Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 17

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The charming romantic comedy is wisely tabled this week as Rin, Shirou, and Lancer get right down to business facing off against Caster, Kuzuki, and Archer, respectively. And like the Clippers-Spurs first round finale, despite one side’s shortcomings it looks like anyone’s game.

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Of course, before the battle begins, Caster makes sure to get in plenty of trash talk directed at the “little girl” AKA Rin, while Archer makes a point to try to anger Lancer into slipping up by insulting his temporary ally.

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Lancer is pissed off enough to launch his special attack, Gae Bolg, straight at Archer, who tries and fails to block it with the multilayer Rho Aias. The resulting explosion seems to do Archer in, though he actually survives, he mentions the ever-watching eye of Caster is no longer upon them. Lancer withdraws, leaving Archer alone do do what he will.

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Caster is busy with Rin, who puts up a surprisingly good fight with magic before having to pull out her trump card – hand-to-hand combat using her magically-fortified arms and legs. Along with Shirou getting tossed back again and again by Kuzuki, and Kuzuki quickly intervening when Rin starts beating the crap out of Caster, our lovebirds definitely seem to be in over their heads, especially when Caster still has Saber in the chamber.

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Then we hear “Trace on,” not from Shirou. but from Archer, and numerous summoned swords are driven into Caster’s chest, defeating her once and for all. Kuzuki embraces her at the end, whereupon she tells him her wish was being fulfilled all along, likely by having such a great and loyal Master. True to his word, he keeps fighting Archer even after his Servant has gone, but doesn’t last long.

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So yeah, Go Archer, saving the day at the last minute with his “Trojan Horse” act. But hold on; Archer still hates Shirou and wants to kill him, and Rin no longer has any control over him. No one has any control over him, making him essentially the New Caster. One wonders how he can operate this way without any Master, but the fact he said “trace on” is certainly a hint.

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Unlike Ilya and Berserker’s epic struggle and defeat, Caster and Kuzuki fall with comparatively little fuss, and their roles as impediments to Shirou and Rin are over, giving way to Rouge Archer. This was one of those two-part eps where I enjoyed the quieter “rest” episode more than the action-packed “release.”

Of course, Saber is now free of Caster, and from all appearances seems as devoted to Shirou’s protection as ever, so unless she has a debilitating weakness of some kind, Archer should have his work cut out for him.

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Sidonia no Kishi 2 – 04

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Sidonia sticks to its strengths—intricate space battles, mayhem, and impending doom, not comedy and romance—with an episode-long epic battle of adernaline-pumping perfection. G550 is gunnin’ for Sidonia, literally. Its kill or be killed, and the episode never lets you forget how thin the line is between life and death.

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Tsumugi uses her man-made kabi claws to bust out of the trap the first wave of Gauna built around her, and in the process she seems to glean the Gauna’s intent for the humans, including her friends. Whether it was just another Gauna biological reflex in response to external stimuli, or a conscious, sentient effort to provoke Tsumugi, she reacts badly,  disobeying everyone’s orders and going on a destructive rampage of every Gauna in sight, despite being heavily damaged herself.

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The deus ex machina has a screw loose, and it informs the overarching peril of the situation rather nicely. What ultimately finally stops her attacks is when Izana tries to go after her and calm her down, and gets heavily damaged in the process. It’s been a little while since pilots I actually knew and cared about turned red on the CIC board, so when it’s Izana’s turn my heart sank into my stomach. Thankfully, Tsumugi gets to Izana and agrees to retreat for now, for her sake.

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The Guardes manage to take out the second wave of Gauna without Tsumugi’s help thanks to a shift to long-range tactics, and then enter ring formation to destroy G550’s core. But even this tactic backfires, as the equatorial trench they create is the perfect aperture for a massive Hyggs cannon the surviving Gauna fuse into.

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Sidonia is huge and slow, so I knew any beam launched at her would have to be somehow prevented outright, blocked, shifted, or absorbed by someone. In another case of the computer displays creating visceral reactions, the amount of red the damage analysis predicts makes it clear if none of those above things happen, it’s Game Over.

