Carole & Tuesday – 13 – Army of Two Steps Back

I’m not sure why every episode of Carole & Tuesday needs to begin by reminding us about the “Miraculous Seven Minutes” that haven’t happened yet, as if we forgot. We get it: they’ll set it into motion! It will change Mars forever! Shut up about it, would ya?!

For now, all C&T get for not winning, but also not quite losing, Mars Brightest is a lot of notoriety, not all of it welcome. They muddle through talk shows and interviews, while Angela, owner of a new contract with a 20 million Woolong singing bonus, has already released her first single.

It features such stirring slogans as “breaking chains”, “keep moving”, “taking control”, “today’s a new day”, and “find my heaven,” collections of words no one has ever thought to put together before! New day, same crappy lyrics.

C&T’s new fame is earning them zero Woolongs but plenty of headaches. At a laundromat, Tuesday is surrounded by brusque gents, and is only saved further harassment by the intervention of a fellow clothes-washer who is probably Carole’s long-lost father (or at least, we’re supposed to wonder if that’s who he is).

When Gus and Dahlia cross paths, they’re all smiles and passive aggression, but Angela cuts through the crap: C&T better get their heads out of the clouds and start making hits soon, or else she’s going to leave them in the dust come Mars Grammy time. Heck, she’ll probably leave them in the dust anyway, but like Mars Brightest, she still wants a fair fight.

There’s nothing fair about the contract meeting at Brightest Records, the studio run by Catherine. As Tuesday’s suddenly very Trump-like mom starts talking about deporting illegal immigrants (which makes one ask the uncomfortable, what exactly is Carole’s official immigration status?) Gus rejects Cathy’s offer without consulting the girls, taking money out pockets and food out of their mouths without any guarantee of alternate sources of income.

Daddy Gus has simply decided, unilaterally, that C&T are going to be an indie group, selling their songs online to “boost their commercial value” and make their negotiating position better. And the girls just…allow it. It’s baffling; they’re just not developed enough as a group to be turning down reasonable offers; not when it’s really past time they started, you know, earning money to “live” and “eat”.

And don’t get me started on Gus dragging them to the rougher side of town to play an impromptu concert no one there asked for, all to lure out a “genius producer” who loves swinging a goddamned ax around. But hey, I guess it will all work out. Those Miraculous Seven Minutes are coming, or so they say! I just don’t know if I’m going to make it there…

Tokyo Ghoul:re – 09 – Awful Superheroes

Tsukiyama Shuu……is BACK, YA’LL! He knows Kaneki Ken when he sees him…and “Sasaki Haise” IS Kaneki Ken and Shuu will have him. He’ll chase him round the Moons of Nibia and round the Antares Maelstrom and round Perdition’s flames before he gives him up!

Even if he doesn’t know who he is. That means striding right up to the pack of young Doves that surrounds him…and having to be scooped up and whisked away by Kanae. No matter; it’s great to see the Gourmet has his appetite and vigor back…all thanks to Hori Chie (Kanae seemed particularly clueless about how to quell their master’s slump).

The Quinx are in that ward because Kan…er, Sasaki wants to have them all fitted for masks at Uta’s shop, so they can infiltrate ghouls. Uta is glad to be of service, and has a high opinion of every Quinx member. Kori officially denies Sasaki’s request to go forward on such a plan, but cannot deny it’s a good idea considering how similar the Quinx are to Ghouls.

Meanwhile, creepy-looking Kijima has released a gruesome video of him torturing a member of Shuu’s household staff, presumably out securing food for him. Kijima is dangling his captive as bait, no doubt hoping to snag more important Ghouls. Not the most pleasant methods!

Within a day or so, Shuu’s Kaneki-fueled recovery is complete. The kid’s alive, and so he can keep on living. The hard part will be to get someone who’s forgotten who they are to remember who he is.

Shuu arranges for a number of “chance encounters”, but if we’re generous, he’s basically just stalking Sasaki, and coming to the same roadblock every time: the pesky Quinx kids that keep him from being alone with Kaneki.

Kanae hires a team from Aogiri Tree, including Torso, to eliminate the Quinx Squad so her master can have what he wants (Kanae also gives Shuu a second photo, at which point a much more lucid Shuu realizes his little friend Hori is supplying the pics for his benefit).

Quinx ends up scattered, with Sasaki taking on the bulk of the Ghouls in a parking lot; Tooru and Saiko go one way, while Urie and Shirazu go another. Among the mercs is the “Grave Robber”, who is a fan of burgundy nail polish and, presumably, stealing quinques from the Doves she’s killed.

When up against Kanae, Shirazu’s kagune is damaged and he has to use Nutcracker…but he just can’t. He’s still not okay with how things went down, and especially not okay with using what amounts to her corpse as a weapon. Luckily, a stronger Urie is up to the task of forcing Kanae to retreat, and then intervenes in the battle between Tooru and Grave Robber.

