Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 05 – All Ore Nothing

Seemingly telegraphing the fact that Tanjirou isn’t going to face any demons more powerful than the one he beheaded last week, DS lingers on the aftermath of the Hand Demon’s life and demise. He started out as a little kid who just wanted to hold his big brother’s hand, but one day he became a demon, and that was pretty much that.

Tanjirou has shown that no matter how evil a demon might seem, he wishes for them to be at peace or be reborn as humans again. That empathy isn’t just the result of a kind heart: surely the only ones who know if Nezuko can be changed back are demons. Alas, the ones he asks aren’t even high-level enough to be capable of speech.

The sun rises on the final day of the Fina Selection, and it seems only four applicants survived, all kids. Oddly, we still aren’t introduced to any of them, though since they all appear in the OP and/or ED, that will happen at some point. The creepy twin girls in charge of the selection assign the survivors crows, new uniforms, and have them pick the ore from which they want their Nichirin blades to be forged.

The three other survivors consist of Silent Pretty Girl, Crazy-Haired Guy who is constantly afraid he’s going to die, and Short-Tempered Prick, who grabs one of the twins by the hair to protest not being given his sword immediately (it will take 10-15 days). Tanjirou, friend of the weak, comes between the two, putting the jerk in his place.

With his uniform acquired and the sword in the mail, Tanjirou makes the trek back to Mt. Sagiri, though it’s far slower going this time due to his exertion during the Final Selection. Even so, a newly-awake Nezuko literally breaks down the door to meet him when he finally arrives, runs to hold him wordlessly in her arms…I couldn’t help but get a little cloudy-eyed at their touching reunion.

Urokodaki believes that Nezuko is sleeping so much in order to conserve energy since she’s not eating humans. Haganezuka soon arrives to present Tanjirou with his very own Nichirin katana, which turns an apparently unlucky pitch-black when he unsheathes it (not red, as Haganezuka hoped).

Finally, the Kasugai crow the twins assigned to Tanjirou arrives and speaks the human tongue, announcing his first assignment in a town where young girls have gone missing. No rest for those who’ve just been given a really, really nice sword for free!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 04 – Above the Wisteria Line

We learn that Tanjirou was able to defeat Sabito, i.e. cleave the giant boulder, by sensing the “thread” of his target by smell, made possible during Total Concentration. After a celebratory dinner when Urokodaki gives him the cloud-emblazoned tunic like his and a kitsune warding mask, Tanjirou bids his master and still-sleeping sister goodbye and heads to Mount Fujikasane, which is replete with gorgeous glowing wisteria blooms.

The year-long blooms aren’t just for show, as the creepy twins who administer the Final Selection explain: demons hate wisteria, and so they are trapped above the elevation where the blooms don’t grow, making the top half of the mountain a demon prison. The applicants must survive seven days in order to pass. There are many other applicants, but we don’t meet any of them, which is was an unexpected but welcome choice.

Instead of introducing potential rivals and allies, the focus remains on Tanjirou, who decides he’ll stay as far east, where the sun rises earliest, as he can, and use the daytime when the demons aren’t active to rest. He smells his first two demon opponents before he sees them, and is initially a little uneasy, but remembers his training and defeats them both with relative ease (they had been fighting each other over terf, after all).

The third demon is a different story, as it is on a level unlike anything else he’s encountered. A giant grotesque mass of sinewy, veiny hands like something straight out of Akira, Tanjirou is again taken by fear at the mere sight of it, especially as it already has a human applicant in one of his many hands, and drops him into his maw.

Urokodaki told Tanjirou that the more humans a demon has eaten the stronger they are, and when Tanjirou confronts his Hand Demon, he helpfully tells him he’s eaten over fifty “brats” in his extremely long life (dating back to the Edo period).

Not only that, but this “morphed” demon has a particular grudge against Urokodaki, who imprisoned him on Mt. Fujikasane. He’s gotten his revenge by eating no fewer than thirteen of Urokodaki’s students—including Sabito and Momoko, who it’s now confirmed interacted with Tanjirou in some kind of spiritual form.

