Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 06

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We had another badass, satisfying resolution to another crisis, but when it’s all over it does feel like Kabaneri bit off a bit more than it could chew. If you’re going to bring out a foe as powerful and initially terrifying as a “fused colony”, as it did last week, you’d better not hold back in using it.

Last week’s cliffhanger was essentially Game Over…unless the Koutetsujou was able to seek shelter (and stop on a dime), complete with a blast door that managed to hold the colony monster back. Then the colony kinda takes a break, dicking around “gathering more Kabane”, giving everyone ample time to regroup. Too much time to maintain last week’s sense of immense peril.

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This is also an episode torn between two different paces: that of the immediate threat of the colony (which spends a long time not attacking), and that of Mumei’s descents into the past, when a mysterious warrior, always kept out of focus and accompanied by a glowing butterfly, saves her from sharing the fate of her family and fellow townsfolk.

Mumei and Ikoma also have a nice leisurely chat about weakness and strength. Mumei doesn’t want Ikoma to save her, but he keeps trying anyway, even though the train could leave the station without him. He even gives her some blood when she starts going into withdrawal.

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Mumei loses consciousness again when Ikoma turns to fight a horde of approaching Kabane, but when she comes to again, she’s surrounded by crewmembers there to get her out, and she finds Ikoma bitten in the stomach, but alive. Her lesson is, even though they were weak, they still survived. Being weak doesn’t mean turning over and accepting death.

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The experience has an immediate effect on Mumei, who was about as despondent as one could be while trapped under the rubble, but now that she’s been given a chance, in spite of having a weak moment or two (by her reckoning), she’s a lot more chipper, and decides to mend fences with the family of the dead dog, and assures the other women she’ll take care of the fused colony.

The crew can say they didn’t go back just for Mumei and Ikoma, because they also picked up a huge Type 48 Cannon that they can use to dissipate the colony. But to do so the colony has to get close…too close. This is when things pick up and the episode starts redeeming itself…though I was a little skeptical that the rescue team, and the seriously-injured Ikoma and Mumei, could get back to the train as quickly as they could while the colony barely moved by comparison.

Never mind, it’s time for a patented Kabaneri action sequence, with Yukina showing off her muscles when releasing the train’s pressure limits, Sukari providing a crucial assist by un-blocking the works in a very hazardous part of the train, and Takumi firing the bullet at just the right time…on his second try.

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The core of the colony is exposed for Mumei, who flies up and pierces it, but not before seeing…someone? Is it someone from the “team” she mentioned, of which she is the last remaining member who isn’t a Kabane? Whatever the case, the woman in the core merely screeches at Mumei, Mumei collects herself and takes her out.

The resulting explosion sends Mumei flying, but Ikoma is there to catch her. When the train threatens to derail, everyone moves to one side to right it, and they escape Yashiro…though without, if I’m not mistaken, re-supplying.

The episode ends without any aftermath—a bit of a disappointment—but the taste of victory may soon be replaced by train-wide hunger and increasing frustration and unrest. But maybe that’s why the episode just ended without addressing that: just enjoy the win for now; we’ll tackle the next crisis next week.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 05

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Last week ended on a triumphant note, but a return to the dark wasn’t unexpected, and we ease right back into that as two low-lifes fight over scraps of food. Mumei plays reluctant referee, and for that she receives applause from the passengers just trying to go about their lives, but the scuffle seemed too easily resolved by what amounted to beating the crap out of the guys. Mumei isn’t the diplomatic type.

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Indeed, when they reach Yashiro station to find it ravaged by Kabane, Enoku, a man who knows Mumei well, is among the survivors. He considers her the “claw” of their master (his former, her current?) and is likely of the mind that her settling spats on the train—indeed, mixing with the normal humans at all—will make her a slow, dull claw if she’s not careful. He proves his point by catching Mumei off-guard with a pistol.

Things snowball for Mumei from there, as she starts to immediately separate herself from Ikoma and the other softies as they devise the safest plan for getting to a crane in order to move a collapsed tower off the tracks, rather than punching through and destroying every Kabane there. She then demonstrates how inexperienced she is talking with distraught kids whose dead dog is still warm when she makes things worse with all the wrong words.

It’s a huge (and welcome) reversal of her first scene; there, she was celebrated as not only the “bodyguard” of Kotetsujou, but a generally amiable peacekeeper. Enoku makes plain that peace is not her purpose. She’s a weapon of war. Unfortunately, she’s a flawed, fragile, almost dangerously proud weapon, far too reckless for someone with a time limit.

