Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – 08

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How fitting that on the eve of a holiday centered around stuffing yourself,  we get perhaps the most overstuffed episode of Chaika ever. Seriously, there was a lot going on, and while the episode made an admirable attempt to keep everything interesting, it couldn’t keep some parts from feeling like padding.

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Compared to, say, Akame ga Kill!, which has been progressively killing off characters so it can focus on fewer and fewer, Chaika has kept everyone alive with just two episodes left, and so has to find a place for them, just as one has to find a place for every thanksgiving dish on the table. Its one major death – Gillette’s – was a fake-out causing more of a “huh” than a “wow”.

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Not to mention it chooses this time to finally reveal who the “Head Chaika” is, as Zita, Leo, and Matthaus interview one of Hartgen’s retainers. It seems like Gaz had reason to smile after Hartgen killed him, because henceforth Hartgen started acting just like Gaz, as if he was a man possessed.

Hartgen isn’t exactly Gaz re-incarnate, as he needs Head Chaika to show up (the evil Chaika’s are always the most scantily clad) and give him the idea for the martial arts tournament. Killing Gaz did something to Hartgen to change him into a pliable, warmongering pawn for Head Chaika to manipulate.

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Hartgen wants to be Gaz II, and so uses the tournament as (flimsy) cover to raise an army, hoping the Six Nations will react too slowly. Two ministers do deploy the Flying Fortress Cima to Hartgen; it’s sure to play a role in the near future.

In the mean time, Akari and Fredrica find a room with dozens if not hundreds of coffins just like Chaika’s…and then they’re ambushed by Chaika Puppet Ninjas. Yes, that is a thing that was in this episode, because everything in creation was in this episode.

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Meanwhile, the guards arrest the various pairs one by one and send them into a subterranean arena, where Black Chaika and her twin sisters sit and watch their own mini-tournament, betting on who will come out the victor.

First, Vivi and Nikolai are forced to fight Dark Gillette, something that’s initially very hard for Vivi to do because she loves the guy and has no idea what’s going on. But in the end, when Gillette prepares to kill Nikolai, she takes GIllette’s sword hand off with Niko’s greatsword, in a pretty badass display.

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The shock of his injury apparently brings Gillette’s memories back, and it seems he’ll keep living, though why is anyone’s guess. Next, Akari and War Maiden Mode- Fredrica are stopped by Shin, then Fred’s locked in a magical barrier and riddled with arrows, continuing the tradition of neutralizing the overpowered ally in crunch time (though serves them right for not looking up).

White Chaika and Tooru are up next, forced to fight Red Chaika and David (and winning pretty dang easily, when all’s said and done. When David is wounded, Chaika forfeits the fight and runs off in tears, rather than let her comrade come to further harm.

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Of course, they’re only Tooru’s appetizer; the entree is Shin, who shows up with the captured Akari and Fredrica. White Chaika is jumped by guards, forcing Tooru to fight Shin alone, and he gets schooled by his mentor. With that, the episode kinda fizzles out, without showing us what’s for dessert.

There were a couple cool moments, and I liked the arena format for the gauntlet of boss battles, but at the end of the day this episode had way too much squeezed into it, and strained and groaned under the weight of it all.

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Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – 07

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This episode had a workmanlike quality to it, like the buildup to the final act of a JRPG-style fantasy/adventure story that it is. One does not simply skip to the final boss (whom I presume is Hartgen) without first carving through a considerable number of dungeon grunts.

That being said, Tooru and Akari actually do try to skip ahead, but encounter the mini-boss Shin, someone they’re not prepared to fight just yet. In a refreshing twist on the “students must face their mentor” trope, they don’t particularly care about having to fight him eventually, because they’re saboteurs, and are mentally prepared to fight former friends or allies if they’re working under different clients…that’s what the job requires.

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It’s also confirmed what King Hartgen is after: basically, he’s tired of the tedious peace, and regrets ever killing Gaz. He wants to return the continent to a state of war where he can have a Purpose again. One could say “Hey man, you do have a purpose…preserving the peace you fought for!” but he’s a warrior first and foremost, and a warrior needs war.

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To that end, he has gathered tens of thousands of like-minded warriors without a war to his principality to fight in his tournament. Perhaps the competition is to thin the herd and net him only the fiercest fighters for his army of continental conquest, but there seems to be more to it than that, and that has a lot to do with the fact three…no, two and-a-half Chaikas are among those assembled.

