Little Witch Academia – 02

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LWA’s first episode promises Akko has what it takes to be a witch, and possibly a good one, by summoning the power to save her new friends from a wild Cockatrice and transport everyone safely to school.

But not so fast…the next morning Akko can’t seem to get the Shiny Rod to do anything, and her first day of exciting classes turn out to be nothing but lecture after interminable lecture. Whether it’s a student using a small spell to keep potions away, to Sucy stealthily turning Akko’s hair into a plant, I love this kind of magic school minutiae.

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One person who stands out in every class is Diana Cavendish (of the 1,500-year-old Cavendish Family), who is believed to be the finest which of her generation, and the best to ever attend Luna Nova. I’m thinking Granger ability in a Malfoy package.

Yet while she’s undeniably talented, and a little aloof, she doesn’t come off as your typical stuck-up aristocratic jerk who needlessly harasses our heroine Akko. Indeed, she seems to follow the ideal standard of noblesse oblige: she’s polite and respectful, but isn’t afraid to tell what she believes to be a harsh truth: that Shiny Chariot isn’t all Akko makes her out to be.

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Diana also indulges Akko’s desire to show her what Chariot’s Shiny Rod can do, and waits patiently for Akko to do…something, anything. But the Shiny Rod just won’t cooperate. When it’s Diana’s turn to demonstrate her power, she does so, doing what Akko tried to do and make the statue in the courtyard not only move (in an awesomely trippy sequence that may have only happened in poor Akko’s head) but pluck that plant from Akko’s head, restoring her ponytail.

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What with all the talk of Shiny Chariot once being a pretty popular name in “performance witch” circles, no one’s seen nor heard from her in ten years…because she’s most likely assumed the identity of Professor Ursula, whom it was hinted last week could be Akko’s muse.

Considering her interest in Akko, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ursula/Chariot is trying to groom a replacement from the shadows, even bequeathing to Akko the Shiny Rod that served her so well…at least for a time. That being said, if Diana and her admirers represent the average opinion on the matter, it would seem that entertaining masses of muggles isn’t the most respected profession in the magical world.

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Still, there’s every indication the magical political spectrum is as wide and diverse as the non-magical one, with Diana Cavendish insisting (and being able to back up) that “magic is cultivated through the accumulation of lasting traditions and assiduous research,” basically the opposite of Shiny Chariot’s “A believing heart is your magic” credo.

It’s almost science vs. faith! Akko’s faith in Chariot and the power of the Rod summoned the magic necessary to save her, Sucy and Lotte. Then again, there’s a science to her “assiduous research” of the Chariot collector cards and their effects. Her “lasting tradition” is the tradition of fandom.

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This week, that lovingly-cultivated and maintained fandom comes in handy, just as her believing heart did so last week. Diana shows she’s still young and not perfect when in her hubris she believes she can singlehandedly restore the old Jennifer Memorial Tree none of the professors can diagnose.

She releases a powerful spell that indeed revitalizes the tree, but also strange glowing orbs she assumes are parasites to be exterminated. But they’re not pests; they’re chrysalises containing Papilliodya, which emerge only once every 120 years (or only a dozen times in the entire history of the Cavendish Family).

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Diana is ready to take out every one, but Akko stops her, even taking a direct hit that stuns but does not disable her. Akko casts the spell on the trading card, and thousands of magic butterflies are able to take flight for the five continents, resulting in a stunning display that inspires hope in all who behold them.

When the professors see the restored tree, both they and Diana’s toadies shower her with praise, but Diana, again displaying signs of a healthy conscience, tries to insist it wasn’t her who made it happen, running off before giving Akko the credit. I like to think Diana saw a teensy bit of promise in, and respect for, Akko, despite their very different magical ideologies.

As for LWA, it continues to impress with its eye-grabbing visuals, lean, nimble character design, surprisingly complex characters, lush action, and optimistic outlook – the very definition of must-watch.

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P.S. We already knew the OP was great, as we saw it as the ED last week. Now we see the proper ED, and it’s great too. Both feature memorable pieces of music that don’t try too hard.

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 12 (Fin)

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Now that he’s killed the Daddy who never loved him, and is well on the way to destroying the capital with the sister he turned into a monster, there’s not much for Biba to do but sit on the throne and…wait. Wait to be defeated by Ikoma, that is.

There wasn’t really much doubt of that, as this show has typically stuck to tried-and-true plot developments. That being said, Ikoma and Kurusu storming the city, going to town, and leaving piles of bodies in their wake is a sight to behold, as is the latter’s understanding that he’s to waste no time ending the former should he go Full Kabane. (Never go Full Kabane; the audience can’t connect.)

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While on the outside Mumei is at the core of a grotesque yet also oddly beautiful fused colony, in her mind she’s fighting memories of being weak and stamping them out. It’s as much a prison for her mind as her body.

As for Ayame, she’s able to break some locals out of a prison of fear and rigid lashing-out simply by getting in their face. Not sure that wouldn’t have resulted in someone accidentally pulling a trigger on her, but she’s always had relatively good luck.

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With Kurusu by his side, Ikoma continues to carve his way to Mumei, leading to a minor boss fight with one of Biba’s lieutenants, who tries to run a train into Ikoma but is thwarted when Ikoma’s super-Kabaneri power allows him to blast the train straight off the rails and into mid air. He then kills the guy himself with his arm-gun, justifying the killing by saying the guy kill too many. No arguments here.