Saiko, who was told to hide, is found by…someone, who proceeds to try to choke her out until she’s saved by…someone else. So many new (or old?) faces to keep up with! Her vague description of her savior causes Sasaki stare into space thoughtfully, as Eto, who we know wants Kaneki to get his memories back, perches atop a building not far away.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 10

Now that they’ve arrived at Antarctica, the expedition weighs anchor and starts to bring supplies ashore using a very badass helicopter. The high school girls take a trip (which Yuzu likes not at all) and get to see the ship from the sky (it’s a thrilling bit of CGI) before being deposited at Syowa Station.

Kanae gives the girls—and by extension us—a tour of the facilities, including seperate bedrooms for all four of them, a luxury after having to share a berth at sea. While spartan, the habitations are also quite cozy and homey, far nicer than what I was expecting.

I really enjoyed the contrast between the cool Antarctic “night” (light-wise it stays dusk at its darkest) and the warm, inviting, lived-in interiors; the perfect place to kick back after a hard day’s work.

As unloading, cleaning, and other duties mount, Yuzu learns she’s been offered a role on a popular Japanese TV drama (there’s cell service at the station), but is worried it would mean, as it’s always meant throughout her career, the end of her time with Mari, Shirase and Hinata.

True to that career, she even comes up with a “friendship contract” for them to sign, causing Mari to cry and hug Yuzu with a distinct “you poor thing” vibe.

There were times when Yuzu seemed almost painfully naive about what friends and friendship are, but then I remembered that these three girls are her first, so naturally she wouldn’t be sure when the threshold of friendship had passed. Of course, no one really knows when that happens; friendships may not be as solid and structured as marriages or parenthood, but that’s what sets them apart as something special.

Mari takes the time to impart some wisdom to Yuzu regarding what she considers friendship (since it can be different for everyone) using Megumi as an example. Mari has been sending her pics, and whether Megu responds right away or as often or not, she always knows when Megumi has seen the message by the notification on the phone. That, in turn, helps Mari imagine what Megumi might be doing or thinking about in that moment.

With that, the other three arrive and unveil what they had been planning for Yuzu all along: a surprise birthday party. Her real birthday passed when they were all horribly seasick, so the Christmas party made her sad.

So the girls prepped some poppers and cake so that she could celebrate her very first birthday with friends. It’s almost too much to handle, as Yuzu starts bawling and can’t even speak clearly because of all the tears and snot.

But the next day, when Mari and Yuzu are off doing different tasks, Yuzu sends Mari a text not apologizing, but thanking her. Just a simple little check-in that lets both Mari and Yuzu know that they’re thinking of one another. Finally, Yuzu seems to get what friendship is, and that one should never overthink it.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 02

Our introduction to this new Fate world and story continues with a classic Shaft-type episode that is dense in conversation and exposition, but festooned with lavish trappings that befit a story of this scope. F/ELE (as I’ll be calling it for brevity’s sake) has a lot that is familiar to fans of Fate, fans of Shaft, and fans of both such as myself.

Indeed, the manner in which Kishinami Hakuno summons Saber when he is on death’s door is essentially a reversal of Araragi Koyomi’s first meeting and rescue of Kiss-Shot, another blonde of legendary status, in Kizumonogatari. And while Hakuno is so far a walking bag of virtues, this new-look Saber, voiced by all-star seiyu Tange Sakura, is a lot of fun to watch.

We also get a Nisemonogatari-esque bath scene, not just in any bath, but a sprawling, elaborate Roman-style mixed bath strewn with rose petals. It’s hardly a Shinbo production without such a bath, where a young man and a young woman talk business utterly unfazed by the fact they’re both stark nakked.

When they arrive at the first level, which Saber believes will be the first battlefield of the next Holy Grail War, she is surprised to find a bustling metropolis that, far from being ravaged by war, is united in celebration. At first Saber doesn’t mind this twist at all, and soaks it all in, and we learn that while Tange’s Cardcaptor Sakura says “ho’e,” her Saber says “umu.”

They visit an empty bar occupied by only one, somewhat suspicious woman with pink hair dressed as a bartender. When Saber presents herself as a foe and bids her chosen opponent defend herself, the lady scoffs; surely Saber jests. There is no Holy Grail War here, she says; the Masters have sold off their Servants to live in eternal happiness and peace; that’s what’s being celebrated.

Both Saber and Hakuno seem a bit disappointed by this news, but also somewhat skeptical. When seven splendidly uniformed policewomen arrive, surround the pair, and ask them to accompany them to the Mayor’s office, Saber may gush about how pretty they look, but just as with her outwardly carefree soaking in of the city, Saber is likely staying on her guard and gathering information as if there were a war in progress, which is as it should be.

