Fate/Extra Last Encore – 03

Shinji’s attempt to destroy Hakuno and Saber fails when Toosaka Rin shows up, hacks Shinji’s systems, and lends Hakuno and Saber a ride out of the tower on her flying motorcycle—all good stuff. We don’t learn anything more about Hakuno’s “Dead Face”, only that it drew Rin to their location.

Rin takes them to a run-down but still very stylish safe house, and explains why she interceded on their behalf: while she is only a former Master, she is the only one in the city (other than Hakuno) to have not fully surrendered to the stagnation of Mayor Matou’s grand plan.

She’s a resistance of one, and now that Hakuno, a fully-active Master, and his Servant Saber have appeared, that resistance grows to three. The only means of reaching the upper level is to defeat the “king” of the one they’re on: Shinji—who also happens to be an active Master. Hakuno and Saber met his Servant in the bar.

The morning of their assault on Central Tower, Hakuno glimpses Saber resplendent on the rooftop’s morning light, surrounded by birds. This show is nothing if not pretty and sometimes drop-dead gorgeous in its staging of people and places.

Rin assists in Hakuno and Saber’s infiltration of the tower, which necessitates her remaining behind to fight Shinji’s Berserkers, leaving the other two free to ride the elevators to the non-projection Shinji’s location.

Once they reach that location—which appears in the form of a standard Japanese school rooftop, Shinji recalls the victory that got him to where he is today. In light of that victory, he is game for a duel against Hakuno and Saber.

With that, massive walls begin to rise above the cityscape, great hatches open, and the entire level is quickly flooded with water, turning the city into an ocean. I love how intricately rendered this city has been the last two episodes, only for the show to completely destroy it here.

The reason for the transformation is that Shinji’s Servant Rider has a naval theme: she is Francis(ca?) Drake, and leads an armada of flying sailing ships to face Saber and her…saber.

Rider’s Noble Phantasm is the “Golden Wild Hunt” / Temesoro el Draque, and Saber is seemingly overwhelmed and sinks into the deluge, too low on mana to mount a counterattack.

That is, until Hakuno dives to her location on the “sea floor” and transfer his plentiful stores of mana through a kiss, which I don’t believe I’ve seen before in a Fate series.

It works a treat, and Saber rises out of the water and rams Rider’s flagship with a ship of her own, revealing her Noble Phantasm one of her skills is “Imperial Privilege”, which enables her to copy her opponent’s ability. Rider and Saber face off in a decisive dual, but Rider’s flintlocks appear to jam at a crucial moment, while Saber’s sword does not miss Rider.

Shinji gets to have an uncharacteristically noble end when he decides to ascend with his Servant rather than break his contract at the last moment to continue living.

And that’s pretty much Mission Accomplished for Hakuno and Saber. With Shinji gone, the level is restored to its true state: that of a vast, eerie, deserted ruin. That majestic city was only ever an illusion in which cowards could stagnate for all time. While that state wasn’t ideal, there is still a measure of sadness in what was lost…even if I won’t miss Shinji, as usual.

With that, a lift descends for Hakuno and Saber, which will bear them to the next level up. Rin, who obviously did not drown in the deluge, trails right behind them on her flying motorcycle. What visual wonders, challenges, Masters and Servants await them on the second level? I can’t wait to find out.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 03

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Well, Mumei and Ikoma got on the train, but hardly any of the ingrate cowards aboard want them there. Unfortunately, they can’t do shit about that, and Mumei makes it clear that if they think she’s their enemy, the feelings mutual and they’re welcome to die by her hand if that’s what they want.

It’s great that Mumei hasn’t the slightest will or compulsion to calmly explain herself. She saved all their pathetic lives; that should be enough reason for her to be allowed aboard. Ikoma, on the other hand, would like to explain himself, but he doesn’t quite get it yet himself.

Ayame, who is de facto in charge of the train following the loss of her father, tends to agree. She’s the only one standing between the Kabaneri and the jumpy ingrate cowards eager to kill them, and she lets Mumei and Ikoma stay in the boiler car, provided they promise to stay there.

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Mumei doesn’t keep her promise long, as she senses a Kabane and rushes into a car full of scared evacuees, including a woman who is pretty clearly bearing a Kabane child, a possibility that probably escapes Mumei because she’s never come across it.

