Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 01 – Not Even Close to a Hero

First of all, I wouldn’t bother watching EM2CF unless you’ve at least seen Fate/Zero in its entirety; aside from the fact that series is a masterpiece (and is available on Netflix, at least in the U.S.) you won’t have any context to who this Waver Velvet kid is unless you do. It would be like watching Avengers:Endgame without watching any previous MCU films.

Though to me that immediately hamstrings this sequel/spin-off: it has some huge shoes to fill, and from the outset it doesn’t seem interested in even bothering to do so. This is not a Holy Grail War arc, but a totally different, smaller-scale story about how one combatant in the fourth war has managed to honor his heroic spirit’s wish that he go on surviving.

Even with a good working knowledge of Velvet and his role the fourth Holy Grail war, this first episode of a series focused on him makes a lot of jumps backwards and forwards through time—probably more than should be necessary.

That being said, the story moves along well, from one final parting shot of Fuyuki Bridge ten years ago, to hanging upside down in the Archisorte Mansion seven years ago. There, he regails Lord El-Melloi’s blood niece and (sister-by-succession) Reines with an adventure he had while visiting the ancient ruins of Babylon some months after the war.

After being captured by a fellow ex-Clock Tower student Barzan, Waver meets another former classmate in Melvin. They break out of their cell and blow up the archaeological site believed to be where Iskandar is buried, which Barzan has been using as a workshop for illicit magecraft.

Once they’re both free, Waver asks Melvin to forgive him for being unable to pay back the money he borrowed to travel to Japan for the Holy Grail war he then went on to lose. But Melvin was impressed both by the fact Waver even did survive, and with his display of no-nonsense practical magecraft to get them out of a tough spot, so he decides to lend him more money; this time to buy the late Lord El-Melloi’s class.

Three years later, Waver has steadily managed the class, and now finds himself before Reines, who simply wants to know why he did so. Waver simply feels responsible for El-Melloi’s death, and thus feels carrying on the class is his duty. Reines, still too young to be a proper lord, decides to make Waver’s role in El-Melloi’s legacy official by naming him Lord El-Melloi until she comes of age.

In accepting the title, Waver agrees to help the nearly insolvent El-Melloi family repay their debts (through those titular Case Files) and try to restore the family’s heirloom magical crest that was heavily damaged in the war, and without which the family will surely fall. All he asks in return is to have “the second” added to his title, so that he need not bear the exact same title as his mentor; something he feels he doesn’t deserve.

And that’s how Waver Velvet became Lord El-Melloi II seven years ago. Flash forward to the present, and an older, more stately former-Mr. Waver meets his apprentice Gray (introduced in the preview episode) in the hallway, then sits down with a similarly older Reines and Melvin to discuss…the next case.

While this episode had no shortage of F/Z references, if the show keeps doing that it’s going to feel like a crutch. I for one think this show can stand on its own as a supernatural mystery-of-the-week kind of deal. It’s all about managing expectations, something Waver certainly knows a lot about, having always operated on shoestring resources and third-rate magic.

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Little Witch Academia – 02

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LWA’s first episode promises Akko has what it takes to be a witch, and possibly a good one, by summoning the power to save her new friends from a wild Cockatrice and transport everyone safely to school.

But not so fast…the next morning Akko can’t seem to get the Shiny Rod to do anything, and her first day of exciting classes turn out to be nothing but lecture after interminable lecture. Whether it’s a student using a small spell to keep potions away, to Sucy stealthily turning Akko’s hair into a plant, I love this kind of magic school minutiae.

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One person who stands out in every class is Diana Cavendish (of the 1,500-year-old Cavendish Family), who is believed to be the finest which of her generation, and the best to ever attend Luna Nova. I’m thinking Granger ability in a Malfoy package.

Yet while she’s undeniably talented, and a little aloof, she doesn’t come off as your typical stuck-up aristocratic jerk who needlessly harasses our heroine Akko. Indeed, she seems to follow the ideal standard of noblesse oblige: she’s polite and respectful, but isn’t afraid to tell what she believes to be a harsh truth: that Shiny Chariot isn’t all Akko makes her out to be.

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Diana also indulges Akko’s desire to show her what Chariot’s Shiny Rod can do, and waits patiently for Akko to do…something, anything. But the Shiny Rod just won’t cooperate. When it’s Diana’s turn to demonstrate her power, she does so, doing what Akko tried to do and make the statue in the courtyard not only move (in an awesomely trippy sequence that may have only happened in poor Akko’s head) but pluck that plant from Akko’s head, restoring her ponytail.

