“The Reason For Her Smile“
The view from Igirisu:
One interesting thing about this series has been the insignificance of the witches’ ratings in terms of their ability to beat their opponents. It’s an interesting reflection of the ways in which people’s worth is measured in life, particularly academically, which can never be a true indication of everything an individual has to offer. In terms of pure power, Kikako is awe-inspiring, but Neko easily out-thinks her and can stay alive by dodging her beams. Then Kotori has the brainwave to tie herself up and switch places. Murakami spots the chink in Kikako’s armour extremely quickly, figuring out how the “pre-fire charge time” can be utilised. He continues to be remarkably calm and resourceful in a crisis.
“The truth is her attacks aren’t that much to worry about.”
This is once again a triumph of intelligence over strength, but more importantly it shows the power of friendship. It doesn’t matter how many “A” ratings Kikako is judged to have, a group of “B” and “C” rated witches, along with a clever civilian, are more than capable of beating her, because they have each other and they work together. But it wasn’t all plain sailing. Murakami hanging up Neko to stop her going on a crusade was a clever move… except it left her powerless. More surprising was the way Kikako actually won the battle with Neko before Kotori intervened, using a more conventional weapon when her magical powers were failing to have an effect. That was a surprising moment and it’s always an effective twist when a fantasy-based series does that kind of thing. Buffy fans might remember a key moment where a simple gun has more effect on the progression of the sixth season than any amount of supernatural powers. The viewers are in that fantasy/sci-fi headspace, so a switch to a more prosaic form of weapon is always an effective twist.
After the big battle we get the first of several tonal shifts this week, as we explore Kotori’s tragic recent past. This kind of storyline makes you count your blessings and really think about living for the moment. We take so much for granted in life, and here in contrast is the story of one girl giving up her life so that her friend can live a few more days and reach her 16th birthday. A few days of one person’s life are surrendered in exchange for a few extra days for another. It’s a story of how every day is precious, and those extra days for Kotori allowed her to experience friendship, so it offers a powerful message about making every day matter in life. For the first time I felt that the horror aspect of this series was a little out of place. We already had a grim reference to hands and feet coming away in the final stages of death for a witch, and the imagination was doing an unpleasant enough job with that, without showing it actually happening to Chie. It felt like a gratuitous distraction from the emotion of the moment of the loss of a friend.
Another tonal shift brought us to the fanservice part of the episode, once again a reasonably realistic portrayal of girls having a break from their dramatic and terrifying existences by kicking back a bit. Viewers who haven’t seen a lot of anime might not realise how refreshingly trope-shattering Murakami is as a character in these harem anime scenarios. When a male protagonist in an anime catches sight of something he shouldn’t, there is a very finite list of outcomes we normally expect. Bizarrely the most common seems to be that he gets a nosebleed, which has become a strange cliché in anime. The other two possibilities are that he panics, or gets punched. But Murakami is a cool customer and just shrugs it off with a comment about how it’s their fault for stripping off, and that’s a remarkably rare subversion of expectations and, along with his calm intelligence in a crisis, an indication of the thought that the writer has put into making him a realistic character rather than yet another bland generic babe-magnet.
Our final shift of the episode displays another useful quality of Murakami that is rare in anime main characters: he is proactive not reactive, and decides to take the lead in doing something about the witches’ predicament. In a very funny sequence we are introduced to Kogorou Hashiratani, who is a great character, and Neko’s demonstration of her powers had me laughing out loud.
“This pen is a family keepsake.”
Boom! This felt very much like a mid episode of an arc, resolving a fairly minor battle in the grand scheme of things, cementing the position of one of the main characters in the group, and moving the story on to somewhere new. It’s far from being the most memorable episode of Brynhildr, but it’s to the credit of the series that it never feels like a workmanlike progression, and the three major tonal shifts never make the episode seem disjointed. Say what you like about the subject matter, but there’s no denying this is an expertly-crafted series. Most importantly, it’s a series that champions intelligence and friendship. RP
The view from Amerika:
One thing I’m coming to learn is that anime does not follow the rules of television as I understand them. You can quickly identify the characters that will survive and the ones that will die in most shows. Not so in my still-novice experience with Anime. Shino’s death really caught me off-guard. I mean, they talked about it, but I don’t know. Maybe it was that whole “her hands and feet are still attached” that got me. What a horrible ending these creatures experience!! On the other hand, Kotori is willing to sacrifice herself and I’m at least justified in my belief when she fails to die. But then, the fact that other characters could die (including the main two, barring a bit of time travel), really didn’t make me feel any more secure while Kotori is preparing her noble sacrifice. This subversion of expectation has contributed to a more enjoyable viewing experience for me, because I really don’t know what’s coming next and that’s refreshing.
Having said all of that, I completely anticipated the swap that Kotori was planning with Kikako, the mouth-cannon-from-Dragonball-Z. What I didn’t see coming was Neko’s ability to dodge Mouth-cannon! That was a nice touch. So Kikako fails to kill her targets and is threatened to be punished. But how fair is that? She was defeated with a damned good device: a paper bag! Here’s what I totally failed to understand: if her mouth cannon can be targeted, why not target the pole? I mean, surely the paper bag wasn’t really a deterrent? Unless she was afraid of missing and hitting a nearby mirror? And where did Murakami get that paper bag anyway? All kidding aside, I find myself not as against these bad guys as I should be because they are all at the mercy of an organization that could kill them by denying them the meds they need to survive. That’s not fair and it makes more sympathetic villains. Alas, perhaps not so of the human behind the witches, but the witches themselves are easier to like as a result.
One thing I’ve commented on before in some of my other anime reviews is the age of the characters specifically in relation to going through some of the more sexual scenes. However, some context is provided for me, albeit in the dub, which may not be quite accurate. Kotori is dying and she’s getting close to her birthday: she will be turning 16 which is when she says she will reach adulthood. For me, this changes the playing field a bit because I was never entirely comfortable with the minds behind these animes. It always seemed like the girls were put in a position that they shouldn’t be and that never sat well with me. Not because of anything prudish, but because I felt by watching these, I was supporting the creators that were putting together something I wasn’t comfortable with. But when we consider the fact that another culture views adulthood as starting at a younger age, that makes the minds behind the anime less troublesome for me. I can accept that what I am used to at 18 is just a cultural paradigm. What’s good for one culture, does not necessarily remain good for another. What does it mean for this episode? Nothing specifically, but it helps me when those scenes do come up; and they have in this series. In relation to the character, it gives context to the lovely episode title: why she smiles is to be happy every day because her friend died to give her more happy days. And she does make her birthday and remembers her friend with joy! Which, all things considered, made this a very happy episode for me even as it was touched by the sorrow around the loss of Shino.
The whole age thing also provides some context to why no teachers ever walk into the observatory. In their minds, these kids are basically adults and would undoubtedly be treating the several thousand dollar… yen?… telescope as it’s meant to be treated. Surely, no one would be having sleep-overs with a bunch of beautiful girls with telekinetic powers there, right? Oh, wait… that’s exactly what they are doing. No homes means no need to leave which at least makes for an easy way to have the group always together. Well, short of Murakami… he has a family. In fact, so much so that he’s turning to one for help: his Uncle “Closed-eyes” Kogorou. Maybe with the help of a scientist, they can get to the bottom of things soon! Let’s find out… ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Brynhildr in the Darkness Episode 7