Ushio to Tora – 27

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Our easing back into the world of Ushio to Tora seems at first like it will be a bit of a respite for Ushio, as he and Asako butt heads when passing each other in a romantic sakura-strewn street.

Then Ushio questions his default conduct towards Asako (to yell at her, feigning disinterest, and for her to yell back) when he realizes this kind of foolishness might not be able to go on for another year because for him, there might not bea next year.

So he offers, in his very Ushio-to-Asako way, to walk her home, and the two are on cloud nine—right up until Asako suddenly loses all memory of who Ushio is. So does her family. And when Ushio heads to the Kouhamei Sect HQ for help, they’ve all turned to stone. Sooo…not a rest episode, then!

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Instead, it’s more of a Murphy’s Law episode, where everything bad that can happen to Ushio does happen. But even that turns out not to be 100% the case, as Tora, bless the big furry guy, remembers Ushio all to well, to Ushio’s giddy delight. You wouldn’t forget someone you’ve promised to eat one day, now would ya?

Whatever is going on, Tora’s no affected, and he suspects neither is Mayuko, who he’s always thought was a human who never feared youkai or monsters as much as she should. Mayuko has taken Kirio into her home and is showing him both simple kindnesses like a hot breakfast, and the idea that simple kindnesses need not be things that send one into a spiral of self-hatred for being unworthy of such.

Unfortunately, Ushio and Tora are a little to late to get to Mayuko. Ushio meets amnesiac Asako, who wants nothing to do with him and suspects he has no good reason to be bothering her friend. The two exchange slaps, but then things take a turn for the worse: the heads of the East and West, all amnesiacs, arrive to take Mayuko and Asako captive. Ushio and Kirio try to stop them, but they escape.

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THey pursue, but Kagari and Raishin strike them down, and after dreaming of the Beast Spear shattering, Ushio wakes up in Saya’s house. She remembers him too (again, to his giddy delight) and they’re protected by her barrier from the culprits behind all the amnesia going around: memory-devouring hiyou; one of Hakumen’s latest tactics against Ushio.

Not only that, but the time-traveling Tokisaka is there. He saw the same thing Ushio dreamed—the spear being shattered—and reported it to the East/West alliance, all of whom had had their memories wiped. Thus fear and apprehension swept across the ranks, and fear is Hakumen’s most powerful weapon.

Things are bad, but there’s still plenty to hope for. Mayuko and Asako are both safe for the time being. Mayuko remembers enough of Ushio to candidly lay out the nature of the triangle she forms with him and Asako, who is starting to remember (though isn’t keen on the idea of loving a guy who loves her if it makes Mayuko cry).

Furthermore, Mayuko is confirmed (if it wasn’t already pretty clear) as a descendant of Jeimei, whose soul lives on in the spear. That means if Ushio, Tora, and Saya can’t fix the memory loss, the East/West guys may try to forge a new Beast Spear with her. It never rains…

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 24 (Fin)

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Finally…a show that actually uses the word “fin” to end its run! Long story short: there’s no time jump and no marriage between Zen and Shirayuki. Instead, the road is paved and made smooth for such an eventuality down the road.

But that’s okay; a finite storybook ending would have run counter to the show’s M.O. to date: not leading us to the Happily Ever After, but the Happy Now, the part between Shirayuki and Zen first meeting and their marriage, a space that has contained multitudes of stories big and small.

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When messengers from Tanbarun (Sakaki and Mihaya) arrive to present Shirayuki to bestow the tile of “Friend of the Crown” on behalf of Prince Raj, Izana can’t help but laugh at the strangeness, but I get the feeling with him it’s always better to be surprised and amused than bored or disappointed.

The fact another prince would go to such lengths to legitimize his friendship to Shirayuki provides more evidence to Izana that Shirayuki isn’t the “nobody” he worried would sully Zen’s name and station. The thing is, Shirayuki, like her new title, doesn’t fit in with everything that’s come before. Izana isn’t threatened by that potential for disruption; he’s intrigued.

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After reading Raj’s cordial letter and being unable to sleep, Shirayuki walks the stately yet serene grounds of the castle (impressive architecture has always been one of this show’s many strong suits) and bumps into Obi, who’s known her long enough to know what she wants.

He fetches Zen for her, and the two share one of their steamier scenes together, as their kissing makes Shirayuki literally weak at the knees and unable to stand. That’s of no consequence, however, as Zen is happy to carry her to the highest, most private vantage point in the castle.

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There, nobody officially proposes, but as I said, the bricks of the road to that outcome are fully laid and mortared for smooth travel. Shirayuki expresses her desire to remain by Zen’s side (indeed, asks if it’s really okay to do so), and Zen replies most emphatically in the affirmative.

