Fire Force – 04 – Infernal, Know Thyself

Many scenes of this week’s episode (and indeed previous ones) reminded me of the work of Akiyuki Shinbo, whose work in turn reminds me of live action directors Kubrick and Anderson. Sure enough, Fire Force’s director Yase Yuki is a SHAFT vet, having worked on Monogatari, Madoka, Nisekoi, even Koufuku Graffiti. That means there’s a generous amount of artistry to each shot, even if said shots aren’t really doing that much for the narrative.

The three balloon-holding mascots against an azure sky is one example; the scene of Company 5 Captain Princess Hibana and her man-throne is another, the latter evoking religious iconography that is reflected in the brief scene of Iris in a stained glass-filled chapel, looking at the burned photo of what we gather to have been her family. It’s just a really pretty, stylish show, but if you’ve been watching you knew that already.

Despite the flashy visuals, the episode starts out pretty harmlessly, with Maki dispatching Shinra and Arthur to help get a dog—later revealed to be one of the firefighter mascots—out of a tree. He was “hooray”-ed up there by college kids. With a firefighter (distinct from the fire soldiers) named Miyamoto on trial for a string of murders, the profession is not as respected as it once was.

However, just after Miyamoto is declared not guilty (by reason of insanity) he spontaneously combusts and becomes an Infernal, and not just any Infernal, but one that is self-aware and can talk (and also reminds me a of a hollow from Bleach).

Company 8 deploys to deal with the threat (though Maki leaves out the part about her sending the boys to get a mascot out of a tree, so Hinawa thinks they’re on unauthorized leave. Meanwhile, Princess Hibana moblizes her Company 5 in hopes of grabbing a rare specimen for Infernal research.

Thanks to Shinra’s rocket feet, he and Arthur get there first, and make quite an acrobatic entrance, with the force of Shinra’s kick knocking Miyamoto back the exact same distance Arthur flies before arresting his momentum and showing Miyamoto the back of his fist.

Mika and the rest of the 8th arrives, but her Sputter Comet attack is immediately neutralized. Even so, Miyamoto puts up his hands and surrenders—another Infernal first—before making a quick getaway. Only Shinra is fast enough to chase him. Oubi understands the difficulty of sending off a self-aware entity, but Hinawa tells Shinra not to listen to anything it says.

The ensuing fight between Shinra and Miyamoto!Infernal involves the former kicking a Peugeot 405 at him, showing the guy he means business. Again Miyamoto pleads for the mercy of a nun’s prayer before being sent off. Shinra forgets what Hinawa told him and listens to the Infernal, which immediately double-crosses him by trying to attack.

That’s when Princess Hibana and the 5th arrive and start throwing their weight around. Shirna says this is his job, but Hibana outranks him and her company outnumbers the 8th. Shinra manages to resist having to lick the imperious Hibana’s shoes, and uses his rocket feet to free himself from three of her “5th’s Angels”

The standoff continues when the rest of the 8th catches up to Shinra, and Hibana looks down on her fellow captain Oubi for having no pyrokinetic powers—not to mention low breeding. Ultimately, it is Oubi who caves, deciding letting a better-equipped company use Miyamoto in their research to learn more about human combustion is for the best.

Before the two rival companies go their separate ways, Oubi promises Hibana that the flame of the 8th won’t go out so easily. Kinda sounds like a challenge the princess would be all too happy to accept. In the meantime, she’s got a new specimen for her research department to mess with.

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Granbelm – 05 – Dejavu’ish

This week opens with Nene’s sisters commenting on Nene’s choice to reveal her identity to the alliance last week… and then skips ahead to the next full moon, effectively picking up where the last battle left off. What follows is an episode long battle between Nene and the alliance, then smaller one on one fights between each protagonist and her matching antagonist.

Anna traps Ernesta in a magic circle, only for that to fail for some reason. Dark Blue ambushes Kuon and implies that she knows who cursed Kuon’s sister. This leaves a powered-up Mangestsu to face a powered-up Nene. While Nene has the upper hand for most of the fight, Mangetsu appears to have the ability to capture her opponent’s feelings and memories. Since magic in Granbelm is entirely based on the mage’s ability to envision an outcome, and the strength of the mage’s feelings, things do not go well for Nene. What sharing these feelings will do to Mangetsu in the long run is left unsaid but it is doubtlessly going to weigh heavily on Nene. After all, Nene is essentially defeated by the strength of her own powerful feelings.

