DanMachi IV – 07 – Cassandra Tries to Explain It All

Cassandra has another horrible premonition of doom: all the members of their party dead, Bell struggling, and Ryuu Lion looming like an angel of death. She awakes (partially nude, which is neither here nor there) to Daphne announcing that an adventurer has been murdered.

A witness of uncertain trustworthiness claims the Gale Wind Ryuu Lion did the deed. That’s enough for Bors to arrange a posse to hunt her down and bring her to justice.

Before Bell can say too much about his past dealings with Ryuu, Aisha escorts him somewhere where they and the rest of his party can talk in private. They agree to join the party with the purpose of getting to Ryuu first and getting to the bottom of things before needless blood is spilled.

Cassandra, having seen what happens when the party goes back down into the lower floors, doesn’t like this course of action one bit, but her method of trying to dissuade the rest of the party—simply telling them to stay behind—doesn’t fly. Even if he believes Cassandra, Bell trusts Ryuu and wants to help her. When Cassandra collapses from frustration, Daphne offers to stay behind with her.

Cassie says she’s coming with them after all, and resolves to find a way to save everyone on the way. Lili gets a letter to Hestia explaining the situation, and we learn from Miach that Cassandra indeed has an extraordinary gift of foresight. The hunting party is large and unwieldy, but when a herd of mammoths attacks, they’re dealt with rather swiftly.

As the party heads deeper into the Dungeon, Cassandra takes Welf aside and asks him a favor. We catch a glimpse of Ryuu running at full speed in the vicinity of the Great Falls with hate in her eyes. Then everyone starts feeling tremors that seem to be coming from the 27th floor, where Cassandra’s awful premonition took place.

Clearly recalling Aisha dying in that dream, she manages to keep her from joining the other adventurers down there, though Cassandra’s manner of convincing her involves exaggerating the difficulty inherent in carrying Haruhime. Instead, Bell goes down below, which is acceptable to Cassandra as he didn’t die in her dream.

That said, he did look very much the worse for wear, and all the talk of Ryuu being a superior Level 4 means he likely won’t have an easy go of it down there. Seeing things that even the gods don’t know will happen is clearly a terrible burden for Cassandra, not least because most people don’t want to believe their fates are predetermined.

Here’s hoping whatever she saw is only one possible dream, and that the steps she’s taken will help ensure a better outcome. Of course, a lot will depend on what Ryuu’s whole deal is.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

DanMachi IV – 06 – Mister Popular and Miss Opportunities

DanMachi IV’s sixth episode serves as an epilogue that bridges the Moss Huge mini-arc and the mini-arc to come. What it lacks in excitement and stakes it more than makes up for with character, comedy, and charm. It’s also a rest episode our battered party both needs and deserves.

In the rest area, Lili allows herself an indulgence as Bell’s Supporter and asks if he can speak to him later, after all of his daily business is concluded. Meanwhile, unknown to either of them, the gods are having their periodic meeting/hot god goss symposium.

One order of business is bestowing an official Second Name for Bell, and the other gods (including Freya and Loki) make a mockery of something Hestia wants done properly to honor her dear familia. Hestie eventually gets everyone to settle on Rabbit’s Foot—which is a damn fine and fitting name!

Bell meets with Luvis and Dromel in the hospital, who both bestow their thanks to him for saving them, but also praising Lili for inspiring them with her words and actions in crunch time. He also meets with Ouka and Chigusa, then is immediately snatched up by Cassandra and Daphne…so they can get a store discount!

The gag, which is an oldie but a goldie, is that due to Lili being too deferent and unselfish, all the things she wanted to talk to Bell about later are being talked about already by others, because the business of his day never ends, and then continues into the night. All while she hides around the corner and reacts.

Of my two favorite such reactions, one is when she giddily accepts the praise she hears from her party-mates mouths, and the other is when a drunk Aisha comes on to Bell and Lili reacts by throwing a smoke bomb and getting him the hell out of there, which as Supporter moves go, is pretty aces.

