Bunny Girl Senpai – 08 – A Boring Yet Sound Argument

On another night at the Azusagawa residence, Futaba Rio lends Sakuta some insight into how her separation into two different Futabas took place: it was the result of her inability to reconcile her need for attention with her inability to forgive the means of getting that attention.

Futaba developed faster than the other girls in her class—a lonely development, to be sure. It isolated her; made her feel alone, conspicuous, even dirty. And yet, her need to not be alone led her to start the photo stream; any reactions, no matter who from, were a consolation; they made her feel a little less lonely.

This debunks my theory about the competing sides of her psyche splitting off, but only partially: you could still say the Futaba living at Sakuta’s is the one more like the superego, while the one living in Futaba’s house is more like the id. One can live in an imperfect world far easier than the other.

While accepting the judgment of Mai’s manager that she cut out most private meetings with her boyfriend as a “strategic retreat” for the sake of her just-restarted career, Sakuta digs fully into this Futaba Dilemma. After all, he’s dealing with a childhood friend.

“Shut-in” Futaba wants “Wild” Futaba to shut down the account, and while meeting with her she shows him pictures from when she was in middle school; a form of “self-mutilation” in which she intentionally posted pics of her developing form. Both Futabas say they “hate” themselves.

After a day when “Wild” Futaba gets to fan a hot Kunimi, she starts to get unwanted propositions and threats to expose her from strangers looking at her pics online. This naturally freaks Futaba out, and she deletes her account, runs to her (huge!) house with Sakuta, and has him sleepover.

There, she reveals to Sakuta that she felt like she’d be all alone again after both Kunimi and Sakuta got themselves girlfriends. She already feels like Kunimi is so far away, but all it takes is one call from Sakuta on her phone for him to come running (well, biking) to her side in the middle of the night.

Unknown to Kunimi, Sakuta just proved what a loyal and dedicated friend he is. When she realizes she was never alone after all, she tears up, and Kunimi has Sakuta buy them both drinks to rehydrate: him for his biking, her for her tears.

Sakuta also buys fireworks and they go to the beach, lighting sparklers and candles and crackers and rockets until the night sky starts to brighten. Futaba smiles and laughs and the three old friends have the most fun they’ve had together in ages.

Futaba’s “separation” may have been unfortunate, but one could argue it was also necessary in order for her to be reminded of what she has, not to mention bring the three back together after some distance was created between them due to extenuating circumstances.

More importantly, “Wild” Futaba started the day wanting Sakuta to take a side—since “the world only needs one Futaba Rio”—and ending with her urging Sakuta to help the other Futaba. He heads home to report  that the account is history, then passes out, leaving the other Futaba her phone.

The background shows “Wild” Futaba with Sakuta and Kunimi during their idyllic evening. When Sakuta wakes up, she’s gone, but the other Futaba tells him “if it were her” where she’d be: the school, in their classroom.

There, Futaba repeats the other Futaba’s words about there only needing to be one of them in the world, and how the “Wild” one is clearly being “the better Futaba”, and that she should just disappear. Sakuta rejects all of that, an invites her to the fireworks festival he, Kunimi, and the other Futaba agreed to attend (since he and Mai can’t date and Kunimi is having a fight with his GF).

He leaves it at that…then passes out a product of his bike ride in the pounding rain being a bit too much exertion immediately following an all-nighter. He wakes up in the hospital with Mai by his bedside, having been called by Futaba.

By being there for Sakuta, Futaba proved that she actually is needed. And when Sakuta sits with her later, he neither tries to tell her all of her positive qualities nor tells her how she needs to start gradually liking or loving herself, as a friend might be expected to do.

It’s because Sakuta is “the worst” in this way, not saying what a usual friend would say, Futaba is relieved and comforted. She then calls the other Futaba on a pay phone, voices her desire to go to the festival, and in a neat trick where the phone receiver suddenly falls, she disappears. But she’s not gone. Futaba Rio is simply whole again.

Whole, and no longer alone. While watching the fireworks at the festival, she seems to tell Kunimi her feelings, but rather than seeking an answer she already knows, she simply urges him to make up with his girlfriend.

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Bunny Girl Senpai – 07 – A Tale of Two Futabas

Fresh off the amicable resolution of the Koga Tomoe arc, we are presented with not one but two new mysteries, both involving characters we’ve dealt with before. Just as Sakuta’s earlier, seemingly random encounter with Koga paid off nicely (butt-kicking leading to quantum entanglement), his past established crush on “Makinohara Shouko” makes the sudden appearance of someone with the same name who looks just like her, only two years or so younger, that much  more intriguing.

