Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 09 – Officially Rivals

The battle between Iska and Salinger commences, and Kimisen goes full Shounen Battle Mode, complete with the arrogant opponent’s high-and-mighty speeches. It basically boils down to Ichigo—er, Iska fighting a shinigami captain—er, Salinger and weathering his attacks, with some light but welcome support from Rin.

Down on ground level, Alice is attacked by Nameless, but only very briefly, as if he was once again merely testing her defenses. It isn’t long before she spots Iska and realizes he did what she’d hoped he’d do: help her out rather than simply running when free of the cuffs.

Honestly, while Salinger was amusingly smug at times, he’s also pretty much a cookie-cutter haughty boss, and thus not that interesting. Adding to the lack of suspense is the fact Iska already defeated the Nebulis Founder, whom Salinger considers an equal. Salinger also expresses surprise at Iska’s abilities a bit too much to be a credible big bad.

I had expected Alice to join Iska in the fighting, as they’d also joined forces to beat back the Founder, but Iska has this well in hand, and manages to force Salinger to retreat. All Alice has to do is comfort the wounded Rin and serve as a reminder to Salinger that even if he defeated Iska, he’d have to deal with her.

The fires are extinguished, the prisoners recovered, and the dust cleared in Alcatroz. Alice urges a suddenly adorable Rin to be honest about her various cuts and bruises she suffered, while Alice snaps herself out of swooning over Iska by telling herself he only did what he was supposed to do as part of their temporary alliance.

The Nameless who was at Alcatroz returns to the Empire, then removes his helmet to reveal she was Risya all along; the real Nameless was off ensuring their special forces infiltrated the Central Province. It’s almost as if Risya and N07 were merely an elaborate distraction. We also catch a glimpse of some kind of giant mecha thingy that just might be the next boss against which Iska and/or Alice must face off.

As for Iska, he joins N07 on the car ride home. As she’d been worried about Iska for virtually the entire mission, Mismis reveals she hasn’t yet fully processed the fact she’s an astral mage, nor what to do about it, but since she helped save Iska, it’s his pleasure to help her out in devising a plan to keep her out of Imperial prison or worse. Who better than a former inmate like him?

Back on the royal palace grounds, Alice gazes up at the stars and utters the name “Iska”, irking Rin, who warns her master that she’ll tell the Queen if Alice keeps this up. Little to they know they’re being watched by Alice’s little sister Sisbell. We’ve already met her, as she was the mage Iska broke out of prison. Sis doesn’t want to believe it, but we know it to be true. It’s looking like she’ll be calling on him to help her out again soon.

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 08 – Demon Ascending

Alice is always referring to Iska as her “enemy”, but with Risya releasing another agent of chaos in Salinger the Demon/Transcendant, she doesn’t have the luxury of rejecting the aid of an enemy like Iska whom she’s come to trust, and who shares her dream of peace.

When the prison tower housing Salinger starts to burn, Alice and Rin must hurry to put out those fires. Before leaving, Alice quietly asks if Iska will help her, but he doesn’t quite hear. She drops the matter, but not before leaving a fresh new handkerchief to replace the one he gave her.

Unit N07 finally hears from their CO Risya, who tells them that the Princess Iska is in Another Castle, leading them to wonder if they were merely bait for Risya to attain a different, secret goal (they were). But the fact remains they have to get the hell out of the tower, so Mismis bears her genuine crest and serves as bait once more, this time so Nene and Jhin can take out their pursuers.

Iska, handcuffed in his hotel room, hears ringing in Alice’s room and discovers she had his Imperial phone. He makes contact with Unit N07 and arranges to meet them at the very prison tower where Alice and Rin went. When he considers how to remove his cuffs, he suddenly remembers the handkerchief Alice left, and sure enough, it contains the key. This is what she meant by requesting his help—she couldn’t do it overtly, so left the key in hope he would agree.

Alice and Rin’s car is bombed before they reach the prison, but that’s of no consequence; the site is a mess of Imperial forces and various sovereignty forces from within the prison, so Alice takes command as Second Princess. Iska meets with Unit N07, but before anything else he asks for his two swords back, urges them to take the civilian onlookers to safety of the hotel, and he’ll meet them there in fifteen minutes or so.

