Aldnoah.Zero – 13

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A/Z’s second cour picks up nineteen months after the incident at Saazbaum’s castle. Slaine is now a Vers Knight piloting Tharsis and taking it to Terran Kataphrakts raiding the satellite belt.

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Meanwhile, Princess Asseylum (who IS still alive) delivers a propaganda speech voicing her newfound support for the war against Earth and praising the Orbital Knights. I buy that she may have recovered from her wounds, but my first thoughts were that she’s either an impostor or being forced to toe the hard line. In any case, something’s not quite right.

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Down on Earth, Inko, Nina (who was watching the speech on her phone) and Rayet are enjoying R&R, and Inaho seems to be on Inko’s mind.

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Up in orbit, Count Saazbaum (also not dead!) welcomes Sir Slaine back aboard and praises him for his prowess in battle. We’re also introduced to the frail Princess Lemrina, who is clearly the one posing as Princess Asseylum in those videos.

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When Martian Count Yacoym launches an assault against UEF headquarters, the girls are recalled. Inko is weary, but Rayet assures her, they “don’t have time do die.” In fact, as they form up to defend their base, Rayet seems to have replaced Inaho as the calm, cool squad leader. But neither she nor Inko can get close to Yacoym’s Kat, “Frozen Elysium”, because it freezes solid all enemy kats that come near him, along with the pilots inside.

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Things are about to go bad when Inaho surprises both girls by coming up from behind them in Orange and taking control of the situation. At this point, come-from-behind wins are his specialty, and he’s got it down to a science, using his new bionic eye to analyze all of the variables needed to determine the proper way of taking Yacoym out.

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Inaho still has that insufferable Martian arrogance and overconfidence aiding him, as he times his shots to his advance until he’s in point-blank-range, and it’s bang, Game Over. Slaine may have been badly wounded by that kat crash, but in a year and a half he seems to be back on top of his game.

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It seems to have been many months since Inko and Rayet have seen Inaho, so their reunion is appropriately warm and touching, even though Inaho is as stiff as a board. Inko’s joy and relief are palpable, while even Rayet cracks a joke about how Inaho’s people skills have improved since they last met.

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As for what happened after episode 12 went dark, Slaine chooses Vers and escapes with Saazbaum and Asseylum, while Inaho’s sister finds him and brings him to the bridge of the powerless Deucalion. He needs surgery, but there’s no way to get him there. But then, when Inko’s tears mix with Asseylum’s spattered blood on his face and runs into his mouth, his body suddenly glows with the light of Aldnoah, and the core starts back up, saving everyone. Jeez, even while passed out Inaho even manages to come through big when it counts.

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Back in the present, Inaho, Inko and Rayet catch another one of Asseylum’s sketchy broadcasts, and in a nice callback to the time Inaho corrected Asseylum on why the sky was blue, the Princess on air makes the same mistake a second time. If I were Inaho, that could be enough to suspect the girl they’re watching is not the real Asseylum.

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That fact is confirms when the broadcast is over and Saazbaum and Slaine thank Princess Lemrina for her help. Slaine then pays a visit to the real Asseylum, who is floating in a stasis tube surprisingly, not naked. I wonder if she’s in there because they can’t fully save her, or if she’s there for security’s sake?

In any case, I’m not dwelling on the somewhat irritating fact A/Z couldn’t wrap up in one cour, and chose not to kill anyone important off. There’s still a lot of Martians holding territory on Terran soil, and Saazbaum was just one victory, and a costly one. Earth will need a lot more of them to turn the war around, and I’m looking forward to watching Inaho, Inko, and Rayet achieve them.

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Rolling Girls – 01 (First Impressions)

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I didn’t quite catch all of the enthusiastic narrator’s talk about a “Great Tokyo War” That resulted in Japan’s prefectures breaking off into independent nations, nor the various mumbo-jumbo exclaimed by several characters. What I do understand is that this Zvezda-style politics-through-Kill la Kill-esque-stylized-warfare milieu is a ton of fun.

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This show was classified by MAL as “slice of life”, but what a strange life it is for the titular girls! Though not on the surface: Moritomo Nozomi is a normal girl attending normal school whose normal parents own a normal restaurant, and she has a normal senpai-kohai relationship with her neighbor Masami Otoku.

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And that’s about where the ‘normal’ ends. In this world, the various prefectures pick fights with one another and their ‘armies’, essentially mobs of mostly normal young vigilantes, meet on fields of battle in lovely weather In this case, Tokorozawa is under attack by Higashi Murayama, which means The latter’s “Best” peacebroker-for-hire Shigyo Kuniko battles one-on-one with the power-ranger-looking Tokorozawa Best, “Maccha Green.”

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The comparisons to Kill la Kill (without the nudity) Zvezda (without the loli fanservice) continue as the combatants mix in kicks and punches with supernatural attacks as well as tickling, in some very slick and satisfying combat. Maccha is able to make Shigyo and her mob retreat by summoning a giant robot, but she will be back.

