Kakegurui – 08

When the cat (Momobari) is away, the mice (the student council second-years) will play. The latest member to set her sights on Yumeko is Yumemite Yumemi, who despite having a tongue-twister of a name is the school’s unofficial idol, already viral on YourTube and with a loyal army of fans.

Meanwhile, the rumors flying of Yumeko retaining her livestock status so she can challenge the presdient, Sumeragi approaches her, and after pretending to play innocent, she later fesses up to wanting a position in the council back, once Yumeko takes over.

We also quickly learn Yumemi is another two-face; with probably the greatest difference between her public and private personas. While she’s open and hands on with her sweaty fans, she secretly despises them, flashing horrific faces twisted in disgust. But she accepts the discomfort as the price of attaining her goals.

When Yumeko and Yumemi finally meet, they don’t play nice for long, as Yumeko is pretty aware of Yumemi’s disdain for her fans. The facade drops, and Yumeko manages to provoke Yumemi into an anti-fan tirade that she secretly records on a device she hid in Yumemi’s assistant.

The gamble in question seems to be a battle of idols, with Yumeko having to join Yumemi’s idol group and live the life of an idol if she loses, while Yumemi, confident Yumeko is underestimating her, agrees that if she loses the incriminating audio will be distributed and ruin her idol career in its infancy.

The details on how this particular idol-themed gamble will be laid out and scored remains a mystery, but there’s not doubt that whatever happens, Yumeko’s star will only rise with this new, very public opportunity. We also learn Ryouta is a big fan of Yumemi’s, but I assume he’ll be rooting for Yumeko as the two square off.

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Rokudenashi Majutsu Koushi to Akashic Records – 06

With its sixth episode, Akashic Records has unfolded in a steady pattern: a first episode of setup (in this case the magical competition) a second episode that raises the stakes (the attempted plot to kill Rumia) and a satisfying third episode that brings everything together with style and panache.

Last week ended with Re=L trying to kill Glenn, but that’s just her nature: rush in headfirst without thinking. Fortunately for Glenn and Rumia, Albert is there to hold Re=L back, and the two court mages decide to help their old buddy out with protecting Rumia and foiling the Imperial Guard’s plot.

Many times, we cut away from the end of the competition to Glenn simply running from the Guard with Rumia in his arms. Albert and Re=L take over for Glenn, with Albert saying everything Glenn would say if he was there, keeping Class 2’s heads in the game. Everyone performs like he hoped when he selected them, including Sisti, who makes use of his altered spell advice to defeat her opponent in a duel and grasp victory.

From there, a nifty little twist takes place: the representatives of the winning class get to be presented their award by Queen Alicia herself. In this case, that’s Albert and Re=L…only it ISN’T. Albert and Re=L switched places with Glenn and Rumia back when they met, using self-illusion magic to assume each other’s forms.

That puts Glenn, The Fool, right where he needs to be to (quietly) unleash his Fool’s World spell, nullifying the conditional cursed necklace around Alicia’s neck. Before that, Alicia has to say some very harsh lies about ordering Rumia’s execution and that she never loved her.

That really puts poor Rumia through the emotional ringer, but Rumia’s a tough gal, and once it’s no longer deadly to do so, Queen Alicia lets her true feelings be known, and that in turn leads Rumia to accept and return her mother’s love in a tearful, cathartic embrace.

As for the ringleader in the Guard’s treachery, Eleanor Chalet, a heretic mage of the Researchers of Divine Wisdom, is surrounded by the real Albert and Re=L in a dark alley, but uses a spell to escape before they can place her in custody, offering only one vague, if titular clue, about why she was so keen on killing Rumia AKA Ermiana: “Akashic Records.”

If a RDW traitor could pose as queen’s chief handmaiden, it means the good guys will have to exercise constant vigilance. Albert and Re=L bid goodbye to Glenn, though considering she’s featured heavily in the OP and ED in an academy uniform, I wouldn’t be surprised if Re=L returns, posing as a student in Glenn’s class to assist him in keeping Rumia safe.

After thanking Glenn for helping to save her, along with her mom, and for keeping his three-year-old promise to have her back, Rumia and Glenn head to the tavern where the rest of Class 2 has already gotten the victory celebration started. In fact, I was totally caught off guard yet delighted by the fact Sisti managed to get wasted (on brandy cake of all things!) and is in full-on Lovey-Dovey Shironeko Glom mode with Glenn.

