Mayonaka no Occult Koumuin – 01 (First Impressions) – Believe What You See

MOK’s first episode takes place entirely at night, as Miyako Arata reports to his first shift at the Shinjuku Ward Office “Nocturnal Community Relations Division”, the exact nature of which is something Arata himself is a little fuzzy about.

He meets two of his new colleages, the bishounen scientist Himezuka Seo and their bespectacled shift leader, Sakaki Kyouichi. They’re both warm and friendly, and inform Arata most of his shifts will take place outside, which only compounds his confusion with what their division does.

Kyouichi and Seo take him to the entrance to Shinjuku Gyoen, unlock the gate, and head inside for a “rite of passage” that involves spraying a “helper spray” that makes fairies and other supernatural creatures visible to those who aren’t able to see them.

Arata meets a tiny (and somewhat surly) pixie, a giant, cuddly Cu Sith, and more, and learns that it’s the NCR Division’s job to maintain good relations with the various supernatural beings that inhabit the forests. It’s most comforting to learn that Tokyo’s ultra-urbanization over the decades hasn’t resulted in the destruction of these beings.

Rather, they exist much like conventional city animals—pigeons, crows, raccoons and squirrels—they’ve adapted to exist beside humans, albeit out of sight to most. Only occasionally, they can cause a disturbance, such as a fight breaking out between angels and tengu.

Arata discovers that an angel and a tengu are lovers who wish to elope, but neither the angel’s older sister nor the tengu’s father approve, and since the two races just naturally don’t get along, it isn’t long before their bickering spills outside of the park and into the city proper.

While Arata can tell the angels and tengu mean no harm, Kyouichi and Seo both seem to ignore them and present a defensive posture, ready to use gas grenades and the like to disperse them. However, Arata informs them that he can hear what they’re saying, and manages to defuse the situation by being the one person who can have a calm dialogue with everyone.

Arata’s colleagues are amazed that Arata can understand what the angels and tengu are saying—it’s a rare if not impossible gift for a mere human, and sure enough when an elder tengu appears and addresses Arata as Abe no Seimei, it’s all but confirmation Arata isn’t a mere human at all.

MOK follows a long tradition of night-oriented Tokyo-set shows like Tokyo Ghoul and Durarara!! in creating a rich and lived in animated version of the Eastern Capital. It also follows the latter of those two shows with a usually laid back, upbeat tone, helped in no small part by the jazzy score by Evan Call (previously of Violet Evergarden and currently of YU-NO). I found MOK—or Midnight Occult Civil Servants—clever, cozy, and cool.

Steins;Gate 0 – 18 – What is this New Devilry

What happens this week? God, what doesn’t happen this week?! (Oh wait; sorry, “there is no God…”) But first, a couple of misconceptions I’d gathered at the end of the last outing. Mayuri is not dead; a bullet only grazed her head.

Also, Kagari/K2605 didn’t shoot her; it really was a stray from the soldiers. Far from being her attempted murderer, Kagari completely loses it on the troops in her mother’s name, lopping off their heads and shooting them with their own rifles.

When Mayuri gets a (pained) look at her future adoptive daughter, K2605 snaps out of it and becomes regular Kagari again. But nobody’s out of danger yet. Maho and Daru are still being held captive by soldiers, and the mastermind finally reveals himself, first to Rintarou, then to everyone else on that rooftop.

It’s Professor Leskinen. He, or rather numerous “hes” throughout history, are behind everything: the “voice of God” in Kagari’s head to manipulating events so Kurisu would die but her memories of the time machine would be preserved through Amadeus.

Leskinen/s have been preparing for this very day, the perfect time when competing global powers (Stratfor and DURPA) converge on the Time Machine, allowing him to swoop in and snatch it for himself.

I’m pretty sure I never suspected Leskinen was the Big Bad; only when they showed part of the face of the guy who brainwashed Kagari did I comment that he didn’t look like Leskinen. Now Judy Reyes I suspected (who drinks red wine on a plane? A little turbulence and you’re wearing it), but not the mostly harmless-seeming bad Japanese-speaking professor.

Of course, Lesky relied on the “soft-heartedness” of everyone from Maho to Rintarou to facilitate his plan, and was all too willing to appear harmless until it was too late to stop him. His reveal is a double-edged sword: there’s more clarity now to who Rintarou & Co. are up against, but “villain spends inordinate amount of time explaining his evil scheme” cliche really has been done to death.