While the abrupt jump forward in time was awkward, fleshing out Mangetsu’s power makes for a substantially more interesting story than we’ve seen in the previous four episodes. Vamp’ing her opponent’s feelings also gives us a way of figuring out those same opponent’s motivations, without the heavy hand of exposition — and it gives Mangetsu a way to humanize her opponents in the process.

It was also helpful to see Nene’s memory of her mother not recognizing her, as that implies there are consequences for the mages who lose Granbelm. Stakes have been seriously lacking up to now.

The trouble is, Granbelm lacks focus. I enjoyed Nene’s arc, but the amount of screen time it took and the emotional investment it was given, rivaled that of a main character. Kuon and Ernesta have received similar treatment and it just dominates Mangetsu’s position… even though she is clearly the point of view character and who the viewer is supposed to most identify with.

Granbelm isn’t helped by its antagonists either. Anna Fugo is bland as they come and Dark Blue is a mustash twirling villain in every way short of having a lovely flavor savor on her face. Both will receive tragic back stories that motivate their actions, no doubt, but it is hard to care about them in the mean time.

In closing, this week expanded our understanding of the magic, rules, and characters battling each other, and it did so with visual flair and quality writing. Will it continue to improve or go back to being an unfocused mess with too many characters? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below!

Fruits Basket – 18 – Cry of the Tiger

While Tooru and Yuki are waiting under a shelter for the rain to stop, they encounter a soaked Haru carrying…a tiger cub. That cub is the Tiger of the Zodiac, Souma Kisa, and she ran away from home. She also doesn’t talk due to a “psychological” issue that locked her words away. Now she only bites.

Since her previous circumstances brought her to this state, Haru takes her to Shigure’s house for a change of scenery, and Tooru learns the silence is a result of bullying. Zodiac parents tend to either overprotect or reject their odd children. Kisa’s mom is more in the middle, but looks close to her limit.

So it’s Tooru to the Rescue! I’ll admit, any episode that lacked Uotani Arisa was going to be a slight letdown, but this isn’t the Uotani Arisa show, now is it? Instead we get the introduction of another zodiac member who is simply not coping as well with her differences as her older counterparts have (more or less) managed. Of course, the reason many of them can do that is thanks to Tooru.

Once again, Tooru can relate at least in part to Kisa’s situation, as she was once bullied too. Kyouko gave her the unconditional love and support and encouragement she needed to keep getting up, dusting  herself off, and going to school, and things worked out. She just needed to hear that “it’s okay.” So does Kisa, and she transforms back into a girl and embraces Tooru.

From that point onward, Kisa never leaves Tooru’s side and rarely lets go of her, save to let her use the bathroom. Yuki gets a little jealous of all the glomming and rests his head on Tooru’s shoulder. As annoying as this looks to, say, Kyou, Tooru is loving every minute of it, very much the Kyouko to the adorable Kisa’s young Tooru, who was also adorable.

Tooru, Yuki, Haru and Momiji discuss the nature of Kisa’s bullying, which involves her strange hair color and eyes, and later became a campaign of ignoring her and snickering at everything she said until she stopped talking. Momiji is overcome by sadness, having never experienced such bullying (as far as he knows) and thus being unable to imagine the pain that would lead to closing off your very words.

But like Tooru when she was bullied, only in a more concentrated state, Yuki can imagine all too well. As a result of Akito’s abuse, he too retreated within himself, and the more he did, the more he hated himself. When Kisa’s homeroom teacher writes her a platitude-filled letter that blames her for not loving herself as the reason no one else will, it’s enough to make Haru puke, and Yuki doesn’t much like it either.

What does that mean, “learn to love yourself?” It just didn’t work that way for him. He had to be told he was loved by someone before he could start feeling anywhere near like that about himself; enter Tooru. In actions and words, Tooru has demonstrated her love for Yuki, as well as Kisa. The kind of love that can spur someone to muster the courage to speak.

With persistent love and encouragement from Tooru, Yuki was able to face his fears, and learn that every tear he shed was purposeful towards that end. And so, following his own advice as Kisa decides to go back to school,  Yuki accepts the student council president’s request that he run to become his successor.

We don’t get to see what becomes of Kisa facing her fears, but the episode ends with her knowing even if it’s not great, and the tiger ends up feeling like retreating back to the jungle of darkness and silence, Tooru and Yuki will still be there to say it’s okay.

