Tokyo Revengers – 09 – Let’s Do This Shit!

The tender sweetness of the summer festival gives way to the vicious smashing of fists and feet into faces this week, as Tokyo Revengers hosts its first all-out, full-on brawl between Toman and the remnants of Moebius.

Takemichi tries to get to Draken before Peh-yan or Kiyomasa can kill him, but Peh-yan finds Draken first. After telling Emma to keep her distance (thakfully nothing happens to her here), Draken is ambushed by the tried-and-true cowardly tactic of sneaking up from behind with a baseball bat.

But by the time Takemichi and Mitsuya find a bloodied Draken, he’s not only still conscious and standing, but has already amassed a pile of fallen Moebius wannabe badasses.

Peh-yan has somehow managed to muster a full one hundred members of Moebius against just Draken, Mitsuya, and Takemichi, but the distinctive exhaust sound of Mikey’s motorcycle heralds the coming of the cavalry. That’s when we meet Moebius’ new “temporary” commander, Hanma Shuuji.

Not only does Hanma come out of nowhere—Naoto never mentioned him to Takemichi in the present—he’s also able to successfully block Mikey’s kick, which is a dead giveaway that he’s not someone to be trifled with.

Fortunately, the 100-on-4 battle becomes much fairer when all the various divisions of Toman arrive en masse to back Mikey up. From there, things go full Gangs of New York, only in Tokyo, with a bunch of 13-to-15-year-olds.

Takemichi gingerly navigates the chaos of punches and kicks, trying to keep track of Draken and looking out for Kiyomasa, who stated his intention to murder Draken. He’s unsuccessful on both counts. By the time he spots Kiyomasa, the guy’s knife is already stained with blood.

By the time he finds Draken, he’s lying on the ground in a pool of his own blood. If Draken does indeed die, it will make Takemichi’s life—and his mission to save Hina and Akkun—much more difficult. I’m just surprised that expected big bad Kisaki Tetta still has yet to reveal himself.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tokyo Revengers – 08 – The Ecstacy and the Agony

It’s neither Takemitchy’s rage nor passion nor pathetic attempts to score a blow that shake Mikey and Draken out of their latest spat. Nope, it’s a big ol’ turd, which ends up nested in Takemichi’s hair when he goes flying into a pile of garbage. Mikey and Draken run off laughing, scared of the shit coming to get them, and his four friends follow suit. It’s a rare reminder that despite their pretensions otherwise, these are still a bunch of stupid kids.

Takemichi’s antics may have helped Mikey and Draken forget what they were fighting about, but since he’s the only real adult among them, Takemichi realizes what the problem was: Mikey wanted to free his friend Pah, while Draken wanted to respect Pah’s wishes to turn himself in; neither felt they could budge from their positions. Thank goodness for poop!

After washing his hair, Takemichi joins the made-up pair and his four friends. Hina shows up with Emma, who has come to ensure Hina properly asks Takemichi out to the summer festival on August 3rd. As Emma predicted, of course Takemichi says yes—Hina is his girlfriend after all—while she is bowled over that Draken and Mikey are on good terms again.

Takemichi, meanwhile, seeing everything coming up aces, celebrates having changed history by stopping the Mikey/Draken feud before it got too bad. Now Draken won’t be killed and Akkun and Hina will be saved, right? Before returning to the present where he’ll surely face a rude awakening, he decides to reward himself by going on a double date with Hina, Draken and Emma.

It’s really good to see the old Hina again, and to also learn that she and Emma have become friends owing to Emma being a genuinely pure and lovely person. Hina’s forgiven her friend for “going off the deep end” due to her intense love of Draken, and while she hasn’t quite yet forgiven Takemichi, she gives him a relatively easy out: shoot the special prize.

While the game is rigged, the fact Takemichi puts in such a serious effort is more than enough for Hina, which is why when it starts to pour and they get separated from the other couple, Hina not only forgives him, but wants him to hold her and is ready for him to kiss her. Alas, Takemichi is interrupted by a phone call from Yamagishi, saying Mikey’s rank-and-file aren’t satisfied with their reconciliation and are still going after Draken.

