Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 11 – Love is In the Air

Elaina arrives in Qunorts to find that the Curio Company from the Niké stories has been revived. Townsfolk say mages are once again at risk, so she dresses like an ordinary, non-magical traveler to avoid any hassle. However, it’s because she appears to be a random NPC that she is targeted by Curio.

Specifically, Curio’s aged leader shoots both Elaina and the newly-arrived Saya with balls of magical dust that cause them to swap bodies. Elaina opens the mystery box Saya was delivering on behalf of the Association, and a massive cloud of love potion spreads across the town, causing the complex situation of Saya’s little sister Mina falling madly in love with Saya while Elaina is in Saya’s body.

Much hilarity ensues, and both Hondo Kaede and Kurosawa Tomoyo demonstrate their talent by wonderfully mimicking the voice styles of Saya and Elaina while in opposite bodies. Having been caught in the love cloud while looking at the reflection of Elaina, Saya is even more in love with her senpai, while Elaina in Saya’s body is decidedly Not Amused.

Fortunately, the Curio Company’s grand plan was as sloppy as it was dependent on numerous suppositions to succeed, and because Elaina is a witch, she and Saya have no problem rounding up the company before they can cause too much damage. When the captured leader gloats about dozens of her cohorts still out there, Fran and Sheila finally make their appearance, having mopped up the remaining bandits.

The love potion is returned to the box, while Elaina, Saya, and Mina eventually return to normal. Sheila reveals she’s Mina’s teacher too, and the one who forced Mina and Saya apart lest they fall into a codependent spiral. Saya for one is glad Mina loves her so much, while an embarrassed Mina would prefer if the subject were changed.

One subject that doesn’t come up is whether Elaina is aware that Niké and her mother are one and the same. This latest adventure in Qunorts should have provided all the clues she’d need to make that determination, yet when the four witches part ways, she remains coy about the revelation. Elaina promises Fran that she’ll return home to see her parents at some point, but as Niké had five volumes of adventures, she remains committed to writing at least six of her own.

That means a lot more traveling and a lot more situations, both fun and trying. As to the latter kind, I was disappointed but not particularly surprised the show swept her time travel trauma under the rug. In its place  was another fun and hopeful outing. Her closing monologue and broom ride into the sunset felt like the end of this particular volume with one episode to go, while hinting at the possibility of a second cour—something to which I certainly wouldn’t be opposed!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 10 – Meeting in the Middle

Journey of Elaina takes a break from Elaina’s journey to tell the story of her teacher Fran and Saya’s teacher, Sheila. Both were apprentices of Niké, who no doubt decided each of them could benefit from each others’ unique qualities.

Fran is your typical quiet, dignified, by-the-book “teacher’s pet”, while Sheila is the mage equivalent of a delinquent, complete with blond hair and twisted scowl. She’s always smoking a cigarette, and her gaudy broom is souped-up like a Yankee bike, complete with fancy lights and a two-strok burble.

Hanazawa Kana and Hikasa Yoko demonstrate how adept they are at voicing younger versions of Fran and Sheila, and it’s a lot of fun watching them bounce off each other like oil and vinegar while Niké serenely smiles between them. I particularly like how Fran starts imitating Sheila’s combative “Huh?!” with a “Huh” of her own!

The trio arrives in Qunorts, Town of Freedom, for an Association job, and like Elaina, Niké is primarily concerned with what the job pays (like mother like daughter!). The job is to take care of the non-magical Curio Company, which has been tricking and embarrassing the town’s mages with “mysterious tools.”

Niké, who has tolerated her students’ bickering to this point, now calls upon them to work together to take Curio down. If either or both of them fail, she’ll expel them from her instruction. Naturally, Fran and Sheila try to use the job as an opportunity to sabotage one another so they’ll be rid of each other.

Because they start out working at cross purposes, the Curio Company problem only grows, and their leader calls Fran out in a cafe that turns out to be full of her loyal subordinates. Fran is captured, and finds that Sheila has also been captured. If they’re going to escape expulsion (and, incidentally, beheading) they know they’ll have to work together.

Either the mages of Qunorts must not have been much to write home about, or Fran and Sheila are particularly gifted mages, because they’re able to deal with Curio all at once without much difficulty, and with much style and flair. Turns out both of them let themselves get captured to spare them the effort of tracking their targets down one by one.

