TenSura – 05 – Rimuru Gets His Team…Then Gets Exiled

One of Rimuru’s iffily-drawn Elven hosts uses a crystal ball to show him who he’s “destined to be with”: the dark-haired young woman who features prominently in both the promo art, OP, and ED, but who has yet to cross paths with the Slime.

When Kaijin’s nemesis Minister Vesta pours beer on Rimuru, Kaijin slugs him, and the whole crew gets arrested, goes to gaol, and does not pass “GO” or collect $200 gets put on trial. We learn that the well-bred Vesta used to be a subordinate of the peasant-class Kaijin.

Vesta uses his largesse to pay off the proxy meant to defend Kaijin, and after a brief trial he is sentenced to twenty years in the mines, and his friends, who did nothing, ten each. However, the Dwarven King Gazel Dwargo, who quietly resides over the proceedings, puts a quick end to the farce.

Dwargo offers Kaijin a place among his ranks once more, but Kaijin has already agreed to join Rimuru. So everyone gets exile instead, and for lying for so many years, Vesta is dishonorably discharged from the king’s service. Vesta once looked up to the king as a boy and dreamed of serving him, but somewhere along the line he lost his way.

As for Kaijin and his three mates, they find a new way: whichever way Rimuru Tempest is headed. They leave the city to meet up with Rimuru’s friends, but King Dwargo senses the power of Veldora within the slime, and orders a stealthy spy to follow him.

All in all, I felt the trip to the great dwarven city to be somewhat underwhelming, even if Rimuru ultimately got what he wanted (artisans for his village). And while there were some interesting character dynamics in play, the trial was still a bit of a snoozer.

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Devils Line – 01 – Back to the Well…of BLOOD (First Impressions)

“AND I’m a vampire…what a week!”

From Blood and Shiki to Dance in the Vampire Bund, Rosario + Vampire, Seraph of the End, and Help! My Little Sister is a Vampire!, there is no shortage of vampire anime out there, old and new, good and bad.

There’s so much, you might not have realized that I simply made up that last one, though for all I know it might actually exist (and Tasukete! Watashi no Imouto wa Kyuuketsuki! can be readily pared down to Tawamokyu!). 

The point is, we know all about vampires in anime. So any time a new one comes around, I ask two pretty standard questions:

#1: Does this add anything notably new to the table?
#2: If not, what makes it worth watching?

In the case of Devils Line, the answer to Question #1 is a firm “no.” Sure, the vamps’ chompers are a bit over-sized (not a great look!) and there’s an emphasis on vamps as crazed blood-and-sex addicts, but we’ve got a standard “pure maiden gets drawn into the dark side” story, which hearkens back to Lucy Westenra.

As to Question #2, I actually found a lot to like in the first 19/20ths of the episode (more on the final 20th later). First, the setting is realistic and grounded rather than surreal or baroque, and there’s a familiar Tokyo Nighttime atmosphere that pervades the episode and draws you in. I took note of the way characters were back-lit from various light sources.

In keeping with the much-like-real-life setting, the vamps, while ostensibly the “bad guys”, are also given a good degree of nuance and humanization. It’s not an accident that the blood-soaked cold open depicts a vamp tearing people apart…but not being all that happy about it! (no doubt because his fangs are so comically huge).

Finally, while it’s ultimately a red herring, the chase scene does good and efficient double duty, introducing us to the special division and their procedures for dealing with vamps in this world (a bad-ass cop lady fights on a higher footing than the vamp, probably because she too is a vamp) while also giving us a nifty Vamp-Speed chase and moonlit brawl.

So what didn’t work so well? Pretty much what the ED portends will be the entire premise of the show going forward: a Vampire Romance. College(?) student Taira Tsukasa goes with the flow, while sometimes looking off to the side like she needs new friends (or possibly very very old ones, amirite?!) but one thing I like about her is that she’s comfortable not having a boyfriend.

