Vinland Saga – 14 – The Luck of the Wicked

I’ve seen much of the rest of the world. It is brutal and cruel and dark, Rome is the light. —Maximus, Gladiator

Forget about Thorfinn for a moment. He’s not the protagonist this week, Anne is. Anne is a young Englishwoman whose family is large, poor, and devoutly Christian. But even if Rome was once “the light”, it has long since fallen, while the world remains as brutal and cruel and dark as ever, if not more so.

Anne has a secret: she’s come into possession of a beautiful ring. We later learn she’s not sure how much it cost, because she didn’t buy it; she stole it from the market. By doing so, she broke one of the Ten Commandments, which her pious father has no doubt drilled into her means a one-way ticket to hell.

Anne understands she’s sinned on one level, because she keeps the ring hidden from her family in the hollow of a tree. But on another level entirely, she’s just so goddamn delighted to have this gorgeous ring! It seems to give her no end of pleasure. At present, her love for the ring overrides her fear of God’s judgment.

Two of Askeladd’s men, whose banter we’ve seen during various marches and battles, are trying to understand the drunk priest’s concept of “love.” Does the longstanding brotherly bond between the two constitute that kind of love? The priest doesn’t know.

Does whatever amount of silver would break that bond constitute that love? Is the priest’s own veneration of booze love? He wouldn’t call it that; needing booze due to addiction and loving it are far from the same thing.

Ultimately, the warriors can’t understand the priest’s words, but they can remember another “weirdo” who used to talk in strange, seemingly contradictory riddles. Thors said “a true warrior didn’t need a sword”. Thors may not have been Christian, but to the drunken priest who never met him, Thors may as well have been describing Jesus.

Still, most warriors in this cruel dark world still carry swords, like Askeladd. He’s a man like Askeladd, who would probably be the first to say he owes a lot amount of his success as a warrior and a commander to luck. Even all the skill and experience he has, he could not have gathered without luck.

But his luck seems to have hit a snag: the countryside has been beset by harsh wintry weather that threatens to kill his men long before he reaches his destination. Ragnar believes Askeladd’s luck has run out altogether, and that nothing he does will be able to change that.

But Askeladd isn’t out of luck; not really. If he were, they wouldn’t have encountered a village to plunder for food…Anne’s village.

When Anne’s large, devout Christian family sits around the table for a meager (but very much appreciated) repast, her father says the Lord’s Prayer as Grace, and explains to the younger children why it is important to say it, and to obey the Commandments. When the day of judgment comes—and father believes it will comes soon—the faithful and righteous will ascend to heaven, while the sinners will descend into hell.

This is enough to frighten the little ones, but when Anne quietly excuses herself from the table to “go pee,” it seems more out of discomfort than fear. Outside, as the cold winds and snow lash, she recovers her precious ring, puts it on her raw, rough hand, and revels in its beauty. And while she’s out by the tree, Bjorn bursts into her family’s house.

Askeladd still has luck, but it isn’t perfect, and isn’t without cost. When he learns there’s only enough food in the village for fifty villagers to last the winter, the choice is plain: either he and his men starve, or they kill the villagers and take their food. He decides on the latter, making use of what luck he was given.

The villagers—men, women and children—are rounded up and slaughtered. Anne survives that slaughter, because she’s hiding behind a tree. You could say she was lucky, at least in terms of being able to stay alive, in spite of the fact she broke one of God’s commandments. If she hadn’t stolen the ring, or gone out to admire it, she’d have met her family’s fate.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God—Matthew 5:8

Was Anne’s father’s heart pure? Her mother’s? The hearts of her younger siblings and other relations? Did they ascend to heaven upon being murdered, leaving her alone in the cruel dark world below? Was her luck merely a curse, keeping her bound to cruelty and darkness her family will no longer have to endure?

Anne wanders off, neither spotted nor followed by Askeladd’s men, and the winter storm passes. She reaches a spot where the crescent moon looms large. She asks God if her family made it to heaven, but declares that she’s “elated” not to be sent there herself.

Shocked to have witnessed what Askeladd and his men did without fearing God’s punishment in the slightest (since, of course, they believe in entirely different gods), she’s as elated in that moment staring at the moon as she was when she stole the ring.