All the pent up frustration both Lili felt and we felt for Lili thankfully get released, when she tells Bell something no one else could: that after the Xenos incident, she was worried he was drifting off to another world (she even uses the word isekai), but recent events of assuaged those worries.

Rabbit’s Foot is better than ever, but also as kind and caring as he’s always been. Watching beside Lili as Bell interacted with his family, friends, allies, and admirers, we were reminded why Bell is so easy to root for; he’s almost too perfect at this point, right?

Lili would agree, and I like that while what she wants to say to him is built up like an imminent confession would, her bond with Bell feels that much deeper. Uchida Maaya does great voice work in a lovely Lili spotlight episode that shows how much she treasures her bond, and how she’s determined to keep growing beside Bell.

As for the cliffhanger that shows that Ryuu Lion might be a murderer? Well, let’s just say I have homework for before next week’s episode: Research what the hell led Ryuu to this place, assuming she’s not being mind-controlled in some way…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 12 (Fin) – Sending Odin to Bed Without Supper

Looking our live Big Board, Assault Lily narrowly beats Sigrdrifa as the higher-rated of the two Top Cute Girls Doing Military Stuff shows I watched this Winter. Both shows had their flaws, and while combining the best bits of both into one show would result in a superior product, I won’t pretend either was groundbreaking or life-changing.

That said, Siggy has always been more interesting and consistent than Lily with its character work, and it also happens to deliver a more satisfying and beautifully animated finale. Our four Valkyries have never been closer or more comfortable in their own skins and cockpits, and once their sights were set on victory, their dad Odin never had a chance.

Odin’s heel turn was sudden, but actually made sense when you consider he was declaring war on a world that had forgotten him and everyone he ever loved. Odin gets the second Ragnarök he wanted, but he ends up on the losing side. Claudia may remember the words to the song of Valhalla, but she doesn’t sing it for him, or for the past.

She sings it for her friends and for herself, and this week we hear a new arrangement of the song with full orchestration that makes for some absolutely kick-ass final boss music, in addition to Claudy’s singing ending the interference and revealing the location of the Pillar’s core. She destroys Odin’s illusory ideal of the attentive daughter who will stay by his side forever.

Odin is lonely and miserable in this post-mythology era, and it’s no coincidence he’s taken the form of a small child. Letting his grief pour into the human world and wreak destruction is pure petulance; a divine temper tantrum from a petulant kid in desperate need of a time-out.

In one of the best-animated scenes of the series, Azuzu is the first to crash into his god cave. He’s able to overpower her and knock her gun out of her hand, but it was never the plan for him to shoot him, only to distract him until “her hero” Miyako arrived to cleave the Pillar’s core in two with her katana. This is after Miko had already splashed Thor with her Ultra Hero Cannon. She was busy this week!

With the core—sorry, the Vandrande destroyed, the Pillar disappears, giving the Takayama command crew an unmarred view of Fujiyama for the first time in a long while. Moe and Kurumi tow Sono (who awesomely jettisoned her floats to destroy a Dark Valkyrie), Azuzu gives Miko a lift in her Wing, and Claudia joins them in a loose formation as they head home victorious.

The battle wasn’t without cost, as the Shield Squadron sacrificed themselves to ensure Miko could take out Thor. The four Valks pay their respects after the eager younger Shield Squadron successors vow to carry on their legacy for being loud, somewhat inappropriate bros. Moe and Kurumi are subjected to Satomi’s toenail clipping (it’s been a while!) and then get an official tour from their four Valkyrie senpais.

The six young women then take flight once more, dedicated to taking out the last secondary and tertiary Pillars that still threaten humanity, but armed with the knowledge that they’ve prevailed over the worst of it. All’s well that ends well in a well-executed, action-packed, and thoroughly satisfying finale.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 21

Alessand goes through a lot of emotions as he stalks and kills Mugaro. There’s some excitement and satisfaction he’s proven his “worth” to the Onyx Soldiers, but also a crushing guilt and self-hatred. He is truly a fallen knight. He failed the test.

