Re: Zero – 33 – The Witch of Greed

Otto and Ram are ready to get Subaru the out of the Sanctuary, but he’s not ready to run quite yet. He meets with Roswaal for some straight answers, and actually gets them, though who knows he can trust the guy. Roswall assures Subie that Beatrice is not a witch cultist, and that the “gospel” she spoke of is the Gospel: one of only two Tomes of Wisdom in existence, not a Witch’s Gospel.

When asked how he can get Beako to help him, Ros says the same thing Ram told him earlier: “Roswaal said to ask the question”, and once that question is asked, answer in the affirmative. Bound by a contract, she will then ally with him. Subie’s last question is whether Roswall is really an ally, to which he says he’s an ally to “all of you”. Hmm…we’ll see!

While Subaru no doubt gained crucial information with which to move forward, he also tanked any chances of this loop being salvaged. That’s because he took so much time with Roswaal that Garfiel tracks them down and orders Subie back into confinement.

When he refuses, Otto and Ram cover his escape on Patrasche, and the townsfolk of Arlam light the path out with lanterns. Alas, Garfiel makes a full beast transformation into a half-Tiger, half-Behemoth, and kills Otto and several villagers. Patrasche finally grabs Subie and throws him at the barrier and the blue crystal glows…

Subaru wakes up in the dungeon, but the door is unlocked. He finds that snow has fallen, so my first through was something happened with Puck. But no one is around, and I mean no one: no Garfiel, Ram, Roswaal, Emilia, or villagers to be found. It’s like everyone suddenly up and left.

So Subaru leaves too, out into the snow without a coat or anything to defend himself. The landscape is so serene, you just knew something horrible was about to befall our young protagonist…I just didn’t know just how horrible it would be. Getting slowly torn apart and devoured by thousands of white demon rabbits? Pretty bad!

Cue that iconic choral stab that indicates Return by Death, and Subaru is right back in the ruin beside Emilia, who notably doesn’t seem to be having as fitful a sleep as we’ve seen in other returns. Frustrated, Subaru smacks his forehead against the stone floor until it bleeds, and Echidna’s voice declares he’s once again “earned the qualification” to join her tea party in Bliss.

Thanks to the Sloth Witch Factor-affecting tea he drank last time, Subaru is once again able to keep his shit together in Echidna’s presence. Subaru makes an appeal to Echidna: next time he leaves this place, he doesn’t want to forget her. He draws so close and is so emphatic, Echidna can’t help but betray her bashful side, and is inclined to acquiesce to his request.

That’s when it dawns on Subaru: this tea party must be happening right after her last one. That she doesn’t consider this strange in the slightest means she knows why and how he’s back a second time. When she asks him to clearly state what that “how” is, he’s understandably weary, considering what’s happened to him every time he’s tried to explain it to others.

But this time, in this place, and to Echidna, Witch of Greed, he’s able to literally shout it from the hilltops: he’s been returning by death. Shocked beyond reason that he was able to finally say it out loud, he repeats it again and again, still waiting for the claw-like hand to clutch his heart and squeeze—but it doesn’t happen. At long last, Subaru is able to tell someone what’s really happening to him.

This is because the Witch of Greed wants to know everything in this world. But while she’s known about Return by Death and has been watching him this whole time, there’s yet more she wants to learn from him, like how he felt while going through all the trials he’s endured and burdens he’s carried. Well, she may want to get comfortable and brew more tea—with or without “fluids”—this could take a while!

Re: Zero – 32 – All of It Was Written

When Beatrice grants Subaru access to her library and starts to heal him, he panics, just as I would if I realized I’d just overwritten a saved game at a crucial point. Considering all the crap things that happened in this loop, Subaru can’t let this point of time become a save point.

Beyond stopping Subaru from stabbing himself with a broken piece of her tea set, Beatrice either can’t or won’t help much, aside from telling Subaru that everything she’s said and done has been in accordance with the “Gospel” and for the sake of “mother”—presumably Satella, the Witch of Envy, but who knows?

While I’m skeptical Beako doesn’t care at all about Subie or anyone else, the two are unable to make any further progress as Elsa enters and disembowels Subie. He’s clearly hugely relieved to Return by Death back in the ruin, shaking off the last attempt and comforting Emilia.

