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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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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GATE – 19

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With Mort out of the picture (he doesn’t seem to be dead, but he’s in no condition to rule), Zolzal takes over and wastes no time stoking anti-peace sentiment among both the armies and masses. Tyuule, who has had proper clothes for a while now (compared to a burlap shift anyway) is overjoyed by this development, because she’s certain Zolzal’s warmongering will lead to his downfall.

Using Zolzal as her pawn, Tyuule has bascially stolen a march on both Pina’s peace negotiations will now only serve as stalling as Zolzal approves unethical tactics in order to weaken the JSDF and its position in the special region. He and his advisors may be fools, but they at least realize a head-on fight won’t work.

Pina wants to try to slow Zolzal’s march to war, but her other brother Diabo flees the capital to round up a force of foreign countries to deal with Zolzal the only way he thinks they can: with the sword. And while I like Pina and appreciate her position as the only sensible member of the royal family, that doesn’t mean I find her character all that compelling.

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That’s why I was glad for the cut back to Rondel, where characters I frankly am far more invested in about are engaged in activities very much unrelated to the interminable palace intrigue of the capital: Lelei’s preparations to become a master. Her big sister Arpeggio comes more into focus as someone who’s always been in her genius little sister’s shadow.

There’s also an unexpected reunion between Rory and Mimoza, the two of whom last met 50 years ago. Rory’s advanced age and natural gregariousness owing to her demigod status, you never know who she’ll bump into next, and I like how Mimoza took her “homework” seriously, devoting years to studying the history and pre-history of the world to determine why there are so many races.

Her conclusions are fascinating: the Gate isn’t just something that connects to the Ginza; it’s a cyclical portal that has dormant periods like a volcano, and each time throughout the centuries, it has opened to a different realm. Beings from those realms would come through, fight, breed, and become a part of society in the world. Even more intriguing? Humans were almost certainly the newest race to come through.

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Other revelations include Arpeggio’s side-job copying books (underlining her pathos relative to her wondersis) and Lelei’s sneaky little pronouncement that Itami is not, in fact, single, since she and he spent three nights in the same room together. She also firmly contends Tuka’s nights didnt’ count because she was insane at the time and thought Itami was her dad. I’m inclined to agree.

But Arpeggio’s inability to snag Itami as a husband because Lelei got to him first is the last straw, and she’s forced to challenge her sister to a magic duel by way of inverted soup bowl (thankfully, not scalding). While Itami is appropriately lost and of the belief the sisters are taking things too far, everyone else carries on as if this was a regular occurrence … because his is the thirteenth such battle between them.

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Arpeggio was a whiny sad-sack for so much of the episode prior to the duel, it was good to see her in action, holding her own against an aggressive Lelei who unveils heretofore unseen abilities like witch-like flight. I also appreciated that the sisters’ distinctive styles match their personalities: Arpeggio grounded and practical, Lelei with her head in the clouds, dreaming big.

Despite its non-lethal nature, the duel is fast and loud and exciting. The girls eventually essentially tie when both their magical defenses are broken (though Arpy’s broke fist), but that’ when things almost do turn lethal – when a cloaked assassin very nearly puts a crossbow bolt between a defenseless Lelei’s eyes.

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His attempt is thwarted by Grey, who has just arrived with Hamilton to protect Lelei and escort her back to the capital, where she’s become an Imperial hero due to her actions in the fire dragon battle. I say her and only her because she’s the only human; as for being an Imperial citizen, Lelei takes exception to that classification, as she still considers herself a member of the Rurudo clan first and foremost.

Regardless, Zolzal no doubt wants to make her another tool in his upcoming war with the Greens. Tyuule is now trusted to meet with senators on his behalf to present them with new laws that will allow him to arrest and convict whomever he chooses – no doubt laws he deems necessary in times of war. As for Itami, he probably has the right idea: simply run for now, while staying appraised of the increasingly volatile political situation.

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Owari no Seraph 2 – 08

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No doubt motivated by her feelings for Yuu, and her desire to not see him in pain, Shinoa agrees to attempt to save Guren and Shinya. Had she fully comprehended how impossible it would be to snatch from Eusford Crowley something he does not intend to give up willingly, she would never have agreed even to the few minutes of attempted rescue.