Again, it’s not quite a proposal, or even an engagement, but these two aren’t quite doing things the usual way things are done in their world…and aren’t in a hurry to let conventions oppress them at this point. For now, they’ll keep on keeping on: Zen with his princely duties, Shirayuki with her court herbalism.

On this path of her choosing Shirayuki will continue to walk, with Zen and all her other friends by her side supporting her and being supported by her. When the times comes to do something official about the love she and Zen have for one another, they’ll surely know.

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GOD EATER – 13 (Fin)

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Like GATE, GOD EATER finally concludes on a satisfying, action-packed note, with only a few loose ends left outstanding and all of the big stuff put together. One day, by Pita or some other incident, Lindow was going to die, and the unit was going to lose their captain. Which meant someone had to replace him, and that person is Lenka. This is the episode where he fully grasps what it means to lead, not that he has not choice but to do so.

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Soma, Alisa, and particularly Sakuya flail around in outrage, but Lenka remains calm, centers everyone, reminds them of Lindow’s orders, and carry them out. Soma goes underwater to destroy the Aragami lure, leaving only Pita to contend with.

Of course, Pita is a pretty freakin’ tall order, but with the five remaining members of the unit all working together, maybe they can harass him into enough of a state of confusion to land a fatal blow on him.

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As with everything on GOD EATER, this is extremely hard and brutal. Everyone gets tossed around and loses, if we’re honest, unacceptable amounts of blood for people still conscious. But these aren’t ordinary people, they’re God Eaters, and Lenka, their leader, presses the attack once all his friends have been disabled.

When they can no longer move from their injuries, he keeps fighting, surviving, protecting them. He takes the hope both his family and Lindow (also his family, at this point) entrusted him to radiate for the benefit of others, and the impossible is made possible: on perhaps the last layer of his onion-like god arc, Lenka goes into overdrive, slices Pita up, and shatters his core.

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After that, it’s confirmed that Fenrir’s ultimate objective—completing Aegis—is only a cover for the real—and far less ambitious—Project Ark, which is little more than an Earth Escape Rocket, able to fit at most one thousand souls.

My belief in this is that the cream of Fenrir will be among those with tickets on that rocket, which will shoot into space and whose occupants will wait out the apocalypse, returning when everything has been reset. But without the hope Aegis provides, the ark rocket isn’t possible.

Johannes had Lindow taken out because Lindow was trying to hold on to what humanity had left on Earth, while he had given up on the world that is and made plans for a new one, judging the Aragami nothing but monsters that will consume one another after consuming every last human, if allowed to.

Dr. Sakaki has the opposite theory; that this is just a rough stage in the evolution of Aragami. Eventually, they’ll gain intellect (which we clearly see in Pita, though he’s pretty damn evil and inhuman) and, with communication, coexistence with humans might be possible.

It’s a dream Johannes doesn’t believe humanity has time to wait to come to fruition, and he may be right, but I also know that a thousand humans don’t make for the most diverse gene pool. Human extinction may be inevitable.

But enough dark talk: while Johannes and Sakaki debate whether Man will become God or God will become Man, all Lenka, Alisa, and the other God Eaters are concerned about is keeping hope alive and protecting each other and what they have, here and now.

Lenka is now the new captain, and his orders are the same as his predecessor (who may still be out there somewhere): Don’t die. If your life is threatened, run and hide. And, one day, destroy it.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 23

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Shirayuki has fully settled back into it’s ‘Palace Groove’ with this particularly laid-back, playful and at times goofy episode, which starts with new maid drops a carpet on a lost-in-thought Zen, mildly injuring his neck.

While looking for Garack in the Herbalists’ office, Mitsu knocks over a strange potion that has a hypnotic effect, turning the normally down-to-earth Mitsu into a hyper-loyal, rigid, dashing, doting pain-in-the-ass of an attendant.

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Oh yeah, Shirayuki gets Zen’s shirt off…but hold your horses, she’s just applying a balm for his neck. As for Mitsu, his unusually charming behavior utterly fails to charm Kiki, but her slap doesn’t snap him out of it, or out of saying things like he loves Zen.

Zen gets irritated easily with this Mitsu, and it’s primarily because the two already went through this phase in their relationship, where Mitsu acted too over-protectively and spoke more formally to his prince. Zen wants the old Mitsu—the one their years together turned from a glorified bodyguard to a dear friend and brother.

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Shirayuki, wanting to lend her strength to Zen the way Mitsu, Kiki and Obi do, works furiously to devise a cure to the hypnotic state after healing Zen’s neck. After some long nights in the library (during one of which Zen visits and the two end up too close for comfort) and a little help from the light of the full moon, she concocts an effective antidote.

But while she thought was simply preparing a medicine for her friend in her spare time, it turns out the proper treatment and reporting on Mitsu’s case was the final test Shirayuki needed to pass to be promoted to full court herbalist. She passes with flying colors, and she can scratch another dream to achieve off her list.