Emilia’s beautiful dreamy piano leitmotif plays, as if to indicate the mood has re-lightened and there’s optimism in the atmosphere. Otto, who is unaware this is now Subie’s third time, finds his calm both concerning and comforting.

Before Subaru can meet with Roswaal (again) and this time try to get more about Beatrice out of him, he is brought to a quiet field by Garfiel so Ryuzu can speak to him. It’s productive in that he learns that because Frederica is Garfiel’s half-sister and was born to a human mother, she can pass back and forth through the sanctuary at will.

Meanwhile, Subaru is determined to find a way to liberate the Sanctuary without Emilia having to go through the trial. He considers it nothing more than his own selfish wish; Emilia may have to face her past one day, but it doesn’t have to be here and now.

To that end,Subie announces to Ryuzu and Garfiel his intention to undergo the trial in Emilia’s stead. Once he says this, Ryuzu has Garfiel restrain him and then knock him out. When he comes to, he’s tied up and gagged in a stone cell. Why, do you ask? Because as soon as he came out of the ruins he reeked of miasma—what he calls the “witch’s scent”—which means Ryuzu and Garfiel can’t trust him.

This is an interesting complication. The miasma could be an innocent by-product of Subaru’s respawning process to which Ryuzu and Garfiel are simply overreacting. But either we nor Subie himself can rule out the possibility he is an unwitting cog in a much more elaborate machine: doing things for the Witch while under the impression he’s doing them just for himself or others.

Could his will already be written, as Beatrice claims hers to be? Whatever the case, Ryuzu and Garfiel keep him under lock and key and he wallows in darkness and damp for three days. Garfiel, thinking Otto as a merchant first and foremost, dangles a valuable-looking glowing stone at him as payment in exchange for his silence (Otto was the last to see Subie with Garfiel).

Garfiel’s flaw in keeping Subaru restrained, as well as Subaru’s deliverance, lies in the many meaningful relationships great and small he’s built with others. In this case, he is served by Otto choosing his friendship with Subie over a trinket he’s not even sure Gar will give to him.

Otto reports what’s happened since Subie was captured: after a fruitless search for him, Roswaal instructs Emilia to keep attempting the trial, which she’s done the last two days without success. He then details how he’s been in hiding collecting information ever since Gar attempted to make a deal with him.

At first Subaru doesn’t realize why Otto rescued him—and even mishears the word “friend” as “Eugene”! For all the people stonewalling him and making his internal organs external, he still has friends like Otto to help him in his time of need. While not as deep or profound as Emilia or Rem, his bond with Otto, and the things they’ve gone through, are still significant.

It’s a good thing too, because were it not for Otto Subaru would still be rotting in that cell for as long as Ryuzu and Gar want him there—say, until the barrier falls (if that can even happen without Subie). Otto leads Subie out of the dungeon and to a “very reliable helper” he’s lined up: Ram, who is just wonderfully smug and cool as she declares even if she had to wait for them so long she’d become a old granny, she’d be a cute old granny. Damn straight!

This episode ends with Subaru on an encouraging upswing, with ample time to reach the mansion and armed with a bit more intel. But many concerning looming questions remain. How exactly will he be able to keep everyone in the mansion from an Elsa-slashing? What exactly is Beako’s deal? Are all of Subie’s actions following a sinister predetermined path without him even knowing it? Is he just another Witch’s tool, kept in line by the mere illusion of free will?

Re: Zero – 31 – Not Unfolding as Specified

You didn’t think he’d set things right in one try, did you? That isn’t the Re:Zero’s style. Subaru and his friends will have to suffer and die a lot more until this latest puzzle is solved. Things will get much worse before they get better. Let’s just say I’m glad I have CCS to balance the “ani-negativity”!

Subaru returns to the tomb where he’d just completed the first trial, and finds a shuddering Emilia in over her head. When he later tells everyone he passed the first trial, there are two more, and he can do it in Lia’s stead, nobody, especially Lia, is okay with that plan.