It doesn’t help when one of her two close friends confessed to her at school, she had to reject him, and he’s been basically tolerating the fact they’re “just friends” ever since…for now. Turns out Mr. Unrequited Love was the vampire she needed to watch her back for, and it’s to the kid’s credit that my disgust turned to pity once the Shadowy Subway Guy came between him and Tsukasa.

Subway Guy is a special division officer named Anzai, who suspected Tsukasa’s friend would soon crack from the pressure of having to hold in his vampiric nature, but concedes the kid’s desire not to hurt her was genuine…it’s just that Vamps can’t be trusted. When they see someone’s blood, they’re off to the sexy races.

And to the list of Vamps that can’t be trusted, go ahead and add Anzai in there, because once he notices Tsukasa’s scratched face, he starts French-kissing her. This burst explosion of passion might not have come out of nowhere, but it still felt sudden and oddly staged.  It looked less like the pure Tsukasa suddenly yearning and embracing a man’s touch, and more like he just jumped her.

So yes, this show has some good things going for it, but some big questions moving forward about whether and how the whole vampire romance thing will work. That she’s ostensibly dealing with a vamp who has his shit mostly under control (and is working for the “good guys” i.e. public safety) works to Anzai’s advantage, but I want to see more agency from Tsukasa, not for her to keep going with the (blood)flow.

 

Attack on Titan – 32

Those who had a hankering for a knock-down drag-out Titan brawl were treated to one this week, with the added gravity of the Titan combatants being Bertholdt, Reiner, and Eren. As the latter two go at at the base of the wall, Bertholdt swallows Ymir (and someone else) and gives the soldiers atop it a big hit of burning steam, making attacking him impossible until he wishes it. It’s a stalemate, with Krista holding out hope Ymir is alive, and Connie, the poor bastard, hoping Bertholdt and Reiner are okay.

With the top of the wall stalemated for the time being, both Eren and Mikasa learn their usual attacks are worthless against Reiner’s armor. Eren, flat on his back, suddenly recalls his first martial arts lesson with Annie, who showed him for the first time that someone who isn’t Mikasa can be far stronger and effective in combat than they look, due to using their opponent’s size and strength as weapons against them.

The flashbacks mostly made me miss Annie dearly, wish she was still around, and wonder when if ever her story will be continued and/or resolved, what with all this other stuff going on taking precedence so far this season. I also dearly wanted to see her fight Mikasa, even if I was pretty sure Mikasa would win such a fight (considering what she did to Reiner).

Ripped from that happier past into a far more morose present, Eren finds his feet and the proper technique against Reiner, and a titan MMA match ensues, with Eren ripping Reiner’s limb off and the armor gradually flaking off in enough places that Mikasa can finally cut him.

I was a little irked why none of the other armed soldiers were going at Reiner’s obvious weak spots, rather than just Mikasa, but then it did take a while for her to fly over there, and more importantly, Reiner and Eren’s mutual hold is to Reiner’s advantage, as he drags Eren with him to a place directly below the simmering, deteriorating Bertholdt, whose smoldering colossal skull falls off and threatens to crush Eren.

Head’s up!

Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 02

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Erina waited for Alice post-match to tell her how the “limits of her strengths were apparent” against Souma. When Alice fails to deliver a worthy comeback and storms off, Erina privately expresses her envy that Alice can cry and fume so freely without anyone giving it a second thought. Heavy is the crown on the head that contains God’s Tongue.

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While last week was a battle where heart warmth beat out dazzling science (and dazzling science cried but accepted the loss), this week gives us another battle between two chefs from harbor towns who have completely different philosophies about cooking. Those opposing views inform Megumi and Ryo’s equally polarized approaches to seafood broth in their first round ramen challenge.

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For this match, Souma and Alice join the others in the stands, and the latter’s presence proves useful in providing everyone else with her own personal insight regarding Ryo. She first met him while on her world travels ten years ago, and even then he was a head chef an a force to be reckoned with.

