Classroom of the Elite – 12 (Fin)

The first seven episodes of Classroom of the Elite were solid, but gave way to an increasingly unfocused and often downright tedious Island Arc. After pointing out how delicate and demanding the girls are compared to the guys, demonstrating the class’s appalling ignorance of outdoor fundamentals (except for one character who camps out a lot), and introducing a set of rules and objectives only slightly less complicated than the U.S. Tax Code, we were then treated to thrilling whodunits involving the theft of a girl’s undergarments and the burning of a manual.

Class C student Ibuki was planted as the obvious culprit to everything, but we can’t be sure if she’s really the culprit, because the biggest question mark of them all is, and has always been, Ayanokouji Kiyotaka, whom it’s implied was the sole “survivor” of a “gifted kid farm.”

Meanwhile, his interactions with Horikita Suzune have been dull and repetitive (due in no small part to the nebulousness of his true motives and  intentions), while what had been perhaps the best character dynamic of the show—that between Ayano and Kushida—has curiously been abandoned altogether, with no further exploration of her character. Some of Kushida’s screen time was replaced by Sakura, whose puppy love for the unperceptive Ayano isn’t nearly as compelling.

But WHO CARES? This was a bad-ass finale. It stuck the landing.

It starts slowly, in basically the same place we left off last week: in a state of confusion and frustration. Horikita wakes up to find Ayano nearby, telling her she should drop out and that whatever goal she has in mind, whether it’s making Class A to prove something to her brother, or something else, she’s going to need allies. She faints again, and Ayano carries her to the teachers.

Ayano tells Hirata everything that’s happened and how it will effect the points, and Hirata is devastated, no doubt believing he let his class down…but Ayano asks a favor of him. When the day the Special Test ends arrives, Sakura asks Ayano what he thinks their points will be, and Ayano simply looks over to Hirata, who is holding the leader identification form.

All of the classes assemble on the beach, except Class C…but a dirty, disheveled Ryuuen does appear…in his mind, to declare victory. Once he lays out his scheme to gain the names of all three class leaders, things don’t just look bad for Class D, but Classes A and B as well.

Ryuuen’s plan is extra-complex, as befits the finale of CotE: signing a binding contract with Class A in which they’ll supply 200 S-points in goods and provide the names of B and D’s leaders, using Ibuki and another C-class student as spies D and B.

Of course, Ryuuen intended to betray Katsuragi, because an ally of Katsuragi’s rival Sakayanagai gave him the name of Class A’s leader…which was never Katsuragi to begin with. Ryuuen runs the math as the calculations are displayed on the screen.

Then the points are announced: Class C gets ZERO points, Classes A and B make just over 100 each, and Class D…WINS, with 225 points. SHOKU!

How’d it happen? Cough-cough. C’mon now, you know: it was all Ayanokouji-frikking-Kiyotaka. What Horikita doesn’t know is how. Class A continues its internal strife as Sakayanagi’s ally antagonizes Katsuragi’s furious levies, while Ichinose doesn’t feel too bad about her class’s high score, since she’s likely close to amassing enough points to buy her way into the class of her choice (which I’m assuming would be A).

Ayano managed to win by pivoting from a strategy of spot-occupation points to leader identification points, and used virtually everyone and everything he had on that island to discover the identities of the leaders of Class A and C (leaving B alone to preserve their alliance). He even used Horikita’s illness, which was actually crucial to giving him a “legitimate reason” to change the leadership of Class D to him at the very last minute. Thus, Ayano was right about Ryuuen and Ryuuen was wrong about him – a 100-point swing.

As an apparent apology for using Horikita and potentially making her even sicker, he had Hirata tell the rest of Class D they owe everything to her, not him. It’s a brilliant move that accomplishes two things: it keeps Ayano in the shadows where he can do the most, and brings the class together, which was Hirata’s goal all along.

Kushida seems to know there’s something a little off about Horikita being the hero here, but can’t get a straight answer out of Ayano when she asks which girl he’d choose. It’s not much, but I did appreciate one last scene with “Real Kushida,” especially in which she resents the fact a girl like Horikita doesn’t have a “side to hide.” But Ayano rightly points out that most people have one.

In his chat with Chabashira-sensei in the ship’s theater, she commends him for having performed up to the standards not only she, but “that man” (AKA his dad) expected. There’s talk about Daedalus and Icarus, but Ayano doesn’t intend to lose his wings any time soon. That’s good, because Ryuuen (and his loyal lieutenant Ibuki) are coming for him, armed with a windfall of points thanks to one other stipulation in their contract with Class A.

Finally, Horikita loses her throng of admirers long enough to track down Ayano and ask him why he told Hirata to spread the word that she, not he, was the class savior and mastermind behind their victory. He tells her, in a scene that’s played quite tenderly at first, to remember when he said she needed allies to succeed – giving her the credit helps get her those allies (and she did suffer in sickness for the cause).

