Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 04 – The Advantage of High Standards

With only a month to go until the budget committee, we open on an Eizouken in crisis. For all the work Midori and Tsubame have done, they only have a few seconds of finished work to show for it. Midori can get los in her detailed worlds, while Tsubame is a proud perfectionist. Sayaka knows they’re dead in the water at such a slow pace, which means corners have to be cut somewhere.

That said, Midori and Tsubame wouldn’t bother making an anime, no matter how short or shallow, without showing off the skills they’ve amassed. Sayaka must always walk the delicate line between keeping the girls on schedule and not crushing their dreams. The three exhibit the flexibility needed in such a venture to agree to compromises they can all live with.

Yet even with a good final product (and the episode is coy about how much progress they make in realizing their vision), the Eizouken is up against a circus-like atmosphere the day of the committee, and a hostile student council intent on suspending their activities before they even have a chance to show their work. When Sayaka’s lawyering scares the adults but not the StuCo, Midori insists they at least see what they’ve been working on.

Then their anime plays out more or less in real time, and the animation, while simple and rough, is so dynamic that everyone in the auditorium reacts like they’ve been flung in the middle of the kinetic battle between the Machete Girl and her tank nemesis. Everyone in attendance is bowled over…except for our perfectionist creators, constantly critiquing the work and coming up with improvements for the future.

Having witnessed just how much the Eizouken can accomplish without a budget or a fair deadline, the StuCo has no choice but to see what they are capable of with both. That could possibly backfire—having backs against the wall is a common motivator—but I doubt it.

The enthusiastic fires in Midori and Tsubame have never burned brighter than at the end of their presentation, and Sayaka seems pleased that other outsiders saw what she saw in these two: they’re special, and they are capable of great things no matter the conditions.

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 03 – Gas Mask Girl vs. Personal Defense Tank

The accident video turns out not to have any adverse consequences (for now) but did net the Film Club 30,000 yen, most of which was spent on repairs. It’s a good thing Sayaka is around to keep the wild-eyed dreamer and the rich girl in line, monetarily speaking.

While Midori and Tsubame are easily distracted by a butterfly or tanuki, Sayaka makes sure they take this seriously, because the school will only promote a serious association to full club status. First order of business is repairing the roof, a task the animators visualize as EVA on a spaceship.

Once they’ve had a meal and a discussion on what’s physically possible in the 55 days they have until the budget discretionary hearing, the trio take the train to Midori’s place. Most of the ads happen to feature Tsubame, attracting a couple of fans and reminding us of her notoriety.

One also imagines she’ll likely have a modeling job or two during those 55 days. When it’s clear that a 3600-frame 5-minute animated short will be too much work for the two of them, they shorten it to three minutes.

Once at Midori’s modest apartment (with its neat checkered carpet), the brainstorming commences. Midori has books full of cool concepts, and they settle on one that’s relatively simple, as most of the structures are cubes. More elaborate environments can wait until they’re on sturdier organizational and financial ground.

Watching Midori and Tsubame bounce off each other and create worlds before our eyes is never not thrilling, but it’s also rewarding to see how the enterprising Sayaka reacts to their “creative rampages,” by finding a way to combine the two artists’ disparate visions.

Sayaka exhibits emotional intelligence by ensuring neither of the animators are discouraged to the point of adversely affecting their enthusiasm and productivity. She’s also pretty sure they can save money on paper by simply buying a hole punch!

By episodes end, the broad strokes of the short have been hammered out. Tsubame’s efforts will center on a high school girl in a gas mask (to limit the need to draw full facial expressions) armed with a machete, who battles an adorable “Personal Defense Tank” designed by Midori in a low-gravity environment.

If what they end up animating looks anything like the concept story-boarding they made in their minds, they should be on a one-way-street to acknowledgement as a full film club. But that’s a big if, and there’s still the possibilty of butting heads with budget adjudicators who aren’t okay with the concept of a second anime-related club, or simply aren’t into animation.

In the battle to come, Midori, Sayaka, and Tsubame are Gas Mask Girl, while the school is the tank. Somehow, they must find a way to prevail.

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 02 – Tilting at the Greatest Windmills

Midori, Sayaka and Tsubame head to the faculty lounge, which is whimsically located inside a giant empty swimming pool, to make their case for an animation club. When one teacher says there’s already an anime club and that they should focus on live action, the group decides to simply say they’re starting a film club, and let the fruits of their labor redeem the white lie later. The spacey, heavily-bearded Fujimoto-sensei volunteers to be their adviser.

Their digs are essentially a two-level ramshackle storeroom built of cheap corrugated steel filled with holes that let the elements in. The place is filthy, but full of potential, at least when armed with the powerful imaginations of Midori and Tsubame, who conjure various furniture, luxuries, and equipment for creating anime.