That would be enough discomfort on his plate, but as a final insult, the class ended up spending his entire reward, as well as the three-month salary he won in the bet with his fellow teacher, on the night’s food and drink bill. Not to worry, however: he’s sure to get more homemade meals from Sisti.

Rokudenashi Majutsu Koushi to Akashic Records – 05

What seemed most likely to be the conclusion of the magical competition turned out to be something else entirely: something far more significant than Glenn’s wager with Halley; something far more interesting, too.

It starts simply enough, with a lunch break in which Glenn reminds us what a bastard he can be by taking advantage of the fact that Sisti thinks he’s Rumia so he can nab a bite to eat. That being said, he transformed to give Lynn a pointer about illusion magic, so he’s really only a half-bastard.

Quite surprisingly, Glenn and Rumia are approached by Queen Alicia VII, who can’t help but take advantage of the fact her biological daughter is right there before her. Unfortunately, Rumia isn’t in the mood to talk or be conciliatory; she politely tells the queen she’s mistaking her for someone else and bolts.

I can’t say I blame her! Rumia may have just won the Mental Defense round, but that was nothing compared to her dilemma this week as her “former” mother all of a sudden gets in her face. Glenn tracks her down when Sisti is worried about her, and helps Rumia work through the conflicting feelings. For his part, Glenn tells her there’s no way to avoid regrets 100% in life, so one might as well make choices that are true to who they are.

Meanwhile, our two mysterious bluish-haired folks are on the alert after hearing about suspicious activity with the Imperial Guard: Albert and Re=L. Not long after Alicia talks with Glenn and Rumia, she is taken into custody by said guard.

The two are clearly court mages and former colleagues of Glenn’s, have have both a casual rapport with one another (considering how often she lets him pull her hair) and confidence in their abilities (Re=L is all for a fully frontal assault).

It isn’t long before Rumia is tracked down by the guards, accused, tried, and convicted of attempting to assassinate the queen right then and there. Glenn is knocked out and she’s tied to a tree to be executed, and as is typical of Rumia, she’s ready to die…

…But Glenn wasn’t knocked out that badly, and uses flash spells to get the jump on the guards and rescue Rumia…even though Rumia isn’t sure she should be rescued, poor girl.

Once a safe distance away, Glenn contacts Celica, but like the queen, she’s being held hostage by the Guards, which means Glenn is on his own. Only, not really, because Re=L and Albert show up just when they’ll be the most useful; an ace in the hole, if you will.

We’ll see if they consider Glenn a hostile, or if Re=L will stand down shortly after her aerial attack. Whatever the case, between Glenn, his old buddies, and his capable students, I like their odds of saving Alicia and Celica from the Imperial Guard…Unless there’s a good reason Zelos is restraining the queen and Celica, of course.

In any case, it’s another nice setup for both another high-stakes hostage situation and a proper introduction of Albert and Re=L.

ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka – 12 (Fin)

Leave it to ACCA to save its best episode for last. And why not? Each of the eleven preceding episodes perfectly prepared us for this finale. Everything pointed towards a smooth, peaceful, and efficient coup, and that’s what we got—only it wasn’t a coup to unseat Schwan, but a coup to secure ACCA’s future and thwart the Liliums and Furawau’s plans to snatch hegemony from the Dowa Royal Family. That, my friends, is one surprising yet completely logical and satisfying twist.

At first, things seem to be going according to Lilium’s plan: Once it’s Schwan’s turn to take to the podium and speak, he and his outnumbered guards are surrounded by ACCA officers in riot gear, and Schwan’s plans to dissolve ACCA are exposed to the throng, which quickly sides with ACCA in the matter, as expected.

But then Schwan calls Jean out, knowing exactly why he’s on the dais with the Chief Officers. Just then, Lotta (and I for that matter) are relieved to find Niino by her side. This is the moment when Director-General Mauve completely flips the script and reveals that beneath ACCA’s plan was another plan that Lilium was not made aware of.

In this plan, Mauve, rather than Jean, steps forward. She explains the theatrics were only meant to demonstrate Schwan’s need for greater then very loudly and publicly proclaims Schwan as the one and only Crown Prince of Dowa, thanks Schwan for his continued support of ACCA once he ascends to the throne and into the future, then bends the knee. Knowing how unpopular dissolving ACCA would be (and would make him), Schwan can only affirm Mauve’s words and commit to preserving ACCA.

