YU-NO – 01 (First Impressions) – Time is Reversible but Cliches are Innumerable

Howdy, and welcome to the Spring 2019! Our first entry is YU-NO, a bright, brisk show about an easygoing orphaned high school dude named Arima Takuya who is suddenly tangled up in all this curious business of time travel, parallel universes, and various other things he did not expect, including the discovery that his folks aren’t dead after all.

Takuya is a bit of a cad, acting as both quasi-casanova and class clown. He has a jovial sidekick who calls him “boss.” He draws both the ire and likely fancy of the class idol, Shimazu Mio (an always welcome Kugimiya Rie). His hot teacher wears an outfit perhaps better suited for…not school.

His guardian, whom I’m guessing is his older sister, cousin, or aunt judging by the same last name, is in charge of some kind of construction project. His dad, a researcher believed to have died in a cave, is survived by his colleague Ryuzoji, whom I immediately suspected was a bad guy due to his suite and beard. Oh, and Ryuzoji’s secretary used to teach at Takuya’s school, and they may have slept together in the past. Neat!

The episode starts with Takuya interacting with one attractive woman after another, establishing the various players I saw on the promo art. Perhaps that was a mistake, but the fact his interactions feel so regimented lends each of the female characters a kind of mysterious significance anyway.

When Takuya gets home, the tangling begins, with a mysterious package arriving in the mail containing a weird relic of the type Ryuzoji was looking for, followed by a call on the phone with no one on the other end. If that isn’t enough weirdness for one evening, Takuya switches on the news and a strange lightning strikes very near his guardian when she’s giving an interview.

Takuya rushes to her, and she’s fine, but also encounters his sidekick and Shimazu, who have just finished investigating the shrine near the construction site. They all encounter a blue-haired girl in their school uniform—no doubt the transfer student his sexy teacher mentioned—and this student, Hatano Kanna, warns Takuya both there and the next day after her intro to the class to convince his guardian to cancel all construction at the site, warning that it’s “dangerous.”

That’s a pretty vague warning to someone who is not directly responsible for the construction site, but that night, Takuya gets another mystery package that contains a weird book labeled “Parallel World Constitutive Theorem” and “Reflector Device Construction” containing a drawing of this weird relic thing, and a letter form his dad telling him to go to the shrine at a certain time with the device.

Takuya does as the letter instructs, and there he finds a naked blonde young woman with fairy-like ears who only says one thing to him—”Yu-no”—before kissing him and then de-materializing into glow-dust. Takuya is rightly a bit freaked out by this series of events!

They only get stranger, as both his guardian and Ryuzoji appear at the site, only for Ryuzoji to pull a gun on Takuya and demand he hand over the device, as it enables its bearer the ability to “cross Neumann space.” His dad intended it for him, but I guess Ryuzoji has other plans? In any case he has a beard so he’s bad news.

Fortunately, more weird gold lightning strikes, and one of the bolts hits Takuya while he’s holding the device. Instead of getting fried, he’s shot through some kind of tunnel in spacetime, travels through various twisted  hyper-dimensional pathways, and spat out right where he began. Only, as he learns when he returns to school to find both his guardian safe and sound and a cheerful, gun-less Ryuzoji, he appears to have traveled a day into the past. Dun-dun-dunnnnn!

If this introductory episode left me with a bunch of questions, it’s because it wanted it to be that way. That’s fine, as we’re closely following the MC, who’s as much in the dark as we are, especially when Ryuzoji starts blurting out weird lingo. That said, there were an awful lot of familiar cliches that didn’t really bring much to the table. It’s all very by-the-numbers and didn’t once ‘wow’ me. I’ll at least give this another week to see where this goes, but color me unimpressed so far…

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Zombieland Saga – 07 – A Truly Shocking Performance

(Apologies for the horrible pun that titles this post.—Ed.) Last week’s episode proved ZLS is far more than just a venue for Miyano Mamoru’s manic voice performances or a showcase for idol-dancing CGI. It can also do serious character drama. How would it resolve the generational rift between Franchouchou’s dual aces?

