Kekkai Sensen – 04

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A third of the way into Spring ’15, Blood Blockade Battlefront is my number one. Nothing can match its scale and complexity, and creativity of its world(s), the swiftness and confidence of its storytelling, or its rapidly expanding yet increasingly diverse and charming cast, anchored by perhaps the weakest among them, possessing the strongest of weapons in their battle for balance.

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Elaborate action and effective comedy go hand in hand with Kekkai, as demonstrated when a big Libra party to let their hair down comes to screetching halt when Leo finally decides to say something, which happens to be his description of something he saw in the subway that matches the description of the greatest potential threat to humanity: blood breeds, AKA vampires.

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Just like that the stakes are raised significantly. We only got the smallest glimpse of what Angel Scale could do to the balance, but this feels like a much more existential threat. Vampires are taken seriously here; something I’m thankful for after seven seasons of True Blood, in which they did everything from play Wii Golf in their living rooms to have sex with their head turned around backwards. But they were never very frightening, nor are the ones in Owari no Seraph. The Blood Breeds of Kekkai are, because they’re strange and unknown and…er…variably corporeal.

That doesn’t mean the leading expert on them can be the hilariously lucky Blitz T. Abrams, who possesses a curse that only affects people (and vehicles) around him, meaning he’s never that fun to be around if you don’t like physical pain, even if it’s not his fault. It doesn’t bother Klaus, who sees Abrams as a mentor of sorts.

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With Leo’s eyes, Abrams is confident they can really get the lay of the vampire land (normally people aren’t able to see vamps unless they want to be seen.) So they plunge into the depths of Hell—on public transportation!—so Leo can take a good look at the “Edge of Nothingness” so Libra can get a better idea of what they’re up against.

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Like previous journeys to the Alterworld, this was another lush symphony of bizarre dreamscapes—I really dug the Final Fantasy vibe of the train station carved into a tree, below which is their ultimate destination. Along with all its narrative and character pros, this eye candy, and the eclectic soundtrack, are what pull Kekkai ahead of the rest.

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While there are a lot of bright sparks affecting his vision, Leo is still able to discern the blood breeds within the nothingness, and it’s not good: more than the 13 believed to exist, there are hundreds of them lurking down there, and if any one of them wanted to take human form and wreak havoc in Hellsalem’s Lot, they’d do plenty of damage indeed. And As the members of Libra back in Hellsalem report, that’s exactly what’s happening.

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When the traditional authorities prove not to be up to the challenge against elite vampires, “specialists” Steven and KK take over, and at least for a time, hold their own with their special abilities, before the female vampire brings the hammer down on them. Klaus, who is watching a live video stream courtesy of Chain (use of modern mobile tech is another neat aspect of Kekkai’s world-building), hops back on the train with Abrams and Zapp, and implores Leo to find those vamps’ weaknesses, because only he has the eyes to see them.

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Steve and KK weren’t sure if they’d survive the fight they were getting into. All they knew was that they had to buy as much time for Klaus and Leo as they could before being neutralized, trusting they’d come through. They do: Klaus makes almost as awesome an entrance as Abrams, and armed with the Vampire’s true name, seals her into a cyberpunk cross.

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Leo is amazed they made it, and weary that it took so much exertion to take out one elite blood breed when there are perhaps a thousand lurking in hell. But the lesson that sets him a little more at ease is as simple as the world he lives in is complicated: no one knows what’s coming tomorrow. Plenty of pain and suffering may be in store. But defeat is assured if one gives up.

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 16

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Four things I was pretty certain of, going into episode sixteen: 1.) Shirou and Rin weren’t going to be killed by Blonde Guy here; 2.) Shirou wasn’t going to beg Shinji for his life, nor was Rin going to join him; 3.) We were finally going to learn Blonde Guy’s name, so I don’t have to call him Blonde Guy.

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4.) The rhythm of UBW has typically dictated an episode of relative rest and regrouping after a big battle, and even though Shirou and Rin weren’t directly involved, they were also pretty damn lucky Gilgamesh had to get going with the still-beating heart of Ilya, nor was he that interested in killing them anyway. So they get a rest.

Whether they spend this rest episode depends on how much you’re enjoying the Shioru/Rin Show, which I am very much. At this point in the run, the show can put these two in front of the “camera” as much as it wants; I know we’re going to get great fireworks out of them.

