Schwarzesmarken – 01 (First Impressions)

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A recent deciphering of ancient papyrus fragments indicates the number of the beast is 616 rather than 666, but never mind; 666 is still a pretty apropriate number for the East German “Black Marks” TSF squadron that stars in the new Muv-Luv Alternative spin-off, Schwarzmarken.

They go into the thickest BETA shit and kill everything they see, prioritizing that over answering distress calls. In fact, all of East German society seems to have a fundamental trust deficiency; never a good problem to have in a military unit utilizing cutting-edge mecha and fighting a merciless alien foe.

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In such a tenuous situation, something’s going to give now and again, and it ain’t gonna be the BETA. Rather, the nerve of a PTSD-suffering comrade complicates the operation. Another pilot has to stay behind and calm her, and then ends up getting thrashed.

Her commanding officer, Irisdina Bernhard, has to finish what the BETA started. But she might not have had to if only Theodor Eberbach had done something other than suck his teeth and complain about having to deal with an “insane” pilot.

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In an op in which only Theodor and Irisdina sortie, they recover an injured but alive pilot who bears an uncanny resemblance to Theodor’s little sister Lise, from whom he got separated from during an apparent Stasi purge in which their parents were gunned down as they ran for their lives. As far as Theodor knows, he’s all that’s left of his family, and this kid pilot he’s found is a visceral reminder of how helpless he was.

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Rather than allow that feeling of helplessness consume him, Theodor clearly built a wall around himself, only looking out for number one from now on, and always feeling put out and annoyed if he has to deal with anyone. Regardless, or even on a lark, Irisdina assigns him to train the recovered West German pilot, Katia Waldheim, after she requests asylum and to join the 666th.

Katia has a big mouth, as befits someone from a freer country than the GDR, which is apparently fully stocked with people who’d stab you in the back as soon as look at you. Theodor almost calls out Irisdina as a Stasi informant, which isn’t to say she isn’t.

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He warns Katia to watch her back, because no one else will, including him…but I wonder about that. If anyone can thaw his frozen-solid heart, it’s the upbeat and optimistic Katia, who again, reminds him so much of the sister he couldn’t protect. Or perhaps he’ll have a freezing effect on her heart, to go along with the freezing temperatures. We’ll have to see.

After the credits, we look in on an even more unpleasant Stasi unit led by a somewhat sadistic male-female pair rounding up suspected Western collaborators and shooting them. Among the soldiers standing fast in the shadows is one whose silhouette indicates she’s Theodor’s sister Lise.

This show may look like it was made ten years ago, but its bleak scenario in which the BETA aren’t the only enemy—and may not even be most immediately worst one—is a darkly enticing one. The question is, when will the dreaded hot spring episode rear its head?

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 01 (First Impressions)

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This is a tale of six young people who suddenly find themselves in an RPG fantasy world with no other memories other than their own names. It’s a gorgeous, painterly RPG fantasy world, by the way, rougher in texture but just as lush as Norn9’s setting.

The show quickly separates itself from both SAO and OverLord by maintaining the mystery of what exactly the world of Grimgar is and how everyone got there. It could be an elaborate game or a world as real as the one everyone presumably came from, judging from their normal clothes at the outset.

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There were actually twelve “new entrants” to this world in the beginning, as protagonist (and our guide to what’s going on) Haruhiro harkens back to a couple days ago. Once they learned the rules—join the Volunteer Soldier Squad for Ortana’s Borderland Brigade, and basically root out baddies for cash—the strongest of them, Renji, took the next-five strongest and went their own way, leaving the six least-strongest.

But while the focus is on the “misfit” party, the show doesn’t cartoonishly overplay their incompetence as anything that wouldn’t be natural for any group of kids in their situation. They’re not that good, but they’ve only been at it a few days; they just need to get their bearings.

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The party consists of Haruhiro, who has chosen the role of thief; Ranta, a dark knight who, appropriately, goes on the most rants and is a bit of a self-involved jerk; Yume, an athletic hunter; Moguzo, a big brawny warrior with a gentle, polite personality; Shihoru, a warm but shy mage with a negative body image; and the priest/white mage Manato, who seems the oldest and most mature of the six and their de facto leader.