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The Shinoa Team puts their absolute best, perfectly-coordinated product on the field, and still get trounced by the mere sidelong glance of Crowley. Not that surprising; even Guren and Shinya only lasted so long until they were exhausted heaps unable to stay upright without a wall nearby to lean on. Rescuing Guren simply isn’t possible. They can only run, live another day, and hope to get another shot later.

(It was good to hear a vocal arrangement of Sawano’s “scaPEGoat”, which not only gave this scene gravitas, but also made me miss the first season’s ED; this season’s OP and ED are pretty weak by comparison.)

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The extent of the futility continues when Guren’s team shows up. Goshi gets his illusory fog going, and even Crowley is plunged into a lava-filled cavern, but none of the surprise attacks from Sayuri, Shigure, or Mito trouble Crowley at all, nor does the illusion. Rather, he’s bemused that the humans have amassed even this much power, even though they remain thoroughly powerless compared to him.

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Guren orders everyone to retreat and leave him behind, and everyone obeys, though nobody is happy about it. Both Shinya and “Guren’s Girls” are particularly broken up about it, but with the exception of Sayuri, maintain their composure and set their sights on completing the mission, linking up with Narumi’s squad and working as a team. But Yuu can’t do it.

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No matter what anyone, even Shinoa, says to him about family or how much better they know Guren, Yuu is simply incapable of letting Guren go as long as he’s still alive. He remembers the first sleepless, nightmare-ridden nights after Guren rescued him. Even back then they’d developed a rather combative sheen to an otherwise deep brotherly bond, and for the first time, we see how much Yuu meant to Guren as a means of making up for the person he lost.

He also spoke of a day Yuu never thought would come: when the pain of living would give way to purpose: finding someone who needed help, as Yuu needed Guren’s. Yuu believes that time has finally come, and he’d rather die than pass it up. So he takes two more pills than he should, then starts to convulse and bleed and pass out, to everyone’s horror; particularly Shinoa’s.

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Just as Yuu is apparently dying of an overdose as his friends stand around him, helpless, Mika arrives with his squad of vampire underlings, who he promptly kills. He’s not here to “check on Crowley”, after all. He’s here for Yuu, and it doesn’t look good for Yuu’s friends right now.

As for the larger battle, Kureto, on the front line and feeling directly responsible for the survival of the entire human race, hasn’t quite let the power get to his head, but he has certainly grabbed all the power he can. Despite the arrival of a brother closer to the Hiiragi patriarch, Kureto is going his own way with his own means and methods, and no one can judge him, because if he fails everyone will be dead anyway.

His own means include the deployment of a “test subject” ominously stored in something resembling the Jurassic Park raptor crate. What devilry lies therein? Will it make a difference? Is Yuu really dead of an overdose? (No, he’s not.) The preview for next week shows Shinoa holding back a line of vampires…for Mika’s sake. I am definitely intrigued.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 05

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There’s a wonderful sense of anticipation and occasion on the eve of Tekkadan’s first space mission, as warm moments like Aina joining Mika on his night watch, or Atra enlisting as Tekkadan’s cook for the journey, are tinged with foreboding when Orga shakes hands with Orcus, a man we know he doesn’t trust as far as he can throw him.

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Traps and betrayals await Tekkadan in low orbit, with Todo cutting a deal with Orcus, who gets betrayed by Orcus, who cut a deal with Coral, who himself made a deal with Fareed in the apprehension of Kudelia. And at the end of the day, youth and smarts beat age and greed.  Todo’s treachery has been so blatantly telegraphed, it was all but inevitable his plan would be foiled by somebody; the fact Orga doesn’t have to lift a finger for it to happen is icing on the cake.

So Todo, and later Coral, aren’t just old villains, they’re bad, dumb villains that the show disposes of as soon as it can. In the villain vaccum comes Fareed, who like Mika on the other side is a different kind of animal. The beautifully-oiled gears are always spinning beneath his golden locks. Fareed doesn’t mug for the camera get bent out of shape; he twirls his hair, playing the long game.

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And as predictable as Todo’s failed betrayal was, the fact the show was very coy indeed about what if any countermeasures Orga had was nicely hidden beneath the more predictable surface. Orga doesn’t even tell most of his comrades what he has in store for Aina’s would-be apprehenders: Mika in the Gundam (wearing a flight suit too), and a game Akihito arriving right on time with Tekkadan’s ship.