Maybe she sees in those wicked men, and in her own wickedness, a different kind of purity—of a kind she can’t quite describe, but which bestowed upon those wicked men the luck to find food, and upon her the luck to survive at least one more harsh winter night.

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Grand Blue – 12 (Fin) – The Final Binge

Grand Blue finishes up with the club traveling to Miyakojima, which despite being part of Okinawa Prefecture is a 190-mile flight away from that island. The far-flung locale is not only home to the tradition of “Otori” (endless drinking) but some great diving spots, which the gang reaches by powerboat—only Iori can’t join the others since he missed his chance to get certified with Aina and Kouhei.

Chisa can see that Iori seems down and left out, and so stays behind on the third of three dives to cheer him up. Turns out he’s not that blue; he’s green from seasickness aboard the boat. Even so, the two have a nice time together.

That night, with the planned restaurant closed, Ryuu, Shinji, and their heavy-drinking compatriots set up an impromptu Otori, with everyone adding their chosen alcohol to a huge earthenware pot to share throughout the night. Iori and Kouhei aren’t really up to this level of drinking, but their senpais emphatically insist, and won’t allow them to dilute the concoction with water.

They soon run out of booze, and so the only non-buzzed member, Aina, heads out to buy more. She conscripts Iori to help her with the load, but he hops in the van wearing nothing but boxers, which even on the tropical island elicits a stop by the police.

Upon returning to the party Aina accidentally takes the wrong cup from Azusa and downs it in one gulp. Turns out it’s the near-lethal Otori Juice, and she instantly becomes tanked, losing her inhibitions and going after Iori and Kouhei’s boxers.

While briefly escaping her clutches, Kouhei curses Iori for tricking him into joining the club, but Iori points out to him that by joining he actually got what he wanted: a fun, exciting, almost dream-like first year of college. Just before Aina leaps out from the darkness Kouhei considers it more of a nightmare.

With that, the gang heads back home, passing the time looking at photos of their time in Miyakojima, which bring smiles to all, even Chisa, for whom the antics of Iori, Kouhei & Co. have warmed to her somewhat. It’s as good a place to end as any; Grand Blue was in danger of too often repeating its themes without sufficient development of relationships to justify more episodes.

Ultimately, while the actual diving scenes were certainly beautiful and aspirational, they weren’t the most numerous, and always took a backseat to the drinking, arguing, and weird, exaggerated distorted closeups of peoples’ faces. It wasn’t without its share of laughs and heartwarming moments, including Chisa’s final smile.

Grand Blue – 06 – Diving Cures All Ills

Iori remains on bad terms with Chisa, which ends up hurting all the other lads in his German class who were depending on him getting to see her notes. As a result the lads must cheat in other ways, all of which are either discovered by the teacher or ineffective.

While I’m not opposed to episodes made up of isolated segments (see Tsuugakuro, Chio-chan no) I’d prefer if Grand Blue didn’t stray so far from its core themes. This bit felt more like high school than college. Thankfully, we get back on track when Aina is officially initiated into Peek-a-Boo.

Between the binge drinking, the gratuitous nudity, Chisa’s perceived sadism towards Iori, and Nanaka’s perceived fixation on Chisa, Aina quickly learns that no one in the club is remotely normal (including herself; one doesn’t have the nickname “Cakey” bestowed upon her otherwise).

In this regard, the cast is a lot like that of Working!!; everyone has their quirks that make them unique and hopefully, compelling to watch as those quirks bounce off of each other.

Still, the women, particularly Chisa, are pleased and excited that Aina joined because she found diving interesting. It’s here where Iori and Kohei act as a kind of audience surrogate by stating it’s not like they never go diving, but it sure doesn’t seem like they’ve done it in a while…which is very true! It’s been less Grand Blue and more Gorge Booze…

Speaking of, when the party runs out of alcohol, Aina and Chisa volunteer to go out to buy more, and as the saying goes, when the cat’s away, the mice will play.

