Owarimonogatari – 05

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Oikura knew Araragi’s parents were cops because they were the ones who got her out of her abusive home and had her live with them. Araragi can’t remember on his own, but that’s not entirely why Oikura despises him. As we learn during one of the more powerful sustained monologues in the Monogatari franchise, and a chance for Inoue Marina to remind us just how good she is when she sinks her teeth into a role.

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As hostile as she is to both Araragi and Hanekawa (throwing tea at the former, which the latter catches with her cat-like reflexes), she still seems to get a lot off her chest and be better for it. She also comes off like never before like a deeply wounded individual; a lost soul who has given up hope.

It’s already the end for her; after all the punishment she’s endured in her still short life—physical and emotional—she believes she’s too frail for happiness, so she despises it along with herself and everything else in the world.

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That punishment includes having to watch Araragi’s perfect family seem to “show off” in front of her. She’d glare at them in resentment, or for not knowing how different they regard “normal family life”; in other words, how much they take love for granted. Oikura was never given love. Her parents divorced, her mother became reclusive and never left her room, and Oikura had to take care of her, until one day she was just…gone.

After all that, Araragi forgetting all about her and giving her nothing in return for what she gave to him throughout their encounters, reveals itself as simply the tip of a very nasty, despairing iceberg. Inoue mixes dread and malice with tones of black humor and feigned happiness in Oikura’s delivery, heightening her aura of imbalance; a spinning top about to fall off a table.

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She made Araragi a villain despite his relatively small contribution to her wholesale suffering because she needed to blame and despise someone other than her parents (which neither she chose nor who chose her) or herself just to keep going on. Whenever she got near the happiness Araragi seems to ooze, it felt either too bright or heavy for her frail, scarred self to survive.

Happiness, she believes, will kill her just as efficiently as the emotions on the other end of the spectrum. So she’s settled for something a little more moderate on that scale, and it’s slowly dissolving her heart. Araragi tell her happiness can’t do that, and there are many kinds that would work for her. But Oikura lacks the ability to access them.

What she needs now, more than anything else, is to continue being heard, and being in the presence of others. When she kicks them out, Hanekawa says both she and Araragi will keep coming back, because “troubling those we care about is how we do things.” It’s pushy, but it’s also something Oikura needs to hear: someone cares about her; is fond of her; and she’s several decades too early to be talking about endings. 

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Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 05

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RKC is full of surprises. I never thought I’d be awarding two nines in a row to it, but it showed this week, categorically, that the excellent handling of Stella and Ikki’s confession wasn’t a fluke; that wonderful romance is here to stay, and there’s lots of room to grow.

But there were sure to be bumps in the road, and the first is that they’ve been lovers for two weeks…but haven’t done anything. That seems to bother Stella more than Ikki, but as we eventually find out, that’s not the case at all. It’s another common romantic convention: both lovers waiting for the other to start something and getting frustrated by it. Yet it’s another convention RKC picks up and runs with, showing how potent and relatable idea it can be.

While they’ve been lovers doing nothing for two weeks, Ikki has only risen in school standing, no longer the Worst One, but “Another One” (that’s not really his nickname, is it?). The girls swarm around him wanting lessons in swordsmanship; a group of guys gets jealous, but he beats them so easily they become his loyal students, a nice change of pace from the typical “you’ll regret this!” storming off that even the reporter mentions.

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The group of students he’s teaching keep growing along with his popularity, and while Stella is probably proud of him and admiring of his generosity, there’s no doubt she’s getting nudged out of chunks of time he could be with her.

Also Shizuku, as it turns out, hasn’t quite given up on him, or at least intends to make life difficult for Stella if she fails to assert herself. I particularly liked Shizuku’s ear-to-ear grin as Stella must follow through and chug her two bottles of Pocari Sweat.

Another great moment was when Alice lent Stell a game whose protagonist looks and sounds very similar, if not identical, minus the glasses, to Ikki. Her “illicit” vicarious play hearkens back to that great scene where she can’t help but touch Ikki’s chest while he’s sleeping.

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When Ikki takes his class to the pool, he invites Stella along. When she angrily wonders why he doesn’t want to teach her, he gives a very good explanation that not only appeases but flatters her: her ability is beyond anything can teach her, that his style would undermine her strengths, and he wants her, over any other, to continue to go beyond his imagination.