Alice leaves Rin to deal with Salinger, and while Rin talks a big game and impresses him for a brief time, once Salinger gets serious Rin is no more than a “cat or dog” he has no further interest in torturing. Much of the astral magic he’s “collected” came from purebred sources far superior to Rin’s, after all.

Rin is overmatched; she knows it, and Salinger knows it, but it doesn’t matter: her only goal is to fight him and buy time until she can’t fight anymore. That turns out to not be very long, but it’s long enough that by the time Salinger is bored and ready to finish her, Iska arrives just in time to block his killing blow and save Rin.

Rin’s long-standing suspicion of and enmity towards Iska didn’t matter; Rin is Alice’s cherished friend, while Salinger is Alice’s enemy, so he’ll save Rin and defeat Salinger. If Risya gets wind of either Iska messing up her plan or of Mismis being a real astral mage, things will get far more complicated, but for now, it’s as simple as this: The enemy (Salinger) of his “enemy” (Alice) is his enemy. After all that lounging around in the hotel, it’s time to get to work!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Day I Became a God – 02 – The Skies, the Sun, the Earth, and Time

“Odin”, AKA Hina, makes herself at home at Youta’s, and to his shock neither his mom nor dad have a problem with her staying as long as she likes, both of them insisting she’s a relative without evidence we’re aware of.

Could the fact the Narukami’s all have god-like names be a hint that they’re related to gods? Whatever the case, her interactions with Youta, his parents, and his little sister Sora are wonderfully animated by P.A. Works and performed by Ayane Sakura.

Youta elaborates on his long relationship with Izanami, who became extremely introverted after her mother died young. Once preoccupied with basketball, Youta committed to spending more time with her, and that’s when he realized he loved her—and really had always loved her.

Barring a plan to save the world, Hina comes up with a fresh plan to help Youta win Izanami’s heart and help Sora with her film project. After the baseball fiasco Youta is reluctant to participate, but when beloved little sister asks if he’ll help with her project he immediately agrees.

What results are three wonderfully blatant rip-offs of Armageddon, Rocky, and Edward Scissorhands. Hina’s scripts don’t just open Sora up to unwanted legal action, but the dialogue is written in a David Mamet-esque scattershot rhythm that saps any emotional resonance the scenes had in the movies they’re aping.

Nevertheless, Izanami is surprisingly game, though her movie dialogue seems sprinkled with lines that are actually her own words, like “Doesn’t your father have work?” I found these scenes, and both Youta’s and Izanami’s commentary, hilarious, Sora is licking her chops at the footage she’s amassed.

However, the project utterly fails to move the needle for Youta vis-a-vis Izanami, so Hina comes up with something knew. And again, Youta learns he doesn’t know Izanami as well as he should, as Hina tells him Izanami’s dream is to be a musical director for movies. She ends up writing a moving piece of music that Youta intensely practices at the music store over a period of days.

Youta asks if he can come to Izanami’s house to play it for her, and she seems genuinely intrigued. When he can’t quite get the tempo right, she sits beside him and plays it perfectly, revealing to him just how lovely a piece it is. More importantly, Izanami really seems to come alive, wearing a placid smile as she plays it.

When the time comes to again tell her how he feels, Youta isn’t able to do so, but he at least buys himself another opportunity down the road when she agrees the two of them should study more. I kinda wish he’d actually told her his feelings, so that if she rejected him again he could at least find out why—even if it’s as simple as “I don’t like you that way.”

That night Hina castigates Youta for choking, but just as his father is asking where Sora is and expresses his worry, his mom drops and shatters a plate, increasing the unease. Then Sora’s classmate shows up at the door with a bruised and barely conscious Sora. What could be afoot here, and with twenty-four days before the End of Evangelion?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Day I Became a God – 01 (First Impressions) – O Ye of Chibi Faith

From Maeda Jun and Key (Air, Clannad, Angel Beats!, Charlotte) comes a new show with a wonderfully simple premise. Ordinary high school senior Narukami Youta encounters a little girl in nun cosplay claiming to be a god, Odin specifically. She doesn’t explain why she’s approached Youta, just that she has, and that the world will end in 30 days.