DanMachi II – 04 – The Lightning Rises

With Liliruca successfully rescued and Bell sufficiently trained up, he arrives home to find his familia has grown by three, with Lili, Welf, and Mikoto official Hestians. Ryu, merely a helper and not a familia member, keeps her distance, but is with them all the way.

The night before the siege, Cassandra relays to Daphnie what many a Star Wars character would call “a bad feeling about this,” particularly when she sees their pint-sized ally Luan entering the fortress at the last minute and pulling a wagon carrying a massive cargo. Who do we know who’s that small and can lug that much?

Cassandra calls this a Trojan Horse, and that it will seal their defeat. Who am I to argue with her?!

Every eye (and a good chunk of cash) in Orario is trained upon the magical viewscreens transmitting the War Game, from the adventurers in the tavern to the gods in their meeting place. Outnumbered 100-5, Hestia gets off to a rousing start, with their elven masked mercenary Ryu rushing the walls wielding not one but two of Welf’s magical swords, one fire, one lightning.

Ryu expends every drop of magical power in both those swords carving through as many Apollos as possible, including a fellow elf who is outraged by her use of the same swords that burned through their villages. Ryu feels helping a friend in need is more important than keeping the fires of hatred burning. She also makes such a rukus that Mikoto easily dashes right through the lines and into the castle courtyard.

There, she repels dozens of arrows and lets herself get surrounded by as many Apollos as possible before unleashing a spell that took a few minutes of incantation to cast, but is well worth it from a tactical perspective: it’s high-level gravity magic that immobilizes everyone who pursued her, taking still more Apollos off the board.

Proving each one of the five party members is worth at least ten Apollos, and that big, bold moves by every one of them is absolutely essential to snatch victory from such lopsided numbers, “Luan” “betrays his god and opens the front gate for Bell and Welf. Turns out he’s not Luan at all, but Lilisuke in disguise, who snuck in the night before. The huge wagon wasn’t the Trojan Horse, she was.

Welf covers Bell as he rushes to the central tower where Hyakinthos has so far been comfortably watching. Daphnie holds Welf up, but as one of the two main DanMachi themes blares (“Heroic Desire,” an all-timer that always gives me chills) Bell slides right in and blasts a massive Firebolt straight up, reducing the tower to a pile of rubble and bringing Hyakinthos right to him. He also wastes no time snapping his prized sword.

Cassandra almost spoils the upset when she tackles Bell, letting Hyakinthos unleash his special attack, but Lili tackles her just in time to let Bell dodge it enough to survive. Bell also got some help from that pendant Syr gave him before he went off to battle—one bearing the symbol of Freya Familia.

That moment, when he is so close to defeat and Hyakinthos so close to victory, is what Ais drilled into his head was the moment to wait for. When it comes, Bell doesn’t waste it. He knows Hyakinthos is about to finish him, so his opponent is basically opening himself up. Bell evades his dagger, kicks him off his feet, then delivers a knockout punch.

War Game Over: Hestia Familia is the winner.

Those who voted for the ultimate underdog get one hell of a payday while all of Bell’s friends who cheered him on rejoice, from Ais to Syr and even Freya. Even better, Hestia does NOT go easy on Apollo, who tries to backtrack and pretend he was just messing around because he found Bell cute.

Hestia confiscates all of Apollos property, declares his familia disbanded, and banishes him from Orario forever. She then takes her newly-expanded familia to the front gates of their new palatial home, and scrawls a new symbol to represent them: the guardian flame of Hestia, combined with the bell of…well, Bell.

I’m duly impressed by the speed with which DanMachi II has gotten things done. Here I was loathing a long, drawn out, multi-episode arc involving just the war game with Apollo, complete with constant reaction shots from the assembled spectators, changes in momentum, and cliffhangers.

Instead, the show understood that, outnumbered 100-5, the Hestians had to get shit done in a hurry if they wanted to win. And they did, in a superbly breathless battle helped in no small part by a cinematic orchestral soundtrack by Inai Keiji that absolutely fucking OWNS. Nice to see the little guys win one going away.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 05 – A Completely Different Creature Entirely

This week picks right up from the last but flips the POV, from Kazusa to Niina and Izumi. I’m not going to say they don’t flirt with each other quite a bit on their train ride, but it’s certainly not the sweaty tryst Kazusa’s out-of-control imagination makes it out to be.

