Alderamin on the Sky – 02

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Alderamin continues to move along with a wonderful briskness, but not so quickly that the events that transpire don’t hold weight. Last week’s predicament is handled fairly easily by Ikuta, but only because he makes it look easy.

In reality, he’s doing something really hard, especially for someone relatively young: he realizes what he can do and what he cannot; when to act and when to let his friends act. Igsem and Torway follow his lead and thanks to their assistance, the three guards are dealt with.

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Torway is shaken by his faltering during a crucial moment, but Igsem is there to support and praise him for his role in securing the princess. As for Chamille herself, the deaths of the three Kioka soldiers weighs heavily on her, to the point she bites her finger to release the “rotten” royal blood.

While Igsem comforted Torway, it’s Ikuta who comforts Chamille, assuring her her blood “tastes just fine” and to take care of the life he and his companions have worked so hard to preserve. His words make the princess blush, but she can also clearly see there is greatness in Ikuta.

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You can see both Chamille and Ikuta sharing a distaste for bloodshed; Chamille due to her imperial status; Ikuta do to his latent ability as well as the nature of the empire he lives in. As such, Ikuta treats the fallen Kioka soldiers’ remains with respect.

The next day, now possessed of a Kioka blimp, Ikuta formulates an ingenious strategem to get the princess safely across the border without firing a shot. Donning a Kioka uniform and armed with great acting ability and balls of steel, he marches right to the Kioka garrison and threatens the commander (his career, not his life) with the errant blimp.

There are a couple issues with this plan—the lieutenant in charge doesn’t ask for any identification, and lets Ikuta escort the others across. We also cut to a full month after they return to the empire, during which much has transpired that will shape their fates.

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But the events that unfold a month later justify the rapid jump in time. During that month, the famous General Rikan is sent to a battle Ikuta knows he’ll lose, since the empire no longer wants the undeveloped territory. But Rikan, the quintessentiall badass military man, is going to do his goddamn job, even if he knows the war is rigged. Honor, loyalty, “unscientific stupidity”; Ikuta can call it what he likes; he can’t stop Rikan.

Shortly after news of Rikan’s defeat, a demoralizing blow to the people of Katjvarna, the emperor gives Ikuta, Igsem, and the others an audience. Igsem had to knock Ikuta down when he was getting in Rikan’s face, but she warns him not to try pulling any of that shit in front of the emperor, and Ikuta seems to get it. I love their relationship!

Ikuta, of course, probably has an inkling of why they’ve been summoned, and his suspicions are confirmed when the emperor bestows upon them the title of imperial knights. That means they’re going to be trained as soldiers, whether that’s what he wanted or not.

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After the ceremony, in a coach with Igsem, Chamille (who is still just a kid, after all) can’t quite control her enthusiasm for making Ikuta into a hero, one of the three things he never wanted to be (the others being a noble and a soldier). She tells him too much about what she knows about his father (disgraced famous general) or his mother (former imperial concubine awarded to his dad).

Here we see just how much trouble Ikuta can get into when his emotions run rampant: he threatens to snap the princess’ neck; Igsem takes him down and warns him she’ll have to kill him if that happens. She doesn’t want do, but you can tell she sure as shit will. She’s a vital check on the wreckless abandon a troubled Ikuta can get into. He’s got the brilliance—and the ability—of Howl.

Later, when everyone’s cooled down a bit, Igsem leaves the festivities on what may be one of the best nights of her life, to sit with her good friend who declares he’s having one of his worst. Igsem doesn’t lecture him, she just listens and sits. Because like Chamille, she sees great things in Ikuta. No doubt he sees this in himself, and it probably scares the hell out of him. But he won’t be alone on this impending journey.

This episode demonstrated Alderamin’s ability to draw in very close to its surprisingly nuanced characters, and yet still draw back to reveal the huge world they inhabit, which is bound to explode into further combat as the show progresses, and in which heroes will rise.

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GATE – 02

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When the JSDF force sets up fortifications around the Gate, the Emperor calls for his tributary states to form an allied army to attack them (joining his Imperial Army), and we see just how effective a woefully-outnumbered force modern weaponry is against a massive army of 100,000+ with nothing but Middle AQges-era arms. None of the troops get anywhere near the JSDF, who wipe out most of the force with artillery and machine gun fire, using flares at night.

