Alderamin on the Sky – 13 (Fin)

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Ikta is able to complete his mission of covering for the main Imperial forces’ retreat while besting his Kiokan rival Jean Arquinex in a match of wits, drawing deep to create a multi-layered plan to outwit the young major. Because the safety of his men is more important to outright victory, everyone is behind Ikta.

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Major Jean notices the obvious fire trap in plain sight, but fails to see the larger trap hiding beneath it; Ikta’s men springing out of the straw, blinding and slaughtering their horses. Most importantly, Jean wrongly assumed his opponent would try to fight him for control of the battlefield, but Ikta’s strategy eliminated all control for everyone, creating chaos.

How Jean handles this chaos betrays his lack of experience, despite his military brilliance. He is so obsessed with control, losing it knocks him off balance. In the negotiations that ensue, he also wrongly assumes the Igsem soldier is in charge, and also wrongly assumes that he’s safe.

Ikta’s resulting bluff, placing a light target on Jean’s chest for a Torway sniper who isn’t really out there, and his explanation for why he’s not in violation of military law, works really well. Ikta is at his scrappiest, and while he does sweat, he never lets Jean see it (what with the glare from all the bright lights).

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Jean knows he was bested, this time, and wants to know more about the man who did it, and what he’s fighting for. He’s outraged when Ikta tells him he cares not for protecting his country, only its people, and gets even more steamed when Ikta warns Jean if he keeps up his blind loyalty to country, that country will suck him dry and toss him aside. Definitely seems like setup for a rematch in a future season, if we get one.

Whatever may be ahead for Alderamin, I’m glad the Northern Campaign is wrapped up here, and I especially like how glad Princess Chamille is to see her knights, and Ikta in particular, return safe and sound, even compromising propriety to give him a big ol’ hug.

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We also learn in this final week why it is Chamille wanted, nay needed Ikta to return so badly, which has been hinted throughout the series by her narration. Chamille has bigger plans for Ikta, and needs him to utlitze his considerable talents and the support of his comrades and friends to keep rising up in the Imperial ranks…so he can lose the war with Kioka.

Chamille is young, but not stupid, or ignorant: her empire is rotting from the inside out, and it must be purified. The mission she gives Ikta, which could consume many of the best years of his life, is to become the leader Imperial military, then lose the war “the right way”, allowing the outside influence of Kioka clean out the Empire without losing its unique culture.

“Fight until we lose!” is a novel slogan and a nice subversion of the usual notion of fighting for victory. Here, it’s almost as if we’re on the side of the bad guys, who know they’re bad and want to change for the better. If anyone enact that change, it’s Ikta, but it won’t be easy.

He worries not only about coming into conflict with Yatori, but dragging her into such a conflict in the first place; any conflict where the Empire loses. This season appropriately ends with Ikta and Yatori leaning on one another in the moonlight, and Ikta affirming their devotion to one another first and foremost.

I haven’t heard anything about a second season yet, but if it were to continue I would absolutely watch it. After all, the epic chronicle of the Invincible Lazy General, the Heir to the Twin Blades, and the Last Princess seems to be just getting started. It would be a shame if the tale ended here.

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Alderamin on the Sky – 12

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Another solid episode follows last week’s, as Ikta’s thankless task to clean up the horrific mess General Safida created continues. During a brief respite in the action, Nana engages with Suya, offering her both her arms if it will set things right.

It doesn’t, because Suya doesn’t want Nana’s legs chopped off. In an episode where several characters work to relieve burdens from their comrades and/or friends, Sazaluf clarifies that Suya didn’t kill anyone; he did, with his orders to them.

He, in turn, doesn’t share the entire burden of responsibility, since he too has superiors. But when the guy at the top—Safida—doesn’t know what he’s doing and does everything wrong (and for the wrong reasons), it undermines the entire system.

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Torway has grown these last twelve episodes, and he believes he can help relieve some of the burden Ikta carries once Sazaluf all but hands over command of the operation to him.

Ikta is up to it—indeed, it’s where he should have been all along—but even for Ikta, up against someone he hasn’t ruled out being the real genius of his generation, this is a desperate situation, and the margin of error on the Imperial side continues to narrow.

It’s nice to see even the Kiokans know and respect what it means to be of the Igsem family. But this week we see the beginning of the end of their hegemony on the battlefield.

The mission Torway undertakes is air rifle-on-air rifle, from a great distance. Many died repelling the would-be ambush, but not a single blade touched blood. It’s interesting, though that the leader of the “Ghosts” laments it has to be this way; that things can’t be settled in a duel with Yatori.

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It’s telling that Yatori and her unit didn’t have much to do today, another day when the primacy of The Sword dwindled a little bit more. It’s all but snuffed out along with Ikta’s entire strategy when Jean deploys explosive cannons for long-range bombardment, jeopardizing the entire enterprise with two days remaining.

Ikta doesn’t care all that much about the Igsem star falling as the Remion light rises. To him, the greatest burden out of any of their circle is borne by Yatori, even if she won’t admit it. And he makes it clear everything he’s done since joining the military (against his mom’s wishes) was to lessen her burdens, and make that broken promise more forgivable.