Rin tries to come to grips with Shirou’s “others first” philosophy by dismissing it as a twisted flaw in his personality, or the result of losing something in exchange for being saved ten years ago. But neither is the case. Shirou is certain living one’s life for others “can’t possibly be bad”, because he’s seen others do it for him, including Rin.

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Having bickered quite a bit to a stalemate, they come afoul of Lancer, and fearing an attack, start bickering all over again about who’s going to run and who’s going to fight. By Rin’s logic, I guess that would make them both twisted individuals, huh? This rare but successful attempt at romantic comedy was a lot of fun, especially when Lancer reveals he’s not there to fight.

Sure, that means peril is lessened, but the moment I saw Lancer, I knew he was going to propose an alliance the moment I saw him, so had any more peril built up it would have rang false. Shirou refusal to repeat Rin’s lie about them being “just allies”, on the other hand, rang true, both to me and Lancer, who ends up respecting the “softy” Shirou for being possessive of Rin (even if that’s the last thing she wants, though that’s not certain either).

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Now that the lovebirds have a legit Servant again, they’re officially back in the fight, but it’s still going to be an uphill battle. Caster has a veritable army of badasses at her command, and even if their hearts aren’t necessarily in the game, guys like Archer are at least content to continue serving the side he believes has the best chance of winning.

Even if it meant more talking and less fighting, I still really enjoyed Archer’s chat with the enigmatic Kuzuki, who turns out not to be that enigmatic after all: he holds good and evil in equal standing, as both are legitimate and necessary sides of his own humanity. Lacking specific ambitions himself, upon meeting Caster, he devoted himself to helping her achieve her wish, revealing the Grail is only a means, not an end.

Like so many warriors on so many distant battlefields throughout history—be they defeated or victorious—she simply wants to go home. It’s a good wish. Selfish, perhaps, and costly to others…but undeniably human. So is Kuzuki’s resolve never to regret the choice he’s made, whether or not it’s “wrong.”

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Rin has a plan, and both Shirou and Lancer are on board, so they arrive at Caster’s HQ with a degree of confidence and calmness. There was a time and place for lovers quarrels, and this is not that place, with Archer staring them down. He probably wouldn’t hesitate to skewer Shirou again were it not for Lancer, who thinks Archer is a cold bastard for betraying such a “dazzling” Master as Rin just because the odds were against her. We won’t get to see them fight till next week, but this episode improved my opinion of Lancer a great deal.

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I must confess I’m not quite sure why it was so important that Rin show Shirou the pendant before going to face Caster, and tell him there’s only one of them. But I’m sure I’ll find out soon enough. I also have no idea how Shirou and Rin will be able to face Caster period; even if she doesn’t have Assassin by her side and chooses not to sic Saber on her former Master. Regardless of how it will go, I can’t wait to see how everything shakes out.

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Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 04

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Oh dear…I realize I may have been hasty about choosing Nagato Yuki-san as the Spring’s “feel good” anime. Her inflexible reliance on conventional courtship rituals like Christmas and Valentines left her vulnerable the battle for Kyon’s heart Four weeks in, he has no idea how deeply she feels for him.

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Haruhi arrived on the field of battle late, and even provided moral support for Yuki to advance at a quicker pace, which lessoned the threat she posed. At the same time, her strict non-adherence to societal norms, striking looks, and impish aggressiveness made for a formidable arsenal, with which she’s able to steal a march on Yuki.

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The most heartbreaking part (if you’re a Yuki shipper)? By going home to make chocolate rather than stay at the club to hang with Kyon, Yuki gave Haruhi the only opening she’d need. Mind you, Haruhi doesn’t have anything against Yuki, and she’s not some villainess hell bent on making her life miserable. On the contrary, I doubt she was planning to make the connection she made with Kyon, or vice versa. It was almost as if destiny itself was against Yuki.

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All Haruhi sees is a lonely Kyon waiting for her by the school gate, a potential free coffee, and later, an open ear to her philosophy of “good things will come to those who seek them,” not those who wait. Even when she tests him by asking if he thinks water imps exist, he doesn’t bore her with a scientific explanation for why they don’t. Instead, he ponders whether they do…and who can blame him, with Haruhi fording the February river in her bare feet at sundown; the very picture of impish beauty?