Mauve’s speech is one of, if not the most badass moments of the series, if not the Winter season as a whole, because of how much it changes, all of the careful preparation that gives it so much power, and the jazzy soundtrack that adds a cool gravitas.

Suddenly, Lilium finds himself on the wrong side of the river with a very weak hand. He was so focused on his own machinations he failed to realize there were counter-machinations going on behind his back. Jean had been strategizing with Mauve since he learned of his lineage, and informed Grossular of what would go down the night before.

Mauve and Jean arranged things so ACCA would win before Furawau would, making the continuation of “the game” pointless. Sure enough, Lilium folds, but he also takes his ball (being Furawau) and goes home (meaning secession). I will now cease the sports metaphors.

After all the drama subsides, Jean and Lotta encounter Prince Schwan and Magie, who reveals it was the prince himself who ordered him to warn her of the attack. Between agreeing not to kill ACCA and this, Schwan turned out to be not-such-a-bad-guy after all, which is more interesting than a petulant, one-dimensional villain. And since there’s no usurping going on, Jean and Lotta’s lineage can remain secret, even as they’re allowed to meet with Schwan and King Falke.

With Lilium and Furawau leaving the Dowa Kingdom to start their own, Grossular dissolves the remaining three of the anachronistic Five Chief officers, who then go home and become chiefs of their respective districts, and seem all the happier for it, while Grossular stays on in an advisory role for the new single leader of ACCA, Mauve. She certainly earned it.

In other good (if a bit convenient) news: Just as Furawau seceded, Pranetta finally hit paydirt, and a resource (presumably oil) rush leads to the district’s revitalization, Suitsu is finally allowed to develop to the level of the other districts and its people allowed to vote.

We even find out who Niino’s secret other contact was, and it’s who I expected: Abend, the ever-loyal servant of the Dowa Family, who had colored his hair and taken on the identity of Owl to watch Jean that much closer. With the family members reunited, Niino is formally relieved of his photographing duties. Mauve and Grossular seem to be spending a lot more time together, while Jean assumes the feelings he has for Mauve are unrequited.

But that doesn’t change the fact that he and Jean are best mates, something that hasn’t changed since they met in high school (the post credits flashback to their prom, which Niino won but gave Jean the crown, was a nice touch), and won’t change now. Jean takes comfort in knowing he’s not alone. And, no doubt, in being able to stay in his old job. For all that’s changed around them, Jean, Niino, and Lotta really haven’t, and that’s for the best, as they’re perfectly happy with the lives they have.

So ends one of the most thoughtful, detailed, and elegantly beautiful looking and sounding series in recent memory, which came completely out of nowhere. Those are my favorite kind of shows: ones about which neither I nor anyone else have any potentially corrupting preconceptions.

It’s also a show with eminent rewatch value; there’s enjoyment to be found in watching the story unfold again whilst knowing its resolution. It’s also a show for which I’d happily embrace a sequel. Until then, I say goodbye to ACCA, a well-crafted and engrossing anime if ever there was one.

Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku – 04

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In Magipro, Ruler is what Mokuou Sanae can’t be in the real world: in control. She always ranked at the top of her class, but speaking out of turn at the office where she worked got her reassigned by a boss who wanted her to learn her place. She always saw everybody in the world as idiots to be brought to heel. It’s how she ruled as Ruler, and it was her downfall.

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Getting Ruler’s backstory was a sure sign that she’d be the next victim, despite having come up with a devious scheme to steal Snow White’s Magical Candies. As it happens, her desire to keep distance from her subjects by insulting them at every opportunity became her fatal flaw when she relied on Swim Swim to transfer Snow White’s candies while she held her pose to keep Koyuki from moving (the flipside of her magical power to control).

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As such, Swim Swim took it upon herself to doublecross Ruler, only taking half of Snow White’s 50,000+ candies and distributing them evenly to all but Snow White herself, La Pucelle…and Ruler. That puts Ruler in last place at the time of the rankings, and it kills her.

Tama seems torn up by the coup, but the twin “angels” are fine with it, and acknowledge Swim Swim as their new leader. In a nice twist, Swim Swim was the young girl who Nemurin said could be a princess if she tried hard enough. But Swim Swim couldn’t be the true Ruler until the old one was eliminated. And so it comes to be.

