Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 03 – Allies for an Afternoon

Iska and Alice can’t stop thinking about each other. It dawns on them both that their recent meet-cutes haven’t been a matter of mere coincidence. That’s further reinforced when Iska is offered his Saint Disciple status back in return for apprehending the Ice Witch.

Meanwhile, Rin and Alice learn that Iska was imprisoned for, of all things, freeing an astral witch from captivity, once again calling into question everything they think they know about their enemy. However bad the Empire might be, if there’s someone like Iska helping her kind, then perhaps there is a sliver of hope for the peace for which she yearns.

The two decide to test their propensity to run into reach other in the Neutral City. This time Captain Mismis accompanies Iska, while Rin sticks by Alice’s side. Both “chaperones” are well out of their comfort zone, but Iska and Alice want to learn more about each other.

In particular, Alice considers Iska’s past actions to contradict his current mission to capture her. Iska explains that nothing he’s done has been contradictory, but all in the greater service of peace. Ever since he freed that young, low-powered astral witch from a cruel fate, his overarching loyalty has been to the effort to end the war, not win it for the Empire.

Alas, Alice, who like Iska with the Imperial Senate is beholden to her set-in-her-ways mother, assures him capturing her won’t change the Sovereignty’s position. But perhaps, if he defects and serves under her, that position might soften.

Before he can respond to this shocking offer, the sky literally cracks and the Founder, Grand Witch Nebulis, emerges. Drawn to Iska’s location by Iska’s astral swords, Nebby is there to smite him, as well as any who “corrode the planet and its astral power”.

When Alice’s mom discovers the Founder has escaped, she’s happy, because it means the Empire’s defeat is all but certain due to her immense power. However, that belief lacks the nuance required of a leader carrying their people into the future, not just concerned with quarrels of the past.

The Founder doesn’t care about the future, only senseless wrath. When Alice tries to reason with her, she’s labeled a traitor and attacked along with Iska. It’s here when Alice is convinced the Founder cannot save her people; she is merely an uncontrollable relic of a bygone era. She can revere her for founding the Sovereignty, but her ancient grudge will only lead to further death and suffering for all.

On their own, neither Iska nor Alice are a match for the outdated agent of destruction, but when they stand back-to-back and combine their powers, Iska is able to climb Alice’s staircase of ice to literally clip the Founder’s wings and force her retreat. They also join their voices in telling the Founder to shut up and fuck off, cutting off her ponderous speechifying!

Before she returns to the cracks in the sky, Alice tells the Founder to go back to sleep for another hundred years. She’ll ensure that when she wakes up again the world will be a better place. That said, Iska rejects her offer to defect, so while the two exhausted fighters call a truce for the rest of the day, tomorrow they’ll be enemies again.

But Alice can’t deny that she and Iska want the same basic thing, and that her Founder can’t provide it. Saving the world is going to be up to the two of them, so they can’t remain enemies much longer.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 02 – Art Has No Borders

We learn how Iska ended up at the same opera as Alice: Mismis gave him her last ticket of the season. After his battle with Alice he couldn’t sleep, so she felt a hit of culture would do him some good. But once the lights go up in the opera house and Alice sees who lent her his handkerchief, she very nearly forgets they’re in a Neutral city, where conflict is forbidden.

Accepting this as a coincidence, the two go their separate ways, only to end up right back beside one another when they pick the same nearby restaurant for lunch. Alice and Rin can’t complain about sharing the table with Iska as he’s the one who reserved it. Iska and Alice end up ordering the exact same pasta dish, and even share the same culinary tastes.

It’s another night of little sleep for both Iska and Alice, but the former has a dream about a girl who looks an awful lot like Alice saving him during a monster attack on their train in the past, suggesting they have more history together than they thought.

Alice’s mom then summons her to show her that the founding witch, the twin of whom was Nebulis I, is beginning to awaken ever since her fight with Iska. Her mom warns her to refrain from battle until further notice.

When Mismis’ superior Risya hears of Iska’s troubles, she gives him a ticket for an art exhibition where—you guessed it—he and Alice cross paths again. She doesn’t go in the museum with him and gets lost, but later he tracks her down and they learn they share a similar love of art, whether the enemy made it or not.

As the sun sets, Alice buys them drinks, and Iska eventually succumbs to his fatigue by falling asleep on her shoulder. Blushing, Alice remarks that in his vulnerable state she could defeat him easily…but of course she doesn’t. On top of it not being honorable, there’s just something about this guy.

So this week we saw Alice and Iska end up in all kinds of pleasant non-battle situations together, and come out of it with an overall improved opinion of one another, and found they have a lot in common. Yes, much of it is superficial, but they’re good first steps towards mutual understanding and friendship.

