Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 05

As Chekhov’s Teddy looms in the background, Sakura prepares for a day of delicious lunches and beautiful flower petals that share her name.

Kero-chan teases her a little, her brother teases her a little, but she’s off nevertheless high in spirits.

Ain’t nothin’ bad gonna happen today! And how can it, with such sweeping, majestic, upbeat music playing as she walks to the park?

If I rated episodes purely by the quality of the soundtrack, this would easily be a 10 out of 10.

Upon meeting up with Tomoyo, the only thing that seems amiss is a slight feeeling that something has a hold of Sakura’s leg, but it’s only momentary, and engenders her smallest of “ho’es?”

The girls arrive earlier than the meet-up time to find their friends already waiting for them, having arrived even earlier.

It’s pastoral perfection and universal punctuality in perfect harmony, and it couldn’t be a prettier day to relax, eat good food, and enjoy the cherry blossoms.

But those little feelings of being pulled become more frequent and more forceful, until Sakura is being pulled away from the picnic and across the park (though she’s able to get her boots back on, somehow).

The weather turns dark and gloomy, and her destination comes into view: a gargantuan sakura tree with glowing purple blossoms that looks particularly sinister, especially with its whipping vines.

Obviously, it’s a card. Boss music plays, Sakura releases her staff, and tries to use a flexible Siege Cube to arrest her momentum, to little effect.

Still, all this card seems to be doing is pulling her towards itself, so it’s really just a matter of pointing her staff at the epicenter and yelling “Secure” from just the right distance without hitting the tree.

The new card she gains is “Gravitation”, which will come in handy if any future cards try to play hard to get. And sadly, Tomoyo once more fails to record Sakura’s heroics; I might be crazy, but this seems like it could be recurring gag.

Sakura is actually full of recurring interactions that differ in the details. We get out latest Lovey-Dovey Sakura x Syaoran Scene in which Syaoran initially says he just ate, then remembers Sakura made a lunch for him and eats that as well (I mean, he would’ve been a jerk not to).

Following some of Yamazaki’s patented Nonsense-Spewing and Sakura-, Syaoran- and now Akiho-Believing, and something, we get something new: everyone pipes down and listens to Tomoyo sing—and she sings beautifully.

There are no weird dreams with the hooded figure who may or may not be Akiho this week, nor any shadowy talks between Syaoran and Eriol; just a nice, idyllic spring picnic with just a brief interruption by a card that was more bark than bite.

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Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 04

So, the pretty new transfer student Shinomoto Akiho is totally the cloaked figure in Sakura’s dreams, right? Someone her same height (and even a similar-sounding name) shows up way too concurrently with the arrival of the cloaked figure in the real world at the tail end of last week’s outing.

If Touya doesn’t let on like he knows anything concrete (for now), he certainly seems to sense Sakura is out of sorts the morning after her disturbing vision of the figure. As for Sakura, she and Tomoyo are bowled over by Akiho’s beauty and eager to make friends with her ASAP.

Whatever, I say, could go wrong here?!

Syaoran certainly seems suspicious of Akiho, even if the others are just as charmed by the newbie as Sakura (then again, remain suspicious of Syaoran…what a tangled web we weaved). Akiho seems singularly invested in making Sakura like her as much as possible, flattering her when they’re alone in the hall, and again when Sakura gets an answer right in class (apparently not a common occurrence!).

After giving that answer, Sakura notices the trees getting up and walking around outside, setting off a series of Sakura’s patented all-purpose catchphrase, HOEHHH! At this point I always look forward to every time she does that, and hearing all the subtle variations on that exclamation. Tange Sakura is a treasure.

It’s Tomoyo to the rescue, having the class believe Sakura is not feeling well. Of course, she also has ulterior motives, and has prepared a Chinese-style costume for Sakura to don during her next card-capturing escapade.

Sadly for her, Tomoyo doesn’t get to film much of the spectacle, as Sakura encloses the runaway trees within Siege, then floods the cube with water from Aqua to immobilize their scampering roots.

Every action sequence thus far in CSS has been a delight to watch, from the novel ways in which Sakura achieves victory, to even the more repetitive elements like her chants and pose-striking (week-to-week variety to which is achieved by the varying costumes).

Her next card, “Action”, thus secured, Sakura takes it to Yukito, whose alter-ego Yue inspects it and concludes that it also seems to lack magical power; it’s all, apparently, in Sakura’s key and staff. The visit gives us the opportunity to see both sides of Yukito/Yue, and learn more about the interesting dynamic he has with Sakura.