While it isn’t clear whether it’s a coincidence that Niina’s old acting coach Saegusa is on the very same train, she ends up utilizing Izumi in much same way she used Kazusa a few weeks back: as a prop in a fiction. In this case, she makes a big show of being with her “boyfriend” in front of Saegusa, who nods a gentle approval before taking his leave.

As Momoko tries (mostly in vain) to reassure Kazusa that there’s probably a harmless explanation for the two on the train, Hitoha just happens to be ridden past their exact position on the bridge. She’s in Yamagishi’s car, where he continues to make it clear he’s not into high school girls, and causing Hitoha to cry, as she doesn’t know what else to do; having her authorial debut is everything to her.

Meanwhile, we and Izumi learn about Saegusa and what a phenomenally creepy dude he was, singling Niina out when she was 11, rubbing his face on her shoe, and taking her out alone to shows and meals. But Izumi is only grossed out on the most basic level of suspecting Saegusa of being a paedophile. He doesn’t realize how deep and fucked up the bond became between Saegua and Niina.

And yet Niina declares Saegusa never laid a finger on him…even when she was fourteen, starting to get that kind of attention, and the age when she decided to ask why he wouldn’t do it with her. But he told her he could never love her as a woman, only her girlish nature, and to touch her would be to instantly transform her into something else entirely—something he had no interest in.

All I can say is…Damn. Poor Niina. Unfortunately, she’s very far from the only victim of this particular brand of push/pull mind game bullshit. Niina loathes attention because the only person she wanted it from utterly rejected her. But that does make a nice segue to her original subject of conversation with Izumi: his willingness so say something so “cruel and heartless” to Kazusa—the very same thing Saegusa told her.

But the fact is, Izumi didn’t see it as cruel or heartless at the time, because didn’t even know Kazusa had a crush on him until Niina let it slip right then, assuming (reasonably, and at the same time totally unreasonably so) he did. Indeed, Niina is rather shocked (and amused!) by Izumi’s denseness, having pegged him as someone quick on the uptake. Clearly, he has a significant blind spot…which sports a bob cut.

While she keeps up a brave front in front of Momo, when left on her own in her room Kaz’s mind continues to race, as she deliberates over how impossible it would be to compete against a goddess like Niina. Kaz gets so worked up, she doesn’t realize she’s thinking out loud, talking about being way too obsessed with sex just as her mom steps into her room.

Turns out Kazusa’s and Izumi’s families go out for bowling night on occasion. That has to be the most goddamn fun thing I’ve ever heard! Sure, it’s a little awkward for Izumi and Kaz, especially when…Izumi…sticks his fingers…in the three holes of the ball…GAAAH, anyway things calm down when Kazusa goes to grab some refreshments and Izumi follows her, now knowing exactly what’s eating her.

What follows is the second most heartwarming scene of the episode (the first most comes later): the two, knowing each other so well, recall each other’s childish likes (Kaz a bit of milk in her Calpis; Izumi with melon soda). In this moment they remember how close they are and have always been, and that even with their raging hormones, they can find such moments of peace if they try.

Izumi even sets Kazusa’s mind at ease, first by almost reading it (she wants to bring up Niina, but he beats her to it), then by saying Niina is “more weird than pretty.”

Switching to Momoko, now a much more visible and compelling character, she goes on a date with Sugimoto and it’s…fine? Kinda meh? She honestly doesn’t know how to feel or act or speak, and is basically just relieved to be on the train home.

She’s surprised to find “opening up” by saying she has no dad is such a big deal to him. In any case, it’s a clear case of Momo…just not feeling it. Is it just because of the guy, or is she not into guys, or girls, or anyone? Not enough data to know yet, but I’m intrigued.

As stated last week I’m much less enamored of Yamagishi doing anything at all with Hitoha, and predictably, he decides to continue indulging Hitoha by ruling out direct eroticism and settling for indirect methods, such as Hitoha staking out a spot where he and only he can watch her show him her panties.

Hitoha is apparently getting what she wants—personal sexual experiences with which to improve her writing and hasten her debut—but without getting overbearingly paternalistic, I still fear for her. She’s doing this, at least in part, because she feels she has no other way to achieve her dreams.

That desperation, her limited years and Yamagishi’s more numerous ones all conspire to call her ability to consent into serious question. Yamagishi is the adult here. It’s completely on him to stop this, and endure the cascade of hate from Hitoha. She will get over him, in that situation. She may not get over where this is headed.

