Kekkai Sensen – 07

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Leo and White’s brother Black (who is also voiced by Kugimiya Rie) hit it off, despite my expectations they’d treat each other more like rivals. They bond over the fact that they both have headstrong little sisters and both of them are mocked by their peers for being weak or ineffectual. Black tries to sell this further by spilling his drink and then falling out of the booth while cleaning it up.

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But the truth is: Black is not the 4-eyed weenie he’s presenting himself as. He’s deceiving the boy with the All Seeing Eyes. In fact, his true identity is “XXXX” or “Blank”, one of the 13 Elder Vampires.

That revelation isn’t unveiled until the very end of the episode, but frankly, there was always something not quite right about Black, ever since Leo saw him on the subway, so it doesn’t come as a huge surprise he’s up to no good, and possibly after Leo’s eyes, as Leo might just be the most normal person in HSL if he didn’t have those eyes,

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The bulk of the episode is given over to a situation in which Zapp is taken prisoner by a gangster and boxing junkie, and resolves the situation by inviting Klaus to “rescue” him. Klaus arrives at what turns out to be a massive underground boxing arena, and he is thrown into the ring to throw down bare-knuckle with huma and monster alike.

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The brawl is fun enough, I guess, but it feels like a bit of a re-hash of Klaus’ far more inspired and elegant Prosfair match with Fulgrouche, and lacks the heart of, say, Leo’s friendships with White and the mushroom man Nej. There also isn’t much in the way of stakes, as even the largest and most fearsome combatants are taken out all too easily.

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The only challenger to put up any kind of fight is the proprietor of the establishment, who is so excited about Klaus’ dominance he can’t help step into the ring personally. Klaus whips out his left fist (he’d been using his right the whole time, holding back) and blasts the gangster’s head off in a graphic display that shocks everyone, but not half as much as when a tiny red blood breed emerges from the stump to finally defeat, but not kill, Klaus.

Why does he spare him? Not quite sure. For a moment I thought he was going to take over his body, but that didn’t happen either. Still, it was very unexpected and creepy.

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By the end, everyone is safe, and Zapp tries to take advantage of the fact Klaus is pretty beaten up by attacking him, but fails once more, as he’s no match at all. Between all that dawdling in the ring, the brief commentary on the universality of fighting in the ring, and the not-so-surprising reveal of Black as Blank all add up to this not being Kekkai Sensen’s finest effort.

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Owari no Seraph – 07

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“She’s already dead.” That’s the line Shinoa delivers to Yuu as they prepare to strike out into Tokyo’s ruins beyond the walls, referring to her late sister, who had big boobs, thus giving Shinoa hope for the future regarding her own developing bod.

Boobs aside, there was something chilling about how cool and calm and almost enthusiastically she uttered those three words—the same way she always talks around Yuu. To be a fly on the wall when Shinoa first contracted with her Cursed Gear, eh?

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(Kudos to the art team for rendering a brooding, ruined Tokyo full of tragic awe and grandeur, which is unveiled vista by vista as the two soldiers set out).

Thankfully, Shinoa doesn’t end up measuring boobs with the newest member of the five-team squad, Sanguu Mitsuba, voiced with angst by Iguchi Yuka (Index), but they may as well be measuring some part of their body the way they go at with weapons drawn at the first sight of each other. Or rather, it’s Mitsuba who draws first, provoked into anger by Shinoa.

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Sound familiar? That’s becaue Mitsuba is the female version of Yuu on this trip. Cursed by a dark past, she finds having all these amateur newbies to care for a big pain in the ass, and obviously she also resents the guy who’s most like her in Yuu.

But Mitsuba seems capable enough, and as Guren says, squads of less than five don’t typically fare well, so her addition is not only welcome, but vital to the squad’s survival. That is, if Yuu doesn’t screw up and get them all killed.

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Naturally, the moment she orders everyone to stay in formation when the vampires release bait in the form of a human girl, Yuu disobeys and rushes off on his own. A furious Mitsuba understands Yuu’s desire to save the girl; she’s been there, but she also knows what becomes of reckless, selfish actions in the field.