With Junko unwilling/unable to continue in this new and scary idoling world and holed up in one of the mansion’s many rooms, Ai commits to doing Junko’s part as the days to Saga Rock count down, even as the strain causes her head and limbs literally fall off (kudos to the foley artists for appropriately gross sound effects as the zombies move about).

Even Lily admits there may be nothing any of them can to to convince Ai to come back. Sakura asks Tatsumi for help, but he shouts her away. Even so, Tatsumi later breaks down the barricade Junko had built over the door and, surprisingly enough, provides the sober voice of reason. He acknowledges Junko’s fear of how things have changed in the last thirty years, but assures her the calling of idol is no less noble than it was in her time.

He also suggests something Junko didn’t consider a possibility: that if she doesn’t want to get so close to her fans…that she just shouldn’t. She can still sing and dance with the others while continuing to carry the Showa flag and live the life she’s most comfortable with.

He also reminds Junko that she’s not the only one with fears as a result of waking up a zombie in a strange time and place. He informs her how Ai died, and the weather forecast for the festival, and how Ai is going forward to face her fears. Considering she’s already dead, what harm would it do Junko to give this idol thing one last try?

With that, Tatsumi leaves Junko with her outfit for tomorrow’s festival…and a casual order to fix the door he busted (hey, this is still a comedy first and foremost). The next morning everyone waits as long as they can, but then pack into the van without Junko.

Just as they start off, Junko heroically leaps over the mansion gate lands in front of the van…which absolutely pummels her, in such a similar fashion to Sakura’s own demise it sparks a vague memory for her. Like a zombie horror movie, Ai slowly gets up…but not to eat brains; to join her fellow members of Franchouchou, all of whom but Ai run to embrace her.

Still, Ai decides to bury the hatchet as the group prepares for their show, promising Junko she’ll have her back. Tatsumi liberally sprays shoe waterproofing all over the girls so their makeup won’t melt in the coming rains.

The others join Ai as she watches her old group Iron Frill knock it out of the park (without anyone getting roasted by lightning). Why the more popular band would open for unknowns like Franchouchou, I have no idea, but that plot contrivance is only one of a long chain of them that, IMO, somewhat mar the group’s biggest moment yet.

While Iron Frill’s dancing and singing was 2D animation, the show breaks back out the smoother-moving but still far creepier CGI models of the Franchouchou members. I remain mostly unconvinced this was the best way to animate them performing, as it really pulls you out of the otherwise 2D world of the show.

Technical aspects aside, I liked how the storms made Ai so frightened she couldn’t sing properly, threatening to make their big break a disaster right from the start (the rain also forces much of Iron Frill’s crowd to flee, combined with the fact they don’t know who Franchouchou is). I liked Junko having Ai’s back even better, especially when Ai said she’d have hers. Junko may have nerves too, but they don’t relate to performing in a thunderstorm.

The idols regroup and finish out their first song strong, but the entire stage is suddenly destroyed by lightning, making real Ai’s worst nightmare: a repeat of the events that killed her. However, due to them already being dead and zombies (and perhaps the thick coats of spray Tatsumi applied), their exposure to lightning only makes them glow, and makes their voices distorted.

The group proceeds to perform their last song in “autotune” remix mode, their bodies providing the only light on the stage, and occasionally shooting lightning beams out of their fingers. This sequence of events represents a new level of preposterous-ness for the show.

While a show about zombie idols already demands one to suspend disbelief about quite a number of things, the piling on of absurd events culminating in glowing idols shooting lasers while singing autotune…was just a bit much.

The attitude that created this sequence seems to be: “So we carefully crafted a nuanced character conflict between Junko and AI rooted in generational differences…but SCREW ALL THATAnything goes when they take the stage; nothing has to make sense!” Never mind the fact that there were zero consequences for Junko not practicing with the group for weeks. I know she’s one of the best from her time, but no one’s that good!

All that criticism aside, the festival, ridiculous as it was, had the intended effect of getting Franchouchou much-needed publicity, as news of their “illuminating” performance at Saga Rock ends up published in a magazine. We’ll see how that translates into cash to fund their operation, but more importantly how it heightens their statute in the idol world, and how they’ll respond to that increased fame.