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I will give Hartgen this: he already has the hearts of those he’s invited. Even though many if not most of them will fall in the course of the battle royale, they’re still gratified for the chance to prove themselves and do what they were born and trained to do. Back in his castle, Guy presents him with Gaz’s Fortune: Niva Lada, and we learn that the Black Chaika twins have a third Chaika sister who seems to have more power than them. She instructs the guards to capture the Chaikas who have come, hoping to stage a little Chaika battle royale of her own parallel to the battle proper.

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Inevitably, two of the rival parties were going to cross paths, and that turns out to be Harley Quinn Vivi/Nikolai and Chaika/Tooru. The former warns the latter that they’re going to be arrested when they’re done their business here, but for this brief scene the two groups are at a truce and exchange information.

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O HAI, Grown-up Fredrica! Haven’t seen her in a while; she’s pretty cool looking. She and Akari are responsible for finding a way to get to Hartgen’s share of remains and stealing them. But let’s be honest here: Fredrica’s true mission is not to get stabbed in the head this time!

As the battle goes on, the other Six-Nation rulers squabble over how to proceed. One faction is eager to fall right into Hartgen’s trap and start a war so he doesn’t have to, but cooler heads deferring to Gillette Squad’s findings prevail for the time being. Frankly, I don’t know how a war is going to be prevented at this point…but that’s what the last three episodes are for!

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Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – 06

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The secret island was a satisfying action-packed adventure, but it turns out it was just a brief detour; a checkpoint to stop by and gather more information about the sheer scale of Gaz’s machinations pre-and-post death. The Main Event is in the Principality of Hartgen, and it was always going to be. The guy simply has everyone: Chaika twins, a Dark Acura, a Dark Gillette…even, seemingly, the inscrutable Guy.

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A case in point for the relative triviality of the island: the Gillette Corps arrive way late, but learn everything they need to to carry on in less than five minutes of conversation with Kiril and Ursula. But then again, they’re after Chaikas, not the answers to what they are and why they exist. Gillette Corps and Vivi in particular are quite sure of the latter: they’re to preserve the peace – albeit a peace their former Captain — Vivi’s former flame — is no longer a part of.

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One nice thing that came from the island was that it made it quite easy for Tooru and Chaika to repair their bond, though again, that kinda happened last week. Tooru is committed to sticking with Chaika, whatever she decides to do: for now, continuing to search for remains. And Akari follows where Tooru leads, and also hastens to put herself physically between the two. Akari likes Chaika…but her brother is hers.

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There’s a “Martial Arts Tournament” being held by Hartgen at the ridiculously huge Goeranson Castle, which is essentially a huge walled battleground surrounding the main keep. There, contestants from all over the six nations pour in and fight to the death for the grand prize: knighthood and Gaz’s remains. The first people we know to arrive and enter are Red Chaika, Selma and David.

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Not far off is Gillette, who take three different tacks: Zita and Matteus go the diplomatic route with Hartgen (which goes nowhere), Leo sneaks around and takes attendance, and Nikolai and Vivi, well…Vivi’s In It To Win It:

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Yes her new outfit is super-gaudy, but that’s what a fantasy swordmaiden character is supposed to be, damnit!  And hey, it’s clearly very easy to move around in. Her hair may have turned white, but she hasn’t lost a step.

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Guy, who’s been pulling the strings for all the Chaikas, reveals that he was the one who saved Alberic, by making dozens of men pile themselves on top of him to serve as shields. The thing is, Guy’s reasons for why he did it — something about him “seeing the hate in his heart” and knowing “he wasn’t made to live in a world of peace” are kinda flimsy. I get that Alberic’s a great warrior and all, but wasn’t his attempt to save Vivi and Zita an act of love (for them), not hate (for the army he tried to stop)?

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Far clearer are the present, if fleeting, purposes of Red Chaika and Vivi: get Chaika (Trabant), who just had Niva Lada snatched away by Guy. Hey! Give her back [shakes fist]… I’m sure if Vivi could see what’s become of her beloved Alberic, she wouldn’t be happy. I’m sure she will come across him sooner rather than later, as he’s one of Hartgen’s trusty bodyguards. Goeranson Castle is the place to be, and everyone is here. Still, this had a feeling of table-setting and warm-up about it. Not un-entertaining, but not particularly outstanding, and at times, repetitive/redundant.

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Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – 05

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Early on, this episode threatened to deep six itself by freeing the good guys almost immediately thanks to appallingly bad guards, who are basically just like fuzzy stormtroopers in terms of effectiveness. It also cut too often to the horrendously dull, genetic evil Izhmash who orders executions like I order cheese fries and is constantly berating his staff, though considering how poorly they perform, he’s not outside his rights to do so.