Then Syaoran calls, and we’re treated to another heart-melting romantic exchange between the two, with Syaoran accepting Sakura’s offer to make him a lunch sometime, then asking her to call him if anything unusual happens, and Sakura taking it further and asking if she can call him even if it isn’t something unusual.

While Sakura is calling from Yukito’s porch, bathed in gorgeous light of the setting sun, Syaoran is holding the phone at arms length, holed up in the shadows, because he is clearly up to some shadowy shit. He immediately calls Eriol, who isn’t returning Sakura’s calls, and reports on Sakura, Akiho, and the new card, before these words are exchanged:

Eriol: I’m sure it’s hard on you, but this is not the time.
Syaoran: I came here to be ready for that time, when it comes.

All the while, the true mastermind, the dreaded teddy bear, looks knowingly, menacingly on.

I kid, but seriously, what is Syaoran’s deal? Has he been deceiving Sakura with a fake lovey-dovey act (I won’t forgive him), or is there a less sinister explanation, like he’s working in the shadows to protect her? While it’s still a bit too soon to tell, things are not looking good…and that’s not an accident.

Devilman: Crybaby – 01 (First Impressions)

So begins my foray into the venerable Devilman franchise, which dates to 1974, its latest iteration available on Netflix at the same time in America as Japan. It’s actually been available for a while now, but I didn’t get around to cracking it open until now.

The first episode of Crybaby is brisk, starting with some heady philosophizing, giving us a quick glimpse of friends Asuka Ryou (a cold realist even in his youth) and Fudou Akira (the titular crybaby, who has enough empathy for both of them).

It isn’t long before the mundaneness of P.E. (and the somewhat head-scratchiness of a random attack by beatboxing rappers) is left behind in a cloud of Ryou’s Mitsuoka Orochi exhaust and the innocent, sensitive Akira finds himself in a debaucherous orgy of hedonism in which drugs and sex reign supreme, the escape of the young, rich, and bored.

Ryou brought Akira here to pop his cherry…in a sense. Ryou’s experience abroad has led him to believe a human can merge with a devil/demon and gain its power while maintaining their humanity, and Akira is the perfect vessel to test that theory.

However, the orgy isn’t, well, bloody or gory enough to draw out any devils, so Ryou rectifies that by wrecking up the place. He and Akira are very nearly beaten to death in the fracas, and before long devils start sprouting from the orifices of women and what were once areas of pleasure become weapons of evisceration.

It’s a huge mess, but Ryou gets what he came for: the demon Amon possesses Akira and merges with him, resulting in the titular Devilman. Perhaps because of how good and pure Amon’s human vessel is, Devilman is particularly powerful, and dispatches the other nasties without too much trouble, and with quite a bit of satisfaction.

And there you have it! Oh wait, why is Ryou doing this? For SCIENCE, I suppose; humans aren’t evolving fast enough for him; perhaps he believes it’s time to shake things up by nurturing such mergings as Akira with Amon. Or maybe that one merge was all he cared about, in hopes his friend, always a crybaby, would benefit in some way.

Yuasa Masaaki’s unique style is unmistakable here, and though this is certainly more violent than the only other work of his I’ve seen. As I said, it’s a brisk and relatively straightforward episode with a decent hook: what the hell will become of Akira now that Ryou has condemned him to share his existence with a demon?

BEATLESS – 01 (First Impressions)

Yeah, we usually started in September…

In a technologically-advanced, highly automated future where androids called hIEs serve mankind and are treated as tools, nondescript protagonist Endou Arato does have one unique quality: he has compassion for these “tools” as if they were real humans with souls.

He helps the hIE assisting an elderly woman cross the street, and takes the disembodied arm of an hIE to the police. He’s a good kid, even if his friends scratch their heads at what they see as unnecessary behavior.

In addition to a somewhat cryptic cold open in which he watches hIEs being made and coming to life (and going wrong for that matter), I felt Arato’s ingrained compassion would end up working in his favor even as five Memeframe Corp. elite hIEs violently escape from their cage in Odaiba and scatter, causing chaos and destruction in their wake.

BEATLESS may not be the most groundbreaking stuff, but it does realize and advance quite a few pieces of tech still in their relative infancy today, such as fully autonomous cars, robotic eldercare assistants, and even clothes with built-in climate control.

