Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 04

Like GenesisVirgin Soul is about two opposing sides who aren’t willing to compromise in the slightest, thus requiring a third party, impartial or not, to negotiate and avoid disaster. Only this time, the cooler prevailing heads are super-outnumbered, or in Nina’s case, is too much of a wild card herself to enact any change. When Nina hears what the king is doing to innocent demons, she makes a beaten-down Azazel hug her so she can turn into a dragon and put a scare into Charioce.

Instead, all she does is make the king stand in awe of her power, meaning he probably wouldn’t mind using her as a tool in his fight against gods and demons. Nina is, as Azazel says, like a  little Bahamut, which means as chaotic as she can be, she’s far more controllable than the titular beast. She causes plenty of property damage, but she’s in no danger of bringing down the world.

After Azazel’s ill-conceived standoff and Nina’s attack, things slow down considerably, as both are carted away by Rita in Bacchus’ wagon. It’s as good a time as any for Nina to let Azazel (and us) in on who and what exactly she is and how she got to be this way. Unlike other half-dragon children, she wasn’t able to transform easily.

Only when her heart raced from a cute guy does she transform, and then, exposively so. She treats it as a curse and a burden, which it most certainly is from her perspective, as she can’t even remember what she does while a dragon. That kind of loss of control probably isn’t that pleasant, to say the least.

After a half-hearted attempt to seduce Nina (by telling him if she can’t control herself, she should make love to him and let him try), he disappears, leaving Mugaro in Rita and Nina’s care.

Charioce, not totally believing Kaisar’s version of his relationship to Azazel, lets him live regardless since our favorite prettyboy saved the king’s life. Another familiar face is then introduced in the imprisoned Jeanne d’Arc, who won’t join Charioce’s crusade, and may just be the mother of Mugaro.

Then we learn where Azazel went off to: to find the headquarters of the organized demon army that’s itching to go to war with the humans. Azazel is only too happy to lead them in battle.

While there was more exposition and piece-moving than previous episodes, there was still the usual things to like about this Bahamut, not the least of which Nina turning into a dragon again, and her great reactions before and after she does (and her seiyu Morohoshi Sumire is knocking it out of the park). We’ll see if the cooler heads can make any progress with the extremists next week.

Uchouten Kazoku 2 – 03

The Gist: Benten returns and crushes Tenmaya, who is both obsessed with and terrified of her. Yasaburou and his mother Tousen visit Tousen’s mother, an ancient white fluffy tanuki, and ask for help turning frog-brother back to normal. The grandmother is blind, kind, and cryptic, but offers some medicine.

Later, Yasaburou and his little brother visit Nadaime’s new location, which is a lovely roof top mansion, and share some afternoon tea. Benten shows up and completely fails to dominate Nadaime. Major magical conflict can not be far off now…

As is often the case, Uchouten Kazoku wandered us through several lovely, dialogue-heavy scenes that straddle the line between inconsequential and deeply magical. However, because Uchouten Kazoku treats its magical settings and characters as everyday occurrences, exposition is kept to a minimum.

What is grandmother’s place in tanuki culture? What are the other tanuki doing around grandmother? Is it a ceremony simply because she is old or is she part of the shrine or something else? Leaving us with a heavily detailed but unknowable scene renders it dreamlike. Captivating.

The rise and fall of Benten is more or less the defining arc this week. As with Nadaime, she abruptly falls from the sky full of power and crushes Tenmaya. While we learn no details about their rivalry, and Benten is almost as interested in Yasaburou’s moon (stolen by Tenmaya) as she is in Tenmaya himself.

Here Benten is full of power and flaunts it. Yasaburou has no course but to ask very nicely for his moon back and Tenmaya has no choice but to shed his fake skin and flee. Benten casually rolls the moon around her fingers and, when she tires of it, simply throws it back into the sky before demanding even more courtesy from Yasaburou and wandering off to visit her master.

That domination comes to a quick end when Benten arrives at Nadaime’s new house and arrogantly lays down on the couch Nadaime had planned to use for his afternoon nap. Always polite, Nadaime asks her to leave and when she will not, he spreads a sheet on the floor and dumps her out. Paying her no mind, he thanks everyone for their visit and gets ready to nap.

The contrast between Nadaime and Benten is rather interesting. Both are powerful and throw their weight around but it is hard to figure out which is ‘good’ or not. Despite her malice and abuse, Benten seems to care for Yasaburou. (At least she cares enough to want his attention) Where as Nadaime, despite being generally polite in dialog, is obviously dismissive of Tenuki in general. He’s tolerant of them, but does not especially desire to have them around.

