Rokka no Yuusha – 02

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While their party is just two and the activities are limited to exploring and traversing the great expanse before them, Adlet and Nashetania’s journey is the perfect opportunity for both them and us to learn a little more about them. Take ‘Tania: she’s so excited and giddy at the prospect of this adventure, she challenges Adlet to a fight. In fact, she uses her powers for things like cutting vegetables. She’s restless, but Adlet and she both need to be focused with a Brave Killer at large.

At night Adlet warns Tania they’ll be sleeping on hard ground under the stars a lot, and we learn she’s no stranger to that. Despite having never seen so much, she has experienced more hardship than you’d think of a sheltered princess, mostly because of the tenuous hold her late father had on the kingdom, and the execution order put out for her before she became a saint. Adlet’s not the only one here who’s had to rough it.

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The bottom line is, outside of arena competition, Tania has zero experience fighting fiends, who Adlet knows they’ll encounter. The “game”, if you will, then shifts from “getting to know each other” to “battle 101.”  I like how Adlet gets a very nervous Tania to laugh, thus calming her. Then Adlet gets right in the (CGI) fiends’ faces and dodges and slashes, while keeping Tania back to support him with her blades.

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Their first battle goes well, and the villagers the fiends attacked are saved from obliteration, but there’s news that one village girl didn’t make it out. Adlet is ready to go after her, but Tania stops him, telling him their primary mission is to find the other Braves, and that no matter how strong they are, they can’t save everybody.

Adlet agrees with her until she lets go of his horse, and then charges off anyway, which is Classic Adlet: after all, how can he call himself the Strongest Man if he can’t defeat the Demon God and save the people? He wants to do it all, and in this case, Tania indulges him.

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And this time, it may just get him in serious trouble, as the “girl” in the smoldering ruins of the village seems to be doing just fine taking out all of the fiends. When she notices Adlet, she introduces herself as Fremy Speeddraw, so named because of her rifle and the ability to summon bullets at will. She doesn’t like other humans, suspects Adlet is there to kill him, and refuses to lower her rifle to his non-provocational stance.

Meanwhile, more fiends arrive at Tania’s location, and while she’s able to deal with them herself, she loses her horse in the process. Then the person she’s been searching for, Goldof, who once let her win in the arena, presents himself before her, a newly-made Brave, like her. Tania says this now makes them equals, but Goldof still insists on bowing before her and pledging his life to her protection.

Then Goldof tells her the name of the Brave Killer is Fremy. This should be interesting!

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Rokka no Yuusha – 01 (First Impressions)

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What is it: A sweeping fantasy epic about the rise and gathering of of the “Braves of the Six Flowers”, six warriors chosen by the Goddess of Fate to save the world from the reawakened Demon God and its fiends. The first we meet is self-(and oft)-proclaimed “strongest man in the world” Adlet Mayer, who crashes a sacred ceremony between two lesser warriors and embarrasses them and the entire institution.

For this, he is imprisoned, but he makes a friend of a pretty maid who visits him in his cell, and they chat about the Braves. Adlet spends many weeks in a cage, but when the signs of the Demon God awakening filling the sky, the mark of the Braves appears on his hand.

He is then sprung by jail by the maid, who is really the Nashetania, the princess of Piena, who has also been chosen as one of the Braves. She and Adlet mount horses at strike out into the world to rendezvous with the the other four.

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Why should you watch? If, like me, you’re a big fan of the whole concept of RPGs like FF, which follows a relatively set but time-tested formula from game to game, evoloving with technology of the time (I’ve played FF for NES all the way up to PS3, and looking forward to FFXV for PS4) and switching up its character types, settings, and battle systems. Up until recently there were no direct sequels, as if each FF was really the “final” of its kind.

But the first FF wasn’t the final one as it was believed to be by its creators, nor will FF ever really disappear, despite all the missteps the studio may have taken throughout the years, because fantasy is elemental and eternal. Going back to the carved stones of the Epic of Gilgamesh, they have always been both a tale of how we came to be and an escape from where and who we are.

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Rokka no Yuusha understands this simple fact intrinsically, and attaches new trappings to well-traveled roads in its execution, in the best tradition of FF. The Meso-American fusion motif, with the Tenochtitlan-style capital, makes an immediate escapist impact, and as we move on to our cocky but capable protagonist Adlet carve his way through two of the best warriors in the land, his constant protestations of being the “strongest in the world” sound less and less like idle boasting.