It’s a bloodbath, but it seems the Emperor was hoping for one, because it means all of the surrounding nations are now significantly weaker, solidifying his reign (though he too lost thousands of soldiers). The Japanese essentially did his dirty work, but he knows he’ll to deal with them again sooner or later, and so sends his daughter (and leader of her own military order), Pinya (Tomatsu Haruka), to infiltrate the enemy force and learn more about them.

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Frankly, other than the lopsided battles, the first half was a little slow, with an awful lot of time spent in audience chambers and military tents full of old men yelling about stuff. Things pick up in the second half as the POV shifts back to Itami, who is given command of Recon Team 3 and the same basic assignment the Emperor gave Pinya: gather information on the other side.

First, Itami has time to stand amidst the utter destruction wrought in repelling the armies, estimating they killed over 120,000 both there and in Ginza; a figure very similar to the number who lost their lives in the dropping of the first atomic bomb, and certainly the most life taken by the Japanese military since WWII.

Of course, with tens of thousands of armored troops and cavalry charging your comparatively puny garrison, the JSDF’s options were obviously limited. This wasn’t a force that was going to back down, as we see from the badass general launching a defiant arrow at the spray of bullets before getting blown up by a shell.

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It’s a somber moment, but it passes, and Itami shows how he runs a laid back command that borders on unprofessional/disrespectful when he and his buddy Kurata sing lyrics to his favorite magical girl anime. Itami’s is an approach that irks one of the sergeants under his command, the far more serious Kurebayashi (Uchida Maaya, an inspired casting choice considering how big an otaku she plays in Chu2Koi).

Surprisingly, the recon team actually makes a bit of progress, though the first contact with the villages they visit are only shown briefly and wordlessly. Suffice it to say, they’re starting to get a rough estimate of the geography of the region. Before they’re about to camp for the night, they encounter a forest being burned by dragon-fire; a forest they know to contain a village. Itami puts two and two together and assumes a massacre is in progress.

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By the time they arrive, there’s nothing but a charred wasteland to welcome them, along with a nearly dry well, at the bottom of which, to Itami and Kurebayashi’s shock, lies a beautiful young woman with pointy elf ears. Is this maiden a member of Pinya’s order, or merely a villager who escaped the carnage the only way she could? Either way, their imminent meeting will likely represent the first persistent Special Region-JSDF interaction.

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Akame ga Kill! – 24 (Fin)

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As the big let down that was Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle demonstrated, it’s rare for a long-running series to field a finale that delivers on virtually all of its promises and potential. But Akame ga Kill! succeeded everywhere Chaika failed miserably,  pulling out all the stops for an ending worthy of the excellence that preceded it.

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Akame v. Esdeath was being billed as one for the ages, and in this it did not disappoint, from the moment a surrounded Esdeath seals scores of Revolutionary troops in a jagged ice wall, forming an arena in which to tangle with the raven-haired wielder of Murasame.

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The show could really take its time and do things right with this battle because it so painstakingly took care of everything else on its sizable plate, along with killing off most of the cast. Everything we’ve seen of Akame and Esdeath in combat is brought to the table here, along with a lot of new moves and counter-moves, and it’s just fantastic to see these two go at it like no one on the show has quite gone at it before. There’s the feeling that everything has naturally escalated up to this level.

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When she realizes she won’t be able to defeat Esdeath without her trump card, Akame uses it, merging further with Masamune to increase her speed and power to even more ridiculous levels; a testament to just how tough a customer Esdeath is. Esdeath has basically merged with the soul of a terrifying danger beast and the two share unending bloodlust out of a desire to destroy the weak – all the week.

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The deaths of ‘livestock’ mean nothing to Esdeath, but they mean everything to Akane. Masamune has remembered every life she’s taken, and while the weight of those deaths on her shoulders is considerable, it also gives her the strength she needs to fight not just on Esdeath’s level, but above it.

