Super Cub – 05 – The Ascent

Kudos to Koguma, who over the summer she expanded her horizons, learned an abject lesson in preparing for the elements, saved up some cash ferrying documents between her school and Kofu. That’s a summer anyone can be proud of. She comes to Reiko ready to make some tasty okonomiyaki in exchange to hear what she did this summer…and why her Postal Cub looks like it’s been mauled by Oniguma-sama.

Reiko also expanded her horizons, learned a hard lesson or two, and presumably also made some money with her job doing manual labor “somewhere close…yet far away.”

It’s just…she went about it a little differently…

I see you, Super Cub.

Back in the day, anyone could ride up Fuji-san, but new laws and environmental restrictions narrowed the opportunities considerably. Reiko’s job with an official team that maintains and resupplies the trail and outposts going up the mountain was the opportunity to do something she’d wanted to do ever since she got her license: Ride to the top of Fuji-san.

She researched modifying Cubs for off-roading and secured the job, which consisted of a lot of manual labor but also riding ahead to ensure the way is clean for the giant resupply Caterpillar that climbs up and down the mountain. Reiko’s arduous ascent is often appropriately accompanied by heavy metal soundtrack, and also full of vicious crashes and tumbles.

Still, every time she falls, she dusts herself off and gets back up, because there’s still a mountain to be climbed. When her boss, who climbed Everest, asks her why she’s so intent on climbing the mountain on a glorified moped originally designed to deliver mail, she says it’s to find out if she’s the kind of person who can overcome something like that.

Instead of mail, Reiko intends her Cub to deliver her to a better sense of who she is and what she’s capable of. It’s an incredibly moving, well-realized, self-contained epic little movie of an episode, and what’s all the more impressive is that it doesn’t exist to outdo or overshadow Koguma’s own summer achievements, but simply to present the vast spectrum of experiences.

Oh, and it surprised me almost every time Reiko hit a rock or peeled out, and I found myself actually crying out in anguish whenever it happened, hoping Reiko would be able to get up and start her Cub back up. Fortunately, she always is, and always does. One day when it’s clear she’s really struggling, her boss tells her not to try to “stand up” against the mountain, but to “come alongside”.

Also lending a sense of grandeur is the absolutely spellbinding scenery that grows more strange and otherworldly and beautiful as Reiko reaches higher and higher elevations. There is nothing quite like the way the earth sprawls out before you when you’re on a mountain, and that unique feeling is captured perfectly.

Reiko takes her boss’ advice as a reminder that she should be having fun, not suffering, but when push comes to shove, she’s not going to “go limp” let the mountain push her around. She holds herself and her Cub down and fights as hard as she can. Alas, her final crash is her worst, and cracks her stalwart Cub’s enging casing.

She calls her boss, who picks her up in the Cat. He remarks that she didn’t make it to the top: she’s only a few switchbacks from it; perhaps a few hundred feet. But that’s okay; Reiko can’t look out at creation unfolding beneath her and feel bad about what she accomplished.

Koguma maybe gets the line of the episode in response to this epic tale of man vs. nature: “That’s silly.” As in, climbing Mt. Fuji on your motorbike is silly. Maybe it is, but Reiko still had to do it, and doesn’t regret it. They change the subject to Koguma’s “Cursed Cub”, and Reiko eases her friend’s mind by assuring her none of the three previous owners died because of it. Two of them didn’t even die.

Koguma takes Reiko up on the offer to sleep over, if nothing else to experience the pitch-black darkness far from the city lights. Ensconsced in the mummy sleeping bag Reiko provided (and looking more like Shima Rin than ever!) she clarifies her statement about the silliness of climbing Mt. Fuji as not meaning that it could not be done. Hell, Reiko came really really close to doing it, and probably could have if she’d just slowed down a bit!

And as we’re treated most gorgeous images of Fuji-san yet, Reiko says the first Cub rider climbed the mountain in August of 1963, followed that same year by a team of Cub riders. Reiko isn’t done; she’s going to be the next one to do it—and the first high-school girl!

