Vinland Saga – 07 – Getting a Head in France

The Danish King Sweyn orders his armies’ English advances halted to give them time to rest for the winter. That means Askeladd’s crew’s contract work with the army ceases, which means they have to do as the birds do: migrate south in search of food.

It turns out there are already various factions within France fighting one another, including a siege on the Loire river in which a numerically superior Frankish force is unable to take a fort held by only a handful of their enemies. Askeladd sends in Thorfinn, older but still a kid, to make a deal with the besieging army.

Their general—who has a distorted cartoony design that resembles a fat toad, and with a weird voice to match—reluctantly agrees to ally with Askeladd’s men for the siege. The general’s out-of-place appearance is another sign that while Vinland Saga can be very realistic when it wants to be, it’s still depicting a highly stylized version of history and reality.

A more overt sign is when Askeladd’s men join the Frankish general’s armies in the siege the next morning, they come lugging their three boats on their shoulders and running at full speed; at least 25mph (the current record for human speed is Usain Bolt’s 27.8mph; he was not carrying a viking ship).

So yeah, even if the Vikings did carry their ships around on occasions when it was necessary to take land shortcuts, they certainly didn’t carry them that quickly, and I imagine when they were done carrying them they didn’t have enough energy remaining to not just fight a battle, but absolutely dominate in it.


Of course, challenging realism in this show is a slippery slope, so I’ll stop there, as it’s more plausible that after however many years Thorfinn has trained and killed for Askeladd, he’s become a finely-honed, ninja-like killing machine. There’s a long line of soldiers between him and their commander, but he cuts through them all like butter. Unfortunately, when he beheads the commander, the head falls into the lake, and the whole reason he went up there was to claim their leader’s head.

The Frankish general/prince was planning to betray Askeladd when it made the most sense to do so, but Askeladd betrays him first, pillaging the village of all treasure and leaving the worthless empty fort, and the victory, for the general.

Presenting the head of the commander, Thorfinn formally challenges Askeladd to the duel he’s owed once more, and Askeladd formally accepts…but only after they’ve escaped to safety. That means rowing their three big viking ships—likely overladen by treasure and other spoils—down a steep waterfall. Not only do the ships make it down without a scratch, but not a single gold coin spills out.

Despite all the action in this episode, it still felt rather static, in that Thorfinn and Askeladd’s unresolved conflict hung over everything, and the fact it was once again delayed despite Finn meeting the requirements feels like another artifical delay, for which their French excursion felt like so much window dressing. The comic-relief buffonish toad man and questionable physics further undermined the outing.

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Vinland Saga – 06 – Engulfed by the Quarrels of Men

On November 13, 1002, King Æthelred II of orders all Danish immigrants in England killed. The Danish respond by sending troops across the sea, and the Vikings—Danish pirates—serve as the “army’s army.” Askeladd’s crew are right in the middle of this.

When English archers ambush their camp, Thorfinn gets a crash course in mass death, killing, and living with it, taking his first life and letting out a cry of vicious despair that carries through the forest, while Askeladd observes in quiet approval.

The battles with the English continue, and Thorfinn continues to kill and gets better at it, with his enemies continually underestimating him due to his size and youth. Askeladd starts using him as a scout, and he manages to kill two foes who come at him, gaining a second dagger with which he dual-wields henceforth.

While on another scouting mission he takes an arrow to the shoulder and washes up on a branch in a river in East Anglia. A kindly, God-fearing mother and her daughter take him in, clean him up, and feed him. The daughter worries (rightfully) that he’s a Dane, their enemy; but her mom doesn’t think any women or children should be bothered with the quarrels of men.

The mother even combs the fleas and lice from Thorfinn’s unruly hair, with the same comb she used to use on her son, who died of a cold two years ago. An English soldier arrives looking for a pint-sized scout, but the mother covers for Finn.

That night, while the daughter continues to argue with her mother about harboring him, Finn abruptly takes his leave, saying just one word to them in English: Run. He then sets a cottage on the beach aflame; the signal to Askeladd to make his landing.

The mother doesn’t run as Finn urged her; she comes to the beach and sees for herself the boy she nursed back to health and harbored: a rabid killing machine. When Finn spots her among the crowd, tears streaming down her cheeks, guilt momentarily washes across his face, as he remembers his own mother and older sister.

