Sora No Method – 01

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Sora no Method is a precious little tale about a young girl returning home after an abrupt move and the consequences of leaving everyone hanging. It’s quiet, composed, attractive, and because an unexplained and barely mentioned flying saucer that looks like it’s full of star dust is always directly over head… quite mysterious and magical.

Also one of the people our protagonist left behind is a fairy or a snow spirit or… something?

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Nonaka unpacking her boxes, totally unaware of Noel, a not especially stealthy girl who’s been in her room all morning

We open with Nonaka’s return and remarkably delayed re-meeting of Noel, a girl she promised…something to before she left years ago. Unfortunately, Nonaka was like three or four then, and has no memory of this (though she does feel like she knows Noel, a little).

Undisturbed, Noel continues on with their friendship like nothing has really happened and, until Nonaka thinks Noel has broken a picture of Nonaka’s clearly-dead-now mother, things go slow but pretty good.

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for a GIGANTIC (and beautiful… thing) people really don’t talk much about the saucer

Later, while in town, Nonaka stumbles past other people she left behind but only one of them realizes this and she doesn’t clue Nonaka in. As with all of the show, the encounters are quiet, leisurely, and quaint.

If I needed a single word, I’d call it pleasant.

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Eventually, we see snippets of the friends making some sort of snow-god-blood-pact…or something? Then Nonaka remembers a little bit and runs back to find Noel at an observatory made of wood.

Everything’s going to be okay now. Noel will fulfill her wishes. At least, until something tragic happens.

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Sadly, for all it’s wonder, there’s no way I’m going to follow this show. It IS way better than Glasslip, Tamayura: More Aggressive, and other shows I’ve lifted my nose at but I can not imagine Zane or Preston not reviewing it. Can you?

For Goodness sakes! It even has car cameos!

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Shingeki no Bahamut: Genesis – 01

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Shingeki no Bahamut’s first episode was a breathless and unrelenting assault on the senses…in a good way! From a beam- and explosion-packed prologue to a highly-caffeinated chase through a Renaissance-era town, this show doesn’t let up for more than a few moments before it springs back into action.

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Mind you, I’m still processing everything that happened, but basically, Favaro Leone is a maverick bounty hunter who does what he wants when he wants it, and somehow because of him the wealthy Kaisar Lidfort has also become a bounty hunter. Favaro tracks down his target, Garth, then celebrates at the bar, where he boasts of heading to Helheim soon. A mysterious but beautiful woman overhears this.

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She asks him to lead her to Helheim, and he agrees, in exchange for a kiss. Before that kiss can happen, Garth’s brother Ghos shows up, summoning an even bigger beast than his brother to batle Favaro. The pink-haired lady steps in and transforms into a monstrously-powerful demon woman who takes care of the summon as Favaro kills Ghos, another bounty for his godlike patron Bacchus.

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The woman reverts to her human form and give Favaro the kiss he desires, and he passes out, entering a dream world of crumbling earth and ferocious Bahamuts. When he wakes up the next morning he has a demon tail, which is an unusual, frightening thing even in this world—and there’s no doubt the woman is responsible.

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It’s one hell of a loud, boisterous, and elaborate opening salvo for Shingeki no Bahamut. It’s great to hear the always-hilarious Yoshino Hiroyuki (Bossun, Sket Dance; Meow, Space Dandy) voicing a lead role, and the brash swashbuckling rogue Favaro is a perfect role for him. The setting is lush in detail; the action frenetic, and the pace is fantastically brisk. I’m not exactly sure what’s going on, but I like it.

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Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 01

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Right off the bat, Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo shows us that it can do mid-air transformable mecha battles pretty well. The fight  reminds me of some of my favorite scrolling shooters, actually. The Mecha is very Ray Storm/Crisis (PS1) and the space-time crossing dragons are very R-Type.

And these are good things! (If your gonna snatch someone else’s originality, you better take it from the best!)

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More interestingly, Cross Ange plays its hand close and gives us no context for this fight. Instead, we quickly jump into a magic/mecha lacrosse game between our heroin “Ange” and some unimportant girls in pink.

While neither of these sequences seem that important to our protagonist Princess Angelize, they certainly caught my attention. Aping games I loved and a sport barely heard of outside of my home city? Color me intrigued!

