Kakegurui – 07

When I first saw Midari with her eyepatch, I assumed combined with the piercings and arm bandages that she was simply fusing Chuunibyou and delinquent aesthetics into her personal style. But the eyepatch is functional, covering up the fact she has no left eye.

In the past, Midari was a gifted gambler, but never found any happiness from her victories or the doors it opened. So when she ran herself into nearly $3 million in debt, President Tsubomi offered to buy her eye for just the amount she owed.

Before a surgery can be arranged, Midari gouged out her own eye right there, intriguing Tsubomi enough to call them square and offer a place on the council, which Midari eventually took.

From that self-eye-gouging moment, Midari learned what it was could fill the hole in her heart: the pain and fear of dying she gets from her particular brand of gambling. In her three-round cards-and-pistols game with Yumeko, she wins the first round, but loses the second when Ryouta realizes he should arrange the cards exactly the way Yumeko did, because that’s what he believes she’d want him to do.

When it’s Yumeko’s turn to fire, she doesn’t have the slightest amount of fear of either dying or kiling Midari. For one thing, she can tell from the slight difference in weight that she’s holding her own gun, which has no bullets. That leaves them tied, one game each.

In the final round, Ryouta notices that the image of the two players is reversed on his monitor, and accuses Midari of cheating, but Yumeko saw through it all along, as Ryouta’s image was also reversed, and she played accordingly. Furthermore, Yumeko is not amused by this dull trickery, which seems intended to assure that Midari loses the game.

Midari is trying to get that feeling of gouging her own eye out, spurred on by the President who will never have her. In Yumeko she sought a “schemer” like Tsubomi who she could count on to “dominate” evry part of her her in every way.

She ultimately wants Yumeko to kill her, unsatisfied with Tsubomi’s promise to eventually do so. Suffice it to say, Yumeko won’t play this game, not because it’s morally repugnant, but because Midari is being selfish by trying to hoard all of the pain for herself.

In Yumeko’s ideal, both sides feel death’s cruel skeletal fingers scratching at their door. In this rather rote S&M scenario, it isn’t even that Midari expects Yumeko to get off on dominating her…she simply doesn’t care if or how Yumeko at all; only whether she, Midari, gets her pain, release, and death. Yumeko gets nothing, and that pisses her off, flashing her scariest face yet.

With the third round complete, ending in a draw (Yumeko chose all her cards wrong to thwart any chance of winning), she gets up and walks out, their business completed. And while Midari got off one more time from Yumeko’s utter rejection, it looks like that will be the last time ever, if Yumeko has anything to say about it.

We’ve never seen Yumeko as angry about something as she is at Midari, and it speaks to her fundamental humanity in spite of her seeming super-human senses and gambling skill. People like Midari piss her off most because they’re only in it for themselves, while Yumeko’s happiest moments occur in which someone else gets something out of it, whether it’s a stern lesson in not underestimating her, a shot at redemption, or simply a shared joy over a gamble well-played.

This is why despite getting all worked up in Midari’s dungeon, Yumeko is back to her pleasant self, and I don’t even think she’s putting on a mask. Instead, she seems to take solace in the fact that Ryouta was there with her, and the two were in sync enough to foil Midari’s underhanded, self-destructive plans. I don’t think Yumeko is stringing Ryouta along. I think she values his friendship, and treats him how he treats her: with kindness and respect.

Oh yeah, also, Mary utterly refuses to join the student council, and Tsubomi can believe whatever she wants is the reason, Mary won’t tell her. Of course, we know why: while one could argue that having an “inside man” on the council could be useful in an inside-out rebellion, it’s just as likely the council would change her than vice-versa.

Instead, Mary won’t legitimize a council that treats “livestock” like an inferior race and uses life plans to practice eugenics. She’ll seek a way to destroy it from the outside.

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Kakegurui – 06

Following her stunning victory, Mary is approached by her former entourage, who offer a half-hearted apology…that she accepts, and things are back to the way they were before she became a Miké.

