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Dated 12 April 2009: I wanted to say "Deus Ex Makina" in an entry about Shikabane Hime: Kuro

Makina is all about reaction shots. And bare asses. And punches to the face.

It turns out there wasn't a Deus Ex Machina in Shikabane Hime. But it did turn out that Shikabane Hime: Kuro is the best show from the Winter 2009 season. Yes, better than Toradora! (which I ranked fifth among shows I finished that season), and even better than the fifth season of Major. Being a Gainax show (at least in part), there was always the chance the Shikabane Hime ending would zoom in from left field, so I waited until I actually watched the last episode before making this pronouncement. FUNimation's official free subtitled stream beat both fansubbing groups to Kuro 12, so I watched it there.

Makina, Minai, and Ouri
Makina, Minai, and Ouri.

Some people have called the end of Shikabane Hime: Kuro a Gainax Ending anyway, but I don't consider that accurate at all. It's a little unusual, but it's nothing like the ending to The Melody of Oblivion (which was straight FAR OUT) or the ending to Mahoromatic: Something More Beautiful (which was not only FAR OUT, but also enraged many viewers), for example.

Saki is a token character, but a good one.

Really, the joke's on me, because apparently the final episode of Kuro is actually the penultimate episode. Reportedly, the real last episode will be released with the final DVD. That's something of a relief, because Shikabane Hime: Kuro episode 12 concludes with some unfinished business, leading me to believe it was a "read the manga to find out what happens" ending—a task I was fully prepared to do.

Makina quietly watches over Keisei
Makina quietly watches over Keisei.

Incidentally, none of these screencaps are from that last episode. In fact, none of them are even from Kuro. I've been re-watching Shikabane Hime: Aka because another group is releasing episodes and I wanted to see if there were meaningful differences. I'm really enjoying these earlier episodes a lot more this time around because I'm picking up a lot of the clues and foreshadowing I missed originally.

Dated 20 March 2009: Shikabane Hime is Awesome

Makina is far and away the Best Girl in Shikabane Hime.

Barring sudden reversals in the last few episodes, Shikabane Hime: Kuro is going to be my pick for the best show of this season. I'm as surprised as you. I only started watching Shikabane Hime in the first place because I will try anything by Gainax—and because of its superlovely character design, but let us set that aside for now.

Saki and Rika
Saki and Rika are both token characters, but good ones nevertheless.

I almost rejected Shikabane Hime: Aka in its infancy because it wasn't Gainax enough. From the looks of the early episodes, it was just your standard Monster of the Week action series with some silly, over-the-top fighting and a putz for a male protagonist.

I admit it's hard to take Saki seriously sometimes, though.

But I stayed with it, because there wasn't frankly much else to watch, and it thankfully did not have a whole lot of talking for a shounen show. Or at least the characters kept on fighting while they were talking and left the standing around doing nothing parts to a minimum.

Makina is serious, though. Dead serious.

Plus, Makina's voice sounds more "real" and less "anime." I fully expected her to have a much higher-pitched voice from the character design, but Makina actually sounds like her voice actress might smoke. I really like the qualities of Makina's voice, although sometimes I wish Akiyama Nana and Chiba Saeko had switched roles. The acting is not good enough in some of the early episodes to carry a lead role, although this is not a problem limited to Makina's VA. It turns out much of the voice cast consists of models and idols instead of experienced seiyuu; however, I am pleased to report the acting improves throughout the series.

Shikabane Hime also has a lot of fancy Gainax kicks.

But back to Makina. She was the real reason I kept on watching Shikabane Hime: Aka, and I'm glad I did. Once the Monster of the Week episodes in Aka end, each episode is legitimately interesting. Towards the end of the first season, Shikabane Hime wove enough mystery and suspense to ensure I would stick around for the second part: Shikabane Hime: Kuro. In fact, the end to Aka is FULLY AWESOME. Okay, technically the end to Aka is a clip show/epilogue, but getting to that point is FULLY AWESOME.

Itsuki realizes the magnitude of her mistake.

Shikabane Hime: Kuro has the difficult task of asking me to take Ouri seriously, but I am tolerant so far. It is Makina's ties to Keisei that really carry the show for me, to tell you the truth. Despite this uphill battle, Kuro has been solid. It has earned this season's number one ranking, and I expect it to remain that way if reports of Toradora! declining into overblown melodrama are accurate. I had already moved Shikabane Hime: Kuro ahead of Toradora! after the latter's episode 22, but early reports about episode 24 likely seal the deal.

Itsuki and Takamasa
Any show with gag EDs is probably willing to take risks.

With regard to endings, it is important to remember Shikabane Hime remains a Gainax show, even if only in part. Ergo, a Gainax ending is a real possibility. Quite frankly, I'm hoping for one. Shikabane Hime strikes me as the type of show that could pull it off. There are numerous little gags interspersed throughout the series to suggest it does not take itself too seriously: such as Saki's constant snacking, or the fact that every contractor priest appears to be a cretinous otaku at heart, or how none of the shikabane hime seem particularly concerned about making their 108-kill quota to go to heaven. Shikabane Hime should be able to pull off a Gainax ending at least as well as The Melody of Oblivion did. I certainly hope so. It'll be EPIC.

Don't make me get Makina to punch you in the face.
She'll do it, too, and she's damn good at it.

Oh, and if this post has convinced you to start watching Shikabane Hime, don't be an idiot and start with Kuro just because it's newer. What in Hell is wrong with people like that? Start with Aka. Shikabane Hime is one show. Splitting it up into Aka and Kuro was symbolic at best. It would be like starting VanDread with season two instead of at the beginning. In related news, if you're one of those people who watched Diebuster without seeing Gunbuster first just because Diebuster was new and shiny, choke yourself. And when you wake up, watch Gunbuster. Scheiße.

Dated 19 November 2006: Neon Genesis Evangelion

Evangelion Platinum Edition DVDs
Evangelion Platimum Edition DVDs boxed set.

Holy crap, the Platinum Edition of the Neon Genesis Evangelion DVDs (ADV's version of the digitally remastered Renewal discs) is down to $33.87. I can vouch for the quality of these discs. As someone who owns both the Platinum Edition and the older so-called "Perfect Edition," the Platinum version is vastly superior in every respect.

Dated 14 November 2006: The Melody of Oblivion

Bocca and Sayoko
Bocca and Sayoko.

The last DVD of The Melody of Oblivion is SO WEIRD. I can't even really begin to explain it. The Melody of Oblivion was already a weird series to begin with, but the last last four episodes take the peculiarity to another level.

Are the episodes good? Yes. I can assure you of that much. But I also can't present a bunch of random screenshots and expect those of y'all who haven't watched the series to understand just what makes the series SO WEIRD. Thus, I've posted the two least weird screenshots I had—ones that don't feature karaoke or girls being milked.


I also have my own theories as to what happened at the end of the The Melody of Oblivion, but I understand others may embrace different interpretations.