It’s a bit disappointing to see Lesky reduced to a chortling mad scientist, but at least there’s a kind of dark symmetry with Rintarou’s long-dormant Hououin Kyouma. Oh, and thanks to wasting so much time explaining his plan, he ends up never getting to even implement it. Instead, Kagari uses her remaining strength to grab him.

He puts a couple more bullets into her but she doesn’t let go, giving Suzu time to take care of the rest. Only her dad can stop her from beating Leskinen to death. Then things get really crazy when a Black Hawk helicopter opens fire on the roof before another team of soldiers drops in.

Then an Apache helicopter shoots the Black Hawk, causing enough chaos for Mayuri to grab Suzuha and do what they originally set out to do: use the time machine. After bidding Rintarou farewell, the machine is activated and begins to glow green, but one of the helicopters fires a missile at it. There’s an explosion, and the among the resulting debris is a part of the machine.

Did Mayuri and Suzuha fail to get out in time? We don’t know for sure (just like I wasn’t sure Mayuri was killed or Kagari didn’t kill her last week). If they made it, perhaps we’ll pick up on their experience, and Mayuri will be able to undertake her first big mission as Lab Member #002.

Furthering the confusion is a lengthy text Rintarou gets from Mayuri. Is it just a text she sent in the present that simply took a while to get to him, or is it a D-mail? The timing suggests the latter.

If they didn’t make it, there’s still the Phone Microwave and Daru and Maho’s know-how (not to mention a captive Leskinen), and they’ll be making more green bananas. In either case, Rintarou & Co. are down, but far from out.

Hibike! Euphonium – 04

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Things couldn’t get much lower than they got last week, with the band unable to play together and various factions disputing whether to continue complaining to Taki or give in to his very new way of doing things.

Perhaps demonstrating her future as a diplomat, Haruka manages to work a weeklong ceasefire, during which time they’ll practice and attempt to get to a point where Taki will at least call them an ensemble, and only complain if he still doesn’t allow them to go to their precious SunFes.

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While all the negotiating takes place, Reina pretty much floats above it all, blasting her trumpet for all the school to hear. As narrator Kumiko puts it, this is Reina’s way of expressing her apathy for all this political bullshit…and I’m with Reina! They’re a band, for crying out loud; not a social club. If they want to go to SunFes, they need to be good enough to go, and the only way to do that is to knock off all the nonsense and get playin’.

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The accord thus reached, the more whiny of the band members are subjected to more of Taki-sensei’s abrasive tutelage; having them run laps before playing to build up their hearts and lungs; giving them semi-meditative breathing exercises, and singing solfège prior to creating overtones in group practice. In spite of their resentment for the man dishing out all this work, the band steadily gets better.

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Did I mention how much I love the relationship between Kumiko and Shuichi? She’s surly with him on the surface as usual—especially when he gets a dig in about her being cynical…which is true, by the way!—yet she still goes with him and hears him out about Reina getting into trouble with the seniors.

They do this in a very romantic spot, like that bench in the first ep, and even if the content of their conversation will never be accused of being lovey-dovey, the simple fact they can interact so casually and comfortably speaks volumes. There’s something there, but unlike other things this week, it’s left unsaid; whether it will remain unsaid all season remains to be seen.

Then they get in trouble when Shuichi blames Taki for not defending Reina—just when Reina is passing by on a bike on her way home. This is a bit of a coincidence, but I’ll allow it, because Kumiko realizes she made the same blunder she did back in that flashback that started her “rift” with Reina. She knows she can blame Shuichi for stating the behind-the-back talking, but she can’t deny that she agrees with his doubts about Taki.

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Kumiko’s fresh error vexes her during her parent-teacher conference (where we learn she followed her older sister into concert band, but her sister eventually quit), and when Reina asks Kumiko to join her in a dark and secluded corner of the schoolyard, she’s afraid of vicious retribution for that error.

Thankfully, Reina isn’t that kind of person. She apologizes, in her curt way, for saying too much. But that simple honesty broke the ice, allowing Kumiko to come out and say a lot of things to Reina she could never get around to saying until that moment: she’s sorry; she won’t say things about people behind their back; she’ll practice hard; she was inspired to work harder and aim higher by Reina’s Dvorak.

Kumiko saw the opportunity to say these things, and while she fears Reina will think she’s creepy now, she still feels good about saying them. For her part, Reina seemed moved by Kumiko’s sudden torrent of spoken feelings. Two episodes ago she made initial contact; now a dialogue is open, and they’re on their way to something resembling friendship.

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Kumiko decides not to keep quiet again in practice, encouraging a sleeping bandmate to join them in playing together, and surprised when she agrees. The rest of the band is able to channel the energy from their mutual dissatisfaction with Taki-sensei into becoming a better band, which may have been Taki’s intention all along.