In other words, Yatori is not just Ikta’s other hand, but his muse as well, driving him to find an ideal future. But in the present, Jean is advancing, once again changing the rules. If they’re going to survive the next two days, they’ll have to adapt even more, while never losing sight of a future where, at least, they get the hell out of there in one piece.

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Alderamin on the Sky – 11

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Jean Arquinex appears far more frequently this week, but the episode remains at heart The Ikta Show, as even Jean concedes, though he doesn’t know the “brilliant general” he’s up against is only a first lieutenant. Presented with a mind equal to his own and with far inferior numbers, Ikta himself begins to doubt if he’s really his generation’s greatest hero, or if the “bloom is about to come off the rose.”

His inner thoughts, and his own doubting voice whispering inside is his head, are the latest in this show’s consistently successful efforts to humanize and deepen Ikta’s character. When he unwittingly tells the voice to shut up out loud (in earshot of Suya), Ikta snaps back into serious Strategy Mode. That voice inside may wonder if his plans will succeed this time, but it’s not going to stop him from carrying it out.

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When the Aldera army sends units down a narrow path, Ikta & Co. are ready, but they’re only 600 Imperials and 120 Sinack against 10,000; even slowing down such a force is a tall order, and one not without costs. When the Aldera put up barricades, Yatori and Nana agree that they have to go out and take them down.

Ikta lets Yatori’s unit and Nana’s Sinack detachment across the wall, but they suffer numerous casualties when Jean’s air rifle units open fire. Instead of letting the units get mopped up, Ikta decides to go out himself with everything they’ve got in order to protect the wounded before retreating.

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It’s a bold move, with Ikta and Yatori fighting back to back and working as one unit, and in the end, the Sinack and Yatori’s wounded are evacuated successfully. Ikta has a huge fire hit behind their retreat to seal the path, buying a little more time.

Jean is impressed by the enemy commander desperately making shrewd, effective moves to forestall Aldera’s advance. Suya, who loses two valued comrades, isn’t as enamored. She doesn’t see why they had to give their lives so the Sinack they were killing just days ago could live.

What kicks this episode from an 8 to a 9 was the ensuing exchange, which played out like, well, a play, with the stage populated by Ikta, Nana, Suya, Haro, and eventually, Yatori, who claims it is she, not Ikta, who should bear responsibility for the casualties incurred.

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Yatori asserts that Ikta ordered the charge because he knew she’d charge anyway to save her allies (a term she doesn’t take lightly). She also points out that feelings cannot interfere with a soldier’s duty. When Suya asks if Yatori would kill Ikta, I already knew the answer was yes before she opened her mouth, but she still said it in a very cool way (“That question is 300 years too late.”)

That cold assertion hangs in the air after Suya runs off, leaving Ikta to ask what would have to happen for her to actually be able to kill him if ordered to do so (though the word Ikta uses, is when). Yatori replies that she’d have to utterly destroy…Yatori first; leaving only the Igsem steel behind. It would be Igsem, not Yatori, killing him.

Ikta then tells her until the moment he died he’d think of nothing but how he’d lost her, bringing a tear to Haro’s eye (and almost one to mine as well). So if Ikta was to die, she’d die too, and she’d die first. That’s some heavy shit right there, and yet another layer to the already wonderfully rich, dense relationship that has been carefully built between Ikta and Yatori.

Things are desperate right now; the victories available are small and costly. But I know who I want eventually coming out on top, and it ain’t Jean Arquinex. So I have to believe Ikta, with Yatori, Nana, and everyone else’s help, will find a way.

16rating_9

Alderamin on the Sky – 10

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This tenth Alderamin begins with a flashback from nine years ago, and the show is hardly timely in revealing that the fiery Sinack chieftain Nanaku Daru was childhood friends with Ikta.

It’s also hardly subtle in juxtaposing her paying a visit to Ikta’s bedroom of her own free will—but too young to know the true reason woman would do such a thing—with the present, where she suddenly finds herself in a huge heap of trouble, surrounded by three enemy soldiers who plan to rape her.

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Who comes to her rescue in the nick of time but her old friend Ikta, whom she doesn’t yet recognize? Ikta is pissed, not being one to suffer “beasts.” Nanaku is taken into safe custody. It’s a sobering glimpse of what war often boils down to, and what depths the battle-weary and under-supervised can stoop to when their enemy is demonized and dehumanized by their superiors.

The war is over between the Empire and the Sinack, but before they can even catch their breath, a new, mutual, and well-rested enemy arrives at their doorstep in the form of “La Saia Alderamin”, a once-neutral, highly religious country Ikta suspects is being used as a Kioka pawn as part of the wider conflict.

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What made this episode so strong, and, for me, eliminated any concerns about plot convenience or retconning, was how Ikta handled things with “Nana,” knowing they’ll need her help to cover their retreat from Aldera, and he’s the only one who can negotiate with her.

He gets her attention and reveals who he is by carrying out the Sinack tradition of cutting digits off one’s hand; a legend she told him about nine years ago. He cuts his entire left pinky off in a visceral, powerful scene, and you can tell he’s not putting on a performance, but dead serious about his role as agent of apology and olive branch.

That last part is important, since Nana agrees to help because she knows the religious Alderamin will never tolerate their “heretical” religion, but the Empire will. Obviously it’s not what she wanted (to be rid of both), but she has to compromise, because Aldera won’t.

