Houseki no Kuni – 06

We meet Yellow Diamond and Zircon as they battle Lunarians. Zircon’s head is cleaved off, but Yellow performs repairs, letting Rutile rest. Yellow is the oldest of the gems, and one of the costs of being the oldest is that you’ve seen the most Gems taken to the moon.

The reason we haven’t met Ruby, Sapphire, Green Diamond or Pink Topaz? They’re all on the moon, and they were all former partners of Yellow. As such, Yellow doesn’t like or feel deserving of the respect and veneration given by the other Gems simply for knowing when to run.

Phos has incredible speed now, but can’t yet control it, leading to an amusing encounter with the also speedy Yellow, who thinks Phos is intentionally running away. Yellow catches Phos without harming them by grabbing the fabric of their robe.

Despite the lack of control, Phos still wants to join the fight against the Lunarians. Master Kongou asks why Phos is hell-bent on participating despite a thorough lack of fighting ability; Phos says out loud what all the other Gems think: Kongou has a special place in Phos’ heart. I believe it’s the first we’ve heard of the Gems loving their master.

Kongou agrees to let Phos join the battle. But as Phos can barely hold the lightest sword in the armory, a pairing with Amethyst is most suitable, since Amethyst is actually two twin Gems—#84 and #33—and they can handle themselves on the battlefield.

What Phos quickly learns is that 90% of patrolling is waiting around, doing nothing, and anticipating. Every little sound or movement in the sky, on the ground, or in the water, spooks Phos, who expects the Lunarians to pop up at any time.

The constant stress levels quickly exhaust Phos, who is sluggish at a most inopportune time: when the Lunarians suddenly pop up. I will never tire of their elaborate entrance from the sky, otherworldly beautiful, ethereal, and deeply unnerving in equal measure.

The Amethyst twins (voiced by Itou Kanae) seem to have things under control…at least initially, springing into action, tossing their sword sheaths and working in tandem to eliminate all of the Lunarian minions before cross-cutting the larger “leader” in the center of the cloud.

But the twins are just a bit cocky, and in showing Phos How It’s Done, they turn their backs on the Lunarians, who break out a new trick: Venus Fly Trap-like jaws with blue crystal teeth that may well be the remnants of the late Sapphire. Since Sapphire is harder than Amethyst, the twins are shattered to pieces.

Only the timely arrival of Bort, Dia, Yellow, and finally Master Kongou—who obliterates the Lunarian cloud with a flick of his hand in an impressive demonstration of his power—saves Phos. We see pieces of Amethyst being collected, so the twins are probably okay, but Bort is furious, and has questions, like why Phos sat by and did nothing, not even running away on those new legs to alert others.

In Phos’ defense, it was their very first battle, freezing up can happen, and even the Twins were caught off-guard by the Lunarian’s new weapon. But regardless, will Phos’ first battle also be the last?

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Houseki no Kuni – 05

When Phos can’t be found, Kongou musters the entire group to go perform a search. Diamond encourages Cinnabar to assist, but Cinnabar demurs. Meanwhile, Phos, weak and with smashed legs, is fished out of the sea by the Lunarians, who circle Phos like a bunch of ravenous customers at the local buffet.

Ventricosus would like to be on her way with her brother Aculeatus, but the Lunarians alter the deal, and basically tell Ventri to pray they don’t alter it any further. They want more Gems before handing over her brother. These guys are straight-up jerks, but it’s only fair that a betrayer get betrayed. When Ventri protests, they attack her, and Acule awakens and smashes them to bits, showing his admirabilis form (which Phos finds adorable) before taking humanoid form and assisting Ventri.

Acule is ready to continue using Phos as a bargaining chip to free their family members still imprisoned on the moon. But Ventri seeing a literally broken Phos who won’t even offer words of resistance (Phos is exhausted and immobile; why bother?) causes Ventri to have a change of heart.

