Takt Op. Destiny – 11 – Con Molta Forza

Lotte tells Anna that the last best chance of saving both Takt and Destiny is to put them in cryogenic stasis in order to buy time to counteract the effects of their contract. It could be years or decades before a cure is found, but if they do nothing, Takt may not last the month.

With Takt in such a precarious state, the last thing you want to see is Sagan causing the Symphonica to be completely overrun with D2-spawning giant purple crystals. Why, do you ask? Because Sagan = Bad Guy. It looks like the crystals engulf and kill him, which I guess makes this his magnum opus…?

Whatever his motivations to destroy everything he’s built and off himself(?), Sagan’s actions are the perfect excuse for some serious Musicart ass-kicking. We get glimpses of various other heretofore unseen Musicarts, but the only three who can truly save the day are Takt and Destiny, backed up by the now Maestro-less Titan, who has more of a sharp edge to her now.

Anna and Lotte end up trapped deep in the Symphonica’s labs by the crystals, and here Anna shows how awesome she is by carrying her paralyzed big sister on her back in order to find a way out. It isn’t long until they encounter a D2, but they’re saved in the nick of time by Walküre.

Eventually Anna, Lotte, and Walküre end up in the same mezzanine as Takt, Destiny, and Titan. The Musicarts successfully defeat all of the D2s in the immediate vicinity, but at a seemingly heavy cost: Takt can barely stand, and the battle has surely shortened his life from a month to mere days, if not hours. Even so, he orders Titan to take Anna, Lotte, and Walküre to safety while he and Destiny press on to Sagan—whom they assume is still alive.

When Anna tells him it’s a suicide mission, he says he knows, but he’s got his mentor Lenny’s work to complete along with his own music, none of which can exist as long as Sagan and his machinations are still going on. Somewhat curiously, Anna gives Takt a big old smooch, then makes it clear she has no idea why. I can’t say I can either, aside from the fact that the big sister act was to hide her feelings for him? This development has come far too late in the game!

On their way deeper into the Symphonica, Destiny notes how quiet Takt has become post-kiss, and even seems to display a slight measure of jealousy about it. That’s the last bit of comedy in the episode, however, as they soon enter a huge area absolutely crawling with D2s. Hell is waiting for them there, holding Heaven in a princess carry, and Heaven then stabs both of them with her tuning fork.

They both turn into a puddle of black goo, which then turns into several floating machine gun emplacements that destroy all of the D2. Then the guns transform into a new Musicart boss Orpheus: an unholy merging combination of Heaven, Hell, and the crystals. Considering how strong she’s likely to be, I suppose we’ll have to suspend our disbelief Takt has enough left in the tank. The question is, win or lose, will the show really kill him and/or Destiny off?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Takt Op. Destiny – 10 – Keepers of the Light

This week’s Takt delves fully into Lenny’s past while throwing multiple death flags in the present, meaning this episode really only has one conclusion. That, and the lack of depth in Lenny’s development to this point —not to mention the relatively thin relationship he has with Takt and Destiny—kinda left me wanting on this one, and I don’t feel good saying that!

First Lenny, Titan, Takt, and Destiny meet in Central Park where Lenny will reveal the secret of the Symphonica and the Boston Tragedy, but before he can say anything Sagan shows up, says “Yes, I’m Evil too”, asks the others to join him, and has both Heaven and Hell attack them when they don’t. I usually don’t mind getting down to the exciting action, but for an episode full of exposition they could have gone into a little more detail about what Sagan is trying to accomplish.

Yes, there was every indication that Sagan was evil too, but the fact that he’s evil…just cause kinda flattens the conflict. It would have been more interesting if he’d presented his side of what the world should be, or give a good reason why he’s riling up the D2s. But nothing. His Musicarts fight Lenny and Takt’s, Takt runs out of gas, Lenny takes three bullets and uses what’s left of his life to put Titan in Overdrive.

With a fusillade of bullets that would make Tomoe Mami proud, OverTitan manages to disable Heaven. Whether she didn’t feel conficdent taking Titan on herself or read the room that her laughing and mugging was growing stale, Hell withdraws with Sagan and Heaven, and the fights over just like that. The remainder of the episode is saying goodbye to Lenny, and…I don’t mean to be callous, but there’s an art to death scenes.

If the character is someone you care about and their death was set up, you’re on the right track. Lenny seems like a swell guy and all, and I liked him, but the show never made me get all that invested in until this week, when they rushed through it all. The inevitability of his demise from start to finish, and trying to land payoffs with inadequate setup made this turning point of an episode fell far more hollow than it should have.

Takt Op. Destiny – 08 – Call Her By Her Name

Despite being worn down by a combination of sleep deprivation and Destiny, Takt makes the first move against Felix, and would have socked him in the face with a speed and force Felix didn’t expect, were it not for his trusty sadistic bodyguard, Hell, who breaks his ribs with a kick. Destiny retreats with Takt in her arms, and Hell lets them go, because killing them now won’t be as fun as waiting until they’ve recovered.

