Gundam: G no Reconguista – 08

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This was another nutty, random episode of Gundam, which I’m obliged to rate slightly higher than last week’s because it was slighty more cohesive (I guess?) and contained a few more funny moments. I can’t say it did much more than that, however. Just when I think I have the story figured out, the show whips out seventeen more proper nouns.

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Whoa now, Cap’n Crunch; easy with the ten-dollar words. To my knowledge, you have yet to win a battle, but you have the temerity to call others impudent? How…er…effronterous.

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Don’t you hate it when you’re tangled up with a giant flying battleship decoy balloon

As for the heated battle Mask and seemingly everyone else is involved in, Aida and Bellri land on an island for a halftime break, and get their suits outfitted with backpacks that let them fly independently. Aida also uses the opportunity to be reunited with and have a nice leisurely chat with the inspector general of the Amerian Army, and…Wait, wasn’t there a battle going on? Where’s the battle? 

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Mask channels the audience.

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Anyway, Bellri’s “Tricky Pack”, which is what it is actually called and not something I just made up, lets him change the color of his armor to a more adorable pink, and uses the pack’s many slick tricks to manhandle Mask.

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What, is that not a proper place for an island? Sure, from your perspective it’s in an odd place, but that’s because you’re perpendicular to the horizon. Get it together, man. By ‘it’, I mean your attitude control.

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Remember Bell’s mom, taking the emergency escape glider to go after her boy? Well, she somehow succeeds in gliding all the way to the location of Bellri’s battle. She also drinks from a bottle filled with water of indeterminate age. Man, I hate it when I do that; old glider water is nasty. But yeah, her casual remark above? Priceless.

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For a second I thought Aida was going to do to Bell’s mom what Bell did to Dellensen: accidentally kill her. Fortunately Bell stops her. Aida seems to be cognizant of the weight of what nearly just happened. Then she makes that face on the right, because this show is awesome…sometimes.

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Oh, and Mask is Luin Lee. Who? Oh yeah, the other guy in the group that included Bell, Noredo and Manny. This revelation would’ve been more…revelatory if I knew or cared about Luin to the slightest degree. But Manny, who cut her hair and became a reservist aboard a Capital carrier to search for her friends, can care about him for the both of us.

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Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 07

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From the beginning, Cross Ange has used difficult-to-watch, aggressive exploitation of skin that toes the line of outright adult content to make a point about racism and self-destruction. That skin-fueled message has (almost) always been the point though, and the creepiness has been relentless in forcing us to consider the very meaning of fan service, what it means and why we shouldn’t like it so much.

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Not this week though. This week was just fan service, stretched like lovely skin over an empty plot about team building and waving away all of Ange’s enemies problems.

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To sum up: Ange continues to defeat all the DRAGONs on her own, which means she’s ignoring orders and no one is making money. Team Hilda continue to try and shoot her down but are unsuccessful until Ange catches a cold.

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Then the episode devolves into a cliché-fest where the Salia finally realizes no one has died since Ange came back and that Ange is really good for them, regardless of following orders. Then they go on a mission and immediately get their asses kicked, until sick Ange comes to save the day.

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I would have a whole lot less against episode 7 if it wasn’t full of so much skin. (or ‘steam censorship’ equivalent to skin) There was just no point in having the girls fight in the bath nor have a nude bath party after the ‘we are all friends now’ battle. It was just skin and totally censored skin at that.

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So I’m deeply frustrated at the moment. I’ve enjoyed Ange, and I don’t mind its graphic nature where and when it’s making a point but this makes two episodes that I’ve gotten to review that were utterly cliché, disposable exploitation bits without any value or creative point.

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Sure, we get to know that Tusk is known by the prison’s command team and, during the credits, Ange’s sister some how gets a secret message to Ange that she needs help but so what? The only entertainment was finding out the captain is a cosplayer and Vivi is implied to be her lover…

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Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 06

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Fate/stay night: UBW episode 6 follows last week’s trend of Emiya making poor decisions, introduces another servant and, in the least surprising surprise of all, reveals Shinji is the third Mage at school.

