Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 14

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There’s no time for Rin and Shirou to lick their wounds and sulk. They’re clear about what they think of each other (Shirou has fallen for Rin, while Rin “doesn’t exactly hate” Shirou) Now that they’re back at square one, there’s nothing for it but cooking dinner and coming up with a plan. They come up with the same thing I was expecting, which also makes the most sense: try to ally themselves with Illya and Berserker. They won’t get anywhere against Caster and her expanding entourage without a Servant.

Oh, and I liked how Rin and Shirou’s tea cups were sitting on that table.

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From there we cut to Caster at the church, making me worry that she’s going to have these repetitive Queen Beryl-style scenes all season, but then we dive into her backstory, and her previous Master, who was a shit-stain-and-a-half.

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Even Caster seems a bit put off with him using little kids as human sacrifices in his hi-tech mana mill…but she plays it more as being put out, stating its far too wasteful of life. She doesn’t go so far as to suggest she feels any sympathy for her master’s chattel, but orders the workshop shut down, and order her Master ignores, because he’s her Master. Furthermore, he uses a command seal to ensure she’ll never betray him with Noble Phantasm, as she has a bit of a reputation in this regard.

He also smacks her around, just to burnish that fresh, clean, asshole sheen of his.

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However, Caster’s a very old and very crafty Servant, and this guy seems a few grails short of a chalice, so she’s able to defeat him without too much trouble by using Rule Breaker on herself, releasing her from his control so she can engulf him in flames.

She…ahem…also freed the fifty-or-so children her ex-Master was planning to sacrifice.There’s still quite a bit of righteous Princess Medea in Caster, and it’s implied that her reputation as a treacherous witch isn’t entirely deserved…though her body of work last season obviously didn’t endear her to us, it’s nice to know she’s been twisted into what she is today because of her past.

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Before she killed him, Caster’s ex-Master put a hit out on her, which is answered by Lancer (sorry, not trying to rhyme there.) Master-less, bloodied, and left for dead, she’s eventually found by Kuzuki Souichirou, who takes her in and agrees to become her new Master, because it’s kind of her only hope. She showed compassion for those kids, and was showed compassion by the universe in return by being saved by Kuzuki. You give a little, you get a little.

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Of course, we can’t quite canonize the good princess quite yet…she’s still the primary enemy of our heroes, who are on their way to meet the enemy of their enemy Illya, who has a little fun with Rin and the shock barrier. Illya has a vague memory involving Shirou or Shirou’s dad (I have no idea what, mind you) which is enough to entice her to allow them an audience. Her chambermaid Sella doesn’t think this is a good idea, but Illya sends her and Leysritt out to capture them nevertheless.

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That’s when the chambermaids’ way is blocked by Matou Shinji, making his first appearance since teaming up with the Blonde Guy. Sella and Leysritt, homonculi both, are no match for his shitload-of-weapons-summoning ability, in a brutal smackdown full of striking images. Matou Shinji’s stomach turns a bit at the horrifying power of his new Servant.

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So what would have been a simple matter of Rin and Shirou visiting with Illya and negotiating an alliance is completely blown up by Blonde Guy, who for all we knew planned this attack knowing the two servant-less masters were en route. Between Shinji/Blonde Guy and Illya/Berserker, it’s not that hard for me to pick a side, but we should be in for a good fight bloodbath next week regardless.

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Denpa Kyoushi – 02

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Depna Kyoushi isn’t winning any beauty contests, but I don’t care as long as it keeps delivering interesting weekly student stories, each of which will inform a different part of Kagami Junichirou’s overarching story of whether he’s teacher material (which seems apparent), or more importantly to him, whether he yearns to teach (still up in the air).

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This weeks student is the class rep, Yukina, who is upset that he’s slacking off in teaching the class. She shoplifts in Akiba to blow off steam, but Kagami happens to catch her in the act. Even without trying, kagami manages to teach one of his students a lesson, though in lecturing her about her actions affecting the lives of others rings as a bit hypocritical, considering he uses his YD philosophy to do what he wants, no matter who it affects.

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But the fact that his actions affect people in a positive way, as both Face Punch and Wicked Blondie are now BFFs, and both consider Kagami to be the one who made them better people and dream accordingly. The game he distributed to his class has also become a school-wide fad, bringing the kids closer together.

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But when internet pics of Kagami appearing to molest someone break out, their faith in him is shaken, but not broken. That’s not the case with the rest of the class and school, which see the photographic evidence and conclude they were betrayed. Kagami is promptly fired after an interview, and it falls on Yukina to come clean about the truth of the anime store encounter.

