Fate / Zero – 04

“You can’t see it, but trust me…it’s there.”

Here it is: the first Grail War battle in which neither side is trying to lose, and what do you know, it’s between Saber and Lancer. It feels like there’s been a lot of buildup to this, but I was still caught off guard by just how well-executed it was.

I didn’t even mind the frequent cuts away from the combatants to their various observers, because the weight of their interests and stakes in this fight felt just as significant as the thrill of the fight.

“Did I leave the oven on?”

Lancer, AKA Diarmuid of the Love Spot (best name, or bestest?), is a formidable opponent, able to surprise Saber and Iri on more than one occasion with his surprise tactics based on insufficient intelligence on his abilities.

But these aren’t two people who don’t like each other fighting to the death, it’s two people who through their interaction in battle only gain more and more Capital-R Respect for one another. They’re knights, but they’re also warriors who love a good opponent and they’re having a blast.

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What also made the fight so engrossing was my complete lack of an idea how it would go. Early on, Saber is pushed back on her heels, so to speak, made to discard her armor only to play straight into Lancer’s Gáe Buidhe-and-Gáe Dearg dual-wielding hands.

But while he draws blood and seems to have the edge in the battle, even he knows one cannot simply underestimate a Saber-class Servant, especially one who has yet to really dig into her own bag of tricks.

(One thing I did not realize until this episode is how and why Saber’s sword is invisible: she conceals it with wind magic because it bears her true name. That…actually makes a lot of sense.)

YOU GUYS I BROUGHT BEER

But what truly makes the battle special is that it isn’t the only thing going on. Aside from Matou and Uryuu, virtually everyone is carefully watching this fight, from Toosaka through Kirei via Assassin (who still, for the moment, believe Iri is Saber’s Master) and Kiritsugu and Maiya, to Velvet and Rider.

Iskandar is increasingly worried he’ll lose the chance to have a good fight against the other heroes if he lets Lancer kill Saber too soon, so he crashes the party in grand fashion, landing between them in his chariot in a cloud of lightning. Quite the entrance, and one that promises a more complex and nuanced outcome than simply one Servant beating another.

And this is because these are three epic heroes we’re dealing with—not mindless obedient robots—whose actions are driven almost as much by their histories and charisma as by their Masters’ orders.

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Fate / Zero – 03

“Oh sorry, did YOU want wine?” | “What channel is He-Man on?”
As Tokiomi apologizes to his Servant Archer (AKA Gilgamesh) and begs him to be patient as the plan unfolds, Waiver celebrates the death of Assassin, but his Servant Rider (AKA Iskandar) doesn’t really care, and is far more concerned with acquiring B-2 Stealth Bombers and other weaponry with which to defeat…Bill Clinton.

I enjoyed the contrast between these two Servant-Master pairs, with Tokiomi exercising the utmost deference to Archer, who abides by his wishes while Rider is more of a constant nuisance to Waiver, who can’t even get him to enter spirit mode. I can’t blame Rider; Waiver may have shown guts in stealing the relic with which to summon him, but he hasn’t done anything to inspire confidence since then.

They’ve already won the Holy Fashion War.
Rider’s not caring about Assassin’s death is just as well, since Assassin isn’t actually dead; he can take the form of many different people. What is dead are Kirei’s chances of winning the War, so he withdraws and is granted asylum in the Church by the observer, his dad Risei, and plans to use his Assassins to spy on all of the remaining Servants for Tokiomi.

Meanwhile, with Saber summoned and ready to go, she accompanies Irisviel to Fuyuki City, her love’s hometown, and the first place she’s ever left Einzbern Castle to visit. While Iri sightsees, Saber is her knight and bodyguard, wearing a stylish, practical black suit that contrasts nicely with Iri’s snow-white garb. They make a stunning pair…even though Iri isn’t Saber’s real Master.

“I sense my man kissing someone…”
That guy, Kiritsugu, arrived in Fuyuki a bit earlier, and enters a hotel room to find his assistant Maiya and a cache of weapons with which he’ll fight the War. When his thoughts turn to his frail daughter and he momentarily despairs, Maiya re-centers him by taking him in her arms and kissing him.

