Violet Evergarden – 12 – The Train Has Left The Station

As Violet flies south from her mission, her intended destination is not home, but the town of Distery. That’s where Cattleya, Benedict, and a group of peace envoys will travel north to Gardarick via the completed transcontinental railroad. The military puts Gilbert’s brother Captain Dietfried Bougainvillea in charge of security for the mission. The troops Violet encountered up north were only the tip of an Anti-Peace spear that is not as decimated as the south believes.

This means that at some point Violet and Dietfried, her harshest critic despite knowing very little of who she’s become, will cross paths. Before that happens, he interacts with Cattleya and [], who bristle at his harsh words for Violet, who like everyone is doing her best…and her best means letters that “slip right into people’s hearts”. Diets can’t believe it.

Violet and her pilot are among the first to notice the first stages of the Anti-Peace faction’s plan, involving fires along the railroad. Their next stage involves infiltrating the envoy train with troops. When Violet spots the train halted in Distery, she has the pilot drop her off.

Vi reports what she saw to Dietfried and requests orders, rejecting the notion that doing so means she’s still just a military tool that needs orders to follow. She’s doing what she wants, and what she knows she can do: avoiding war and protecting her friends.

Once the Anti-Peacers execute their plan to separate the front and backs of the train (a nice microcosm of their larger goal to keep the continent divided), Violet is a half-step ahead…fortunately for Dietfried, who must rely on her in the absence of his troops. He heads for the engine to regain control, and orders her to protect the civilians. Atop the moving train, she encounters the very same unit that she encountered in the forest.

Their commanding officer bears the physical and emotional scars of the fall of Intense, the battle where Violet lost Gilbert. He wants the fort back, and while his monologue to Violet is tinged with the thirst for vengeance and the burning of the world, he argues his side’s case well. He and his comrades have been abandoned. Everything was taken from them. Under those circumstances, you can’t blame them for wanting to burn everything down.

Violet resolves not to kill ever again, no matter what, in doing so making her battle atop the railcar that much trickier. Between the need to refrain from fatal blows, keep fallen opponents from falling off the train, and her attachment to the green pendant Gilbert gave her, there’s simply too many variables working against her.

She’s eventually subdued by the general’s superior numbers. But before he can behead her, his saber is shot away by Dietfried, who proceeds to dispatch the bulk of the troops and their general, using deadly force Violet wouldn’t.

Upon saving her, Diets is furious that she attempted to stop the troops without killing. “What’s the use of a battle doll that won’t kill?”, he fumes, blaming that kind of foolish thinking for his little brother’s demise. No doubt he gifted Gilbert Violet so that someone (something in his mind) would always be by his side to protect Gilbert in his stead.

Diets can holler all night about Violet being the one who killed Gilbert for failing to protect him, but he’s the one who decided that Violet was a tool and nothing else. Gilbert didn’t see his dynamic with Violet as user and tool, or brother and protector. He made it his goal to make amends for what was done to Violet; to restore the humanity, individuality, and emotions he knew still resided within her. Her orders were to live, not kill.

In the middle of this spat, a suriving enemy soldier gets a shot off before falling off the train, and Violet dives in front of Diets, deflecting the bullet with her metal arm. The ricochet causes an explosion, which in a crucial railroad tunnel connecting the north and south, may mean Vi inadvertently did the Anti-Peace faction’s work for it, but the ramifications will have to wait.

For now, Violet is committed to following Gilbert’s last orders. And considering she intends to stay alive, she might as well keep putting her skills to use keeping others alive. If she couldn’t protect him, then she’ll protect Dietfried…even if he never stops hating her.

A lot of great reflected themes swirled around this episode. The war between north and south reflecting the war between Dietfried and Violet; in each case with a latter party that doesn’t want to engage. The fragility of the peace efforts reflecting the fragility of the railroad, tunnel, and bridge that peace must travel on.

Making Dietfried and Violet temporary allies of necessity was a great move to get them together, while the train setting gave the episode an excellent surging momentum—as train episodes tend to do.

It’s clear that deep down Dietfried indeed blame himself for getting his brother killed, but keeps using Violet as a scapegoat. That Violet was capable of moving on from the past makes him even angrier, because he hasn’t figured out a way. But if he can’t forgive himself and move on, he’s no different than the Anti-Peace faction, and their general was right: the war will never end.

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Violet Evergarden – 11

As a civil war rages in the frigid north, Claudia decides to decline a doll request from a soldier in the war zone; it’s just too dangerous. However, Violet overhears him, snatches up the request when no one’s looking, and takes a ship to the war-torn country. After all, there’s no place too dangerous for Violet.

When no ground route can be taken, Violet suggests they drop her into the camp via airplane; the pilot likes her moxie and goes along with it, possibly seeing the iron resolve in her eyes. When she says there’s nowhere she won’t go for her clients, she means it, damnit.