Through all of it, episode 6 had a distinct slice-of-life vibe, which was a good thing. Archer’s flamboyant red costume aside, the casual way people have to talk to Emiya and the matter-of-fact way he responds to all information, went a long way to make the exposition and infodumping feel grounded.

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After seven episodes, my biggest disappointment with F/sn is its choice to make Emiya the protagonist, instead of Rin. Rin certainly presents other storytelling challenges, being a hot tempered know-it-all, but I get the sense that whatever she is up to when Emiya can’t see her, is probably a more interesting story to see.

Perhaps I’m most frustrated because Emiya’s surprise does not often match my surprise? Likewise, Emiya’s total lack of introspection, narration, planning or strategy of any kind makes me wonder what Rin is up to and leads my eye to probe the backgrounds for what he must be missing.

If this is intentional, it’s annoying but a clever trick. Think of it this way: because we occasionally see Rin planning and up to interesting things, and because we see her Servant Archer around more than her, we must assume, as viewers, that Archer is an intentional distraction and that Rin is up to something very interesting, without the writers and animators having to spend effort on showing us.

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Why do I describe this episode as feeling like a slice-of-life?

The episode starts with Archer and Emiya talking on the street as they walk home from school. Sure, Emiya’s arm is covered in blood and they are talking about magic, but there’s nothing magical about the conversation or setting. Emiya even has his school bag, casually in hand. If they weren’t talking about servants, it could just be two dudes beefing about school on the way home.

Emiya’s following day at school plays out the same way. Ignoring the magical implications of his confrontation with Shinji and the Sigil removal with Rin, we really just watched a guy walk around a school building with a girl and accuse another guy of beating up another student. Heck, he accuses Shinji of something every other day and that ‘Emiya Casual Swagger’ makes it feel like any other day.

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This is where the lack of Rin’s point of view makes Emiya seem more stupid than he probably is. From his perspective, Rin just pops in and out of his life and appears to skulk around the school, largely unnoticed.

However, for all we know, Rin goes to class in the same casual way. Perhaps more understated than Emiya does, as I doubt she’s accusing suspicious classmates in public. We just don’t know.

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If we saw Rin in class, laughing it off with her friends and seeing her day-to-day, Emiya wouldn’t seem so clueless. It’s an interesting choice to not show that, and I’m curious to know what advantages the story will carve out by making its protagonist look stupid — with structure no less.

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In one scene, Saber tries to make Emiya understand that as soon as they deal with the third master at the school that his alliance with Rin will end. Then Saber agrees to train Emiya in swordfighting and we see how much everyone is putting into his survival and how ineffective all of it is.

Emiya is crushed by her blows almost immediately and only resents her for it afterwards. Likewise, while Emiya claims otherwise, it’s clear that the temporary nature of his alliance went in one ear and out the other.

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However, this scene is quickly followed by a delightfully opposite one where Emiya is working on his magic and Saber comes to watch him.

The mirroring of the scenes is obvious but thought provoking. Where Saber’s scene is warm and bright, his is cold and dark. Where hers has them stand far apart, his has them crouched close together. Where hers is quick, wordless, and fierce, his is instructive and patient.

I don’t know the writer’s intention — if Emiya’s world is more personal and small and Saber’s is more violent and to the point — but it was interesting to see that comparison.

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Overall, this week was thoughtful and well-constructed. We learned that Archer has no desire for the Grail, that Shinji is not only a monster but a mage, that Caster has an alliance with Assassin and that the Servant I thought was Assassin was most likely Thief. We learned a lot and none of it felt like an instructor yelling facts at us.

Coupled with my salivating need to see what happens next week, even if it’s only jaw-snapping action, that smacks of something great. Thoughts? Counterpoints? Hit me up in the comments below!

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Ushinawareta Mirai wo Motomete – 07

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First off, kudos to WareMete, for having the Astronomy Club, despite having only one astronomy-obsessed member and a primary mission that has nothing to do with astronomy, actually putting in the work that’s necessary for the upcoming festival. They also want to do things the right way, without shortcuts, meaning baking all the goodies and building the intricate planetarium device themselves.

