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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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