Of the four shows in the anime block, three have males of roughly the same age. But while Ichigo of Bleach is a largely re-active hero, working to fix problems and rescue his friends, Lelouch of Code Geass and Light of Death Note are both pro-active, trying to undermine the status quo from the bottom up. Both have special abilities to help them achieve their goals, and both abilities revolve around control–and that got me to thinking of The M.D., a novel by Thomas Disch, about a little boy named Billy who's given a magical caduceus that can either cure illnesses or create them. Problem is, Billy is a sociopath, and the power over life and death doesn't make him any saner. Disch excels at showing the ways that unnaturally elevated influence can ruin the lives it touches, and while Billy lacks Lelouch's need for vengeance or Light's genius, his ascendance to near god-hood and resultant fall from grace point to the dangers in store for both characters; namely that the more they tighten their respective grips, the more star systems will slip through their fingers.

Of course, Light's doom was sealed from the moment he first picked up the Death Note–he may still be free at the end of the series, but he won't ever stop being damned. But Lelouch's fate is still up in the air; he may be callow, but at least his motives are comparatively pure.

Back to Ichigo in "Episode 67" of Bleach. Following the Creepy Little Girl (CLG)'s orders, the gang beats feet to school, where CLG gives them the rules of the next "game": one of their group (Ichigo, Renji, Uryo, and the newly returned Chad and Orihime) is an imposter, and if they don't figure out who's who by noon, all the people in the school will be "evaporated." As students vanish one by one, the group falls to infighting and paranoia, and as the deadline approaches, CLG gives them one final option: sacrifice their lives, and they can save their classmates.

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"65" appears to raise the stakes of the attacks, but is still stuck in the same go-nowhere pattern. The "game" this ep suffers from having an overly obvious solution; since Chad and Orihime were the only two characters out of sight at the time when the switch must've occurred, it stands to reason that one of them is the fake. And little attempt is made to prove otherwise, apart from some suspicious acting on Renji's part–even Kon, the screamy comic relief, points out the apparent inevitability. By the end, faux-Chad is revealed, and we get another, "Hehe, that was fun, let's play more!" conclusion. Seems like the bad guys are stalling for time as much as the writers; here's hoping we start getting some answers soon.

Lelouch learns a tough lesson about his own limitations in "Attack Cornelia," when he finally meets someone who can outthink him on the battlefield. After a flashback that shows the harshness of Britannia's current emperor towards his son, there's some standard high school melodrama with Lelouch's classmates. It's curious that the contrast between Zero's attempts to bring down an empire and the giggly Sweet Valley High stuff never really feels like a contrast; where something like Buffy got a lot of mileage out of its heroine fighting the undead on a curfew, Geass just sort of rolls with it.

The real fireworks hit when Princess Cornelia sics the Britannia army on the Saitama ghetto, attempting to re-create the circumstances of the Shinjuku masscare and draw Zero out. Of course Zero falls for it, and at first he seems to have situation well in hand, helping the resistance to steal combat robots and defeat the Britannian's with their own machines. But then Cornelia turns the tables, and it's only a last minute appearance by C.C. dressed in the Zero outfit that lets Lelouch escape. The resolution is a little too easy, but the few moments with Lelouch sweating out an order to reveal his face show that our hero is going to need to learn some discretion if he wants to see his goals through to the end.

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Light's feeling the screws a bit himself. Although everything seems to be coming up (black) roses, with Takada and Mikami both eating out of his hand, in "Scorn," Near decides the time has come for end-game and brings the SPK group right to Light's doorstep. There's no longer any doubt in Near's mind as to Kira's identity; the only trick now is finding out who Light is using as a surrogate, and then knocking them all down without actually killing them.

The first bit isn't much of a trick for the Boy Albino–a survey of Kira related video-recordings reveal Mikami's obsession, and Near sends an SPK member to tail him. Light tries to stay ahead of the game, but when Mikami pulls a literary Bronson on a subway creep, everything could be falling apart. Not to mention that Misa's jealousy over the attention Takada is getting from her fiancée; the two ladies have a deeply uncomfortable dinner together, and while no overt threats are made, there's an awful lot of dynamite floating around, and an awful lot of matches.

It's about all a person can do to keep up with Note's acrobatic plotting, but there were some nice little touches here; I like the little figures Near uses to represent his prey, and the way they turn out to be Christmas ornaments. If the series has a flaw it's that it never puts much effort to creating a world to exist in. Its concerns are more abstract, like a math problem with better dialogue, but the holiday season makes for a nicely macabre touch.

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My experience with the series is admittedly brief, but if I had to pick the most perfect Shin Chan title I've seen, it'd have to be, "Miss Katz Has The AIDS." It's like graffiti craved into a bathroom stall–childish, simple, and all about the shock. The sound you make when you see it is part laugh, part groan. "Hos Think They Can Dance" is a little more complex (hey, it's even got a pun), but it works the same way. You're not really supposed to think about either phrase, just roll your eyes and get ready for the next hit.

"AIDS" has Miss Katz losing her purse at the supermarket. Because of her degenerate gambling habit, this means she has no money, and since the teachers all agreed to forgo paychecks for the month so they could buy schoolbooks (!?!), Miss Katz is SOL. So she gets depressed, and the kids think her depression means she's sick, and somehow "poison ivy" gets translated to "HIV positive." It's a conceit that never quite pays off; the AIDS thing is nasty, but never quite nasty enough to be all that funny. "Hos" is more entertaining, mostly because it gives Penny the control-freak a chance to push everyone around and fail miserably. The way the boys end up teaming together against her is as innocent as the show gets.

Of course, that's until Pecker finally throws off Hitler Clone's control and teams up with Lucky Bastard to defeat evil in a big explosion. Shin is a dumb series that's never quite as daring as it wants to be, but the biggest laugh of my night was when the two grand super-heroes pretend to be dead because they thought it would be "funny." Hell, it actually was.

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Grades:

Bleach, "Episode 67": B-

Code Geass, "Attack Cornelia": B+

Death Note, "Scorn": A-

Shin Chan, "Miss Katz Has The AIDS/Hos Think They Can Dance": B-

Stray Observations:

-Shin Chan quotables:

"Ass dance on Aisle 12."

"Dying of AIDS? My parents are going to think this is hilarious."

"That machine doesn't measure anything, it just makes pleasant beeping noises."

-To any long term Bleach fans out there, is it frustrating not having Rukia around at all?

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