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Yuki means well, but her omission absence, and hesitation are no match for Haruhi. Yet she doesn’t even consider Haruhi to be a threat when she tries and fails to sleep that night, then goes to school with a lump in her throat. Her challenge, as she sees it, is to get that chocolate into Kyon’s hands. As long as she does that, everything will be fine. But putting so much importance into the ritual also means she’ll be that much more devastated if things don’t go as planned.

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Mikiru, Tsuruya and Asahina’s collective “attagirl” encouragement and Asahina’s plan in which she comes to Kyon rather than wait for him, are all designed to make the exchange as painless and idiotproof as possible. But at this point, I’m pretty certain she’s walking into an ambush. There will be no feel-good ending in that room.

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The scene she walks in on couldn’t have been worse if they were in flagrante delicto on the tabletop, because frankly, Yuki’s threshold for romantic defeat is about as low as humanly possible. There’s Kyon, to whom she was about to present the chocolates she put her goddamn heart into, his hand connected via the conduit of a store-bought chocolate bar—”Showa”, a play on Meiji—to Haruhi, the usurper Yuki herself allowed into the club. It’s a regular imperial coup.

The one slight glimmer of hope? The box Yuki drops on the floor doesn’t bust open and scatter the pieces all over the floor, so maybe that’s not quite the state of her heart. But this is going to sting, and her skight step back indicates she intends to retreat.

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Owari no Seraph – 04

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Mika screwed up, in part because he put everything on his shoulders. His plan to free his family, which was more than fine going along with it, ended up killing them all except for Yuu. Mika himself would have bled out, were it not for the intervention of Krul Tepes, Loli Vampire Queen, offering him, nay, forcing upon him, her blood.

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Now he’s a vampire, and the pain and guilt could stay with him for centuries, potentially twisting him into a wretch. Yet he still carries out his duties alone, eliciting resentment form his vamp peers but gratitude from a single girl he saved from a monster, who gladly offers her blood to him as thanks. Once his escape plan failed he had no choice in becoming a vampire (Tepes wouldn’t let him die), but he can choose what kind of vampire to be. It’s a choice that’s perhaps lost on someone so racked with guilt.

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From checking in on Vampire Mikaela the episode segues to Yuu and Yoichi transferring to the Moon Demon class, where he makes the most ridiculous overbaked shonen speech possible about not being there to make friends and declaring he’ll get the best gear. His seat happens to be positioned right in front of that of Kimizuki Shiho, the dude who picked a fight with him earlier to test his ability.

And so we have our two arrogant, hotheaded rivals who both have something to learn from one another and will become tentative pals by the end of the episode through greater understanding of where they’re coming from. If this sounds somewhat rote, it’s because it is; nothing out of the blue here.

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Like Yuu, Shiho lusts for power…all of the power, though not for revenge, but to save his sister, who is dying from the Apocalypse virus. But Guren warns him, with demonic visual aids, no less, that Shiho can’t go anywhere near cursed gear as long as that lust for power drives him. Like Yuu, Guren needs him to make friends and learn to rely on the strength of others. Going it alone won’t end well for anyone.

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Shinoa fixes it so at their first major evaluation, Yuu and Shiho are paired up. Predictably, they try rushing in opposite directions despite the fact they’re handcuffed to each other. Seriously is their mutual lust for ultimate power so strong, it affects their basic understanding of the physical limitations of handcuffs?

Apparently, but they don’t get to demonstrate just how badly they fight together, because word comes Shiho’s sister has taken a turn for the worse. Suddenly understanding why Shiho is so gung ho about beating him, Yuu insists, with prejudice, that they go to the hospital. Being with his family is more important than the evaluation.

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Shiho relents and goes, and doesn’t regret it. His sister pulls through, but the doctors warn regular medical equipment will only keep her alive so long. The military has tech that might be able to cure her, but the military, like society, is transactional: if Shiho wants that tech, he’ll have to distinguish himself in the Moon Demon Squad.

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Yuu, jerk that he is, still won’t back down on claiming the best demon gear the army has to offer, but he won’t stop Shiho from taking the second-best, now that he understands what Shiho is fighting for. Both guys failed the evaluaiton, but while Shiho feels defeated, Yuu tells him it’s no time to give up. He’s going to do everything he can to avenge his family, regardless of evaluation scores or moon squads. He expects Shiho to do no less to save his sister.

Mind you, I’m not sure the lesson about teamwork has quite stuck, since both seem dug into their own separate aspirational trenches, but the seeds of a alliance or possible friendship were certainly sown.

