Tower of God – 12 – Sunk Cost

When ordered to kill Anaak, Endorsi refuses, instead inviting her to lunch “when this is all wrapped up.” It’s a pretty badass and heartwarming moment, but unfortunately neither of the two princesses can put a meaningful dent in Ren’s defense, and he’s ready to stomp Anaak to death when their big sister Yuri shows up. Her appearance is very welcome, considering how little she’s had to do since giving Bam the Black March.

Yuri is also able to demonstrate her awesome Ranker Princess power, exhibiting a gap between her power and Ren’s that’s as wide as the gap between his and Shibisu. Yu is very hands-off with Ren’s intrusion, but warns Yuri that helping Bam means his immediate failure of the final test. Her hulking underling ends up crushing Ren, while Yuri claims both the black and green swords until Anaak and Bam are ready for them.

Khun manages to call a pretty good game, using Lauroe to funnel the pigs to the ogres so they spend all their time and energy fighting each other while Rak and the others mop up. But Khun takes an “unprecedented break” when another member of the Khun family appears, offering to bring him to Princess Maria, the sister who betrayed him. Khun declines, as he’s kinda in the middle of something. Hatz interrupts the exchange, and the other Khun withdraws…but I’m sure we haven’t seen the last him him.

The two who had the least to do last week were Bam and Rachel, though their moments of bonding as their bubble rose were rewarding. But since Ren also wants the Irregular dead, he sends the Bull to attack Bam and Rachel. Yuri can’t help, so Bam has to deal with it himself, in this case by letting himself get swallowed up so he can explode the Bull from the inside.

When Bam emerges from the cloud of exploded Bull parts, Rachel is able to catch him. As the Dolphin Queen opens its maw in preparation to receive the bubble and the test-winning pair, Bam holds his hand out for Rachel to take in solidarity and friendship, and to celebrate a job about-to-be-well done.

Instead, Rachel shoves him out of the bubble.

As all his friends prepare to celebrate their victory, Bam sinks deeper and deeper into the water. He doesn’t use shinsu to create a breathing bubble around himself. He doesn’t even breathe. He just keeps sinking as the credits roll. It’s a devastating betrayal, but by no means unexpected—Bam put all his trust in someone he shouldn’t have, and got burned.

Now I understand better why Rachel is largely loathed by the webtoon fans. I have no idea what’s in store for Bam and the others in the final episode of this first arc. I would hope that after such a dark ending to this outing, Bam has nowhere to go but up…but who knows?

Read Crow’s write-up of episode 12 here.

Tower of God – 11 – I’M NOT DELICIOUS!

After a quick and easy meeting with the Admin, who accepts Bam’s request to let Rachel participate, Yu explains the rules of the final test, called the “Underwater Hunt”. They’re a bit…odd, but this time they’re easy as 1-2-3 to follow:

    1. Bam and Rachel go underwater in a shinsu bubble, with the aim of getting caught in the fishing net of the Net Dolphins.
    2. If they are swallowed up by the Dolphin Queen and get spat out on dry land, they pass. If they don’t, they fail.
    3. The other examinees must defeat or otherwise divert all of the Barnacle Goblins, Giant Wetworms, Striped Earthpigs, and the vicious “Bull”, all of whom are looking for a piece of the Dolphins’ catch.

Bam and Rachel have the easiest job: hang out in the bubble until steps one and two unfold. The tranquil, austere underwater surroundings make the perfect setting for the continuation of their reconciliation. If Bam is afraid, he never lets it show.

Bam tells Rachel that when the Admin asked him what he wants at the top of the Tower, he says two things: Rachel’s smiling face, and a cafeteria full of friends sharing a meal. Rachel can’t help but smile now, and muss his hair just like old times.

Things seem well in hand for the other examinees too…at least at first. Hatz keeps an eye on the goblins and wetworms, while Shibisu recognizes his duty to distract the Bull when he encounters it. When it proves too difficult an opponent, Shibisu is seemingly “saved” by Princesses Endorsi and Anaak. Alas, they’re there to compete, and make a bet: If Endorsi can beat the Bull in five minutes, she’ll win the two 13 Month series blades from Anaak. If she doesn’t, she’ll become Anaak’s servant for life.

