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Dated 11 September 2008: Comparing Saishuu Heiki Kanojo with Iriya no Sora, UFO no Natsu (Part One)

Shuji and Chise
Shuji and Chise.

Stripey compares Saikano to Iriya no Sora, UFO no Natsu, finding Iriya to be a much better show than Saikano. Curiously, I never connected Saikano and Iriya no Sora, UFO no Natsu before. In hindsight, it seems obvious to associate them. The two shows are both about dweebs who discover their girlfriends are ultimate weapons fighting in wars that will decide the fate of the world. Somehow I never really noticed the similarities until I read Stripey's blog entry.

Iriya Kana hands Asaba Naoyuki a submachine gun
Iriya Kana hands Asaba Naoyuki a submachine gun.

One thing Stripey mentions is the unrealistic military aspects of Saikano. Bear in mind, however, that his complaints are about the military protocol, not about fielding a high school girl that shoots missiles out of her back. I understand what Stripey's getting at, though. Suspension of disbelief is fine when it involves aspects integral to the story, but miscellaneous insensible details can be notoriously distracting. Me, I'm perfectly fine with a high school girl who shoots missiles from her back (even though tradition dictates the missiles should launch from her chest), but it annoys me that Chise (Miss Ultimate Weapon, herself) frequently trips and falls on her face without provocation as the stereotypical clumsy anime girl. I've always despised that affectation. It's not cute at all.

Shuji fails to keep Chise from falling
Ultimate weapon my eye.

Personally, I don't remember if the military aspects of Iriya no Sora, UFO no Natsu are necessarily more authentic than the ones in Saikano, but I do remember Iriya no Sora, UFO no Natsu as being a much better show. However, it has been a while since I've watched either series, so perhaps re-watching them will reveal aspects and nuances I overlooked initially.

Naoyuki straddles Kana
There are some boobs. Okay? Just not a lot.

As an aside, I should mention that Saikano is actually an abbreviation for this Gonzo series' much longer title: Saishuu Heiki Kanojo: The Last Love Song on This Little Planet. (Most sources translate Saishuu Heiki Kanojo as She, the Ultimate Weapon.) After the first episode of Iriya no Sora, UFO no Natsu aired, I also started calling it by an abbreviated title: UFO Boobs. Thankfully, this bit of shorthand never caught on. It's a bit unfair to refer to Iriya no Sora, UFO no Natsu as UFO Boobs. That suggests the show is a trite, fan service romp, which isn't true at all. Besides, there aren't especially many boobs in Iriya no Sora, UFO no Natsu, anyway. I still secretly call it UFO Boobs out of habit sometimes, but I don't suggest anyone else should.

Dated 13 September 2008: Saikano v. Iriya no Sora, UFO no Natsu (Part Two) ~the problem with Saikano~

Shuji
Shuji.

So what's the biggest problem with Saikano, anyway? Is it that its male lead is a douchebag? Or is it because Chise is so passive? (Then again, that's probably one of Chise's main draws as far as Saikano fans are concerned.) I don't much like the male lead in Iriya no Sora, UFO no Natsu, either, but at least Iriya gets pissed at him when he deserves it, and other people seem to enjoy punching him in the face. Even annoying characters are tolerable when they get aced square in the face often enough. (See also Renton Thurston.)

Asaba Naoyuki
Look, this won't hurt a bit, Asaba. Take it like a man.

In order to give the Saishuu Heiki Kanojo v. Iriya no Sora, UFO no Natsu arguments a fair shake, I figure this is as good a time as any to re-watch both series and offer episode-by-episode comparisons. Saikano is 13 episodes plus an OAV, while UFO Boobs is only six episodes long, so I'll be running at a 2:1 ratio (omitting the Saikano OAV) this time around. As a rule, I don't do episode summaries (my spoiler-free Gunslinger Girl episode guide notwithstanding) so expect minimal descriptions of the plot and events; there will be impressions and critiques instead.

Dated 19 September 2008: Saikano v. Iriya no Sora, UFO no Natsu (Part Three) ~first impressions~

Bombers
Nothing ruins a shopping expedition faster than carpet bombing.

We know Saikano won't end well because it begins with a voiceover by a tall, tired-looking fellow with emo glasses who speaks in the past tense about the girl he loved. From there we backtrack through a 12-episode flashback to the beginning of the story. We meet the meek Orikasa Fumiko-voiced Chise as she calls out to the impatient Shuji. We can tell they are somewhat close by the familiar names they call each other. We learn that there are soldiers in town even before we learn that Chise and Shuji are dating. A small convoy of deuce-and-a-half trucks loaded with soldiers rolls by as Chise and Shuji walk to school. Fighter planes patrol overhead. Additionally, there's a communication blackout in effect: No cell phones and no Internet. Obviously there is something going on, although the local citizens don't seem to know much of the details and nobody seems too concerned about it. It could be this is one of the aspects Stripey finds hard to stomach.