The way the military operates here in trying to apprehend the hIEs is also well-grounded in existing tech, with the bots doing the fighting while the humans keep a (mostly) safe distance. We also see the downside to dependence on so much technology (the aforementioned chaos and destruction). Kouka (the red hIE) seems to place as much importance on human life as Arato’s friends place on hIEs.

Speaking of chaos and destruction, Arato is cursed with one hell of a piece of work of a little sister in Yuka, who lounges around waiting for dinner, then eats all the meat before Arato is done cooking the rest, forcing him to go out and buy more a mere hour and a half from midnight.

After shopping at a nightmare supermarket with no human employees, he encounters an hIE acquaintance, “Ms. Marie” whom he laments he doesn’t have at home to help deal with household duties (since Yuka presumably does none).

Just as he does, one of the not-so-nice hIEs, Snowdrop, uses “flower petals” to hack every piece of machinery in the area, and both Ms. Marie and the nearby cars start trying to kill Arato…until he’s saved by a nice hIE.

This powder blue-haired hIE, Lacia, determines Arato would make a good “owner”, and she needs such an owner to take responsibility in order for her to take action. After a lengthy, somewhat momentum-killing but still kinda amusing scene in which he accepts the terms of the license agreement (as one does), Lacia eliminates the threat with something akin to an EMP.

Yuka initially wigs out when Arato brings Lacia home, but quickly falls in love after Lacia quickly prepares a sumptuous midnight repast for the Endous. Later, while serving Arato tea, Lacia reiterates to him that she has no soul, and that her “behavior” is just programming. But Arato doesn’t care, because Lacia moved him nevertheless.

‘Treat others as you’d like to be treated, even if those others are artificial’ seems as good a slogan for Arato as any, especially if the not-so-nice fugative hIEs out there start terrorizing the population. I can’t imagine it will be long before Memeframe or the military find Lacia and Arato and Yuka get dragged into a good bit of drama. I suppose I’ll watch on for now and see.

Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens – 01 (First Impressions)

Three percent of the population of Fukuoka’s Hakata district is hitmen. In the first Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens, we meet a number of them…and I don’t like any of them. They’re either dull, or assholes, or both.

One of the assholes is a cross-dressing dude who is trying to kill his way out of debt for his little sister’s sake. He’s hired to murder an employee at a club who was skimming profits to the tune of 10 million.

Many hours later, a shaggy detective is tasked with discovering the club employee’s murderer…only to be the cross-dressing hitman’s next target.

Another asshole is the son of the mayor, who has a habit of abducting women, taking them to hotels and beating them to death if they won’t let him have his way with them.

This horrific monster is the spawn of Hakata’s mayor, who suggests minimizing his own exposure by giving the brat women with no families who have recently been brought into the country via human trafficking.

Meanwhile, the brat’s friends lynched a foreigner who is now in a coma, and the foreigner’s foreigner friend wants revenge, so calls upon some hitmen, which includes a little blonde girl, because sure, why not.

They end up mistaking another hitman hired to kill the attacker, who is on his first job since being transferred to Hakata from Shinjuku by the professional killing company he works for, RED RUM (har har).

Mr. Shaggy Detective has some conversations and does some snooping around the club, which leads to the aforementioned cross-dressing hitman to come after him. However, the cross-dressing hitman isn’t very good at his job, and the detective is able to make the first move.

This is all very dreary and unappealing so far. An entire city of hitmen is obviously ridiculous, so this show scaled it back to “three percent”, which is probably an abnormally large proportion but it doesn’t sound like a lot, it just sounds kinda limp.  And it doesn’t really matter how many hitmen reside in Hakata if none of them could create a single positive impression on me. Pass.

Juuni Taisen – 12 (Fin)

 

In the finale, we spend virtually the entire time inside Nezumi’s head as he ponders which of the one hundred wishes he has will be the one he asks Duodecuple to grant as a reward for his winning the Juuni Taisen.

For all that inner monologue, we don’t learn anything about Nezumi’s past, only his very mundane present, in which he attends high school and stands out mostly due to how antisocial he is.

We see his ability in action on more than one occasion as he weighs his options, and early on these are mostly frivolous, such as wishing for everyone in his class to die, or for the skirt of only girl who talks to him to flip up in front of him.