Roswaal, whom everyone there but him serves, wants Emilia to liberate the sanctuary, no doubt as a necessary test that she’s worthy of the throne, but perhaps for other reasons as well. Subaru understands, and meanwhile there’s still the possibility Frederica is up to something.

He decides to head to the manor so he arrives two days earlier than last time, hoping to head Elsa off. Ram grudgingly accompanies him, and is as dry and withering in her disapproval of Barusu as you’d expect when they set off on Patrasche.

Still, Subaru notices something “off” with Ram, and oddly enough, when he made an offhand joke about throwing her as a decoy, she too is surprised how much it bothered her; as if it was something that actually happened.

In truth, it did happen, but in a previous loop but Ram can’t remember clearly, perhaps due to losing all memories of Rem. Speaking of which, Subie decides to tell Ram everything he can about her lost twin sister before they reach the manor.

The two are greeted by Petra, who is too cute for Subie to resist hugging, while Ram is pleased with her manner. Subie gives Ram some time alone with the sleeping Rem and speaks to Frederica, who is pleasant and polite as always, even when Subie starts questioning her.

Frederica claims not to know anything about a teleport trap or conservatives who want to keep the sanctuary barrier up, but as Ram notes (and her and Freddie’s back and forth is great), she could not tell them anything even if she wanted to, due to her oath. Subaru will have to use force to break that oath. For her part, Frederica says she won’t resist.

Their exchange is interrupted by the appearance of Elsa, holding her knife at Petra’s throat. Frederica reveals her beast transformation ability, which proves more effective than Ram’s Al Huma El Fula magic. Still, all they manage to do is flee from Elsa briefly, and Subaru is stabbed in the shoulder by a needle-like blade dipped in who-knows-what.

Ram breaks it to Subie that sacrifices will have to be made if some of them are going to survive this. To that end, Frederica uses the blue crystal to fully transform into a stylish blonde lion-like beast (I’m sure she and Kero-chan would get along famously) and leaps back into the manor to stall Elsa.

Despite Ram’s logic, Subaru (and Petra) are determined to save Rem and Beatrice if they can. They’re immediately confronted by a Mabeast, which Ram manages to lure away, leaving just Subaru and Petra. Moments after dressing each others wounds, things get very violent and fuzzy, as we follow events from Subaru’s POV.

When things come back into focus, Subaru is still holding Petra’s hand, but her arm is no longer attached to anything; we then see she’s been crushed by rubble. Subaru runs to Rem’s room, but is once again stopped by Elsa. She talks as though both she and her unnamed client (the Witch’s Cult?) are aware of Return by Death, and that they’d planned for another attempt by Subaru.

Subaru is prepared for Elsa’s killing strike when he’s suddenly thrust through a door, only it doesn’t lead to Rem’s room, but to Beatrice’s library. Beatrice, the one person in that manor with sufficient power to stand against Elsa, even if things didn’t go so smoothly last time she and Subie met.

Only Subie is not happy about being saved. He’s ready to scrap this loop and use Return by Death, not yet willing to accept the sacrifices of Ram, Petra, and Frederica. But as Ram said earlier, he may not have a choice, and is only delaying the inevitable.

Re: Zero – 30 – Partners in Crime

First of all, it’s classic Natsuki Subaru to compliment Echidna on her school uniform! Second, Re:Zero finally deigns to air its opening credits! After they roll, Echidna didn’t really send Subaru back in time; both her uniform, the classroom, and his parents were illusions created from his memories. After some rather half-hearted attempts to trip him up. Subie doesn’t take the bait; he’s now fully faced and accepted his past and is ready to move forward.

Echidna declares he has passed the trial…but it was only the first of three. Subaru stops her right there: Freeing the Sanctuary is Emilia’s job, not his. Unfortunately, when he comes to back in the ruins, Subie finds an unconscious Emilia enduring a terrible nightmare, and she wakes up in an acute state of panic. If she was facing her past, it’s clear she’s having a much tougher time than Subie.

Ram makes sure Emilia is comfortably resting, while Subaru and the others talk barriers. Otto wonders if those who can pass through it can simply carry those who can’t across while they’re unconscious. That idea is shot down by one Ryuzu Bilma, the elfish girl Subaru briefly spotted in the forest, who turns out to be extremely old (a “loli hag” as Subie artfully puts it).