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Sou and Kenny demonstrating a well-practiced pose for sudden door-openings

Granted, they don’t quite get the personnel distribution quite right the first time, as Kenny is more interested in Sou’s booby mag than working on the device, while Yui seems only marginally interested in baking with the experienced Kaori and the eager newbie Airi.

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After a test batch, Yui takes Kaori aside and asks her point-blank: “Do you have feelings for Akiyama?”; Kaori’s reaction is a sufficiently clear answer, though she lies and maintains they’re just old friends, then starts creating opportunities for Yui to be alone with Sou – putting Yui’s assumed feelings for Sou above her own.

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While showing off the fruits of their labor, Sou points out a basic scientific fact that I for one only rarely consider while looking up at the night sky: that every time you look up at the stars, you’re travelling back in time…and not just to your parents’ high school prom, mind you—but to an ancient time before human civilization…or even humans period.

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Seeing the stars jogs a distant memory of Yui’s, and I think we learn that for her, living in this world is for her what looking up at the stars is for everyone else, though not on quite the same epochal scale: she’s traveled back in time. I say this because the man in the white coat admiring the Summer night sky in Yui’s memory looks suspiciously like an aged, grizzled Sou. And as Kaori suspected was the case with the present Sou, Yui has the feeling this future person means (or will mean?) a great deal to her. Kaori hears that bit on the other side of the door and is further dejected.

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The importance Sou has for her is further exhibited when he gently wakes her up and, with a dream of that other time still fresh in her mind, she puts her hand on his face before snapping out of it. It’s something one would do if you suddenly found yourself before a loved one in the prime of their youth, before that face was weathered by the burdens of life and tragedy; in other words, when their skin was almost as silky as Jennifer’s.

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If the stars of Sou’s planetarium or other stimuli continue to jog her memories, and more details from that future come to light, Yui (and our) understanding of those feelings will grow, as will the amount of information she’s presently concealing, though Sou got a little bit out of her. In any case, judging from her hospital-like attire, it’s reasonable to conclude (*gulp*) that Yui is the girl in the tube, and Sou sent her back to save Kaori…even though Yui loves him too.

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The titular Lost Future, therefore, could be the future with Kaori Sou lost when she was hit by a bus (or some other misfortune), or the future Yui lost by traveling back in time, leaving Old Sou behind. There’s a nice symmetry between Yui helping Sou save Kaori in the future and Kaori yielding Sou to Yui in the present.

Temporal Love Triangle FTW, Baby.

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Sword Art Online II – 19

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It took until just five episodes left in the damn show, but SAO II finally delivered something I’ve been yearning for since the second season was announced: an episode with Asuna as the focus, doing things. While part of me is content we got an episode like this at all, I’m pleased to report that it was a damned fine episode in its own right.

By now we’re well aware of the inner turmoil Kirito, Asuna, and the others carry with them, even though only Kirito has gotten that much screen time to explore it (as well as Sinon, whose turmoil came from the real world, not the game). What we haven’t seen is much of Asuna’s struggles with that turmoil, and just how cold and uncaring her family is to her situation.

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Asuna leaves her very cold bedroom to the huge, stodgy dining room where her mother scolds her for not being five minutes early for dinner. The dinner starts off relatively innocuous until Asuna realizes her mother is using this opportunity to tell her she plans to marry her to a countryside banker and move her to a better school so she can start college early.

This dynamic works because while Asuna’s mom is basically the villain here, she’s decidedly not evil, only cold and pragmatic: she didn’t come from money, but married into it, and she’s determined to make sure Asuna avails herself of the opportunities she’s been given in life.

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And that’s all well and good…if ignoring the fact that Asuna “one of those children who spent two years killing each other.” Her mom’s phrasing seems to be designed to underplay just how traumatizing the experience is, and shrug it off as an unfortunate inconvenience, but she can’t just wave away the emotional scars, nor the bond she formed with Kirito. Her mom’s checked into him as well (again, devaluing him by calling him a child), and forbids her to choose him as her mate.

