Fate / Zero – 21

I can only admire Fate/Zero for its willingness to include a little bit of everything for everyone in its Holy Grail War, and as it had already featured a dogfight between Archer and Berserker, it was only a matter of time before Saber got into a chase with Rider, she on her motorcycle and he and Waver on his giant chariot.

The resulting chase does not disappoint, as Saber squids fearlessly through traffic, pushing her steed to its mechanical limits before deciding Screw it, I’m bosozokuing this motherfucker. While I prefer the more classic look of her bike, it’s still hella cool she can soup it up the same was she can soup up her armor.

With only five episodes left (my how time flies) I wasn’t ruling out the possibility this would be it for Rider, but Saber is content to withdraw after destroying his chariot with Excalibur, after which Waver and Rider lament that they have to walk home; a not inconsiderable distance considering the speed and length of the chase.

And that’s pretty much the last of the levity in this episode, as things go visually and thematically super-dark from there. Turns out Rider didn’t kidnap Iri (didn’t seem very in-character); it was Kariya’s doing, using two command seals to A.) control Berserker and B.) disguise him as Rider. Kiritsugu tortures Kariya’s brother Byakuya but doesn’t get much out of him.

Kirei has been busy since killing Tokiomi; further exploring his capacity for “entertainment” by manipulating Kariya, using new Command Seals and his bloodlust for Tokiomi as bait. While this all makes sense, I wish we’d have been able to witness Kirei initially approach Kariya after healing him and his stint with Zouken. Instead, the plan came together entirely in the background and has to be swiftly explained after the fact.

Once Kariya is off to the church to duel with Tokiomi (by now very dead), Zouken reveals himself to Kirei. If there is one remaining bit of levity in this episode, it’s here, as Zouken, truly a top-class Master of Evil, seems to take a shine to Kirei. Kirei is understandably disgusted by the mere suggestion of being compared to scum like him.

But for once, Zouken is right: I have no doubt that after a few more decades of this kind of stuff, Kirei will be standing in the exact same place as Zouken, King of Shitbags – so shitty, he’s not sure what he wants more: to win the Grail War, or watch his son continue to suffer.

And does Kariya ever suffer. After entering the church and yelling at a corpse, he discovers Tokiomi is already dead, just when the deceased’s widow Aoi arrives, no doubt summoned by Kirei. It’s not what it looks like (that Kariya just killed Tokiomi) but it sure looks bad, and Aoi doesn’t go easy on Kariya, rejecting his excuses and condeming him for never having loved anyone, despite the fact he always secretly loved her.

Kariya is clearly not in a stable place mentally here, and that instability and the resulting breakdown is chillingly depicted with a series of blackout shots, tinged with flashes of him attacking Aoi (the dark church appearing bright beside the blackness), before returning to full vision of him slowly strangling her to death.

After that all Kariya can do is get up and stumble out, screaming and wailing incoherently; becoming more like his unhinged Servant all the time. And who enjoyed a prime vantage point for this macabre entire “play” up in the church balcony? Kirei, who along with Archer were watching and sipping wine the whole time. Kirei notes the wine tastes different; better. He wants to sample more.

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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.

Tales of Zestiria the X – 03

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Three episodes in (four if you count the prologue) and we still only know three of the eight party members in the OP, so the show largely skips past Sorey and Mikleo’s journey to the point where they’re at Ladylake’s gates, meeting the fourth (future) member. She’s got rosy hair, so I’ll call her Rose for now.

Were it not for Rose, Sorey wouldn’t be able to enter the city. That being said, Mikleo doesn’t do well around so many humans, who excrete a miasma of malevalence due to the worries about a war between Hyland and neighboring Rolance.

Princess Alisha’s non-aggressive stance, refusing to launch a preemptive strike, is only intensified by her experience in Elysia, where she say her dream of mankind (well, one man) coexisting with the Seraphim. Also, the hellion is also in Ladylake, though apparently not to kill Alisha, only to observe.

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The rest of the episode takes place within the confines of a kind of great temple to the sacred blade, which is stuck in a rock smack dab in the center. No pun intended, the relatively close quarters prove a double-edged sword, compared to the more exciting hellion chase last week or earlier this week on Ladylake’s rooftops.

It’s good that things are so compressed in this one room, because it ups the tension. There’s also the sense that the assassin hired by frustrated warmonger Lord Bartlow is closing in and tightening the noose on Alisha.

