Kokkoku – 07

Shouko’s brother Yosuke is alive after all, if profoundly malnourished. Shouko is overjoyed, and watching her embrace her long-dormant kin leads Juri to embrace Makoto just as tightly when he’s released. Mr. Eyelash Spots, AKA Sako, wants to join the Yukawas as an ally, if they’ll have him. I guess he’s had his fill of all this Stasis shit. He’s not alone.

For once, “Great Lord” Sugawa and the Yukawas have something in common: they want to seal the Stasis spell. However, Sugawa, who had the sacred manuscripts of the Genuine Love Society researched, determining that they were all written by the same person over 500 years, wants to follow the founder’s path and live a much longer time.

While Sugawa discusses his plans to let the outsider Shiomi succeed him as Great Lord, one of his disciples—a true believer—is eavesdropping, and is so often the case with these kind of organizations, a leader like Sugawa must always beware of those so committed they’ll put the Cause before its leader.

There are only four true believers left, plus one hired muscle, Shiomi, and Sugawa. They are all who remain to oppose the Yukawas. Once Juri changes into some new duds (which she’s also now wearing in the OP) the plan is laid out: she’ll expel the seven remaining opponents, leave Stasis and seal the spell.

Takafumi is the one member of the Yukawas who doesn’t want the spell sealed, and thinks the others are fools for wanting to do so. But the Master Stone ends up in the hands of the disciple who believes Sugawa betrayed them, and the handover is tense.

Sugawa tries to smooth things over by saying Shiomi will only be a temporary arrangement, but his disciple knows what he heard and has already made his choice and draws his blade. Sugawa then gives his “last sermon”, asking what it’s like to be completely controlled by a specter.

I imagine he’s going to be able to proceed even if his disciples try to interfere. It will fall to the Yukawas to stop him and reclaim their lives.

Kokkoku – 06

Damn, this was going to be my “last chance” episode that would decide whether I would drop Kokkoku, and what do you know, the story finally shows some signs of life! Granted, it does so in an episode full of death, starting with the guy Tsubasa is fighting. Tsubasa basically suffocates him as he struggles.

It’s an ugly, nasty business that makes Tsubasa, who can’t find Makoto after killing someone, start to despair. Thankfully Juri, Gramps and Takafumi encounter him before he turns into a Handler, and Juri’s expulsion of the jellyfish/specter stops the transformation.

So Tsubasa is fine, but now Stalled. Then Majima appears, saying she has the kid (who is with the crotchety guy who amusingly hates kids) and wants to deal. When Juri hears Majima’s terms, she wonders why she didn’t just come and talk to them rather than causing so much chaos.

Majima doesn’t have a good reason, beyond perhaps wanting at the time to give the Yukawas a taste of revenge for what they did to her family. Juri will help her try to retrieve her family, but she won’t forgive her for doing things the way she did.

Majima’s plan is to summon three Heralds, but she can’t summon the necessary murderous intent to do so. The summoning falls to Takafumi, who is just experimenting whether he can do so on a whim, and can. Talk about coming through with a hidden power in the clutch!

In any case, the Herald/Handler appears, and Gramps works overtime transporting himself and Takafumi out of its deadly reach, while Juri jumps onto it from above and begins expelling the three jellyfish within the body.

This makes for decent, novel action, with parts of the Handler sloughing off into clouds of wood, sand, and dust, but those clouds eventually freezing along with the rest of Stasis.

Unfortunately, while Juri released the jellyfish from Majima’s parents and brother, she can’t bring them back to life; only their semi-mummified bodies remain. Majima solemnly takes them into her arms and dusts off their faces.

So what’s next for this bunch of misfits? Will Majima honor the agreement and return Makoto? What about Sugawa? And how many underlings could possibly still be running around to serve him?

Kokkoku – 05

At last we see Majima Shouko’s side of the story of the time she and Juri last crossed paths. She was riding in a car with her mother, father, and brother (the latter two being violent dicks) when the Yukawas activate Stasis.

