Vinland Saga – 11 – A Valkyrie in Midgard

Thorkell leads his 600 men through the forest with his new hostages: Prince Canute, his master-at-arms Ragnar, and a drunken priest, all Christians. The men start to mock the Christian faith and Jesus as a weakling with lame magic powers, but the priest starts to yell and scream about “seeing Him,” leading Ragnar to urge his captors to give the poor man more booze.

When Thorkell asks the priest which god is best, he responds “whichever god created booze!” Canute, perhaps the most passive character of the Summer 2019 season, having neither said nor done anything in any of the episodes in which he appears, simply sits in stoic silence. This suggest that his faith is so strong, if he simply lets the cards fall where they may, he’ll ultimately be saved.

Sure enough, his forces catch up to Thorkell and demand they return the prince, claiming they outnumber them nearly four-to-one. Thorkell can smell a bluff, but lets them have Canute anyway. His magnanimity is matched by his ability to effortlessly provoke Canutes men into resisting Ragnar’s orders for surrender and place their own honor above the well-being of their prince.

In the ensuing melee, Thorkell learns his opposing force numbers no more than 400. But then he smells something; something other than blood and guts: charcoal. A third party—Askeladd’s crew—has set fire to the forest in order to confuse both sides.

Askeladd, still trusting Thorfinn implicitly as long as he still owes him another future duel, soaks the kid in water and orders him to ride in and rescue Prince Canute. The confusion caused by the flame and smoke is plainly demonstrated when one of Ragnar’s own men attacks without ensuring his target is the enemy.

That soldier, in turn, is killed by Thorkell’s men, who used Ragnar’s method of communication against him by pretending to be friendlies. They never get close to the prince, however, as a flaming horse separates the two sides, and a hard-looking boy in a cloak appears between them. Thorfinn is ready to take on the whole group coming after Canute, but they are interrupted by a cheerful-as-ever Thorkell, happy to see another “true warrior.”

Thorkell knows Thorfinn is a true warrior because he is the son of Thors, whom he says is the only man stronger than him. Finn is surprised Kell not only knows his father’s name but his mother’s, Helga, but his father’s fame precedes him, even after death. Kell decides to play nice this time, letting Finn have Canute, certain they’ll meet and fight again soon.

Just as Bjorn is voicing doubts about Finn’s ability to get the job done, the kid arrives with Canute, Ragnar, and the priest in tow. Askeladd and Bjorn pledge their fealty as his new escorts, and Ragnar has no choice but to accept it.

Askeladd only asks if he can see Canue’s face, and the prince slowly removes his helmet to reveal a ethereally beautiful, feminine visage—like a Valkyrie in Midgard. With their new royal charge, Askeladd’s men are poised to rejoin King Sweyn’s main force…the same force Thorkell’s men are eager to fight, assuring them a place in Valhalla.

Alderamin on the Sky – 13 (Fin)

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Ikta is able to complete his mission of covering for the main Imperial forces’ retreat while besting his Kiokan rival Jean Arquinex in a match of wits, drawing deep to create a multi-layered plan to outwit the young major. Because the safety of his men is more important to outright victory, everyone is behind Ikta.

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Major Jean notices the obvious fire trap in plain sight, but fails to see the larger trap hiding beneath it; Ikta’s men springing out of the straw, blinding and slaughtering their horses. Most importantly, Jean wrongly assumed his opponent would try to fight him for control of the battlefield, but Ikta’s strategy eliminated all control for everyone, creating chaos.

How Jean handles this chaos betrays his lack of experience, despite his military brilliance. He is so obsessed with control, losing it knocks him off balance. In the negotiations that ensue, he also wrongly assumes the Igsem soldier is in charge, and also wrongly assumes that he’s safe.

Ikta’s resulting bluff, placing a light target on Jean’s chest for a Torway sniper who isn’t really out there, and his explanation for why he’s not in violation of military law, works really well. Ikta is at his scrappiest, and while he does sweat, he never lets Jean see it (what with the glare from all the bright lights).