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However, not all is lacrosse matches in packed stadiums and life or death dog fights for our strong princess. There’s crushing racism and/or genocide afoot and she see’s nothing wrong with it.

And why not? The “Norma” are considered mutants for their inability to use “Mana of the Light,” which appears to be the underlying source of society’s technology and social stability. Sure, it’s tragic, but that’s the price to pay for Utopia!

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Angelize’s viewpoint is kinda understandable but it’s immediately obvious that we’re seeing this world from a misguided viewpoint. Ange’s mother’s response to a well meant but still tirade-y “If only they were wiped out we would have even better peace” speech is all the confirmation we need.

Good intentions make the best grave and ash for royal families, after all.

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Unsurprising to everyone but Ange, Ange is revealed to be a Norma herself. Unfortunately, the reveal is during her very public baptism and all hell breaks loose. Her mother is killed, her brother snatches the throne, her younger sister (a cripple?) faints and Ange is captured and sent off to Norma prison.

Not the best birthday ever but I think we can all agree, it could have been worse.

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Ange’s birthday takes a decidedly worse turn later that night. Outcast to a rainy dark All Women’s prison, Ange is informed that her life will now be spent as a soldier, her possessions will be confiscated and… well it’s hard to tell but she’s either anally searched or also raped. (it’s difficult to tell if Ange’s blood or her mother’s blood is pooled down her dress)

Either way, ick?

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Cross Ange pulled a fantastic fake out with its mecha opening in that I made no connection that it was time-forward and the following lacrosse game was flash backward. While Ange was certainly more gruff in the dog fight, I just assumed it was part of what princess do and I didn’t expect the full twist that came at the end.

I would like to note that, for all its aggression and in your face trauma, this show has fully chosen to pull its punches. Even the opening, which is full of nudity, is… ‘tastefully’ devoid of nipples and genitalia. Like pumping a ton of ‘beeps’ into a song, I found the censorship more distracting than what it was censoring. (especially the still not introduced male character, who has a ken doll’s lack of junk between his legs)

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Another odd note is that much of the dialog comes from the left channel and much of the music comes from the right. This was extra weird for me, since I wear a single-right channel headphone while reviewing (so people can get my attention in the office) and I thought part of the opening dog fight comms chatter was actually being translated from the battle song.

That would have been pretty awesome!

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Cross Ange has good design, a simple but not too simple plot structure, many many many characters we haven’t been introduced to yet, and cool dog fights to come. It may also have a yuri element, if the end sequence has meaning, and the soft-ball censorship is a little weird.

Still, I’ll take that over the black-out treatment Terra Formars has received, which makes it difficult to even understand what’s going on on-screen.

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Ookami Shoujo to Kuro Ouji – 01

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I went into this show extremely suspicious from what I’d initially gathered about it: a guy treating a girl like a dog just isn’t something that appeals to me as as source of entertainment. After this episode, this is still the case, but at least the show is quite clear about Shinohara Erika’s unfortunate situation being entirely of her making, and it’s up to her to get out of it, not anyone else. It’s your typical pride-vs-appearance tug-of-war, and so far, pride is losing out.

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Sure, getting to school late on the first day is rough, because everyone’s already split up into groups. But building an empty relationship based upon lies to ingratiate oneself with vapid self-involved girls in the back of the classroom just makes things worse. Like Futaba in Ao Haru Ride, she doesn’t really gain anything from pretending to be friends with them, aside from the appearance that she’s not alone when she really is.

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Marin and Aki don’t really give a shit about Erika, regardless of whether she’s banging a model. Even when Erika has Sata Kyouya playing along, the only reaction she gets out of them is relative indifference, followed by mild irritation, since the rest of the school thinks he’s such hot stuff. And the cost of this farce is far too high. At this early stage in her high school life, it would be better to come clean, but she’s not going to do that.

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So as I said, the titular situation, in which she must serve as Kyouya’s dog, is entirely of her making. She got him involved in her web of lies, and he’s perfectly willing to help keep those lies going for her, as long as she’s willing to completely humiliate herself. But a part of him obviously cares about Erika beyond “killing time”, so it seems he’s making things hard on her because he hopes she’ll eventually stop with the lies. She has the power to stop being a dog. Will she get the picture? Ehh…I’m not sure I care.