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Our Knights all get promotions this week – Yatori and Ikta to First Lieutenant, the others to Second, and after Matthew and Haro protest, they agree to stick together in the force that will delay the Alderamin advance. That is achieved by creating a fire line at a crucial forest crossing.

But it would seem Ikta has finally met his match in the form of newly-introduced Kioka Army Major Jean Alkiniks, he of tirelessness to Ikta’s sloth; white hair to Ikta’s black. Both seem excited to have met strategists who will really challenge them for once.

One of the weaknesses of the show has been the appalling ineptitude of the brass, but Jean here is high-ranking enough to do what needs to be done at a larger scale. He’s come further than Ikta so far, but will no doubt be the catalyst by which Ikta continues to advance and progress to become the hero Princess Chamille believes him to be.

I also hope we get to see a little more Nana.

16rating_9

Alderamin on the Sky – 09

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For a show in which some people are aided by pocket-size elemental spirits, Alderamin is fairly down to earth. And if it was glorifying, say, the daring rescue and return of Princess Chamillie in its early episodes, it is just as careful to downplay whatever glory and honor is to be had in the Sinack campaign, which is precious little.

Indeed, Ikta and his pals are lucky to have a commander unwilling to order them to participate in the wholesale slaughter of the enemy, instead making them burn their villages and march them to new homes. It’s also a show whose heroes may not agree with the horrible strategy they’re a part of, but are either unwilling or currently unable to do anything about it.

When a little kid starts attacking Ikta, he flicks him in the nose. I doubt he intended to draw blood, but the noble knight Deinkun immediaely punishes him for striking the child, doling out a degree of justice so the other villagers don’t riot.

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Suya, who has clearly gained not only respect but affection for Ikta, is angry that Ikta let himself be punched like that, but Ikta takes responsibility for his error. Sometimes one can separate oneself from undesirable actions to such an extent, one can forget that there are things that can be done to lesson suffering, whether it’s taking a punch, or burning a village after it’s been evacuated. Not big things, but things.

When Matthew asks Ikta and Torway how they’ve been dealing with their sexual “needs” on the front, Ikta puts men into two columns: “heroes” who need bonds, and solitary “warriors”, avoiding any details about his own persuasion. But it’s just as true of the two ways knights go through life. Deinkun, a warrior, prefers to put as much on his broad shoulders as possible.

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Ikta may be a rare bird when it comes to strategic or tactical thought, but he’s no hermit. He needs bonds, not just to survive and keep himself in check (See Yatori) but to acknowledge and define his existence. He dosn’t care if his personal honor is besmirched by a punch to the face; he does care when he’s too late to say what he wanted to say to Kanna or protect her when she needed him.

Yatori may want to be a solitary knight like Deinkun, but the fact she goes into a berserk-like state only Ikta can bring her out of denies her that status. She too is a hero, whose brawn, along with Ikta’s brains, and the various talents of the others in their circle, comprise perhaps their empire’s best hope at avoiding self-destruction, which people like General Safida are inadvertently hastening.

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But still, neither Ikta nor Yatori have any designs of overthrowing Safida’s leadership. Indeed, Yatori’s Igsem heritage and conditioning make such a choice unthinkable, even if Ikta was pondering such a rebellion. No, these heroes, must work within the system into which they were recruited; play with the hands they were dealt. It’s yet not their turn to decided how the game is played.

So Yatori saves Safida from an ambushing Nanaku Daru, who learned how to fight from Mugen in Samurai Champloo. Yatori bests her, only to let her go when a group of shady assassins takes advantage of the chaos. They fail to kill the general, but slay Deinkun in the attempt.

He joins Kanna and the scores of other Imperial soldiers who gave it their all despite having to serve under a terrible general in a ridiculous war that isn’t quite over yet.

16rating_8

Alderamin on the Sky – 08

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A splendid victory, brought about by his command, and a bitter conclusion brought about by his choice.

The show, courtesy of narrator Princess Chamille, provides a concise but accurate synopsis of this episode. It’s an episode loaded with the consequences of the stupid decisions of Ikta’s superiors, all in the name of a show of force.

The General has completely bungled this “punitive” campaign against the Sinack, and due to the chain of command Ikta & Co. can only do too much to mitigate the damage that has been done. But Ikta & Co. still doe what they can, which does make a difference.

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Ikta’s splendid victory to come is prefaced by a splendid defense of their camp in which the attacking force is totally annihilated without a single casualty on his side. But things would have gone far differently—and badly—had Ikta not been there to put orders in the commander’s words.

While he’s on a resupply mission to a position that’s been taken by the Sinack, Kanna Temari, in a different unit led by an even dumber commander, learns just how tough she is. In a scene riddled with death flags, she waxes nostalgic about the liberating, expanding power of books, and the fact Ikta is like a book, and someone she’s looking forward to seeing again.

But as sad as it made me, the fact that her unit made camp in a fortress deliberately abandoned by the Sinack, and the commander fell for an obvious trap, made me doubt Kanna and Ikta would ever meet again. The events of the episode all but eliminated that possibility, and it followed through with the threat it presented.

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Even Ikta can only do so much about the incompetence of the military leadership. But he engages his CO in such a way that he gets what he wants: a chance to score a victory. He gets it thanks to the prototype rifles designed by his mentor; in other words, thanks to science.