However, they remain on opposite ends of a generations-long conflict. If they are to be ones to end that conflict and usher in a new world—not to mention become a romantic couple—they’ll likely have to forsake those old loyalties and forge their own path together, while dealing with the consequences that come their way.

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 01 (First Impressions) – An Astral Meet Cute

In a premise last encountered as recently as Spring’s KURONEKO Project: Zero Chronicle, the two most powerful young members of their respective warring nations want the same thing: to end the war and attain balance. They are Saint Desciple Iska of the science-oriented Empire and Princess Aliceliese Lou Nebulis IX of the magic-oriented Nebulis Sovereignty.

When we meet Iska, he is freeing a Nebulis witch from an Empire prison, presumably as a show of good faith to her and her nation. For his crime, Iska is himself is imprisoned for a year, after which his bosses the Eight Great Apostles assign him a redemptive mission: defeat the purebred “Ice Witch of Calamity”.

Iska gets his old team together, the Special Defense for Humankind Third Division, Unit N07. It is composed of the cheerful redheaded engineer Nene, the silver-haired stoic Jihn, and their petite scaredy-cat Captain, Mismis. All are happy to see their friend free and back in the mix, but Mismis warns him that either the Great Apostles have set Iska up for failure, or he’s their very last path to victory.

That’s because the Ice Calamity Witch is one tough customer, capable of dominating a battlefield all on her own. After reaching their lightly-guarded base and heading to the front, Iska’s unit’s humvee is upturned and they are ambushed by astral mages (AKA witches).

Iska is a little rusty after a year in jail, but he’s got the skills, the tools, and the teammates to make quick work of what turns out to be a group of low-level Nebulis grunts, whose flame magic doesn’t even singe his ahoge.

Turns out the Ice Calamity Witch is in the vicinity observing the fight, and her maid-uniformed attendant leaps out of their tree perch to join the fray, summoning an earth golem to overwhelm Iska. However, her mistake is believing these are mere Empire grunts.

Iska quickly shows this sub-boss otherwise, handling everything she throws at him with only a few scratches in exchange. It’s our first taste of extended combat in Kimisen, and it’s not bad: quick, precise, exciting, and dynamic.

Ultimately Iska proves he’s no grunt by handily defeating the maid, whom her mistress the Ice Calamity Witch Alice calls Rin upon arriving to save her. She’s already frozen the Empire base and its reactor and shatters them, revealing Rin and the grunts were a diversion.

Alice and Iska order each other to surrender simultaneously, but when they do battle they are pretty much equally matched. Both are also determined never to back down or retreat until the war is over and the nations are united. This gives the Ice Witch pause, as she expected an Empire soldier to threaten her, not have the same geopolitical outlook!

Once Iska’s attacks make Alice step back—apparently that something rarely if ever happens—the icy earthen back upon which she lands gives way and she starts to topple to the ground. Iska catches her and holds her in a princess carry, and the two…just kind of freeze like that for a moment.

When she protests to having been caught by the enemy, Iska says it was just reflex. In any case neither has the will to fight any further, and so Alice and Rin retreat on her giant eagle-like bird, and Iska doesn’t stop her. The battle basically ends with both thinking “Well, that was weird…”

Back home, Alice attempts to wash away the strange feelings she got from her encounter with Iska with a long bath, to no avail. Eventually she convinces Rin to attend her favorite opera in Neutral City, which just happens to be a tragedy about two lovers from nations that are bitter enemies. Alice cries easily and profusely during the opera, to the point she has to borrow a handkerchief from someone behind her.

When the lights come up, that someone is revealed to be…Iska. Assuming he wasn’t stalking her and this is a coincidental meet-cute…what are the odds? And so, her favorite opera begins to play itself out in real life, only it hopefully has a happier ending. Magic Romeo & Juliet, anyone?

Kimisen is already better than Kuroneko Project. Iska, Alice, and their friends are broad strokes, but share great chemistry, and Iska’s unit has a pleasant lived-in family dynamic. The show also looks much better, with decent character design and combat animation. Finally, there’s no messing around…the two potential future lovebirds meet immediately, with instantly charming results.

I’m definitely in for now. I imagine next week will have a bit less expositional lifting to do, which will only work in its favor as we get to know Iska and Alice and they hopefully get to know each other. After all, if the two most OP’ed warriors in their respective nations can get along and they’re supported by their friends, then peace has a chance!

Rating: 3/5

Ben-To – 12 (Fin)

With Yarizui still sick in bed, Satou sets her alarm to the wrong time and takes it upon himself to get her the grilled eel bento she craves. On the way, he is stopped by the Club of Heracles, the wolf who brought Orthos to their “downfall” three years ago. He did so by convincing everyone else not to fight them, and let them take the bento without a fight. He’s back to do the same thing, but rather than go along with the plan, Satou wears himself out until he’s starving, awakening the guts of all the wolves around him. He defies Heracles and fights the Sawagi twins, wins the eel, and enjoys it with Yarizui.