But the fact of the matter is, nothing continues to happen, and Stella is forced into the background as he teaches the others. The reporter puts two and two together, threatens to ask Ikki out, then gets Stella to let slip they’re lovers going nowhere. The reporter’s advice is simple: be forceful and tell him what you want. But of course, it’s not that simple.

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The reporter’s talk with Stella mirrors Alice’s talk with Shizuku, and in this case Alice has valuable insight into the male mind, since he shares their biology, if not that identity. The episode cleverly cuts between the two discussions, Archer-style. It’s also notable that Alice, hardly a conservative, doesn’t think Shizuku’s love for her brother is necessarily wrong, and that she shouldn’t accept defeat just yet.

Still, that’s because Alice is rooting for her beloved friend and roommate. In reality, Ikki is very much in love with Stella, and vice-versa. When the two come together, Ikki starts to talk in a way that Stella interprets as a break-up. The two have their first lovers’ quarrel, and it’s a damn fine one, with the two of them belting out increasingly reasonable things even as they get unreasonably upset with one another.

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Brass tacks: Ikki didn’t make the first move because he was worried she’d think he was a dirty man; Stella didn’t because she was worried he’d think she was a slut. They’re both wrong; both want the other to make a move. So they agree to say the thing they want to do right there and then, and it’s the same thing: kiss. Ikki makes it clear he wants her to ask him for a kiss when she wants one; Stella lets him know she only likes it when one guy looks at her in a naughty way: him.

Having cleared a common hurdle at the start of relationships when the two parties are still feeling each other’s patterns and ways of doing things out, they confidently hold hands on the bus ride home, each knowing a lot more what the other expects, and likely feeling foolish for ever worrying about it. Some tough battles with the Evil Student Council executives lay ahead for both of these lovers, but they won’t have to worry about what the other wants anymore.

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Owari no Seraph 2 – 04

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On the way to Nagoya, after fighting off Four Horsemen of Johns, Shinoa has a little fun by leaving Yuu behind to walk the rest of the way. In addition to being a little too mean, it seems extraordinarily stupid thing to do under such serious circumstances. The show thinks it was dumb to, and Shinoa later comes to regret it, because Guren throws and elaborate lesson their way that drives the message into her and all the other newbies’ heads. Fooling around will get your family killed, so knock it off.

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When the five show up late, they make a bad first impression on the more experienced squads Guren has amassed. Then Yuu takes full responsibility, but Guren knows he’s covering. Then he, Shinya, and Mito face off against the five right there and then to test how well they gel as a team. Even three-on-five, the older soldiers barely break a sweat overwhelming the noobs. Yuu hangs in there with Guren, but in the process, all of his comrades are “killed” by the other two veterans.

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The lesson is, take this seriously and learn to work better together under duress, because the vampire nobles they’re going after are even tougher, and won’t end the lesson by sparing lives and mussing Yuu’s hair. Yuu is uncharacteristically mature throughout this lesson, already working out how they should handle such a fight next time, and taking it in stride when Sgt. Narumi protests the newbies’ inclusion in the plan.

Speaking up backfires for Narumi, as Guren puts him and his haughty squad in charge of teaching Shinoa’s squad the ropes, much to their chagrin. But Yuu doesn’t feel like a hot potato, or at least doesn’t show it: he’s eager to work and learn. As long as he can kill vampires and get Mika back, he’s growing up in a hurry.

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As for Mika, the day Krul warned about—when her blood alone would no longer be sufficient—is fast arriving. Mika has insisted on not drinking human blood, but the blood calls to him as his partner and their squad rounds up children for tribute to the very nobles Guren’s group of 100 are going after.

He pounces on a girl and grabs her by the throat, but is able to pull himself back…for now. But that control will only get more and more difficult to maintain. When that happens, he’ll have little choice but death or human blood. But would he really choose the former, knowing what it might do to Yuu?

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 05

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Asterisk War more or less regressed to the mean this week, starting off with an interminable bickering match between the leaders of five of the six schools in Rikka. We get some nice Ayato and Julis time, but it’s all too brief, and replaced by an influx of Allkant interlopers, apparently arranged by Claudia as payment for Allekant’s role in furnishing Silas’ robots.

The designer of those robots is Ernesta Kuhne, who is way over the top and over-rambunctious in all the wrong ways. I usually like Akasaki Chinatsu’s energy, but here she’s just extraneous.