She doesn’t seem to hold a grudge for how they treated her; written or unwritten, they abided by the rules and traditions of the school with regard to treatment of livestock.

But they also revealed something about the school’s enrollment: one need not be in debt to be livestock. These three girls aren’t technically Mikés, but they are another kind of livestock: they never lead; they only follow, even unto the slaughterhouse.

Momobami and the council seem interested only in those who break out of that mold; in someone like Yumeko, who has yet to pay her debts and be relieved of Livestock status even though she has the funds…and like Mary, the “girl who became a human.”

No one truly knows why Yumeko maintains her Miké status, but it’s assumed its so she can challenge the council to another offical match, and it’s assumed the one she wants to gamble with the most is the president, Momobami Kirari. But she doesn’t get Momobami; not this time.

Instead, she’s intercepted and arrested by the council member she’ll have to play with first in order to get to Momobami; Beautification Committee chairman (and noted gun nut and lunatic) Ikishima Midari.

Midari has her stylish gal-goons take Yumeko (and Ryouta) to a dank interrogation chamber in the bowels of the school, where they’ll play an “ESP card game” in which they guess which cards will be drawn in the adjacent room. Each correct guess means a point, and the person with the most points gets to fire one of two .357 Magnum revolvers loaded with anywhere from zero to six bullets.

Knowing what we know about Midari, it’s a very Midari game (what with the large amount of pure chance involved), and if Yumeko is worried, she doesn’t let on, keeping her calm, cool face throughout. However, Midari also sees in Yumeko a slightly more buttoned-up version of herself: a pervert who gets off on gambling to fulfill her appetites.

Making Ryouta deal the cards that he believes will determine the fate of two women is a great exercise to toughen him up (or just make him a nervous wreck), while Midari agrees that if she loses, she’ll pay Yumeko a cool billion yen ($9 million).

Following a fairly routine pattern in this show, Yumeko loses the first of three rounds by one point, giving Midari the first shot. Since she fully loaded her pistol, Midari has at least a 50-50 chance of shooting her. If Yumeko loaded any bullets into hers, the odds are better. Of course, either of the guns could backfire, which could be why Yumeko warns Midari not to fire when the time comes.

Yumeko always seems to gamble like her life (and certainly her enjoyment) is on the line, so as theatrical and wild as Midari is, this is simply a more raw and concentrated version of the feeling Yumeko craves. I forsee both parties coming away from this not only alive, but…satisfied.

As for Mary, she’s the one intercepted by President Momobami, who doesn’t mince words over tea: she wants Mary to join the council. Clearly, she sees potential in her. Mary may not be as nuts as Yumeko, but she’s definitely going places.

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 02

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Let me just first say I thought it was awesome that the show gave Ikoma a moment of nerdy victory with his friend Takumi, who helped him research both the gun and the method of stopping Kabane transformation in its tracks. That victory high lasts all of two minutes, before the next crisis is upon them: the train they need to get on is being blocks by legions of Kabane.

Ayame and Kurusu try talking sense to the masses, but panic is upon them and they’re about to lose their grip on the situation…until Mumei shows up in her battle guard, ready to do her part. When a much, much larger guy tells her not to talk out of turn and puts his hands on her, well, the guy isn’t in a vertical, painless position for long, and we learn again exactly how formidable a warrior Mumei is.

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Not 30 seconds later, she arms her dual steam-guns and goes on a one-woman Kagane-wasting spree. While she exceeds her self-imposed time limit of 100 seconds (by ten), it’s still an impressive feat that definitely rose my heart rate. This “kid” can flat-out fight, and this show can flat-out animate that fighting.

Ikoma is about to expose his Kabane parts to guards running a routine security sweep when he’s bailed out by Mumei, back from her spree…and she senses instantly that something is different with the guy. His aura feels different to her, and her’s to him. They can feel the power—and the connection—within them.

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Ikoma manages to get on the train with Mumei and Takumi, but he goes to the back with the latter while the former curls up and…takes a nap. A well-earned nap, to be sure, after all the ass-kicking she did. But beneath her cloak, we see why she fights so fiercely…she’s got a secret.