When Takt comes to (after she administers water to him with a kiss), Destiny has returned to Normal Girl Mode and made a fire, but her bandage wrapping leaves much to be desired. She acknowledges this, and her shortcomings outside of battle in general. When Takt asks why she didn’t continue fighting without him, she says when she saw him crumpled on the ground, her body moved on its own: to him, and away from the fighting.

Takt tells Destiny more about Cosette, and how now that she’s gone, there’s no one left around to hear his music he might compose. Of course, he’s wrong; not only are Anna and Destiny there, but a whole lot of people who want and need to hear his music so it can warm their hearts like the fire in the cave.

The next morning, Destiny meets Felix and Hell back in the woods with two axes and tries her best to fight. Alas, without her Musicart Mode she’s no match for Hell, who merely toys with her. Just when she’s about to be choked out, Takt arrives, and the two get into a lover’s quarrel, completely ignoring Felix. Lenny and Titan arrive to keep Felix and Hell busy while the two talk things out.

Takt asks Destiny—by name, for the first time—if she also needs to hear his song like all those other people out there. Destiny says she doesn’t simply need to; she wants to hear it. With Felix and Hell standing in the way of that, Takt tells Desinty to use as much of his life as she needs to dispatch them. And what do you know, Destiny actually takes it to Hell, overpowering her giant attack with one of her own and  burning her arm.

Hell is ready to go another round, but the fight is stopped by the ethereally calm and gentle voice of Heaven, Grand Maestro Sagan’s Musicart. Speaking for Sagan, Heaven relieves Felix of his position and fires him from the Symphonia with immediate effect.

Just like that, Hell turns her back on her former Maestro and snaps his baton, and departs with Heaven. There’s an ominous to Heaven’s presence (aided by the music that plays when she arrives) and to the fact that Felix was officially relieved for disobeying orders…not for trying to kill Takt and Destiny.

Still, it’s probably not the last we’ll see of him, and I was a little miffed Takt wasn’t able to land a punch to his smug, villainous face. But in the end I was just glad Takt and Destiny made it out of the predicament alive, and doubly glad to see them reunite with a ridiculously relieved Anna. Like Takt, she calls Destiny by her name for the first time. She lost a little sister, but now realized she gained another.

Watching Destiny evolve before our eyes with an essentially full suite of emotions, and watching Takt and Anna shed their denial and accept Destiny for Destiny, was as fun as watching Destiny, Takt, and Titan kick ass. After all this excitement, could another comparatively relaxing road trip episode be in the offing?

Takt Op. Destiny – 07 – Post-Cosette

Anna, Takt, and Destiny’s road trip takes through the South, passing larges swaths of recent D2 destruction. Once they reach a larger city (Charlotte, North Carolina, I believe) they find it full of refugees living in shanty towns in the park. Takt has also developed the annoying habit of tapping his finger constantly, rather than only most of the time. No wonder Anna puts him in a seperate hotel room!

With Anna about to snap, Destiny nearly snaps Takt’s neck, then insists he tell them what’s going on. Turns out he’s composing a song, but can’t get it on to the page. While he composes in his head night and day, his eye bags growing larger and darker, Destiny drives off some D2s on her own. WHen she mentions “very important plans”, he can’t help but follow her.

What he discovers is shocking: Destiny doing something other than simply fighting D2s. She buys groceries for a refugee and her baby son, and sweets for the displaced little ones. Just little things you woldn’t expect something that is supposedly just a weapon to do. Anna sidles up to Takt and tells him this is nothing new: Destiny hasn’t just improved as a Musicart, she’s evolving as a person.

Anna also tells Takt that the one who found a musical instrument for him—a melodica to aid with his composing—was Destiny. She even waited outside his hotel room, looking nervous. It’s enough to make Anna wonder out loud…what if their Cosette is still in there somewhere, gradually adding humanity to the anti-D2-weapon that is Destiny?

The show’s “rules” may have already established that the Musicart replaces the person who used to own the body…but who’s to say Cosette/Destiny aren’t different? Grand Maestro Sagan himself is so certain of Takt and Destiny’s uniqueness and potential that he orders Schindler to leave them alone and let them do their thing.

In what initially looked like (owing in part to the dramatic lighting) what was going to be a groundbreaking conversation between Destiny and Takt is suddenly cut short, if only because Destiny asks too many sensitive questions too quickly and directly, and the memories that dredges up in Takt makes him shut down.

Even so, it wasn’t a matter of Takt not wanting to talk about Cosette at all, just the curt manner in which Destiny was trying to extract biological information about the original occupant of her body. It’s pretty clear that the intended audience for his new piece is Cosette, but Destiny (and Anna) will have to do.

In the meantime, sirens blare outside, indicating a D2 attack in progress. Thankfully it’s only one small unit that Cosette is able to deal with swiftly…but due to Takt’s sleep deprivation even this amount of fighting takes him close to his usual limit. Things get worse when Destiny detects a whole herd of D2 up in the forested mountains.

Once there, they both hear a clear and unnerving tone, which turns out to be the tuning fork of Hell. Apparently Schindler has gone completely off the reservation, and not just in terms of disobeying the Grand Maestro’s orders to leave Takt and Destiny alone.