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Call me spoiled by the last two episodes, in which Julis did indeed “monopolize” Ayato, to the benefit of the show, I might add. This Julis who butts heads with Saya (absent the last two weeks) just isn’t as interesting. It’s like another girl shows up and a switch is flipped. Fortunately, Lester is with me on this, and slinks away rather than witness any more fighting over Ayato.

That brings us to the introduction of a new main member of Ayato’s harem, judging from the promo art: the petite silver-haired Toudou Kirin. Their first encounter was a bump-and-peek in the hall, but when Ayato sees an adult in a suit strike her, he chivalrously steps in to intervene.

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This doesn’t go well for him, as when he asks the awful man (her uncle) to never hit her again, he agrees, IF he wins a duel. And in that duel, he’ll be fighting…Kirin, his niece. This puts Kirin in the odd position of not having her uncle beat on her if she loses, but losing isn’t an option for her, where every duel in her resume is scrutinized with a fine-tooth comb.

Ayato still has to deal with a limit to how long he can fight with Ser Veresta before he runs out of gas, and the fact that he doesn’t want to hurt Kirin—that’s the whole reason he got involved with her and her uncle in the first place! So it’s a defensive duel in which the clock runs out, Kirin wins, and Ayato is a bit dazed and confused.

What he just did was duel with the top student at his academy, one of the more then twenty students in Rikka Julis said were her equal or better. And while he can’t really be blamed for trying to stop abuse happening right in front of him, he did do exactly what Julis told him not to: get into another pointless public duel that reveals his strengths and weaknesses to all. So yeah, not exactly helping himself out.

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Ushio to Tora – 18

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Few anime this year have worn their hearts so brazenly and so effectively on their sleeve as Ushio to Tora, and these past two episodes—in which the women (and one special woman in particular) in Ushio life literally save his soul—comprise UtT’s finest and most thrilling hour yet. Not a single line or action is wasted, and the dramatic stuff is expertly garnished with bursts of UtT’s trademark comedy.

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Two girls have successfully combed his hair, and once Yuu uses her athleticism and courage to be the third, that leaves his closest friends Mayuko and Asako. Mayuko almost instantly falls into a river charging ahead, but she is continually rescued by Tora, under the pretense of preserving a future meal.

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That neither Mayuko, a grateful Asako, nor anyone else take Tora’s malevolence seriously cracks Izuna up while showing how far he’s come whle maintaining his preferred way of showing affection to the humans around him: by claiming, almost defensively, they’re all food. With Jiemei showing him the way, Tora carries the girls to Ushio’s new location by the mouth of the cave where “a piece” of Hakumen no Mono dwells, and Mayuko reflexively uses the comb to parry a blow from the Beast Spear.

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That sends her flying to the edge of a cliff from which she falls rather than drop the comb that contains “all their hopes”, but fortunately for her Tora is really diligent about keeping his food clean and unharmed. Mayuko in arm, he decides he’s sick of Ushio, a human, acting like this. So he lets Ushio stab him with the spear, giving Mayuko the opening she needs. Four down, one to go.

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As suspected, for maximum dramatic effect, the one who loves Ushio the most is saved for last. Jeimei reveals it’s her brother who is the Beast Spear trying to devour Ushio in service of destoying Hakumen, but she begs him to stop. Ushio is even able to get the words “it hurts” out, sending the tears streaming from Asako’s eyes as she laments that all this crap is happening. Like Tora, she wants the old Ushio back, preferring him and all his lovable flaws to the mindless monster before her.

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As she wipes her eye she combs his hair, but the Spear senses Hakumen close and seemingly undoes all the progress the combing made, and neutralizing the power of Asako’s emotions. But she doesn’t give up, grabs hold of Ushio and doesn’t let go, and remembers all the times throughout the years Ushio pissed her off by teasing her, only to be her dopey knight in shining armor when she was in a spot.

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Just as Tora has a shorthand for why he helps out his “food” so much, Asako has a shorthand for the “idiot” Ushio. But she also happens to love that idiot, and all but says it when his crystal eyes shatter for good, released from the Beast Spear’s hold. Back in “normal” Beast Mode, he summons Tora and the two deal with the threat that had been bubbling around them, and had been dealt with by his dad, the chosen four, Jun, the priests, and even Hyou (Hi Hyou!), until the end of their limits: the massive swarm of Hiyou.

