Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – 02

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The first hero Tooru, Akari and Chaika encounter this season kinda spoiled them, and us as well. It isnt often an adversary comes around who isn’t really an adversary at all, but dwells within the same nuanced gray area of reality as everyone else. Claudia killed many people back in the day with her colleagues. But that was then. Now she makes wine.

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She’s not interested in stopping the daughter of Gaz, nor is she interested in holding on to his heart, given to her as a badge of honor but never used for its fuel, despite the temptation. It’s just a trinket, and she said if she ever met Chaika and came to like her, she’d hand the remains right over. That being said, she has to see what Chaika’s made of first, hence the challenge.

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Even though the trio only has to land one blow on her, Claudia doesn’t make it easy: her Gundo skills and experience outweigh everyone else’s. Fredrica ends up serving as the wild card as she always does, distracting Claudia just long enough for Chaika to finish her incantation of “The Slugger” and winning the day. We say they’re spoiled because afterwards Claudia not only gives them the remains, but tea and cakes as well. Something tells me their next target won’t be so hospitable.

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That is, if there is a next target: we check in with Chaika Bogdan and her own two supporters, having just acquired Gaz’s forearm, and Guy (who talks to all the Chaikas but doesn’t tell them what the others are doing) informs her not only of the next hero to pay a visit to, but of the existence of an island where she’ll find “something pleasing.”

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Meanwhile, Steinmetz’s lieutenant Curren shows Vivi some of Alberic’s articles, including his journal, where she also learns of something on an island called “Gaz’s Fortune.” Seeing this stuff snaps Vivi out of her funk, and she swaps out her white tunic for her battle garb, ready to get back on the Chaika case and complete Alberic’s work. It seems she’s found, or rather reconnected, with her purpose, post-Alberic. Yet at the end of the day, however she came upon the intel, she is heading to that island, just as the other two are.

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Our Chaika learns of the island because Claudia tells her one of Gaz’s officials told the punitive force about it before they executed him, like they executed everyone in the palace that day. After they leave the vineyard, Chaika has a disturbing dream about being beheaded in the throne room, which she says is a false memory…and yet we’ve seen the scar that circumnavigates her neck. So which is it?

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I guess we’ll find out. TIll then, we know at least three Chaikas are headed to that island, and you could say all of them are going there because they want to find out more about themselves. Chaika can’t simply continue the mission to find her remains anymore; not until she’s gotten answers. This marks the first time she’s changing the objective she originally hired Tooru and Akari to assist her with, changing their own purposes in the process. That’s not likely all that’s going to change.

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Finally, while Fredrica assisted in their victory over Claudia, Chaika still had to get off a good shot with her Gundo, which she was only able to do once she had summoned emotions of the necessary type and potency. She did that by fearing Tooru was going to die, suggesting to Claudia that she cares for Tooru very much indeed; something we already know. Of course, there can’t really be any progress in that area until Chaika determines who and what she is. I look forward to the shift from a hunt for remains to a journey of self-discovery.

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Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – 01

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I believe this is the first time we see Gaz clearly.

Ah, it’s good to be easing back into the warm, tingly bath that is Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle. The show picks up pretty much where it left off, with the hunt for Gaz’s remains continuing. The heroes they’ve had to face have varied wildly on the moral spectrum, but their latest opponent, Lady Claudia, is possibly the nicest out of all of them, and is willing to give Chaika Gaz’s heart as long as she’s just giving him a funeral—but only if they can defeat her.

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Chaika has always been a show about finding a purpose. Chaika’s purpose is to bury her father. Tooru and Akari’s are to help her. After executing Gaz and paving the way for the Six Nations and peace, Lady Claudia became a different kind of hero: a Lady Eboshi-type of entrepreneurial woman who provides good jobs to veterans with nothing else to do. Her bucolic vineyard and winery is a kind of microcosm of the ideal world that was meant to be after Gaz was dealt with, and even if it isn’t quite that, it’s at least far better than the bloodshed and chaos that went on for three hundred years.

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Speaking of purpose, that of the Gilette Corps endures, even after its namesake has been slain. Even if our Chaika doesn’t intend to build a weapon that will end the peace and restore Gaz to power, we’re still not exactly sure that’s not exactly what she’s unwittingly doing, and in any case there are many other Chaikas out there who want to. It’s up to Gillette and its new Captain Nikolai to see to it that doesn’t happen.

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Which is why it’s so tricky that Vivi is, without a shadow of doubt, one of said Chaikas. Even if she denies is, the fact of the matter is, if that spectral dandy Guy pays you a visit, you’re a Chaika, The End. He’s there to make sure Chaikas carry out Gaz’s directives. Still, Vivi is still shaken to the core by the death of her love, and it doesn’t look like she’ll so easily be able to return to the live she lived before Alberic was killed.

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But back to the winery: when their first attempt to fight Claudia ends in a draw, she offers them the swanky hospitality of her establishment, plus a second chance, on the condition the three of them are able to score a victory between tomorrow’s breakfast and tea. Like Chaika, she’s a Gundo wizard, but far more skilled and experienced. Six months of hiatus have not dulled Akari’s extra-dry wit a bit, but even an all-nighter can’t improve Chaik’s incantation speed.

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I really enjoyed the decency and chivalry of Lady Claudia; it’s not every day you get such an understanding and accommodating adversary. When the hour of battle is upon them, they march out to some more awesome Final Fantasy boss music; the show’s soundtrack remains a delight in general. Tooru assures Chaika if they can’t beat her they’ll just steal it, but Chaika isn’t a saboteur, or a thief. She wants to honor Claudia’s terms if she can. Judging from the start of the battle, I wonder if the Acuras would even be able to take the heart without Claudia’s leave; she’s quite formidable.