Horikita’s Tsundere Levels reach critical levels as she both thanks Ayano and acknowledges him as an ally while making it clear their future interactions will be purely professional in nature and focused on getting to Class A.

She’s fooling no one, but Ayano is fooling her along with everyone else, because, at least according to his inner thoughts, he’s only looking out for one guy: Ayano. Hirata, Sakura, Ichinose, Kushida, and Horikita are nothing but stones he’s all too willing to step on to win, because winning is all that matters to him.

A dark ending…but also a wide-open door for a sequel down the road. Horikita has changed a lot, and she says it’s all Ayano’s fault. Maybe she, along with Kushida and the others, will get a chance to change him. Or maybe he’ll just dance on their corpses when he’s king of the world. Here’s hoping we get to find out!

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Classroom of the Elite – 11

Prior to watching this episode, only one persistent wish occupied my mind: Get off the damn island. Just get off. It’s been a convoluted mess and I’m honestly having trouble caring anymore. The primary reason I watch anime is to be entertained, and the island arc just ain’t getting the job done. It’s a slog.

Alas, we do not leave the island, as time only transitions from Day 5 to Day 6, with the girls and boys of class D continuing to bicker amongst themselves, a storm coming, and the hidden fact that their leader Horikita has been ill since leaving the boat.

Way too much time is spent on the secondary and tertiary classmates yelling at each other. I already get that there’s discord, the episode just repeats itself. Furthermore, there’s absolutely no reason for Yamauchi to put a clump of mud on Horikita’s head, except perhaps to serve the plot, as Horikita must exert herself by throwing him.

More importantly by having mud randomly dropped on her head, she has to wash it off, which means stripping down to her skivvies…which means temporarily not having her key card on her person. Her one primary job as leader is to hold on to that card, but she failed, and only informs Ayanokouji.

Their talk is interrupted by a fire at the camp, which sets off another round of argument. Hirata kinda loses it once it starts to pour, and then orders the others to do useless things like cover the already-wet firewood and collect the already-soaked clothes.

Completely independent of the events on the island, we keep making small check-ins on Ayano’s past as some kind of organization-raised “special” kid, the last one remaining among of a large group of potentials, for which he seems to be placed behind bars.

I honestly couldn’t tell how these little glimpses of Ayano’s past are trying to relate to the events of the present…unless, perhaps, Ayanokouji means to betray Horikita, and is the one who told Ibuki to steal the key card. It could also be an elaborate plan to make their rivals think chaos reigns in Class D, and “betraying” Horikita is part of that. Still, Ibuki doesn’t hold back on beating her up.

That person remains a mystery for now, but the reveal that Ibuki is the one causing all the mayhem feels a bit…obvious, even though the episode tried to keep its cards close. Ayano must’ve found something buried in the spot where he found her, and we don’t know that either.

I have no idea if we’ll get another cour of CotE, but if not, it’s been an interminable, disappointing, seemingly aimless final arc, in which everyone has become progressively dumber, except perhaps Ayano, whose true intentions remain stubbornly opaque. It will take one hell of a finale to bring all the disparate pieces together and deliver some satisfying answers.

Classroom of the Elite – 10

How could a show that started out so fresh, slick, clever, and cerebral feel so stale, dull, dumb now? The first mistake seemed to be taking the classes out of the proverbial classroom and onto an island…then proceeding to do basically nothing for five days.

Horikita conducts recon of Classes A and B, both times having unpleasant encounters with their respective leaders, both of whom are drawn as if they were in their thirties. Fine, I’ll forgive the disappointingly goofy character design—this is Lerche, after all—but I won’t forgive the obvious holes in logic that keep creeping up this week, even if the sexism subsides.

Remember how I said Horikita came into contact with the leaders of Classes A and B? Isn’t there a 50-S-Point bonus to anyone who correctly guesses the leader of another class—an a 50-point  deduction from the leader correctly ID’d? Am I missing something here? Katsuragi and Ryuuen aren’t exactly being subtle in their leaderliness—nor is Horikita herself.

Days 2 thru 4 breeze by without any incident…or any meaningful developments whatsoever, aside from more of Sakura flirting with Ayanokouji (who has never been portrayed as anything other than an unromantic, assexual character, making her flirtation seem like a futile waste of time), a mysterious scene in which a mystery student of unknown gender steals a girl’s bag from the tent, and Sudou suspecting Class C exile Ibuki of some kind of treachery.

I suppose I should look to the episode’s title for guidance, a Kierkegaard quote: “Every man has in himself the most dangerous traitor of all.” I’m no philosophy major, but off the top of my head, this seems to have dual meaning: everyone has the potential for treachery, but no other person is capable of betraying you more than you can betray yourself.

It could also just mean there’s a traitor in Class D’s midst, which Sudo believes is Ibuki, so I gravitated to her as well. Then, on the morning of Day 5, the girls are united in their outrage that Karuizawa’s underwear was stolen in the night. The rest of the episode deals with the investigation of this panty heist. See what I said about feeling a bit dumb and rote?