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Noting he seems stronger than before, Tora works with Ushio to obliterate the storm, after which Ushio collapses from exhaustion, back to his old self. He mutters to Tora how before he woke up, he felt like he was having a strange dream full of strange people, but also filled with warm people who were at their very best. But it all seems like a dream to him; he’s unaware of what has transpired and who was involved.

That Ushio may forever be ignorant to their deeds and hard-won victory is a little disappointing, but they’re right: if he learned what he did to them, he’d likely never forgive himself. They’re protecting him from needlessly punishing himself for hurting them, because to a woman, they were there by choice, and would do it again to save him in a heartbeat.

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This is an experience none of them will ever forget, but it’s also notable that it’s an event that brought them all together, as shown when they decide to go party together to celebrate a victory everyone who was present knows about except the one they saved.

But while many friendships were forged in this ordeal, as Ushio heads into the cave with Tora (no time to waste!) all the girls not named Asako know that Ushio will definitely be back, but won’t be coming back to them, but to her.  That will be some reunion.

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Noragami Aragoto – 05

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Last week, it was all coming up Kugaha: everyone was playing the roles he’d laid out for them, and everyone was tied up in a knot, culminating in the shattering of Yukine by Bishamon’s untempered-by-Kazuma hand. But Yukine is fine, in fact, he’s better than fine: his act of sacrifice to save his master led to his evolution and transformation from mere regalia to blessed vessel, the same thing that happened with Kuzama.

Now Yukine is two blades instead of one, and they’re both much sharper; all the better to protect his master. Let there be no more doubt about the depth of their bond not just as master and weapon, but family.

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Does the quick resolution of last week’s cliffhanger kill the tension? Not by a long shot. In fact, Yukine’s transformation still plays into Kugaha’s hands, because Yato is now in a far better position to take out Bishamon, who is riddled with blight once Kugaha’s medicine wears off. But if the corruption is weakening her, it’s sure hard to tell; she fights as hard as ever, and her regalia suffer, sharing every blotch of blight she’s enduring.

This won’t end well until someone acts outside of the chain of command and saves Bishamon and everyone else from herself.

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That someone is Aiha, who tells Kuraha, who was just wishing Kazuma was there, where Kugaha stashed Kazuma and Hiyori. As Kugaha lays waste to scores of Bishamon’s lesser regalia with a giant dragonlike phantom, the old lion conveys the two former captives to Bishamon and Yato.

Notably, Hiyori refuses to return to the living world and her body until Yato has seen her; just as Kazuma may be the only one to stop Bishamon, Hiyori is the only one who can stop Yato.

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As Bishamon endures the pain of losing more and more regalia, she refuses to give up the fight, and seeing who’s fighting her, doubles down on her belief Yato is the one behind all this, and is again trying to take everything from her. At the same time, Yato hears the voice of Nora imploring him to cut Bishamon’s regalia down before she entangles him with her scourge. Nora drowns out Yukine’s voice, Yato’s eyes go dead, and he aims for Bishamon’s throat…

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But Hiyori’s voice, now stronger than Nora’s ancient influence, and the reason he’s come, stops him. She shows she’s fine, and explains Bishamon didn’t kidnap her. But it’s too late; if he doesn’t kill her, she’ll kill everyone in a massive atom bomb of corruption. Again going exactly according to Kugaha’s plans, he plans to kill her, saying it’s “not such a big deal” as she’ll be instantly reborn. But it will be a big deal, because she won’t be quite the same Bishamon.

Fortunately, perhaps, Yato’s cut doesn’t kill her, and when she counters, Kazuma comes between the two and takes the full brunt of the attack, then embraces Bishamon and confesses what he deems his sins. He was always going to tell her that he ordered the killing of the Ma clan, but he was the only one left she could turn to, he simply couldn’t say it, and never did, until now.

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Still, I think Kazuma is being too hard on himself. He did what he thought he had to to save his master, and bearing that terrible secret also protected her. Having only Kazuma as a basis for starting over was more important than revealing the truth, which back then would have been the final nail in her coffin. Instead, he became an earring and her exemplar, and she became a better, kinder god.

As with Yukine last week, I can’t definitively speak to the status of Kazuma (though I doubt he’s a goner), but that was some intense catharsis right there, and it had the effect of calming Bishamon and prompting her to release all the regalia she was pushing to their limits.