Despite Aina’s insistence everyone remains clothed and civil for her welcome party, old habits die hard and the lads can’t help themselves from devolving into debauchery in Chisa and Aina’s brief absence.

As for substituting a big log for Pocky in a game between Iori and Kohei, it’s a shade too credulity-stretchingly absurd, even for this show.

While it doesn’t really matter whether Iori and Kohei learn perfect German, it is imperative they memorize all the underwater hand signals, as it could end up saving their life or that of their comrades. So it’s disconcerting to see they don’t know the hand signals any more than they know “rheumatoid arthritis” in German (btw it’s the same, except for an “e” added to make “rheumatoide”).

They end up learning them when a different kind of threat emerges during the party: Nanaka learns her beloved Chisa is dating Iori. This makes Iori fear for his life, and he uses hand signals to alert Kohei and the others. However, Nanaka isn’t certain whether they’re actually dating or whether it simply looks like they are.

So the next day, when the club finally, finally has an actual diving session, she pairs up Iori and Chisa. At first Iori thinks Chisa is angry at him as usual, but she’s really only serious about diving, and not just the safety side, but the fun and wonder of it as well.

Before he knows it Iori is swept up in Chisa’s enthusiasm for the world under the sea, and when he tells her how much fun he had down there, she can’t help but smile. I will always prefer this joyful Chisa to the scornful one dishing out verbal or physical punishment on Iori for acting the goat (however in the right she may be).

Sadly Grand Blue will apparently never let these two remain in a state of detente for long, preferring to built them up and then tear them down for a cheap laugh. As such, Iori ruins it by commenting on the fineness of Chisa’s ass, leading her to blow her top at him. Why can’t we have nice things?

Grand Blue – 05 – Beauty is Only Skin Deep

As punishment(?) for neglecting her at the festival, Chisa puts the word out that she’s dating Iori, immediately making all the other guys at college hate him and wish him ill will in a very over-the-top, repetitive opening act that went on a bit too long.

Chisa does nothing to stop the false rumor—on the contrary, she fans the flames—and Iori tells the guys that Kohei is dating Azusa (making him Public Enemy #2), but they both get a reprieve when they promise to arrange a mixer for them.

Oddly, their job is made easier by the fact the legions of haters are curiously whittled down to just two ornery classmates. To that end, they beg Azusa to introduce them to other women at her college. She agrees, but only if Iori continues to act like Chisa’s boyfriend until, as she puts it, Chisa “accepts it.”

With Iori’s promise secured, Azusa introduces her kohai, none other than Yoshiwara Aina, who the lads find extraordinarily adorable when she’s not wearing the thick layers of makeup that earned her the unwanted nickname “Cakey.”

Aina has wanted to join the diving club anyway since the festival, leaving the tennis club full of fakes who treated her like shit. Despite calling her cakey and drooling over her non-cakey appearance, Aina is still willing to scrounge up three of her friends for the mixer. But she also gives Chisa one hell of a sidelong glance; I believe Chii-chan just got some competition.

The quartet of lads, among them a virgin who will sleep with any girl as long as they’re a girl and he can sleep with her, are shocked to find Aina has somewhat tainted the mixer by giving her three friends as well as herself the same Cakey treatment, giving them the appearance of four clowns.

But if the girls are clowns, the guys are circus animals, constantly jockeying for attention and braying and snorting at one another whenever more than one of them focuses on one girl. Like the lecture hall scene, it gets a bit repetitive.

A look at a selfie shows them one of the girls is quite attractive behind the makeup, and they all go after her, but when Kohei asks her if she’ll come to his place later all four girls retreat to the restroom.

Iori uses the time to inspire his men, only to steal the show, thus invoking the other lads’ collective ire. Kohei breaks a mixer taboo by blurting out that Iori has a girlfriend (something he can’t deny lest he break his promise to Azusa), but the girls don’t even care; they already know that fact.

Later, the girls laugh off the mixer as an entertaining lark, likening it to going to the zoo. But Aina, ever the romantic, still ponders whether the person who saw through her cakey makeup and helped her out when she was down in the dumps could be a good match for her. No doubt she sees a decent guy beneath Iori’s own thick layers of alcohol-soaked machismo.

