Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 04

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Stella’s first battle is over before it begins, when her lower-ranked opponent forfeits out of a desire not to be hurt too badly. When she checks in on Ikki, he’s studying tape on his opponent, Kirihara Shizuya, and his “Area Invisible” technique that’s such a mismatch against Ikki’s swords skills. He seems focused and committed, and promises her he won’t lose. And Stella, having come off an easy victory, having lost to him herself, and used to Ikki acting tough and cool, believes him, without suspecting anything amiss.

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Alice is different. Her woman’s intuition, if you will, senses something is off with Ikki on this particular momentous, high-pressure occasion. She learns about how years ago there was a conspiracy to get Ikki expelled for some petty infraction, and how Shizuya attacked him brutally, but Ikki wouldn’t fight back no matter what, worried (rightly so) that he’d be kicked out for it.

Alice comes to the conclusion Ikki is so used to being downtrodden, both physically and mentally, by those who see themselves as better than him, that he’s developed a hard skin that prevents him from hearing the “screaming in his heart”—that release valve everyone has.

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Now that he has to either win the Seven Star Battle or be expelled, that pent-up anguish has a profound effect on Ikki, such that he does not strike the moment that gives him the best chance at victory: before Shizuya activates Area Invisible. He can’t, says Alice: he’s too damned nervous down there.

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And so, Shizuya, who is perfectly confident in his ability to hide and attack from the shadows like a hunter or assassin, has his way with Ikki, riddling him full of arrows. Ikki collapses in a pool of his own bloood, Shizuya mocks him, the crowd starts laughing and mocking and chanting “Worst One” and it’s almost a nightmare come true for Ikki, until a fed-up Stella stands up and tells the crowd to shut the hell up, and tells Ikki to stop looking pathetic and get up.

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So he gets up. He puts his cool face back on. He can, because Stella’s loud public words of encouragement wash away the nerves. He calms down, then uses his trump card and steals the “logic” of Shizuya’s ability, so he can see right through it every time. Shizuya is able to switch from tactic to tactic, but ultimately they’re all part-and-parcel of his ability, leaving nothing with which he can hold Ikki back other than cowering and crying “uncle.” Ikki spares his life (by one millimeter!) and wins. Then he passes out.

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When he comes to, he’s in the hospital, a dozing, drooling Stella by his bedside, his sister crying into Alice’s shoulder outside because it’s not to be for her. And since he has her alone, Ikki, who won his battle thanks to Stella, confesses to her, and expresses how important she is to him.

Her lovely dere response includes a closed-eyes first kiss and a small nod indicating she feels the same way about him. Then Ikki draws her into a big warm hug (bawww) and promises he’ll one she’ll face in the Seven Star final. You don’t get that a lot in anime these days: a couple working towards facing off against each other in the final battle. I like it!

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Owarimonogatari – 04

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Having thoroughly explored his past with Oikura in Sodachi Riddle, Sodachi Lost begins with Araragi describing Oshino Ougi as “Oshino Ougi.” She is she, and cannot be expressed by nothing else. In other words, the detective is the ultimate mystery, at least to Araragi: he’s learning more about himself, and she’s learning beside him…but he continues to know nothing about Ougi, other than she’s Ougi…and has the guts to lock horns with Hanekawa Tsubasa.

Tsubasa plays a much larger role this week, as she, not Ougi, accompanies Araragi to Oikura’s present home. As we learn about the origin of such an arrangement, it becomes clear Tsubasa is concerned about Ougi’s influence on Araragi these last three days. And whenever Tsubasa is concerned, I’m concerned. She’s with Araragi far more out of a desire to isolate him from Ougi and take the measure of him than she is to make Oikura more comfortable with the visit.

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It’s chilling how close she comes to losing Araragi to a day of non-revolving celebratory sushi with Ougi. From the way Tsubasa is acting, I couldn’t help but dread a scenario in which Araragi went with Ougi. This is partly because I know, like and trust Tsubasa a lot more than Ougi, and partly because I knew from the present events at the episode’s beginning that Tsubasa won this fight, which felt like a victory.

There’s also the fact that Tsubasa and I both see now that Ougi is influencing him in some way, and there’s a possessive predatory aura to her presence, like she’s the very “possessing spirit” she herself says she’ll be if she went to Oikura’s with him. When Tsubasa and Ougi face off, it’s like fire vs. water; warm vs. cool. And the close-ups are, as always, stupendous.

