The Stream
Connect Five

by Bamboo Dong, Sep 18th 2012

The finale of a series can either cement it as a good series, or completely kill it. There are still great endings that I remember with fondness decades later, and ones that barely register in my memory anymore. I always go into the last few episodes of a series with anticipation, hoping to be wowed, but not expecting too much. Sometimes, all I get is disappointment.

Let's dive in.

#1 - Tari Tari [ep. 11-12]

Music is the glue that seals hearts together, or something, and as the high school faces closure, it's up to the choir club (that plays badminton sometimes) to rally each other together for one last shot at their musical. It's sweet to see, and despite every character's personal problems and dreams and aspirations, it's nice to see them come together for something as seemingly simple as a musical. Even the principal is touched, using the students' words as a rebuttal to the big wigs trying to prevent the kids from putting on their show.

There's something simplistic about Tari Tari that makes it so touching. I certainly didn't give it enough credit early on in the series. My inner cynic got the best of me and I moaned about how the characters were making too big of a deal about their stupid choir club. I realize now that I was that grumpy music club girl, who was pooh-poohing the goals of the choir club because I couldn't see the magic in their actions.

Tari Tari has always been a little on the goofy side for me, but as we approach the finale, I find even my bleak heart melting. If the choir club can break down the vice principal, maybe they can break down this curmudgeon too.

Status: I hate to say it, but Tari Tari is just packed to the seams with heart. It's hard to watch the show and not smile and feel a little bit better about humanity.

#2 - Space Brothers [ep. 23-24]

Mutta has made it to Houston, which means one important thing—we get to see more of Apo, the adorable dog. Although a while back, I mentioned that I was glad that Mutta was the sole Nanba brother selected as the protagonist, it's really nice having Hibito back in the picture. At first, I was incredibly taken by how flawed and realistic Mutta was, in comparison to his freakishly perfect brother, but especially now after having heard everyone's personal stories in the third JAXA exam, I feel more in-tuned to Hibito's dreams.

In the most recent episode, we see a charming contrast of the two brothers. While Hibito is at the Space Center practicing driving a rover that's meant to cover living modules with lunar sand, Mutta is out on the front lawn, helping Ozzy mow the lawn. Both are incredibly adept at picking up their new skills, and we see for the first time how incredibly in sync they are. Even the way they casually discard the manuals for the more pragmatic approach of hands-on learning is the same. It sets the grounds perfectly for Hibito's dream of wanting to stand on the moon alongside his brother.

It's one thing for the story to merely say that the brothers want to go to space together. It's another to show them perfectly in sync, mirrors of each other, even though one was born with luck and a winning personality, and the other was born under ill fortune and with very human flaws. Even though we haven't seen the two brothers together for many episodes now, this episode seamlessly brought them back together, and it was like we caught up on a lifetime of brotherly connections. Space Brothers has a real knack for characterization, and it'll be nice to see where it goes from here.

Status: I realized that I don't really care what's going on in the main “story” of Space Brothers—regardless of where Mutta is in the astronaut selection process, I'm having a blast just watching everyone live their lives. Even watching him mow the lawn was fun.

#3 - Polar Bear Cafe [ep. 23-24]

One of the great things about Polar Bear Cafe is its ability to make fun of animals in a clever, tongue-in-cheek, and surprisingly human way. It uses human-created stereotypes to poke fun at the town's various residents, much like we crack jokes at various nationalities. The way that the characters make fun of certain animals is not unlike how Americans might take a pot shot at Canadians or the Brits, with ridiculous, over-the-top stereotypes. There's a great bit where Panda decides that he wants to be someone's apprentice, but after sampling around a bit, decides that he can't find a good master. Sloth is too lazy, even for Panda, which is impressive.

In another great episode, the series also showcased Panda's mother, as she learns some tips on frugality from the other animal mothers. What's wonderful is that even if you took out the animals and replaced them with human characters, this sketch would be just as funny. The show is stocked with solid writing, and it's telling that even though many of the bits are animal-centric, a lot of the others just feature good, solid comedy. The sketch where Mr. Handa is trying to solicit dating advice from Polar Bear would work well in many settings, and with a wide combination of characters.

This is definitely one of those series that I wish could go on forever. I've already forced this show upon most of my friends, and I will not rest until everyone checks out an episode.

Status: Still solid gold. I love all of the characters equally, and their antics brighten my week.

#4 - Binbogami Ga! [ep. 10-11]

Some of the best characters in Binbogami ga! are the ones that are only around for a couple of episodes. There are a bevy of gods that make a brief appearance in the series, including a Toilet God, which bears a remarkable resemblance to a giant pile of poop. As it slithered and oozed and happily sighed in Ichiko's, I thought to myself, “This is magnificent.” I love all of the crazy, wacky gods and side-characters and transforming dog dudes and cat girls, but sometimes, you just need the laughs that come of a massive, stinking turd.