Tsumugi manages to deflect the beam enough so it misses Sidonia, but only by a few hundred meters to starboard. At this distance, the mere force emanating from the beam is enough to nearly shake Sidonia to pieces, and alarmingly, all the CIC displays go to static as the shock hits, and it was all I could do to pray those displays wouldn’t go dark, and that breaches wouldn’t occur.

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With G550 charging for another salvo, and both Tsumugi and Izana unaccounted for, Nagate decides to rush in headlong and uses his engine pack as a precision projectile, causing a Death Star-style chain reaction that brings that sweet, sweet sound of Bubble Desintegration. Once again, Nagate one-ups Kunato and emerges the hero.

It’s a costly victory: Nagate and Izana are both found, but Tsumugi is in tatters, and Izana fears she’s dead. They didn’t lose a lot of Guardes, and Sidonia wasn’t seriously damaged and didn’t need to carry out emergency maneuvers, but with Tsumugi’s fate unclear and the Gauna stronger than ever, it’s no longer simply “nice” to have Chimera on their side; it now appears absolutely essential for the battles to come.

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Oregairu 2 – 05

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This week, Hikky has a lot of work to do, much of it damage control he knows he’s been holding off too long. Last week’s bleak scene of two siblings in the dark turned out to be the perfect opportunity for Hikky to get the easy stuff out of the way: reconnecting with his little sister.

Komachi forgives him far more readily than anyone else will, because of her fifteen years of living with him, she’s learned, unlike Yukino, that there are things about people you can’t change, and in time they grow endearing. Love is acceptance of those things. Far more than wanting him to change his ways, Komachi just wants Hikky to talk to her about what’s troubling him.

The cold open thaws the atmosphere, and the scene with the siblings that follows is a masterclass in familial dialogue. It also serves to throw us, the audience yearning for something positive, a much appreciated bone.

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Hikky may not be able to put into words why he wants the Service Club preserved, but he doesn’t need to: Komachi wants it preserved too, which means he has a new mission, one that’s more important than Iroha’s, because it’s from his sister. Fulfilling it means preventing Yukino or Yui from winning.

His need for counsel coincides with the alignment of all his allies not involved in the current unpleasantness, starting with Zaimozuka, whose even greater isolation from normal school society is expressed by the fact he spends his lunch breaks in the library.

Komachi, appreciative of Hikky working hard, ends up assembling Kawasaki and Saika, and when the former is asked to come up with a list of good candidates for president, she makes sure to include him seriously, even though he has zero chance.

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The counsel helps Hikky decide what to do, which is to double down on his interpretation of Iroha’s true desire: to preserve her “brand image” by avoiding a “high-risk, low-return” commitment like StuCo president, along with her desire to get closer to Hayato.

With some Facebook-hacking help from Zaimozuka, he’s able to assure her the backers she needs to win the election, while assuring her she’ll not only be protected from the sting of failure because she’s only a first-year, but will also be able to avoid failure altogether by reaching out to Hayato for support, giving her the in she needs.

I’ll note that he doesn’t include Hayato or Miura Yumiko in on his plan, but they’re not his clients on this: Komachi and Iroha are. And Iroha agrees with the plan, after all but proving Hikky right about her persona by delivering a super-quick boilerplate rejection the moment she suspects he’s flirting with her (which he isn’t trying to do).

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While Iroha is convinced of his plan, the truth is even with the extra backers he’s not sure she can win. Getting her to go along with it was only the first step in his primary mission given to him by Komachi; a mission that means more to him as well: keeping the club together. Hikky uses the satisfaction of Iroha’s contract as a bluff to get Yukino and Yui to drop out of the race, assuring Iroha’s victory and the preservation of the club.

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It’s a gamble, but it works. Yui is elated Hikky worked so hard for her sake to protect the place she treasures the most, and because he worked in silence and secrecy, without exposing himself, she has cover to forgive him for his methods.