Then the mother is simply gobbled up by the charging viking horde, Finn takes a deep breath, and the guilt is replaced by cold detachment as he too gets lost in the crush, joining his fellow fighters in the latest retaliatory raid on a relatively well-off English village. The comb the mother used on him is trod upon and broken, and perhaps with it any possible chance of Thorfinn turning back from his current, blood-soaked path.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san – 04

This week  the happy little world of Nishikata and Takagi is invaded, as the secondary characters begin to notice the two are together an awful lot beyond class. Take the first segment, in which Nishikata has to clean the science room because he’s so loud.

Takagi joins him, not to help clean, or because she feels guilty, or even to tease him more. Rather, she wants to “enjoy their youth”, the way another couple is clearly doing when they spot Nishikata and Takagi on the way to the rooftop. For Takagi, enjoyng her youth means spending as much time as she can with Nishikata.

Clearly Nishikata doesn’t mind hanging out with Takagi that badly, even if she does tease him a lot. Indeed, he seems to savor the challenge of fighting against such a formidable opponent, and never lets the discouragement of virtually never winning against her get to him for very long.

While on the way home, Nishikata challenges Takagi to a high-bar kickover, something he’s only just recently mastered. Takagi agrees to do it, but only if he looks the other way, as she’s wearing a skirt. The first time they both do one, but he doesn’t know whether she cheated, so the next time, he peeks.

When he does, he learns not only that Takagi is doing proper kickovers, but is wearing gym shorts under her skirt. But even if she made him look away despite that, he’s honorable enough to admit defeat because he peeked, even if she calls him a pervert.

Nishikata often shows he’s a good lad, but his desire to best Takagi sometimes leads to unnecessary deceit. When he comes in with an apparent cold, Takagi immediately presumes it’s because he stayed up all night watching 100% Unrequited Love anime.

Nishikata intends to make Takagi blush by telling her she’s “cute”, but ends up too embarrassed to say something meant to embarrass her. He’s so thrown off he claims to not have a cold after all!

While Takagi still believes he has a cold (which he actually does), she seems frustrated she can’t tease him as usual lest she make him cough, so when he later insists he’s fine (after watching how damn cute she is when sitting quietly), she just starts teasing him even harder to make up for lost time!

Finally, Nishikata and Takagi are spotted by the three girls. Yukari assumes they’re a couple and decides to tail them to confirm it. Takagi being a particularly observant person (and the trio not being that stealthy), she and Nishikata take a quick turn around a corner and then hide, throwing the girls off the trail and causing them to give up.

In the process, Nishikata and Takagi have to squeeze together very close—closer than under the umbrella last week—and Nishikata is understandably flustered, but when asked if he would have preferred a different tactic, he drops the matter.

Takagi then immediately sets off on the race to the shrine they proposed. Nishikata cries ‘false start’, but honestly, the only thing he can and should do in such a situation is chase after Takagi…which he does.

 

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san – 03

When Takagi spots Nishikata and suggests they walk home together, Nishikata offers her some of his drink, thinking she won’t go for an “indirect kiss.” Of course, she’s fine with it; it’s Nishikata who wigs out at the prospect.

Nishikata then makes a fluke shot with the empty can in the garbage can and gets all cocky when Takagi misses. Turns out her miss was a trap; her next shot goes right in, then interrupts his shot by saying she’ll give him her first kiss if he makes it. He misses.

The next day Nishikata estimates he was teased fifteen times by Takagi, so when he hears form a sports figure on the TV that he trains ten times harder when he loses, he begins doing pushups. At school, he’s all sore, and Takagi takes advantage by poking his arm.

Nishikata keeps up the training, despite the fact Takagi teases him more and more with each passing day. However Takagi later admits that she’s starting to notice the effects of the training, saying he “looks pretty good;” while she may be sincere, she’s also trying to make him blush, and she succeeds.

Finaly, on a rainy afternoon Takagi forgets her umbrella, so asks Nishikata if he can share. He tries to scare her with a frog, but it doesn’t faze her in the least, and when she notices his wet shoulder, she scoots closer to him, causing his heart to race even more in such an awkward situation.