But the more he wracks his brain trying to think of a proper wish, the more rationales he comes up with to render those wishes undesirable—living forever; remaining young forever; making everyone happy; gaining the ability to survey a thousand possibilities instead of a hundred—they all have their cons that leads to their dismissal.

He considers the wishes of the other, now-slain warriors, which is interesting because throughout his ninety-nine failed attempts to win, he manages to interact peacefully with each and every one of his eleven adversaries. In a way, that’s rather apropos, since at one point or another everyone has to deal with rats.

In one of those deleted possibilities, Tora tells him how her wish is to fight beside (or possibly against) Ushii; it’s a wish that’s actually granted in the timeline Nezumi ultimately goes with. Tora turned out to be my favorite of the twelve warriors, so it’s gratifying to hear that despite losing the competition, her wish was fulfilled and she died without regrets.

If there’s one thing this final episode makes clear, it’s that Nezumi’s ability is a curse, since he remembers everything that could have happened but didn’t. So the wish he ultimately comes up with—to be able to forget everything that’s happened, or might’ve happened—seems like the best way to go. After all, his memories of all those countless deleted possibilities hampered his ability to choose any other wish.

By the time he’s counted up to 99, he’s an exhausted fellow seemingly on the verge of mental breakdown. Being allowed to forget it all is a tremendous relief even his classmates notice when he’s happily dozing at his desk.

With a RABUJOI Score well under 7.5 and a MAL Score of barely 7, Juuni Taisen was never in danger of winning any “Anime of the Year” awards. Of the shows we haven’t dropped this Fall, it’s the lowest-rated.

The reason I stuck with JT was its efficient and reliable structure: twelve episodes, twelve characters, eleven all-but guaranteed deaths, and one winner. Many of those characters and their backstories were serviceable, particularly those of Niwatori, Sharyu, and Tora. The CGI-assisted combat was also a strong suit (though IMO there wasn’t enough of it).

I wish Ushii and Usagi had gotten proper backstories. The wish-granting ability of Duodecuple was way too broad. Nothing really came of the silly oligarch gambling angle. But Juuni Taisen was still a fun, if flawed, ride.

 

Juuni Taisen – 11

After giving Tora a proper death to deny her corpse from becoming another one of Usagi’s slaves, Ushii ponders how best to deal with a necromantist so hell-bent on victory, he somehow managed to enslave himself before dying.

“Burning him to ash with fire” is as good a plan as any, but Usagi, or rather, the grotesque undead creature crudely reconstructed by Zombie Sharyu, catches up. When Ushii tries hacking Usagi to bits again, Sharyu jumps out from inside Usagi’s body to pin Ushii down.

It’s as devious a tactic as it is fucked up, and Ushii knows he’s hosed, and has been hosed since the moment Usagi turned Sharyu.

Ushii would prefer death to becoming a part of  Usagi’s menagerie, and Nezumi, appearing at precisely the perfect moment, grants him that preference, using Hitsujii’s bomb to blow up Usagi, Sharyu and Ushii to win the Juuni Taisen, just like that.

It turns out that “perfect moment” was no coincidence, but rather the only “route” Nezumi could have taken in order to win; the other 99 out of 100 ended with him getting killed and losing.

This week we learn that he possesses the skill “Hundred Paths of Nezumi-san”, but to the episode’s credit, we’re shown how it works before it’s explained, in a bizarre, Groundhog Day-style sequence in which Nezumi keeps refusing to submit to a post-victory interview with Duodecuple and ends up killed in various, often grisly ways, only to reset back in Duo’s office.

It’s apropos for a warrior of the rat—one of the ultimate survivors on earth—to not only have more than the “nine lives” of the cat, but be able to look at one hundred different routes in order to pick the one that will lead to his continued survival. Even weirder, he remembers all of the routes he “deleted” by “locking in” to the “winning” route.

After sitting down and talking with Duo about Sharyu’s role in creating a route for Nezumi to live (which he repaid by killing her as she requested down in the sewer), his alliances with Tiger and even Usagi in other deleted routes, and other matters, before the sun comes up and Nezumi is excused to rest and come up with a wish to be granted.

As is his style, Nezumi will come up with 100 wishes, then go through each one as Duo grants them to determine which one would be most beneficial. That should make for an intriguing finale.

Juuni Taisen – 10

Juuni Taisen may be at the bottom of RABUJOI’s Fall 2017 barrel, but it’s by no means a bad show, and strong, simple, yet heartfelt episodes like this one only help the case for sticking with it till the end. I thought I’d had my fill of Kanae’s endless drinking and killing; it turns out, so had the show.