Chise
Nothing ruins a carpet bombing expedition faster than an air-supremacy schoolgirl.

So Chise is the ultimate weapon, but it's never explained how her abilities function. Conservation of mass doesn't apply, and neither do the law of conservation of energy nor the law of conservation of happiness. (Wait, never mind the part about the law of conservation of happiness. I've been re-reading Aa! Megami-sama.) Inexplicably, the military seems content to allow Chise to lead a semi-normal life and only watches her from a distance instead of, you know, rigidly controlling her every move.

Iriya
Iriya Kana didn't know how to swim.

Iriya no Sora, UFO no Natsu also begins with a voice-over. Here, Iriya reveals the existence of a shadow war about which the general public remains unaware. Unlike Saikano, the first episode includes an OP showcasing missile-spamming, thrust-vectoring foo fighters dominating the skies. We never know for certain what time frame the voice-over belongs to, but we do eventually learn the story behind the air battle depicted during its voice-over.

Asaba and Iriya
Asaba Naoyuki teaches her.

Asaba Naiyuki and Iriya Kana meet one night while they're both trespassing at the school pool. It's not exactly a Meet Cute, but it does get them together. The show never explains why Iriya fixates on Asaba so much from then on, but it doesn't really matter since she doesn't have any other suitors.

Akiho and Asaba
Akiho tries to keep Asaba in line.

Both Saikano and Iriya no Kana, UFO no Natsu include Loud Friends. Shuji and the quiet Chise's loud friend is Akemi. I'm not sure why Akemi calls Shuji senpai when they're in the same class. Maybe it's out of habit from before he got held back. Shuji is the kind of doofus I could see flunking a grade or three. That would also explain why he's so much bigger than his classmates. (He's not from America.) Possibly he just has a defective pituitary gland. Asaba's loud friend is Sudou Akiho. As far as loud friend types go, Akiho is a lot more charismatic than Akemi, probably in no small part due to her unkempt hair and her wonderfully cranky Chiba Saeko voice.

Saikano military dweebs
The soldiers in Saikano aren't the most competent ones you'll meet.

As in Saikano, the military also has a pronounced presence in Iriya no Sora, UFO no Natsu. The characters refer to the nearby Sonohara Air Base frequently, and Suizenji (the chairman of Naiyuki and Akiho's club) is obsessed with its secrets. There is also a black ops contingent with secretive intelligence personnel and other agents behind the scenes. They watch Iriya more closely than Chise's goons, and monitor the local citizens for good measure. They even know embarrassing details about Asaba's early private life, suggesting that they were watching him at least a year before he and Iriya crossed paths. By the series' midpoint, the viewer discovers that these agents really are everywhere, watching Iriya and Asaba closely.

Asaba and Enomoto
Trust no one.

The distinction makes sense when you consider that Saikano focuses much more on Chise's battles and her trauma and the fallout from her classmates struggling to cope with the horrors of war—even a cartoonishly unrealistic one. UFO Boobs is more about secrets and conspiracies and uncertain motivations. It's about shifting loyalties and not knowing who to trust. This is not to say that Iriya is an anime X-Files—not at all—just that it takes a different approach as to what its characters have to deal with. But trust is the key to Iriya no Sora, UFO no Natsu. And it's what makes Asaba's betrayal later in the series so gut-wrenching.

Dated 19 October 2008: Saikano v. Iriya no Sora, UFO no Natsu (Part Four)

Not actually our Saikano heroes
Chise cries a lot, even when it's not really Chise.

By episodes three and four of Saikano, I had already already grown tired of the Chise/Shuji relationship. I suppose their whining and crying are supposed to underscore just how young and immature these characters are, but that doesn't make their wishy-washiness any less annoying. The two of them are emo one moment, conspiring to run away together, then lovey-dovey and daydreaming about being being married with children the next, and then completely uncertain and doubtful about their love and commitment the next. Is it authentic? I guess it's supposed to be, but it doesn't make me care about the pair more. I like Orikasa Fumiko, but with Chise crying through most of the Saikano, a little goes a long way.

Yuuko
Yuuko stalks Naoyuki and Kana.
Just pretend it's not an ass shot. Okay?

The first third of Iriya is far superior to the first third of Saikano precisely because it is much less emo. The supporting characters are actually kind of fun, and even Naiyuki's cranky little sister, Yuuko, is a pleasant departure from the sweet little sister stereotype. Also, maybe Iriya being taciturn makes it easier to like her better. (Even discounting the crying and moping, Chise still talks a lot more than Iriya.) We later learn that Iriya was basically shell-shocked into her current autistic, post-traumatic state (or whatever term you want to call it). Sadly, we don't ever get to meet the younger, lucid Iriya (from before all her fellow pilots died), but I wouldn't mind a prequel.