The next one is far bigger: marrying Zen. Could it happen, or at least progress further on the road to it happening, in the next and final episode of Shirayuki Season Two? Or was the leisurely pace and content of this episode an indication there will be a third? We’ll find out in five days.

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GOD EATER – 12

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One thing you can always be certain of in GOD EATER: things will not work out the way people hope. The best-laid plans, be they made with good or bad intentions, inevitably turn to ash in this harsh world. Heck, the show itself couldn’t even air its last four episodes in the season it meant to.

The only thing that’s really worked out so far is that Lenka’s family was successful in keeping him alive and instilling in him a desire to survive and become strong so he can protect everyone still alive (which unfortunately does not include that family).

But he does have something of a new family in his unit, and when its “father” Lindow is in a tough spot, Lenka is there, and thanks to Licca, so is his rad new god arc, which cuts through the Aragami like butter, be it slashing or blasting.

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But Operation Asteroid remains a big mess, as one of the luring devices has been sabotaged by an inside hacking source Tsubaki learns is Alisa’s personal doctor. So when Alisa arrives along with Sakuya, Soma, and that other guy, it’s nice to see the gang reunited, but I knew the happy feeling wouldn’t last becase A) Alisa is a ticking time bomb and B) the Pita Aragami isn’t going to be defeated this week.

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Sure enough, the evil doc says a few trigger words into Alisa’s earbud, and she starts firing wildly. However, she doesn’t hurt anyone, and when Sakuya tries to slap her out of whatever is going on with her, the earbud falls out, and the doc’s plan is foiled.

Alisa reverts to her useless crying state, but Lenka manages to talk her out of it, trying his hand at field psychiatry. The results are favorable, as Alisa snaps out of her funk and returns to usefulness, but it’s a little dubious that Lenka’s words about toughness and inner strength could cause such an abrupt change in the behavior of such a scarred and unstable mind.

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Once everyone is freed from the berserk trees, Lenka leads everyone to the dam town to take out the luring device and protect the people there, which Sakuya didn’t know existed until now. Lindow will stay behind and duel the Pita, but predictably, it goes pear-shaped in a hurry, as this particular Aragami possesses a keen intellect and ability to counter any tactics the wounded Lindow throws at him.

After the obligatory flashback to a younger Johannes attempting (but obviously failing) to commit suicide, overcome as he is by the loss of the mother of his child. The child remains as a painful reminder of what he cost, but Dr. Sakaki suggests that he wasn’t able to kill himself for a reason: that he was meant to stay on this world and try to save it before Aragami consume everything and reset the world.

The results of that plan are still pending, but Lindow wasn’t able to delay Pita long, and the last we see of him, his bloody arc arm is hanging out of Pita’s mouth. I honestly don’t know how they’re going to take this guy out, which should make the final episode interesting.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 22

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Since Shirayuki’s visit to Tanbarun and Zen’s little excursion to rescue her from pirates, quite a lot of work has piled up at Wistal Castle. But this isn’t just a “Back-to-Work”, “Stay Busy to Keep from Getting Blue” episode: it brings up a crucial duty of Second Prince Zen Wisteria: he must, at some point, take a wife.

As Shirayuki’s herbalist work has piled up, so too have requests for marriage interviews from various highborn ladies from around the kingdom and beyond. Lord Haruka doesn’t give Zen the option to reject the process altogether, but he does give him some leeway: meeting with one potential wife will suffice…for now.

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From the list of suitable candidates, Zen chooses…Kiki. Turns out, she’s a count’s daughter. Zen, of course, can’t order her; he must make a heartfelt request to aid him in his stalling tactic. Because Kiki likes Zen and wants to do what she can for him and Shirayuki, she agrees, even though she hates dresses (since they make it hard to carry a sword).

And while Kiki’s name will be kept out of public discourse, it doesn’t take long for rumors to spread across the castle that Zen is meeting with somebody. Even Shirayuki hears this (unbeknownst to Zen), and no matter how hard she works, she can’t shake the uneasiness. Ryuu and Garack can see it practically emanating from her in waves.

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We already knew Kiki cleans up nice (her skin is even more “Snow White” than Shirayuki’s), but we didn’t know that she was in a dress when she and Mitsuhide met for the first time. Mitsu assumed she was a lady Zen was interested in, but the next time they met, she was sparring with Zen, and he mistook her for a “noble boy”.

The misunderstanding wouldn’t be cleared up right then and there, but Mitsu and Kiki would nevertheless spend five years having each other’s backs and protecting their prince. Obi can’t help but notice that seeing Kiki with another man—even if it’s Zen, and not a serious omiai—makes Mistu uneasy. Mitsu won’t go so far as to profess his love of Kiki, but he’s definitely glad they met, and the feeling is mutual.