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The entire situation disgusts Koyuki, who was ready to die rather than let anyone else die in her place before she learned Swim Swim only took half of her candies. But Souta isn’t so dedicated to Koyuki’s ideals, especially if it means Koyuki’s death. So La Pucelle re-vows to be Snow White’s knight, doing whatever is necessary to keep her alive and safe – whether Snow White wants such treatment or not.

With the sixteenth magical girl entering the field, Koyuki will no doubt continue to need protection, not just from those who would eliminate her, but from her own stubborn refusal to defend herself at the cost of others.

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91 Days – 08

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91 Days’ eighth episode continues the brisk pre-recap pace of the seventh, with sufficient bodies dropping to make a final showdown in three to four weeks’ time seem…not all that far away. Whatever peace Nero got from killing his brother, it doesn’t last due to three men: Delphy, the new, incorruptible sheriff in town; Fango, who thinks it’s time to wipe out the Vanettis…and Corteo.

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Coreto is sick of hanging around the mafia. He wants “Avilio” to get on with it already. But Avilio is playing such a long game, he has no qualms about following Nero’s orders to kill Delphy—or his wife and young daughter—to eliminate the threat.

It’s a cursed loyalty; Avilio does these things because he won’t let Delphy or Fango have his prey. He’s going to keep Nero standing until he’s good and ready to bring him down himself. But it’s an approach that’s isolated him from his friend, who is tired of being a doormat.

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91 Days decides not to go down the very dark road of offing Delphy’s family, but it sure do manage to make me believe it was going to, right up until we see the empty seat in the flaming car.

Delphy’s wife and daughter didn’t have to die for him to halt the investigation; he only needed to experience a scant moment of fear that they were dead. In this, Avilio demonstrates he’s not totally lost.

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As for Corteo, he somehow gets mixed up with Fango, perhaps out of a need to rebel against a situation and a lifestyle that had grown intolerable. He must be desperate to the edge of reason, however, to think he’d have a more tolerable experience hanging out with Fango than the Vanettis.

When Fango tries to take out Nero, it doesn’t take long for Avilio to suspect him, but he doesn’t immediately take action, despite Corteo all but presenting himself as the latest obstacle to Avilio’s ultimate revenge: another party who could potentially steal Nero away from him (by prematurely getting him killed).

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When Corteo is escorted to a room in Fango’s fortress—too his almost certain death—Fango toys with him the way a cat plays with a mouse. Then Corteo bears his fangs in a blaze of violence, beating Fango to death because he threatened to tell Nero about his betrayal.

Corteo may have been trying to simply end the ordeal with Nero’s untimely death, so that he and Avilio could move on with their lives. Instead, the opposite occured: Avilio dug in his heels, and Corteo came to discover that once his friend dragged him into this, there was never any possibility of getting out. Avilio’s vendetta is a black hole; no light escapes.

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91 Days – 07

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Clearly, Angelo’s anger over what happened to his family is so great and unyielding, he’s committed to enacting his revenge through an obscenely intricate long game. It’s not enough to kill everyone involved in his family’s murder; he wants to cause them the maximum amount of pain before he kills them. Such a considerate young man!

By assisting Fango’s coup over Don Orco, Avilio has kept Nero alive. Now he must turn to Nero’s next threat: his own brother Frate, being used as a puppet by Rolando Galassia. He also wrangles Fio into the negotiations, and eventually she plays a significant role in Avilio’s plan. Rather than Galassia’s puppets, the Vanettis have become Avilio’s  (Vincent excluded; who knows where he is this week).

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Avilio seems pretty sure there’s no chance for reconciliation between Nero and Frate, especially with Galassia breathing down Frate’s neck (and giving him all the booze and drugs he needs to become an increasingly unstable puppet). He lets Nero give it a try anyway, and lets the brothers become more frustrated by their diametrically opposed goals.

At the same time, Avilio convinces Volpe to help him attack Frate and Fernando while the former is travelling to mass, making it sound like Volpe will be doing Nero a favor. Hmm…maybe don’t have such a regular Sunday schedule if you’re planning to be the boss of a crime family?

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Volpe only manages to wound Fernando and scare Frate, but Avilio kills him and makes it look like he acted alone. Galassia tries to use his wife Fio to get Nero in a room with him, but Nero stays away.