Grand Blue – 04 – Trying Hard in a Bad Way

There’s no diving in the ocean this week, but Chisa, Iori and Kohei all “dive into” a new experience: being on stage, in front of hundreds if not thousands of spectators. But first, they help man the Okonomiyaki stall at the Izu Spring Festival.

While on a break, Iori fails to clear up Asuza’s misunderstanding about him being bi, but only when Asuza tells him how nice it is to have someone else to talk to about it. This is how you know beneath all the drunken boorishness Iori has a good heart: while the truth is always better, it also hurts, and he doesn’t want to hurt a friend if he doesn’t have to.

However, he does want to talk about it with Chisa, so on the next break the two are left alone, and I love how they work the griddle like a single highly-polished unit, dazzling the customers—but they don’t notice how skilled they’re being! Unfortunately, not much comes of the talk; Chisa assumes Iori is nervous because Asuza is so pretty, not because Asuza thinks he’s bi.

Asuza and her sister also insist she wear something more appropriate than her regular street clothes for the 4PM women’s pageant. Iori knows Chisa well, and so knows when Chisa is nervous. She stiffens up, and her aura and responses initially come off as cold and curt. They want to help her, but he and dating-sim expert Kohei only have bad ideas that make things worse.

When they try to make her smiling by smiling at her, but their grins come off as creepy and off-putting. Ditto posing shirtless as a club and raising a banner professing their love for her.

Finally they agree to throw a bunch of bouncy balls on the stage that will flip her skirt up and show her bashful side. They get it, but it’s bashfulness cut with seething rage. Iori knows he went too far, and only went as far as he did because he thought everyone would do it.

While Iori is hiding from Chisa’s wrath with Kohei, the latter is pounced upon by another woman who was part of the pageant; one with makeup so thick they use the nickname “cakey” on her. She asks Kohei out; Kohei hesitates and she storms off.

They go to the drinking party hosted by the rugby club. Chisa initially forgave Iori for the upskirt incident, but when he mentions how he’ll buy her sexier underwear, he’s back on her shitlist, and she intends to make him suffer with two liters of shochu.

While getting some air, Iori and Kohei again encounter Cakey, whose real name is Yoshiwara Aina. She’s deep into her own cups, and proves a very…emotive drunk. But she also provides the lads with a clearer picture of her deal; she was accepted into the tennis club of beautiful people, but basically only so they could laugh at her, and when they got bored, they told her she could leave.

Iori and Kohei decide to use the pageant as a means to not only raise Aina’s spirits, but to give the cocky blue-haired tennis captain a dose of his own medicine. And yet by getting swept up in this new mission, they forget about Chisa.

Kohei sets a trap by confessing to Asuza on stage; the captain does the same, only for the lads to reveal “Asuza” was really Iori in disguise. In other words, they balance the distribution of laughter, disproving her belief it was eternally directed at her.

All’s well that ends well, as Iori and Kohei may well have made a new friend who is grateful for what they did for her…but the partying that follows leaves the lads horrendous wrecks, unable to protect the winner of the women’s pageant—Chisa—from another round of advances from guys, which she hates more than anything.

Up to this point, I had felt like Chisa was too often being defined through Iori, as Iori’s love interest. But Asuza makes clear to the other guys why exactly Chisa is upset: Iori and Kohei worked hard, but for the other girl, not her. In a rare instance of seeking/expecting protection from them, they let her down.

And so just as the tennis captain got his comeuppance, so must Iori. Upon receiving her award for winning the pageant, Chisa delcares to all assembled that she’s off the market: Iori is her boyfriend. Iori can’t protest, because he’s passed out.

In effect, Chisa has made delicious lemonade with the lemons she was dealt: Iori will repel other guys for her. He’ll be her shield. Considering how popular the pageant made Chisa with the guys, it won’t be an easy job; Iori may well prefer the tranquility of the ocean floor!

Grand Blue – 03 – Stepping into a New World

Diving involves a lot of equipment in good order, which means it’s quite a costly activity for a college club to be involved in; far costlier than, say, the tiddly winks club or the pogo stick club. Iori and Kouhei are informed of this in a matter-of-fact way, meaning they will have to help contribute to club funds.