But Megumi isn’t the shrinking violet she was at the start of this show. She’s put faith in her friends, her family, the bounty of her home, and her ability to bring out its full potential. Once he puts on the bandanna Ryo transforms into a wild child, but Megumi doesn’t let herself be intimidated, as a fire of equal ferocity burns within her, fueled not by coarse ambition, but by love and kindness.

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There’s a reason Megumi’s the dark horse: no one looked at her and saw a serious contender. But Megumi doesn’t simply rely on low expectations, nor will that get her past these judges. She’s got skills, as the judges see when her broth turns out shining and crystal clear, goading them into drawing nearer as one does at a ramen cart, watching your meal be prepared up close.

They don’t get near Ryo’s side; he’s like the shellfish whose carcasses he pounds into powder: people keep their distance out of fear, lest they get the claws. Alice knew well to stay the hell out of his kitchen ten years ago, when he brought three brawny harbor cooks to heel with ease, all while satisfying a packed restaurant.

When Ryo sees Megumi has the judges’ and crowd’s attention, he snatches it back with a loud and dramatic noodle drain. He also finishes first, just as Alice did.

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Like his personality and hyper-competitive spirit in the kitchen, his bold, multi-latered “soup de possion” ramen beats its tasters into an elated submission, and Ryo is visualized as a delinquent gang ringleader.

I thought Ryo’s Yang would be countered by Megumi’s Yin, but while her soup, like her, looks like it wouldn’t stand a chance against Ryo’s zero-sum, all-conquering flavor, but actually can, and surprises everyone but her and her friends when it does.

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Yes despite looking clear and pure and light, Megumi’s ramen packs just as much of an umami punch. Not only that, she carefully prepared this dish knowing she’d be facing a rich soup from Ryo (since he immediately and very publically chose thick noodles), and made sure to include the flavors of her home, adapting a regional specialty as her secret weapon.

She also included a delicious paste because it would be “fun” to switch up the flavor later in the bowl. Ryo would never do that. He wants to beat the judges down; nothing fun about that!

Ryo and Megumi’s different routes brought them to the same place: two powerful, assertive seafood ramens bursting with complex umami. Rather than fight fire with water, Megumi brought the same weapons to bear as Ryo. It’s an all-out brawl, and by the end, unlike last week, there is no clear winner.

I have no idea who will win, but I predict it will be Ryo. I love Megumi, but the idea of her beating Ryo right after Souma beat Alice seems too one-sided in favor of the Polar Star crew. Then again, Ryo has definitely exposed some weaknesses which Megumi is uniquely poised to exploit. Not to mention I certainly wouldn’t mind Megumi moving on to the next round!

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My Hero Academia – 12

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This USJ battle has really slowed down to a crawl: the only thing of note that happens is that All Might defeats Nomu.

Granted, that’s a big deal, as Nomu was hailed as being at least as powerful as All Might—indeed, he was created for just that purpose—it’s just that the presentation of his duel with Nomu underscores the fact that this is merely a competently-executed shounen superhero show with little in the way of creativity to offer, at least at this stage in the game.

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I was, perhaps unfairly, hoping for more a little more innovation or comedy a la Flamenco or One Punch, but events remain steadfastly (and rather boringly) serious, intense, and slow.

All Might can’t beat everyone alone—brawlers like Bakugo, Todoroki and Kirishima swoop in to stop Kurogiri from slicing him in half with his warp clouds—but it’s not long before students and villains alike simply stand off to the side and gawk as All Might and Nomu go at it mano-a-mano.

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Shigaraki tries to add some philosophy into the battle about good and evil and violence, but it’s neither convincing or compelling; these are bad guys, pure and simple, and they need a good beating. All Might delivers an over-100% street brawl that manages to overwhelm and launch Nomu into the sky, and just like that an implacable foe is…neutralized.

My understanding coming into the episode was that this was going to possibly be All Might’s last moments: he was already at his limit when he arrived, and the “less than a minute” of power he had left was certainly stretched out over more like ten minutes. He’s also steaming by the end, as if he could revert to Heroin Might at any moment.

