Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Apr 29th 2012
Inu X Boku Secret Service
Episodes 7-12 Streaming
Ririchiyo notices that she doesn't have the kind of friendly relationship with Miketsukami that the others do with their secret service agents, so she decides to invite him over for tea and coffee. She labors, sweats and worries over the tea date, but it isn't to be: her fiancée, S&M freak Kagerou, has something he wants to tell her and no tea break is going to stand in his way. Something about Miketsukami. Something that Miketsukami doesn't want Ririchiyo to know.
The final two episodes of Inu x Boku do the impossible. Or the seemingly impossible. They make Miketsukami an interesting character. Which also makes his romance with Ririchiyo work for the first time. They're a mighty fine pair of episodes: sad, unsettling, achingly sweet; the kind that change how you look at previous episodes. It's a shame in its own way. Why couldn't all of Inu x Boku have been that good?
Case in point: the four episodes preceding the last two. They're exactly the kind of weightless amusement we've come to expect from the series. There's the episode about a lockdown at Maison de Ayakashi wherein everyone spends a night goofing off in their own particular way. There's the episode wherein Ririchiyo ponders how formal her relationship with Miketsukami is and decides she should invite him to tea. There's the episode wherein she prepares for the tea break. There's the episode wherein she tries to reschedule the tea break. That really is the plot of the first four episodes. There's a lot of capering by the supporting cast and comic agonizing by Ririchiyo, but at its heart it's a single extended arc about Ririchiyo's plan to have tea with Miketsukami.
Which is okay. Ririchiyo is adorable when she's beating herself up over the totally insignificant details of her scandalous plan to have coffee with Miketsukami, and the capering of the supporting cast is pretty consistently fun. The strength of these episodes, in fact, is almost entirely tied up in the supporting cast. They're given more time than ever before to make an impression, and they emerge as a goofy but generally likeable comic ensemble. Some of their antics are extreme—especially those of Ririchiyo's hideous creep of a fiancée—but just as many are cute and funny. Especially where the squeezable duo of Karuta and Watanuki are concerned. It's a very mild form of entertainment, best when ignoring the plot outright and indulging in random, sweet-natured character humor.
It's best when ignoring the plot because, at this point at least, the plot isn't worth paying attention to. Partly because it's so slight, but mostly because it concerns Ririchiyo and Miketsukami's relationship. Which, again at this time, is as dull as ditchwater. It's dull because it moves at a glacial pace, is devoid of all but the fluffiest drama, and features Miketsukami. He's a passive nonentity, a female fantasy with a big empty hole where his personality should be. His scenes with Ririchiyo never spark, much less catch fire. And ditto the episodes themselves. They're amusing, sure, but you could get basically the same level of entertainment from sitting alone in a room and thinking fun thoughts for a couple hours.
Which of course is more or less the way the series has always been. So it's a genuine surprise when episodes eleven and twelve change all of that. They change it quite simply. All they do is show Miketsukami's side of the story. It's a tragic story—not from a people-died kind of perspective, but in that it's the story of a boy whose life destroyed his personality and killed his emotions. And it explains a lot. Everything really. His subservience, his empty personality, and in its most touching sequence, his love for Ririchiyo and devotion to her. There's even a proper reason for his idealized perfection, and in a brilliant counter-move, it isn't a pleasant one. Smaller things start to make sense too: the moods he gets in when Kagerou is around, how he could know Ririchiyo and Ririchiyo not know him, the inexplicable matter of Ririchiyo and Kagerou's letter exchanges. In the process Miketsukami ceases to be a construct and finally becomes a person. Not just any person, an interesting person: deeply and disturbingly flawed, slowly regaining his lost humanity.
And suddenly, for the first time in the show's history, his relationship with Ririchiyo makes sense. We know what she means to him and what he means to her. There are finally two people in the relationship—damaged and afraid, each with their own desires and expectations—rather than one person and a person-like object. And perhaps more curiously, they're two people who work well together. After episodes of not giving a crap, suddenly we want to see this contrary girl and Wounded Man happy together. When the flashback ends and the pair must square away the truth and build a relationship on it we cheer them on for all we're worth.
Some of the stylistic choices that didn't seem to make a whole lot of sense when Inu x Boku was a weightless comedy make a lot more sense as the series grows more substantial. Its knack for atmosphere, for instance, is a great asset when revealing Miketsukami's disquieting past. The simple and sometimes haunting piano score is perfectly suited to the melancholy revelations of Miketsukami's flashback and the bittersweet emotions of his subsequent salvation, as well as the sad sweetness of his later scenes with Ririchiyo. The series' investment in the design and animation of its characters pays off handsomely when Miketsukami has a moving realization while reading a young Ririchiyo's body language. Or when a knock-kneed, adorably terrified Ririchiyo makes an important declaration. Or when Miketsukami's face registers his reaction to Ririchiyo as she reacts unexpectedly to Kagerou's revelation.
Prior to episode eleven, the only tool in Inu x Boku's stylistic repertoire that made any impression was its sky-high level of cuteness. (The power of which is not to be underestimated, especially when transforming Nobara's potentially creepy yuri obsessions into cute jokes.) Afterwards every tool makes its mark.
As undeniably excellent as those final two episodes are though, it's an open question whether they redeem the ten sweet and diverting yet terminally slight episodes preceding them. Knowing what we know when it ends there's little doubt that the show would be better, perhaps even poignant, the second time around. Whether we're willing to go through it all again to find out for sure—that's another matter. Still, a good showing overall.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Last two episodes finally make the central romance work; flashback episode redeems Miketsukami's character.
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