The Verdict: Despite the masterful craft poured into Uchouten Kazoku, it is not always an exciting nor engaging show to watch. Again, as last week, episode three was full of action, characters and conflict, but it lacked a sense of purpose. Nadaime’s shirt ironing, Yasaburou’s grandmother, and Benten playing with the moon were all interesting curiosities but, not counting Nadaime and Benten’s cliffhanger showdown, nothing consequential actually happened.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 03

Three weeks in, Nina continues to be the season’s MVP, as she lights up the screen with her ebullience. Hamsa puts the freeloader to good use taking the money of men who hope to best her in an arm wrestling match.

While this is going on, Bacchus is approached by the angel Sofiel, brought to Anatae on a mission from Gabriel herself to retrieve the boy we know as Mugaro. If Bacchus can find him, he’ll be welcomed back to Heaven.

Nina’s winning streak nearly ends when a handsome, reluctant young man wearing a hood gives her a run for her money. Still, she’s a dragon, and so summons the necessary reserves of strength to defeat him, going a little too far in the process

But when she lifts her blindfold, the look of him nearly has her transforming, and she has to flee into the carriage.

That night we get a lovely suppertime scene with Nina, Rita, Rocky, Hamsa and Bacchus enjoying a huge meal. Well, Nina enjoys most of it, proving that a body with her strength and speed requires a formidable amount of food to maintain. I don’t think I’ve ever been more entertained by the animation of Nina polishing off an ear of corn.

Nobody at the table is surprised by her ravenous appetite, but when she tells them a bit more of her story, she lets slip the name of her ‘bounty-hunting teacher’ who gave her her bracer: Favaro. Everyone’s reaction to this is priceless. I was surprised too, but it makes sense.

I also liked how when Rita said someone in Anatae knew Favaro better than her, Nina first suspects an old lover, only for that ‘old lover’, Kaisar, to come running towards them, looking desperately for Azazel.

Desperately, because King Charioce, frustrated that neither Orleans nor Onyx succeeded in nabbing the Rag Demon, has decided the next step is to put on a huge show of military force in the city square and start indescriminately torturing and slaughtering demons in order to lure the Rag Demon to them.

Kaisar isn’t at all okay with continuing to brutalize demons or gods, since he considers them friends (whether they do or not). But there’s little he can do; he’s already on thin ice with Charioce, along with one of the younger fellow knights.

As for the king’s plan, it works swimmingly: Azazel makes a dramatic entrance, perched above a tower. A battle is inevitable, but who will be involved? Nina and Kaisar are racing to the scene, and Mugaro looks poised to assist again if Azazel is on the ropes (which he probably will be, as he’s far from 100%).

And if Mugaro uses his power, there’s no doubt it will draw Sofiel to his location. Lots of different interests look ready to interweave. It ought to be quite a battle, as one would expect of Rage of Bahamut.

Uchouten Kazoku 2 – 02

The Gist: Akadama and Nidaime’s top-dog Tengu fight ends before it even begins, with Akadama falling off the building and Nidaime not seeing his father being worth the effort to fight. For whatever reason, Akadama takes this as a victory, which Yasaburou thinks is patently absurd.

Though perhaps that’s Nidaime’s point in not calling himself a Tengu? The very definition of Tengu may project an arrogance that he finds unnecessary and unproductive.

Meanwhile, a noodle shop opens on the roof of the shopping arcade and the owner wont take it down. Apparently, he can extend his chin as a whip, amongst various other illusions and even Yasaburou’s foolishness is not enough to win the day. Actually, Yasaburou ends up a hypnotized bear, and is nearly shot by the police…

This conflict leads to a few passing confrontations between Yasaburou and his formerly betrothed, who’s angsty at him for a variety of things but, most obviously, that they are no longer engaged. Even though Yasaburou is the only one who doesn’t realize there’s no reason for them not to be engaged anymore…

It also leads to the introduction of a painter who doesn’t want to sell his paintings and reveals the name and identity of the noodle shop owner. Tenmaya, who appears magical but is also consistently referred to as just human, apparently climbed out of a painting of hell because the painter illustrated a Buddha holding a spider’s thread out to the damned… it’s unclear who the painting belongs to or what the significance of all of this is. (Tenmaya doesn’t seem to want anything from life except amusement)

What is clear is that Yasaburou probably shouldn’t have tried to scare Tenmaya by turning into a demon, which is where the episode ends. A shotgun pointed right in our poor foolish hero’s face…

The official theme this week is that we are in the age in which Man plays tricks on Tenuki. However, for me, the story was more about the world not being able to move forward. (or not being aware of its lack of forward development)

Akadama is not only stuck in the tradition of Tengu, but also stuck on his conflict with his son. Despite his rejection of Tengu, Nadaime hasn’t moved ahead himself, which is evident from his characterization of Akadama being pathetic because he interacts with Tenuki, and Nadaime’s somewhat vaguely contradictory like/disrespect of Yasaburou throughout their encounters.

