Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 02 – Operation Sneaky Eel

After a doozy of a welcoming party for Claudia, most of the base sleeps in with raging hangovers, which doesn’t seem ideal for battle readiness? The culture of Takeyama Base is a far cry from the iron samurai and the elegant ladies who supported them described by her dad upon visiting Japan. Still, now that she’s not considered a Grim Reaper here, Clau is ready to learn and eager to fit into this base full of eccentric misfits who are really not that bad once you get to know them.

Between Sono’s gardening and Miko’s cooking and cheerleading, Takeyama is more than just a place of war, but of life—thriving in spite of the threat of the Pillars. Clau’s open-mindedness even inspires her to come up with a choreographic introduction, but she’s interrupted by the Gjallarhorn, or Pillar alert. The recon squadron heads out first, but not before Miko sees them off with her blessing, a promise to come home safe, and rewards like breakfast when they do.

As with last week, this is a Pillar that is more powerful than an over-water Pillar should be, suggesting the enemy continues to evolve as they defeat it. We also get the first look of the effect Pillars have on civilians, as an entire island of them are rendered unconscious. The Valkyries only have 3600 seconds (an hour) to eliminate the threat, or all those people are dead. Just one problem: the Pillar has surrounded itself with an impenetrable water barrier.

Thankfully, that barrier doesn’t extend below the water surface, which means the girls have a route into the barrier: through the underwater tunnel to the island. The sight of four planes screaming through a tunnel meant for cars is a pretty awesome and harrowing sight, especially when they start getting fired upon from both ends of the tunnel. And even once they’re inside, the Pillar puts up a water wall that blocks their attacks.

Luckily the water wall is open at the top, but the Pillar protects itself with a cushion of heat so intense it melts all ordinance. That’s where Sono with her payload of coolant bombs does the trick, freezing the Pillar so it can be shattered and Claud can destroy the core so a giant tree can be born—while also reciting the intro she prepared. Rescue teams were dispatched so there are no casualties…but how long can that good fortune last?

Once back at base, Clau and Miko bump fists over a job well done while Azu and Sono look on. The quartet demonstrated much more cohesive teamwork, a product not just having been in the air together before, but of Clau knowing her comrades better and trusting them, and they trusting her with taking the lead.

There’s something inherently charming about the inoffensively fine Sigrdrifa’s quirky battle system, even if the enemy itself is a dull-as-sand force of nature the rules for which are always changing. The main draw here is the team of bright and endearing Valkyries, and while the peril has been underplayed so far, Odin’s close observation of his “daughter” Claudia and ominous warnings suggests it won’t all be smooth flying from here on in.

Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 01 (First Impressions) – Meet the 909th Valkyrie Wing

For it’s opening sortie we get a double-helping of Senyoku no Sigrdrifa. Strange phenomena called Pillars threaten Earth, but an entity calling himself Odin bestows upon humanity a weapon with which to fight them: Valkyries, battle maidens who pilot vintage aircraft called Hero Wings.

Claudia Bruford, callsign Schwertliete, is the ace of the European Valkyrie wing, but she’s often the sole survivor of her missions, leading to her unofficial title Grim Reaper When Japan’s ace is KIA, she is transferred away from Europe, and believes it’s due to that title.

En route to her new assignment, her transport aircraft is attacked by a ocean-bound Pillar, but before she can sortie three other Valkyries enter the battlefield, identifying themselves as Anonym, Red, and Pink. They’re an extremely animated bunch, whom Claudia likens to a “circus”.

They also seem a bit uncoordinated, so Claudia launches and joins the battle. In addition to showing what an S-Class Valkyrie is made of, and it’s more than enough to keep up with the others, the quartet manage to stall the Pillar until it runs out of energy and breaks up.

Claudia returns to base, which she learns is Tateyama, a rearguard base which is also where her three fellow Valkyries are stationed. She is given a tour by Red, AKA Muguruma Miyako, and also meets Watarai Sonoka (PI=ink) and Komagome Azuzu (Anonym).