At the same time, Futaba Rio is elevated from Sakuta’s sounding board and scientific consultant to an actual participant in Adolescence Syndrome weirdness. Sporting a fresh look with ponytail and contacts, Futaba doesn’t have any answers for Sakuta about why some younger copy of his crush suddenly appeared. If it’s not causing any harm, just don’t worry about it for now.

And the episode doesn’t; not really. Shouko is mostly tabled as the episode veers toward the slow-burn relationship of Sakuta and Mai, who is done with a job early and surprises him by showing up at the restaurant where he works, and even implies he’ll let him make out with her later.

After his shift, the two spot Futaba entering a Net Cafe and follow her. Using Mai’s phone, Sakuta calls her (presumably so the sound of her phone will indicate where in the cafe she is) but as he’s talking to Futaba on the phone, he and Mai spot a second Futaba. Yup, she’s got herself a doppelganger!

This Futaba, with glasses and no pony tail, finds herself temporarily homeless, since the other Futaba is already living in her house. Sakuta invites her to stay at his place, something Mai only approves if she can spend the night there as well.

This Futaba is extremely coy about what could have brought on Adolescence Syndrome to the point she’d split in two. Sakuta puts her up in his room with Mai, but Mai soon comes out to the living room where he’s sleeping, giving him the hints and nudges he needs to indicate she’s open to him making a move whenever, not just a special occasion for an apology. After all, he’s her boyfriend. Unfortunately, their kiss attempt fails when they bump heads. These guys are just to frikkin’ cute together.

The next day, after some domestic bliss with his full house, Sakuta has Mai watch one Futaba while he goes to school to track down the other. Shouko shows up, but nothing further on her situation is explored; it’s just an opportunity to confirm to Futaba that there is a new Makinohara Shouko in Sakuta’s life.

At school, while on the way to science club (which consists only of her) Futaba stops to watch Kunimi play basketball, which is where Sakuta finds her. After talking with her for a bit, it’s obvious he’s not dealing with “real and fake” Futabas; they are both Futaba, through and through.

That’s not to say the two aren’t very different; not just in appearance (though that’s a start): the ponytailed, contact-wearing Futaba just seems far more assertive, confident, and active, whereas the Futaba back at his place seems, well, almost the opposite of those qualities.

When Kunimi’s girlfriend confronts Sakuta with a social media feed of Futaba taking risque pictures of herself, my theory solidified: the two Futabas embody her id and ego (or super-ego). She is out of balance, and her unrequited feelings for Kunimi seem to be the cause. The question is, how is Sakuta going to help her restore that balance and become one again…and where does Shouko fit into all this?

P.S. A powerful little moment is when Mai’s cell phone goes off and Kaede suddenly looks like she’s about to be shot. Now we know why Sakuta doesn’t own one!

P.P.S. Futaba fell for Kunimi when he bought her a Choco-Cornet; Id-Futaba makes that her social media handle for her photo feed.

Kuromukuro – 13

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Two Efidolg knights seem to have “gone rogue” in order to pursue their own personal ambitions against Earth. The first is Mirasa, who fights the Black Relic and GAUS units to a draw and escapes into the woods to regenerate. The second is “Muetta”, whose hair immediately indicated is Yukihime, or at least some kind of Efidolg clone of her.

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As Takeyama High prepares for their cultural festival in the interests of maintaining normalcy and taking a break from studies and battles alike, Yuki looms over the episode like a silent wraith, crouched and ready to strike.

Yukina’s class decides to do an “Efidolg Forum”, what with three UN pilots in their class. Unfortunately, everyone else at the base is too busy to join the forum, so it’s just Yukina, Ken, and Sophie.

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In a particularly clever bit of plotting, because one of the activities at the school festival is cosplay (with Mika switching her usual school uniform for another), Muetta is able to slip into the school without any trouble. Indeed, she’s commended for the craftsmanship of her armor and arms.

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While Muetta closes in, Yukina and Ken have a grand old time at the festival, with Ken remarking that modern life itself has always felt like a festival to him, but this takes it to another level. Yukina asks him what he plans to do once he avenges Yukihime, because he has his whole future ahead of him (dundundunnnn).

Almost immediately after Yuki mentions how everyone has two doppelgangers, her Efidolg doppelganger leaps on the stage and charges at Ken, who is so shocked by the sight of her (having just seen her in the digitally altered photo of Yukina), he lets his guard down and gets run through.