It’s not so much “I don’t want to know” or “out of sight out of mind” (though it’s partly both); it’s more that like Komachi, Yui is accepting of the way Hikky is and always will be. Or as Hikky puts it: “So long as a problem doesn’t cause problems, it can’t be called a problem.”

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The fruits of his hard work are seen almost immediately once Yui expresses her approval and accepts his apology. She affectionately fixes his scruffy hair against his protests, and moves her chair right next to him. I don’t want to pick sides, and all three friends are partly to blame for their predicament, but I’d wager Yui was suffering the most with the prospect of losing the club, and even she admits it would indeed be lost even if she won.

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So Iroha wins, and is already using the very willing Tabe as her personal assistant in setting up the office when Hikky congratulates her and asks her to make it a good school, what with Komachi attending next year. Iroha takes this as another attempt at hitting on her, which creeps her out.

I must say Iroha wasn’t what I expected this season: she’s better. I thought she’d be a new love interest and wedge between Hikky and the other two, but thanks to her cooperation he was able to save the club and make up with Yui without the kind of undue damage to himself the girls hate.

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So what about Yukino, the hardest nut to crack? Well, that remains to be seen. This wasn’t a total victory (it couldn’t be one, not even halfway in): the club is saved for now, but the smell of tea no the room. What worked for Komachi and Yui doesn’t quite work for Yukino. Her line as she agrees to bow out of the race and then leaves the clubroom is “You thought you understood, didn’t you?” I take this to mean Hikky thought she was running to fulfill the client’s request.

Then I thought back to the beginning of this episode, with Hikky and Komachi making up so easily because of their unique status as siblings, and I thought of Haruna rattling Yukino’s cage. I wouldn’t be surprised if part of Yukino’s continued dissatisfaction is that even though Hikky got the job done without resorting tot he most distasteful tactics imaginable, he also kept her from meeting the challenge set by her big sister.

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That challenge was to leave the service club and take her rightful spot atop the school, where she can be of the most help to everyone in accordance with her noblesse oblige. A future with Yukino as president, Yui as Veep, and Hikky in some unspecified utility role without an official title, is also a possible future Hikky imagines while walking with the outgoing president, who would have liked to see such a future.

Rhetorically speaking, “strictly rhetorically,” Hikky wonders if life would have changed had he taken a different route with the election. Same people, same dynamics, only a different room, a different organization, and a Yukino who is more fulfilled as President, and who has answered Haruna’s challenge. But Hikky took a different route, which had its benefits and its consequences. We’ll see what the latter consist of.

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Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 05

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Last week was a compelling turning point in the show, when the streak of everything going Nagato Yuki’s way ends with a bang, with that bang being her homemade chocolates hitting the ground. This week, Nagato Yuki disappears, and it’s up to Ryouko to pick up the pieces.

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To her surprise, Haruhi joins the search. Haruhi claims it was just a misunderstanding; that she was giving Kyon courtesy chocolate just like she gave to Koizumi. It isn’t her fault Yuki overreacted, or takes the ritual so seriously.

Ryouko is angry, first at Haruhi, then at herself for blaming others for what she deems her own failure. This is the angriest and most emotional we’ve seen Ryouko yet, and it’s the culmination of putting “Miss Nagato’s” hopes and dreams on her shoulders, while also possibly forcing ideals on the lilac-haired waif.

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When the two finally locate that waif, sulking on a stair, they learn they misunderstood her running away, as did we. Yuki wasn’t devastated by the sight of Haruhi and Kyon, nor is she giving up; she merely felt like she shouldn’t be there while someone else is giving chocolate to someone, because she wouldn’t want anyone watching while she was doing it. Yuki puts herself in the shoes of others, and treats them the way she’d want to be treated. She really is a good girl.

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But will she have the fortitude to hang in a fight with Haruhi for Kyon’s heart? Haruhi makes it clear she “doesn’t dislike” Kyon (i.e. she likes him) when Yuki asks her point blank (and good for her for doing so!) so it’s no longer a one-horse race. But Yuki is game for now, and Haruhi wishes her rival luck.