Despite that feeling, things to sharpen up a bit when Ike finds the panties in his bag. Clearly they were planted there, but by whom? What the heck would Ibuki have to gain by sowing discord, when her own Class spent all their points and headed back to the boat to party?

By the way, I’m happy Class C’s strategy was not immediately dismissed as the wrong one; none of the remaining classes are guaranteed to earn enough points to make all the trouble they’ve been through worth it. It’s almost as if the show is saying “yes, this whole island survival premise is indeed dumb, but only Class C and Koenji decided to reject it.”

Ike gives the panties to Ayano, and Hirata finds them when giving the boys pat-downs at the girls’ demand. But Hirata doesn’t turn in Ayano, because he understands the distinction of Ayano having the panties and Ayano stealing them.

Hirata takes the panties from Ayano, supposedly to protect his classmate, as Karuizawa’s boyfriend is the one the girls suspect the least to have them, but despite the fact it’s (I’m assuming) to prevent further discord from compromising the class, Hirata is betraying himself here, by lying.

And the fact he’s able to be dishonest here makes me start to think that maybe his whole upstanding, “Everybody Loves Hirata” act is merely cover for…more sinister designs.

Classroom of the Elite – 09

“This test is sounding much more complicated and difficult than I thought it would be.” You and me both, Horikita! The details of weeklong survival trip that pits the four classes against each other is indeed are many and complicated; one might even say convoluted, to the point of ungainliness.

Much of this episode simply sets up all of the various rules and ways of spending, scoring, or being deducted points, but it’s a lot to keep track of, and the episode itself doesn’t do the best job of organizing everything in any kind of order. Instead, it lays out some rules, the students mill around in the woods, and then they lay out some more.

There’s also the fact that Class D is made up of twenty students, and yet we don’t really learn or get any kind of impression from any but the ones we already know: Horikita and Ayanokouji, the three bad apples, Hirata and Karuizawa, etc. The rest are kinda just there.

I appreciate the fact that everyone in the class can agree to appoint Horikita as their Leader (a position with both advantages and potential pitfalls requiring both responsibility and discretion).

What I did not appreciate were the incessant sexist allusions to girls being weaker, more delicate, and somehow not as cut out for roughing it as the boys. Out of twenty students, you’d think one or two of the girls would be outdoorsy types like Ike.

On that same subject, what the hell is the deal with the toilet situation? Have these kids not heard of these things called holes that you can dig in the ground to do your business? I realize a lot of these kids are rich and sheltered, but still…

Somehow, some way, the girls manage to survive the first day (/s), and Hirata manages to work out a reasonable number of points the class can walk away happy with: a floor of 120 out of the 300 they start with. As for the ceiling, well, it all depends on how many leaders they can identify, how may “spots” the possess for how long, and how much food and water they can take from nature without spending points on rations.

They also have to be careful not to lose too many points to deductions, and in this, right off the bat they stand to lose 30 points when Kouenji, after doing his Tarzan thing all over the island, craps out on the rest of the class by returning to the boat. I’ve no idea if he’s just out of the game or has some other plan (probably the former), because all he does is strut around saying “beautiful.”

At least with the majority of the test’s rules out of the way, we’ll see more execution next week. But seriously, CotE: dial back the male chauvinism a bit, if you would. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Fate / Zero – 12

“Why do I always sit on my smokes?”

After the Rumble in the Marble, most Servants take a step back and assess the situation. Kiritsugu sits in a dark hotel room and pores over intel as he chats with Maiya on the phone…and that’s about it, really.

“I like the way your tent your fingers. Why don’t you work for me?”

Reports and conversation are the name of the game again, but instead of interacting with Saber and Rider, Archer is stuck with Kirei, trying to connect the dots as part of his larger plan to make him one of his men. Kirei delivers his report on the motivations of the other Masters to Archer, who points out that the one that seems to interest Kirei the most is Matou Kiriya, who also seems to be enduring the most pain and suffering.

“I mean, this isn’t how I would drive, but this is fine too, I guess…”

Pain doesn’t seem to be an issue for Iri, while Saber doesn’t seem to be feeling the lasting effects from her throughout putting-down she endured at the hands of Rider and Archer. But Saber does find it odd that Iri has her drive and perform every other task that requires the use of her hands. When she asks Iri about it, she reveals she’s become extremely physically weak as a result of shutting down her sense of touch (a homonculus ability, apparently).

While she believes she can recover a bit of strength by sitting in the right kind of magical circle, the bottom line is that she’ll be relying on Saber more and more as this War progresses. Saber, obviously, is up to it. I must say I underestimated her mental toughness. That circle is drawn in a storeroom on a Japanese mansion that looks very much like the place where Emiya and Saber live and practice in UBW.