The demon successfully throws Tanjirou off the game on which he very critically needs to stay by describing in detail how the two others were killed, and our boy ends up smacked against a tree hard, his protective mask shattering. He avoids being killed only thanks, I believe, one of his departed little brothers shouting for him to wake up…just in time to dodge the demon’s killing blow.

Not about to let himself become Urokodaki’s fourteenth dead student (with that track record I can see why he was reluctant to train anyone else), Tanjirou re-centers himself, attains Total Concentration, and uses his specialized water-based attacks (which are beautifully rendered like Ukiyo-e waves) to slash the demon’s neck, defeating him.

So far Demon Slayer has been incredibly efficient, getting its protagonist from losing his family to meeting his master to training to reaching the final test that will make him a demon hunter. And yet even though I’m semi-binging, none of it has felt rushed in the least. Events pass as slowly or quickly as I’ve felt they should. Finally, this episode featured the most dazzling combat to date. As expected, ufotable knows what they’re doing.

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 03 – Like a Rock

This week is a very workmanlike training episode, what amounts to a lengthy montage in between scenes of Tanjirou writing journal entries to Nezuko describing all of the things Urokodaki teaches him over a year. That includes how to stand, land, hold a sword, breathe, hold your breath and more. All the while, Nezuko sleeps, and Tanjirou worries about her.

Tanjirou soaks it all up like a sponge in order for his master to clear him for the Final Selection that will determine if he can become a member of the Demon Slayer Corps. Once Urokodaki tells him there is nothing else to teach him, he offers him a final test: slice a giant boulder in the woods clean in half.

The varying environments (forest, mountains, waterfall) break up the repetition that is both a bug and feature of most training episodes, and despite how fast time passes you can really feel how hard Tanjirou is working and struggling, and how frustrated he is when he’s suddenly left on his own to accomplish the seemingly impossible.

For another six months Tanjirou tries and fails to slice the boulder, until he’s approached by a boy in a kitsune mask named Sabito and a cute girl named Mokomo. Sabito offers tough love and clichéd motivational patter as he wails on Tanjirou. In between their sparring sessions, Mokomo teaches Tanjirou how to properly achieve Total Concentration, which allows humans to fight on par with demons.

After six months of that, Tanjirou is ready to face Sabito, who wields a metal sword for the first time after using only wood before. Tanjirou uses Total Concentration, her and Sabito rush at each other, and his strike hits Sabito first, cracking his mask in two. With that, the orphans trained by Orokodaki smile and disappear, and all of a sudden Tanjirou is standing before the boulder, which is sliced in two.

As I said, this episode has some cool moments but gets the job done in a pretty matter-of-fact manner. I’ve seen training regimens last only half an episode or less, while I’ve also seen them last entire arcs or cours. In the case of Demon Slayer, Tanjirou’s training takes an episode an change, which seems about right. On to the Final Selection…and hopefully Nezuko wakes up soon.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Attack on Titan – 13

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The episode that marks the end of the first half of Attack on Titan also, mercifully, marks the end of the interminable Battle of Trost. It’s an episode full of big, great, “Hell Yeah” moments. One of those is when everyone, believing they’re all at death’s door, suddenly stops what they’re doing and listen to the steady, ominous footsteps. Clearly they’re from a Titan, but it’s when they see the boulder moving that they know it’s their Titan, Eren, finally doing what he’s supposed to be doing.

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Finally, with the mission on the right track, everyone knows what to do: Eren must be protected at all costs. If he is swarmed by Titans again and God forbid, drops that boulder, it really is all over. Mikasa for one, is clearly not going to let any Titans get near him, belting out a primal war cries as she cuts them down one by one.

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Another great moment is when Eren finally gets to the broken gate and slams the boulder in place, kicking up a huge cloud of dust. All the torment of the arc’s past episodes seems to be worth it; for the first time, the humans can truly claim victory over the Titans (albeit thanks to another Titan). Rico admires Eren’s handiwork and is staggered by the enormity of what just happened. An most importantly, none of the hundreds of soldiers who fell today died in vain; they all died so that the gate could be sealed and the district saved.