Whatever history those two have, I doubt it’s a threat to the union Kiritsugu and Irisviel, an unexpected pairing, but both a necessary and intriguing one. Their love for and trust for one another is above reproach. Irisviel, meanwhile, enjoys a walk on the beach with her night in black tailored suit, until Saber detects trouble nearby.

“Okay…let’s see what you got.”
The women head to the harbor, where the Servant Lancer is waiting for them, but with no Master in sight. Far from being concerned by a potential attacker in the night, it would seem Irisviel was acting as a faux Master of Saber in order to accomplish what came to pass: luring out the last Servant unaccounted for.

As for who commands Lancy, I’m not ruling out Archibald, who has been curiously absent despite Waiver having stolen his relic for Rider. And as for who will win this duel, I suspect neither party will end up dying, since we’re only three episodes in. A draw, perhaps? Either way, I can’t wait to see it.

Zero continues to excel where often UBW fell down, managing to make virtually every patch of dialogue (or monologue) compelling, integrating just enough comedy to avoid being too stodgy or serious, and most important, making every participant either eminently rootable, deliciously loathable, or a lovely synthesis of the two.

Hundred – 06

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Anyone hoping this week’s Hundred would out-do Bakuon’s T&A quota may come away disappointed: there was precious little time for girls to throw off their clothes and jump Hayato, what with all the battlin’ going on. And hey, what do you know, Sakura’s Hundred also gives her defensive capabilities. Why does she need a part-time bodyguard, again?

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Apparently not from the pack of elite variants who poach savages. The group of three (four?) make the Little Garden students look a bit silly; though perhaps that’s not entirely fair as you’re talking about pros (albeit young ones) against amateur students. Nice outfits, though.

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Sakura expresses a little confusion over Emile’s possessiveness towards Hayato (being a “boy” and all), but nothing comes of it, and in any case, there’s no time for fooling around since there’s savages to fight! Only the hunters fought and beat the savages for them. And there actualy was time for a lot of standing around and talking. As for the savages, they seem really slow and dumb.

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The savage hunters, imaginatively called “hunters” by Claire at their debriefing, are after savage cores, because cores and variable stones are basically the same thing, both technologically and monetarily speaking. But this is all Top Secret, so don’t tell anyone, even though the science loli told half the cast.

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Sakura spends a good amount of time on a beach with no bodyguard, it seems, because she’s already there when Hayato answers her summons. When Hayato says everyone’s looking forward to the concert, Sakura goes into a pity spiral, saying people are only affected by her song because she’s a variant and that’s her skill. Hayato rebuts: she touched him and Karen way back before she was an idol, so quit hatin’ on yoself!

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The concert ensues, and, erm, it’s okay I guess? Pretty underwhelming. They never even bothered to animate Sakura singing; not even once! Which begs the question, why have such an ambitious idol concert scene if you don’t have the budget? I don’t know, but at the end Sakura breaks out the same song she sang to Hayato and Karen, which is nice.

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After giving Karen, who really should be dead from all the exposure to the outside (why else would she be confined to a hospital room the rest of her life?) an autograph and handshake, Sakura closes in for a big ‘ol smooth on Hayato’s cheek, making the polyamorous lil’ scamp blush like a rose – and outrage all the other girls present currently crushing on him.

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It wouldn’t be Hundred without closing with an even more ridiculous portrayal of Hayato’s harem, in which three of his girls tug and pull at him like he’s the last carton of milk at the store during a blizzard. You break him, you bought him, ladies…and what are you gonna do when you get him?

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Hundred – 05

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What’s Kirishima Hayato’s secret for getting all these hot ladies falling at his feet? From what I can tell, it’s to be as nondescript and vapid a character as it is possible to be while still able to be called a “character.”

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They don’t just fall at his feet of their own accord, though: they forget they don’t have their bikini top tied on, or slip and fall on top of him. So it’s not just vapidity, but the fact that physics itself seem to favor the guy.