Three vampires descend on Yuu with frightening speed, and all of a sudden shit has gotten real, with Yuu struggling to block and parry one foe’s strikes while keeping track of the other two. There’s a great sense of occasion to this sudden fight, the distinct sense things could go very badly in the blink of an eye, and the reality that Yuu truly is a rookie this far out in the ruins.

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He survives because Mitsuba and the rest of the squad follows him into the trap she knew was set for them, and they simply hope for the best, meaning everyone is lucky to be alive. Shihou’s twin blades, Yoichi’s arrows, and Mitsuba’s—er…Axe? Mace? Hammer?—Mitsuba’s Salad Shooter manage to bail Yuu out, but he needs to knock this shit off, because there are lucky days and unlucky days, and you can guess which is more frequent for the downtrodden humans.

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Mitsuba tries to make this clear to Yuu after slapping him in the face and pointing at him the way pint-sized blondes tend to do; but it’s not until she’s showering with Shinoa that we learn why she hates reckless people like Yuu so much: because she used to be exactly the same, had a bad day, and blames herself for getting a comrade killed.

Here again we see the stark contrast between Yuu and Mitsuba’s mindset (or even Yoichi and Shiho’s, for that matter) and Shinoa’s continuously upbeat, happy-go-lucky attitude. Is it a product of her Hiiragi upbringing? Did the events in her past force her to forget them, at least on the surface, in order to keep living and fighting? I for one hope we learn a bit more about her at some point.

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 19

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For that rare cohort of viewers of whom I am a member, the realization that Archer was Bitter Future Shirou cam gradually, but even after watching the OP for the first time since learning it for certain, there were plenty of clues for a novice to follow, and naturally, it all holds up quite well. I also liked how relatively casually it’s finally revealed to our Shirou, because like us, spoilers or no, he kinda had an inkling at this point.

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Oh hey, here’s Matou Shinji, being about as awful as one can be, though I guess it isn’t really his fault, it’s just who he is: a wholly despicable, irredeemable punk with designs on making Rin his sex slave, or something. My skin was crawling like a house centipede, so I was relieved when my favorite bro Lancer marked his arrival with a vicious punch that, if I’m honest, I kinda wish had fractured Shinji’s skull.

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Lancer left Shirou to rescue Rin because his Master’s orders were to see to her safety, not fight beside Shirou. As for Saber, she’s only there to bear witness, promising not to interfere. But by being there, Archer is able to use her past as She-King Arthur (my guess for her true identity) to make his point about regrets, and the desire to right past wrongs, which was to become a heroic spirit in the first place, after becoming a Guardian after death.

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While Archer is largely standing around talking to Shirou and Saber, the sheer atmosphere of the scenes are enough to drag us in as we listen, rapt. His is a truly tragic tale, in which his seemingly good intentions and desire to be a “hero of justice” were twisted by the realities of the deal he made. Guardians are removed from the cycle of life, death, and rebirth—by time itself—to appartate into a human conflict and end it swiftly, without discriminating between good or evil.

Enough of that—and Shirou certainly seems to have done enough of that—will corrode even the best-intending souls. Being the “hero” he wanted to be meant there had to be people who needed heroes; which means there had to be suffering. He killed a few to save many, but those few added up over the years/decades/centuries.

Now that he’s told Shirou what his ideals have led to, Archer tosses him a sword and asks him to end it. Saber submits that because of Archer’s Guardian status, he won’t disappear even if he kills Shirou, but he’s going to kill him mind, body, and soul, and pray for the best.

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As Shirou stares death in the face, Rin suddenly finds her savior Lancer cowed by his two-faced traitor of a Master, who is finally revealed as Kirei Kotomine…which, well, I wasn’t expecting that, but then again it’s not like there are a lot of characters left that we know, and if it was someone I didn’t know, there wouldn’t have been as much impact.

