To Aru Majutsu no Index III – 03 – Precedence: Show Higher; Tell Lower

I realize Index is shounen, and a lot of chatter and explanation of tactics is par for the course, but by God there seemed to be a lot of it this week! Much is made about Terra of the Left’s “Precedence” ability, but as a member of the Right Hand of God, neither his presence or his abilities evoke terror. One big problem is it just takes so goddamn long for him to spit out the various incantations that give one thing (like flour) precedence over another (stone, metal, flesh, etc.).

Terra’s seiyu is the venerable Ootsuka Houchuu, but saddling the old man with explaining his attacks and making him say “Precedence: X higher, Y lower” every time he attacks just slows the battle way down to the point where when he gives Touma and Itsuwa “ten seconds” to attack or run, I had to laugh out loud; Dude, you’ve given them over half an hour!

Touma and Itsuwa eventually end up with Tsuchimikado, but only for a hot minute, as they split up again so he can face down some of the invading Academy City Powered Suits. Again, much of the battle is spent with him talking, explaining how he’s going to bring the suits down.

Two other weird little details: when Touma calls Misaka to ask if Avignon’s in the news (which it most definitely is), they didn’t bother to add a “phone filter” to Misaka’s voice, making it sound like she’s there in the Papal Palace with him. Not only that, for a kid who can’t always afford food, he’s racking up quite an international call charge leaving his phone on the hook!

If it sounds like I’m nitpicking, well, I am, but only because the show is so consumed with explaining every, attack, effect, and motive, it all kinda ends up muddling together into a gray mass that makes it easy to be distracted to the little things like the sound Misaka’s voice or Touma’s phone bill.

And at the end of the day, Terra and his attack just aren’t that impressive; certainly not as much as Imagine Breaker (even though Touma either forgot its true power or wants confirmation from Terra). Touma punches Terra a couple times, and then destroys the Document of C when he touches it with his right hand.

Back in the Tower of London, Lidvia continues explaining how the Right Hand of God wants to not only gain the power of angels, but gain equivalency with God himself and even surpass him. Such a lofty yet abstract goal is akin to Jafar’s final wish to the Genie in Aladdin: becoming an all-powerful genie. Sure, you can juggle planets in your hands, but to what end? At what point do you have enough power?

I’m not sure, and neither is the show. The Right Hand of God are simply Bad Guys, and Touma, Misaka, Itsuwa, etc. are the Good Guys. Spending the better part of two episodes on Terra feels even more pointless when we learn the RHG isn’t even really a united force; after having a chat with Terra, Acqua rips a column of the vatican off its mounts and crushes him with it.

Besides being a needlessly destructive way to kill someone, it was also a “twist” that had absolutely no effect on me. Acqua is an even more boring dude then Terra, who at least had a certain joie de vivre about him. Meanwhile, the second straight episode ends with Misaka just hanging out in her dorm, doing nothing. Not a rousing start!

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 12 (Fin)

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I’d gone on record stating that Grimgar could have ended at eight episodes and I would have been perfectly content, and whatever Grimgar did in its final four weeks, it wasn’t going to mar from that first eight. I likened it to having four “bonus” episodes.

How gratifying, then, that the Cyrene Mine arc, while necessarily more rushed than the Goblin arc, turned out to be pretty damn good anyway, both by expanding on what the first eight had established and showing us a few new sides of our six party members.

When we left off last week, Haru made the sensible decision not to squander Ranta’s staying behind by attempting to rescue them in their current state. Ranta, for his part, doesn’t expect anyone to come, and ends up making some surprising allies in the livestock he mocked before.

He also summons a demon, Zodiark, who isn’t so much an ally as something annoying enough to ground him in the task at hand; the demon is constantly telling him to die-die-die, and Ranta isn’t about to accommodate it.

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Meanwhile, there’s well, not dissension in the ranks, as Haru wants to go back to save Ranta, merely an argument for why to go back, from the person he least expected: Yume. Mind you, we’ve known for some time Yume and Ranta have been a bit of an item—more “charm-irritate” than “love-hate”, but to see Yume break down when she thinks about how scared she’d be in Ranta’s position, it’s more than enough to convince everyone to make a U-turn.

This isn’t bad leadership by Haru, who is determined to keep everyone alive; it’s merely good fellowship by everyone. They don’t think it’s suicide to try to save him.