Looking outside my window, I don’t see a scene all that different from the snow-covered woods of the camp outskirts…at least in terms of looks. Thankfully, I don’t have snipers lurking in the distance trying to pick me off, which is the case with the unit Aiden is in. Everyone is killed but him and a younger colleague. Aiden tries to carry him with him, but it slows him down, and he’s shot too.

Not long after the enemy arrives to finish the job, Violet’s plane appears in the air and she leaps out and soars through the sky like a missle before pulling her chute and landing. She takes out a number of the enemy troops with ease until their leader trains his gun on her.

This leader knows who she is (and what she was), and so orders his men to retreat, leaving Violet with Aiden, who is most likely a goner. After so many jobs in the lands where there is peace, this is the first time she merges her past and present worlds.

When he wakes up in a cabin, Aiden tells Violet he can’t hold out long, and would like her to write his letters immediately. With neither a typewriter nor writing pad on hand, Violet simply uses her hands to air-type the worlds Aiden is saying, which she says she’ll memorize; another heretofore unknown talent.

At first Aiden only asks her to write a letter thanking his parents and hoping that if they ever reincarnate and marry again, he would love to be their son again. Then he drops a photo of his sweetheart Maria, and Violet asks if he wants her to write her a letter as well.

When Aiden went off to war, it was before he and Maria—childhood friends—had truly started acting like a couple. He never even got to kiss her, and when he closes his eyes in these, his final hours, Maria is foremost in the imagery, smiling in the fields of their home. He tells her how happy he was she confessed, and his desire to be by her side.

Then, as Aiden starts to fade, he asks Violet to her to put her hands on his, he tells Maria he loves her, and as he kisses Maria in his mind, for the first and last time, Violet kisses him on the forehead before promising the letters will be delivered.

There are no more dealings with the war-mongering extremists, and Violet is safely taken out of the zone, but before returning home, she visits Aiden’s family to deliver the letters and his bloody kerchief in person. When she sees the anguish and grief well up in Aiden’s parents and Maria, Violet cannot hold back her own anguish, and turns to leave before she makes an undue scene. But Aiden’s mother stops her and gives her a hug.

Thinking she caused so much pain by delivering the news of Aiden’s death, Violet is taken aback when they thank her for bringing him back to them. So many other families will never know what happened to their sons, brothers, fathers who went off and never returned.

But Aiden’s family not only knows, and have closure, but they were able to read the feelings in his heart in his last moments, and know he wasn’t alone…all thanks to Violet.

No other Auto Memoir Doll could have done what she did to fulfill Aiden’s request. She suffered a horrible past as a fearless weapon, but at least in this mission, those skills served a good cause. She should take solace in that.

Kekkai Sensen & Beyond – 05

In Blood Blockade Battlefront you can be assured you’ll get a fun, action-packed romp – with the added intrigue of having no alterworldly idea where that action is going to come from or what mission it will serve.

This week’s focus is on Klaus’ venerable, dutiful combat butler, Gilbert Franke Altstein, who is picking up some supplies with Leo when he’s suddenly snatched up by a giant flying eel-monster, breaking his back clean through.

Gilbert is a comically tough old dude, so he’s mostly fine, but his back needs time to fully heal or it will keep breaking. Head Maid Bates quickly dispatches the young combat butler Phillip Lenore to take over for him.

Leo’s first impression of him is of a “loud and oppresive” presence, but to Zapp and Chain’s shock, Lenore makes a cup of tea Klaus will drink, and while out in the city, Philip notices a monster trying to snatch Leo’s wallet—which Leo tells him is a frequent enough occurance for him to carry nothing but spare change, keeping his cash elsewhere on his person.

Phillip, like any sane or normal person, thinks it unbelievable someone like Leo could survive in HSL, but as we know, not all parts of the city are dangerous all the time. Not to mention he has powerful friends looking out for him (even if help arrives late).

While pondering whether he could ever truly succeed Gilbert over a drink at a bar with a cute bartender, the entire establishment is suddenly swallowed by the friend of the pickpocket, and they extract Phillip’s brain. Turns out he shouldn’t have been worrying about Leo, but himself.

When Gilbert notices Phillip is missing an eye and his brain (which the criminals are using to see through his other eye), he refuses help from Klaus (as a butler, Phillip would regret putting his master in danger for the rest of his life), and asks Leo to use his eyes to find the brain…which he does.

Zapp, Zed, and Leo join Gilbert in his ultra-trick motorcar and the brainless Phillip to help retrieve the brain. Gilbert gives the baddies three options, one of which (hand it over without a fuss) would prevent the need for any further conflict; the other two (we’ll take it, or if you destroy it, we’ll kill you)…don’t. The crims don’t take the old man seriously…to their peril.

It never gets old when B3 turns up the volume, ratchets up the action, and gets down to business, and Gilbert’s raid on the criminals is no exception. While numerous and heavily armed, the bad guys are no match for Gilbert, his car, and the two Z’s, all while Leo leads them to the brain with his eyes.