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Esdeath will always be weaker, because she doesn’t understand and thus can’t properly utilize the weight of the death and destruction she causes. Akame works for the good guys, but she’s not necessarily a good guy herself, just a necessary evil in a world where foes like Esdeath threaten peace and won’t stop killing unless they’re killed.

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A lot of Esdeath’s early confidence in the fight is knowing she can lean on her Makahadoma to freeze Akame if things get that serious. She even says it’s the second time she’s had to use it; the first being to defeat Susanoo. But she’s so confident it will work just as well against Akame, she doesn’t consider the possibility that Makahadoma is exactly what Akame wants her to do.

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Esdeath doesn’t realize this until it’s too late, the Akame before her is merely an afterimage, and the real one is coming down upon her with the full force of her blade. The certainty that Esdeath would use Makahadoma proves to be her downfall.

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After that, Esdeath is not only an arm short, but also mortally wounded from throat to hip, and she concedes defeat. She is not upset; by her own lifelong code, she deserves to die for being the weaker one. If anything, she’s glad it’s something else she can share with Tatsumi, whose body has been lying nearby all along. Before Akame can stop her, Esdeath embraces him and surrounds herself with ice and shatters, in just the latest in a series of gorgeous deaths.

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In their last talk, Akame tells Esdeath about how she draws strength from taking responsibility for the lives she’s taken, but she just can’t understand. And yet, Esdeath loved Tatsumi, something else she couldn’t understand, but still accepted.

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With Esdeath now diamond dust, the Empire really is done. Wave and Run aren’t going to fight for it anymore, and Minister Onest is scurrying through the palace like a rat until cornered by Leone. When he uses his Imperial Arms to destroy hers, I thought “Uh-oh…now he’s going to inject himself with something and become a ferocious beast-man.” Fortunately, I was wrong! He takes out a gun a gun! — and simply shoots her with what looks like small-caliber shot.

But Leone, born and raised in/by the slums, is a tough cookie, Imperial Arms or not, and gives Onest the death that, if I’m honest, I always wanted for him: getting his face smashed in by her bare hands. It’s gruesome, undignified, and downright icky, and underlines the fact that Night Raid are vicious killers too, but the difference being they kill for something other than themselves.

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As Leone later says her goodbyes to Akame (Onest shot her ten times in the abdomen), we also see that the ‘something’ Night Raid has fought for — a peaceful land free of the corruption and bloodshed of Onest and Esdeath — isn’t something they’ll be able to partake in. Leone ignores the calls from the townsfolk asking her to join them for a drink. Instead, she finds a dark alley to lie down in and die with a smile on her face, knowing she’ll be with the others soon. Night Raid gets a different kind of peace.

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With Esdeath and Onest gone, all that’s left is for the Rebellion to take one last life: that of the young, naive Emperor. It’s fitting and very nice of the show to give the lad as clean and dignified and honorable death by guilloutene as Onest’s was dirty and pathetic. The Emperor holds his head high until it’s lowered into the stock as the entire capital watches, while Onest died in the dark bowels of the castle, his killer the only witness to his end.

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Najenda, along with Wave and Run, take up new posts in the New Kingdom (who is actually ruling isn’t made clear yet). After all, those who remember the horrors of the war that brought them this Kingdom are well-equipped to stand and protect it from those who would threaten it again. But Akame leaves the capital, keeping the lives she’s taken on her shoulders. Her work isn’t done, and it will never be done as long as she’s alive, and there is no other course for her.

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The episode also ends with one last stirring hurrah with a booming narrator talking about everything Night Raid did…and how history will not remember any of it. They were assassins, killers, working in the shadows, doing dirty work for a clean world. They’ll have no honors or monuments or even songs or stories sung or written about them, ever…but what they did have was each other, and that was enough.

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In the post-credits epilogue, Akame continues her duty, facing those who would destroy the progress made, both burdened and fueled by the ones she killed before. She’s not with Leone, Mine, Sheele, Bulat, Chelsea, Lubbock, Kurome, and Tatsumi…yet, but one day she will be. Until then, she has work to do.

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Akame ga Kill! – 23

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With just Wave and Run still standing between Night Raid and Onest and the Emperor, AGK!’s milieu has become a much smaller and lonelier. But Wave is, er…wavering, and we already know Run’s designs. Also, this is the last two episodes, so it’s good there aren’t too many people milling around. It was also fairly certain someone would die…but who?