As Ayame enters her key we get to see the procedure of starting up the great rail fortress Koutetsujou, and all it’s steam trian-like details like an inability to start up too fast and a dependence on lots of water to operate.

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The regrouped Kabane storm the train as it lurches out of the station, and make no mistake; these are fast, parkour zombies; the worst kind IMO. The slow ones you can escape most times; these guys are just a headache. The show does a very good job making us not want to be anywhere near these monsters.

Naturally, it isn’t long before Ikoma is exposed as possibly one of those Kabane, and even after saving a family from a burst steam pipe and killing a Kabane with his new gun, when he sees his chest glowing, even HE starts to doubt whether or not the virus is continuing to spread, contrary to Takumi’s theories.

Kurusu is in no position to take that chance, and shoots Ikoma straight off the train. There’s just no time for the kind of nuanced, evidence-based explanations Ikoma wants to provide.

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After Ayame sees her former father turned into a Kabane, Kurusu orders the hatch shut and the train run all the Kabane (including his former lord) over. But once they reach the bridge, the switch to lower it won’t work; it’s jammed.

Kurusu prepares to go out and pull the manual lever, quite possibly giving his life for Ayame and the rest of the train’s occupants—but Ikoma, who wasn’t killed by Kurusu’s bullet, beats him to it, killing all the Kabane around him and lowering the bridge himself.

All the while he’s doing this, he’s cursing every soul on that train who doubted him, and hope they all live long, tortured lives knowing they owe them to the actions of someone they tossed away. He’s being a little melodramatic, but he’s also not wrong: humanity isn’t going to survive if they toss out their heroes and generally act like self-destructive, paranoid dicks.

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Still, Takumi, who hesitated and recoiled form his friend earlier, is the one to toss him a line to grab before the train is out of his reach. He gets on the train, but after a nudge from—yup—Mumei, who woke up from her nap in time to save him and help Takumi get him aboard. Thank goodness. There’s something about this train slowly leaving the station that made me thinking ‘he has to get on that thing before it leaves, or he’s going to die.’

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When he gets on, there’s an immense feeling of relief—but his troubles aren’t quite over. Kurusu greets him with a suicide kit, acknowledging that he saved them, but urging him to “do what needs to be done.” Of course, he believes Ikoma is a Kabane, and about to transform into a ferocious, unthinking monster.

He’s mistaken. Mumei stands up for Ikoma by removing her jacket to reveal that she too has a glowing Kabane-esque heart. But she insists she and Ikoma are no Kabane, nor are they entirely human. They are Kabaneri: in between. Kurusu doesn’t have to like it, but he does have to accept that they are the closest thing to humanity’s salvation.

I like it just fine. I love it. Ikoma and Mumei make a compelling lead duo. I hope to see them kicking ass side-by-side soon—if they can manage to quell the naysayers.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 01 (First Impressions)

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Well, here it is: one of the contenders for King of Spring. KnK had a little bit of everything that you want in a heart-pumping steampunk horror-action-thriller (even a dash of wit). But mostly it’s gorgeously-rendered, dark, brutal, bloody good fun.

KnK wastes no time dunking our heads into its not-so-ideal world and not letting us come up for air until the very end. A good way to get a good pace going to start is a train job of some kind. This train happens to be a mobile fortress, transporting humanity from one “station” (heavily fortitied settlements) to another.

What is everyone running and hiding behind iron and wood from? The Kabane: zombies who move at a pretty good clip and have metal cages around their hearts, making them really hard to kill (though as we learn apparently beheading works too). The Kabane are indeed fierce and fearsome, as it only takes one bite to turn you into one of them. Once that happens and your peers know about it, you’re expected to commit suicide immediately.

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One dude who is trying—perhaps in vain—to stem the tide of the vicious Kabane is Ikoma, a mechanic who in his spare time is working on a stea gun powerful enough to pierce the Kabane’s heart cages. He’s very very close, and in fact would have probably had a breakthrough had he not been distracted by the train raid.