Phos has forgiven Ventri after the betrayal, and Ventri sees it as an opportunity to not be like the Lunarians. She and her brother escape, and set Phos free. Just as Kongou prepares to send everyone under the sea to search for Phos, Phose washes ashore…right beside Cinnabar.

Phos apologizes for going another day without keeping the promise made to Cinnabar, and promises to try harder tomorrow. For some reason, rather than call out to Kongou and the others, Cinnabar sneaks into HQ and leaves Phos in the infirmary, to be found later by Rutile.

Kongou’s rage is something to behold, as every step he takes creates cracks in the building; all of the Gems scatter for shelter from his wrath. But while he calls Phos an insolent fool with a force that almost causes Phos to shatter, he then catches Phos before that actually happens—a nice moment of compassion from the master.

He’ll have Rutile do whatever can be done to repair Phos, then hear a report tomorrow. He also summarily cancels Phos’ encyclopedia-writing assignment, leaving Phos once more without a job.

Phos washed ashore with two spikes from Acule’s shell, and Rutile notes they contain agate, which is more than twice as hard as Phos’ structure. Rutile manages to craft new legs for Phos, which have a distinctive iridescent black-and-white striped pattern (pretty cool-looking), but upon standing up, Phos finds the legs useless. Phos has also lost a good deal of memories—including those of Jade—as a result of the loss of the original pair of legs.

As the others leave one by one to attend to their other duties (which will be harder to attend to after that exhausting search), Phos laments being worse off than before all of this started and sulks in the grass, but after thinking of Cinnabar (who is in a worse situation than Phos anyway you look at it), Phos suddenly jumps up and finds that not only do the legs work, but Phos is now unbelievably fast.

Perhaps Phos’ latest brush with destruction has now produced a better situation, and those new legs will give Phos new hope of being useful to Cinnabar, Kongou, and the others.

Houseki no Kuni – 04

When Master Kongou finally wakes up from his slumber, it’s from a strange dream in which he is in the center of a mob of Lunarians, and destroys them all with a kind of chakra. He regrets sleeping too long.

Jade, Bort, and Diamond then brief him on everything that’s happened, including the snail eating Phos, mining and reconstructing Phos from the snail’s shell, and the fact that only Phos can understand what the creature is saying, leading everyone to think Phos has gone crazy.

In defense of Phos, we can hear the creature too; their name is Ventricosus, king of of the Admirabilis, and in her current form, she’s pretty cheeky (she’s also voiced by Saito Chiwa).

Despite the indignity of a tossed Ventricosus landing on his head just right, Kongou not only believes Phos, but uses Phos as an interpreter to initiate a dialogue with the creature. He orders Phos keep the creature close while continuing work on the encyclopedia (at present, the amount of work Phos has done on that is…naught).

When Phos speaks on Cinnabar’s behalf, Kongou interrupts, stating that not only is he still working on the matter (and has yet to find a solution), but that it was Cinnabar’s decision to go on night watch to begin with, going into exile rather than sit around HQ doing nothing. It’s not ideal, but Kongou maintains the best way Phos can help Cinnabar is by doing what he ordered: work on that encyclopedia. Later, Phos and Venty get to talking, and Venty mentions that there is someone who resembles the Gems back in her homeland under the sea.

Phos, not making any progress on the land with Cinnabar, decides it’s work a look, and prepares for the trip by applying a salve to the “skin” that should protect the finish from the saltwater. Rutile tattles on Phos, and Kongou categorically forbids such a trip, reminding Phos to do what he asked and not worry about Cinnabar for now.

When it’s clear Ventri isn’t getting the proper nutrition she needs away from the sea (Phos even believes Ventri has died momentarily), Phos and Ventri have a very in-depth discussion on the nature of death (something neither the immortal Phos nor any Gem may can fully grasp the finality of), then Phos breaks the rules once again and heads underwater.

Once on the sea floor, Venty suddenly transforms into a beautiful jellyfish-queen form, and here is again where the 3DCGI fluidity really shines. Now closer to home, Venty starts to remember certain information; a kind of oral history about a race called “humans” who walked the earth.