After getting the car airborne and turning it into a kind of motorcycle (scrunching the four guys in the back seat even more), a good number of explosions and enemy casualties, the glass bulb containing Phillip’s brain and eye are safely retrieved. Oh, and Gilbert reveals he’s a Regeneratore when he’s literally cut in half but not killed.

While recovering in the hospital, Gilbert tells Phillip, whose face is now half metal as a result of his ordeal, finally has a “face for this city,” for which he should be proud. As for actually joining Libra (and thus automatically making his brain worth millions to the criminal underground), Phil is “thanks, but no thanks.” He needs a bit more seasoning. Meanwhile, Klaus does just fine without any butler at all!

Kino no Tabi – 02

Kino may be small, soft-spoken, and polite, but she’s also a powerful badass. As such, she knows that she must occasionally push herself as far as she can go, not only to explore her limits, but to keep her skills from getting rusty.

It’s with this in mind that Kino eagerly arrives at the “Coliseum county”, where newcomers must fight others, often to the death, in order to win their citizenship.

The eternal tournament could be called the ultimate diversion for a corrupt king trying to maintain his grasp on his little kingdom, which is rotting and falling apart at every turn. They don’t even keep the coliseum properly maintained.

All of this disrepair must be particularly distasteful to someone as obsessed with being on top her game as Kino, who is underestimated by each of her opponents but defeats them all with ease, without killing a single person.

The night before the final match, Kino tells Hermes to be near the arena so they can leave as soon as she’s done. Victory is never in doubt here, it’s only a matter of how Kino achieves it. Her finals opponent is a capable-looking fellow named Shizu, armed with a katana.

Kino lets Shizu get close enough to slash at her, but blocks his strike with guards hidden in her sleeves, and on his upswing, she trains a hidden pistol at Shizu, forcing him to concede defeat.

The crowd shouts “KILL! KILL! KILL!”, and Kino does kill…their king. Her question about spectators getting killed by stray bullets being of no consequence comes into play here, as does her homemade explosive round that explodes the king’s head, leaving no doubt that he’s gone.

As victor of the tournament, Kino gets to make a new rule for the games, and it’s this: everyone, not just newcomers, must fight each other to the death; the last person standing will be the new king. As she leaves on Hermes, the town starts tearing each other apart.

Shizu catches up with her by a lake and thanks her for killing his father; he was the prince who was cast out of the country and sought revenge, but Kino denied that revenge, taking care of the king herself. She also meets Shizu’s loyal talking dog Riku, whom I’d like to think whispered to Shizu that Kino’s a girl (her earlier “don’t call me boy” to the guards was another hint).

As for why Kino set the people of the town against one another and blew the whole thing up…I suppose a part of her didn’t like how they were exploiting misinformed newcomers looking for a verdant paradise, like the couple she and Hermes met on the road one day, and met just the woman another day (the man was killed in the tournament).

Now it’s a more fair, internalized system. Whether it makes the country a better or worse place is of little consequence; Kino is off to the next country.

Fate / Zero – 19

In Part 2 of How Kiritsugu Got So Messed Up, young Kiritsugu finds himself in a gender-swapped version of The Professional. Natalia is Leon, the ‘cleaner’ with a heart of gold who suddenly isn’t alone, and Kiritsugu is Matilda, the trauma-stricken, anger-filled youth searching for purpose.

After saving him, Natalia takes Kiri under her wing, gradually teaching him the basics. Before long he’s accompanying her on jobs, and if there’s one complaint I have with this episode (and it’s not a biggie), it’s that there’s really no transition between Kiri’s ‘kid’ and ‘adult’ voices.

What Nat continually drives into Kiri (whatever voice he has) is that her line of work, one’s own survival is the most important consideration. If you’re dead, it’s all for nothing. As a result of her training and care, Kiri becomes a highly capable and reliable apprentice. (She also eventually powders some of his ribs into 66 bullets).

The moment a Dead Apostle named Odd Vorzak appears in the tray of Natalia’s fax machine, I had the ominous feeling that it would be her last job, but while the destination was basically known, I still greatly enjoyed the journey. As a big job in which Kiritsugu plays a crucial role, flying to NYC ahead of Natalia and utilizing his bullets, there’s an auspicious tone to the proceedings.

While there are few things worse than getting the back of your seat kicked on a plane, what Natalia does to Vorzak is most definitely one of them. It’s a great scheme, transporting Kiri’s bullet into Vorzak’s back, and it’s executed perfectly. But it’s also all too easy, and I couldn’t help but think there would have been better, and more importantly safer ways to eliminate him.

Sure enough, while taking care of the bees in Vorzak’s luggage in the hold, all hell breaks loose in the cabin, as Vorzak was carrying more bees in his body. All 300 crew and passengers are quickly turned into vicious ghouls. By some miracle, Natalia is able to reach the cockpit, but it’s a long, tense trip to New York with those ghouls at the doo, and you can feel it.