That morning, over coffee, Koguma makes clear she’s not done expanding her horizons either. She took the summer job in part to pay for driving school so she could get her full motorcycle license. Reiko hops on the laptop to book Koguma’s reservations, and also to look for cheap ways to increase the power of her Cub so her friend can climb her own mountain a little higher.

This whole episode certainly took Super Cub to new heights, but even if and when it comes back down to earth, Reiko and Koguma will unassailably remain my two heroes.

Vlad Love – 08 – The Hematologist’s Lament

Chihiro describes her daily battle as school nurse, Blood Donation Club advisor, night class instructor, and researcher, while gazing at the moon and grasping a bottle of blood marked “Memories.” An intrigued Mitsugu tells everyone to call in sick for night class, and once Chihiro heads home, they break into her office to locate the blood.

Thanks to transfer student “Franken”, who is a giant robot who apparently isn’t supposed to transfer for two more episodes, they break the lock, but Mitsugu is electrocuted when she touches the cabinet. Chihiro appears, knowing the kids wouldn’t be able to resist the intrigue of her bottle of Memories.

Since everyone is eager to know what exactly the bottle contains (even though it should be clear from the label), they gather ’round Chihiro as she lights up a cigarette or seven and uncorks that bottle, regailing them with a tale of youth, infatuation, betrayal and heartbreak…none of which seems to have anything to do with the blood!

Young Chimatsuri Chihiro, being smart in hematology but dumb at life, falls for one sketchy character after another (literally—they’re typically sketched out with pencil or ink!), who either empties her bank accounts with excessive dating actitivies or just plain leaves her Casablanca-style.

It must be noted that Chihiro should at all times be considered an unreliable narrator. For one thing, there’s no way steam locomotives ever ran regularly in her time! The bit about her falling instantly in love with people who deliver her dinner is a nice nod to the beginning, when it’s Mitsugu with cup ramen.

While her story intentionally drags on and repeats itself, and it’s generous to even call this episode half-animated, as it’s mostly flashbacks slideshow format, I still enjoyed the episode. It set itself apart from the others by being relatively calm and relaxed, and its gags and pratfalls are in service of actual character work, albeit of questionable provenance.

Also, while it’s little more than a bunch of stills, those stills are gorgeously rendered and accompanied by a suitably weighty score that really sells Chihiro’s lamentations, even if her students all fall nod off before she reveals the “Memories” bottle contains a blend of blood she drew from the various men in her past while they were unconscious.

Overlord II – 05

Following his thorough intimidation of the Lizardmen, Lord Ains and his guardians travel to his newly-built forest stronghold. He learns it comes with a super-creepy throne made partially from human bones, and decides he’ll finally dole out Shalltear’s punishment by sitting on her.

Shalltear turning the intended pain into naughty pleasure, combined with Albedo’s violently jealous outburst in the next room, are both examples of OverLord silliness at its best. Things get even sillier when Ains uses a spell to see inside one of the village’s huts, only to catch Zaryusu and Crusch doing the nasty.

The Lizardmen elders and warriors, including Zaryusu, make their one last desperate stand against Cocytus, and are (figuratively) disarmed by his polite and respectful demeanor before being disarmed (literally), halved, and riddled with icy projectiles.

The comedy shifts from the silly to black, as Cocytus calmly, quietly explains how not a single one of his opponents’ magical or physical attacks will have the slightest effect on him; they’re simply too low a level to put a dent in his Guardian-class defenses.

That doesn’t stop Zaryusu & Co. from charging forward, even if it’s right into their grisly deaths. Zaryusu is the last to be killed, but Cocytus promises he’ll remember his name and that of his brothers as the names of warriors.

Back at base, Cocytus is praised for his victory by Lord Ains, and suggests the bodies of the dead Lizardmen be used for undead research. Cocytus makes a counter-proposal: raise Zaryusu, who had been such a valiant fighter, from the dead.

Something like that is well within Ains’ mighty means, but he wishes to make it a transaction, and so asks Crusch to spy on the other Lizardmen in exchange for the resurrection of her lover. (Her momentary assumption he wanted her body enrages both Albedo and Shalltear.)

