Vanitas no Carte – 21 – Jetez un Coup d’oeil sous la Peau

This week segues nicely from the parting reveal of Domi as the culprit in the latest vampire attacks to the heartbreakingly tragic past events involving her, Louis, and Noé, this time from her perspective. In the aftermath of the bloodbath that claimed both Mina and Louis, Domi weeps at Noé’s bedside, blaming herself for involving Noé in trying to save Mina. Her sister Veronica lives up to the family name, pretending she never had a brother, and revealing that Domi and Louis were twins.

Veronica further twists the blade by saying the twin chosen to live was made on a whim, and thus wonders whether the right (i.e. more useful) twin was spared. Noé comes to and mistakes Domi for Louis, inadvertently compounding her belief that everyone would’ve preferred if she had died instead of Louis. She cut off all her hair and started dressing like Louis, trying to be what everyone wanted. Seeing her in this sorry state, Noé vowed to protect her at all costs from the darkness of their past.

Unfortunately, that past has re-surfaced thanks to the cheerful and mysterious white-haired lad, who introduces himself as Mikhail when Domi is out searching for Jeanne (presumably while Jeanne and the others were in Gévaudan, though I may not be right about that). Mikhail seems uniquely suited to bring out the pain in others, and uses it to take control of Domi.

Noé receives a note from Mikhail and arrives at the grounds of this world’s 1889 Exposition Universelle after dark, and finds Mikhail in front of a carousel and Domi standing atop a Ferris Wheel—two machines invented to imbue their riders with fun and joy. A third machine: a metal dog automaton, guards Mikhail, and he whips out his version of Vanitas’ book. Mikhail says if anyone harms him, Domi will jump, and introduces himself as Vanitas’ little brother, AKA Number 71.

Mikhail is here for one thing: Vanitas’ memories. He used Domi as bait to bring Noé to him, and will now use Noé to drink Vanitas’ blood and thereby gain those memories, including learning why Vanitas killed “father that day”. That Vanitas killed his dad comes as a shock to Noé; Mikhail can tell and concludes that even after all this time Noé must not know a damn thing about Vanitas. That’s hard to argue: it could be everything Noé knows is simply what Vanitas wants him to know.

Mikhail remedies that by pulling his shirt down (revealing the same spreading blue  malady that affects Vanitas) and offering his own blood for Noé to drink, making it a demand when Noé hesitates. When Jeanne learns Domi hasn’t been seen in three days she rushes to find her, but by then Noé’s fangs are already in Mikhail.

We flash back to Mikhail’s past, when she was in custody after her mother, a prostitute was found dead. Mikhail’s mom presented him as a girl and offered him to her best customers. He runs into a badly-wounded but still chipper Roland, who tells Mikhail he has a new home from this day. Roland is called away by Olivier, and Mikhail is suddenly grabbed and chloroformed.

When he comes to, he finds himself before the Marquiss Machina, and a boy he calls “Number 69″—a young Vanitas. Thus begins Noé’s long-awaited journey into his best friend’s murky past…but will they still be friends when Noé returns from that god-forsaken place? I see now why last week was so pleasant and lighthearted—it was a momentary breather the torrent of sadistic dread dished out in spades by this episode…and it’s only the beginning.

Meikyuu Black Company – 02 – Workers of Another World, Unite!

Taking in a pet behemoth wasn’t all it was choked up to be, but now both Ninomiya and Wanibe are reassigned to Raiza’ha Mining Corp.’s Exploration Division, Group 8, performing menial support duties to the elite front-line groups like Group 3. No sooner does he discover that excellently marbled beef is dirt-cheap in this world than a hungry Rimu snatches it and gulps it down after stoving his head in the wall.

The job soon wears down Ninomiya’s spirit, to the point he’s sheepishly obedient. He doesn’t like it, but fate smiles upon him when he crosses paths with a member of that elite Group 3, separated from his companions. He’s being chased by a swarm of giant ants, but armed with various potions for stocking treasure chests (someone has to do it), he mixes some ant leg shavings one of those potions, turning himself, his elderly supervisor, and the Group 3 kid into ants.

For a large portion of this episode, it’s all ants, all the time, which is just so refreshingly weird to behold. Ant!Ninomiya has the same gestures as regular Ninomiya, and even a shock of blue hair. What’s even better is that he’s not a totally self-serving asshole this week! Now, I’m not going to say convincing the ants to join his cause doesn’t benefit him, but the entire enterprise was born out of empathy he felt for the endlessly toiling ant drones.

Of course, it isn’t long before the rabble-rousing Comr-ant Ninomiya (who has turned back into a human) encounters Management, AKA the Ant Queen. When Ninomiya accuses her of simply lounging around while her subjects work themselves to death, she responds by demonstrating her brute strength, molting to become thrice her original size. Even then, the timely arrival of Rimu spooks the queen into submission; she who knows exactly what Rimu is.