When Asuna questions her judgment after subjecting her to the criminal Sugou as her first betrothed, her mom dismisses that as her father’s choice, not hers. Asuna is forced to retreat, but not before tossing that dig about her mom being ashamed of being from poorer parents.

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Asuna doesn’t want the path that’s been laid out for her; it’s a path laid out by parents who may on some level care about her happiness, but are forcing their own definition of happiness upon her, “for her own good.” It’s pretty tough love, and unlike Kirito, whose family situation is just peachy (aside from his sister briefly being in love with him), it’s made diving into ALO a kind of emergency release for Asuna. With the weight of the world and her parents’ expectations bearing down on her, ALO is where she has strength and agency.

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Yet even in the virtual world, Asuna admits she hasn’t done much and is worried the Lightning Flash Asuna of yore is gone, along with her innocence. Fighting Zekken — whom she’s surprised to find is a girl — is a way of validating whether she’s still “got it”, which in turn could give her more strength to face her problems in the real world.

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Zekken is a perfectly nice, polite young lady, but the surprise of her gender throws Asuna off at first – as does her ridiculous speed.

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Taking a step back and another deep breath, Asuna realigns her resolve, remembering why she’s there: not just to prove she’s still a power in ALO, but to blow off some steam. The difference in the two halves of the fight are like night and day; in the latter half, Asuna goes all out and is able to keep up…

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…Right up until Zekken turns it up and breaks out her overpowered, almost-cheating special skill. At this point, while Asuna’s resigned to losing, she’s not upset by her performance; it was a duel she can look back upon with satisfaction. Then, at the last second, Zekken holds back her blade and ends the fight. It turns out she wasn’t necessarily looking to win the duel either…only test her opponent. And Asuna passed.

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Before the duel, Kirito confided in Asuna that he thought something was fishy about Zekken, as if she were a “product of the full-dive environment.” I don’t understand that term any more than Asuna, but it is an unsubtle hint that there’s more to Zekken than just a duel-loving heavy user. The fact her player name is “Yuuki”, Asuna’s last name, is also telling.

Kirito’s suspicions are confirmed when Yuuki flies Asuna up into the sky to formally ask her to “please help [them],” meaning whatever Yuuki is, there’s more than one of her, and as powerful as she is, their duel impressed her enough to believe Asuna could be of help. And I’m sure that notion alone raised Asuna’s spirits considerably. This episode sure raised mine!

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Sailor Moon Crystal – 10

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Sailor Moon Crystal has been very brisk and efficient in its storytelling of late, and also liberal in its distribution of Shocking Truths. With all the developments coming so hard and fast, it makes me, a mere Moon tourist, wonder how the remaining sixteen episodes will be filled. My self-answer: They will be, with something; I’ll just have to wait and see what.

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But first, to the events of this week: the Sailor Guardians hold hands directly beneath a full moon and transport there, and the stony, soundless remains of Silver Milennium and the Moon Palace are a morose sight, to say the least. Such vital grandeur once stood there, and now it’s all ruin. All but the central prayer room, where a hologram containing the will of Usagi’s mother from her first life, Queen Serenity, fills in the blanks of that life, and how it ended.

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Basically, Usagi, AKA Princess Serenity, loved the greenery and wind of Earth so much, she regularly snuck away to visit when no one – her Sailor Guardians included – noticed. There, she fell for Prince Endymion, and he for her, but the evil force of Metalia and Beryl stoked the fires of war between Earth and the Moon, with the lovers caught in the middle. Endymion was slain protecting the princess, and, she in turn takes her own life, Juliet style. Sealing Metalia meant sacrificing the entire kingdom. Now, in the present, the good guys have an opportunity for a do-over, and they can’t afford to waste it.

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Today is the day the Sailors finally visit the home of their former lives, but it’s also the day Beryl’s four pawn-princes decide to follow her down to the basement to see what she’s up to. Her words with Metalia awaken their own lost memories, but only for a moment; Beryl quickly uses her evil magic to suppress them and restore her hold over them.