Zombieland Saga – 06 – Not Ready to Be History

Let’s face it: as quirky and hilarious as Tatsumi is, he has technically been holding the zombie girls in a kind of servitude. As such, they find themselves compelled to rebel now and again, as Ai does when she sneaks onto the internet during Tatsumi’s long baths.

She lets the others in on her little act of resistance, and they even find a potential new gig for Franchouchou: the famous Saga Rock Festival. Here, the differing philosophies between Ai and Junko (already shown when Junko can’t quite keep up with Ai’s faster, more modern dance moves) are laid bare.

Junko thinks incremental improvement is better in the long run than aiming too high, while Ai’s past career and present purusal of the ‘net has taught her that you have to strike while the iron is hot; stiving for perfection is a luxury they can’t afford.

The next gig Tatsumi lines up for FSS is the kind of even that is commonplace in the present day for idols: a mini-concert followed by a swag sale and photo-op with fans (and yes, they have a good number of those now, as hilariously reported by an oddly kabukiesque Tatsumi).

Everything goes swimmingly—as their gigs tend to do—until its time for the picture-taking. Suddenly, Junko is completely out of her element. Idols in her time would never dream of closing the distance between their fans to such an extreme. She walks out of the job.

Because Junko and Ai are two idol veterans living in the present, they both believe they are right in their views on what an idol should and shouldn’t be. But because they’re from different eras, they end up clashing, and because they’re both stubborn, it flares into a lasting fight the other girls can’t extinguish.

Junko goes to the beach for contemplation, but Sakura catches up to her. That’s when Sakura learns why Junko is so loath to interact so closely with fans: it would be crossing a boundary and going against what she believes an idol is supposed to be: a timeless dream to aspire to, not a fallible chum.

That brings us to how Junko died: while on her way to her next gig, her plane crashed into the sea. Sakura’s death was presented as a joke, but Junko’s is treated far more soberly.

That brings us to the most tragic (and, incidentally, most metal) death to be revealed thus far: Ai’s. We learn what her fate was when Saki finds her cowering in a thunderstorm. Unlike Junko, in less than a year Ai’s Iron Frill was performing in front of tens of thousands in packed arenas. At her biggest show yet, which happened in an open-air venue, it started to rain.

One moment, she was lighting up the crowd with her energetic performance…the next, a lightning bolt zapped her into a cinder. Her charred remains, still holding her final pose, simply stood there in front of her stunned fans. It was a deeply traumatizing experience for all, and a national tragedy.

Most distressingly for Ai, it was history. She became history because of the completely bonkers, completely heartbreaking way her life was snatched away at the very height of her powers.

She may be deathly (undeathly?) afraid of lightning to this day, but she’s not ready to be history quite yet. She’s back, and she’s going to make the very most of it. I liked Sakura and Saki, who each heard the sad tales of Junko and Ai’s respective demises, meeting up when neither could sleep. After all, being told what they were told would unsettle anyone.

But neither of them have an answer for how Junko and Ai can make up. Right now, Junko isn’t even sure she can be in FFS, if they have to do things like the photo op. It’s as much a question of pride and identity as shyness. But by episode’s end, Tatsumi has already made another decision for them: he’s booked them for Saga Rock, just as they had intended to do anyway.

That means Ai will have to perform in an open-air venue, which literally killed her the last time she did it. Even worse? Her old group, Iron Frill, will also be there. Will they recognize her (if they’re even the same members, which is doubtful after ten years)? Will Junko participate? Can they find a way to put their generational differences aside? We shall see.

Really strong and emotionally resonant outing for Zombieland Saga, showing it can be just as adept at serious drama as madcap comedy.

Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii – 08 – Wind, Lightning, and New Fire

If you’ve ever worked at an office, you have a pretty good idea of the atmosphere of the first half of this week’s episode. When it’s dark and stormy, suddenly its darker outside than in in the middle of the day, there’s a strange cozy feeling to the office, occasionally someone’s sunroof will be open, and you have to remember to SAVE YOUR WORK often, lest a power outage claim the building.