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Akame ga Kill! – 14

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For those among you who don’t particularly care about the Tatsumi+Esdeath romance thread, this episode was probably a bit of a slog. However, I don’t mind it in the least, so it was a lot of fun. I couldn’t tell you why; but there’s just something very endearing about such an otherwise heartless, cruel villaness having such a tender side to her; aside only Tatsumi can bring out.

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She’s not even mad about him running away the first time; she’s just happy they’e reunited…and on a remote and deserted island, no less. She treats it as a date, with the two of them enjoying fun activities like bringing down colossal danger beasts, harvesting fruits, hunting for game, and relaxing on the beach. She’s so into Tatsumi, she’s even taken to drawing crude but adorable sketches of the two of them.

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Tatsumi manages to hold back her amorous advances, and instead uses the opporunity to learn more about Esdeath. Tatsumi doesn’t really tell her much of anything about his past, but she tells him the lot: how she was originally from the Paltas clan, daughter of the chief, who taught her that the strong die and the weak perish every time, and that’s just the way it goes.

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When she returns to find her village and her father attacked and killed by the Northern tribes, it’s merely another case of that fundamental philosophy. All she could do was continue to be strong, get stronger, and survive, because that’s what life is. When prey grew scarce, she joined the military, and simply applied the same tactics to humans as she did beasts.

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Everything she’s done since has been to serve the Empire, including her subjugation of the Northern tribes—not revenge. Even her father saw that something was “missing” in Esdeath; that she seemed to enjoy dissecting beasts a bit too much, which then turned into a taste for torture. It was all in service of the universal truth she’d seen in action firsthand: death is the fate of the weak.

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When it came time for her to choose an Imperial Arm, she chose an urn of demon elixir that had made every previous taster insane. But because she was already a bit loopy, and felt the drink “calling to her”, she chugged it down without reservation, and a powerful ice danger beast merged with her body, which she is able to control.

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The result of learning all this is that despite all the fun times they had on the island, Tatsumi has come to realize Esdeath isn’t someone who would ever defy the empire or join the rebellion. But the jury is still out for me: after all, he affects her like nothing else does. He’s not merely a boy toy to her, he completes her. If the demon within her is an internal covenant, she seeks an external one with him. She’s not messing around.

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But again, rather than stay by her side, Tatsumi hides again. They are separated once more, and Tatsumi is all but certain the next time they meet they’ll be enemies. If that’s really how it’s going to go down, I guess this episode was a means of convincing Tatsumi (and us) that as nice as it would be for Esdeath to be on his side, it’s just not to be; she’s far too set in her ways. It sucks, but that’s the way it is.

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Oh yeah, and the guy who teleported the doomed couple to the island in the first place is Honest’s son. He seems like a real swell fellow!

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World Trigger – 01

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It’s Astro Boy without the retro charm. It’s Power Rangers without colorful suits. It’s completely loveless, artistically feeble and a juvenile short-kid power fantasy. It’s World Trigger.

Here’s the gist:

wt10We don’t actually need to animate anything in the flashback, right? Nailed it!

Years ago, a dimensional gateway opened in the city and white armored monsters (that seem on par with a dinosaurs’ capabilities but are impervious to most earth weapons) came out and destroy all military attempts to stop them, some how. The monsters are called NEIGHBORS, because… reasons.

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Then the day was saved by a secret organization known as the BORDER DEFENSE AGENCY. They’ve studied NEIGHBOR technology for years, some how, and swear to protect everyone. So they build a giant office building/fortress at the center of the city and everyone pretty much goes back to life as normal, i guess.

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If World Trigger had a shred of self awareness or irony, it could actually be hilarious. However, it does not and it is not funny, pleasant to look at, grating to listen to, slow, uneventful and awkward.

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It is as if World Trigger has gone out of its way to take a childlike view of the world. Teachers are mean and unreasonable. Bullies look like bullies and are funny when made to look silly. A hero should be totally moral to the point of idiocy. Also, short guys are really strong!

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If you want to watch World Trigger, I can’t stop you. Be warned though, it’s not even bad enough to be funny. It’s just terrible.