As they’re escorted to the Central Tower and ride its super-fancy elevator to the top, Hakuno starts to remember some of what happened before he arrived here. Saber said his memory would start to return upon becoming a Master, and his vision of a pile of dead classmates serve to remind him of what had to be done to get this far.

However, the mayor—who turns out to be Matou Shinji, appearing before the pair as a hologram—would prefer if they go no farther. After waxing poetic about the benefits of the AI and NPC-rich Utopia he’s helped build (and performing the Shaft Head Tilt), he finally brings up the price of all this happiness. Citizenship requires all Masters to sell off their Servants.

Naturally, Hakuno refuses, and Shinji stops playing nice, reveally he had physically isolated Saber some time ago with his suite of high-tech digital smoke and mirrors, and sics not one or two but three nasty-looking Berserkers upon Saber. She seems to relish a fight at last, as I did, but at the same time she doesn’t seem that impressed by her foes.

Meanwhile, Shinji’s sexy police all stab Hakuno with their swords. For defying the order of things, the plan is to use Saber as a power source as other Servants have been used, and for Hakuno to simply die.

Only Hakuno didn’t get the right script, and refuses to let a few impalings bring him down. To his attackers’ shock, he pulls out their swords one by one and then seemingly powers-up/transforms, a phenomenon Toosaka Rin senses from the top of a building elsewhere in the city.

Rin calls it “Dead Face.” Whatever that is, it’s clear Hakuno isn’t there to celebrate, or live comfortably, or die. He is there to fight.

Fate / Zero – 17

For Risei and Tokiomi, the greatest blunder they committed in the Holy Grail War was believing they knew and understood who Kirei was, when he seemingly didn’t even know until recently, after a few key conversations with Lady MacGilgabeth.

Risei, who Kirei was probably planning to kill, was murdered by Kayneth, but by the end of this episode, Tokiomi is dead too, by Kirei’s own hand, petty much forced by accelerating events.

Fate/Zero isn’t subtle about death flags, and it sure looked like even Tokiomi himself sensed his end was near when he visited Rin and Aoi one last time. The only thing that escaped him was the means of that end; surely he must’ve thought if he died, it would be fighting against his enemies, not his own student.

But back to forcing Kirei’s hand: with Risei dead, Tokiomi proposes a temporary alliance with Irisviel, who is flanked by Saber and Maiya in the church where they meet (odd choice of venue if you ask me, considering it couldn’t even protect the observer.)

Iri agrees with Tokiomi that they should save the battle between themselves for the end, once Rider and Berserker are dealt with … but only if he expels Kirei from Japan immediately.

It’s not an unreasonable demand, considering Kirei and the Einzberns have “bad blood” Tokiomi didn’t know about, but Kirei is also not a Master anymore, and thus should step away from the war altogether. Upon leaving the meeting, Iri collapses onto Maiya’s shoulder, confiding in her that she’s not just any homonculus, but the Holy Grail itself given human form.

When this Holy Grail War is over, she will die and the grail will take whatever new form the winner desires; only Avalon is keeping her going. Maiya promises she’ll stay by Iri’s side until the end.

With one more one-on-one chat between Tokiomi and Archer, Tokiomi has decided what he’s going to do, and has Archer’s support. Kirei will get to explore his “dark desires”, and Gilgamesh will gain a more entertaining Master.

Kirei helps Gil finalize his choice by saying the Holy Grail can only be activating by sacrificing all seven Servants, meaning Tokiomi was eventually going to use a command seal to force Gil to commit suicide.

So after thanking Kirei for being his loyal student and comrade, Tokiomi presents him with a will leaving his wealth to Rin and appointing Kirei as her guardian. Kirei then takes that newly-gifted dagger and kills Tokiomi with it.

The literal backstabbing, while extensively telegraphed, is still a powerful, disturbing moment. With this betrayal, Kirei becomes Archer’s new Master, and the dynamic of the War is irreparably changed. And I must say, I fear Kirei a hell of a lot more than Tokiomi as an adversary to Kiritsugu and Iri, because, well, Kirei himself fears the guy.

Fate / Zero – 16

It’s no rest for the weary or hungry in the immediate aftermath of the defeat of Caster and his monster. Sola-Ui is hoping her beloved Lancer’s contributions will net her a fresh command seal, but she ends up losing her two remaining seals when Maiya sneaks up and cuts her fucking arm off before calmly reporting to Kiritsugu.

Sola-Ui’s fiancee Kayneth seems to fare better, as he manages to convince Risei to bestow upon him a new seal as a reward, then shoots Risei before peaceing out of the church, though if I were him I’d have checked to see if the brakes weren’t stuck on; he seemed to have some trouble with the wheelchair.