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After one final Night Raid mission briefing, Tatsumi, Akame and Leone blow right into the ornate but flimsily-constructed Imperial Palace, and none of the guards put up much of a fight. But they’re not here to fight grunts or kill unnecessarily.

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The guards won’t stand down until Run himself dismisses them. While he’s all for rebellion, he wants it done bloodlessly, from within, or something. Sorry Run, the ship has sailed on that! Still, he bars their path, but Leone is able to occupy him enough to let Tatsumi and Akame slip past and head to the throne room. This is it!

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With just a handful of palace guards around Onest and the Emperor, this looks like it’s going to be a cinch, but of course, it isn’t. Night Raid and the Jaegers may have had their Imperial Arms, but through the puppet Emperor, Onest has THE Imperial Arm: Shikotazer. Trump-cardier and trump-cardier…

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Backed into a corner and with the rebellion literally at the base of the throne, Onest directs the boy to harden his heart and assert his authority through force. Shikotazer rises from the wreckage of the shoddily-built palace, possessing the ‘Power of God’, which is to say the atom, apparently, and starts firing devastating (though hopefully not radioactive) volleys all over his own beautiful capital, burning and killing hundreds. Nice job, kid.

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Onest’s hold on the kid is as ironclad as Shikotazer’s armor, and Tatsumi is soon overwhelmed, but then Wave shows up, having made up his mind. Actually, pretty sure Onest made it for him by attacking innocent people. Wave is a soldier, and soldiers protect the weak. Even if the Emperor is a lost cause, I’m glad Wave ended up on the right side. Though man, he sure ‘saw no evil, heard no evil’ for a long time!

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The Emperor begs Tatsumi and Wave to give up (not sure why, since he’s fine blowing everything and everyone else up), but Tatsumi obviously perists, driven by his desire not to let those he’s lost down: Sayo and Ieyasu; Sheele, Bulat, Chelsea, Lubbock, and Mine. They all died so Tatsumi could be here and finish the job.

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He awakens a new stage of Incursio, golden and winged, and blasts a hole through Shikotazer’s weakest spot, blowing numerous holes in his own body in the process. His wounds are made worse and ultimately fatal by his final selfless act: slowing the descent of the defeated juggernaut to save a group of bystanders frozen in terror.

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Akame is not happy that Tatsumi breaks his promise not to die, but she just doesn’t understand how death flags work. She also isn’t aware of the title of the show she’s in, because this isn’t Tatsumi ga Kill!. The final battle was always going to involve Akame, and her opponent will be Esdeath, no doubt just as pissed off about Tatsumi dying…if he’s really dead…which he probably is.

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Akame ga Kill! – 22

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Even with so little time left and an entire empire on the brink, AGK! decides it was still worth it to slow things down a bit and give Akane and the dying Kurome one final duel to settle things. It’s a decision I happen to agree with and appreciate.

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Giving their final reunion in the church and the duel that follows plenty of room does a service to one of the more tragic character dynamics in a show full of them. Though the presence of redundant backstory and narration felt unnecessary. Akane and Kurome don’t actually have to explain to one another why they’re fighting, but they felt the need to explain it to us, even though we already know.

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Barring an unlikely scenario in which Kurome got a lucky strike on her big sis (followed by her dying shortly afterwards), it never felt like Akame was in any particular mortal danger. Kurome is too weak and spent to stand toe-to-toe with her anymore. But whether Akame was going to die or not wasn’t the point, so much as the fact that both sisters felt this fight had to be fought.

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That fact doesn’t change when Kurome loses her last two puppets and the sisters are cornered by a massive danger beast that awakened from the fury of their attacks; either. Akame saves Kurome, because Kurome is her responsibility.

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It doesn’t change either when Wave comes, against Kurome’s wishes, to break up the fight and save her. Tatsumi shows up too, but not to stop Akame; but to stop anyone from interfering with the sisters. Wave seriously does not like this, but he honors Kurome’s wishes and stands by.