Things happened, and humans split into three distinct forms: flesh (Admirabilae like Venty), bone (the Gems) and soul (the Lunarians). “Vague stories” also point to the fact that the Lunarians are seeking a revival of humanity by uniting the three forms, capturing them by force.

While that’s their goal, the “flesh” in the equation are content with their existence under the waves, while the “bone” would clearly prefer not being attacked from the sky all the time.

Alas, Ventricosus is hiding something, and exploits their newly-formed bond to deceive Phos. There is no malice in her actions, but her brother is being held by the Lunarians, and she means to offer Phos in exchange for his freedom.

With the sun almost down and Phos greatly weakened, the Lunarians prepare to capture Phos, smashing Phos’ arms and legs. But I’m sure Venty’s betrayal hurts far more than Phos’ loss of limbs, and the fact that Phos once again needs rescuing after disobeying Kongou’s commands to try to help Cinnabar.

It isn’t just the animation that’s beautiful in HnK, although it certainly is that; it’s also very well-written and performed, with a wealth of clever quips in the dialogue and some surprisingly profound discussion on the varying natures of existence of the three kinds of beings.

It remains a mystery what happened to humans, or what exactly Kongou is besides caretaker to the Gems, but if we take Venty’s stories at face value, we now know a lot more about why things are the way they are in this world, and have a clearer picture on the Lunarians’ goals.

Not that that puts them in the right; despite being human myself (I think), there’s something sinister about eliminating three new forms of life that emerged naturally for the sake of reviving one. It seems reckless and hubristic; akin to swimming against the waves of evolution.

Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 03

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Subaru is surprised to find “Satella” at the loot house before dark, but not for long, as he realizes her nature never changes no matter which timeline he’s in. She always helps the lost girl, then ends up tracking Felt down. However, just when Subaru is making progress mediating between the parties (by being nice to both), Elsa comes out of the shadows.

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Again, Subie uses his knowledge of Satella to summon Puck to shield the blade, knowing he’s still corporeal this time of day. But Elsa still manages to severely wound Old Man Rom. Puck and Satella launch a pretty-yet-terrifying counterattack with their green ice-like crystalline magic, but to no avail—like a cockroach, Elsa just won’t go down.

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During Elsa’s fight with Rom, Felt, Satella, and Subaru, she’s full of quips, and so is everyone else. As the blades and crystal saggers fly, so to does the juicy dialogue, which is just as sharp and satisfying as the action.

Subaru makes mention of how cool he is when he realizes he needn’t fear dead (since he can always start over at the vendor) but at the same time, really doesn’t want to die and have to start over, especially now that he’s made progress with both Felt and Satella.

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Satella goes down for a moment, but gets back up and helps Subie when she can from long range, while Felt is able to escape outside to call for help, which they’re going to need because Elsa is as relentless about disemboweling everyone as she is hard to kill.

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That help comes in the form of Reinhard, who is a resplendent model of ultracool fantasy hero timing, appearances, and dialogue. He doesn’t even take out his own sword, choosing instead one that’s lying around, so confident is he that he doesn’t need to go all out against the likes of Elsa, the “Bowel Hunter.” It’s also cool how Elsa knows him too, and is excited to see what he can do before she kills him.

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In a great bit of world-building even within this one loot house interior, Satella admits Reiny can’t go all out while she’s healing Rom. But when Rom is out of danger, she gives the go-ahead, and Reiny goes ALL OUT, launching a terrifyingly powerful attack that rends half of the bottle episodes bottle clean away. Outstanding presentation of an “overdrive” attack.

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Everyone celebrates the victory, until Elsa pops out of the wreckage, STILL not dead; only wounded. Fortunately, she chooses the better part of valor by retreating, but the fact she’s still out there with her chilling desire to disembowel everyone else is certainly…disquieting, as is the fact even that huge attack didn’t kill her.