Most importantly: Aiha’s turnabout, Kazuma’s intervention, Kuraha’s independence, and Bishamon’s catharsis were all events that weren’t part of Kugaha’s plan. He managed to kill a lot of regalia, but his primary goal was thwarted (for now), and now Yato is resolved to go after “the guy behind all of this.” Finally, a break for the good guys.

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Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider – 04

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Another week, another episode with more questions than answers. More than once I conjured in my head those words from Alice in Wonderland: Curiouser and curiouser. There is so much that is curious and suspicious about this whole situation.

Saikawa and Moe explore Magata Shiki’s quarters and find quite a few more clues with which they start to piece together a narrative, sticking with practical matters like how the killer dismembered Shiki, stuffer her limbs down the garbage chute, cleaned up the quarters, and got to the roof to kill Shindo in the helicopter.

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But with each new strange discovery they have to amend their working theory, while remaining ignorant to the identity of the one whose actions they’re trying to construct. On her PC, Shiki left three separate notes of farewell and good luck, one of which states the show’s title, “Everything is F”…in lieu of Wonderland’s “Eat Me” or “Drink Me.” But there’s nothing else on the hard drives, just the latest version of Red Magic – two whole versions beyond what the staff had.

The night turns to morning, but there’s no way to know with no windows in the quarters, as if they’d either abandoned by or released from time, depending on who you talk to. As Moe inhabits the space where Shiki once sat and talked to her via video conference,  talking about Shiki’s wedding dress, Saikawa recalls a dress Moe used to wear when she was young, that made her look like a doll.

Dolls are both unfettered by time (as they do not age) and by conventional existence (they lack free will, and can only be manipulated by outside forces). Shiki seems to have built a robot: a kind of doll that thinks and moves on its own, but for a seemingly very limited purpose (locking or unlocking her bedroom door). And I can’t overlook the fact parallels are being drawn between Shiki and Moe, not just in their doll phases, but the fact both lost their parents when they were young.

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The show returns to the past with Shindo in a room with a young Shiki who wants him to touch her, after carrying on conversations between herself and her other personalities. Shindo appears flabbergasted and ashamed, but somehow powerless to cease this strange, alarmingly bright young woman’s whims. He says he’s “falling down a slope”, just as Alice went down a rabbit hole into a completely different world.

And at the end of the day, everything Moe and Saikawa find themselves tangled in that same world. It’s Shiki’s world, and they’re just living in it. She was presented as a doll on a robotic cart, and even before that seemed to invite manipulation from others like Shindo. But the good professor and his bright young protege could now be dolls under her control. Furthermore, she may not be fully gone; though her body is dead, Mahiru and Red Magic Version 6.0 invite so many intriguing possibilities.

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Taimadou Gakuen 35 Shiken Shoutai – 04

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Note: Preston and I have been watching both TG35 and Subete ga F, but we’ve decided to swap reviewing duties of those two shows. So going forward I’m your TG35 reviewer, while Preston will be handling the SgF.

As Preston observed last week, this show is proving very swift and decisive with its character orientation arcs. Ootori was essentially one of the gang last week after a tense gestation, and by this episode’s end, Mari has also become an official member of the 35th.

It’s great when Mari notes how famously Saionji and Suginami get along, Takeru reveals that the two used to be as much at each others throats as Mari and Ootori, and he looks forward to the two settling down, which he’s sure they’ll do in time. Takeru dismisses any notion of abandoning Mari should he, say, find out one day she’s an evil murderer. Instead, he promises to help her.

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Indeed, Ootori learns about Mari’s past and relays it to Takeru, but he goes into mock battle with her all the same, which is interrupted by the necromancer Haunted bursting out of one of their opposing players; a grim, demented entrance if ever there was one. He’s there for Mari, but Takeru won’t let him have her.

Takeru is surprised to find Haunted has an armored suit and legendary sword able to pierce Lapis, and ends up bloodied very early in the fight. But as he fights, Ootori is having words with her adoptive father the director about the circumstances of the crime scene where Mari was arrested. The magic used to kill people wasn’t hers.

This means, witch or not, the director had Mari arrested on false charges. In exchange for overlooking such a crime, Mari makes a certain demand of the director that proves crucial in the battle with Haunted.

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Now we know why Takeru had zero problem heading into battle with Mari, nor did he seem the slightest bit troubled by the news Ootori gave him: she’s innocent. When Haunted restores Mari’s memory, she remembers being surrounded by a lot of death—including that of her family at an orphanage—and blaming herself both for being such a valuable resource to Valhalla, and for not being able to save them.