No, Schindler has decided it’s up to him and Hell to attract D2s in order to get rid of the lower-class, lower-income human “garbage” who in his twisted mind are consuming too much of the world’s very limited resources. He’s trying to make a new world of just the “chosen”—i.e. 1%—with obviously himself being the sole judge of who is worthy of continuing to live or not.

Oh, and he attracted the D2s that interrupted the Symphonica roadshow…and resulted in the death of Cosette. It’s clear that this show has decided to make Schindler (which it’s clear now is not the best name for this guy, considering the reputation of the most famous figure with that name) the Evilest Evil Guy Who Ever Eviled, and while Hell at least looks cool when she’s kicking ass, the pair of them are pretty dull and one-dimensional as villains go.

It remains to be seen if there’s any redeeming them at this point, but Takt and Destiny are in uncharted territory: they’ve only killed D2s…never people, and as angry as Takt is, killing anyone for any reason changes you forever. I imagine Lenny and Titan will make it there in time before Takt has to decide if the Cosette he knew and loved would really want him to kill, even if Schindler deserves it.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Takt Op. Destiny – 06 – Rhapsody in New Orleans

Cosette may not be Cosette anymore, but she is definitely forming a new bond with Takt, day by day. So much so, in fact, that he’s caught off guard when she understands enough about him to make a stupid joke about calling the D2 to their location. She knows he’s not restless about there being no battles (and there are no battles this week), but because he wants to play music. Tapping out notes on the window glass just ain’t cutting it.

It’s fortunate, then, that their next destination of New Orleans happens to be one of the most musical cities on Earth…or at least it was. Now it’s on the verge of being a ghost town. The entire population is senior citizens, as everyone else left long ago when they were younger, and either settled elsewhere, or were killed by the D2 attacks.

While Anna, Cosette and Takt are ostensibly here to stock up on provisions, the former two end up performing one kind task for elderly people after another, starting with delivering groceries, fixing an old front step, and rescuing a kitten. In what seemed like a barren husk of the city turns out to be full of friendly, warm souls you can’t help but want to help.

Takt elected to wait in the car, but eventually had to stretch his legs. While walking down Bourbon Street, he sees someone enter a club from which he can detect the faint sound of music. Turns out it’s an underground jazz club where a handful of cool cats drink and vibe out on the substantial tune collection.

All of them remember the conductor Asahina Kenji, “The Rooster”, who visited the city to perform only once. We learn in dribs and drabs that Kenji, Takt’s father, was also killed in some kind of calamity in Boston. When the audiophiles learn that he’s none other than the Rooster’s son, the entire place goes still…not with resentment…but with veneration.

These people assumed that the “Asahina sound” died with Kenji, so they’re eager to hear if his son can reproduce that sound. They show him to a soundproof studio/concert space where everyone gathers around tables with little lamps…reminders of a “golden age” that’s now gone.

One of the men in the club played the tuba in the orchestra when Ken visited New Orleans. But since the D2 disaster, he feels he’s done nothing but let time go by; without music, he has no purpose in life. Then Takt comes along, brings a sound everyone thought dead back to life, and instills a little hope; reminds everyone of the Pride of Bourbon Street.

As Takt found his spot and his people, Anna was flagged down in the street by another older woman who mistakes her for her daughter, Maria. Initially Anna is too nice to drop the truth on the mother, but even when she does, the mother pretends she didn’t hear anything.

As Cosette gives a very heartfelt speech in her robotic meter about how dear Anna is to her as a big sister and protector, the mother’s husband comes home, and tells Anna that their daughter left with her young family years ago and later died. Maria’s mother couldn’t accept that loss, and as her husband heartbreakingly puts it, Maria “lifes on” only in her mother’s mind. I’d like to think both Anna and Cosette enjoyed having a mom, if only for a very short time.

When it’s polite to do so, Anna and Cosette eventually take their leave of the husband and wife, having both given and received something out of the interaction. Then Cosette uses her Takt Detector (Detakter?) and they find him exactly where he belongs, doing what he loves.

Cosette says, with genuine affection behind the cold logic of her voice, that she loves when Takt gets to play music. So do I…especially when it’s Rhapsody in Blue, one of the first pieces of music I remember listening to on our baby Fisher-Price phonograph. Like Peter and the Wolf and Beethoven’s Ninth, Blue was one of the formative pieces that made me truly understand the power of music.

Because Cosette wants Takt to play more, she’ll keep fighitng until all the D2s are gone and everyone can play music. In the meantime, Takt is given some blank musical sheets with which to finally commit his window glass-tapping reveries to paper. The break from D2 battles was perfectly timed after last week’s barnburner. New Orleans wasn’t just some random stop on their journey, it felt real and alive, and as we see, it’s strength enduring in the people who remain. Their next stop will have big shoes to fill!.

Takt Op. Destiny – 05 – Train Ride of the Valkyrie

The road trip continues until Anna catches a flat tire, and Takt, chivalrous as always, is sitting on the car as she tries to jack it up. We learn how dangerous it is to not be mobile when D2s almost immediately show up, but after learning something from Lenny and Titan, Cosette is able to dispatch the baddies with pinpoint accuracy and efficiency.

