Rokka no Yuusha – 04

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Introductions between Fremy and Tania/Goldof are tense because Goldof has it on good authority that Fremy is in fact the Brave-Killer…an accusation she doesn’t even bother refuting. Yet Adlet still shields her from Tania’s blades. Why? Because whatever she did in the past, she’s one of the Six Braves now, by the will of the Goddess, and The Strongest Man in the World isn’t going to let them fight among themselves.

Tania stands down, because she trusts Adlet, not Fremy. Fremy tells her she’s a naive girl and doesn’t so much as thank Adlet for saving her, but the group of four is off to meet the remaining two.

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As soon as they’re in the dense forest, a fleet of aerial fiends begins bombing it, while land-based fiends swarm and surround them. Here, for the first time, we see what kind of badassery four Braves are capable of, especially since one of those four, Adlet, is able to continue on to the temple, since three Braves are enough to hold off the horde: Tania and Fremy from long-range; Goldof the close-range brawler.

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Adlet finds the beautiful yet foreboding temple (looking like the entrance to many an FF dungeon) and meets an injured priestess only to watch her transform into a fiend (which promptly, confusingly runs away). Rather than pursue, Adlet enters the temple, shocked to find the phantasmal barrier already active, and even when the others arrive unharmed, they’re unable to shut it down. Adlet tries using his blood, while Tania flails about in a panic, to the point I though for a moment she was hallucinating.

Then, it all becomes clear: the barrier is active because it was activated by the remaining Braves. First, they meet Chamo Rosso, a small, child-like girl in green whom Adlet acknowledges as the “claimed” strongest person in the world; a claim he obviously disputes.

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Chamo immediately wishes to kill Fremy, who must’ve gotten the same memo as Goldof, and we learn for certain why when not one but two more Braves grace their presence—Mora Chester and Hans Humpty (dumb name)—for a total of seven. Since there was never any instance in all of history of their being any less or more than six Braves, everyone concludes that there’s an impostor in their midst.

Assuming they’re right, who could it be? Have we already been privy to previously unnoticed clues? At this point Fremy seems too obvious. Hans, who seems a bit more sinister than the others, also seems too obvious. I wouldn’t have cast any suspicion whatsoever on Nashetania, were it not for a heavily Tania-centric ending sequence (complete with an awesome ending theme). As for Adlet, well, we witnessed him become a Brave. Hell, maybe there are just supposed to be seven this time around…

While the action and adventure were definitely here, there was something mechanical and underwhelming about the reveal of the other three Braves. They just kinda…show up, all at once, with little fanfare or showmanship. I suppose I’ve been hanging around the showboating Adlet and stylish Tania too long. I’m also loath to watch the group continue bickering when there’s a Demon God to defeat. Finally, the character animation looked rougher and sloppier than usual at points, possibly in order to accommodate the CGI fiends.

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DanMachi – 01 (First Impressions)

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My Spring 2015 opens with the charming Dungeon ni Deai wo Motomeru no wa Machigatteiru Darou ka, which almost immediately reminded me of Hitsugi no Chaika in a good way. The cold open is quick and efficient, setting up the god-and-mortal cooperation setup along with a battle in which the serious Saber-like girl (Ais) saves the somewhat Vaan-like mortal guy (Bell), who falls for her on the spot.

Besides this simple but effective reversal of the classic rescuing knight trope, one little detail I liked was how a outdoor merchant reacted to Bell running past, spattering minotaur blood on his stall. He doesn’t yell like I expected; instead, he holds back an amused teehee. This isn’t that a harsh world, and Bell is a bit of a lovable buffoon who bit off more than he could chew.

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Bell lives with his appropriately-named goddess Hestia (virgin goddess of the hearth and home), who is perhaps not so appropriately dressed, but I’ll give her medieval clubbing outfit a pass since she’s a goddess. Hestia is all Bell has, and he’s all she has, but he wants more, and while he’s growing bigger and stronger, she is unchanging in her goddessness.

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I’d say Hestia had a brother complex were it not for the fact Bell isn’t her real brother, but their relationship is very much familial rather than romantic, and while he happens to notice her not unsubstantial bust when he wakes up to her spooning him, it’s clear she’s the underdog against Ais, his new object of affection.

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Bell and Ais only meet face to face in that cold open, but she shows up again in a tavern where Bell is weaseled into buying a ridiculously expensive meal by Syr, one of its servers. There, he and everyone else watches in awe as the Loki familia to which Ais belongs swagger in to celebrate. One of its members has a big mouth and wants to put “tomato boy” Bell (whom he doesn’t know is sitting in there listening) in his place.

In his drunken mocking rant, this guy Bete rather conveniently lays bare all of Bell’s insecurities, namely the patriarchal drive to gain a lady’s favor and become worthy of her by protecting her. He’s also driven by the words of his late grandpa: a dungeon is the best place to meet and prove oneself to the fairer sex, which is an only slightly modernized take on a tale as old as time.

