Mahoutsukai no Yome – 17

In a diverting case-of-the-week that involves non-magical clients, Chise meets Stella, a girl just a bit younger than her, who can’t find her little brother Ethan after he ran off after they had an argument. What makes this most likely a magical case is that Stella’s parents have no memory of their son.

Obviously, Stella’s a wreck, but she’s not so much of a wreck she isn’t totally freaked out by a huge skull-faced dude coming out of Chise (or speaking through her body, turning her eyes silver). I also snickered when she reacted to the dog talking.

Turns out the big teddy Elias gave Chise also turns her excess magic into crystal flowers, like a kind of release valve to preserve her body. She puts those flowers, which are like candy to fae, to good use asking the various beings in the forest where the kid went.

In fact, Chise, wanting desperately to do something for someone after so much has been done for her (though if we’re honest, she’s done plenty), goes so far as to let what looks like a more feral Elias suck her blood in exchange for info on Ethan’s whereabouts. This troubles Stella greatly, but as Elias tells her, mages aren’t omnipotent, and in exchange for something, they must be willing to give something in return.

When they finally locate Ethan, he’s in the clutches of the ancient trickster Ashen Eye, who has claimed the boy as his own after Stella’s harsh words to him (“I don’t need you!”) broke their familial bond and made the kid fair game.

Knowing what happened when Ashen Eye was involved before, I figured no one was actually in any real danger, even when both Ethan and Elias are sucked into a dark void (Ash isn’t omnipotent either, but he’s been around the block, and  a lot more powerful than the younger Elias).

The loss of Elias causes Chise to wig out momentarily, but Ruth consoles her. Ash simply wants them to jump through a few hoops; he’ll only keep Ethan if they can’t find him, and if he and Stella can’t reconcile. As they search, Elias must deal with Ethan, who immediately takes a liking to his bony head.

This causes Elias to transform into a kind of Winter Ops version of Chise, and with his uniquely non-human perspective on humanity, gets Ethan to define what he thinks family is. It’s more than just blood; it’s people you want to be with more than anyone else, even if you don’t always get along and say things you don’t mean.

Chise uses the pelt that Ashen Eye gave her to transform into a were-bear, and uses her heightened sense of smell to locate Elias and Ethan. As I suspected, Ash is satisfied the siblings have learned their lesson and warns them to choose their words carefully, because they aren’t sure who might be listening who will take those words seriously.

When initially speaking through Chise, Elias got Stella to agree to pay them in “sweets” for their services locating her brother (who the parents now remember, reuniting the family as it was). But Chise gets something a lot better for her kindness: she gains a friend in Stella.

And hey, even after all that exertion, Chise doesn’t pass out, cough up any blood, or go into any kind of trance or coma, so everything comes up Team Ainsworth this week. I just hope Chise doesn’t immediately revert to her “ZOMG I’m so useless” attitude next week; she’s without doubt earning her keep.

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Alderamin on the Sky – 05

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I’m on the older side, so as I watched the magnificent origin of the relationship of young Yatori and Ikta unfold, I couldn’t help but think of Captain Picard and Guinan (I also thought of Muppet Babies, for what it’s worth). In addition to the fact that TNG had an Oscar-winning actress on TV before it was cool, one of the great big unanswered questions of the show was the history of those two.

All Guinan said to Riker when Picard was captured by the Borg was that what they had was “beyond friendship, beyond family.” That sums up Yatori and Ikta perfectly. One was raised from birth to be a knight, which is no different from a blade. The other was raised into a world of science and deep, distant thought about mysteries once left to the comfort of theology.

Yatori decides to study abroad with Ikta as his father Sankrei was a celebrated military mind whom she sought for enrichment. What she got was a lifetime companion who not only made her more whole, but whom she made more whole as well.

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Japanese can be at times wonderfully onomatopoeiaic, as I was reminded when Ikta conveys how “stiff” Yatori speaks, even to a fellow kid like him. But throughout their early interactions, Ikta never tries to impose his will or philosophy upon Yatori; instead, he shows her parts of her world and levies suggestions on how she might become something more than the Igsem blade she was forged to be.

A sword, after all, is only an inanimate object; no mater how much intense training Yatori undergoes, she cannot deny her flesh, her blood, and the emotions all humans possess. Indeed, Yatori is as much a sponge as a blade, benefiting greatly from her exposure to Ikta, his father, and the scientists associated with them. She also learns to play, which for Ikta means outsmarting adults.

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It’s really quite invigorating to see these two at an early age right after seeing Ikta bring Yatori down from her killing fever last week. This episode painstakingly explains the bond these two share not with idle exposition, but by telling a story in its own right; a story of two very bright and talented kids bouncing off one another.