Kiritsugu keeps Natalia company over the radio, in a beautiful scene that lessons the tension but still feels like it captures the specific emotions of the situation perfectly. As they talk, Natalia gets more an more sentimental, wondering if “playing at a family” is what caused her to screw up so badly, while Kiritsugu subtly talks of her in the past tense, sailing out into open water on one of the small, efficient little boats he loves to use.

There’s a wonderful ambiguity to what Natalia’s particular thoughts are about the conversation she’s having with Kiritsugu, and if and when she realizes that he’s preparing to destroy the plane before it lands. After all, she trained him, and always knew he had way too much potential in her line of work, not to mention her edict that her apprentice think of his survival first and foremost.

Whatever she feels or knows, the reveal of the missile launcher just as the dawn arrives, with a flock of seagulls circling Kiritsugu as if he were the center of a storm—it’s all wonderfully staged and directed. And before pulling the trigger Kiritsugu makes sure Natalia knows: he was glad to have her as a mother.

As is usually the case with Kiritsugu, I can totally understand why he does what he does, even if it’s absolutely horrible: that plane could not be allowed to land just because Natalia is dear to him. The other 300 people on the plane weren’t people anymore, and if they get out into the city, many many more people would’ve died. Kiritsugu couldn’t allow that, so he does what he couldn’t do when Shirley turned into a vampire: nothing more or less than What Has To Be Done.

There’s such a dark, bleak symmetry to Kiritsugu killing his real father and adoptive mother as bookends to his transformation into the Emiya Kiritsugu currently fighting the Holy Grail War. Natalia was such a great character who came out of nowhere, it was sad to see her go so soon, but we were dealing with flashbacks after all, and I had no reasonable expectation she would survive them.

The break in the present-day story was abrupt (especially since I haven’t watched episode 17 yet), but it was well worth the detour to learn more about the key protagonist of the story. It also demonstrated that whatever the timeline or setting, Fate/Zero knows how to tell a damned compelling story.

Fate / Zero – 18

Per a reader’s suggestion, I am watching the next three F/Z episodes in the order of 18-19-17. We’ll see how this goes. At the end of episode 16, Saber wondered what the hell happened to make Emiya Kiritsugu the kind of person he’s become. Episode 18 begins to answer that very question by taking a trip back to Kiritsugu’s childhood on picturesque Arimago Island.

Things couldn’t start out any more idyllic, with “Kerry” (what everyone calls Kiritsugu) cliff-diving with his friends on an absolutely perfect day before being picked up by Shirley, a very pretty young local who is serving as his father’s assistant. Kerry’s father is mage, developing flowers that never wilt in hopes of someday applying the same principles to humans.

Throughout the episode’s first acts, the gorgeous tropical setting could never quite hide the fact that there was something very fishy about Kerry’s father taking up residence in a secluded property on a remote island for mysterious magical experimentation related to immortality. That’s a lot of red flags.

One night Shirley shows Kerry that her flower has wilted, and that she will never be able to be anything other than a glorified lab assistant. She believes Kerry has a bright future following in his dad’s footsteps, and they both agree that his dad is doing something that will be able to help humanity immensely.

Kerry also recoils from Shirley when she gets too close to him, as he’s of the age where boys typically deny their attraction to the opposite sex despite biological evidence to the contrary.

However, it’s clear Kerry likes Shirley very much, which makes it that much more heartbreaking when I realized that beautiful night they talked would be the last. The next day, Kerry’s dad asks if he went into his lab, then warns him to stay in the house for the day.

When Shirley doesn’t arrive at the usual time, he sneaks out to look for her, and finds an empty medicine bottle on the floor of her house. Shirley herself has set to work sucking the blood of the chickens in her yard, as whatever medicine she took turned her into some kind of vampire.

Kerry, unable to grant Shirley’s wish to kill her, seeks refuge in the church, but before long the entire island turns into a battlefield. The vampirism spreads quickly from Shirley to the other townsfolk, and Church Executors have to work overtime to kill them, while the Mages Association sets everything ablaze in order to protect their secrets.

Kerry ends up running through the middle of this hellscape (and as he’ll say to Saber years later, all war is hell) and almost gets himself killed, but he’s saved by a mysterious woman who is very handy with firearms, using them in an efficient manner that reminds me of Kiritsugu’s own style in the present.

She tells him everyone has turned into “dead apostles”, and she’s there to eliminate Kerry’s father…but Kerry gets to him first. When he asks his dad about his work and what it did to Shirley and the town, his father is, shall we say, not particularly contrite. Indeed, he seems to consider all of the horrible things that have happened a minor inconvenience, and is eager to escape the island get back to work.

Unable to muster any words in response to his father’s despicable attitude, Kerry stabs him in the gut with the dagger Father Simon gave Shirley to protect her from the evils he believed Kerry’s father to be messing with. He then takes a pistol and kills him, before the lilac-haired woman shows up.

By doing so, he did what had to be done, something he wasn’t able to do with Shirley, a misstep that ended up costing the entire town. As he escapes from the island with the woman, I imagine Kiritsugu—no longer “Kerry”—won’t be hesitating that much more from here on out.