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The show, knowing we knew who this was all along, still expertly kept most of Muetta’s face out of the frame right up until the very end, when showing it had the most impact. And the camerawork of the stabbing is great stuff, with an extreme closeup of Muetta cutting to a dumbfounded Ken, who then falls to reveal an equally shocked Yukina.

Where goeth things from here? Hard to say. I wonder if Sophie can somehow suppress Muetta, and why Muetta stabbed him. Perhaps, like him, her memories had bene lost on Earth those centuries ago, but now they’re back and she’s punishing him for betraying their people?

In any case, this was quite the exciting cliffhanger to place between Kuromukuro’s two halves: the moment Ken’s two princesses met.

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P.S. The rock band in the auditorium is playing the show’s opening theme, a cover of “Distopia” by GLAY.

Ushio to Tora – 26 (Fin until April)

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When Tora arrives, he’s really bored and just wants to smash shit, despite the fact things are more complicated due to the presence of Bal-chan within the Hakumen experiment. The insufferably procedural attitude of the scientists continues, with the three preparing to seal the entire lab and detonate it in order to prevent Hakumen from escaping—without regard to whoever is still inside.

That’s when Asako and Ushio are all like STFU with the science-y emotional detatchment, because it’s getting really old. They manage to convince one scientist, Helena, to stay behind and try to stop Hakumen to allow everyone to escape safely.

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Asako works with Helena up in the control room, but when Helena is seriously wounded, Asako has to take over getting the oscillator up and running. Once they immobilize the Hakumen in its tracks, Ushio and Tora free Bal-chan and smash the Hakumen to pieces. But while everyone is in a good position to be saved, Helena seems to know between her blood loss and the encroaching poisonous gas that her own time is up.

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In her last minutes, she’s enlightened by the power Ushio and Tora draw from each other, those they wish to protect, and the powerful enemies they face. As such, this episode becomes a kind of mission statement for the show and it’s core chemistry as a whole. No one in Ushio to Tora thrives alone. Ushio needs Tora and Asako; Tora needs Ushio and Mayuko (and vice versa all ’round); and Ushio and Tora need Hakumen no Mono to realize their full potential.

Without Asako and Helena’s help, Ushio and Tora wouldn’t have been able to beat Hakumen. When the humans succumb to the gas, it’s up to Tora to get them all out of the lab before it explodes. It’s a “pain in the ass”, but Tora has to do it nonetheless, or he wouldn’t be able to live with himself. More than that, he’d have a lot less fun without these humans around.

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I was glad to see Helena, initially a thoroughly unlikable and immoral mad scientist, redeemed this week, along with her less courageous colleagues, who surrender to the JSDF, ending H.A.M.M.R.’s brief rebellion. They can take solace in knowing their faithful colleague worked tirelessly until the end to get them data on Hakumen vital to developing a weapon against it.

As for Ushio, he’s faked out by the Asako dummy Tora made from his hair, and the real Asako is right behind him to hear him cry out for her. So naturally, the two start bickering in each other’s faces about who was more reckless today, but at the end of the day, aside from Helena, whose sacrifice made it possible, everyone is safe and sound.

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Back to Fugen’in we go, where it’s another day, another threat by Tora to eat Ushio, and another instance of Ushio successfully resisting being eaten by using his Beast Spear. Asako and Mayuko arrive to calm things down, or at least join in the chaos, and Shigure celebrates how back-to-normal life has become, hoping it can stay that way at least a little longer until the final showdown with Hakumen no Mono, who is awake and biding his/her time. We can look forward to that showdown this coming Spring.

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Ushio to Tora – 25

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Okay, now that I’m aware that this show isn’t ending with 26 episodes, I’m a lot more on board with episodes like last week’s which deepen the bonds of the characters through conflicts not directly related to facing and defeating Hakumen no Mono (also, Ushio isn’t quite ready to face the boss yet).

Last week was Mayuko’s time to shine, and shine she did; but I’ve also been itching for a proper Asako-centric episode, and this week delivered. It also re-integrated Hakumen into its conflict by introducing a new adversary not yet seen in the world of Ushio to Tora: Sthe anti-Hakumen scientific organization H.A.M.M.R. (it’s a tortured acronym).

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That’s right, Asako and Tora: these guys are trying to Science the Shit out of the Hakumen problem. But they’ve apparently gone rogue, or so (as Atsukawa, from ep 8, reports to Ushio’s dad), and this week let their hubris get the best of them, believing they can do whatever the hell they want in the name of scientific advancement.

They also don’t fight by the same rules as Ushio and Tora’s former foes, employing unsporting tricks like tranquilizers on the former and a “Kirlian oscillation device” on the latter. But while Ushio is passed out when he’s captured, Tora lets himself be captured, certain they’ll take him and Asako to their base where they can then rescue him.