Midori gets a bit carried away when proposing they add hinges to the roof to make it a hatch from which they can launch personal helicopters. While messing around the rusty railing gives way and she takes a one-story spill. The always-enterprising Sayaka captures the accident on camera and swiftly posts it online for sale in hopes of raising club funds.

Fujimoto later tells them the school will pay for repairs to the building, and to keep the video for themselves lest it go public and cause trouble for the school. Sayaka also makes a verbose federal case for the tightwad teacher to get him to allow them to do as they please. The trio then explores the storeroom’s underbelly and find a windmill connected to a generator. The storeroom is full of animation production equipment in decent shape.

Totally geeking out on their wheelhouse stuff, Midori and Tsubame explain the details of how one makes a series of drawings then films them to present the illusion of motion. They find a crude animation of the windmill and complete and improve upon it, adding visual flair, transforming their environment into a wondrous fantasy spectacle.

There are no accidents as a result of this flight (or rather cruise) of fancy, but that evening Sayaka gets a deposit of cash for her footage, and both Tsubame and Midori (and her family) catch footage of her fall on TV. Such a development threatens to torpedo their Eizouken dreams in their infancy, before they’re able to create a frame of finished work.

Obviously, their efforts aren’t about to be permanently shut down after just two episodes, but it will be interesting to see how they navigate the stormy waters of what I’ll inelegantly call Dealing With People Who Want To Hold Them Back. One thing’s for certain: independent those outside factors, they have the talent and means to do what they want. Now all they need is the freedom to do it.

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 01 (First Impressions) – The Greatest World

From the hypercosmic brain of Yuasa Masaaki (The Tatami Galaxy) comes a new brilliant, awe-inspiring adventure in a down-to-earth, lived-in world where the mundane is extraordinary. As soon as she moved to Shibahama as a little girl, Asakusa Midori was obsessed with adventuring and world-building.

Now she sits above her island high school’s social fray, taking in not the people but the absolute batshit crazy architecture. The pint-sized, husky-voiced Midori’s only friend is the tall, toothy Kanamori Sayaka, for whom everything is a transaction.

When Midori forces Sayaka to attend the screening of a Miyazaki-style anime, they encounter Mizusaki Tsubame, fashion model, socialite daughter of a megacorp tycoon…and unapologetic anime fangirl. She’s also on the run from her two bodyguards, who have been ordered not to let her join the anime club.

Tsubame may be a stranger in unfamiliar territory, but Midori and Sayaka join forces to rescue her. Midori, because Tsubame shares her love of anime, and Sayaka because there could be money in it. In the process, Tsubame spills strawberry milk all over her blouse, but Midori knows of a discrete laundromat in the neighborhood.

As Tsubame’s clothes wash, she and Midori become fast friends, swapping their notebooks and finding they complement each other perfectly. Midori has always loved creating worlds and gizmos with elaborate concept art, while Tsubame has a strong grasp of the human figure (she is a model, after all) and as such is better at characters.

As the two overly characters over environments, Sayaka hatches a plan: she’ll get these two talented girls to make a beautiful—and profitable—anime together. Both Midori and Tsubame lack confidence, but Sayaka assures them she’ll be there both to push them and support them…in any ways not involving artistry.

Earlier in the episode the younger Midori creates a whole black-on-white pencil line drawing world complete with sound effects. That’s taken to the next level when Midori spots a small, unassuming contraption in Tsubame’s notebook, draws a hanger bay around it, and the three are suddenly immersed in the drawing and interacting with it (complete with those same sound effects, likely made by the seiyus).

The two eventually complete the development of the dragonfly-like flying machine and with Sayaka’s help manage to take off before the bodyguards (in this world the villains) can catch Tsubame. A dogfight ensues, but their dragonfly squeaks between two skyscrapers and emerges on the other end, an otherworldly, fully-rendered realm Midori calls “the greatest world,” something she’s always seeking to create with her art.

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! is a DELIGHT from start to finish. While it can get a little trippy at moments, it is always grounded by its trio of quirky, rootable characters, only one of whom employs a classic “anime” voice. The creators’ own love and passion for art and animation is plain to see in every frame, be it a crude line drawing or a gorgeous painterly city vista.

More than anything, Eizouken is a powerful imagination simulant. It does what any anime should: swell the heart and expand the mind’s eye to consider new worlds and machines and explore them beyond the surface. Speaking as an artist, it was a very rewarding experience to see such a wealth of creativity on display.

It was also gratifying to watch two kindred spirits from totally different social backgrounds coming together through their shared love of putting the fruits of their imaginations to paper. Eizouken stands out from the crowd of cookie-cutter anime in the best way. You’d be wise to give it a close look this Winter!

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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