The resulting standoff with guns is defused when an engineer warns the train must stop before reaching the next station to repair the precious water tank, which I’m starting to think was manufactured by Ducati.

While the train is stopped we get a little more world-building with the evacuees, led by elders and holy men, conduct a funeral service for the scores who were lost. Ikoma takes the opportunity to recount the story of how he ran from his sister rather than stay and fight, resulting in her death (he also still carries around the green stone he and his sister kept as good-luck charms).

Ikoma wants to believe his past cowardice and trauma are exceptional in some way, but Mumei is again on the spot with the cruel truth: Ikoma isn’t special, and neither is his story: the weak died; the strong survived.

That cynical but not-wrong summing-up implies Ikoma is strong, by the way, even if he gets his ass handed to him in his first “training” sessions with Mumei. Clearly she believes him strong enough to be his shield when she falls asleep.

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But she gets no sleep tonight, as a gang of disgruntled ingrate cowards gathered by a tsking ringleader (who of course hangs back) challenges Mumei, despite Ayame’s pleadings for calm. Again, Mumei exposes her arrogant streak, perfectly fine with taking out anyone who raises a weapon to her with killing intent.

Ayame again, somehow, manages to stop a full-on fight (i.e. massacre) from breaking out, by pulling out her dagger, putting it to Ikoma’s chest, and proving to the malcontents (and to herself) that he’s not the enemy.

Meanwhile, Mumei slipped away to hang with the women, and kinda proves that she’s not the enemy either by comforting a baby and generally being able to slip into the role of ‘just one of the girls’.

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That act doesn’t last long, however, as after all the fun, Mumei gets hungry. She declines an offer of dumpling soup and asks for blood instead. That’s right; the dun dun duuuun moment occurs at roughly the same time for both Mumei among the girls and Ikoma with an initially relieved, thankful, even bashful Ayame.

This week, I came to empathize a little more for the ingrate cowards of the train. They’re weak, and can’t help being freaked out by the mere possibility a Kabane is walking among them, pretending to play nice, but only for now. Mumei doesn’t help matters by being aggressive and arrogant, but she can’t help being like that either, because she’s strong.

But like a vampire, she still needs blood to stay strong (and operating at peak efficiency). So does Ikoma, which is why after leaking a bit of blood, he starts to go at Ayame like, well, a thirsty vampire. I also learned this is a show that likes its cliffhangers, despite the fact that we know Ikoma isn’t going to remain in that state forever, nor is he going to kill Ayame.

But his and Mumei’s sudden need for fresh blood certainly doesn’t help their chances of ever being trusted by the people they keep saving.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 02

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Let me just first say I thought it was awesome that the show gave Ikoma a moment of nerdy victory with his friend Takumi, who helped him research both the gun and the method of stopping Kabane transformation in its tracks. That victory high lasts all of two minutes, before the next crisis is upon them: the train they need to get on is being blocks by legions of Kabane.

Ayame and Kurusu try talking sense to the masses, but panic is upon them and they’re about to lose their grip on the situation…until Mumei shows up in her battle guard, ready to do her part. When a much, much larger guy tells her not to talk out of turn and puts his hands on her, well, the guy isn’t in a vertical, painless position for long, and we learn again exactly how formidable a warrior Mumei is.

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Not 30 seconds later, she arms her dual steam-guns and goes on a one-woman Kagane-wasting spree. While she exceeds her self-imposed time limit of 100 seconds (by ten), it’s still an impressive feat that definitely rose my heart rate. This “kid” can flat-out fight, and this show can flat-out animate that fighting.

Ikoma is about to expose his Kabane parts to guards running a routine security sweep when he’s bailed out by Mumei, back from her spree…and she senses instantly that something is different with the guy. His aura feels different to her, and her’s to him. They can feel the power—and the connection—within them.

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Ikoma manages to get on the train with Mumei and Takumi, but he goes to the back with the latter while the former curls up and…takes a nap. A well-earned nap, to be sure, after all the ass-kicking she did. But beneath her cloak, we see why she fights so fiercely…she’s got a secret.

