Fate/Extra Last Encore – 11 – Status Quo Equals Decline

When last we saw Hakuno and Saber, he had just saved Rin and Rani from an eternal stalemate (though only Rin survived); we now rejoin them as they ascent to the seventh and highest floor, where master Leonardo Bistario Harwey dwells. Even though Rin and the female Hakuno managed to defeat Leo and his servant a thousand years ago, it was only because Leo “gave up the win” of his own volition.

They arrive at a painfully gorgeous yet empty place, and are met by the Saber-class servant Gawain, who has neither the will or reason to raise his sword against them. Turns out Leo was saved by Twice Pieceman (the one who holds the grail and from which whom no servant has ever taken it) and subscribed to the ideology of Twice, maintaining the status quo on the floor.

Since humans can only survive through change, he became humanity’s enemy. After about a century, he determined no challengers would come forth, and settled into a slumber, where he remains…until now. Gawain leads the new challengers to the place where Leo sleeps—though not before Saber pays respects to her former master, whose tomb is situated on a picturesque cliff overlooking a waterfall.

As much as Saber liked that Hakuno, Rin opines that perhaps if Leo and not Hakuno had won and made it past the Seventh Floor, perhaps SE.RA.PH and humanity might not be in such a bind, because Leo wouldn’t have lost to Twice as Hakuno did. Even so, it’s likely civilization would have still fallen for other reasons related to the kind of person Leo is.

Regardless, the present Hakuno must do what neither Leo (devoted to preserving the present) nor Twice (obsessed with the past) ever could: look to the future; the only way forward for mankind. To do so, he must do what his predecessor did and win against Leo…only this time when he awakens, Leo is prepared to fight back rather than conveniently resign.

As soon as he’s up and about, Leo sics Gawain on Saber and starts attacking Hakuno, who can barely deflect his attacks with Dead Face. Saber is similarly overwhelmed by Gawain’s power, and notably neither are able to properly support one another or compensate for their shortcomings. It’s a relatively quick but still extremely epic and badass battle.

Leo orders a coup-de-grace in the form of Excalibur Galatine, Gawain’s Noble Phantasm that basically creates a facsimile of the sun itself to incinerate his opponent. While Saber and Hakuno survive the onslaught, the ground beneath them does not, and they fall, perhaps all the way back to the lowest level. Speaking of levels, it’s as if they approached a boss in an RPG without sufficiently leveling up, and simply got schooled.

Unfortunately, there’s no time to gather more power; nor is there time to ascend all the way back to the Seventh Floor: Chakravartin will be complete in a matter of hours. Just when Hakuno was his most resolved, he’s swatted down…and even if he manages to reset Moon Cell, it will most likely mean deleting the last thousand years of history.

Since that history contains the defeats and amassed negativity that led to his creation, restoring Moon Cell will presumably claim Hakuno as well, meaning history could easily repeat itself with no more hero to correct it again. Still, I’m sure he, Saber, and Rin can figure something out.

Hanebado! – 01 (First Impressions) – Everything is Pointless

Hanebado! opens fast and crisp, in the midst of a match in the badminton nationals. One player is struggling as hard as she can and sweating bullets; the other is just calmly, coolly blowing her opponent away with a 21-o game.

The scene features some really decent sports animation, elevating the action to a kind of heightened reality with viewing angles, cuts, and shifts in speed. But as exciting as the match looks, neither player is happy at the end; neither the victor nor the defeated.

Cut to six months later, the victor (Hanesaki Ayano) along with her longtime friend (Fujisawa Elena) are first years at the same school as third-year player she defeated (Aragaki Nagisa), who is so upset over the loss she’s taking it out on the other players in the club, forcing several to quit rather than endure more abuse.

Ayano wants nothing to do with badminton, but while exchanging easy volleys with Elena on a tennis court, an errant bounce of a serve by the boy’s tennis club’s first-year ace Saionji nearly hits Elena in the face, but Ayano lunges in front of her and smashes it away, gaining a point in a game she wasn’t even playing.

A coach grabs Ayano and inspects her wrists and hands, forcing Elena to defend her. Meanwhile Nagisa (whom Ayano beat) wanders off, regretting how harsh she was with the now-departed players. She’s comforted by her friend Riko, who remains with the team and is likely the only person Nagisa is comfortable crying around.