With all her terrible memories back, Mari must feel like going with Haunted is what she deserves, and it’s what she’s prepared to do in order to stop others from dying because of her. But Takeru will have none of it. As he promised Ootori, if need be, he’ll carry half her burden, but he won’t leave her side or let Valhalla swallow her back up.

Haunted may be a swordsman, but he’s not a Kusaragi, and Takeru cycles through Lapis’ many weapon forms and effectively drives him back.

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Haunted is a tough customer, however, and it’s everything Takeru can do to stay alive in their duel. Mari decides to cast a spell to help Takeru out, even if it means the collar around her neck detonating. But it doesn’t, because Ootori had the director shut it off just in time. Ootori then tells Mari to prove to her that magic can be used for things other than death and suffering. Now’s the chance to change my mind about you.

Naturally, both Mari and Ootori insist they’re not doing this for the other, but in truth, they’ve already warmed to each other and are working as one. Ootori saved Mari so Mari can save Takeru. Ootori provides cover fire so Mari can cast her spell. Suginami wakes Saionji up by riddling her with insults from when they were frenemies, and then Saionji covers Ootori with her sniper rifle.

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Finally, rather than fire her magical attack at Haunted, she sends it to Takeru, and it’s absorbed by a grateful Lapis, whose pride has been impugned by Haunted’s “lost-type” Dainsleif’s trash talk. The attack is enough to push Haunted back and disperse his armor, and he retreats with a smile on his face, intrigued that he has a challenging new foe keeping him from Mari.

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The magical barrier falls, Takeru passes out, goes to hospital, and wakes up with Lapis by his side eating apples (her low-key presence continues to be a nice contrast to the powerful personalities of the other girls). There’s one more “uh-oh” moment this week when Ootori tells Takeru of bad news, but it’s just bad news for her—Mari has officially enrolled at AntiMagic Academy—but it isn’t really such bad news for Ootori either.

In fact, it was Ootori who used her leverage against the director to negotiate Mari’s present status as comrade. I can understand her doing this to stay in Takeru’s good graces, so to speak, but it’s just as much about Ootori being a champion of justice, as well as having her mind about witches changed, if only a little, by Mari, when it mattered most.

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Sakurako-san no Ashimoto – 04

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This week’s mystery is provided by Officer Utsumi, whose friend Fujioka believes he’s under a curse that will soon claim his life. Sakurako grudgingly agrees to meet with this Fujioka, if only to tell him he’s full of it. After all, despite many of his male family members dying relatively young and suddenly, a big part of the logic Saku operates under states that correlation is not causation. Humans sometimes make connections where none exist.

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This is an interesting variation of the cases Saku has worked on so far; the “victim” as it were, remains alive, albeit convinced his days are numbered. Fujioka comes from an otherwise financially lucky family, and lives in a giant modern black box of a house with gunslits for windows with his wife and infant daughter.

And that’s why Utsumi wants some sense talked into his friend: Fujioka can’t live in constant fear of dying; he has a family to look after; everything to live for. Yet gray clouds suffuse the setting

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There’s also a dog involved; a white dog we’e seen in the OP, whose owners have one after another come to untimely ends. Hector, as the dog is called, warms up instantly to Saku, no doubt attracted by her regular proximity to death. Saku and Hector have at least one thing in common: they both love bones.

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Much of the episode is Saku and Shou sitting in Fujioka’s living room hearing about his life and his various possessions (including one strange painting on display and another believed to be as cursed as the dog in storage).

As his thirty-sixth birthday is nigh, he steps out to pick up his cake, but we see him converse with a man about carrying out some kind of “plan”, causing me to suspect he’s being manipulated, perhaps by someone after his family fortune.

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Throughout their interactions with this young family that should be perfect and happy, we see the deleterious effects of the “curse”, whether it’s an actual thing or not. Considering how logical and practical this show has been thus far, I’m loath to believe anything supernatural is afoot. But there is a sense Fujioka is fixating on his supposed curse out of a desire to escape the “prison” of his life, which may not have turned out the way he thought it would.