He also fails to get out undetected; Favaro spots him fleeing the scene of the crime, but rather than give chase, he takes Mugaro to Rita, who tries despretely in vain to save his life as everyone around watches, including Nina, who had been previously so distracted by her own woes.

It wouldn’t be much of a drama if Rita could’ve so easily saved Mugaro, so he dies, and the group is scattered and lost as a result. After grieving, Jeanne returns to the Land of the Gods with Sofiel and purpose.

Azazel—at times a father, brother, and friend to Mugaro—also storms off, after his hunch about one of Kaisar’s subordinates being responsible is proven true by Favaro.

And naturally, Alessand doesn’t get what he bargained for. He has the blood of a holy child on his hands, but when the Onyx commander shows what being an Onyx soldier really means—becoming host to a life-sucking stone that leads to an agonizing half-life—he immediately balks. I must say, Alessand has gone from harmless buffoon to loathsome wretch in shockingly short order.

Up in the LotG, Gabriel rejoices at the return of Sofiel and Jeanne, but also pained by the news of the loss of El. Never mind; the time for mourning is over, as far as Jeanne is concerned. Sofiel transforms her into a holy warrior, and they prepare to return to the surface world in force to exact their revenge.

Azazel has less luck, at least initially, with his superior Lucifer, and Azzy has to take a book to the face, but he eventually convinces him that Jeanne is indeed moving against Charioce, and there will never be a better time to strike. Whether any kind of coordination is in the cards, we’ll have to see.

And then we have Nina. Ever since Mugaro’s death, her demeanor has been muted, and she admits to feeling numb; like Titus Andronicus, she hath not another tear to shed. She cleans and cleans until, while cleaning Bacchus’ wagon, she finds Mugaro’s dress, and the tears begin to pour, as she recalls raw anguish similar to when her dear father died.

After her good long cathartic cry, Favaro visits her in the wagon, but has no certain answers to her questions. When Nina gets up and shows her face, Favaro is surprised to see it’s no longer soaked with tears; instead, she wears a face of stern determination; of focus.

Like Azazel, like Jeanne, she’s done crying. And if Charioce will continue to hurt and kill her friends, she’ll take it upon herself to stop him, no matter what it takes. Not long thereafter, Jeanne speaks to the people from on high: rise up against the mad king who killed her only child and intends to kill many more.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 20

The Demon assassin is eager to fight a dragon, as I assumed he’d killed one or two in his checkered past. However, his true beef is with the fact that Nina is a mongrel and a pathetic abomination for having a human parent. Nina transforms into the Red Dragon, but the assassin transforms into a bigger one. A much, much bigger one.

The resulting fight is one of the cooler, more impressive battle sequences—after all, two dragons are better than one—but Nina is completely outclassed and the assassin’s attacks quickly transform her back into human form.

Naked and beaten up, the Onyx Commander looms over her and tells her the order to kill her came from His Majesty himself, twisting the proverbial knife before killing her with a real one.

Favaro and Kaisar have heard enough, and spring into action, breaking free from their captors—but they’re pretty outmatched themselves, so it’s fortunate the cavalry arrives in a timely fashion, in the form of El, Sofiel, Azazel and Jeanne. The lads are…humbled by the sight of the surpassingly ethereal, angelic Sofiel, but she’s not here to dilly-dally.

Summoning a giant avatar to match the assassin dragon’s scale, she launches a devastating ice-based attack that turns the dragon into a solid chunk that shatters under its own weight. And to think: she is of those who have found themselves flummoxed and beaten back by Charioce.

With the dragon eliminated and the Onyx Soldiers tied up with magical binds, all that’s left is to finish saving Nina, who appears down for the count not due to any physical exertion, but because she’s suffering from a broken heart.

Kaisar leaves the Onyx Commander and his men alive, but the Commander makes sure he knows there’s nothing he or his friends can do to stop Charioce, so there’s no point in continuing to oppose him, aside, I supposed, from a death wish. Alessand also takes note of the fact that El is the “holy child.”