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Of course, while Ranta does pretty well for himself all alone, it is good his comrades return to him, because he can’t stay a step ahead of the kobolds forever. I like how not two minutes after lamenting how he never groped Yume’s boobs (guys still a piece of work!) that girl, who’d surely come to miss being called a flat-chest by him, is the one who puts an arrow in Death Spots’ eye for Ranta’s sake.

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It’s also nice to be shown yet again how strong a unit everyone has become, with Mary doing some offensive work, Moguzo being his usual steamroller, and Shihoru laying epic waste with her magic, even twirling her staff and flashing a dark look. Haru’s also as quick and precise as ever, killing two kobolds with a minimum of wasted movement.

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Once Ranta is safe and the party is away, they take a breather for Mary to heal Ranta, who in his elation at being saved and reunited, lets slip that he wanted to see everyone again.

He partially mentions feeling something in his chest, which Yume picks up and runs with, leaving Ranta no choice but to unleash a few more “flat-chest” remarks, spurring a bickering fest between the two until Mary (to whom Ranta’s always been submissive) lays down the law.

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Both Mary and Shihoru are low on magic (I’m glad MP isn’t unlimited in this show), but Death Spots doesn’t care what condition they’re in, he’s going to keep coming.

Haru knows this, and even if they run, he could catch them, so he makes an executive decision to take the big guy on himself, giving the others time to escape, putting Ranta in charge.

When he successfully spiders the kobold king off a cliff, a panicked Mary starts to climb down in a rush to help him, but Ranta stops her (though Mary reallydoesn’t want to be stopped), then warning Haru he’d better not die.

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What follows is an encapsulation of the show and the overall struggle of Haru and the others. Grimgar, like his duel with Spots, is a battle of life and death.

As long as he’s still alive, victory is in sight, so he won’t give up on trying to stay alive until he’s dead. I know, that all seems kind of obvious, but whatever!

Time slows to a crawl for Haru, who follows a stream of light with his dagger until it finds Spots’ weak spot: his other eye.

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After beating Spots, Haru blacks out and collapses, but he does not die with him. Instead, he wakes up to an upbeat Mary humming to herself, then leaning in close when welcoming him back.

Everyone else is in good spirits, with Moguzo making lunch, Ranta counting the cash they made for beating the giant kobold, and planning to take his sword to a blacksmith to forge it into something more useful than a trophy.

Later, Mary puts Haru’s repaired dog tags back on him, and the weight of them make him feel like at home, which is where he now knows he is. “About time,” says Mary.

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While celebrating at the tavern, Renji approaches Haru once more—to apologize. Instead, Haru, who is grateful for Renji giving him the nudge he needed, thanks him. He and Renji exchange looks of mutual respect before Ranta orders a round for the house.

Afterwards Haru visits Manato’s grave (another hauntingly beautiful, quiet scene, to ask him if being a leader was hard. Manato throws the question back at Haru, then tells him he’s grown.

He’s not the Haruhiro from the beginning of the show…but then again no one is who they were at the beginning. For one thing, they’re to a person, far more badass now. They’re also a family now.

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Notably absent is any kind of explanation for how any of the party members arrived in Grimgar, nor any exploration of the lives they led or the shadows of memories from that other world they still carry. And let me be clear: I was totally okay with this. 

I felt there was a possibility those things would be addressed in the finale, even if it wasn’t very likely, but I’m glad they weren’t (seeing the world almost “pause” when Haru faced Spots was a close call though).  Frankly, I like the mystery; not all questions need to be answered. Not for us, and not for Haru and his comrades, either.

As the days go on and he keeps living and surviving and creating new memories with his friends, his family, he feels more and more comfortable in the world and life he’s in, and less and less concerned with the one he’s originally from.

Whatever he forgot, from that life isn’t as important as the fact he’s in this life now, with these people, in this world, and he doesn’t want to forget any of it.

A lovely ending to a visually and emotionally beautiful show with a deft touch. It marched to its own beat and demonstrated that there were still many promising veins to explore in the “Lost in a Fantasy RPG” mine.

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 11

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Hey, I’m back from visiting a Mayan pyramid during the equinox to watch Hai’s penultimate episode of the Spring, which begins with a beautifully-rendered flashback-slash -dream in which Mary is suddenly awakened by one of her fellow party members, before heading into the mines that will claim three of them.

It’s no accident that this scene is highly reminiscent of several similar scenes of her present party shooting the breeze during their downtime. When she’s awakened from this happy, mundane memory by Haru, and with “Death Spots” stalking them, it’s definitely not downtime.