That assertion is supported by the fact Saku seems to have figured something out, and if it were something not explainable by science, she wouldn’t look so pleased. Unfortunately, time of this leisurely-moving episode runs out before she can elaborate. Until next week…

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Attack on Titan – 02

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As the first waves of Titan victims become a feast for crows, Eren, Mikasa and Armin retreat from Shiganshina and the breached Wall Maria to Wall Rose. Initially carried by Hannes, Eren fumes over running away, but there’s nothing else to do: he lacks the strength, as does all of humanity.

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As for the Titans themselves, there’s a bizarrely charming dumpy childishness to many of the smaller ones, acting like the humans spread out before them are simply fun toys that happen to double as food. But then there are some that seem much more purely evil, or at least more evolved to dispatch humans on a massive scale, like the Titan that blasts through the gate and uses fire breath to roast the garrison.

There’s a sickening inhuman cruelty at work, but also the sense that this is simply how nature has progressed; humans are no longer the top dogs, and life is going to get more difficult. The Titans are simply doing what they’ve evolved to do: feed on humans. Sorry, humans.

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The kids end up on a boat with a few hundred other survivors, who then become refugees within Wall Rose. Whatever picturesque, idealized town Shiganshina was, their new temporary home is far bleaker and harsher, with a populace already experiencing a food shortage, there’s great animosity for the newcomers; even wishes that the Titans ate more of them.

Once he’s over the initial shock of witnessing his mother’s death and the death of hundreds of others before his eyes, Eren switches to anger and goals that, at this point, are absurdly unreasonable and premature. He tries to run before he can crawl, or at least talk about running, i.e. driving the Titans out.

Thank goodness then, he has the more sensible Armin to keep him from getting an even more severe beating from a guard, and a no-nonsense Mikasa who isn’t above punching Eren out and stuffing bread down his throat if it means keeping him alive.

I’m already enjoying the dynamic of these three, in particular Mikasa, the steadfast rock of the trio with no patience for Eren’s empty speeches about wiping out the Titans when clearly, at present, nothing can be done.

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That fact is underlined when, after putting the refugees to work in the wastelands cultivating food doesn’t arrest the food shortage, 250,000 of them are sent back out to “fight” the Titans. Of course, they only serve as a massive buffet (only 200 survive), and a sign of how callous those behind an inner wall can be to preserve what they have.

A lot of time passes this week, making these first two episodes  a solid foundation chronicling the trauma endured by our protagonists that motivate them to enlist in the military, that they might do something, anything to try to push the Titans back.

Meanwhile, Eren has intense, disturbing dreams and/or visions of future events; his dad is still alive somewhere, and there was a secret in the basement of the family home his dad intended Eren to see. All of this points to Eren being more than just talk, but whatever power he possesses seems a long way from being unleashed.

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Reminder: Comments are welcome as always, but please limit discussion to this episode and avoid spoilers, as I am watching AoT for the first time. Many thanks—HB

Attack on Titan – 01

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Thanks to Netflix and a relatively light Fall season, I am pleased to finally crack open the massively popular Attack on Titan, a show I eschewed virtually sight unseen, choosing instead to follow Gargantia, Majestic Prince, and Valvrave. I’m only past the first episode of AoT, but I can already see I made a major oversight; one that will be corrected forthwith.

AoT’s cold open shows us the very moment the people of Shiganshina are royally hosed, then after the credits, rewinds to the morning before the shit hits the fan and begins the process of masterfully building up the dread and tension preceding the events of the cold open.

As we follow Eren (a loud-mouthed portentous shonen if ever there was one) and his sister Mikasa (a girl of few words but immense strength) as they wind their way through the streets of their huge hometown, the walls, streets and structures have a strength, solidarity, and safety to them. Even the sounds of everyday life are lulling.

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If there is one shortcoming to this first episode, it’s that Eren isn’t necessarily likable at first. His reasons for wanting to strike out into the outside world aren’t unreasonable, but he can be over-emphatic in his protestations and scolds.

Sure, he may have had a vision of doom descending on Shiganshina, but he’s fighting against a century of idleness and contentment. Conviction and loudness are no substitute for hard evidence. Also, the episode tries to paint Armin with broad strokes, but there’s not much to him yet except that like Eren, he’s not content to stay within the walls.

Then the evidence arrives in the form of a hand grasping the top of the 50-meter outer wall, and it’s a powerful “Toldya so” moment that shakes every inhabitant of the city to their core. Then…a hole is blasted in the wall with such force it causes widespread destruction to the rest of the city. And that’s before smaller Titans start rushing in.