As Ayame enters her key we get to see the procedure of starting up the great rail fortress Koutetsujou, and all it’s steam trian-like details like an inability to start up too fast and a dependence on lots of water to operate.

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The regrouped Kabane storm the train as it lurches out of the station, and make no mistake; these are fast, parkour zombies; the worst kind IMO. The slow ones you can escape most times; these guys are just a headache. The show does a very good job making us not want to be anywhere near these monsters.

Naturally, it isn’t long before Ikoma is exposed as possibly one of those Kabane, and even after saving a family from a burst steam pipe and killing a Kabane with his new gun, when he sees his chest glowing, even HE starts to doubt whether or not the virus is continuing to spread, contrary to Takumi’s theories.

Kurusu is in no position to take that chance, and shoots Ikoma straight off the train. There’s just no time for the kind of nuanced, evidence-based explanations Ikoma wants to provide.

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After Ayame sees her former father turned into a Kabane, Kurusu orders the hatch shut and the train run all the Kabane (including his former lord) over. But once they reach the bridge, the switch to lower it won’t work; it’s jammed.

Kurusu prepares to go out and pull the manual lever, quite possibly giving his life for Ayame and the rest of the train’s occupants—but Ikoma, who wasn’t killed by Kurusu’s bullet, beats him to it, killing all the Kabane around him and lowering the bridge himself.

All the while he’s doing this, he’s cursing every soul on that train who doubted him, and hope they all live long, tortured lives knowing they owe them to the actions of someone they tossed away. He’s being a little melodramatic, but he’s also not wrong: humanity isn’t going to survive if they toss out their heroes and generally act like self-destructive, paranoid dicks.

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Still, Takumi, who hesitated and recoiled form his friend earlier, is the one to toss him a line to grab before the train is out of his reach. He gets on the train, but after a nudge from—yup—Mumei, who woke up from her nap in time to save him and help Takumi get him aboard. Thank goodness. There’s something about this train slowly leaving the station that made me thinking ‘he has to get on that thing before it leaves, or he’s going to die.’

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When he gets on, there’s an immense feeling of relief—but his troubles aren’t quite over. Kurusu greets him with a suicide kit, acknowledging that he saved them, but urging him to “do what needs to be done.” Of course, he believes Ikoma is a Kabane, and about to transform into a ferocious, unthinking monster.

He’s mistaken. Mumei stands up for Ikoma by removing her jacket to reveal that she too has a glowing Kabane-esque heart. But she insists she and Ikoma are no Kabane, nor are they entirely human. They are Kabaneri: in between. Kurusu doesn’t have to like it, but he does have to accept that they are the closest thing to humanity’s salvation.

I like it just fine. I love it. Ikoma and Mumei make a compelling lead duo. I hope to see them kicking ass side-by-side soon—if they can manage to quell the naysayers.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 01 (First Impressions)

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Well, here it is: one of the contenders for King of Spring. KnK had a little bit of everything that you want in a heart-pumping steampunk horror-action-thriller (even a dash of wit). But mostly it’s gorgeously-rendered, dark, brutal, bloody good fun.

KnK wastes no time dunking our heads into its not-so-ideal world and not letting us come up for air until the very end. A good way to get a good pace going to start is a train job of some kind. This train happens to be a mobile fortress, transporting humanity from one “station” (heavily fortitied settlements) to another.

What is everyone running and hiding behind iron and wood from? The Kabane: zombies who move at a pretty good clip and have metal cages around their hearts, making them really hard to kill (though as we learn apparently beheading works too). The Kabane are indeed fierce and fearsome, as it only takes one bite to turn you into one of them. Once that happens and your peers know about it, you’re expected to commit suicide immediately.

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One dude who is trying—perhaps in vain—to stem the tide of the vicious Kabane is Ikoma, a mechanic who in his spare time is working on a stea gun powerful enough to pierce the Kabane’s heart cages. He’s very very close, and in fact would have probably had a breakthrough had he not been distracted by the train raid.

Of course, he’s at the bottom of the food chain, society-wise, so only he and some of his friends even know what he’s working on and its importance to the future of humanity. When the aristocracy deigns to walk among the masses, it’s either to have their gun fixed, or to sit back and watch as bushi (a force of soldiers with steam guns who protect everyone else and the peace) gun down a suspected Kabane who turns out not to be one.