That being said, Kirei is a bit overly campy-villainous and cruel in telling Rin just how much he’s betrayed her and for how long, having raised her up to be a  pawn (hence those chess pieces in the previews) after killing her Dad in the previous war. Rin is pissed and flies off the handle with a very Tousaka Rin-esque screed about how neither heaven, hell, or purgatory will have his slimy ass.

Things get more serious when Kirei orders Lancer to kill Rin, and he disobeys. Rather than use a command seal (one of what looks like far more than three) to force him, he uses one to order him to kill himself, which he d oes in short order, causing my heart to drop to the floor with a clang. Now Rin is really in deep shit, and her thoughts of “leaving the game” before Shirou really hit hard. Surely this isn’t the end for her…or for them? (Don’t answer that.)

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As for Shirou, he’s not going to accept this future Him who regrets everything he ever did and wants to negate it all by disappearing his past self. Shirou is determined never to have any regrets, come what may. And there seems to be a lot coming, with blades tickling everyone’s throats.

Will Shirou’s positive outlook prevail over his older, more experienced, but more beaten-down-by-life-and-the-world counterpart? Will he get to be the hero of justice he wanted to be, but not the one he became, delivering the justice Kirei and Shinji deserve? Boy, that would be nice, wouldn’t it? Trace on.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 07

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Let’s face it: We all knew exactly how this would end. For all her bluster, trash-talking, attempts at mind games, and peerless A5 Wagyu Beef, Nikumi was going to loooooose. Souma wasn’t getting expelled, and the club he stood for wasn’t going to be shut down. The haters were going to hate. Souma just cooked; and outcooked Nikumi on the only field that matters: the field of a don battle.

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Her precious meat may be singular, and she may have formidable skill, flair, and grace in butchering, searing, roasting and slicing said meat (Erina compares her to a pianist, equal parts strength and delicacy). To the show’s credit, Nikumi IS a phenomenal chef, especially with meat.

But while here meat is fresh and beautiful and marbled six ways from Sunday, she’s been spoiled by it. Her arrogance and refusal to take Souma seriously cost her dearly, though you can’t blame her when Souma whips out discount half-off discount sirloin from the supermarket, seemingly spitting on the entire Shokugeki institution.

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Her meat is so lovely, laid out like a flower atop garlic rice, Nikumi tries to make it the star of the don, litterally sitting on top like oil on top of water. The rice is just okay, but the dish suffers in its essential don-ness, or cohesiveness, because the meat clobbers everything else in that bowl. The judges are impressed by the ingredients and preparation, as they should be, and are highly skeptical Souma’s dish is even worth trying.

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But this is Souma we’re talking about: not only is he sneaky as all hell when it comes to how he’s going to make something out of nothing, but that particular talent works far more in his favor than Nikumi’s mad eat skillz. From the pickled ginger in the rice to the onions sauteed in juices and wine, to the thick yet delicate sauce tickled with burnt soy, all the components of the dish work together to elevate one another out of the supermarket and into the stomachs of the venerable judges, who literally can’t stop eating it and are sad when it’s gone.

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And that’s why Souma wins the don battle: his don beat Nikumi because it didn’t put on airs and intimidate you with its pedigree, it merely welcomed you to eat as much of it as you wanted. The judges didn’t even finish Nikumi’s rice, nor could she have bumped it up with beef, because she’s already maxed out with the A5 on top, and would have been left with competing flavors. Her ingredient saved her from total embarrassment, but she was clearly out of her element here.

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Souma’s other knack is for neither looking up or down at people, but looking straight at them as an equal. To this end, he prepared a bowl for Nikumi as well (something she didn’t do for him), and one bite of the welcoming don transports her to the day her dad ripped her teddy and told her as a Mika woman she could not be ladylike, but must be strong and aggressive to succeed in life. Nikumi hadn’t thought of that day in years, or the pain of leaving her girly side behind, but Souma’s don took her there.

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Far from a sore winner or a gloater, Souma not only fed her after a tough battle, but complimented her nickname when spelled in hiragana. A combination of the shock of a defeat she didn’t think possible (and all the consequences that come with it), and Souma’s basic kindness and friendliness—matching the personality of his don—leads to her becoming all flustered and smitten with him.