Claudia or “Clau-chan” as “Miko” nicknames her, is taken aback by how laid back the base is, even under alert. But she meets the very abled mechanic crew and enjoys curry with Miko and Sono while the unathletic Azu tries to play soccer with the kids. We also learn Azu likes Miko.

Their fun on the ground is cut short by reports of more Pillars in the vicinity, and the four Valkyries sortie with Claudia in charge. A handful of Pillars soon turn into dozens, and upon “fishing” out the Pillar’s core, a giant whale-like leviathan takes flight.

Prior to launching, Azu clears the air about Claudia’s reputation as a omen of death for all who fly with her, but both her fellow valkyries, support pilots, and mechanics consider her good luck, no matter what happened in the past. A huge aerial battle between colorful vintage airplanes and Art Nouveau-style CGI enemies ensues, with the brilliant azure sky providing a glorious backdrop.

When the Pillar’s core is finally exposed, everyone is out of ordinance, so Miko jumps out of her cockpit and slashes the core with a katana, thus destroying the Pillar, something that always triggers the creation of a giant floating tree. Claudia fears she’s the sole survivor once again, but when the fog clears it reveals Azu, Sono and Miko all soft-landed in the tree’s foliage.

The girls return home triumphant, and Claudia is officially welcomed to Tateyama air base by her comrades. While she initially thought she was being swept under a rug, now she finds herself somewhere she feels she truly belongs, and with something like a loving family supporting her.

The 48 minutes of Sigrdrifa is a lot to digest, but goes down easy thanks to a simple linear narrative that’s well-paced. There’s a generous use of Norse mythological names and terms likely in order to add a sense of prestige, though I’m not quite sold on whether they’re necessary; any made-up names would have worked.

What truly drew me in for the near-hour was competent production values, a soaring sense of scale to the battles, the quirkiness of cute girls in old-fashioned planes being the salvation of mankind, and the bright and colorful characters we meet, who each have distinct qualities and possess  solid chemistry and lived-in relationships. Let’s see where this goes.

Great Pretender – 06 – Earning His Wings

After an enticing stinger in which a terrified Makoto is along for the ride in a plane piloted by a crazed-looking Abby—which then blows up—we rewind a bit to see Makoto serving the remainder of his sentence at a Japanese penitentiary. The warden notices he’s good with a wrench, and decides to put in a good word for him with Nakanoshima, a grizzled old mechanic who runs a successful garage.

Makoto’s prison sentence really has changed his perspective on things. He no longer believes it’s justified to scam people, whether they deserve it or not. He wants to pay his debt to society and live life on the straight and narrow, rejecting any further collaborations with Laurent’s crew. Of course, that stinger of him in a plane with Abby indicates he will ultimately fail.

From there, we shift to a woman being fired by her boss for refusing his advances, and that same boss meeting Cynthia (AKA “Jennifer”) at a bar in Las Vegas. Jen clues the man in on unlicensed underground fights where the real money can be made, and even spots him cash to wager.

She tells him to put the money on Abby, who ends up winning despite her opponent being twice her size. Jen tells the businessman the outcome of the fight—and subsequent fights—was rigged so Abby would win, getting him to bet more and more of his own cash on a sure thing, night after night.

Meanwhile, far from his past con man life, Makoto works his ass off for two months, learning his way around his boss Nakanoshima’s true passion, propeller planes. Eventually Nakanoshima informs him of a racing team that needs a mechanic, encouraging him to “leave the nest.”

This mention of a racing team, along with the abrupt shift to working on planes, should have tipped Makoto off in some way, but perhaps his con man instincts were dulled by prison and his focus on “breaking good”.

As for Mr. Businessman, he ends up withdrawing all of his liquid assets and wagering them on another Abby victory. Only this time, Abby doesn’t win…though after taking a couple of blows to the head, she tries her damnedest not to lose, going into MMA punishment machine mode against her hulking opponent.

Ultimately she loses, as there are no rules to break to achieve victory. Businessman loses everything, and in a very Robin Hood move, Cynthia ends up delivering his duffel of cash to the very woman he fired. She may be a ruthless con artist, but she still has a sense of honor, and isn’t above pulling off jobs to right injustices.