Back at base (which is surprisingly still intact and safe after all that) Sofiel insists that it’s time to go: Her, Jeanne…and El. But El is reluctant; he believes he was born for a greater purpose that can only be served on the surface world. Bacchus, for once given some dramatic meat, tells him he’s being foolish; that all he his at the moment is a child, a gift from his father to his mother. It’s enough to convince him to go with them.

Meanwhile, Nina whips herself into a rage and tosses aside the necklace Charioce gave her, trying and likely failing to get over the guy who not only rejected her, but tried to kill her. She neither needs nor wants these feelings, but unless Rita has a spell or potion for it, they’re not going anywhere. El stops by to say goodbye, and can tell Nina isn’t alright, even though she puts her usual cheerful face on in front of him.

The next morning, the Onyx Commander informs Charioce, who is headed to Eidos to finish opening the rift, that the dragon has been eliminated; Charioce, like Nina, may well be hiding his true feelings on the matter from the world. Ready to set off back to the Land of the Gods, Sofiel admits to Bacchus that she left without permission, and furthermore, can why he stayed on this world: there’s never a dull moment, after all.

After El says his final goodbyes to Azazel, he walks back through the caves alone, and is confronted by Alessand, who stabs him in the chest, making his holy blood pour onto the ground and surround his black ocarina. Alessand, who was humiliated and judged as worthless by the Onyx Commander, still wishes to prove the man wrong.

So Al chose to make himself worth something by eliminating a potential weapon of the Gods. Whether he’ll get any acknowledgment—or even get out of the caves with his life—remain to be seen.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 19

Fancy Royal Ball Caper, anyone? Nina and Al’s big arrival is briefly interrupted by a flashback to Rita going over the plan to snatch Charioce’s bracelet. Everyone plays a role, including El, if the Onyx Soldiers get involved (with Azazel watching his back).

Nina realizes that as the ‘getaway vehicle’ her role is crucial to success (just as she trips on the palace steps). She’s been able to transform at will, but Favaro (paired up with Dias and tasked with actually swiping the bracelet) doesn’t think she’ll be able to when the time comes.

That’s not Favaro not having faith in his student; it’s Favaro knowing how Nina feels about Charioce, and how the King isn’t going to give up that bracelet easily. Al doesn’t have to pretend Nina is his fiancee or sister for long, as Nina ditches him the moment Charioce enters.

This is the Charioce who allowed the Onyx Commander to proceed with the plan to assassinate Nina, so with that in mind I couldn’t help but feel, like Favaro, that there was simply no way Nina would transform into a dragon, and thus no way he mission would succeed.

Nina is, however, able to ask the king to dance and draw him to her, and they become the center of attention as they cut a mean rug all over the ballroom. The CGI extras are a bit stiff, but the dancing animation is as crisp and smooth as it was during their first dance at the festival, and just as adorable. It’s almost enough to make you forget that this love story can only end in tragedy and despair.

On a secluded balcony, Nina waits for Charioce to come out and tell her “everything”, as he promised to do the next time they met. But instead, he dumps her like she’s never been dumped before, without even a hint of empathy or compassion. Just “we’re done, don’t come back, go before I have the guards seize you.”

Being subjected to exactly the opposite treatment from him she expected, Nina is a wreck, but Favaro emerges from the shadows to scold “Mr. King” for hurting his student, and demands he give up the bracelet. When Charioce says it can’t be removed as long as he lives, Favaro says he can fix that, but Nina comes between them, not able to betray the man she loves as he was able to betray her.

The guards arrive, but Favaro tosses some smoke bombs, which are also the signal that the plan has failed. Everyone evacuates without any trouble, but Al tries to go off on his own, only to be intercepted by Azazel and El; the three later encounter Jeanne and Sofiel in the streets.

Nina, Favaro and Kaisar end up at the waterfront, where they are quickly surrounded by Onyx Soldiers. Then the burly assassin arrives, prepared to kill the dragon. The look in Nina’s eyes suggests he’s welcome to try.