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The interview doesn’t last long, and soon Zen is back to hittin’ the books, but when Obi lets slip that Shirayuki knows about the interview—but he didn’t inform her that it was with Kiki and just for show—Zen races to Shirayuki’s side to apologize and comfort her in one of their tender scenes.

Later that night, Izana informs Zen he’ll be taking a wife soon, which will make Zen next. The future of the kingdom rests on the choice he’ll make. Left unspoken throughout both this episode and the entire show, and yet always on my mind, is the fact Shirayuki is a commoner, with nary a drop of noble blood to her name, which would make any possible official arrangement with Zen extremely tricky at best and impossible at worst.

To my surprise and delight, Izana rekindles my desire to see the two lovebirds tie the knot in the end, by endorsing Zen’s decision and pledging his support as an ally, not an obstacle. He’s seen what Zen’s love for Shirayuki led him to do in her name, without tarnishing the royal family. He’s probably also weighing the immense cost of refusing him, but Zen has proven to him beyond doubt he’s serious about marrying Shirayuki and no one else.

Note, Izana doesn’t say it will be easy to convince everyone else—including their father the king—but this is a promising start to the fairy tale ending I desire.

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GOD EATER – 11

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It’s not often a late-coming backstory outshines the present-day narrative it’s interrupting, but that’s what happened with GOD EATER. That being said now that we’re back in the present, everything Lenka says and does carries new weight, not that we know where he comes from. We’ve broken through his shell just as we did with Alisa.

Speaking of sisters, we also see how lucky Lindow is to still have his in Tsubaki, and the two share a nice moment in the house they grew up in. As for Alisa, she returns the team apparently none the worse for wear, but having a distinctly un-Alisa-like artificial chipper-ness to her. Was she hypnotized simply to save her from her crippling memories, for for a more sinister purpose? Probably still the latter.

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But the core of this episode is the commencement of the ambitious Operation Meteorite, which involves God Eaters of all types from all over the world. While calling out the order of battle, Lindow has his sister make a slight adjustment: he’ll take the front line with Team One, while Lenka (whose God Arc isn’t quite ready yet) will monitor and command the team from the forward base camp. Lenka has proven he can lead, after all, and he’s totally fine with the arrangement.

The night before the operation starts, he has dinner with Kouta and his mom and sister’s, again driving home the family Lenka once but no longer has, and the need/desire for some kind of occasional substitute. If he couldn’t save his own family (because they saved him first), then he’ll just have to save other families, like Kouta’s or the Amamiyas.

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Now that Lenka knows the path he should—wishes to—walk, he feels he no longer needs the compass Lindow gave him a few years ago when they first met. But Lindow has him keep it. Even if he already knows his way, it’s up to him to give it to someone who doesn’t, just as Lindow did.

Once the battle starts, Lenka isn’t angry or restless about not joining the front lines; after all, there’s not much he can do without a God Arc. Instead, he takes instantly to command with a steady confidence and competence that’s visualized nicely by the neatly symmetrical framing of him in the CIC. As for the Meteorite weapons, they pack a impressive opening punch against the amassing Vajra-type Aragami.

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Both before and during the operation, Johannes von Schicksal has had little on his mind beyond the flashback to the exceedingly difficult birth of Souma, which resulted not just in Aisha’s death, but the death of everyone in the room. Only Johannes survived the explosion of oracle cells, protect, to his surprise, by a charm which has circuitry embedded in it that repels the cells. In the present, he activates a device that has the opposite effect—luring many of the Aragami towards the dam village. Why he’s doing so, and acting without telling anyone below him, only he knows.

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However, it may have something to do with the fact Lindow kept the town a secret. When Lindow sees where the Aragami are headed, he goes off on his own (though after getting the okay from Tsubaki and Lenka). When they lose his signal, the only God Eater who can get to him in a reasonable amount of time is, you guessed it, Lenka.

Tsubaki sends him to help Lindow, and Licca and Sakaki finish up his arc just in time to deliver it to him on the way. Now that we know where he got his short cloak from, it’s a lot more meaningful to see him don it on his very badass, purposeful way out of the CIC. Time to see what his new God Arc can do. And lurking not far away is Pita, the Aragami Alisa has sworn to kill.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 21

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I find it somewhat amusing that all three of the shows I’m watching this Winter peaked and wrapped up big arcs with four episodes to spare. ERASED, Grimgar, and Shirayuki have nothing left to prove to me. As such, I feel like I’m in bonus time, and thus more forgiving of pleasant but less-than-crucial episodes like this little number, which explores the bonds this group of young people have forged after so many adventures together.