Crusch agrees, and Zaryusu is brought back to life, and yet even here OverLord doesn’t shy away from having a bit of a laugh; Zaryusu’s speech is all high-pitched and messed-up, like he didn’t quite come back 100% right (rest will apparently restore his former gravitas).

But Ains got what he wanted: the allegiance of the Lizardmen tribes, and a mole who will alert him if that allegiance ever wavers, secured by a “spell” (in reality just a lie) that will kill Zaryusu if Crusch ever betrays him. All in all, some shrewd maneuvering by His Skullfaceiness.

Overlord II – 04

The Lizardmen are allowed to bask in their victory over an army of the undead for an evening, while back at Nazarick the Great One Ains Ooal Gown is debriefing Cocytus before his other guardians.

Momonga got what he wanted: Cocytus forms an original thought—that he doesn’t want to exterminate the Lizardmen. But when he can’t come up with a good reason to spare them, Demiurge comes through with an alternative plan: they’ll make the Lizardmen an experiment in rule without fear.

Everything is going according to Ains’ plans, and his guardians think that’s only natural, but privately, Momonga is excited at the prospect of his guardians learning independent thought and gaining experience through defeat…not that he likes defeat.

That much is clear the next day when he shows up with an enormous magically-armored undead army, catching the still celebratory Lizardmen unawares.

Ains himself shows up, and makes quite an entrance, freezing an entire lake, using Gargantua to throw a huge cube of rock into the middle of it, then having his grunts form an undead staircase.

Ains climbs to the top of the rock with his retinue of guardians, proud as you please, and when Zaryusu and his brother meet them in the lake, Demiurge has them prostrate themselves.

Zaryusu knows he and his people are at the mercy of Ains and his forces, and that they don’t have a hope of victory against such power. However, he also presumes the Great One does not intend to utterly exterminate his people, but wants a proper battle to make things interesting.

If that requires a few sacrificial lambs, with him among them, Zaryusu can live with that, even if it distresses the woman he loves. He asks that she put up with his selfishness this once and hold out hope he’ll come back from the battle in one piece. She seems willing to go along with this…IF he impregnates her first. Love: it’s all about give-and-take.

Overlord II – 03

In order to build great things, one must construct a solid foundation. The first two episodes accomplished that. At first, I wondered why all of a sudden we were so immersed in the lives and politics of a bunch of Lizardmen. Then, when I got to know a few of them, I became emotionally invested in their fate, even rooting for their victory against the armies of Cocytus, even though Cocytus is a servant of our ostensible protagonist, Momonga.

What was made clear this week is that not only was it well worth all the table-setting, which I enjoyed far more than I ‘endured’; but that Momonga and his court were given heightened mystique by being pushed into the background, such that every time we cut to them (which wasn’t often, or for a very long duration), it felt like an occasion.

Things start out small, with Zaryusu earning Zenberu’s trust and an alliance after fighting him one-on-one. Crusch heals both, and after returning to Zaryusu’s brother Green Claw, the five assembled tribal leaders have a strategy meeting.

The enemy outnumbers them over three to one. Zenberu is confident every lizard can take out three zombies or skeletons each, but they have to plan carefully to avoid being routed. Zaryusu forms an elite squad with Crusch, Zenberu, and his trusty hydra Rororo, to face the enemy commander when they show themselves.

Cocytus orders his army to advance, and Ains Ooal Gown seems slightly disappointed that things aren’t going the way he hoped, and that’s all we see of him. From here on in, it’s all battle, which means it’s all payoff for the careful preparation of the previous two episodes.

The Lizardmen send out their forces to meet the undead army, while their magical units efficiently keep the foes at bay. Cocytus confides in Demiurge for advice on how to proceed (that is, how to salvage what is starting to resemble a defeat on the field); Demiurge muses that their great lord meant to give Cocytus a weak army and a wide berth in hopes it would promote his awareness.

Cocytus is ready to take his medicine, but first sees how his reserves will fare, led by the Elder Lich Iguva, who launches huge fireballs in Zaryusu’s direction, helpfully revealing to the elite unit the position of the enemy leader.