Their dynamic is pretty predictable, and your mileage may vary on its level of irritating, but Youta is understandably skeptical of this kid with apparent Chuuniboyou, and his attempts to treat her like a kid are met with shrill tantrums. It works for me, and Ayane Sakura and Hanae Natsuki have good comic timing and chemistry. Then you have Youta’s childhood friend and unrequited love, Mikasa Ack–err, Izanami.

“Odin” hacks away at Youta’s doubting bit by bit, first by predicting rain, then a bus getting stuck in traffic, and finally the entire order of a horse race on TV. Youta removes her from the ramen stand and demands an explanation, but he’s already given him one: she’s an omniscient god.

Now that she’s with him, he has the power of the gods. When asked for his wish, Izanami’s heart comes to mind. Odin can’t make her fall for him, but she can help him to become someone she will fall for.

They start with her love of baseball, with Youta challenging the entire team to a one-out game. Odin correctly predicts every pitch but he strikes out looking since she was unaware you only get three strikes. When he approaches Izanami, who was watching, and asks her out with a dramatically gorgeous and romantic backdrop…she rejects him.

Youta remains in a heap as the sun sets, and Odin eventually says they should be heading home. When Youta declares his parents would never take her in, she has him call them, and his mother swiftly approves once he says she’s an grade schooler in a nun outfit. Does his mom know something he doesn’t?

All of Odin’s predictions indicate she’ll also be correct about the end of the world in 30 days. Maeda Jun’s works usually make you laugh at first and then cry a lot later, so the world’s end may be unavoidable. Perhaps the goal is not about preventing the apocalypse, but Youta simply living the last thirty days to the fullest, with the help and power of a god by his side. We shall see!

The Millionaire Detective – Balance: UNLIMITED – 05 – No Need to Panic

This week the Second Division of Modern Crimes goes on a field trip—er, I mean an assignment to basically be warm bodies in front of an embassy during a sensitive diplomatic visit from a South American head of state.

Daisuke is apparently out because his grandmother has taken ill, but his colleagues learn that he’s the one the president is meeting with in his gran’s stead, since the Kambe conglomerate is building the dam that will change his country.

Hoshino and the First Division never let Haru and the Seconds forget their place, including when there’s a mix-up with their fancy lunches; the second have to surrender tasty Kyoto bentos in exchange for noodle cups. Basically no one other than Haru wants to be there and isn’t taking their job seriously, but are simply happy to be outside.

Meanwhile, Daisuke and the president are ushered into a panic room, but not before Daisuke launches a tiny surveillance drone from the heel of his shoe. They eventually learn that one of the embassy’s security detail is from a fraction opposed to the dam, and is responsible for the murder of the embassy chef.

We soon learn the reason he had to kill: he smuggled a VX gas bomb through the normal kitchen deliveries, and the chef saw too much. The terrorist then placed the bomb in the panic room so it would only kill the president and Daisuke.

Haru and Co. just so happen to notice when the perp leaps over the wall and attempts to flee. Haru gives chase (his colleagues are not in good enough shape to keep up), but the perp ends up saying his piece and jumping off the roof to his death. Due to wide-scale comms jamming, Haru can’t contact Daisuke or anyone else.

Suzue, who had no doubt been monitoring Daisuke closely, is on her way via motorcycle, but swerves to avoid a cat and must continue on foot. Even more distressing, when Daisuke asks HEUSC for the specs of the bomb so he can defuse it, HEUSC…refuses, stating Daisuke lacks proper authorization to be told that info. Unlimited his balance may be, but not his security clearance.

Daisuke resorts to a last-gasp effort to mitigate the gas release, but Haru ends up opening the door and saving his partner and the president in the absolute nick of time. While the terrorist had disposed of what he thought was the only unusual star-shaped key, Haru learns through Saeki that the embassy janitor made a copy so he could use the room to…ugh…jerk off.

This is how despite doing little other than eating strangely-flavored chips and almost successfully stealing the First Division’s lunch, Saeki ends up being the X-factor in the success of the mission, simply because she noticed the janitor wearing what looked like an uncharacteristically stylish piece of jewelry.