In all three segments, Takagi is both testing and expanding the limits of contact with Nishikata, all while inducing the priceless reactions she lives for. It gets to the point where she tries to get Nishikata to say “I love you” in both Japanese and English.

He bristles as expected, but some day, perhaps a couple years from now, he might not think all this attention from and contact with Takagi to be so torturous.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san – 02

Nothing new to report, but that’s a good thing: Master Teaser Takagi-san continues bringing the warmth, charm, and sweetness. It does so with a trio of new situations, starting with calligraphy class, in which Takagi and Nishikata agree to write “what they want from one another.”

Nishikata, believing this an opportunity to get Takagi to stop teasing him, first writes”restraint”, but she writes “status quo.” When he writes “kindness”, Takagi suddenly seems really kind, even though she didn’t see what he wrote.

Finally, he decides not to dance around it anymore, and simply writes “Don’t tease me,” then backs it up with direct spoken words as well. Takagi really enjoys teasing him, but she says she’ll “try her best” not to.

Of course, she wrote her calligraphy before making that promise: “You have ink on your face,” and she put it there while acting kind! Mind you, she kinda cheated by writing what was on him instead of what she wanted from him. Alas, Nishikata is too embarrassed to point that out.

After a brief interlude in which the three girls in Takagi and Nishikata’s class struggle to change to their short-sleeved uniforms on the same day, it’s back to the cute couple who have eyes only for one another, who are in English Translation class. (Hey! A school anime that actually depicts students in class most of the time! AMAZING!)

Nishikata finally gets a relatively clever idea: it’s June 18th, and Takagi is student #18, so he tries to distract her so that when the teacher calls on her, she’ll be unprepared. The plan seems to succeed at first, with Takagi even betraying a half-moment of flustered-ness we’ve come to expect of Nishikata. But when called upon, she knows exactly what line to read.

Noticing Nishikata looking at her, Takagi turns the tables by saying she’s “always thinking” about Nishikata, and the teacher decides to add the month and the day to select Student #24…Nishikata. And yet, for all her teasing, you get the feeling she’s being honest about thinking about Nishikata a lot, just as he thinks about her.

Teasing Nishikata is Takagi’s way of expressing her interest in him, it’s just that he’s so wound up in the cycle of teasing, he either overlooks the underlying affection or suspects it as another layer of teasing. And it’s often both!

That inability to ever interpret Takagi correctly rears its head in the final segment, “Pool.” Nishikata can’t swim due to a bandaged hand, and to his shock, Takagi is also sitting it out. She correctly guesses that his hand was injured when he tried to pet a stray cat, so she asks him to guess why she’s not swimming.

When she holds her stomach, he remembers a classmate saying girls on their period don’t swim and experience abdominal pain. But he doesn’t want to say that, because it’s generally considered rude. Searching for another reason, he remembers another sage classmate telling him small-chested girls are self-conscious about their chest size.

This time, we get visualizations of how Nishikata thinks the interactions with Takagi will go after giving each answer. When he also remembers that periods are nothing to be ashamed of, he finally guesses that, which is wrong…and rude, says an apparently offended Takagi.

However, she immediately laughs afterwards, then slowly removes her shirt and shorts in front of Nishikata to reveal her school swimsuit. Turns out she only stayed out of the pool so she could tease Takagi. She says hopefully next time they’ll be able to swim together. Takagi is dubious as always, but I don’t doubt Takagi’s sincerity in the slightest. So till then, Nishikata, avoid stray cats!

WWW.Working!! – 02

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I’m really liking this new Working!!, because it feels like it takes place in an alternate universe, where everything is the same, only different. The new show and cast is replete with echos of the old show and cast, but with enough differentiation to be worth the watch.

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Still, this new Working!! might be trying to actually improve on the formula it refined with its first cast. Take Miyakoshi Hana. She’s violent and unreasonable like Inami, but not because she hates men. In fact, she gets along with Higashida just fine, and even insists he invite her to his house so he can help her study for exams. It turns out she’s a lot more normal than Inami was, and that’s actually refreshing.

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Or take weirder co-workers like Muranoshi Sayuri. She’s very neutral and deadpan in her voice and expressions, but is still canny enough to use her ability to see customers no one else can see to put some rude bros in their place. She also shows she’s got a winning smile…as long as you complement her.