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Jean knows he was bested, this time, and wants to know more about the man who did it, and what he’s fighting for. He’s outraged when Ikta tells him he cares not for protecting his country, only its people, and gets even more steamed when Ikta warns Jean if he keeps up his blind loyalty to country, that country will suck him dry and toss him aside. Definitely seems like setup for a rematch in a future season, if we get one.

Whatever may be ahead for Alderamin, I’m glad the Northern Campaign is wrapped up here, and I especially like how glad Princess Chamille is to see her knights, and Ikta in particular, return safe and sound, even compromising propriety to give him a big ol’ hug.

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We also learn in this final week why it is Chamille wanted, nay needed Ikta to return so badly, which has been hinted throughout the series by her narration. Chamille has bigger plans for Ikta, and needs him to utlitze his considerable talents and the support of his comrades and friends to keep rising up in the Imperial ranks…so he can lose the war with Kioka.

Chamille is young, but not stupid, or ignorant: her empire is rotting from the inside out, and it must be purified. The mission she gives Ikta, which could consume many of the best years of his life, is to become the leader Imperial military, then lose the war “the right way”, allowing the outside influence of Kioka clean out the Empire without losing its unique culture.

“Fight until we lose!” is a novel slogan and a nice subversion of the usual notion of fighting for victory. Here, it’s almost as if we’re on the side of the bad guys, who know they’re bad and want to change for the better. If anyone enact that change, it’s Ikta, but it won’t be easy.

He worries not only about coming into conflict with Yatori, but dragging her into such a conflict in the first place; any conflict where the Empire loses. This season appropriately ends with Ikta and Yatori leaning on one another in the moonlight, and Ikta affirming their devotion to one another first and foremost.

I haven’t heard anything about a second season yet, but if it were to continue I would absolutely watch it. After all, the epic chronicle of the Invincible Lazy General, the Heir to the Twin Blades, and the Last Princess seems to be just getting started. It would be a shame if the tale ended here.

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Prison School – 06

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You wouldn’t think a day in which Kiyoshi was shanked in the ass by a tree branch and almost peed on by Hana would end up being a good day for him, but that’s the kind of crazy world Prison School is. There’s no situation too inappropriate or absurd that won’t befall its protagonist, and yet he remains resolutely human and moral.

Knowing a rift has formed between Kiyoshi and Shingo, Mari aims to drive a large, voluptuous wedge right through that rift, widening it. That wedge is Meiko, who begins giving Shingo special attention treatment, plying him with sweet treats and panoramic views in order to make him a snitch. Shingo, still pissed about his extended sentence, obliges all too easily.

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What’s weird and kind of endearing about Meiko is that while she’s built like a brick shithouse, the show makes sure to keep ambiguous whether she’s aware of how seductive she is. Her inner thoughts are more interested in making sure she doesn’t say something to upset Mari, who will then sic her crows on her. Regardless of her self-awareness, the sound effects employed whenever she’s doing something are pretty amazing.

With an inmate who will do whatever they want, Mari decides to implement a plan to stir up trouble, after intentionally applying more stress and punishment to the other inmates (or, to Andre’s detriment, less punishment). Her target is Joe, the least stable of the quintet, who loses it when it appears a crow is killing his beloved ants.

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He’s just waking up when he notices Meiko and Shingo talking in the shadows, but Kiyoshi still finds it odd that the entire council is out in force in the schoolyard. Then Joe produces a branch-as-shank and lunges at Mari, and something happens the president did not expect: a man protected her from harm. And in front of half the school watching from the windows. Unfortunately, his good deed is overshadowed by the fact the branch went up his ass, creating a great deal of blood. …And the fact Mari still despises men.