Cursing himself for letting young love drop his guard so completely, Takemichi runs into the rain in search of Draken, since this is August 3rd, the day he’s supposed to be murdered. What seems to have changed is who exactly will do it. Kiyomasa has joined forces with Moebius with the intent to kill Draken as revenge for shutting down his fight club.

Takemichi does an awful job staying hidden, and when Kiyomasa and the others start beating on him, he realizes that despite befriending Mikey and Draken, without them around he’s just as weak and pathetic as he’s always been. They tape him up and leave him in the dirt and cold rain, but fortunately Hina finds him well after the thugs have departed (had they used him as bait to ambush her, I might well have been done with this show).

Instead, Hina removes the tape from Takemichi’s mouth, and he laments that the best he could do wasn’t good enough, and he hasn’t been able to save anyone, and is nothing but a complete and utter failure. Hina responds by giving Takemichi her first kiss. She gives it to him because he’s special to her, and because it’s because he breaks down and cries for the sake of others that no one is cooler than him in her eyes.

It’s just the motivation Takemichi needs to buck up and get back to his mission, because she reminded him that no matter how pathetic he looks, failure is not an option. So he heads back out and runs into Mikey’s driver Mitsuya, who tells Takemichi that everyone agreed to put the Pah-chin thing behind them…except for Peh-yan, on whom the episode ends as he’s about to pull a knife on Draken…with Emma right beside him.

It’s a good thing Takemichi didn’t head back to the present thinking he’d fixed everything. He can’t rest on his poopy laurels—there’s a lot more to be done before victory can be declared.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tokyo Revengers – 07 – The True Puzzle

It often feels like Takemichi is butting up against the breakers, with just as much success as any of us would have against the ceaseless power of the sea. Tempers are hot, Moebius has arrived in force (no less than fifty in number), and a fight resulting in Draken’s death seems as inevitable as the tides.

Takemichi makes the first mistake of starring too long at Osanai, but he cant be blamed; after all, how the hell did this brute end up so defeated and pathetic in the future? Osanai seems to sense this brat is looking down on him and starts to rain blows upon him, but Takemichi is saved by Pah, not because Pah likes him, but because Osanai is his opponent.

Unfortunately, the already battered Pah is no match for Osanai’s boxing skills, and is soon barely conscious on his feet. Mikey insists the fight go on, even as Takemichi calls it nothing but cruel torture. However, once Pah slumps onto Mikey’s shoulder, essentially tagging him in, we witness just how much of a damn Osanai’s fancy suits and staggering numbers matter against Mikey-kun.

Specifically, none whatsoever. With one precise and devastating kick to the side of Osanai’s head, he’s down. When he gets back up to rush Mikey with a broken bottle, Draken stops him and puts him in a lock—without getting stabbed by said bottle, as Takemichi feared. With Moebius’ commander soundly defeated, Mikey declares that they’re all part of Toman now.

Then police sirens ring out, and as everyone starts to scatter, Pah plunges a pocketknife into Osanai’s midsection. Pah then decides to stay behind and turn himself in, while Draken drags Mikey away. As Takemichi flees with them, he suddenly loses consciousness, demonstrating he’s not so indestructable after all.

Takemichi wakes up in a hospital bed, and upon stretching accidentally gropes Emma, who Draken called to retrieve him and waited by his bedside. Emma reports that Draken and Mikey got in a fight over leaving Pah behind, and its looking bad. She slumps over and cries into Takemichi’s lap just as Hina arrives and pulls back the curtain, seeing something that’s not at all what it looks like.

If I have a gripe about this episode, it’s that this is all we get of Hina, with the implication she hits him again in response to seeing him with Emma, despite him being laid up in the hospital. I really wish they’d get back to the Emma of previous episodes who wasn’t being portrayed as a jealous, violent shrew. Why harp on a love triangle that isn’t really a thing when Emma still likes Draken?

Instead, Takemichi ends up at home convalescing while the situation between Toman’s top two deteriorates. Akkun and his other friends visit him, but after giving him a scare, assure him that those two fight all the time and it will resolve itself in time. But when Draken shows up with a watermelon to see how Takemichy is doing, he seems done with Mikey, and thinks Toman just might be done for.