“Trigger On!”

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Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 00

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Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works is quietly beautiful. Regal even. The first episode gives us peaceful landscapes and well paced introductions for all of protagonist Tohsaka Rin acquaintances and daily routines before introducing us to her other life. Her magic life.

If I had not been told that UBW was part of a larger, multi-series franchise, I would never have known. The world is shown to us without info-dump or talking head exposition characters and it is all very absorb-able.

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This 47-minute slow burn method is most definitely for the best, given how many characters UBW appears to be throwing at us. We’ve met nine of Rin’s fellow students and one teacher, with Rin’s relationship to each being implied through interaction as often as it is strictly spelled out.

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We’ve also met 3 ‘Servants,’ which are essentially familiars that help their mage-masters compete in a battle for the Holy Grail, which will grant its winner any wish, and through all of this we’ve learned about the world’s magic. Runes, gems, classes of Servant, the importance of timing, rings of binding and command, what fuels servants — a ton of stuff!

Yet I never felt blabbered at nor disconnected.

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UBW opens with a dream or a memory of young Rin saying goodbye to her father. Her isolation in the world, the magical-ness of that world, and her stranding in her family mansion are all clear through the setting, the filters and vibe.

Then teenage Rin wakes up and goes to school. She remarks on how empty it is — how no one seems around — and we know something is afoot. Something magical.

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Then Rin learns her clocks are all an hour ahead and that a perfectly reasonable explanation for the emptiness is around, but the mood stays and we know, as Rin knows, the world is still off without being told directly.

Though hinted at strongly in school, we don’t see Rin dabble in magic nor learn what that magic is until later. At home, she is warned that her time is up and only two Servants remain: Saber and Archer. Saber is the only one Rin wants.

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Rin performs a ritual, we learn a little bit about magic and can guess the meaning of other parts of it, and her Servant is brought forth. Upstairs. And he’s made a bit of a mess.

Unfortunately, Rin has forgotten her clocks being ahead and has mistimed the height of her magics (mana) and her new Servant has come in a bit off. While he doesn’t let this on immediately, he is not only testy but not entirely sure who he is.

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However, he is certain Rin is the only Master for him. Albeit, after Rin expends an unnecessary amount of magic and wastes a valuable resource she should have saved for later.

After some bonding, some probing of each other’s bounds, we become comfortable with Archer, Rin’s servant as much as she does and, for his benefit and our own, Rin skips school and shows Archer around her town.

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The following day we learn a little bit more about magic and the world we will be viewing. This time in the form of an evil barrier being built around Rin’s school, most likely by a novice but dangerous regardless. When activated, it will liquefy all the humans inside and allow their souls to be eaten by a Servant.

Later that night, while attempting to destroy the barrier, Rin and Archer meet their first enemy. Battle ensues and it is lovely.

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The battle ends quickly, but not before displaying animation skill saved for the best sword fighting anime sequences you will ever see, and an innocent is killed. Rin drains her pendant to revive the student (who we must wonder how and why he was there in the first place) but realizes later that the student will remain a target.

With Archer at her side, Rin dashes off to rescue the student again, or thwart her enemy along the way, only to run into Saber the servant she wanted to summon.

Then the episode ends.

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UBW is not very colorful in anime terms but it drips with detailed environments, depth of field focus, and a patience with everything that is enviable. That greatness aside, UBW’s magical fighting puts almost every anime to shame. It’s fluid, impactful, vibrant and the integration between the mage and her familiar is exciting.

The music, which is unobtrusive but masterful orchestral work, is good too.

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If I were willing to nit pick, I might ding UBW for Archer’s amnesia. It’s a bit …trope-y… but, I get the sense that it, too, is something we’re not being told about. The very fact that ‘Archer’ wields 2 swords and has yet to pull out a bow, and how he occasionally responds to his enemy and his master leads me to suspect he knows more than we do. More than Rin.

In short, Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works is nothing short of fantastic and utterly mind blowing as an opener to a show. Have an hour? WHY AREN’T YOU WATCHING IT RIGHT NOW?

