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

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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.