Just as Yatori had never met a kid quite like Ikta (nor met any kid period, for that matter), Ikta had never come across such a stern, stiff, duty-obsessed girl. It’s refreshing how quickly they hit it off despite their profound differences in upbringing.

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Their bond is formalized quite by chance, when the adults they followed to a remote locale for a geological survey forgot their gear and turned back to retrieve it. Yatori and Ikta end up on their own, up against a pack of starving wolves, who are treated by the show with the same respect one would show a group of starving people.

Yatori and Ikta have no quarrel with the wolves, but they cannot allow themselves to be killed and eaten for the sake of the wolves. They are meant for greater things. I love how Ikta calls out for Yatori when the first wolf corners him, and Yatori comes through like the knight she is.

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But this is not simply a tale of Ikta coming up with a game plan and Yatori carrying it out. It isn’t simply the knight saving the damsel in distress (who is Ikta in this case). Rather, when the desperate wolves infiltrate the house, and Ikta and Yatori must retreat to a smaller space ton ponder their next move, Ikta rejects Yatori’s pre-programmed intent to protect him at the cost of her own life.

That won’t do at all! For Ikta, any outcome where one of them dies is no good. Chivalric training aside, he rejects the notion that Yatori must lay down her life so that he might live. Having met and gotten to know Yatori, Ikta knows she can be more than a blade.

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So he proposes they look at it another way: she is not the hero and he the recipient of heroism: they are together the right and left hand of a single entity, one far smarter and stronger than either of them alone.

Yatori, still young and relatively impressionable (as well as quite a smart cookie in her own right) can pick up what Ikta is putting down. They work together to outsmart and defeat the remaining wolves, forcing the survivors to retreat.

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In the process, they burn down the whole damn house, and eat what’s left of the dried meat they have on hand. Yatori says it feels like they’re eating the wolves’ meat, which for Ikta is definitive proof that she can, indeed, be more than just a blade.

Not long after that unforgettable, life-changing experience, Ikta and Sankrei go missing…but one day Ikta returns, and Yatori is happy, for it is neither her brother nor her lover nor her dear friend who has returned to her: it is her other hand.

The best part of Alderamin is Yatori and Ikta’s relationship. I’ve said it before, and this episode went and capitalized on that strength, with exceptional results.

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Attack on Titan – 04

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I’ll say this about these first episodes of AoT: it does not dick around. Two more years pass during which Eren, Mikasa, Armin, and a large group of fellow young cadets are hardened and trained, and graduation nears. As the drill sergeant observes them training in the woods he helpfully lays out the strengths and weaknesses of each recruit.

Armin lacks strength, but he’s got a sharp mind; Eren isn’t spectacular at any one thing, but he learns quickly, works hard, and no one is more driven. Mikasa is perfect at everything; a once-in-a-generation all-round talent. But you know what? That’s fine with me, because she’s so damn modest and unassuming about that ability.

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What I also like is that Mikasa isn’t just tough for a girl, she’s the toughest cadet, period, and there are other tough girls too, like the food-obsessed Sasha and aloof Annie Lockhart. The latter teaches both Eren and Braun a lesson with combat skills her father taught her, but isn’t taking any of this seriously, as the whole idea of those who are the most talented at killing Titans get to serve furthest away from them, in the interior Military Police.

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Indeed the top ten cadets in the class of 218 have the option of reporting straight to the Military Police, where they may theoretically live out their lives in relative peace and safety. Mikasa graduates top in the class, while Eren finishes a surprising fifth, with Armin placing outside the top ten.

Eren will have none of the military police; he’s joining the Scout Regiment, where he can take the fight directly to the Titans who took his mother and home. Armin and Mikasa decide to join him in turn, with Mikasa convinced he’ll die a quick death without her by his side. Protective? Sure, but he is her family.

When they graduate, Eren gives a speech rejecting the notion the Titans cannot be beaten, and that there’s value in fighting them even at the cost of his life, as continuing to fight them will allow them to gather more and more intel about their foe, so that one day, future forces might be able to bring them down for good. He doesn’t want to die, but he can’t sit back and do nothing.

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The speech clearly moves a few of his fellow top tenners like Conny and Sasha, who join him in the Scout Regiment. When they arrive in Trost district along Wall Rose, they’re welcomed by an optimistic crowd; it’s been five years since the Colossal Titan attacked, and there hasn’t been any advancement by the enemy. In that time, the collective wounds have healed a little, and both hope and dignity are in the air.

…Then, on Eren’s first day atop the wall maintaining the cannon, the Colossal Titan returns, and the lighthearted mood is replaced by terror and despair. Man…Not particularly forgiving to its human populace, this show. Yet Eren doesn’t freeze in fear. He and his comrades are scattered off the wall, but he uses his ODM gear to get back to the battlements and face his nemesis down.