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Ikoma notices Mumei has changed, and not for the better, but he’s so busy preparing for the big crane operation he can only spare so much time in getting to what’s eating her (plus, Mumei isn’t one to talk about her problems overmuch).

He lets Mumei do things her way, but implores her to stay away from the boiler room, suspected to be the Kabane nest. Of course, she runs straight for the boiler room, and Ikoma doesn’t stick to his plan. He deviates in order to meet up with her. It’s a good thing he did, too.

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Mumei wastes a ton of fighting power, time, and energy (plus some blood) fighting the Kabane dwelling in the boiler room. It looks like an impressive accomplishment, right until it’s revealed the “black smoke” that attacked Yashiro and brought the massive tower down on the tracks is really a gigantic, horrifying amalgamation of Kabane. Mumei’s kill count was less than a drop in the bucket, and she’s already winded.

When a Wazatori attacks her, she’s no match and gets tossed off a ledge. Ikoma is able to kill the guy and rescue her, but she seems well and truly out of commission for the time being. Worse, he had to stop controlling the crane, leaving the crumpled tower still blocking the train, with a huge, spooky, Ghilbi-esque black smoke monster poised to strike.

There’s scarcely a dull—or non-life-threatening—moment on Kabaneri, and a clear pattern has emerged of the heroes having to fend off one baddie after another in sequence (which makes sense, as they’re on a train) while proving to the people they want to protect that they’re not the enemy.

Ikoma got pretty short shrift this week, but since he’s better at interacting with people and has friends from before his transformation present, his climb isn’t as steep, hence the emphasis on Mumei. Mumei’s physical and emotional vulnerabilities are laid bare once again, and it’s proven without doubt that if she’s going to survive, she going to need Ikoma as much as he’ll need her in the battles to come.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 04

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Obviously, things go a lot less bad than they seemed to be going. Mumei is able to sorta argue that the unborn baby she killed along with the mother was tainted, and no fight ensues where she’s forced to fight back and murder non-Kabanes. Back in the rear car, Ikoma doesn’t bite Ayame, but not of his own volition; Kurusu is there in the nick of time to stop him, and in ringing his bell, snaps him out of his, shal we say, hunger trance.

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But things still go bad, as this is Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, and never has there been that long a lull between crises. The first crisis becomes one of faith, as Ayame, shaken by Ikoma’s attack, isn’t so sure she’s still the best person to run the train, even if she inherited the job. Quite surprisingly, she hands the master key to one of the ICs (Ingrate Cowards), who immediately changes course for the more dangerous mountain shortcut.

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Ikoma and Mumei are locked in their rear car, along with Ikoma’s friends, but the ICs’ attempts to separate the car from the train and leave them behind fails when it virtually starts to rain Kabane, putting the train on high combat alert. It isn’t long until the zombies are in the train. I’ll say one thing for this show, it loves hiking the stakes up to ludicrous levels, and it loves to make the ICs their own worst enemies, as Ikoma and Mumei have to climb outside the train in order to participate in the battle.

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The bushi and other fighters within the train actually handle themselves well for far longer than I expected them to, but inevitably, and especially with the combat-savvy, battle-hardened wazatori aboard, things start to go pear-shaped. Kurusu learns he can kill more efficiently with his sword than a gun, but that same sword lets him down when he tries to pierce the waza’s chest and the blade shatters, giving the super-kabane an opening to stab Kurusu right through the chest.

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Once they no longer have to worry about being decapitated by tunnels, Ikoma and Mumei bust out, and aided by a brief de-railing, engage in a fantastic acrobatic aerial battle, building up a formidable Kabane body count. Mumei’s confidence when flying and twirling through the air, like a baton of death, inspired many a hearty fist pump.

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It’s only natural then, that when the first stage of their counterattack is complete, her fuel tank hits “E” and she goes down for the day. I loved how she and Ikoma were ready to go with the gear needed to keep her from being thrown from the train while unconscious, as well as how cool Mumei seems with leaving things up to Ikoma. Not that she has a choice, but, well, he’s no Mumei…and he’s starving too.