Yasaburou is stuck in last season’s position of servitude to the community, pranking around without purpose, and with not advancing his relationships with family and his love interest. He doesn’t exactly have a strong narrative reason to have changed, but he hasn’t changed regardless.

The Verdict: Uchouten Kazoku takes a casual approach to narrative. It just sorta wanders all over the place, touching on many different story threads, but without any sense of specific purpose. This very much fits the nature of Tenuki, and the experience is enjoyable enough due to the odd and specifically weird situations, but it does risk becoming so whimsical as to lose my attention.

It’s already somewhat hard to follow, due to the gigantic cast, many of which can shape-change and many others who simply don’t get enough story time for me to remember who they are or what their objectives may be.

For now, the magic has me under it’s spell. However, like Akadama, I too miss Benten and the sense of specific adversarial focus she brings. Hopefully, we’ll see her sooner than later…

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 02

How did Nina end up safely in Rita’s lab? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Not that I care; pairing the listless, sardonic Rita with the hyper, naive Nina is a great move. Rita’s assistant Rocky was fun too. But like last week, this episode of Virgin Soul ably juxtaposes moments of levity, comfort, and optimism with scenes of unspeakable horror, destruction, and dread.

First, the levity, comfort, and optimism: Nina is still crashing at Bacchus’ carriage with Hamsa, and in her letters to her mom back home we see she’s from a Dragon Village full of dragons in human form who transform into dragons when upset—or in Nina’s case, gets too excited over an attractive man. And there are a lot of those in Anatae.

Yet she insists to her mother that she’s just fine, and having a blast in bustling capital. The montage that accompanies her letter doesn’t seem to suggest otherwise; everyone she interacts with on a daily basis in the city seems to love Nina, and so they should.

Then the Rag Demon, AKA Azazel had to go rain on Nina’s parade, confronting her and demanding she join his cause as a kindred demon. Nina doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and in any case can’t actually look at his face too long lest she turn into a dragon, so it makes for a very interestingly staged discussion.

Azazel has little patience for Nina’s coyness and confusion, so he takes her to the hind end of the city, scattered with suffering, starving demons. Ever since Good ol’ King Charioce sacked the Demon capital Cocytus, the demons have been brought to the human world and sold into slavery.

Azzy is perhaps too zealous too soon (he fully deserves the flying arm punch Rita sends his way to rescue Nina), but I’m glad he puts a crack in Nina’s pristine view of her city life. She didn’t know anything about this horrible stuff because she never looked.

I’m not sure how likely Nina is going to suddenly join Azzy’s cause, which would require her to do the thing she least wants to do: be a dragon. But he provides her vital food for thought, and more importantly, she’s no longer completely oblivious to the very real and very unfortunate situation demons find themselves in.

Kaisar somehow ending up at the manor of some particularly awful aristocrats (who like to do all manner of awful things to demons they presumably buy) seems a bit convenient, like Nina ending up at Rita’s lab safe and sound, but again, I don’t mind. Kaisar and his Orleans Knights were dismissed from Rag Demon hunting after they failed Charioce for the last time. Maybe he was reassigned to security detail?

In any case, he walks in on Azazel killing the humans, and begs him to stop, because revenge will only lead to more hate, etc., etc. Even when Azazel tells him to actually take a second to look around at the despicable doings of the men he’s killing, Kaisar is firm in wanting to stop the killing first and foremost.

Azazel basically warns him to stay out of his way: he’s a human, after all, and humans are Azazel’s enemy. He hates them, and that hatred is as pure and deep as Kaisar’s chivalry.

Little does Kaisar know the king ordered him followed and watched, which leads to Azazel’s location being ascertained by the Onyx Soldiers who replaced the Orleans Knights in the hunt. It’s not a dragon rampage, but Azzy’s battle with the Onyx soldiers is another good one. When his ranged attacks fail against the soldiers’ armor, he goes with straight-up brute strength, delivering brutal blows and stabbing out eyes.