Ushio uses his magic hair to create a distraction, then make a double of Asako, letting the real Asako loose in the facility, determined to save Ushio.

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Everything about the scientists’ approach once they have the Beast Spear offends Ushio; poking and prodding with machines what he knows was a labor of love and sacrifice. He knew the people whose souls went into the damn thing, and these white coats are desecrating it; but he’s too hopped up on tranqs to do anything about it.

With Tora locked up as well, that leaves it all up to Asako. She’s temporarily sidetracked when she enters a lab where numerous youkai and ghosts are being restrained and experimented on, including a gentle, blue-haired humanoid, Bel-chan, but this is a good opportunity for Asako to show off her profound decency for all beings, be they alive or dead. Like Ushio, everything about this place is just…wrong.

The Scientists have Ushio fighing a robot to test his levels and the spears when Asako is finally reunited with him, but a particle of Hakumen they collected goes berserk, and all their fancy tech can’t bring it down, Ushio has to take a stab at it. And in true Ushio fashion, while the scientists are pretty awful people, he still protects them from the monster they created, because that’s his job.

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Even so, he has to be careful, because Asako’s new friend Bel-chan is among the entities absorbed by the Hakumen fragment, giving him all their powers and abilities. Even though Bel is fine being killed and the scientists don’t know a way to separate the good from the bad, neither Ushio or Asako are keen on the idea of killing him.

That hesitation almost gets them all killed, but Asako still has Ushio’s hair tied around her finger. Once she pulls it, Tora—who’d been waiting impatiently in his cell, wondering if “that woman” forgot him—blasts out of his confinement in a very badass sequence. TORA-KUN HAS ENTERED THE BATTLE.

At first I was a little surprised the fight didn’t get wrapped up this week, but any resolution would’ve been so quick as to diminish the threat of the Hakumen beast. Also, it’s not inconceivable that Ushio’s dad could still show up to help out, since he’s aware of H.A.M.M.R.’s treachery. Finally, I’m game for a part two if it means I get to watch more Asako!

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Ushio to Tora – 24

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Okay, so this episode, taking place back in Ushio’s hometown and featuring Inoue Mayuko as the protagonist, feels a little filler-y after all the excitement with Ushio, Kirio, and the Spear. In fact, with only two eps left after this, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ushio to Tora continues another cour or two, as shows with rich tapestries like Sket Dance and Fairy Tail did (and it apparently will go a third…dang MAL!)

Whatever the case, this episode had little to do with the main storyline, and Ushio was only in the beginning and the end, helped with digestive troubles by Asako. And that’s okay. Mayuko, meanwhile, ends up hanging out—and being saved again—by Tora, whose crush on her goes far beyond a desire to eat her for dessert after Ushio. And it’s never a bad time for Mayuko.

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The monster-of-the-week plot is pretty thin: a pair of nasty ones suck the brains of those who can’t or won’t answer a “question.” For some extremely random and bizarre reason, they’ve chosen Mayuko as their next victim, and she accepts an invitation to the “dinner party” where they await her.

Tora’s not about to let some other monsters eat Mayuko, so he follows her—but not before demonstrating a power I don’t think we’ve seen from him before: the ability to shapeshift into a double of her. While I can’t think of an instance of when this power would have been useful in Ushio and Tora’s many past battles, that doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

It’s mostly played for laughs, and though it’s quite disturbing to see the sweet Mayuko’s face contort and scowl just like Tora, watching him scare the crap out of some aggressive guys on the street was worth it.

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Ushio blasts into the unusually huge office where Mayuko has the question put to her and rescues her while in her form, surprising her to no end. The two baddies, one of whom looks like Albert Einstein (famous for a photo where he’s sticking his tongue out that adorns many a dorm room wall), have been trying to get the question of why so many humans don’t seem to mind dying for causes other than their own answered…but it’s all a bit thin.

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In fact, this enemy’s existence seems tailor-made to provide commentary on how Mayuko, who was inspired by selfless action by Ushio in the past (trudging in the mud to save her hat), wants to become like him. That’s why, despite the fact she wouldn’t mind being Ushio’s wife, she’s willing to stand aside and let Asako have him, because she loves them both, and their happiness is hers.

Naturally, Tora doesn’t quite “get it”, but then again, like Ushio, Mayuko is someone he can’t quite stay away from, nor is he in a hurry to make good on his threat to eat her. Oh, but they do dawdle a lot in some abandoned department store, where she tries on at wedding dress…just to drive the point home.