At the end of the battle Cosette finds herself standing on a train track, and an incoming train is forced to stop—and good thing it did, as it would have definitely borne the brunt of their collision! She’s met by a tall and honorable-looking fellow Musicart in knight’s armor. It’s a Symphonica train.

In charge is the blond, arrogant Commander Felix Schindler, who considers this unregistered Musicart and Conductor to be valuable pawns if managed properly. The train is on its way to Houston, so he offers Anna, Takt and Cosette a ride as they’re ultimately headed to New Orleans.

Schindler tries to keep things cordial, but while Cosette is easily distracted by a super-rich chocolate confection, neither Takt nor Anna particularly like or trust this guy…especially when the knight Musicart basically tells them to stay in their cabin like glorified prisoners.

Of course, when Cosette detects D2s outside, the leather, glass, wood, and metal of the train cabin are no match for her, and we get an awesome new kind of battle for this series: a battle on a moving train. Again, Takt and Cosette prove they were paying attention to Lenny and Titan’s instruction.

The uptight knight Musicart doesn’t care at all for their constant insolence, but the other Musicart, Schindler’s personal guard, takes a liking to the pair. She also reveals that the knight Musicart is actually a big ol’ softie who has yet to bond with a Conductor, and recommends Takt basically bring her to heel. This Musicart also wants Cosette’s eyes…so…yeah. She’s a bit of a wild card!

While Cosette was far more precise than her first battles, she still caused damage to the track that takes a half day to repair. With valuable D2-luring material on board a train that’s now a sitting duck, when the sun starts to set a properly massive swarm of aerial D2s descends upon the train.

Cosette and the Knight go to town, but even the latter eliminating D2s quickly and efficiently, the sheer numbers they’re up against mean Takt is soon exhausted. The Knight, with no Conductor to draw energy from, starts to fade even faster.

Even so, neither of them give up, and the Knight seems to admire how Takt continues to conduct even while lying prone on the dirt, for the sake of protecting the train. When the battle is won thanks to some unconventional thinking from Takt (having Cosette blast a couple of nearby cliffs to dust most of the D2s), she even flashes a smile and properly introduces herself as Walkure. When Takt voices his approval with that Wagner piece, Walkure (who I think I’ll just start calling Wally) blushes and swoons despite herself.

When a giant D2 boss shows up, with Takt and Wally basically running on fumes, Schindler turns to his trump card, Hell. Voiced with a seductive unhingedness by Ueda Reina, Hell activates her wheel boots, climbs up the cliff to where the boss is, and absolutely kicks the shit out of it, laughing maniacally all the while, and seemingly experiencing a measure of ecstasy upon defeating it. This is clearly a Musicart who absolutely loves to fight and destroy. Unlike Cosette, this isn’t duty; it’s pleasure.

When the train reaches Houston (or what’s left of it), Schindler is determined to claim Cosette and Takt as his pawns in a larger political game. So it’s extremely rewarding to see Takt refuse any and all offers. The three get in the car and motor out of there.

Rather than place a collar on a couple of “stray dogs”, Schindler got growled at and utterly rejected. He’s pissed, but Hell is more amused than anything. As for Wally, she seems to be the odd Musicart out, as her services are no longer required by Schindler, but she doesn’t join the road trip either. I hope we’ll see her again soon. But first…time to hit the Big Easy!

Dororo – 17 – They’re Still Eating

After a Dororo-centric episode, we switch to Hyakkimaru’s POV as he slays a demon that was about to kill the man who gave him a body, Jukai, who continues to provide the dead with limbs and eyes on the battlefield.

He embraces Hyakkimaru like long-lost family, and is amazed to learn that his former charge can now hear, talk, and feel. But he’s also somewhat scared of the person he helped to make—like a Dr. Frankenstein regarding the Modern Prometheus he hath wrought.

At first, Hyakkimaru regards this fortuitous encounter with the utmost practicality: he’s missing a leg and needs a new one, and Jukai can provide him what he needs. But Jukai would prefer it if Hyakkimaru took it easy, sat down and had a meal with his old guardian.

Even when a landslide closes the entrance to Jukai’s cave home, Hykkimaru is all business trying to open up a new hole. The demons who took everything from Hyakkimaru—with his father’s consent—are still feeding. There’s no time to waste.

Throuhgout the episode, we sometimes cut from Hyakkimaru’s time with Jukai to Tahoumaru, who both Mutsu and Hyougo agree has changed since his encounter with his older brother. Even as his mother awakens, recovered from her injuries, Tahoumaru is more concerned with the latest ghoul threat.

Taho is singularly committed to protecting his people—in other words, the best son Lord Daigo could hope for. But there’s a sadness in Mutsu and Hyougo’s reckoning of this new, colder Tahoumaru.

Even as he admits that he is well within his rights to reclaim his body, Jukai weeps over what Hyakkimaru has become as a direct result of his handiwork. He believes all he did by restoring the boy’s body is allow him to continue travelling down the River of Hell.

He is comforted when he learns that Hyakkimaru isn’t navigating that river alone—there is someone close to him, not an enemy, who can keep him human—and when Hyakkimaru calls him “mama,” well…there shouldn’t be a dry eye in the room!