Of course, he’s at the bottom of the food chain, society-wise, so only he and some of his friends even know what he’s working on and its importance to the future of humanity. When the aristocracy deigns to walk among the masses, it’s either to have their gun fixed, or to sit back and watch as bushi (a force of soldiers with steam guns who protect everyone else and the peace) gun down a suspected Kabane who turns out not to be one.

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For trying to defend this poor wretch, Ikoma gets the butt of a rifle and thrown in jail, but he also catches the eye of the catbell-adorned, carefree aristocrat Mumei, as well as Ayame-sama, a high-class lady with a gentle heart. While he’s in jail, unable to perfect his gun, another train enters the station—one I knew from the foreboding atmosphere of its approach was overrun by Kabane.

They are smart enough to operate the train, and ram it into the city in a stunning derailment set piece, followed by a gory massacre of the townsfolk nearest the gate. Mumei, who snuck away from the castle for a lovely evening June constitutional, pays a brief visit to Ikoma in his cell, but is soon back on her way to the armored train out of this lost station.

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Ikoma frees himself and prepares his new jet gun just in time for a Kabane to drop in on him. He wins the subsequent struggle with authority, blasting the Kabane’s caged heart to smithereens. It worked; but the Kabane took a nasty bite out of his arm.

What happens next…is a little odd and hard to grasp, but Ikoma, unlike most people, knows the Kabane affliction is a virus, not a curse, and so can be dealt with if acted upon quickly enough. He manages to seal off his arm and improvises a kind of self-exorcism of the virus from his body, drawing it out like steam out of a tank.

We also learn while he’s undergoing this highly painful procedure that he once ran before, back when he was a kid and his family was killed and his hometown destroyed by Kabane. Ikoma is done running, and he won’t let a little (or even a big) Kabane bite interfere in his quest of redemption and vengeance.

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Yeah, comparisons to another apocalyptic steampunk thriller, Attack on Titan, are very much inevitable, and were always in some part of my mind throughout this episode. Still, it’s hard to complain about KnK’s ambitious, kick-ass execution. Basically, KnK differentiated itself more than well enough for my satisfaction.

I don’t want to close without mentioning Mumei, who seemed like an entitled brat when the episode opened, but more than proved her mettle in a climax that ran parallel to Ikoma’s. When her attendant is bitten and has to kill himself, she races to the train on her own, but is cornered by a big ol’ Kabane.

Without flinching, she stands her ground and lets the beast come to her, whereupon she decapitates him with her shoe, which not only houses the catbells we were hearing the whole time, but a razor-sharp blade. Then, for giggles, she gets that shoe stuck in a wood pillar. Bad…ass…like this show’s opening salvo. I’m greatly looking forward to seeing Ikoma and Mumei take it to the Kabane.

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Taimadou Gakuen 35 Shiken Shoutai – 06

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And here I thought the platoon was going to get to work scoring points for Usagi. That enterprise is totally sidelined when Mephisto makes her move. Turns out the scumbag Tenmyoji Reima’s quick rise was made possible by a deal with the witch, who aims to retrieve her body from Taimadou’s custody and exact some revenge.

Mephisto first possesses President Hoshijiro’s ninja aide, then Ootori, who goes after Tenmyoji, incorrectly guessing he’s Mephisto. It’s not the most stunning twist of fate, but it works, and now two platoon members are in danger. Also, it’s cool to see Ootori wearing an evil smirk.

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What decidedly isn’t cool in any way, shape, or form, like, at all, is what Usagi goes through this week, and what she has gone through ever since she met Reima. When her older brother was playing with a rifle, she struggled with him to stop and he accidentally got shot. To Reima, that means she’s a brother-murderer, and he never lets her forget it, claiming her as his property and marking her with a slap even when the two are just peewees.

Yet this is just a memory; the true horror occurs when Usagi wakes up from her latest fainting spell (the fact Reima gives her devastating panic attacks just sickens me) to find herself in a wedding dress, with “betrothed” on top of her, ready to consummate. He uses the same old spiel about how he’s the only one who’ll have her and not abandon her after what she did.