But the science that won him such an easy, splendid victory, also ended up dooming Kanna. For Ikta makes his unit rest for two days in order to avoid suffering altitude sickness, which is what Kanna and her comrades are going through thanks to their dimwitted superiors.

For the record, Ikta makes the right choice. Even if he knew Kanna, a girl he liked (and whom he suspected liked him back) was in danger, he wouldn’t endanger his entire unit to rescue her, especially after seeing what the altitude has done to the health of the army.

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Of course, making the right choice doesn’t make it any easier to choke down the bitter result of following science to the letter. The fortress wasn’t able to hold out long enough for his platoons to relieve them, and all they find is a fortress full of corpses, including Kanna’s.

It’s a gut punch, both for me, and for Ikta, who is often so laid back and casual and jokey that when he finally gets serious, it’s that much more powerful. This wasn’t just some girl he had fun teasing or flirting with; this was a kindred spirit; someone for whom science resonated; someone he could both teach and learn from.

She was looking forward to seeing him a third time, and so was he. Instead, she joined her late husband in the afterlife, leaving Ikta in a recklessly ignorant world. To be fair, it wasn’t just his choice that doomed her—the brunt of the blame falls on the superiors—but that’s woefully inadequate consolation for a character who left us far too soon.

It will be interesting to see how Ikta deals with this loss. Will he shrug it off in a few days, or resolve himself to pushing ever harder against the morons who caused it?

16rating_9

Alderamin on the Sky – 07

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This week threw me for a bit of a loop by starting out on such a light and comedic note, with Ikta returning from the dungeons parched but otherwise fine. The glowing secret he discovered were all of the fire and wind spirits confiscated from the Sinack under the direct orders of General Safida, whose character crosses over from doddering pompous figurehead to the kind of dangerous fool with the power to cause a needless war.

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Taking the natives’ hahashiku turned the region into a tinderbox, and sure enough the chieftain lays a trap for Major Toakk and his men in the town. That’s also where Ikta reunites with his apparent new “protege” Kanna, who is starting to understand “science” as he does.

She compares their imperial religion and the spiritual religion of the Sinack and question the primacy of the former. Her conclusions delite Ikta, who leads her in a lovely celebratory dance that’s interrupted by gunfire.

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Yatori is too late to save the major, but assumes command and cheases after the band of Sinack who killed him, stopping her advance before she gets caught in an ambush. There she meets the young Sinack chieftain Nanaku Daru, who officially declares “holy war” against the empire.

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When everyone’s back at the base, Yatori learns from Ikta about the stolen spirits, and they both conclude that General Safida is not a good guy, and he’s totally antagonizing the Sinack in hopes of making them do something desperate (like start a holy war) so he can clamp down on them.

Before you can say Bob’s your uncle, he’s sending out a punitive expedition to the Sinack territory, of which Kanna is a part. Like Ikta, Yatori, and even Sazaluf, they don’t like the idea of having to fight imperial subjects. It’s just…not chivalrous.

I was hoping Chamille could step in and stop this madness form getting out of hand, but Safida sends her away “for her own safety”—though not to Central, where she could spread word of his actions. Safida is a little king of a little hill and wants to make his war in the darkness.

Will Ikta & Co. simply follow orders and go with the flow, even when their commander is wrong? Somehow I doubt it.

16rating_8

Alderamin on the Sky – 06

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I wasn’t expecting this episode of Alderamin to match last week’s awesomely transcendent look back at how Ikta and Yatori met and became something more than friends or family. But it didn’t have to. What we got was another strong, competent outing wherein Ikta and the rest of the knights are assigned to the Northern frontier for further training with its garrison.

Before they do, Ikta reports that “Anarai’ box” is about to open, which sounds like a kind of Pandora’s box, since Anarai was his master, who defected to Katjvarna’s enemy Kioka. He also informs Torway and Matt about the possibility of wonderful, energetic girls in the Northern Region, which has the effect of lessening their weariness of going to a land of backwater “barbarians.”

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He also manages to sexually harass Haroma, but Yatori keeps him in check nicely. Speaking of check, I liked how this episode opened with Matt beating Haroma at chess, but having no confidence whatsoever of beating Ikta, understanding his role as second-stringer.

When the knights/officer candidates arrive at the garrison, they are greeted by a somewhat stereotypical dottering self-important commander who clearly does not impress Ikta. In addition to Ikta and Yatori, Alderamin’s strength is its dialogue, both spoken and unspoken.

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While at the banquet celebrating the arrival of the fresh troops, Ikta meets his new direct CO Senpa Sazaluf, who seems like someone smart enough to give Ikta leeway, but in return gets to say things like ‘you don’t look like a knight…but [Remion] does’, as Remion, much to Ikta’s chagrin, is surrounded by pretty young women without haing to say a word.

Just as the handsome young marksman is quickly beset by admirers, Yatori is almost immediately challenged to a duel by the biggest badass in the garrison, who knows the Igsem name well. After asking proper permission, Yatori graciously accepts, but only uses one of the two wooden swords the cavalryman tosses her.