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As a result of their dawdling, the baddies come back and corner the two. Mayuko sheds the dress, dons a shirt made out of Tora hair (wasn’t her top with her skirt?) and then Tora transforms back into her, splitting up the enemy. The snake-man follows Tora, mistaking him for Mayuko, and once he’s wide open, “Tora-ko” takes him out.

Mayuko doesn’t have much in the way of combat skills, but she does have spirit and the ability to confound those who can’t grasp her mindset, so when the Einstein toad-man grabs her and threatens to suck out her brain if she doesn’t answer him, she decides to take a literal leap of faith.

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Tora, after all, had never failed to save her in the past, and whenever she found herself falling to her death, she always ended up being scooped up in those big fuzzy arms of his and landing softly on the ground. So it is this time. And when Tora delivers her back to Ushio’s doorstep where a recovered Ushio and Asako receive them, Tora can’t help but finally address Mayuko by name.

Like Ushio, he may not ever be able to come right out and say it, but what he has in Mayuko is a dear friend whom he wants to protect, even if, like Ushio, she can be a selfless, kind-hearted fool. And who can blame him?…Mayuko is surpassingly adorable, and so were their interactions this week. Mayuko to Tora wouldn’t have been that bad of a show…

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 21

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Yes. The long, long battle between Shirou and his alternate future self continues this week, though thankfully comes to an end around the halfway point. I say thankfully, because as cool as the animation is and as beautiful a setting their fighting in and as poignant the points both combatants are making are, I’ve kinda seen and heard enough, and I was really ready to move on.

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While standing around bearing witness to the Shirous, Saber sees a little of herself in the duality, remembering her days as a farm girl before she drew the Excalibur from the stone. “Even if nothing but regrets remained, if I was able to achieve many of my ideals in the process, then…” Saber trails off, but I believe she means to say it was worth making the choice she made, though both possibilities were correct.

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Shirou, too, doesn’t care about the regrets that have burden Archer and brought on his suicidal rage. His dream to help others so they can be happy is beautiful, and he won’t abandon it. His dream isn’t wrong. The universe around him would tend to agree, because no matter what Archer throws at him, he’s able to slash it away. He’s got almost no mana left, but his spirit is unbreakable.

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The Unlimited Blade Works setting suddenly vanishes, and we’re back in the mansion, with Shirou scoring a fatal blow to Archer. And all because the split second before Shirou stabs him, Archer recalls the memory of sitting on the porch, taking Kuritsugu to step back and let him carry on that wish.

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Oddly enough, it’s Shirou, the victor, who collapses in a pile, as Archer stands his ground, defeated but dignified. He accepts defeat and seems ready to depart, but then he’s stabbed by swords from Gilgamesh.

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Gil, the “genuine article”, means to destroy both of the “fakes” that stand before him, ruining his day, but in his last moment of life, Archer plays the hero once more, shoving Shirou aside and taking the full attack head on, vaporizing him. Rin, abandoning all common sense, shoots a little magic bolt at Gil, shifting his gaze to her, but fortunately, Saber is there to protect her.

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Gil, who was Archer in the previous war, delays killing everyone in order to initiate a enlightenment/gloating session, in which he tells Saber, Rin, and Shirou that the Holy Grail itself is a weapon; a gateway to Hell itself, capable of killing billions of humans. His goal is to do just that, and anyone who survives what pours forth from the grail will be “worthy of his rule.”

Then pieces around the mansion start to fall, and he halts his attack once more, worried about getting soot on him. This was an odd choice, because you’d think if he could effortlessly do so, he’d eliminate anyone who was even the slightest bit of a threat against his plans. Instead, he’s almost challenging them to foil those plans, despite saying their lives are worth less than soot to him.

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So Gil just struts off, finding the wounded Shinji in the forest, and decides to turn him into the vessel for the grail, and Shinji undergoes an Akira-style transformation that is none too pleasant. Then again, this show has been extremely clear about how huge of a piece of crap Shinji is, so this kind of an improvement.

This episode was an improvement over last week’s more open-ended affair, but still suffered a bit from repeating itself too often. There’s also the problem that Gilgamesh is a two-dimensional demigod with lofty but obvious goals of world destruction and domination. In other words, he’s not as interesting a foe as Archer was; not yet, anyway. Prove me wrong, F/sn.

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 20

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Remember, I don’t know anything about stats or paths or ends or zeros or kaleids, nor do I have any plans to branch out and learn. I judged this episode the only way I could; the same way I’ve judged every episode of UBW: on its own merits. And I judged it to be another mostly thrilling important event and important revelation-packed powerhouse.