Zaryusu decides upon a direct frontal assault, using Rororo’s bulk to shield himself, Crusch, and Zenberu. Once close enough, Zenberu starts carving up the reserves while Zaryusu faces off against Iguva, who is a formidable opponent from any range. It’s too bad none of the Lizardmen had Holy magic!

For a moment, Iguva has Zaryusu caught trapped in a Scare spell, but Crusch comes through in the clutch and breaks him out with Lion Heart, in addition to healing Zaryusu’s wounds. Good to see Crusch can hold her own on the battlefield, and indeed plays a vital role keeping Zaryusu up and running.

Iguva is full of hubris until the end, when he wrongfully assumes Zaryusu foolishly unleashed the full power of his Icy Burst against him (as a lich he’s immune to ice). However, the ice was only meant to provide cover for Zaryusu’s attack from above, stabbing Iguva through the eye.

After a struggle, Iguva is vanquished, and the Lizardmen are victorious, in what was a hard-hitting, heart-pounding, perfectly-paced battle. From his base, Cocytus congratulates the Lizardmen; it was a very close victory, but a win’s a win.

Not only that, the battle forced the Lizardmen to give up their tribal squabbles, come together, and sacrifice for the sake of their race’s survival. I would think they would continue in peace the unity that was forged by the threat of annihilation, while Zaryusu and Crusch, having come out of the battle in one piece, are poised to marry.

Overall, this episode was as satisfying, complete victory; a sure-handed execution of an intricately-constructed, multi-layered story in which the lines of heroes and villains are blurred. I’m eager to see what Lord Ains has planned next—and for whom.

Fate / Zero – 15

I hope you’ll forgive me if this review doesn’t hold up to my usual vigorous editorial standards, as I must admit I am rather stunned—gobsmacked, you might say—by what I just witnessed, and whenever that happens, I tend to get a bit too florid in my language. Consider yourself warned.

That happens, at this magnitude, very rarely indeed. Of the episodes I consider almost perfect, I must count this among them. At this point in my viewing of Fate/Zero, if there was one and only one episode I had to show someone, it would be this one.

It’s a perfect encapsulation; an epic full-length motion picture, compressed into a scant third of an hour; the crystallization of the ultimate potential embedded in its run thus far. I shudder to think it could ever get better than this, but having seen this, I shouldn’t underestimate this show’s capacity for ever-expanding spectacle. And I won’t.

In case you forgot the events of this episode: Rider decides to trap Caster and his monster in his Reality Marble to buy the rest of the team time to figure out a way to defeat it. Righteousness ensues.

As Berserker and Archer continue dogfighting in their respective badass aircraft, Kariya’s swarm of bugs are harmlessly absorbed by Tokiomi’s magical barrier. As Kariya’s body breaks down, Tokiomi delivers “mercy” by setting him ablaze. The animation used to portray the burning Kariya looked like nothing else in the show so far and was hauntingly novel and chilling in its style and execution.

Once Rider transports the monster to his Reality Marble, Iri gets a call from Kiritsugu, but has Waver answer the phone. Kiritsugu tells Waver to tell Rider to drop the monster at a specific point of his choosing once the Marble prison fails. He also tells Lancer that Saber has the only weapon that can defeat the monster, but can’t use it due the wound made by Gáe Buidhe.

Possessed of that new information, Lancer’s next move is pure Chivalry: That monster cannot be allowed to terrorize innocent people. His spear is preventing the only weapon that can defeat it from being used. Ergo, Gáe Buidhe must be destroyed.

Saber’s claim that she bears the wound as a mark of pride, not as a burden, but Lancer knows she’s being way too nice, and does what a true Knight such as himself would do: snap the spear in half. Once he does, Saber immediately prepares her Noble Phantasm.

As Berserker destroys Archer’s aircraft, Kotomine Kirei approaches the barely-alive Kariya…and starts to heal him, cracking a smile as he does. It would seem the Kirei Rebellion against his father and Tokiomi has officially begun in earnest.

Berserker turns his attention (such as it is) to Saber and her newly-released weapon. It then falls to Lancer to transport onto Berserker’s jet and disable it, and even with just one spear, he gets the job done.