So the main players in Hanebado! are a girl possessed with phenomenal natural talent who has no motivation to actually play, and a girl who is basically the opposite, with a good metric fuckton of angst between them. A classic talent-vs.-hard work dynamic, which results in a very shounen manga-style challenge at the end: If Ayano beats Nagisa, she won’t have to join.

That means in this rematch, Nagisa will have to find some way to turn the tables. Perhaps in the last six months she’s narrowed the gap between them? I’m a couple weeks behind in this show because I was trying to avoid watching a sports anime, but there’s no way I’m backing out of this before I watch the result, which will no doubt feature more of that sweet sweet shuttlecock action!

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 10 (Fin) – Hakuno Picks a Third Way

FELE’s last episode for a while elaborates on the plan devised by Rin and Rani to bring a Master to the Sixth Floor, and they relay those plans to Hakuno on the roof of a high school down on what I assume to be the level where he started.

Waking up in the ladder with Saber, Hakuno explores his code casting powers, which apparently contain all of the weapons and skills of the masters who died before him. That combination of abilities adds credence to Saber’s insistence that he is himself and no one else, and must proceed as such.

When they reach the Sixth floor, it is a white wasteland piled with long-unused lances. Suddenly, Rin appears in her Lancer garb and attacks Saber, and a giant Rani sneaks up on Hakuno. Then Rin and Rani fight each other, more Rins show up, more Ranis show up, and Hakuno and Saber basically get a very efficient course in what’s been happening for about a millennium.

They realize the lands and waters are littered not just with weapons, but corpses of endless Rin and Rani copies. But there is one place where there are no corpses, and Hakuno determines that’s where they should go.

While pondering what the heck is up with all the Rin copies, the “real” Rin arrives, but like her “soldier” versions, she’s only a digital copy, and a fragile one at that. She’s just able to lead them to the central dome when she starts to disperse, a process she tells them actually hurts quite a bit.

Within the halls of the dome, recorded video of Rin and Rani is projected on cross-shaped supports. They once fought as rival Masters on this floor, but Moon Cell deemed their fight a draw just before the Holy Grail War was suspended, leaving them in a horrifying limbo of fighting and killing each others’ endless digital copies as the “originals” lay dormant.

It’s a stalemate, but it’s also a bug in the system that’s gotten way out of control, so they both sent avatars of themselves to guide Hakuno here, so he could end the cycle and choose a winner and a loser, something Moon Cell couldn’t do.

However, Hakuno doesn’t choose to kill either Rin or Rani. Instead, he tries to revive both of them. Only Rin survives, while Rani passes on due to the “peculiar” nature of her digital body. But she’s grateful for the attempt, and Rin is grateful he succeeded in bringing her back. Once Rani is laid to rest, she commits herself to continuing to aid Hakuno until the end.

“Fate Spin-off By Shaft” was met with mixed and polarizing emotions, but I for one enjoyed it immensely. It took the parts of Fates I’d seen before and liked and placed them in a gorgeously-rendered distant and unsettling future where a tiny glimmer of hope still remains thanks to a walking talking manifestation of death itself and his trusty, adorable, formidable Roman Emperor of a Servant. I’m looking forward to Part Two.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 09 – The Emperor’s Soliloquy

The “film” the female Kishinami Hakuno shows her male counterpart is of her own quest with Saber as her Servant, and a more noble, loyal and true servant, no one could possibly have.

Like the current Hakuno, the female Hakuno learns that she’s neither wizard nor Master, but a “recreation of the data of someone who once existed”; an “NPC”. But Saber tells her that’s of no consequence, either to her value as an individual or her role as prospective victor of the Grail War.

It is in She-Hakuno’s moment of deepest despair and crisis of identity that Saber reveals her True Name: Nero Claudius, fifth emperor of the Roman Empire and one history condemns as a raving despot and dictator. Naturally, Nero herself has a more nuanced life story to tell, and that story is told through what appears to be the work of Ueda Hajime, a frequent collaborator with Shinbo Akiyuki who also animated all Monogatari EDs.