But it wasn’t perfect. In fact, there were a couple times when Archer’s lengthy, repetitive monologues threatened to drown the central battle’s momentum.

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What saved this episode was the awesome wrap-up of Rin’s predicament, which didn’t take up nearly as much time, but packed plenty of punch. When we left her, Lancer was apparently dead and Kirei was preparing to rip her heart out.

To my delight, Lancer wasn’t quite dead yet, and he not only kills Kirei (we hardly knew ye…at least on the show…so ‘bye bye Kirei, but scares Shinji off with a little prick to the shoulder after yanking him off of Rin once more.

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I never quite understood why he wanted to rape Rin so badly, but it wasn’t in the cards thanks to a particularly chivalrous Lancer, who refuses Rin’s thanks, as things merely “worked out.” But from there it’s clear Lancer won’t be getting back up again, and Rin tells reiterates her dispassionate view of Archer, thinking his regrets are justified, but at the same time knowing she’s not the one to judge or save him.

All she can focus on is herself and moving forward. Lancer sets himself and Kirei on fire as Rin departs. His fitting final rhetorical wish before he vanishes: that Rin look him up when she’s got a few more years on her. I’ll miss you Lancer, you magnificent bastard.

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My take is if Shirou survives his fight with Archer and continues on a path with her and Saber, that would be peachy. But again and again he projects his twin daggers and again and again Archer shatters them, telling him he’s no match for him.

Still, every time Shioru crosses blades he learns a bit more and his skills get a bit better, and even though he’s taking a lot of hits and losing a lot of blood, he keeps fighting even when Archer transports them back to the UBW.

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He literally fights until his body stops working, and his mind enters “hell”, both the hells his future self created and participated in, and the hell-fire from which Kuritsugu saved him. In this psychic limbo, he remembers something Archer forgot: how happy Kuritsugu looked when he saved him; a feeling Shirou wanted to experience for himself.

Unbeknownst to Shirou, Kuritsugu saved his life by somehow infusing him with Saber’s scabbard. That same scabbard heals him in his present UBW fight, and he gets back on his feet.

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Thus the fight will spill at least partway into next week, with Shirou proclaiming he doesn’t mind being beaten by someone else, but he’ll be damned if he’ll let himself be beaten…by himself. That’s only the last of several great shonen moments Shirou gets this week.

With his body, spirit, and resolve all in good repair for the first time, here’s hoping the “sham” beats the “original”, regardless of whether he can change his mind, proving the borrowed wish of becoming a hero of justice is still a wish, and a powerful one at that.

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 19

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For that rare cohort of viewers of whom I am a member, the realization that Archer was Bitter Future Shirou cam gradually, but even after watching the OP for the first time since learning it for certain, there were plenty of clues for a novice to follow, and naturally, it all holds up quite well. I also liked how relatively casually it’s finally revealed to our Shirou, because like us, spoilers or no, he kinda had an inkling at this point.

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Oh hey, here’s Matou Shinji, being about as awful as one can be, though I guess it isn’t really his fault, it’s just who he is: a wholly despicable, irredeemable punk with designs on making Rin his sex slave, or something. My skin was crawling like a house centipede, so I was relieved when my favorite bro Lancer marked his arrival with a vicious punch that, if I’m honest, I kinda wish had fractured Shinji’s skull.

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Lancer left Shirou to rescue Rin because his Master’s orders were to see to her safety, not fight beside Shirou. As for Saber, she’s only there to bear witness, promising not to interfere. But by being there, Archer is able to use her past as She-King Arthur (my guess for her true identity) to make his point about regrets, and the desire to right past wrongs, which was to become a heroic spirit in the first place, after becoming a Guardian after death.

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While Archer is largely standing around talking to Shirou and Saber, the sheer atmosphere of the scenes are enough to drag us in as we listen, rapt. His is a truly tragic tale, in which his seemingly good intentions and desire to be a “hero of justice” were twisted by the realities of the deal he made. Guardians are removed from the cycle of life, death, and rebirth—by time itself—to appartate into a human conflict and end it swiftly, without discriminating between good or evil.

Enough of that—and Shirou certainly seems to have done enough of that—will corrode even the best-intending souls. Being the “hero” he wanted to be meant there had to be people who needed heroes; which means there had to be suffering. He killed a few to save many, but those few added up over the years/decades/centuries.

Now that he’s told Shirou what his ideals have led to, Archer tosses him a sword and asks him to end it. Saber submits that because of Archer’s Guardian status, he won’t disappear even if he kills Shirou, but he’s going to kill him mind, body, and soul, and pray for the best.