Jukai doesn’t give Hyakkimaru a new leg, but he doesn’t condemn him for fighting to take back what’s his, even if it will cause great pain, suffering, and misfortune for the people of Daigo’s domain. All of this falls on Daigo’s shoulders, not Hyakkimaru’s or Tahoumaru’s or Nuinokata’s.

And yet Tahoumaru is taking up the mantle of lord of a realm whose prosperity is owed to a single young man who had no say in the matter at the time. But thanks to Jukai, Hyakkimaru does have a say. And once he tracks down Dororo at that cove, he’s no doubt going to continue contributing his “two cents.”

Golden Kamuy – 01 – The Weak Get Eaten, But These Peeps Ain’t Weak (First Impressions)

It’s 1904: The Russo-Japanese War, three years before my older grandfather was even born. Sugimoto Saichi is in the trenches, and earns the nickname “The Immortal Sugimoto” for…well, refusing to die. Bullets always miss or glance off him. He’s never in the path of a cannon or mortar.

His vitals always manage to avoid enemy blades. Even when he rushes the Russians head-on yelling “JUST TRY AND KILL ME!”, they fail to kill him. One might say this particular quality of his is a blessing, but all it means is he gets to live on as everyone around him dies.

Among the dead who leave him behind is his old friend and war buddy, who is survived by a wife with failing vision and a child. Sugimoto nearly killed a superior, so he’s cashiered out of the service, and must try to scrape together a living in a place where the gold rush has long since run dry.

While panning in a river for the dregs of that rush, an old drunk keeps Sugimoto company, telling him what initially sounds like a tall tale about a man who stole a mass treasure of gold from the native Ainu and killed a bunch of them. He was imprisoned, but tattooed pieces of a map to the treasure on other prisoners who then escaped, promising them a half share.

When the drunk realizes he’s said too much and tries to kill Sugimoto, Sugimoto clobbers him and forces him to flee…but now Sugimoto is more certain the man wasn’t just telling tall tales. That’s confirmed when he later finds the man’s corpse. He was killed and buried by a bear, but his body bears the map tattoos.

Of course, it’s not that simple: a bear returns, apparently to reclaim its meal, and Sugimoto isn’t ready…but thankfully someone is. Up until now things like timing, physics, and coincidence had served The Immortal Sugimoto, but here and now he finds himself face-to-face with the personification of his luck and salvation: a petite Ainu woman who introduces herself as Asirpa.

Out there in the wilderness, I’d much rather have Asirpa by my side than Sugimoto, especially considering its him, not me, who’d more likely escape death once again. She not only determines that the bear they just killed wasn’t the one who killed the prisoner, but that the man who tattooed him never intended to share the treasure. That man also killed Asirpa’s father to get the gold in the first place.

Because this is just barely the 20th century, and Sugimoto isn’t wealthy enough to own a camera (and the cameraphone is a century away), the only way to preserve the parts of the map they now have is to skin the man. (I suppose he could make a drawing, but lacks the materials) But that will take time, and night waits for no one, not even the Immortal Sugimoto.

Instead, he and Asirpa keep a fire going and use the corspe to lure the megabear to them. He gets the jump on Sugimoto and extinguishes the flame, accelerating their plans somewhat. Then Asirpa’s guardian angel, a white wolf that may well contain the soul of her late father, joins the fray, protecting her and giving Sugimoto an opportunity to shoot the bear.

The bear doesn’t go down that easily, and requires a well-placed blade to its heart to kill, but Sugimoto survives, and impresses Asirpa with his warrior instincts. That being said, she can have no part of the bear she helped kill, as it ate human flesh and was sent to a special form of hell. She, by the way, doesn’t want to shed human blood either.

After Sugimoto skins the map from the map (gross), he vows to be the one to do the “dirty work” while she’ll continue to provide the wisdom and support she has so far, and without which he’d have already been killed by now. Together they’ll find the other pieces of the map (even the skin he has is a patchwork of disconnected map fragments), she can get revenge for her father, and he can get gold for his friends’ family.

Sounds like a good win-win deal, and a strong finish to a hell of a strong and intriguing story set deep in a place utterly inhospitable to humans who have lost touch with nature, and starring two people who are immensely badass in very different yet equally fascinating ways. Hat tip to tombeet for the recommendation!

Kino no Tabi – 05

“Hero” is rarely a title rightly given to oneself; it must be earned and bestowed upon them by those who deem them a hero. And sometimes it’s not the hero’s choice; they just are a hero, because that’s what the people say. Kino runs into one of those people, a tour guide and true believer who fawns over the great hero of her people and gives them a tour of his modest house.

While in there, the tour guide tells Kino and Hermes a number of stories about the relics on display, like a shovel that let him plant flowers anywhere (that was probably for digging poop holes) or his special knife (which is just a souvenir from another country).

Finally, Kino and Hermes meet the hero’s motorrad, kept in perfect running condition, but not ridden since his master’s death. He’s in his version of Hell, and wants desperately to either be freed or destroyed. Kino can do neither; not without deeply offending the people. Would YOU want to get on the bad side of that tour guide? Nuh-uh.