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Bell is clearly not strong enough yet to protect Ais, but simply crossing paths with her seemed to start him on a new and accelerated path of improvement. But when he runs out, unable to hear anymore harsh lip from Bete, I got the feeling that perhaps Bell won’t have to surpass Ais so much as catch up to her, that they might fight side-by-side, rather than one or the other being the hapless benefactor of the others’ strength. Bell certainly hasn’t captured her heart, but he has her attention.

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Bell’s sudden spurt in strength and ability is also something that worries Hestia, because it could mean he’ll drift further and further from her as he draws closer to Ais. But we see just how far Bell has to go when the overzealous brother figure returns home half-unconscious in the morning, utterly dependent on her care.

DanMachi has a hearty helping of J.C. Staff fanservice, and Bell seems to have “lucky dull guy syndrome”, but the first episode does a decent job easing us into its world of gods, magic, and Western names. The show is easy on the eyes and neither hits us with a barrage of terminology nor skimps on the fantasy charm. Overall, a promising start. I’m interested in how Bell gets closer to Ais, and how that’ll effect the nice thing he already has with Hestia.

7_mag

Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – 09

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Things are a little more focused this week (though there was no way it was going to be as jumbled as last week’s), as we finally build up to the great culmination of all of Arthur Gaz’s designs: his resurrection by Black Chaika, using the parts collected by the others.

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It’s a scene the show’s been building towards for two seasons. So why did it feel a little…flat? Why was I only half-invested in all of this? ‘Chaika Fatigue’, perhaps. Also, Penultimate Episode Syndrome, where the second-to-last episode is either better or worse than the last. As our heroes mostly stand around and gawk at the mustache-twirling bad guys as the shit hits the fan, it seems like the latter.

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That’s not to say this episode was a failure on all counts. For one thing, it succeeded greatly in destroying pretty much all hope of White Chaika performing a funeral for her father, and not just because he’s not her father and he’s no longer dead. There’s also something so very wrong about Black Chaika birthing the reincarnation of her father beneath her skirts while making moaning and wailing in apparent…arousal.

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Final Fantasy-style final chapter cutscenes are notorious for the rambling speeches and grotesque transformations of the Big Bad(s) as the good guys stew in the corner with clenched fists. In that regard, this episode succeeds admirably. Before you start fighting the final boss, the game wants to make sure you hate him as much as possible, but also learn his twisted worldview. And the simple reveal of Young Gaz — who looks a lot like Guy, not accidentally — had an understated awe about it.

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Speaking of awe, Neo-Gaz wastes no time killing Hartgen (with a casual but lethal one-word incantation — “Pierce”). Harty was just a pawn, after all, whose power, clout, and charisma were used to gather both the Chaikas and the masses of bloodthirsty warriors. War only appeals to Gaz in that it is the state of civilization that nets him the most powerful emotions and memories which make the magic he feasts upon. He’s less a megalomaniac and more a force of nature at this point: an all-consuming storm.

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And Chaika? Not only was she never his daughter (he has none), but “Chaika” is merely the term for the magical technique he used to resurrect himself. Pawn, tool, technique, doormat — however Chaika wishes to call it, as far as Gaz is concerned her task is complete.

After destroying the flying fortress Red Herring with his personal Gundo Niva Lada, he uses her to activate a heretofore dormant fortress in orbit. Space Fortress. Now we’re talking. Where the heck to the good guys go from here? I don’t know, but the fact Gaz and his underlings are too arrogant to bother killing them all immediately proves they have a chance.

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Hitsugi no Chaika – 05

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I like how the show has been spending a little time with the chummy members of the Gillette Corps to show that they’re not villains, nor does their leader really see his target as villains to be defeated. Alberic even envies Toru’s group a bit, for moving forward along a sure path, something he can’t yet see for himself.

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What he shouldn’t envy about the Acura siblings is their responsibility to watch Chaika like a hawk, lest she get snatched up by low-level thugs. Though after making a brief appearance as a dragon and then a cat, Fredrika bows out for most of the episode. No sooner is she absent than the others must cross an abandoned city and get ambushed.

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It isn’t Gillette that ambushes them, but the Bizarro version of their trio. The two trios end up abducting each other’s Chaikas. They’re remarkably similar, though not identical; Chaika Bogdan is older (and shapelier), and she dons another very cool-looking piece of fantasy RPGarb. I also enjoyed the two groups’ respective “torture” sessions, consisting of mostly harmless teasing.

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Here’s the rub: their goals aren’t entirely identical either. While Trabant the White wants simply to give her pops a proper burial and be on her way, Bogdan the Red seeks revenge against all who wronged him. We’re talking a lot of vengeance murders, but both the look in her eye and the nifty snake sword in her hand (a slenderer version of Renji Abarai’s Zabimaru) suggest she’s committed to this goal.

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She also insists Trabant is a fake, but as Tooru says, they could both be fake. Or real. Maybe the emperor made a whole batch of clone twins and scattered them around the world, all implanted with the same goal to avenge him should he fall, or even bring him back to life, which is well within the realm of possibility. In any case, the plot is building to a lovely velvety thickness.