Adorably, one of the new character additions is Tama, a kitten who finds her way into Ichiko's life. In a scene that we're now becoming familiar with, Ichiko ends up endangering her life to save it when tragedy strikes before fortune intervenes. I loved seeing this softer side of our protagonist the first time it happened, and I still love it now. Ichiko's one of the better female protagonists I've seen in a while, and I love the constant dichotomy between her cocky, abrasive nature and her soft interior—which makes her the perfect match for Ranmaru.

Binbogami ga! certainly isn't the first show that uses the mean-girl-on-the-outside-who's-nice-on-the-inside hook, but its crazy energy helps set it apart from the others. By throwing in all the anime references and not-so-subtle boob jokes, it softens any clichés, and makes those softer moments shine all the better. This is definitely one of the gems from this season.

Status: Still digging this show. I really loved the bath house episode, especially for the proclamation at the beginning that it was the Fanservice Episode. Classic.

#5 - Humanity Has Declined [ep. 11-12]

We move even further back in time in the latest from Humanity Has Declined, this time to the mediator's schooling days. This time, the emphasis is a little less on the fairies—although they do play a part, and there is something strange and perturbing about them that niggles the mind—and more on the mediator. She was a lot more aloof in those days, in part as a defense mechanism, and we see the classic story of a girl (or two) who pretend to be mean and spiteful, but who really are lonesome on the inside.

The mystery this time is not so much a blank manga page, or a fairy city that pops up overnight, but the strange goings-on of the other girls that the mediator sort of befriends. It veers into a dark, dark territory, not unlike some of the earlier episodes, though perhaps a different sort of dark than the infamous suicide bread. The episodes reinforce my belief that Humanity Has Declined has managed to find a way to straddle that wavering line between comedy and horror, maybe making viewers laugh as a way to cope with just how uncomfortable some of the scenes are.

There's a sadness to Humanity Has Declined that I've never quite been able to put my finger on. It's not quite so simple as the, “Man, it's such a bummer that Humanity Has Declined,” but something a little more fleeting. There's a sadness to seeing a robot try desperately to go into a room that's long since been boarded up, or to seeing fairies lose themselves over a sugar cube. At the beginning of the series, I worried that the show would hit the Decline too hard and suck all the joy out of it, but I'm glad I was quickly proven wrong. What's resulted has been a really entertaining show, albeit strange and not always clear. I've had a good time with the series and I'm glad I watched it.

Status:: What a weird and crazy adventure it's been, but definitely worth watching at least once. I'm glad it stuck to the two-episode arc format, too. The jokes might've gotten stale with one too many episodes, but the current format is perfect.

#6 - Utakoi [ep. 10-11]

These past couple of episodes have been delightful to me, if only because the characters are authors that I have more familiarity with. Admittedly, my taste in literature has always been more in prose, and less in poetry, so while the previous poets' names drew a giant blank in my head, I was already more familiar with the names Sei Shonagon and Murasaki Shikibu. While I'm sure the target Japanese audience didn't have the same problem as me, I'm going to take a shot in the dark and say that for many Western viewers, their experience might be more aligned to mine, since The Tale of Genji was likely on a lot more required reading lists than, say, the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu.

Regardless of “brand” familiarity, though, a lot of what I liked about these recent few episodes is the way they handled the timeless prejudice against brilliant women. So far, throughout Utakoi, one hasn't fully gotten the sense that educated women weren't appreciated, but we get a deeper look with the stories of Sei Shonagon and Murasaki Shikibu. We see a delicate balance between expecting women to be well-read and educated, but also to shelves those pursuits when it was no longer necessary. In some ways, things haven't changed. But in the case of Utakoi, it's good to see defiance pay off through literary immortality.

Overall, Utakoi has been very consistent over the season (minus that one terrible, terrible episode), but as woeful as I was of the first chunk of characters leaving the cast, I'm actually enjoying this second set even more.

Status: I'm always yo-yo-ing about how I feel about Utakoi, but these past few episodes have been delightful.

#7 - Sword Art Online [ep. 10-11]

I almost hesitate to open this can of worms, but I really don't have a problem with Asuna and Kirito taking a leave of absence from the front lines to go buy a house and get married. Look, it's a dangerous world out there, and on the front lines, you die. After seeing Kirito go through two death scares, I don't blame Asuna at all for wanting to take a break and have a little time off with someone she loves. If I was in her position, and I had the ability to say, “Fudge this, let's buy a cute house in the woods and just relax for a while,” I would. Anyone would. If someone says they'd eschew a nice, relaxing vacation for a hectic life of battle, they're probably lying.