Overwhelmed by despair at their sudden predicament, one by one her family is surrounded by tentacles and dust and floats away, leaving her alone. She finally meets another moving soul in young Juri, who is so upset about her dog dying she expels Shouko on sight.

Juri’s goal, which is different from Sagawa’s, is to retrieve her family from Stasis, if she can. She believes Juri’s ability may be the only way to do that, and manages to get one of Sagawa’s men to side with her in exchange for sex at a later date. Suddenly Juri teleports in and expels that guy, leaving Shouko with just one guy.

There’s a fleeting opportunity for Shouko and Juri to talk, woman to woman, but it doesn’t happen, because there’s no trust on either side. So Shouko and the eye-spot dude go to Sagawa, who again uses a sacrifice in order to summon not one or two but three separate Heralds, which Shouko believes to be her lost family members.

Shouko seems to refine her goal on the spot to simply recover her family’s bones, not get them back alive, which while noble, is simply not as pressing or compelling as the situation of the Yukawa’s, who are all still alive and haven’t given in to despair.

Juri and Gramps manage to rescue Takafumi, despite his resisting when they come to get them (Sagawa apparently set him up outside like bait with a big tin of chocolate). The bickering Yukawas are immediately surrounded, and Gramps teleports them away, but it’s going to be another chase. Yippee.

Finally, Tsubasa and Makoto make it home, but their tail gets there first and takes the note Juri left for her brother. Thankfully, Tsubasa can sense something isn’t right just in timeto save Makoto from getting stabbed.

Somebody ends up stabbed in the end, but as the fabric the knife goes through is the color of the towel Tsubasa was using as a shield, we don’t know who yet.

While it’s good to know more about Shouko’s motivations, things continue to move at a snail’s pace, while the cat-and-mouse game through the drab, lifeless Stasis has long since grown stale.

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Juri’s would-be attacker is stopped by Gramps’ catlike reflexes and Juri’s own power, and she gets Gramps to talk about the incident from her youth in which the two went to the Stasis because her dog Andre was about to die, then she used her power out of anger to almost cast Gramps out of Stasis. While running around looking for her, he passes a young Majima on a bridge with her big stuffed cat.

When more thugs go after them and Gramps has to stop to rest, it’s No More Miss Nice Juri. She’s done running, and decides to launch a counterattack on the thugs, pulling out their specters one by one. The fight works up an appetite, so they head to a konbini for some food and drink.

There, they find the place a mess thanks to the thugs, and Juri curses them for being so awful before trying to turn matters to the girl on the bridge years ago, which Gramps only somewhat remembers.

They later can’t find Tsubasa or Makoto where they left them, but Juri believes the specter of the man killed by the Handler transferred to Tsubasa, which means he’s moving around somewhere.

Meanwhile, Takafumi is being grilled by Sakawa and his friend, who think the Yukawa family has been selfish and reckless in their ownership and usage of the Master Stone.

Takafumi, the worst negotiator in the world, doesn’t seem like he’d resist whatever ridiculous terms these sinister sweet-talkers come up with, as he still believes they’re holding his family members hostage.

Back at the Yukawa residence, Majima and the other henchmen sit around. One gets restless, and decides to demonstrate the proper way to strangle someone on a stalled guy, but gets killed by a much smaller and weaker but still deadly Handler/Herald.

When Majima inspects the remains of the Handler, she finds a desiccated human body, and tells the others that those that stay in Stasis and give up control of their bodies to the Specters end up as Heralds. Someone in Majima’s family met such a fate, which goes a little further towards explaining her present beef with the Yukawas.

3-gatsu no Lion – 30

“All you can do is what you can do, one thing at a time.” That’s the advice Hayashida-sensei gives Rei after another consultation about Hina’s predicament. Hayashida is as outraged by the attitude of Hina’s homeroom teacher—and as rearin’ to go give her a piece of his mind—as Rei, but neither of them can.

Hayashida is a total stranger in the matter, while Rei took a path of isolation that won’t work for Hina…though I maintain that his plan of “at least have lots of cash sitting around” isn’t a bad one, though Hayashida is right that the Kawamotos would not easily accept it.