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It isn’t long before he can barely move himself, and beseeches someone – anyone – for a bit of blood, promising to waste the wazatori in exchange. The one who answers his call is Ayame, who hesitates not as she climbs to the top of the car and slashes her arm for Ikoma to drink from in one of the episode’s handful of dynamic “muralesque” shots. She also wastes quite a bit of her blood by not waiting for Ikoma to get close enough, but she seems to be okay.

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The blood re-energizes Ikoma, who polishes off the wazatori, who caused Kurusu (who somehow survives that wound) and the others so much trouble, as if he was swatting a big, lumbering fly with a steam-powered rolled-up newspaper. With that, the latest crisis is resolved, and the episode ends (thankfully) without immediately starting a new one. Instead, it ends on another still shot, with Ikoma’s circle of supporters, all of whom pledged to give him their blood so he can keep fighting for them.

It’s a triumphant shot, ending what could be considered a four-part movie with no shortage of badass action, heart-pounding thrills, and shocking levels of near-self-destruction on the part of Team IC. Hopefully, Ayame’s latest acts of courage and faith will inspire the rest of the schlubs on board to at least consider the fact the Kabaneri aren’t just Kabane by another name.

They’re the good guys, and all they ask is a little voluntarily-offered blood now and again for their indispensable services.

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ISUCA – 03

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On the realization that last week’s romp wasn’t that bad, I’ve decided to share reviewing duties with Zane. And this episode wasn’t that bad either. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad. I can’t speak to how ISUCA compares to similar shows Franklin dropped, but I’m not willing to revisit those, and neither is Zane. Also, there are only seven episodes remaining, so it’s not like we’re wasting our lives here.

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Shinichirou (lets go ahead and shorten that to “Shin”) is excelling at his job as Sakuya’s trainer, to the point Nadeshiko has him move into Sakuya’s house full-time, something both of them are a little apprehensive about, because of the romantic tension and all. Their classmates can see the two have become an item; they’re just unaware of how strange an item they make.

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Anywho, we delve a little deeper into Sakuya’s family politics. Specifically, her cousin Suseri is going after her top spot. She’s also caught wind of Shin’s power, so despite being a sheltered girl unaccustomed to dealing with men in any way, it isn’t long after she introduces herself that she slips into his bath and starts washing his back with her boobs. She’s really sheltered.

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Okay, that’s pretty damn terrible, I know, but so damn cheeky and ridiculous that it circles back around to being kind of good, if that makes any sense (if it doesn’t, tough ^_^)

Also ridiculous and bizarre? When Suseri attempts to kidnap Shin (of course), her limo is suddenly pulled into another dimension where they are attacked by a pack of carnivorous gloom cars, the leader of which is a Honda S800 (thanks Zane). The badass Shimizu-trained driver is suddenly gooshed, raising the stakes nicely.

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Suseri isn’t strong enough on her own to defeat the Honda, so she demands Shin kiss her so she can power up. Before they can kiss, however, Sakuya looses an arrow between them, having broken through the barrier into this otherworld.

Nadeshiko then gets the bright idea to pile everyone into the limo, but doesn’t have the keys to start it (certainly a car that old could be hotwired?) Anyway, the Honda starts to crush them, and Sakuya conveniently ends up in the position where only she, not Suseri, can kiss Shin. When she does, the resulting powering-up destroys the evil Honda, and they return to the normal world.

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There, Suseri asks Sakuya once more if she’ll give her Shin. Sakuya refuses, but Suseri lets it go, but only for now; she still intends to usurp her. As for the man in the middle, Shin seems slightly more beholden to Sakuya, but if he had met Suseri first, I imagine he’d be more beholden to her. Still, as a high school guy with a cat-girl familiar who doesn’t wear underwear and two rich, powerful girls fighting over him, Shin doesn’t exactly have it that bad, does he?

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ISUCA – 02

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Every once or twice in a decade, the fates conspire to bring us a truly great and unique work of art that is so bowl-you-over astonishing, it captures the imagination of the entire planet. I think I speak to all who have experienced it that Isuca episode two is that…and more.

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High school girls undressing in the locker room? Pretty standard fare. But a carpet of rats suddenly bursting out of a locker, knocking the half-naked girls over, and proceeding to eat them alive as they’re sexually aroused? We’re at the pinnacle, ladies and gentlemen. Savor it…for it will never be this good again.