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What with all the talk of Shiny Chariot once being a pretty popular name in “performance witch” circles, no one’s seen nor heard from her in ten years…because she’s most likely assumed the identity of Professor Ursula, whom it was hinted last week could be Akko’s muse.

Considering her interest in Akko, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ursula/Chariot is trying to groom a replacement from the shadows, even bequeathing to Akko the Shiny Rod that served her so well…at least for a time. That being said, if Diana and her admirers represent the average opinion on the matter, it would seem that entertaining masses of muggles isn’t the most respected profession in the magical world.

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Still, there’s every indication the magical political spectrum is as wide and diverse as the non-magical one, with Diana Cavendish insisting (and being able to back up) that “magic is cultivated through the accumulation of lasting traditions and assiduous research,” basically the opposite of Shiny Chariot’s “A believing heart is your magic” credo.

It’s almost science vs. faith! Akko’s faith in Chariot and the power of the Rod summoned the magic necessary to save her, Sucy and Lotte. Then again, there’s a science to her “assiduous research” of the Chariot collector cards and their effects. Her “lasting tradition” is the tradition of fandom.

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This week, that lovingly-cultivated and maintained fandom comes in handy, just as her believing heart did so last week. Diana shows she’s still young and not perfect when in her hubris she believes she can singlehandedly restore the old Jennifer Memorial Tree none of the professors can diagnose.

She releases a powerful spell that indeed revitalizes the tree, but also strange glowing orbs she assumes are parasites to be exterminated. But they’re not pests; they’re chrysalises containing Papilliodya, which emerge only once every 120 years (or only a dozen times in the entire history of the Cavendish Family).

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Diana is ready to take out every one, but Akko stops her, even taking a direct hit that stuns but does not disable her. Akko casts the spell on the trading card, and thousands of magic butterflies are able to take flight for the five continents, resulting in a stunning display that inspires hope in all who behold them.

When the professors see the restored tree, both they and Diana’s toadies shower her with praise, but Diana, again displaying signs of a healthy conscience, tries to insist it wasn’t her who made it happen, running off before giving Akko the credit. I like to think Diana saw a teensy bit of promise in, and respect for, Akko, despite their very different magical ideologies.

As for LWA, it continues to impress with its eye-grabbing visuals, lean, nimble character design, surprisingly complex characters, lush action, and optimistic outlook – the very definition of must-watch.

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P.S. We already knew the OP was great, as we saw it as the ED last week. Now we see the proper ED, and it’s great too. Both feature memorable pieces of music that don’t try too hard.

Little Witch Academia – 01 (First Impressions)

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The Jist: After being inspired from a young age to become a witch like her idol Chariot, Kagari Atsuko, AKA Akko, enrolls at the magical Luna Nova Academy, meeting a standoffish fellow classmate, Sucy, along the way. Her journey hits a snag when she learns she needs a broom, and when she attempts to share a ride with a second classmate, Lotte, they end up going out of control in the ley lines landing in the forbidden Arcturus forest.

Sucy uses them as bait so she can pluck a cockatrice feather, and in the ensuing chase, a determined Akko summons Chariot’s “Shiny Rod” and uses it to speed Sucy, Lotte, and herself to Luna Nova in the middle of orientation. They later learn they’ll be roommates at the school.

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You Should Definitely Watch LWA because it’s gorgeous and immensely fun, and its first episode is a wonderful introduction both to Akko, the kind of tough, perservering girl she is, and the magical, whimsical world she’s gotten herself into. The show wastes no time subverting any expectations Akko’s trip to orientation will go smoothly.

Since this is my first exposure to the franchise, what it reminded me most of was, of course, Harry Potter, especially the stuck-up witches complaining about their academy admitting students who aren’t of pure blood (i.e. muggle-born). Akko is a perfect heroine, not too perfect, but has all the intangibles one needs to go far, including an unswerving faith that she’ll be able to fulfill her dreams.

It also reminds me, in a good way, of one of my favorite films, Kiki’s Delivery Service, if Kiki started out less well-versed in magic.

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As far as why you shouldn’t watch, well…what the heck is wrong with you, you monster?!? Seriously though, if you’re not a fan of Trigger’s Gainax-esque animation style (similar to Kill la Kill, but a lot less abstract and more focused here) or character design, you may find this a hard watch.

You may also just not into magical school anime, though the title should be a pretty good warning for such people to keep away. And of course, if you are very well-versed in LWA lore, perhaps you just don’t like the cut of this new adaptation’s jib. Again, I wouldn’t know.

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The Verdict: LWA is my first, and possibly only, truly Must Watch premiere of Winter 2017, joining Zane with his fine rakugo sequel. LWA sports heaps of heart without getting cheesy, exciting thrills without getting gory, and an overarching buoyant warmth and optimism that is lacking in so much anime these days, and thankfully isn’t undone in the closing moments by someone’s evil smirk or a Dun-dun-DUNNN.