“Feel that sting? That’s pride, fuckin’ with you!”

From there it’s back to Archer gradually wrapping Kirei around his finger, Emporer Palpatine-style. He gets Kirei to pretty much admit that he is actually capable of joy, and even if he’s previously considered such feelings to be a sin, Gilgamesh isn’t a fan of this newfangled puritanical philosophy that generated people like Kirei and Saber. Joy is joy, and leads to happiness.

So Archer gets Kirei to ‘find his bliss’, and Command Seals suddenly reappear on his hand. Archer believes it’s proof the Holy Grail isn’t done with him; indeed it’s almost as if the Holy Grail rejected his previous role as Toosaka’s ally and spy and reinstates him as a full Master. Archer also suggests Kirei go out and steal a new Servant, and not-so-subtly picks up the Archer piece from the chessboard to indicate who he should pick.

While there were some nice character beats, you can really only portray two people sitting around talking for so long from so many angles before it gets a bit tedious. In other words, another cool-down episode on the heels of a solid 10. That leaves one episode left in the first cour.

Fate / Zero – 11

Iris detects the massive mana of Rider heading towards the castle, and Saber suits up for a battle…only for Rider to show up in his t-shirt and pants with a giant barrel of wine. He’s not there to fight, he’s there to drink and talk. A Holy Grail “dialogue”, as he puts it.

Saber has no objection, and drinks from the barrel with Rider. Soon, Archer also arrives, on Rider’s invitation, and after rejecting Rider’s “swill” opens a portal to his treasury to draw out…a golden jug and three golden cups.

This would be absurd if it wasn’t also frikking brilliant, for Iskandar and Gilgamesh share one thing in common: they are hedonistic tyrants of yore.

Gilgamesh is such a tyrant he considers all treasures in the world to be his, since they all sprang from his treasury—a treasury so vast he isn’t even aware of all it contained.

Iskandar wants to be reincarnated as a flesh-and-blood man to take up his world conquest anew. Saber…wants to save Britain, in part by erasing all of the perceived mistakes she made in life as king. She wants a redo.

Archer laughs in her face at the fact she harbors regret for the deeds in her life, and Rider can’t help but agree. As far as they’re concerned, it’s the duty of the nation and its people to serve and sacrifice for their ruler, not the other way ’round as Saber would have it.

By insisting upon being a “slave to what’s right”, Saber might be able to save Britain, but she can never lead it, and so Rider ceases to see Saber as a real king.

Kingship, to him, has always been a wondrous gift, and throughout his rule he lived and fought as grandly and greedily as possible, living life to the extremes of both good and bad, that he might inspire men to fight and die for him. When Assassins surround them (a test by Kirei and Tokiomi), Rider transports everyone into a Reality Marble.

There, in the vast desert sands, Iskandar’s endless armies march, and when he mounts his trusty horse and orders them to advance, the Assassins are quickly routed. Saber, Iri and Waver can only sit and watch in stunned awe, while Archer does his best to look unimpressed. It’s the biggest spectacle since the port battle, and it is well and truly momentous.

When the battle is over and everyone’s back in the courtyard, Rider takes one more drink, then takes his leave, which is just as well, as I don’t think anyone’s ideals could have been shat on as thoroughly and mercilessly as Saber’s (If I didn’t know better, I’d say Rider was a cruel drunk). Archer remains to mock Saber, urging her to go ahead and continue believing in her ‘backwards’ philosophy so he can laugh at her some more.

Their words cut as deeply as any blade, as Saber remembers one of her Knights of the Round Table stepping down because he didn’t think Arthur understood his people…and Rider and Archer’s words only served to reinforce her growing crisis of confidence.

But while it doesn’t end well for Saber, like at all, it was fantastic to see three Servant Kings simply sitting in a courtyard, drinking wine, and shooting the breeze…and for Rider to show that he can back up all his big talk, and then some.

Made in Abyss – 04

Remember Snape going on about ‘bottling fame’ or ‘brewing’ glory? I kept coming back to how Made in Abyss seems able to effortlessly bottle…AWE. It’s masterful in unveiling Riko and Reg’s new surroundings. 

First we get a tight shot of Riko waking up…in a mad web of protective Reg arm cable! Then we pull waaaay back to a superwide shot of the First Layer: The Edge of the Abyss. It’s like pure, uncut, Bottled Awe.

After Riko’s terrible-looking but delicious fish stew (good to see them not relying on packed food), they face their first foe: a giant silkfang from whose nest they narrowly escape from, thanks to Reg’s ridiculously handy arms, which are also making their climb much easier. Let’s call it a Level 1 fiend…and they didn’t defeat it, they just got away.

They’re also trying to keep from getting caught by Leader or any search parties who may be pursuing them. After receiving hand-drawn copies of Lyza’s Abyss notes, with a red note indicating he’s coming for them at dawn, Riko concludes escaping Leader is the “final lesson” they must overcome to prove they have what it takes.