But the Onyx soldiers have the abilities appropriated/borrowed/stolen from the Gods, and they use those powers to bind Azazel. He’s saved by his mute companion Mugaro, a former slave himself, using a power that makes him seem like more of an angel than a demon, and sporting blue-and-red eyes in the process. When Onyx reports back about the kid with the powers, Charioce is intrigued. He believes he knows who Mugaro is.

Another strong, fantastic looking episode, sporting the show’s OP (another stylish, badass, metal affair) and ED (a super-cute 16-bit sidescroller featuring Nina and her entourage). Virgin Soul continues to be top-notch entertainment, with its new star Nina all but stealing the show. Honestly, if it keeps up at this clip, I won’t even mind if Favaro only shows up at the very end, Luke Skywalker-in-The Force Awakens-style.

Uchouten Kazoku 2 – 01 (First Impressions)

The Gist: the stage is set some time after the events that closed the first season, with the cast serving mostly familiar roles. The Shimogamo brothers are an eclectic, often disrespected, but equally relied upon members of the Tenuki community.

Yasaburou continues to take care of the elderly Akadama-sensei, who appears a bit depressed now that Benten is on an extended vacation. Yasaburou’s older brother is still vying for the position of leadership amongst the Tanuki, the youngest brother is immersed in books and his own world, and the second brother is still a frog at the bottom of the well. Fools’ blood all around but fools’ blood where we would expect it.

One day, while Yasaburou is searching for a mythical snake, a couch falls from the sky. Eventually, this leads him to meet Akadama-sensei’s son, who’s returned after over a hundred years in exile. While their exchanges are guarded, the two wayward sons seem to bond over clever and polite banter. However, it’s obvious that Akadama’s son will be a source of major conflict.

Sure enough, by the end of the evening, Father and son stand on a roof ready to duel…

At it’s core, this opening episode is a leisurely exploration of nostalgia and the challenges of tradition (or, perhaps, generally grappling with the past).

Yasaburou’s snake-hunt is something his father own father played at long ago. It’s even how his father and mother met, which Yasaburou attributes as the singular reason he and his four brothers exist.

Meanwhile, Yasaburou’s older brother is attempting to revive the town’s shoji tournament, which has not been run since their father was cooked in a hot pot. Not only does this repeat the shadow of the father motif, but it reinforces the older brother’s need to retain the family place as an upstanding leader in the community. It’s strongly implied this will let him tanuki-bang the wide eye’d girl at the clinic too.

Double meanwhile, Akadama and his son have an unavoidable need to battle, due to their traditional pride as tengu. However, neither seems up for that tradition (Akadama physically and his son emotionally). It’s comical to see the modern tengu, a classless lot, dressed like dime store mobsters, egg them on from afar. As Akadama’s son says when he first meets them: if you’re tengu, at least put some pride in it.

You should probably watch Uchouten Kazoku’s second season because the first was a lovely, whimsical tale of weirdness. While the narrative buildup and payoff, and the tension along the way lacked the emotional impact of other weird-genre shows (Tamako Market, Tatami Galaxy, Mr.Despair), Uchouten Kazoku absolutely rules the roost for world-building. Only Durarara!! comes close.

You may choose to skip Uchouten Kazoku because it’s destined to be a slow build with an all-too-uneventful finish. While the high concepts appeal to me, and pose a creative challenge to tease out and express via review, I must admit that academic focus creates a barrier between the story and emotionally resonant action and conventional drama.

The Verdict: Uchouten Kazoku is solidly enjoyable to look at and confidently cool. Despite being a slow burn, it presents a lot to absorb; at times, too quickly for me to read without pausing.

But that’s hardly a complaint, as re-watching and rewinding lets me revel in its wonderful camera angles, solid color work, imaginative facial expressions, character designs and gestures. The music choices haven’t stuck with me but that also means I have no complaints about them either.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 01

The age of man revering the gods has ended.

Bold, resonant words from a leader of humans invading and destroying the godly sanctuary of Temple Ark. That’s right, it’s not the gods and demons going at it, but humans, all hepped up on power they’re not supposed to possess. Now we’ve gotten to the good stuff…Shingeki no Bahamut has returned, and it’s just as lush, gorgeous, and engaging as I remember it.

Whither Favaro Leone? That’s one of many questions left unanswered in the season two premiere of Virgin Soul. Instead, we have a new heroine in Nina Drango, who is as adorable as she is tough as nails. She has superhuman strength, speed, and stores of energy, which not only make her very popular in the burgeoning Royal Capital of Anatae, but also give her the idea to take up some bounty hunter work, provided by Bacchus and Hamsa, who grudgingly allow her to crash there.