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Her last attack is foiled by Subaru, who uses Rom’s giant bat to parry her blow, saving Satella in the process. When the coast is clear once again, Subie goes into self-aware fantasy hero mode, asking for something from his rescuee in return for his heroics: her name. She replies, Emilia, with just about the sweetest gosh-darn smiles of the Spring. A great little transaction.

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Even with all the twist and turns we’d experienced so far, Re:Zero still isn’t done yet, as when Felt finally produces the insignia she stole from Emilia to return it to her, Reinhard suddenly hardens his previously lenient stance (he’s off duty, so he’ll overlook theft) and formally arrests Felt, hitting her with a sleep spell when she resists.

Once again, the strong reaction from another world insider creates great gravity and significance for one innocuous-looking little piece of jewelry, like the name “Satella.” But this time, Subie didn’t call her by that name, got on her good side, and when the wounds Elsa made finally open, she heals him and prevents another reset.

I was really glad about that, because my heart nearly plummeted all the way down into the Central Dogma when it seemed like he was going to die. That said, I do hope Felt is okay—she seems to be a pawn in all this—and Subie and Emilia can secure her freedom without making Reinhard mad or getting the law on their backs.

Overall though, this week was simply a tremendous piece of entertainment. Succulent kick-ass combat, quick-witted, tasty dialogue that never felt in the way, and countless twists and turns that only added to the richness of the whole—this was the complete package.

And it was a brilliantly compact package at that, with 99% taking place in the confines of the loot house, without the setting ever seeming stale for a second. Eschewing the OP and ED were also a gutsy choice for what is just the third episode. Re:Zero is a must-watch Spring experience, and this was its best episode to date. Hopefully it keeps this up.

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 02

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In the latest iteration of the timeline the first episode ended with, Subaru doesn’t fare too well; calling Satella ‘Satella’ has the same effect as calling someone ‘Voldemort’ in the Harry Potter world. When Felt snatches her insignia, she assumes Subaru was only meant to distract her and runs off, and when he’s short with the three thugs in the alley, he gets stabbed to death and returns right back to the fruit stand.

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That quick sequence of events is enough to convince Subie of what we already know to be the case: he’s caught in a time loop, returning to that fruit stand every time he dies. He even gives it a name: “Return by Death” (which is a little plain but accurate).

(I’ll mention, I thought it was weird how the fruit vendor knew about Subie finding his lost daughter in this timeline. Did he find her again off camera, or is the vendor simply mixing up his memories from a previous go?)

Now that he knows the score, Subie initially considers simply selling his cell phone for some fat stacks and simply enjoying life, but he can’t ignore the fact he knows what happened (or will happen) to the old man, Felt, and Satella. So he decides he’ll maintain course: trade his phone for the insignia and give the insignia back to Satella.

The next time he meets the 3 Stooges, he tries something different: calling emphatically for guards. A distinguished swordsman named Reinhard answers the call, and rather than being a hardass, his “nice guy index” goes off the charts. I imagine we haven’t seen the last of him.

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In committing to this plan, Subie is naturally hoping to bypass the whole everyone-gets-killed-by-Elsa scenario by making the required transaction as efficient as possible, but it doesn’t help matters when he bumps into Elsa in the street and she can smell his fear and anger…and even compliments him by using humor to conceal his aggression (taking note of her dark beauty)

It also doesn’t help that he starts snooping around Felt’s hut, provoking her into attacking him before he can explain himself. I will say he hangs in there pretty well in the fight with the nimble thief—right up until her hut collapses on him.

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He does eventually sort out his intentions with Felt, who can’t be too careful, as she doesn’t intend to spend her whole life in the slums, and means it when she says “Live Strong.” She admits were she not a successful thief she’d probably have to sell her body.

It’s a small detail, but Subie does seem to know how to talk to women after a fashion, first by appealing to Elsa’s beauty, then mentioning offhand that Felt does pretty well for herself in the looks department despite not wearing makeup.

That being said, he pushes his luck a bit by being empathetic to Felt’s situation and petting her head, which she does not like and responds by biting him…after giving fair warning, of course!