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Like Hana and Daisuke, the other couple-in-the-making here doesn’t follow the same path as Satou and Todoroki in the other show. Instead, it’s a weird, long-standing situation where Shindou Yuuta actually got the lonely Kamamura Shiho’s rich dad to pay more attention to her, often talking about things so complicaed they fly over Shiho’s head.

Yet when it comes time to respond to her offer of marriage (thus wiping out his father’s debt to her father), he reverts to a little kid who thinks girls are gross. Shiho clearly hasn’t taken that well, and has since treated ever encounter with Yuuta as transactionary.

Just as I’d like to see Daisuke and Hana becoming better friends, which they’re well on their way to doing, I’d like to see Yuuta mend fences with Shiho. Even if neither of these things happens, the point is I’m invested with these new characters, so I’m going to keep watching.

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Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge – 08

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Ohta is injured, so Tanaka must fend for himself! In theory, of course. In reality, Tanaka can’t quit his dependance on help cold turkey, and asks (kinda demands?) Echizen help him instead.

Because Echizen is a kind and decent person, she agrees to direct Tanaka to her neighbor Ohta’s house, and while she carries her usual unpleasant demeanor, it doesn’t change the fact that she helps him nonetheless.

She’s clearly also helped out a bunch of other people, as evidenced by the numerous times she’s stopped on the way home by people thanking her for helping them.

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Even when Echizen successfully gets Tanaka to Ohta’s, she sees how happy Ohta is that Tanaka made it there “himself” that she hides so Tanaka can take the credit. This begs the question, for Tanaka as well as me: Why exactly is Echizen a delinquent? Does she, in fact, only dress like one? It sure seems like it, but that contradiction makes her only more endearing.

The next day Ohta returns to school, but is limited due to an injured foot. Tanaka tries to abandon his listlessness that he might be Ohta’s “conveyance” the way Ohta is his most of the time, but to no avail. He has the will; he just doesn’t have the way.

That being said, Tanaka does let Ohta put some of his weight on him on the walks to classes, where Ohta imagines how great it would be if the floors, stairs, and doors were all automatic. With his injury, Ohta is being given a taste of the difficulties moving Tanaka deals with everyday, so it’s only logical that he’d start thinking of ways to make life easier.

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Tanaka seems to do Ohta a solid by purchasing his usual sweet pan for lunch, but he gets tired on the way back, remembers that sugar can help with energy, and eat’s Ohta’s pan, leaving Ohta with Tanaka’s savory sandwich. Tanaka’s “various reasons” rationale (complete with face covered in crumbs) is hilarious. And who’s there to bail both out but but Echizen, adding to the mystery of why she’s a delinquent.

The day is more energy-draining than usual, making it hard for Tanaka to stay awake during unsupervised self-study, during which he must complete an English worksheet. He half-assedly puts down answers in Romaji letters (not English), then wonders why, if only about 80 countries speak English, they couldn’t “reform” them and make Japanese a global language.

Note there’s no megalomaniacal ambitions or malice here; Tanaka is just thinking of the most complicated way possible of eliminating English classwork so he can sleep more. The cut to the various people he could potentially ask for help was a wonderful sequence of unique personalities, none of them useful to his immediate needs.

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The day ends with a fire drill that demonstrates how Tanaka’s dependence on Ohta could be hazardous to his health, as two classmates help Ohta out but Tanaka gets lost in the school during the evacuation, so used to being carried by Ohta that he is. It’s a similar problem as taking the bus or taxi or Uber someplace all the time, but never driving or walking there yourself – writ small.

When the day ends (with scenes of the town at sunset as gorgeous and tranquil as any show airing today), Tanaka thanks Ohta for everything, even going so far as to name a day after him, which, combined with his “Tanaka Antoinette” line, suggests he considers listlessness a kind of oblesse noblige or higher calling.

The next morning, he gives Ohta an Ohta’s Day gift: a booklet of coupons enabling Tanaka to walk by himself between classes. Tanaka’s attempts to be magnanimous again goes awry because his ability can’t quite match up to his good intentions, and Ohta must swoop Tanaka up and dash to class before the bell rings.