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After that, it only takes a little more for Kurome to fall to Akame. Kurome isn’t bitter about losing; some of her final words to Akame are of love for her, despite everything that’s happened between them. Being killed by Akame was basically the next best thing to Kurome killing her, and Kurome takes it.

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Before carrying Kurome’s body away (leaving Akame to bawl into Tatsumi’s shoulder), Wave asks Tatsumi and Akame an odd question: “Why are we fighting?” I suppose for someone turning a blind eye to the empire’s horrors, it’s not that odd; but Tatsumi and Akame have their reasons, and it’s up to Wave to find his. Maybe he’ll join Run, who announced to him he supports revolution from within?

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Hitsugi no Chaika – 03

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The show’s Final Fantasy-like vibe continues as the trio of Chaika, Tooru and Akari arrive in the next town, where they gather info from “NPCs’ and a very secretive informant named “Guy.” The city’s ruler, a mysterious “dragoon cavalier” Dominica Scoda, is in possession of some of Chaika’s dad’s remains, so they have to seek her out, negotiate, and if she refuses to give it up, negotiate more aggressively.

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In the meantime, the Gillette Corps is hot on the trio’s trail. They’re a colorful bunch who wouldn’t be out of place as the protagonists in a side-story. While Vivi is angry that the trio defied her beloved Gillette, the rest aren’t really after them for any particular personal gain; they’re merely doing their jobs; working to the unthinkable—Gaz rising again. That they’re merely after our trio doesn’t make them villains. I also dig their messenger owl…I want one of those.

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The Corps also has something in common with the Acura siblings, Chaika herself, and us, the audience: they don’t know the whole picture, only bits and pieces from other sources. That they’re being so closely pursued is a dead giveaway that Chaika is a very “popular” individual, but she herself has gaps in her memory from around the end of the war. And their pursuers have captured “false Chaikas” in the past, none of whom gave up any useful info on the real one.

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All this mystery, and the still-disticnt possibility that Chaika is unknowingly acting as her late father’s pawn, floats over an episode in which not a whole lot happens but much is revealed. There’s also a fair amount of something that’s definitely a rarity, especially in recent Final Fantasy, and that’s subtle, effective comedy to break up all the stodgy seriousness.

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Chaika remains thoroughly endearing throughout this episode, going full tourist in town, fixing and operating a big truck, and blowing up a chicken in an ill-advised attempt at cooking. Akari’s deadpan sniping on her big brother also continue to amuse, and her “ghost stories” were great. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s a tense encounter with vicious dog-like Orthros, culminating in Tooru accidentally meeting the very person they came to see: Dominica, a consummate onna-kishi, gleaming in the moonlight.

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Hitsugi no Chaika – 02

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In addition to serving up a delectable buffet of thief/ninja/saboteur action, acerbic brother-sister banter, and giant steampunk tanks during the severed hand heist and the escape that followed, this episode provided us with more context about Chaika and the world, as well as trigger the commencement of the grand journey that lies ahead, to which I for one am very much looking forward.

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Contrasting viewpoints were as numerous as backflips herein: Abarth may be a hero to many, but the Acura siblings see him for what he is: selfish, arrogant, vindictive, and a would-be murderer of children. The un-murdered child in question, Chaika, is seen as a threat to peace in Verbist, for the simple reason that she’s the daughter of the “Taboo” Emperor Gaz.

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Gillette’s team of valiant badasses (who nonetheless get schooled by the saboteurs) seek to apprehend Chaika and the hand to preserve the peace they’ve won, but we learn the only reason Chaika is after her father’s remains is so she can give him a proper burial. But as simple as that task may seem, the nature of the man she seeks to make whole, and the sheer scale of outside opposition to her actions, means it won’t be an easy task to complete.

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In fact, it probably would have been impossible for Chaika alone. I like the equitability in the Acuras siding with her: she’s getting much-needed support in her quest, while they’re escaping the boredom of their postwar existence. They are what they are—sleek, intelligent, efficient weapons. Tooru is tired of hanging on the wall getting dull and rusty.