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And I’ll admit, it’s nice to see everyone back together after some time apart during the pirate stuff, and the Tanbarun stuff before that. Mitsu and Kiki continue their subtle dance, while Obi continues to be bewitched by Shirayuki, even with Zen standing rather firmly between them. It’s not your typical triangle, not only because Obi isn’t expecting anything to happen, but because he actually likes Zen too.

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The outsider-of-the-week is Trow, a pretty but very capable young lass from his past, who just happens to be staying at the same inn by chance. At first they pretend not to know each other, but later Trow greets him by testing his skills, then asking him to join her on a job to retrieve a runaway heir squatting in an abandoned mansion (what is with all these abandoned mansions just lying around in anime?).

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It’s a good thing Obi agreed to tag along, because while demonstrating her devastating bicycle kick on one of the whelp’s hapless guards, she slips and nearly falls to her death, but Obi catches her. Trow is somewhat bemused that Obi now has a master—it’s implied they were part of a crew that were their own bosses and did what they wanted. She wouldn’t mind teaming back up with Obi, though she doesn’t beg or insist; it’s more of a “would be nice” request.

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When a worried Zen, Mitsu, Kiki and Shirayuki come to the conspicuous mansion to retrieve Obi, Trow understands better what her old friend has now, and why he won’t leave the life he’s made with them. Sure, Shirayuki & Co. may be on the overly nice and worrying side, but Trow gets it, and they part ways.

Obi seems content to forget about his past with Trow and move on, though more because he likes what he has now than due to any hardship or trauma. He likes who he is better now than then, and doesn’t need to rehash his past. Of course, that doesn’t stop Shirayuki from being curious about Trow because, let’s face it, Trow is a pretty cool gal!

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GOD EATER – 10

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GOD EATER is back. Repeat: GOD EATER is BACK. And just when I was about to give up hope. Turns out they waited until the point in the season when the rest of the Winter shows were in their final quarter, either because they needed more time or because they didn’t want this show to end when everything else was at episode 4 or 5.

You know what else? My patience was handsomely rewarded. This was the best episode of GOD EATER (and one of the best of the entire Winter) yet, using Lenka’s ordeal with adjusting to a new God Arc as the framing device for a heretofore untold story of Lenka’s childhood, starting with when he was found in the mud by a kind family who tested negative for entry into Fenrir.

More than a story, it is an often horrifically heartbreaking tragedy that is epic in scale, stretching across the fifteen years that precede the show’s present day, and being far more emotionally powerful than any of the black-and-white flashbacks that came before.

A lot of this episode’s power comes from our amassed knowledge of the previous nine. And yet, this could very well have been the first episode of GOD EATER—or even a completely standalone short film—and still been effective.

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After Lenka was rescued and named by his new big sister Iroha, his family lived in a shanty town living off rations and constantly at risk of Aragami attacks. When his mother develops a cough and becomes bedridden, he and his sister strike out with other town members to find medicine, but are ambushed.

Lenka, who wants to become strong enough to protect everyone, hits an Aragami with a stick, but it has no effect. Still, he’s bailed out by a God Eater – Lindow, specifically. Lenka is both jealous of Iroha’s attention towards Lindow, and of Lindow’s strength to protect. Lenka’s father doesn’t like the Fenrir system in which “people choose people” and leave others to die due to limited resources, but that’s exactly what happens in the shanty town as well.

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When Lenka grows ill and there’s only one dose of medicine, Lenka’s mother demands it be used on him, for he is the future. That’s confirmed when they test him for the first time and he reads positive, making his dream to become strong a more real possibility. It’s Iroha who injects the drugs, as both she and their father weep uncontrollably over tacitly condemning their mother to die. They bury her not long after.

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A few years pass, and Lenka is on the cusp of fifteen, the age when he can join Fenrir. His older sister has also grown more beautiful, and still quite close and protective of her brother. But she’s also mature enough to slap Lenka when, after an Aragami attack, their father is trapped under wreckage. All they can do is escape on a motorbike their father prepared for such an eventuality. Like his mother, Lenka’s father died so that he could live.

But while escaping the Aragami on the bike, one manages to scratch Iroha’s leg. It doesn’t look that bad, but the wound bleeds and festers, and before long, she can no longer walk (an analog to a similar desperate journey he’ll go on with Alisa later on). Once they check the wound and it’s riddled with maggots, once more a choice must be made.

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Lenka can’t make that choice—Iroha is all he has left—so she chooses for him, by slitting her own throat, forcing him to leave her. Before they part, she tells him to go to Fenrir, because he tested positive, and always was positive. That didn’t do the family any good, however, because they weren’t related by blood. But no matter how Fenrir cruelly defines it, Iroha always considered Lenka her brother – she even named him, because like a lotus, they found him in the mud, where lotuses bloom.