This was a fun and often thrilling episode, but its impact was somewhat lessoned by the certainty that the caper would ultimately fail. It’s too early for the good guys to possess the means to rob the bad guy of his power. But (please) let there be no (or very little) remaining doubt: Charioce has made his choice: to let Onyx run free. He is the bad guy, however much Nina may love him.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 18

Baha Soul finally returns to airwaves and breaks from the action and the central romance to focus on all the various relationships characters have developed over the course of the last 17 episodes (and the 12 of Genesis before that).

Nina “gets home” late, worrying/annoying her “parents”: Rita, Bacchus, Hamsa and Rocky. She’s giddy as a schoolgirl, and her master Favaro already knows why; she can deny it all she wants but he knows her.

Things get awkward when Nina and Azazel meet for the first time since she failed to transform in aid of his rebellion, leading to the death and capture of every demon he convinced to fight for him.

Not particularly interested in catching up, Azazel responds to Nina’s apology by saying he never expected anything of her anyway…which we know is a lie. He even gives poor Mugaro the cold shoulder.

The team’s next plan will involve attending the palace ball to be held in three days. Nina quickly volunteers to sneak in and steal Charioce’s bracelet (the one that controls the superweapon) and proves she’s up to the task by spontaneously leaping behind a wall of crates, transforming into a dragon, then transforming right back (without even losing her clothes to boot).

Everyone is impressed…except for Azazel, who is disgusted and enraged beyond belief. That he had to lose so much and so many because the timing of Nina “learning what it feels like to be loved” was just a little too late…I’d be grinding my fallen angel teeth, too.

Continuing Nina’s practice of not staying well-hidden, El goes out the next day to look for Azazel, who stormed off in a right tizzy. El inevitably attracts the attention of guards and runs himself into a dead end, but Azazel swoops in to rescue him.

Afterwards, it takes El apologizing to Azazel for Azzy to snap out of it and stop directing his anger at someone who doesn’t have to apologize for anything. Azzy saved El, but El kinda saved him in the process, by proving there was more in life than…oneself.

Alessand and Dias continue to pop up now and again, with the latter remaining fiercely loyal to Kaisar (even worrying about being in a gentleman’s club would look) while Al resents him more every day for ruining their careers, abandoning them, and becoming a fugitive.

Well, it isn’t until a drunk Al confronts a tall, suspicious-looking “demon” that turns out to be Kaisar in disguise that we see that however else Al feels about Kaisar, his misses him, and misses the Orleans Knights, and how good it felt to be together.

After the Onyx commander dismissed Al’s request to transfer by basically saying he’s worthless, here comes Kaisar to tell him he has a great deal of worth, and if he would find it in his heart to set aside his superior’s transgressions, together they can make a difference.

Nina is still giddily drunk in love by episode’s end, to the point she’s yelling “I LOVE YOU” at the moon. Favaro joins her, though his words aren’t for Charioce, but Amira. He has Nina all but drop the pretense, as he knows Charioce is the object of her affections, whether she “can say” she truly loves him yet or not.

Drawing from his experience in helping to quell the threat of Bahamut years ago, Favaro still wonders if the choice he made was the correct one, and urges Nina to think carefully about how she’ll choose, because the way this world works, you can’t gain anything without losing something in the bargain.

Then Favaro gets back to playfully yelling “I love you” at the moon and Nina struggles to stop him, the Onyx commander is paying a mercenary/hitman to eliminate the dragon; an order the commander gave himself more than Charioce gave him. From the looks of this guy, Nina’s toughness is about to be tested.

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)

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 10

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Thinks are bad for the good guys: Ikoma is in prison, and Biba’s goons are harvesting blood from the Kotetsujou to feed the Kabane, and they’re not exactly being nice about it. Like Mumei, these are people who weren’t taught to think of the weak as people worthy of compassion, but in this case they’re more like livestock. It ain’t pretty.

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When I saw Biba alone in a car with Ayame, my skin crawled, because I knew he wouldn’t be honoring whatever deal he was striking with her. He only needs her until she can arrange an audience between him and his father the Shogun; after that all bets are off; that’s just how villains operate, and Biba is a pretty conventional villain.