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With the arrival of Chaika in his and Akari’s lives, they’re suddenly useful again. These are all motivations I can get behind, and I’m on board with the burial goal, but as they collect(read: steal) more parts of Gaz, we’ll see if Abarth and Gilette turn out to be right. Even if Chaika has the best of intentions, it’s possible Gaz conditioned her to unwittingly aid his eventual resurrection…which I’m guessing wouldn’t be good.

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Hitsugi no Chaika – 01

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Well, here it is: my favorite first episode of the Spring so far, slightly edging out Mahouka. It sneaked up on me, too; I had no idea what I’d be getting into, but I didn’t think it would be so stylish, plucky, vibrant, and witty—words with which I’d also describe myself. From the first scene where Chaika pops out of the bushes, surprising the plant-foraging Tooru, who though she was a rabbit—I was almost immediately on board.

I will note that people may find Chaika Trabant’s clipped, concise manner of speaking will charm some and vex others, but I fall into the latter category; she’s cute without being too cloying, and as someone who uses so few words, she chooses and arranges them with that much more care, often to humorous effect. There’s also a wealth of physical comedy inherent in the enormous coffin she lugs around.

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I also liked being introduced to Tooru and Chaika as apparent models of incompetence, only to see them exhibit exemplary competence (and badassery) in taking down a very unpleasant-looking unicorn, which mutters in a strange language and gallops through the air upon magic circles. There’s a hefty Final Fantasy vibe to the world that really drew me in, yet still exuded an original and novel feel; a new twist, rather than a ripoff. That’s hard to pull off.

Like FF, everyone’s donning super-chic garb and have specific “jobs”: Tooru and his cool, acerbic sis Akari are quick, deadly thieves/saboteurs while Chaika is a gun mage, requiring her to stay still as she prepares her magic, making her and Tooru a good pair in the unicorn battle, during which some pretty awesome boss music plays; I thought the music excelled in general.

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Akari’s violent introduction in the town tavern was, for me, the comedic centerpiece that also managed to provide a lot of exposition; we learn that Tooru hasn’t been pulling his weight of late, and the sight of him chowing down with Chaika sends her on a hammer(mace?)-swinging rampage. It has the look and feel of a far more serious confrontation, and yet not only does Tooru dodge every blow, but the bystanders take Akari’s side to a man.

He’s clearly a capable fellow (like Akari) but lacks motivation, and has to be threatened with taxidermy to agree to help Chaika steal an article from a lord’s palace. Chaika is apparently the wandering daughter of the land’s defeated emperor. When the lord does a double take at the sight of her when he catches them in his palace. While her ultimate goals remain unknown, her chances of success will surely rise with the two Acura siblings at her side, and I’m looking forward to following their journey.

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From the New World (Shin Sekai yori) – 02

With Amano Reiko struck from the class list as “missing”, studies continue in Apotheosis class for Saki & co, specifically the “ball-carrying tournament” in which classes pit their powers against one another without directly affecting each others’ powers or ball, but by manipulating clay “dolls” to move the balls, attack and defend. Class 1 defeats Class 5 in the first round. Class 2 beats Class 3 when an “accident” occurs, and the final between 2 and 1 ends the same way, with an “accident” and a draw. The Class 2 member then disappears, and the class prepares for a summer camping trip. Saki helps out a bugrat and earns their thanks and reverance.

Three things are certain after two episodes of “From the New World”: the cold opens are very strange (this time jumping five centuries into the future and a cursed power-wielding, murderous emperor), the present day is just as strange with its odd customs and creatures, and the soundtrack is absolutely top-notch, adding richness and weight to the proceedings – not bad for only the composer’s third series. Also, the characters all seem to be in the dark all the time – both literally and figuratively.

The episode is dominated by a fairly innocuous game that the students take very seriously, and indeed, the final outcome leads to the second kid being spirited away who knows where by who knows what. But we can’t help but wonder if all this training and competition and talk of “seeds of sin” is really just history repeating itself. That that kid’s game is a sterilized model for the wonders and horrors their powers can cause. The taxi kid from last week ultimately used his powers to kill people, as did the emperor in the future. Here in the middle, in this quaint little village, what are these powers being honed for…and is it all worth it?


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

P.S. Those bugrats were creepy. We’d stay away from them…