Akari’s emotionless tale of their father’s whereabouts—he left them to start another family—was suitably heartbreaking. But so is the sudden news that his self-appointed rival Nikaidou lost the semifinals in the Newcomer Tournament, and is apparently now too ill to leave his home.

Rei wants answers, so Shimada provides them—by telling Rei the story of how his master took on one more disciple after him: a tiny, round, sickly boy. Shimada dismissed him, as most did, as a pampered rich boy, but in him raged a burning passion the equal of any shogi player, even if he lacked adequate skill to match.

Due to his (undisclosed, incurable) illness, Nikaidou couldn’t have a normal childhood any more than Rei could with the loss of his family and turbulent years with his stepsiblings. But back then, as now, Nikaidou only ever “did what he could do, one thing at a time,” staying in every match until he had nothing left. He was doing it because he could, but also so Rei could have a worthy rival to keep him on his toes.

Now that Rei knows how weak Nikaidou is, one could be forgiven for thinking he’d go easy on him next time. But Rei understands what devoting oneself to shogi means, even if his path to the game was much much different. That understanding demands he show Nikaidou no mercy next time. And hopefully there’ll be a next time.

Fate / Zero – 18

Per a reader’s suggestion, I am watching the next three F/Z episodes in the order of 18-19-17. We’ll see how this goes. At the end of episode 16, Saber wondered what the hell happened to make Emiya Kiritsugu the kind of person he’s become. Episode 18 begins to answer that very question by taking a trip back to Kiritsugu’s childhood on picturesque Arimago Island.

Things couldn’t start out any more idyllic, with “Kerry” (what everyone calls Kiritsugu) cliff-diving with his friends on an absolutely perfect day before being picked up by Shirley, a very pretty young local who is serving as his father’s assistant. Kerry’s father is mage, developing flowers that never wilt in hopes of someday applying the same principles to humans.

Throughout the episode’s first acts, the gorgeous tropical setting could never quite hide the fact that there was something very fishy about Kerry’s father taking up residence in a secluded property on a remote island for mysterious magical experimentation related to immortality. That’s a lot of red flags.

One night Shirley shows Kerry that her flower has wilted, and that she will never be able to be anything other than a glorified lab assistant. She believes Kerry has a bright future following in his dad’s footsteps, and they both agree that his dad is doing something that will be able to help humanity immensely.

Kerry also recoils from Shirley when she gets too close to him, as he’s of the age where boys typically deny their attraction to the opposite sex despite biological evidence to the contrary.

However, it’s clear Kerry likes Shirley very much, which makes it that much more heartbreaking when I realized that beautiful night they talked would be the last. The next day, Kerry’s dad asks if he went into his lab, then warns him to stay in the house for the day.

When Shirley doesn’t arrive at the usual time, he sneaks out to look for her, and finds an empty medicine bottle on the floor of her house. Shirley herself has set to work sucking the blood of the chickens in her yard, as whatever medicine she took turned her into some kind of vampire.

Kerry, unable to grant Shirley’s wish to kill her, seeks refuge in the church, but before long the entire island turns into a battlefield. The vampirism spreads quickly from Shirley to the other townsfolk, and Church Executors have to work overtime to kill them, while the Mages Association sets everything ablaze in order to protect their secrets.

Kerry ends up running through the middle of this hellscape (and as he’ll say to Saber years later, all war is hell) and almost gets himself killed, but he’s saved by a mysterious woman who is very handy with firearms, using them in an efficient manner that reminds me of Kiritsugu’s own style in the present.

She tells him everyone has turned into “dead apostles”, and she’s there to eliminate Kerry’s father…but Kerry gets to him first. When he asks his dad about his work and what it did to Shirley and the town, his father is, shall we say, not particularly contrite. Indeed, he seems to consider all of the horrible things that have happened a minor inconvenience, and is eager to escape the island get back to work.