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However, releasing the Chaikas, and Tooru, early, is a blessing in disguise. First of all, we can justify it with the simple fact that as tough as these mass-produced demi-humans and Fayla are, our heroes are pretty damn tough too. They’ve been through their share of toughs spots before. While it doesn’t quite excuse how lame Izhmash isI can buy that a highly isolated and reclusive research facility would overestimate the power of their heretofore untested creations against a battle-hardened group of prisoners.

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But back to our friends’ early release: it forces Red Chaika to work with White (White probably doesn’t have a problem working with Red) to escape. This results in some priceless dialogue between the two, both of them speaking weirdly like they do. White Chaika also frees the doll-like Niva Lada from her restrains and brings her along, which proves crucial later in the episode. (Fun note: Trabant, Bogdan, and Lada Niva are all brands Eastern European cars. Not to mention the Acura siblings…)

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It also gives Chaika the opportunity to really let its hair down and play with all the pieces it’s set up the last couple episodes, all RPG-style. The allies are all separate at first, but gradually unite into a mega-party of Tooru, Akari, Chaika, Red Chaika, Niva Lada, David, Selma, Kiril and Ursula (the two scorned demi-human guards). It’s like a big party on the secret island with past enmities being put aside so they can all focus on their common goal: surviving.

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But as ineffectual as the mass-produced Fayla and demi-human troops are, there’s still a crapton of them, and the group starts to get fatigued from fighting off wave after wave of them. That’s where we’re force to introduce another Star Wars similie. All the beasts they’re fighting are being controlled form one central location: a tower that is essentially a giant Gundo. Take out the tower, and the droid Fayla army will shut down.

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When Chaika’s own Gundo can’t penetrate the tower’s defensive magic, Niva Lada assesses the situation and reveals her true form: a gigantic, awesome-looking uber-Gundo that blasts the lame villain to smithereens. Obviously, Izhmash was not prepared for this level of resistance…which explains why the island was concealed from the outside world by magic!

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One thing I didn’t like: when asked about what will become of all the freed Fayla and demi-humans, Kiril just says they’ll eventually just die. Why can’t the beasts just live out peaceful lives on the island, no longer chained by the big Gundo tower? Well, because they were born and bred to be hunters and killers, and I guess they’re not capable of evolving beyond that narrow purpose.

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Chaika, on the other hand, is, even if she’s confused and doesn’t know what to do next. In this, she and Red Chaika differ: Red (at least outwardly) refuses to believe Izhmash’s lies; but even if he was telling her his truth, that truth is worthless to her; she’ll find her own truth. She’ll determine her own purpose. And so must our Chaika. Like Red, she’s not alone, and has friends (and a powerful new weapon in Niva) that give her far more options than base Fayla.

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Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – 03

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It’s so weird. I could have sworn the trio had been to the ocean before, but now that I look back, they never actually had, and are legitimately awed and stoked to see and stand in it for the first time. I like stuff like this; it reminded me of a roommate from Hawaii who’d never seen snow before.

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Akari really wants to see Tooru naked

We see, and learn of, many things this week, along with Chaika and the siblings. And like Chaika, the more we learn, the more we want to learn. At this point, there’s no satisfying her until she knows everything, and she thinks the island and Gaz’s fortune are the best way to get there. Tooru, well, doesn’t agree, like at all…more on that later.

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First, the reason they’re at the seaside city is to pay a visit to the next hero on Claudia’s list, one Clay Morgan. All Akari knows at first is that he wields a spear. And to his credit, the man still wields it pretty well, considering how long he hangs in there against Tooru. I imagine long-reach foe would be annoying to a saboteur who likes close-quarters combat.

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Clay is kind of a joke: unlike other heroes who either fought or challenged the Acuras, the mere sight of Chaika (he saw her head roll) sends Clay fleeing his tacky mansion in terror. When they finally pin the big guy down (Pro: Drydock Fight! Con: Boat not accidentally launched), he agrees to give them whatever they want if they promise never to show their faces near him again. I can’t say I can blame Clay; he obviously has a bit of PTSD, and when the guy you’re helping to kill merely stares at you smiling like your an insect, well, that’s a rough day right there.

