Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 07

While watching the first half of this Baha Soul, I felt like the calm before the storm achieved last week didn’t need the supplemental calm we got here. Just get on with the parade and let things unravel.

Don’t get me wrong, Nina is adorable as always, especially post-first-date, it’s ironic to think the fact she dressed Mugaro as a girl means Sofiel can’t tell he’s the kid she’s looking for, despite staring straight at him.

It’s also laudable for Kaisar to warn his king not to attend the parade, because unpleasant doings sure to transpire. But we know Charioce isn’t going to miss a parade celebrating his great day of victory—when Cocytus fell and with it the fear of demons—for fear of demons.

But when the parade finally starts, the tension keeps building until that first concussive blast, followed by several more. It’s a terror bombing the king was almost daring the demons to pull off, and being surrounded and unable to retreat is no sweat off his back.

It’s a nice touch that in a carefully-planned battle in which she was meant to be the pièce de résistance for the resistance, Nina doesn’t have a clue what’s going on. She’s suddenly scooped up by Azazel, who proceeds, in hilarious fashion, to alternated between staring deeply and intensely into Nina’s eyes and hugging her.

But the blushing never comes. Nina’s heart doesn’t race for Azazel anymore, not necessarily because of anything he did, but because of what her mystery date did: make her once general discomfort with pretty men much more specific. She doesn’t know why she’s not transforming even after almost being kissed by Azazel, but she also seems relieved. I know I would be.

I can’t fault for Nina not cooperating with Azazel – she wants her dragon form under control, not weaponized, and certainly doesn’t want to hurt people. At best, she’s annoyed by the kind, shrugging off missing him in the parade (incidentally, if they’d locked eyes while he passed I wonder if she’d see her date and if her heart would’ve raced accordingly. Alas).

But, Nina not playing ball with Azazel means the demons are dealt another defeat, picked off one by one by Charioce’s forces. Many start to think they were betrayed by Azazel, until he swoops in to fight beside them. But when they asked what the hell happened with the red dragon, he has no answer.

Post-credits, the big tank demon and sultry demon are taken out by a flurry of arrows and the fist of one of those giant golem/mecha guys (that don’t seem like a good idea in a crowded city), respectively. Azazel is also in big trouble, and Nina still isn’t yet caught up on what’s even happening.

Finally, the preview was handled by Gabriel and Sofiel, who haughtily boast of the fact they’re beautiful gods.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 06

This was a calm-before-the-storm episode where not much happened, but what did transpire, and what I learned, was of great significance. It also underscored the fact that the female gaze as represented by Nina is not only present but prevailing in Bahamut.

Case in point, while running an errand for Rita on the eve of the great Anatae festival, Nina comes afoul of the Pimp whose slaves Mugaro released, only this time he’s armed with ridiculously handsome henchmen that make it tough for her to fight back.

It’s an ingenious way to place her in a state of vulnerability and in need of rescuing by the dreamy aloof vagabond. As thanks for his assistance, she asks him to stop by Bacchus’ hot wings stand, and he says he’ll be there.

Nina’s resulting bubbly high from the gruff yes lasts her for much of the episode, as her facial expressions reach new heights of contortion and she wanders through her festival duties in a haze. She’s got the hots for the stranger, and bad…but I wonder how she’d fell if she knew that stranger was none other than King Charioce XVII, walking among his people in disguise.

Meanwhile, Azazel’s imminent plans cast a pall over the big festival—plans that heavily rely on a very large assumption that Nina will side with him and the demons, transform into a red dragon, and help his cause; none of these things are certain, but he’s moving forward regardless.

The night of the festival, Charioce keeps his promise and stops by, and Bacchus asks him to take Nina and show her around. A lovely montage ensues, with an initially just-as-bashful-as-ever Nina gradually becoming more comfortable beside the pretty man as they engage in all manner of festival-related activities.

Those activities culminate in a folk dance, which is as carefully and lovingly animated as the scenes of action, violence, and destruction in previous episodes. Nina’s face is typically a kaleidoscope of emotions, but the dance takes her expressiveness to a new level.

When the time comes to bid farewell, Nina asks the king-in-disguise his name: he gives the name “Chris.” She wants to see and dance with him again, and he hopes they will, a line that echos in Nina’s head and almost turns her into a dragon right there, which is her cue to speed off, Road Runner-style.

While running, she fortuitously collides with Azazel, who has returned to Anatae after his long absence. Azazel has no time to chat, and sternly instructs Nina what to do. Notably, despite the fact he squeezes her cheeks and her eyes meet his, Nina does not blush or react strongly at all to the contact.

This, and her blissful letter to her mom, not only suggest that Nina now only has eyes for “Chris”, but that Charioce may have successfully accomplished what he set out to do: “disarm” Nina and remove her as a potential trump card for Azazel.

Was Charioce only playing Nina, or does a part of him get a thrill from being out in the world without the crown on his head; holding the warm hand of a lovely woman, rather than cold steel, in his own.

We’ll soon see. Azazel Comin’.

Uchouten Kazoku 2 – 05

If I had to pick a single episode from last season that sold me on Uchouten Kazoku’s magical setting and ability to project care free fun, it would be the flying tea house battle. While I have mixed feelings about this season’s episode being about the same thing, there is no doubt that the format works tremendously well. The event pulls many characters into one space, the inevitable fight between Yasaburou and Kinkaku and Ginkaku provides enjoyably silly action, and fireworks (and flight) make for a lovely background for many introspective and contemplative scenes.