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When she happens to meet Kagami on a bridge that night (lots of coincidences in this show!) she learns that even if she does the right thing, it won’t bring Kgami back, because he was looking for an excuse to quit. His anime blog that he yearns to work on every waking moment he isn’t watching anime, dropped to second place, and in his YD-addled mind that’s more important to affecting positive change in youngsters.

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Yukina doesn’t let him let her off the hook though. She comes clean to her classmates, and Kagami is exonerated in the eyes of the students, who are on his side at the ceremony announcing his dismissal form the school. He quiets them down with a stirring motivational speech about not letting rules get in the way of going after their dreams, and giving everyone a special weapon for thier mobile games…which means he was listening to Minako after all.

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Having delivered his final lecture (though he should have told them to follow his blog), Kagami withdraws from the school, only to be cornered by Hiiragi Koyomi, fan-wielding chairperson of Hiiragi Academy, an even more prodigious school. She’s watched his month of progress with great interest, and wants him teaching at her school. Just when he thought he was out…

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Owari no Seraph – 02

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As the credits rolled and SawanoHiroyuki[nZk]:Yosh’s excellent ending theme “scaPEGoat” played (the OP was also dope), four words blazed through my mind: “Are You Not Entertained?!” I certainly was.

This ambitious, thrilling episode had a complete and compelling arc and aced all the fundamentals, giving it the feeling of a rich, self-contained short film when combined with the premiere.That premiere was key in setting the brutal tone of the human/vampire conflict while creating solid kinship and sympathy with young Yuu and buying into his motivations for wanting to live a life of revenge. This episode would not have been nearly as emotionally resonant without it.

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Owari also surprised me quite a bit with its deftness with bait-and-switches. Last week’s cold close created an It’s On Like Donkey Kong vibe, but Private Hyakuya Yuuichirou proves to be a rough fit in the demon army, where soldiers are expected to put their personal feelings or vendettas aside and obey orders. Yuu breaks the rules, and so he’s punished…by being sent to school.

This sudden addition of the school drama allows the show to let its hair down a little after a stodgy start and finds a pretty strong comic voice in the process. Yuu isn’t just banished to school, but there’s a soldier posing as a classmate whose tasked with supervising his progress in making a friend. If he keeps breaking rules, his suspension from the army will only be extended.

That soldier/classmate is Hiiragi Shinoa, deftly voiced by Hayami Saori, whose standout performance blends military formality and authority with feminine grace and sly humor. Her character design and eyes in particular somewhat remind me of Steins;Gate‘s: clean, attractive, and stylish.

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Yuu’s punishment makes sense. Yes, he’s scarred by past traumas, but if he wants a future fighting vampires, he needs to learn how to engage people and work in a team, which means forming bonds. That’s not going to be easy for someone who lost his whole damn family, and you could say the show’s being tough on him, but I think Yuu has just the right amount of arrogant, rebellious dickishness to allay that concern for me.

And just because humanity’s population has literally been decimated (not entirely wiped out as Yuu thought; but then he grew up absorbing vamp-prop), high school is still high school, so there are bullies and weenies and he decides he won’t let the former have their way with the latter…which is when Shinoa helpfully warns him his suspension will be extended if he harms a civilian. This guy can’t win!

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The exploded soda as a lingering presence of Yuu’s defiance is a really nice touch.

But in another glorious case of the good kind of bait-and-switch, the would-be victim of bullying, Saotome Yoichi, turned out not to be a weenie after all, nor was he being bullied: he wanted the non-bully to put in a good word for him with the demon army. Yoichi tried to enlist and failed the exam, but he wants to keep trying so he can avenge his sister, who died to protect him, as we witness in a grim micro-flashback that made my heart sink.

This externalizes Yuu’s own desire for revenge, but in this case, he justifies his own desire as backed up by his strength and ability. On the other hand, he still thinks Yoichi is a whiny little weakling who’d only get killed, and in any case, his sister probably wouldn’t want him avenging her. The discussion is put on hold when a bomb goes off and the city P.A. alerts everyone of an escaped vampire test subject.

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Seeing this as a perfect opportunity to prove he belongs in the extermination unit, Yuu runs to school to seek out the vampire, stopping her from feeding on a student. The non-bully is there too, but in this moment of crisis, he’s paralyzed, and admits he lied about wanting to enlist.

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Here, the show shows off its readily apparent action combat chops, as well as the inherent trickiness of fighting a vamp with a regular katana when her wounds and severed limbs quickly grow back, and any bystanders are like phoenix down for her. Yuu needs help, and he gets it when Yoichi tackles the vamp minx. When Yuu asks why, Yoichi calls him a friend. Yuu then holds the vamp back and they go out the window, Spring Break-style.