Nina also has an interesting little quirk that seems like just that at first: she’s extremely bashful around handsome men. And who’s more handsome than King Charioce XVII’s right-hand man Kaisar Lidfort? For chrissakes, he’s got better eyelashes than Nina. The two meet while both on the lookout for the “Rag Demon”, a wanted vigilante who seems to be in the business of freeing his fellow demons from bondage, and also bears a striking resemblance to everyone’s favorite fallen angel, Azazel.

The Rag Demon literally bumps into Nina, sending her flying through the air, and we’re treated to a steadicam shot of her appearing still as the world around her spins around and around and she realizes who it was who bumped into her.

The gorgeous setting is matched by even more masterful direction and camerawork, with lovely organic sweeps, zooms, pans, yaws, pitches POV shots…look, I’m not a cinematographer, okay? I don’t know all the jargon. But I know what’s good, and this is very very good stuff.

Turns out, that little quirk of Nina turns out to be much more than that. Climbing to the top of a tower inspired by the Canpanièl de San Marco in Venice, she comes under attack from the city’s dragon knights, beleiving her to be in cahoots with the Rag Demon. She falls and is caught by Azazel, and her close proximity to him finally causes her to blow: streaking through the sky in a pink flare that lands in a building, then emerging…as a really cute, precocious, cool-looking red dragon.

The city defenses give her a fight, but she’s ready for one, and gives as good as she gets in a virtuoso display of destruction. Even the mecha-like giant fighting suits the humans have are little match for her power, which is just as considerable in dragonform as it was when she was in the form of a 16-year-old girl trying to make it in the city to support her mom back home.

The carnage and destruction continues, until suddenly everything goes quiet and white, and Nina wakes up on an operating table, fan blades spinning above her, and none other than Rita at her bedside, sporting her characteristically ambiguous expression. Bored, tired, unimpressed? Probably none of the above; Rita seems aware she’s got herself a rare specimen on her hands: a girl who can become a dragon.

As for the illustrious and well-loved King of Anatae, Lord Charioce XVII: he is the man we see in the beginning, raiding a sanctuary of the gods and no doubt pillaging divine tech, ignoring warnings that humans will never be able to control such power. Nina, in her naivete, goes along with her fellow citizens in voicing her gratitude for the king.

There’s lots of juicy meat to sink our teeth into in this new Shingeki no Bahamut. Familiar faces and places, an instantly rootable new heroine and a fantastic battle combine to get things off to an auspicious start.

Qualidea Code – 12 (Fin)

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Qualidea Code wasn’t always (or really ever) the prettiest, but it was the best-sounding (musically at least), and also never seemed to stand still. It improved right up until the end, at least as far as resolving a major issue early on: a mysterious, faceless, malevolent enemy.

By this final episode, the enemy is no longer faceless, or malevolent (though some mysteries about what they are or where they come from remains unknown to the end, thankfully). In fact, it seems strange to call Airi and Asanagi enemies at all; merely a party with a different agenda.

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Placing them in a grayer area, and resolving their story in a more nuanced way than “kill bad guys” went a long way towards helping me mostly overlook the fact that the show seemed to have run out of budget this week, as huge swaths of animation are simply missing.

I didn’t even mind Aoi’s sudden but inevitable (and heavily telegraphed) “betrayal.” But just like Asanagi, who turns out to be her father, her decision to side with him and Airi is borne out of love, not hate, so it’s hard to condemn what she does.

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That doesn’t mean I don’t want Ichiya and the others to succeeding in ridding the world of the Unknown, and watching them fight desperately, initially without their worlds, made for a thrilling final battle, despite the animation shortcomings. Asuha headbutting Aoi, and Hotaru holding her sword in her mouth were among the highlights.

In the end, everyone gets a boost in power thanks to the return of Canaria’s song, which gets a slightly different (but still very danceable) arrangement for the finale, in which Airi is killed by Hime, who remembers learning which conditions would allow Airi to die contented.

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In the end, Airi does not mind leaving her mortal coil, for she achieved what she wanted: she and Asanagi were able to make another, entirely new life: Aoi. Asanagi does not die, but stays with his daughter.

The Kasumis visit their injured mom, who is ecstatic they’re safe and sound. The dimensional tear is sealed, the skies return to blue, and the heads and subheads of Kanto all vow, in their own way, to rebuild what was toppled.

