shows in one though, with the Lucky Channel segment at the end of each episode--and Lucky Channel is probably one of the funniest things I've ever seen. Anywhere. Ever. Sometimes it was better than others, but that episode towards the end with Minoru finally going on a rampage was just Legendary. Akira's bipolar swings from cheery to jaded and sarcastic, while Minoru tries in vain to keep the show on track, were just hilarious. They could do a spinoff starring Akira-sama, and it would be pure awesome.

Bad parts of Lucky Star? All the background characters having the same voice. Plus it's the same dude's falsetto, whether the character on screen is a boy or a girl. I guess it's supposed to be funny, and it doesn't happen often enough to get really annoying, but it's just alarming and feels cheap. The animation quality wasn't anything to write home about either, although it was at least consistent, and the simple style did seem to fit the source well. The first episode also wasn't the best way to introduce the characters--I have to think they could have found better material to open with than five minutes of talking about the right way to eat different kinds of food. And while the OP was just awesome, the ED credits with Minoru singing over and over got a little old after a while.

The last episode was definitely good, not quite up there with the end of Azumanga or Manabi Straight in my book, but it was still a good way to send off the cast, with the curtain rising on their performance at the school festival. I'm surprised they didn't end with everyone graduating, which would have been more dramatic, but who knows, maybe they're leaving the door open just a little for another season. I liked how the dance in the OP credits tied in to the end of the series, much like Manabi Straight where the end of the series was the OP--it was just a good note to go out on. Overall, while to me Seto no Hanayome was funnier, a number of series were better animated, and others had more drama, Lucky Star is probably the first of this season's shows that I'll sit down and re-watch again, and I think that says it all.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Shakugan no Shana: Sorry-Ass Fanfic

Normally, I don't write fanfiction since it's really not easy (and not all that fun, for me anyway) to write within the constraints of someone else's world. Hell, even real authors make continuity mistakes, even in a series like Harry Potter that you know has an army of editors and all the resources of a big publishing house behind it. But today I got stuck on a particularly long, boring conference call at work, and I somehow found myself thinking about Shakugan no Shana II coming up this fall, and the end result was I wrote the (very) short story below.

It's short, so you won't lose a huge chunk of your life, but I'd still recommend you only read it if you're bored--ideally, bored and on the clock, so you can actually get paid to read it.

Shakugan no Shana: Eki no Goutan

Shana walked along the embankment by the river with Yuuji under a dull gray fall sky, her heart beating fast as she walked by his side. It was getting colder this time of year, and Shana was wearing the light green dress Yuuji's mother had given her, but surprisingly she didn't feel the cold much today.

"It really does look like fall now," Yuuji said, noticing a row of maple trees by the river, where all their leaves had turned a fiery red. "November already...it'll be Christmas before we know it."

"What's Christmas?" Shana asked, looking up at Yuuji. Yuuji looked over at her--with a light afternoon breeze blowing her long, dark hair behind her, and with the dress she was wearing, he had to admit she was cute. Not that she wasn't cute normally, but somehow she was even cuter today. He had a brief vision of Shana dressed up in a red Santa outfit with an extra-short miniskirt, but quickly put the thought out of his mind before he got a nosebleed.

"It's a holiday where people exchange presents and...er...couples go and..." Yuuji asked.

"Play hide the salami?" Shana asked suddenly, and Yuuji nearly fell over.

"Salami?" Alastor asked. "Why would you hide salami, instead of putting it on a sandwich--"

"Shana--where did you hear that?" Yuuji asked, turning bright red. Shana looked away, feeling a little embarrassed.

"Nowhere--it's just something I saw online," Shana said, turning red herself.

"I told you Urban Dictionary was nothing but trouble," Alastor said.

"Urusai, urusai, urusai!" Shana yelled. "It's not important, just forget I said it!"

"Ah--I believe I understand now," Alastor said, in his deep, serious-sounding voice. "The salami refers to a man's--"

"Alastor," Shana whispered menacingly, holding him close to her face and giving him a look that would make most people instantly soil themselves in fear. "If you don't want to be wrapped in a used maxi pad and flushed down the toilet, then SHUT THE [beep] UP."

"Y-yes, ma'am," Alastor replied very quickly.

"Did you say something?" Yuuji asked.

"No," Shana replied with a smile, and Alastor made a mental note never to piss off Shana.

"Anyway...it's um...a holiday where couples will...go on dates, things like that," Yuuji said.

"And who usually asks the girl out on a date?" Shana asked.

"Well...the guy does. Usually," Yuuji said, looking over at Shana and not sure where the conversation was headed.

"What if the guy's an idiot," Shana said, glancing at Yuuji before looking away, "and he keeps getting too close to a girl with freakish watermelon-sized breasts, and doesn't have the spine to ask a girl out himself."

"Ah...well...in that case..." Yuuji said, laughing nervously.

"What if he doesn't realize there's a girl right next to him who wants to go out on a real date, a date that doesn't involve swordfights, or training, or anything like that," Shana said, turning a darker shade of red from embarrassment, but plowing ahead anyway, somehow more confident than usual. "What if he's thinking he doesn't want to hurt either girl he likes by not making a decision, but he's really just hurting both of them more by drawing it out. What if--"
Shana stopped as Yuuji moved in front of her, putting his hands on her shoulders, and she looked up into his eyes, which were more serious than she'd ever seen them before.

"Yuuji..." Shana said, the intensity of his gaze making her heart pound in her chest.

"You're right," Yuuji said, taking a deep breath. "I'm sorry...I should have said something before...I've been meaning to for a while now...but I could never find the right time. I don't want to hurt Yoshida-san, but...the truth is...I love you. I don't know when, but for a while now...I just can't imagine being with anyone else. I--"

Shana stretched up on her toes, tears of happiness and relief in her eyes, as she answered Yuuji's confession with a kiss.

* * * *

Back at Yuuji's house, Chigusa looked at the two-liter soda bottle on the table and winced.

"Ah--I spiked that for the party and forgot...I hope Yuuji and Shana didn't drink too much with lunch," she said, picking up the bottle and noticing it was half empty. She poured a glass and took a sip--maybe she had put too much sake in.

"Oh well...maybe this will move things along a little," she said with a half-smile, putting the bottle, which was about 30 proof, back in the refrigerator.

* Eki no Goutan = Liquid Courage