Thus ends another case-of-the-week, with the added bonus of Haru saving Daisuke despite the latter having access to HEUSC. I’m also glad Suzue wasn’t seriously hurt in her accident; I imagine she knows how to ditch any number of vehicles in a survivable manner; she’s exceedingly capable.

I’ve actually quite enjoyed the episodic nature of Millionaire Detective, but between Daisuke’s HEUSC access block, the Kambe-based origins of the bomb that almost killed him, and the fact Daisuke doesn’t intend to take over as the family head, there’s some interesting serial elements in play.

I’m also hoping that the tension between Haru and Hoshino is relieved at some point, if for no other reason than the Haru-vs.-First Division dynamic is growing rather stale. Heck, if Haru and Daisuke were able to achieve détente, anything is possible.

Gakkou Gurashi! – 11

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After multiple events at the end of last week’s episode piled upon each other like so many zombies, spelling imminent doom for the School Life Club, this week starts off with a continuation of that despair, with no shortage of intense terrified close-ups of Rii-san and Miki. But Yuki’s expression is different. It’s not existential fear…it’s an awakening, which comes in the form of a sudden flash as she sees her former choker-wearing classmate as she truly is.

That awakening continues gradually and painfully throughout the episode, as more and more, it becomes clear Yuki is the only club member who can save everyone. Her emotional scars are re-opened and reckoned with, and the same voice in her head that’s taken the form of Megu-nee for so long steps into high gear, putting Yuki not only in a position to stay alive, but help the others, starting with Miki. Now that she finally sees again the danger she and her friends are in, she doesn’t crumple into a ball; she picks up a shovel.

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Nostalgia, despair and hope go hand in hand (…in hand) this week. Rii-san remembers promising to “do what must be done” if Kurumi were to get infected, and as she’s being slowly driven mad by Kurumi’s increasingly horrifying moans and screams, with a knife in her lap, Rii-san starts to contemplate fulfilling that promise. Meanwhile, the zombies are everywhere, including the roof, where a lightning storm ignites the zombies, who then ignite the crops and Megu-nee’s grave marker.

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With all this grimness, Yuki’s strength in this time of ultimate crisis, and her desire to have more fun times with the club in the future, inspires Miki to action, after she was briefly paralyzed by her grief over Taroumaru. She then use’s Kei’s discman to try to sooth/distract the zombies at another barricade as she heads to the basement to find medicine. As that gorgeous music first we heard in episode 4 plays, we return to the day the club drove out in Megu-nee’s car and ended up saving Miki.

On the drive home, Kurumi and Rii-san (the only two still awake) talk about whether the zombies are still “aware”, and Kurumi hopes they aren’t, after all the terrible things she’s done to them. She says she had no choice—it was them or her—and she’s right. But that doesn’t make what she’s done, or not knowing the true nature of the zombies, any easier a pill to swallow.

Back in the present, Rii-san prepares to stab Kurumi to death…but just can’t do it, thus avoiding the possibility of Miki getting the antidote, only to return to find Kurumi is dead. If Rii-san isn’t already FUBAR, she certainly would be under that scenario.

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But Miki is still a long, long way from getting that antidote to Kurumi. It’s by no means a sure thing. She encounters Megu-nee down there, gets cornered by her and pays her respects, cognizant of the possibility the teacher’s stayed down there all this time in order to prevent hurting her still-living students. Despite that apparent awareness Kurumi mused about (and hoped wasn’t true), Megu-nee is still, ya know…a zombie, and grabs Miki’s ankle, forcing Miki to take her out.

Just then, as if there was a chip in Megu-nee tied to the school (though probably a coincidence what with the roof generators going haywire), an alarm sounds and red lights come on, and a P.A. system announces emergency power has been activated for the shelter (which probably means batteries, which aren’t going to last). All that noise attracts hordes of zombies to Miki’s location, and she ends up trapped in a room, unable to act, just like when she was at the mall.

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Thus Yuki becomes the only one who can save everyone. She does so by finally opening her eyes to “the hard stuff” she left to the others for so long, even before she went into her dissociative state, because she deemed herself clumsy and weak. But she’s able to use a vision of Megu-nee to get to the place she needs to be, have one last conversation with her through a door before opening it, and seeing, finally, that Megu-nee is no longer around, that she’s gone, and now it’s up to her.