But Shigaraki and Kurogiri are still standing and ready to fight, even without Nomu, and unless other heroes/teachers show up, it will be up to the students to finish the last of the villains off in episode 13, if they can.

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Ushio to Tora – 31

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Ushio’s previews are never anything than a listing of the (usually vague) title of the next episode accompanied by the sound of the Beast Spear striking something. As such, we’re always in the dark about what exactly will come next. I’ve always kinda liked that.

It meant I didn’t know if Asako would somehow end up encountering a HAMMR humvee on the street, and be taken to the floating dock by helicopter to Ushio’s side, right after he’s thrown in the brig with two civilian researchers who built the Undine submarine who let him take them hostage to escape.

That’s…a lot, but the bottom line is, Ushio and Asako are reunited. But as is usual with these two, it’s not that simple: Asako’s memories aren’t fully back, and they may never come back. That doesn’t matter, as she’s confident this is the boy she loves anyway, especially after he literally plucked her from the fire, along with the bits and pieces of memories still rattling around.

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This leads to one of the most raw and poignant scenes between these two. Asako begs Ushio not to go, lest he lose himself. Ushio insists he has to go, and he’ll be back “in a little while.” It’s the most comfort he can offer, because he knows there’s a good chance he won’t be back at all. He can’t promise anything.

But seeing Asako, even regarding him as a stranger, act in this way, and remembering everything they’ve been through and everything she’s meant to him, their last exchange is an exchange of I love yous…only because of the sub’s thick glass, neither can hear the other’s confession.

At this point, I just want more than anything for Ushio to get the job done and come back safe. No matter what else happens, Asako deserves that much.

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As Ushio goes down in the Undine to perhaps meet his ultimate fate, Tora stays topside to give Nagare what he’s always wanted, and what he betrayed Kouhamei and Ushio to get: a serious, no-holds-barred fight with Tora. Tora doesn’t disappoint, though at one point Nagare nails him to the deck and rants about another reason he had to betray Ushio: in order to show him, and his painfully naive eyes it grew so hard to look at, what he really is: a traitor and a wretch.

Tora doesn’t buy it, breaking out some ruthless chortling and mocking. If Nagare is afraid of that little twerp’s EYES, there’s no way he can beat a dyed-in-the-wool monster like him.

It’s moments like this that I’m reminded that perhaps Tora truly plans to eat Ushio one day, just that he’s in absolutely no hurry to do so. That, I guess, makes him a monster. Also, whatever else he is, he’s a being who can do things Nagare simply can’t, even when he hulks up and digs deep into his bag of spiritual tricks.

But for all his insistance that he’s the baddest mofo-in’ monster around, Ushio was still trying to obey Ushio’s wishes by not killing Nagare—only for Nagare to make him go far enough to kill him anyway.

I don’t see Tora being genuinely contrite enough to convince Ushio it was an accident, and I don’t see Ushio (if and when he returns, or if and when Tora goes to him) easily forgiving or going back on his promise that Tora will regret it. But hey, who knows: the preview, as always, won’t show even a glimpse of what is to come.

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Attack on Titan – 21

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AoT’s pacing during its building up can be foot-tappingly sluggish, and it’s a show that loves to have its characters explain every last detail of what’s happening ad nauseum, but it can still stage one hell of an intense payoff, as it does this week when the She-Titan pilot takes out Gunter, transforms back into a Titan, and then kills off Erd, Petra, and Oulo in quick succession. All Eren can do is watch, as he made his decision to place his belief in his friends over his belief in himself.

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It proves to be the wrong decision, just as his decision not to fight the She-Titan when he first encountered it was the wrong decision. I thought that Levi looked somewhat surprised when Eren decided to press forward, allowing him to lead the Titan to Erwin’s trap. But the trap was the wrong decision, too.