Unable to muster any words in response to his father’s despicable attitude, Kerry stabs him in the gut with the dagger Father Simon gave Shirley to protect her from the evils he believed Kerry’s father to be messing with. He then takes a pistol and kills him, before the lilac-haired woman shows up.

By doing so, he did what had to be done, something he wasn’t able to do with Shirley, a misstep that ended up costing the entire town. As he escapes from the island with the woman, I imagine Kiritsugu—no longer “Kerry”—won’t be hesitating that much more from here on out.

Little Witch Academia – 03

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The heart-pounding and heartwarming fun of LWA continues as its third episode is all about broom flight, or, for the first two-thirds of it, about how totally unable to fly Akko is. No matter how hard she “focuses” or how loudly she says the magic words, gravity won’t release her from the ground.

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She’s wanted to fly her whole life, and proudly bears the scars that prove it. As Akko fails and fails again, you can feel her frustration mounting, especially once she learns there’s to be a broom relay and Diana is the favorite to win. There’s the sense Akko is right on the cusp of a magical breakthrough, but just needs something to go her way and complement her boundless passion.

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After some last-ditch “training” that seems more designed to amuse Sucy than help Akko, the relay begins, and thanks to some magical trickery and research on the competition, Sucy is able to get Lotte out to a sizable lead that she then extends. Then it’s Akko’s turn, and Sucy lends her a potion that turns her broom into a ribbiting pogo stick. As Diana says with disgust, it ain’t pretty.

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Then, the feral broom in the magical items cafe Akko wanted to try out rejects the one who stole/purchased it (Amanda) and takes an interest in Akko. It makes her fight tooth and nail to stay on, and tries to throw her off many times, but Akko won’t let go, and it takes her on a magical ride through homes, under oceans, and through the sky at jetliner speeds.

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LWA truly brings the fun and the wonder, whether it’s the sweeping sights of Akko’s detour or her veritable galaxy of inventive acrobatics and contortions. She doesn’t win – the broom handles break off and the broom turns into a bird and flies off – but she comes in a close second, once again commanding Diana’s grudging respect.

As Diana says, Akko’s got passion. I daresay she’s brimming with moxie as well. Will it be enough? Ursula looks at her younger self in the trophy case, and maybe sees Akko going down a similar path. And she seems worried. But I wouldn’t rule out Akko continuing to surprise everyone—even her apparently disillusioned idol.

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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.

Little Witch Academia – 01 (First Impressions)

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The Jist: After being inspired from a young age to become a witch like her idol Chariot, Kagari Atsuko, AKA Akko, enrolls at the magical Luna Nova Academy, meeting a standoffish fellow classmate, Sucy, along the way. Her journey hits a snag when she learns she needs a broom, and when she attempts to share a ride with a second classmate, Lotte, they end up going out of control in the ley lines landing in the forbidden Arcturus forest.

Sucy uses them as bait so she can pluck a cockatrice feather, and in the ensuing chase, a determined Akko summons Chariot’s “Shiny Rod” and uses it to speed Sucy, Lotte, and herself to Luna Nova in the middle of orientation. They later learn they’ll be roommates at the school.

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You Should Definitely Watch LWA because it’s gorgeous and immensely fun, and its first episode is a wonderful introduction both to Akko, the kind of tough, perservering girl she is, and the magical, whimsical world she’s gotten herself into. The show wastes no time subverting any expectations Akko’s trip to orientation will go smoothly.

Since this is my first exposure to the franchise, what it reminded me most of was, of course, Harry Potter, especially the stuck-up witches complaining about their academy admitting students who aren’t of pure blood (i.e. muggle-born). Akko is a perfect heroine, not too perfect, but has all the intangibles one needs to go far, including an unswerving faith that she’ll be able to fulfill her dreams.

It also reminds me, in a good way, of one of my favorite films, Kiki’s Delivery Service, if Kiki started out less well-versed in magic.