It’s not easy, nor is it painless, but it’s what has to be done, or, Yuki knows, the School Live Club is finished. Her smile and her silly optimism sustained the club for so long, but now she has to do more, by breaking out of the protective shell she created in her mind, facing the reality of her situation, grabbing a bat, and getting to work. Everyone is counting on her.

No matter what happens, everyone will be scarred by this day they’re having. But can Yuki stand strong and act; protect and guide as Megu-nee did; be the new guardian angel, so that she and the others can live a little longer? I hope so.

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Gakkou Gurashi! – 10

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Fun Time is officially over as shit hits the fan on all fronts in this taut, slithering, devastating, unforgiving powerhouse of an episode. It starts quiet on a rainy morning. Miki laments that she’s finished her book—at the end of which its implied the dog comes to a bad end—Rii-san informs her why she’s so down: this is the same kind of day when they lost Megu-nee, their sensei and caring protector. Ever since then, Rii-san has been trying to fill the void Megu-nee left, and the strain shows this week as pretty much everything that can go wrong, does.

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Kurumi, the muscle of the group, confidently strikes out to find the escaped Taroumaru, assuring Rii-san she won’t do anything rash. She ultimately can’t abide by that assurance, first locating a zombified Taroumaru, then Megu-nee herself, in the previously un-explored basement. Why she goes alone is beyond me, but like I said, she’s a tough one, so I guess Rii-san felt she could trust her to come back safe and sound on her own.

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As soon as she spots both Taroumaru and Megu-nee, Kurumi knows what she has to do; it’s just a matter of being able to do it. She was able to kill her would-be boyfriend before he killed her back when this all started, but her hesitation results in Taroumaru running rampant until she can trap him in a room (with a non-sliding door he can’t open). And when Megu-nee raises her face, Kurumi can’t help but see her memory of her warm, beautiful, heroic teacher, not the shambling monster before her.

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She loses her nerve, and Megu-nee bites her. Damn, that was fast. Kurumi gets back to the safe zone, but it isn’t long before the wound starts to fester, and it becomes pretty clear that things are not going to go any better for her than they went for the dog or the teacher. It’s only a matter of time.

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During this time, as she screams in her sleep, we go inside her head, where she’s trapped in a nightmare in which countless zombies stalk her from just behind the walls of a classroom she’s in.

When they break through, her mind will be lost and she’ll be one of them. The only glimmer of hope she can be saved comes when Miki consults the emergency manual, which indicates there’s medicine—an antidote?—down in the basement shelter.

Rii-san doesn’t want Miki to go alone, but she doesn’t have much choice; she has to be there if and when Kurumi turns. As for Yuki, her bubbly obliviousness is more of a liability than ever. Miki and Rii-san are going through emotional issues of their own, and they have no time to babysit her.

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Miki finds Kurumi’s shovel, but also spots Taroumaru’s still-full dog bowl and collapses into tears, remembering how Kurumi lamented that she’d “failed”, and believing she too had failed to protect Taroumaru, just when they had kinda become friends last week.

Miki claims not being close to Megu-nee (who we see sitting down there, “writing”) will make it easier to take her out, but the dog’s down there too, so her task to grab the medicine—before Kurumi turns—is not going to be easy, to put it mildly.

As for Yuki, when she stops in the hall to remark to herself how today is like “that day”, and she then asks herself what “that day” is, and then feels the cold rain hitting her on the face. She sees the broken window now, just as the zombies burst through the ground floor and start bringing the barricades down.

We can imagine what she’ll see next week. The question is: how will she react to her sudden awakening? Will she be able to play a role in her own and everyone else’s survival, or are they all doomed?

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Gakkou Gurashi! – 09

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For all its foreboding teasing of the evacuation plan and the possibility the school was built almost in expectation of a zombie apocalypse, with the exception of the closing minute this is the first episode of GG! that truly felt like more idle stalling than its usual expert mood and tension-building. That’s not surprising, considering the episode adopts the tried and in most cases tired trope of the ol’ Pool Episode—only the pool is a rooftop biotope.

