Vinland Saga – 18 – Their Own Paradise

While the long-awaited rematch between Thorfinn and Thorkell is everything it should be, and doesn’t disappoint, it doesn’t take up the whole episode by any stretch, and it doesn’t impress because of the blows exchanged, but because of the words. It doesn’t take up the whole episode because more than half of the episode takes place at the site of the crashed sled Finn abandoned to rescue the man he means to kill himself. And that’s not a bad thing at all.

When we return to Prince Canute, he can hear Bjorn’s mushroom-enhanced savagery, doesn’t want to open his eyes, and strays into a dream. There, Ragnar says goodbye, but also asks forgiveness for his crime of raising him like a son, and not a jarl. Thors tried to raise Thorfinn as a son and not a warrior, and we see how that turned out. When he awakes, Canute laments to the priest that with Ragnar dead no one in the world loves him.

Then the priest procedes to explode Canute’s brain by telling him what Ragnar showed him wasn’t really love. True love, by the priest’s admittedly extreme standards, is the corpse of a dead raider, whose remains will never steal or kill, but will nourish the animals and the Earth. Ragnar’s love, and the love of any father for his son, is simply discrimination—assigning an artificial hierarchy to what should or shouldn’t be protected.

When Eve bit the apple, man attained knowledge in exchange for expulsion from paradise, but what they lost when they were expelled is something they’ll never know and never attain again. With that loss comes questions—what is love, what is death, what is the purpose of life—that will never be answered.

Mirroring this philosophical exchange between Canute and the priest—and in some ways reinforcing its points—is the duel between Thorfinn and Thorkell, in which the hulking giant is able to best throw his opponent off balance not with the swing of an axe, but with a question that came to him while thinking about Thors, the one man stronger than him: what does it mean to be a true warrior?

Thorfinn can’t help but remember his father’s words: the ultimate warrior need not even hold a sword. It was an ideal he tried and failed to attain, and rather than paving a path for his son to follow, only inspired rage and a thirst for revenge. Thorfinn ultimately dodges the question like he dodges Thorkell’s strikes. Failing to dodge even one of those strikes could prove fatally punishing to his body but contemplating his question means having to reckon with the fact that all these years have been pointless.

Ultimately, what makes the moving back-and-forth between the fight and the talk work so well is that it puts the needlessness and pointlessness of Thorfinn’s actions into perspective. He needs to hear some of the things being said between Canute and the Priest. However the fight turns out—and getting thrown a hundred feet in the air and coming down hard isn’t going to help his cause—Thorfinn will still be hopelessly lost.

With Bjorn growing more and more mindlessly violent and running out of enemies to slay, Canute comes to a revelation: stop fighting needless battles when the Paradise of old will never be attained. Instead, he aims to create a new paradise on Earth, something that he as a member of a royal family can actually do. When Bjorn sidles up to him, Canute manages to disarm him with a look he’s never sported before…the look of someone from whom the fog has finally lifted.

Canute tells Bjorn and the last man standing to stop fighting. He’s going to chase down the horses, and orders the priest—named Williband—to tend to Bjorn’s wounds, and for the other man to help him. This is no time to fight or die. He asks the two to become his vassals, and he will do what, on Earth, he believes only a king can: give meaning to their battles, their lives, and their deaths.

Assuming Thorfinn survives his fight with Thorkell, will Canute be able to give him those things—and will Thorfinn be able to accept them? He has only six more episodes to work with.

Vinland Saga – 17 – Not Everyone’s Afraid to Die

The normally cautious Askeladd lashes out at his mutineers, throwing them off balance and allowing Bjorn to escape on the sled with Thorfinn, Prince Canute, and the Priest. But as he contemplates what could be the last moments of his life, he remembers a moment from his childhood when his dying mother told him about King Arthur, who is not only still alive and recovering in the mythical land of Avalon, but will return someday. When he does, she told Askeladd to serve him.