Avilio comes instead as a messenger, but the messege is for Fio, not Fernando, and she puts two bullets in her husband, apparently sick and tired of his role in tearing her family apart. She doesn’t know that both she and Fernando were only pawns of the Great Avilio.

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In another bit of Venetti manipulation, Avilio leads Nero to Frate, reveals the gun Frate was hiding under a magazine, then leaves the two to hash it out—but only after he takes all the bullets out of Frate’s gun, apparently unbeknownst to either brother.

We end with two more of the biggest obstacles to keeping Nero alive dead, by Nero and Fio’s own hands. Through his machinations, Avilio saw to it the Vanetti family suffered its first blood casualty, but likely not the last. Then he tells Nero he’ll be his brother from now on. Honestly Avilio’s master plan continues to baffle, and the effortlessness with which he gets his way this week makes everyone else in the episode feel like helpless pawns.

It’s pretty ridiculous, but I still enjoyed this gritty, unrelenting episode. As characters drop left and right, 91 Days is starting to feel more and more like a Shakespearean tragedy set in the days of prohibition.

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91 Days – 06

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As Oigakkosan commented last week, 91 Days isn’t necessarily a bad show, but it can be a slow show, and Avilio’s revenge plot is undermined and robbed of immediacy by the show’s focus on Nero as co-protagonist. Neither of these problems is solved this week, as Avilio gets Fango in a room with Nero to plot the downfall of Don Orco.

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This isn’t that great a feat considering Orco possibly the dumbest mafia don in the world. I don’t care how tasty Lawless Heaven is. The fact that Nero (and Avilio!) are allowed to meet Orco in person is bad enough. But for Orco to let himself get cornered in a goddamn coal mine where his men are split up is even more negligent. Seriously, did this guy have a death wish?

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One thing I’ll allow is that after Avilio gives up the ghost about his true intentions, and then “kills” Nero, it’s well within reason for Orco to trust the guy, and even have a celebratory drink. But it wasn’t particularly bright of Orco to chug down the brown without making sure Avilio was doing the same. Just lots of stupidity on the big don’s part that kinda dulls the victory.

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What also dulls the victory? Fango is now the don, and he’s a lunatic. If anything, he’s worse than Orco, only now the deal with the Vanettis and Galassias is likely off. Unless I’m mistaken, he fed a lasagna made of Orco meat to all of his captains (either that, or he just poisoned them all).

In a very strange cut, Nero, Avilio and his crew are safe and sound, but also eating lasagna, hopefully not containing bits of Orco. Grossness aside, the show kinda screwed with us by having Avilio reveal his true goal before killing Nero, only for it to be part of a plan to help Nero. His revenge plan is slowly turning into a Rube Goldberg device.

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Kiznaiver – 12 (Fin)

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Nori has gone over the deep end, driven by the convictions she’s been developing since the Kizuna System was begun. It’s a flawed philosophy that everyone will be hunky-dory if only they shared each others pain, with her specifically.

She’s not going to stop, so it’s up to Katsuhira to stop her by setting the record straight about just what friendship and love are and what causes them (hint: not the Kizuna System). Nico leads the rest of the Kiznaivers in backing up Katsuhira.

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What seemed to be a far larger-scale operation, with the power going out, the bridge retracting, a random explosion, and Nori’s plan to connect everyone, turns out to be a lot smaller in the end: Nori on top of the bridge, Katsuhira climbing up to meet her, and a long and emotionally pitched conversation about why she’s wrong and should let go of the pain.

Whenever Nori counters one of Kacchon’s arguments, either Kacchon or one of his friends has the answer. The Kizuna System didn’t make them friends, or make Kacchon fall in love with Nori; it was merely a facilitation; a nudge in the direction of one another.

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After that, even after they were disconnected, the Kiznaivers cared about each other, what they thought, and even if they didn’t quite understand immediately, sought to understand, even if it caused them emotional pain. Nori doesn’t need Kizuna, and she never did; she just had to learn what it was to truly be friends with someone, something she never had the opportunity to do.

Because she was alone before Kizuna and not alone after, she made the corrolation that Kizuna could cure all the ails of the world. But it’s not that simple. Honoka puts it best: it’s not a constant connection, but a constant cycle of distancing out of frustration and coming together due to new epiphanies about one another. The former Kiznaivers aren’t friends in spite of no longer sharing each other’s physical pain, but because of it.