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As the Crystal isn’t on Mamo-chan (at least physically), she sends the princes after the sailors, and we get a nice full-strength fight in a Tokyo frozen by ice, the crucial point of which is for Sailor Venus to point out that the princes aren’t their enemies, or at least they didn’t use to be. Back in their previous lives, they were knights who served Endymion as the Guardians served Serenity. Not only that, the guardians and knights were in love with one another, which works out nicely; not love polygons here!

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When the Guardians, not wanting to fight the men they loved, end up in a bad way, Usagi is the one who saves them, using her healing power to thaw the city. The Guardians then try to extract the evil from the princes, but Beryl snatches them up before they do so. The stakes are now high for all the sailor guardians, not just Usagi. But the next time she faces her beloved Mamo-chan, he’ll be another one of Beryl’s mind puppets. So yeah, there’s still plenty more to overcome before victory is achieved.

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Ai Tenchi Muyo! – 24

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Tenchi has come to a dangerous place, fenced in by barbed wire and covered in “No Trespassing” and “No Boys” signs. Tenchi may be a boy, but he’s also the dorm supervisor, and as such, he must brave the dorm, no matter what horrors await him.

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Momo shows him around, and everything is pretty docile, and then they cross paths with Hana and Beni taking full advantage of the lack of a dress code (not that they follow it that closely at school!). Hana seems to be trying to impress Tenchi, while Beni has a perfectly reasonable explanation for her near-nudity: she’s going to take a bath. Thus, Tenchi’s demands that they put clothes on fall on deaf ears.

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A less showy plot is also afoot: perhaps in an effort to blackmail/seduce Tenchi to their side, Yuki uses poor, shapely, innocent Rui for nefarious purposes, telling her to accidentally fall off a ladder and into Tenchi’s arms. When a real spider descends in her face, she loses it, clutching Tenchi so close to her chest he passes out. Yup; definitely a dangerous place. For him. For the girls, it’s just home.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 07

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In keeping with the werewolf theme…Woof. What the heck happened here? I mean, I could tell you;  the story isn’t complicated: Leon loses a battle, then goes on a rather wild ride through dreams and memory before snapping out of it and breaking up a church child slavery ring. Wait, whuh?

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First, the loss. With Pops probably off somewhere humping his shadow, Leon has to face off against what appears to be an evil or DARK Makai Knight, who’s a lot better at fighting. But even at this point, I’m pretty disoriented about what’s happening when, because the episode insists on jumping around like storytelling whack-a-mole.

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Oh HAI EMMA! Emma is in this episode for twelve seconds, and while she saves Leon from Batman, you could say that by sending him flying, it’s also thanks to her Leon ends up in his next…predicament, which is when things get weird.

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That’s what I’d like to know, pal. As this was all going on, I kept thinking “This is either Zaruba testing Leon in some way, or someone slipped him some strong psychotropic drugs.

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Turns out I was right about the latter. But the episode is still too clever by half, and its clumsy attempt to put us in Leon’s whacked-out disoriented state was somehow random and repetitive, and left us cold. It was weird, but not weird enough to be compelling, or even that tolerable.

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Speaking of intolerable, that pretty much describes Agatha, the Kid of the Week who has buck teeth and one of the more annoying voices I’ve heard in a while. It’s nice that the Makai Alchemist who drugged Leon regails us with Agatha and Pepe’s sad story, but I can’t be bothered to care when these uniformly irritating people have been so abruptly thrust upon us.

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From a technical standpoint, aside from a couple nice close-ups and the usual decent CGI armored suits (which are meant to stand out quite a bit from everything) this episode had some ugly moments. The side characters — and there are way too many of them — are generally pretty badly drawn, and in the climactic battle against the real Pepe’s Horror form is comically brief. Also, the baddies just aren’t as cool-looking as they were in earlier episodes.

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There’s a pretty funny delayed gag at the end where Herman is talking all seriously to Leon and we don’t see until the end that he, well, had a bit of a rough night himself, but it’s not nearly enough to redeem an episode that was a tiresome chore for most of its running time. But I guess one thing’s clear: it’s too early to storm the castle.

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