Juuni Taisen – 04

Only a quarter into Juuni Taisen, at least four warriors had fallen (we learn Horse may still be alive; maybe Ox left his fight with him to take care of Niwatori last week). This week, we get Monkey/Sharyu’s backstory, indicating she may be next.

But she’s not…at least not this week. The four front-loaded kills so far give the show a chance to slow down and paint the picture of who the Warrior of the Monkey is, where she comes from, and why she does what she does.

Yuuki Misaki, as she is also known, was trained by a triad of monkey elders who never argue in the art of changing the state of whatever she wills. While that’s demonstrated as turning stone to sand, she uses her skills to turn war into peace.

Responsible for hundreds of ceasefires and prevented civil wars, Sharyu can honestly state she may well have saved more people than anyone else in the world. Nezumi at least knows her as this, and even believes it was Sharyu’s unblinking optimism that “weakened” Niwatori to her death.

On the flip side, having saved so many means she’s also failed to save more than anyone else alive. Things don’t always go as she plans, and the result is often bloodshed and other atrocities, in some cases more intense then had she not intervened or held negotiations.

What does she do? Well, Misaki doesn’t seem to blame or torture herself, for one. She takes the defeats in stride, along with the victories. She retires to her perfectly normal home life with her husband, who wishes she’d just give up the fight and live a full life with him. Misaki understands, but makes it clear: he knows what he got into, and if he truly loves her, he must fight his own battle as she fights hers.

Back in the present, after scolding Nezumi to not “sell platitudes short, little boy” (he thinks she’s a naive idealist, but she thinks he’s naive, since he’s seen so much less of the world than she has), Sharyu spots a zombie bird; necromanced by Usagi along with all the other birds Niwatori killed last week. The flock chases Sharyu and Nezumi, forcing them to the surface.

Waiting there is Usagi, proving Niwatori right in her assertion he and Ox are the most dangerous warriors. Were it not for Sharyu’s quick reflexes, mobility, and speed, Zombie Snake would have sliced her in two as soon as she emerged from the manhole.

Instead, Nezumi takes on Snake while Sharyu accepts Usagi’s challenge. She may be a pacifist, but she’ll fight if she must, and she really must here. Will Usagi’s reign of terror continue? Will Sharyu and Nezumi end up as macabre additions to Usagi’s collection of zombie thralls? Or is there hope, however small, that Sharyu can end the fighting with words? If anyone pull it off, it’s her. On the other hand, Usagi’s pretty psycho…

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Juuni Taisen – 03

Is it just me, or have the POV warriors gotten progressively more interesting with each episode? After Boar and Dog, we now learn more about Chicken (Niwatori), who had spent last week showing Dog one side only to turn on him and show her true one.

Niwatori’s childhood was…rough, to put it comically mildly. We find her where the cops do: malnourished and filthy in an apartment filled with garbage and blood. It’s not her blood; it’s that of her parent(s), which, considering her “pecking” specialty, she killed by repeatedly pecking bits out of hem with an egg topper.

Her own memories of this time are quite foggy; she spent some time at a facility after a hospital visit, and after regaining her physical health, she was adopted by the Niwa family, whose matriarch was interested in utilizing her special ability to speak to birds.

They trained her into a soldier and assassin who can hide in plain sight and deceived and betrayed so many people, she had no idea who was a friend or enemy.

Back in the present, Niwatori has successfully fooled Dog unto his death, and makes quick work of Zombie Boar with a swarm of birds under her control, who peco their prey to pieces and pick flesh from bone.

Feeling peckish herself, Niwatori enters a convenience store and encounters Rat, who has no quarrel with her, and leads her to the sewers to meet Monkey.

Niwatori finds herself unusually affected, even moved by Shuryuu’s seemingly catch-less kindness and earnestness, and believes Dog’s One Man Army poison has heightened her emotions as well as her body.

Even though she finds herself perfectly capable of killing Monkey and Rat right there and then, and knows that is the best course of action to ensure victory in the Zodiac War, she just…can’t do it. She withdraws…and when she does, she’s so busy cursing herself for making such a dumb move, she doesn’t realize Ox is right there, ready to kill her.

Naturally, because Niwatori is the POV character this week, she has to die, and she’s not even the first warrior Ox kills this week (that honor goes to Horse, whom we don’t learn much about before his demise).

Still, she faces her imminent death standing tall, with a defiant look in her eye, and after sacrificing so many of her beloved birds to defeat Zombie Boar, there’s a poetry to her giving up her body to feed still more of those birds.

I won’t say that she came out of the hell of her childhood—in which she was no doubt pecked away at to the brink of death—to live a life of honor or morality. Indeed, she saw herself as an instrument—another weapon in the Niwa family’s arsenal—and little else.

We don’t know what wish she’d have asked for had she won the Zodiac War. But I will say that for the brief time I got to know her, I emphasized and liked Niwatori, and the show feels a little smaller without her, as I’m sure it will continue to feel as more POV characters meet their maker.