When their week is up, the ensemble doesn’t sound perfect, but it does sound like an ensemble. They’re playing together. They can hear each other, and they’re playing like they have something to prove. The school hears them too, and are impressed. So SunFes is on, complete with a grueling, no-holds-barred practice schedule. I know it won’t be smooth sailing from here on in, but the progress both Kumiko and the band showed this week was very heartening. And hey, no one’s dying of an unspecified illness!

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Hibike! Euphonium – 03

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Watching Mikagura and Hibike! back-to-back is a study in contrasts. Eruna enters her new school looking to become its dashing hero, and when she’s knocked to the ground, jumps right back up, dusts herself off, and vows to carve her own path. Kumiko, on the other hand, has kept all of her fire within, and continues to allow herself to be stuffed into a euph-shaped hole despite not being particularly enthusiastic about it. Eruna believes she’s the best, while Kumiko never had any strong desire to be the best.

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Kumiko’s older sister greets her coldly, and while part of that may be emotional distance between sisters at different stages in their lives, perhaps her sis is a little disappointed Kumiko has “settled” for the euph “again”, knowing Kumiko herself isn’t that invested in it. “You don’t like the euph; I don’t like the euph…so what’s with the euph?”

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Be that as it may, hearing Hazuki toot her first note on “Tubacabra” lifts my spirits somewhat, as does her dutiful circular breathing practice-by-blow tickler. Kumiko may not be into this, but Hazuki is a lot more like Eruna; eager to learn and make the most of this opportunity. Then again, she got the instrument she wanted.

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This episode is half concert-band procedural, with Kumiko narrating how things work in a band, and giving said band a very professional feel, what with the sectional practices and lead-up to a rehersal as an ensemble. But little details here and there indicate that there’s a reason this band sounded so bad the first time Kumiko heard it: the band itself doesn’t quite work.

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Things are made painfully clear when the band pres Haruka summons their conductor Taki-sensei, perhaps against her better judgment. He gave them a simple beginner song to practice – “The Marine’s Hymn”, but it only takes a few measures of rough, uncoordinated play for him to cut the rehearsal short and call into question the band’s general understanding of what an ensemble is, before requesting they not waste his time.

Kumiko knows the band deserves the scorn, but the second years, who seem to be goofing off anyway, don’t react well to the tough love and stage a revolt of sorts.

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For the third time in as many episodes, Shuuichi approaches Kumiko to talk, only she’s flanked by her new friends and fellow bassists. Midori’s momentary misunderstanding about why Shuuichi was there was pretty cute, but Shuuichi is really there to confirm Kumiko’s concerns: as hard as some in the band may work, getting to the Nationals just may not be in the cards. Not with the way things are now.

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Things go from bad to worse when the second years’ revolt results in practice being canceled, which is not good for a band in desperate need of practice. As Kumiko, Hazuki and Midori start to head home with their heads hanging low, they suddenly hear a trumpet in the distance, which Kumiko recognizes instantly as Reina. As

She’s playing Dvorak’s “From the New World” – a piece that, beyond having it’s own anime, is something Kumiko knows the composer wrote when he was far from the home he knew and loved. There’s longing in the piece, and the pain of what’s been left behind, but there’s also hope; and enough feeling in the performance that the dusk almost looks like a dawn.

Reina’s lovely rendition, punctuated by a scream of frustration, made for a spirited, optimistic finish to what was, looking back, a pretty gloomy episode.

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Hibike! Euphonium – 02

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Everyone’s subtly hiding their true feelings and gathering in the safest direction.

Kumiko has a clear picture of the ideal scenario in which she and Reina make up, but rather than approach her and say anything, she procrastinates. Hazuki and Midori don’t want to interfere too much, but it’s starting to get ridiculous.

Kumiko’s hesitation makes sense: she believes Reina expects some kind of apology, but doesn’t feel like she’s in the wrong. She’s worried her true feelings will create conflict, so she avoids contact. Mind you, avoiding Reina forever is simply not realistic when the two are in the same band.

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As the newly-assembled band is introduced to the instruments and asked to choose which one they’d like to play, it’s a case of Kumiko not wanting to take the safest course, but rather looking for something new.

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It’s never been that she’s loved the Euph; the Euph was simply thrust upon her in grade school and middle school because no one else would play it. And while she may be simply messing around, the energetic senpai Asuka seems to see that long-standing relationship with the Euph in Kumiko’s face.