While we don’t get to hear Ichiya’s answer to Canaria’s question “how do I look to you now?”, we didn’t need any words from him to know how he feels: She’s all he needs.

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Qualidea Code – 11

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Kasumi and Asuha’s mom isn’t shy about her goal: to wipe out each and every Unknown she can. In addition to being angry they kept her children captive and used them as tools for so long, she also believes there’s no reasoning with a creature so alien.

And yet, as we learn later this week as the Unknown wind down their operations on Earth, Johannes isn’t quite right about the second thing. Not only is an Unknown able to feel how a human feels, she’s also able to love, in her way. And she in turn is loved back by a human.

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Aoi, who continues to be a tense wild card just waiting to go off and undermine the plans to eradicate the Unknown, seems to understand this. It’s not just that she lacks perspective due to an emotional attachment to Yunami and Asanagi…it’s that they’re worth being worried about. She can sense that the two are different from Johannes’ black-and-white, no-quarter viewpoint.

Unfortunately, a great deal of the Unknown still seem committed to attacking humans, and Johannes isn’t in the mood to carefully pick her targets. She launches a huge attack with her big cannon, but when it proves insufficient and she’s taken out of action with an injury, it provides an opportunity for the kids to keep doing what they do best: fight for themselves.

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Of course, for our six peeps, fighting for themselves means fighting for those they love: Rindo and Hime, Asuha and Kasumi…and Canaria and Ichiya. Whatever other issues are at hand, they don’t want to lose each other, so they have to fight and they have to win. That means infiltrating enemy HQ and closing the dimensional gate that allowed the Unknown in to begin with.

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Aoi remains the third, or rather seventh wheel, following everyone but constantly looking conflicted, and with, as I mentioned, good reason. The ones she wants to protect are the adults who cared for them so kindly all those years, making them more parents than her actual parents (which are probably gone).

As Rindo and Hime encounter what seems to be Yunami’s true form, and the others meet Asanagi, who was human all along, it will be interesting to see how the final showdown will turn out. Will there be a need for fighting? Will the Unknown, led by Yunami, peacefully return to where they came from? Are there more twists in store that will test everyone’s priorities? The endgame approaches.

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Qualidea Code – 10

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The truths of the real world our heads and subheads are now awakened to roll in like relentless waves this week, and it’s a lot for them to take in.

All this time, they’ve been captives of the Unknown, who altered their perception of the world so they would see adult humans as Unknown, and thus fight them. In a way, it’s worse than The Matrix, because they’re not just batteries, they’re weapons the Unknown are using to wipe out whats left of their families.

Suddenly having your world upside down is both frightening and un-mooring, and can mess with one’s sense of identity. The kids hold close to what they know to be true beyond any doubt, and reinforced through the years they were cared for by the Unknown: the bonds of friendship and love they all share.

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Kasumi and Asuha’s ambitious (and morally flexible) mother Johannes is in charge of the humans, having climbed a ladder constructed off those who once opposed her, be they dead or now under her heel.

She’s a handful, and while parts of Kasumi and Asuha are glad to reunite with their mother, this has all happened very fast, and an adjustment period will be necessary to process it all, especially the fact that they no longer need to fight, which is what defined them to this point.

Ichiya is also particularly un-moored, because his idea of who he was – a hero who was “all we need(ed)” and the only one who could protect Canaria – has blown up in his face with the knowledge that it was all an illusion. He was nothing but a clown; a puppet being manipulated along with all the other kids.

It’s really good to see Canaria back in the show. Her cheerful demeanor are welcome in such a harsh new world, but Ichiya just can’t function without her. We saw that, and we see just how much these two mean to each other in a lovely scene that nearly turns into a kiss before Ichiya panics and sends Cana flying in the opposite end of the room.

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Johannes seems singularly obsessed with three things (in no particular order): grabbing and holding power, protecting her kids, and utterly eliminating the Unknown down to the last one, with extreme prejudice.

Kasumi and Asuha have grown up to the point they don’t really need their mother, or anyone other than each other and their comrades to protect them and give them purpose. The Unknown may have stolen them from their human parents, but the crucial years of development they were separated aren’t coming back.

Not only that, but the Unknown, represented by Asanagi and Yunami, aren’t portrayed as evil this week, but rather as two people stuck in a system who only wants what’s best for the children they’ve come to love. Were they misguided in their actions? Surely.

But they’re not the monsters Johannes makes them out to be, and the kids’ opinions of them are at best conflicted, and in the case of Aoi, totally sympathetic.