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That’s good, because Yuu and Shiho can ill afford to stay ineligible for handling cursed gear. They need to get into good fighting shape soon, because Tepes has formally declared war on the humans who would organize into armies to oppose them. A rancher wouldn’t let thier cows join a union barring slaughter, now would they?

As for Mika, he’s determined to “rescue” Yuu, and while I’m not sure what that entails, if he’s planning on loading everything back on his shoulders once again, he hasn’t learned much. As repugnant as Ferid is, he could be a valuable ally against Tepes, the mutual thorn in their side.

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Oregairu 2 – 04

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Wow, so much to unpack here. Where to begin? Well, for starters, by episode’s end, the club has set itself on the path to total destruction, though perhaps it was on that path all along, with Hikky’s false confession to Ebina just the latest but possibly last straw.

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Both in exchange for helping out with Ebina (thus keeping his circle of friends close) and because he thinks Hikky is too harsh on himself, Hayato sets up a rehabilitation project for him, the true intentions of which Hikky fails to discern throughout most of their double date with the girl who likes Hayato and Kaori. Mostly, he just scowl-grins and bears it as Kaori laughs at everything Hikky says and does.

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Whether due to coincidence or the fact Hayato public invited Hikky in the classroom, all their other classmates seem to have gravitated to the same mall. Bumping into Iroha probably wasn’t any more intentional than bumping into Yumiko and Ebina, but it serves Hayato’s desire purpose to show Hikky in a different light to their unenlightened dates.

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Iroha approaches Hikky like a normal friend, not some weirdo like Kaori thinks he is, but Hikky genuinely senses Iroha is annoyed he’s out playing around rather than working on her problem. I’m glad the show doesn’t always put what Hikky thinks characters are really saying to him in subtitles, but in this case, it could serve as a useful mirror to Hikky: Not everyone can interpret Iroha like this, which means they can’t interpret him either.

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What they see is what they believe, and how they judge. Not that’s it’s right, it’s just the way some people are. Hikky is more enduring than enjoying this double date, so it surprises him when Hayato suddenly calls out Kaori and the other girl on their surface judgement-based selfish comments. They can think what they want about Hikky, but that doesn’t mean he wants to hear about it.

Then Hayato takes his heroic project to the next stage, bringing Yukino and Yui into the mix under false pretenses. Hayato called on them to serve as props to prove to the other girls there’s a lot more to Hikky than they’re getting.

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But the very reason Yukino and Yui work as props is because Kaori makes a surface judgement based on their fabulous good looks and Hayato’s praise. He also makes sacrifices of Kaori and the other girl; whether they’re sorry or not, this more a demonstration for Hikky than for them.

Once the dates bail, Haruno enters the mix, pushing all of Yukino’s buttons as only an older sister can: it’s a harsh, biting exchange, in which I wasn’t certain if Haruno was expressing genuine resentment or simply rattling Yukino’s cage. Knowing this show, all of the above. Did she plan this whole thing with Hayato?

When Yukino and Yui take off, Haruno turns to Hikky, pointing out his “cute” tendency to always assume everyone has evil intentions. To be sure, Haruno seems to get off putting people in situations they can’t handle and watching what happens.

Then Haruno leaves, and it’s just the two guys again. Hayato will surely get backlash for his dressing down of their dates, something both Hikky knows could be a problem and Hayato is pissed about. But at the same time, he makes it clear to Hikky: he did what he wanted. He isn’t going to stand around and let people undervalue Hikky, even if Hikky has no intention of defending himself.

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The next morning, Hikky has to learn from Shizuka, and then Yui from Hikky, that Yukino has indeed challenged her sister’s words by deciding to run for president. Or was that something she always considered doing, and Haruno only gave her the nudge she needed? Either way, if she’s in it to win it, and wins, the club will suffer and possibly end altogether. Whether that’s okay with Yukino or not, the fact is, things can go on the way they are. She won’t let Hikky sacrifice himself to the whole school. Even if she hates the way he does things, better for her to do them than him.

Yui desperately catches up to Hikky to walk home with him, for probably the first time in a while. There, she delcares she’s running for president too. If she wins, she won’t take it as seriously as Yukino, and the club will survive. And she needs the club to survive, because an imperfect, even painful situation is better than a void. So she’ll beat Yukinon.