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For trying to defend this poor wretch, Ikoma gets the butt of a rifle and thrown in jail, but he also catches the eye of the catbell-adorned, carefree aristocrat Mumei, as well as Ayame-sama, a high-class lady with a gentle heart. While he’s in jail, unable to perfect his gun, another train enters the station—one I knew from the foreboding atmosphere of its approach was overrun by Kabane.

They are smart enough to operate the train, and ram it into the city in a stunning derailment set piece, followed by a gory massacre of the townsfolk nearest the gate. Mumei, who snuck away from the castle for a lovely evening June constitutional, pays a brief visit to Ikoma in his cell, but is soon back on her way to the armored train out of this lost station.

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Ikoma frees himself and prepares his new jet gun just in time for a Kabane to drop in on him. He wins the subsequent struggle with authority, blasting the Kabane’s caged heart to smithereens. It worked; but the Kabane took a nasty bite out of his arm.

What happens next…is a little odd and hard to grasp, but Ikoma, unlike most people, knows the Kabane affliction is a virus, not a curse, and so can be dealt with if acted upon quickly enough. He manages to seal off his arm and improvises a kind of self-exorcism of the virus from his body, drawing it out like steam out of a tank.

We also learn while he’s undergoing this highly painful procedure that he once ran before, back when he was a kid and his family was killed and his hometown destroyed by Kabane. Ikoma is done running, and he won’t let a little (or even a big) Kabane bite interfere in his quest of redemption and vengeance.

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Yeah, comparisons to another apocalyptic steampunk thriller, Attack on Titan, are very much inevitable, and were always in some part of my mind throughout this episode. Still, it’s hard to complain about KnK’s ambitious, kick-ass execution. Basically, KnK differentiated itself more than well enough for my satisfaction.

I don’t want to close without mentioning Mumei, who seemed like an entitled brat when the episode opened, but more than proved her mettle in a climax that ran parallel to Ikoma’s. When her attendant is bitten and has to kill himself, she races to the train on her own, but is cornered by a big ol’ Kabane.

Without flinching, she stands her ground and lets the beast come to her, whereupon she decapitates him with her shoe, which not only houses the catbells we were hearing the whole time, but a razor-sharp blade. Then, for giggles, she gets that shoe stuck in a wood pillar. Bad…ass…like this show’s opening salvo. I’m greatly looking forward to seeing Ikoma and Mumei take it to the Kabane.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 01 (First Impressions)

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One thing I’ve learned about Gundam over the years is that no one show or OVA with its name slapped on it can ever wholly ruin its legacy, nor prevent me from checking out the next project with an open mind. Reconguista was an unqualified disaster in part because it was so in love with itself, it built a towering wall of self-congratulatory retrospection around itself, leaving me out in the cold.

Recon in G was also spearheaded by Yoshiyuki Tomino, whose specific style came off as both out-of-touch and proudly, stubbornly exclusionary of anyone but the most die-hard fans of his work, ignoring all Gundam that had followed, most of which improved on the original.

It was not a step, but a zero-gravity leap backwards, one even more troubling because a full 26-episode season’s worth of resources were committed to an sugary, empty love letter to itself. But like I said, I wasn’t going to let past failure prevent me from catching something new and exciting from the Gundam brand…and Iron-Blooded Orphans (which I’ll shorten to GIBO from here on) is just what the doctor ordered.

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One reason I had reason to believe GIBO wouldn’t be another dud was staff: Putting Gundam in the hands of Tatsuyuki Nagai (AnoHana, Railgun, Toradora) pays immediate dividends. Nagai retains much of the charming Gundam milieu, but rather than keep it exactly as it was in the Carter Administration, he updates and refines the flow of the action.

Okada Mari (AnoHana, Hanasaku Iroha, Nagi no Asukara, Toradora) tweaks and humanizes the classic Gundam dialogue style and brings it into the 21st century, while Yokoyama Masaru (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, Yamada-kun to 7-nin no Majo) brings a fresh musical perspective to the sweeping score.

Compared to Reconguista, there’s young blood at work here, but their impressive CVs and relevance in the current anime world shines through in their collaboration here. While Reconguista shut me out, GIBO drew me in, with a slightly dirty hand.