Of course, there’s no mistaking Komatsu Mikako’s wonderful voice, so it was clear the moment the female assassin started talking that she was Rose, the girl Sorey met. The episode isn’t coy about this, also showing her piercing blue eyes a small glimpse of her rosy hair under the helmet.

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Sorey and Mikleo learn that the Lady of the Lake is a Seraphim who dwells right beside the sacred blade, though no one can see her but them. After Alisha delivers a speech that goes over with the crowd about as well as Ted Cruz’s at the RNC last week, the Malevalence coalesces into a giant hellion in dragon form, at about the same time Rose attacks Alisha.

Suddenly the vast interior of the temple feels like a suffocating braizer in which Alisha is fighting for her live against a very skilled opponent (who uses a very different style than a knight would) and a boss none of the people can fully see causing a right ol’ ruckus.

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Of course, we know what has to happen here: Sorey must take grasp the sacred blade, form a contract with the lady (named Lailah), and pull it out of the stone. Sorey becomes Lailah’s vessel, transforming him into a dazzling dandy of a hero to slay the dragon with the blade.

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The dragon is slain, and the assassin withdraws, but Sorey has been warned: being the Shepherd will be an exhausting, alienating, thankless, lonely job. I’m not so sure about that last bit, especially after seeing that ED featuring Sorey hanging out with Alisha, Rose, Mikleo, and the rest of the party he has yet to assemble.

So far, each episode has set out to progress Sorey’s story by a notch, and has so far succeeded. Alisha’s prologue set the stage. Then Sorey and Mikleo met Alisha. Then Alisha invited Sorey to Ladylake, where he met Lailah and became the Shepherd.

It’s a brisk, efficient pace that manages not to feel too hurried or contrived. The addition of Komatsu Mikako to an already strong voice cast is always welcome. And, as expected, ufotable’s visuals and music continue to be beyond reproach.

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Taimadou Gakuen 35 Shiken Shoutai – 02

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TG35 tables its fanservice and harem elements this week, instead focusing on the more serious matter of Kusanagi continuing his quest to make Ootori accept him as a captain and a comrade, a decision I felt made for a better episode than the first.

When Ootori affirms her unwillingness to allow being lumped in with the Small Fry Platoon, Suginami reveals her nickname of “calamity” in Inquisition, where she was a revenge-driven loose cannon – accusations she won’t deny.

Eager to make his unit better and not willing to sit back and let Ootori continue to fight alone, he keeps trying to convince her, but his efforts are interrupted by the summoning of a hero or “einhenjar” tasked with assaulting the academy. In confronting and battling that einhenjar, Kusanagi eventually backs into the very means to help shoulder Ootori’s burdens by contracting with a “relic eater”, Lapis Lazuli.

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But first, Ootori runs off and tries to take on the einhenjar (Arthur Pendragon, armed with a railgun Excalibur) all by herself, questioning what good she is if she can’t handle such a “puny threat” on her own.

When conventional attacks fail, she summons her own relic hunter, Vlad, in the form of two pistols, but she only has a provisional contract with him, and Vlad’s need to take her blood to function effectively weakens her more.

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Finally, the director de-summons Vlad, leaving Ootori defenseless against Pendragon. But that action reveals the director’s intention: to give Kusanagi the opportunity to contract with Lapis, a pairing he’s been looking forward to.

Kusanagi comes to Ootori’s aid, backed up by Saionji and Suginami, but his attacks also fail. At the same time, Ootori realizes it was Kusanagi she beat back in the past; they didn’t meet for the first time last week. I wonder if there’s anything else to that past connection.

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Pendragon then does to Kusanagi what he did to Ootori, and he ends up bleeding out on the ground—until Lapis suddenly appears through the dust cloud (a nice visual), transports him to a different dimension, and takes him through the contracting ceremony, consisting of questions such as “would you abandon what is precious to you” (hell no) and “would you abandon your humanity” (sure) to achieve his goals.

I liked the prompt, no-nonsense introduction of Lapis, as well as her occasional moments of playfulness (bum-ba-da-bum!) amidst her usual ethereal stoicism. She also reminded me of Knight Rider a bit; a sentient piece of technology-as-companion. Also notable: no boob-grabbing or nudity silliness with Lapis, and her outfit, while cool-looking, is also pretty modest. Refreshing!