Once Curio is dealt with, the two have a rest and each explain why they wanted Niké to teach them. Sheila was a street urchin unaware of witches who one day stole from Niké, and saw an opportunity to right the wrong path of her life. Sheila sought to become the first witch in her country, thus securing a steady job and source of income.

Both realize that because self-interest was their motivator, they have a lot more in common than they thought. Shortly thereafter, Niké makes them official Witches and names them Stardust and Night, with the implication that they complement one another perfectly.

After a rough start to their relationship when they were constantly clashing, Fran and Sheila became friends, which they remain to this day such that they still go on annual vacations together. Only because the box Sheila instructed Saya to take to Qunorts was the same box the Curio Company had, Sheila decides to put their vacay on hold, and Fran follows.

At roughly the same time, Elaina, who is either completely over her crisis of confidence or doing a good job suppressing her trauma from the time traveling ordeal, is headed to Qunorts as well. That means next week could feature Elaina, Saya, Fran and Sheila in the same place at the same time. That’s something I can get on board with!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

For more on Wandering Witch episode 10, read Crow’s review here.

Appare-Ranman! – 10 – Snakes on a Train

Their respite over, it’s time for the racers to get back to work, this time racing a train out of Nebraska with Big Boss hoping to prove the era of the automobile has come. Richard is Sofia’s companion aboard the train, and every moment they chat is skin-crawling, because we know Richard is Gil T. Cigar just waiting to strike like the snake he is, and Sofia has no idea, thinking she’s pegged “Richard” as too kind to stay in the race.

When the train baron calls Gil back to his ornate caboose to lecture him like an employee, Gil casually throws him and his chair out the side of the train before returning to the car and telling Sofia her prayer for a safe race won’t be answered. With that, his henchmen rise up from among the passengers and slither through the train, killing the crew and marshals, tossing bombs, and taking hostages.

Gil brings the train to a stop on the bridge over the Missouri River, then runs out to confront the racers he’s blocked. He runs towards them in a fake panic as “Richard”, but Dylan & Co. soon realize something’s not right. They’re too late, as Gil reveals who he is and produces Sofia’s hat, stained with blood, to indicate his cruel intentions.

Nobody, not even TJ and Dylan, can hang with Gil long in a fight. His demands are simple: he wants the 1.51 million in prize money for the winner of the race, and he’ll let the hostages on the train go. Chances are even if they get him the cash, more if not all of them will die anyway; we’re dealing with a butcher, after all. When Appare tries to voice his outrage at Gil’s villainy, Gil shoots him—but it’s Kosame who takes the bullet.

After trashing all of the cars, Gil and his crew take off on the train. Al chases after Sofia in vain. Xialian tries to stop the bleeding, and Appare tries to start his car, but both fail, and a very wan Kosame passes out after declaring proudly that he’s glad his buddy is okay.

You could scarcely ask for a more extreme shift in mood and stakes than from last week’s joyful rest episode to now, when Kosame may be dead, Sofia is a hostage, and the racers have nothing to drive. But like Kosame, I’ll put my faith in Appare: surely he can use parts of all the damaged cars to build something that can get them moving again.

Appare-Ranman! – 09 – Taking a Load Off

The car companies decide that despite the threat of Gil, the race will go on. The route to the next supply point is adjusted for the safety of the race staff. That means all of the racers have a day off, and this episode is all about how they spend that day, which means it’s all about Appare-Ranman’s colorful cast of characters.

This episode features a formidable number of character pairings and groupings, from Hototo an Dylan to Appare and former engineer Seth Carter to Hototo and the Bad Brothers. Appare spends much of the day lost in deep calculations about his hybrid drive, but everyone else basically kicks back.

We learn a lot of little details during this slice-of-life excursion: TJ and Al have a drinking contest, but Sofia easily drinks both of them under the table. Xialian and Kosame spar, and the former brings up how her father taught her kung fu to protect herself. Little things here and there that bring the ensemble cast to life.

Naturally there’s a fair amount of comedy in the episode, from the lost-in-thought Appare collecting objects until he’s riding on a donkey’s back in a barber’s smock with display pennants and a ragdoll hanging from him and his foot in a bucket.