That’s particularly true when we see what becomes of Adlet for stepping out of line and shitting all over the city’s traditions: he’s thrown into a big pit to rot. But far from despairing, Adlet simply uses the time to train and allow his wounds to heal, knowing he could escape at any time. And as I immediately knew the “maid” was actually Princess Nashetania (great name, BTW) I’m not entirely certain a part of Adlet didn’t know it too, judging by how he tells the maid to relay the message, and his lack of surprise when she shows up to free him.

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Why should you watch? Perhaps for the same reason I will be watching: If you’re annoyed, rather than comforted and excited, about the umpteenth execution of the epic fantasy formula. Also, while the show got off to a quick start with Adlet’s battle, things bog down quite a bit in the cell scene. The dialogue is natural at first, and I liked Nashetania’s fidgeting as Adlet talked about himself, but then things descended into pretty transparent infodump territory, though that’s just another familiar mark of this genre.

The Verdict: This second effort by studio Passione (the first being Rail Wars!, which Hannah quite liked) that we’ve seen is a strong entry in the epic fantasy genre, and gets off to a convincing start, immersing us in its lush setting, familiar yet intriguing mythology, and the sense of a grand adventurous journey commencing.

Its attention to detail in matters of combat, production, and costumes impressed mightily. And while Adlet’s a cocky bastard, he has an honorable goal, and Nashetania should be good for him (and vice versa). We’ve yet to meet most of Braves of the Six Flowers to meet, but I’m already sold.

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Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – 08

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How fitting that on the eve of a holiday centered around stuffing yourself,  we get perhaps the most overstuffed episode of Chaika ever. Seriously, there was a lot going on, and while the episode made an admirable attempt to keep everything interesting, it couldn’t keep some parts from feeling like padding.

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Compared to, say, Akame ga Kill!, which has been progressively killing off characters so it can focus on fewer and fewer, Chaika has kept everyone alive with just two episodes left, and so has to find a place for them, just as one has to find a place for every thanksgiving dish on the table. Its one major death – Gillette’s – was a fake-out causing more of a “huh” than a “wow”.

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Not to mention it chooses this time to finally reveal who the “Head Chaika” is, as Zita, Leo, and Matthaus interview one of Hartgen’s retainers. It seems like Gaz had reason to smile after Hartgen killed him, because henceforth Hartgen started acting just like Gaz, as if he was a man possessed.

Hartgen isn’t exactly Gaz re-incarnate, as he needs Head Chaika to show up (the evil Chaika’s are always the most scantily clad) and give him the idea for the martial arts tournament. Killing Gaz did something to Hartgen to change him into a pliable, warmongering pawn for Head Chaika to manipulate.

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Hartgen wants to be Gaz II, and so uses the tournament as (flimsy) cover to raise an army, hoping the Six Nations will react too slowly. Two ministers do deploy the Flying Fortress Cima to Hartgen; it’s sure to play a role in the near future.

In the mean time, Akari and Fredrica find a room with dozens if not hundreds of coffins just like Chaika’s…and then they’re ambushed by Chaika Puppet Ninjas. Yes, that is a thing that was in this episode, because everything in creation was in this episode.

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Meanwhile, the guards arrest the various pairs one by one and send them into a subterranean arena, where Black Chaika and her twin sisters sit and watch their own mini-tournament, betting on who will come out the victor.

First, Vivi and Nikolai are forced to fight Dark Gillette, something that’s initially very hard for Vivi to do because she loves the guy and has no idea what’s going on. But in the end, when Gillette prepares to kill Nikolai, she takes GIllette’s sword hand off with Niko’s greatsword, in a pretty badass display.

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The shock of his injury apparently brings Gillette’s memories back, and it seems he’ll keep living, though why is anyone’s guess. Next, Akari and War Maiden Mode- Fredrica are stopped by Shin, then Fred’s locked in a magical barrier and riddled with arrows, continuing the tradition of neutralizing the overpowered ally in crunch time (though serves them right for not looking up).

White Chaika and Tooru are up next, forced to fight Red Chaika and David (and winning pretty dang easily, when all’s said and done. When David is wounded, Chaika forfeits the fight and runs off in tears, rather than let her comrade come to further harm.

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Of course, they’re only Tooru’s appetizer; the entree is Shin, who shows up with the captured Akari and Fredrica. White Chaika is jumped by guards, forcing Tooru to fight Shin alone, and he gets schooled by his mentor. With that, the episode kinda fizzles out, without showing us what’s for dessert.

There were a couple cool moments, and I liked the arena format for the gauntlet of boss battles, but at the end of the day this episode had way too much squeezed into it, and strained and groaned under the weight of it all.

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Akame ga Kill! – 21

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Note: I have not read the manga, so I have no idea how the events of this episode or the episodes to come will be adapted. It’s all totally new to me.