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Yuu is able to get the vamp to land on his sword, but it’s still just a sword. Enter the anti-vampire spell-dosed sword of Lt. Col. Ichinose Guren, commander of the Vampire Extermination Unit, Shinoa’s superior, and the man who rescued Yuu four years ago. When he pulls out that sword, the vamp dissolves into a cloud of gore and ash.

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Ichinose thinks Yuu looks every bit the helpless little kid he saved back then, but he can’t deny the fact he held his own with that vamp pretty well, and also minimized causalties. He also can’t go back on his promise to lift Yuu’s suspension if he makes a friend, both because Shinoa won’t let him, and because Yoichi is so happy his friend Yuu is okay he pounces on him like a cat, knocking his head on the pavement.

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In the episode’s beginnings, Yuu remarks how every time he closes his eyes he sees the faces of his family before they’re murdered by vampires. So while he’s out cold after a life-changing day, there they are. Only this time, they express their relief Yuu was able to live and fight for something other than revenge. Just as Mikaela put his life on the line for Yuu, and Yoichi’s sister for him, Yoichi and Yuu protected each other.

From now on, he won’t be living just to avenge his family, but to protect the two friends he’s made today, all the other friends he’s sure to make in the Vampire Extermination Squad (which he and Yoichi are assigned to, joining Shinoa), and to protect a humanity in resurrection. This looks like the start of something great…especially if we take the hints that Mikaela didn’t die, and is now a vampire.

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Oregairu 2 – 02

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Jokes about Hikky’s non-classmates dreaming about him playing Uno…this show has range

If Nagato Yuki-chan is my go-to Feel Good show this Spring, Oregairu 2 is the place where more sophisticated, less comfortable feelings bubble and brew. But that means its the far more realistic and ultimately rewarding of the two shows, because rarely are things in real life as simple as finding your confidence, as they are for Nagato Yuki.

The characters of Oregairu—and I’m not just talking about the core trio, because the show puts great care into everyone—aren’t so lucky; it’s a constant balance of little lies and little fronts to protect the happiness that they have, even if the inevitable compromises erode their self-respect.

There are no easy answers or solutions…only complicated ones that can be given a sheen of simplicity with rationalization. And romance ain’t got nothin’ to do with rationalization!

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Great variety of reactions here

True to its title and its penchant for not taking the easy or well-tread routes of its genre, Oregairu 2’s second episode embraces the complexity of the situation. Tobe’s desire to get closer to Hina is clear cut, yet threatens the delicate high school equilibrium many are invested in, while Hina’s request is revealed as a means of gently heading off Tobe’s designs.

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You’re not REALLY reading that, are you?

It’s clear Hina is not going to go out with Tobe, or anyone else, as Miura says when she confronts Hikky about his meddling. Hina’s turned every confession her way down, and Tobe’s not the kind of guy who’s going to end that streak, period. That means the Service Club’s goal must shift to minimizing the damage to the circle of friends Tobe and Hina inhabit.

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There’s a knowing look in those eyes.

Hikky doesn’t have much that’s “tasty” for Hina in his progress report on the camaraderie of the guys, but the school trip isn’t over and there’s still opportunities to get her what she wants, which is the same thing Miura and Hayama want—for boats not to be rocked. Hina leaves it in Hikky’s capable hands.

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Hikky should probably file this reaction for future encounters

The club scouts out the a bamboo grove similar to the one Tamayo and Kato walked down in Saekano 00, and both Yui and Yukino agree it’s a good place for a confession. They’re talking about Tobe confessing to Hina, sure, but they’re also talking in general terms.

Both in the haunted house and while hanging out sharing food or simply spending time in that gorgeous, romantic grove, Yui and Yukino seem pretty happy and content themselves, because they’re in a place with Hikky where they can still imagine possibilities, despite the underlying problem of liking the same guy.

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Speaking of gorgeous, this episode is certainly that in terms of settings and backgrounds. The episode is replete with ideal spots in an non-ideal world. So it’s appropriate that Hayama and Hikky confer on the Tobe/Hina situation in a place that wouldn’t be a bad spot at all for a confession.

When Hikky calls the entente Hayama and Miura and Hina all seem to want as superficial and dishonest, Hayama asks him what he would do, and in his head Hikky isn’t honest with himself:

How I think or feel means nothing whatsoever, and it’s pointless to think about.

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He denies his own stewing thoughts and feelings and tacitly agrees to do something that will keep everything the same, but that way lies only further frustration and despair, by speaking and acting in ways that don’t respect the feelings of others. Yukino and Yui put their faith in Hikky, and just before a nervous-as-all-get-out Tobe is able to blurt out his confession, Hikky steps in an confesses to Hina in his place.