They already have a way for them to contribute right away: by participating in the Izu Spring Festival’s Inter-Club Men’s Beauty Pageant. But before that, Ryuu takes Iori out for his very first scuba-diving lesson. Before he departs, he gets words from encouragement from Chisa.

Chisa is clearly excited that her old friend is about to experience something she’s already familiar with—and which she loves. Things start out a bit rough, as Iori isn’t used to the kind of breathing one does in scuba gear, and when his mask floods he panics.

But once everything is readjusted, he remembers what Chisa showed him at the aquarium, and it’s like stepping through the doorway into a new world. You can see the switch flip in Iori’s head from panic to nirvana, and the look of joy and wonder on his face is plain to see—and something that delights Chisa. “Good, he gets it now,” she seems to be thinking.

The wonder and joy lead to excessive celebration, which is nothing new to Iori and Kouhei, but what is new is the manner in which Iori finds himself waking up: beside a buxom half-naked woman a couple years her senior. This is how he meets third-year student and fellow diving club member Hamaoka Azusa.

Azusa is the kind of girl who doesn’t mind sleeping in the same room with a bunch of guys, but she’s also a good cook, and teaches Iori, Kouhei and Chisa how to make okonomiyaki to raise more funds for the club at the festival. The festival where, in exchange for not having to compete in the boy’s pageant, the boys must convince Chisa to compete in the girls’ pageant.

The lads, likely still hungover, decide the best way to convince Chisa is to liquor her up so she’ll be more open to the pageant. However, each time they try to slip her a spiked drink, she either already has one, politely declines, it’s taken by Azusa, or one or both of them have to take the drink. Before long, they’re drunk as skunks.

Azusa also reveals she knows what they’re up to—to the heretofore unaware but now horrified Chisa—and forces them to confess their true goal. They ask Chisa to enter the pageant; she refuses; and they reveal that they’re trying to get her to enter so they don’t have to.

That night, the lads play naked rock-paper-scissors, which Azusa joins in but doesn’t have to shed a single article of clothing as she whoops everyone. She gets Chisa to admit that it’s not that she doesn’t want to enter, but more that she doesn’t want to bear the embarrassment of the pageant all alone. Azusa also points out that the only reason they asked her at all is because they were supremely confident all she’d have to do is enter and her victory would be assured.

So Chisa agrees to enter…but only if Iori and Kouhei enter too. Thus the embarrassment is shared, if one loses one of the other two could still win, and if all three win, the club funds are tripled, so everyone wins. When the means with which to enter a new world are so expensive, sometimes you just gotta shake what your mama gave ya…proverbially!

Grand Blue – 02 – Underwater Isn’t So Bad

Iori continues to contend with the constant nudity of his male peers, but everyone dresses for dinner, which is when Nanaka observes he’s gone out every day he’s been in Izu, and doesn’t even know where his room is!

Nanaka forcefully forbids him from spending a third night out, but when the boys say they’ll be having drinks with students at a women’s university, Iori begs Nanaka to let him go. She refuses.

Iori doesn’t give up there, an decides he’ll unpack his stuff and set his room up in a way that will convince Nanaka to change her mind. Kotobuki and Tokita volunteer to help, and eventually Imamura is also involved in various ill-conceived makeovers.

They festoon his room in porn, then lolis, then BL, and finally, in order to sway Nanaka most powerfully, slap Chisa’s face on everything. In the last case, Chisa ends up seeing their handiwork before her sister.

It’s a competent example of the “best laid plans” comedy trope, in which Iori keeps trusting his friends, things just keep getting worse, and he just grows more angry and frustrated. His own idea is worse still, suggesting the entire venture was doomed from the start!

Chisa banishes him to an isolated room that also happens to be the meeting room for the diving club; Iori only learns this when he wakes up to find a meeting taking place in the room, and the club ain’t vacating!

Kotobuki and Tokita decide to give the three freshmen—Iori, Imamura, and Chisa—some basic lessons. Chisa is forced to participate despite already being well-versed in said basics.