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As Shirou stares death in the face, Rin suddenly finds her savior Lancer cowed by his two-faced traitor of a Master, who is finally revealed as Kirei Kotomine…which, well, I wasn’t expecting that, but then again it’s not like there are a lot of characters left that we know, and if it was someone I didn’t know, there wouldn’t have been as much impact.

That being said, Kirei is a bit overly campy-villainous and cruel in telling Rin just how much he’s betrayed her and for how long, having raised her up to be a  pawn (hence those chess pieces in the previews) after killing her Dad in the previous war. Rin is pissed and flies off the handle with a very Tousaka Rin-esque screed about how neither heaven, hell, or purgatory will have his slimy ass.

Things get more serious when Kirei orders Lancer to kill Rin, and he disobeys. Rather than use a command seal (one of what looks like far more than three) to force him, he uses one to order him to kill himself, which he d oes in short order, causing my heart to drop to the floor with a clang. Now Rin is really in deep shit, and her thoughts of “leaving the game” before Shirou really hit hard. Surely this isn’t the end for her…or for them? (Don’t answer that.)

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As for Shirou, he’s not going to accept this future Him who regrets everything he ever did and wants to negate it all by disappearing his past self. Shirou is determined never to have any regrets, come what may. And there seems to be a lot coming, with blades tickling everyone’s throats.

Will Shirou’s positive outlook prevail over his older, more experienced, but more beaten-down-by-life-and-the-world counterpart? Will he get to be the hero of justice he wanted to be, but not the one he became, delivering the justice Kirei and Shinji deserve? Boy, that would be nice, wouldn’t it? Trace on.

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 18

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I’ll confess: while doing a little research on Archer, I accidentally found out who he really was, so I somewhat spoiled myself for this landmark episode which starts to put all the pieces together. Even so, the weight of its revelations and sheer beauty and spectacle made this the best and most engrossing episode of UBW’s second season.

While it wasn’t explicitly stated, it’s certainly looking like Archer isn’t a servant summoned from the past like the other heroic spirits, but from the distant future. Specifically, he’s a future version of Emiya Shirou, the tortured manifestation of the endgame of his ideals…and he’s looking to put his past self out of his misery.

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The newly-freed Saber takes exception to that goal, but without a current Master she’s no match for the more independent Archer. Shirou summons twin swords very similar to Archer’s and tries to fight him back, but that only puts him in a more convenient position for Archer to kill him.

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That’s when Rin, Badass Extraordinaire, forms a pact with Saber right then and there, and just like that Saber is back in business, and in a matter of moments, has Rin freed and Archer at her mercy. Despite not having any contract with Shirou, Saber is still very much devoted to protecting him, even if she wasn’t Rin’s Servant now.

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Archer then plays his trump card, the titular “Unlimited Blade Works” we’ve caught glimpses of throughout the show’s run. Like Gilgamesh’s treasury, it is a reality marble housing every weapon he has ever seen or used. But it’s only a facsimile of the treasury, and the weapons only magical projections. It’s also very pretty, if a bit morose.

Here, he tries to finish Saber off with a copy of her own holy sword, the contact with which would result in a wide swath of destruction that will blow any humans in the vicinity (i.e. Shirou and Rin) away. Before he can, Shirou, recognizing how the UBW works, is able to match blades with Archer long enough to break free of the reality marble.

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From there, Archer snatches up Rin and flees to Ilya’s castle. While she’s out cold, Rin narrates the sad tale of Archer, who wanted to save and grant peace to everyone so badly he sold the peace he would have gotten in death. He is, in a way, the very model of a servant: one who lives only to serve others, without the slightest regard for himself.

As we can see, this has twisted him into a regret and angst-ridden wreck of a fellow, and he knows it, to the point I’m sure he considers it a mercy and a favor to put Shirou out of his misery. Archer is the embodiment of what happens if Shirou continues on his path, and it pisses Rin off to know she can’t save either of them.

And yet, she still finds Shirou’s reckless heroic side sweet. And back home, Shirou is planning to bring Archer down himself, while Saber (with help from Lancer!) rescue Rin. Has Shirou’s course already set, or can he change it ever so slightly so as not to end up the way Archer did?

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Gunslinger Stratos – 04

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I’ll admit, I was going to drop this last week, but for the fact it ended with the unexpected death of a character who’d had a non-trivial amount of screen time up to that point. Yes, much of that screen time was spent setting up death flags for her, but it was still a shock to see Sidune get taken out so quickly and gorily. Everyone reacts how I’d expected, which is both good (no one acting out of character) and bad (such reactions are predictable).