When Takemichi brings up Mikey, Draken destroys a 2,500-piece puzzle he’d spent three days working on without sleep. Then Mikey shows up to see Takemichy just when Draken is leaving, and the two end up in a scrap that leads to all of Takemichi’s cherished possessions being destroyed one by one.

Even then, the two are still not done sizing each other up and getting ready for a real brawl, but seeing all of the irreplaceable treasures of his formative years seems to light a fire within (and visually, behind) Takemichi.

His eyes glow white with fury as he orders Draken and Mikey to “CUT THE SHIT!” Maybe, just maybe, with him conscious, fired up, and standing between them, he can stop them from doing something that can’t be undone. After all, he considers them both friends.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tokyo Revengers – 06 –Part of His Plan

Takemichi is still watching Draken from the shadows as Mikey is chauffeured away from the hospital. I kept waiting for Draken to tell him to come out because he’s doing a shitty job masking his presence. Instead, we get Draken’s backstory.

His mom was a prostitute and he was raised and lived in a brothel. He got his head tattooed when he was in fifth grade, prompting the artist to predict he’ll be “one rotten adult”, the irony being he never comes close to even reaching 18.

But back then Draken still got his ass beat by middle schoolers, who made him escort Mikey over so they can teach him a lesson. Draken is bemused by this tiny weird kid, but when Mikey is the one teaching his tormentors a lesson, he suddenly gets it, while Mikey can tell Draken is friend material.

Surprisingly, Takemichi is back in the present with Naoto, tracking down the former leader of Moebius, Osenai, who is now even more of a pathetic loser than Takemichi had become. He’s still haunted by the August 3rd battle between Moebius and Toman that led to Draken’s death, but makes it clear the battle was part of a larger plan by someone to create a rift within Toman.

Why neither Naoto nor Takemichi mention Kisaki Tetta’s name, considering he’s the prime candidate for the identity of the puppetmaster, I have no idea. But Takemichi zaps back to his past self, who thankfully isn’t under a girl this time. Instead, he’s on the back of Akkun’s bike.

Takemichi can’t contain his joy upon seeing his friend alive again, and wastes no time getting all sentimental. While not as perceptive as Hina that this is a “different” Takemichi, when asked what his dream is, a blushing Akkun earnestly tells him he wants to be a hairdresser. Takemichi tells him to make that dream come true, and he’ll have his back all the way.

His heart-to-heart with Akkun once again impressed the urgency of Takemichi’s mission. He must save Hina, Draken, and Akkun, and he’s pretty sure that can’t happen if Toman fights Moebius. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a plan any better than barging in on a secret meeting of the Toman brass and demanding they call off the fight.

Mikey pulls rank here, saying he’s already made up his mind. When Takemichi endures a beating from Pah-chin and still stands his ground, Draken suggests they look into Moebius, but Mikey sees this as Draken going against Toman (i.e., him).

For all of Takemichi’s talk of it being unthinkable that these two would fight, it happens right here before his eyes: a tiny crack that could quickly turn into a yawning chasm of pent-up bad vibes that are inevitable in any power structure—particularly one run by literal frikkin’ adolescents.

If that isn’t enough, Prime Osanai arrives, resplendent in his embroidered red shirt and matching pants. He heard Toman was looking for a fight, and so he brought it to them, bringing dozens of his soldiers and setting up a seemingly hopeless mismatch…until you remember that Mikey and Draken have superhuman strength and Takemichi is virtually indestructible.

Tokyo Revengers – 05 – Babes and Bikes

When Takemichi, whom I maintain looks way too babyfaced for a dead-end adult, is unceremoniously fired, he returns to Naoto, because it’s not like he has anything else going on in this life. He asks if he could just ask tell Past Hina everything, but Naoto says he only believed him because he was into the occult at the time. He worries Hina might think Takemichi is insane and stop liking him. I was internally yelling at Naoto “So?”

Wouldn’t it be worth a shot for Takemichi to break things off with Hina in the past, thus severing her connection to the gangs altogether? Then again, perhaps too much happened in the time between Takemichi and Hina breaking up for that to work. In any case, Naoto has found articles about a scuffle at the Mushashi shrine on August 3rd (two weeks from now) of 12 years ago between the Mikey and Draken crews of the Toman Gang, resulting in Draken’s death.

