OverLord – 03

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From his magic mirror in the Tomb of Nazarick, Momonga is able to watch a group of knights sack a village, brutally slaughtering men, women, and children with impunity, and he realizes something: it’s not really bothering him. The sight of such real violence would have made him sick in the world he came from, but here he finds himself unusually hardened. Instead of watching the pillaging with outrage or disgust, he sees it as an opportunity both to test his abilities and gather information.

But he also wishes to repay a debt to “Touch Me”, another player who once saved him from a band of enemies because “it was common sense”. Do unto others, and all that. Momonga didn’t even have to ask, and neither to the villagers of Carne, as Momonga practices various magics while saving a couple of little kids from their doom, for which they’re grateful, if a bit freaked out by his scary looks.

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It’s immensely fun to watch as he uses lower-level spells to smite the murderous knights, and a slightly higher-level one to reanimate one of their dead into a giant, virtually invincible zombie warrior. Even if he’s a stranger in a strange land figuring things out, he has the advantage of being one of the most powerful beings in that land, at least compared to the people he’s encountered.

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Other than Sebas in the cold open, the fully-armored Albedo is the only one of Momonga’s guardians who appears this week, and while it seems like she’d rather smash all the lowly pathetic humans into jelly, she stays her hand and obeys every order her beloved issues.

It’s great that not only are we following extremely powerful, elite beings in relation to their world, but they might not even be the good guys. Only Momonga, who is, at least in his thoughts, still human, even bothered visiting this village, dragging Albedo along more for procedure/precaution than necessity.

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Touch Me’s words about rescuing the weak being common sense ring true, as Monomga, AKA Ainz Ooal Gown, collects some useful info about some of the geography and politics of the world he finds himself in. But he also reflects an empathy for humanity his beastlike guardians lack; reflected in the Chief Warrior of the Kingdom of Re-estize, Gazef Stronoff, who came from a village much like Carne Village, always wished for help to come when trouble struck.

Help never came for him, but now he works to make sure other villagers aren’t subjected to the same disappointment and neglect. The strong have a duty to protect the weak. Momonga just happened to beat him to it in Carne. And as Stronoff arrives, ahead of another wave of potential enemy knights, Momonga may end up in deeper than he wanted at this juncture, but with all the tools he needs to prevail.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 20

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With just four episodes left after this one (barring a second 26-episode season, not outside the realm of possibility), Food Wars will likely dedicate them to the Autumn Elections, meaning it no longer has the luxury of spending an episode focusing on one, two, a handful, or a smaller group of students.

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It must focus on all of them, including quite a number of recently-added newbies, all from diverse backgrounds and with diverse goals. One uniting factor is that a lot of them either admire Souma and want to see what he can do, or want to beat him…or both. Still, the character sprawl and the necessity of checking in on everyone both before and during the big preliminary round results in a somewhat breathless, unwieldy affair.

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If, for instance, you like what Alice is up to in her futuristic sci-fi kitchen, or what Nikumi is carving up, that’s kinda too bad, since the episode can only afford occasional peeks at each chef in order to cover all of them. New characters like Hayama, Hojou and Nao (whose late introductions are another hint that this show could keep going after this first round of 24) eat up some of that time.

Everyone’s jockeying for space and attention, and the episode gets a little whiplashed. At the same time, that’s part of the appeal: variety of the spice of life, be it real spices, or characters and methods of cooking, and there’s plenty of it here.

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The main rivalry in this preliminary three-hour curry cookoff seems to be Souma vs. Hayama, and both have been preparing for months, pulling many all-nighters in the process. But while Hayama seems on top of his game and is already attracting the attention of the prestigious judges, when we check in on Souma for the first time, he’s asleep. Looks like he’ll have to come back from behind one more time.

Let’s face it: We know he’s going to be one of those eight finalists to move on to the elections proper, but knowing that is neither as important nor all that detrimental to our present anticipation and future enjoyment in watching how he succeeds, as well as who the other seven will be. There are so many great chefs to root for and choose from.

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Ushio to Tora – 08

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Before he even boards his flight to Hokkaido (with a very excited Tora) to find out more about his mom, supernatural trouble seems to gravitate towards Ushio. Case in point: a bitter, grieving young woman named Yuu (an angsty Toyosaki Aki!) whose father was, according to his co-pilot Atsuzawa, killed by a monster in the air. Yuu blames Atsuzawa, because there’s no such thing as plane-wrecking sky monsters…right?

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Well, actually, there is; Tora calls is a Fusuma, and it stalks his plane as well. Before that, Ushio does a fine job both introducing himself to Yuu and offering a comforting hand during takeoff, admitting to her he’s scared of flying too. As for Tora, he’s having the time of his life. The the Fusuma attacks and all hell breaks loose.