It wasn’t done telling us Kanae’s story, about how one day, on some random battlefield, she was mistaken for a civilian who had been plied with alcohol by the dastardly soldiers operating in the area. The man making that mistake was none other than Ushii.

Kanae never has the guts to tell Ushii the truth about her, and instead lets him rescue her and take her to a refugee camp on his back. While near him, Kanae soaks up as much as possible about the guy. She wants to know how a warrior like him does the right thing. His answer is simple: first you have to choose to do it; then do it.

Anyone—including Kanae—who is suffering or tortured has to reconcile the fact that it isn’t that she can’t do right, but that she’s chosen not to. Intent is everything. Figuring out how to do right is folly unless one decides that right is what they want to do.

Kanae takes this to heart, and decides she’s going to crawl out of her drunken hole of misery (in which she realizes she’s been suffering the whole time after all) and re-dedicate herself to becoming a warrior that would make Ushii acknowledge her.

That leads her back to the Aira dojo, where she successfully begs her way into the next Juuni Taisen, all to face off against Ushii. To her annoyance, he doesn’t remember her in the slightest (though to be fair, she was wearing a lot more back then).

And yet, the moment she chooses to do the right thing—save Ushii from Usagi’s disembodied killer arms, and take the sword strike meant for her—even seems to take her by surprise. She’ll be damned if she’s going to let such a horrible fate befall the man who not only saved countless innocent lives during his many exploits, but saved her as well.

If it weren’t for him, she wouldn’t even be there; she’d probably have drunk herself to death (though considering the tolerance she’s demonstrated thus far, perhaps not).

Turns out Ushii has never before been saved by anyone the way Tora did. That means he’s determined to save her again to repay his debt, unaware of the debt she was repaying him.

I thought it ludicrous even in this heightened reality that Tora would last long with a wound like that, especially with the jostling of riding on Ushii’s back. It’s not long then, that Tora herself tells Ushii to put her down; even if they find a hospital and her life is saved, she won’t be able to fight in their duel.

Instead, she calls the duel off and asks Ushii to kill her, lest Usagi claim her corpse. It’s a strong argument, and Ushii agrees to do it. Tora leaves the world with no regrets, with a smile on her face. Her wish, as it turns out, was to be acknowledged by Ushii.

She did more than that. By saving him, perhaps if he survives Nezumi and what’s left of Usagi, Ushii can continue his life of doing what’s right. All because in one crucial moment that made all the difference, Tora chose to do the same.

Juuni Taisen – 09

When we begin Aira Kanae’s backstory, she’s just an ordinary high schooler riding her bike to the dojo…but she’s too good. She surpasses everyone, and becomes head of the Aira-style school, and is put to work as a warrior. The practicalities of a hand-combat specialist in bullet and grenade-strewn war zones escaped me, but apparently she’s just that damn good.

The hypocrisy of the war-torn world starts to weigh on Kanae, until she finds that drinking lets her forget so she can move forward and kill more efficiently and viciously. She engages in each successive battle drunker and drunker.

She’s kicked out of her dojo for abandoning the teachings. Heck, she abandons everything, including her humanity, and reason, all to become an unstoppable raging beast—the Tora of the present. But I’ll admit: watching Kanae drink, kill, and repeat got a bit repetitive (even if that was kinda the point).

I can’t say I got a whole lot out of her backstory, aside from the fact that she can only be an effective warrior by killing her brain cells. She also doesn’t seem to have a wish in mind after victory.

Tora remains in a temporary alliance with Ushii (Ox) this week as they face off against Zombie Snake and Zombie Dragon. Oh yeah, Usagi used Sharyu to propel himself into the sky and kill Dragon, then make him another member of his little team. So while there are only two twins, it’s essentially four-on-one against Tiger and Ox.

The resulting battle has some of the smoothest and most interesting motion to date, though it’s pretty clear when the characters are drawn and when they’re CGI models. Still, the battle looks great, even if it only lasts a few moments, as Tora busts open Dragon’s tank of liquid nitrogen, which takes out both Dragon and Snake…at last.

That leaves Usagi on his own against Tora and Ushii, and they charge at him and appear to tear him to pieces…but I’m not convinced he’s dead by a long shot. He must have something up his sleeve, as well as a reason he didn’t involve the very capable Zombie Sharyu in this encounter. Indeed, his red eyes may indicate he himself was never “alive” to begin with.