Macross Delta – 23

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Now that everyone is on Windermere, the this episode has a strong “this is it”, “last-level” feeling to it, where things are going to end one way or another, but hopefully in favor of Walkure and Delta. If they reach the capital and have a tactical show, they’ll win.

But there are serious obstacles, and they make that outcome still feel distant: everyone is scattered across the region, and everyone is constantly on the run from Winderemeran pursuers, including the Aerial Knights.

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There are still some welcome moments of peace, however, such as when Freyja leads Hayate and Mirage through caves she used to play in as a child (yikes), and the surroundings and proximity to her home village dredges up memories of singing Ranke Lee songs as a young child.

We also, somewhat amazingly, see Mikumo eat with others for the first time, with Maki and Reina teasing her and bringing out some more human reactions in her. They think she’ll only become a better singer once she actually starts having more human experiences.

Then we have Freyja and Mirage, envying one another for being able to go so far for Hayate’s sake, before their talk is broken up by Hayate.

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Mikumo unveils her criminally underused rocket petticoat and martial arts skills to allow Maki and Reina to flee, but Hayate, Freyja and Mirage are caught (and almost killed) by Bogue and the Knights, while Roid confronts Mikumo (in a kind of creepy stalker-y way) and says the trigger words that knock her unconscious. Looks like this mission isn’t going to be as easy as it looks on paper, which is as it should be.

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For all of Bogue’s bluster, King Heinz wants the prisoners alive to stand trial before execution, so Lord Lloyd indulges Hayate’s desire to see what they accuse his father Wright of doing with his own eyes. Upon seeing the still seething crater that was once the city of Karlisle (where Bogue’s sister served), Freyja starts to sing a song to soothe the souls lost there, but Bogue knocks her down.

Neither she nor Mirage can change the Windermerans’ long-standing belief in what went down here, and when more evidence is sought, they bring them to a chamber where Wrights’ VF-22 is on display, where his body was found and from which the dimensional bomb was deployed.

That just about seals the deal, right? Wright totally did this horrible thing? Perhaps, but like Mirage, I wouldn’t rule out a heretofore unrevealed motivation…was the same weapon being developed in Karlisle, for instance, and did Wright save the rest of the planet by destroying it?

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If there’s anything else there, there’s only a few episodes left to educate us and complete the picture that still seems to be missing some key strokes. As for Lloyd, it would seem his designs are to replace the ailing Heinz with Mikumo. Mikumo has said again and again that as long as she able to sing, that’s all that matters.

That philosophy will certainly be put to the test, as will her loyalties and human willpower, as Lloyd isn’t just going to let her sing, but make her sing to further his plans for galactic domination. Here’s hoping there’s enough humanity in her to resist. If not, she might soon be fighting against her former comrades in Walkure and Delta.

In any case…that’s way too many pairs of glasses.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 06

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We had another badass, satisfying resolution to another crisis, but when it’s all over it does feel like Kabaneri bit off a bit more than it could chew. If you’re going to bring out a foe as powerful and initially terrifying as a “fused colony”, as it did last week, you’d better not hold back in using it.

Last week’s cliffhanger was essentially Game Over…unless the Koutetsujou was able to seek shelter (and stop on a dime), complete with a blast door that managed to hold the colony monster back. Then the colony kinda takes a break, dicking around “gathering more Kabane”, giving everyone ample time to regroup. Too much time to maintain last week’s sense of immense peril.

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This is also an episode torn between two different paces: that of the immediate threat of the colony (which spends a long time not attacking), and that of Mumei’s descents into the past, when a mysterious warrior, always kept out of focus and accompanied by a glowing butterfly, saves her from sharing the fate of her family and fellow townsfolk.

Mumei and Ikoma also have a nice leisurely chat about weakness and strength. Mumei doesn’t want Ikoma to save her, but he keeps trying anyway, even though the train could leave the station without him. He even gives her some blood when she starts going into withdrawal.

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Mumei loses consciousness again when Ikoma turns to fight a horde of approaching Kabane, but when she comes to again, she’s surrounded by crewmembers there to get her out, and she finds Ikoma bitten in the stomach, but alive. Her lesson is, even though they were weak, they still survived. Being weak doesn’t mean turning over and accepting death.

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The experience has an immediate effect on Mumei, who was about as despondent as one could be while trapped under the rubble, but now that she’s been given a chance, in spite of having a weak moment or two (by her reckoning), she’s a lot more chipper, and decides to mend fences with the family of the dead dog, and assures the other women she’ll take care of the fused colony.

The crew can say they didn’t go back just for Mumei and Ikoma, because they also picked up a huge Type 48 Cannon that they can use to dissipate the colony. But to do so the colony has to get close…too close. This is when things pick up and the episode starts redeeming itself…though I was a little skeptical that the rescue team, and the seriously-injured Ikoma and Mumei, could get back to the train as quickly as they could while the colony barely moved by comparison.