He certainly has the look down, as well as the way he creepily wipes blood off Mumei’s cheek, after appeasing her with another promise he won’t keep: that the passengers of the Kotetsujou will not be harmed.

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That’s because a group of passengers are doing the one thing that will make Biba come down on them even harder: planning a revolt. Ikoma is the ringleader, taking note of the comings and goings of the key man. When the moment is right, he breaks out and the group strikes.

Sukari was portrayed early as someone who apparently betrayed his friends because he knew resistance was futile, but I had him pegged as a double agent pretty quickly, and that’s what it turns out he is, having helped slip intel to Ikoma, thus earning a measure of Takumi and Yukina’s forgiveness.

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When Biba gets word of the revolt, of course he makes Mumei choose to either take care of the disturbance—killing Ikoma and her friends in the process—or stop receiving the medication that’s keeping her virus from spreading and turning her into a full Kabane.

At the end of the day, this is Mumei’s most damning weakness: her utter dependence on her brother’s good side, which never really existed in the first place. He even lowered her dosage, anticipating her possible betrayal, so that she doesn’t have the strength to get away when she does bolt.

As for Ikoma, for some reason he thought the key man had all the keys, but he doesn’t; why would Biba make it so easy for Ikoma to get to the most important part of the train? Instead, Ikoma and his men block Ikoma, and when Ikoma refuses to join his fight (an offer most conventional villains usually give the protagonist), his guys open fire. Only Ikoma doesn’t get shot, because Takumi took the bullet.

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So yeah, RIP Takumi, who at least managed to repay Ikoma for his getting show earlier in the run. Naturally, Ikoma isn’t all that pleased his best mate has been murdered in front of him. Unfortunately, that’s not all he has to deal with on this particularly shitty day.

That’s because Biba brings in Mumei, only she’s not really his friend anymore; likely she’s been “re-programmed” with drugs from the mad scientist car. Without hesitation, she drives her dagger into Ikoma’s chest and lets him fall out of the train, off a cliff, and into the sea.

Now, don’t think Ikoma’s dead, and neither do you—he’s the frikkin’ main character, for crying out loud. So the question then becomes, how will he manage to survive, and how will he get back to where Ayame and Mumei are? Talk about a stacked deck…

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 09

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This week, any illusions about Biba having a shred of good (or nuance) are wiped away for good: this is vendetta, against all who wronged him, and wronging him includes acts of cowardice perpetrated by the Shogunate. Ikoma and Ayame are in agreement that Mumei has to be taken away from this guy, but doing so is no mean feat, at least initially.

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Horobi, who we only just met, is given greater focus this week as Biba’s sacrificial subject. What’s so brutal is that she knows this, and is resigned to it, vowing her loyalty even while betraying a glimmer of regret and fear of death. For Biba has gotten it into Horobi’s head that he’s stronger than her, which means she’s expendable.

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No doubt Biba feels the same way about Mumei, and her time to lay down her life so he can walk over it will surely come soon; that is, if Mumei doesn’t get her mind right and escape. She and Ikoma actually get into quite close proximity this week, but Mumei is still following her brother, opening the gate to Iwato against Iwato’s wishes.

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Once Mumei has opened that gate, all hell breaks loose. Biba unleashes his army of captive Kabane on Iwato’s guards, and his meeting with Lord Maeda quickly turns to bloodshed. Ayame takes up a spear, but Yukina has to take a dart to the chest from Horobi. There’s a palpable feeling that the two are very very unsafe in this room with Biba and his true believer followers.

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Mumei quickly comes to regret opening the gates, since the Kabane proceeded to tear through the station, killing and turning hundreds of townsfolk. Of course, she blames herself, which is what Biba wants, as if perhaps she lacked something that would have resulted in a better outcome. That something is, of course, the awareness that her “brother” is an horrendously deluded evil dick.

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That dickishness is confirmed once and for all when, after Horobi goes berserk—first as the core of a fused colony, then a monstrous super-kabaneri killbot—her blade stops an inch from Biba’s throat. A bead of sweat rolls down his cheek just before he runs her through with his sword, taking advantage of her honor and loyalty to the end. RIP Horobi. We hardly knew ye.