Saber makes no attempt to sugar-coat her tale or excuse the life she led, only to lay it all out to provide Hakuno with context in which to consider her sage advice. Nero loved strangers and commoners more than the royal family to which she belonged. She’s proud of bringing the Great Fire of Rome under control, but as her reign went on she became seen as a moody, unstable dictator.

The Senate could not depose her as long as she had the loyalty of the common people, but when push came to shove no one came to her aid when she was brought down, and she died alone, in despair, with the love of no one. Both in its flamboyantly unconventional presentation, themes of adoration and fall from grace, and truly epic scope, Saber’s story parallels that of the vampire later known as Oshino Shinobu in Monogatari.

And now that we finally have the whole picture of who Saber is, and was, we can appreciate just how much weight there is behind her words of encouragement, for both past and present Kishinami Hakunos. She is at peace with her demise, and will set her life ablaze for the sake of those who wish to believe she is beautiful. In other words, who will love her.

Whatever love she had in her lifetime—of family or people—was either nonexistent or fleeting, so it stands to reason she’s not picky about where she gets her love now. Both Hakunos may deem themselves pale imitations unworthy of having a Servant as excellent and wise and kind as Saber.

They are utterly mistaken for thinking that way. Saber doesn’t care from whom she gets her love. In fact, she would prefer if those people did not “mind every little thing” about themselves.

Call it the extension of her affinity in life for those deemed “less than” in the society in which she lived. Commoners. Bastards, cripples, and broken things. And yes, even NPCs who have been killing and hating for a millenium.

Saber’s been dead three millenia, but doesn’t let it get her down for a second. To her, Hakuno isn’t beholden to the person or people he was before. As far as she’s concerned, he’s is a new person, who deserves a fresh start without prejudice. But he has to take it.

Reinvigorated and healed thanks to the ministrations of Rani (or, at least, her ghost), Hakuno and Saber head back out. Saber faces off against Berserker once more.

After copying and countering his martial arts moves with Royal Privilege, she unleashes her Noble Phantasm: Kingdom of Heaven and Hell,  the Golden Theater of the Deranged, and Veil of Petals, ending Berseker without any difficulty. It’s a short but gorgeous battle.

That leaves Hakuno to deal with Julius, who no longer has any backup. Julius tries his usual spiel denigrating Hakuno for not being alive or having a wish or any business fighting him. This time, the words don’t hurt Hakuno. Saber has opened his eyes. Julius isn’t talking about him; those were other people, and he’s not interested in hearing about their pasts.

After a trippy zero-gravity battle in which the two Dead Faces fight in midair as their surroundings rotate and reorganize around them, Hakuno delivers a decisive blow. Yet even in his dying breath, Julius assures him that he’ll end up like him eventually.

Hakuno doesn’t worry about those words; he’s recommitted to being the best Master he can be for the best Servant one could ask for, who is waiting for him at the ladder to the sixth level.

Rani and Rin seem poised to remain behind having accomplished their shared goal of getting a “decent Master” to the sixth level. But citing the increased difficulty at that level, Rin changes her mind and follows the pair after all, while Rani vanishes in a cloud of digital code.

Thinking back on this episode, I’m astounded at how much it achieved in 25 scant minutes. It felt like a feature film, without ever feeling overstuffed, while cementing my undying love for this version of Saber, whose story was so vividly and painfully told. My head is still spinning. That was truly awesome.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 09

Throughout this episode everyone remains imprisoned, affording time for Kaisar and Favaro to catch up, while Nina impresses by making hard labor look comically easy and ends up befriending Jeanne. Both Kaisar and Favaro know Nina, and both Nina and Jeanne know Mugaro.

What could have been a static table-setter is infused with bottomless sources of magnetism thanks to the official infusion of Favaro (and Jeanne) to the arc, and a measure of “freedom” is lent by taking us back to when he came to make Nina his apprentice.

That story provides some of the best laughs of the series, as Favaro and Nina prove to have fantastic comedic chemistry. Favaro arrives at the dragon village to eat, drink, and screw away his earnings, but the second Nina hears that he’s a bounty hunter, she wants in…and Nina gets what she wants through boundless perseverance (read: Favaro gives up trying to run away from her).