The pilots are killed, so Atsuzawa must take the controls and try his damndest to save Yuu for his late comrade’s sake. Ushio prods Tora outside the plane to deal with the Fusuma, who is weak to fire, but Tora can’t breathe enough of it to kill the sky youkai, and neither lightning nor melee attacks have any effect.

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The Fusuma is truly one of those sinister yet also immensely irritating bosses for whom only certain tactics will work. When Tora breaks it to Ushio that he needs to take a more active role with his Beast Spear, Yuu is eager to lend a helping hand, and Ushio actually shares the spear with her as they deliver a blow to Fusuma.

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Ushio then steps outside himself, trusting in and depending totally on Tora to keep him from flying off the plane to his death, and slashes all the Fusuma’s limbs off, separating him from the plane and allowing JASDF fighters to finish him off with the requisite amount of firepower, courtesy of a missile. But wouldn’t you know it; our boys still aren’t out of the woods, as the crippled plane’s rear landing gear won’t respond.

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It’s another job for Tora, whom Ushio basically goads into doing by saying it’s okay if he can’t lift a plane. Tora, throughout all of this, still doesn’t quite get why Ushio is so eager to save strangers like Yuu, but is protecting Ushio so he can someday eat him—having him die by other means won’t do. So he serves as the rear landing gear, the plane lands roughly but safely, and Yuu, Atsuzawa, and the rest of the passengers are safe and sound.

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Ushio wants to help out with the rest, but Yuu sends him off to take care of the important stuff he has to get to, and Tora also keeps him on task. The implication is that the cute, feathery-haired Yuu, who has now seen the monster who killed her father and helped to slay it, no longer blames Atsukawa, and will be just fine…though she wouldn’t mind seeing Ushio again. Bawwww…

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GATE – 08

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GATE benefits from a major change of scenery, as suddenly its the Special Regioners who are the fish out of water, emerging from the gate into a wondorous, perplexing, and at times frightening world of skyscrapers, subways, and ramen.

Pina and her blonde comrade are whisked off to negotiates with envoys of the prime minister, while Itami, Kuribayashi, Rory, Lelei and Tuka prepare to present their testimony before the Diet. They’re escorted by a shifty-looking guy who looks like he might be trouble, but turns out to be not that bad a guy after all.

He’s done his homework on Itami, and it’s not altogether surprising to hear he’s always been a bit of a lazy fellow. But not only did his laid back attitude get him into Ranger training—which he passed, to Kuribayashi’s shock—he’s also  a member of the “S” special forces, outraging her even more.

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The continued inflation of Itami’s badassdom aside, the Diet session, broadcasted live to the whole country, starts off with a very clearly anti-JSDF Diet member hoping to use the session to further her agenda and mar the SDF’s reputation. She’s actually the worst part of the episode, because the show is so transparently contemptuous of her and her political positions.

As one of the show’s first depictions of an anti-military Japanese politician, she comes off as shrill, ignorant, and unreasonable.  That being said, it’s still fun to watch the three Special Regioners deal with her, particularly Rory. And the response of the public through social media and the like also added to the spectacle. And she’s certainly not wrong in saying while a fourth of the refugees were killed by the Fire Dragon, the SDF saved the other three fourths.

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The grilling doesn’t last that long—curiously, only the female Diet member asked the Special Regioners any questions—and Pina’s conference with the Japanese envoys also goes well. From there, the group leaves on a bus, only the bus is a decoy, as they end up taking the subway, and when the subway closes down, someone tries to steal Rory’s scythe only to be crushed by it, being utterly unable to lift it.

The complex journey is a means of throwing off those elements who received leaked information about the Regioners’ movements, and while the gang never seems to be in that much trouble, the fact all these modern modes of transportation almost send Rory into a panic attack makes it clear the ordeal isn’t a mere cakewalk.

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When Itami’s grizzled escort throws out his back trying to pick up Rory’s scythe (watching her twirling it with ease as he’s carted off is, I’ll admit, pretty funny), Itami leads everyone to the home of his ex-wife, who is living in an apartment with dwindling utilities, and rejoices at the arrival of hot food. Lazy, Otaku, Ranger, S, ex-husband: we just keep learning new things about Itami.

And to be honest, I’d much rather the story stick to him, his various relations and his Special Region friends, then dive to far into the larger world affairs. Mercifully, we only see glimpses of the world leaders as they watched the Diet session. But the quasi chase the gang underwent is a reminder they’ve got to watch their backs, perhaps more so in Japan than in the other world.

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Gakkou Gurashi! – 07

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Mii-kun’s friend Kei was fond of the author/poet/essayist Kamo no Chomei (1153-1216), and his serene masterpiece An Account of My Hut (Hojoki):

The flow of the river is ceaseless, yet the water is never the same.