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Surely the kids can figure out a way to come between their warring parents and the Unknown and come to some kind of negotiated peace or coexistence. That would seem to be the point here. The Adults, led by Johannes, are bent on revenge, and won’t stop attacking. It’s up to their offspring to create a world that moves past this conflict.

When the Unknowns attack Johannes’ fleet, its an indication Asanagi and Yunami didn’t get the final say—perhaps their are other Unknowns in higher positions that think about the humans how Johannes thinks about them.

Another point I want to make: we’ve learned just enough about the Unknown to make them far more interesting and nuanced. They have a face and emotions and dreams and desires just like humans. If they think and feel and act so alike, appearances aside, perhaps they’re not so “unknown” after all.

For the time being, Ichiya and Canara, Kasumi and Asuha, and Hime and Hotaru all decide to keep fighting beside one another, the ones they know for sure they can count on, whatever issues they may have with one another. Keeping things simple by fighting the enemy, staying alive, and having each others backs is the best way to stay centered in increasingly uncertain times.

Which is why Aoi’s isolation and anxiety worries me.

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P.S. I somehow forgot to publish the draft of last week’s episode review, so this week you get two. You’re welcome. :*

Divine Gate – 03

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As Arthur summons Oz (that’s right: the Wizard of Oz…oh my) along with Loki, not necessarily for their aid but to at least bear witness to the impending discovery of the Divine Gate, the show takes a closer look at the cheerful, energetic Midori, who not surprisingly is dealing with demons just like Aoto, which affects her focus and performance in a sparring exercise, and may prove more of a crippling liability as the quest to find the gate heats up.

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We haven’t even been formally introduced to three of the six kids in the core group, but as Akane talks with them, one makes clear that Midori’s intense belief in the Gate, or something related to it, could be hampering her development, like an anchor holding back a boat (not the most flattering metaphor, I’ll admit).

As Aoto is initiated into the academy, he still declines warm food and has trouble putting into words why exactly he’s there (as opposed to how he came to be there). But it’s a brief outburst by Midori about “being number one” that shifts Akane’s attention to her later.

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Midori decides to open up Akane, telling him about her friendship with Elena, someone who only wanted one friend: her. When Midori, a far more outgoing girl, inevitably made other friends at school, it poisoned the bond between them, culminating in an ultimatum from Elena that Midori simply could not accept. This was a decent, no-nonsense execution of the Obsessive Friend theme.

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Midori fails to make up with Elena, who rather than attend the summer festival as they always do, heads off to find the Divine Gate on her own. Once Midori hears of a girl disappearing in the mountains, she rushes to a police-filled scene, and actually sees the massive gate looming over the mountain.

Ever since that strange, vivid experience, Midori has not only believed in the gate, but believed Elena was already there, waiting for her. She wants Elena to still be alive, but she also wants to repair the bond she broke by rejecting her ultimatum (which wasn’t an unreasonable move, but obviously came at a stiff price).

Aoto hears a little of the story, and it probably shows him that he’s not the only one with issues, but unlike her, he’s also got a little boy in his head telling him how messed up he is all the time. Akane and Midori can see him talking to someone they can’t see, and it worries Midori.

She does some digging online (on a computer with a keyboard that seems way too loud and disruptive for a library), but as soon as she accesses Aoto’s files, a red “Restricted Access” wall goes up, stopping her in her tracks and making her and Akane wonder what the heck Aoto did, or what was done to him.

Another episode that efficiently fleshes out one more character, Midori, without solving all her problems, but making us understand her better. I imagine the show will eventually do this with Akane and the other three prominent kids in the group, parallel to Arthur and the Round Table’s more abstract machinations.

However, I won’t be around to see it, because the mystery of the gate just isn’t doing anything for me, and there’s no indication the revelations (if they ever come, as we’re likely to be strung along for some time beforehand) will be any less half-baked than the characterization of iconic characters like Loki and Oz. So I’m making a discreet exit now; no hard feelings.

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Divine Gate – 02

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Divine Gate’s second episode delves further into both Aoto and Akane’s troubled (if very different) pasts, and there’s some okay character work going on as Aoto discovers a way to start moving forward.

But it paints with awfully broad and familiar strokes, and my initial enthusiasm about Divine Gate being an absorbing if imperfect diversion took a big hit when I was introduced to Loki, another very loaded character name.

The idea of a character who’s neither entirely good nor evil is good in theory, but the execution falls short, thanks to his really dumb clown/jester design.  I don’t particularly want this joker pulling the strings. Also, a name like Loki has inescapable baggage attached to it. Like King Arthur or Leonardo da Vinci, if you’re going to use a name, you’d better do something interesting with it.