It’s much the same at the office where our four otaku work, but we learn that Hirotaka is afraid of lightning (or rather, traumatized by years of having the power go out while he’s in the middle of gaming). But when he remembers many years ago when he answered the door during the storm, Narumi was on the other side of the door. Then, as now, she puts him at ease, and he her.

Hirotaka is considerably less at ease when during a night of drinking his ability to make Narumi jealous by flirting with other girls is cited as a virtual impossibility. Hirotaka remembers being jealous of the guy Narumi dated, even to the point of getting an ear pierced that probably didn’t need it.

As Hirotaka comes to the always-dueling-in-public Kabakura and Koyonagi, curious what they do when they’re not arguing, Narumi is at Starbocks (Naoya’s eyes still swollen from sensitivity training earlier this week), wondering what a real date is; all she and Hirotaka do are the same things they’d do if they were good otaku friends as before.

Well, both seem to feel uncomfortable about that at the same time, as if the flames below their seats had finally made that seat uncomfortable enough to get up out of it. Just as Narumi is expecting another “at-home” date of reading and/or gaming, Hirotaka asks her out to do the things she used to do with her previous, normie boyfriends.

Kuromukuro – 17

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Ken and Yukina were actually able to witness Muetta’s fall on a video feed, so when all geoframe pilots are on standby, Ken is understandably anxious and unwilling to sit around doing nothing.

He doesn’t sympathize with the Efidolg, he just wants his beloved princess back. He wants her on their side. They simply have to channel his energy into something productive.

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The commander lets Ken and Yukina take the Kuromukuro out, and Yukina using its newfound recon toys to find…a bear, along with her commenting on how a walk by the river could be fun, keep things light and breezy.

It’s easy to forget how stressful a situation Yukina is in: co-piloting a giant alien mecha with a samurai whose lost princess looks just like her. You gotta keep your wits about you somehow; Yukina does it with wit.

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The leader of the Efidolgs sends Yorba down to retrieve their two agents, and he comes down in style, in the “Bluebird”, a huge flying geoframe with a dragon’s form, slicing through Earth fighters like they were warm butter and deflecting their missles.

This show has always done a good job showing how implacable Efidolg technology is…if only the people wielding it had the discipline to match.

(Also good? Never going too far up the chain of command, at least on the Earth side. I’m sure there are conference rooms full of suits determining our characters’ fates – I just don’t need to see them. The show seems to get that.)

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I can’t help but love an episode in which Ken and Yukina have to stop trudging in the river looking for Yukihime so they can stop an immense USAF C-5 Galaxy transport from crashing into the damn lab.

I also appreciate the valorous portrayal of the Air Force transport pilots, who complete their mission even though their bird is on fire and going down. We didn’t see the faces of the fighter pilots Yorba slaughtered, but thankfully we get to see the faces of some luckier ones, who survive thanks to the Kuromukuro.

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Getting back to Efidolg arrogance and suspicion being their undoing, Yorba isn’t satisfied with simply picking up Mirasa, though to his credit, he doesn’t buy her lame story about Muetta dying for a second. It’s almost as if Mirasa is lying for the first time, and it’s not her forte.

I’m not convinced Yorba is as concerned with avenging Muetta as he claims, but I’m willing to bet that’s as good an excuse as any to pick a fight with the black glongur that’s been giving his fellow Efidolg so much trouble. So rather than return to base with crucial information, he satisfies his desire for a real fight.

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He gets one, but at first, he tosses the Kuromukuro up above the stormclouds like a cat flicking a toy in the air, bashes at it while it falls then flicks it back up before it falls too far. It’s a battle Ken and Yukina can’t win without the power of flight…so it’s fortuitous that they gain that power, thanks to Mr. Ogre, who it turns out has a flying geoframe of his own.

Once the odds are evened, Ken gives Yorba a run for his money, until Yorba exercises the better part of valor. Back to the mothership he goes, a Mirasa richer but Muetta-free.

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As for the winged benefactor, he asks Ken to consider whether he’s been wrong all along about the “ogres” destroying the Washiba, then releases them at a safe altitude, convinced he’s not quite ready to hear the whole truth.

