Witch Craft Works – 08

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Witch Craft Works pulls gracefully out of its nosedive with a solid episode in which we learn about Ayaka’s history and Honoka gets to stand on his own two feet, however briefly. The first part introduced Ayaka’s two middle school handlers, Hoodzuki Kanae (Taichi You) and Hio Touko (Asumi Kana) two decent sorts who, as Honoka will later, are persecuted for their closeness to the Princess. The present Ayaka may be an incredibly stoic individual, but she’s made a lot of progress since middle school, when she wouldn’t react to anyone or anything.

Kanae and Touko do what they can socialize her, and when the delinquents gang up on them, Ayaka raises their body temperatures, neutralizing the threat. We also enjoyed witnessing the genesis of her obsession with Honoka, staking out every middle school in the prefecture until she found him. The entire flashback is played off as Honoka’s dream as Ayaka lies in bed beside him; we return to a Takamiya residence in which Tanpopo and her four fellow Tower Witches are embraced as family. Considering how ineffectual they were at fighting Ayaka, it makes sense to go over to their side, though if they do end up stabbing her in the back, she’ll look as silly as she did standing like a statue on a tennis court as balls whizzed by.

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The present day situation, in which Honoka is student council president, deteriorates rapidly as n’er-do-well Otometachibana Rinon—a handful in name and in person—stages a revolution. Within minutes the school becomes a graffito-strewn den of chaos. But Honoka answers the challenge and faces Rinon one-on-one, successfully dodging her punch precisely when Ayaka tells him. Ayaka, hidden from the assembled students’ view by her cape, mops up. Student support for Honoka skyrockets after his “defeat” of Rinon. Rinon turns out to have been a mere pawn of the former president, who fed her lies to her about being assaulted and tossed aside by Honoka.

It was a plan she actually went over with Ayaka—whom she still adores—beforehand, in another flashback. The non-linear progression of the story, as well as the scale of chaos that went down and was just as quickly snuffed out, all contributed to what was a pleasantly rambunctious offbeat outing. More importantly, it successfully legitimized the notion that Honoka isn’t a useless wuss. After all, it takes strength to accept one’s weakness and dependence on stronger parties, while resisting the urge to wish for more power, which is readily available but will lead to the breaking of more seals.

7_very_goodRating:7 (Very Good)

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Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta – 08

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As intense and harrowing as the last episode was, it was but the first taste of what was to come this week. We don’t know what’s gotten into this show, but we like it. It brings the hammer down hard on everyone this week, and a ton of characters get knocked off. Last week took a very telegraphed outcome and totally sold it with the execution; this week, the only thing we were relatively sure of is that our main couple would survive; for everyone else—Ariel and Ignacio included—all bets were off.

The sudden assault of Isla by air and land of the mysterious enemy forces with very modern and competitive weaponry causes different reactions in different trainees; some hunker down and rise to the occasion, Mitsuo and Chiharu. Others’ hands shake, or their resolve wavers, and who can blame them? By any measure, they’re not ready for full-on combat against an older, wiser foe. But for the likes of Ari and Kal would rather be unready than dead, and fight their goddamn hearts against dreadful odds.

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There’s only so much they can do in their training aircraft, and one by one they’re picked off, the show totally uninterested in pulling punches. Before we know it, Kal and Ari are the last ones in the air, surrounded by superior force. And then Ari takes a bullet to the shoulder, and all seems lost. In this moment, Kal starts to lose it, pleading for Ari to wake up, but he doesn’t stop piloting the plane, and doing an incredible job of it. Ultimately, he buys just enough time for a blue fighter to turn up and waste the last of the enemy before disappearing into the night. It may have been a bit of deus ex machina, but it’s a welcome ray of hope in a series that has washed much of its hope away, along with its innocence.

There are allies out here, not just foes. The dogfighting throughout is really riveting, occasionally lyrical stuff (setting aside the fact the enemies don’t have the best aim). Clearly the show had been holding back with its budget for these past two episodes. But most satisfying is that when the spotlight turned back onto Kal, Ari, Claire and Ignacio, they didn’t disappoint in their scenes. Kal and Ari’s sibling interactions during and after the battle were a highlight. Barely surviving a hellish battle in which many of their friends died tends to bring people closer together.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)