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But there are still a good number of Titans still within the walls, so as much as everyone wants to stand down or pass out from exhaustion, there’s still a battle to be won. Fortunately for Mikasa, Armin, and a freshly-extracted Eren (it seems to get tougher and tougher to separate him from the Titan…uh-oh), the cream of the Scout Regiment arrives, confused by what the hell just happened, but ready to mop up. Captain Levi’s movements in particular are like nothing we’d seen in the battle before, even from Mikasa.

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With the last of the Titans dealt with, the butcher’s bill comes in: over 200 dead, nearly 1,000 wounded. It’s up for the soldiers like Jean and Sasha to gather up the bodies (or what’s left of them, having been horrifically spit up by stuffed Titans) and burn them before an epidemic finishes what the Titans started. It’s a ghoulish, traumatic business that ensures there won’t be any celebration for this first victory; not while one is surrounded by the stench of the burning remains of comrades.

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The final big moment of the episode, which paves the way for the second half, is when Eren wakes up behind bars, chained to his bed. He may have been the linchpin of the operation that saved Trost District and Wall Rose, but he’s still a potentially dangerous and unstable element, so the bars and chains are a wise precaution.

Fortunately, it would also seem that his captors hew more towards Pixis than Woerman, with actions driven by reason rather than fear. The commander of the Scout Regiment, flanked by Levi, simply asks Eren what he wants to do. If they’re to investigate Dr. Yeager’s secrets, hidden in the basement of Eren’s now-destroyed home in Titan-riddled Shiganshina, having a Titan on their side could prove as decisive as it was in the battle of Trost.

Eren wants to join the scouts and drive the Titans out. That impresses Levi enough to decide to take him under his wing. With a clear path set for the second half, and an interesting new master-student dynamic, I’m looking forward to seeing how things shake out with Eren, Levi, Mikasa, and Armin.

As for the other members of the 104th? Well…aside from Sasha and Jean, they haven’t made much of an impact for me, and even those two are a bit muddled. IMO AoT has most effective when it has resisted the urge to give every single character their two minutes in the sun, and instead focused on the core trio.

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First Half Pros/Cons:

Pros:

  • Richly-rendered world with well-defined scale and complexity
  • Palpable atmosphere of large-scale despair, desperation and futility
  • The Titans stike a weird balance of terrifying and cute
  • The Eren/Mikasa/Armin dynamic works very well, with each character contributing a unique strength
  • Mikasa is the undisputed star, cool outside but all churning emotions inside, making it all the more awesome when they break out

Cons:

  • Front-loading of episodes with recapping and retracing to start episodes
  • I’m sure the creator/producers thought through the 3D harnesses, but it still took a while to get on board with the fact they actually worked, and how
  • The supporting cast is generally bland, amorphous, and served mostly to steal valuable time from main triad
  • Excessive explanation combined with camera cutaways from overt gore suggest the targeted audience is younger than me
  • The show suffers from inconsistent pacing; the Trost battle went on far too long

Attack on Titan – 12

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After another extremely long and annoying (for someone semi-marathoning) recap of What’s Happened So Far on AoT, we return to the situation in Trost: Eren has transformed into a Titan, but he’s useless. All he manages to do is blast both of his fists off going after Mikasa, who insists to her CO Ian that Eren is “family”, not her boyfriend. Your blushing says it’s more complicated than that, Miss Ackerman.

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She suspends herself in front of his face and tries to reason with him, to no avail, so the episode, like many others before it, is more about what happens when things go wrong than what happens when they go right. But to the credit of Ian and the elite squad with Mikasa, the mission to protect Eren, even though he’s currently useless, takes precedence over their own lives.

