Ushio to Tora – 14

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As we begin UtT’s second cour, Ushio is finally in Hokkaido, but his hardships are far from over: not only is Hakumen no Mono sending thousands of little minnions out to grab the spear, there are others—humans—who want the spear too, and not because they’re greedy or evil, but simply because they think it’s their birthright…and they’ll be damned if some denim-wearing snot-nosed punk kid is going to butt in line for it.

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He meets the first of these “rightful successors” as HnM’s minions start to coalesce into a larger beast. Her name is Sekimori Hinowa of the Kouhamei sect, and her game is to take possession of the Beast Spear. Very tall, very tough, and sporting a very no-nonsense outfit and haircut, she actually makes some pretty good points about Ushio’s ownership thus far. His lack of training has caused him a lot more trouble and collateral damage than would have occurred were he able to properly “hear” the spear.

So Sekimori snatches it away, and when Ushio refuses her offer to hit her in frustration, she hits himOH NO SHE DIDN’T! But her comeuppance is swift; the Beast Spear won’t answer her call; it ignores her completely, and what would have been an easy beast to slay starts wailing on her.

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Proving he’s neither one to hit a girl nor to stand by and let even someone who wronged him get killed, Ushio launches himself between Sekimori and the monster. When it tries to take her as a hostage with its tentacles, he fires his spear, slashing them to bits, along with her prim-and-proper clothes, in one of UtT’s more amusing executions of fanservice. The beast, for it’s part, is disgusting sinister in its design.

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To put a cherry on top of our Sekimori Schadenfreude Sundae, when Ushio is in a tight spot for saving her, Tora blasts in to free him so he can regain his handle on the spear and do his thing, slicing the monster in half and such. In the aftermath, a rather chastened and rebuked (but not ready to admit it) Sekimori accepts Ushio’s ownership of the spear and his “bizarre youkai” companion…for now. Mizuki Nana (Ange in Cross Ange) provides the right amount of superiority and bitchiness to the character, and UtT once again introduces a dynamic, interesting new character in no time at all.

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With that, Ushio continues his journey to Asahikawa, and has time to reflect on why the spear chose him when there were more capable people training their bodies and minds their entire lives for the privilege. While wondering if he’s really worthy, it seems to respond, but in a familar, barely-disguised voice of Tora lurking behind him. Hey, it was worth a try!

Then the second member of the Kouhamei sect, Akiba Nagare, shows up (on a boss motorcycle), only he’s more interested in Tora than Ushio, and when Tora challenges him, they dance in lightning and fire. Only unlike the usual youkai, Akiba is up to the task, having researched Tora for years and knowing how to counter his moves.

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It isn’t long before Akiba literally has Tora nailed to the wall, and he wants to know what Tora’s game is; why he hasn’t eaten Ushio but actually saved him and other humans. He’s convinced it must be some kind of dastardly scheme hatched by a 2000-year-old monster from China.

But after proving he can be a monster if pushed hard enough (tearing all four of his limbs off, crawling around on his hair like a spider, and kicking Akiba’s ass), Tora tells Akiba anyway: he doesn’t really know why he hasn’t eaten Ushio…but he knows he’s never bored when he’s around him. In that regard, Tora really has started to understand the human heart—not just to exploit them for nefarious purposes, but to coexist and protect them.

And with the remnants of the beast they dispersed earlier possessing the tour bus Ushio is on, Ushio’s going to need Tora’s help yet again.

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Noragami Aragoto – 01 (First Impressions)

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Wow, it seems like it’s been far longer than March 2014 since I last watched Noragamibut its new second season effortlessly slips back on like a stylish glove. The lush, busy, bullish episode wastes no time re-introducing the terms and mechanics of the show, doing so with a sudden phantom attack by Yato, the delivery god’s, latest babysitting job.

It also shows how certain things are now established, like Yato and Yukine being a solid team, with the latter able to slice through the phantom without harming Spirit Hiyori or the babe.

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The pacing of this episode was quick and peppy, but not relentlessly so, also refamiliarizing us with the various character dynamics, and the feeling of family emanating from the core trio, extended to Kofuku and Daikoku. But this season aims to focus a lot more on the always-badass god of war, the Lady Bishamon, and her endless quest to rescue spirits in danger and make them her regalia.