Anyone of mixed blood who crosses the barrier will have their body and soul separated, leaving the formless soul within and a shell of a body without. In other words, the only way out for them is the lifting of the barrier. Subaru then stays beside Emilia’s bed until she wakes up in the morning, and unconsciously puts her hand on his arm, a gesture she immediately walks back.

Later in the morning Subaru warns Ram that not everyone within the sanctuary wants the barrier to fall, and he must be vigilant against any threats to Emilia from those elements. She also believes Frederica could have some kind of plan in mind she didn’t reveal to Subaru. That night, Emilia attempts the trial again, and while she’s not denied a second chance, it too ends in failure. Afterwards, Roswaal has Subaru meet with him in his room while Ram stands by.

The Margrave finally admits that he allowed everything regarding the Witch’s Cult attack on the village and manor to happen as kind of political gambit, knowing the villagers’ opinion of Emilia would improve if she saved them. Subaru is pissed, mostly because so much of Roswaal’s plan depended on Subaru not being “complete trash” and coming through. But Roswaal had faith in him then, and has faith in him now.

Subaru doesn’t tell Emilia any of this, respecting Roswaal’s wishes (and deferring to political acumen). Like Roswaal with Subaru, Subaru may not have the most concrete evidence that Emilia can and will pass the trials and free the Sanctuary, but he has faith nonetheless. Emilia is grateful for the belief in her and trusts Subaru, but asks him to simply continue believing in her—without “spoiling” her.

To that end, Subaru decides to appeal to Garfiel to free the villagers. Since Garfiel has Emilia working on the barrier, the villagers are no longer necessary, so he agrees. Garfiel will escort Subaru and the villagers back to Arlam. Subaru leaves with Emilia’s blessing and one last tidbit from Roswaal, via Ram: if he runs into trouble with Frederica or anyone else, turn to Beatrice, and tell her “Roswaal said to ask the question”.

En route to Arlam, Garfiel tells Subaru he can tell he went through a trial, and wonders why he can’t simply complete them in Emilia’s place.  Judging from how she acts whenever she fails an attempt, it’s clear to Garfiel what I mentioned earlier: that Emilia is having a hard go with facing her past, probably because a part (or all) of her doesn’t want to.

After a brief stop in the village, Subaru goes on to the manor, which is oddly empty and bathed in blood-red light—never a good sign on this show! As he desperately runs through the halls searching for Rem, we hear an odd squishing sound and he trips and falls…on his own bowels. As he lies in a pool of blood and guts, his assailant reveals herself: Elsa, his very first nemesis in this other world.

Talk about a blast from the past! We last saw her back in 2o16, retreating after being wounded but not killed by an all-out attack from Reinhard. I wrote “the fact she’s still out there with her chilling desire to disembowel everyone else is certainly disquieting, as is the fact that such a huge attack didn’t kill her.” Well, now she’s back, and Subaru is almost certainly primed to Return by Death. I wonder where and when he’ll end up?

Bofuri – 12 (Fin) – Oh, the Atrocity!

When Payne exacts [Sword of Judgment] on Maple, it looks like the end of her fun has come at last, but she survives with 1 HP thanks to [Stout Guardian]. When her mech’s [Counter] connects, Payne reveals he also has [Stout Guardian]. Maple breaks the stalemate with [Atrocity], transforming herself into an eldritch beast and simply eating all of the Holy Sword members in the cave. When they re-spawn, they accept their loss at Maple’s fairly-acquired mega-skill, especially since they still have their orbs and remain in the lead.

Now that all of Maple’s secret skills have been revealed, there’s no reason to hold back anymore. All of Maple Tree rides Atrocity!Maple as they mop up the remaining guilds. But when they spot the Flame Emperors being attacked from all sides, they don’t add to the piling-on. Instead, they defeat all of the Emperors’ attacking enemies, preserving the big guild to assist in whittling down the smaller guilds (and earning a bit of goodwill).