And Yukina? She hears a bit of her father in the Ogre’s voice, because let’s face it, he probably is her father. It’s as if he’s Darth Vader, only he’s been helping his kid all along, instead of waiting until the bitter end to do so.

But as he said, more answers will have to wait until a future encounter between them. Until then, after such a harrowing battle, I’d say Yukina and Ken have earned another break.

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 03

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Three episodes in (four if you count the prologue) and we still only know three of the eight party members in the OP, so the show largely skips past Sorey and Mikleo’s journey to the point where they’re at Ladylake’s gates, meeting the fourth (future) member. She’s got rosy hair, so I’ll call her Rose for now.

Were it not for Rose, Sorey wouldn’t be able to enter the city. That being said, Mikleo doesn’t do well around so many humans, who excrete a miasma of malevalence due to the worries about a war between Hyland and neighboring Rolance.

Princess Alisha’s non-aggressive stance, refusing to launch a preemptive strike, is only intensified by her experience in Elysia, where she say her dream of mankind (well, one man) coexisting with the Seraphim. Also, the hellion is also in Ladylake, though apparently not to kill Alisha, only to observe.

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The rest of the episode takes place within the confines of a kind of great temple to the sacred blade, which is stuck in a rock smack dab in the center. No pun intended, the relatively close quarters prove a double-edged sword, compared to the more exciting hellion chase last week or earlier this week on Ladylake’s rooftops.

It’s good that things are so compressed in this one room, because it ups the tension. There’s also the sense that the assassin hired by frustrated warmonger Lord Bartlow is closing in and tightening the noose on Alisha.

Of course, there’s no mistaking Komatsu Mikako’s wonderful voice, so it was clear the moment the female assassin started talking that she was Rose, the girl Sorey met. The episode isn’t coy about this, also showing her piercing blue eyes a small glimpse of her rosy hair under the helmet.

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Sorey and Mikleo learn that the Lady of the Lake is a Seraphim who dwells right beside the sacred blade, though no one can see her but them. After Alisha delivers a speech that goes over with the crowd about as well as Ted Cruz’s at the RNC last week, the Malevalence coalesces into a giant hellion in dragon form, at about the same time Rose attacks Alisha.

Suddenly the vast interior of the temple feels like a suffocating braizer in which Alisha is fighting for her live against a very skilled opponent (who uses a very different style than a knight would) and a boss none of the people can fully see causing a right ol’ ruckus.

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Of course, we know what has to happen here: Sorey must take grasp the sacred blade, form a contract with the lady (named Lailah), and pull it out of the stone. Sorey becomes Lailah’s vessel, transforming him into a dazzling dandy of a hero to slay the dragon with the blade.

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The dragon is slain, and the assassin withdraws, but Sorey has been warned: being the Shepherd will be an exhausting, alienating, thankless, lonely job. I’m not so sure about that last bit, especially after seeing that ED featuring Sorey hanging out with Alisha, Rose, Mikleo, and the rest of the party he has yet to assemble.

So far, each episode has set out to progress Sorey’s story by a notch, and has so far succeeded. Alisha’s prologue set the stage. Then Sorey and Mikleo met Alisha. Then Alisha invited Sorey to Ladylake, where he met Lailah and became the Shepherd.

It’s a brisk, efficient pace that manages not to feel too hurried or contrived. The addition of Komatsu Mikako to an already strong voice cast is always welcome. And, as expected, ufotable’s visuals and music continue to be beyond reproach.

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 02

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The gorgeous landscapes and stirring score of Zestiria continue to immerse me deeply into its world; in this case, the land of the Seraphim, along with Alisha. Sorey takes her to his home village, Elysia, because he has no other choice; human or not, he can’t just ignore her or leave her there.

In a nice twist, being a human with no prior contact, Ali can’t see Mikleo or any of the other villagers, so it appears at first that Sorey is all alone. But Alisha still believes in the Seraphim, and is convinced that they, and the Shepherd in particular, are humanity’s only hope.