Takemichi can’t believe how the articles say it was a fight between two people he observed to be closer than brothers, but regardless of if and how things got that way, his new mission is to save Draken from dying. If he does that, he may be able to save Hina and Akkun. He and Naoto shake hands, and he finds himself in a very compromising position with a beautiful blonde in nothing but her underwear in a karaoke booth.

Completely disoriented and freaked out, Takemichi runs…almost directly into Hina, who’d just been walking home from cram school. Hina’s sharp enough to know when Takemichi is being a “kid” and when he’s being an “adult”. Lately he’d been a kid, and cold and distant towards her. Now, however, he’s considerably kinder. Then Draken calls, and Hina insists on tagging along.

Takemichi’s in no position to argue: since time moves at the same rate in past and present, Past Takemichi has been inadvertently complicating his future self’s mission by being a youthful, impulsive little shit. Takemichi and Hina arrive at the Musashi Shrine and are ambushed by bikers, but it turns out to be a big meeting of all the Toman divisions.

Draken greets Hina warmly and the two exchange apologies, then Draken asks his girlfriend Emma to take care of Hina while they talk. Emma, as it turns out, is the lovely young lady ready to go all the way (sans kissing) with Takemichi at Karaoke. Takemichi has no coherent defense (though he’s not lying when he says he doesn’t remember how he ended up that way).

Hina dispenses swift punishment, beating bloody the same kid she was so worried about always getting into scraps. Aside from still being around when the Toman meeting is over, that’s all we get of Hina, which was a bit frustrating, since so much between her and Takemichi is left up in the air.

As for Emma, she tells Takemichi she’s not actually into him, she just wanted to “grow up faster”, sleeping with him in hopes of making Draken, whom she is into, jealous, and lamenting that all he cares about is “Mikey, bikes, and fighting.”

As for the big Toman meeting, Takemichi is impressed by Mikey’s ability to command and inspire his troops. When the third division’s captain and vice-captain—Pah and Peh—come to him with a problem, they have Mikey’s full attention. A friend of Pah’s got into it with Osanai, leader of the Moebius gang, over “something stupid”. The friend got the shit beat out of him, and the friend’s girlfriend was raped and beaten.

Moebius may be two generations older than Toman and may control Shinjuku, but when Pah says he demands satisfaction nonetheless, Mikey asks if anyone objects, and no one does, which means there’s going to be a battle between Toman and Moebius, and it’s going to take place…on August 3.

That’s news to Takemichi, since the news articles Naoto had said the fight was between Mikey and Draken’s crews. Did the reporter just mix up the names and groups involved, or did the particulars of the conflict change because Takemichi went back in time again?

He doesn’t know either, but one thing he does know is that he has to save Draken. But when he approaches him the next day volunteering to be his bodyguard, Draken curtly declines. Takemichi doesn’t give up right there, however, and decides to follow Draken as he goes about his day.

Unsurprisingly, most of that day is filled with Mikey, whom Takemichi gets to see in a wildly different light than when he’s commanding his crew. For one thing, he’s upset his Kids Meal doesn’t come with a flag, but Draken happens to have one, and Mikey’s spirits are immediately raised.

Draken and Mikey’s day shifts from comedy to drama when Draken takes Mikey to the hospital, where Pah’s friend’s girlfriend has been lying in the ICU with a coma for the last few days. Her parents confront them and her dad levels all manner of curses at them. Mikey is upset because he didn’t do anything, but Draken bows deeply in apology and makes Mikey do the same.

He impresses upon Mikey the need to minimize collateral harm to innocent people, including the friends and family of his crew. Mikey may have nothing to lose, but that doesn’t go for everyone he commands. Draken tells Mikey to always “have a heart that cares for others” while conducting Toman business.

That exchange clinches it for Takemichi: Draken isn’t just Mikey’s muscle,  piggyback ride, or consigliere. He’s all of those things too, but most importantly, he’s Mikey’s heart; his conscience. Which explains why Mikey turns bad when Draken dies. Conspicuous in his absence throughout this episode was Kisaki Tetta, who filled the void left by Draken, a relationship eventually leading to Hina’s death and Akkun’s suicide. It feels like Kisaki is a wild card in the scheduled August 3 battle with Moebius.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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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