While it’s a party of clashing personalities (with much of the clashing being done by Ranta) the show is also very delicate and understated (again, aside from Ranta) in how it portrays the little interpersonal conflicts they have. Their mutual amnesia, shared plight and need to work together to maximize resource income, serves as an equalizer.

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Despite each character’s well-worn archetype, the character interaction is this show’s quieter secret weapon, as is its overall restraint. Nobody is too good too fast at what they’re supposed to do, but nor do things get too dangerous too fast. The goblins that are supposedly the weakest enemies to hunt aren’t hunting them.

No one is utterly overwhelmed by the weight of their situation. Everyone tries to keep a cool head and make the best of a very odd but unavoidable situation. The show also uses music and silence effectively. It’s definitely a less-is-more treatment to this kind of show (aside, perhaps from ample fanservice), which serves it well in terms of gently guiding its viewers into its milieu. I’m in, and I like what I see!

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Dimension W – 01 (First Impressions)

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Aesthetically, Dimension W has a lot in common with previous frenetic, detailed, stylish high-concept anime such as Rolling Girls, Classroom Crisis and Comet Lucifer. What DW has that those shows lacked is a certain maturity and focus to its world and the characters who inhabit it. Some proverbial meat to go with the candy.

In a world about fifty years from now when expensive gasoline is being quickly phased out for clean and infinite energy from the titular Dimension W, Mabuchi Kyouma kicks it old school: keeping his too-cool-for-school vintage Toyota 2000GT on the road by asking for half his pay in gas.

That pay comes from a job that’s become necessary in this new energy economy: he’s a “collector” of illegal coils, from which energy is drawn from Dimension W, getting them out of the hands of unsavory characters in the more shadowy parts of town.

Mabuchi wades in one side of the world to maintain his way of life while ostensibly working on behalf of the other, the imminent energy monopoly of New Tesla Corp. (Shinra, anyone?) which could well destroy that way of life someday.

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Mabuchi doesn’t seem to be thinking that far ahead; he works or money and gas, and has a good thing going. He’s also very good at his job, easily taking down his coil-using targets with good ol’ fashioned steel. But one variable is present at his latest job that he didn’t expect: a young girl one of his targets took captive.

Demonstrating what a consummate pro he is, Mabuchi doesn’t even care when his target has a gun pointed at the girl’s head, because rescuing her isn’t the job; collecting the coils is. So when the girl, who turns out to be an android who can pack a punch in a pinch, frees herself, she slaps Mabuchi for being such an uncaring jerk. This emotion, plus tears, from an alleged “robot,” throws Mabuchi off.

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When he’s woken up from unconsciousness by Albert Schumann, an acquaintance working for New Tesla (who looks forward to the day Mabuchi becomes “his”), he has to leave without the coils he came for, but then realizes he must’ve been had by the robot, using simulated emotions and tears to lower the guard of those she interacts with, making off with the coils.

What he doesn’t know, but we do, is that the girl, Mira, is gathering coilsfrom everywhere she can for her “father”, the reclusive and apparently dying former CEO of NT, Yurizaki Shidou.

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But Mabuchi can’t know that, so he assumes she’s the puppet of a rival collector, tracks her down and captures her. As he’s doing this, Schumann and his men have cornered Dr. Yurizaki, who activates some kind of elaborate coil “bomb” that blows out all the coils in the vicinity (including Mira’s).

The blast also apparently kills Yurizaki in the process, apparently to prevent his knowledge from ever being attained by the company he believes killed his wife and daughter and stole his research. Schumann tries to blame the incompetence of the past executive regime, to no avail.

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With all the excitement of the night givign way to the morning, Mabuchi takes Mira to his boss Mary, whose tech determine’s she’s far, far more than some other collector’s toy: she’s the most advanced and lifelike android he’s ever seen; something that could only have been built by Yurizaki.

Sure enough, when they plug new coils into her, she reacts to her half-nudity with shock and embarrassment (the camera is particularly interested in capturing every line and curve on her body). She even refers to herself as a girl, and it’s hard to argue with her. Finally, she prostrates herself and begs Mabuchi to take her on as his partner in collecting illegal coils.