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Joe is thrown in solitary (after being told the crow was only “bathing” in ants as a grooming exercise, not killing them; a neat bit of ornithology mixed into our ecchi comedy!), and Kiyoshi is escorted to the nurse’s office…by Hana. Last week Hana promised she’d pay Kiyoshi back, and after being unable to force him to pee into a jug, she decides to accelerate her plan and pee on him herself. Things get pretty far, with her shedding her leggings and panties, but Chiyo inadvertently, temporarily saves Kiyoshi when she pays a visit to the nurse’s office.

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Unfortunately, that also means Hana and Kiyoshi have to hide from her, under the bed, occupying as little space as possible to avoid detection. As neither Kiyoshi or Hana are wearing underwear, Hana is a girl, and Kiyoshi is a guy, things outside his control start to happen. He’s bailed out again when Hana passes out, either due to the heat or from overexcitement.

In any case, Kiyoshi and Hana continue their very bizarre kinky physical relationship rooted in dominance and tit-for-tat; the precise opposite of the wholesome romance he desires with Chiyo (or, in his own words, “coming on to her just enough that she doesnt’ think he’s a creep”). While that’s going on, Mari’s dad the Chairman has his own close call when Mari visits him in his office…just as he’s opening a latin ass jerk-off device he ordered from Amazon(ess). That latest blunder from her dad kills any goodwill Kiyoshi might have created by saving Mari from Joe.

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But his heroism wasn’t all for naught: he didn’t just save Mari from a shanking; he saved Joe from possible arrest and internment at a real prison, something Joe thanks Kiyoshi for, being the first inmate to break the “shunning line” set by Shingo. At this point, even a weirdo like Joe can tell something not quite kosher is up with Shingo, and Kiyoshi lets him know that whole lunch break situation was similarly odd.

This is good, because it means Kiyoshi’s instincts aren’t entirely blind to the council’s DTO machinations. But he still doesn’t know what’s going on, only that things are off. With Meiko offering Shingo a uniform and two hours of freedom off-campus, Shingo remains in the council’s pocket. Whether he knows it or not, he is the weapon Mari intends to use to get all the guys kicked out—something, by the way, Hana seemed reluctant to agree with at first; I must look out for that, as she has her own agenda.

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Prison School – 05

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Rarely has an anime made me feel so goddamn down as when Kiyoshi’s house of cards crumbled. So very much was riding on him performing the mission perfectly, and more to the point, the first nine tenths of the episode, with its sense of optimism, occasion, and essentially adolescent paradise, perfectly set us up to be as devastated as possible when the curtain fell.

But the show was cleverer than simply having Shiraki kicking in the door to find an empty stall. Instead, it played us once more, juxtaposing two scenes without indicating their exact timing with regard to one another. By the time the jig is up and Shiraki kicks in that door, Kiyoshi not only got back, but got back with Gakuto’s prized figurines.

Then Kiyoshi walks outside, and Mari is waiting for him, and she knows everything. Not because she realized he was the girl she stopped at the gate, but because her sister Chiyo texted her and their dad a picture of her with him. Pretty damning evidence, right there! But crucially, Chiyo didn’t send it in scorn or spite; she sent it before she found her uni in Kiyoshi’s bag, back when she was so overjoyed by the experience she was having she couldn’t resist sharing it. She also assumed Kiyoshi got permission from her sister and father.

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Chiyo’s intent, however, doesn’t change the fact that Kiyoshi is in deep shit, and not just with Mari and Chiyo, but with his comrades in stripes. Shingo in particular is extremely hurt and upset Kiyoshi didn’t trust them enough to tell them of his plans; had he done so, they wouldn’t necessarily have stopped him, but things might’ve gone smoother. He’s also extended everyone’s sentence another month, so they have every right to feel mad and betrayed.

As for Kiyoshi, Mari informs him he’ll be expelled, but we later learn behind closed doors she technically lacks the authority to do so and would prefer not to involve other parties. Whatever Kiyoshi’s intentions (and she of course assumes the worst, in part because of how her dad has shaped her opinion of men in general), his predicament is just what Mari needs to further her agenda of making her school all-girls once more.