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Bleach – 01

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On this evening, 10 years, or 3,652 days, or 87,648 hours, or 5,258,880 seconds ago, the premiere of Bleach aired on TV Tokyo during the network’s 40th anniversary on the air…and the world was never the same. Well, maybe that’s overstating things…but the world was most definitely slightly different for me, as Bleach would go on to be the first contemporary anime I’d follow regularly, and at one point, religiously.

Like another popular animated series, Bleach went on too long, and I watched too long; in hindsight I’d have retired from the show at the conclusion of its third season after a total of 63 episodes. After that came the first of many excrutiating “anime-original” arcs that, also in hindsight, weren’t worth my precious time (or yours). That was a perfectly respectable three seasons.

Bleach’s best years happened long before RABUJOI was a glimmer in its reclusive founder’s eye, so on the tenth anniversary of its premiere airing, I thought it would be fun to give it a standard RABUJOI review, as if I were picking it up for the new Fall 2004 Season (Mind you, I won’t write it as my ten-years-younger self; that wouldn’t be good for anyone.) Enjoy!

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A gloomy, colorless dimension: two black objects shoot up out of a larger mass. Cut to the real world at night. We have no form, therefore we fear it. Two objects fall onto a sidewalk; their faces show for a moment. And because we are formless, we revere it. Then cut to a solitary girl in a black perched on a telephone pole, admiring the full moon before bounding over the town. Thus we are slain. Striking images, striking words (displayed, not spoken). An enticing prologue overall. So far so good!

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Cut to a punkish-looking kid beating up other punks. Turns out he’s mad over them knocking over the flowers left for a recently-deceased girl, so he’s a punk with a heart as gold as his head, which looks bleached. The dead girl thanks him: she’s a ghost, but Kurosaki Ichigo can see ghosts. At home, above the clinic his dad runs, dad ambushes Ichigo, and a heated battle commences as his more mature little sisters tuck in to dinner. Ichigo isn’t hungry, so goes to bed. Nice looking family; worth fighting for.

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The next morning is eventful and strange, with Ichigo running into the ghost girl again, who is on the run from a ferocious monster with a very distinctive, Godzilla-esque roar. As the brute bears down, the girl cloaked in black gives it a taste of her katana, then another, and it’s gone. Then she’s gone, and the color and sound of the world returns. Increased ghost sightings, now monsters? Ichigo is troubled.

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That night the girl in black breaks into his room and ignores him as if he’s not there, earning her a kick in the ass, killing the dark, serious mood in the best way. The girl is amazed he can see her, but identifies herself as a shinigami, charged with killing monsters like the one he saw that morning, as well as sending more docile ghosts to Soul Society, i.e. heaven. Ichigo voices his disbelief and calls her a stupid brat, and for that gets hit with a kido binding spell. The shinigami explains the particulars of the system: plus good, hollow bad, soul burial good. It’s an infodump, but efficiently delivered with a dash of comedy, thanks to her silly drawings.

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The mood becomes dark again when hollows invade Ichigo’s house, and they don’t fuck around, going straight for Ichigo’s beloved little sisters. The shinigami springs into action without unbinding him, but he breaks the magic with sheer shounen will…and yelling. He jumps out in front of the hollow to make it drop Karin, and the shinigami has to come between them to save them, gravely wounding herself in the process.

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The hollow is stunned but not dead, so the bloodied shinigami gets a crazy idea, based upon all the unheard-of-for-a-human abilities Ichigo has thus far exhibited. She’ll lend him, say, half of her shinigami powers so he can finish the hollow and save them all, telling him her name in the process: Kuchiki Rukia. But Ichigo isn’t a halfway kinda guy, and ends up taking all her powers. Donning the same black-and-white garb as her and wielding a Freakin’ Huge Sword, Ichigo takes care of business, easily dispatching his first hollow in the first moments of his new job as Substitute Shinigami.

On the whole, this was the kind of episode that mercilessly tempts you to watch on. It lays out a lot, and gets a little talky at times, but still leaves so much up in the air that I can’t help but want to tune in to see what comes next. While Ichigo initially comes off as a bit of a dick for stealing all of Rukia’s powers, he doesn’t do it intentionally, and did it out of a desire to protect his family. It struck a nice balance of action, comedy, and supernatural elements wrapped in a stylish package, somewhat rough animation aside, with a memorable soundtrack to boot. I think this show could go far!

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