That leaves the area secure for Kiritsugu to launch a flare at the spot where Rider is to release the monster. After the sheer awesome lunacy of Rider’s chariot and Berserker and Archer’s aircraft, it is quite amusing indeed to see Kiritsugu in his unassuming little raft, likely fitted with the most efficient and durable engine that provides sufficient and not excessive power to get him into position.

Once Rider has the signal, the monster is released, and the other end of the grand stage given over to the King of Knights so she can shine.

Saber’s attack is singularly gorgeous in an episode of visually arresting imagery, but its beauty is only enhanced by the reactions of those watching it unfold, and the poetic words of Iri describing what the weapon is, and in doing so, describing who Arturia Pendragon truly is:

That sword is the embodiment of the sad, yet noble, dream of all soldiers, past, present, and future, who lie dying on the field of battle, clutched to their hearts with their last breath. She carries their will as her pride, bidding them to remain steadfast in their loyalty. Now, the undefeated king sings aloud, the name of the miracle she holds in her hand. It’s name is…Excalibur.

This is the unique, nigh divine power bestowed upon Saber in exchange for the tremendous burden she bears. And while Archer laughed at her devotion and Rider doubted her kingship, for all their power amassed across space and time, neither of them could do anything like what Saber does to this monster. This isn’t just Saber saving the city and the day; this is Saber dunking on her doubters. Suddenly they are the ones who look small, puny, and cowed.

As for poor crazy Caster, I daresay I almost feel sorry for the evil son of a bitch when he meets his all-too-beautiful end, which includes a vision of his beloved Jeanne (who does look a lot like Saber). Almost.

While Uryuu went out experiencing something he was looking for all his life and finally found, Caster too experiences a kind of quasi-redemptive epiphany at the very end. Both men end up essentially forsaking everything they had ever done in their miserable lives, condemning it as wasted time and effort in the face of the truths they face at the end.

As the monster Excalibur effortlessly cleaved clean in half dissipates into the night, Archer asks Rider if he’s still not convinced of Saber’s kingship. Rider acknowledges the power, but still feels its too much for one young woman; not so much a legend as a great tragedy. Rider and Archer also agree to duel one another soon…but not quite yet, as they want to recover from this battle and fight at full strength.

Finally, while Saber lost an unwanted admirer in Caster, she gained a new one tonight through her actions: Archer. Where Rider sees tragedy, Archer sees vivid beauty; something to which nothing in his vast treasury can compare. I’ll tell you what’s damn near beyond compare: this episode.

The last episode, in its efficient, businesslike way, laid out all of the various facets of the battle and set the conditions for victory, while also keeping expectations…reasonable. This episode took those facets and resolved them into a gorgeous jewel that shined with golden radiance, blasting through all expectations like Excalibur through a fortress-sized demon. The remaining ten episodes have their work cut out for them.

Nobunaga the Fool – 02

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In this day and age, the word “epic” is exceptionally overused (there’s even a nondenominational Epic Church in our neighborhood), and we’re just as guilty as the rest of society, but in the case of the story rapidly unfolding in Nobunaga the Fool, we feel the term is apt. After a somewhat breathless introduction, things are allowed to settle down a bit, but the fact remains a grand adventure is afoot, one that will shape the future of the Eastern and Western Stars.

Once Nobu has successfully translated his not insignificant combat skills in operating da Vinci’s newest war armor, he and Jane formally meet, and while things get off to a somewhat bellicose start, things simmer down with da Vinci as affable moderator laying out the scenario. He believes Nobu to be the “savior-king” of the East, and lends him the use of his masterpiece (which Nobu christens “The Fool” or “Za Fuuru”) that he may show him the “truth of the universe.”

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Da Vinci has already risked quite a bit to get to where he is, but he strikes us as a man of singular conviction; he has faith that the universe will show him what he wants to see, thanks to the equally extraordinary individuals he chooses to consort with. He’s regarded as perhaps the finest mind of his world, and that world believes he’s defected, so it’s good that he’s met powerful, charismatic new friends.

