Jouran: The Princess of Snow and Blood – 01 (First Impressions)

Dark and brooding, stylish and cool, Jouran is the story of a small band of assassins under the employ of the Tokugawa Shogunate. In this alternate history, Tokugawa Yoshinobu is still in power in 1931 thanks in large part to the discovery of the energy source Ryuumyuaku, or Dragon Vein. As a result, Tokyo is a glamorous city where science and Edo-period tradition merge.

Among the assassins is Yukimura Sawa, our protagonist (voiced by Mimori Suzuko, Kamisama Hajimemashita’s Nanami). Sawa is a stoic, no-nonsense young woman who grudgingly shares her living space with the young orphan Asahi who cooks her meals, and is the type to threaten a flirting guy with murder and not be joking.

Her two fellow assassins are the sardonic Tsukishiro Makoto (the striking Shouta Aoi) and the seductive Hanakaze Elena (the musician Raychell), who refers to Sawa as “the little bitch”. Their group’s leader is grim man named Kuzuhara who believes the dissident group Kuchinawa will attempt to assassinate the shogun at a banquet celebrating the completion of the new Tokyo Castle.

Makoto and Elena go undercover as party guests and end up following a bigwig confirmed to be working with the dissidents on the sly. Sawa is notable for her absence from the party, while lil’ Asahi waits at the dinner table in vain.

Makoto and Elena follow the bigwig and his henchmen to a secluded warehouse where an exchange of materials is taking place, and the assassins quickly take down everyone there. Elena uses a rather unique umbrella crossbow, while Makoto uses what I’d describe as a lightsaber katana.

However, their true target, a kemono or “changeling”, is nowhere to be found. Makoto bombs the facility and he and Elena head to the eastern gate of the castle, where he knows one of the vast network of secret tunnels leads from their current position.

Sawa is there, ready to head off the changeling, doing so by transforming into one herself with the help of a white raven. It’s depicted as a volatile and extremely painful process, but once she’s transformed she resembles a serene yuki-onna.

When she realizes her changeling opponent is the young man who flirted with her at the bookstore, she hesitates momentarily, and is wounded, but ultimately takes care of business, slicing off the changeling’s hand and finishing him off with a haunting poem that matches Sawa’s icy beauty and that of the scene:

Amidst the pitiless white snow
A fleeting dream is scattered
The path back leads only to Hell
I have no regrets

Makoto and Elena arrive just after she returns to human form and passes out. The threat to Yoshinobu would seem to be dealt with, but the next day at the official opening ceremony of Tokyo Castle, we witness scenes of carnage involving more changelings, presumably within its walls.

Sawa is recovering at home, but even in sleep she gets no rest, as she’s transported back to when her brother was murdered along with the rest of her family, by Janome, Kuchinawa’s executioner. She’s vowed not to die and join her family until she gets revenge on Janome, but Asahi seems prepared to kill her in her sleep with a kitchen knife. I guess she doesn’t like being kept waiting for dinner, huh?

Like Sawa, Jouran and its familiar-yet-bizarre alternate Tokyo carries itself with a quiet, assured dignity, but just as Sawa is tormented by trauma and tragedy, corruption, suffering, and death lurk beneath the gleaming Shogunate capital, much of it delivered by monsters in suits and with claws.

Assuming Sawa survives her tiny assassin’s attack, I’m excited to watch her continue to walk the line between her official duty and blood debts.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Misfit of Demon King Academy – 09 – The Other Side of the Story

Flash back two thousand years to the Human capital of Gairadite. Anos stops by, walking nonchalantly through every barrier the Humans can throw at him. But he’s not here to conquer, but to forge a peace. Hero Kanon is incredulous, but seems willing to hear Anos out. His general Jerga…isn’t, and ends up with Anos’ hand through his chest.

Back in the present, Menou Historia has “temporarily” replaced Emilia-sensei, and informs the class of the impending inter-academy classes in three weeks. We learn Demons and Humans use magic in very different ways.

A select team of students will travel to Azeshion’s Hero Academy, Arclaniska. For everyone but Anos it will be everyone’s first trip to the Human Realm, and he wants to make sure they’re ready, tirelessly sparring with Misha, Sasha, Lay, and Misa.

He also gives Lay a magic sword that was once master by his right-hand-man, whom I assumed was Shin, before remembering the promise he made to Kanon after getting stabbed by the Hero: that if they reincarnated in 2,000 years it would be as friends. So is Lay Shin, or Kanon? It’s not that clear.