The next massive swig of primo Bottled Awe comes in the form of a Castle in the Sky-style reveal of the abandoned ancient windmills and endless greenery of Layer Two: The Forest of Temptation. It’s like watching an awesome game where the deeper you descend, the crazier things start to look and feel.

But eventually one of their “pursuers” catches up, only to not be trying to catch them at all. The Black Whistle Habo came when Sigy and Nat told him to help Riko get to the Seeker Camp and Second Layer, and in exchange he could see Reg, a genuine treasure of the Netherworld, in the rubbery flesh.

When Riko politely declines his offer, citing Leader’s final lesson, he takes her and Reg into his arms, perhaps to embrace the girl he’s known her whole life, and watched, and known that the day would come when she’d run off after, and like, her mother. He also warns her about the White Whistle “Ozen the Immovable” at the Seeker Camp.

After some more descending, we can take one more swig of dramatically unveiling vistas as they arrive at the Abyss’ Second Layer – The Forest of Temptation (not to be confused with the Forest of Illusion, though the vibe is similar).

Gazing at the environs sprawling out before him, Reg can’t help but wonder if he and Riko actually “escaped” their pursuers, or if they’ve come to a place where other things will pursue them. For this is no longer the territory of man, it’s The Abyss proper, from which all things sprang, and where all things eventually return. I’m drunk on awe now.

Made in Abyss – 03

I’ll just come out and say it: three episodes in, and of all the anime we’ve watched this Summer at RABUJOI, Made in Abyss is the best. It effortlessly grounds a fantastical world (primed to become more wondrous still) with deeply human characterization, in particular the bottomless (no pun intended) curiosity and stubbornness of kids.

Riko’s friend of many years Nat is against her going down the Abyss. He stays against it for the entire episode, right up to the moment she actually descends. He doesn’t change his mind. He’s worried she won’t come back. He’s angry she won’t listen to him when he’s trying to keep her safe. And he’s scared of being alone after she leaves.

Nat’s objections aside, Riko still plans to go first thing tomorrow. And after his very first cave-raiding, Reg decides he’ll accompany her, now that he knows the curse doesn’t affect him (at least not as bad as humans). Riko needs to find her mom. Reg wants to find out what he is and why he was made, and what he was meant for.

Against these lures, Nat doesn’t have a chance, even after Siggy unfurls a gorgeous map of the Abyss and describes all of the exotic hazards and trials that await Riko and Reg (while the Abyss’ equally gorgeous xylophone leitmotif plays). Even though Sigy is merely describing the levels while pointing to illustrations on the map, the limitless grandeur and wonder of the Abyss comes through crystal clear.

Nat finally goes to far trying to dissuade Riko by telling her the most likely possibility is that her mother died long ago, and there’s nothing for her down there. It’s a horribly mean thing to say, and Riko runs off, but Nat immediately regrets hurting his friend.

Sigy and Reg get it, and neither of them want Riko and Nat to part ways without making up. So when dawn breaks, Sigy enlists the help of none other than Nat to lead them to the rarely-used entrance to the netherworld in the slums where he grew up collecting rags before he was admitted to the orphanage. He says he’s sorry and Riko immediately forgives him.

The slums become denser, darker, and dingier, until they finally reach a rickety wooden platform extending over the Abyss. Below them is only inky blackness. It might as well be the end of the world. It is, quite simply, terrifying.

But it’s also tremendously exciting, with a momentous, THIS IS IT kind of vibe. After a thoroughly tearful farewell to Nat and Sigy, the 12-year-old Riko, possibly braver than I could ever be, grabs hold of Reg; he lowers them into the void, and they’re gone, just like that.

How long will that darker-than-darkness last? How accurate is that map? What wonders—or horrors—will await them down there? I won’t speculate—I’ll just keep watching.

Drifters – 05

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This was a particularly shitty episode of Drifters – and I say that not due to a lack of quality (it remains consistently average most of the time), but due to the sheer amount of excrement used as a weapon against the Orte soldiers in the Elven Rebellion. The three samurai help the Elves train for the battle, then Toyohisa leads the fight, which is waged with arrows and blades covered in crap, and a well full of crap so wounds can’t be washed.

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In this regard, Nobunaga shows just how ruthless he can be, employing the very natural processes of life and death to his advantage, and rightfully expecting the Orte troops to crumble once they see the tactics being used against them.

However, Nobunaga also knows that Yoichi isn’t the biggest fan of such “dirty tricks”, nor that Toyohisa knows how to do anything other than compel others to fight and then fight himself. He proposes the storming of the lord’s castle, but it’s up to Nobunaga to formulate a plan to do so.

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The castle-storming (involving the elves disguised as troops returning…the Orte don’t seem that bright) leads us to a discovery that makes the enemy even more baldly despicable: not only did Orte abduct all of the female elves, but soldiers have been free to have their way with them in a filthy, hellish nightmare setting that make Toyohisa change his mind about accepting anyone’s surrender. If they’re going to act like beasts, he’s going to slaughter them like beasts.