Never mind, it’s time for a patented Kabaneri action sequence, with Yukina showing off her muscles when releasing the train’s pressure limits, Sukari providing a crucial assist by un-blocking the works in a very hazardous part of the train, and Takumi firing the bullet at just the right time…on his second try.

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The core of the colony is exposed for Mumei, who flies up and pierces it, but not before seeing…someone? Is it someone from the “team” she mentioned, of which she is the last remaining member who isn’t a Kabane? Whatever the case, the woman in the core merely screeches at Mumei, Mumei collects herself and takes her out.

The resulting explosion sends Mumei flying, but Ikoma is there to catch her. When the train threatens to derail, everyone moves to one side to right it, and they escape Yashiro…though without, if I’m not mistaken, re-supplying.

The episode ends without any aftermath—a bit of a disappointment—but the taste of victory may soon be replaced by train-wide hunger and increasing frustration and unrest. But maybe that’s why the episode just ended without addressing that: just enjoy the win for now; we’ll tackle the next crisis next week.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 05

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Last week ended on a triumphant note, but a return to the dark wasn’t unexpected, and we ease right back into that as two low-lifes fight over scraps of food. Mumei plays reluctant referee, and for that she receives applause from the passengers just trying to go about their lives, but the scuffle seemed too easily resolved by what amounted to beating the crap out of the guys. Mumei isn’t the diplomatic type.

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Indeed, when they reach Yashiro station to find it ravaged by Kabane, Enoku, a man who knows Mumei well, is among the survivors. He considers her the “claw” of their master (his former, her current?) and is likely of the mind that her settling spats on the train—indeed, mixing with the normal humans at all—will make her a slow, dull claw if she’s not careful. He proves his point by catching Mumei off-guard with a pistol.

Things snowball for Mumei from there, as she starts to immediately separate herself from Ikoma and the other softies as they devise the safest plan for getting to a crane in order to move a collapsed tower off the tracks, rather than punching through and destroying every Kabane there. She then demonstrates how inexperienced she is talking with distraught kids whose dead dog is still warm when she makes things worse with all the wrong words.

It’s a huge (and welcome) reversal of her first scene; there, she was celebrated as not only the “bodyguard” of Kotetsujou, but a generally amiable peacekeeper. Enoku makes plain that peace is not her purpose. She’s a weapon of war. Unfortunately, she’s a flawed, fragile, almost dangerously proud weapon, far too reckless for someone with a time limit.

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Ikoma notices Mumei has changed, and not for the better, but he’s so busy preparing for the big crane operation he can only spare so much time in getting to what’s eating her (plus, Mumei isn’t one to talk about her problems overmuch).

He lets Mumei do things her way, but implores her to stay away from the boiler room, suspected to be the Kabane nest. Of course, she runs straight for the boiler room, and Ikoma doesn’t stick to his plan. He deviates in order to meet up with her. It’s a good thing he did, too.

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Mumei wastes a ton of fighting power, time, and energy (plus some blood) fighting the Kabane dwelling in the boiler room. It looks like an impressive accomplishment, right until it’s revealed the “black smoke” that attacked Yashiro and brought the massive tower down on the tracks is really a gigantic, horrifying amalgamation of Kabane. Mumei’s kill count was less than a drop in the bucket, and she’s already winded.

When a Wazatori attacks her, she’s no match and gets tossed off a ledge. Ikoma is able to kill the guy and rescue her, but she seems well and truly out of commission for the time being. Worse, he had to stop controlling the crane, leaving the crumpled tower still blocking the train, with a huge, spooky, Ghilbi-esque black smoke monster poised to strike.

There’s scarcely a dull—or non-life-threatening—moment on Kabaneri, and a clear pattern has emerged of the heroes having to fend off one baddie after another in sequence (which makes sense, as they’re on a train) while proving to the people they want to protect that they’re not the enemy.

Ikoma got pretty short shrift this week, but since he’s better at interacting with people and has friends from before his transformation present, his climb isn’t as steep, hence the emphasis on Mumei. Mumei’s physical and emotional vulnerabilities are laid bare once again, and it’s proven without doubt that if she’s going to survive, she going to need Ikoma as much as he’ll need her in the battles to come.

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GOD EATER – 04

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This week Lenka’s charges are suspended and he’s officially assigned to Fenrir East’s First Unit, along with Alisa and Fujiki “Wears a hat and scarf like he’s cold, but wears a crop top like he’s hot” Kouta. While Lenka’s look is pretty understadted, the other two’s elaborate outfits seem laughably impractical, especially considering singular mission they’ve been tasked with: Save The World.

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While Alisa wordlessly walks off when asked to join, Kouta drags Lenka out of HQ and into the slums where he grew up, including to meet his mom, who is very worried about him. They also check out the craters of destruction an aragami battle caused, watch food being distributed, and catch a glimpse of Aegis, mankind’s last best refuge, currently under construction.

The flashy new facility’s completion is dependent on the God Eaters securing the necessary amount aragami cores. The future of mankind rests with the likes of Lenka, Kouta, and Alisa. On them lies the future of mankind. Oh, by the way, DID I MENTION THE FUTURE OF MANKIND RESTS WITH THEM? Well, it does. “It” being…the future of mankind.