Nina’s feats of strength impress Favaro, but her more fine skills such as marksmanship and whipcraft leave a little to be desired. When Favaro enjoys the village’s famed hot springs, he ends up learning about Nina’s transformation ability when she dives in not knowing he’s there.

Favaro only agreed to have Nina as an apprentice while he’s in the village, so when he leaves, he decides there’s no more he can teach her—which…wasn’t all that much to begin with. After all, you can’t teach most of what makes Favaro Favaro. Still, Nina receives her bounty hunter’s bracelet with solemn pride and excitement, and promises to “probably” not forget her master, and takes to heart his words about “the wind blowing to tomorrow”, despite not really getting them.

The story of how Favaro ended up in the imperial prison is far briefer than how he met and trained Nina: in the first town over form the dragonfolk, he passes out drunk, is ratted out by a woman in exchange for gold from Onyx Guards. His magnificent afro is shaved, and he undergoes all manner of suffering under Charioce, only to be left to rot in the prison.

As Kaisar starts to rot beside him, his Orleans Knights try to deal with the loss of their captain…by getting drunk in a club surrounded by pretty demons, including Cerberus, who convince Al that he’s the captain (though whether he’ll remember in the morning is dubious).

Meanwhile, Jeanne befriends Nina, and when Nina explains why she’s in the slammer, Mugaro comes up. The child Nina describes is clearly the same person Jeanne suspects, but it’s funny that she’s initially unclear because Nina refers to him as a girl when he’s really just a very pretty boy.

Still, Nina’s arrival and news of Mugaro serves as the catalyst for Jeanne to decide the time is right to break out. Nina, wanting to make up for not saving Mugaro before, is eager to assist her, and in Nina Jeanne has a powerful ally.

And as I mentioned last week, things are not so dire, as not everyone is currently in prison. Rita isn’t just going to sit around and wait for them to rescue themselves; the end of the episode has her taking flight by umbrella into the night, ready to do some rescuing of her own, or at least assistance with same.

I’m stoked about the pairing of Nina and Jeanne and the reunion of Kaisar and Favaro, and look forward to seeing what the four of them plus Rita (and maybe an assist or two from a demon or god) manage to come up with to defy the evil (yet as we know, also complicated) King Charioce.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 08

The things that went down last week and at the beginning of this week can’t be undone; there’s no convenient return to the status quo where everyone scatters but remains free.

Instead, Kaisar crosses the line into straight-up treason by interfering with and raising a sword to King Charioce, in an attempt to stop him from fighting Azazel.

Azazel doesn’t want Kaisar’s help and is through listening to his prattle, so Kaisar ends up having to fight both Azazel and Charioce at once, in another nicely-animated little setpiece.

He bests both of them, thanks to a well-placed fist and his metal arm…but while the fight is over, there will be consequences for all involved.

Mugaro, who came to try to help Azazel and the demons, ends up captured by Sofiel, who goes ahead and captures Bacchus and Hamsa while she’s at it. Azazel pleads with Nina to transform into a dragon already, but Nina is confused, overwhelmed, and most importantly, her heart is not racing.

Since that’s only way she’s ever been able to transform, and because she’s never willingly transformed, she can’t become a dragon, so she’s arrested along with Azazel and Kaisar.

All the townsfolk who know and love Nina know she’d never be capable of treason against the king, but when they defend her too forcefully, they’re threatened with charges of treason, and everyone clams up. Not Nina herself, however. In shackles, on her knees, and without leave to speak, Nina lets Charioce have it with both barrels, with the general thesis of her rant being that he’s an evil bully of a king.

In a show full of characters with overly florid language, it’s nice to hear Nina speak plainly but forcefully about how much Charioce sucks. If she recognizes him as her date during the festival, she doesn’t let on, and Charioce doesn’t reveal himself to her. He orders her and Kaisar be sent to the prison tower, where they’ll stay “indefinitely”, and more importantly, be unable to further interfere with his plans.

Those plans involve finishing off the gods, who he’ll allow scored a win by capturing Mugaro, but still thinks they’re being overconfident, and likes his odds of destroying them, after which Jeanne d’Arc will finally stop praying.

The name Jeanne gave her child Mugaro is “El”, and that’s what Gabriel calls him (her?) while trying to make a deal: if he lends his power in helping them put the humans back in their place, he’ll be able to see his mother again.