Usagi goes numb for a moment, but thankfully doesn’t give up and let him have his way with her. She remembers he’s wrong; she has a family who will fight for her, so she has to fight too. So she bares those bunny’s fangs and sinks them into Reima.

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That gets Reima mad, and he activates his armor, but Takeru, tipped off by Hoshijiro, intervenes in time to save Usagi. But with Ootori under Mephisto’s control, he can’t have Usagi rest easy now that she’s been rescued: it’s her turn to step up to the plate, using her grandfather’s rifle to fire special magic bullets that will destroy Mephisto without killing Ootori.

Usagi is up for it, but Ootoriphisto uses her craftiness to stay a step ahead, placing a charm spell on her that makes all the guys in the vicinity amorously flock to her. Thankfully, she’s able to run away and no inappropriate contact occurs.

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Back in the church where Reima was going to defile Usagi, Takeru makes certain the little shitbag will never touch Usagi again by scaring him straight (and making him wet himself). If anything, it’s almost too easy, this bad guy. He’s sooooo evil and soooo wrong, and when he loses Mephisto’s protection, he turns into a puddle of cowardice, because of course he does.

Ootoriphisto tries to trick Usagi again by acting like a concerned Ootori (who Mari earlier saw right through, because the real Ootori wouldn’t give a shit about her, at least openly) and telling her Takeru is Mephisto. Takeru retorts that if she doesn’t know who to shoot, just shoot him, than Ootori. Well, he cracked that little standoff quickly enough, didn’t he?

But really, he didn’t have to: somehow, Ootori manages to wrest some control back from Mephisto, at least stop her from moving. This makes it clear beyond a shadow of a doubt who the witch is, and Usagi takes her shots and doesn’t miss. Goodbye, Mephisto. We hardly knew ye, but considering how easily you were defeated by a pack of misfits, we probably didn’t need to know ye.

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With that, Usagi is safe, then Ootori is safe, and all’s well that ends well. Super-well, as it turns out, because in the midst of the festival during which the 35th does a cosplay cafe, Usagi informs him—embarrassingly festooned with gift bows by Suginami, herself donning an outrageous sexy succubus outfit)—that the marriage to the shitberg is officially off, without any further efforts to legitimize her admittance to the school.

Good. The less we see of Reima moving forward, the better. As for Usagi, she likes it when Takeru pats her on the head, but if somebody ever tries to touch her without her permission again, she won’t hesitate to break out those fangs.

Next up to have a personal crisis that the platoon must band together to help despite her desire not to get them involved? Suginami. I predict a solid Shiraishi Ryouko performance is in the near future.

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Hanasaku Iroha 17

Pretty much around the time Yuina was jumping out of a second-story window and she and Ohana were getting riddled with bullets, I started to wonder exactly what this film was about, anyway. Well, it didn’t matter, because it was all a scam. The funny thing is, hardly any of the staff skip a beat about it. Especially Ohana’s spirits remain high.

Of course, there are some bruised egos. Takako feels like a fool and rightly so for advising Enishi, and rightly so, but initially tries to run away and pin all the blame on him. Their long, complicated relationship reaches a catharsis of sorts, in the pool, of all places, where a memory of Enishi’s still drives him.

When his perfect sister is out-swimming him in the pool, he looks up at the sky and sees two jet fighters screaming across the sky; one trailing the other. Like he trails her. But after some whining and lamenting, Enishi eventually sucks it up, takes the blame, and even calls for revenge. He doesn’t regret trying to elevate Kissuiso’s standing with a film. He’d do it all again if given the opportunity.

His scenes with Takako, his mom, and his phone call with his sis are easily the best things going here; it’s a shame no cameras were turned on his drama. Contrast this with Ohana, Minchi and Nako’s roles, which were really tiny and peripheral these past couple weeks. So far this season, Ohana has taken a backseat to Yuina and now Enishi.


Rating: 3.5