It’s also less “kiddy” looking than My Hero Academia, and miles better-looking and sounding. Most of all, I’m looking forward to episode two more than anything else on TV, as Akko & Co. officially begin their training after an immensely entertaining introduction. If any of this sounds good, then take my recommendation and watch at once.

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Shuumatsu no Izetta – 05

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Fine’s coronation is also the stage chosen to unveil Izetta to the world, and it’s fun to witness medieval ritual juxtaposed with flashing still and movie cameras of the modern era, just as it’s fun to watch Izetta take care of business, wiping out the modern might of the Germanians with magically enhanced medieval weapons.

The first stage in Eylstadt’s strategy to, well, survive, is to make the world know and believe who and what Izetta is. But neither the Germanian king nor Major Berkman doubt whether she’s real. The king wants her, badly, while Berkman wants to cut Eylstadt’s propaganda off at the knees by identifying and exploiting Izetta’s still-unknown-to-the-enemy weakness.

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While fun, the merging of eras is also jarring, just as it’s jarring to see Izetta unleash hell against the Germanian army in front of cameras, then return to the palace to be praised like a good girl who finished her chores. It’s a lot for Izetta to handle, but she has promised to serve ad protect Fine with her dying breath; she’s not the kind to back down just because things are tough…or weird.

More than anything, Izetta is a witch who has been used dwelling in the shadows and edges of the world. Now she’s the exact opposite: a global celebrity with a fairy tale story so compelling that the people want to believe. Not only does Eylstadt want them to believe, they need them to do so, in hopes of gaining powerful allies against Germania.

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If this is to be merely a 12-episode show, I’m pleased with the generous pacing so far. Not only is Izetta unveiled and placed into immediate use in order to quickly build up her public persona as a magical force of resistance against a no-longer invincible-looking enemy, but the enemy strikes back just as fast, advancing on the Veile Pass – a place with no Ley Lines for Izetta to draw from.

The Germanian King’s adviser Eliot is sure to remind his majesty that the reason they’re invading Eylstadt is to gain supply routes between them and Romulus (i.e. Italy), not merely to capture a witch. This pass is part of that route. As it happens, Private Jonas is assigned to its defense, which won’t include bombings due to a.) the thick fog and b.) the fact the pass is worthless without intact roads to use.

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Sieg Reich and Fine’s royal guards (who are all or mostly female special forces) draw up an intricate plan that serves to hide Izetta’s inability to use magic, by drawing upon stagecraft and showmanship in a battlefield setting.

A dummy Izetta is flown behind a plane, lands on a ridge, and is replace by the real Izetta (refusing to let them use a body double), who must talk a big talk before planted bombs are detonated, taking out the advancing enemy.

It works far better than it should have, thanks to an abundance of luck in both weather and geography. But conditions won’t be so favorable in every Ley Line-less area the Germanians target, so even though Berkman hasn’t found Izetta’s weakness yet, doesn’t mean he won’t eventually.

It may happen far sooner than Eylstadt thinks, thanks to some bad luck: Berkman has a spy posing as an Eylstadt officer who happens to be in the same outfit as Jonas. There’s every indication either he or Jonas overheard Schneider talking very loudly about Izetta’s weakness by a creek.

That’s the kind of carelessness that can lose a war, and I’m not optimistic Izetta won’t be re-captured by Berkman at some point.

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Shuumatsu no Izetta – 04

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Word of Germanian defeat and rumors of a reborn White Witch travel all the way to Neu Berlin (where it seems they successfully built the Volkshalle) and the Germanian leader, who is excited by the news of a witch in modern times.

For the record, these guys don’t seem as bad as Nazis, but they are most certainly bad guys: arrogant bullies who pick on their weaker neighbors as part of a larger plan to dominate the continent and likely the world. Their power must have a check to avoid wholesale death and suffering.

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So far, the show seems intent on keeping that potential check, Izetta, as modest and grounded as possible, befitting both her past status and her debt to Princess Fine for saving her from a mob. Izetta takes nothing for granted: not the bed she wakes up in, or the cheerful maid Lotte who is assigned to her.

Little does Izetta know that just by being there, she’s basically threatening to usurp the right-hand-woman position currently occupied by Bianca, who is still suspicious of Izetta’s abilities and motives. However, when Lotte slips off her stool and Izetta gets konked on the head by a stone jug, Bianca feels responsible for the injury.

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This episode lacks any big battles, but sets the stage for an entirely new battle Eylstadt must fight—and win—to have any chance at peace: the PR battle.