Of course, Tora and Ushii believe he’s dead, which is dumb, and prepare to duel one another. It doesn’t help these purported elite warriors’ credibility to have such gaping blind spots all the time. As for Rat, the last character shown in the end credits, he’s still alive, somewhere. Could he end up being the last warrior standing?

Juuni Taisen – 08

Juuni Taisen finds itself at the bottom of the Fall 2017 barrel, and while that’s due in part to an overall above-average season, it’s also due to the show’s own up-and-down, variable quality.

When there’s an interesting warrior’s story being told parallel to the present events of the battle, it’s a good watch. But when present events are halted in order to deliver even more backstory on the Tatsumi Brothers, who are boring…it’s a bit harder to get through.

In this interminable outing, there’s another “flashback-within-the-flashback” as the brothers are put on trial (in what looks like the Supreme Court) for acting far beyond their purview as warriors.

The defense (which Dragon provides himself, but seems to include two of the judges?) note that they’ve done a fair bit of Robin Hood-style stealing from the rich to give to the poor, and even sponsored a little kid by funding the procedure to restore his sight, only to kill his big brother on an evidence and witness-liquidation mission.

Neither the trial nor the events it covers really tell us anything new about the Tatsumi Brothers. Even when they’re doing good deeds, it’s basically for the same reason they pull off heists: to kill time. These guys don’t really seem to have any real motivation in life, except to stay occupied.

We only get about five minutes of time in the present, during which Ox’s saber sparks ignite Tiger’s alcoholic mouth-foam (no one has ever combined those eight words before), and Ox learns Zombie Snake can be killed with fire. The brief Ox-Tiger alliance proves successful, though Ox promises a proper duel with her at a later date.

Meanwhile, high above the fray, Dragon seems to be preparing to team up with his brother Snake one last time (despite dead Snake being loyal Usagi now), hoping he’ll destract the others while he prepares a “memorial” for him, which I assume will involve Dragon’s signature ice.

Unfortunately, most of this episode felt like filler.  I await the backstories of Ox and Tiger, which will hopefully be both more interesting and less long-winded.

Juuni Taisen – 07

We finally get a bit of story on Snake and Dragon, the only two warriors who came into the Juuni Taisen as a built-in pair of allies, at least until only the two of them were left. The older Dragon is more serious and into hacking, while the younger Snake has a little less caution and prefers to do the smash-and-grabbing.

When the two learn they’ll be in the Taisen, fighting in a battle where there is only one person left standing, they’re…mostly fine with it? I guess? I mean, neither seemed interested in going against the path laid out for them. Of course, we learn that being matched pair going into the battle meant absolutely nothing against the psychotic Usagi.

If Dragon can barely muster a shrug at the death of his younger brother, um…why should I? These two are probably the most boring of the twelve warriors.

Sharyu is more interesting even as the undead servant of a necromantist, as Usagi has her collect the expired Uuma from the bank vault, likely to make yet another servant. He’s really running the table here.

Tiger’s talents seem to include being able to consume an infinite amount of alcohol (though we don’t get her story this week) and striking how and when her opponent least expects it, owing to her drunken-fist style.

In this case, her opponent is the headless Snake. She easily snatches his fuel tanks from him, and then…starts drinking them. Why she just assumed it was potable alcohol (and not de-natured or, worse, gasoline) I don’t know, but perhaps she could smell the difference?

Ox drops in on the headless, tankless, and one armless Snake…and then takes his other arm, and threatens to take his legs too. Why the “genius of slaughter” is being so sporting with a corpse is a bit beyond me; all he does is make himself a sitting duck for the instance when Snake’s disembodied arms fly out from the darkness and put a choke hold on both Ox and Tiger.

Ox ignites Tiger’s flammable mouth foam, seemingly incapacitating the Snake but also seemingly burning Tiger. And above it all, watching closely, is Dragon, still alive, but not seen since the opening meeting.

At this point, I’m starting to wonder if anyone will be able to succeed against Usagi, his growing legion of corpse friends, and his bottomless bag of underhanded tricks.

Juuni Taisen – 06

It’s a pretty good bet that anyone who gets a backstory on this show will probably be the next one to die. The last two weeks we got the stories of Monkey and Sheep, and get Horse’s this week. By episode’s end all three have bought the farm, just when all three are confident they have things well in hand.