And so ends the series with one of the more novel and interesting premises of all the fall shows, the idea that modern society has fight clubs within supermarkets in which the prizes are half-priced bento. It sounds far-fetched, but they really made it work, helped in no small part by the best hand-to-hand combat of the season, and the best soundtrack to boot. Heracles turned out to be nothing more than a convincing organizer; he was just tough enough to bully most of the wolves into inaction, but not The Freak. Satou wanted his eel, and he knew he wouldn’t get it until he worked up the savage hunger of a starved wolf.

We’re glad Heracles wasn’t simply a boss who was initially invincible; once we saw the Sawagi twins’ flashback and his plan repeated, we knew his power was more the stuff of legend than fact. The fact is, the Sawagis are so powerful, he took it upon himself to try to take them out of the game, and in doing so turn his back on the ideals of wolves. Yet even after Heracles was foiled, the twins still lost to Satou when it came to the Golden Wreath…and while we didn’t see exactly how that happened, we’re fine leaving it to our imaginations. Here’s something that isn’t imaginary: Ben-To was a damn good show.


Rating: 4

Ben-To – 11

Orthos revel in their victory over the Ice Witch while Sen is sick at home with a cold, but has her eyes on a grilled eel special at the Super Odori in two days. You and Nikaido meet the twins at Tokiwa for a rematch, and lose again. Nikaido learns they’re daughters of the CEO of Sawagi corp, who own a growing chain of Sonic Stores. They were driven from their old territory by a wolf named Heracles with his ‘combo’. Sen can’t shake the cold, but Heracles arrives in town to drive off Orthos again.

The cardinal rule of nature is, there’s always a bigger fish – of wolf, in this case. That is, the hunter inevitably becomes the hunted; it’s a matter of evolution. The Sawagi twins, who wanted to be ‘noble wolves’ from a very early age, were beaten and driven off by that bigger wolf. They’ve been interesting foes, because they’re not evil and are even fans of the Ice Witch’s work; but up until now they’ve also been virtually invincible, and this Heracles dude looks to be their kryptonite.

That should make for a nice battle, and the revamped opening suggests Orthos may ally themselves with Sen and You to survive. We’ll see. There weren’t any on-camera bento battles, but there was plenty of buildup to make up for that lack. Plus, a vulnerable, home-with-a-cold Sen is frankly frikkin’ adorable, though it seems cruel for her to have to face Orthos with a cold. Get well soon, Ice Witch! Cold ain’t got nothin’ on you!


Rating: 3.5

Ben-To – 10

Just as You is discharged from hospital, and being given a slow regime to reenter the fray, the Sawagi twins step up their vicious attacks on established wolves. No one remembers their idenity when they’re beaten, so they’re referred to as Orthos, the two-headed mythical dog and brother to Cerberus. Everyone save You, who remembers them as the sexy nurse(s) from the hospital. They dispatch him, then return to fight both him and Sen. Their combo attacks utilizing shopping baskets prove too much for the other wolves, and Sen is roundly defeated. The twins put the ball in her court as to how to respond in the future.

Holy bento, there was a nice piece of creative, insane, off-the-wall (and ceiling) combat, perhaps the best sustained fight thus far, and of a different style than those before. These Sawagi twins are a serious threat, as Sen can only keep up with them for so long. Even You inserting himself in the fight to try to even the odds fails, and we believe this is Sen’s first true, utter defeat. By the end, it isn’t close, either; the twins don’t have a scratch on them as they leave. In TNG, you know the bad guy’s tough if he can beat Worf so easily; here Sen is a similar barometer of a foe’s efficacy.

Besides the phenomenal battles and the soundtracks accompanying them (pumping up the goofy J-muzak to herald the start of a brawl is a really nice touch), we also applaud Ben-To’s consistency in the strength of its cast. Shaga is strong, but there’s a limit to her abilities, and she falls quicker to the twins than Sen. Ditto You. Extensive teamwork and some luck were necessary to take out the Monarch; even more clever tactics will need to be used to neutralize Orthos’ devastating coordinated attacks. They move as one. Yet even in the face of having their entire Bento game broken up by these ruthless twins, there are still moments when You can say things like “buying a hot dog with two sausages in it!” upon realization his nurse was actually twins.


Rating: 4

Ben-To – 04

You’s cousin Ayame Shaga, AKA The Beauty by the Lake, infiiltrates his school with a uniform he borrowed for her from Hana. Unlike the stoic Sen, Shaga is inappropriately playful, fondling Hana at every opportunity before being arrested by Ume and made to share a bath with her. The primary reason for Shaga showing up on the Ice Witch’s turf is to challenge her at the supermarket. Shaga holds her own for a time, but the Witch’s skill and composure proves too much for her. Sen gives You leave to console Shaga. Meanwhile, an organization in the shadows is planning things for the wolves. You defeated one of their scouts, but all they know about him thus far is that he’s an outsider.