Once Kacchon reaches Nori, headbutts her (accidentally or not), and they go into the drink, the resulting plunge is a kind of new revelation for Nori. Now, at last, she can start letting go of everyone else’s pain, knowing they won’t disappear.

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Indeed, post pain release, her painless friends start to gradually “wake up” from their catatonia. Thankfully, the episode does not go into excruciating detail abotu the exact mechanism whereby Nori makes all this possible, but suffice it to say she’s on the right track now.

Just as gradual but steady will be the other Kiznaivers and how they interact with one another. Honoka seems willing to give Yuta a try (or at least tease him about it), Chodori has to admit she’s been thinking about Tenga a lot lately (to his delight), and Nico is willing to play the long game against Chidori for Tenga’s heart, cheered on by Hisomu (who likes the sound of that potential fistfight).

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As for Nori, she didn’t get as messed up by the fall off the bridge as Kacchon, but there’s no doubt it was a transformative experience, asking Kacchon what he’s thinking (because she doesn’t know), smiling, and possibly even preparing to lean in for a kiss—until the rest of the gang bursts in.

PDA aside, that gang seems willing to bring Nori into their circle, and it’s Honoka of all people to recover the photo booth photos they took together. Nori notes the add-on special effects that make them look more cartoonish; one could say the same of her now-discontinued Kizuna System and its army of Gomorin.

While such embellishments, be it to social experiments or photos, can be fun, there’s nothing like the genuine article. Genuine faces, genuine emotions, genuine friendships, and genuine love. Nori has gained far more than she lost.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 11

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Both Kuromukuro and Kabaneri managed to reignite my passion for watching them in their eleventh episodes. I didn’t really know what to expect after last week cliffhanger would have had us believe Ikoma had been stabbed through the heart and tossed into the sea for dead by a Mumei now lost to him. This week quickly debunks the first assumption and paves the way to debunk the second, even though shit is still hitting the fan, as it were.

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First, Kongokaku: it’s a grand, peaceful, and impressive place when the Kotetsujou arrives at its gate, but we see from the shogun eliminating a messenger with knowledge hat could sow public panic, theirs is clearly an uneasy peace, especially with Kabane lurking right outside those “impregnable” walls.

Biba doesn’t need to besiege his father’s seat, however; he comes in through the front door; a “captive” of Ayame; a role she’s forced to play because he’s holding her people hostage. Of course, going by his script only proves to Biba that’s he’s weak, and it’s become painfully apparent that the weak don’t live long once they meet him.

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To his credit, the shogun immediately knows Biba is up to something; he just doesn’t know what until it’s too late. Biba uses the same fear his father used as an excuse for stabbing him in the dark as a child to destroy his father. The dagger he gave him contains a hidden needle that infects the shogun with the virus, and his own men gun him down in a panic.

Biba need only deal the killing blow with his sword, and just like that Kongokaku is his. The Kabane in his hold are released onto the city to stoke up fear, paranoia, and people killing people, but he simply sits on the throne, not smirking an evil smirk, but remembering a day when he rode a horse with his father. Do I detect a hint of…weakness, AKA love? No matter; there’s no one around to punish Biba for it.

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While all that excitement is going on, Ikoma, having washed up on a shore not in the greatest shape but very much alive, is temporarily incapacitated by the immense weight of the guilt and regret over what went down, including Takumi’s death. He didn’t run, he was tossed out, and he’s right that at the time there was nothing he could do.

Kurusu, who has one of Biba’s scientists captive, finds Ikoma, and is actually patient with him as he goes through various stages of grief. In the end, Kurusu makes Ikoma set aside all the reasons he should simply die, and asks him why he’s still alive in the first place: his chest wound is so precise, Mumei must have intended to miss his heart, meaning she is not totally lost.

Granted, as we cut back to the capital, we see that Mumei is considerably more lost than the time she spared Ikoma. And she’s just as helpless here as Ayame, or as Ikoma was back on the train. Biba controls every aspect of her life, and despite all he’s done she still harbors loyalty to him, because she’d have died long ago (and been “beckoned by the butterflies”) were it not for him.

That combination of coercion-by-obligation, as well as the reality that Biba has kept Mumei weak and unable to oppose him even if she wanted to (and she did try), have led to her simply giving up. She will let the butterflies come, with the small consolation that at least she was able to free Ikoma a similar fate.