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Mari can probably tell Kiyoshi feels terrible about what he did (which would indicate he’s not the degenerate she’s make him out to be—of course, that doesn’t serve her needs), and what lies in store for him in the next three years now that rumors of his misdeeds are already being spread. She intends to use that fear and despair to induce him to sign a withdrawal form, giving her the legal cover she needs to dispose of him. He’s ready to sign it, too; but he’d regret one thing from doing so: never having the opportunity to clear up the misunderstanding with Chiyo over her uni.

It would seem fortune wasn’t done smiling on Kiyoshi, and his inherent kindness and goodness thus far comes in to play as much a role in his fate as his badness. Chiyo, you see, is mostly upset that she stormed off without hearing an explanation, delivering a verdict with the barests of cases. Sure, her uniform in his bag looks bad, but she feels he deserves the chance to explain himself nonetheless.

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That fierce sense of decency and empathy leads her to storm into the office where Mari has Kiyoshi in her clutches, having heard rumors of him being expelled for what he did. She won’t stand for that, as she played a considerable role in getting him in the mess he’s in. Mari wants this situation to be seen as her looking out for her poor, naive, victimized sister, but Chiyo is a lot less messed up than Mari. She has a clear head and knows exactly what she’s saying and doing.

When Kiyoshi is about to fall for Mari’s bluff, Chiyo descends like an angel from on high, to call that bluff: if she makes Kiyoshi leave, she’s leaving too. Kiyoshi tells her—honestly—that he just grabbed her uniform from among hundreds by chance, and she believes him. And she doesn’t seem naive in doing so. Instead, she only ends up putting Mari in a tighter and tighter corner (even bringing up Kiyoshi’s affinity for Mari’s beloved crows), until she has to basically concede this battle.

But the reason I’ve come to love Chiyo so much—and why Kiyoshi probably only loves her more after all this—is not because she pressed his head to her chest, but because she showed us what she was made of. She’s not just some shallow pristine angel to be placed on a pedestal; she’s a fully fleshed-out individual with all manner of motivations and desires, ideals, and an iron will. She is Kiyoshi’s rock and his salvation. Now he must strive to be worthy of her.

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Mari may have lost this round, but she intends to wage a full-scale war on Kiyoshi and the other four boys, officially forming the “DTO”, or Boy’s Expulsion Operation. Shiraki, so strong and dominant towards the boys, cowers and sweats profusely in her president’s presence, and will do whatever she commands in service of this operation. I wouldn’t be surprised if they bend or break all the rules that are necessary; the ends will justify the means.

As for Kiyoshi, he managed to remain enrolled at school thanks almost entirely to Chiyo, but he immediately starts to see the effects of the means he employed to reach the ends (his sumo date). They seemed so innocent and logical and perfect at the time, but failure wouldn’t just mean more jail time or possible estrangement from Chiyo.

It also fundamentally damaged his relationship with Shingo, Joe, and Andre—but mostly Shingo, who forces the others to ostracize Kiyoshi. These wounds won’t be easily healed, if ever, but regardless Kiyoshi intends to bear the consequences of what he did.

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And that brings us, impeccably logically, to the Return of Hana. I said when they last parted that she wouldn’t be above pissing on him as payment for him pissing on her, and here we see her present that very idea to Kiyoshi in the bathroom, where she all but orders him to prove he doesn’t find her “dirty” by allowing her to do this at some point in the near future.

This could mean several things, or a combination of them, and more: Her sense of justice and equatability may be so rigid and literal, that this is the only way to settle the score. She could be a Mari plant, working towards inducing him to slip up again, in a way that will get him yet another month in jail and only one more infraction away from official expulsion.

Or perhaps Hana simply liked how things went down and wants to reciprocate, furthering her dominance of Kiyoshi (similar to Nakamura’s relationship with Kasuga in Aku no Hana). Last week everything seemed to be over for Kiyoshi. But everything—from his struggles in prison to his enduring relationship with Chiyo to Mari’s war agains the boys—is only just beginning.

