Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – 02

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In order to reach the port of Yokosuka, the I-401 must get past the Fog heavy cruiser Takao. Gunzou orders a direct attack in concert with their decoys in order to test Takao’s detection abilities. Takao fires her supergravity cannon at 401, which Gunzou predicts and dodges. Hiding along the seabed, the crew determine Takao’s sonar profile must be shrouding a stealth sub. Gunzou surprises Takao by using the supergravity cannon they took from Hyuuga – a previously defeated Fog ship. The sub hiding below her is sunk, but Takao herself is spared, retreating with weapons locked.

Ships in this series bear the same names as WWII warships, but aside from resemblance and the fact they ply the seas, the similarities pretty much end there, with transforming elements and futuristic weaponry. This week we’re treated to a full-on sub-versus-cruiser battle in which the creativity and pluck of the human crew aboard the outgunned patrol sub outwit the haughty, overconfident Takao, whose intense precision and attempt to be sneaky by hiding a sub below her ended up working against her. We also see that whether preparing for battle or in crunch time, Gunzou proves a singular tactician, and his crew is a well-oiled machine. They’re all exceedingly good at their jobs and trust their Captain – and Iona – implicitly.

The battle itself is gripping to behold from start to riveting finish, with crisp, polished animation and impressive weapons effects. The overall aesthetic remains straight-laced and video-gamey, but we prefer of seasons that are diverse in animation styles, and this one certainly stands out. We also found Takao’s progression from imperious, single-minded predator out for I-401’s pelt to chastened, demoralized ship on the run, to actually growing envious of and even smitten with 401’s “human unit” Gunzou, X-factor who not only beat her, but let her live. That sudden change in thinking might just represent a greater weapon the struggle with Fog than any firepower Iona can muster.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

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Yozakura Quartet: Hana no Uta – 02

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An ordinary day unfolds in Sakurashin, as Hime juggles her mayorship and high school while Akina, Ao and Kyousuke work at the counseling office, receiving youkai health certificates from Juri then issuing copies for Shidare and Shiina from the Senate. After school Hime and Kotoha spar within a safety box conjured by Yae as Ao keeps watch. Lily appears and recites and incantation that causes Kotoha to go berserk, but Yae diffuses the situation.

This episode featured quite a few moments of superfluous indulgence: Ao’s weekly panty-shot; Juri teasing Kyousuke with her sexy nurse outfit; a peek in a girl’s locker room; and boob-gropings that went on for far too long. But those were only moments; thankfully there were much longer sequences in which the episode seems to totally forget we’re watching, so we can sit back and enjoy a typical day in the town. Taking calls, making copies, ordering take-out…getting ogre shackles repaired; these seemingly mundane things enrich our exposure to both the characters and the setting.

There’s also an element of foreboding here: we know what the gang doesn’t: that Lily is more than a lost little girl – so when they all get identical postcards from her, we know something’s rotten in Denmark. That, and Ao keeps seeing Lily in the corner of her eye. When Lily finally makes her move, manipulating Kotoha, Yae puts a stop to the impending carnage. Lily’s still poking and prodding, researching her prospective prey. The overt presentation of everyone’s ordinary, fun, happy, balanced lives showed us what’s at stake should Lily and her ilk keep ratcheting up the mischief.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • While the episode is focused on the office, Kyousuke gets excited and storms off without explanation. When the focus switches to Hime, we learn why: he ran off to stop her from eating too many calories. Clever way to tie the two stories together.
  • For all the short skirts and boob-groping, we really appreciated how maturely and subtly Kotoha and Ao’s apparent relationship is handled – especially when Ao tries to snap Kotoha out of her trance by giving her a passionate kiss.
  • We liked how Hime couldn’t get her shirt off because of her ridiculously long scarf she always wears. Hell, if we had such a scarf, we’d probably rock it constantly too.
  • In case anyone doubted the potential danger Kotoha’s powers pose if left unchecked, she dumps several heavy weapons in a park in the middle of town in the blink of an eye. Yikes.