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Hitsugi no Chaika – 04

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A fourth member unexpectedly joins the group at the end of this episode, but before the trio becomes a quartet, they’re saved by Dominica Scola, who invites them to her manor, and everything there is a bit…off. First of all, the place is run down and deserted, save a cat, and completely filled with statues and paintings of Scoda.

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When Tooru executes Plan A—simply asking for Goz’s remains—it’s no surprise the warrior ruler refuses; judging from the state of her existence, she’s longed for a good fight for some time. But I like how he’ll do this each time: after all, the goal isn’t to get into fights, but to fulfill the wishes of the master, i.e. Chaika.

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The twist is that the ruler they meant to take the remains from died herself years ago, having fulfilled her purpose: defeating Goz wih the other seven. That left her dragoon alone and without a purpose, or rather to find a new purpose. It’s the dragoon they fight, not Dominica, and she can take many forms, from her master to a metal dragon to a cat to what must be her “default” form, a girl called Fredrika.

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Having a defined purpose in life is a recurring theme here, with Chaika’s purpose seemingly to gather her father’s remains. By hiring Tooru, she gave him a fresh purpose suited to his nature. Interestingly, Akari, who seems to hold a legitimate flame for him, wasn’t able to do this, but could only stand by as he “rotted on the vine” while she adapted to a quiet domestic life.

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By allowing (or at least tolerating) Fredrika to accompany them, they’re gaining a powerful temporary ally, and she’s gaining a new purpose: to follow Tooru and eventually kill him, presumably for his transgressions. As for us, we get to hear Saito Chiwa show off her vocal range.

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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.

8_mag

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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Maoyuu Maou Yuusha – 01

Fifteen years into a brutal war between the human and demon worlds, a Hero (Yuusha) and four companions set out to fight for glory. The hero eventually leaves the others behind and races to the castle of the Demon King (Maou) to slay him. The “King” turns out to be a beautiful woman, who tells him slaying her won’t end the war. She convinces him exchange ownership of one another and join forces with her to find the right way to end the war and bring peace to both worlds.

We love anime with a Final Fantasy-like epic vibe to them, and this series truly delivers, and then some. FF can be a bit stodgy, taking itself too seriously for its own good. That’s not the case here, as there’s a nice balance of the serious thematic elements of a huge war, while also finding time for tongue-and-cheek moments. Some are sophomoric (such as Maou’s boobs and fantasies), others are more clever (her horns are just a removable accessory). The entire situation is a bit absurd, and the series itself is aware of this, but it’s not too winky, either. This is also a departure in the typical FF story in that in FF Maou may well be the Big Bad or Final Sorceress Boss the hero builds up to.

Here, Yuusha marches right into the final dungeon and points the sword at her. Every fiber in his uncomplicated Hero being is telling him the only right and proper thing to do is slay her and the war will end and everyone will be happy. Maou represents a more realistic, modern mind who knows things won’t be that simple. Too much of humanity depends on the war for survival to end it carelessly, and yet the suffering the war is causing cannot be allowed to continue if Yuusha and Maou are to claim victory. Yuusha’s initial quest has ended and his duty and purpose usurped. Now he allies himself with his former archenemy and are about to embark on an entirely different quest that will challenge everything he once knew about the world.

We look forward to watching the ensuing adventures, as adeptly directed by Spice & Wolf chief Takahashi Takeo, who reunites the lovely Koshimizu Ami and steady Fukuyama Jun. It was a very gorgeous, fun, and enticing start.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

New Final Fantasy VII Anime to be produced by SHAFT, directed by Shinbo; Q4 release to coincide with FFVII PS3 reboot

Many anime fans will remember in 2005 Square Enix teamed up with Madhouse to create the prequel OVA Last Order: Final Fantasy VII. That was a decent effort; a solid 3 if not a bit higher in our rating system. We were left wishing that the FFVII story got a 13 or, even better, 26 episode run. I mean, the story is already there, all it needed was full expression in anime form, with maybe a few embellishments here or there, and obviously upgrades to the visual effects of the epic 1997 PSOne game.

Well, those who wished for an anime will be delighted to hear that Square Enix, SHAFT, and Akiyuki Shinbo will be teaming up to create an all-new, 26-episode run titled simply “Final Fantasy VII”. To be precise, only those who enjoy Shinbo and SHAFT anime will be delighted by this news.

Still, Shinbo insists he will be careful to meld the popular FFVII story with his own unique style, adding more humanity to the characters than the game offered, and carefully selecting the best voice talent for the crucial characters of Cloud, Tifa, Barret, Vincent, Aerith, Sephiroth, etc.

Shinbo has also indicated he will try to add more levity humor to the overall very dark story, drawing from Zetsubou-Sensei for inspiration. The series is due out for the Fall 2011 season, close to the Q4 release of the long-awaited Final Fantasy VII reboot for PS3. RABUJOI will stay on top of this story as further developments are revealed. Until then, get ready for a FFVII renaissance. We hope it’s everything we’ve hoped for! April Fools desu.