What had been a lighthearted underground adventure turns sinister when the Bull rushes off, Endorsi gives chase, and in Round 2 it is suddenly much stronger; so strong Endorsi can’t escape its tentacle-like binds. Anaak’s pursuit is interrupted by Lo Po Bia Ren, who tells her this whole test was set up in order to retrieve the Green April and capture and kill her. Since Ren’s a ranker, Anaak is no match for him and gets stabbed through the chest.

The Bull then delivers Endorsi to Ren, who buffed it up and made it obey his commands. Rather than simply kill Anaak himself, he wants Endorsi to use the Green April to do it, thus proving her loyalty to her father King Jahad. This is nothing Endorsi hasn’t done before, and she and Anaak have no lost love, but you can see in her shocked look that she’s not at all looking forward to the task.

That said, how the hell will she be able to refuse, when Ren has both of them in his clutches, and the only one anywhere near them is Shibisu? Then again, Yuri and her crew are attempting to reach the testing area unnoticed. Maybe the only one who can save two princesses is a third…

You can read Crow’s review of Episode 11 here.

Tower of God – 10 – The Light That Pierced a Dark and Lonely World

This was a transitional episode filled with several goodbyes, a check in on numerous storylines that have stayed on the margins, and the introduction of the nature of the final test, marked by a shocking revelation on Bam’s part.

Hoh is dead, and while Rachel is alive, she’s lost her ability to walk. Nevertheless, Bam vows to be her legs and climb the tower together with her. Rak says goodbye to his imposing stature thanks to a spell from Hansung Yu, making him an even more comedic presence.

As Serena prepares a quiet evening of remembering Hoh, she’s invited to join Bam, Rachel, Khun, Rak, and the others on the “friends list” for a memorial service where Hoh is interred. Afterwards when Bam is alone with Rachel, she confesses that she thought of him as a “clueless and weak” nuisance who was in her way, so she abandoned him.

That means, she says with a face soaked with tears, that he can abandon her if he likes; it’s what she feels she deserves. Obviously, Bam rejects that offer out of hand; he would still be in the dark lonely world where she found him  if he hadn’t met and come to love her. He’s not about to leave her side now.

Following this rather gratifying reconciliation between Bam and Rachel, everyone else gets the party started early with copious amounts of sake. I for one wished they’d spent a little more time on this, since it’s just as much fun (if not moreso) watching these colorful characters hanging out as it is watching them do battle.

After the party, Serena quickly sobers up and tries the old Irish goodbye, but Shibisu isn’t too shitfaced either and tracks her down to say “see ya later” properly. Serena he had a great intensity and simple but compelling backstory; if she’s truly gone, I’ll miss her.

Those marginal storylines I spoke of? They include Yuri, Evan & Co. slowly continuing their ascent, hoping to arrive before the examinees’ tests are complete. I imagine Yuri won’t be pleased that Bam lost Black March…or did he? Does Anaak still have both it and Green April? Somewhere along the line I lost track of that thing…

Speaking of the 13 Month Series, both March and April are being sought by Lo Po Bia Ren, Royal Enforcement Division Unit #67, who has been disguised as the woolly Wave Controller instructor Yuga. Honestly Yuga didn’t have enough screen time to make this revelation all that surprising, but the fact that part of his mission includes eliminating Anaak makes any potential alliance with Hansung Yu just plain bad news.

The next day, everyone gathers to hear who made the final cut prior to the final test. When one of those who washed out complains, Yu gives him a thoroughly torturous shinsu bath, leaving him a spent pile on the ground. But this doesn’t discourage Khun from also voicing a complaint.

While he, Bam, and Rak may have all passed, his quarrel (or rather his friend Bam’s, which makes it his) is with the fact Rachel is eliminated due to her injury. When Hansung Yu tells him Them’s the Rules, Khun offers to take the famously grueling Administrator’s Test, since the Administrator makes the rules, and they can be changed to accommodate Rachel.

Again Yu can’t help Khun; only an Irregular can negotiate to take the test. That’s when Bam volunteers to do it in Khun’s place, since he is, after all, an Irregular. This comes as a shock to everyone, including Khun, though frankly I always assumed everyone knew because, being a tourist to Tower of God newbie, I wasn’t aware how taboo such a status truly is, or that it’s said to bring “calamity” to the Tower.

Nevertheless, everyone in the newly advanced group of examinees agree to back Bam’s play, stopping Khun and Rak in the middle of their little manufactured spat designed to convince them of what they’re already on board with. Even someone like Anaak who doesn’t particularly care about Bam (or claims not to) wants to take the shortest, fastest route to the Tower, and that’s this.