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Taking a bullet for Tobe gets the job done, but neither Yukino nor Yui can accept the means Hikky used. Yukino storms off rather than allow Hikky to see how much his actions hurt her, but Yui remains and tries to explain it to Hikky, but she’s hurt too and has to walk away in tears. Considering how much both of them saw this as an ideal place for a confession, Hikky’s stunt crassly trampled on their feelings. The mission is complete, but at what cost?

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Hina, who has quickly become one heck of a supporting character. got her happy balance back, and even muses non-jokingly about Hikky being a suitable mate for her, since she sees that they’re both “messed up” people. Hina avoids romantic relationships because she values the friendships she has so much, they’re both a security blanket and a ball-and-chain. It’s pragmatic and understandable, but it’s also profoundly sad.

She hates herself for relying on the equilibrium Hikky preserved, but it’s not just her: the tapestry of little lies and fronts is something everyone in that circle contributes to, and doesn’t want to see torn…so they stay stationary. Tobe’s confession would have torn that tapestry, a tapestry he’s a part of whether he’s aware or not.

Hikky is well aware he has his own tapestry of equilibrium with Yukino and Yui, but cynically tore it to fulfill Hina’s request. The lie neither Yukino nor Yui will accept is the lie that he doesn’t care about their tapestry, and that his feelings are meaningless. Hikky knows he erred, and isn’t sure how to mend it, or even if he can.

This adds greater stakes to the impending addition of a fourth club member. But even if there were no fourth member pending, Oregairu 2 is and would remain a complex, emotional powerhouse that is balancing its comedy, romance, and drama superbly.

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Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 02

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Despite the rather disquieting presence of the word “disappearance” (or “vanishing”) in the title, and barring any crazy plot twists, this second episode all but cemented Nagato Yuki-chan’s place as my Official Feel-Good Anime of the season, a position that Koufuku Graffiti occupied this past Winter. Both shows are warm, sweet, and pleasant, if a little lightweight compared to the original series it’s based upon.

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Kyon’s a lucky guy…but we knew this

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Like Ryou in Graffiti, Yuki starts out lonely and depressed, as we see in the flashbacks that break up the Christmas party preparations, which are proceeding apace. Not too long ago, the school threatened to shut the lit club down if Yuki didn’t find more members.

Asakura promises to support her as a friend should, but first Yuki needs to crawl out from under that kotatsu and take action to save the club. In other words, she has to take the lead in taking a stand…and Asakura will follow. She won’t fight her battles for her, but beside her.

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While Yuki is out one night rustling up some grub, a strange girl with yellow ribbons in her long brown hair beckons to Yuki, asking for assistance writing a large rehearsal message for Santa in the park, hoping to “nab” him and “string him up”. This girl’s goal may be unusual and somewhat absurd, but there’s no denying her commitment and dedication to making it happen, going so far as asking a stranger for help…a stranger who forgot her glasses, no less!

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The bizarre encounter inspires Yuki, who is pounding the school pavement the next day, trying to convince strangers to join her club after formally asking Asakura, who gladly joins. She gets turned down by everyone except Kyon. Why does Kyon agree to join? I dunno…maybe he didn’t have anything else going on. Maybe he just thinks Yuki is cute…which she is, especially when working hard for a cause she believes in.

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…And the rest is history…or should I say histurkey? 

I’ll show myself out.

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The party goes off without a hitch. As was the case with Saekano’s Megumi Kato, Yuki is in danger of being edged out by louder (Tsuruya) bolder (Asakura) and bustier (Asahina) personalities, but ends up in the right place at the right time in the end. While she didn’t out-and-out plan to meet Kyon outside (she only wanted to see how the clubroom looked), she realizes it’s the perfect opportunity to confess to Kyon, especially when it starts to yuki. Alas, a Asakura accidentally sabotages the moment, something for which she’s legitimately sorry.

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BAAAAAAAW

 

Fortunately, that isn’t that, as Kyon mistakes a flustered Yuki for a cold one and places his coat on her. This makes him cold, so Yuki switches from words to actions, offering to share the coat with Kyon. The snuggle session that ensues is the totes adorbs highlight of the episode, and another sign that one day at a time, Yuki is drawing closer to world domination living a happy, confident life, achieving what she wants to rather than just worrying about it.

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Which brings us to post-credits. While on their way to the after-party clean-up the next day, Yuki realizes she never got to take that wierdo up on her offer to visit the park to see Santa. That’s when the girl leaps out of the bushes and collapses in the snow. The appearance of Migi Suzumiya Haruhi presents a fresh challenge to Yuki, as she’ll have to work that much harder to defend her position as the protagonist of this show.

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