When Kumiko’s neighbor Aoi lets slip Kumiko’s an old hand at the Euph, her fate is sealed, but on the bright side, Hazuki (who is chosen Cinderella-style by the Tuba) and Midori (contrabass) will be in the same section as her.

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Speaking of neighbors, I continue to like how standoffish with Shuuichi Kumiko is, as if she can barely stand his presence…especially when he relays his interest in switching up his intrument. Like the Euph, he’s an example of something that just fell in her lap in life and she ran with it, without seriously weighing her choices. For his part, Shuuichi seems to want to remain on cordial terms with her—after all, he’s the one who’s approached her both times now.

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Then Taki-sensei, the band’s director, shows up and gives his students a choice: will they go for the Nationals, or just play to have fun? It’s up to them; he’ll support them either way, but won’t go easy on them if they want to compete.

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They put it to a vote, and suddenly Kumiko finds herself looking Reina’s way. Not surprisingly, Reina has her hand raised to go for the Nationals. Suprisingly, Aoi, raises her hand to have fun. Unlike the Euph or Shuuichi, here’s a non-circumstantial choice being given to Kumiko when she has the agency to make it…and she abstains, again worried either choice has its risks.

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That nice line up at the top is spoken by Aoi after the band meeting. It’s the third year the band has voted for the Nationals, and they’ve never gotten close; a little cynicism on her part is understandable. But she also knows why so many people voted for rather than against, which is the same reason Kumiko doesn’t want to tell Reina she doesn’t want to apologize for being less emotionally involved when they lost back then, and the same reason Taki asked the kids what they wanted to do: it’s all about finding those safe places of minimal conflict.

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But not all conflict is bad; some conflict breeds creativity and innovation, and greater things than could have been achieved in those safe places. So Kumiko, hiding behind her bookbag, finally approaches Reina at the sink. Reina simply asks her if she’s playing Euph again, and Kumiko says she is…and that’s it!

Now, this encounter is far from the perfect yet impossible scenario Kumiko envisioned, but that scenario only lived inside Kumiko’s head. Here, she’s not in her head going around in circles about how Reina might feel or how things might go. Instead, she’s taking one small baby step outside of that safe zone, as herself. As Aoi says, three years can flash by all too fast…and she knows Kumiko will regret spending them hiding in her head or behind her bookbag.

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Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – 09

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Things are a little more focused this week (though there was no way it was going to be as jumbled as last week’s), as we finally build up to the great culmination of all of Arthur Gaz’s designs: his resurrection by Black Chaika, using the parts collected by the others.

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It’s a scene the show’s been building towards for two seasons. So why did it feel a little…flat? Why was I only half-invested in all of this? ‘Chaika Fatigue’, perhaps. Also, Penultimate Episode Syndrome, where the second-to-last episode is either better or worse than the last. As our heroes mostly stand around and gawk at the mustache-twirling bad guys as the shit hits the fan, it seems like the latter.

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That’s not to say this episode was a failure on all counts. For one thing, it succeeded greatly in destroying pretty much all hope of White Chaika performing a funeral for her father, and not just because he’s not her father and he’s no longer dead. There’s also something so very wrong about Black Chaika birthing the reincarnation of her father beneath her skirts while making moaning and wailing in apparent…arousal.

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Final Fantasy-style final chapter cutscenes are notorious for the rambling speeches and grotesque transformations of the Big Bad(s) as the good guys stew in the corner with clenched fists. In that regard, this episode succeeds admirably. Before you start fighting the final boss, the game wants to make sure you hate him as much as possible, but also learn his twisted worldview. And the simple reveal of Young Gaz — who looks a lot like Guy, not accidentally — had an understated awe about it.

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Speaking of awe, Neo-Gaz wastes no time killing Hartgen (with a casual but lethal one-word incantation — “Pierce”). Harty was just a pawn, after all, whose power, clout, and charisma were used to gather both the Chaikas and the masses of bloodthirsty warriors. War only appeals to Gaz in that it is the state of civilization that nets him the most powerful emotions and memories which make the magic he feasts upon. He’s less a megalomaniac and more a force of nature at this point: an all-consuming storm.

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And Chaika? Not only was she never his daughter (he has none), but “Chaika” is merely the term for the magical technique he used to resurrect himself. Pawn, tool, technique, doormat — however Chaika wishes to call it, as far as Gaz is concerned her task is complete.

After destroying the flying fortress Red Herring with his personal Gundo Niva Lada, he uses her to activate a heretofore dormant fortress in orbit. Space Fortress. Now we’re talking. Where the heck to the good guys go from here? I don’t know, but the fact Gaz and his underlings are too arrogant to bother killing them all immediately proves they have a chance.