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Subaru is intent on getting the phone appraised by Rom and making the exchange before Elsa shows up, but Felt is suspicious of the hurry he’s in, and doesn’t want to close a deal without letting her other client make an offer. Subie thought he could sway Felt by getting Rom on his side, but Felt won’t budge, and when a knock comes at the door, she opens it without reservation, even though Subie warns her they’ll all be killed.

But something very different happens than happened before. It isn’t Elsa at the door; it’s Satella (or whatever her real name is), having apparently asked around and tracked the thief who stole her insignia to the loot house.

That doesn’t mean Elsa isn’t far behind her, ready to kill them all…nor does it mean Subie will be able to form the same easy rapport with this Satella as the first one, but the important thing is, everyone is still breathing, and the episode ends without Subie back at the fruit vendor. …Progress!

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P.S. I liked the OP, which features some backwards percussion and a beginning that’s the reverse of the end. Vocals aren’t bad either. Likely a future Monday OP.

Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 01 (First Impressions)

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I enjoyed the simplicity of Natsuki Subaru’s transition from one world to the next: after buying some food at the Mini Stop, he rubs his eyes, and when they open, he’s simply there, in a medieval-style fantasy world filled with humans and demi-humans. Being a shut-in NEET, Subaru rolls with it, confident he’s seen this kind of world in games he’s played and can thrive if he plays his cards right.

And it’s a lush, detailed world. Like Grimgar, Re:Zero takes its time building out the world and its rules, but in a different way. Instead of providing long pauses in dialogue or action for us to admire the world and become attuned to its slower rhythms, Subaru is in the middle of a bustling city and bounces from one strong personality to the next.

Subaru also makes no bones about the fact he’s dead broke and lacking in magic or other skills. All he has is the physical training he put himself through to guard his home back in his own world, and that only takes him so far. He expects a cute girl to save him, but it’s not the first one (a tiny, fleet thief in a hurry), but the second (an silver-haired ethereal maiden with a spirit cat).

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The girl—a half-elf who calls herself Satella (and voiced by Takahashi Rie, a favorite here at RABUJOI)—and her spirit-cat Puck are looking for the person who stole her jeweled insignia (probably the tiny thief), and Subaru decides to help her on this mission after she stayed by his side until he woke up from his injuries.

The insignia hunt gives Subie and us the chance to explore the world further, and as the sun goes down it only seems to get more and more beautiful, especially when Satella entreats with a mass of lesser spirits on a bridge. We’re in firm Final Fantasy territory here, stylistically speaking.

But as the sky gets dark, so does the show, as Subaru enters an apparent loot house and finds a bloody corpse, then he and Satella get run through by a killer in the shadows.

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Then…things reset. Subaru is back where he started when he first arrived in the fantasy world. Instead of trying to locate Satella again, he continues his search for her insignia without her, ending up at the tavern where he was killed and meeting Rom, the man he found dead there before.

It isn’t long before the thief, Felt, shows up with the insignia, and Subaru offers to trade his cell phone for it, demonstrating with its camera that he can “freeze moments of time with it, to their amazement.

Then the planned buyer of the insignia, Elsa, arrives, and it’s clear from her voice and face that she’s the one who killed Subaru and Satella. Subaru manages to win the insignia in negotiations with Felt and Rom, but when he says he’ll be giving it back to its owner, Elsa turns deadly once more.

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She dispatches Rom, Felt, and Subaru without much difficulty—she’s just too quick and stealthy for a novice like Subie—and he returns to the street vendor once more, as if a reset button had been pushed. That being said, he has the memories of the last two times he was there, but not knowing what the heck is going on, he passes out from exasperation.

Shortly after awakening, he spots Satella passing by, and calls her out by name, apologizing for getting himself and her killed before. Satella, to his surprise, reacts with hostility to Subaru calling her by the name of an infamous “witch.”