Rico is angry about it, because he doesn’t think Eren is worth it, but he still obeys orders. He doesn’t let The Fear overcome his discipline. Instead, he resolves to go out fighting, showing the Titans what they’re made of. Elsewhere in the district, Jean tries to keep it together and prove—more to himself than the others—that he has what it takes to be a good soldier.

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Every minute Eren is out of action, dozens of soldiers both fit and unfit are being slaughtered and/or eaten by the growing horde of Titans. Pixis admits that he and he alone is responsible for these deaths, but is willing to be called a butcher if his actions save humanity.

Even though the elite squad signaled failure, he’s not throwing in the towel. Of course, one could say a great many of these soliders were going to die whether Pixis hatched this cockamamie plan or not, and one would be correct. If they do nothing, humanity is eventually going to be toast, to a man. So why not try something?

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Speaking of which, when Mikasa’s verbal pleadings fail to rouse Eren (who is stuck in an idealized dream in their old house in Shiganshina with his still-alive parents), it falls to Armin to try something else. Remembering the location from where Eren emerged was the same as the weak spot of all Titans, he digs his sword in, nicking Eren in the arm, and yells at him through the opening to wake the fuck up.

Again, AoT demonstrates why Eren and Mikasa alone can’t survive; it takes Armin’s extra perspective. Mikasa never would have risked harming Eren by stabbing him in the neck, but that’s exactly what needed to be done to snap him out of his blissful but self-destructive fantasy. Now that he’s awake, we’ll see if Eren’s able to exert enough control to pick up that boulder and seal the gate. Better late than never, right?

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Attack on Titan – 11

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Supreme Commander Pixis decides the fate of humanity will depend on whether Eren can seal the broken gate with a boulder. At no point does he ever go a step further to what the plan is if Eren can’t, or say, if the Colossal and Armored Titans reappear and destroy the boulder or blast a new hole in the wall. I guess that doesn’t really matter at the moment; one crisis at a time and all that.

The advantage of semi-marathoning (2-3 episodes per week) is that I can go from one episode to the next without waiting a week. In the case of the Battle of Trost arc, I’m starting to wonder how viewers back in Spring 2013 could stand the snail’s pace. Part of that is the fact the first few episodes covered five years; for the last seven to be about the same battle is a bit disorienting.

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Time is moving so slowly, serious damage has been done to the arc’s sence of urgency. Despite often claiming there’s no time in various ways, there’s still plenty of time for leisurely strolls along the wall and interminable motivational (or sobering) speeches. A disadvantage to semi-marathoning also rears its head: the use of narration and repetition of events we just watched don’t do the episode’s urgency any favors.

Stretch out a daylong battle across so many episodes, and the viewers’ minds can stray. I know that if this battle had been wrapped up by now, I wouldn’t be noticing details like it’s strange that Pixis’ voice can carry far enough for everyone below to hear him, or soldiers worrying about “losing discipline”…as dozens of scared soldiers start deserting en masse. Uh, I think that’s a sure sign discipline has already been lost, actually…

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Finally, near the end, we get beautiful and highly kinetic sequence of soldiers flying through the city. I’d been mired in speeches and exposition so long, this scene made me sit up straight. Like the rest of the episode, it’s little more than people getting into position, but it does so without listing a bunch of names of redshirts we may never meet, something Rico does to Eren as they’re running. Why does everyone suddenly think Eren’s a spoiled brat? He’s going to save everybody.

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Only, he’s not. Not really. And that was the most glaring problem with this episode, from my perspective: Titan-Eren was never going to actually succeed. When he transforms, he turns from the boulder and smashes the roof where Mikasa is standing, in an apparent attempt to kill her. Oops.

This show has proven, Lucy-from-Peanuts-like, that just because it’s carefully positioning a football on the ground, doesn’t mean it won’t pull it back up just when you’re about to kick it, leaving you, Charlie, flat on your back. Not always, mind you: Armin’s gambit worked very nicely indeed.

But past results are no guarantee of future success, and it would have been too easy if Eren just picked up the boulder and plugged the hole like a good Demi-Titan. So…how about that Plan B?

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