However, before leaving town Kino is approached by a boy who dreams of being a traveler, like Kino and the hero of their country. Kino nudges the kid in the direction of the hero’s doomed motorrad, leaving it up to the kid whether he’d like to take it for a ride. I doubt he could ever go back if he did, though!

Upon entering the gates of another country (the only gate through which travelers can enter or exit, oddly enough), Kino and Hermes find themselves in a dark wood, out of which a man appears and, talking to them as if he knows them, asks if they’ve seen his lover or were sent to give him a message about her. The man’s maid/caretaker catches up to him and takes him back home.

Kino and Hermes go into town and get the skinny on the man from the folk at the inn: He was the hero of their revolution, who had fallen in love with a farmer’s daughter. When the day of the revolution came, he launched a grenade at the escaping royal family’s car, killing them.

His actions secured liberty and a new government for the country, but the princess whom he’d slain turned out to be the farmer’s daughter. Wracked with grief and betrayal, the people say he went mad; and has had to be cared for by one caretaker after another.

For five years, he’s waited for his lover to return, and everyone keeps lying to him. Apparently no one wants to be the one to give him the bad news that she died, because they all say they’ll continue to lie until he dies or they do.

After helping the man’s caretaker get her wagon out of the mud, she offers them tea at the house the government built for the man. After sending him away by lying about an engine noise at the gate, she sits down with Kino and Hermes and tells them the truth: she is the princess, the royal family the man killed were body doubles, and her real family is safe and living comfortable lives out of danger.

Despite the man not knowing who she really is, the princess is still happy, and never wants things to change. The next day, when Kino and Hermes prepare to leave, the man runs out to meet them once more and tells them the truth: he’s not really crazy; he’s actually happy with things the way they are. Everyone in this country is happy lying to each other for their whole lives. I’m not sure if I should pity them or envy them.

Prison School – 04

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It doesn’t take long to reveal what Gakuto intended by assaulting both the vice president and president: he wanted the latter to “punish and forgive” him. At first, this is played out as Shiraki sodomizing Gakuto with a pixelated vibrator…but turns out to be just harmless electric clippers (thank GOD), with which she shaves his head, the clippings of which Gakuto offers to Kiyoshi as the all-important pigtails he’ll need to complete his girly look. Gosh, what a friend! If only his powerful intellect were used to better humanity…

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His wig thus acquired, he must grab a girl’s uniform from the laundry; no mean feat. This show is a master of portraying suspense and stress, and dangling everything on whether someone comes out of a doorway, or turns around, or, later, spills tea on a backpack.

Thanks again to Gakuto (who literally pisses himself distracting the laundry service guy), Kiyoshi gets away with a uniform undetected. With that, he has everything he needs for the sumo date, and tries to get some sleep, promising he won’t fail Chiyo. Meanwhile, Chiyo seems super-psyched for tomorrow.

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The day arrives: so full of potential pitfalls and foreboding, but also ample hope that all will go according to plan. As Kiyoshi and Gakuto collect the purses of the girls of various girls who have come for track day, Chiyo makes huge amounts of onigiri for Kiyoshi, assuming all boys eat several times more than girls…not to mention believing Kiyoshi got permission to leave.

As Kiyoshi enjoys a bento and some “fine asses” as noon and zero hour draws nearer, a sense of calm seems to settle over the two. Everything has been set into motion, and everything they worked and shat and pissed and sweated and bled for is finally about to come to fruition. Kiyoshi also remarks on how close a friendship he and Gakuto have achieved in the last three weeks. Gakuto says its all for the Three Kingdoms figurines.

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The bell rings. Zero Hour. From this point on, Prison School becomes a taut, elegant thriller, complete with a first-person perspective of Kiyoshi placing the fartbox on the toilet, slipping out the window, into the drainage channel, through tunnels, beneath Shiraki beating his comrades, and out to his changing zone.

He’s barely done transforming into “Kiya-tan” when Shiraki, no longer busy beating the others, calls out to him. He has a choice: run and risk being exposed, or stay put and hope he’s a convincing enough girl from behind to fool the glasses-wearing Shiraki. Somehow, some way, it works, and Shiraki moves on. Is this fortune smiling on Kiyoshi’s Big Day?

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Oh no! Mari grabs him by the backpack before he can step outside of school grounds! But wait, she just wants “her” to take her backpack off her back. When she spots the tear in Kiyoshi’s jacket, she apologizes and lets him go, showing Mari’s empathetic side for once. After that, it’s smooth sailing till the rendezvous point.

Chiyo truly outdoes herself in the adorableness department, between her outfit, the way she sneaks up on an overjoyed Kiyoshi, and her intense enthusiasm over watching a student sumo match with him. Her seiyu Hashimoto Chinami is one of the few voices in this show I’m not familiar with, but she does a great job projecting Chiyo’s warm and genial personality, along with her excitement with the whole affair.

Kiyoshi and Chiyo are just plain infectious to watch here; it’s like he’s died and gone to heaven. Sure, he doesn’t give a shit about sumo, and she sucks at cooking, but HE DOESN’T CARE IT’S CHIYO, for cryin’ out loud. He eats every bite of plain salted white rice, and gets rewarded with a close-in selfie with her, as if they were already boyfriend and girlfriend!