With every episode of Prison School I watch, I feel dumber for not giving it a look when it was airing. The title scared me away, of all things! But it’s far more than its title, and it’s far more than silly ecchi comedy (though there is plenty of that); it’s a rich and dynamic exploration of the complexities of morality and adolescence. The two most compelling, relatable characters in Kiyoshi and Chiyo are also the most balanced on both fronts.

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Inou-Battle wa Nichijou-kei no Naka de – 12 (Fin)

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InoBato delivers a crisp, clever, neatly-paced finale that is an admirable study in ‘less is more’ where superpower action is concerned, and despite Jurai not making a decision about which girl to choose, the romantic/emotional side of the show is still brought to a satisfying stopping point.

The episode wastes no time picking up from last week, where Hatoko looks to be in some serious trouble. But in the space of a few moments, Chifuyu erects a wall to protect her while Tomoyo transports everyone to a different time and space. The gang hasn’t used their powers much, but when they do use them they make it count. 

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Furthermore, Jurai’s chuunibyou compelled him to formulate countermeasures in case someone with Mirei’s powers was to fight them seriously again. He may not have a useful power himself, but he spearheaded the whole three-second maneuvers that saved everyone.

As the gang hides in a karaoke bar (worried they’re taking things too lightly) their attacker, “F” remnant Hagiura Naoe, who has stolen Mirei’s body and powers (along with Hatoko and Chifuyu’s), confers with Sagami, apparently eager to prove her mettle by knocking off “Virgin Child.”

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Without any better ideas from the others, Jurai decides to call Hagiura and arrange a meet-up in the clubroom, where she’s created a portal to an otherworld. Hagiura is disappointed Jurai didn’t bring the others, and inflicts various kinds of pain to try to get him to cooperate, warning that he only invites a lingering, lonely death.

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Far from yielding, Jurai breaks out his secret weapon: a bluff. Well, a sort of bluff. He makes “Dark and Dark Stage Two” out to be the Best Power EVAH, even though it’s just as useless as it was…

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…Which Hagiura doesn’t realize until she’s stolen and replicated it. But here’s the thing: in this particular case, Stage Two is not only useful, but crucial to him having a chance at victory. It’s useful not in any conventional GIGA DRILL uber-power kind of way, but because once the flames are summoned, they’ll burn eternally.

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Not only that, they really burn their user, and can’t be put out, something Jurai learns when they first awakened; a scene InoBato artfully skipped over so it could show us here. The only way the gang put them out last time is by Chifuyu summoning a guillotine, slicing his hand off, and then repairing it with Sayumi’s healing powers. NOW we know why they insisted he never use his powers again.

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When Hagiura realizes she’s been played, she leaves Mirei’s body, leaving Mirei and Jurai with eternally burning hands. Fortunately, Sayumi, Tomoyo and Chifuyu are standing by….

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…And then, as they go through that horrifying ordeal again, only this time with two ‘patients’, I’m not surprised everyone is crying, even though everything goes according to plan, it’s still traumatic chopping friends’ damn hands off! Hagiura fumes, but she and Sagami are found out by Hajime, who isn’t too happy they tried to involve Virgin Child.

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The gang got a great brush with danger, but pulled out of it with no harm done, thanks mostly to Jurai’s planning, quick-thinking, and, well, there’s no other word for it: recklessness. Sayumi cannot believe she let him go through with such a crazy, dangerous plan, and yet if given the choice, she’d go along with it again. Mirei can relate; both girls strive to be paragons of perfection, but when it comes to the man they both fell in love with, all bets are off…which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

On a day out together, Tomoyo buys Hatoko a light novel she can understand (unlike most of the stuff Jurai gives her). Tomoyo remarks how she’s now come to understand what someone (her bro) once said to her about “all outcomes are predetermined”, and people seek “ways they can accept to explain it.” In Tomoyo’s case, she knew she loved Jurai, and now is finally able to say it to Hatoko.