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As far as why you shouldn’t watch, well…what the heck is wrong with you, you monster?!? Seriously though, if you’re not a fan of Trigger’s Gainax-esque animation style (similar to Kill la Kill, but a lot less abstract and more focused here) or character design, you may find this a hard watch.

You may also just not into magical school anime, though the title should be a pretty good warning for such people to keep away. And of course, if you are very well-versed in LWA lore, perhaps you just don’t like the cut of this new adaptation’s jib. Again, I wouldn’t know.

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The Verdict: LWA is my first, and possibly only, truly Must Watch premiere of Winter 2017, joining Zane with his fine rakugo sequel. LWA sports heaps of heart without getting cheesy, exciting thrills without getting gory, and an overarching buoyant warmth and optimism that is lacking in so much anime these days, and thankfully isn’t undone in the closing moments by someone’s evil smirk or a Dun-dun-DUNNN.

It’s also less “kiddy” looking than My Hero Academia, and miles better-looking and sounding. Most of all, I’m looking forward to episode two more than anything else on TV, as Akko & Co. officially begin their training after an immensely entertaining introduction. If any of this sounds good, then take my recommendation and watch at once.

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Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 01

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CRY HAVOC, AND LET SLIP THE DOGS OF FOOD WARS.

That’s right, the ridumptuousness (ridiculous sumptuousness) continues right where it left off: the final round of eight/quarterfinals. And as if knowing how much we’ve missed it, the second season gives us a Souma vs. Alice showdown in its entirety: beginning, middle, and end.

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Before the match, we see how hard it is for Erina not to get worked up and start yelling at Souma (who only responds with lighthearted friendliness as usual). Alice is good at “playing” this “game” with Souma, keeping her contempt and condescension below her cool surface. This makes Alice an interesting adversary, because she’s so nice on the surface, but with that killer instinct just below it.

But make no mistake: Alice is on it in this match, and fuly intends to blow the judges and Souma away. Not only does she finish first, but she delivers a veritable jewlery box of amazing, delicate, yet powerful temari sushi flavors.

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Everyone is bowled over, as she intended; even her grandfather goes bare-chested, which is a sure sign you know some god frikkin’ food has just been served. But while the other judges and crowd are intimidated and disheartened by Alice’s culinary might, Souma just keeps grinding, not the slightest bit unfazed.

When he reveals his dish, locked tightly in a multi-layer lunch pail/tiffin, to be an evolution of nori bento, Alice has never actually heard of it; perhaps too beneath her greatness? But at this point, she remains friendly towards Souma, though some say she’s just being condescending because she’s so certain of winning. Akasaki Chinatsu excels in giving Alice just the right tones.

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But as usual, Souma combines his time-tested techniques with fresh ideas from the most random places to shock and delight the judges over and over again. Alice’s dazzling sushi jewels were on display for all to see, but Souma’s is likened to a treasure box, and its inherent thrill of discovery.

His secret weapon in the rice layer seemed at first like he was simply copying one of Alice’s molecular techniques, but it turns out making liquids into solid beads is something he’s done for years, after trying a kid’s candy label that tought him how to do it. Furthermore, he was reminded of the technique while cooking for kids, i.e. working for more than just himself.

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Alice could easily throw Souma’s apparent “Heart over Science” strategy in his face with a scoff, deeming flavor the most important thing, but her grandfather admonishes her: this isn’t about whose dish reminded whom of their childhood. It’s about bento, and Souma’s take on that theme—doing things you could only do with bento—surpassed what could just as easily have been a dish in a sushi battle.

So Alice, who has likely long forgotten what losing is, loses in a HUGE upset. And Souma’s bento’s time-travelling powers send her back to cold Scandanavia where she worked furiously to gain techniques Erina lacked so that Erina wouldn’t be the only young Nakiri people would mention in conversation.

Alice has already achieved that, and taken her place on a near-equal level with her cousin. So it was high time she was brought back down to earth from her cold space station of centrifuges and liquid nitrogen, and brought back into the warmth. Hopefully she’ll take this fair-and-square defeat in stride and not go all Erina on Souma!