To twist the proverbial knife once more, before and then in the process of being devoured by Aragami, Iroha briefly envisions the world she always dreamed of, a beautiful pastoral paradise where plants have returned, and where she’ll be together with her dear brother forever. She looks like a Studio Ghibli character in this fantasy, before a devastating smash cut to her being eaten. No point in trying to hold back the tears here; this was utterly dejecting. Rest in peace, Iroha.

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The Utsugi family, then, sacrificed themselves one after another to save a boy who wasn’t even related to them by blood. But if any of the three of them, including Iroha, had to do it all over again, I doubt they’d change a thing. The choices they made led to Lenka being in the position to “overturn” the world they had no power to change.

When Lenka stops re-living the memories of losing his family members one by one over the course of his life, he awakens to find the adjustments for his new God Arc are complete. All that’s left is to re-declare what he means to do with his newly-resotred (and likely greatly increased) power: to kill Aragami. But also, to be someone whom people can entrust their hope for a better world, the way his family was for him.

GOD EATER is back; with brutal, gorgeous, heart-rending, unyielding authority. Episode 11 has its work cut out for it.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 20

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This was a quiet, leisurely episode, especially after last week’s excitement on the high seas, but few shows do quiet and leisurely more pleasantly than Shirayuki, and in any case, a little rest and celebration is in order. Shirayuki and Zen are invited to the village headquarters of the Lions of the Mountain, whose chief, Mukaze, is indeed Shirayuki’s father. She remembers seeing him at her grandparents’ bar years ago, but held on to that memory in case she ever saw him, since those grandparents went against Mukaze by saying he was alive after all.

What I like about their reunion is that there isn’t any rancor or hard feelings; Shirayuki is just glad she had the opportunity to meet her dad, and vice versa. We even learn that his wife, Shirayuki’s mom, was once betrothed to Mukaze’s relative, but he stole her fair and square and was then banished. Not all that different from Shirayuki herself being “selected” by the earlier, awful-er iteration of Prince Raj!

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It’s not just a time for Shirayuki to catch up with her dad; Kiki manages a genuine “thanks” for Mitsuhide worrying about her. I’ve always enjoyed the rapport and, if we’re honest, love between these two badasses, even though it’s not romantic love. They care about each other, and it shows when it counts.

As for Obi, he’s so down about letting Shirayuki down by letting her get nabbed, he spends much of his time in the forest alone…until Shirayuki goes after him, to assure him she doesn’t blame him for what happened; it was an unavoidable, unfortunate situation all around.

Obi knows she doesn’t hold his failure against him, but that doesn’t make his failure any more acceptable to him. Even so, Shirayuki asks that he be her guard next time they visit Tanbarun.

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A night of light drinking and carousing ensures, with Mitsu, Obi, and Kiki matching drinks, Shirayuki talking with her dad and Kazuki. Later. Mukaze finds Zen on his own and has a conversation he’s probably been looking forward to, the “what are your intentions towards my daughter” talk.

Mukaze first asks if Shirayuki loves him, then realizes he’s the wrong one to ask, and instead asks him how he feels about her. Zen is forthright in declaring his love for her, leading Mukaze to shout “I won’t allow it!” – but he’s only joking, and always wanted to say that. Worse for Zen, Shirayuki overheard everything, and when he spots her on the stairs, the two turn an intense beet red that really pops in the blue-filter night.

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When it’s time to go to bed, Shirayuki asks Zen to stick around with her a little longer. Uh-oh, I thought…but only for a minute. These two aren’t really going to do anything until they’re good and married, so instead they spend a few hours simply chatting and enjoying each others’ hard-won company. Shirayuki is the first to doze off, whereupon Zen puts her to bed and gives her a tender goodnight kiss straight out of the fairy tales.

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Mukaze expresses his happiness that his daughter has found a place where she’s happy (even though it’s not where he is), and sees her off. Shirayuki, Zen and Co. then head back to Tanbarun, where Prince Raj is elated to see her once more, and the rescheduled ball is still on.

Raj’s little siblings again try to start some shit, but they are stayed when he tells them he doesn’t want Shirayuki at the palace “forever”, because that would be boring. It’s one of Raj’s better lines, delivered with his trademark snap, and is essentially a mic drop to the meddling twins.

A lovely ball ensues, with Raj having the orchestra play the piece chosen by Shirayuki, and the two having a nice dance together. Zen watches from afar, and is surprised how far Raj has come. Rajs owes a lot of his growth to his time with Shirayuki, including the predicament she ended up in.

When she was out of danger, she taught him how to be more self-aware and selfless and less presumptuous; in times of crisis he brought out his courage and stalwart determination to secure her safe release from baddies. Now they’re at the point that when Shirayuki’s hair grows out again, she’d be happy to show it to Raj, because now she considers him a friend, and the feeling is mutual.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 19

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I’d been waiting all Winter for an episode of Shirayuki to break out of its streak of polished and quietly competent 8s into 9 territory, and this action-packed conclusion to Shirayuki’s latest predicament did the trick nicely. Even better, it was a team affair, with everyone contributing to securing our heroine’s release.