Meeting with the newly-freed Melheis, Anos learns that Gaios and Ydol are on the mend, while the Humans’ Hero Academy has raised an elite class of reincarnated heroes, suggesting they may be preparing…something. The students are expected to find their way to Azeshion on their own within ten days; Team Anos (minus the fan club) are teleported there in one second.

While touring the city, Sasha notes how it’s not that different from the Demon capital. When Anos compliments her eyes again, they start to go out of control until Anos calms her down. He promises not to treat her like a child if she’ll promise to use her eyes to protect everyone if he’s ever unable to do so.

They arrive at the front gate of Hero Academy Arclaniska, where they’re met by third-year student Eleanor Bianca, a friendly, cheerful young woman happy to show them around and impressed by Anos’ knowledge of the Hero Kanon.

When Eleanor tells them how Kanon defeated Anos and built the walls, Sasha is outraged, but Anos far less so. He understands how in order for his peace plan to ultimately work, humans had to make a story in which they were the good guys and victors. What’s odd is, Humans believe the name of the Demon King of Tyranny to be Avos Dilhevia as well.

As for Hero Kanon reincarnated, since he had seven sources (or “hearts”), each could be reincarnated into a different body. Four of those are current students in the elite class, and two of them, Ledriano and Laos, confront Anos when they hear he can’t “accept the defeat” his founding ancestor suffered (of course not knowing Anos is the founding ancestor).

After Laos comes at Anos and is handled easily, Ledriano begs Anos’ forgiveness for his comrade’s rudeness and requests that he and Sasha leave for now. Surely these two will see each other again when the inter-academy skirmishes start. But later Eleanor warns Anos that if he’s looking for the original Hero Kanon reincarnate, he may be disappointed, since Kanon was murdered two thousand years ago…by a fellow human.

Featuring a new setting of the Human Realm with its requisite hierarchies, players, and alternate history, this first episode of the inter-academy mini-arc is functional, if uninspiring, expanding the show’s world but lacking the awe and excitement of the previous episode’s battles. There were moments this week when I wished the details of the mythology were less muddled, but that’s at least partly the point: a lot can change in two thousand years.

Dies Irae – 01

There wasn’t much I liked about Die Irae’s episode 00, and not much reason to continue with it—other than the fact 00 was a prologue and the first “regular” episode might totally different, better, or more promising.

Well, this first episode certainly is different; totally different. We’re now in modern-day Japan, following Fujii Ren, a regular high school kid, around as he’s discharged from the hospital after a fight with his best friend Shirou, who then dropped out of school and ran away.

After almost dying in an epic rooftop fight, Ren’s friend Ayase Kasumi (who he calls BAkasumi) thinks he’d enjoy going to a sword exhibition, but then they come across a rusty guillotine that shouldn’t be there and both of them get freaked out. Ren, in particular, has a vision of a beautiful woman flying out of the guillotine.

He awakens in his room, which we learn Ayase can access at any time from a hole in the wall. Her room, Ren’s, and Shriou’s are connected this way. Ren has another vision in which the blonde woman sings a song about beheading people, then finds himself locked into a guillotine, and his head goes flying with a fountain of blood. When he wakes up screaming, sirens can he heard outside: someone has been murdered…by beheading.

His other female friend Himuro Rea spends a good deal of time teasing Ren before telling him she and someone named Sister Riza saw the body. She mostly wants to make sure Ren’s okay after leaving the hospital.

As much as he may want his high school life to go back to normal, Shirou’s absence, the physical and emotional scars he left, and these sudden visions and real-life murder all conspire to prevent that normalcy from returning, perhaps ever.

Finally tying this episode into the prologue, we begin seeing some of Heydrich’s supermen/women appearing in the city, apparently ready to sacrifice it for the sake of their lord, believing nothing they do, not matter how awful, will be seen as a sin in the eyes of that lord.

So yes, this episode was pretty different from the first. Was it better? Hard to say. It at least fleshed out its characters a little better, but Ren, Kasumi and Rea aren’t anyone we haven’t seen in anime a hundred times over; both girls laid on their shtick pretty thick.

It remains to be seen if impending doom makes them anyone we met this week more interesting. The bottom line is that more questions arose here than were answered. On one hand that’s frustrating; on the other, a part of me still wants to watch on to see what happens…time permitting.

Dies Irae – 00 (First Impressions)

Dies Irae takes people from real-world history (namely Reinhard Heydrich and Karl Krafft) in the midst of a real-world conflict (WWII) and mixes it up into some kind of occulty Nazi X-Men-type milieu. And while the metal soundtrack was very apropos, much of the episode was what Heydrich initially aimed to be: boring.