Bam is escorted by Yu and Rachel to the door to the Administrator’s office, and upon entering he encounters a gigantic eye telling him they “meet again”. With everyone else pulling for him and Rachel’s fate in his hands, Bam’s got some serious negotiating to do.

Wave, Listen to Me! – 05 – The Irregular at MRS High

Minare arrives at the station with a birthday cake for Mizuho only to find that Matou has already presented her with a cake. Mizuho smooths things over by telling Minare she’s never been happier to celebrate it twice on the same day, and the preparations for Minare’s first broadcast as a pro begin.

Matou has devised a “broadcast gaffe” that will break into and out of the normal late night music a la War of the Worlds. He makes sure Minare understands that the ceiling for success is as high as the stakes are low. There isn’t a sponsor, which means they have a little more leeway to go wild.

Minare takes the barebones, improv-filled script and runs with it. It involves the moment she just killed Mitsuo by stabbing, making good on the threat from her last broadcast. By amazing coincidence, a different woman has bound and gagged Mitsuo and is about to stab him when Minare’s program suddenly interrupts the music.

Had the mundane music continued, she may well have murdered Mitsuo for real. But are these events actually happening? I would say yes, since it isn’t Minare in the role of the murderer, and the woman hasn’t carried out the murder yet. They’re out of sync in a way that’s very advantageous for Mitsuo, who lives to break another heart.

The buildup and countdown to the broadcast gave me goosebumps, in the same manner as the tension and anticipation that immediately preceded a performance in Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, or Hibike! Euphonium. Those are all five-star anime, and I don’t mention them or compare the emotions felt during Minare’s monologue lightly.

As with her previous shows, Sugiyama Riho absolutely knocks it out of the park, taking scarce narrative crumbs and creating a chocolate mocha mille-fille. Minare flubs yet a single word yet comes off as unhinged, vulnerable, empty, grateful, and above all raw and human. She may not know it, but her passion and talent saved Mitsuo’s life.

More importantly, while Minare walked in an emotional mess due to witnessing Nakahara inviting another woman home, she walks out of the station at the crack of dawn feeling like a billion yen. Matou is genuinely impressed, and Mizuho is proud of her.

That night, due to the talk of Martians and UFOs (an homage to War) she dreams of having to save Mitsuo via a nutriet-absorbing facehugger that turns out to be one of Mizuho’s turtles sitting on her face…and shitting in her mouth!

That morning, Minare and Mizuho discover a lively online discussion, which is exactly what Matou both hoped and worked towards, discretely  posting the audio online as if he were an independent listener. As he suspected, Minare’s the kind of voice that creates buzz, and he’s eager to have her create more.

As for Minare, it’s back to working at the curry restaurant a mere five hours after she left the recording booth. And yet a group of men have already come to the restaurant as one of them recognized her voice. Minare loves the attention, and in the break room she declares to Nakahara that from now on she’ll be pursuing her radio career full-on.

She knows that what she felt in that booth and afterwards isn’t something she can get from that white waiter’s tunic—or from a man for that matter!

Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei – 10

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A good episode hides its weaknesses or turns them into strengths, but this week was middling because it laid bare its weaknesses without any real effort to mitigate them. One of those is a weakness common among school-based shows, magical or not: character bloat.

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Only two characters from one of the other eight schools even get any lines, which is strange, considering this would have been the time to introduce the competition in a relaxed setting. But that was kind a relief, as First High brought nearly every named character along. There are already too many characters fighting for time.

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I actually liked how Erika & Co. were forced by their families to take odd jobs so they could attend and observe; for one thing, it allowed Erika to get the best conversation in with Tatsuya, in which she notes how his coldness can be a comfort. If I didn’t know better, I’d say she likes the guy.

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I also like Miyuki finally saying categorically she doesn’t see her blood brother as a potential love interest—we just don’t like how she’s surrounded by sundry extraneous characters in an tacked-on onsen scene. There’s nothing wrong with slice-of-life or idle banter, but it tends to sap the urgency of an episode that should be trying to build it up.

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Miyuki did get to be a badass in contributing to stopping the errant SUV from hitting the bus, but the reactions of some of the students highlighted another weakness: most of the students outside the core group don’t give off anything resembling an air of competency, as if they need people like Tatsuya around to save their skins again and again, because they’re useless.