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The Igsem two-sword style, you see, is for multiple opponents at once. One opponent, one blade. The big dude bristles at her perceived presumptuousness, but it’s really he who is being cocky. The princess laments Yatori having to demonstrate her skill as everyone gawks, but Ikta corrects her: that’s exactly what the Igsem style is all about.

Only the Igsems have leave from the emperor to pursue their two-sword style, as long as they never lose a duel. That power and prestige creates it’s fair share of would-be rivals like the armored gentleman here. But all he’s doing is giving Yatori another chance to demonstrate the invincibility of her house and its style.

That has the effect of both discouraging the less committed among their rivals, but also motivates a few to becoming stronger and stronger, that they may one day challenge Igsem properly. They project an invincibility others in the empire seek to match, and the emperor reaps the rewards.

Ikta wants Chamille to understand that Yatori fights and wins and does her duty because she believes the princess will do hers. Whatever reservations about her blood Chamille may have, the Igsems only exist because of it.

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If you don’t like watching Igsem prove she’s the strongest or Ikta prove he’s the cleverest, this just isn’t your kinda show, but I’m fine with it, especially now that I’ve glimpsed their past together. These guys are special, which means they both get a degree of independence not afforded other soldiers of their rank; there’s also the whole knighthood and rescuing-the-princess business that has made them famous.

Yet Ikta, unlike Yatori, is not constantly hassled by those seeking to observe his not inconsiderable talents. Igsem is to Yatori as Anarai is to Ikta, but much of the emprie considers his beloved master a traitor and blasphemer. But just as Yatori carries the mantle of invincibility, Ikta is a stealthy preacher of Anarai’s Science, and it almost always comes in handy against less sophisticated minds.

Enter the officer trying to confiscate all of Private Kanna Temari’s beloved books, including one written by that Bad Man Anarai. Not only does Ikta swoop in to stop him from striking Kanna, he also exposes his plan to sell the books for a tidy profit. He also uses knowledge from Anarai’s book—one of Kanna’s most prized, which he’s probably read many times—to neutralize the aggressive officer via giant spider.

Kanna is suitably impressed, and Ikta shows what a charmer he can be. Unlike Torway, Ikta has to seek out girls, and he needs an in. This time, that in isn’t that he slept with the girl’s mother (that would be quite a coincidence!), but that even if Kanna doesn’t know it (or want it to be true), they are both of them students of Anarai…and of science. It will be interesting to see how their friendship progresses.

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Of course, we’ll see if it ever does progress, because the episode builds to a kind of crescendo of mysteries and threats at the end. Sazaluf doesn’t have much choice but to jail Ikta to save face for his blatant failure to report for duty, but Ikta runs off and uses his spirit to shed light on…something that causes him a degree of concern.

We then cut to one of the Sinack villages in the mountains, where a charismatic young lady named Nanaku Daru is poised to start a fresh offensive against the imperialist intruders who have stolen half of their land, as well as the Hahashiku, probably the artifact (or person) Ikta discovered in the dungeon.

A fight is clearly coming, but I have the utmost confidence in Ikta, Yatori, and their comrades to defend the empire.

16rating_8

Alderamin on the Sky – 05

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I’m on the older side, so as I watched the magnificent origin of the relationship of young Yatori and Ikta unfold, I couldn’t help but think of Captain Picard and Guinan (I also thought of Muppet Babies, for what it’s worth). In addition to the fact that TNG had an Oscar-winning actress on TV before it was cool, one of the great big unanswered questions of the show was the history of those two.

All Guinan said to Riker when Picard was captured by the Borg was that what they had was “beyond friendship, beyond family.” That sums up Yatori and Ikta perfectly. One was raised from birth to be a knight, which is no different from a blade. The other was raised into a world of science and deep, distant thought about mysteries once left to the comfort of theology.

Yatori decides to study abroad with Ikta as his father Sankrei was a celebrated military mind whom she sought for enrichment. What she got was a lifetime companion who not only made her more whole, but whom she made more whole as well.

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Japanese can be at times wonderfully onomatopoeiaic, as I was reminded when Ikta conveys how “stiff” Yatori speaks, even to a fellow kid like him. But throughout their early interactions, Ikta never tries to impose his will or philosophy upon Yatori; instead, he shows her parts of her world and levies suggestions on how she might become something more than the Igsem blade she was forged to be.

A sword, after all, is only an inanimate object; no mater how much intense training Yatori undergoes, she cannot deny her flesh, her blood, and the emotions all humans possess. Indeed, Yatori is as much a sponge as a blade, benefiting greatly from her exposure to Ikta, his father, and the scientists associated with them. She also learns to play, which for Ikta means outsmarting adults.

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It’s really quite invigorating to see these two at an early age right after seeing Ikta bring Yatori down from her killing fever last week. This episode painstakingly explains the bond these two share not with idle exposition, but by telling a story in its own right; a story of two very bright and talented kids bouncing off one another.

Just as Yatori had never met a kid quite like Ikta (nor met any kid period, for that matter), Ikta had never come across such a stern, stiff, duty-obsessed girl. It’s refreshing how quickly they hit it off despite their profound differences in upbringing.

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Their bond is formalized quite by chance, when the adults they followed to a remote locale for a geological survey forgot their gear and turned back to retrieve it. Yatori and Ikta end up on their own, up against a pack of starving wolves, who are treated by the show with the same respect one would show a group of starving people.