A lush alternate fantasy world, a fish out of water and a clash of cultures, a pleasant friendship seemingly domed by murder most foul, and mysterious time looping—Re:Zero serves up quite a bit in its ambitious double-length debut, and even though it wasn’t even on my list initially, now it’s at the top of it.

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Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider – 11 (Fin)

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Subete ga F ni Naru was a fun, engrossing, and above all thought-provoking show from beginning to end. Even though the main mystery has been solved, this episode trudges onward with some very long but solid character interactions: first between Saikawa and Miki Shiki, then between Saikawa and Moe. By the end, has introduced a whole new brace of head-scratching mysteries to ponder during the digital end credits.

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Dr. Magata makes good on her promise she and Saikawa will meet again far sooner than Saikawa expected, considering she’s on the lamb, but something he said in their sensory deprivation meeting intrigued her to the extent she felt the need to visit him in person and chat a little, before surrendering herself to the police. That something was “You can’t smoke underwater,” and she opts to try one of cigarettes (her first ever).

They talk of life and death; her view (though she doesn’t say it’s the only view) that the latter is the natural state of things, while life itself is “a kind of illness” that death cures. She also considers the human compulsion to want to interfere in the lives of others—or to want one’s own life interfered with by another—is essentially what love is.

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As we see the ship at sea for the first time since the pilot, I pondered what it represented, as Shiki tells Saikawa that they have similar “structures”—other selves created to protect “the real him.” But Saikawa isn’t Shiki, nor does she believe he could ever become her. At least, he’d need “far more than one hundred years” to do so. It’s not meant as an insult, just a fact, and Saikawa accepts it as the two part.

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The Lego Shiki leaves him with is another question mark, but after pondering his encounter in his office (during which time Moe tentatively enters, makes coffee, and promises to leave right afterwards), he realizes the three “policemen” who surrounded her weren’t policemen at all, but guys she hired to act that way. Shiki is still out in the wind. Saikawa laughs out loud, not just because she got him once more, but because I think he’s happy she’s still free.

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His talk with her got him thinking: “love has no single shape.” It could be being killed, as it might have been for Shiki and her daughter. Or it could be solving the magic trick someone else loved outsmarting others with, then being the one who saves the life of someone who had no one else,  and telling silly jokes that make her irritated or tear up.

Saikawa makes no bones about him and Moe being very different people, but that doesn’t matter; two people don’t need to be the same to be in love. He’s willing to accept all of Moe’s “contradictions” if she’s willing to have him. This was a love that has been brewing for some time, but only his experience with Dr. Magata shook him out of the impasse they were in and take the next step into something like a romance, which Moe has been ready to take for some time.

The camera plays with the positions of Moe and Saikawa as they go on an apparent date together, only showing them separate from each other at first, not quite in the same location at once, until they are in the frame together. Moe also learns that Gido is Saikawa’s little sister, so she never had any competition to begin with (not to mention Saikawa never wanted to kiss her).

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On that happy note, we leave Saikawa and Moe, and shift to a time and place we know not when or where. Shiki is on a camel in the desert with her daughter, teaching her that even though humans do not really exist for the sake of people and things around them, they cannot help but assign such reasons to exist as for the sake of others, or to help everyone. “They always want an answer”, and that want drives them. We cut to the two of them in the kitchen of her locked apartment in the lab, where Shiki urges her daughter never to stop seeking those answers even after she is gone, which is strange, because the theory was that she outlived her daughter when she murdered her.

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The final shot is the most perplexing, but not negatively so: “Michiru” introduces “Kishio”, the apparent name of her daughter, in that seascape with the giant shipwreck. Where is this place? Did it ever exist, or is it just in Shiki’s mind? We saw Shiki interact with Saikawa in the real world, but these last scenes threaten to upheave all that came before. Then again, Shiki did speak of dying without suffering and not fearing death.

After getting so many satisfying answers and explorations of philosophy, existence, life, death and time…there are still more questions. But as is the case with so much in life, we must be content with the answers we have, and with the fact that we’ll never find them all.

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