He’s not scared, he’s pissed, and his time has come to finally attempt what he’s wanted to do since he saw his mother get eaten. I have no earthly idea how he expects to take the behemoth on, who will help him, and who won’t survive the imminent battle, but I’m damned eager to find out on all counts.

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Attack on Titan – 03

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Two years after the Titan attack destroyed their home, Eren, Mikasa and Armin begin boot camp, and their drill sergeant suffers no foolishness, especially from one Sasha Blouse, who just can’t help scarfing down a hot potato while he’s talking (the tension of the exchange is highly amusing, showing off Titan’s sense of humor even in such bleak setting. (The sergeant also thinks Armin Arlert is a dumb name.)

It’s a common strategy: strip the cadets down and then build them back up, in their case, into Titan-killing soldiers. As the sergeant walks down the line, we learn how the recruits are from all over, and have enlisted for many different reasons. Many don’t cut it and leave to work the fields on the first day. Others will wash out later. I liked how the sergeant knew from the look of the cadets who’d already gone through the wringer.

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Eren is eager to get through training so he can start kicking Titanic ass on the front lines, but he hits a snag: the omni-directional mobility gear all soldiers need to master. In short, he sucks at it. He has all the motivation and determination in the world, but appears to lack the aptitude. This is a huge setback for his life goals, and you can see in his haunted expression at dinner that he fears failure and his own weakness far more than any Titan.

This episode also presents the opportunity to spread out beyond our core trio to several interesting supporting characters, some of whom may well end up in the same unit as Eren. The aforementioned Sasha is a bit one note in her relentless pursuit of food, but Jean Kirstein’s honesty about wanting to join the military police so he can serve in the safe(r) interior provides a welcome contrast to Eren’s puffed-chest gung-ho act.

Even better though, Jean and Eren don’t just come to blows over the disagreement. A bell rings, and the two make up, perhaps aware that fighting each other is a waste of time. Then there’s Reiner Braun, who like Eren & Co. is one of the few cadets who has seen the Titans firsthand; in other words, who have seen hell.

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But the undisputed rockstar of this episode, and of the show so far, at least for me, is Mikasa Ackerman. We learn a little more about her intensely close, co-dependent bond with Eren; neither of them want to ever be apart from the other; both feed off of one another’s unique energy. She aces the OGM, makes someone fall in love with her just by walking past, looks awesome no matter what her length of hair is, and even owns Sasha by not surrendering her bread.

She also rejoices when Eren finally gets the OGM right (turns out he had a defective belt, but even managed to balance properly on that, proving he’s more than capable). But she’s also the only one who doesn’t see self-satisfaction in Eren’s face. She sees relief that he doesn’t have to leave her.

Not that he would have to: had he failed, she would have gone with him to the fields; Armin too, probably. Because if there’s one thing that’s working out for these three kids in this dastardly post-apocalyptic fiasco of a world, its the three of them sticking together.

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Sket Dance – 50

In the first half, Himeko’s horsing around leads to Bossun’s fingers getting broken. As retribution, he makes her sign a “servant contract”, effectively making her his personal maid, complete with costume and Maiko vernacular. But it turns out to be more of a hassle for Bossun, as he just doesn’t get the satisfaction from it he expected. When he saves her from a batted ball, she learns his hand is actually find, and is none too pleased. In the second half, Jin returns to observe the Sket-dan’s downtime, still hopeful to woo Himeko. However, spending time with her and Bossun reveals to him that the two have a special and powerful bond that is not wise or even possible to get between.

Both parts of this episode deal with the unique and complex relationship between Himeko and Bossun. Suffice it to say the two seem to like things the way they are, even if the way things are baffles most outsiders, such as Jin. Switch, not surprisingly, has a fairly good bead on what the two are all about. He notes that in Bossun’s case, you have a guy who is mature at times but is childish and naive by default, and therefore may not quite understand his feelings for Himeko, and just goes with the flow. While he’s less sure of Himeko, he suspects she harbors feelings of gratitude and respect for Bossun, who delivered her from a life of petty delinquency and set her on the path of using her talents to help others. He did the same thing with Switch.

You have to hand it to Sket Dance, they still have a lot of gas in the tank even after fifty episodes, are able to delve even deeper into this core trio of characters. This was an interesting episode in that the mission was secondary to the actual interaction of Himeko and Bossun. Even though we’ve seen these two act like a married couple, first lovers, and a mother and son before, it all seems new and fresh when observed through Jin’s eyes. Now that all three characters have received considerable backstory, the only major story we can think of that’s still missing is the actual founding of the Sket-dan itself.


Rating: 3.5