The first time Kazusa sees Niina at school, Niina calls Izumi “weird” just as Izumi used to describe her, and the wheels in Kazusa’s head start spinning all over again, helped not at all by a reading in club by Rika that describes exactly the means by which two people think and speak alike. If they both think each other are weird, that doesn’t bode well, Kazusa thinks, and she may well be right.

While we leave Kazusa trapped in a typhoon of suspicion, indecision, despair, and longing, the episode thankfully ends on that first-most heartwarming note I mentioned earlier, as Rika meets Amagi on the rooftop to deliver him his report, which she’s marked up in red to correct his errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation…oh, and on the last page where he asked her out, she wrote in tiny letters if you would be so kind. It’s a yes!

Rika had hoped not to be right there when he discovered that note, but when Amagi sees it, he starts leaping around the flying pages of the report in unabashed joy. Rika most certainly is abashed, at first covering her ears on the stairs, then chiding Amagi for being so loud about his happiness.

Rika is happy no doubt; but she’s no doubt scared shitless. The territory couldn’t be more uncharted if she started reading Shounen Jump. Not to mention, what if she ends up becoming a completely different creature entirely? Boy or girl, every single one of these kids is going to eventually become that—whether they like it or not.

UchiMusume – 05 – Kidnapping is Fun!

Latina experiences snow. Later, guys try to kidnap her, while Dale is killing magic animals. Fortunately, the elderly thug intervenes and the guardsman take her home.

Uchi has it’s charms. It has enough charms to keep me watching. However, it does not have the muscle to cash in on its ‘darkness behind the happy facade’ theme and… well… there’s no plot developing in the meantime.

Maou-sama, Retry! – 05 – All’s Well that ends Well… Hop!

Beginning with a now smitten Girlish Boy declaring his need to have all the holes filleed with Aku’s dad, Maou-sama, Retry! wastes no time getting to its kink. It wastes little effort on anything else, really. Foreground characters are awkwardly posed like motionless trees around our questionably framed heroes, sound effects are cued before the animation they should sync with, and Maou-sama invents the laziest game-logic fix to a water shortage ever.

Call me crazy, but I thought it was glorious!

Notice that tiny horse the art team stuffed in the lower right hand corner? If animation is money, you know it was placed there on purpose, but for what purpose? Are we supposed to feel the horse’s distance from the party — to feel the horse’s yearning to enter Luna’s town and peek around? Should we relate to the horse’s struggle carrying people who have somehow grown larger than the horse itself?

Like the hilariously gigantic door the satanists walk through (backwards) there’s probably no thought put into Maou’s art direction. The result often feels childlike, which grants sincerity to the incompetence. Maou doesn’t know it’s bad and that knowingly bad shows like Isekai Lazy Magic every day.

I’m not going to lie — Maou is objectively not a good show. Entertainingly playful dialog like when the Bunny Girls declare “Humans get NOTICEABLY disappointed if we don’t finish each sentence with ‘hop’,” (to the chagrin of Maou) is the exception, not the rule.

Likewise, Maou creating a water wheel game-item that creates water from a dry well… because that’s what it does in game… is either a thoughtful jab at gaming conventions or just really dumb. You either love it for the niche it fills or see the 5 for what it is: a fairly low rating for any show.

Isekai Cheat Magician – 04 – Dropped

Isekai Cheat treated us to an episode long fight sequences. Cassamir revealed his plans to manipulate Taichi for his own gain, even if Rin and Myura have to be raped in the process. Hurt Me More Girl… promised to get hurt more in the future. The Red Elemental was defeated by Taichi’s inner power in Taichi’s time of need.

It was barely animated, moved the plot forward at a snails pace and we learned nothing of consequence in the process. Two more villains and a third maybe villain were introduced during the end credits. I don’t know who they are, how they relate to the plot, and don’t care anymore. In short, it was a miserable experience.

The verdict: ICM has become a bit tricky to review. I have no interesting words to describe its visual style, and it’s awkwardly structured narrative is overshadowed by an eye gouging sluggishness. Who cares that the assassin’s decision to… do something? took three episodes to reveal, or that Rin and Myura’s relationship (and the pair’s relationship with Taichi) isn’t developed on screen when the actual focus of each episode is characters sitting or standing motionlessly in a room?

There’s no reason for me to write about it and even less reason for you to read about it. A Dr Stone drop, this is not…