The donkey eventually bucks him straight into a building occupied by one Thomas Edison. There’s even a hot springs session with the whole gang, and Kosame and Appare learn about American modesty the hard way. Sofia discusses Al with Xialian while the boys play an increasingly spirited game of jan-ken-pon.

It’s all a lot of fun despite the fact there’s no racing, and by sunrise the next day Appare’s hybrid system is in good working order, such that he deems the “real race” about to begin. But as Sofia boards the train that will follow the route of the race, she’s accompanied by Richard Riesman, whom we already know to be the real villainous Gil. No matter how much liquor Sofia can hold, that can’t be good!

Appare-Ranman! – 08 – Cutting Through the Past

Appare, Xialian and Al leave Eli, Nevada at dawn in pursuit of the lead pack, only to find them massacred on the road. Only Rich Riesman survives, and describes the bandits as having snake tattoos. Hototo, still seeking revenge for his father’s death after the other Gil turned out to be an impostor, tracks the bandits’ horses to a post town.

At the poor, dusty, remote town, no one is in the mood to talk except those folk who bear snake tattoos—including the sheriff. A standoff ensues, but when the time comes to fight, Kosame freezes up—again—unable to unsheathe his katana. The others are taken away to be hung at sundown, while Kosame is allowed to go free; marked as a coward not worth killing.

The initially surly bartender invites Kosame back into her tavern for a whiskey, sensing there’s more to him than plain cowardice. He tells her the story of a cold winter’s night when he was a child powerless to protect his mother from a bandit’s blade. The chill from that night has kept his blade stuck in its sheath ever since, but the bartender tells him he shouldn’t regret his inaction back then—he was just a kid—and in any case no one can change the past

Bouyed by the bartender’s words, Kosame spends the rest of the day training aggressively for the moment his sword must not fail to come out of the sheath: when he approaches the gallows where his friends are about to be hanged. It’s a beautifully-lit and colored scene with all the requisite western panache as he emerges from the rolling dust, one man with two swords against many men with guns.

For the first time, Appare, Hototo, Xialian and Al witness Kosame’s true swordsmanship as he first slices the apparition of the bandit who killed his mother, then proceeds to dodge bullets and cut the ones he can’t in half until the enemy has been defeated and his friends are safe. Hototo’s opinion of Kosame immediately shifts, while Kosame insists kids like him simply be kids and let adults protect him.

As the five stroll into the sunset to rejoin the race, Richard Riesman, who presumably went ahead to Denver to seek help, is instead revealed as the true Gil T. Cigar, meaning that a Appare’s completed hybrid system and driving skills won’t be enough to survive this race. They may need to call upon Kosame’s steel again, but now that he’s shaken off the winter frost, they’ll be able to rely on that steel.

Kino no Tabi – 09

This week we get five stories in one, as Kino jumps from country to country and character to character in a what ends up a bit of a “beautiful world grab bag.” The first story is told from the perspective of two bandits, a student and an elder. The student wrongly assumes both Shizu’s party and Kino are appropriate “prey”, but the elder knows better from a look.

Cute and alone Kino may be, but if she’s alone, it’s because she’s capable of traveling alone, which means she can handle herself. Ditto Ti, holding her hand grenade, and Shizu, who may only be a swordsman but isn’t the type to be defeated by bullets alone. The elder learned a lot after wrongly believing Kino’s master and her apprentice were prey, but turned out to be “devils”.

A neat little outside look at Kino and Shizu. Next up: a country where people accrue “virtue points” to determine status based on good deeds. Points are deducted for crimes, but it’s a system in which it’s possible to accure enough points over a lifetime to exceed those that would be deducted for killing someone.

That’s the dilemma an old man Kino meets is facing, and indeed, he originally approached her with the intent to kill, which is why Kino never took her hand off her gun. The man laments his inabilty to kill anyone as a failure in life, for he’ll die wasting all the accrued points.

That was a bit silly and weird, but at least had a nice Kino moment of a seemingly nice guy turning out to be much darker. The third segment involves Kino’s visit to a “country of cooking” where a council of chefs begs her to cook a dish for them.

Hermes worries for the country, because apparently Kino’s cooking sucks (har har). However, the country buys into her super-spicy chicken, though another traveler comes along and makes a milder version that’s equally popular.