The swimming lesson goes south when Iori is treated to the sight of way more underwater manhood than with he’s comfortable. The senpais even trick him into totally disrobing just when Chisa emerges from the changing room in her orange bikini.

Iori just can’t seem to prevent Chisa from seeing him in almost exclusively embarrassing and shameful situations!

But when Iori idly says he’s not interested in underwater—something she’s painfully passionate about—Chisa has Nanaka take Iori to the aquarium after-hours.

This visit and the majesty of the underwater to which divers have access doubtlessly inspires Iori, but so does video he sees of an entirely different side of Chisa; one he never sees because he always looks like a jackass around her.

Nanaka is honest about Chisa telling her to take him and why, and the next time Iori sees Chisa, he makes sure to express his gratitude, both by being fully clothed, and by giving her a souvenir. Chisa would’ve preferred a cuter trinket, but she clearly appreciates the gesture.

This was by far the least cringe-worthy interactions between the two childhood friends, and hopefully the start of a trend of more cordial encounters. Still, I also hope the show doesn’t stop mining Iori’s embarrassment/jackassery around Chisa for comedy…it’s still a rich mine!

Grand Blue – 01 (First Impressions) – Learning to Swim

Kitahara Iori moves back to the seaside town of Izu where he grew up in order to attend university. He’ll be living with his uncle, who runs the Grand Blue Diving Shop. Upon entering, Iori is met with a scene he never thought he’d see: a huge group of naked burly guys playing rock-paper-scissors.

Iori flees the site, but is quickly caught by two of the dudes, and learns they’re juniors at Izu University, making them his senpais. They were playing a game to determine who would fill their scuba tanks; they’re in a diving club and want to recruit Iori, who declines as he can’t swim.

Iori won’t just be living with his uncle, but his two female cousins as well, Nanaka and Chisa, both of whom have grown quite beautiful in the ten years since he’s seen them. There’s a particular aura around Chisa that suggests she’s looking forward to seeing Iori, or at the very least will give him a chance.

Iori blows that chance without even realizing he had one, because just as he walked in to a debaucherous display, so too does she, with him at its center, half-naked, drinking, shouting, and generally acting a damn fool (i.e., a college freshman). His attempt to smooth things over fails specatularly; Chisa’s first impression of him is that anything he touches must be thrown away.

His senpais Shinji and Ryuu demand he party with them that night, assuring him they’ll get him to orientation on-time. They do, but with two caveats: he’s hungover six ways from Sunday, and he’s in nothing but his boxers. That is how the whole of his freshman class meets him.

Iori has been swept up in the waves of college life, and it feels like his seniors are giving him a “swimming” lesson of sorts. The only way to learn is to jump in and start paddling, but Iori’s attempts to do so only invite more scorn, not just from Chisa, but from a hot blonde guy named Imamura Kouhei, who wears a t-shirt declaring his otaku-ism.

He also gets plenty of attention from the cops for continuing to ask people for their clothes. He finally gets a shirt by recruiting Kouhei to the Diving Club, which is called “Peek-a-Boo.”

Iori is inevitably thrown into more situations of cavorting and heavy drinking, and both he and Kouhei prove ill-equipped to resist the temptation to overdo things. To be fair, the peer pressure to drink as much strong liquor as possible is extremely high…though we see that Chisa is able to sip responsibly and stay above the fray.

The morning after their latest college party experience (involving a staring contest in which one person tries to get the other to spray their drink) both Iori and Kouhei arrive at class in their underwear. Clearly more swimming lessons will be needed…but despite Iori’s insistence the Diving Club is not for him….c’maaahn. You know that cat’s joining.

Grand Blue looks great and is a lot of fun, effectively capturing the raw energy and abandon of early adulthood. Those who have attended college know that it isn’t just about studies, but the experience; the change in one’s lifestyle to something more independent than one’s home. It’s about making a new home, and making a new family.

Most importantly, it’s about trying new things (and yes, sometimes failing and/or suffering). But as Yoda said in The Last Jedi: “The greatest teacher, failure is.”

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.

