TenSura – 23 (Fin*) – Problems Solved

Rimuru and the five students enter the Dwelling of Spirits and…pretty much absolutely everything goes swimmingly! Seriously, one by one Rimuru either creates a superior spirit from hundreds of inferior ones with the Great Sage’s help, or in the case of Kenya and Chloe, a spirit is summoned by the kids themselves.

Bottom line, with superior spirits within them, the immense magical power is now under control, and will no longer send them to early graves. Mission Accomplished! The only problem is, there’s a lot more runtime to the episode after that, but it’s clear that’s all the story TenSura cares to tell, so the remaining ten minutes or so basically runs out the clock.

We get montages of How Far We’ve Come, followed by a number of Long, Tearful Goodbyes, as well as hints of Challenges to Come Next Season. As fantasy/Isekai anime go, TenSura almost always kept things light, breezy, and above all nice and easy for Rimuru.

I don’t see a second season messing with that formula too much, but rather expanding Rimuru’s powers, understanding of his world, and of course, introducing a smorgasbord of new characters who will then interact with his already vast crew. The MAL score of 8.36 is definitely overzealous in my book, but colorful, upbeat, and full of charm and good humor: that’s been TenSura through most of its run, and it should continue to be so in the future.

*An “Extra” episode will air next week.

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TenSura – 22 – The Extra Fairy

Rimuru, Ranga, and the kids head deep into the green and lovely Ulg Nature Park, and enter a palace-sized tree hoping to find the Queen of Spirits. They find themselves in a sneaky labyrinth that appears to be a straight path, but Rimuru requires his mental map in order to properly navigate through it.

They all hear a voice in their heads that must be some kind of telepathy, and before you know it they’re in a new chamber, which looks curiously like an arena.

Rimuru’s challenger appears: a magisteel golem controlled remotely by one of the labyrinth’s spirits. He easily defeats it with thread fetters and a flare, and its controller (and the voice in their heads) reveals herself as the fairy—and Demon Lord—Ramiris.

Voiced with great energy by Haruno Anzu, Ramiris is a delightful trip and a half, somehow even more hyperactive than Milim, and with a lot more voices. I found myself reveling in her many changes in mood and tone, as well as Rimuru’s growing impatience and incredulousness.

She’s also heard of Rimuru Tempest, leader of Jura…and slime. It’s the first time the kids learn Rimuru is actually a slime, and they’re suitably impressed and delighted. When Rimuru gives Ramiris some cookies as a peace offering, and tells her why they’ve come, she reveals that she’s the Queen of Spirits, who “fell from grace” into a Demon Lord, like Leon, who summoned both Ifrit and Shizu.

I enjoyed the gradual transition of Ramiris from obnoxious pest into someone to be admired (she completed the magisoldier Vesta’s team couldn’t…all by herself) and even venerated (she’s able to bestow divine protection). She empathizes with the kids’ plight, and shows them the path to the Dwelling of the Spirits.

Even if they can’t summon any interested superior spirits, they can always make new ones there. As for Rimuru, he’s proud he’s finally well on his way to fulfilling Shizu’s dream to free her students from premature demise.

Berserk – 01 (First Impressions)

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“Guts, known as the Black Swordsman, seeks sanctuary from the demonic forces that pursue him and his woman, and also vengeance against the man who branded him as an unholy sacrifice. Aided only by his titanic strength, skill, and sword, Guts must struggle against his bleak destiny, all the while fighting with a rage that might strip him of his humanity. Berserk is a dark and brooding story of outrageous swordplay and ominous fate, in the theme of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.” —MAL

Full disclosure: I’ve never read the manga this is based on, so I came in knowing nothing. I also haven’t read Macbeth since junior high, so all I remember is that there’s a manipulative Lady in it. So forgive my ignorance and read on to learn a fresh perspective on Berserk unblemished by prior consumption of the material (at least that I remember).

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Berserk definitely has its draws: a lush yet grim fantasy world full of violence both human-and-human and demon-on-human; an overpowered cursed antihero with a bad attitude and even worse effect on the lives of the innocent; decent voice acting and a great soundtrack. Some  strong elements of horror (body and otherwise), blood, and gore, though all tastefully censored.