As for Bacchus and Hamsa, they’re being held in some kind of strange void, also likely indefinitely. Hamsa tries everything to free them, but Bacchus isn’t sorry for protecting Mugaro, which he did because he merely “felt like it”, and isn’t okay with them using him.

Nina and Kaisar’s imprisonment (the bickering ferrymen was a nice detail) also offers them the opportunity to meet a couple of very interesting people with cells adjacent to their own. Nina discovers Jeanne d’Arc, while Kaisar spots a grizzled, bearded Favaro Leone, who finally makes his entrance in Virgin Soul.

By the end of the episode, we have Mugaro, Bacchus, Hamsa, Nina, and Kaisar all in custody or imprisoned; only Rita is free. It’s a refreshing, stakes-raising development after many earlier close calls. I’m not sure how everyone is going to get out of their cages, or what role Favaro will play, but I’m certainly eager to find out.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 07

While watching the first half of this Baha Soul, I felt like the calm before the storm achieved last week didn’t need the supplemental calm we got here. Just get on with the parade and let things unravel.

Don’t get me wrong, Nina is adorable as always, especially post-first-date, it’s ironic to think the fact she dressed Mugaro as a girl means Sofiel can’t tell he’s the kid she’s looking for, despite staring straight at him.

It’s also laudable for Kaisar to warn his king not to attend the parade, because unpleasant doings sure to transpire. But we know Charioce isn’t going to miss a parade celebrating his great day of victory—when Cocytus fell and with it the fear of demons—for fear of demons.

But when the parade finally starts, the tension keeps building until that first concussive blast, followed by several more. It’s a terror bombing the king was almost daring the demons to pull off, and being surrounded and unable to retreat is no sweat off his back.

It’s a nice touch that in a carefully-planned battle in which she was meant to be the pièce de résistance for the resistance, Nina doesn’t have a clue what’s going on. She’s suddenly scooped up by Azazel, who proceeds, in hilarious fashion, to alternated between staring deeply and intensely into Nina’s eyes and hugging her.

But the blushing never comes. Nina’s heart doesn’t race for Azazel anymore, not necessarily because of anything he did, but because of what her mystery date did: make her once general discomfort with pretty men much more specific. She doesn’t know why she’s not transforming even after almost being kissed by Azazel, but she also seems relieved. I know I would be.

I can’t fault for Nina not cooperating with Azazel – she wants her dragon form under control, not weaponized, and certainly doesn’t want to hurt people. At best, she’s annoyed by the kind, shrugging off missing him in the parade (incidentally, if they’d locked eyes while he passed I wonder if she’d see her date and if her heart would’ve raced accordingly. Alas).

But, Nina not playing ball with Azazel means the demons are dealt another defeat, picked off one by one by Charioce’s forces. Many start to think they were betrayed by Azazel, until he swoops in to fight beside them. But when they asked what the hell happened with the red dragon, he has no answer.

Post-credits, the big tank demon and sultry demon are taken out by a flurry of arrows and the fist of one of those giant golem/mecha guys (that don’t seem like a good idea in a crowded city), respectively. Azazel is also in big trouble, and Nina still isn’t yet caught up on what’s even happening.

Finally, the preview was handled by Gabriel and Sofiel, who haughtily boast of the fact they’re beautiful gods.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 06

This was a calm-before-the-storm episode where not much happened, but what did transpire, and what I learned, was of great significance. It also underscored the fact that the female gaze as represented by Nina is not only present but prevailing in Bahamut.

Case in point, while running an errand for Rita on the eve of the great Anatae festival, Nina comes afoul of the Pimp whose slaves Mugaro released, only this time he’s armed with ridiculously handsome henchmen that make it tough for her to fight back.

It’s an ingenious way to place her in a state of vulnerability and in need of rescuing by the dreamy aloof vagabond. As thanks for his assistance, she asks him to stop by Bacchus’ hot wings stand, and he says he’ll be there.

Nina’s resulting bubbly high from the gruff yes lasts her for much of the episode, as her facial expressions reach new heights of contortion and she wanders through her festival duties in a haze. She’s got the hots for the stranger, and bad…but I wonder how she’d fell if she knew that stranger was none other than King Charioce XVII, walking among his people in disguise.