The three amigos made some progress, but we may be starting to see cracks appearing between them even as their quest to conquer everything in sight is just beginning. And while this episode wasn’t marred by any other Drifters or Ends, showing us the dirty, smelly side of war was ultimately more gross than engrossing.

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Drifters – 04

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Drifters has its intense, ostensibly serious moments, but very often they are upturned by a sudden bout of comedy, such as when Easy, who is in the Dorridor to tease Murasaki, finds that he’s currently away from his desk.

Basically, Drifters is in on the joke, and it’s out to show you can have a story about famous historical figures going at each other for the sake of a world not their own without being as rigid as bamboo or dry as Fall leaves. You can have a little fun.

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I like how Oda Nobunaga, the ostensible leader of the Three Surly Samurai, decides to step aside and let Toyohisa be the commander who leads the Elves in their rebellion.

First, he respects Toyohisa’s ability and relative youth. Second, at his age he prefers to be the one who pulls the strings on the side. Third, and perhaps most silly, is that Toyohisa went and sat in the middle, between Nobunaga and Yoichi. And that’s where the leader sits.

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The narrative of a village of (surprisingly old) Elves who have never known freedom or war taking a stand against their masters isn’t all that interesting, but making the Three Samurai their “coaches” in this enterprise, and all their inherent bickering and bawdiness, is pretty entertaining, and helps the medicine go down, so to speak.

These are three guys who can back up their arrogance (and other typically undesirable personality traits); indeed, it makes sense they act and talk the way they do: They’re used to getting their way, and when they don’t, blood that isn’t their own usually spills.

Magician Olmine isn’t yet sure how these Drifters fit into the Octobrists’ larger struggle to save the world, but she knows they’re too human, and too quick to help the weak and downtrodden, to be Easy’s Ends.

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 12 (Fin)

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I’d gone on record stating that Grimgar could have ended at eight episodes and I would have been perfectly content, and whatever Grimgar did in its final four weeks, it wasn’t going to mar from that first eight. I likened it to having four “bonus” episodes.

How gratifying, then, that the Cyrene Mine arc, while necessarily more rushed than the Goblin arc, turned out to be pretty damn good anyway, both by expanding on what the first eight had established and showing us a few new sides of our six party members.

When we left off last week, Haru made the sensible decision not to squander Ranta’s staying behind by attempting to rescue them in their current state. Ranta, for his part, doesn’t expect anyone to come, and ends up making some surprising allies in the livestock he mocked before.

He also summons a demon, Zodiark, who isn’t so much an ally as something annoying enough to ground him in the task at hand; the demon is constantly telling him to die-die-die, and Ranta isn’t about to accommodate it.

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Meanwhile, there’s well, not dissension in the ranks, as Haru wants to go back to save Ranta, merely an argument for why to go back, from the person he least expected: Yume. Mind you, we’ve known for some time Yume and Ranta have been a bit of an item—more “charm-irritate” than “love-hate”, but to see Yume break down when she thinks about how scared she’d be in Ranta’s position, it’s more than enough to convince everyone to make a U-turn.

This isn’t bad leadership by Haru, who is determined to keep everyone alive; it’s merely good fellowship by everyone. They don’t think it’s suicide to try to save him.

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Of course, while Ranta does pretty well for himself all alone, it is good his comrades return to him, because he can’t stay a step ahead of the kobolds forever. I like how not two minutes after lamenting how he never groped Yume’s boobs (guys still a piece of work!) that girl, who’d surely come to miss being called a flat-chest by him, is the one who puts an arrow in Death Spots’ eye for Ranta’s sake.

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It’s also nice to be shown yet again how strong a unit everyone has become, with Mary doing some offensive work, Moguzo being his usual steamroller, and Shihoru laying epic waste with her magic, even twirling her staff and flashing a dark look. Haru’s also as quick and precise as ever, killing two kobolds with a minimum of wasted movement.

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Once Ranta is safe and the party is away, they take a breather for Mary to heal Ranta, who in his elation at being saved and reunited, lets slip that he wanted to see everyone again.

He partially mentions feeling something in his chest, which Yume picks up and runs with, leaving Ranta no choice but to unleash a few more “flat-chest” remarks, spurring a bickering fest between the two until Mary (to whom Ranta’s always been submissive) lays down the law.

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Both Mary and Shihoru are low on magic (I’m glad MP isn’t unlimited in this show), but Death Spots doesn’t care what condition they’re in, he’s going to keep coming.

Haru knows this, and even if they run, he could catch them, so he makes an executive decision to take the big guy on himself, giving the others time to escape, putting Ranta in charge.

When he successfully spiders the kobold king off a cliff, a panicked Mary starts to climb down in a rush to help him, but Ranta stops her (though Mary reallydoesn’t want to be stopped), then warning Haru he’d better not die.