The third day of the event has barely begun when the admins decide to call it with only six guilds remaining, all receiving the same reward. After debating whether to re-nerf Maple, one of them is consigned to the fact that whether they like it or not she is the face of the game, and an inspiration to other adventurers who hope to one day face her. So they let her be, checking in to see what weirdness she’s up to: being a woolly mech volleyball for May and Yui!

Maple Tree, meanwhile, claimed the third spot, just below the Emperors and Holy Sword. Maple graciously invites both guilds to Maple Tree’s hall in order to share in an end-of-event party. While everyone was all-business during the event, it’s good to see there are no sore losers or grudges, just pleasant conviviality and mutual pride in battles well-fought.

It’s a good way as any to end a show that, for its protagonist, was first and foremost about having as much fun as possible, and sharing that fun with as many friends as possible. Its upbeat outlook is most welcome in these trying times.

 

MAPLE WILL RETURN IN BOFURI II

Bofuri – 11 – Maple’s Inferno

BOFURI shifts seemlessly to Shounen Battle Mode as Maple sends May and Yui off on MegaSyrup and fights Mii, Misery and Markus. At first it’s largely a stalemate, with the Emperors’ attacks unable to do much damage and Maple unable to go on offense. Mii forces the issue with her Noble Phantasm ultimate attack [Prison of Flame], forcing Maple to bust out [Machine God] earlier than she wanted.

Overmatched by Maple’s firepower and with her support KO’d, Mii uses [Self-Destruct] while riding Maple’s back, only to learn upon re-spawning that Maple wasn’t harmed by her suicide attack, leading to another patented Mii-Tantrum. Both the tough and crybaby sides of Mii were well-performed by Satou Rina. As for the Emperors’ orb, it was snatched away by a grunt in the midst of the chaos, so Maple Tree comes away empty-handed.

That proves strategically costly, as Maple Tree couldn’t afford to spend that much effort on one foe with no payoff. Both small and medium guilds are dwindling as Maple Tree barely hangs on to the bottom of the Top 10. While that feat is impressive, it only intensifies the target on their back as one of the last remaining small guilds. Subsequent raids prove fruitless, and Sally senses an attack from one of the big guilds coming, so prepares to move their orb off-base.

Those plans come too late, as Sally miscalculates that a big guild like Holy Sword would take forever to mobilize. Instead Holy Sword only sends four, led by Payne, perhaps the game’s most powerful player. Maple stands ready to test that title as the other three Holy Swords battle the rest of Maple Tree.

The episode ends on a cliffhanger as Payne, ultra-buffed by his comrades, does critical HP damage to Maple. If she’s KO’d it’s probably all over. Can Maple recover and can her guild snatch some kind of consolatory victory from the jaws of certain defeat? We’ll find out in the finale.

Bofuri – 10 – The Little Guild that Could

Maple Tree’s haul totals ten orbs, but that’s only good enough for 17th place. To reach the Top 10 they’ll need more, and the easy pickens from smaller guilds like theirs will be gobbled up quick. That means an already tired Sally must sally forth into the night, where her style of attacking is most effective. Kasumi, Kuromu, Iz and Kanade also strike out to gather more orbs, confident Maple can hold the fort with May and Yui.

But the pitfalls of a tiny guild like theirs trying to compete with the big dogs becomes clear when a nearly gassed Sally bites off more than she can chew and is surrounded by Frederica’s Holy Sword soldiers. She messages Maple that she “might die, sorry”, and Maple rushes to her rescue in Angel Mode and mows the Holy Sword columns away with her Hydras and mech beams.

Maple saves Sally (and her haul of orbs), but leaves the base defense to just May and Yui, who are ambushed by Shin of the Flame Emperors Dread of the Holy Sword, who was watching the guild’s movements. Though he picked the perfect time to strike, the twins manage to avoid KO just long enough for Maple to return with Sally.

Maple KOs Dread, who promises he’ll be back with friends. Frankly, Kanade leaving the base for a mere handful of orbs wasn’t worth it. Had the twins died just a few minutes sooner, Dread would have made off like…well, like a bandit! Kanade, with her insta-spells, would have been ideal backup.

