Oh "Episode 69" of Bleach. I wanted to enjoy you. Truly, I did. I–I know we've had our problems in the past. I know there have been some words, and that most of them were mine; "filler" and "tedious" and "I've read cereal box backs with stronger through lines, you bloviating blockhead of Sisyphean suckitude." Some things, you say them, or write them, or scream them at the television until your throat gives out, and you can't take them back. There are lines, we both know it. There's trust.
But shows can change, y'know? I really believe that. And, no lie, I came to you this week with an open mind. There were some good times we had; the Bount, humans whose ability to suck souls grants them immortality, aren't astonishingly original, but vampires can be cool. Finding there are two Bounts was a step in the right direction, and the fight between Ichigo, the female Bount, Yoshino, and her fire golem Goethe, wasn't bad. Even better, the capper with Rukia showing up just in time to save Ichi's well-toasted ass had a solid dramatic punch.
But, and I hate to be this way–I'm still not convinced. The Trust Street, as they say, goes both ways. The fifteen minutes worth of bad comedy at the open, with Urahara's mod-souls getting stuck in new stuffed animal bodies (and why wouldn't the female mod be assigned to Orihime?), that hurt a little, but even worse, I'm just not sure you've changed. How do I know, three weeks from now, Urahara won't turn around and reveal this is all some new training exercise? Or that someone won't discover some magic rewind button, so everything I'm watching now will cease to have happened even in the fictitious sense?
You should try and learn something from Death Note. Oh, it has its flaws. For one thing, especially this late in the game, character is largely moot. Secondary figures like Misa and Aizawa are relegated to stock responses (Misa is bratty, etc.), while Near and Light, the main drivers of the action, are less human beings now than archetypes, Ego and Id without existence outside the central struggle that defines them. There's no fat–and consequently, there's no room for anything beyond pure, unadulterated plot. It's like playing one of those side-shooters that move the screen forward whether you want to go or not; great the first time through, but maybe not so much on the replay.
Still, that first time rocks, and when it comes to plotting, this stuff is gold. The Note is not a show that's afraid to change the status quo; after a few weeks of build, in this week's "Malice," we have the death of two major characters, and the potential death of a third. Near, confident that he's correctly learned the identity of Kira's surrogate in Mikami, asks to meet Light and his team face to face for the final showdown; but this is all according to Light's plans. Near thinks he's safe, because (as far as we know) he doesn't realize that Kiyomi is now in possession of the notebook, which means there's a good chance he'll be in for it if and when the meeting finally occurs.
Before that, though, Mello manages to kidnap Kiyomi on her way to the studio. We get a chance to see just how devoted Kira's followers are when they murder Mello's associate, Matt, after he surrenders to them; and Mello himself is ill-prepared for his opponent's deviousness, as he orders Kiyomi to undress but makes the fatal mistake of allowing her a blanket to cover her nudity. The blanket lets her hide the pieces of notebook she has tucked in her bra, and as soon as Mello leaves her alone, she kills him and calls Light. And Light, while ostensibly rushing to her rescue, has her commit suicide by burning herself and everything she wrote on.
Man, Light is such a bastard. It's not enough that he has to murder his ostensible girlfriend to cover his own tracks; poor Kiyomi dies in what must be horrible pain, and Light just sits there, grinning. But then, why shouldn't he? Mello, one of his most dangerous enemies, is dead, and the evidence rapidly turning to ash. And yet, with Kiyomi gone, he lost his one surefire way of ridding himself of Near; I wouldn't be surprised if Near sees all this death and draws his own conclusions. Here's hoping he starts kicking ass soon.
The Black Knights are doing some ass-kicking in "Refrain," this week's Code Geass, and their popularity is growing; but things are still bad enough for the people of Area 11 that they have to turn to a drug to take their blues away. Called Refrain, the drug gives its user the illusion that they have traveled into the past, to a happier time when their nation wasn't named after a number and giant robots didn't roam the cityscape crushing all who stood in their path.
The drug touches a number of lives, including, in a shock twist, Kallen's own mother. An Eleven with no real rights, Mom stayed on in Kallen's home after he father remarried a standard-issue evil step-mom, to act as a horrible maid and bear the brunt of her daughter's contempt. That she would turn to a substance that would let her relive the few moments of happiness in her life isn't surprising, and when Kallen discovers her drugged mum during a Black Knight attack on a distribution warehouse, Kallen finally understand why her mother has stuck around for so long: to protect her daughter as best she can.
"Refrain" lacks the umph of "Black Knights," but Kallen's internal struggles make for fairly interesting viewing; as does the inevitable philosophical discussion between Lelouch and Suzaku about the morality of what the Knights are trying to accomplish. While the Knights actions are described as, so far anyway, an unquestioned good, the harshness of their retaliations leaves little room for doubt, and Suzaku's frustration at who gets to decide whose good and whose not, while familiar, do make sense. Considering how desperate people are to escape from reality, it's no surprise that they're willing to embrace a fantasy group that seems to solve all their problems. But what will keep Lelouch and his team from going too far?
The first segment in Shin Chan, "The Boy Scouts of Japan," shows the limits of What's Up, Tiger Lily? dubbing, when an initially interesting premise–-the gang of kids stumbles across some Boy Scouts who also happen to be a cult preparing for mass suicide–-ultimately peters out because there's no animation available for any real ending. "The Not-So-Last Temptation of Hiro" fares better, as it stick largely to the segments original story–Hiro helps a pretty girl on the subway, is tempted by her prettiness, but ultimately sticks with Mitzi and his family–with only some slight changes; turns out in the dubbed version that the girl ("I'm Suki. I deal in wood." I bet you do.) is an industrial spy, hitting on Hiro to find more info about his silverware company.
And then there's "Cupid's A Slut," a playground farce where Penny thinks Ai's bodyguard has a crush on her because he fixes wounds instead of making them, and then Ai's bodyguard thinks Shin has a crush on him because Shin gets the job of delivering Penny's love notes, and then Ai thinks Shin loves her because, well, you get the idea. Apart from the usual asides, it's standard kid show stuff; but Penny's comments on her abusive father curdled the gag by being shocking, but not particularly funny.
Bleach, "Episode 69": B-
Death Note, "Malice": A
Code Geass, "Refrain": B+
Shin Chan, "The Boy Scouts of Japan/The Not-So-Last Temptation of Hiro/Cupid's a Slut": B-
—Hiro's "a married man who only gets sex after Mitzi watches 300." That poor, poor bastard.