Yatori and Ikta have no quarrel with the wolves, but they cannot allow themselves to be killed and eaten for the sake of the wolves. They are meant for greater things. I love how Ikta calls out for Yatori when the first wolf corners him, and Yatori comes through like the knight she is.

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But this is not simply a tale of Ikta coming up with a game plan and Yatori carrying it out. It isn’t simply the knight saving the damsel in distress (who is Ikta in this case). Rather, when the desperate wolves infiltrate the house, and Ikta and Yatori must retreat to a smaller space ton ponder their next move, Ikta rejects Yatori’s pre-programmed intent to protect him at the cost of her own life.

That won’t do at all! For Ikta, any outcome where one of them dies is no good. Chivalric training aside, he rejects the notion that Yatori must lay down her life so that he might live. Having met and gotten to know Yatori, Ikta knows she can be more than a blade.

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So he proposes they look at it another way: she is not the hero and he the recipient of heroism: they are together the right and left hand of a single entity, one far smarter and stronger than either of them alone.

Yatori, still young and relatively impressionable (as well as quite a smart cookie in her own right) can pick up what Ikta is putting down. They work together to outsmart and defeat the remaining wolves, forcing the survivors to retreat.

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In the process, they burn down the whole damn house, and eat what’s left of the dried meat they have on hand. Yatori says it feels like they’re eating the wolves’ meat, which for Ikta is definitive proof that she can, indeed, be more than just a blade.

Not long after that unforgettable, life-changing experience, Ikta and Sankrei go missing…but one day Ikta returns, and Yatori is happy, for it is neither her brother nor her lover nor her dear friend who has returned to her: it is her other hand.

The best part of Alderamin is Yatori and Ikta’s relationship. I’ve said it before, and this episode went and capitalized on that strength, with exceptional results.

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Alderamin on the Sky – 04

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This episode of Alderamin provided great bang for the buck, not only giving us a highly satisfying mock battle where Ikuta can flex his keen military mind and Yatori can flash her considerable skills in combat (albeit on the wrong side), but it also inserts a fresh plot against the princess by skilled knights loyal to the late Gen. Rikan.

That once more places our core of protagonists between training and war, and neither Yatori nor Ikuta flinch when the time comes to flip the switch to “playing for keeps.”

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But first, Ikuta easily outwits an overconfident and intellectually outclassed opponent, just as we thought he would. It wouldn’t be any fun if his chess moves proved incorrect and a clearly semi-villainous character were to prevail, even temporarily, eh? In fact, had Sarihaslag not had Yatori on his side, he would have “died” much sooner than he did.

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Ikuta steers the mock battle exactly how he likes, exerting as little effort as possible and making his off-balance opponent fret and sweat (I like how he let Torway do the honors of taking out his bro). Like farming and digging wells, his strategies are borne out of laziness; the human desire to make life easier.

You’d think Suya would still be opposed to this kind of philosophy, but she looks as dazzled as the rest of Ikuta’s men, who surprise him by chanting his name. But he doesn’t think he did anything special. Just Ikuta being Ikuta.

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Because the mock battle was so entertaining and yet still fairly lighthearted, the episode wisely decided to follow Ikuta’s victory up with a serious situation, as Chamille, hearing false reports that Ikuta was injured, ends up surrounded by rogue knights who want to exact their vengeance upon her for what happened to their beloved leader.

Yatori is Johnny-on-the-spot, but these are seasoned warriors led by someone who looks just as badass as her, if not moreso. Indeed, he quickly demonstrates how tough he is by driving his bare hand through Yatori’s sword and pinning her to the ground.

That’s when Torway fires a shot at the rogue captain’s head, and things get crazy.

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The moment Yatori’s movement is freed by the shot, she kills the captain, then explodes into a furious killing frenzy, ending the entire group of renegades with the vicious grace of some kind of wild cat. It’s Alderamin’s best combat sequence to date, beautifully staged and animated for maximum breathless effect.

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When it’s all over, all the traitors are lying dead in pools of their own blood, which also covers both Yatori and Chamille, who is fine, but stunned by what she just witnessed. Yatori too can neither move nor let go of her swords, as if unable to switch off her berserk mode.

That’s where her “left hand”, Ikuta comes in, saying just the words and touching her in just the way that calms her down and brings her back into the world, as no one else can. This is clearly not the first time this has happened; Ikuta has been supporting Yatori since they were very young. If anyone wondered why she puts up with this twerp, here it is.

When Chamille sees Ikuta with Yatori, she seems in awe of the bond they share, not to mention jealous. And when Ikuta starts teasing her for drenched in blood (probably not the best idea considering she’s twelve), she starts to bawl like the kid she is and lets him have it.

Ikuta may be annoyingly good at a lot of things, but he has enough flaws and nuances to balance him out and bring out his humanity. And his chemistry with Yatori, and the dialogue, combat and direction in general are all marvelous. If it weren’t obvious already, Alderamin is a sure keeper for me.

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Alderamin on the Sky – 03

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I’m really enjoying Alderamin’s milieu, which in the case of this week is comprised of simplified but still satisfying military procedural elements. It also gets right down to business, as Ikuta & Co. have made their chivalric beds (or rather Chamille made them for them) and now they have to sleep in them, so to speak, by undergoing the very high-level officer training Ikuta had sought to avoid.