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Meanwhile, the refreshingly normally-dressed Akane and Midori visit Aoto again, they see he takes care of alley cats, but not all the time, only “when he feels like it”, something Akane thinks is worst than not feeding them at all. But when the hungry creature in need shifts from cats to a little boy, Akane himself can’t help but help, even if he can’t always be there to do so.

When Loki makes a police robot go berserk and the kid ends up in mortal peril, and the father is too terrified and injured to save him, Aoto has to make a choice; like the one he made on the train last week.

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He chooses to help Akane and Midori, who destroy the robot while he extinguishes the fire. While the saved boy initially hesitates going to his inept father, and Akane curses the dad for doing nothing, Aoto can relate to consciously wanting to do something—like move forward—but being hampered by a subconscious that’s not in sync. The father’s fear overpowered his conscious desire to save his boy.

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I know all this because a little boy with white hair and red eyes in Aoto’s subconscious tells him and us, which is a bit clunky, truth be told, like the clowny Loki, the very sight of whom irritates me. But he apparently staged the whole crisis to shake Aoto off the shelf, and he succeeded.

Aoto goes back to the night his parents were murdered, and we learn it was his brother, the favorite son, who actually did it. When Aoto takes his hand, he briefly sees the Divine Gate, but his subconscious delivers a shock of pain to his brother, who separates their hands and walks off, never to be seen again.

So Aoto isn’t the parent-killer. Yet I felt that absolving him so easily was an overly safe choice that sapped his character of darkness and complexity. Being messed up because you killed your parents, and being messed up because your brother did, are two different things.

But it’s because his brother is still out there, and he wants to see him again, that Aoto joins the academy. Also, because Akane and Midori were “annoying”.

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Divine Gate – 01 (First Impressions)

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Many years ago, Noriyuki Abe wasted no time drawing me into a world where a youth named after a berry, who looked like a delinquent to many around him, actually had a very kind and generous heart. He could also see and talk to ghosts, which is how he met his first shinigami; a very cute one who sucked at drawing.

I’m talking, of course, about Bleach, my first extended foray into serialized anime. There’s a lot of that same welcoming, beckoning quality coming off his latest work Divine Gateas well as its exploration of spirituality and mythology. It’s a hard feeling to put into words, but Active Raid didn’t have it; not for me at least. Divine Gate, like Bleach, did.

In DG the normal human world is just the normal human world, but there are two other worlds: a world of fairies and a world of demons. A few of those humans have elemental powers, and work under Arthur of the World Council either as full-fledged members or academy students like Akane and Midori.

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Then there’s Aoto, who’s clearly a powerful water-user, even without a power-enhancing driver, but wants nothing to do with the Council, despite Arthur’s believe his powers will help maintain peace between the three worlds. Instead of attending a school that will help him hone his powers, he’s at regular old school, where his peers shun him as the infamous “parent-killer.”

Even though most of Aoto’s early dialogue is internal (and quite flowery), the fact I can hear what he’s thinking is an effective way of drawing me into his world and his plight. He’s mopey and morose, but there are very good reasons for it.

Meanwhile, since this is a show about elements and colors, his moroseness is balanced by his would-be academy mates. Akane outwardly mocks Midori for actually believing in the titular “Divine Gate” that will grant any wish once opened with the power of all the elements, but somewhere in the heart of every student and Council member is a desire to encounter that gate, their individual wishes ready to go.

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Midori and Akane meet Aoto twice, but neither encounter goes particularly well. He’s got a wall up, one they don’t—and can’t—quite understand, anymore than they understand right now how a kid could really kill his parents—which Aoto freely admits when the subject comes up (though I’m not sure he’s being truthful).

But the flashback makes it clear: Aoto was the family pariah; his parents doting on the younger son while he was exiled to a shed in the backyard eating cold food. His brother knew of his plight, but also knew Aoto had the power to do something about it, so he did nothing, instead doing whatever he wanted.

So Aoto endured a thoroughly cold and loveless upbringing. Why exactly, we don’t know. The “rain” (his tears) continues to fall unendingly inside him. He doesn’t believe power can do anything, because he’s always had it and it’s never done him any good. But perhaps, with more interaction with other perspectives and elements, those inner clouds could break one day, and he’ll find that wish to be used at the Gate.

DG effortlessly drew me into its world; it’s a place I wouldn’t mind coming back to next week. Not sure about the show’s logo, though. Tilted Impact? Really?

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