In many ways, the festival and action is secondary to a great deal of character development. While Sensei has always shown a soft spot for the tenuki (under his gruff old man treatment) this week puts him at the center of their lives as a wise figure deserving of the respect they always show him. Simply, he makes the older siblings get over their hesitation and confess their affections for each other. It’s gruff but also kind, and includes a brief telling that he did this for Yasa’s parents too. Cast in the warm light of the train car, surrounded by food and family, its a lovely scenes.

Speaking of the train, it was great to see Yajiro’s ability to change into a train looped back to. Not only is it great to see a throw away joke pay off, but it gives Yajiro a vehicle to participate in the narrative when he otherwise would be restricted to the well.

It was also a good choice to have Yajiro totally screw up the beginning of the event, by blasting off too quickly and spilling much of the meal inside his belly. Nothing really goes right for the tenuki. Not even when they are trying to be classy or show their power. It’s a great reminder of their place in the pecking order.

But the big loud emotional turn was Benten’s fight with Nadaime. Having stolen his couch for her own amusement and having never had anyone stand up to her, Benten really went into this with a target painted on her back. Yasaburou even remarks that he knew she would lose the second she lunged at Nadaime. (and it was foreshadowed by the mid episode card, showing ‘where Benten fell’ on the city map)

And as loud as that short fight was, Uchouten Kazoku immediately returns to the quiet, tender, introspection it does so well. Yasaburou and Sensei go to find where Benten has landed and sensei gives her a stern but fatherly speaking to. You are angry. Use it to get stronger. That is all.

The Verdict: Finally, a must watch week! It loops so many threads in together and it does so elegantly. So elegantly I’m not even sure I can put my finger on any one character dominating the story. So elegantly that I’m not sure there really is a antagonist in a traditional sense, as Benten is as much at fault (if not more) than Nadaime. (and in his own way, Nadaime is a far nicer person than she)

The formula is setting in, too, with a repeat of last week’s fake-out ending conflict opening as a non-conflict. (Everyone sucked into the Shoji board just ends up in sensei’s closet) While a strict formula isn’t necessary for a good show (or even good for most shows) having a rhythm is, and that was something Uchouten Kazoku has been sorely lacking.

Uchouten Kazoku 2 – 04

The Gist: Benten stomps on Nadaime’s freshly ironed shirts, but otherwise leaves without incident. Yasaburou’s older brother’s love interest is revealed and a bit of backstory unfolds revolving around Shoji. Tousen nudges Yasaburou to help his brother hook up with the girl, which he does, and all ends well… except that the love interest is magically sucked into a Shoji board right at the end. Dun dun duuuunnnn.

The Verdict: Despite being a mostly contained ‘drop’ in the story bucket, and not carrying over anything serious from the week before, Uchouten Kazoku brought the magic this week. All the build up to the Shoji tournament, and the final match itself, just worked nicely side-by-side with the character building. I don’t have much else to say I’m affraid — just go watch it!

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 05

It’s an incremental episode with little action, but I can hardly complain when it’s also stuffed full of nice character beats from everyone. Take Nina, going shopping with Mugaro and naturally assuming he’s a girl because he’s so pretty, and dressing him accordingly. Nina cleans up pretty well herself, not that her standard, practical outfit isn’t nice in its own way.

Nina uses her super-strength to negotiate discounts, but it also allows her to stand up against a pimp-like human for torturing his slaves. Brand-new frilly dress or no, she’s ready to rumble with him and his bodyguards when Mugaro uses his red eye to vaporize all of the demon slaves’ collars, causing their former owner and his goons to flee.

Meanwhile, Kaisar is having a crisis of confidence, unsure if he’s worthy of captaining the Orleans Knights in Jeanne d’Arc’s stead. What’s so wonderful is how he expresses this frustration, inviting Rita to lunch, then sounding an awful lot like he’s about to confess to her. Rita is understandably miffed that Kaisar only wants to rant, and punishes him accordingly, while also telling him the old Kaisar of ten years ago may have been useless, but he was better than this Kaisar.

Bacchus’s moral dilemma intensifies when Sofiel pays him a visit complaining that he’s not doing enough to secure the “child;” but it’s only when Nina returns with Mugaro that he starts to suspect Mugaro is the very child he’s looking for. Sofiel thinks Bacchus is pathetic for not caring about staying in the human world forever, and it’s clear at least a part of Bacchus wants to obey her and produce the child…but another part of him doesn’t.

Getting punched by Rita motivates Kaisar to confront the King once more, and gives some very reasoned arguments, but Charioce argues his position well, too, even if he’s a bit overconfident he can become powerful enough to overcome the hatred his hatred will beget. Kaisar rightly believes Charioce’s way of doing things simply isn’t sustainable, and it’s only a matter of time before a large scale demon uprising is upon them (as we see earlier, Azazel is well on his way to starting it). But Charioce says he’s got it. To his credit, he doesn’t begrudge Kaisar living his life the way he chooses, as long as he doesn’t interfere with him.

One of Bahamut’s strengths is its ability to be so stern and serious in one scene, and so lighthearted and comical in the next—and sometimes both in the same scene. So it’s nice to see Kaisar and Charioce’s political debate followed by Bacchus and Hamsa’s ham-fisted attempt to see if Mugaro has two different-colored eyes, only to wake up and creep out Nina, who delivers swift justice and tosses them out of their own wagon.

No huge movement here, but still plenty of solidly entertaining scenes. Nina in particular continues to be a magnetic presence. I could honestly watch and listen to her read the phone book—which makes me that much more excited to see how she’ll fit into the coming confrontation.

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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