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Yes, that review above was just an illusion, borne from ISUCA sucking your life force right out of you. In reality, Preston has punted this to me. The thing is, it’s(uca) not as an excruciating ordeal as it sounds. This episode was mostly harmless, and surprisingly fun. Devoid of any semblance of weight or significance, yes; simple and innocuous, sure…yet sometimes rubbing up against something resembling slyness. In other words, it was a pussycat. A pussycat going commando.

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Tama, the two-tailed cat specter Sakuya is about to pierce with an arrow last week, becomes Asano Shinichirou’s familiar when he happens to learn her true name, after recalling a stray cat in a box that he must have cared for. She tries to help him deal with the Rat King baddie, but runs out of go-juice, AKA life force.

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Now that is simply a masterful landing, worthy of song; not to mention Tusk’s approval. To not only land face up from such a great height without breaking one’s back, but to have one woman’s face land on your crotch, and another girl’s crotch landing on your face, all inches from the bones of eaten classmates…I ask you: What else is there to say? #weareallasano.

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We learned from visiting her house that Sakuya is a hopeless slob, and so her and Shinichirou’s teacher (and associate of Sakuya’s family) appoints Shinichirou as her maid. But despite the squalor she’d lived in up to that point, she harbors an unreasonable fear or rats and cockroaches, rendering her fairly useless. This week she’s one of the people standing around while others do something.

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And that something is…making out, complete with tongue and drool. ISUCA would be a pretty workaday fantasy action joint, only it aims to distinguish itself by inserting sex pretty much anywhere it can, like a shoplifter stuffing Slim-Jims into their many trench coat pockets. This is not a new concept. But even with the silly ecchi elements, the danger has a nice sharp edge to it.

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Shinichirou’s life force turns out to be SURGE to Tama, who takes out the Rat King with laughable ease, and a fair amount of badassery. Only, when she’s back to her normal self, she’s holding her pray in her mouth like a cat, proud to be presenting a gift for her master (I know, it’s debatable whether that’s what cats do, but let me dream, man!). 

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So we have Sakuya the Slob hiring Shinichiru as her housemaid, and Shinichirou having Tama, whom he names “Tamako”, as his eternal retainer, who’ll have to periodically make out with him to stay alive, which is a pretty good deal, as they’ve each saved each others’ lifes at least twice at this point. That brings us to the fact that Tama is Special; a vessel for freakishly high-level spiritual power. And he makes a mean stir-fry.

Wait…is that RAT MEAT? WHAT IS THIS, SKYRIM?

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ISUCA – 01 (First Impressions)

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The rundown: One night Asano Shinichiro is captured by a specter but is saved by a mysterious ponytailed archer, who turns out to be his classmate Shimazu Sakuya, head of a clan tasked with sealing specters. When a powerful specter attacks the school, Sakuya is overpowered (and stripped down), but Shinichiro is able to rescue her. After they accidentally kiss, she levels up and successfully seals the specter.

What worked: Frankly, not a lot. After watching an episode of the caliber of Tokyo GhoulISUCA felt a bit…lobotomizing. The properly creepy centipede woman marks a promising start. There were also a few moments (just a few) in which the dialogue reached that difficult-to-nail Akame ga Kill! combination of peril and comedy. I also liked the two-headed cat design.

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What didn’t work: Hmm…where to start? Well, how about the beginning: We get a woman flashing her (censored) boobs in the first ten seconds. The school scenes prior to messed-up things going down are pedestrian at best. Shinichiro is a fairly valiant fellow and Sakuya is feisty and cute, but let’s not kid ourselves: we’ve seen these archetypes umpteen times, and ISUCA brings essentially nothing new to the table.

I won’t decry the abundance of fan service, seeing as how that’s one of ISUCA’s listed genres…but there was an awful lot of convenient physics in play, from lightning with the precision of a tailor to the face-crotch and kiss-fall. Also, the fact that having the life sucked out you being a pleasurable experience is clearly a shameless excuse for Sakuya to tilt her head back and make funny noises.

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The verdict: ISUCA has a few moments that are genuinely fun and entertaining, and quite a few more moments that are either exceedingly dumb or derivative or both. The ecchi elements vary from eye-rolling to smirk-worthy, while animation varies from crappy to passable.

I won’t be overly hyperbolic: this show wasn’t patently terrible, just…disposable. It’s just not anything that sets my heart ablaze. I’ll have no trouble waiting for the next episode. It’s watchable…if nothing else is on, and I don’t feel like using my brain for a half-hour.

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