Nobunaga comes off as a bit of a cocky show-off at times, but never annoyingly, Naruto-ingly so. He doesn’t appear to be that much of a chauvinist, either; that trait is reserved for Toyotomi “Saru” Hideyoshi, who seems to think ogling Jeanne’s bust and grabbing her golden locks is appropriate behavior for an adult (Akechi Mitsuhide is more refined, while Nobu falls between the two in personality). Nobunaga simply warns Jeanne as he’d warn any man, not to draw a blade again unless she intends to take a life with it. We only see him interact with his sister Ichihime for a moment, but it looks like he holds her esteem; such that he insists Jeanne hide herself lest Ichi get the wrong idea.

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There’s a rooted logic and equity to the alliance of da Vinci, Nobu, and Jeanne that forms this week. One seeks answers he can’t get anywhere else; one seeks the power to defeat his foes; and one seeks her destiny, a venture Nobu scoffs at, because ‘why trust your fate to strangers?’ His skepticism aside, the fact da Vinci draws the same cards the episodes are named after indicates that even Nobu isn’t entirely free from destiny’s embrace.

Jeanne’s quest may intrigue us the most, since its true nature is as inscrutable to her as it is to us. She only knows Nobu just might be the right person to help her find it, coarse and bloodthirsty a fellow as he may initially seem. She may not come to love the guy, but mutual respect and cooperation are in order.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Stray Observations:

  • While pulling a dagger on Nobu in such an awkward position probably wasn’t prudent, Jeanne can clearly take care of herself, as evidenced by the punitive blow she delivers to Saru.
  • There’s an Eastern girl with two-tone hair voiced by Touyama Nao who’s looking forward to meeting Nobu. Wonder what that’s about.
  • In addition to the Armor, da Vinci also gifts Nobu with an intricate clock of his own design…which Nobu immediately re-gifts for his brother’s coming-of-age ceremony.
  • Historical figures gathered round the, er, Round Table include Gupta, Hannibal, Alexander, and Julius Caesar. It’s like Civilization: The Animation!

Onimonogatari – 02

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Shinobu tells Koyomi the tale of her first visit to Japan more than 400 years ago. She literally “jumped” from Antarctica – where she had been residing previously – into a lake in Japan, which destroyed the lake but brought rain to an arid region, whose inhabitants revered her as a god. It was then that she met the “original apparition killer”, who wielded the demon-killing “Kokoro-watari” and the shorter “Yume-watari”, which restored them.

Trouble arose when as a result of her presence, which drew apparitions and negative energy to the region, which humans eventually deserted. Shortly thereafter, the “darkness” arrived, consuming three quarters of Shinobu’s body and nearly all of the apparition killer. She escaped to Antarctica with his hand and wrist, and drank its blood to restore him as her minion. Furious she had made him a vampire, he disavowed her and committed suicide by burning up in the sunlight. She swore never to make another minion.

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In the last episode we remarked that Oshino Shinobu is unlike any other entity inhabiting the Monogatari Series, due to her sheer longevity, scale of experience, and moral complexity. Thus, we knew that when we delved deeper into her past, it would be something to behold; and so it was. A bold, indulgent, tantalizingly unique approach is utilized in visualizing Kiss-shot Acerola-orion Heart-under-blade’s epic tale. It unfolds as one continuous right-to-left scroll of stunningly gorgeous illustrations, interrupted only by the occasional cut to Shinobu and Koyomi in the present, and accompanied by a stirring, austere ambient score.

The feats she performs therein – from jumping from Antarctica and becoming a god in Japan to creating her minion out of a desire not to be alone only to be rejected – transcend anything anyone else has done in the series. Not bad for a character who didn’t say a single word in all of Bakemonogatari. Just as Shinobu is an unprecedented entity in the series, this episode was unprecedented in its audacity and elegance. Essentially, this episode was one of the most engrossing, transcendent infodumps we’ve ever seen. We found it to be a work of profound creativity, skill, and workmanship, and an instant classic – hence earning our highest rating. Call us crazy if you must.

Rating: 10 (Masterpiece)

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