That being said, Ikuta does not spend the whole episode skulking. Though he does yawn a lot, he also makes lemons with lemonade. When other students attempt to haze him with a centipede of all things, he shows them just how off-base they are in their line of attack by cutting off the venomous head and chowing down.

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Ikuta also shines in class, and if we’re honest, he could probably teach the class, as the answer he gives the instructor is not only far more detailed than expected, he even questions the lesson they’re supposed to be learning in favor of a different, more important lesson about snatching tactical victory from a strategic defeat.

Chamille and the rest of the class is impressed, while his old friend Yatori simply takes it as yet another familiar Ikuta moment, though there’s a quiet pride for her friend in her expression.

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That brings us to one of the episode’s less interesting elements: Torway’s asshole big brother, who has zero respect for Torway and makes it known. While he uses the excuse of “interrupting his nap” (from a hammock, where else?), Ikuta picks a fight with Sarihaslag that results in his getting stomped on; but he won’t admit defeat or show fear; indeed, he has the haughty bastard right where he wants him.

Enter Yatori, who arrives with Chamille, deems the incident a sparring session in progress, and continues the fight in Ikuta’s name, taking out three of Sarihaslag’s men with ease and forcing his retreat. It’s a showcase for Yatori’s skill in combat, her loyalty to her friends, and her general badassery. Taneda Risa is the perfect voice for her.

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She makes quite an impression on the bully too, for when a mock battle is announced, she’s on Torway’s brother’s team, while Ikuta, Torway, and Matthew are on the other. It either means they value her skills, or they wanted to handicap Ikuta while gaining her knowledge of his strategy and tactics.

Frankly, I doubt those dopes thought that much about it; but Yatori for one speaks with a respectful, almost affectionate glint in her eye when talking about Ikuta’s unpredictability in battle, still able to surprise her after all the time they’ve known each other.

As for Ikuta, the second-in-command of his battalion, Suya Metcalf, is the daughter of a married woman Ikuta slept with, which is actually a refreshingly mature, if unfortunate, situation to have pop up! True to their relationship, Yatori informs him he’s on his own in sorting this out.

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Cute as she is, Suya seems pre-manufactured to be someone Ikuta must prove his worth to, as she’s more concrned with his physical aptitude than her personal issue. Sure enough, once they mobilize and Ikuta doesn’t do things by the book, Suya pushes back, but always lets him have the final decision.

As such, Ikuta positions his camp and his men somewhere perfectly within the rules, and because his opposing commander wouldn’t know the first thing about blindfolded chess, he’s at the “recommended battle site” like some kind of jamoke.

Yatori’s scouts finally learn of Ikuta’s position, and their force has to hustle southwards to avoid being too tardy for the battle. Ikuta already has the upper hand, but he seems to be just getting started. Hopefully he puts that sniveling “sadistic hottie” Sarihaslag in his place.

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Alderamin on the Sky – 02

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Alderamin continues to move along with a wonderful briskness, but not so quickly that the events that transpire don’t hold weight. Last week’s predicament is handled fairly easily by Ikuta, but only because he makes it look easy.

In reality, he’s doing something really hard, especially for someone relatively young: he realizes what he can do and what he cannot; when to act and when to let his friends act. Igsem and Torway follow his lead and thanks to their assistance, the three guards are dealt with.

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Torway is shaken by his faltering during a crucial moment, but Igsem is there to support and praise him for his role in securing the princess. As for Chamille herself, the deaths of the three Kioka soldiers weighs heavily on her, to the point she bites her finger to release the “rotten” royal blood.

While Igsem comforted Torway, it’s Ikuta who comforts Chamille, assuring her her blood “tastes just fine” and to take care of the life he and his companions have worked so hard to preserve. His words make the princess blush, but she can also clearly see there is greatness in Ikuta.

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You can see both Chamille and Ikuta sharing a distaste for bloodshed; Chamille due to her imperial status; Ikuta do to his latent ability as well as the nature of the empire he lives in. As such, Ikuta treats the fallen Kioka soldiers’ remains with respect.

The next day, now possessed of a Kioka blimp, Ikuta formulates an ingenious strategem to get the princess safely across the border without firing a shot. Donning a Kioka uniform and armed with great acting ability and balls of steel, he marches right to the Kioka garrison and threatens the commander (his career, not his life) with the errant blimp.

There are a couple issues with this plan—the lieutenant in charge doesn’t ask for any identification, and lets Ikuta escort the others across. We also cut to a full month after they return to the empire, during which much has transpired that will shape their fates.

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But the events that unfold a month later justify the rapid jump in time. During that month, the famous General Rikan is sent to a battle Ikuta knows he’ll lose, since the empire no longer wants the undeveloped territory. But Rikan, the quintessentiall badass military man, is going to do his goddamn job, even if he knows the war is rigged. Honor, loyalty, “unscientific stupidity”; Ikuta can call it what he likes; he can’t stop Rikan.

Shortly after news of Rikan’s defeat, a demoralizing blow to the people of Katjvarna, the emperor gives Ikuta, Igsem, and the others an audience. Igsem had to knock Ikuta down when he was getting in Rikan’s face, but she warns him not to try pulling any of that shit in front of the emperor, and Ikuta seems to get it. I love their relationship!