At last, we’re introduced to the Beauty by the Lake, the lovely Shaga, voiced by Emiri Katou (Mayori from Ghostory; Blair from Soul Eater).  She gets a unique, Shaga-centric opening with a 16-bit/karaoke visual theme that fits well with her role as You’s cousin and frequent gaming partner in their youth. It isn’t the introduction we were expecting (we weren’t aware they were relatives), but in hindsight, it wasn’t a bad one. Right off the bat, Shaga is not above using her half-Italian knockout looks to tease You, who for his part stands his ground. Her behavior is nothing to to him, even if she has filled out in recent years. We won’t mince words; there’s loads of fanservice throughout the episode, but all of it was pretty funny and didn’t distract from the story.

For all her good looks, confidence, and predatory behavior towards You and Hana, Shaga is soon put in her place in two areas: the bedroom by Ume (in a scene that really shows how weird and kinky Ume can be) and on the battlefield, by Sen. Both defeats were good character-building moves for Shaga, with wiffs of karma following her handling of You and Hana. The combat continues to impress, punctuated this week by clever use of chopsticks by Shaga. She has skills and heart, but Sen is more graceful and makes dispatching her look easy. This episode also touched on some shadowy organization with “Plans.” We don’t like the sound of this so far. We’ve enjoyed the lack of a centralized authority and infrastructure in the bento fight club. Hopefully, Ben-To will prove us wrong and do something interesting with this. Thus far, we have no reason to doubt them.


Rating: 4

Ben-To – 03

Yamahara invites Satou and Oshiroi to join the Hounds, made up of “gundogs” who work as a pack to win their quarry. After a tryout with the Hounds, they’re able to get their dinner quickly and easily without any messy combat. But Satou finds it lacking; it’s boring and too easy. The food is far more delicious when he’s won it himself against a superior foe, and sharing it with Oshiroi and Yarizui, so he and Oshiroi decline the invitation and take the bento without their help.

Comparisons with Princess Mononoke are inescapable where Yarizui’s concerned. She’s like an albino verson of her in looks and is referred to as a wolf girl. But the rest of the school has it all wrong in calling her the “Ice Witch”. Once you get to know her and she lets her guard down, she’s a very warm person. Satou doesn’t want to lose that by switching to another club – especially one like the hounds. This week, Satou learns without doubt that he’s meant to be a wolf, not a dog. We think it’s a good move; it all comes down to taking pride in how you get your meals. And these three wolves are fun to watch.

There were other developments: Ume withdraws her objection to Oshiroi’s membership and association with You. Oshiroi gets the keys to the clubroom. And lastly, You’s old friend Shaga ends up in his bed somehow. Looks like next week will bring in The Beauty by the Lake, who most definitely does not resemble Mononoke Hime. Still lovin’ the next episode previews that take place the moment after the episode ends, breaking the fourth wall, and the soundtrack and action sequences continue to rock.


Rating: 4

Ben-To – 01

15-year-old freshman You Satou walks to his second day of high school from the hospital, with no memory of how he got injured, nor of the girl Hana Ohiroi that meets up with him. The previous night he awoke on the floor of a store near the bento. He then helps a silver-haired girl with enormous bags of bento containers, who tells him to stay away from that store. Curious, he returns and is beaten severely when he goes for the half-priced bento. He returns a third night with Hana and this time waits until a battle royale for the food breaks out. The silver haired girl turn out to be the “Ice Queen”, the Top Dog in the store’s ‘bento fight club’, and president and only member of the Half Price Food Lover’s Club, which she invites Satou and Hana to join.

Rarity of something always carries the potential for conflict, whether it’s diamonds or cheap bento. The premise of this show is ridiculous (though it’s well aware of this): that something as trivial as half-priced bento will cause riotous battles among otherwise normal citizens. They will spill blood for the deal, and for the taste of victory that comes with it. But is it so far-fetched? Bento are everywhere in Japan, it’s true, but it does cost a lot. 420 yen is equal to $5.50, which is a lot of cash for not much food. Half-price bento mitigates that injustice…but it’s rare. If there are less available than there are people who want them…there will be blood.

After Bantorra and Level-E, David Production continues to impress with its quality series. Ben-To distinguishes itself with high production values, including excellent detailling, quick, sharp fight sequences, beautiful color, and a top-notch soundtrack, where even the muzak helps create dramatic tension. The character design is simple but effective, and even the fanservice isn’t annoying. Bumper cards feature art with a character in a bento tray, With this series, RABUJOI is now reviewing a great many Fall 2011 series that take place in a high school and/or club, but among them, Ben-To is one of the more creative ones, and we wouldn’t missing out on it.


Rating: 4