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It’s a good thing Sorey is so nice and neither Gramps or the villagers press for her expulsion; what could she do by going back alone, now? The horrific events that transpired on her particularly bad day are now the stuff of her nightmares, but just when that fear makes her doubt her faith, Sorey shows her the exterior of the grand ruins she found herself in last week, including the mural and glove of the Shepherd (which he gifts to her). It’s not just legends.

I also like how Gramps and the others realize this human has a good heart and isn’t the kind of threat that would invite “calamity”, as they originally feared. You can feel how unwelcome Alisha feels at first, but as their attitude towards her softens, her stay becomes more peaceful.

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Naturally, she can’t just stay in the clouds with the Seraphim forever, so she heads back the way she came to Hyland, hoping there’s enough of her world left to save. I was surprised she wasn’t asking Sorey to accompany her and participate in the Sacred Blade ceremony…until she did just that. If Sorey indeed wants a world where humans (not just him) and Seraphim coexist in peace and harmony again, this could well be the way.

Alisha leaves, her hope and optimism that a hero will rise restored (and likely of the belief it’s a good chance Sorey is that Shepherd), but the moment she’s out of sight, Gramps detects a hellion in his territory, and Sorey and Mikleo rush to meet it.

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The fox-faced hellion injures a Seraphim and then tangles with the two young fighters, showing impressively explosive speed, nimbleness, and strength.

It’s a short but fantastic battle that came out of nowhere, and felt even more fast and chaotic due to my being lulled into placid “village time” to that point. Quiet and still, or frenetic action; this show can do it all.

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After Gramps scares off the hellion, what it said about its “main dish” concerned Sorey, who concludes it was after Alisha all along. So he heads off on his own to catch up to her and protect her from what could well be a foe far out of her league.

To Sorey’s delight, Mikleo appears, and will accompany him on his journey to Alisha’s capital, with wise words from Gramps: be free, find your own path, and live life to the fullest. They strike out as the sun starts to come up, and the entire world seems to unfold before them in all its glorious majesty. This looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun.

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 01

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(Disclaimer: I have never played any of the Tales games; my RPG experience is limited to Final Fantasy and Skyrim. Therefore I have no knowledge of Zestiria, its story or its characters.)

Last week’s prologue started relatively upbeat but grew very dark and sinister and apocalyptic very quickly. This week’s episode isn’t quite done torturing Princess Alisha, who faces grief, loneliness, a sea of bugs (which a cute little familiar she apparently can’t sense tries to help keep away), and then upside-down water she drops out of, as if passing from one world to another.

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I love the Alice in Wonderland sense of awe and, well, wonder in Zestiria’s many imposingly beautiful-vista money shots. Alisha gets a brief respite on a sunlit grassy cliff beside a dramatic waterfall. She inadvertently activates a pillar that reveals an entrance to another ruin behind that waterfall, and her lonely quest continues.

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Meanwhile, good friends Sorey and Mikleo have a hobby much like Alisha and her friends of yore: exploring and investigating ruins. On this day they discover what they believe to be the mythical capital of Seraphim, breathtakingly perched off the face of a mountain. At this point, it’s pretty clear these two and Alisha are on opposite sides of this ruin, and will ultimately meet at some point.

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The thing is, Mikleo isn’t human, and Sorey a human raised by Mikleo’s kind, while Alisha is human. That doesn’t stop Sorey from having the same book Alisha has, and the same thirst for ancient knowledge about the Seraphim who foster him.

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Their aged master warned them not to stray too far into the ruins, but curiosity gets the best of the lads, who end up being attacked by lightning that seems to be summoned by the ruins themselves as a defense system. But their only escape from the lightning is to go inside the ruins, where a platform Alisha was standing on was obliterated by the same lightning.

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The ruin is a great RPG-style dungeon with multiple levels, obstacles, and hidden paths that are revealed with Mikleo’s magic. As predicted, Sorey and Mikleo do spot an unconscious Alisha and Sorey rushes to help, against Mikleo’s warnings to stay away from humans.

When Ali comes to, her first question is whether Sorey is “The Shepherd,” and with that, the party swells to three, and she’s not alone anymore. But it’s also clear she’s far she was in the smoke-and-flame-wreathed prologue, down (or up) the proverbial rabbit hole; a stranger in a strange land; etc.