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Hundred does its darndest to not spend any more time than it needs to on silly matters like protecting civilization from a scourge of powerful monsters. Instead, it prefers having Hayato go on a date with Emilia after turning down Claire’s swimming challenge.

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Wait, but isn’t he supposed to be Sakura’s bodyguard, you ask? Apparently not full-time. Which is unfortunate, because Sakura disappears when he’s off the job. Thankfully, she used his GPD signal to track him down so she can take him somewhere special to her. Emilia gets ditched. Don’t hate the playa…

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I’m not sure Hayato signed up to have Sakura prattle on interminably about her increasingly dark and cruel past as they admire the islands’ version of the grand canyon (the geography of this place, and why its not overrun with savages, escapes me).

I think I fell asleep during some of the exposition, but from what I heard, Sakura had the same virus as Karen, was sold to a mad scientist and injected with Savage cells in an attempt to build a super-slayer. Not-fun times.

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Then Sakura proceeds to connect every significant part of her life to Hayato, from the one who set her on the path to idoldom, to the one who preserved the place where she apparently has good (rather than horrifying) memories, and the fact both of them are variants and thus “share the same fate.”

I imagine Sakura is going to be disappointed when she learns that Hayato does not and will not belong to just one woman. He belongs to them all. His blandness…it’s just so breathtaking.

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Oh HEY! It’s a savage! Those variant kids from last week, perhaps? They come pretty late in this episode. In fact, they come at the very end, before Hayato has any time to break out his Hundred and, you know, fight them.

Instead we spent what felt like an eternity watching Hayato jump from one girl to another, turning one Claire for Emilia, ditching Emilia for Sakura, and telling Sakura, who is pouring her heart out, to “calm down there.” Maybe the real monster in Hundred is Hayato.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 01 (First Impressions)

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One thing I’ve learned about Gundam over the years is that no one show or OVA with its name slapped on it can ever wholly ruin its legacy, nor prevent me from checking out the next project with an open mind. Reconguista was an unqualified disaster in part because it was so in love with itself, it built a towering wall of self-congratulatory retrospection around itself, leaving me out in the cold.

Recon in G was also spearheaded by Yoshiyuki Tomino, whose specific style came off as both out-of-touch and proudly, stubbornly exclusionary of anyone but the most die-hard fans of his work, ignoring all Gundam that had followed, most of which improved on the original.

It was not a step, but a zero-gravity leap backwards, one even more troubling because a full 26-episode season’s worth of resources were committed to an sugary, empty love letter to itself. But like I said, I wasn’t going to let past failure prevent me from catching something new and exciting from the Gundam brand…and Iron-Blooded Orphans (which I’ll shorten to GIBO from here on) is just what the doctor ordered.

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One reason I had reason to believe GIBO wouldn’t be another dud was staff: Putting Gundam in the hands of Tatsuyuki Nagai (AnoHana, Railgun, Toradora) pays immediate dividends. Nagai retains much of the charming Gundam milieu, but rather than keep it exactly as it was in the Carter Administration, he updates and refines the flow of the action.

Okada Mari (AnoHana, Hanasaku Iroha, Nagi no Asukara, Toradora) tweaks and humanizes the classic Gundam dialogue style and brings it into the 21st century, while Yokoyama Masaru (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, Yamada-kun to 7-nin no Majo) brings a fresh musical perspective to the sweeping score.

Compared to Reconguista, there’s young blood at work here, but their impressive CVs and relevance in the current anime world shines through in their collaboration here. While Reconguista shut me out, GIBO drew me in, with a slightly dirty hand.

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So what’s GIBO about? Well, there are many thick, juicy layers to excavate, but it’s all pretty organically unfolded. On the Martian colony of Chryse you have the titular Iron-Blooded Orphans like protagonist Mikazuki Augus, who serve at the bottom rung of the private security company CGS.