Clearly, Ohta needs to find a more useful way of reciprocating Ohta’s kindness, but at the end of the day, Ohta is simply happy that Tanaka is trying. It’s the thought that counts…but hey, some light physical training wouldn’t hurt, right?

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Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider – 07

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This week Saikawa and Moe have very interesting encounters and conversations; I just wish the vehicles for those conversations weren’t, in the case of Moe (at least initially), an overly aggressive otaku researcher Shimada, and in the case of Saikawa, what felt like fifteen years of Kase Yasuyuki and Kaida Yuuko speaking in very rough English. Hey, Anime: If the seiyu isn’t fluent, don’t make them play a fluent character. This. Never. Works.

It’s ironic that Moe ends up plunging into a sensory deprivation chamber, where she’s closed off from the outside world, because the bad English pulled me right out of the world of Subete ga F. It was painful, but I don’t blame the seiyuu; at the end of the day the producers and director have to step in and say this isn’t going to work. I get it; Miki is from America…but why can’t she just speak Japanese? People speak a lot of languages in America.

I don’t want to belabor the point any further; I just hope there’s little to no more such dialogue in the final four episodes. Because the content of the conversation was actually pretty poignant and enlightening. By talking with Saikawa, Miki is able to summon a memory of when she hurt herself, and Shiki told her the human body is only a container for the brain; a mechanism; a doll.

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Miki also suspects that while they never met, Shiki and Saikawa would have gotten along, because she thinks they’re probably pretty similar people, hiding intense emotions behind a cold, sterile exterior. Shimada actually likes how “cold” Saikawa seems, even if Moe says he’s actually very nice. Shimada also likes how warm Moe is, and while she says Moe doesn’t have a chance with someone she deems the opposite “temperature”, it’s not like hot-cold relationships are impossible. Opposites can attract and compliment each other.

Once the English conversation is over, we dive into Moe’s mind, no longer receiving signals from her senses in the deprivation tank. This is what Shiki was getting at: in the tanks, humans shed their bodies and shed the physical world, and the brain takes over, creating worlds from the stuff stored inside. Moe’s dreamscape starts by chasing Saikawa around campus, defying gravity and physics in the process. It’s very light and fun…until Saikawa’s office turns into the room where Moe spoke to Shiki.

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This is where Moe’s trip to the tank seems more than a mere lark by Shimada to see her in a bikini, but a legitimately profound, eye-opening experience. A “dream Shiki” purports to have been “called there” by Moe, where they continue their past conversation. Moe’s parents died in a plane crash, Moe was distraught, and the purple dress she wore that day was thrown out because it had become bloodstained.

Shiki helps Moe remember where that stain came from, which is the same reason Moe was able to survive despite losing everyone dear to her in her life. The blood came from Saikawa, who was there for her. Mad with grief, she struck him in the face, but that didn’t stop him from doing what had to be done, which is simply to hold her and allow her to let it all out. Moe wasn’t alone; she had Saikawa.

Now we know for a certainty why Moe cares for him so much, and stays by his side, and why he won’t reject her, but feels uncomfortable taking things in a romantic direction. Her flashback is a gorgeous sequence that made my heart hurt more than a little, and made up for all the Bad English earlier.

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Shiki seems to be happy for Moe, but at the same time, she pities her and everyone else in the “restricted” physical world, where she’d clearly accomplished everything she thought she could. As more pieces of the puzzle fall into place, the possibility arises that Magata Shiki found a way to leave her physical body behind, and still exists somewhere in or about that lab, or possibly in the digital either. The end credits have been hinting at that all along.

On the other hand, everything Moe experienced was more likely all in her own straying mind. The Shiki she conversed with was really just herself. Sure enough, fifteen years ago, after taking the first steps towards freeing herself from the restrictive world by killing her parents, Shiki predicts that she and Shindo will one day be killed. All they can to in the meantime is “live righteously, believing in human pride.”

Is she speaking of her own pride and Shindo’s, or the pride of those who will eventually kill them?  If it’s the latter, than I imagine Shiki, tired of the physical world, wanted someone to kill her and send her to some other, immortal realm; to true freedom. But is that just death, or something more? And if no one could get in or out, did she kill herself, her body possessed by one of her three alternate personalities?

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