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Only thing is, Ikoma hasn’t given up, thanks largely to Kurusu and the captive he has for some reason (I forgot why; sue me). That scientist just happens to have on hand two serums: one is white, and could save Mumei; but to get to her Ikoma knows he needs to be stronger (and apparently, less scruffy) than he is.

So he injects the black serum, an accelerant that indeed causes him to undergo yet another transformation. When we leave him, he seems that much less human, and particularly stable, but fueled by his resolve to stop Biba and save Mumei, odds are he’ll be able to endure. I certainly hope so, because Mumei deserves better than the same fate as Horobi—who also didn’t deserve it.

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(Almost a 9 based solely on the new Aimer ED, “Through My Blood”, which brought it)

Kiznaiver – 11

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Noriko and Agata are two individuals whose lives have been dominated by close contact with one another. Agata had seemingly forgotten how much contact until he connected the girl in his dreams to Nori, while Nori herself clearly remembers everything, and how the only one she really needed seemed to be Agata. They were an inseparable pair, until they weren’t. Now, with one episode left they find themselves on potentially opposing ends of the game board.

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Hardly anything in his recent life has ever affected Agata as strongly as seeing his doll-ified friends. But it got him thinking, and he thinks a lot throughout the episode, something he hadn’t done much of before because he was too busy not having emotions and going with the flow.

Now he thinks he understands a little more how Chidori saw him, and why she always protected and defended him, and how much pain he caused her by being the way he was. He calls to thank her and apologize, which Chidori sees as a furtherance of his wider rejection of her.

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The mayor is telling (not asking) Yamada and Urushii that Kizuna is kaput, but wants them to soften the blow of the news. Of course, we know Noriko will not accept any news of that nature: The Kizuna System has been, is, and will continue to be her life. Taking Kizuna is like taking that life away.

The two researchers, able to look back and realize their overeagerness to achieve results for a world that needed them desperately, acknowledge the collateral damage done to Nori as a result, and Yamada is determined to make up for that by granting all of her wishes. Urushii seems to agree. Without knowing it, they’ve become more than minders or underlings to Nori; they’re her friends too.

That realization seems to come to the former Kiznaivers as well—that they’ve been friends for some time now, without knowing it. It’s the reason they were able to get through all their trials so easily, and it’s why even though their pain is no longer connected artificially by Kizuna, they still feel pain in their collective hearts when Agata bears his to them on the rooftop.

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That being said, they’re still incredulous, but when Urushii confirms they’re no longer connected, it’s hard to remain in denial: they have empathy for one another. Kizuna simply gave them the nudge in the right direction. Now these people who believed they could never have proper friends have friends.

But that’s not nearly enough for Noriko. After all, the world is full of conflict and rancor, all because people technically bear the pain in their hearts alone. Six people having the same emotions at once isn’t the same as being literally connected, via Kizuna.

Sensing the end of Kizuna is nigh without action, she gives an address to the entire town, announcing her intention to connect all of them, government and corporate interests be damned. This seems selfish on her part, and even paints her in the light of an antagonist, ready to impose her will on the masses.

But she is nothing more or less than what the system made her, and she’s not ready to give up on her ideal of a perfect happy future…whether anyone else wants it or not.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 10

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Thinks are bad for the good guys: Ikoma is in prison, and Biba’s goons are harvesting blood from the Kotetsujou to feed the Kabane, and they’re not exactly being nice about it. Like Mumei, these are people who weren’t taught to think of the weak as people worthy of compassion, but in this case they’re more like livestock. It ain’t pretty.

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When I saw Biba alone in a car with Ayame, my skin crawled, because I knew he wouldn’t be honoring whatever deal he was striking with her. He only needs her until she can arrange an audience between him and his father the Shogun; after that all bets are off; that’s just how villains operate, and Biba is a pretty conventional villain.

He certainly has the look down, as well as the way he creepily wipes blood off Mumei’s cheek, after appeasing her with another promise he won’t keep: that the passengers of the Kotetsujou will not be harmed.

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That’s because a group of passengers are doing the one thing that will make Biba come down on them even harder: planning a revolt. Ikoma is the ringleader, taking note of the comings and goings of the key man. When the moment is right, he breaks out and the group strikes.

Sukari was portrayed early as someone who apparently betrayed his friends because he knew resistance was futile, but I had him pegged as a double agent pretty quickly, and that’s what it turns out he is, having helped slip intel to Ikoma, thus earning a measure of Takumi and Yukina’s forgiveness.