But, the peace doesn't last. What happens next is a little weird, and I'm still not sure if I'm slightly creeped out by it or not. Basically, Kirito and Asuna find a little girl wandering through the woods, but she doesn't appear to be an NPC. She doesn't have a cursor either, though, and she's shockingly young, and in a disturbing twist that doesn't entirely sit well with me, she's taken to calling her new caretakers “mommy” and “daddy.” Asuna's protective mother bear instincts kick in, and suddenly we're off on a bizarre new adventure where this girl has some kind of… dark, mysterious secret.

I'm not sure if I like this new side story. The whole “mommy”/”daddy” thing feels a little forced to me, because it just adds another layer to Kirito and Asuna playing house that seems more sinister than cute. Hopefully it doesn't last long, though, and we can go back to the main storyline, whether it's on the front lines or not.

Status: Kirito is still doing his whole Cool, Aloof Teenager Who Wears Black Dusters shtick, but having Asuna feature more prominently in the series is a good addition. I'm also relieved they mentioned trying to maintain their relationship in the real world—I'd be put off if they ignored that side of the equation.

#8 - Hunter x Hunter [ep. 46-47]

Kurapika is kind of incredible. I had always known he was one of the stronger fighters in Gon's group of friends, but I was not prepared to see just how ruthless he was. His showdown with Ugovin is one of the most thrilling matchups we've seen in Hunter x Hunter thus far, and it's definitely worth it. There's something about the indestructibility of his attacks and the potency of his special moves that puts the viewer on the edge of the chair.

I'm also glad to see that Gon and gang will likely cross paths with Kurapika soon, too. As much as I love watching everyone's individual storylines, it's still more exciting having the whole band together. When they're able to use their attacks to bolster each other and plan out complex strategies, there's a sense of excitement that's there that you don't always get when it's just one person pitted against a random bad guy.

Impressively, though, Hunter x Hunter has been able to weave everyone's stories together in a way that's not only natural, but also maintains a quick pace. Things never slow down when the attention shifts to another set of characters, and one never feels as though they have to play catch up when it comes to a new storyline. Everything is integrated really well into the main timeline of the series, and that's part of the reason this show is still riveting after 47 episodes. That's hard to do, and it's well appreciated.

Status: I kind of can't wait to see what else Kurapika has up his sleeve. His chain attacks are insane, and watching him fight makes me feel like a kid again.

#9 - Kokoro Connect [ep. 10-11]

After all the promise that the unleash-your-inner-desires arc showed, its conclusion was… disappointing. Especially in direct comparison to the “finale” of the body swap arc, which had the melodrama of a girl leaping off a bridge. This time, despite all the sinister monotoning of Heartseed, the tension just ended up building up to a love confession. In the spectrum of Things That Are Dramatic, that's a letdown. If I wanted to watch love confessions, I'd just turn on the Disney Channel and watch whatever Camp Rock remix is hot this season. For Kokoro Connect, it feels like threatening to drop an anvil on someone's head, then pelting them with a wad of cotton candy.

For better or worse, we're also introduced to the next arc, in which the characters take turns reverting to younger versions of themselves. I don't want to cast any judgment yet, but I'm already not that thrilled about it. I could just be still soured on the whole experience of the last arc and Inaba's anti-climactic reveal, but characters as little kids? There are only a finite number of possibilities this could pan out in a way that would rival the previous arcs, and I no longer have the faith in the series that I had before.

Basically, I am one big grump over this series. It had a lot of promise and it dashed it all on the rocks. This series is too good to waste itself on cliched teenage love drama—especially in the off-hand, cutesy way that it was executed. It took a serious show and painted it in a sticky coat of candy, and I've lost much of my enthusiasm.

Status: You know, Kokoro Connect really killed a good thing. I was preparing myself for one doozy of an arc finale, but what I got was fluff.

#10 - Kuroko's Basketball [ep. 23-24]

This show is truly absurd. I say that every week, but this time, it's really hit a new level of Absurd, with a capital A. Last time, I laughed that Kuroko's Basketball had found a way to milk a couple of basketball games out of the off-season by holding scrimmages, but this time, they've scrapped that entirely and just chose to watch two other teams play. One of the teams is the feared Touou, whose Aomine brought our blue-lasered, six-feet-jumping heroes to their knees. The other is a school whose ace player Kise copies the moves of other players. He's a muscle mimic! As long as he himself believes that he can execute a move, he can copy it flawlessly.

Once Kise decides he's going to mimic his old hero, Aomine, his teammates anxiously ask him, “how long will it take?” like he's filling a gas tank, or fixing a computer. When he answered, “at the earliest, maybe the fourth quarter,” I let out the loudest SQUAWK of laughter I had ever uttered. What ridiculousness! He delivers as promised, and as he zips around the court like Kobe on rollerblades, the heat off his body comes off as steam. OR IS IT HIS SUPER BASKETBALL CHI???