Still, everything turns out fine this time. Sally unveils Maple Tree’s “Plan B”, which essentially swaps who’s on offense and defense. Maple, May and Yui are a three-boss demolition team that mercilessly carves through the guilds Sally mapped out, while the rest of the guild stands by at the base. I doubt I’ll ever tire of the interplay of their cute appearance and mild manners with the utter ruin they dole out.

It’s not long until the next victim on Maple’s list are the vaunted Flame Emperors, led by the legendary Mii. Neither Markus nor Misery—neither of them exactly pushovers—can do much more than slow her down a little. Anything that traps Maple in her tracks is quickly reduced to rubble by the twin hammer girls.

In fact, once they’ve thrown everything they can at Maple to no avail, Misery and Markus resign themselves to death and defeat…until their commander Mii arrives in a streak of flames, just as Maple came to Sally’s aid. Thus the stage is set for the biggest showdown of NWO so far, something everyone watching on the sidelines has been waiting for.

Will Mii’s presence enable Markus and Misery to regroup and keep the twins busy, leaving Maple more vulnerable? Or will Mii fall to Mega-Maple’s might just as so many others before her, and have a big ol’ whiny tantrum about it? We shall see!

Hitsugi no Chaika – 12 (Fin)

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The bad guys Ricky, Layla, and Grad have a pretty firm hold on the situation at the beginning of this episode, and have the benefit of the commander of the opposing flying fortress being an absolute clod (“Advance! Fire!…Keep Firing!” Really?), but as battles rage both within and without the fortresses, that hold grows more and more tenuous as the good guys regroup and persevere.

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But here’s the thing: at no point do the bad guys ever consider changing their course. They’ve chosen their purposes and paths in life, and they’re sticking with them, even if they lead death…which they ultimately do. This only represents the midpoint of Chaika’s journey, which I’m glad about, and not just because there’s a lot more remains to find, but because the Mad Trio worked far better as a midpoint villain than a final villain.

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But while this wasn’t the end of the show, it was the end of a great many things. It was the end of Chaika being the helpless damsel-in-distress, as she takes it upon herself to take out Layla and rescue Tooru all by herself. When he protests he’s only her tool and she shouldn’t be saving him, she’s as upfront as she’s ever been to that point with her real feelings for him. They even almost get a kiss in before Akari and the others show up (they kissed a few moments previously, but it was more about the delivery of precious oxygen than romance).

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It was also the end of the Mad Trio’s Big Scheme to plunge the world back into the chaos where they once thrived. They were undone by failing to realize that there are others just as determined, and even a little more capable than they are. Take Grad, who didn’t think the opposing commander would launch a suicide attack, even though that’s what Layla just suggested they do when they reach the city.

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Layla too underestimated Chaika’s desire to escape and continue, in Layla’s words, being a tool of Gaz and his ilk. Layla cast away the purpose programmed into her and forged her own, and I can’t be entirely without sympathy considering the life she’s lived when it finally ends. As for the hellspawn Ricardo, whom she pledged the balance of her life? In the end he comes off as less a monster and more a sheltered, pitiable wretch.

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Something else ends: the life of Alberic Gilette. It’s a very quick, almost unremarkable death, but it’s a death that happens when he too is absolutely determined to stop war, even if he has to do it with his bare hands. The way the scene is shot, it almost looks like Leonardo and not Alberic is going to be the one hit by the laser. When Vivi hears he’s gone, she transforms into a Chaika. I wasn’t expecting that!

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That transformation holds a lot of promise come second season airs, because Vivi suddenly became something else. Frederica can change form and even molt into “Minifred”, but she stays Frederica. I’m not sure what the Vivi-Chaika will be like, but it looks like one more way in which Gaz and his followers set up a diverse array of tools. I also hope the budding romance between Chaika and Tooru is explored further (though I’m probably in the minority).

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Until then, we leave a tool who knows she’s a tool but is going to keep tooling around anyhow, along with her tools who know they’re tools but she’s told them they’re more than that, along with the dragoon who still needs to kill Tooru, a Vivi who’s lost her love and her…Vivi-ness, and half a Gaz body—including his head!—left to find. It’s a full plate; one I look forward to scarfing down this October.