Juuni Taisen – 02

Poor Boar is now a puppet of Rabbit’s along with Snake; he’s in the lead. Turns out Monkey (Shuryuu) interrupted her own attempt to form a pacifist alliance by smashing the floor. In doing so, she thwarted a preemptive strike she sensed from one of the others, though apparently she doesn’t suspect the sleepy Rat (Nezumi).

Having holed up in an underground parking garage, Dog (Dotsuku) is our primary POV character this week, and we hear more of his inner thoughts than the words of anyone else. Upon meeting Chicken (Niwatori), he believes he’s better off agreeing to her request to team up, as she possesses a valuable skill by which she can see through the eyes of all of the birds in the city; pretty handy.

Unfortunately for Dog, he’s too confident he can control Niwatori, to the point he’s drugging her with a supersoldier “poison” that powers her up and leads to her crushing his face. Whether Chicken was putting on a meek innocent act all along until then or really couldn’t control the strength Dog gave her, it looks like Dog is now out of the game, marking the second straight POV character who fell by spending too much time in their head and not enough time being very careful.

I don’t know if the same pattern will be followed next week or the week after that, but I got an odd, satisfying feeling of finality from both Boar and Dog’s stories this week; they went as far as they could go, even if they didn’t know they were at the end of their respective roads until it was too late to turn back. There’s a super-abridged version near the end of Horse seeking out Ox as a fellow “moderate”, only to be charged at by Ox like the train behind him.

The only alliance that seems reliable is the one between Rabbit, Snake and Boar, and you can’t really call it that since Snake and Boar no longer have free will, heartbeats, or jewels in their chests. Nevertheless, I liked the parting shot that combined bloody horror of an undead Boar with a Hitchcockian mass of birds surrounding her.

Considering the ominous calculation of this parting scene, I’d wager SuperChicken is primed to peck somebody.

Charlotte – 12

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The harrowing events of last week, which resulted in the rescue of Nao and the capture of anti-wielder actors, along with Pooh’s heroic sacrifice, eventually bring Yuu around to Shun’s big-picture way of thinking. It’s not enough to keep those he loves safe; in order to ensure their safety, he has to save everyone.

But at first, this week, he’s unsure of how to do that. In the beginning, all he can do is heal from the injuries he sustained, accept he’ll probably never see out of his right eye (or time leap), and allow himself to be spoon fed delicious meals provided by Takajou (school beef tongue curry), Yusa (cream stew) and Ayumi (omelette rice that has never tasted so good).

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I enjoyed the rhythm of the very people he cares about and wants to help the most visiting his room one after the other, helping him build up his strength with food they made with love. And having almost died, he makes sure to tell Misa to see her parents before Yusa loses her ability and she passes on for good.

Yusa rather ingeniously uses her job on a TV show to visit her parents, and Misa has a cathartic moment in which she actually possesses Yusa on camera to describe the love she tastes in her parents’ otherwise run-of-the-mill soba set. Combined with Yuu’s newfound love of Ayumi’s cooking, there’s some lovely blood family beats to be had this week.

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Despite being back on his feet, the one person Yuu can’t get himself to see is Nao, but as her injuries weren’t as bad as is (and let’s face it, she’s a tough one to boot), she’s discharged before him, and ends up visiting him. He asks her what he should do, and she says it’s technically possible, if extraordinarily difficult and dangeous, for him to simply end the entire crisis by plundering the abilities of every wielder in the world.

She almost seems to be shrugging it off as she proposes it, but Yuu agrees that’s exactly what he’ll do: travel the world, find every wielder, steal their abilities, and trusts he won’t turn into a world-ending monster. When Nao asks why, Yuu is upfront: it’s his turn to save her, because he loves her. The reaction of a Nao who didn’t actually save him in this timeline is dubiousness and confusion, which frustrates Yuu unti they’re literally growling at each other, seemingly proving to Nao they have the worst chemistry possible.

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But Nao’s rather aggressive inability to instantly accept Yuu’s confession doesn’t sway him; he still loves her, and he’ll still save everyone, including her, in order to repay the debt of her alternate self. She rather perceptively points out that other Nao may have just been taking responsibility, as she brought Yuu into all this to begin with, but she can’t deny Yuu has become someone dear to him that she knows she can believe in.

So she makes a deal they pinkie-swear on: they’ll settle down as lovers. Yuu warns her she may be putting too much faith in the one-time “cheating fiend”, but to Nao that’s the point of the deal: if he can pull off this final mission, she’s convinced she’d be in a position to fall for him. Before they part, Nao has Yuu plunder her power first, thus officially setting him on his path.

Once it happens, Nao looks lighter, relieved, and grateful. I want to believe these two didn’t just exchange death flags by mapping out their ideal future together. That is, I’m hoping Maeda Jun doesn’t rip my heart out again; I’m tired of putting it back in my chest!

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Having already started his mission, Yuu visits his brother on the hospital roof, who is still mourning Pooh and fills him in. He gets the blessing of Shun, who tells him to go overseas while he and the Syndicate handle Japan. Yuu also takes Takajou and Yusa’s powers, which in the latter means the end of Misa, who writes a tearjerking farewell letter to her sister thanking her for letting her borrow her now and then.