Shortly thereafter (and once Abby’s battle damage heals) is when Makoto finds himself on an island that gives him quite a bit of deja vu, and before he knows it he’s being introduced to the plane racing team for whom he’ll serve as mechanic: Cynthia, Abby, and Laurent. They paid

The next scam involves a race in Singapore, where they’ll work to take everything a pair of oil magnate heirs for everything they have—two hundred million dollars, or double what they made in the LA job. Makoto wants nothing to do with them or any more crimes, so Laurent insists he’ll be on the level as a mechanic, and not be involved in anything else.

Abby, who will apparently be the team’s pilot, goes up with Makoto in a plan he himself serviced, returning us to the events of the stinger. That’s when we learn Laurent and Cynthia paid Nakanoshima to train Makoto just enough to pass as a plane mechanic, but obviously there’s only so much he can learn in two months, right?

Even so, the plane Abby and Makoto are in blows up (they’re able to safely eject) not because Makoto didn’t service it correctly, but because Laurent sabotaged it, in order to convince Makoto that he’s not a mechanic, but a con man.

I’ll give Great Pretender credit: it closed the book on the LA job before it got stale and then immediately shifted gears to something entirely new, fresh and exciting, with ever higher stakes and moral implications in store for Makoto. Just when he thought he was out…

Inuyashiki – 10

Turns out the woman, father, and baby we met last week weren’t the ones in the plane that crashed. Hiro has taken control of dozens, many of which find targets on the ground below, but Ichirou is finally able to take action,  commandeering and soft-landing ten planes in the bay – including the one with the woman, father and baby.

But Hiro has already caused much carnage, and hundreds if not thousands of casualties. And perhaps more pressing to Ichirou, Mari calls him to say she’s trapped atop city hall in the observation deck, where there’s a fire raging and where oxygen is running out.

Ichirou could probably save Mari and the others in City Hall in two shakes of a lamb’s tail, but there’s a problem: Hiro has found him. In their first encounter, he bolted as soon as Ichirou got up from Hiro’s bang; here, he wants answers, and isn’t satisfied with the ones he gets.

Hiro is upset that he’s the villain, while the old man is the hero, and so lashes out like a child would, first by grappling with Ichirou, then by bang-bang-banging him mercilessly. Finally, Ichirou counters with a bang of his own, but Hiro is only momentarily stunned.

As previewed in the show’s OP, a no-hold-barred battle between Hiro and Ichirou, nobody wins or loses except the city crumbling around and below them. When they’ve finally beaten and blasted each other unconscious, their “fail-safe”/”autopilot” systems kick in.

It’s here where it’s indicated that for all of the carnage and mayhem Hiro has caused, Ichirou’s system may be the superior of the two, and not necessarily due to any mechanical differences. Rather, because the original human that was copied by the mysterious aliens was older and more experienced.

This enables Autopilot Ichirou to destroy the hapless $100 billion space station in orbit and use the falling debris as cover for a sneak attack. He essentially scalps and literally “dis-arms” Hiro, and both fall back to earth with a crash and a splash.

At this point, I didn’t have very high hopes for Mari’s survival, and indeed she looks to have succumbed to smoke inhalation and asphyxia by the time Ichirou finally arrives. We watch him quickly descend into a new sub-level of despair as Mari’s life flashes before his eyes, but after much perseverance he manages to revive her.

Mari reacts to learning her father came when she needed him most with a big hug and a lot of tears. There’s no time fo Ichirou to explain or try to hide what he is; he must save the rest of the sightseers atop the building, including Nao, and after sending Mari home, he’s all over the city, saving as many as he can as those around him call him “god”.

Meanwhile, Hiro’s in a bad way, but he’s obviously not dead. Two good Samaritans encounter find him in an alley, and when he manages to mutter “water”, they give him some juice from the nearby vending machine, unwittingly helping a potential country-destroyer get back in the game.

I hope Ichirou realizes it isn’t ovr between him and Hiro, and that he isn’t so caught up in helping strangers that he neglects his family’s safety.