When Lancer returns to report that Sola-Ui is alive but missing, a particularly revitalized Kayneth really lays into his Servant, even accusing him of seducing his fiancee, just like he seduced that of his commander of yore. Lancer has to break into the endless berating, because someone has arrived.

That someone is Saber, with Iri in tow. While everyone is exhausted from the battle, there is yet some time before the dawn, so she (probably wisely) suggests there will be no better time to get their chivalrous duel out of the way.

Lancer assents, and the two have at it with a kind of infectious glee, finally able to fight nobly one-on-one after such a distasteful monster battle. If ever there was a ‘heromance’ on Fate/Zero (not a one-sided one like Caster), it’s these two. Which is why it’s so heartbreaking to see their noble duel cruelly cut short by the implementation of Kiritsugu’s underhanded but ruinously effective gambit to take Lancer and Kayneth off the board for good.

The dueling Saber and Lancer are essentially distracting themselves from the fact their masters are in the shadows, “negotiating.” I use quotes because Kiritsugu has all the leverage and Kayneth has none. Kiritsugu has Sola-Ui, and makes Kay sign a contract of geis in which Kiritsugu will be unable to kill or even harm him or Sola-Ui. In exchange, Kay has to use his final command seal to force Lancer to run himself through with his own single remaining lance.

Kay takes the deal, and the impaled Lancer is disgusted and enraged, cursing everyone—including Saber, whom he assumes is in on it—as he slowly dies and evaporates into the either. Then Kiritsugu holds up his end of the bargain: he can’t kill Kayneth or Sola-Ui…so he has Maiya do it for him, and when Kayneth is begging for death, Kiritsugu must decline due to the contract. Ice. Cold.

It falls to Saber to put Kayneth out of his misery, but no one is more disgusted with Kiritsugu than she, as she openly questions his true motives for winning the HGW, considering the underhanded, dishonorable depths to which he is willing to stoop.

Even Iri, who Kiritsugu points out hadn’t seen “the way he kills” until now, is clearly angry at him and demands he speak to Saber directly and not through her. And Kiritsugu finally explains why he’s been so loath to interact with Saber and so unwilling to heed her council: because she is a knight, imbued with heroic honor and chivalry. And he doesn’t believe a knight can save the world.

Throughout history, knights and other heroes have inspired men to set out, fight, and die. It’s a deadly wheel that Kiritsugu intends to break. If he is victorious, he will see to it the blood shed in the HGW will be the “last blood shed by humanity,” and he doesn’t care what he has to do or how his actions make him look, as long as he gets the job done. It’s the ultimate ends-justify-the-means argument, and it’s hard to argue with it.

Saber’s reaction to Kiritsugu’s passionate rant is to deduce that for someone to speak the way he does, he must have at some point in he past fought nobly and justly, only for something to go horribly wrong to lead to his fall from chivalry. Saber is of the mind that his methods not only won’t break the wheel, but strengthen it by stoking resentment, hatred, and further conflict unbound by any decency.

I can appreciate both viewpoints (a testament to the quality writing and characterization) and while I can’t endorse Kiritsugu’s methods, I can’t argue with their utility and effectiveness thus far: only Rider, Berserker, and Archer remain in the war, and he has all of his command seals.

But I take the collapse of the downright exhausted Iri after Kiritsugu departs as a bad omen; things have been going too smoothly so far. I sense rougher seas ahead.

SERVAMP – 01 (First Impressions)

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Shirota Mahiru, 15, likes simple things, hates troublesome things, after being orphaned his uncle becomes the “someone” to raise him, and leads him to take in a stray black cat he names Kuro that turns out to be a vampire, whom he forms a Servant-Vampire (“Servamp”) contract with to save his friends.

First of all, Shirota Mahiru is a liar. If he really hated troublesome things, he wouldn’t have saved the cat, and not regretted not taking it in. Instead, he did the one thing that would make the most trouble for him, having to take care of a pet where before he didn’t have one.

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That aside, Shirota Mahiru is also a composite of several dozen shounen heroes I’ve already seen before, which is problematic. Of course his mom got wasted in a car accident and of course he’s great at housework and would make a great wife and of course he gets saddled with an odd-couple partner.

This color-by-numbers slog continues with the expected personality-clashing slapstick, right up until things get serious when one of Mahiru’s friends seemingly loses all of his blood at once when attacked by the vampires a friend told them might be lurking around. As for why vampires exist in this world, well…they just do, ’cause.