The girls of the School Life Club travel that river; the river of life. Even holed up in that room at the mall, Mii-kun was like a leaf drifting atop the surface river; living but nothing else. Now she has encountered other leaves on the river; now joined in a clump, they travel along the flow together. Sometimes the currents are arduous, but they’re stronger together, both in body and mind.

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The foam that floats on stagnant pools, now vanishing, now forming, are not long in their duration. So, too, it is with man and his dwellings in the world. They are the blink of an eye.

How true is that statement in the world of our club: one moment life in their world is normal, the next, everything has changed. A great number of bubbles in that foam popped that day, and continue to pop, but the girls’journey continues.

Those who are powerful are filled with greed; and those who have no protectors are despised.

The “powerful” of Gakkou Gurashi are the zombies, who are the embodiment of greed (they want only flesh…no doubt including brains). They prey on those who have no protectors. Rii-san, Kurumi, and Mii-kun protect each other, as well as Yuki and Taroumaru.

Possessions bring many worries; in poverty there is sorrow.

You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, eh? The girls’ possessions are few, but those they retain—from Rii-san’s hot plate; Kurumi’s shovel; Mii-kun’s Discman; Yuki’s hat; to the materials for letter-writing and distributing to a mysterious key that belonged to Megu-nee—as well as the friendships they share, bring them worry every day. Their greatest poverty is being the only living humans they know about, even as they assure themselves there are others out there.

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He who asks another’s help becomes his slave; he who nurtures others is fettered by affection. He who does not, appears deranged.

Mii-kun is only a “slave” as a result of being saved insofar as she has agreed to nurture Yuki’s illusions along with Rii-san and Kurumi. Rii-san, the mom of the group, is deservedly admired and loved by the others.

Wherever one may live, whatever work one may do, is it possible even for a moment to find a haven for the body or peace for the mind?

The club lives in the school, which is both a haven and a prison. They must ration food to keep their bodies alive, and they must kepe Yuki lucid and happy so that her smile can keep their minds at peace. Yet Mii-kun remarks this can’t go on forever; they ask too much of Yuki.

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It is a bare ten feet square and less than seven feet high. … I laid a foundation and roughly thatched a roof. … I have added a lean-to on the south and a porch of bamboo. Along the west wall I built a shelf for holy water and installed an image of the Buddha. The light of the setting sun shines between its eyebrows. … On the wall that faces the north I have built a little shelf on which I keep three or four black leather baskets that contain books of poetry and music and extracts from the sacred writings. Beside them stand a folding koto and lute.

The school by any other description; a shelter of modest dimensions and modest appointments, but full of thought and love and care. Solar panels, desk barricades, designated sleeping and eating facilities…

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Outside the hut is a fenced garden to the north and a rock pool to the south with a bamboo pipe draining water. The woods are close, providing plenty of brush-wood, and only to the west is a clearing beyond vines and overgrown valleys.

The garden where the club grows vegetables to supplement their packaged rations is on the roof of the school. The “woods” are the devastated, potentially lethal city beyond the school’s walls; the “clearing” is the schoolyard where the zombies roam much like wild animals; predators to be respected and avoided, but ultimately to coexist with. They too flow within the river, only they lurk below it, having drowned.

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Knowing myself and the world, I have no ambitions and do not mix in the world. I seek only tranquility; I rejoice in the absence of grief.

The club members could easily lapse into a state of hermitry, never venturing too far form the school or too long in the woods, where they know they could meet their death. Yet Rii-san, Kurumi, and Mii-kun all purport to have ambitions vis-a-vis the world. Things won’t be like this forever. It is a dream they will one day wake up from. That hope keeps them going.

Meanwhile, Yuki rejoices in the absence of grief; inadvertantly refusing to fully acknowledge the real world. She is the ideal of tranquility and peace of mind no undeluded person in this world will ever hope to achieve. There’s a close call when Yuki thinks about who was in the car after rescuing Mii-kun, but a few white lies and she finds Megu-nee right where she should be.

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The dew may fall and the flower remain, of the flower may wither before the dew is gone.

The girls, Yuki excluded, face their mortality every day, see places and things that may, and in all likelihood will, outlast them. The choice they face is whether to despair at their seemingly inevitable end, or to embrace the relative beauty and peace of their present. situation.

The fact that Hojoki, words written by Chomei eight hundred years ago, is a testament to the fundamental truth of the ceaseless river upon which we only drift a short while. But hopefully Rii-san, Kurumi, Mii-kun and Yuki will see many more evenings together.

The question is, will Yuki ever emerge from the hut of tranquility her mind created, where she currently resides?

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