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Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – 08

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How fitting that on the eve of a holiday centered around stuffing yourself,  we get perhaps the most overstuffed episode of Chaika ever. Seriously, there was a lot going on, and while the episode made an admirable attempt to keep everything interesting, it couldn’t keep some parts from feeling like padding.

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Compared to, say, Akame ga Kill!, which has been progressively killing off characters so it can focus on fewer and fewer, Chaika has kept everyone alive with just two episodes left, and so has to find a place for them, just as one has to find a place for every thanksgiving dish on the table. Its one major death – Gillette’s – was a fake-out causing more of a “huh” than a “wow”.

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Not to mention it chooses this time to finally reveal who the “Head Chaika” is, as Zita, Leo, and Matthaus interview one of Hartgen’s retainers. It seems like Gaz had reason to smile after Hartgen killed him, because henceforth Hartgen started acting just like Gaz, as if he was a man possessed.

Hartgen isn’t exactly Gaz re-incarnate, as he needs Head Chaika to show up (the evil Chaika’s are always the most scantily clad) and give him the idea for the martial arts tournament. Killing Gaz did something to Hartgen to change him into a pliable, warmongering pawn for Head Chaika to manipulate.

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Hartgen wants to be Gaz II, and so uses the tournament as (flimsy) cover to raise an army, hoping the Six Nations will react too slowly. Two ministers do deploy the Flying Fortress Cima to Hartgen; it’s sure to play a role in the near future.

In the mean time, Akari and Fredrica find a room with dozens if not hundreds of coffins just like Chaika’s…and then they’re ambushed by Chaika Puppet Ninjas. Yes, that is a thing that was in this episode, because everything in creation was in this episode.

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Meanwhile, the guards arrest the various pairs one by one and send them into a subterranean arena, where Black Chaika and her twin sisters sit and watch their own mini-tournament, betting on who will come out the victor.

First, Vivi and Nikolai are forced to fight Dark Gillette, something that’s initially very hard for Vivi to do because she loves the guy and has no idea what’s going on. But in the end, when Gillette prepares to kill Nikolai, she takes GIllette’s sword hand off with Niko’s greatsword, in a pretty badass display.

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The shock of his injury apparently brings Gillette’s memories back, and it seems he’ll keep living, though why is anyone’s guess. Next, Akari and War Maiden Mode- Fredrica are stopped by Shin, then Fred’s locked in a magical barrier and riddled with arrows, continuing the tradition of neutralizing the overpowered ally in crunch time (though serves them right for not looking up).

White Chaika and Tooru are up next, forced to fight Red Chaika and David (and winning pretty dang easily, when all’s said and done. When David is wounded, Chaika forfeits the fight and runs off in tears, rather than let her comrade come to further harm.

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Of course, they’re only Tooru’s appetizer; the entree is Shin, who shows up with the captured Akari and Fredrica. White Chaika is jumped by guards, forcing Tooru to fight Shin alone, and he gets schooled by his mentor. With that, the episode kinda fizzles out, without showing us what’s for dessert.

There were a couple cool moments, and I liked the arena format for the gauntlet of boss battles, but at the end of the day this episode had way too much squeezed into it, and strained and groaned under the weight of it all.

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Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – 07

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This episode had a workmanlike quality to it, like the buildup to the final act of a JRPG-style fantasy/adventure story that it is. One does not simply skip to the final boss (whom I presume is Hartgen) without first carving through a considerable number of dungeon grunts.

That being said, Tooru and Akari actually do try to skip ahead, but encounter the mini-boss Shin, someone they’re not prepared to fight just yet. In a refreshing twist on the “students must face their mentor” trope, they don’t particularly care about having to fight him eventually, because they’re saboteurs, and are mentally prepared to fight former friends or allies if they’re working under different clients…that’s what the job requires.

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It’s also confirmed what King Hartgen is after: basically, he’s tired of the tedious peace, and regrets ever killing Gaz. He wants to return the continent to a state of war where he can have a Purpose again. One could say “Hey man, you do have a purpose…preserving the peace you fought for!” but he’s a warrior first and foremost, and a warrior needs war.

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To that end, he has gathered tens of thousands of like-minded warriors without a war to his principality to fight in his tournament. Perhaps the competition is to thin the herd and net him only the fiercest fighters for his army of continental conquest, but there seems to be more to it than that, and that has a lot to do with the fact three…no, two and-a-half Chaikas are among those assembled.