Next up: Megumi vs. Ryou. So glad this show is back. Now I wait…until Restaurant Week later this month!

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Divine Gate – 03

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As Arthur summons Oz (that’s right: the Wizard of Oz…oh my) along with Loki, not necessarily for their aid but to at least bear witness to the impending discovery of the Divine Gate, the show takes a closer look at the cheerful, energetic Midori, who not surprisingly is dealing with demons just like Aoto, which affects her focus and performance in a sparring exercise, and may prove more of a crippling liability as the quest to find the gate heats up.

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We haven’t even been formally introduced to three of the six kids in the core group, but as Akane talks with them, one makes clear that Midori’s intense belief in the Gate, or something related to it, could be hampering her development, like an anchor holding back a boat (not the most flattering metaphor, I’ll admit).

As Aoto is initiated into the academy, he still declines warm food and has trouble putting into words why exactly he’s there (as opposed to how he came to be there). But it’s a brief outburst by Midori about “being number one” that shifts Akane’s attention to her later.

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Midori decides to open up Akane, telling him about her friendship with Elena, someone who only wanted one friend: her. When Midori, a far more outgoing girl, inevitably made other friends at school, it poisoned the bond between them, culminating in an ultimatum from Elena that Midori simply could not accept. This was a decent, no-nonsense execution of the Obsessive Friend theme.

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Midori fails to make up with Elena, who rather than attend the summer festival as they always do, heads off to find the Divine Gate on her own. Once Midori hears of a girl disappearing in the mountains, she rushes to a police-filled scene, and actually sees the massive gate looming over the mountain.

Ever since that strange, vivid experience, Midori has not only believed in the gate, but believed Elena was already there, waiting for her. She wants Elena to still be alive, but she also wants to repair the bond she broke by rejecting her ultimatum (which wasn’t an unreasonable move, but obviously came at a stiff price).

Aoto hears a little of the story, and it probably shows him that he’s not the only one with issues, but unlike her, he’s also got a little boy in his head telling him how messed up he is all the time. Akane and Midori can see him talking to someone they can’t see, and it worries Midori.

She does some digging online (on a computer with a keyboard that seems way too loud and disruptive for a library), but as soon as she accesses Aoto’s files, a red “Restricted Access” wall goes up, stopping her in her tracks and making her and Akane wonder what the heck Aoto did, or what was done to him.

Another episode that efficiently fleshes out one more character, Midori, without solving all her problems, but making us understand her better. I imagine the show will eventually do this with Akane and the other three prominent kids in the group, parallel to Arthur and the Round Table’s more abstract machinations.

However, I won’t be around to see it, because the mystery of the gate just isn’t doing anything for me, and there’s no indication the revelations (if they ever come, as we’re likely to be strung along for some time beforehand) will be any less half-baked than the characterization of iconic characters like Loki and Oz. So I’m making a discreet exit now; no hard feelings.

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Divine Gate – 02

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Divine Gate’s second episode delves further into both Aoto and Akane’s troubled (if very different) pasts, and there’s some okay character work going on as Aoto discovers a way to start moving forward.

But it paints with awfully broad and familiar strokes, and my initial enthusiasm about Divine Gate being an absorbing if imperfect diversion took a big hit when I was introduced to Loki, another very loaded character name.

The idea of a character who’s neither entirely good nor evil is good in theory, but the execution falls short, thanks to his really dumb clown/jester design.  I don’t particularly want this joker pulling the strings. Also, a name like Loki has inescapable baggage attached to it. Like King Arthur or Leonardo da Vinci, if you’re going to use a name, you’d better do something interesting with it.

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Meanwhile, the refreshingly normally-dressed Akane and Midori visit Aoto again, they see he takes care of alley cats, but not all the time, only “when he feels like it”, something Akane thinks is worst than not feeding them at all. But when the hungry creature in need shifts from cats to a little boy, Akane himself can’t help but help, even if he can’t always be there to do so.

When Loki makes a police robot go berserk and the kid ends up in mortal peril, and the father is too terrified and injured to save him, Aoto has to make a choice; like the one he made on the train last week.