There’s a great contrast between Yato and Yukine’s phantom battle, fought in the tight quarters of a flat, and Bishamon’s, who soars through the sky smiting the bird-formed phantoms and catching their victim in midair, all while showing off her vast array of weaponry. I also liked that the regalia she creates from rescued spirits aren’t always weaponry, as this latest one becomes a broken mirror.

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It matters not to Bishamon, who is tasked with battling evil, but her massive collection of regalia are starting to take a toll on her health, even as they make her more and more efficient and effective at collecting them. In other words, she’s a bit of a hoarder.

But that burden she bears, along with her longstanding beef with Yato (presumably for killing a lot of her regalia in the distant past) look to be the crux of this season. The seeds for the commencement of that conflict are already sown as the precocious, somewhat lonely Yukine (Hiyori and Yato are more like family), left to his own devices, befriends one of Bishamon’s many regalia, and a more senior regalia takes notice.

It should be a fun ride, helped in no small part by the phenomenal all-star voice cast (Kamiya, Uchida, Kaji, Sawashiro, Toyosaki, Ono, etc.), the crisp, sumptuous visuals (this show makes gorgeous use of light and color), and the thumping, eclectic Iwasaki score (didn’t hear any new tracks, but it’s early, and the old ones are still dope).

Finaly, Hiyori Iki is adorable as ever, but also strong and focused: she doesn’t let Yato forget he has yet to do job she originally paid him for.

Will Bishamon only be satisfied with Yato’s head, or will she learn to accept he’s changed, in no small part due to Iki and Yukine? Will a foe force them to work together? I look forward to finding out, and hope you’ll join me on the journey!

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Heavy Object – 01 (First Impressions)

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I’m kicking off the Fall 2015 season with the attractive but unremarkable Heavy Object. Despite its title and the mass of its titular superweapons, the impression it left was pretty light. After a lengthy narration introducing us to a world where “clean wars” are now fought between giant juggernauts called “objects”, we settle into the casual workaday life of one young Qwenthur, a common-born student-soldier tasked with menial labor beside his noble-born chap Havia.

Q’s trying to learn as much as possible about objects in order to get rich…or something, and the first-gen multirole object code-named “Baby Magnum”, piloted by the fair “princess” Milinda, is as good a subject as any for his education. While her object is under maintenance, she strolls out into the Alaskan wilderness and encounters Q fishing. The two have a pleasant chat about whether he’s truly “ready”, which is a pretty loud indication his readiness will be tested soon.

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Now, I give HO kudos for starting off with a less combative male-female relationship, but Milinda walks a fine line between serene and dull. Both her design and deadpan are uninspiring to say the least. The first fifteen minutes show Q and Havia as two guys being bossed around by one woman, then another, while supporting another, the princess, who has a more important job than them. So there’s every indication this could be a matriarchal military—and then the show breaks out the tired boob humor.

The lads can’t help but mention their 18-year-old CO’s ample bosom virtually every time they see her. And in a maintenance scene Q conveniently tightens a nut that accidentally starts to squeeze poor Milinda right below her boobs, leading Q to a monologue about whether he should help her, which requires—yup—touching her boobs. That was hard to sit through.

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It’s not all bad: the Alaskan landscape is quite pretty, and the production and industrial design is nothing to complain about (unless you get into nitty-gritty details like why an airstrip needs to be shoveled by hand when there should really be machines to do that). The battle in which Q learns whether he’s “ready” also comes swift and hard, with the princess echoing the maintenance scene by having to bail out of her battered object.

But then there’s perhaps the most problematic aspect of the show: the objects. Setting aside the ridiculousness of mankind collectively agreeing to fight wars like this, they ironically don’t make all that big an impression in the first episode. Sure, there’s a lot of smoke and explosions, and conventional navy and air force units and even nukes being unable to scratch them, but it’s hard to get over the silliness of the premise.

That could be why the first episode focuses so much on the characters, but they’re all pretty much ciphers who are either overly sedate in their dialogue, or are a bit too proud of it. It’s like the show is trying to infuse some Joss Whedon-esque wittiness into the proceedings, only with more boob humor. I dunno about this one, guys.

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