Valvrave the Liberator – 17

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Haruto learns that anyone who pilots Valvrave will eventually end up an empty shell like Marie. The Dorssian Royalists ask New JIOR to destroy a covert Dorssian submarine, the Phantom, in exchange for supplies. Yamada and Akira are sent to search for Rukino, while L-elf and Haruto infiltrate the sub as the others stand by in the stolen transport hidden underwater. Meanwhile X-eins is summoned by Colonel Cain to the “Castle of No Return” in Grunau.

A concerned H-neun beats X there, and Cain hunts him down. In the bowels of the Phantom, L-elf and Haruto find a hundreds of unconscious people having Runes extracted. When L-elf threatens to make Satomi pilot Unit 1, Haruto pilots it instead, sets off a volcanic eruption, and mops up the Dorssian forces attacking the transport. X-eins arrives at the castle, where Cain laments he has to start “the ceremony” over again.

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While they started out as monolithic, brutal Space Nazis—an opaque villain to root against, the Dorssians have become a lot more textured and nuanced, starting obviously with L-elf’s decision to revolt against his own people, but carried through with all of the military-political intrigue involving Cain, and the fact that he’s not really human, but some kind of godlike being who’s up to no good. And obviously conscious that it has a whole season to fill, the series is delving even deeper into the everyday lives, pasts, and motivations of L-elf’s former comrades, namely H-neun and X-eins.

Meanwhile Haruto and L-elf get some quality time together, and Haruto, with his post-Marie nightmares and the knowledge he’s being slowly killed by his mecha, appears to waver, and L-elf decides that maybe it would be best if more JIORans resign their humanity so the burden can be shared. This has the semi-intentional effect of rattling Haruto’s cage to the point where he jumps back into the cockpit and raises hell, vowing never to share his unit – or his curse – with anyone else. Which leads to him setting off a friggin’ volcano, which is such Valvrave-y thing to do.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • R.I.P. Marie…though she’s not so much dead as…decompiled into oblivion, which sucks.
  • Considering how cruelly logical L-Elf is, we’re surprised he sent a search party after Rukino, but we know she’ll be back, as we’ve already seen her in the distant future last season.
  • The whole sequence at the castle…yeah. That was awkward and kind of silly, an we’re not just talking about big jars of green glitter. There was just something absurd about Cain chasing one of his former subordinates through the house taking potshots at him. It had an air of horseplay to it, as the culty guys sat around their table doin’ culty-ass shit.
  • In rattling Haruto’s cage, L-elf also impresses upon him how personally frustrated he is to not be able to pilot a Valvrave, which in his mind makes him “powerless,” relegated to commanding troops, but lacking the strength to fight on the front lines, something Haruto not only takes for granted, but despises
  • Grunau Castle reminded us a little of Muska’s huge fortress from Castle in the Sky.
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Nagi no Asukara – 06

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In his first swimming class on the surface, Hikari challenges Tsumugu to a race, but loses and splits his toenail on the pool wall. Manaka tries hard to bring Chisaki and Hikari, but only ends up making things worse. While biking her to the pier, Tsumugu asks her about the phenomenon known as “Tomoebi”, when there appear to be three suns underwater; Manaka remembers angering Chisaki when she missed it last time. When it happens again, she finds Chisaki and they watch it together; Hikari and Kaname also watch just below them.

After focusing on Akari we return to the core group and its bright, buoyant core, Mukaido Manaka. As Kaname points out, is always the first to jump way ahead in things before the other three realize it, contrasting with her classic scaredy-cat nature. When Hikari gets hurt she springs into action before Chisaki can budge. She tries desperately to keep everyone together, and happy, but no matter what she does or says, the unhappy reality remains: it might not be possible for everyone to be happy. Too much may have changed, or is changing, between them all.

All she and everyone else in the group can do is be clear in their feelings for one another, face the trials that come with those various revelations, and see how the saltflake snow shakes out. Even Kaname, a relative island of tranquility (and gaining a surface-girl admirer), hasn’t come clean about liking Chisaki as Hikari remains paralyzed vis-a-vis Manaka. The final scene of the Tomoebi in all its grandeur is remarkably beautiful in its execution, but also profoundly sad; an echo of simpler times. Manka brought everyone back together for that moment, but the peace may be fleeting.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • A lesser show might’ve had Hikari’s pool duel with Tsumugu be the entire plot of the episode; here the point is made and it wraps it up quickly
  • Speaking of wrapping-up, what was with the surface girls wearing modesty towels even in their own locker room?
  • At this point, Hikari gets so mad seeing Manaka alone with Tsumugu that it makes his own encounters with Manaka needlessly tense and strained.
  • We like how the show portrayed the sea people being accepted more and more by the growing number of people helping out with the Ojoshi-sama
  • We hope to more of Kaname’s growing friendship with the nice surface girl who likes him.
  • Manaka’s multiple attempts to include Chi-chan were appropriately hard to watch, but that’s kinda Chisaki’s fault for not being upfront with the necessary party; not that anyone else has been, mind you.
  • Tsumugu’s suggests that Manaka finish her sentences to avoid ambiguity, which is safe but ultimately self-defeating in the present situation. That sound advice could apply to everyone in the group.

Golden Time – 06

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“The Old Banri” recalls confessing to Linda after graduation, and asking her to meet him on the bridge with her answer. In the present, Banri brings Kouko along to a party Chinami is throwing. Mitsuo is there, and Kouko goads him to confess to Chinami and ask her out. Banri throws both Mitsuo and Kouko over to the tea club. While walking home, Banri tells Kouko it’s too painful to continue being around her, and gives his mirror back.