Part of me realized that the primary reason I keep watching Kuroko's Basketball is that I simply must know if things can get any more insane. I thought things had stopped at the laser passes, but this… this!!! THIS!!! Seriously, if you're not watching Kuroko's Basketball, you're missing out on one hell of a comedy.

Status: RIDICULOUS.

 

#11 - Natsuyuki Rendezvous [ep. 10-11]

Natsuyuki Rendezvous has an “oh crap” ending. By that, I mean that it has the kind of ending where, after several episodes of meandering and tooling around, it realizes, “oh crap, there needs to be an ending,” and cobbles together a conclusion using hot glue and stray bits. I hear the series follows the manga very faithfully, but since I haven't read the manga, I can only wonder if it, too, had an “oh crap” ending.

The series started off well enough. The dynamic between Rokka and Hazuki was interesting to follow—there was just enough aggressiveness to push the budding relationship in a positive direction, but still enough awkwardness and emotional hang-ups to make the path a bumpy one. Rokka's husband's ghost was, of course, one of those bumps. Then the series veered off into Wackyland, dumping us in a Purgatory of fairytale motifs and the weirdest more-creepy-than-romantic relationship ever, whereupon Rokka thinks she's making strides with Hazuki, but really interacting with her dead husband, who wants her to move on, but not really. Yikes.

In the end, we sort of get a conclusion. We definitively know whom Rokka ends up with, but it feels rushed and hurried, and definitely not fleshed out enough in comparison to just how much damned time was wasted with the Atsushi-in-Hazuki's-body-Wonderland arc. Basically, Rokka finally realizes that Hazuki's been acting weirdly and draws the conclusion that it was actually Atsushi, and we get a confrontation that's… sort of romantic, but mostly uncomfortable. In short, Natsuyuki Rendezvous, at least for the last several episodes, has felt like a giant, nebulous question mark. Even the character relationship developments have been hazy, because is Rokka really responding to Hazuki, or just her former lover inside Hazuki's body? Even when she asks where the Hazuki she fell for is, is she really asking for the real Hazuki? Question mark.

But despite it all, at the end, we just get a big giant OH CRAP ending. Oh crap, we need to wrap things up ASAP. Oh crap, Hazuki's still stuck in fairytale land. Oh crap, we need to resolve this Atsushi thing. Oh crap, we have roughly seven minutes to answer audience questions of who ends up with whom. Two lines later and a creepy, weird flash-forward down the hatch, and boom. Done. I just hope Atsushi wasn't lurking over them the entire time.

Status: It's been… some kind of ride, I guess. Natsuyuki Rendezvous started out with a lot of promise, but took a severe nosedive around the middle of the season and just never recovered. The ending, if anything, was a parachute that barely opened in time, and still left the pilot dangling in a tree.

#12 - The Ambition of Oda Nobuna [ep. 10-11]

At this point, I think I'm only still watching this show because I'm near the end, and I don't either like it or dislike it enough to bother taking it off my viewing schedule. I guess that's the definition of mediocre right there. The Ambition of Oda Nobuna is fine, but it's certainly not ambitious. It trots through historical events at a reasonable pace—just fast enough to keep your attention, but too fast to really appreciate any particular one. The same goes for the characters. They're just interesting enough for viewers to stop and think, “Oh, hey, I know this from my history books; look, she has breasts!”—but not quite interesting enough for viewers to get attached to any particular one.

In short, The Ambition of Oda Nobuna just is. I resurrected it from my X pile because someone said I should give it another chance, and while I admit that it's not as heinous as I originally claimed it was, it's certainly not jumping to the top of my To Watch pile every week. If I had to be honest, Oda Nobuna is actually the last show I watch every week, and not just because it coincides with the weekend slot.

There's one laughable scene from the last chunklet of episodes that I couldn't quite get over. It was supposed to be a serious scene—Oda herself was in a bad mental and physical state, in danger of never waking up again—but one of the characters does some kind of magic and inceptions some dreams into a sleeping Oda. In the dream, she sees herself in a Western-styled wedding, gasping at her princess wedding dress, shyly batting her eyes at a beaming Monkey. While she beamed, I gagged silently, wishing I had had the foresight to stop by the liquor store before it closed.

Appreciably, the series has done a good job of slowly building up a connection between Oda and Monkey. He likes her because she has lots of gusto, and she likes him, presumably, because he's a solid advisor and isn't afraid to speak his mind. They listen to each other's ideas, adapting to the situation when history veers off the tracks. It's a nice advisor-general relationship, and it's infinitely better than just making Monkey the Know-It-All with the iPhone of magic. At this point, I don't really care how the series ends, but I might as well see it through to the end.

Status: Boy, that Oda Nobuna sure is full of ambition. I hope she unifies Japan . It'd be a huge bummer if she didn't.


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