Meanwhile, Azazel’s imminent plans cast a pall over the big festival—plans that heavily rely on a very large assumption that Nina will side with him and the demons, transform into a red dragon, and help his cause; none of these things are certain, but he’s moving forward regardless.

The night of the festival, Charioce keeps his promise and stops by, and Bacchus asks him to take Nina and show her around. A lovely montage ensues, with an initially just-as-bashful-as-ever Nina gradually becoming more comfortable beside the pretty man as they engage in all manner of festival-related activities.

Those activities culminate in a folk dance, which is as carefully and lovingly animated as the scenes of action, violence, and destruction in previous episodes. Nina’s face is typically a kaleidoscope of emotions, but the dance takes her expressiveness to a new level.

When the time comes to bid farewell, Nina asks the king-in-disguise his name: he gives the name “Chris.” She wants to see and dance with him again, and he hopes they will, a line that echos in Nina’s head and almost turns her into a dragon right there, which is her cue to speed off, Road Runner-style.

While running, she fortuitously collides with Azazel, who has returned to Anatae after his long absence. Azazel has no time to chat, and sternly instructs Nina what to do. Notably, despite the fact he squeezes her cheeks and her eyes meet his, Nina does not blush or react strongly at all to the contact.

This, and her blissful letter to her mom, not only suggest that Nina now only has eyes for “Chris”, but that Charioce may have successfully accomplished what he set out to do: “disarm” Nina and remove her as a potential trump card for Azazel.

Was Charioce only playing Nina, or does a part of him get a thrill from being out in the world without the crown on his head; holding the warm hand of a lovely woman, rather than cold steel, in his own.

We’ll soon see. Azazel Comin’.

Shirobako – 03

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Shirobako spent so much time showing us the dizzy-busy world of making animation in such an frank way (read: never breaking character or the fourth wall) my brain melted. Here, check the key frames! You can see my gray matter dripping out and plopping on the floor!

In all fairness, Shirobako’s overwhelming detail makes for exceptionally educational viewing. Except, according to people I know on FX’s Archer, Cartoon Network’s ATHF and PBS’ Peep, this is not entirely how the animation goes down in the USA. It’s not totally different, mind you, but the structural differences and timelines don’t really match up.

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Unfortunately it’s not very educational for me either; it would be if I hadn’t done some animation in school and/or if I wasn’t married to an animator and been roped into several of her projects.

Blah blah blah enough about me and my spoiled eight years of art school. what happened this episode?

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Lots happened but none of the details matter! Not even the people matter, really. You’d have a very hard time remembering any of their names without constant name-blocks popping up on screen and, even then, they are just cogs in the process of making the show.

And making of Exodus Episode 4 was all this week was about. Things have fallen apart, new people are getting overwhelmed and the old-timers (and a 2.5-hour drive) save the day.

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Is Shirobako bad, then?

No. No, it’s pretty good. At least, it’s very well-constructed, visually appealing, and very coherent in so far as understanding who is doing what and what they are working towards. But…

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Oh my god! I don’t care!

Excluding the occasional dolls coming to life in the protagonist’s sleep-deprived mind, it’s a show about a bland magical girl show being made by a head-splitting number of characters. The subs can be massive and the details provide nothing interesting if you don’t want to learn how anime is made.

And I already know most of that!

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Shirobako – 02

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Shirobako is a strange beast. It’s well-animated, well voiced and the plot and characters are moving on nicely. However, that plot is about a plucky young studio making a fictional anime, is deeply involved in the particulars of making anime in general, and features a cast so broad there is no way we will ever remember their names or come to know more than a sliver of them.

Oh yeah! Not only did it introduce new characters this week, but it sent a toss back to the opening of the first episode to remind us that the true story here is about the five girls who wanted to go into animation when they were in high school.

Ahhhh!

shirobako2_7Harry Potter is in the cast now…  for some reason.

This week, Exodus hits a few stumbling points. First, episode 3 and 4’s keyframe animator is sick and second, the wishy-washy director wants to redo a lot of work very very late in production.

Both of these challenges fall on the shoulders of our heroine, who’s name I can’t remember because she’s one of 40 characters zipping around all the time. Rather, she’s usually sitting down, but we are zipping from scene to scene.