Ikuta, of course, probably has an inkling of why they’ve been summoned, and his suspicions are confirmed when the emperor bestows upon them the title of imperial knights. That means they’re going to be trained as soldiers, whether that’s what he wanted or not.

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After the ceremony, in a coach with Igsem, Chamille (who is still just a kid, after all) can’t quite control her enthusiasm for making Ikuta into a hero, one of the three things he never wanted to be (the others being a noble and a soldier). She tells him too much about what she knows about his father (disgraced famous general) or his mother (former imperial concubine awarded to his dad).

Here we see just how much trouble Ikuta can get into when his emotions run rampant: he threatens to snap the princess’ neck; Igsem takes him down and warns him she’ll have to kill him if that happens. She doesn’t want do, but you can tell she sure as shit will. She’s a vital check on the wreckless abandon a troubled Ikuta can get into. He’s got the brilliance—and the ability—of Howl.

Later, when everyone’s cooled down a bit, Igsem leaves the festivities on what may be one of the best nights of her life, to sit with her good friend who declares he’s having one of his worst. Igsem doesn’t lecture him, she just listens and sits. Because like Chamille, she sees great things in Ikuta. No doubt he sees this in himself, and it probably scares the hell out of him. But he won’t be alone on this impending journey.

This episode demonstrated Alderamin’s ability to draw in very close to its surprisingly nuanced characters, and yet still draw back to reveal the huge world they inhabit, which is bound to explode into further combat as the show progresses, and in which heroes will rise.

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Alderamin on the Sky – 01 (First Impressions)

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Five students en route to elite military officer exams end up having to abandon ship in a storm, and end up with their princess behind enemy lines.

First of all, Alderamin avoids a common pratfall of warring-country fantasy shows—the introductory infodump—by simply plopping us right into the thick of things, letting pertinent facts crop up in natural conversation, and trusting its viewers. This felt like a supremely confident show, with taut dialogue and attractive characters.

The protagonist and reluctant hero is Ikuta, who should, by all rights, be immensely annoying, and yet remains almost painfully likable throughout the episode. He’s seemingly quietly good at everything, including war, and yet he hates war and exerting energy of any kind.

He’s also an enthusiast of women (a poonhound if you will), but he’s kept nicely in check by his longtime friend Igsem. Ikuta and Igsem’s frienship is an early hook for me. Igsem is strong, proud, and supremely confident in who she is, what her relationship with Ikuta is, how to deal with him, and most importantly, isn’t trying to change the rascal.

It’s nice to see a boy-girl pair good friends without being either a couple or overly confrontational to each other, and I enjoyed their banter, chemistry and comedy. Not to mention Igsem is voiced perfectly by Taneda Risa (Rory from Gate).

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I even enjoyed the rather lengthy scene of the five soldiers meeting below decks. Each character has a distinct look and personality, and it’s fun to watch Ikuta bounce off them one by one. Heck, he even gets an inappropriate comment about the princess in after she momentarily appears at their door.

But generally, things in this scene stay nice and breezy, capturing the close quarters, boredom and need to pass time a maritime journey consists of. It also lulls us into a sense of security that’s suddenly, rudely thrashed when the ship hits a storm and starts to go down.

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Ikuta also shows that while he can be a cad, he also won’t hesitate to rescue a drowning girl in a storm, at the risk of his own life.

Mentioning before the ship sinks that chess between soldiers is most properly played blindfolded (due to the need for a general on the ground to fill in blanks of a battle with their imagination), Ikuta clearly has a good sense of things.

It’s auspicious, then, that his act of heroism was directed at none other but the princess of the empire he serves, the 12-year-old Chamille Kitora Katjvanmaninik (Gesundheit!), voiced ably by the always adorable Minase Inori.

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Ikuta, along with gunner Torway Remion, also discover that they’re in the territory of their sworn enemy, the Kioka Republic. When he reports this to the princess and the others, and lists their choices (surrender, which is easy, or attempt to break through the border, which is a gamble), Princess Chamille rejects surrender with extreme prejudice.

Watching a member of the royal family really gets to Ikuta (surprising even himself) but while he overreacts (requiring Igsem to take him down) the princess realizes she overreacted as well, and the group decides to take a couple of days to figure out what to do.

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Like the meet-and-greet aboard the ship, things get light again, with the group having a sumptuous feast, and Ikuta even has time to weave himself a hammock out of leaves (like I said, guy can do everything). The moment Chamille “got it” and entered into the Church of Hammocks (of which I’m also a practicing member) was lovely moment perfectly curdled by a Kioka scout blimp sighting.

Just as life was perfectly normal aboard the ship until it suddenly snapped, the group’s haven is breached just as suddenly. Chamille is also every bit a little kid, too, as she runs far too far away to go to the bathroom and ends up being pursued by Kioka soldiers.

She’d have been in deep doo-doo were it not again for—you guessed it—Ituka distracting her pursuers; neither his first, nor likely his last, demonstration of heroism, leadership, and immense competence. Funny how the first episode of this “chronicle of fantastical warfare” didn’t have any actual warfare in it, and was still more than adequately entertaining. I shall be back for more!

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