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We’ve been waiting five weeks for IBO’s first space battle, and it doesn’t disappoint. Is there rampant, obvious CGI? Nope, just hand-drawn (or at least hand-drawn looking) mechas rockin’-sockin’ it could with maces, axes, swords, and bullets. And just when we thought Mika was good in atmospheric combat, we see he’s even better once he has the omnidirectionality of space in which to work.

The action is beautifully and tautly directed, and it’s easy to know what’s going on where at all times, without dumbing it down. There are also a good number of Gundam cockpit shots, and thankfully the pilots can speak to each other on the radio.

As his Gjallarhorn opponents get more and more pissed off, Mika just maintains his cool—but not cold—demeanor. He’s got a job to do, everyone’s depending on him, and he’s going to do it. His constant calm, and the power of those convictions, carry with them their own brand of ferocity.

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It’s fitting then, that Fareed, who really secured his position as most serious, interesting and complex antagonists in IBO, remains equally calm and collected this week. The lack of bluster or panic or desperation makes him all the more formidable a foe.

One of Fareed’s best lines of dialogue this week is a little cheesy and meta, but I still absolutely loved it: when the ship’s database confirms Tekkadan’s trump is a Gundam from the Calamity War, he points out how appropriate that is, since Gundams always seem to pop up and make significant contributions at key turning points throughout human history, and with a Martian independence movement gaining strength, this Barbatos has risen up once more to defend the underdog, in this case Kudelia.

What’s also so great is that his little speech didn’t just fire me, up, but it fired him up, to the point he heads out in his own upgraded Graze to join the fray. His opponent is a legend, and finally, a legitimate chance to test his mettle and prove his greatness.  Very good stuff.

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As Mika is dancing with the mobile suits, the Orcus and Gjallarhorn capital ships bear down on Tekkadan’s. They need a big maneuver to escape: enter a mining asteroid they tether to using some good old-fashioned, quick-and-dirty, NASA-style improvisation. Someone has to cut the tether loose at the right moment to send the ship flying safely away from the enemy.

It’s a suicidal mission, so Orga prepares to take it on, but in a nice bit of character development Eugene (for all intents and purposes his XO) volunteers in his stead, insiting the captain should just “sit around and look important.”

It’s a reminder that even though he’s pissed Orga kept the ship secret from him, he still has ample faith and respect in Orga’s command. It also reminds us Orga is still getting used to being the top dog; which sometimes requires delegating, or sending people out you know might not come back.

The thrilling tether swing-around works like a charm, even when the initial blast doesn’t cut the cord. On its way out of orbit on onwards to Earth, they don’t forget to pick up Mika, who destroyed Coral and got a good lick in on Gaelio. The whole time, Fareed was carefully analyzing Mika’s movement, and came away impressed.

Orga and Eugene also make peace, lessening considerably my previous worries Eugene would try to make a move against him. We’ve got a lot of Gundam left, so that could still happen down the road, but for now, they’re buds.

Oh, and yes, Mika’s fine. No adverse side-effects from all that space combat, either mental or physcial. Having both Aina and Atra aboard is a good move, not just for the triangle, but because they represent everything Mika has to lose if things go south.

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The final kiss-off from Tekkadan is shipping a beaten and marked Todo to Gjallarhorn in an escape pod. No more Todo blatantly undermining Tekkadan in the shadows. Fareed lost this round, but he didn’t come away empty-handed (and I’m not talking about Todo): he got to observe his enemy closely, and will be more prepared for him the inevitable next time.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 04

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Tekkadan and their celebrity passenger aren’t off to Earth yet, and that’s a good thing. This is a 26-episode show, no need to rush, and besides, while this episode is less hectic than last week’s coup and duel, laying out the full measure of the stakes and all of the dangers that lie ahead for Mika, Orga, Aina, et al is crucial to our full emotional investment in the events to come.

As we see, getting Aina to Earth is no simple matter to say the least, and can’t be done by Tekkadan alone. It requires getting in bed (oh God hopefully not literally) with outside middlemen, forming dozens of little alliances of temporary trust with outsiders; those with their own motivations. With so much on their backs Orga and Aina have no choice but to gamble, and neither assured a survivable return.

On the contrary, with Todo’s private moments of stewing, it’s clear Orga has made a potentially fatal mistake in thinking the threat of death keeps the old man in line. Todo is planning the demise of Tekkadan in its infancy, not for Gjallarhorn or his old bosses, but because it’s his way to survive. If he gets a little more agency and teaches some punk kids a lesson, so much the better.