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Raj is able to appeal directly to the masses and muster a merchant fleet to chase Umihebi, and then able to lead his flagship by the seat of his pants (with no seamanship, just will and pure dumb luck) in order to get past the “Blue Vortex” the pirates hoped to lose them in. Meanwhile, Umihebi marks her captive with her kusarigama, but Shirayuki’s gaze remains defiant.

Umihebi pays pretty quickly for cutting Shirayuki’s face by only being able to gloat about having gotten away for a grand total of, oh, about ten seconds, before Raj’s ship enters their “secret” cave and rams her ship, destroying it.

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Then Kiki takes advantage of the chaos and springs into action. Umihebi snags Shiayuki with her handy weapon once more, but it’s already the beginning of the end of the pirates having their way. First Mitsuhide jumps out of the shadows to aid Kiki, then Prince Zen himself, whose face is a sight for Shirayuki’s sore eyes.

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Shirayuki gets an opening in Umihebi’s hostage hold thanks to Obi, biting the pirate’s hand and then getting separated. As she and Kazuki are whisked away by Zen, the Lions of the Mountain surround the Claw of the Sea and start picking them off.

Kazuki soon joins his fellow Lions in the melee, giving Zen an unexpectedly early moment alone with his love, the first such moment in about five episodes. He doesn’t waste it, drawing Shirayuki in close as their mutual relief and happiness washes over them.

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After that, Zen rejoins the battle with the pirates until Umihebi is surrounded with just a handful of men on her side, and has no choice but to surrender. I wonder if this is the last we see of Umihebi (classically, pirates are hanged), who looked like a worthy adversary for a time but was ultimately not that huge a threat, at least against the unswerving dedication of Raj and Zen to get their girl back.

All’s well that ends well, but there’s one last twist this episode tosses our way. When Shirayuki gets her first good look at the leader of the Lions of the Mountain, she exclaims “Dad?” His hair is kinda reddish now, isn’t it? I personally like this and I’m interested to see how it shakes out: is he really her dad; if and how they’ll bond; what insights on her past he can provide.

There’s also the little matter of Zen telling his bro he intends to marry Shirayuki. After all, Zen didn’t drag his crown in the mud to rescue her, so Izana’s unlikely to ban her from the castle.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 18

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Having been held captive many times before, I fully expected Shirayuki to waste no time attempting escape, relying on her Ellie Sattler-like botanical knowledge and MacGyver-like resourcefulness…and the girl don’t disappoint. First thing she does is rip up her expensive ball gown to make it easier to move, then she discovers some seeds among the cargo that give off a thick smoke when burned.

They successfully misdirect and knock out their two guards, but once she and Kazuki are on the deck, in broad daylight, they’re instantly re-caught by Umihebi. I was actually glad about that, because while burning smoky nuts is clever, these pirates would look pretty incompetent if they let her get away so easily.

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Back at Raj’s castle, I’m a little surprised the princes haven’t set off yet, though I liked how Mitsuhide and Kiki give Zen (holding the broken watch he gave Shirayuki) a much-needed slap on the back to focus him and release all the stuff he’s holding in. Kiki also gives him a note from Obi that ends up aiding their search considerably.

Rather than damage her precious cargo Shirayuki, Umihebi punishes her by viciously whipping her crew members in front of her. Shirayuki, ever abhorring violence, only gains an even lower opinion of the pirate queen, and can’t help diagnosing their injuries, impressing Umihebi.

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Meanwhile, Zen finds Obi thanks to one of Kihal’s homing birds, drawn to the bell Zen meant for Obi to give to Shirayuki, but was never able to due to her kidnapping. Obi and Itoya had joined up with other members of the autonomous Lions of the Mountain.

It takes a little while to sort out what’s going on (Raj seems especially lost at moments), but the bottom line is that Kazuki was once a “decorative ornament” to nobles, then a member of the Claw of the Sea, but defected to the lions and made it his personal mission to rescue Shirayuki from what he (wrongly) believed was a similar fate.

Kazuki and Itoya were so intent on carrying out the mission, they never gave her a chance to speak for herself. So while Kazuki’s motives were pure, his assumptions were disrespectful, as well as wrong. All that aside, both the princes and the lions want their people back, so Zen and Raj form an alliance with their leader to rescue them from the Claw.

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It’s not a coincidence that right after the Lion leader mentions that the “half-hearted” shrink away when the Claw leader Umihebi glares at them with her cold eyes, we see Shirayuki glaring right the fuck back at her. Shirayuki’s no half-heart, but she’s not a hardened soldier either, so despite putting on a defiant face for Umihebi and a brave one for Hazuki, the latter still sees her trembling in fear, which is all to understandable, considering she’s on the cusp of being shipped off to God-knows-where, with no way to tell Zen where she is.