Ninomiya than earns the queen’s esteem by taming Rimu with what I’ll call “Chekhov’s Marbled Steak”. Once Wanibe, who had been laid up with a injury throughout the ant-venture, returns to work, the fire is fully back in Ninomiya’s belly, and he has a proposition for Wanibe: join his new organization for bringing down the corrupt oppression of Raiza’ha Mining Corporation: the titular Meikyuu Black Company. 

With both Rimu, the Ant Queen and her army as his allies, he’s very quickly become someone to be taken seriously; an Ant of the Peopl, if you will. And while I got a kick out of watching Ninomiya be an asshole and get punished for it, it’s even more rewarding to see him seemingly learn from the mistakes of the past and attempt to be a better man, lifting others up along with himself and reaping the rewards of loyalty and fellowship.

I must say really didn’t expect this isekai show about an arrogant NEET layabout to become so…socialist so fast, but now that it has, I find it delightful, and can’t wait to see what craziness is in store next week—or who of the five main characters in the OP and ED we’ll meet next.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Hanebado! – 07 – The Power and Price of Hard Work

The best and most thrilling episode of Hanebado! yet, in which Ayano and Kaoruko have their fated rematch, comes with a surprise: Ayano’s mom is nowhere to be seen; none of Ayano’s teammates mention her again; and there’s no indication she watched the Kaoruko rematch. Where’d she go? We never find out. But she’s there, and she’ll surely be back.

Her total absence reflects the new attitude towards her mother Ayano wishes to adopt: that she doesn’t have a mother, or at least not one whose opinions matter to her anymore. Ayano looks initially rattled by Kaoruko’s gift of a hankie for the tears/snot when she loses, but her pained look morphs into a wry girn.

Ayano isn’t scared of Kaoruko anymore; at least not on the surface. Her inner thoughts/feelings are off limits to Ayano’s teammates, Kaoruko, and we the audience, but it could well be she’s just as calm, cool, and committed to obliterating her opponent inside as out.

Yu loses her match, making Ayano, Nagisa and Sora the only three players left standing in the prelims. But frankly I just wasn’t that interested in the little subplots of the other characters. This was about a suddenly supremely confident Ayano and a Kaoruko humming with arrogance: an Unstoppable Force vs. an Unmovable Object.

Despite the distractions, the match lives up to the hype and then some. It’s the most high stakes match we’ve been able to watch, and the animation team pulls out all the stops, utilizing all manner of angles, zooms, pans, sweeps, etc. as well as a 3-D “floating camera” that soars from one end of the court to t’other. It really got the adrenaline pumping.

But even more important: for once, Ayano, supposedly one of the most talented players in the show, isn’t embarrassed or overwhelmed, physically or psychologically. She is in complete command of the match, and demonstrates virtual telepathy when it comes to diagnosing Kaoruko’s game plan and sabotaging it at every turn with unexpected counters.

This is where Kaoruko’s tireless hard work, ultra-granular attention to detail, and the ruthless drive to defeat Ayano at all costs actually work against her. She prepared so intricately carefully for an opponent based on what she thought she knew of them up and down, leaving no time to consider how Ayano’s skills would have improved or evolved parallel to her own.

Ayano is no stranger to hard work either, after all. She employs it here, and her grit on the court is reinforced by her conscious effort to block all of those negative and unpleasant thoughts that plagued her for so long. Free of the need for validation from her mother, she’s a player possessed.

She’s also in rare form on the trash talking front. Kaoruko talked a big game, but Ayano’s retorts are strategically toned and timed for maximum damage. Long story short: Ayano is all that’s in Kaoruko’s head. Winning is al that’s in Ayano’s head.

The final 21-16, 21-17 score in Ayano’s favor doesn’t do justice to the level of dominance she displayed against Kaoruko in 90% of the match. The defeat is devastating, and not just because she gave her entire team the middle finger prior to the match, so confident was she that she’d “mop the floor” with Ayano.

Ayano broke a fantasy that Kaoruko kept playing in her head as she worked so hard: that she could beat the first player her own age to beat her, without cheating by giving her a cold. She thought she was psychologically stronger. Her only loyal, sympathetic teammate helps her stretch post-match, both of them cry, for Ayano crushed those fantasies, then offered Kaoruko her hankie back.

Ayano, for her part, calls Kaoruko’s effort “pathetic”, which rubs Elena the wrong way. Ayano’s cold response is simply that on that court, winning is the only thing that matters (Sorry, Riko, Yu and Sora!). Another way to say that is that if you don’t win, then nothing matters. So yeah, Ayano may be playing her best badminton, but she’s gone to a dark, lonely place to do it.

Next up is Nagisa vs. Nozomi, but you know what? However it turns out, I can’t see how it won’t feel like a bit of a letdown after Ayano vs. Kaoruko. Both players are lower down on the character significance list. What could mitigate that is if we finally get the Ayano-Ayano’s mom reunion we’ve been waiting for all season. Who knows, maybe she did watch the match; the episode just never cut to her…

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