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With Ikoma thoroughly “liberated”, as Biba rather unconvincingly claims, Ikoma, Ayame, and all her people are held at gunpoint and warned not to resist or interfere. Even Mumei has guns pointed at her, on order from her bro. Ikoma can’t really do much, and is beaten by one of Biba’s lieutenants, but if one good thing came out of this episode, is that it caused Mumei to wake up to the truth about Biba, meaning she and Ikoma are back on the same side.

The pace of Kabaneri, and Biba’s treachery in particular, has been breathless in its alacrity, almost to the point of not allowing anything to sink in deep enough, because there’s always more stuff to deal with. That being said, if this is only an 12-episode series, I’m not wholly unappreciative of the show picking up the pace for a showdown in the capital.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 08

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Before he even meets him, Ikoma isn’t subtle about his reticence towards Biba-sama. But the show is willing to give him a chance in our eyes when the two do meet, because Ikoma wastes no time calling out the twisted philosophy Biba ingrained in his sister who isn’t really his sister (he just lets her call him brother).

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We’ve seen a lot of sides of Mumei these past seven weeks, but one thing is for sure: being with Ikoma and Ayame and other normal humans has somewhat softened her previously hard line against all forms of weakness. She’s gone from someone with no need for a name (mumei means “anonymous”) to someone with friends who use that name as if it were Yuki or Haru-chan.

Once she’s back in her beloved brother and savior Biba’s shadow, however, she slips back into Heartless Battle Mode all too quickly. It’s a testament to how much history she has with Biba, and how carefully he molded her into a weapon. She’s not the only one, either: Biba’s force of elite Kabane fighters deal with a seven-horde raid with relative ease.

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In the aftermath of the battle, Enoku seems to simultaneously threaten Biba with assassination and offer his services, one among many assassins after Biba’s life. Biba has no use for him; he’s pretty sure Enoku will betray him no matter what, and that falls under his very strict code against all forms of weakness, including treachery, so Enoku buys it.

Unfortunately for Biba, Ikoma witnessed him kill Enoku free of the context of their particular situation. All Ikoma saw was Biba killing someone calling for help. The fierce sympathy Ikoma exhibits also seems to turn Biba off, as if feeling for other people is another form of weakness to be excised.

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Let’s also talk about that little smirk he gives Ayame, shall we? I’ll be honest…it kinda made my skin crawl. What villainy does that tiny grin portend?

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This week confirms what was already fairly obvious: Mumei didn’t become a Kabaneri by being bitten by a Kabane; she chose to become one and let Biba infect her with the virus to make her stronger. Biba’s train has medical facilities where Mumei and other weapons of his like Horobi undergo maintenance.

He also keeps a fair number of Kabane locked in captivity, and seems quite interested in a very bizarre and in no way altruistic experiment that looks like a giant Kabane heart cage. It’s pretty clear everything he does is for one purpose: to make himself stronger and surround himself with stronger weapons in order to protect himself.

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He knows exactly how much power he has over Mumei (all of it), and doesn’t hesitate for a moment in wielding it by asking her to collect Ayame’s master key. Once in Key Retrieval Mode, Mumei has no patience for Ayame’s questions, and even flashes a kunai to show she means business. It’s a chilling scene.

I shudder to think what would have transpired had Yukina not defused the situation with the boiler room key, but it’s only a temporary solution to a very very big problem: Biba’s train is right in front of Ayame’s leading the way, so in a way, Ayame and her train are already his to do with what he will.

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When Ikoma senses the captive Kabane, he races to the freight car, but Biba warns Mumei they’ll have to kill him if he gets in, so Mumei is as short and hostile with Ikoma as she needs to be to keep him away. There’s certainly a part of her that feels bad for what went down with Ayame, and a part that doesn’t want her shield Ikoma to be killed needlessly. But those parts are quickly being consumed by her unswerving loyalty and obedience to her brother.

As Ikoma says to Ayame after being shooed away, Biba is “no hero.” Indeed, he’s the first legitimate human villain; not a passive, ignorant ingrate who won’t hear the likes of Ikoma out, but an active user of people and things with potentially frightening plans.