Sharyu, a master of martial arts, doesn’t see anything particularly challenging about Usagi’s way of fighting…until it’s too late, and he seemingly uses a master-level move for the first time. But Usagi doesn’t have eyes in the back of his head, he has the head of Snake up in a tree watching his back. Very slick. I’m sure we can expect Usagi to use Sharyu’s corpse to add to his zombie support group.

Like Sharyu, Hitsujii approaches Tora and thinks she’s weak and not a threat to him. After all, she’s just lounging around getting sloshed. Little does he know she’s a famous “drunken master”, despite her looks, and wastes no time killing him while his guard is down. With six warriors now dead, the bidding is open for the faceless rich people to choose who will win; an aspect of the show that remains the least interesting.

Then there’s Uuma, Warrior of the Horse. He survived Ox’s onslaught thanks to his life of making his body an impenetrable suit of armor, but has lost the will to fight and holes up in a super-secure bank vault.

Nezumi, being a rat, is still able to slip in, and hides there for a moment from the pursuing Zombie Snake. Nezumi warns Uuma that the vault is no longer safe, and simply surviving is the same as being dead, but Uuma pays him no mind.

Still, the Rat’s words irk Horse, who gets so lost in his thoughts by the time he realizes Snake is burning down the entire bank with him in it, it’s too late; his body can handle the heat, but there’s no oxygen to feed that body.

Assuming he doesn’t survive (though he’s a tough dude; who knows), that leaves five warriors: Rat, Tiger, Dragon, Rabbit…and Ox, with six episodes remaining. All in all, an efficient, focused, and satisfying outing to mark the halfway point.

 

Juuni Taisen – 05

Juuni Taisen has so far worked best when it’s focused—say on one character or one battle. This week gets off to an uninspiring start involving a big meeting room full of literally faceless VIPs and a unsolicited speech by Duo-whasisface.

He says the Zodiac War is a proxy for far costlier global conflict, but I’m not buying it; there’s clearly plenty of war in this world, both that which Monkey cannot prevent through negotiation and in which all of the other warriors fight when they’re not in a battle royale.

The “no betting until half the field is gone” rule made no sense to me either. In a a horse race, every horse is bet on, not just the half of the field that pulls ahead halfway in. This was just needless babbling that took me away from the actual battle, involving nobody I cared about.

Next up is the start of the much-anticipated duel between Usagi and Sharyu, which turns out to be a bit of a stalemate, as every blow or zombi bird Usagi sends Sharyu’s way is parried or otherwise countered, as Sharyu continues to ask Usagi to reconsider her offer of cooperation. I know she’s Monkey, but I fear she’s barking up the wrong tree.

Unfortunately, her fight with Usagi not only comes to any kind of resolution, but what we do see of it comes in fits and spurts, constantly interrupted by the episode’s A-plot involving Sheep, his backstory, and his plan for victory involving partnering with mid-level warriors (unaware of who has died besides Snake).

Bouncing between his admittedly impressive tale of his life as a warrior (including fighting a previous Juuni Taisen aboard a space station—why couldn’t we watch that?) and the Sharyu-Usagi duel serves neither storyline. I fail to see why they had to be intertwined in this way rather than have one flow into the other.

Much of Sheep’s time is spent looking at and sorting toy versions of the animals that represent the other warriors. Considering the thrust of the duel happening concurrently, it almost feels like stalling, especially when he’s working with less info than we have regarding the remaining players.

As if the episode weren’t packed enough, we have the subplots of Nezumi being chased by Zombie Snake (great band name, BTW) and Ox resuming his battle with Horse, which he presumably left temporarily to kill Niwatori, and can saunter right back and continue wailing on Horse because Ox is just badass like that.

It’s just another case of staggering the storylines for little to no narrative gain.

We’ve now gone two episodes without anyone else being killed, adding to a sense of stagnation throughout the episode. Nezumi and Sharyu may as well be running/fighting in circles. When Ox suddenly comes after Sheep, Sheep withdraws, and the first warrior he encounters turns out to be Tiger, ranked the weakest (and likely tied for the most scantily-clad with Usagi).

The way this episode ended—with everything just kind of pausing in the middle—was more frustrating than satisfying. I look forward to learning more about the next warrior next week, and I’m really not opposed to the show mixing things up or jumping from warrior to warrior within an episode…just not for its own sake.

There’s a right and wrong way to doing these things, and it wasn’t done quite right this week.