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Then…heaven turns to HELL, and so heart-rippingly fast it made my head spin. I was rooting so hard for Kiyoshi and his success, but in the back of my head I still remembered that he’d done things for which a penance would someday be exacted. I just didn’t think it would happen so fast! From peeping to peeing to stealing and fleeing, to so easily allowing Gakuto to sacrifice his dignity and high school years…Kiyoshi is no pure angel.

And yet, it’s nothing in particular he does or says that leads to him so harshly receiving his “karma” and being driven into the ground. It’s something that just happens, as a result of what he’s already said and done, along with what he failed to do, like check to see whose uniform he stole.

Turns out, he stole CHIYO’S. And because he ate too much of the rice to be “nice”, and had to go to the bathroom (for real this time), he leaves Chiyo alone with his bag, and when she spills tea on it, she notices her uniform in that bag, and it’s over. It’s ALL OVER. She manages to get “You’re disgusting” out before storming off.

Meanwhile, back at the school, his cover is about to be blown, as Shiraki loses patience, goes into the mens room, and prepares to knock down the door where the now-malfunctioning m-poop-3-player sits. It looks like the boys are in for another month of prison. But far, far worse, Kiyoshi’s aspirations with Chiyo are in tatters. It’s going to be tough to come back from all that.

10_sesRABUJOI World Heritage List

Kekkai Sensen – 04

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A third of the way into Spring ’15, Blood Blockade Battlefront is my number one. Nothing can match its scale and complexity, and creativity of its world(s), the swiftness and confidence of its storytelling, or its rapidly expanding yet increasingly diverse and charming cast, anchored by perhaps the weakest among them, possessing the strongest of weapons in their battle for balance.

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Elaborate action and effective comedy go hand in hand with Kekkai, as demonstrated when a big Libra party to let their hair down comes to screetching halt when Leo finally decides to say something, which happens to be his description of something he saw in the subway that matches the description of the greatest potential threat to humanity: blood breeds, AKA vampires.

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Just like that the stakes are raised significantly. We only got the smallest glimpse of what Angel Scale could do to the balance, but this feels like a much more existential threat. Vampires are taken seriously here; something I’m thankful for after seven seasons of True Blood, in which they did everything from play Wii Golf in their living rooms to have sex with their head turned around backwards. But they were never very frightening, nor are the ones in Owari no Seraph. The Blood Breeds of Kekkai are, because they’re strange and unknown and…er…variably corporeal.

That doesn’t mean the leading expert on them can be the hilariously lucky Blitz T. Abrams, who possesses a curse that only affects people (and vehicles) around him, meaning he’s never that fun to be around if you don’t like physical pain, even if it’s not his fault. It doesn’t bother Klaus, who sees Abrams as a mentor of sorts.

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With Leo’s eyes, Abrams is confident they can really get the lay of the vampire land (normally people aren’t able to see vamps unless they want to be seen.) So they plunge into the depths of Hell—on public transportation!—so Leo can take a good look at the “Edge of Nothingness” so Libra can get a better idea of what they’re up against.

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Like previous journeys to the Alterworld, this was another lush symphony of bizarre dreamscapes—I really dug the Final Fantasy vibe of the train station carved into a tree, below which is their ultimate destination. Along with all its narrative and character pros, this eye candy, and the eclectic soundtrack, are what pull Kekkai ahead of the rest.

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While there are a lot of bright sparks affecting his vision, Leo is still able to discern the blood breeds within the nothingness, and it’s not good: more than the 13 believed to exist, there are hundreds of them lurking down there, and if any one of them wanted to take human form and wreak havoc in Hellsalem’s Lot, they’d do plenty of damage indeed. And As the members of Libra back in Hellsalem report, that’s exactly what’s happening.

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When the traditional authorities prove not to be up to the challenge against elite vampires, “specialists” Steven and KK take over, and at least for a time, hold their own with their special abilities, before the female vampire brings the hammer down on them. Klaus, who is watching a live video stream courtesy of Chain (use of modern mobile tech is another neat aspect of Kekkai’s world-building), hops back on the train with Abrams and Zapp, and implores Leo to find those vamps’ weaknesses, because only he has the eyes to see them.

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Steve and KK weren’t sure if they’d survive the fight they were getting into. All they knew was that they had to buy as much time for Klaus and Leo as they could before being neutralized, trusting they’d come through. They do: Klaus makes almost as awesome an entrance as Abrams, and armed with the Vampire’s true name, seals her into a cyberpunk cross.

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Leo is amazed they made it, and weary that it took so much exertion to take out one elite blood breed when there are perhaps a thousand lurking in hell. But the lesson that sets him a little more at ease is as simple as the world he lives in is complicated: no one knows what’s coming tomorrow. Plenty of pain and suffering may be in store. But defeat is assured if one gives up.

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Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 05

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Oh god! WHAT?

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What?! No! Stop it Ange!! STOP!