Servant x Service – 04

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Chihaya confides with Miyoshi how she’s secretly taking Yamagami’s measurements for cosplay, when they walk in on Yamagami and Hasebe hand in hand; he’s teaching her sign language. Later, Chihaya tells Hasebe they’re rivals, and warns Yamagami to be careful with him. Hasebe asks her out and she rejects him, but not because of him. Undeterred, he takes her out to eat often. The newbies finally meet the section manager, Kenzo Momoi, who has the body of a pink stuffed rabbit, and once worked with Hasebe’s father. He takes everyone out drinking, but Yamagami gets smashed instantly. Missing the last train, Hasebe takes her to a hotel for the night.

Inter-office romances have a reputation for being very tricky, and can obviously end badly, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad or should be discouraged. If that someone you happen to fall for just happens to work with you, that fact isn’t a dealbreaker in and of itself. It just means treading carefully is called for. Hasebe is a ladies man with hundreds of emails, but he rarely if ever is the one doing the asking out…until Yamagami. There’s clearly something about her that moves Hasebe to ask her out, and when she instantly rejects him out of fear she’s too boring and wears glasses, is he discouraged? Not at all; it just means he has to gradually win her over.

Yes, Hasebe can be creepy, and he does get away with too much, but we don’t think he’s a creep, and we think he has a genuine interest in Yamagami (besides her figure). Perhaps the fact that she shows no interest in him is enough to tickle his fancy. Or maybe its her inherent naivete and vulnerability about seemingly everything. This is a girl who was seemingly put on this earth to be a civil servant and nothing else. If it weren’t for Hasebe taking her out or Chihaya lending her books, it would seem like she has no life beyond her job and going home to sleep. So even if she’s unsure of Hasebe’s true intentions, it’s good that she’s experiencing new things as a result of her exposure to him and the others. Work isn’t everything.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • Yes, the remote-controlled(?) robotic(?) stuffed rabbit-as-section manager is a hard pill to swallow…but at least he’s less annoying than Touko. Much less, frankly.
  • Of couse Yamagami can’t hold her liquor in the slightest…
  • Is the series going to tease us all season about Yamagami cosplaying, or will Chihaya make it happen? She really just has to ask Hasebe for her bust measurement, though now that he knows they’re “rivals” he may not be forthcoming.
  • When Yamagami wakes up, she assumes she’s home and thinks she’s lying next to a “woman.” What’s going on? There’d better be follow-up next week.

Sankarea – 14

With Dan’ichiro away, Rea’s stepmother Aria live alone in the house, eating little, drinking much, getting driven to Rea’s school where she is headmistress, and generally being bored out of her mind. Meanwhile, Mero finds an unconscious girl under the temple and brings her in. The girl won’t talk but seems to have it in for Rea, and proceeds to stealthily harass and terrorize her. Once the jig is up and the others confront her, she runs out to the graveyard, where she reveals she’s Aria. Furuya lectures her on being nicer to her daughter, and she fumes and unleashes a torrent of glowing rain. She then wakes up in her bathtub. It was only a dream, but Rea and Furuya had it to.

Bored, miserable, and under-, nay, non-sexed, and always deep into a bottle of Vitamin XO, Aria tries to take her frustrations out on the only person she has control over besides her mocking household staff: her stepdaughter. When she starts touching herself in the tub and goes underwater, and the episode then cuts to the Furuya residence, we thought that would pretty much all we’d see of Aria. How wrong we were! The entirety of the episode after that only took place in a dream, albeit a dream that she, Rea, and Furuya had at the same time. It’s a clever little device, but we have to admit, when the girl reveals she’s Aria (with her beauty spot), we were a little lost for a moment. How is a little girl Rea’s mom???

Happily, the episode explains itself soon thereafter, and everything ends up making sense…more or less. And hey, the dream even ends up changing Aria’s tune; she ultimately decides the petty punishment she was forcing the school to mete out to Rea simply out of spite didn’t catch her fancy anymore. What’s funny is that Furuya’s rejection of the dream-Aria was an interaction between the two that actually happened and wasn’t just a dream. That makes this more interesting, because the typical “never happened” or “reset button” aspects of dream episodes don’t apply here.


Rating: 8 (Great)