Tatsumi is in the hands of the enemy. He’s not just alive so that the Empire can make a example of him in a highly public execution. He’s also live bait, in the off-chance Night Raid is foolish enough to attempt a rescue. Of course, they are: Mine doesn’t care if its a trap; she’s going to save her love. Akame decides to come along, so their chances will be better. Leone also volunteers: she scouted and recruited him; he can’t be dying before her. Finally, Najenda states they can’t let a public execution tank rebel morale at this crucial juncture.

Bottom line, the ladies aren’t going to sit back and let Tatsumi get executed. They all love the shaggy-haired little bastard too much, albeit in very different ways, and no one more deeply than Mine.

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Tatsumi, meanwhile, is fully prepared to die, knowing the remaining members of Night Raid got away with their lives. He doesn’t want to be saved, lest they throw those lives away. In this state, it’s understandable if he may not quite grasp just how much Esdeath is exerting every last morsel of her authority and standing in the empire…to save the life he’s willing to give away.

As the embrace they share makes clear, Esdeath’s love for him is real, and strong. So strong, she isn’t even asking him to betray his friends, only hang back and stay close to her. Part of me wanted Tatsumi to take her offer, but he can’t, and not just because he loves another, but because as beautiful and capable of kindness as Esdeath is, he can’t overlook the crimes she’s committed and continues to commit in service of an empire that’s taken everything from him.

Yet even when Tatsumi categorically refuses and pushes her away, it’s not as if she can stop loving him. She can only accept that the only course now is to kill him herself.

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When Wave hears Esdeath will be killing the man she loves, he’s greatly troubled and doesn’t understand…but Kurome understands. As Esdeath hasn’t stopped loving Tatsumi, she hasn’t stopped loving her sister, which is precisely why if Akame is going to be killed, better for Kurome to kill her. Kurome’s problem is, nature may step in and kill her first, as clearly shown when she pulls dead hair from her head.

My eyes welled up quite a bit at this scene, which I’m sure was the episode’s intent. And this was just a side scene with ‘bad guys’; the only scene with these two in the episode. But this serves as a good prologue for the final Akame-Kurome fight we know is coming.

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Did I mention this was a particularly beautiful episode of Akame ga Kill!? It was; it was staged and lit like a movie, an epic movie. The shot above is special. The remaining members of Night Raid, gathered in the sitting room of the late Lubbock’s home, the green upholstery suggesting he’s there to, just not in person. This is the last time this particular group of Night Raid members will ever be in the same room. Everything will change from this point on.

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One of my favorite live-action films is Gladiator, in part because no story about Rome before or since quite captured the slightly weathered but still strong and seemingly invincible power, grandeur, and glory that was the Roman Empire.

The descent through wispy clouds into the Imperial capital’s arena and the theatricality of a grand final battle seems inspired by similar scenes in that film. Only this is an execution, not a rigged duel.

I must say, the little Emperor gives a rousing speech, without the use of cue cards, that pretty comprehensively demonstrates how easy it is to twist words around to make Night Raid the enemy. They are killers, after all, and they are trying to throw the Empire into chaos, though that’s so they can root out its corruption and evil.

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Goosebumps gather as Esdeath draws near to the cross where Tatsumi hangs restrained. Even here, Esdeath prepares to deliver a blow that will look like it kills Tatsumi to the masses, but doesn’t actually kill him; still holding out hope Tatsumi will come to his senses so she won’t have to go through with it.

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Tatsumi refuses, but before Esdeath can kill him, Mine arrives and fires a shot she has to dodge, followed by Leone, Najenda, and Susanoo on the big flying manta ray. This would be a terrific specacle to watch at the arena if the participants’ attacks didn’t cause widespread collateral damage, so the spectators flee, and we’ve got ourselves a battle some people won’t be walking away from.

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Najenda and Susanoo take on Esdeath, which, duh, while the hard-hitting Leone backs up Mine in her fight with Budou. Mine is confident both her love for Tatsumi and the intense pinches Budou will put her in will make Pumpkin’s shots strong enough to defeat him.

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She’s proven right, but in the process, the tiny frail Mine gets tossed around and beaten up quite a bit, and her final shot takes a lot out of her, and more to the point, she may well have known it would take too much out of her, but she had no other choice. Budou is defeated, but we can’t score one for Night Raid, now or later.

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Meanwhile, Najenda’s battle with Esdeath is everything we hoped for from these two powerhouses. Najenda leans heavily on her human-type Arms while Esdeath relies on the ice demon within her. Both use their trump cards, but while Esdeath’s time freeze is a once-a-day affair, Najenda’s ability at this point in her life is one-time-only and unrecoverable. She puts much of her remaining life force into healing Susanoo, knowing she can’t defeat Esdeath but can keep her busy long enough for Tatsumi, Mine, and Leone to escape.