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It doesn’t take long for us to learn that Maccha Green is none other than Nozomi’s close neighbor, Masami Otoku, though she’s not yet aware of this. Masami doesn’t want Nozomi so close to Macchas (i.e. her) battles, as the “Rest” grunts tend to end up as collateral damage.

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As you’ve probably already noticed from these screencaps, Rolling Girls is very rich and colorful and lively in its presentation of everything from a semi-magical scrap to a touching sunset meeting to a nighttime ride in Masami’s motorcycle with sidecar.

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And while this show has the trappings of a magic battle show, it sticks to the slice-of-life fundamentals, like taking a breather for a character moments between Nozomi and Masami, or the goings-on in the Hiyoshicho Propellers’ (the name of the mob they’re in) HQ, or a casual meal at a ramen stand…which turns into an eating contest, as Shigyo suspects Masami is Maccha Green.

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But what put this show over the top for me into “8” territory was the chess game Shigyo and Higashi Murayama played to put Tokorozawa on its knees. As Shigyo distracted Masami, her Rests arranged an amusement park trip for the Propellers and takes them hostage, even blowing up the roller coaster track they’re on.

I’m not under any illusions real blood will be shed, but Shigyo is definitely playing for keeps and seems to have the upper hand on Masami. But Maccha Green has already pulled victory out of the jaws of defeat in this episode, so I’m confident she can save her Rests, Nozomi among them. Rolling Girls is off to a stylish and promising start.

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Durarara!! x2 Shou – 01 (First Impressions)

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[Rubs hands together vigorously]…Alright, here we go! Durarara!! is back, people. And because it was a show that interested both Franklin and myself, we’ll be trading off the review duties weekly. I’m first, so I’ll write a slightly longer review up here, and Frank will include his shorter take. Next week we swap places.

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This episode’s title borrows the familiar adage “A picture is worth a thousand words”, though I’ve tried not to write a thousand words about it. We certainly got a thousand pictures, which works out to a million words. But in his bookend appearances, Mikado needs only nine to say it best: “half a year later, nothing about us has changed.”

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Sure lots has happened, and some people have grown closer or drifted further apart, but some haven’t moved at all, and nor has most of the town. For a show that I haven’t watched in three years, I appreciated being eased back into the thick of this milieu by mirroring the first season’s opening episode, which also had a non-linear timeline and an almost unsettling amount of stuff going on. Dare I call it…a breathless yet oddly comforting barrage of characters and situations. We’re home, where life has gone on much as it had, and it’s good to see everyone’s well.

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In the first season, I was, like Mikado, a yokel in the middle of a giant city teeming with life and things I’ve never seen or experienced before. Now, Mikado and I are initiated in this tangled, engrossing network (albeit separated by a few years) and less overwhelmed by the onslaught of yelling TVs and murders and car chases and scheming in apartments and scientific research and everything else.

We get a taste of just about everything, but no full portions yet. It’s not unlike my first trip to Tokyo, which I took in between Durarara!!’s first and second cours (and in part because of them), and hummed the show’s various musical themes as I walked the real-world version of the streets these characters walk. I only had a week, so I didn’t see a fraction of what I wanted to, but it was a good introduction to the place and its possibilities. This introductory episode does the same hing.

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I like how Mikado and Anri simply top and watch Celty race past them on her trusty horsecycle and things slow down and we get the same deep mythical music theme as when he saw her for the first time so long ago. It’s a nice reminder of just how strange and mysterious and bizarre an entity Celty is. And yet, she’s also a sympathetic victim of profiling!

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Mikado isn’t quite right about “nothing about us has changed,” because the last time he watched Celty go by like that, he was with his good friend Kida, who was ultimately the reason he ended up in Ikebukuro. Mikado has no idea where he is or what’s become of Kida, but we see he seems to have settled into a laid-back blissful domestic existence with his cute girlfriend Saki; connected to everyone else through the shared experience of that TV with its hyperactive news coverage.

Saki’s “Aren’t you going to watch?” right after Mikado narrates that “nothing has changed” is as much a challenge to the audience as a question to Kida. Not surprisingly, Mikado follows that with the qualifier “…I don’t think.” This was an exciting, if at times dizzying and indulgent, re-introduction that showed both how little and how much has changed in its world, and teased lots of seemingly disperate scenarios that are sure to gradually connect in strange and interesting ways moving forward.

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Stray Observations:

  • Kyouhei name-drops Index, Walker and Erika bring up SAO and Black Bullet, and Miyuki from Mahouka is slapped on the van now. Ironically, it’s the otakus in an anime, who seem the most attuned to the real world.
  • This show loves to mix up how people communicate, best represented by Celty showing her texts to Shingen, who is talking to her through a tablet.
  • The line below made me giggle. This guy’s Japanese is way better than his English!