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I will give Hartgen this: he already has the hearts of those he’s invited. Even though many if not most of them will fall in the course of the battle royale, they’re still gratified for the chance to prove themselves and do what they were born and trained to do. Back in his castle, Guy presents him with Gaz’s Fortune: Niva Lada, and we learn that the Black Chaika twins have a third Chaika sister who seems to have more power than them. She instructs the guards to capture the Chaikas who have come, hoping to stage a little Chaika battle royale of her own parallel to the battle proper.

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Inevitably, two of the rival parties were going to cross paths, and that turns out to be Harley Quinn Vivi/Nikolai and Chaika/Tooru. The former warns the latter that they’re going to be arrested when they’re done their business here, but for this brief scene the two groups are at a truce and exchange information.

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O HAI, Grown-up Fredrica! Haven’t seen her in a while; she’s pretty cool looking. She and Akari are responsible for finding a way to get to Hartgen’s share of remains and stealing them. But let’s be honest here: Fredrica’s true mission is not to get stabbed in the head this time!

As the battle goes on, the other Six-Nation rulers squabble over how to proceed. One faction is eager to fall right into Hartgen’s trap and start a war so he doesn’t have to, but cooler heads deferring to Gillette Squad’s findings prevail for the time being. Frankly, I don’t know how a war is going to be prevented at this point…but that’s what the last three episodes are for!

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Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – 06

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The secret island was a satisfying action-packed adventure, but it turns out it was just a brief detour; a checkpoint to stop by and gather more information about the sheer scale of Gaz’s machinations pre-and-post death. The Main Event is in the Principality of Hartgen, and it was always going to be. The guy simply has everyone: Chaika twins, a Dark Acura, a Dark Gillette…even, seemingly, the inscrutable Guy.

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A case in point for the relative triviality of the island: the Gillette Corps arrive way late, but learn everything they need to to carry on in less than five minutes of conversation with Kiril and Ursula. But then again, they’re after Chaikas, not the answers to what they are and why they exist. Gillette Corps and Vivi in particular are quite sure of the latter: they’re to preserve the peace – albeit a peace their former Captain — Vivi’s former flame — is no longer a part of.

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One nice thing that came from the island was that it made it quite easy for Tooru and Chaika to repair their bond, though again, that kinda happened last week. Tooru is committed to sticking with Chaika, whatever she decides to do: for now, continuing to search for remains. And Akari follows where Tooru leads, and also hastens to put herself physically between the two. Akari likes Chaika…but her brother is hers.

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There’s a “Martial Arts Tournament” being held by Hartgen at the ridiculously huge Goeranson Castle, which is essentially a huge walled battleground surrounding the main keep. There, contestants from all over the six nations pour in and fight to the death for the grand prize: knighthood and Gaz’s remains. The first people we know to arrive and enter are Red Chaika, Selma and David.

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Not far off is Gillette, who take three different tacks: Zita and Matteus go the diplomatic route with Hartgen (which goes nowhere), Leo sneaks around and takes attendance, and Nikolai and Vivi, well…Vivi’s In It To Win It:

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Yes her new outfit is super-gaudy, but that’s what a fantasy swordmaiden character is supposed to be, damnit!  And hey, it’s clearly very easy to move around in. Her hair may have turned white, but she hasn’t lost a step.

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Guy, who’s been pulling the strings for all the Chaikas, reveals that he was the one who saved Alberic, by making dozens of men pile themselves on top of him to serve as shields. The thing is, Guy’s reasons for why he did it — something about him “seeing the hate in his heart” and knowing “he wasn’t made to live in a world of peace” are kinda flimsy. I get that Alberic’s a great warrior and all, but wasn’t his attempt to save Vivi and Zita an act of love (for them), not hate (for the army he tried to stop)?

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Far clearer are the present, if fleeting, purposes of Red Chaika and Vivi: get Chaika (Trabant), who just had Niva Lada snatched away by Guy. Hey! Give her back [shakes fist]… I’m sure if Vivi could see what’s become of her beloved Alberic, she wouldn’t be happy. I’m sure she will come across him sooner rather than later, as he’s one of Hartgen’s trusty bodyguards. Goeranson Castle is the place to be, and everyone is here. Still, this had a feeling of table-setting and warm-up about it. Not un-entertaining, but not particularly outstanding, and at times, repetitive/redundant.

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Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – 05

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Early on, this episode threatened to deep six itself by freeing the good guys almost immediately thanks to appallingly bad guards, who are basically just like fuzzy stormtroopers in terms of effectiveness. It also cut too often to the horrendously dull, genetic evil Izhmash who orders executions like I order cheese fries and is constantly berating his staff, though considering how poorly they perform, he’s not outside his rights to do so.