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When Biba gets word of the revolt, of course he makes Mumei choose to either take care of the disturbance—killing Ikoma and her friends in the process—or stop receiving the medication that’s keeping her virus from spreading and turning her into a full Kabane.

At the end of the day, this is Mumei’s most damning weakness: her utter dependence on her brother’s good side, which never really existed in the first place. He even lowered her dosage, anticipating her possible betrayal, so that she doesn’t have the strength to get away when she does bolt.

As for Ikoma, for some reason he thought the key man had all the keys, but he doesn’t; why would Biba make it so easy for Ikoma to get to the most important part of the train? Instead, Ikoma and his men block Ikoma, and when Ikoma refuses to join his fight (an offer most conventional villains usually give the protagonist), his guys open fire. Only Ikoma doesn’t get shot, because Takumi took the bullet.

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So yeah, RIP Takumi, who at least managed to repay Ikoma for his getting show earlier in the run. Naturally, Ikoma isn’t all that pleased his best mate has been murdered in front of him. Unfortunately, that’s not all he has to deal with on this particularly shitty day.

That’s because Biba brings in Mumei, only she’s not really his friend anymore; likely she’s been “re-programmed” with drugs from the mad scientist car. Without hesitation, she drives her dagger into Ikoma’s chest and lets him fall out of the train, off a cliff, and into the sea.

Now, don’t think Ikoma’s dead, and neither do you—he’s the frikkin’ main character, for crying out loud. So the question then becomes, how will he manage to survive, and how will he get back to where Ayame and Mumei are? Talk about a stacked deck…

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 09

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This week, any illusions about Biba having a shred of good (or nuance) are wiped away for good: this is vendetta, against all who wronged him, and wronging him includes acts of cowardice perpetrated by the Shogunate. Ikoma and Ayame are in agreement that Mumei has to be taken away from this guy, but doing so is no mean feat, at least initially.

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Horobi, who we only just met, is given greater focus this week as Biba’s sacrificial subject. What’s so brutal is that she knows this, and is resigned to it, vowing her loyalty even while betraying a glimmer of regret and fear of death. For Biba has gotten it into Horobi’s head that he’s stronger than her, which means she’s expendable.

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No doubt Biba feels the same way about Mumei, and her time to lay down her life so he can walk over it will surely come soon; that is, if Mumei doesn’t get her mind right and escape. She and Ikoma actually get into quite close proximity this week, but Mumei is still following her brother, opening the gate to Iwato against Iwato’s wishes.

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Once Mumei has opened that gate, all hell breaks loose. Biba unleashes his army of captive Kabane on Iwato’s guards, and his meeting with Lord Maeda quickly turns to bloodshed. Ayame takes up a spear, but Yukina has to take a dart to the chest from Horobi. There’s a palpable feeling that the two are very very unsafe in this room with Biba and his true believer followers.

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Mumei quickly comes to regret opening the gates, since the Kabane proceeded to tear through the station, killing and turning hundreds of townsfolk. Of course, she blames herself, which is what Biba wants, as if perhaps she lacked something that would have resulted in a better outcome. That something is, of course, the awareness that her “brother” is an horrendously deluded evil dick.

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That dickishness is confirmed once and for all when, after Horobi goes berserk—first as the core of a fused colony, then a monstrous super-kabaneri killbot—her blade stops an inch from Biba’s throat. A bead of sweat rolls down his cheek just before he runs her through with his sword, taking advantage of her honor and loyalty to the end. RIP Horobi. We hardly knew ye.

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With Ikoma thoroughly “liberated”, as Biba rather unconvincingly claims, Ikoma, Ayame, and all her people are held at gunpoint and warned not to resist or interfere. Even Mumei has guns pointed at her, on order from her bro. Ikoma can’t really do much, and is beaten by one of Biba’s lieutenants, but if one good thing came out of this episode, is that it caused Mumei to wake up to the truth about Biba, meaning she and Ikoma are back on the same side.

The pace of Kabaneri, and Biba’s treachery in particular, has been breathless in its alacrity, almost to the point of not allowing anything to sink in deep enough, because there’s always more stuff to deal with. That being said, if this is only an 12-episode series, I’m not wholly unappreciative of the show picking up the pace for a showdown in the capital.

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