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Yuki finally, finally delivers the chocolates to Kyon, with trembling hands and a face so red he really should know how much this means to her. He opens them eats them, praises their taste and Yuki and thanks her. He does everything he should do considering what he was presented with, but it isn’t enough. Someone like Kyon needs a clear-as-crystal confession or it’s going to sail over him.

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With nothing else to do but watch from a secluded spot, Ryouko decries the fact it doesn’t seem to be going so smoothly, while Haruhi, nervously playing with her shoe thinks she understands at least part of how Yuki feels, and how giving something to someone, as a courtesy or not, is still an achievement to be proud of.

Haruhi looks particularly weary when Yuki seems to be going in for the confession, but a terribly-timed tackle by Tsuruya causes Yuki to fall to the ground and Kyon to land on her chest, ruining her chance once more. Haruhi seems more than a little relieved by the Tsuruya ex machina.

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While this week did resort to some standard rom-com stall tactics, I appreciated how it kept things tough for Yuki, and more importantly, brought Ryouko’s formerly flawless facilitating powers down to earth. In one of her better lines, told in her temporary rage, Ryouko tells Haruhi “you’re the kind of person who can act to make what you want happen”—referencing Haruhi’s supernatural powers in the original series—compared to Yuki, who has trouble making anything at all happen.

But after this week, Ryouko and Haruhi seem like something resembling friends, their bond forged in large part because of Yuki: Ryouko’s devotion to her, and Haruhi’s competition with her. And I think Haruhi understands Yuki all too well in one notable regard: for both of them, getting Kyon to properly notice their feelings looks to be a Herculean challenge.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 05

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Isshiki Satoshi is as mercurial and competitive as he is friendly and welcome, so even though it’s the middle of the night and the rest of Polar Star is out cold, he’s too restless to go to bed. He heard Souma at the opening ceremony go on about how he wants the top spot. Time to put up or shut up.

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Naturally, Souma’s just fine with that, and appreciates the chance to show off his mad cooking skillz to Satoshi and the others. His basted mackerel rice ball in kelp tea tears the proverbial clothes off everyone who tastes it.

Souma isn’t afraid to punctuate the deliciousness of its dishes with ample, unisex nudity. It’s also a surefire way of knowing when Souma’s hit the mark.

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Then you have Megumi, who totally missed the cook-off and wakes up to a baffling scene that freaks her out. The humor on this show isn’t subtle, but it is effective.

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The next morning (I also like how differently everyone wakes up), Souma is eager to hit Satoshi with a challenge of his own, gunning to take over Satoshi’s seventh seat on the Elite Ten. But obviously it’s not as simple as that. That being said, I like how everyone except Souma and Megumi were totally apathetic about Souma’s Big Bold Challenge because they knew it wouldn’t be happening then and there.

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There’s procedures to be followed, and people to assemble: a adjudicator to certify the challenge, an odd number of judges, and an agreement between contestants about the conditions. Souma also needs to stake something of equal value to Satoshi’s seventh seat, and even staking expulsion if he lost wouldn’t be enough, not to mention Satoshi doesn’t want Souma expelled.

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Still, despite the fact Souma isn’t ready to take on Satoshi, he’s still eager to take on somebody, and once he starts racking up wins, he can start going after bigger fish like Satoshi…or Erina. While Satoshi and the others are explaining the particulars of the formal challenges, called Shokugeki. They go down a lot like Iron Chef, but with more dire consequences for the loser, in this case the hot pot society’s entire clubhouse is demolished so Erina can build another kitchen for her personal use. Dayum, dis bitch is COLD!

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But the hot pot guy wasn’t anything resembling a challenge to her, only “trash.” Not only that, a dark-skinned girl with an American flag bra is itching to face the other challengers not worth Erina’s time. She apparently specializes in meat, and Souma will surely have to get through her before he can challenge Erina.

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