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Ougi isn’t letting anything Tsubasa says get to her, and it seems effortless. Tsubasa receives a surgical salvo of barely-veiled insults from Ougi, and you can see her blood start to boil. When Ougi speaks, the traffic behind her (exclusively Datsun 2000s, naturally) is stopped. When Tsubasa returns fire, the cars flow freely. The refinery belches more and more smoke into the reddening sky as their “coversation” heats up.

Finally, once Tsubasa has offered to go with Araragi, she and Ougi turn to Araragi himself to choose. He’s bombarded with reasonable arguments on both sides, but finally chooses Tsubasa when she offers to let him touch her boobs. Mind you, there’s a few beats when that punchline that ends the battle so decisively simply hangs out there, as if Araragi is really that shallow.

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Then Araragi dutifully clarifies in voiceover that he didn’t choose Tsubasa so he could touch her boobs, but because something was “highly unusual” about a situation in which Tsubasa would make such an offer. That he got that feeling, to me, means he hasn’t been totally “lost” to Ougi, whatever that entails. Though it’s funny that Tsubasa might’ve taken his choice of her as a literal sign he just wants to grope her.

Whatever Araragi’s motive(s) for picking her, I think he made the right choice, and this round goes to Tsubasa, while Ougi stands around alone (which would be sad if I was certain she wasn’t some kind of succubus). Also, Araragi has finally come to the door of the Oikura of today, who hasn’t come to school since their last encounter.

The door is open, only a crack, and within awaits darkness, and a girl who despises him so much she’d rather come to the door in pajamas—or naked—than bother dressing for him. Oh, and she knew about his parents’ job because as it turns out, they’ve known each other since grade school. I suspect this latest encounter is going to be very interesting.

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Owari no Seraph 2 – 03

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This week’s opening scene was wonderful, and perfectly demonstrates how much of a family Guren’s squad has become. Summoning the boys to a breakfast, Shinoa and Mitsu prove a bad combination in the kitchen, leaving Shiho to reveal his culinary talent. Everyone tucks into a warm, cozy meal before getting down to business: Shinoa briefing Yu on both the incident in which he went berserk and almost killed her, and whether the five of them continue to trust and follow Guren, even if the possibility exists he’s only using them to further his own goals.

I went to see The Martian last night, and part of what I liked about it so much (and also why it’s so critically lauded) was how it never took shortcuts, but let us in on the intimate and detailed process of solving all of the myriad problems that befell the stranded astronaut. Because the film “showed its work” to us, it made me us that much more invested in the eventual payoffs. These last three episodes, that’s exactly what Owari no Seraph has been doing, and it’s similarly effective.

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As the five kids ponder the paths they should take, their superiors are already traveling on theirs. Kureto meets with Guren under the guise of having him kill three vampires who failed to turn into demons. Guren refuses (Kureto has them sniped) and asks his boss to quit wasting his time. As tough a front as he presents, Guren is far more of a softy than Kureto, something Kureto uses as proof he can trust him.

He’ll keep Guren alive as long as he’s useful, and having three Black Demon users in his squad, however he came upon them, will be useful in his future plans. Those plans, which finally make mention of this season’s titular battle in Nagoya, are grand, involving a complete eradication of vampires in Japan before advancing abroad, wiping out any other human organizations, and ruling the world.

Guren will serve as Kureto’s tool and follow orders as long as it serves him, I imagine, exploiting Kureto’s confidence he’s incapable of betraying his comrades. But as we see, Guren’s sword, Shinoa’s demonized sister Mahiru, also wants a say in who Guren follows.

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While Yu is contemplating alone on the roof, Shinoa joins him, breaking the ice as usual by jokingly wondering what naked girl he’s checking out from his vantage point. Her wry levity continues, but Yu is more somber, particularly about whether he really tried to kill her, and whether it was Guren’s intent that he go berserk.

After offering his hand to Shinoa, which she gingerly takes, they join the other three back in the apartment where Yu announces his decision: Guren said they’re a family, and he’ll help him with Mika, so he’s going to trust him and stick with family for now, realizing he’s being selfish. Shiho is the first to go along, followed closely by everyone else. So mutiny averted…for now.