Hatoko also now knows what Jurai meant by a reading of a character being both “friend” and “rival”, because that’s what Tomoyo is. Far from giving up in Jurai, Hatoko promises her friendrival that she won’t lose; Tomoyo promises the same.

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Their target, meanwhile, is being ‘charmed’ by Chifuyu, who he’s worried about being caught up in another battle, in addition to being out in the sun too long. Chifuyu assures him in her usual adorable lilt, “she’s surprisingly tough”, and will continue to stay by his side, protecting him. Jurai consents, but only if she promises not to use her powers to hurt people, or to make people happy.

Superpowers are cool, but that’s all they need to be. It’s a sentiment in keeping with the show thus far, which has strived to underplay the importance of the powers with only a few exceptions. The friendships formed and love grown as a result of them having powers has always been more important.

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In making his point, Jurai activates Dark and Dark (though not Stage Two), just as Tomoyo and the others arrive. Tomoyo is understandably angry, not just that he’s ’embarrassing’ her, but more likely because she’s worried he’ll hurt himself again. The two start fighting in their usual way, because when two people get along and just work, it means they’re able to fight like that. And honestly, I could watch them fight all day! I’ll miss you, Virgin Child. I’ll miss InoBato too.

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Ryuugajou Nanana no Maizoukin – 11 (Fin)

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Tensai to the rescue! The whole big fight between Hiiyo and Juugo, on which Hiiyo seemed to have gotten the upper hand, is called off, not because she uses her Master Detective skills to figure out Hiiyo’s secret power, but because she has the cajones—and enough affection for Juugo that she doesn’t want to see him unduly hurt—to bluff Hiiyo into walking away, appealing to his arrogance while building off the legend she herself had built.

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I wouldn’t have called her bluff, either. It’s entirely likely she’d observed Hiiyo enough to find a weakness and was ready to expose it, because she actually kinda is a Master Detective. She used his reactions to the proposal to determine his power really was his trump card, and that it did have a weakness, so he delayed using it, and she eventually learned that weakness: that the “damage” done to Juugo wasn’t real, but merely suggestion.

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This was an interesting finale in that from the time Hiiyo agreed to stop fighting to the eerie post-credits scene where Yun-chan’s eyes are glowing like a cursed child’s, it was ambitiously building what looked like the foundations of a second season I didn’t actually know was going to happen. At the same time, it still had the feeling of arranging things up on a high shelf, things it knows we won’t see again for some time, so it took extra care in the arranging.

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For one thing, we got a lot of Juugo-and-Tensai time, which reinforced their mutual respect and affection that sometimes veers into romantic attraction. While she qualifies her reasoning for not wanting Juugo to die by saying “she won’t have a rival”, we know he’s more than just a rival at this point; he’s a dear friend she can’t afford to let slip away. Their relationship was a joy to watch right up to the end.

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Another loose end to tie up is the rift between Juugo and Nanana. Through Tensai, Nanana figures out that he avoided telling her too much about the mission because of her past with Hiiyo. Even so, she bets Tensai Juugo won’t break the promise he made to not use the treasure if he found it, and she wins that bet. Juugo doesn’t break promises, whether its not using treasures or finding killers.

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But his resolve to fulfill the latter is compromised by his uncertainty about what Nanana really wants, so he asks her point blank: What does she really want? It takes a cathartic physical fight that Nanana is on the cusp of winning, but Juugo finally cracks and tells her what he wants, or rather what he doesn’t: he doesn’t want her to leave. That relieves Nanana, for while she wants to find her killer and kill them herself, for now, and maybe even after that happens, she’s not ready to “pass on” yet.

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Things are just getting interesting on the island she built, so she wants to keep watching it for now. So do we, so we hope a second season does come around someday.

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Total Cumulative Average: 7.55
MyAnimeList Score: 7.54