The next day when Linda notices them acting strangely, he turns things on her, asking how she can forget he existed and running off. Linda catches up and tells him she was too afraid she was responsible for his accident after being late to the bridge. Kouko waits up for Banri, but he runs off to the bridge, contemplating jumping to “reset” things. Kouko runs into him with a bike, embraces him, and tells him she loves him.

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Yes or No—so pure, elemental, straightforward and unambiguous (unless you get into double/triple negatives, that is). Those one-word responses are all over this excellent episode, but first show up in the cold open, when all Banri wants is a straight answer from Linda, with which he can move forward. At a crucial crossroads in his life, and needs all the straight answers he can get. But instead of moving forward—either Yes and off to Tokyo with her or No, and off elsewhere without—everything in his life simply, tragically, stops. What was supposed to be simple became complicated.

Considering this is a two-cour series, we were expecting Banri’s “just friends” situation with Kouko to be drawn out a little more just to underline how miserable it’s making Banri to be constantly around someone who doesn’t share his feelings. But all the conditions necessary for him to let Kouko go—and confront Linda—were met this week, and in short order. With Kouko embracing his new self, but only so far, and continuing to obsess over Mitsuo, and with Linda’s utter avoidance of the past through silence, Banri simply can’t deal with either of them anymore.

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Seeking clarity and certainty somewhere, anywhere, Banri runs, and returns to those yes’s and no’s: No, he and Kouko can’t be “just friends”; Yes, Linda’s pretending she never new him, which is kinda cruel; No, he won’t come back and talk about this. But in a sequence intentionally paralleling the night everything went to shit and the Old Banri became lost in the ether,  Kouko chases him back to that same bridge and mows him down with a borrowed bike; though not hard enough to cause serious injury—or more amnesia.

In a superbly emotional, adrenalin-charged moment that nicely skirted the edge of schmaltz, she gives him the straight answer he had been awaiting for years: No, she doesn’t want them to be apart. Yes, she loves him too. Only she’s not Linda. That means, of course, things are still complicated, so we’ll close with some simple answers of our own: Was all this intense drama well earned? Yes. Were we expecting an episode in which things moved so fast for Banri, Kouko and Linda? No. Is Golden Time on a serious roll? Most assuredly Yes.

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Rating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • Now we know: Banri and Linda weren’t a couple; he was in love with her, but they were just friends, just like he and Kouko had been until the end of this episode.
  • This episode wasn’t all tears and drama; with some brief comedy at Chinami’s party, including the callback to the “hell” of the Tea Club, and Banri’s clever use of it as punishment for his bickering friends.
  • Like everything about her, Chinami’s response to Mitsuo’s sudden confession was adorable.
  • In an episode full of powerful confrontations, we were perhaps most moved when Banri finally confronted Linda about her silence. As Kouko’s actions in the end further demonstrate, Banri and Linda never could get their timing right.
  • Linda feels responsible for what happened to Banri, but not because she personally ran him over, but simply because she was a little late getting there
  • Hard to believe we’re only a quarter of the way through this baby. We’ve gone through entire series in this genre where less happens than in just these first six episodes. We like density.
  • If it can keep things humming along as brilliantly in the next eighteen, manage a 10 somewhere along the way, it has a chance to join AnoHana or Toradora! in the august pantheon of our favorite romances of the last few years. (For the  record, Kare Kano remains our all-time fave.)
  • We watched this episode a second time, and liked it even better.

Samurai Flamenco – 05

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Hazama is fooled by a group trying to collect the reward for revealing his identity, but he’s saved by Mari, who once again uses excessive force. When Sumi gets him an acting gig, Hazama tells Mari he won’t be joining her on evenings forthe time being. An angry Mari goes solo and her terrifying brawls lead to the police setting up a Vigilante Counseling Unit to reassure the public.

Hazama is frustrated on the set of the superhero show, but he returns home to find a package scheduled to be sent to him on his twentieth birthday. In it is a letter where his late grandfather passes the legacy of Samurai Flamenco on to him. Energized, he bails out Flamenco Girl once more, but then they split up. Mari coerces Mizuki and Moe to join her, forming the “Flamenco Girls.”

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Last week seemed to be pointing to a reigning in of Flamenco Girl’s reign of terror, but that wasn’t the case this week, as she’s as merciless as ever. Her idoling job has become secondary to her nightly vigilantism, and she derives almost too much pleasure from kicking her defeated foes when they’re down. Suffice it to say, her philosophy doesn’t jibe with Hazama’s more idealized brand of justice, and they both conclude that because of that, they can’t keep working together, or they’ll eventually become enemies.

That brings us to why Hazama is a superhero in the first place. When his parents died, his grandfather created the Samurai Flamenco cheer up and inspire him. Even when Mari’s antics and the jadedness of the hero tv set have brough Hazama as low as he’s ever been, his grandfather’s well-timed posthumous package is just the kick in the pants he needs to keep going, while ditching the oppression of Mari. No more sidekicking or baiting; he’s going to make grandpa proud. We’ll see if he can stick to that!

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • Kaname Joji ditches Hazama once more; but he does get Hazama thinking about how Samurai Flamenco was born.
  • More trouble in paradise: Goto’s girlfriend rebukes him for cancelling on her – and talking about Hazama too much. Will Mari ever confront Goto about her feelings? Will we ever see his girlfriend?
  • Did Sumi simply get that superhero acting job for Hazama because of the auspicious slot, or because she’s picking up on his love for that kinda stuff? Maybe a little of both…
  • There was something kinda melancholy about Mari alone in her too-brightly-lit apartment, rolling around with her cop-pillow.
  • Mari had to train her ass off to become Flamenco Girl, so when we first saw Mizuki and Moe flanking her, we wondered: will she be toughening them up as well, or just using them like she used Hazama?