Whether Souma intended for her to assume he was joining the Don RS to burn her, the point is you don’t run out of the arena until you figure out what’s really going to happen: She’s to report to the Don RS, which she dutifully does, trying to look cute for Souma, only to find that he never had any intention of joining himself; it’s just her and the hair guy.

Nikumi is thus humanized, and thankfully, their battle didn’t have any lame sabotage or cheating. Both played by the rules, and Souma beat Nikumi fair and square. Watching Erina, Megumi and the other Polars watch and react to the battle added to the stakes. Even the cute, two-faced MC was a nice touch. All in all, great first Shokugeki. I look forward to more.

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P.S. Yup, That’s Christina next to that 9, indicating yours truly will be handling most Shokugeki no Souma reviews henceforth. Now I just wished he’d cook some of this stuff for me. —Hannah

Oregairu 2 – 07

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In shopping list she slipped into her brother’s bag, with whom she’s on good terms again, Komachi writes that what she wants most is his happiness (and detergent). But he’s increasingly unsure of how to get that happiness. All he knows is that saving people with his methods hasn’t quite done the trick.

Something is missing: “His responsibility…the answer” he needs. And as much as he doesn’t want to admit it, there may be no more answers in the Service Club, which he now attends increasingly for Yui’s sake, haunted by what would happen if he wouldn’t and Yukino’s “smile of giving up.”

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He may not realize it yet, nor does she, but Hikky’s answer may lie in Iroha, and hers in him. He is someone she can be herself with, after all, and who insists on carrying her bag even though it’s not heavy. I initially thought Iroha’s presence on the show would lead to cliched conflict, but we’ve instead been blessed with a far more complex and satisfying dynamic as the two tentatively circle one another.

The way the camera stays on the other side of the street as they cross and make the bag hand-off had just as much power as past close-ups of said hand-offs, if not more. Hikky isn’t just settling for handling Iroha’s tough stuff; he wants to support her in the little things too.

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If only it were that easy. Hikky hasn’t been this earnestly hands-on a “service client” like this before, nor has he faced quite as formidable and opaquely frustrating an opponent as the other school’s talky president, who continues to spew unproductive bullshit as the clock ticks on the Christmas event. Among the elementary kids they’ve recruited to assist is Tsurumi Rumi, whom I think I’ll call “Mini-Yukino” due to her not-at-all-not-coincidental resemblance to Hikky’s emotionally estranged club mate.

The council quagmire is the challenge he’s facing now, but Rumi is a symbol of someone he saved before with non-ideal, imperfect methods: sabotaging the bonds of the peers who bullied her so they’d no longer trust one another or level coordinated attacks on her, while leaving her just as alone in the end.

Later that night Hikky is treated to someone on the other end of the spectrum: Saika, who thinks it’s cool the way Hikky’s always working hard for others without complaint. Saika’s opinion is valid from his point of view, though he’s not in on the whole picture.

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Someone else who doesn’t have the whole picture is Orimoto Kaori, who bumps into Hikky and Iroha on the streets and, perhaps due to her proximity to her classmates, her vague language about her past with Hikky pique Iroha’s interest. Is it just me, but it feels like Yukino and Yui fade out of focus whenever Hikky is with Iroha, and having Kaori around makes a triad—a new triad.

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In fact, when Iroha very overtly puts her hand on Hikky, it looks every bit like a gesture of possession, not idle flirtation, in the presence of another girl Hikky may have had “dealings” with. “This is my man now,” so to speak. She seems happy that such a scenario may have occurred, though, because it reinforces the part of her that sees Hikky as a suitable mate. Whoa, sorry for gettin’ all Discovery Channel there!

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Bag hand-offs and arm-touching aside, in semi-public Iroha still plays her rapid-rejection card when she senses Hikky is flirting with her, but like Hikky, she’s maintaining a facade that doesn’t express her true feelings about the way Hikky is treating her.