He’s more dangerous than the Kabane right now, not only because he and his warriors are so good at dispatching them, or because he has Ayame & Co. in his clutches already, but because he has such a devastatingly complete hold over Mumei.

Still, he’s not a Kabaneri (at least as far as I know), which means Mumei could actually be stronger than her brother. Deep down, she could have a better moral compass, too. She just doesn’t know it, because he has her all twisted around his little finger. The key to defeating him, which may be necessary very soon, is to break that hold.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 07

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It had to happen sometime: you can only develop characters so much when their backs are constantly against the wall. Thankfully, the next station the Koutetsujou arrives at is not only populated by living people, but thriving; a veritable paradise compared to the various infernos the inhabitants of the train have gone through.

This brief but welcome period of piece is marked by what you would expect: the characters embracing the opportunity to kick back and relax for the first time in a long, long time. The train has stopped in the station, everyone is out in the open air, in clean new threads. It’s great to see.

It’s also a lot of fun. We’ve been in the frying pan and the freezer with these guys, so it’s highly satisfying to see them lower their guards, however briefly. I particularly enjoyed how impressed Mumei was with Kajika’s haggling skills, and Tatsumi using his newly super-strong best mate to teach a rude Bushi a lesson.

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Even secondary characters get their dues, as Sukari breaks it to a kid that the train his dad was on was overrun by Kabane, overriding Yukina’s attempts to spare him the grief. Sukari tells the kid the truth because it’s what he wanted to be told, but wasn’t.

Perhaps most amusing is Kurusu’s embarrassment at barging in on Ayame shamelessly stuffing her face while waiting for the station’s minister, or how that initially stingy minister offers Ayame all the food, provisions, and medical care she needs when she piles on the charm while demonstrating the power of the jet bullets.

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While we see Enoku meeting with Shitori, leader of the station, portending a possible rough political patch in the near future, and the occasional dive into melancholy (in the case of the kid), the show remains upbeat thanks in part to one guy: it’s protagonist Ikoma, whom I haven’t said anything about yet.

My favorite scene in the episode, and one of my favorite in the show, is when Ikoma tracks down Mumei, who feels blue after suddenly remembering she once celebrated Tanabata, which today just happens to be. Ikoma and Mumei have wonderful chemistry and it’s on full display in their exchange here.

Mumei feels safe with Ikoma, and opens up to him, telling him the dread she feels every morning, knowing one morning she’ll be a full-on Kabane and kill everyone around her. Now that Ikoma knows this, he immediately decides on a bold course of action: he’ll make Mumei human again.

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Her given name (another share) helps him make this decision, as well as his desire for her not to feel that way every morning. He believes her name, Hodsumi, was given by her mother in hopes her belly would be full of rice, and Ikoma is dead set on making sure that happens. He’ll kill all the Kabane, take back the stations and rice paddies, grow rice again, and full Hodsumi up, as her name, in its way a wish, demands.

Mumei is flattered by the offer, unrealistic as she may think it is, but Ikoma is so serious and charismatic, both she and everyone else gathered for Tanabata that night start to believe that simply wishing to survive isn’t enough; humans should strive for more, and more is what he wants to accomplish. It inspires everyone else to dream big. This is Ikoma starting to take on the mantle of leader.

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After some lovely fireworks and a restful sleep, Ikoma and Mumei awake to the sound of to jubilant crowds outside: the Scouting Legion—I-I mean, Hunters have arrived, along with some guy called the “Liberator”, Biba-sama, who is tall, beautiful, and tough as folded steel.

He’s also, as it happens, Mumei’s brother, and even though they greet each other warmly, Ikoma is suspicious. This is the guy who taught his sister that the weak are only good for dying, made her abandon the name Hodsumi, and who knows what else.

Just as I needed—and appreciated—an episode’s worth of rest and peace to get to know the shows characters better, Ikoma needs to spend some time with this guy to see if he’s right to suspect he’s not the gallant hero everyone worships.

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