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You’d think those upon which something so important rests would be trained prior to going out in the field, or would be discouraged from cool-looking but reckless and unnecessary actions, or punished if they blatantly disobeyed orders from their superiors. The six-man unit splits into pairs to hunt down six cores of a specific type of aragami, but the mission is pretty rocky, as Alisa ignores orders from Sakuya, Kouta fails at his job, and Lenka can’t finish a foe off in one blow, which he needs to do if the future mankind is to rest upon him.

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So yeah, it’s a rough mission, but at least the flaws of the newly-formed unit are borne out in a relatively low-risk setting…right? They also come upon a group of wandering civilians and get to take them back to Fenrir. Lenka gets to see a sliver of the mankind whose future rests on him, including a cute little girl I knew was doomed.

My suspicion was confirmed when they get back to Fenrir and the civvies are turned back at the gate, because none of them possess the latent ability to wield a God Arc. Like the civilians on the aircraft carrier in World War Z, the only civvies who are able to live under the military’s protection are related to the ones doing fighting. It’s a raw but a practical, transactional one; at least more practical than Alisa and Kouta’s (and Sakuya’s) getup.

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Anyway, Lenka learns he’s not necessarily fighting for ALL mankind; just the part of it that’s able to properly contribute to the war effort. The rest are SOL. And we learn a tiny little bit about him: he’s the kind of guy who is upset about such things. When he gave that doomed little girl water, he was convinced she’d be safe within Fenrir’s walls. And fighting for Fenrir must feel like siding with the people who sent that girl to her almost certain death.

Mind you, most protagonists would have a problem with this, and would react by clenching their fists with rage and indignation. And that remains GOD EATER’S problem, after just four episodes in six weeks: for all the distinctiveness of their outfits, I still can’t be all that excited about any of the characters. All their personalities are some combination of nondescript, dull, obvious, and one-note.

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GOD EATER – 03

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GOD EATER follows up its slow, stretched-out, uninspired second episode with a big shot of adrenaline, as the entire third episode is one big aerial battle. It could also have been titled “Enter Underboob”, as after a couple of glimpses of her last week we finally see Alisa in her element (as opposed to sitting quietly on a plane) as a (mostly) efficient exterminator of Aragami.

The First Unit and Lenka in particular gawk from their helicopter as the one-woman army Alisa darts and jumps and repels about the giant transport plane. Not only does it get to show us the extent of her abilities (and her superiority to fellow new-type Lenka), but also the various tools at a new-type’s disposal. Alisa switches from sword to gun with ease, and when she tuns out of ammo, she simply uses her arc to devour an aragami and convert it into more ammo…which is a handy trick.

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When Lindow, Sakuya, and Lenka spot a gigantic swarm of fresh Aragami on the horizon, Lindow decides it’s time to grab Alisa and leave before they get there. It’s a practical and pragmatic call, considering Alisa’s importance to the war effort. But when Lenka jumps down to get her, Alisa pounces on him and proceeds to beat the everloving shit out of him. The message is clear: she’s not leaving the plane. Shortly thereafter we learn why, and see another side of Alisa: the plane is full of wounded survivors, and she won’t abandon them to save her own skin. She values their lives as much as her own (if not more).

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If Alisa won’t leave and they can’t make her, Lindow changes his orders: the four God Eaters will go all out in a defensive stand. They’ll either defeat all the Aragami after them and land safely at Fenrir east together, or they’ll die together.

We get a lot of badass shots of the team about to get to work, and then working. Lenka gradually gets the hang of his arc and is able to keep up with Alisa; while she had a head start I imagine his kill tally was comparable to hers when all was said and done. He even learns to devour.

There are also a lot of smooth moves, like Alisa and Lenka using both versions of their weapons to kill Aragami, or Lindow tossing one into Sakuya’s firing line so she can finish it off. Their flying battlefield, surrounded by sky on all sides, adds excitement and breathlessness to the proceedings.

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Speaking of breathless, how about that sunset, as seen from the plane’s cargo bay ramp? Or the shot of the absolutely massive Aragami taking the helicopter decoy bait, which definitely looks like a very very good thing to happen, as despite our heroes’ successes, there remain things well out of their league…at least for now.

So…why only an 8? Well, because GOD EATER is very one-dimensional. It’s hella cool and stylish and fun, but it’s ultimately empty calories: immediate satisfaction but no nutrition. The characters are very well-drawn and awesome looking, but there’s nothing below the surface. Alisa, like Lenka, is just another bland cipher we’ve seen a million times before (though Sakamoto Maaya does a good job voicing her).

And while I’m not really going to get into the hefty suspension of disbelief required to accept the physics of the battle (Are everyone’s shoes magnetic? Does no one need oxygen), it was pretty silly how last week the much faster fighter jets were immediately taken out by the Aragami, yet this week the helicopter was completely ignored. GOD EATER remains great fun and this was a far better episode than last week’s, but its core flaws remain, which can’t be ignored.