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Speaking of “of course”, of course the bad guy is a loopy flamboyant dude in a white suit and top hat who slurs his words as he raves and swears because oooh, he’s such a Craaayzee Vampire Villain Dude! And what do you know, when Kuro (most inventive name for a character EVER) sees Mahiru put his life on the line to save his friends, he springs into action and kills (well, wounds) the crazy vamp, completing their contract and ensuring similar battles in the future.

Count me out of this yawn (and, I might mention, sausage) factory. I’m rating this niche appeal…you know, for the kind of viewer who just isn’t interested in watching something they’ve never seen a hundred times before. Because that would be too troublesome.

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 14

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It stood to reason Subaru wouldn’t quickly or easily fix things with Emilia, or even figure out how to fix things with Emilia. As disheartening proof, Emilia doesn’t even appear this week; her absence creating a yawning void when combined with where she and Subaru left things. Still, I had no idea things would get so much worse so quickly. And yet they do: Re:Zero lets the shit fly free into a very big fan, and nobody comes out clean.

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What’s devastating about what transpires centers on some intentionally harsh words from Felix that sort of echo what Julius had to say (and what he risked his career and chivalry to try to teach Subie, to no avail): Even if Subaru had a plan, even if he involved himself, even if he risked everything to try to do something to protect Emilia, it wouldn’t matter.

That’s how out of his element he is: those who would be his enemies (or at least the political rivals of Emilia) are doing their utmost to simply keep Subaru out of it, not because they’re worried he’d make things worse, but because he’d only end up dead, accomplishing nothing.

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Subie being Subie, he respectfully dismisses stern warnings from both Crusch (who if nothing else was a decent host) and Felix (who had been healing his gate) and heads back “home” to Roswaal Mathers’ domain as soon as he hears of reports of suspicious movement near the mansion.

The one bright light in the yawning abyss this week was Rem, staying by Subaru’s side no matter how pathetic he gets (indeed, largely because he’s pathetic), not due to any contracts or obligations or honor, but because she wants to.

We know what that means even if Subaru isn’t particularly receptive to it: Rem cares about him, at least as much as he cares about Emilia, and she won’t leave his side. Her “save a tiny bit of that for me”, talking about his feelings for Emilia, might be the saddest line of the show.

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But as far as she takes him, even Rem can’t find it in her to bear Subaru to whatever is going in the Mathers lands. Instead, she leaves for the mansion in the night, leaving a note pleading Subaru to heed her words. Stay behind; wait for her return; trust in her.

He can’t. He uses every means at his disposal to get closer and closer to the place no one wants him anywhere near for his own good. He takes Rem’s note as another endorsement of the “Subaru can’t do anything” narrative.

When he’s running in the dark and becomes suddenly surrounded by a circle of sinister-looking magicians who don’t even bother to kill him before racing off, it’s clear that Yup, he can’t do anything. Not about this.

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In case he didn’t get the message there, he finally arrives at the village near the mansion, and it’s the site of a massacre of men, women, and children. Was this the result of the intense public prejudice against Emilia’s half-elf lineage, which she barely ever mentioned to Subaru? Was it those magicians? I don’t know, but I’ll admit the sight shocked me.

But the village was nothing compared to Subaru entering the Mathers Mansion, seeing a bloody mace, and then coming upon the lifeless, bloodied body of Rem, as she recites her letter to him. I can’t believe Rem is dead any more than Subaru wants to, and though I wouldn’t put it past Re:Zero to make these myriad tragedies stick, one can’t discount the fact Subaru can do something no one around him knows he can do: die, and by doing so, blow up everything that’s transpired to this point.

Will he do that? If he does Return by Death, where and when does he wake up, and what the hell can he do to prevent this? As for if he doesn’t RbD, well…I don’t particularly want to think about that.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 06

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We had another badass, satisfying resolution to another crisis, but when it’s all over it does feel like Kabaneri bit off a bit more than it could chew. If you’re going to bring out a foe as powerful and initially terrifying as a “fused colony”, as it did last week, you’d better not hold back in using it.

Last week’s cliffhanger was essentially Game Over…unless the Koutetsujou was able to seek shelter (and stop on a dime), complete with a blast door that managed to hold the colony monster back. Then the colony kinda takes a break, dicking around “gathering more Kabane”, giving everyone ample time to regroup. Too much time to maintain last week’s sense of immense peril.

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This is also an episode torn between two different paces: that of the immediate threat of the colony (which spends a long time not attacking), and that of Mumei’s descents into the past, when a mysterious warrior, always kept out of focus and accompanied by a glowing butterfly, saves her from sharing the fate of her family and fellow townsfolk.

Mumei and Ikoma also have a nice leisurely chat about weakness and strength. Mumei doesn’t want Ikoma to save her, but he keeps trying anyway, even though the train could leave the station without him. He even gives her some blood when she starts going into withdrawal.