“Young vs. Old” is also a theme in Major Coral equivocating before the younger Fareed, subtly offering a bribe that’s shot down with the threat of arrest, then cursing the even older Crank for failing (as Crank and Orlis’ comrade stews).

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The Olds seem to prefer when the Youngs are beholden to them. It gives them power and purpose. Todo’s Orcus contact is of big help (assuming it’s not a trap, which it is). Nobliss, who doesn’t even bother dressing to address Aina, clearly considers Aina to beholden to him for his cash infusion. But Fareed rejects his older comrade’s “intelligence” and goes out with Gaelio to gather his own.

There’s a lot of housekeeping this week, as we learn Orga gained Akihito and his group of “Human Debris” (i.e. former property of Maruba) to his side with the promise to free and protect them, as they wouldn’t be able to secure jobs elsewhere. In a strong symbolic gesture, the big CGS sign is painted over by one of the youngest grunts. Out with the old, and all that.

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Finally, this episode makes a slight detour to the Biscuit’s family farm, run by a stern, no-nonsense Granny Sakura who, like Yukinojo and Crank, are the old people trying to foster amity with the young rather than oppose and oppress them. Mika brings Aina here for the same reason he comes: working the land helps clear the head.

That also means, of course, Aina and Atra cross paths again, and for now, Mika has his cake and eats it too, catching Aina when she tugs too hard at an ear of corn, while also heartening Atra by thanking her for the bracelet. At the same time, Mika uses this to show Aina that even this big biofuel corn farm only nets Biscuit’s family a meager return; not enough to survive. Her saving Tekkadan also saved that farm and family, so she should buck up and stop focusing only on the negative.

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Then, all of a sudden, there’s a clashing of plotlines with Fareed and Gaelio nearly running over Cookie and Cracker in their Humvee. Mika doesn’t hesitate to take throat of Gaelio, the first face he sees emerge, and start squeezing mercilessly. Fareed manages to cool everyone off, but I liked how when Fareed and Gaelio were alone, Gaelio was the easygoing one. Here, Gaelio is hostile where Fareed is amicable. He even retches when he sees Mika’s implants.

At the same time, Fareed is, if anything, more threatening than Gaelio, all courtesy, easy smiles and cordial words. There’s raw tension in him approaching Cookie, Cracker, and Atra…and offering them candy. He knows Mika is far more than a farmboy. And there’s the sense he doesn’t believe Biscuit any more than he believes Coral. Meanwhile, Aina has to hide in the corn with her aide. This won’t be the last they see of the gallant inspectors.

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As it happens, Fareed is already aware that CGS is now Tekkadan; a product of Orga and Biscuit playing everything after the mutiny strictly by-the-book, business-wise. When Mika returns to base, Orga shows him Tekkadan’s new insignia, again designed and painted by their youngest as a symbol of hope and strength. Orga looks on the sign with pride and an even greater desire to protect what they’ve won at all costs.

But the fact of the matter is, Tekkadan and its mission hang on a thread, and any one thing could blow it off into oblivion, be it further interference from the various units of Gjallarhorn (bet on it), making a deal with the devil in Nobliss, or underestimating Todo’s capacity for treachery. As Todo so aptly puts it in the episode’s final line: he’s about to show these young rapscallions “how terrifying adults can be.”

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 03

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I don’t hesitate to award this episode a 10, and can be confident it’s not just a kneejerk reaction to the adrenaline rush it provided as things moved forward very fast. I’m giving it a 10 because it was virtually flawless by my standards, and comprised the total package: a taut, refined narrative, intricate character dynamics and motivations, and beautiful presentation, all while preserving the Gundam heritage that deserves to be preserved and subverting it where appropriate.

The escalation from serving a warm, home-cooked meal to everyone—including the surly First Corps—to a complete takeover of CGS by Orga’s Third Group, was delivered with stealthy deftness that respects the viewers. We all knew something was going to go down; it was only a matter of when, how, and if it succeeded.

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The answers to three questions are ‘now’, ‘forcefully’, and ‘yes, most definitely’. The stew they feed the Firsts is drugged, and they wake up, they’re tied up and at Orga’s mercy. I really dug his wry response to his former boss’s classic “who do you think you’re dealing with?” line:

“Incompetents who can’t give proper orders and caused this much damage.”