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So what’s GIBO about? Well, there are many thick, juicy layers to excavate, but it’s all pretty organically unfolded. On the Martian colony of Chryse you have the titular Iron-Blooded Orphans like protagonist Mikazuki Augus, who serve at the bottom rung of the private security company CGS.

The citizens of Chryse are starting to demand independence form the Earth Sphere, but their own cowardly president intends to save his own skin by throwing his people to the wolves. Those he betrays include his own daughter, Kudelia Aina Bernstein, a well-loved, charismatic young agitator who Earth Sphere wants out of the picture.

To make that happen, Aina’s dad Norman lets her handpick the CGS Third Group to serve as her bodyguards for her trip to Earth. Doing so appeals to her desire to “see and feel the truth” and feel the pain of the victims of the Earth Sphere’s rule over Chryse. But in actual truth, the irregular child soldiers, used as cannon fodder by the greedy CGS president Maruda, aren’t expected to stand a chance against Earth’s elite Gjallarhorn unit, which is being deployed to put down the Chryse rebellion in its infancy.

It’s a cowardly, dastardly plot by the self-involved old guard to retain power by snuffing out the flame of youth and hope. It also shows that these old guys know how to play the game far better than Aina, at least at the moment.

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The main couple, Mikazuki and Aina, are from the opposite extreme ends of Chryse’s social spectrum, but unlike your typical aloof princess character, Aina wants to be “on equal terms” with the CGS grunts protecting her, so as to better understand the people she leads and serves. In a clever bit of misdirection, Mika refuses her repeated attempts to shake his hand not because he resents or distrusts her, but becaused his hands are filthy.

Even as Aina tries to reach out to those below her, they’re so conditioned to keep their distance they politely decline her entreaties. Aina’s seiyu Terasaki Yuki often voices boys and younger versions of adult male characters, but her robust pipes lend the pretty Aina some gravitas.

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The same night Aina arrives at CGS headquarters, Gjallarhorn springs into action, but in their arrogance their stealth attack is quickly sniffed out. CGS soldiers like Biscuit Griffon (whose retro design I really dug) whisk Aina to safety as the bullets start to fly. She’s constantly insisting that she can help out, and no one refutes her claim, but she has infinitely more value as the leader of the Chryse resistance than an exposed front-line soldier.

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Mind you, it isn’t CGS as a whole that is sacrificed in this operation, but the Third Group members composed of Mika, his “big brother” Orga Itsuka, Biscuit, et al. The higher ups try to use them as a decoy and human shield to cover their retreat, but they’re foiled when Biscuit remotely launches signal flares, giving the retreating brass and First Corps’ position away to the enemy, which eases off the Third. Still, it isn’t long until Gjallarhorn stops messing around and fields a mobile suit, which can outrun and outgun anything the Third Group has…with one very notable exception.

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In the cold open, we see a sight not out of place in a previous Gundam series, 00, in which a young Mika has just killed on apparent orders from Orga. He turns arond and nonchalantly asks Orga “What should I do next?” It’s a dream of a memory Orga wakes up from, which is revisited when the present-day Mika asks him the very same question. In the memory, Orga replies “We’re going…somewhere not here…to the place where we truly belong.” Their lives aren’t just about surviving when the deck stacked against them at every turn. It’s about finding purpose to those lives they’re fighting for tooth and nail.

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So how do they get there? By fighting the man. Gjallarhorn’s cocky young commander Orlis swats at the CGS bugs with his mobile suit until he’s challenged by a second, stronger suit, a Gundam, piloted by Mika as the Third Group’s trump card. Mika brings Orlis’ suit down in iconic fashion, creating a symbol of what must be done in order to find that place where the iron-blooded orphans belong.

No doubt Mika, Orga, Biscuit & the rest of CGS’s third group will serve as a vanguard for what will become Aina Bernstein’s Chryse Independence movement. Their deeds will change the history of Mars and will affect the lives of many, from Danji, the would-be rookie hero who got too close to the enemy and paid the ultimate price, to the too-adorable-for-words shop girl who seems to carry a flame for Mika, all the way to the most powerful sniveling old white guys in the galaxy.

I can’t wait to see what comes next.

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