The citizens of Chryse are starting to demand independence form the Earth Sphere, but their own cowardly president intends to save his own skin by throwing his people to the wolves. Those he betrays include his own daughter, Kudelia Aina Bernstein, a well-loved, charismatic young agitator who Earth Sphere wants out of the picture.

To make that happen, Aina’s dad Norman lets her handpick the CGS Third Group to serve as her bodyguards for her trip to Earth. Doing so appeals to her desire to “see and feel the truth” and feel the pain of the victims of the Earth Sphere’s rule over Chryse. But in actual truth, the irregular child soldiers, used as cannon fodder by the greedy CGS president Maruda, aren’t expected to stand a chance against Earth’s elite Gjallarhorn unit, which is being deployed to put down the Chryse rebellion in its infancy.

It’s a cowardly, dastardly plot by the self-involved old guard to retain power by snuffing out the flame of youth and hope. It also shows that these old guys know how to play the game far better than Aina, at least at the moment.

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The main couple, Mikazuki and Aina, are from the opposite extreme ends of Chryse’s social spectrum, but unlike your typical aloof princess character, Aina wants to be “on equal terms” with the CGS grunts protecting her, so as to better understand the people she leads and serves. In a clever bit of misdirection, Mika refuses her repeated attempts to shake his hand not because he resents or distrusts her, but becaused his hands are filthy.

Even as Aina tries to reach out to those below her, they’re so conditioned to keep their distance they politely decline her entreaties. Aina’s seiyu Terasaki Yuki often voices boys and younger versions of adult male characters, but her robust pipes lend the pretty Aina some gravitas.

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The same night Aina arrives at CGS headquarters, Gjallarhorn springs into action, but in their arrogance their stealth attack is quickly sniffed out. CGS soldiers like Biscuit Griffon (whose retro design I really dug) whisk Aina to safety as the bullets start to fly. She’s constantly insisting that she can help out, and no one refutes her claim, but she has infinitely more value as the leader of the Chryse resistance than an exposed front-line soldier.

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Mind you, it isn’t CGS as a whole that is sacrificed in this operation, but the Third Group members composed of Mika, his “big brother” Orga Itsuka, Biscuit, et al. The higher ups try to use them as a decoy and human shield to cover their retreat, but they’re foiled when Biscuit remotely launches signal flares, giving the retreating brass and First Corps’ position away to the enemy, which eases off the Third. Still, it isn’t long until Gjallarhorn stops messing around and fields a mobile suit, which can outrun and outgun anything the Third Group has…with one very notable exception.

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In the cold open, we see a sight not out of place in a previous Gundam series, 00, in which a young Mika has just killed on apparent orders from Orga. He turns arond and nonchalantly asks Orga “What should I do next?” It’s a dream of a memory Orga wakes up from, which is revisited when the present-day Mika asks him the very same question. In the memory, Orga replies “We’re going…somewhere not here…to the place where we truly belong.” Their lives aren’t just about surviving when the deck stacked against them at every turn. It’s about finding purpose to those lives they’re fighting for tooth and nail.

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So how do they get there? By fighting the man. Gjallarhorn’s cocky young commander Orlis swats at the CGS bugs with his mobile suit until he’s challenged by a second, stronger suit, a Gundam, piloted by Mika as the Third Group’s trump card. Mika brings Orlis’ suit down in iconic fashion, creating a symbol of what must be done in order to find that place where the iron-blooded orphans belong.

No doubt Mika, Orga, Biscuit & the rest of CGS’s third group will serve as a vanguard for what will become Aina Bernstein’s Chryse Independence movement. Their deeds will change the history of Mars and will affect the lives of many, from Danji, the would-be rookie hero who got too close to the enemy and paid the ultimate price, to the too-adorable-for-words shop girl who seems to carry a flame for Mika, all the way to the most powerful sniveling old white guys in the galaxy.

I can’t wait to see what comes next.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 09

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This week Shirayuki is still drunk, but also conscious enough to start wandering around on a mission. Of what sort remains a mystery until Obi figures it out (after swatting the Clarines equivalent of a paparazzo): her drunkenness has brought her guilt over Zen’s punishment at Laxdo drives her to want to ride there; only problem is, she can’t ride a horse.