They’re not just incompetents who got Orga’s comrades killed, they’re incompetents who will also fail at the business end, and lead to the death of the company, along with the rest of the Thirds, in time. Orga is putting an end to their reign before that happens. It’s not just revenge; it’s pragmatism. This is how they survive.

The First Corps commander still thinks he’s in control, talking about sparing the lives of the people with a gun to his head. Again employing Mika as his steady right arm of enforcement, he makes an example of the commander by having Mika put two bullets in his head. No negotiations. No deals. Join Us, Leave, or Die are the only options. It takes Mika having to shoot one more First dead before everyone else has made their decision.

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So…now what? Interestingly, those who decide to join Orga’s new CGS regime include the accountant, Dexter Culastor, who soon determines just how screwed the company will be if they don’t find work immediately, and Todo, a middleman between the First and Third who was going to go whichever way the wind was blowing.

The problem with CGS right now is that they’ve got Gjallarhorn on their asses. Far from being a feather in their cap, no one will do business with them lest they too incur the wrath of Gjallarhorn. Todo has a solution: hand the young miss Kudelia over, in exchange for being left alone (and a little cash).

It’s a self-serving, weaselly plan (apropos since it came from the self-serving, weaselly Todo), but it’s also one of the only ways to get Gjallarhorn off their backs, if there even is a way. Eugene likes the plan and wonders why Orga hesitates, but the discussion is tabled by the arrival of Crank.

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As we should have known, Crank is not there to defect; he’s there to put and end to things between CGS and Gjallarhorn one way or another. If he wins the duel, they’ll hand over Kudelia and the captured mecha. It’s an arrangement even Aina agrees to, because like Crank, she wants to minimize further needless bloodshed, especially where kids are involved.

Orga asks Mika if he’ll do it, but it’s only a courtesy, because he knows Mika will do it. He may be short and scrawny, but Mika is the toughest motherfucker in CGS, as demonstrated when Orga tells Aina (who wants to do something to help and is considering having a mecha interface implanted) that a large chunk of those implanted ended up in hospital beds for life or worse…and Mika’s had it done three times.

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The duel commences, and Thank God the mobile suits have P.A. systems so the pilots can talk to each other. To not have such systems was an obvious and intolerable, beaten-to-death plot hole in Recon. Here, Crank can tell he’s fighting a child, something he abhors, but he must do his duty nonetheless. Wisely, this episode’s sole representative of the “bad guys” is a reasonable, honorable man doing what he thinks is best in this scenario, and if he gets killed, at least all the responsibility will fall on him.

But like Aina, Crank is misguided about one thing, at least as far as Mika’s concerned: He’s not some poor kid being victimized. Everything Mika does, every order he’s obeyed from Orga, has been of his own free will, and out of his desire to stay alive. Mind you, this is Mika’s own perspective; in reality he’s a severely screwed-up dude; “a bit Touchy”, as Atra remarks, doesn’t nearly cover it).

Crank, for his part, never underestimated Mika; he saw what he was capable of the last time he watched him fight. Instead, Crank is simply limited by his loyalties in what he’s able to do. So when he’s done as much as he can and still loses the duel, and is unable to move to kill himself, he asks Mika to do it for him.

Again, he didn’t have to ask: Orga already told Mika to kill Crank; there wasn’t going to be a different outcome, because Mika isn’t the brains of this operation, nor do I think he wants to be. And a notable gesture on Mika’s part: both before he takes off in Barbatos and after he kills Crank, he smells the bracelet Atra gave Yukinojo to give to him, perhaps keeping him grounded in his humanity among all the carnage. For those keeping score: Aina got to feed Mika, while Atra got her bracelet to him.

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The role of brains belongs to Orga, who stands fast even as a huge piece of mobile suit comes crashing down feet away from him. And that’s when he comes up with a new name for their company. Goodbye CGS, Hello Tekkadan, meaning “Iron Flower”, one that will never wilt. Nice name.

As for Aina’s role, she first becomes the newly-named company’s first official client when she commits to using Tekkadan as her security service indefinitely, no longer depending on her untrustworthy father, but the largess of Nobliss Gordon—a name we heard from Coral as also being Gjallarhorn’s financier. It also seems Aina will be eschewing a mecha interface implant for a more political role with Tekkadan, the company that kept her alive.

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