With her father dead and leaving the implementation of his plans up to her, perhaps Mira sees Mabuchi as a skilled and useful partner in her mission, the particulars of which we’ll surely learn later on. And I’ll surely keep watching.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 14

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GIBO picks up where it left off, with surplus mobile suits the likes of Shino wants to learn to fly, and Kudelia unsure of what to do about Mika’s kiss. Oh, and in case you missed all those suspicious sidelong glances last cour, this episode makes it clear as crystal: Fumitan has orders to lure Kudelia into a trap where she’ll be assassinated as the leader of a rebellion.

But while Fumitan may always appear stoic, she’s still conflicted about this plan. Kudelia doesn’t aid Fumi’s resolve to betray her when she comes in for advice about love.

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The intricate plan Fumitan is a merely one gear in casts an ominous shadow on Tekkadan’s arrival at the Dort Colonies to deliver some Teiwaz cargo before continuing on to Earth, which is in spitting distance. The ominousness only rises when we see Gaelio planning a “drill” with his family flagship, assuring Ein he’ll have his shot at revenge.

Kudelia unknowingly thwarts Fumitan’s plan when she requests to visit the commercial colony Dort-3 rather than the cargo colony Dort-2, for “shopping.” Atra asks to tag along, Orga assigns Mika as their protection, and he notices Fumitan’s sudden frustration, even if he may not be sure what it’s about. Finally, Biscuit asks to come along as well. So if this is a three-way shopping date, there will be two chaperones of both genders.

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I’m not sure why I assumed Kudelia just needed to get her luxury goods fix, but she instead heads to the nearest Space Costco to snatch up clothes, soaps, and other hygenic products for the Tekkadan crew. In explaining the highly practical purchases, Kudelia brings up the fact that the crew doesnt’ bathe enough, and the Isaribi, frankly, stinks to high heaven. I’d never thought about that either, but now I am; Tekkadan is not the sterile, antiseptic environment that, say, Gjallarhorn ships seem to be.

The reason for Biscuit accompanying the group is also a surprise: turns out he and his sisters are originally from Dort (albeit the slums), and his older brother Savarin is still living and working there. Atra convinces him to give Sav a call and arrange a meeting. The thing is, the cubicle-occupying Savarin has a news bulletin in front of him warning them to be on high alert for Tekkadan, believed to be a rebellious element up to no good in this law-and-order sphere.

Meanwhile, at Dort-2, Orga, Eugene, Shino and Yamagi get an unusually warm welcome from the cargo depot employees, who call them “knights” of their savior, Kudelia. Their lives are almost as menial and disposable as Orga’s crew back when they were CGS, while the richies on Earth sit around soaking up profits. They’ve been told Tekkadan is there to help them start a rebellion, and to Orga & Co.’s surprise, the Teiwaz cargo turns out to be arms for just that purpose.

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The workers, mere cogs in the schemers’ design, were also told Kudelia would be among them, so this is the trap that was meant to close around her. Gjallarhorn conveniently shows up, but the workers take up their arms and force them to retreat (so much for the Gjallarhorn troops being better trained and motivated here, huh?).

Not knowing what the hell is going on or who put them up to this, all Orga & Co. can do is try to get the hell out of this mess, ordering Merribit to launch the Isaribi. But it looks like the ink is already dry on the fiction about them being a “ship of hope” for the rebelling workers of Dort. At least Naze doesn’t seem to be a part of it, but rather only thinks Tekkadan screwed up somehow.

As all that excitement going down, Kudelia is having far greater difficulties: she can’t summon the words to ask Mika about his feelings, even when she gets some time alone with him. It’s looking like the kiss was just a kiss, so far. As for Fumitan, she’s still conflicted about disobeying orders (could they be from Orcus, if that’s an “O” in the signature of the orders?) and not making sure Kudelia was on Dort-2.

Like the workers, she’s taken the first step to a new life; in their case one where they’re fighting rather than working for The Man; and in Fumi’s case, protecting Kudelia rather than working for those who want her out of the picture. In both cases, there may be no going back.

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P.S. On first glance I’d call the new OP at least the equal of the first, while the new ED, while solid, isn’t quite as strong as its predecessor. Also, in the preview, we’re teased with images of McGillis wearing a mask, and talking about gaining the life of a new man. But he may only be joking.