Mutineers manage to catch up to the sled, and realize that there’s no bargaining with Bjorn; if they want the Prince, they’ll have to kill him. Thus, they take the less sporting route by killing his horses, sending the sled and its occupants flying. Finn kills one of the pursuers and mounts his horse, abandoning the prince because killing Askeladd is more important. If Askeladd should die by someone else’s hands, I doubt Finn would ever forgive himself.

Askeladd fights of many of his men, who fall back and shoot him with several arrows, none of which immediately threaten his life (though infection could set in if his wounds aren’t tended soon). Then his life is saved…by Thorkell of all people, who has arrived, and orders his men to kill everyone but Askeladd. The mutineers reluctantly pick up their weapons and die as something resembling warriors, but Thorkell pushes Torgrim too far, and Torgrim simply…goes bye-bye.

That’s when Thorfinn rides in, plowing through mutineers and English alike with his horse and charging towards Thorkell, who without hesitation charges up and uppercuts the goddamn horse like it was nothing. I’ve harped in the past about some of the more supernatural feats of Thorkell and others, but in this case the silliness is a good complement to the seriousness of the situation. Finn tells Thorkell that he’ll kill him if he doesn’t give him Askeladd, and Thorkell is all to eager to let Finn try. Here’s hoping for Finn’s sake this isn’t like London.

Gatchaman Crowds Insight – 05

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“A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.”

I’m reminded of that line by Kay from Men In Black because it’s true. The larger a group of people gets, the more they’re able to do, but at the same time, the dumber they get as a collective. It’s a concept that’s demonstrated in this very action-light, politics-heavy episode of Gatchaman, in which Gelsadra challenges the incumbent Sugayama in the smartphone election for the next Japanese PM.

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I put Sugane’s harem up top not because they had any significant role to play this week, but because they’re an example of what Kay was talking about. First the three girls are united in their support of Sugiyama, reflecting the opinion of the general public. Then, after a few gaffes from Sugayama and some good PR from Gel-san and Tsubasa, all of a sudden they’re for Gel-san. They go with the flow, where everyone else seems to be going. And in the meantime, they burn Sugane’s meat.

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It’s six months until the first primaries here in the states, but there have already been some notable gaffes that candidates continue to pay for due to the echo chamber of the media, from O’Malley’s “#WhiteLivesMatter” to Trump’s “Mexican Rapists” tirade. Similarly, in the world of Gatchaman, if you screw up on camera, those words will haunt you the rest of your days.

Sugayama calls his naysayers “dumb” on live television (believing the camera was no longer rolling), and it proves his undoing, as the media proceeds to pick apart every other thing he says and does, creating a pattern of missteps that erodes the public trust he once enjoyed.

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Meanwhile, there’s nothing particularly special about what Gel-san and Tsubasa do to rise in the polls, aside form the fact Gel-san can simply yell “GE-RU-RU-RU-RU-RU” from a rooftop and collect everyone’s desires. From there, he uses simple arithmetic to determine the best policy position: that Crowds should be abolished. Tsubasa and Jou are with Gel on this, while Hajime is neutral (of course) and Utsutsu helps Paiman out with his own campaign, which doesn’t go far because let’s face it, even if he dominates the little kid vote, he’s not getting much adult support.

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When Rui and Hajime visit Suzuki Rizumu in his cell, his position on people is similar to MiB’s Kay; with collective intelligence decreasing as the size of the sample increases. He’s harsher, calling them “apes”, who like any other animal in nature, goes with the flow of nature.

Despite Gel’s promise to abolish Crowds, Rizumu still believe Gel is “dangerous” and calls him the “Master Ape,” because all he’s doing is going along with what the majority of people want. Sometimes that’s not what’s best, or even right. But Gel wins in a landslide, so we’re about to find out just how wrong it is.

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Gatchaman Crowds Insight – 04

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Well, that was weird.

After deploying in full force last week (save O.D.) and Tsubasa making her big debut on the battlefield, the Gatchamen find themselves at a crossroads. VAPE’s leader has been caught, and relatively easily, but then again, he doesn’t put up much of a fight. Why should he? He accomplished everything he set out to do. The Red Crowds were a menace. He suspects most people will think no differently about Blue Crowds.