The fourth segment is the shortest, as Shizu, Tifana and Riku arrive in a city with giant statues people attach wishes to so they’ll come true. Ti decides to wish for “everyone’s wishes to come true”, which earns her many thanks and approving words from the folks around her. Of course, Ti only made that wish because she believes it’s all bullshit anyway.

Finally, Kino enters a country her master once mentioned as a place of “beautiful memories”, moreso than any other country. And yet, Kino was never able to get any actual info about the country out of her master. When Kino enters and seemingly immediately exits through the other gate, she learns why.

Upon entering the country, visitors must agree to have all of their memories of their stay wiped if they wish to stay. Kino agreed, which is why she remembers nothing. Hermes, whose memories weren’t wiped, nevertheless won’t tell Kino because he promised the country he wouldn’t and isn’t one to go back on his word.

All he can say is that she enjoyed herself, perhaps more than any other country they’ve visited. The details of that enjoyment, however, remain classified, though she was allowed to leave with a crude drawing of her posing with people she must’ve met there.

The end credits came a message from Kino’s original creator, Sigsawa Keiichi; an “anime afterword” consisting of words of encouragement for anyone seeking to make their dreams come true, as they apparently did for him. Well…good for him, and thanks for writing Kino so we could have this anime! It just seemed strange to get such a message when there’s still a quarter of a season left to watch…

Utawarerumono: Itsuwari no Kamen – 03

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Unwatched nine-year-old prequel aside, Utawarerumono continues to churn out entertaining little yarns chronicling the adventures of the hapless Haku and capable Kuon. This week they join Ukon in escorting a kind and adorable young princess, Rurutie, to the capital.

Along the way, the girls enjoy a hot bath, but Kuon hears someone lurking in the woods and runs out to confront them, but in her absent-mindedness ends up presenting her naked self to Haku.

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The convoy is eventually attacked by bandits led by a feisty young woman (Nosuri) and a rapey old man who steal all their wagons containing tribute for the emperor, but Ukon lets them ride off without a fight, causing Haku to suspect the super-strong badass has a plan in mind for foiling the thieves.

Nosuri, by the way, quickly ends her alliance with the rapey dude when she learns he’s built a large hideout in the canyons where he intends to bring more women and children to victimize. She don’t want no part of that.

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Even when things don’t go exactly according to Ukon’s plan, and the rapey leader ends up right back where Haku and the girls are, the fact that Haku made Rurutie’s plump, affectionate riding bird fall for him back in the beginning of the episode pays off, when the bird dispatches the bad guys in a protective rage.

The bandits are arrested by imperial guards, and the way is clear for the rest of Rurutie’s journey to the capital, where Kuon is certain Haku can find a good job, even if he claims not to be ready for one yet, because he’s perhaps the laziest protagonist of the Fall, yet still somehow likable simply because I’m not sure I wouldn’t act the same way as he if thrust into such an unfamiliar world.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 05

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This week offers plenty of opportunities for Shirayuki to get kidnapped again, only for Zen to save her, but wisely avoids taking those roads. Instead, Shirayuki comes back from her solitary trip to town without incident, and Zen brings her to a fort where a mysterious sickness is sapping everyone of energy, even her.

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And as Zen tells her when she determines the cause of the sickness—toxic firewood—I’m in full agreement with him that Shirayuki is so damn cool. She and Zen make a great team, because they complement each others’ unique skills. Zen is the brawn and access when necessary; Shirayuki has the medicinal know-how and determination to restore the entire fort’s garrison in no time at all, earning all the soldiers’ gratitude and respect in the process.

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But not everything’s peachy. It turns out Shirayuki’s worst enemy this week is her own inability to take a damn break. She loses her balance on many occasions, even after the firewood mystery is solved, and Obi has to leap in to save her from taking a serious tumble, disobeying orders to stay away from her.

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Rather than blame Shirayuki for working too hard for too long, Zen blames himself as leader for not seeing her fatigued state sooner. He puts her to bed (once her eyes are closed, it takes less than three seconds for her to thankfully conk out), then takes care of the bandits who stole the forts weapons after drugging the soldiers.

He returns to her bedside to thank her for her hard work with a tender kiss to her hand; very princely. He also tells her never to keep quiet when she’s weak from overwork and insufficient sleep. He’ll certainly keep a sharper eye, but Zen needs her to take care of herself, not just everyone else. Her first herbalist mission outside of Wistal is both a resounding success and a learning experience.

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