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Those pros were not able to overcome the cons for me, at least in the first episode. The cons are pretty big: the CGI animation of characters is distractingly weird. If you know my work you know I reviewed (and loved) two seasons of Sidonia, but for some reason this style works far better in a futuristic sci-fi milieu for me.

It took me a couple of episodes to get used to Sidonia (and I never got far with Ronja), but I’m less optimistic about Berserk. It’s not so much the uncanny valley effect as the inescapable feeling that these are wooden CGI armatures moving around very awkwardly mechanically.

That suits the frenetic combat at times, but any natural movements, including mouth movements and expressions, suffer greatly, marring the overall viewing experience.

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This comes down to a question of style: Berserk’s producers for whatever reason decided not to use conventional animation, and frankly, that could well be a dealbreaker. Even if not, the naked annoying motormouth Puck would be (sorry, Puck fans out there).

I can’t immerse myself in a world that announces its “fakeness” so transparently, in a manner most anime manage to avoid. Some say more and more full CG will be the future of anime, but with some notable exceptions, I hope that’s not the case.

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The Secret of Kells

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Thursday night is movie night in my neck of the woods, and sometimes we want something short and sweet rather than a three-hour action blockbuster. That’s when a friend happened upon the Oscar-nominated The Secret of Kells. As it was his week to choose, we went with it, and I’m glad we did. It’s only 75 minutes long, but it makes full use of that runtime to create and achingly gorgeous world where danger is always lurks but hope endures thanks to the titular book.

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We follow Brendan, a redheaded young monk under the care of his uncle, the stern, stoic Abbot Cellach (voiced by veteran Irish actor Brendan Gleeson), whose Isengard-like Abbey is ringed by the tents of refugees escaping the scourge of the horn-tipped, beast-like “Northmen” (read: Vikings). A thick high wall surrounds the abbey and its grounds, but that wall looks like Swiss cheese, and some aren’t even sure it would keep the barbarians out even if it was completed, which is the Abbot’s one and only concern.

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Because he only wants the wall completed before the Northmen arrive, he is frustrated whenever Brendan is doing anything other than contributing to that goal, like asking the other monks about the Book of Iona, then getting into the practice of making ink and drawing his own pages with brother Aidan. This is a really neat reference to the fact that in the darker ages of civilization in Europe (and likely elsewhere), it was the monks who preserved the history that had come before in the form of elaborately bound and illustrated books, which you can still see in museums and even open up and read in old libraries.

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This surprisingly ambitious little movie is just as lush and imaginative as much of that almost impossibly intricate real-world work; rich in color and texture. Every character has its own distinct look and manner of movement, be it jerky or smooth; lightning-quick or molasses-slow. The film also features one of the best fictional cat’s I’ve seen in a while: Pangur Ban. All characters and animals are full of expressiveness and verve. My favorite of these was the mystical fairy-wolf-girl Aisling, whom Brendan meets when looking for seeds to make ink.

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Aisling is kind of a perfect storm of cuteness (in both appearance and voice) and utter badassdom, who saves Brendan’s life (more than once) and befriends him because, well, why not? Brendan’s nice to her, and also clearly enchanted. When Brendan ends up imprisoned in a tower for disobeying the Abbot Cellach, she breaks him out by singing a hauntingly beautiful song to the cat, transforming it into an ethereal specter that can pass through bars and spring him. The jist of the Irish lyrics:

There is nothing in this life but mist,
And we are not alive,
but for a little short spell.

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When the Northmen arrive at Kells it’s an almost instant rout, and the Abbot immediately regrets such a short-sighted strategy for the abbey’s defense. It’s sad to see the beautiful environs of Brendan’s home go up in smoke and flame, but not all is lost. Years pass, during which he completes the Book of Iona with Aidan, renaming it the Book of Kells, which is a real and very revered thing, incidently.

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After Aidan passes away, Brendan arrives back in the woods outside his home, where the wolf-Aisiling leads him to the abbey. Just as Abbot Cellach is about to lose hope, his nephew arrives and shows him the great book, providing him comfort in his waning days. At once a gorgeous and inventive story steeped in stirring Celtic mythology and a moving coming-of-age tale in which a sheltered boy expands his world and finds his calling, The Secret of Kells is a must-watch for any fan of animation.

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