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Last week, Hannah gave a convincing argument on how and why Ange waking up naked in a bed next to some guy from the opening credits could work — could shake her out of the routine she was finally able to build — and that she such an event would let her reassess what’s going on in her world.

Instead, Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo episode 5 takes Tusk, a new male character with a mysterious past, and forces his mouth into Ange’s crotch as many times as it can… for laughs!

ange5_9Thank goodness he’s a mechanic that can get her off this island!

In previous weeks, Hannah and I have defended Cross Ange’s use of sexual violence and exploitation as a bold (if not brazen) statement about oppression, racism, and keeping a people down through self hatred.

This week is indefensible.

The constant, absurd put-Tusk’s-mouth-on-or-near-Ange’s-crotch scenes, followed by a MONTAGE depicting how they slowly became friends, is mind-blowing.

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The only reason I’m giving this a 2 ( instead of the 1 I gave Vanadis’ boob-sucking episode) is because none of the girls are asserting their relative social status and value as people through comparing breast sizes.

Even then, I’m very tempted to give it a 1 anyway.

Episode 5 is a true, complete failure of story telling and the choice to MONTAGE together random events to show Ange’s growing feelings for Tusk is as cowardly as it is lazy.

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We even get to see Ange is a terrible cook in the most cliché, pot-exploding way, which facilitates yet another crotch-mouth for Tusk. Ha’yuk!

The total irony here is that Hannah and I were talking just yesterday about what it would take for Ange to ruin the goodwill it has built and I foolishly said, it’s built enough goodwill that I’ll give it a full review even if it fizzes out over the season.

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Who knew the character around the corner was a ‘klutz’ who would fall on Ange’s crotch accidentally more than once, that Ange would be bitten near her crotch by a snake and he’d need to suck out the venom, and that everything would be better and happy with no actual scenes or dialogue spent to actually make it so?

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Who thought it wouldn’t be creepy as hell that Tusk can leave the island at any time during this episode’s development?

Who thought it would be okay to have Ange whimper in an orgasmic way as Tusk “eats out” her poison??

What madness led the writers to have Ange fall for Tusk, her captor and possible sexual predator, by the end?

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Oh my god WHAAAAAATTTTT?!?!?!?????

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Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 04

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Jill repeats my assertion at the end of last week’s review: these girls are in Hell. But like anywhere else, Hell has a pecking order and an agree-upon way of doing things. Ange is struggling to fit in and, worse, is not even trying. As far as she’s concerned, she’s already a corpse on borrowed time that’s only going to be spent killing Dragons. No time for possessions or friends or enemies. No time for drama!

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Of course, her enemies and would-be have something to say about that. Just as Salia took up a leadership position that she’s not ready or equipped for as Zola was, this week Hilda takes over as the Zola of the bedroom, the one who fills the void her death left in Rosalie and Chris’ lives. There’s always someone to step forward and assume a vacated role. But like Salia, Hilda is no Zola. We know she couldn’t even satisfy Zola on the eve of her last battle, leading Zola to prey on Ange.

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I’m not saying Zola was a saint — she did try to f-ing rape Ange — but she was a vital, competent authority figure that kept her troops’ clashing personalities in check at HQ, kept them alive out in the field, and tended to their emotional and physical needs in the boudoir. No one can dispute that she owned herself. That woman has been replaced by two girls who are clearly out of their depth, but still try to cultivate the fiction that they aren’t, because at the end of the day, they can’t afford to be. They’re it.

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What’s so great about the new character dynamics is it isn’t the Hilda faction vs. the Salia faction, or Hilda vs. Ange, or Ange vs. Everyone. It’s all of the above. Salia has to protect Ange from hazing because it’s her job as the captain, but there is no “Ange Faction” as long as Ange refuses to accept the help or kindness of others, or refuses to help herself. And while Ange seems to have found her new self, she remains a pretty crap person, as evidenced by her cold treatment of Vivian. Yes, Vivian can be a pain, but I felt bad for her here!

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It’s not just Hilda, Roselie and Chris who are loathing the princess, either, but a large chunk of the nameless general population as well. The way she’s acting right now, Ange deserves some of that scorn. But she doesn’t seem to care either way. In an escalating battle of wills, somethings gotta give, and it does when Hilda goes too far and sabotages Villkiss.

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This leads to another great aerial (and partially naval!) battle in which Ange falls from the sky and sinks, followed by a twist ending where she wakes up nude in bed with a guy (who isn’t nude, just shirtless) on some tropical island. Is this…a bit goofy? Sure, but the set-up of the scene is thankfully quite straightforward: this lad saved Ange, got her out of her wet clothes, and is letting her use his bed. He has her tied up just in case she’s trouble, which we know she is! Any kinkier interpretation is just in Ange’s (or our) own head/s. Yes, a gentleman would sleep on the floor, but maybe he’s not a gentleman!

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It’s par for the course in terms of Ange continually finding herself strange, unexpected, and/or unprecedented situations. It’s also pretty standard in these kinds of stories for the protagonist to at some point end up exiled or isolated and in a situation where there’s time to analyze and re-examine, and emerge changed. I’m looking forward to seeing Ange suddenly outside of the regimented, lethal existence she’s only just gotten used to.

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