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Mumei loses consciousness again when Ikoma turns to fight a horde of approaching Kabane, but when she comes to again, she’s surrounded by crewmembers there to get her out, and she finds Ikoma bitten in the stomach, but alive. Her lesson is, even though they were weak, they still survived. Being weak doesn’t mean turning over and accepting death.

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The experience has an immediate effect on Mumei, who was about as despondent as one could be while trapped under the rubble, but now that she’s been given a chance, in spite of having a weak moment or two (by her reckoning), she’s a lot more chipper, and decides to mend fences with the family of the dead dog, and assures the other women she’ll take care of the fused colony.

The crew can say they didn’t go back just for Mumei and Ikoma, because they also picked up a huge Type 48 Cannon that they can use to dissipate the colony. But to do so the colony has to get close…too close. This is when things pick up and the episode starts redeeming itself…though I was a little skeptical that the rescue team, and the seriously-injured Ikoma and Mumei, could get back to the train as quickly as they could while the colony barely moved by comparison.

Never mind, it’s time for a patented Kabaneri action sequence, with Yukina showing off her muscles when releasing the train’s pressure limits, Sukari providing a crucial assist by un-blocking the works in a very hazardous part of the train, and Takumi firing the bullet at just the right time…on his second try.

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The core of the colony is exposed for Mumei, who flies up and pierces it, but not before seeing…someone? Is it someone from the “team” she mentioned, of which she is the last remaining member who isn’t a Kabane? Whatever the case, the woman in the core merely screeches at Mumei, Mumei collects herself and takes her out.

The resulting explosion sends Mumei flying, but Ikoma is there to catch her. When the train threatens to derail, everyone moves to one side to right it, and they escape Yashiro…though without, if I’m not mistaken, re-supplying.

The episode ends without any aftermath—a bit of a disappointment—but the taste of victory may soon be replaced by train-wide hunger and increasing frustration and unrest. But maybe that’s why the episode just ended without addressing that: just enjoy the win for now; we’ll tackle the next crisis next week.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 05

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Last week ended on a triumphant note, but a return to the dark wasn’t unexpected, and we ease right back into that as two low-lifes fight over scraps of food. Mumei plays reluctant referee, and for that she receives applause from the passengers just trying to go about their lives, but the scuffle seemed too easily resolved by what amounted to beating the crap out of the guys. Mumei isn’t the diplomatic type.

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Indeed, when they reach Yashiro station to find it ravaged by Kabane, Enoku, a man who knows Mumei well, is among the survivors. He considers her the “claw” of their master (his former, her current?) and is likely of the mind that her settling spats on the train—indeed, mixing with the normal humans at all—will make her a slow, dull claw if she’s not careful. He proves his point by catching Mumei off-guard with a pistol.

Things snowball for Mumei from there, as she starts to immediately separate herself from Ikoma and the other softies as they devise the safest plan for getting to a crane in order to move a collapsed tower off the tracks, rather than punching through and destroying every Kabane there. She then demonstrates how inexperienced she is talking with distraught kids whose dead dog is still warm when she makes things worse with all the wrong words.

It’s a huge (and welcome) reversal of her first scene; there, she was celebrated as not only the “bodyguard” of Kotetsujou, but a generally amiable peacekeeper. Enoku makes plain that peace is not her purpose. She’s a weapon of war. Unfortunately, she’s a flawed, fragile, almost dangerously proud weapon, far too reckless for someone with a time limit.

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Ikoma notices Mumei has changed, and not for the better, but he’s so busy preparing for the big crane operation he can only spare so much time in getting to what’s eating her (plus, Mumei isn’t one to talk about her problems overmuch).

He lets Mumei do things her way, but implores her to stay away from the boiler room, suspected to be the Kabane nest. Of course, she runs straight for the boiler room, and Ikoma doesn’t stick to his plan. He deviates in order to meet up with her. It’s a good thing he did, too.

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Mumei wastes a ton of fighting power, time, and energy (plus some blood) fighting the Kabane dwelling in the boiler room. It looks like an impressive accomplishment, right until it’s revealed the “black smoke” that attacked Yashiro and brought the massive tower down on the tracks is really a gigantic, horrifying amalgamation of Kabane. Mumei’s kill count was less than a drop in the bucket, and she’s already winded.

When a Wazatori attacks her, she’s no match and gets tossed off a ledge. Ikoma is able to kill the guy and rescue her, but she seems well and truly out of commission for the time being. Worse, he had to stop controlling the crane, leaving the crumpled tower still blocking the train, with a huge, spooky, Ghilbi-esque black smoke monster poised to strike.

There’s scarcely a dull—or non-life-threatening—moment on Kabaneri, and a clear pattern has emerged of the heroes having to fend off one baddie after another in sequence (which makes sense, as they’re on a train) while proving to the people they want to protect that they’re not the enemy.