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Final Cumulative Rating: 7.92
MAL Score: 7.62

Hitsugi no Chaika – 11

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Hitsugi no Chaika has chosen to close with an epic three-part finale, of which this is the middle part. Middle parts are tricky, as it’s hard to have two episodes in a row with no concrete resolutions (it just kind of…ended), while putting that much more pressure on the third part to deliver. Even so, I think this middle part performed admirably, providing a nice balance of action and fresh insights, some of which confirm/reinforce my ideas about the Chaikas.

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Our heroes remain at the mercy of their enemies, two of whom, Ricardo and Grad, we met last week and got a cursory idea about what makes them tick. The third girl, Layla, only revealed her duplicity at the very end, but when I saw her for the first time with her hood concealing her face, I was pretty darn sure she was another Chaika. Like our Chaika and the Red Chaika we met previously, she too is driven to collect Emperor Gaz’s remains. The difference is how they all go about it.

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Red Chaika is a warrior. Our Chaika is a damsel in distress. And Layla is, or rather, was, a seductress, using her body, wiles, and drugs to acquire remains. Once she learned she was only one of many tools with diverse talents created for the sole purpose of re-appropriating Gaz’s remains; that her heart and soul and emotions and memories were all essentially manufactured for that purpose, she quit being Chaika, joined forces with Ricardo and Grad, and now lives for her own purpose: to help them start a new war.

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War, you see, is when those two felt most content, and, more importantly, most useful. Ricardo’s bloodlust and Grad’s desire to dominate could find true and enduring expression. They’re really more over-the-top versions of Tooru and Akari, saboteurs who had nothing left to sabotage after the war. The atrocities this trio has committed condemns them to villainhood to be sure, but on one point we can feel for Layla: wanting revenge against those orchestrated this whole dastardly plot. Why should she let it continue?

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But our Chaika isn’t like her…at least, not yet. Not only is she still committed to gathering her “father’s” remains even after all Layla has said, but in doing so she’s given the Acuras a new purpose. With their flying fortress packed with magical fuel-giving corpses and drug-manipulated soldiers, Ricardo, Grad, and Layla aren’t going to be satisfied with a grand adventure. They want to set the world back on fire and dance in the flames. And by episode’s end, they’re very close to achieving that goal.

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It would seem that as tough-as-nails as Akari is, her older brother would seem to have a slight edge over her in combat ability. I say that because he manages to evade and withdraw from her attacks on numerous occasions while consciously trying not to kill her, while she’s most definitely trying to kill him. I’m also on board with Tooru teaming up with Zito and Vivi when they cross paths, saving each others’ lives in the process.

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Perhaps the best feint of the episode was the heroic arrival of Fredrica, who seemed poised to rescue Chaika when a creepy-ass human-like spider thing snuck up behind her and stabbed her in the brain. It continues the trend of the show using her sparingly; if she were always around to save the day, things would be pretty boring. It was also a promising sign that this mess won’t get wrapped up by a last-seond deus ex machina, but hard-earned with with blood, sweat, tears, and wits.

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Hitsugi no Chaika – 10

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“Fortress in the Sky”—no ambiguity in that title. It’s what we were promised, and it’s what we got, and then some. Things start out as previous episodes have: new town, buying fuel; but it’s quickly apparent that this won’t be the usual get-in-get-out smash-and-grab operation. The fortress, and the Triumvirate of Evil running it, pose the greatest threat yet to Chaika’s quest, as well as to her life and those of her retinue.

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First of all, though, the fortress: It’s pretty cool-looking, and definitely calls to mind a few of its brethren from other fantasy anime or video games, while fitting snugly into the world of Chaika, and in that world, it’s also a big deal. It’s enough to put a serious drain on magical fuel, thoroughly wilting what looked like a once-proud and prosperous city in its massive shadow.

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Then there’s the fact all the city’s young women are rounded up by the Duke’s army, building him up as some kind of old, fat, mustache-twirling pervert adding to his sky harem. But we never see that Duke, and it turns out he doesn’t even exist. Well, he might have, but his son Ricardo murdered him a while ago, along with his mother, brother and sister.