Finally, while packing to leave on a trip to do something he must do because only he can, Nao pops by to wish him Godspeed, and they exchange tokens of their commitment to meeting again. Nao gives him English conversation notes, and Yuu gives her the media player she gave to him. Hopefully this isn’t ZHIEND for these two, because they’ve emerged as one of the better romantic pairings of the year, in one of the finest shows.

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Charlotte – 11

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If it hadn’t already, with this, its third 10-rated episode, Charlotte has established itself as not only one of the year’s best shows, but one of P.A.Works’ and writer/composer Maeda Jun’s best, as well. Even though I knew full well last week’s rescue of Ayumi was essentially a cakewalk that returned us more or less to the status quo, and that there would be hell to pay this week, I wasn’t fully prepared for just how much hell would go down.

Things start out tentatively, however, with Yuu returning to the syndicate headquarters with Ayumi, who meets her big brother for the first time since her memories were erased. It’s wonderful that Ayumi is breathing and free of Collapse, but to learn her memories of Shun are gone forever is the first of many harsh blows to the cast this week.

And hey, we finally learn why the show is called Charlotte, and more importantly, why there’s an outbreak of kids with abilities: it’s the name of a comet that spreads particles across the earth, activating dormant parts of the human brain. It last happened 400 years ago, and there was a witchhunt. When the comet passed again 12 years ago, more kids were bestowed with “magic powers”, and the witchhunts started back up.

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Shunsuke shelters a research team working on a vaccine for the “disease” that always leads to such horrible massacres throughout histroy, though he admits there’s little to be done for those who already possess powers except to protect them and wait it out until they age enough to lose them. With his Plunder ability Yuu is the most powerful, most valuable, and hence most at-risk ability wielder in the world, so Shun is committed to protecting him.

However, Shun reveals that for all his planning and good intentions, all it took for his syndicate to be unraveled and all of his friends and family to be put squarely in harm’s way, and for the entire vaccination plan to be put into jeopardy, is the syndicate’s hired driver, Furuki.

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Because Furuki has a family, and when that family is abducted and held hostage, Furuki has no choice but to betray Kumagami, who is also captured by a group of foreigners.

These foreigners don’t use the kid gloves on Kumagami, pummeling him, administering truth serum so he spills the beans about every “psychic” he knows and has been in contact with, and ripping out all his teeth and nails. From there, the enemy storms Hoshinoumi’s dorms and Nao is also captured, though she puts up a valiant fight.

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Yes, this is all Furuki’s fault for working with the syndicate when he has something as important as a family to be manipulated with by the enemy, but the responsibility lies with Shunsuke for hiring him, and he knows it. He messed up bad, and Kumagami and Nao won’t be the only ones to suffer for it.

Being more or less powerless himself, Shunsuke has no choice but to give in to the enemy’s demands to send Yuu to them, alone. Yuu is the only one who can stand against them, and his only hope is to steal the enemy’s abilities in order to rescue Kumagami and Nao.

Suddenly having all this shit shoveled on his plate almost causes Yuu to blow from his Collapse ability before the operation even starts, but Shunsuke manages to calm him down, and in any case Yuu feels he must save Nao, the girl who wouldn’t give up on him even when he gave up on himself.

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Whereas Ayumi’s rescue went like clockwork, here the clock is blown to bits and then the bits are set on fire. Murphy’s Law rules, as infiltrating his two foes reveals they neither have powers nor weapons on their person. While the muscleman is not present, a spry little green-eyed ability wielder ambushes Yuu and gouges out one of his eyes, making it impossible for him to make an emergency time leap (and possibly wrecking his plunder ability too).

I’m curious who this Ayumi-sized girl is and why she’s fighting on the wrong side, but I imagine her masters either have some kind of leverage on her like they did Furuki, or she was raised by the masters to hate others with abilities…or perhaps a wielder betrayed her and she’s sworn to make them pay.

Whatever her motives, she’s only one of the enemy’s tools here. Climbing on Yuu can stabbing him in the shoulder,  she causes Collapse to activate in him, bringing the whole warehouse down.

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Shunsuke and his friends rush to the scene to survey the sheer breadth of Yuu’s failure, which was again bourne from Shunsuke’s poor judgement in hiring Furuki. Yuu was able to save himself with telekinesis, but Kumagami wasn’t so lucky: he was run through with several pieces of metal and rebar, using his body as a shield to save Nao.

Now, not only is the syndicate’s ability to identify new ability users and a close friend since the beginning of the resistance dead, their trump card Yuu may be totally neutralized. The only bright side is that they’re able to capture the unconscious foreigners, but I’m sure they have friends too, and right now no user or former user in or out of the syndicate is safe, including the just-rescued Ayumi.

Earlier in the episode, Yuu remarks that the witchhunts happening overseas “have nothing to do with them,” but Shunsuke rebutted that “this story can’t possibly be that easy.” It seemed that way last week, but now there are no delusions. It’s not easy, and this looks to be only the beginning of the hardship. Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

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