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11 Mononoke Moments

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Every couple years we like to revisit one of the first and best works of anime we’ve ever seen, to bask in its excellence and wade in the gooey nostalgia. Suffice it to say, the film gets better with each subsequent viewing, and it also gets more difficult to find satisfying and cohesive words to describe how much we adore it and why. So we won’t! Instead, we’ll list ten eleven of our favorite moments, in chronological order.

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1. The first shot after the title card, and that first Joe Hisaishi orchestral flourish: Ashitaka glides through the trees on his red elk, sensing something is amiss. Instantly, we are transported to another world, and that world already feels real by the sound of leaves rustling and the stamping of hooves on the earth.

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2. Three village girls flee from the raging demon, but one trips and falls. Do the other two run away and leave the third behind? Do they wait for Ashitaka to save them? No. Kaya draws her sword and stands fast with her fallen sister. Miyazaki wastes no time establishing that the women in this film are going to stand equally with men in all things: courage, intelligence, strength…and general badassery.

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3. Ashitaka learns his fate, from another strong woman, the village oracle. In this scene, we see the desperation of the men sitting against the wall. Ashitaka is the youngest there, the last best hope for the village; his sudden exile crushes them. But Ashitaka does not flinch from the task before him. He chooses to stand and face his fate.

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4. Ashitaka and Kaya’s farewell gets to us every time, but the sorrow of that little scene is soon put behind Ashitaka as he begins the next chapter of his life, out in the sprawling world, full of mysteries and wonders and infinite possibilities. The soaring, epic music and staggeringly vast, gorgeous vistas contribute to create one of the best traveling montages in all of cinema – and this is only the beginning.

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5. Ashitaka first spots San. When he braves the deeper parts of the ancient forest with the injured men, he finds San and her wolf tribe licking their wounds after a raid. Mononoke is sucking blood out of Moro and when she spots Ashitaka, delays spitting it out for just one brilliant moment. Ashitaka leaps up and gives a Big Dumb Hero Speech, to which the wolves respond by simply walking off. San replies with one word: “Leave.” San don’t give a shit about him…not yet, anyway.

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6. The first clash of Eboshi and San. Lady Eboshi is one of our favorite antiheroes in anime. Cunning, ruthless, and sexy, we never learn her true motivations. Perhaps she had a tough upbringing that steeled her for competing and succeeding in a male-dominated world, and wishes to carry that tradition on with other women with unfortunate pasts. She gives lepers and brothel workers honest jobs and happy lives, and makes a huge profit off of it.

San herself is a less complex but no less compelling character. We know for a fact her human parents discarded her. Whether they didn’t want her or couldn’t care for her, she was left to the wolves and raised as one. In a way, Eboshi is just as much a wolf. But she hides her wolf and her heart within, not on her sleeve. Whatever people believe about her is what she wants them to believe.

Then San slips by Eboshi’s guard and shoots at her like an arrow loosed from a bow. All speed and primal rage and chaos, Eboshi – at the last second – pulls out her thin, elegant blade of folded steel with the tiniest movements, then brandishes a tiny dagger; her first parry was a feint. All logic and discipline and careful sizing-up of her opponent. Her water meets San’s fire and a stalemate ensues, until Ashitaka’s finally had enough and subdues both.

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7. Ashitaka tells San she’s beautiful while she has his sword pointed a centimeter from his throat. San’s bashful reaction proves shee is still a human. Ashitaka doesn’t say this out of desperation; he’s not one to extend his life with wordplay. He says it because it’s the truth. He doesn’t want San’s beautiful soul irrevicably corrupted by hate. The end product of that path gave him his scar.

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8. There’s really no scene in any film we’ve seen that gives us goosebumps that last quite as long as they do when San takes Ashitaka deeper into the forest to see if the deer god will save his life. The utter majesty of their sylvan suroundings, the brief dream Ashitaka has in complete silence, the way the white noise of the forest returns when a dewdrop wakes Ashitaka up, it’s all perfect.

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9. When he’s unable to chew bark, San chews it for him and feeds him like a bird, in perhaps the best non-kiss first kiss we’ve ever seen. San is just making sure he doesn’t die, but Ashitaka is moved to tears. As are we.

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10. Ashitaka wakes up in a den, with San sleeping soundly beside him, and then the titular theme song starts up, we have perhaps the quietest, most beautiful scene in the entire film. You get the feeling this is the most comfortable and happy the two will be, as well as the last time they’re together, for some time. So bittersweet.

Shots of the contented San bookend his conversation with a testy Moro, who sits atop the stone den, contemplating her death and the death of the forest. Her speech to him about how even this place will soon be engulfed in the flames of mankind’s industry and war, and how both of them are too weak to do anything about it, is heartbreaking, but neither her cyncism or threats to bite his head off sway Ashitaka from the belief there can be a third way, and that he can find a way for him and San to live.

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11. The scenes with the rather bull-headed boar tribe and their doomed blaze of glory, as well as Jiko-bo’s strategizing aren’t our favorite of the film, and if there was a place where the film lags a bit, it’s here. But when Moro decides to use the last of her strength to help save San from being consumed by Okkoto’s corruption and hands her off to Ashitaka, who runs into the lake with her, it was a great relief. Yeah, it’s a bit Guy Saves Girl…but remember, she saved him too.

As representatives of mankind and nature, their friendship forged from mutual life-saving, trust, and love is proof that their two factions can, if not co-exist, allow one another to simply…live. Even in the present day, there are still countless places untouched by man. They are fewer than in the past, but they will always be here.

One side-effect of watching this film is it makes you want to seek out those places in nature that endure even today. Where trees have stood through ages of man, and the animals do not fear us. We will never truly defeat nature, and nature will never truly defeat us. It’s not a zero-sum game, and it never was.

RABUJOI World Heritage List