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Oigakkosan’s Take:

Creating a sequel is difficult work and creators always run the risk an over reliance on cameo and nostalgia to please the fans. In complicated terms, Durarara!! 2 can come off this way: we ‘check in’ with nearly every character of the original series and get brief ‘synopsis’ moments to remind us of their personalities and relationships within the setting.

However, we also get roughly equal screen time for characters, and newly upgraded side characters — and despite the range in ‘volume’ each personality brings to the screen, every character (or at least every scene) is equally loud, detail filled, and attention drawing.

Unfortunately, I found the result was so evenly baked that I found no emotional core to latch on to.

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Certainly, all the characters I loved before are here and the murder plot and emphasis on the entertainment industry being everywhere will give them things to do. However, the mystery of how our cast will respond to these new developments pales in comparison to the mystery of who our cast was and what their motivations were in the original series.

In simple terms, this is what turned me off all the way through the episode. None of the new characters are a mystery. Shrina’s Stepmom? The television executive? Explained in seconds and, frankly, dull to boot.

In all fairness, Durarara!! 2 earned a lot of goodwill last time around and this version still looks and sounds great. However, as Chuu2Koi Ren proved last year, just doing something again, even with grand production values, can fall very very flat.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 13

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Prince Alfonso buries his mother and starts the long process of rebuilding his country, Herman makes a friend in the lady who was doing laundry back during his extended streak session, and Emma is the only one looking for Leon, though even Garm doesn’t know what’s become of him.

Leon, meanwhile, is lying in a riverbank, near death after his plunge into that gorge. He is no longer keeper of Garo nor Zaruba’s partner. He’s just Leon again. Having failed miserably in the world of demons and dark magic and fantasy, what he needs is a good dose of reality, which is exactly what he gets thanks to his savior, a farmgirl named Lara.

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When Lara brings Leon home and nurses him back to health, his first words to her are “Why did you save me?” when they should have been “Thank you.” Lara’s dimiutive but tough-as-steel grandmother puts an end to his pity-party right then and there: if they hadn’t saved him, he would have died on their land and they’d have had to waste time tending to his body, and time is the farmers’ enemy.

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This is a strange new world for Leon, whose former life had been pretty transient and action-packed. Here, it’s quiet, calm, boring, but the onions have to be planted and the firewood collected and the irrigation canal fixed before the ice comes. There are debts to be paid to the lord, and that Lara’s father was killed by wolves doesn’t change the fact they need a good harvest to pay them off.

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Leon watches these farmers, and the kinda and lovely Lara in particular, as if they were some kind of exotic animal. When he asks her how she can stand this unending routine of drudgery, and whether she ever dreamt of leaving and living a different life, she states simply that this is her father’s land, and it’s up to her to keep tending it. She isn’t the kind of person to abandon her mother and grandparents for her own selfish dreams. But in any case she seems to like her life just fine, and it’s been made a lot more interesting by the traveler’s arrival.

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Once Leon is strong enough, the grandpa gives him the shovel so he can take a breather (the episode is full of close-ups accentuating just how hard the elderly characters are working). Leon is understandably terrible at this non-combat manual labor, and Gramps shows him how, making it look easy. But it dawns on Leon as he sleeps beneath the full moon: nothing here is easy, but nor is it pointless, and he can be of help.

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The highlight of the episode is, surprisingly, a montage, but a truly powerful one, set to a bold, epic piece of soaring orchestral music that calls to mind the work of Joe Hisaishi (the whole episode has a distinct Ghibli vibe to it, for that matter.) It sounds like a determined march to a tough battle, only the enemies are nature, the elements, and time, and the weapons shovels, hoes, axes, and elbow grease. This really is a new world for Leon, but takes up these arms all the same and fights beside Lara and her family.

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And they are victorious, completing the canal before the ice comes, giving the family a chance at that good harvest. This was just one battle, but the war Lara and the farmers are fighting is unending. Now Leon can answer his own question from back when Lara first saved him: it was as if fate had brought Leon to Lara’s lands so she could restore his health, and in turn he helped them rebuild the canal and save their crops. They saved each other.

More enticing still, Leon doesn’t say farewell and leave by the end of the episode. Is Garo not quite done with this new, good-honest-labor setting for Leon? Will Lara continue to play a role in this second cour? In both cases, I hope so.

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Back in Santa Bard, Nuncle Herman assists his nephew the prince with a nasty-looking leftover horror from a Giger sketchbook, before considering hitting up a brothel or two, but his “butterflies” euphamism soars right over dear sheltered Alfonso’s head. The Herman/Alfie dynamic is a nice one, and while both are worried about what’s become of Leon, they know only he can help himself now.

I kinda wish Alfie hadn’t retained Mendoza’s closest confidant, and connected the dots that she was the one keeping his father ill. But that’s a classic rookie prince mistake, and I’m sure it won’t be his first.

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