That facade always mentions some quality she believes Hikky doesn’t possess or never will, in the process painting the picture of an ideal guy she’s never met, and maybe never will. Meanwhile, here is Hikky, staunchly by her side, worried he may be carrying too much of Iroha’s load with regards to the event, but still feeling responsible for her being there to begin with.

I should also mention that Hikky reaches out to Rumi even though he doesn’t have too, simply sitting with her and helping with decorations so she won’t be alone, then encouraging her to go to the others. If Hikky were the guy his facade less and less convincingly attempts to assure us he is, he’d never bother, but he can’t help it, especially with someone he feels an obligation to be nicer to after providing only an imperfect solution to her problems.

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Which brings us to an understated but ultimately pretty heartbreaking closing scene as Hikky bumps into Yukino. He’s been nothing but submissive, contrite, and polite to her since she’s been able to occupy the same room as him, but he only told her a half-truth about being busy with Komachi’s exams. In reality, he’s busy with Iroha, and enjoying it as well. Yukino knows this, and knows there’s little she could contribute.

She also believes Hikky is only still attending club out of obligation. For Shizuka, who brought them together, but tellingly has been nowhere to be seen of late—maybe the experiment is over, with mixed but still valuable results? For Yui, who not only wants to walk to the club with him, but wants to be seen walking with him by others.

But Yukino, without any hint of bitterness, tells him he doesn’t have to beg her pardon or ask her permission or force himself to attend. Yukino’s analysis may be right—Hikky is certainly deriving happiness from helping Iroha—but she also walks away before Hikky can at least attempt to respond to it. Maybe he just likes attending club. Or maybe it’s time to move on.

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Nisekoi 2 – 06

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Ah, the Valentine’s Day episode. When girls torture themselves over when and where to give chocolates they slaved over to the one they like, and the guy worries about not getting any chocolate at all when we know full well the bastard’s getting chocolate from multiple vectors.

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Don’t get me wrong: watching Chitoge squirm and kick herself for not being honest about the situation at all, and watching Kosaki actually muster the courage to present her one-in-a-million delicious chocolate to Raku, only to accidentally fall on it, it all very great to watch, because I’ve been invested with these girls for a while.

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But there were moments during this episode when I earnestly wondered whether, in an anime world where Saekano, Oregairu, and Ore Monogatari exist, I’m actually outgrowing a show like Nisekoi, where romantic progress is always either tentative, temporary, or outright forgotten from week to week.

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At least this was an episode in which every girl had their moment to shine (save Kosaki’s sister, who is still AWOL halfway into the season). But there was a distinct Wile E. Coyote-vs.-Road Runner mentality to their actions that eroded the seriousness and the heart a bit. As amusing as a giant chocolate Michelangelo’s David is, Marika’s angle in particular was a bit too jokey.

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Best girl she may be, but Chitoge’s tsundere-speak reaches new levels of insufferability when she finally deigns to supply Raku with the friggin’ chocolate she spent all night making. To put so much effort and devotion into something for someone you love, only to present it as an act of charity and coincidence, isn’t just dishonest; it’s tiresome at this point in their relationship.

Then again, due to the increasingly episodic nature of this season, it’s hard to pin down exactly where they stand at all, which is a whole other problem.

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Still, one character shows some backbone and perseverance in Kosaki, who at the very end of the day is finally able to present chocolate she can be proud of, which Raku doesn’t have to pretend tastes good. But where Chitoge pretended she was doing Raku a favor, Kosaki is so afraid of making progress that she almost immediately retreats, calling her chocolate “obligatory.”

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Even so, she qualifies her statement to “a special kind of obligatory”, which transcends mere obligation into something more like, her love compelled her to give Raku the chocolate. Such obfuscation will only undermine her desire to make her feelings known to him, however, as even a direct declaration of her intentions may have flown over the painfully dense Raku.

Nisekoi still offers some of the best close-ups in the business. But the emotions those close-ups would be more potent if I knew they were leading to anything other than a dead end.

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