To that end, Fine appoints her Grand Couturier, Lady Elvira (Hanazawa Kana in an adult role)—a kind of alternate-WWII version of Effie Trinket—to help polish Izetta’s image as the famed White Witch and saviour of the country. Elvira is also very handsy; quite inappropriately so.

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Izetta reveals to Fine and her war council that her powers don’t come from within, but are dependent on a network of ley lines distributed through the lands. In some places, like the old capital, she cannot use her magic at all; in the old capital, the lines are dense, and the depths of the old castle they find a helpful map so they’ll know where she’ll be most effective.

That being said, Fine is keeping it the highest of state secrets that Izetta has any weaknesses at all: winning hearts and minds of both her own people and potential allies abroad is dependent on the lie that Izetta is invincible, and that is part of the burden both women must bear on top of  actually fighting and winning more battles.

With the enemy not only well aware of Izetta’s existence but having previously had her in captivity, we’ll see what countermeasures they’ll come up with. In the meantime, Fine succeeds her recently deceased father as Archduchess, with Izetta the White Witch by her side. There’s no turning back.

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 00 (Prologue)

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This is officially a prequel/prologue of the forthcoming ufotable fantasy epic based upon a game I’ve never played, so most of the faces we see we won’t see again, aside from Princess Alisha, who is part of the main party in the OP that follows the end credits.

This prologue chronicles Alisha, and humanity in general, just having a really crummy week. A dark and foreboding mist is growing in the sky, and she rides out to search for her subordinate and friend Clemm, whom she originally sent to determine if the cloud is the cause of any health problems among the people.

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While on her journey, Alisha and her escorts are ambushed by ninja-like warriors who fight her to a draw before one of them reveals themself as, well, let’s say “not human.” The battle not only shows that Alisha can handle herself, but that the combat in the show is going to be very slick and pretty, a la Fate stay/night UBW.

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Before long, swords, spears, armor and horses are of absolutely no avail, as mere moments after locating Clemm (while Professor Drake lurks far below the earth, inspecting “ley lines”, tendrils of smoke and ash emit from the dark mist and start rending the land. All Alisha & Co. can do is run like hell.

In the midst of all this chaos, another non-human being appears, eager to open the Gate of…well, Chaos. There were moments it seemed like this being, dressed for the club, was somehow protecting Alisha, but events don’t bear that out.

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Indeed, once both the female being and the male being who ambushed Alisha before are done, the entire landscape has been consimed with smoke and fire, and Alisha is all alone, with Clemm and the others all swept up in the chaos, never to be seen again.

Alisha limps back to the ill-looking town to find it a smoking ruin, and even the one last child survivor gets swept up just when she arrives, to twist the proverbial knife. Finally, a gigantic flame dragon emerges from the clouds and seems to come at Alisha.

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So there you have it: not a swell couple of days for Princess Alisha, presented as part in parcel of the introduction to a world that seems to be paying humanity back for the pride they’ve developed after forgetting that other beings coexist with them, though they do not see them, and that nature itself has been thrown out of balance.

Surely, the episodes to come will gather the members of a fellowship tasked with saving the world, or something to that effect. For now, the production values are above reproach; an elaborate but far more approachable style than, say, Berserk (at least to me). This prologue has definitely piqued my interest in ufotable’s latest effort.

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Nobunaga the Fool – 13

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Halfway through The Fool, with a new alliance forged (and a new peace along with it), Nobu casts his gaze upward towards the stars, and upon King Arthur, the adversary he must defeat if he’s to follow through on his promise to unite heaven and earth. Thanks to more scienticious mumbo-jumbo by da Vinci (I conceded long ago that the show will allow him to do practically anything), Himiko’s flagship is souped-up for a trip to the Western Star.

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Considering the threat he posed earlier, right up to the time Nobu invited him for tea, it’s strange seeing Caesar on the same side as Nobu & Co., and I’m not quite ready to believe he has the East Star’s best interests at heart – in fact, I’m inclined to think he only really cares about himself, and will betray his allies as soon as he no longer needs them. I’m hoping the show proves me wrong. Meanwhile, Arthur, whose star is crumbling, isn’t your typical evil villain, even if his designs clash with our heroes’.

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This episode is dominated by preparation for the coming journey, but also serves as a vehicle for Mitsuhide and Ichihime to offer proper goodbyes that acknowledge their deep affection for each other. Da Vinci starts the prodding by having him draw a card (Ace of Swords reversed, signifying obstinance), while Hideyoshi completes it with plain talk. Mitsu and Ichihime’s solemn, graceful goodbye hits all the right notes.

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