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Ricardo’s a sadistic piece of work, who is held back from dissecting a captured Akari by his wizard adviser Grad Lancia, who keeps the fortress floating. Grad’s a piece of work too, employing invasive mind manipulation magic on Akari, and, we’re pretty sure, all the other girls too, who now wear armor and fight as their army.

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The third member of this happy family of villains is Layla, who successfully plays innocent until Chaika is in her clutches, and then Grad sics the re-educated Akari on her own brother, a real “oh, shit” moment in the episode. Did we mention Fredrica, the only one who can fly the others out of there, was run through with a longsword and tossed into a pit?

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Yeah, there’s a lot going on here, and none of it good for our heroes. And hey, the show even manages to fit the Gillette Corps into this puzzle somewhat organically: Vivi and Zita had infiltrated the fortress before Tooru & Co. to gather intelligence, but their mission is quickly countermanded by the decision of the six allied nations to attack Duke Gavarni’s fortress.

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What’s better than a flying fortress? That’s right: TWO flying fortresses. I thought, for a brief time, that this would be good for Tooru & Co: in the midst of the chaos of the battling fortresses, they’ can snatch the remains and be on their way. But several factors conspire to make that easy route all but impossible.

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Chaika and Akari’s mind are in the enemy’s hands. Fredrica’s fate is unknown. And most importantly, these three villains are no pushovers, and they’re actually glad the other Fortress is headed their way, which can’t be good. Everything is going the bad guys’ way. How long can they keep it up?

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Hitsugi no Chaika – 08

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Everyone wants to have a goal, or at least have a goal dropped into their laps, but the conditions encountered while attempting to achieve it can often serve to muddle or change that goal. Take the “New Gaz Empire”, a ragtag band the likes of which Chaika and the Acuras have not yet encountered on their travels. They want to restore the empire they were once a part of, but in the meantime they’re living as thieves and con artists to get by.

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As soon as their way is barred, Tooru saw that they were trouble, as did we, but they turned out to be far less trouble than we thought, as their attempts to double-cross the Acura siblings fails spectacularly. Still, had naive Ol’ Chaika been alone she would have been robbed blind and possibly worse, demonstrating yet again that she’s lucky to have the others backing her up, not to mention leaving us curious how she managed to survive up to the point she met the Acuras.

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For what it’s worth, I like the idea of the New Gaz Empire, and not just because they have an awesome name, but because they’re such a realistic example of how the best laid plans go awry, that noble intentions can be corrupted by the realization that ‘Hey, we’ve got numbers and weapons and mobility; let’s go to town!’ Through their complex encounter, Chaika & Co. show them that it’s not a path they can continue on forever; they need to get back on the high road.

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For one thing, the thieves are easily defeated when they threaten Tooru and Akari, and they’re lucky the siblings are the forgiving type who stay their blades. Their own “Princess Chaika”, AKA Julia (with Horie Yui Sadohara Kaori at the mic), also jumps right into a trap and incarcerated after tricking Chaika into staying the night so they can rob her. Despite being wronged, Chaika doesn’t hesitate in the least in ordering the Acuras to rescue her, even contributing a crucial assist with her silencing magic.

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In this, Chaika’s behavior seems less like naivete and more like kindness, decency, and forgiveness, all qualities that can be as powerful as hammers and swords in the right situation. Those qualities may have convinced the New Gaz Empire to realign their goals. As such, Chaika isn’t just an inert variable passing through the countryside in blind pursuit of her own goal; she’s enacting tangible change, one ragtag band at a time. Note that this is supposedly the mission of Alberic’s squad, though all they’ve done is chase Chaika around.

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Stray Observations:

  • The scenes with Gillette & Co. seemed even more pointless than usual. All they established was that Alberic isn’t going to give up on pursuing Chaika (I already knew that), and that Vivi likes him (I really don’t care).
  • Akari’s super-happy, friendly act in the back of the wagon had me wondering if it was Frederica in disguise again.
  • Tooru, Akari, Chaika and Frederica show that they could made a legitimately good travelling performance troupe. Now they just need to do a J-pop video, Kyoukai-style. Yes, I would watch that.
  • I understand the practical (and comedic) reasons for having the siblings quickly beat up all the thieves off-camera, but I still felt a bit cheated by the lack of on-screen action.