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Mind you, it does seem to be summertime, and the girls are still girls, so they make it a point to try out the swimsuits they acquired at the mall to put their minds off all the zombie business and have some fun. But the fact both they and the episode simply set aside the zombie threat—without so much as a groan from down below in the yard where all the zombies are shuffling around—sapped the show of  its usual gripping dread. I kept expecting a ball or Frisbee would fly off the roof and garner unwanted attention…alas, no such peril ever materialized.

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It isn’t until everyone has showered, had a light meal, and gone off to bed that Taroumaru hears something with his dog ears, slips out of his lead, and strikes out to investigate. While the girls were spared any unpleasantness this week, that’s sure to change soon, as Megu-nee is still up and about—though decidedly neither alive nor well—in the sub-basement they’re preparing to explore tomorrow.

Considering in the chronology of the show there hasn’t actually been a zombie confrontation since they found one in the library way back in the second episode, I’d say we’re due for some fresh menace—this time of a far more personal kind—and of a kind that’s not going to do Yuki’s (or anyone else’s) mental state any favors.

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Gakkou Gurashi! – 08

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No Kamo no Chomei recitations this week; rather, we have an algae-covered Yuki and Taroumaru, resulting in the need for baths for both. But I must admit this episode, despite its ample charming slice-of-life and revelatory ending, had neither the drive nor the punch, nor the resonance of previous episodes. For the first time, GG! felt like it was, if not stalling, at least dawdling.

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The totem connecting the recent past to the present is a Polaroid camera, a pre-digital mechanism capable of producing instant images of the moment the shutter click captures. Moments that no longer exist, like those with Megu-nee. While searching the faculty lounge for the lock the mystery key fits, Yuuri recalls the day both she and Megumi came up with the whole idea of the School Life Club in order to break up the monotony of simple survival.

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But the very ease of their survival thus far has created a kernel of doubt and suspicion, not only in Rii-san, but Miki as well: both believe the school to be almost too well-equipped for long-term survival, which is why Rii-san wants to find out what the key unlocks so badly. It just takes a bit of aforementioned dawdling on the part of Yuki and the dog to get to this plot-propelling point.

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But it’s Yuki, the delusional one, who ends up finding the secret compartment where the safe that the key belongs to is located. Yet Yuki isn’t made privy to said contents: a DVD and documents relating to the effects of a biological weapon, contamination, and isolation, all but assuring that the present zombified state of the country and possibly the world is a man-made occurrence.

On the one hand, the revelation of these documents takes us deeper down the rabbit hole. On the other hand, some of the mystery has been eroded, leaving us with facts that may or may not provide ample recompense for what had been an immersive mystique. In so much fiction, sometimes the more you learn about something, the less you end up caring about it. Some things are better left unknown. It remains to be seen if this is one of them.

In the next four episodes, will anything come of Yuuri, Miki, and Kurumi learning more about what happened? Will they be able to use this information to enact significant change in the present state of the world? Or has their fate already been sealed, in which case they may have been better off in La-La Land with Yuki?

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Dantalian no Shoka 1 – First Impressions

A relatively ordinary young man is chosen by fate to protect a delicate, pallid, otherworldly girl who happens to be a repository for 900,666 mystical grimoires. She’s a walking, talking, bratty library who likes to eat. Sound familiar?

Well fear not, this isn’t an Index ripoff…far from it. It’s GAINAX, back with something completely different after the yet-to-be-concluded Panty & Stocking. Dantalian no Shoka (which refers to the girl, Dalian) is a 1920s era magical mystery romp, which so far happens to be quite good.

The chemistry between Dalian and her new keeper, ex-pilot Huey (or Lord Henry Disward) is more dynamic and complex than that of Index and Touma, the former was pretty much a pet of the latter – with magical powers. Dalian may look childish, but she has a sharp tongue and is quick to scold Huey for his ignorance.

Their literary banter is infectious, as is all the mystical exposition that forms the climax. , It also features drop-dead gorgeous lighting and backgrounds, a trippy live-action ED, and Miyuki Sawashiro lending her strong voice to Dalian. This makes a fine addition to an already very promising summer season. Rating: 4