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There’s the sense Kusanagi isn’t quite sure what’s going on, but Lapis helpfully informs him the contract is complete and she is now his. And what she is is an unbreakable sword and suit of armor which are just the two things someone with his sword skills needs to not only fight witches effectively, but also in order to convince Ootori he can be relied upon, despite his normally unreliable aura.

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With Pendragon easily dispatched,  Kusanagi joins Ootori against a tree trunk, saying he won’t presume to lecture her about revenge, but earnestly asks her to at least let him share half of her burden, as her comrade and her friend.

Ootori, having been saved from certain death, is hardly in a position to protest further, and in any event, once Kusanagi passes out on her lap, she privately confesses to not really minding the feeling of having someone wanting to, and being allowed, to share her burden. If her fight with Pendragon taught her anything, it’s that she won’t get far alone.

As for the sixth main character, the witch Nikaidou Mari, she seems to be in reluctant cahoots with the murderous necromancer who summoned Pendragon, but passes out before Inquisition arrests her. I imagine she’s on a course that’ll eventually lead her to Kusanagi and the 35th.

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Sword Art Online II – 15

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With the BoB behind us and a week removed from a recap, I was eager to get back to Sword Art Online, and maybe get some more scenes in the real world between Kazuto and Shino. Alas, Sugu tells Kirito that someone’s after the Holy Sword Excalibur, and he’s back off into MMOLand.

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Sinon unfortunately just becomes one of the gals, with cat ears and a tail that’s seemingly specifically there for Kirito to pull in jest. Kirito and Sugu gather Asuna, Yui, Klein, Lisbeth, and Silica to complete their rather large and ungainly party of eight. I can’t say I care all that much about Klein, Lisbeth, or Silica; but they’re here, and I suppose they’ll have a unique use as this arc progresses.

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The characters descend into the frozen wastes of Jotenheimr, which is below Alfheim but above Niflheim. There, Sugu summons her friend she rescued from baddies: a very cool-looking eight-winged elephant-octopus thing she named Tonkii that kind of freaks everyone else out a little but proves helpful.

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Once the party boards him, they fly through the skies of Jotenheimer until “Urd, Queen of the Lake” appears to deliver quite a bit of exposition about the arc to come. She and her two sisters are of the Hill Giants, who were subjugated by the Frost GIants led by King Thrym of Niflheim who ascended to Jotenheimer and disconnected the roots of Yggdrasil, turning the verdant paradise into the arctic wastes we see.

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He did that with Excalibur, which means if Kirito & Co. can retrieve it, the frozen castle Thrymheim that is lodged in the rock ceiling will descend and return Jotenheimer to its previous state. Since he wanted to grab Excalibur anyway, Kirito and Urd’s goals match. I’m not sure what to make of this all yet, but the striking visuals of the new landscape were marred by the sudden gaggle of old and not entirely compelling characters.

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Jormungand – 19

Koko’s team is on a delivery convoy in Iraq, and Wilee regales everyone with the story of how he first joined up with Lehm in 1991, helping Delta forces blow up a chemical weapons factory. When their Excalibur escorts get restless and destroy a passing car, Koko fires them on the spot. They show up later and launch a pincer attack, but Wilee, Koko & Co. are more than ready, and Wilee turns their IEDs and human bombs against them, as is his specialty.

This season we’ve seen more sides of Koko and her usually-merry band of misfit heavies. This steady, efficient, self-encapsulated episode is more reminiscent of the first season, when her team was a nigh-invincible, unflappable force of nature that You Do Not Fuck With Or Else; an episode constantly abuzz with bawdy chatter and hardy guffaws. Sure, they’re in Iraq, the land of ambushes and IEDs, but it’s really no sweat after all this group’s been through. Heck, many of them have already been here: enter Wilee.

Wilee is Wile E. Coyote if he was a human – obsessed with using explosives to achieve his goals. Only they never blow up in his face, and instead of road runners, he blows up other, less wily bombers. He’s a demolition expert’s demolition expert, scarily good at his job. We like the extra history and spice given to his story. All his character’s been in the past is “the bomb guy” and “Jonah’s math teacher” so this episode wasn’t just a means of the whole team kicking back, but a way to let his talents shine when the road gets bumpy.


Rating: 6 (Good)


Car Cameos:
HCLI travels across Iraq with their usual convoy of Scania R-Series trucks. The rowdy security team rides in Ford F-Series crew cabs and a Renault Koleos. The car they blow up is a Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Nazar has a motorcade of Mercedes-Benz GL-Class SUVs.