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Since Mary’s the one with mine experience, even the ostensible party leader Haru must rely on her to show them a way out of their predicament—which is why more and more she and Haru have looked something like co-leaders. To her credit, she doesn’t let her fear or guilt overcome her, and leads everyone into the mines’ fifth level, where the kobolds do a lot of metal smelting.

After a successful and nifty stealth attack, they continue into a former temple of Luminaris, who just so happens to be the saint whose power Mary draws from for her new Dispel skill. The reason she acquired that particular spell is revealed here, as this was the site of her three comrades’ demise.

The thing is, they’ve become zombies, something that came as such a creepy shock that not only does Ranta draw back in fright, but in her moment of fear Yume embraces him tightly, something Ranta does not complain about!

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That aside, it’s Mary’s solemn duty to exorcise her three friends so that they can be freed from their wretched existence as shambling ghouls; quite similar to the way FFX’s Yuna sends fiends. The only problem is, Dispel is a very close range spell; she has to be right up in someone’s personal space to pull it off.

The problem is, while they may look like the dessicated corpses of her friends, they aren’t her friends anymore, and they attack the party with the same ferocity as the kobolds would. And this is where this episode becomes about more than just the party helping Mary; Mary is also helping the party.

This is their first fight against opponents who are neither goblins nor kobolds. They may be zombies, but they’ve retained all the skills of the humans they used to be, and they’re tough.

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Moguzo has trouble with the more acrobatic zombie tank; Ranta’s theif opponent can fight him off indefinitely; and the mage’s spells outclass Shihoru, who quickly runs low on magic, but thankfully doesn’t become a sitting duck, because Haru observes everyone long enough to determine the proper way to deal with the zombies, who at the end of the day are outnumbered 2-1.

First, Haru backs up Mary as she goes to the front to deal with the mage, punching through her firewall and performing the spell. She briefly reverts to the girl Mary knew before crumbling into a pile of ash. Then Haru gives Ranta an opening to lop off the theif’s leg, whereupon Mary comes from behind and performs the spell on him.

Finally, after Yume’s arrow bounces off the tank’s armor, Haru pounces on him and exposes his arm for Moguzo to hack off with all his might, cutting so close he takes some of Haru’s hair with it. Mary performs the spell and poof, job done. Weight lifted. Did I mention that the combat in this episode rocked? Well, it did.

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Mary is relieved, and thanks her new party profusely for their help, but they’re all thankful too. They never got to meet her friends, but they did learn how those friends could fight, and it helped them identify the shortcomings they all still have, whether it’s Shihoru’s lack of offensive magic, to Ranta’s lack of a sufficiently cool finishing move.

What had been a harrowing battle, then, becomes another great scene of downtime where everyone is just sharing a little more about themselves and bouncing off each other, enjoying each other’s company in various ways. It also demonstrates how good this show is at slowing things down and giving episodes room to breathe. It makes the moment the casual rest scene is blown up by the raging Giant Kobold all the more impacting.

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Death Spots is smarter than he looks, or at least a far more determined hunter than the party gave him credit for, but out of respect for his formidableness, Haru’s order to the party is to simply GTFO, briefly tangling with the boss to give his people a head start.

Ranta relieves him when the Kobold sends waves of subordinates after them, and after Moguzo uncharacteristically grabs Shihoru when everyone has to jump a great distance, Ranta offers her a hand up.

Finally, after the Kobold simply decides to start bringing the wooden scaffolding the party is using down, Haru nearly falls to his highly-possible death, but his Manato-ing is prevented by—Ranta, who tells Haru that the leader can’t die.

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The annoying selfish contrarian isn’t really redeeming himself by staying behind and fighting so that Haru and the others can get away, because he has nothing to redeem. This is who Ranta always was, the situation just never called for this particular brand of desperate heroics.

And I daresay Ranta is every bit as cool as he thinks he is at episode’s end, never letting the Kobolds see him sweat (though he does condemn their crossbow bolts as unsporting!).

Furthermore, both Mary’s and Manato’s experiences help inform Haru’s decision to not send the party back down to try to rescue Ranta. That’s not what he wants, and it’s not what’s best for the party.

Haru’s deep affection for all of his comrades (even Ranta) can be a fatal weakness in a leader, but here he makes the right decision for the right reasons, and the rest of the party concurs with it. We’ll see how it pans out.

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