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What follows is an encapsulation of the show and the overall struggle of Haru and the others. Grimgar, like his duel with Spots, is a battle of life and death.

As long as he’s still alive, victory is in sight, so he won’t give up on trying to stay alive until he’s dead. I know, that all seems kind of obvious, but whatever!

Time slows to a crawl for Haru, who follows a stream of light with his dagger until it finds Spots’ weak spot: his other eye.

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After beating Spots, Haru blacks out and collapses, but he does not die with him. Instead, he wakes up to an upbeat Mary humming to herself, then leaning in close when welcoming him back.

Everyone else is in good spirits, with Moguzo making lunch, Ranta counting the cash they made for beating the giant kobold, and planning to take his sword to a blacksmith to forge it into something more useful than a trophy.

Later, Mary puts Haru’s repaired dog tags back on him, and the weight of them make him feel like at home, which is where he now knows he is. “About time,” says Mary.

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While celebrating at the tavern, Renji approaches Haru once more—to apologize. Instead, Haru, who is grateful for Renji giving him the nudge he needed, thanks him. He and Renji exchange looks of mutual respect before Ranta orders a round for the house.

Afterwards Haru visits Manato’s grave (another hauntingly beautiful, quiet scene, to ask him if being a leader was hard. Manato throws the question back at Haru, then tells him he’s grown.

He’s not the Haruhiro from the beginning of the show…but then again no one is who they were at the beginning. For one thing, they’re to a person, far more badass now. They’re also a family now.

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Notably absent is any kind of explanation for how any of the party members arrived in Grimgar, nor any exploration of the lives they led or the shadows of memories from that other world they still carry. And let me be clear: I was totally okay with this. 

I felt there was a possibility those things would be addressed in the finale, even if it wasn’t very likely, but I’m glad they weren’t (seeing the world almost “pause” when Haru faced Spots was a close call though).  Frankly, I like the mystery; not all questions need to be answered. Not for us, and not for Haru and his comrades, either.

As the days go on and he keeps living and surviving and creating new memories with his friends, his family, he feels more and more comfortable in the world and life he’s in, and less and less concerned with the one he’s originally from.

Whatever he forgot, from that life isn’t as important as the fact he’s in this life now, with these people, in this world, and he doesn’t want to forget any of it.

A lovely ending to a visually and emotionally beautiful show with a deft touch. It marched to its own beat and demonstrated that there were still many promising veins to explore in the “Lost in a Fantasy RPG” mine.

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 11

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Hey, I’m back from visiting a Mayan pyramid during the equinox to watch Hai’s penultimate episode of the Spring, which begins with a beautifully-rendered flashback-slash -dream in which Mary is suddenly awakened by one of her fellow party members, before heading into the mines that will claim three of them.

It’s no accident that this scene is highly reminiscent of several similar scenes of her present party shooting the breeze during their downtime. When she’s awakened from this happy, mundane memory by Haru, and with “Death Spots” stalking them, it’s definitely not downtime.

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Since Mary’s the one with mine experience, even the ostensible party leader Haru must rely on her to show them a way out of their predicament—which is why more and more she and Haru have looked something like co-leaders. To her credit, she doesn’t let her fear or guilt overcome her, and leads everyone into the mines’ fifth level, where the kobolds do a lot of metal smelting.

After a successful and nifty stealth attack, they continue into a former temple of Luminaris, who just so happens to be the saint whose power Mary draws from for her new Dispel skill. The reason she acquired that particular spell is revealed here, as this was the site of her three comrades’ demise.

The thing is, they’ve become zombies, something that came as such a creepy shock that not only does Ranta draw back in fright, but in her moment of fear Yume embraces him tightly, something Ranta does not complain about!

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That aside, it’s Mary’s solemn duty to exorcise her three friends so that they can be freed from their wretched existence as shambling ghouls; quite similar to the way FFX’s Yuna sends fiends. The only problem is, Dispel is a very close range spell; she has to be right up in someone’s personal space to pull it off.

The problem is, while they may look like the dessicated corpses of her friends, they aren’t her friends anymore, and they attack the party with the same ferocity as the kobolds would. And this is where this episode becomes about more than just the party helping Mary; Mary is also helping the party.

This is their first fight against opponents who are neither goblins nor kobolds. They may be zombies, but they’ve retained all the skills of the humans they used to be, and they’re tough.

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Moguzo has trouble with the more acrobatic zombie tank; Ranta’s theif opponent can fight him off indefinitely; and the mage’s spells outclass Shihoru, who quickly runs low on magic, but thankfully doesn’t become a sitting duck, because Haru observes everyone long enough to determine the proper way to deal with the zombies, who at the end of the day are outnumbered 2-1.