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And yes, Tatsumi gets away with his beloved Mine, scolding her for coming after him as he rushes out of the city at top speed. But Mine is not in a good way at all, and tells him to stop and put her down, not because she’s embarrassed — we’re light years away from that childishness now — but because she doesn’t have long, and she has something to say.

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And this…this just isn’t fair. After all that fighting, after she defeated Seryu and Budou, the toughest badasses anyone from Night Raid has ever taken out, after Tatsumi just manages to catch her before she falls to her death…she’s simply at the end of her never-sturdy-to-begin-with body’s rope. But there’s still time for her to tell Tatsumi she loves him and she’s glad she fell for him, and that they’re on the winning side, and always were, and then share their first and last kiss.

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In a show that’s become very good at farewell scenes, this one really knocked it out of the park, and is all the better due to its simplicity inevitability, and raw emotion. I really really wanted Tatsumi and Mine to come out of this and live a happy, loving life together, to make a family. I wanted this so much that I ignored just how ridiculously unlikely the chance of that happening really was. R.I.P. Mine.

This was the most epic, thrilling, heartbreaking episode of Akame ga Kill! yet, but we’re not done yet. Mine can no longer create the fair, peaceful world she fought for all her life, which led to her meeting and falling for Tatsumi, who wants the same thing. He, Akame, and Leone have three more episodes to make it happen.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go sob in the dark.

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Tokyo Ghoul – 04

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This week picks up right where the last left off: Ken meeting the flamboyant ghoul “gourmet” and bon vivant, Tsukyama Shuu, voiced by Miyano Mamoru who purrs most of his lines with a silky menace. Shuu wastes no time invading Ken’s space and generally creeping him out, but he can’t help it: he is a man who likes the finer things, and Shuu’s scent is a fine thing indeed.

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While there was never any doubt that Ken was being led into another trap by another ghoul who doesn’t have his best interests at heart, before that happens Ken hangs out with ghouls who do: Yomo, Uta, and Itori are a trio of friends who go way back and have a bit of a wild past, but are now “mainstreaming.” Itori lets Ken know Rize’s death probably wasn’t a mere accident, while Yomo offers defense training after work.

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That training doesn’t progress very long before Ken is in some dire need of it. After a seemingly harmless meet-up at a cafe, Shuu, channeling Rize’s knack for predation-by-seduction and flattery, lures Ken to his mansion. After showering and dressing up to the nines, Ken is given a cup of drugged coffee than lifted up into a blood-spattered arena where the masked ghoul aristocracy looking down from opera balconies.

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It’s all very Eyes Wide Shut, and Ken looks well and truly screwed when a simply ginormous “scrapper” is loosed on him with all manner of cleavers and a saw that can cut through stone. But the shaved gorilla is slow and dumb, and the mortal peril draws out Ken’s ghoul side, shocking the crowd. Shuu shuts the fete down, killing the scrapper, and apologizes to Ken.

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It’s definitely a disquieting look into the bored, rich, seedy under-underbelly of ghoul society, but I like how Rize mocked it all as “playing at humanity” in a flashback that makes Shuu’s blood boil almost to the point of giving away the game too early. As a glutton, Rize embraced her primal, animal side, something Shuu seems intent on gussying up with pomp and pageantry. To her, that’s no better than mainstreaming; a form of self-neutering.

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Unlike Rize or Shuu—or practically anyone else, for that matter—Ken isn’t “playing at” being a human; he is still half of one. Once he figures out what he that and how to summon and control his power, he could do a lot of bad, but he could also do a lot of good. In either case, he can make a big difference, which is why he can’t keep letting himself get lured into traps, to say nothing of falling into the hands of the Doves.

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Stray Observations:

  • Sadly there’s not much Touka this week, though we do get a scene that demonstrates how hard it must be for a ghoul to mainstream, as her classmate offers her some food, which Touka is later unable to purge. Too much of that and she’ll get sick.
  • For a show that’s had mostly normal-sized and shape humans and ghouls alike, the scrapper was a bit too cartoonishly huge and muscular. It was just a silly design.
  • I’m also watching True Blood, so Shuu’s intense arousal of Ken’s scent reminded me of the way Sookie’s fairy blood gets vamps’ mouths watering.
  • There’s also a bit of Hannibal Lecter in Shuu’s mannerisms. Rather than a “foodie”, let’s call him a “fleshie.”