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However, releasing the Chaikas, and Tooru, early, is a blessing in disguise. First of all, we can justify it with the simple fact that as tough as these mass-produced demi-humans and Fayla are, our heroes are pretty damn tough too. They’ve been through their share of toughs spots before. While it doesn’t quite excuse how lame Izhmash isI can buy that a highly isolated and reclusive research facility would overestimate the power of their heretofore untested creations against a battle-hardened group of prisoners.

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But back to our friends’ early release: it forces Red Chaika to work with White (White probably doesn’t have a problem working with Red) to escape. This results in some priceless dialogue between the two, both of them speaking weirdly like they do. White Chaika also frees the doll-like Niva Lada from her restrains and brings her along, which proves crucial later in the episode. (Fun note: Trabant, Bogdan, and Lada Niva are all brands Eastern European cars. Not to mention the Acura siblings…)

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It also gives Chaika the opportunity to really let its hair down and play with all the pieces it’s set up the last couple episodes, all RPG-style. The allies are all separate at first, but gradually unite into a mega-party of Tooru, Akari, Chaika, Red Chaika, Niva Lada, David, Selma, Kiril and Ursula (the two scorned demi-human guards). It’s like a big party on the secret island with past enmities being put aside so they can all focus on their common goal: surviving.

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But as ineffectual as the mass-produced Fayla and demi-human troops are, there’s still a crapton of them, and the group starts to get fatigued from fighting off wave after wave of them. That’s where we’re force to introduce another Star Wars similie. All the beasts they’re fighting are being controlled form one central location: a tower that is essentially a giant Gundo. Take out the tower, and the droid Fayla army will shut down.

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When Chaika’s own Gundo can’t penetrate the tower’s defensive magic, Niva Lada assesses the situation and reveals her true form: a gigantic, awesome-looking uber-Gundo that blasts the lame villain to smithereens. Obviously, Izhmash was not prepared for this level of resistance…which explains why the island was concealed from the outside world by magic!

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One thing I didn’t like: when asked about what will become of all the freed Fayla and demi-humans, Kiril just says they’ll eventually just die. Why can’t the beasts just live out peaceful lives on the island, no longer chained by the big Gundo tower? Well, because they were born and bred to be hunters and killers, and I guess they’re not capable of evolving beyond that narrow purpose.

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Chaika, on the other hand, is, even if she’s confused and doesn’t know what to do next. In this, she and Red Chaika differ: Red (at least outwardly) refuses to believe Izhmash’s lies; but even if he was telling her his truth, that truth is worthless to her; she’ll find her own truth. She’ll determine her own purpose. And so must our Chaika. Like Red, she’s not alone, and has friends (and a powerful new weapon in Niva) that give her far more options than base Fayla.

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Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – 04

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The island that Chaika, Fredrica, Tooru, Akari, Red Chaika, Selma, and David land/wash up on may as well be called the Island of Answers. But Chaika should’ve been careful what she wished for: she got a lot of answers on this island, but none of them good.

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Obviously, we knew from its magic camouflage that this was no ordinary island, a point driven home by rampant Fayla of many kinds, as well as a force of “demi-human” soldiers serving as the island’s guard. Among the people who arrived here, Chaika is probably the weakest on her own (and gets captured almost immediately), but even Akari needs to be bailed out by our favorite “Do whatever the plot requires” character, Fredrica.

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Tooru finds the underground compound where Chaika is being held and springs her, and the two put behind their very brief falling-out. They sneak past the demi-human guards and when the way in is blocked by guards, they look for an alternate way out, and that’s when things get weird…and very expository!

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You see, this island is the top secret facility of the Gaz Empire Institute of Magic, presently being run by Viktor Izhmash. Looks like the Chaikas were far from the last remnant of Gaz’s empire; much of his ambition is still alive, well, and still very much in the game right here. And wouldn’t you know it, Chaika comes upon a dying captive kraken who agrees to answer her questions. What he doesn’t do is promise she’ll like the answers.

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Those answers include the fact that everything Chaika and the other Chaikas have done so far has been solely because they were engineered to do it. She and they have acted with a directive implanted in their brains, along with false memories of being Gaz’s daughter (turns out he never even had a daughter!) to give them the emotional connection needed to want to gather his remains.

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Some Chaikas are collecting remains, like Trabant and Bogdan. Others, like Layla, cast away that purpose and chose a new one, though her story didn’t have a happy ending either. And others, like Vivi, were never fully formed. But now a lot of what we’ve seen from the Chaikas makes sense. They’re not clones; they’re genetically and mentally modified orphan girls, spread out across the land, tasked with facilitating Gaz’s return.