Zen offers to take her, but qualifies that he’s just recently back from there, and produces the proof: some rare herbs that only grow in snow, and a detailed journal of the health of the garrison, both prepared by Shuka, the fortress’ herbalist-in-training. It’s enough to appease and please Shirayuki, though she wouldn’t have gotten far anyway, as she passes out again.

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Since this show has trained us to expect a flashback whenever Shirayuki passes out, we get a brief continuation of Mitsuhide’s recalling of the tragic events with Zen and Atri. Turns out Zen thought something was off about Atri too, but wanted to believe that gut feeling was overly suspicious. Losing Atri and being wrong shook Zen to the core, but it was ‘Hide who told him nobody will ever get close to a prince who prioritizes his suspicions. Essentially, Zen wasn’t wrong, or unprincely, to hope he was wrong about Atri. He was just wrong to have no backup plan.

I think that’s why in the present Zen keeps Atri’s arrowhead in a prominent spot in his desk drawer, which Hide spots, triggering the flashback. Since Atri has no grave, it’s a memorial, but also a reminder to take extra care in vetting those he’d allow close to him. It’s what he believes he’s achieved with Obi, which is why he presents him with a royal ID and the official role of royal messenger, though he’s still expected to keep an eye on Shirayuki whenever Zen can’t spare one.

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Obi purports to be like us, merely observers, not participants, in the goings-on within Wistal Castle. However, Zen seems to be welcoming him into the same tight-knit fold already consisting of Mitsuhide and Kiki (whose story we have yet to hear, unless I forgot about it :P). The episode ends with a wonderful atmosphere of everything being right in the world, with the stars shining down, Shirayuki peacefully sleeping it off, Zen and Obi drinking together, and Hide and Kiki sparring.

And that’s all fine and dandy…except that this episode also felt a bit too stagnant; that we’re going over and over the same themes about Zen finding the right balance of warmth and authority, and surrounding himself with those he trusts. He mentions a path he’s on, similar to how Shirayuki puts it; and indeed, she’s on that path, as well as all his trusted friends and attendants. Rather than talking about it more, why not let’s get back on that path and continue down that path, shall we?

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 08

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Raj is back home and Shirayuki’s place in the castle is secure, but now half of Wistal is convinced she’s actually Zen’s fiancee, for better or worse, so Zen assigns Obi, recently returned from a no-supervision trip to test his trustworthiness, to guard her. The two have had a prickly history together, but end up getting along. The problem is, the Chief herbalist tries to pull a prank on them, unaware of just how much Shirayuki can’t handle her liquor.

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With Shirayuki thus knocked out, the rest of the episode is given over to the story of how Mitsuhide was assigned to Zen, just as Obi was assigned to Shirayuki. Mitsu struggled to connect to the young prince, who said he had to maintain distance to maintain authority, like his brother Izana (who ordered Mitsu to guard him), yet has an increasingly suspicious secret friend and brother-like figure in the archer guard Atri.

Like me, Mitsu was almost instantly weary of Atri, him because of his instincts, me because of all the shots of him making an arrowhead and squinting forebodingly into the camera. The last straw is when Atri says he’s switching to the night shift and would like it if Zen came out to see him then. Zen was obviously very naive around this time.

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Fortunately Izana assigned Mitsu to him when he did, because both of them are able to stop Atri’s associates, disgruntled rebels from Lido, from capturing or hurting Zen; Mitsu even manages to slice Atri’s arrow in two while it’s in flight, which is almost incredulously badass.

The naive Zen largely died that night when Atri, someone he thought was his friend turned on him, having waited for his opportunity the whole time. Even so, Zen mourns Atri’s death, and Atri remarks that it might have been better if Zen wasn’t a prince, otherwise they wouldn’t be in such a situation and could have been friends.