Sure, you’re supposed to believe in your comrades, and perfectly-executed traps are supposed to work, but Erwin and Eren both learn that doing things that seem most reasonable aren’t effective when dealing with the Titans, especially this one. I knew some shit was going to hit the fan, but the shit was so thick it stopped the fan blades in their tracks. Gunter, Erd, Oulo, or Petra? Sure, one or two were bound to die. But all of them? That’s some rough carnage.

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But one good thing comes out of that carnage: it provokes Eren into a murderous, vengeful rage, transforming into full-on Titan Mode (no partial manifestation) and getting into the best Titan-on-Titan battle yet, an epic struggle in which Eren’s brute force intermittently finds purchase with the slick, slippery She-Titan, who also packs a punch due to her ability to harden her skin.

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Throughout this battle all the way until the end of the episode, my heart rate went up and my adrenaline didn’t stop pumping. But while it’s clear now who’s inside the She-Titan, Eren doesn’t pick up on it. He doesn’t realize someone used these kinds of moves on him before, in human form. No, he’s too goddamn angry to think about anything other than beating her into oblivion.

That proves his undoing, however, as he blasts his own fists away and has to wait for them to heal. Also, after appearing to walk away from the fight when he’s down, the She-Titan turns back and blasts Eren’s head off, exposing the human within, which she swallows. Now, we’ve been here before, so again, Eren clearly isn’t dead, but he definitely lost a fight I thought he’d win. He just lacked the experience in his Titan form and over-relied on his brutality. The way of water beat the way of fire here.

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As if this episode wasn’t awesome enough, Mikasa shows up just in time not to save Eren, but watch him get glomped by the She-Titan. Her sudden transition from shocked-and-fragile Mikasa to Pissed-and-Lethal Mikasa was wonderful to behold, as is her ultimately futile attempt to get Eren back immediately by chasing the She-Titan and slashing the shit out of her.

Like Eren, Mikasa falls victim to lack of experience when she goes for the nape only to hit the She-Titan’s crystalline shell. She took her shot and missed, but looks fully prepared to go at it again, but we can guess how it would have ended: out of gas, out of blades, and with no Eren to save her. Instead, Levi grabs her from death-by-blaze-of-glory, and we’re glad for it. Let them try it his way, if he has one.

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Next Week: My AoT Retro Reviews come to an end, just in time for Christmas.

Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 04

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I think I’m still in shock. Happy shock. My heart is still racing. What the hell just happened? What did I watch? What did I just experience? I’ll tell you what that was: It was far more than a violin competition entry with piano accompaniment, play-by-play, and color commentary. That was a frikkin’ journey with no clear destination. That was nothing less than one of the finest and most riveting episodes of anime I’ve ever seen.

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Perhaps so strong a reaction is a product of having sat through most of half hour with almost no dialogue whatsoever, aside from the occasional comment from a stunned onlooker. We’re in that audience along with them, in this vast dark, dusty chamber that’s only a room until someone picks up an instrument and starts to wield a kind of wordless magic.

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That pure sound emanating from piano and violin taps into our most fundamental emotions of joy and pain. The silence is a canvas; Kaori and Kousei are charged with filling it. And fill it they do. But first, the buildup. Oh, God, the build-up before the Big Game. Once off that bike and miming the sheet music, things start to get real for Kousei, and he starts to get lost in that black and white.

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Kaori headbutts him, even a little harder than she intended; she’s nervous too! But neither of them are going out there alone. They’re going to play together, and she belives the two of them can do it together. She leaves no room for protest as she grabs his hand and leads him to the stage. We, and Kousei, don’t know it, but this is the moment of departure on the journey Kaori takes him on. He says she’s “freedom itself,” out loud. “I’m not,” she rebuts. “Music is Freedom.”

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With that, they take the stage, and Kousei endlessly adjusts his bench as some in the crowd starts to recognize him. They’re voices he can hear; they sound similar to the voices he heard when he was a prodigy, when his mother had essentially placed him in a hermetic prison with musical bars he could not hope to bend. But back then, just as now, he does not blame his mother. He felt honored to be the recipient of her wisdom and guidance; whatever pain he felt, it was the price of being able to bear that greatness.