Any early quibbles I might have had with Eren or Armin go out the window when the appalling carnage starts, with throngs of humans running for their lives and many being scooped up and gobbled up like hors d’oeuvres. There’s a distinct sticky aura of awfulness to the spectacle, and the utter powerlessness of the three young protagonists.

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When Eren rushes home hoping against hope his house is still intact only to find his mom’s legs crushed under its ruins, it’s a gut punch. Before I can recover from that, a Titan eats her with cold satisfaction as a fleeing Eren watches, flooring me yet again.

Amidst the wholesale butchery and mass despair, there are obviously glints of both hope and levity. Mikasa’s imposing brawn is employed for a snicker when she and Eren rescue Armin from bullies, and the smash cut from Hannes momentarily facing off against a Titan to reconsidering and scooping up the kids, and retreating was a legitimately funny “oh shit” moment.

As for hope, well, Eren, Mikasa, and Armin are still alive, which means anything is possible. Obviously, they won’t stay powerless for long. But nor is any viable counterattack likely in the immediate future. The onslaught of the Titans has only begun, after all. For now, surviving is the name of the game.

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Welcome to my weekly (or bi-weekly) Attack on Titan retro reviews. Comments are welcome as always, however please limit discussion to this episode and avoid spoilers, as I am writing these reviews as I watch AoT for the first time. Thanks—HB

One Punch Man – 04

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This action-packed, side-splitting OPM comments on the severe wealth gap, the rise of individuals with no motivation to work, the concept of what I’ll call “power relativity”, and the necessity of jumping through bureaucratic hoops in order to receive due recognition for one’s heroic efforts. Also, a bunch of people get beheaded and someone gets punched in the Gentleman’s Vegetables.

Saitama catchphrase is “I’m just a guy who’s a hero for fun.” For fun, not for fame. So why is Saitama so hurt that no one knows who he is? Well, for one thing, when an army of stolen battle suit-wearing baldies start tearing down buildings (the first one by accident) and the news warns the public to look out for bald people, then it becomes a problem!

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That army calls themselves the Paradisers, they’re led by a giant fellow Hammerhead, and they all share a kind of lazy Robin-Hood philosophy of taking from the rich and giving to, well, not just the poor; the poor who don’t feel like working.

Their chief target is the richest man in town, Zeniru, who resides in a skyscraper topped with a golden turd. Unfortunately for the Paradisers, Zeniru has a cocky, smirking ninja named Sonic under his employ.

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Battle suits or no, the Paradisers are lower on the food chain than Sonic, who has no trouble lopping the heads off of all of Hammerhead’s comrades, before dodging all of Hammy’s rock and tree-based attacks and throwing a kunai in the back of his head. While

Sonic calls his boss to report his success, Hammy disappears; turns out he has a really really thick skull. And that darned kunai stays lodged in the back that skull for the rest of the episode!

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This is not Hammerhead’s day, because he almost immediately comes afoul of Saitama, who is rather pissed off that his “look” has been stolen. Hammy powers up his suit and starts throwing dual paddlewheel attacks, but obviously nothing works against the OPM.

Here’s the thing: Hammy reminds Saitama enough about his past self that he goes easy on him, which means destroying his battle suit with a glancing blow and letting him escape without clothes or his pride, but with his life.

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Then Saitama encounters Sonic, who is stronger than Hammerhead, and believes himself the fastest, strongest sonofabitch around who has trained in ninjutsu his entire life…he’s just not as fast or strong as OPM.

Saitama doesn’t really have to exert any effort to neutralize Sonic, and he only neutralizes him accidentally, when Sonic’s junk comes down on his fist (the slow motion shot is priceless). Frankly, Sonic got off easy, as Saitama didn’t put anything into that fist. Yet he considers this encounter a motivator to train harder so that next time they meet, he’ll beat him.

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That brings us to Saitama having tea at his place with a recently-repaired Genos, where Saitama expresses his frustration that even after three years of saving various cities from evil villains, no one in either the hero community or the general public know who he is. He doesn’t have a fan club of well-dressed blushing maidens, either.

So Genos brings up Hero Registration, something Saitama didn’t know was a thing, but which he sees as his ticket to recognition. Going online, filling out forms, and showing up to morning exams: it’s the life of a professional, officially recognized hero. Doesn’t sound very fun though, does it?

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