Ikoma got pretty short shrift this week, but since he’s better at interacting with people and has friends from before his transformation present, his climb isn’t as steep, hence the emphasis on Mumei. Mumei’s physical and emotional vulnerabilities are laid bare once again, and it’s proven without doubt that if she’s going to survive, she going to need Ikoma as much as he’ll need her in the battles to come.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 04

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Obviously, things go a lot less bad than they seemed to be going. Mumei is able to sorta argue that the unborn baby she killed along with the mother was tainted, and no fight ensues where she’s forced to fight back and murder non-Kabanes. Back in the rear car, Ikoma doesn’t bite Ayame, but not of his own volition; Kurusu is there in the nick of time to stop him, and in ringing his bell, snaps him out of his, shal we say, hunger trance.

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But things still go bad, as this is Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, and never has there been that long a lull between crises. The first crisis becomes one of faith, as Ayame, shaken by Ikoma’s attack, isn’t so sure she’s still the best person to run the train, even if she inherited the job. Quite surprisingly, she hands the master key to one of the ICs (Ingrate Cowards), who immediately changes course for the more dangerous mountain shortcut.

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Ikoma and Mumei are locked in their rear car, along with Ikoma’s friends, but the ICs’ attempts to separate the car from the train and leave them behind fails when it virtually starts to rain Kabane, putting the train on high combat alert. It isn’t long until the zombies are in the train. I’ll say one thing for this show, it loves hiking the stakes up to ludicrous levels, and it loves to make the ICs their own worst enemies, as Ikoma and Mumei have to climb outside the train in order to participate in the battle.

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The bushi and other fighters within the train actually handle themselves well for far longer than I expected them to, but inevitably, and especially with the combat-savvy, battle-hardened wazatori aboard, things start to go pear-shaped. Kurusu learns he can kill more efficiently with his sword than a gun, but that same sword lets him down when he tries to pierce the waza’s chest and the blade shatters, giving the super-kabane an opening to stab Kurusu right through the chest.

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Once they no longer have to worry about being decapitated by tunnels, Ikoma and Mumei bust out, and aided by a brief de-railing, engage in a fantastic acrobatic aerial battle, building up a formidable Kabane body count. Mumei’s confidence when flying and twirling through the air, like a baton of death, inspired many a hearty fist pump.

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It’s only natural then, that when the first stage of their counterattack is complete, her fuel tank hits “E” and she goes down for the day. I loved how she and Ikoma were ready to go with the gear needed to keep her from being thrown from the train while unconscious, as well as how cool Mumei seems with leaving things up to Ikoma. Not that she has a choice, but, well, he’s no Mumei…and he’s starving too.

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It isn’t long before he can barely move himself, and beseeches someone – anyone – for a bit of blood, promising to waste the wazatori in exchange. The one who answers his call is Ayame, who hesitates not as she climbs to the top of the car and slashes her arm for Ikoma to drink from in one of the episode’s handful of dynamic “muralesque” shots. She also wastes quite a bit of her blood by not waiting for Ikoma to get close enough, but she seems to be okay.

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The blood re-energizes Ikoma, who polishes off the wazatori, who caused Kurusu (who somehow survives that wound) and the others so much trouble, as if he was swatting a big, lumbering fly with a steam-powered rolled-up newspaper. With that, the latest crisis is resolved, and the episode ends (thankfully) without immediately starting a new one. Instead, it ends on another still shot, with Ikoma’s circle of supporters, all of whom pledged to give him their blood so he can keep fighting for them.

It’s a triumphant shot, ending what could be considered a four-part movie with no shortage of badass action, heart-pounding thrills, and shocking levels of near-self-destruction on the part of Team IC. Hopefully, Ayame’s latest acts of courage and faith will inspire the rest of the schlubs on board to at least consider the fact the Kabaneri aren’t just Kabane by another name.

They’re the good guys, and all they ask is a little voluntarily-offered blood now and again for their indispensable services.

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Dagashi Kashi – 03

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On a hot day, as kids we’d usually go for a soda (or pop, depending on what state we were in), snowballs, soft serve, or frozen yogurt. It never occurred to me how great it can be to eat hot things when it’s hot out. Hotaru demonstrates this, I think, by firing up a stove to the shop and cooking up some tonkatsu Butamen; kind of a a mini ramen cup.

Tou, who’s back after a week off, put together what was going down and invited himself, knowing that in return for the intense heat, he and Kokonotsu would get to watch a cute girl eating noodles, not to mention getting so hot her dress gets see through. Naturally, Hotaru is totally oblivious to all of that.

Her only concerns are candy, snacks, and acquiring You for her father’s company. And that’s the other side of it: she doesn’t realize the power she has over Kokonotsu, courtesy of her looks and close casual manner with him. As far as she knows, the battle will be won with her convincing arguments for the primacy of candy.