That boredom arises from a lack of a strong character to root for. If you’re going to give a fictional character the name of one of history’s greatest monsters, well, I ain’t rooting for him, whether his mini-arc in this episode somewhat resembles Kotomine Kirei’s or not. There’s also an introduction to a good number of people with long flowery names who don’t make much of an impact.

It’s a jumble of overly-baroque (and in the case of the floating skeleton cities, somewhat silly) settings and thin characters with unclear motivations. Krafft seems to have tried and succeeded to bring out Heydrich’s full potential, leading to the creation of a badass nazi kill squad, with the aim of—wait for it—“creating a new world.” “Loving and destroying” are also the same thing, don’t you know.

Yeah, not sure I’m feeling Dies Irae. Episode one, still to come, may be totally different, and succeed where zero failed to hook me…but I won’t hold my breath.

Youjo Senki – 01 (First Impressions)

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The Gist: in an alternate World War I, where a certain Empire has been surrounded, Mages are deployed to hold the enemy back in an infinite delay game of mobilized defense.

Second Lieutenant Tanya Degrechaff is one such mage…except she isn’t. She’s a walking death dealer, easily able to rip apart enemies of the Empire with her magic bolt action rifle and…flying boot? She demonstrates this by defeating an entire company of enemy mages on her own (with a sort of nuke-bullet) after they easily kill off an Imperial mage company.

However, her platoon of mages is not so powerful, nor subordinate to follow her instructions and, during this week’s missions, either they are killed or accomplish nothing. Likewise, central command (and enemy central command, which we see during the closing credits) are also inept and terrified of this child murder-machine.

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Youjo Senki is a mixed bag, visually. When it wants to, it animates explosions and gesture reasonably well, and the moody clouds are top notch. It even risks drawing characters from quirky low or high angles. Unfortunately, all the characters look a bit weird, style wise, with exaggerate lip and eye shapes and positions.

The plot is problematic too, where individual battles are coherent but the flow between them, or the over all purpose is not clearly defined. Rather, there’s no build up for the characters, nor mystery about them, and everyone’s motivations seemed to be limited to ‘war.’ (edit: I’ve seen learned that Degrechaff has a mystery behind her but that’s not indicated in this episode at all)

Combined with the mostly mud-color pallete and a eye-rollingly juvenile ‘evil chant’ sound track, Youjo Senki feels like it’s trying harder for a mood than a coherent story or resonant characters.

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The Verdict: Youjo Senki doesn’t feel like it’s making a statement by using a child-soldier, which is something that has no real World War I context. It also doesn’t feel like it’s making a statement about World War I style combat either, nor about people, nor does it show any real relationships in the first episode.

If you are into loli murder-machines who are spelled out evil incarnate, or into alternate World War I aesthetics mixed with magic, you may like this.

If you find the anime tendency to misconstrue World War I and World War II Germany annoying, don’t ‘get anything’ out of evil little magic girls, or are looking for a cohesive plot with interesting characters, probably not?

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Shuumatsu no Izetta – 03

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Eylstadt’s antiquated, outmatched defenses are brought to the brink against the mighty modern Germanian war machine, and Izetta places us right in the trenches to experience how dire the situation is. A young private is tense before the action even starts; and then all of a sudden his commander is dead, the landscape has changed, and the air is full of cries of pain and despair.

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Fine’s forces are receiving a drubbing, and a rout is all but certain. Her frustration with the ineffectiveness of their defense is compounded by her heartbreak that so many must give their lives, simply to buy time. Yet she has the presence of mind and the discipline not to send the forces she still has out to die in a blaze of glory. She may not like how she has to pay for it, but she needs time for the civilians to evacuate and for new lines to be established.

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It falls to Izetta to do something about this horrible, hopeless situation. Against Fine’s wishes, Izetta enters the battle, and quickly turns the tables, using old jousting lances from the medieval castle as projectiles to take out the Germanian Stuka dive bombers one by one. She manages to take out the last plane with the lance she’s riding, timing it just right so she lands on the stump of it rather than fall to her death.

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She’s stunned by the landing, but quickly springs back into action, right around the area where the private we met is fighting. He, along with the other surviving soldiers, bear witness as Izetta moves her assault on the Germanians to the ground, fighting with a desperate intensity that buoys their spirits.

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This is the best battle of Izetta yet, showing the witch using her powers in creative ways, employing ancient weapons to bring down marvels of modern warfare. The Elystadt armed forces simply can’t compete by playing by the same rules as the Germans. So it’s good their patron saint has arrived to flip the game board over and shred the rulebook.