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Trying to remember Kaori’s words — music isn’t a prison, it’s freedom — the two begin, and Kaori goes easy on him at first. Her initially docile play gives him time to find his bearings. Almost like riding a bike, his body remembers what to do, and the fact he can hear his own notes encourages him. Then Kaori gives him a look, and he knows she’s about to turn off the main road of their journey and enter some dense brush. He can keep up like she knows he can, or he can get lost.

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I knew as soon as the started playing that things could go south at any time without warning, like they did at the cafe, so I watched with a lump in my throat and a slight weight in my chest. The brilliance of the episode is its depiction of Kousei getting lost back in his deep sea, the water and darkness washing around him and us. The gradual and increasing distortion of the music is as emotionally effective as it is technically impressive.

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Eventually, things get so bad for Kousei, he can barely hear anything at all, and he stops, worried he’ll ruin Kaori’s playing. Then Kaori stops too. When they both stop, everything from a competition standpoint is over. But this isn’t about a competition, it’s about Kaori and Kousei’s journey. He’s tripped and fallen and can’t – or won’t get up, but Kaori isn’t going to leave him behind. She doesn’t want to continue on alone.

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But wait…we’re only a little over halfway through the episode. Things are bleak, but a comeback is still possible! Lest we forget, a tearful Kaori begged Kousei to help her prove she could do this, that they could do this. She’s not annoyed Kousei stopped; she’s scared. He has to get up and they have to keep going. “Again,” she says. They start playing again, but Kousei is still in the trippy sea, the currents choking the notes.

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Then Kousei remembers his mother singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” during a happier time. He remembers her telling him “The Piano Is You.” Caress it like an infant and it coos; bang its keys and it roars. Kousei digs deep and changes his strategy: he’ll stop worrying about hearing the notes and merely imagine them, playing with his whole body.

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He starts playing like a man possessed; like a man one with the piano, and he even starts getting into it with Kaori, as he stops being her accompanist and morphs into her opponent. He’s back on his feet and racing ahead; and she’s more than game to chase him!

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He’s no longer behind the musical bars. Kaori, and the music, has sprung him, and sprung him righteously. He’s no longer looking down, he’s looking up, looking at Kaori, smiling, full of joy, and Kaori’s looking right back at him, no less overjoyed that they’ve recovered so splendidly. This is what she saw in him.

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POOR TSUBAKI!!! T_T

And as they get lost in each other’s eyes and music, they put the whole of the audience under a spell. Tsubaki, who jumped up and cheered when he started playing again, adopts a pained, defeated expression when she realizes what’s going on between the two. Next to her, Ryouta becomes ever more lovestruck with Kaori.

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The episode realizes that just because they’re both musicians doesn’t mean this performance makes them a couple now. She even still calls him “Friend A” up there, though at this point it could just be an ironic pet name. It’s not as if Ryouta is done; in fact, he still probably has the inside line. A harrowing love rhombus has been built this day.

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But that doesn’t matter to Kaori or Kousei right now; Spring has Sprung and they’re on Cloud Nine; the change of Kousei’s scenery effectively illustrates that point. Things are getting brighter and more saturated until they finally bring the piece to a stirring close, bringing the house down…

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But the performance, which was perhaps as long and energy-draining a performance as she ever gave, brings Kaori down as well. She left nothing left in her tank. Kousei got bloodied while dismounting from Tsubaki’s bike, which provided a measure of symmetry to this closing shot, But while that was a joke, this isn’t. It suddenly, ruthlessly imparts the episode’s title – “Departure” – with unspeakable dread and foreboding. The episode plummets from the dizziest heights to the lowest depths. Not again, Kousei may be thinking; God, don’t do this to me again.

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P.S. That up there is a 1,158-word review. When I really like something, I tend to ramble.