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GOD EATER – 02

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It still looks the business, but GOD EATER came down to earth a bit this week. The relatively taut pacing of the first episode was gone, replaced by a plodding storyline that felt dragged out in order to build up suspense for the eventual reveal of Alisa, the self-proclaimed Best New-type who looks to be Lenka’s rival.

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Lots of guys sorta-looking at boobs this week

The slowed and somewhat creaky pace and preponderance of people standing around having casual chats made it much harder to overlook the cliches of the plot, which were many: The kid screws up and ends up in the brig, but sudden circumstances and a ringing endorsement from Major Amamiya’s older brother (and Fenrir-Far East’s top Old-type) Rindou force her hand, and she gives him a fresh chance to prove himself to the brass, who want to take his weapon away.

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All that well-tred ground is made tolerable by the show’s gritty-yet-smooth style, but the battle that results in Eric dying and Lenka getting jailed is needlessly split up into separate parts, killing its momentum. And during the battle, there’s just no sense of urgency.

That is, until after Rindou takes out the “Vajra” (a type of Aragami boss), and a stray Aragami tries to pounce on the unconscious Lenka. If nothing else, I liked the symmetry of an unarmed Lenka saving Eric before (which is the rumor at Fenrir that makes Rindou a fan) and Eric repaying him with his life.

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Back in the present, after Eric’s memorial service, Alisa is on her way via air transport, but all of her fighter escorts are taken out by a swarm of aerial Aragami, creating the emergency that requires Major Amamiya to entertain Rindou’s suggestion they send the kid out again.

But again, the pacing and direction undermine the tension. The rapid-fire events up in the stratosphere just don’t jibe with the slow deliberations of the Amamiya siblings, not to mention the Major’s confronting of Lenka to give him a choice only he can make: Stay in the cell or step out and fight (even though she opposes the latter). Things on the ground are just taking too long.

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Which is a shame, because the bay door of the transport plane opening to reveal a no-nonsense Alisa ready to do battle is a pretty badass way to close the episode. It’s just too bad it didn’t feel like there was enough in this episode to justify leaving this scene for the very end. It lurched its way to this point, and left me feeling gypped Alisa didn’t actually get to do anything.

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GOD EATER – 01 (First Impressions)

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What is it: Set in a post-apocalyptic 2071, the organization Fenrir and its God Arc-armed “God Eaters” is humanity’s only chance of survival against the monstrous Aragami. Utsuki Lenka is a newbie whose CO forces him to sit on the sidelines and train, but when a multi-pronged Aragami attack breaks out on seperate sides of the city, he chooses to deploy. Initially in over his head, he is saved by Fenrir’s famous First Unit, then demonstrates his God Arc can transform from blade to gun when he shoots and destroys a straggling Aragami threatening a woman.

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Why you should watch: Well, for starters, look at it. This show is drop-dead gorgeous, as everyone expected from a ufotable joint. And yet, it’s not just the same successful, exact and exacting style that made Unlimited Blade Works such a joy to behold. There’s a bit more of the artist’s painterly stroke in the character design, and the futuristic setting allows for more creativity in terms of production and mechanical design.

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You really feel the vastness and weight of Fenrir fortress, and we’re treated to it at different times of day and in different weather. There’s also a lot of real-life-imitating fancy camerawork employing flash zooms, snap zooms, and lots of pretty slow-motion.

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You also get a feeling of the non-physical weight of the people involved in Fenrir. The stern, all business Major Amamiya suffers no argument from her underlings, but much rests on her shoulders as God Eaters go out and don’t always come back in the way they left…or at all. The Amagami won’t stop coming, but there’s clearly a shortage of capable fighters.

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Enter Utsuki Lenka (or Renka), your typical shonen hero haunted by his past and thirsty for revenge against the Aragami that presumably killed his family and destroyed his home. He seems increasingly restless in being force to train, and ultimately the major can’t hold him back. That’s good, because once he’s out in the real world—a rainy night, no less—the show really gets to flex its visual muscles with some truly gorgeous, fluid combat.

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Why you may not want to watch: I don’t know why this would be, but perhaps you’re tired of ufotable’s intricate, almost too-fussy animation. And while the struggle against the Aragami is felt and the characters are suitably cool-looking, there’s nothing that god-eatingly original about the scenario or any of the characters;  Lenka himself is particularly broad and dull so far. It wasn’t that much in doubt that Lenka would be saved by the Elite Unit of Badasses and be given the opportunity to show them he can be one of them too, if seasoned properly.

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The Verdict: GOD EATER was worth the slightly longer wait than other Summer shows: it’s the best looking by a fair degree, and as long as everything else is serviceable, that’s enough for me. The colorful supporting cast look like they might be able to pick up the slack of a rather limp Lenka. It’s a simple and well-worn Kill-the-Monsters / Avenge-Your-Past tale elevated to sophisticated anime art.

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