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He chooses to help Akane and Midori, who destroy the robot while he extinguishes the fire. While the saved boy initially hesitates going to his inept father, and Akane curses the dad for doing nothing, Aoto can relate to consciously wanting to do something—like move forward—but being hampered by a subconscious that’s not in sync. The father’s fear overpowered his conscious desire to save his boy.

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I know all this because a little boy with white hair and red eyes in Aoto’s subconscious tells him and us, which is a bit clunky, truth be told, like the clowny Loki, the very sight of whom irritates me. But he apparently staged the whole crisis to shake Aoto off the shelf, and he succeeded.

Aoto goes back to the night his parents were murdered, and we learn it was his brother, the favorite son, who actually did it. When Aoto takes his hand, he briefly sees the Divine Gate, but his subconscious delivers a shock of pain to his brother, who separates their hands and walks off, never to be seen again.

So Aoto isn’t the parent-killer. Yet I felt that absolving him so easily was an overly safe choice that sapped his character of darkness and complexity. Being messed up because you killed your parents, and being messed up because your brother did, are two different things.

But it’s because his brother is still out there, and he wants to see him again, that Aoto joins the academy. Also, because Akane and Midori were “annoying”.

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Divine Gate – 01 (First Impressions)

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Many years ago, Noriyuki Abe wasted no time drawing me into a world where a youth named after a berry, who looked like a delinquent to many around him, actually had a very kind and generous heart. He could also see and talk to ghosts, which is how he met his first shinigami; a very cute one who sucked at drawing.

I’m talking, of course, about Bleach, my first extended foray into serialized anime. There’s a lot of that same welcoming, beckoning quality coming off his latest work Divine Gateas well as its exploration of spirituality and mythology. It’s a hard feeling to put into words, but Active Raid didn’t have it; not for me at least. Divine Gate, like Bleach, did.

In DG the normal human world is just the normal human world, but there are two other worlds: a world of fairies and a world of demons. A few of those humans have elemental powers, and work under Arthur of the World Council either as full-fledged members or academy students like Akane and Midori.

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Then there’s Aoto, who’s clearly a powerful water-user, even without a power-enhancing driver, but wants nothing to do with the Council, despite Arthur’s believe his powers will help maintain peace between the three worlds. Instead of attending a school that will help him hone his powers, he’s at regular old school, where his peers shun him as the infamous “parent-killer.”

Even though most of Aoto’s early dialogue is internal (and quite flowery), the fact I can hear what he’s thinking is an effective way of drawing me into his world and his plight. He’s mopey and morose, but there are very good reasons for it.

Meanwhile, since this is a show about elements and colors, his moroseness is balanced by his would-be academy mates. Akane outwardly mocks Midori for actually believing in the titular “Divine Gate” that will grant any wish once opened with the power of all the elements, but somewhere in the heart of every student and Council member is a desire to encounter that gate, their individual wishes ready to go.

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Midori and Akane meet Aoto twice, but neither encounter goes particularly well. He’s got a wall up, one they don’t—and can’t—quite understand, anymore than they understand right now how a kid could really kill his parents—which Aoto freely admits when the subject comes up (though I’m not sure he’s being truthful).

But the flashback makes it clear: Aoto was the family pariah; his parents doting on the younger son while he was exiled to a shed in the backyard eating cold food. His brother knew of his plight, but also knew Aoto had the power to do something about it, so he did nothing, instead doing whatever he wanted.

So Aoto endured a thoroughly cold and loveless upbringing. Why exactly, we don’t know. The “rain” (his tears) continues to fall unendingly inside him. He doesn’t believe power can do anything, because he’s always had it and it’s never done him any good. But perhaps, with more interaction with other perspectives and elements, those inner clouds could break one day, and he’ll find that wish to be used at the Gate.

DG effortlessly drew me into its world; it’s a place I wouldn’t mind coming back to next week. Not sure about the show’s logo, though. Tilted Impact? Really?

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