First, Haru backs up Mary as she goes to the front to deal with the mage, punching through her firewall and performing the spell. She briefly reverts to the girl Mary knew before crumbling into a pile of ash. Then Haru gives Ranta an opening to lop off the theif’s leg, whereupon Mary comes from behind and performs the spell on him.

Finally, after Yume’s arrow bounces off the tank’s armor, Haru pounces on him and exposes his arm for Moguzo to hack off with all his might, cutting so close he takes some of Haru’s hair with it. Mary performs the spell and poof, job done. Weight lifted. Did I mention that the combat in this episode rocked? Well, it did.

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Mary is relieved, and thanks her new party profusely for their help, but they’re all thankful too. They never got to meet her friends, but they did learn how those friends could fight, and it helped them identify the shortcomings they all still have, whether it’s Shihoru’s lack of offensive magic, to Ranta’s lack of a sufficiently cool finishing move.

What had been a harrowing battle, then, becomes another great scene of downtime where everyone is just sharing a little more about themselves and bouncing off each other, enjoying each other’s company in various ways. It also demonstrates how good this show is at slowing things down and giving episodes room to breathe. It makes the moment the casual rest scene is blown up by the raging Giant Kobold all the more impacting.

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Death Spots is smarter than he looks, or at least a far more determined hunter than the party gave him credit for, but out of respect for his formidableness, Haru’s order to the party is to simply GTFO, briefly tangling with the boss to give his people a head start.

Ranta relieves him when the Kobold sends waves of subordinates after them, and after Moguzo uncharacteristically grabs Shihoru when everyone has to jump a great distance, Ranta offers her a hand up.

Finally, after the Kobold simply decides to start bringing the wooden scaffolding the party is using down, Haru nearly falls to his highly-possible death, but his Manato-ing is prevented by—Ranta, who tells Haru that the leader can’t die.

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The annoying selfish contrarian isn’t really redeeming himself by staying behind and fighting so that Haru and the others can get away, because he has nothing to redeem. This is who Ranta always was, the situation just never called for this particular brand of desperate heroics.

And I daresay Ranta is every bit as cool as he thinks he is at episode’s end, never letting the Kobolds see him sweat (though he does condemn their crossbow bolts as unsporting!).

Furthermore, both Mary’s and Manato’s experiences help inform Haru’s decision to not send the party back down to try to rescue Ranta. That’s not what he wants, and it’s not what’s best for the party.

Haru’s deep affection for all of his comrades (even Ranta) can be a fatal weakness in a leader, but here he makes the right decision for the right reasons, and the rest of the party concurs with it. We’ll see how it pans out.

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Durarara!!x2 Ketsu – 11 (35)

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Her fate on hold for now, Celty is literally above the fray this week, as Erika gets in touch with Kasane, informing her of what Nasujima is up to, Shizuo and Izaya continue their fight in the streets, biker gangs from all over the region who have joined the Dollars amass, and Akabayashi considers Awakusu’s role in all this, if any.

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Now that Masaomi is on that roof, there’s no more reason for Mikado to hold any secrets, and he points his handgun at his best friend, while revealing his ultimate plan: to turn the Dollars into such a nasty group with so many enemies, it will end up collapsed, with nothing left but another urban legend.

The reason? The Dollars, which he founded to escape his ordinary life, have become, well ordinary again. At the end of the day, Mikado shares the same “creative destruction” philosophy as many other villains in anime: he’ll destroy the world as it is, and him with it, hoping it will give way to a better one.

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He’s well on the way to doing just that if someone doesn’t stop him, but here’s the thing: he doesn’t want to be stopped; not by Masaomi, or Anri, or anyone else. Mikado has backed himself into a corner, but it’s exactly where he wants to be when all the pieces he’s set up start lashing out.

Meanwhile, the story of Kasane falling for (!) Shinra seems like something that belongs in a much quieter episode. I appreciate that Kasane realizes Shinra’s feelings for Celty are real, and that she figures if she won’t be loved by anyone, she’ll love him, but as far as Shinra’s concerned Kasane is just a glorified obstacle on his journey to find and reunite with his one true love. The connection with Mikado’s situation is that Celty may have the power to stop him. The problem is, it may be too late.

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Masaomi, knowing how Mikado would be holding his gun by the book, slaps it away and starts trying despertely to beat some sense into him, but Mikado has gone well and truly cuckoo (he’s even aware Izaya is using him, but doesn’t mind).

When he shoots Masaomi in the thigh with a hand-mounted micro-gun, he retreats even further back into that corner, now believing if he could shoot Masaomi, he could shoot Anri. Rather than end up in that scenario, he turns the little gun on himself. He doesn’t see any other way to stop himself from doing worse things and causing more trouble for more people.

And considering he shot at both the police and Awakusu, he may not be wrong. I just wish he was, and that Masaomi and Anri and whoever else could tell him there’s still a way out of that corner; he can come back from the precipice; that no amount of trouble he causes will hurt his friends as much as killing himself will.

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