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Thoughout the Germainian advance, stall, and eventual defeat, we cut to their headquarters, where army and air force generals keep a bottle of champagne on ice for the eventual announcement of their certain victory. But Izetta has thrown their entire prosecution of the war into chaos. A who squadron of Stukas and a company of tanks are simply gone. They popped the cork too early; one general’s glass falls to the ground and shatters.

Meanwhile, after enduring so much death, destruction, and despair, the troops rally around Fine and the second coming of their White Witch, their morale and hope for the future suddenly restored. The nervous private who watched it all leads the men in singing a powerful anthem of victory. Fine didn’t like how Izetta risked herself and defied her wishes, but she can’t deny the results were tremendous.

I imagine relatively “easy” victories such as this will be few and far between; the Germanian leader and those scientists are unlikely to let the military be caught off guard again. And as powerful as she is, Izetta is not invincible; it only takes one well-place bullet to kill her, just like any other girl. But for now, let the men sing.

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Shuumatsu no Izetta – 02

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Thanks to Papika Izetta, Princess Fine is free from the Germanians, but they’re not out of the woods. An enemy patrol spots the smoke plume from their transport and before long the two girls are locked in an alpine dogfight that’s a feast for the eyes.

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Izetta sees no other choice but to break taboo and her promise to her granny and use her magic openly. The results are an astounding demonstration of her potential as a weapon against the Germanians, taking out three planes, but she runs out of mana before the lead plane is downed.

Enter a still-bleeding Fine, who reminds Izetta she’s not riding a broom, but a giant rifle, which they use to take out the last plane. After the sustained battle, Fine is out cold, Izetta’s tank is empty, and she has to ditch the gun and make for the Eylstadt fortress on foot.

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By good fortune Izetta encounters a force of retreating Elystadt survivors led by Major Obermeyer, and their suregon fixes Fine up while also tending to Izetta’s wounds. Izetta is loath to accept any help, favor, or comfort, and it all has to do with the old scar the doc notices on Fine’s side, for which Izetta blames herself.

As the first episode hinted, Izetta and Fine had met before, and it wasn’t a dream. Izetta isn’t some scientific specimen or non-corporeal supreme being…she’s just a girl. A girl who happened to be the last in a line of witches. Her grandmother noted she was the most powerful in generations, despite being the last, and so had to take extra care not to get tangled up in trouble.

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Things just didn’t work out that way, but it wasn’t all for naught: Izetta and Fine meeting was the best thing to happen to either of them, because they were the only ones who saw each other for what they were: not a witch to be feared or a princess to be fawned over, but two girls in need of best friends.

Fine received her side wound defending Izetta from an angry mob, doing as she’s always done: value the lives of others as much if not more than her own. She wants to save Izetta again by sending her away rather than using her, but Izetta won’t hear of it. She wants to be used, and she wants Fine to be the hope that drives her, just as it drives the desperate armies and subjects of Eylstadt.

Beginning with a thrilling aerial battle, leading to some vital backstory, and concluding with Izetta’s vow not to leave Fine’s side in the coming battles, this episode had a little of everything, and was as efficient in its storytelling as it was entertaining and moving.

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Shuumatsu no Izetta – 01 (First Impressions)

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What is it: A period historical/military action drama taking place in an alternate world during the equivalent of WWII. Princess Fine and her tiny duchy of Eylstadt becomes the latest victim of the Germanian Empire’s campaign of expansion. She’s eventually caught by Germanian officers, but while en route to Neue Berlin, the legendary witch Izetta, also aboard the plan, awakens and saves her princess.

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Why you should watch: If you like historical anime that put a little twist on history (without getting to nationalistic about things). The tech here is strict WWII-era, with steam trains, dive bombers, and Luger pistols. The only fantastical element is Izetta, who will surely prove to be the one most vital to the survival of the protagonist Fine.

Fine is also voiced by Hayami Saori, is often called a “tomboy” by other characters, but is really just a badass who knows she survives because of the love of her people. Production values are slightly above average, and the score is fine.

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Why you shouldn’t watch: If you’re kinda period-pieced out by the recently-wrapped 91 Days, or if you’re a little put off by plot conveniences like Izetta just happening to end up not only on the same train as Izetta, but the same plane as well, some time later. Perhaps, however, they’ve been drawn together by some particular bond between the witch of Eylstadt and its leader. The bad guys are literally Nazis. Well, quasi-Nazis.

The Verdict: A sturdy and steadily-paced opening episodes for a show with lots of promise, with a strong female protagonist at its core. If you like the idea of a tough underdog princess and her witch companion fightin’ off some quasi-Nazis and fulfilling her duty to her small country of people, this show is up your alley. I’ll be following it for now, since it’s the first Fall show I’ve come across.

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