Obi gives Shirayuki the same line (which Mitsuhide overhears, leading to this flashback), but Shirayuki warns Obi not to talk like that, lest she take it as an insult. Zen is a prince, she’s an apprentice herbalist (who later accidentally gets toasted). On the path she’s traveling, she’s accepted all these things, and like a good politician, isnt’ about entertaining theoreticals.

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GANGSTA. – 06

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Nic spends the episode recovering from his injuries (Paulklee shot him with drugs, not bullets) under Nina’s admirable ministrations as the clouds continue to dump rain on Ergastulum, as if to wash away the blood of the last battle. But the duel with Doug and the shootouts that accompanied it may only be a taste of what’s to come, as the Corsicans are about to throw off the delicate balance that has been sustained by going after the Christianos, a family beholden to Monroe.

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It’s fitting in an episode called “THORN” that everyone deals with various literal and emotional thorns in their sides or minds. Both Nic and Worick carry a lot of baggage from their highly traumatic pasts. Nic was the son of a prostitute shanghaied into mercenary service; Wallace is the unwanted and unloved son of a drunk, violent crime boss whose light we know is destined to go out.

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Wallace got over his prejudice for his perceived low-rent bodyguard and befriends Nic and even teaches him to read and write, most likely out of a desire to have one friend in his life; someone who doesn’t curse his existence. While we’re still missing a couple of bits and pieces in the middle, the genesis of their friendship, which would persist for decades to the present, is making more and more sense.

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Ally has her own thorn in the form of  withdrawal due to an appalling drug her pimp plied her with regularly in order to keep her submissive and in line. The horror movie scene that ended last week’s episode turned out to be hallucinations from that withdrawal, and Dr. Theo informs Worick that Ally has yet to fully recover, though it will happen with time. Some thorns can’t be removed too quickly.

When a shoeless, rain-soaked Ally kisses Worick on the street, it’s filmed as if it were a climactic, passionate romantic scene, right up until she tries to undo Worick’s pants and we realize she’s still hallucinating Barry, and is ready to do anything to him if only he doesn’t hurt her. Ironically, Worick does technically hurt her—by head-butting—in order to snap her out of it (not sure how that works medically, but whatever), but since her head’s harder than his he ends up hurting himself more.

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At any rate, it’s one of the show’s best scenes, and combined with Nic’s recovery, the Handymen and their administrative assistant are back in business…just in time for another war. Even in his hospital bed, Nic looks as ready as ever to take on whole battalions on his own, but a part of me thinks Worick would really rather just kick back in his apartment and talk about his crappy day with Ally-chan.

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GANGSTA. – 05

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As fellow A/0 Tags Nic and the dreadlocked kid fight furiously up on the rooftops, the normal gangsters take bets below. but when Worick arrives, he determines not only that Nic is depending on an overdose of Celebrer to fight and shrug off his stab wounds, but that the kid words for the Paul Klee Guild, and Nic shouldn’t even be fighting him.

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Of course, the kid, Doug, took the job to take out Monroe for the opportunity to fight a fellow A/0, and is loving the fight, but when he’s winded and Nic hasn’t broken a sweat, he realizes the fight is tainted. This is drugs, not merely natural talent and skill, at work. Finally, Doug’s master, Gina Paulklee of the guild, arrives with her very able assistant Ginger, to break up the fight and punish both Doug and Nic with multiple gunshots.

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Such is the price of going against the “Three Laws” instituted once Tags were freed from slavery. We finally learn what they are thanks to Gina: “Don’t take action against Normals”, “Obey your master”, and “Defend Yourself”. To break one of those laws is to upset the delicate balance of Ergastulum, which Gina and her guild work to maintain.

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Doug is left for dead, but Worick can and wishes to only carry one person, and that’s the wounded Nic, to Dr. Theo’s, where Nina looks after him. Meanwhile, Alex is seeing her old pimp in the alley even though he’s supposed to be dead, and even hears him coming up the stairs to the Handymen’s office. When Worick calls, the office is abandoned.