Zooooom!

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Obviously, our heroine saves the day by finding a replacement keyframe lead and deftly directs the development conversation into better understanding the characters, and making those characters compelling enough for the crew to get on board with reanimating them.

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Then Exodus’ characters come alive right on top of the conference table. I have no idea if this was a literal scene or just an over the top manifestation of the crew’s communal vision.

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Because a show with a cast this large needed to introduce each voice actor for it’s own fictional anime. Rock’n!

Given how mundane yet technical Shirobako’s plot is turning out to be, not much is popping out for me to comment on. The show isn’t dull, per se, it’s just…unimportant? I mean, it’s hard to care about the world-building of an office that is debating world-building.

Yes! I went to art school for eight years, and Yes! I’ve done technical management and development in the creative industry for ten years, so Yes! I see this stuff all the time. But even I don’t find it very compelling storytelling.

…Yay?

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Cute jab at the industry and, basically, this week’s only “joke”…

I honestly don’t know what to make of this show. I’m not even sure I’m going to stop watching it — it’s very easy to watch and, while the characters may be played out if you have to work with people like them professionally, nothing is unbearable. But…

I mean what am I really watching? Why does this exist? It’s not especially compelling and the core characters are buried in extraneous other content. Crushed under it. Hrm…

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Shirobako – 01

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Shirobako starts with a team of 5 high school girls who form an animation club to produce their own mini-feature for their school festival. However, the show quickly blasts through to their graduation and then beyond to director Miyamori Aoi’s first televised work.

Shirobako is claustrophobically packed with characters and details about producing an animated series. We get to know all the steps, people, and process along the way, strung together by Miyamori, who rushes to keep it all together.

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I found the characters easy to visually differentiate and, as only a few of them are important to the immediate challenges of the animation’s day to day, my complete inability to remember the 20+ characters and their jobs has not yet been a problem.

That said, I really have no idea who anyone is, except Miyamori. Even then, I had to watch episode one a second time just to see who she was earlier in high school.

She was the blond in charge who liked Donuts most of all!

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What’s the story? Shirobako presents the creation story of Exodus, a magical girl anime and first full season produced by a new studio. While operations run smoothly at first, an early mistake causes delays for episode 3, which sets a chain of delay-making dominoes tumbling and its up to Miyamori to drive people emotionally (and in her car) to pick up the pieces.

Miyamori also drives very quickly in some funky fun hot-hatch drift racing action!

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Emotional support role-play from your dolls: good sign!

It’s tight, colorful, believable and, given that one of the contractors passes out (or worse by the end) Shirobako is also emotionally poignant. There’s a price to the anime we watch and Shirobako makes a case that we should care about the people paying it.

That said…honestly I’m worried this she is a tad indulgent. I mean, This is an anime about a studio making an anime, by a studio making an anime. Like writers writing about writers…I feel it risks being preachy more than meta.

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However I may feel about the artistic validity of it’s concept, I did enjoy Shirobako. I’m just not sure I have it in me to review it this season.

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The Secret of Kells

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Thursday night is movie night in my neck of the woods, and sometimes we want something short and sweet rather than a three-hour action blockbuster. That’s when a friend happened upon the Oscar-nominated The Secret of Kells. As it was his week to choose, we went with it, and I’m glad we did. It’s only 75 minutes long, but it makes full use of that runtime to create and achingly gorgeous world where danger is always lurks but hope endures thanks to the titular book.

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We follow Brendan, a redheaded young monk under the care of his uncle, the stern, stoic Abbot Cellach (voiced by veteran Irish actor Brendan Gleeson), whose Isengard-like Abbey is ringed by the tents of refugees escaping the scourge of the horn-tipped, beast-like “Northmen” (read: Vikings). A thick high wall surrounds the abbey and its grounds, but that wall looks like Swiss cheese, and some aren’t even sure it would keep the barbarians out even if it was completed, which is the Abbot’s one and only concern.

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Because he only wants the wall completed before the Northmen arrive, he is frustrated whenever Brendan is doing anything other than contributing to that goal, like asking the other monks about the Book of Iona, then getting into the practice of making ink and drawing his own pages with brother Aidan. This is a really neat reference to the fact that in the darker ages of civilization in Europe (and likely elsewhere), it was the monks who preserved the history that had come before in the form of elaborately bound and illustrated books, which you can still see in museums and even open up and read in old libraries.