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So rather than seduce him, which just isn’t in her character, Hotaru continues cockamamie plans, one of which involves You pretending to be a lifeguard to make extra bucks on the side, since the shop doesnt’ do. She’s unaware of her ability to seduce, so instead she tries to guilt trip.

She and You (also back after one week off) are awfully proud of their plan and are regarding one another in a better light all the time, but snagging him all comes down to her ability to convince Koko to take over the shop. Alas, an attempt to show the wonder of candy through strategic placement of kurukurubu jelly sticks in the pool backfires when Koko, Tou, and Saya see the “no food or drink” sign.

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The last segment is somewhat strange, in that Hotaru’s interaction with Kokonotsu is minimal. Like Hotaru with You in the previous segment, this looks like an effort to explore each two-person combination in the lean five-person cast. Hotaru curbs her suspicion that Tou is a pathetic confectionary tourist and shows him the proper way to deliver a Botan Rice Candy (with its edible wrapper) to one’s mouth: the same way one delivers a fastball to the plate.

Finally, after Koko shoos her off while the shop’s A/C is fixed (which seemed kinda mean; though Hotaru was somewhat in the way), Hotaru interacts one-on-one with Saya a little more. Just as Hotaru thought Tou might be testing her (though he wasn’t; he’s just an idiot), Saya sees Hotaru’s desire for “girl talk” that starts with a quesiton about Koko has her thinking Hotaru is testing her.

She is, but it has nothing to do with Saya’s crush, only the fact she’s never seen her with candy, something Hotaru cannot stand by and allow. She gives her some “Neon Seven”, a very cryptic kind of candy that Saya initially picks at wrong (both of their close-up expressions are hilariously rendered) but eventually learns to eat properly.

Saya is amazed and entertained by Hotaru’s wealth of knowledge (as anyone would be), and the two end up talking so long Hotaru never goes back to Koko’s…which kinda serves him right for shooing her off!

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Dagashi Kashi – 02

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Dagashi Kashi continues to be Shidare Hotaru’s (and Taketatsu Ayana’s) world; everyone else is just living in it. Kokonotsu lives in a goldmine of candy classics, Hotaru has more passion for them in one of her brightly-painted nails than Koko’s whole body. There’s a tremendous enthusiasm gap here, but the hope is Hotaru will eventually wear Koko down into accepting succession of his father’s store (though who knows if it’ll happen).

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Until then, Koko can hardly complain about being bored with Hotaru around; there’s literally never a dull moment with her around, getting into a big lecture about the proper way to eat Kinako sticks, then breaking out tablets of non-alc Namaiki Beer she somehow proceeds to get piss drunk on (and Hotaru is possibly even more entertaining in this state).

In both cases, Hotaru, despite being so well put together fashion-wise, doesn’t seem to know some of her mannerisms and phrasing can be inadvertantly titillating for Koko. There’s this subtext of Hotaru growing up so fast into the candy and snacks savant she is now (she could probably run her dad’s company today), she never had either the time or the inclination for romance. And yet, she’s by any measure extremely happy and fulfilled.

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On the other hand, Koko, and Saya for that matter, are still very much kids at heart. Koko doesn’t want to give up on his manga dream and gets embarrased when Hotaru does or says certain things, while Saya likes Koko, but Koko is of course oblivious. I do appreciate that while there is a clear love triangle here, Saya’s the only one remotely aware of it, and in any case the show doesn’t push too far on the romance or triangle angle.

Instead, what would have been another quiet, hot, boring small town day for Koko and Saya becomes…something else entirely, thanks to Hotaru happening to pass by showing off her Ramune Whistling skils, then going on to recite the entire history of the whistle, telling it like some kind of school drama, and casting both Koko and his father in unsubtle attempt to try to convince Koko that following his father is the best path for him.

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To his credit, Koko stands his ground. Convincing him isn’t going to be easy, if it’s even possible, but if anyone can do it, Hotaru can. She even gets Saya’s blessing, since if Koko doesn’t take over the store, it might mean he’s leaving town; leaving her behind.

So now both Hotaru and Saya share a desire to keep Hotaru right there, in the Shikada Candy Shop that is his destiny. The episode closes out with some menko, a card-flipping game Saya turns out to be really good at despite having never played, to both Hotaru and Koko’s dismay.

The trio just seems to be having a ton of fun, and I’m having a ton of fun watching them. I didn’t really miss You or Saya’s bro Tou, though that’s not to say I’d mind if they show up next week. In fact, I like that the show can keep characters in its back pocket and still run the table.

The only character who must be in every episode is Hotaru; she’s the linchpin of this whole nutty operation.

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