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Oh, those are your twin DAUGHTERS…(Sighs, very relieved)

While Morgan’s a relative pushover, their next target, Stephan Hartgen, has the makings of a villain with staying power. When we meet him, he’s sitting on a throne with two of his “daughters” who look just like Chaika, who both want very much to see what happens when all the remains are gathered, which is why he’s luring Chaikas to him via rumors. Is he an ally of Gaz? Does he want the remains for the power?

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Whuuuuh? (left) and WHUUUUUH? (right) look on

Another clear sign this guy means serious business: he has two equally serious guys under his employ: one is from Acura and may well be Tooru and Akari’s big brother, who is looking forward to fighting them. The other is AAAAAUGH, a G-G-G-GHOST! J/K, it’s just Dark Albéric, who didn’t die in that Flying Castle attack after all. Or maybe he did die, and Hartgen brought him back to do his bidding.

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“Alright, I’ll talk to her. JEEZ.”

Back to the Chaika Crew, Tooru is furious that Chaika ran off wihout Fredrica, and repeats his believe that going after secret islands and fortunes is a fool’s errand, and retrieving the remains should be the priority. But Chaika’s at the point where she’s learned too much to be patient. That knowledge is a splinter in the mind in the head that was supposedly separated from her body years ago. Even if she has to go alone, she’s going to the island, period. Miffed, Tooru takes her to mean she’s firing him, so he storms off, and Akari, his dutiful sister, follows.

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Was totally expecting a fight…but not mad we didn’t get one

It was sad to see the happy family break up, even if the split was very temporary. Still, in her haste to find the island and answers, Chaika begs Fredrica to fly her to the island, which, in hindsight, should have been an option from the start, unless Tooru assumed Fredrica would refuse because she refuses to help all the time. This time, however, she smells a lark and agrees.

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Not a fan of Fredrica’s Dragoon design, but it looks pretty cool from this angle, topped by a Gundo-wielding Chaika

Realizing what she did, Tooru and Akari hurry to chase her down, “borrowing” Morgan’s cargo ship for the journey. Red Chaika, David, and Selma stow aboard, but before a fight can break out, a freaking kraken wastes the boat, tossing them all in the sea. Not good! Then Fredrica has her wings sliced off and Chaika falls. Also Not Good! Things are getting very tense and hazardous in a hurry, which is a good thing, as there’s just seven more episodes. No one ever said learning everything was going to be easy!

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Hitsugi no Chaika – 06

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There are battles in which the hero is over-leveled against an adversary and carves through it like a cake, and battles in which the hero is under-leveled and has their ass handed to them. Then there are instances where the two sides are so equal in talent and skill, the battles always end in a draw. This episode explores that fertile middle ground, by having Tooru, and Akari, and Chaika repeatedly challenged by Chaika Bogdan’s companions.

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They both try to get the upper hand on one another in the first hostage exchange, but it’s broken up by Gillette’s Matthäus and Leonardo, sending a flock of vicious Cockatrices into the basin. David and Tooru protect their hostages as if they were their own Chaikas, and when Tooru gives Bogdan her sword, she uses it to fight off the beasts, and doesn’t escape or turn on him. There’s some great combat on display here.

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Chaika Bogdan is sufficiently impressed with Tooru’s prowess that she asks if he’ll switch sides, and then she comes up against his honor (saboteurs are for hire, but once hired, don’t betray the client). When a fresh exchange is arranged, Bogdan demands an explanation for why he won’t come with her, even though it could potentially mean more fighting, which is what he wants. It’s here where I’m starting to understand Tooru’s thinking.

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He’s not just interested in serving the person who will pay him the most money or let him see the most action. He’s come to care about White Chaika in his own way, and she needs protecting a lot more than the far less naive badass that is Red Chaika. I liked how Dominica was treated throughout this episode too: she could have probably easily overpowered David and Selma with her Dragoon magic, but she stays above the fray, except when she impersonates Akari, which actually surprised us.

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That levels the playing field between the two “Chaika groups”, which makes things more interesting. The Gillettes, meanwhile, are ordered to cease their pursuit of the Chaikas—just when they had gotten so close—by their superiors, who answer to the Council of Six Nations, who I instantly hate, not just because they recalled Gillette, but because they’re one of those Circles of Bickering Old Men. In fact, now I’m kinda rooting for the Chaika’s to bring Arthur Goz back; he can’t be any worse than those cats!

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But most gratifying about this episode is that once the exchange is made and the two groups go their merry way with their own Chaikas. Bogdan’s group attacks them almost immediately after. The Acuras are able to repel them again (like I said, they’re pretty evenly matched), but it underscores how the rest of their journey isn’t going to be a cakewalk. Which is fine with me!

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