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Back in Vampland, Mika, unwilling to drink form humans, is dependent on Krul’s blood, which is the way she likes it. But he wants answers to wash that blood down, answers he eventually gets out of her. Krul is sending her main force to Tokyo to wipe out the Demon Army once and for all, but she has a different mission for Mika: go to the side of Yu, the Seraph of the End, and protect him from both humans and vampires. At this point Mika doesn’t care if he or Yu or both of them are being used by others, as long as Yu is safe.

Shinoa pays a visit to Guren, reporting Yu and Shiho’s successful possession, and also opens up with regards to Yu: she’s not sure if what’s happened is that she’s fallen for him, but she knows he needs her and has asked her to stay with him, so she doesn’t intend to let him down. For now, Yu, Mika and Shinoa are putting the preservation of family above all other considerations, including being exposed to manipulation, betrayal, and destruction.

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 04

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Aha…so the man behind the attacks on Festa participants was…SILAS NORMAN. Wait, who? Julis’ opponent turns out to be Lester’s bowl-cut toady, with Lester himself unaware of the cowardly tactics Silas was implementing (Les is the sort to challenge his opponents face-to-face).

But I’m still grasping for reasons to care about Silas, or why he continually thinks he has the upper hand against Julis and Lester and that they’re DOOMED before his army of slow, lame golems. It’s like Crabbe or Goyle fighting Harry Potter instead of Malfoy, with substandard magic: nothing much other than shrug-worthy.

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He does have on thing on his side: numbers (and the fact Julis tends to block her own field of vision with her huge fiery spells, which…is actually a good point). So when her leg is grazed by a bullet the golems are able to bum rush her. Then Silas reveals he’s a sadist who wanted to “take his time” with Julis, because of course he is and does.

But before he can strike the decisive blow, Julis’ night in school uniform swoops in, halves the golems holding her down, and takes her aside. They then proceed to have a nice casual little chat together while Silas and his golems patiently wait. Again, Silas never struck me as anything resembling a credible threat (the episode refuses to respect him; why should I?), so this isn’t that strange.

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While Julis is initially upset Ayato came and put himself in danger for her sake, he tells her why: being by her side is the purpose he’s chosen, even if he has to do boring stuff like mop up Silas’ sad golem army, which is so easy with the Ser Veresta that he can do it while carrying Julis around.

The reveal that the army is structure like a chess game (Oooh, chess!) adds absolutely nothing to the tension; only the opportunity for Ayato to say “Checkmate!” at some point.

But he doesn’t! Instead, he says “Ripping apart the five viscera and severing the four limbs…Amagiri Shinmei-style, Second Sword: Nine-Fanged Sword!”…Not as cool. Plus, ya said “sword” twice there, brah.

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When Silas limps away on his last functioning golem, Ayato prepares to put Julis down and go after him, but Julis has a better idea: cast a flying spell and pilot Ayato to Silas up in the sky. Finally, after beaing nearly defeated way too easily by Silas, Julis gets to do something besides hang around in Ayato’s arm while he does all the fighting.

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He delivers one more blow, halving Silas’ lifeboat and sending him plummeting to the streets to be arrested by Claudia. (Lester is never seen again, for the record). But Ayato and Julis can’t enjoy the lovely sunset or their victory for long, because an imprisonment spell restraining Ayato’s powers takes effect, making him pass out. It was a spell cast by his sister, perhaps in order to protect him from himself.

He then wakes up in the lap of Julis, who is totally okay with having his head in her lap. What ultimately saves this episode from sixdom is the fact that the whole battle with Silas was a kind of audition for Ayato, to prove to Julis once more that even if she thinks she can go it alone, he’s going to be there for her. It wasn’t the toughest battle, but then again, Julis did end up restrained and almost taken out.

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So when Ayato requests to be her partner in the Festa, she eventually agrees, trying and failing to hide her blushing happiness the whole time. It’s all very nice. But more importantly, these two lovebirds are still chess pieces for someone, and that someone is Claudia.

While I don’t think she’s evil or anything, she is ruthless in getting her way, which means ensuring Ayato and Julis become a powerful pair who will go far in the Festa, as well as handing a viciously bloodied Silas off  to her “Shadow Stars” for further interrogation (i.e. torture). I almost feel bad for poor old Silas OH WAIT NO I DON’T.

Finally, Silas was only ever a pawn himself, for the rival school Allekant, a confident, scheming representative of which we meet for the first time, watching Claudia on surveillance video. Clearly, Silas wasn’t her only piece on the board.

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