Did the pimp survive, or is Alex merely hallucinating due to PTSD? I’m guessing the latter. Either way, the fifth episode ends with our trio of protagonists roughed up physically and emotionally. I’m guessing next week won’t be the beach episode…

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GANGSTA. – 04

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Another day in the life of GANGSTAs reveals new details about Worick (formerly Wallace) Arcangelo and his partner (formerly his bodyguard). Notably, Worick wouldn’t make a bad detective, owing to his preternatural talent for memorization. Chad, who’s known these men since they were 17-year-old boys, periodically brings them in to appease the higher-ups, but makes use of Worick’s skills in identifying some suspiciously cleanly carved-up bodies.

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As far as the present-day goings-on, Ally continues to wring her hands over whether to stay or go (knowing the last girl who lived with the Handymen almost died) and one of their clients, Danny Monroe, and his men end up in a spot of trouble with a kukri enthusiast. Those events are punctuated by flashbacks going back to the day Wallace met Nicolas. Back then, Wally could basically read any book in a minute, and grew bored and restless with his education and stifling living situation.

When he learned Nic was deaf, he felt insulted to have a “defective” guard, but at the same time, Nic gives off an irresistible aura of wildness and freedom (even if Nic is far from free). We also learn more about the “Twilights” and why they’re called that: as the victims (or children of victims) of combat doping gone wrong.

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Whatever the case ends up being, the two seem pretty tight in the present, as both professional partners and brothers of a kind. These scenes also bring up the question: did Nic just snap and kill Wally’s fam and take his eye…or did Wally ask him to blow up his life? There are still key gaps in their backstory, but the show is doling them out at a pretty good clip, and with Nic facing off against a fellow “A/0” ranked Twilight (and a sprightly one at that), I wouldn’t be surprised if Worick will lend a hand next week.

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Durarara!!x2 Ten – 03

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Akabayashi Mizuki doesn’t like drugs. He doesn’t like them so much, in fact, that when some kids taking after Dollars and using the net for their rootless drug-dealing operation set up shop in the bathroom of an Awakusu Group nightclub, he feels the need to impress the lesson upon said lads: drugs are bad. Don’t sell them. Don’t do them. Flush them down the toilet. They and their jonesing customers will be better off; he’s sure of it.

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Why is he sure of it? Because drugs ended up killing the woman he loved, who happened to be Sonohara Anri’s mother, Sayaka. He fell for her when she slashed his eye with Saika six years ago, and though she had to refuse him because she already had a husband and family, her affection for her endured. When Sayaka’s husband became a violent drug addict (thanks to Akabayashi’s boss) and started abusing his family, including Anri, Sayaka killed him and herself, leaving Anri alone.

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When his boss, a particularly nasty piece of human garbage, shares his plans to adopt and pimp out Anri, it’s too much for Akabayashi to bear, to the point that when Sayaka’s kid brother shows up to stab his boss, Akabayashi does nothing to stop it, and his boss’s death is a victory for all decent humankind.

These events six and five years ago transformed Akabayashi from the wild “red demon” he was known as to a far mellower fellow, and it’s not hard to see why: after spending so long on the side of the night, Sayaka showed him the day, and he liked it. Now, in the present, he walks the thin line between night and day, protecting not only Anri but Awakusu Akane as well; and never passes up a chance to teach misguided youths that they do not want to be walking in the night.

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Black Bullet – 07

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While Preston continues to bask in the warm, fuzzy glow of Nagi no Asukara’s finale, let’s talk Black Bullet, shall we? Last week’s episode ended with the implication that Enju had just gotten her ass handed to her (or worse) off-camera, by 98th ranked Tina Sprout. We later learn that Satomi’s power level is 2200% and Enju’s 8600%, but Tina’s is estimated to be 12900%. Not sure what that means, but it sounds impressive; you don’t see percents going into the tens of thousands often enough, if you ask me.