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A great blow has been dealt to Rui’s dream of updating the world. But not all Gatchamen are on board about that being their purpose. “We’re heroes”, Tsubasa says again and again about her and the rest of them; that means when Rui is in trouble, she came to rescue him, even though he didn’t want to be rescued. Joe and Tsubasa remain of similar minds: endorsing Crowds is not their top priority; protecting the people is.

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While the Crowds have never been more feared by the public, opinion on the actual Gatchamen (and on Gelsadra) remains high, to the point Millio wants her and Tsubasa to be regulars on his TV show, perhaps ditching O.D. in the process. In an even stranger development, the Prime Minister resigns after the VAPE attack and calls for smartphone elections…again. This time, he makes it clear a vote for him is a vote for the continued presence of (Blue) Crowds in society.

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While Gel is certainly a popular idol, she believes the best way for her to enact real change on Earth is by winning that election. When she’s told she’s just a little girl, she transforms into an adult man—heck, why not? She’s an alien! I’d say she has a decent shot at winning. Does that mean the Crowds will be put on the back burner, replaced by Gel’s different approach of “uniting minds” and sowing mass happiness? Will the rift between Rui and less pro-Crowds faction of the Gatchamen widen? Times suddenly feel very uncertain.

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Gatchaman Crowds Insight – 03

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Tsubasa and Gelsadra are wrangled into appearing on the Millione Show where they show off their practiced jokes, then visit the drugged-out Gatchaman HQ for the first time, where Paiman is angry they went on TV. Tsubasa doesn’t see the problem; it can’t be a bad thing for heroes to appear on TV to inspire the people they protect. Ultimately Paiman is appeased when Tsubasa calls him “Leader.”

Tsubasa’s goals as Gatchaman couldn’t be simpler: be a hero who protects the people. That’s it. She doesn’t have any interest in “updating the world” or evolution, as Rui does. When a disturbing new prophecy from JJ portends a city “of teeming masses colored crimson”, and Rui informs the other Gatchamen of Suzuki Rizumu’s aims, Tsubasa more or less sides with Hibiki Jou’s objection to keeping something like Crowds around when there’s the potential for danger and even bloodshed.

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Jou likes the newbie’s simpler, more realistic goals, and calls Rui’s determination “idealism.” This is the largest philosophical gap we’ve seen in the Gatchamen thus far, as Jou’s opinion isn’t all that different thatn Rizumu’s It’s also given credence when the prophecy comes true and the city turns red with great coordinated masses of red Crowds.

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No less than six Gatchamen suit up, the largest deployment in insight so far, and while it’s great to see them start to take the fight to the red Crowds, it’s clear they’re woefully outnumbered, as usual. Tsubasa, meanwhile, is stuck on the sidelines since she can’t reliably transform, and before long, Rui meets Rizumu on a rooftop helipad, where Rizumu says today is the day his Crowds will start taking lives.

He sees Rui’s attitude as that of a spoiled child having his toy taken away. He wants Rui’s note, too, and refusing to give up his ideals or belief in eveyrone, including Rizumu, Rui hands it over, only to cough up blood and collapse when Rizumu repeatedly stabs it.

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But JJ’s prophecy also mentioned “a great wind” saving “the flame of life.” That wind comes from Gelsadra, who after activating the moods of everyone in the city (who are mostly frightened), she sucks up all of those thousands mood icons, figures something out, then transforms into a figure of smoke, blasting the prophesied wind towards Tsubasa, who has successfully transformed and is racing to Rui’s aid with Hajime.

Rui is willing do sacrifice his life for his ideals, hoping his very public and televised death will be the catalyst that finally causes that world update he’s so intent on. And he could be right; the people are disgusted by the red Crowds’ actions. But even if the blue Crowds get their shit together, we’re still talking about a war, which won’t be bloodless. Not only that, Tsubasa isn’t going to let Rui die if she can help it.

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