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This surprisingly ambitious little movie is just as lush and imaginative as much of that almost impossibly intricate real-world work; rich in color and texture. Every character has its own distinct look and manner of movement, be it jerky or smooth; lightning-quick or molasses-slow. The film also features one of the best fictional cat’s I’ve seen in a while: Pangur Ban. All characters and animals are full of expressiveness and verve. My favorite of these was the mystical fairy-wolf-girl Aisling, whom Brendan meets when looking for seeds to make ink.

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Aisling is kind of a perfect storm of cuteness (in both appearance and voice) and utter badassdom, who saves Brendan’s life (more than once) and befriends him because, well, why not? Brendan’s nice to her, and also clearly enchanted. When Brendan ends up imprisoned in a tower for disobeying the Abbot Cellach, she breaks him out by singing a hauntingly beautiful song to the cat, transforming it into an ethereal specter that can pass through bars and spring him. The jist of the Irish lyrics:

There is nothing in this life but mist,
And we are not alive,
but for a little short spell.

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When the Northmen arrive at Kells it’s an almost instant rout, and the Abbot immediately regrets such a short-sighted strategy for the abbey’s defense. It’s sad to see the beautiful environs of Brendan’s home go up in smoke and flame, but not all is lost. Years pass, during which he completes the Book of Iona with Aidan, renaming it the Book of Kells, which is a real and very revered thing, incidently.

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After Aidan passes away, Brendan arrives back in the woods outside his home, where the wolf-Aisiling leads him to the abbey. Just as Abbot Cellach is about to lose hope, his nephew arrives and shows him the great book, providing him comfort in his waning days. At once a gorgeous and inventive story steeped in stirring Celtic mythology and a moving coming-of-age tale in which a sheltered boy expands his world and finds his calling, The Secret of Kells is a must-watch for any fan of animation.

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Wizard Barristers: Benmashi Cecil – 11

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The whole purpose of anime and most other audiovisual media, is to show as well as tell what is going on. This episode told us quite a bit, much of which could have been very interesting, but unfortunately it also happened to be one of the single worst-animated episodes of anime we have ever reviewed. It doesn’t even seem accurate to call it badly-animated, since a very large portion wasn’t animated at all. This episode simply felt unfinished, which made it extremely difficult to get invested in what was ostensibly going on. It was like trying to read this review…without vowels.

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Mind you, we haven’t been insensitive to the fact that WizBar in general is not a show that has ever prided itself on flawless presentation. But it could also be that a lot of the production budget was spent both on the first episode and on CGI effects such as the metamoloids. Frankly, it wasn’t worth it, and we would have preferred more balance in the visuals. But the show had always managed to muddle through, with the story pulling enough weight to forgive the shortcomings.

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But this…was something else; the shark was officially jumped. There were far too many close ups, establishing shots, lines of dialogue and actions by people we never see, and agonizingly long still shots. Some potentially powerful and/or poignant moments were thoroughly ruined by all of this nonsense. On many occasions throughout the fiasco, we felt pretty bad for the people involved in the show who weren’t responsible for bungling the budget, for they were let down as much as we were, if not more so.

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All that aside (and it’s pretty damn hard to move it aside!) a lot happened this week: Shimuzu raided Butterfly and eventually captured Cecil, Makusu had his little ritual, and we find out that Lucifer had already awakened and taken human form, that of Tento Moyo. She merges with Cecil, who grows fangs and a tail (first instance of a tail bursting through panties…yeah, they animated that), but Shimuzu Does The Right Thing (as we hoped) in the eleventh hour and dies protecting Cecil.

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Cecil and Makusu have one big confusing Metamoloid battle that ends in the upper atmosphere, but when their mechas dissolve Cecil sprouts wings and saves Makusu’s life, only for him to request he defend him at his impending trial, which is actually a nice twist that brings everything back to Magic Law, which we always found more interesting than Magic Conspiracies. So yeah, a lot happened! We kinda wish we could have, you know, seen all of it, instead of just parts of it…

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