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While the first half of the episode was about mourning the dead and dealing with the fact it wasn’t any one person’s fault, the second half was all about moving forward, and on to the next battle the Timekeepers set up. Life goes on, except for the people turning into dust. Tooru and Kyoka also had a nice little moment of shared grief, but their would-be kiss is unfortunately interrupted by an alarm.

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From there, it’s back to 2015 Tokyo, and more battling with their alternate doubles. Both the other Sidune and Olga get badly injured, and the two Toorus race each other to the goal gate atop Tokyo Sky Tree, in a sequence that really did the massive structure justice in terms of accentuating its sheer scale (only Burj Khalifa is currently taller).

Still, my drop reprieve was only for one additional episode, so this will be all from me, reviews-wise. I imagine if I was a big fan of the game I’d be a little more passionate about it.

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Gunslinger Stratos – 03

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Gunslinger Stratos is not a terrible show, but does seem a bit lazy at times, and doesn’t sweat the details when it comes to, say the clunky interior of a limo that doesn’t conform in size or shape to the exterior. After watching something with such precise animation as, say, Sidonia, such flaws stick out, and add up quickly.

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I’m glad I was wrong about Kyouka not opening her case though. She’s actually the one reason I continue watching this show, for no other reason than she’s got the strongest personality, doesn’t overly rely on the guys, and is a genuinely good fighter, if a bit reckless at times.

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For all of the under-designed elements in this show, the gunslingers sport over-designed, impractical uniforms that are both fussy and not particularly cool-looking. Kyouma’s bellbottoms and awkward giant gun, Kyouka’s earmuffs, Rindo’s baggy sleeves and Tooru’s stiff scarf all strike me as unnecessary, distracting details.

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The actual combat, with the gunslingers flying all over 2015 Shibuya emptying clips, isn’t the worst, but it’s also awfully random. For a show with so much uninteresting technobabble in the dialogue, there isn’t a whole lot of rhyme or reason to the operation beyond “show up in the general vicinity of the enemy and have at it.”

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Most distressing, in the middle of battle Kyouma allows Tooru to leave the combat area and chase after the purple-haired ghost, which puts their team a man down, in addition to two of them being in their first real battle (Tooru and Kyouka) Tooru loses the ghost when she disappears, and his team loses Rindo when she takes a bullet (a big one) for Kyouka, fired by Tooru’s double.

Rindo’s death wasn’t entirely expected, but from her death flags to the whimsical, shlipshod tactics employed by her team, it wasn’t a huge surprise someone ended up KIA. We’ll see how the rookie Tooru deals with this early loss.

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Gunslinger Stratos – 02

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The wonder of Tooru and Kyouka’s journey to some kind of alternate world complete with Tooru’s doppelganger is ultimately somewhat undercut by a large amount of infodumping, which occurs after a brief bullet-dodging duel between the Toorus which is broken up by his and Kyouka’s classmate Remy, who escorts them back to their own world.

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There, Tooru and Kyouka are showered with exposition rather than bullets. Both Kyoka’s brother Kyouma and his friend Rindo Shizune are already part of a war being fought against the themselves of that parallel world, which was built by timekeepers who gave them a time machine but only for travelling to 2015 to fight each other with souped-up guns. The winners get to exist, while the losers are erased into oblivion.

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As Tooru says, “This is all insane!” And he’s absolutely right. But it’s also all a bit silly, and the ideas and concepts felt half-baked and disorganized. Tooru can’t make rhyme or reason of any of it, and nor can we, so the decision he’s faced with—join the fight or stand by and potentially watch your universe end—lacks the oomph it should have considering the practical stakes.

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Still, after having tea with Shizune, and telling Kyouka his parents died (wait; aren’t they old friends?) an abridged version of the infodump in montage form goes through Tooru’s head, and he decides he’ll open the case that contains his gun.

Then he picks up an Energy Cube (groan) and kinda holds it close to the gun and it makes it look cooler. The end product is cool enough looking, I guess (it looks a bit like those plastic light-and-sound guns you’d find at a dollar store), but the process of making it was kinda silly and awkward.

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Then he holds the gun at the mirror, as if to symbolize he’s ready to go after…himself in the war to decide which world survives sandifiction. The other Tooru does the same thing, only he blasts the mirror. I’m guessing he’s not superstitious…

The end credits show an adorable but sad and lonely Kyouka, and the preview mentions a breakup, so I’m assuming Kyouka doesn’t open her case, forcing the two would-be lovebirds to part. Which would suck, because I’d prefer these two fighting side-by-side.

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