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It’s all pretty darn ghastly, isn’t it? Here was Chaika, just trying to gather her father’s body so she could give it a proper funeral, being told that not only was her urge to gather remains merely a front for a far more sinister grand plan, but she’s not even related to the guy!

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Yes, everyone is Izhmash’s prisoner and he plans on labotomizing the Chaikas and probably using the others for experiments or Fayla food or the-gods-only-know what else, but that’s almost beside the point, since Akari and Fredrica are still very much free and Izhmash isn’t aware of their presence on the island. So it’s a good bet our friends will be rescued, but to what end? Chaika has just had it confirmed that her entire existence to this point has been a lie. Where does she go from here?

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Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – 03

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It’s so weird. I could have sworn the trio had been to the ocean before, but now that I look back, they never actually had, and are legitimately awed and stoked to see and stand in it for the first time. I like stuff like this; it reminded me of a roommate from Hawaii who’d never seen snow before.

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Akari really wants to see Tooru naked

We see, and learn of, many things this week, along with Chaika and the siblings. And like Chaika, the more we learn, the more we want to learn. At this point, there’s no satisfying her until she knows everything, and she thinks the island and Gaz’s fortune are the best way to get there. Tooru, well, doesn’t agree, like at all…more on that later.

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First, the reason they’re at the seaside city is to pay a visit to the next hero on Claudia’s list, one Clay Morgan. All Akari knows at first is that he wields a spear. And to his credit, the man still wields it pretty well, considering how long he hangs in there against Tooru. I imagine long-reach foe would be annoying to a saboteur who likes close-quarters combat.

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Clay is kind of a joke: unlike other heroes who either fought or challenged the Acuras, the mere sight of Chaika (he saw her head roll) sends Clay fleeing his tacky mansion in terror. When they finally pin the big guy down (Pro: Drydock Fight! Con: Boat not accidentally launched), he agrees to give them whatever they want if they promise never to show their faces near him again. I can’t say I can blame Clay; he obviously has a bit of PTSD, and when the guy you’re helping to kill merely stares at you smiling like your an insect, well, that’s a rough day right there.

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Oh, those are your twin DAUGHTERS…(Sighs, very relieved)

While Morgan’s a relative pushover, their next target, Stephan Hartgen, has the makings of a villain with staying power. When we meet him, he’s sitting on a throne with two of his “daughters” who look just like Chaika, who both want very much to see what happens when all the remains are gathered, which is why he’s luring Chaikas to him via rumors. Is he an ally of Gaz? Does he want the remains for the power?

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Whuuuuh? (left) and WHUUUUUH? (right) look on

Another clear sign this guy means serious business: he has two equally serious guys under his employ: one is from Acura and may well be Tooru and Akari’s big brother, who is looking forward to fighting them. The other is AAAAAUGH, a G-G-G-GHOST! J/K, it’s just Dark Albéric, who didn’t die in that Flying Castle attack after all. Or maybe he did die, and Hartgen brought him back to do his bidding.

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“Alright, I’ll talk to her. JEEZ.”

Back to the Chaika Crew, Tooru is furious that Chaika ran off wihout Fredrica, and repeats his believe that going after secret islands and fortunes is a fool’s errand, and retrieving the remains should be the priority. But Chaika’s at the point where she’s learned too much to be patient. That knowledge is a splinter in the mind in the head that was supposedly separated from her body years ago. Even if she has to go alone, she’s going to the island, period. Miffed, Tooru takes her to mean she’s firing him, so he storms off, and Akari, his dutiful sister, follows.

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Was totally expecting a fight…but not mad we didn’t get one

It was sad to see the happy family break up, even if the split was very temporary. Still, in her haste to find the island and answers, Chaika begs Fredrica to fly her to the island, which, in hindsight, should have been an option from the start, unless Tooru assumed Fredrica would refuse because she refuses to help all the time. This time, however, she smells a lark and agrees.

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Not a fan of Fredrica’s Dragoon design, but it looks pretty cool from this angle, topped by a Gundo-wielding Chaika

Realizing what she did, Tooru and Akari hurry to chase her down, “borrowing” Morgan’s cargo ship for the journey. Red Chaika, David, and Selma stow aboard, but before a fight can break out, a freaking kraken wastes the boat, tossing them all in the sea. Not good! Then Fredrica has her wings sliced off and Chaika falls. Also Not Good! Things are getting very tense and hazardous in a hurry, which is a good thing, as there’s just seven more episodes. No one ever said learning everything was going to be easy!

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