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Perhaps we’re being harsh, as they’re still just kids, but this is supposed to be an elite school, and I only feel that eliteness from a handful of students, many of them weeds. The Patriarch Kudou Retsu seemed to read my mind when he employed low-level magic on a large scale that only five of the hundreds of students assembled saw through.

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The bus incident and the thieves Miki encounters are both indications the very type of enemy Kudou warned about is indeed crashing what’s supposed to be a friendly interscholastic competition. As with the Blanche incident, students alone won’t be enough to thwart them; it will take those with both the ability and intent to do what is necessary.

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Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei – 09

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This show can be forgiven for its talkiness not just because it often backs it up with awesome action (albeit not much this week), but because of its confidence; its steadfast belief there’s no such thing as too much talk. I noticed a bit of a pattern in this episode of Mahouka: one of seemingly innocuous encounters and discussions escalating into more serious situations.

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Those escalations propel the story and boost our comprehension of relationships and positions. At the end of last week’s episode, Miyuki came down to show her brother her cute outfit, but it turned into much more than that, as Tatsuya showed her he’d cracked the flying magic and let her demonstrated. This week’s first scene has the siblings at FLT, where the research teams in the trenches hold Tatsuya in high esteem and regard him with awe, much like Miyuki does.

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Then the siblings just happen to cross paths with their father and the family butler, neither of whom even bother acknowledging Tatsuya’s presence, as if he’s no better than pond scum. Naturally, Miyuki takes exception to their conduct, and we’re off to the races, with Tatsuya essentially having to calm her from freezing the whole zip code. Tatsuya deals with loathing and worship the same way: levelheadedly.

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This week also marks the return of Mizuki, who hasn’t had much to do the past few episodes. She’s just standing around when she senses something strange, which turns out to be Mikihiko practicing with ancient spirits. Her presence throws him off enough to momentarily lose control, but Tatsuya appears and protects Mizuki with his awesomeness. We learn just how valuable some factions find those eyes of hers—and the lengths to which some would go to obtain them.

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After an awkward launch ceremony, a fairly routine bus trip seems to be underway, with all the requisite mundane high school banter (apparently President Saegusa wants Tatsuya to notice her, Shizuka and Honoka tell Miyuki how awesome they think Tatusya is, etc.). But then all hell breaks loose when a truck explodes in the path of the buses, and several students spring into action at once (too many chefs?). This Nine Schools Competition is so intense, even getting there is a treacherous ordeal!

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Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei – 08

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*Note: I realize the couple on the left is Gilgamesh and Saber from Fate, but if you squint, they kinda look like anime Jaime (Janime?) and Cersei…no? Well, Google Image Search seemed to think so…

“There are no men like me. Only me.” Sorry to open with a Jaime Lannister quote of all things, but there are often times when the very close Shiba siblings remind me of Jaime and Cersei in better times, only without the overt incest. Not only that, Jaime’s quote could also be used to describe Tatsuya: in his present world, there are no men like him…only him.

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First he became the first Weed in the disciplinary committee, and made an instant and substantial impact, foiling a terrorist plot. In this heavily process-oriented episode, the Magic High equivalent of an interscholastic sports festival approaches, and he becomes the first weed and first first year voted onto First High’s technical staff. His process in coding Kirihara’s CAD irks his skeptics, but they can’t deny he did some extremely advanced work.

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Tatsuya’s unique indispensability extends beyond school, to his duties as a “special officer” in some secret military unit in which he operates, as well as a contributor to the family business (FLT). In short, there may be no men like him, but he himself is many men to many people, and very few others aside from his sister, know about these other Tatsuyas.

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So badass is Tatsuya, he spends the waning hours of the night not watching anime (or HBO), but working in the clinical basement of the mansion he and Miyuki share on a flying magic problem that stumped teams of scientists elsewhere in the world. When Miyuki pops in to show off an adorable outfit she’ll be wearing for the games, the show casually reveals he’s floating, having made a breakthrough. Even his leisure is work.

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The Nine Schools Competition will expand the world we know about further, threatening his sui generis nature. One thing about Jaime’s “no men like me” quote is the fact it’s not quite correct: plenty of other men have risen fast, fight well, slain their kings and loved their sisters a bit too much. And as the end of last week’s episode gave us a glimpse of the lad who appears as Tatsuya’s mirror image in the OP (above), it would appear there are men like Tatsuya too!

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P.S.: I fully support Erika’s staunch decision to wear bloomers for athletics.