Hikky calls that a selfish decision, which is tiramisu-rich coming from someone who thinks the rest of the world cares about him enough to hate his guts. All three are being selfish, trying to pull this election in a direction that serves their needs, all looking for the same answer, but being put off by their methods.

As for Yui’s confession that she likes this club…that she…likes…it…is another attempt to get her feelings to reach Hikky, and her tearful close-up and darting eyes sell the hell out of it, even if Hikky’s reaction is predictably blah. I am officially on Team Yui! Screw those other guys for making her so sad.

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Speaking of voids, the second bookend of the episode with Komachi is almost a grim portent. These two siblings are so distant now, they can’t even exist in the same room with the lights on, let alone speak. It’s a void of Hikky’s making, utterly shutting her out of his life when she’s so keen to help. Komachi is no Haruno, but Hikky is now a feral self-consciousness monster lurking in his dank lair, and Komachi is treating him as such, staying away lest he lash out.

But who will he endorse? Or will he run himself? Heck, let’s through Hayato and Ebina in there, too! As we know, any problem a high schooler faces can be solved by running for StuCo President.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 04

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Souma is assigned a room at the Polar Star Dormitory, which he hopes will be as swanky as the rest of the academy’s facilities. As it’s a stately neoclassical manor,  it is quite swanky…but the crows give Souma a cold welcome.

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The creepy aura continues inside, where a strange girl chases game through the shadows while an old glowing woman greets him. Turns out they’re just all about energy conservation, as in conserving it for top-notch kitchen facilities, where Souma is to make something for the aged caretaker, Daimido Fumio, in order to be admitted to the dorm.

It’s yet again an opportunity for Souma to showcase his particular specialty thus far: cooking something spectacular out of whatever he happens to have on hand. He has a keen enough grasp of the fundamentals and enough experience in the kitchen cooking for real people to properly harness his creativity and resourcefulness.

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And in the best and most hilarious “food-llucination” yet, Souma’s mackerel hamburg steak and squid egg soup are powerful enough flavors to transport Fumio to the past, specifically, to the moonlit night she lost her virginity. Yowza, she was quite the catch in her day!

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Thus admitted, Fumio immediately has a little fun with Souma by refraining from warning him it’s the girls’ turn to bathe, so he accidentally walks in on a naked Megumi, who, coming from a small conservative town, now believes she’ll never be able to marry. Or she could look at the incident as a transaction: he saved her, he saw her; now they’re square!

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I thought this episode of Souma really captured that unique blend of loneliness, excitement, and anticipation of that first night in a new place; a place that doesn’t feel like home yet—look how sparse that room is—but definitely feels right, like it could feel like home, and will, before he knows it.

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That poignant moment is interrupted by the sudden intrusion of a dorm-mate looking down on Souma from the ceiling tiles, and all of a sudden the creepy aura is back. Not only is this a beautifully composed shot that came out of nowhere, it also had me LMAO.

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The ceiling weirdo is second-year Isshiki Satoshi, fetching Souma for his welcoming party. What do you know, not everyone at Totsuki is a stuck-up asshole! Well, we knew Megumi wasn’t, but now we have a whole dorm full of friendly, colorful, weird creative-types. That warm feeling of home and family missing from Souma’s empty room is here in abundance.

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The Castle In the Sky-style speaking tubes in every dorm are a nice touch…especially when used by Satoshi to invite Megumi to his room the creepiest way possible so he can share food with her.

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It’s cute how Souma and Megmi are seated next to each other and chat together before fully joining in the fun, like a veritable dipping of one’s toe in the water. Everyone else in that room are strangers now, and it’s probably more overwhelming than Souma lets on (we didn’t see any of his friends back home), so the fact Megumi, also his next-door neighbor is beside him is probably a nice thing.

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After generous consumption of “rice juice” (Fumio isn’t nearly as strict as I thought, allowing the students to have drinking parties for new residents), the group goes increasingly friendly and eventually break out the food, showing off their own unique specialties, and also go on about how Polar Star was once essentially the headquarters for the Elite Ten, of whom we learn Nakiri Erina is ranked tenth.

The post-credits surprise is that friendly, goofy, nothing-but-an-apron wearing Isshiki Satoshi is actually better than Erina…he’s seventh-seat, something he reveals to Souma when everyone else is passed out. But unlike Erina, he wants Souma to show him what he can do, and whether he has the potential to rise to the top as he did. In other words, the perfect senpai…even if he’s a little creepy at times.

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