Except, at the close of the episode, she’s no longer alone with Hazuki. When considering all their options, Kiki volunteers to get herself arrested and thrown onto the Claw’s ship as another prisoner, so that Shirayuki can have a capable ally by her side both to protect her and give her hope. Kiki has always been a appallingly underutilized character – she’s essentially an onna-kishi – but I’m very glad she gets to shine here. I also like how Mitsu doesn’t like the idea of her going, but doesn’t stop her either.

As for where Umihebi’s ship is headed, another underutilized character who had just complained about being an outsider, Mihaya, thinks he knows the location of the Claw’s secret mansion, since his crooked dad and brother once did business with them. Shirayuki may still be in enemy hands, but the addition of Kiki spices up what could have been a monotonous captivity, and now that she knows Zen is on the case, she’s far less likely to lose heart, even if things get worse before they get better.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 17

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Well, it’s happened: Shirayuki has been whisked away once more, just when I was content with all the easygoing slice-of-court life and looking forward to the ball. But hey, sometimes you gotta let a show take you out of its comfort zone. This isn’t just about romance and daily life, it’s about action and adventure, and for some reason the bishounen Kazuki thinks he knows better where Shirayuki “belongs.”

The entire capture scene is fraught with danger and unpredictability, in the brief period when one could suspend the notion that the abductors would definitely succeed. That’s due to Obi showing us his stuff; to Kazuki’s shock he can fight evenly with his partner Itoya, who is clearly no slouch in the combat department.

But Itoya manages to land a knockout blow to Obi, and he and Kazuki make off with Shirayuki, whom they sedated for easier transport. In the process, Zen’s watch comes loose and falls to the floor, breaking it. Not a good omen for what’s to come at all.

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Obi arguably loses because he’s distracted when Eugena and Rona enter Shirayuki’s room in the middle of the fracas, and Itoya takes advantage of his momentary distraction. But when they come to apologize, Obi doesn’t blame them. From his perspective, they alone shouldn’t have been enough to let Itoya get one over on him.

As Zen races to Tanbarun, and a very lost and distraught Raj plays the song he was to dance to with Shirayuki, a furious Obi decides to hunt down the kidnappers alone. He’s pissed, just as much at himself as the at the kidnappers. After all, he had one job to do: keep Shirayuki safe. He doesn’t want to look at Zen until he gets her back. But beyond all that, Shirayuki is important to him. This cannot stand.

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Raj fully expects to be chewed out or worse by Zen when he arrives, but to his shock, Zen is apologetic for not keeping him informed of the threats against Shirayuki’s safety. Raj apologizes anyway, since it was his duty to protect his guest. When Zen learns Shirayuki was enjoying her stay, he’s glad. Good to see there’s no prince-on-prince bickering holding back the rescue.

Zen does have to report to Raj’s father, the King of Tanbarun, however, to be given leave to move freely within his kingdom for the purpose of retrieving Shirayuki. The king gives him permission, as long as he’s discrete. This is similar to Izana’s warning to Zen that he’d better not draw him or sully his position, or Shirayuki, even if he gets her back, is out.

When Zen, Mitsu, and Kiki prepare to go, Raj sheepishly, then firmly asks that he accompany them; after all. He remember’s Shirayuki’s words about wanting to hear from his people that he’s a good prince, and a good prince doesn’t hide in his castle while others fix problems that occurred on his watch. His valor surprises even his father, but I knew he’d tag along, adding a neat dynamic to the rescue party.

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As two of the three lads who like Shirayuki just starting their mission, the third had a big head start, and is able to catch up to Itoya and Kazuki thanks to his Mad Ninja-Equivalent Skillz. With no distractions and a full head of steam, he has no trouble neutralizing Itoya, but he’s too late: Kazuki and Shirayuki are gone (we knew it wasn’t Obi Kazuki saw, since there were horse hooves, not footsteps).

That’s right: in an interesting twist, Shirayuki is kidnapped from her kidnappers. It sounds ridiculous on its surface, but when considering Kazuki was acting independently after defecting from the Claw of the Sea, and simply got re-captured by them, it’s not that strange. He had “the goods”, now they do. And by “they”, I mean the badass pirate captain Umihebi.

With cooly merciless eyes, she stares right at Shirayuki and tells her straight up “You can’t go home anymore.” Whatever she has in store for her (using her as a bargaining chip for some men in the mountains), it just can’t be good. So now her former kidnapper Kazuki and her are in the same boat: prisoners needing to escape before they’re taken out to sea, just as Itoya and Obi now have the same objective: find Kazuki and Shirayuki. Things are looking good.

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