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There’s just one last obstacle before he can save Mumei: Biba himself, who takes the stage excited to “hunt” a rare, fearless foe such as Ikoma. In her fever dream prison, Mumei sees Ikoma as the one blue butterfly in a cloud of red ones, because butterflies have never been used in this way in anime before.

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In all seriousness, as we’ve seen, Biba is highly skilled at combat, but when you don’t seem to be fighting for much anymore, but when up against a singularly motivated and nigh unkillable Kabaneri, it was only a matter of time before he took a hard lick that took him down.

Biba doesn’t stay down, however, even after Ikoma downs him and gives Mumei the magical white blood, reviving her and bringing her back to normal. It isn’t Ikoma who delivers the killing blow to Biba; he’s unconscious. It’s Mumei, who repeatedly implored Biba to stop hurting Ikoma, and stabbed him through the heart when he didn’t.

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With Biba dead and Mumei back to normal, she and Kurusu (with Ikoma on his back) race back to the Kotetsujou, which seems like a rather manufactured final hurdle, even though I did like how happy she looked when she saw the whole gang ready to catch her with a big fabric net.

The only real problem is that Ikoma won’t wake up…until he does, on Mumei’s insistence. When he does, she embraces him closely, her shield returned to her by white blood Biba must have injected before being killed, a last act of selflessness and compassion in a life full of violence and hatred.

With Mumei and Ikoma both alive and relatively unhurt (amazingly), the Kotetsujou steams off into the sunset, ending a very dark show on a very bright—if awfully tidy—parting note.

Kabaneri initially grabbed my attention with superior visuals (and audio) and thrilling action. But once the novelty of that quality wore off, the shows shortcomings grew more conspicuous, keeping this show rather far from greatness. Still, it was a hell of a rousing watch…most of the time.

If a second season comes one day, I will definitely give it a look—I’d like to see Mumei’s humanity restored, for one thing—but if it’s all the same to Wit Studio, I’d prefer a second season of Attack on Titan first.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 11

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Both Kuromukuro and Kabaneri managed to reignite my passion for watching them in their eleventh episodes. I didn’t really know what to expect after last week cliffhanger would have had us believe Ikoma had been stabbed through the heart and tossed into the sea for dead by a Mumei now lost to him. This week quickly debunks the first assumption and paves the way to debunk the second, even though shit is still hitting the fan, as it were.

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First, Kongokaku: it’s a grand, peaceful, and impressive place when the Kotetsujou arrives at its gate, but we see from the shogun eliminating a messenger with knowledge hat could sow public panic, theirs is clearly an uneasy peace, especially with Kabane lurking right outside those “impregnable” walls.

Biba doesn’t need to besiege his father’s seat, however; he comes in through the front door; a “captive” of Ayame; a role she’s forced to play because he’s holding her people hostage. Of course, going by his script only proves to Biba that’s he’s weak, and it’s become painfully apparent that the weak don’t live long once they meet him.

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To his credit, the shogun immediately knows Biba is up to something; he just doesn’t know what until it’s too late. Biba uses the same fear his father used as an excuse for stabbing him in the dark as a child to destroy his father. The dagger he gave him contains a hidden needle that infects the shogun with the virus, and his own men gun him down in a panic.

Biba need only deal the killing blow with his sword, and just like that Kongokaku is his. The Kabane in his hold are released onto the city to stoke up fear, paranoia, and people killing people, but he simply sits on the throne, not smirking an evil smirk, but remembering a day when he rode a horse with his father. Do I detect a hint of…weakness, AKA love? No matter; there’s no one around to punish Biba for it.

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While all that excitement is going on, Ikoma, having washed up on a shore not in the greatest shape but very much alive, is temporarily incapacitated by the immense weight of the guilt and regret over what went down, including Takumi’s death. He didn’t run, he was tossed out, and he’s right that at the time there was nothing he could do.

Kurusu, who has one of Biba’s scientists captive, finds Ikoma, and is actually patient with him as he goes through various stages of grief. In the end, Kurusu makes Ikoma set aside all the reasons he should simply die, and asks him why he’s still alive in the first place: his chest wound is so precise, Mumei must have intended to miss his heart, meaning she is not totally lost.

Granted, as we cut back to the capital, we see that Mumei is considerably more lost than the time she spared Ikoma. And she’s just as helpless here as Ayame, or as Ikoma was back on the train. Biba controls every aspect of her life, and despite all he’s done she still harbors loyalty to him, because she’d have died long ago (and been “beckoned by the butterflies”) were it not for him.

That combination of coercion-by-obligation, as well as the reality that Biba has kept Mumei weak and unable to oppose him even if she wanted to (and she did try), have led to her simply giving up. She will let the butterflies come, with the small consolation that at least she was able to free Ikoma a similar fate.

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Only thing is, Ikoma hasn’t given up, thanks largely to Kurusu and the captive he has for some reason (I forgot why; sue me). That scientist just happens to have on hand two serums: one is white, and could save Mumei; but to get to her Ikoma knows he needs to be stronger (and apparently, less scruffy) than he is.

So he injects the black serum, an accelerant that indeed causes him to undergo yet another transformation. When we leave him, he seems that much less human, and particularly stable, but fueled by his resolve to stop Biba and save Mumei, odds are he’ll be able to endure. I certainly hope so, because Mumei deserves better than the same fate as Horobi—who also didn’t deserve it.

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(Almost a 9 based solely on the new Aimer ED, “Through My Blood”, which brought it)