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But even if Tina’s power level were One Million percent, the chances of Enju kicking the bucket in the seventh episode were precisely zero. Instead, she’s hospitalized. The third meeting between Seitenshi and Saitake will happen before she’s expected to wake up, so he’ll have to defeat Tina without her. But that doesn’t mean he’s on his own. And he also gets the feeling she’s not killing people on purpose, as if, unlike the general consensus about the Top 100, she still has a soul, and is trying not to fully lose it.

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Even though Enju sits this one out, Satomi isn’t alone. Muroto-sensei tells him about the small, nifty “Shenfield” drones Tina uses in concert with remote machine guns to keep her foes at a distance. He makes full use of the Shiba training facilities. And when he finds Tina and goes after her, Miori has his digital back. But even with all this support, Tina is a 12900% handful. She’s also been warned by her master (named Ayn Rand, a very loaded real-world name) that if she keeps not killing people and having emotions or whatever, she can just kill herself.

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She’s committed enough that no amount of appealing to her humanity is enough to stop Tina from trying to kill him…but he is able to slow her down and get her to come close enough to stun her with a flash grenade. After that, he rains a proper Vanadium-plated beatdown upon her; that’s what stops her. As thanks for not killing Enju (even if that was actually just a mistake on her part), he spares her. And then she’s shot through the heart…not by Rand—whom we hear no more of the rest of the episode—but by Yasuwaki, the most over-the-top, insufferable, Worst Character Ever.

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Of course he’s the one to shoot her, right? Fortunately, Yasuwaki just fires a regular bullet that doesn’t kill her, and Seitenshi stands up Saitake in order to stop him.  She then promotes Satomi, and his first act as Yasuwaki’s superior is to shoot one of his fingers off, which is fine with us! It’s a little tidy that Kisara ends up hiring Tina, but as she says, Tina has nowhere else to go, and Tina is frikkin’ adorable. Ultimately, I like her more as an ally and a friend than as a mortal enemy, and look forward to her future contributions. Sounds like we’ll be getting back to the Gastrea. Yeah…remember those?

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Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei – 07

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The seven-episode “Enrollment” arc comes to an end on a high note, providing another nice balance of high-level action and character work that felt earned approached genuine poignancy a couple of times. The episode bursts out of the gate by having the Humvee carrying the assault team barrel straight through the front gate of Blanche’s Japan HQ.

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Aside from a couple of quiet moments where Tatsuya counts the soldiers in the next room, the action doesn’t let up, and when the episode ticks past the ten minute mark, Blance’s hapless leader’s arm is lopped off by Kirihara, avenging Mibu. Erika and Leo don’t even have to do anything in the raid; it goes off without a hitch.

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This was never about whether they’d defeat Tsukasa Hajime and his team of disposable soldiers; we knew going in from the composition of the party that they were going to make it look easy. What was in doubt was whether they’d still make it entertaining, and they succeeded. Tatsuya and Miyuki let no opportunity for a devastatingly bad-ass remark pass them by. For a moment I almost felt bad for Blanche, as the Shibas sounded far more dangerous and diabolical.

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Another reason to make this such an easy fight was to demonstrate that Tatsuya isn’t just Miyuki’s brother, he’s her physical and emotional protector. All the arrogance and aloofness he’s displayed is explained by the simple fact there’s no reason for him to even be in high school if he doesn’t want to be; he’s already learned everything the school can teach him, and far more. But he does want to be there, by Miyuki’s side.

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While it was a little neat and tidy for Sayaka and Tsukasa’s bro to be let off the hook due to hypnosis, we’re glad the arc stuck with Sayaka through her physical and more importantly, her emotional recuperation. She gets kudos from me for being so open and earnest about her feelings for Tatsuya and Kirihara, and how she came to see the latter as the better fit, as she fears she’d never catch up to the former.

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Miyuki, meanwhile, is committed to staying right beside her brother, as long as he will allow her to—matching her steps to his is a cute way of showing this—even if he blasts into the heavens at light speed. But Tatsuya tells her he’s not here just to fulfill his duty, but because school could be his last opportunity to live a normal life with her, before his responsibilities preclude any pretense of normalcy.

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