I’m eager to see who she fares here, with the two who will become her quest companions, as well as the assembling of the rest of the colorful party we see in the OP and ED. So far, it’s a fun, gorgeous, richly-detailed show that is still managing not to bury me in lore or jargon.

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GATE – 17

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Last week was a little…weak,but that’s because it was only the somewhat tedious prologue to this: the titular decisive battle in the Fire Dragon Arc. Yao brings the remnants of her clan to meet Itami, and nine of them join them in the fight. This is more like it.

Itami giving them a crash course in RPG launchers before heading into the dragon’s lair deep within Mt. Duma. Forest elves? Alliances and fellowships of nine? Mt. Doom-a? It would be a Tolkienesque episode – were it not for the inclusion of modern weaponry, which actually works in GATE’s favor; as I’ve never seen a dragon slain in the particular manner we witness this week.

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Itami devises a plan in which they mine the dragon’s nest with buried C-4 explosive, but he/she returns before they finish, and Rory (who can’t/won’t go underground for some reason) isn’t able to stay in radio contact.

As a result, the assault teem has to improvise, which for a group of dark elves given only the most rudimentary training, means a lot of elf redshirts buy the farm in this battle. Indeed, so closely did all the female elves resemble each other that I incorrectly believed I’d witnessed Yao’s untimely demise…more than once.

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In fact, before the end of the battle, all eight of the elves who accompanied them will be lost, though they all die fiercely battling the dragon with everything they have, and buying time for Itami to finish the bomb, and also, for Lelei and Tuka to have a turn at the beast.

We really haven’t ever seen much of Lelei doing anything at all, so it’s immensely satisfying to see her test the hardness of the dragon’s skin with telekinetic swords. Once she gets the force level right, she cracks an uncharacteristic (but welcome) knowing smirk.

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Indeed, this is Lelei at her most emotional and badass, and it’s because like Tuka, her village and people were killed by this thing, and she wants revenge too. Her blizzard of swords propelled into the dragon from all directions doesn’t finish it, but it does mess it up.

Enter Tuka, who has been watching people fight and die around her, and finally decides to take a chance and use her power, even if it isn’t enough. She had been blaming herself for her father’s death, turning her frustration over the futility of defeating the dragon inward. But now she turns it outward, and it’s awesome to behold, as she summons a storm of dragon-roasting lightning.

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With all the metal in and around the dragon, it isn’t long until some of the electricity it all conducts touches the bomb fuse, and it’s BTOOOM! City. Bye-bye, Fire Dragon. The multi-angle explosion made for an excellent spectacle, all the more satisfying because it was a total team effort. The victory would not have been possible with everyone’s contributions, in addition to the elves’ sacrifice.

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And yet, even when the dragon is slain and Itami, Lelei, Tuka and Yao get back outside safely before the caverns cave in on them, they’re still not out of the woods, because Rory, who had remained outside the whole time, took all of Itami’s injuries and pain, and is in bad shape.

She’s also being harassed by Giselle, the very blue apostle of the goddess Hardy who isn’t a fan of fabric that covers the front of her chest. She’s come to capture Rory so Hardy can marry her. Out-of-left-field extra conflict, or a rich dessert at the end of a wonderful meal? Your mileage may vary, but I happen not to mind this development, because it’s interesting to see Rory actually worried about something for once.

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It’s certainly convenient for Giselle to appear here out of nowhere at this particular time when Rory is by herself, not to mention Gisells just happened to be the one who bred the very fire dragon hatchlings whose shells were found in the nest. But also closing on Mt. Duma is a the SDF air and artillery attachments, sent to aid Itami at Yanagida’s request, but also happy for some action.

It certainly feels like very sugary dessert when, after Giselle exercises dominance over the situation for no more than a minute, she’s absolutely schooled by the display of JSDF force, and her baby dragons are wasted instantly. It’s almost too easy, but I did enjoy Rory’s gloating in the aftermath. She’ll be the one to decide who she marries, thank you very much.

That last skirmish also doesn’t undercut the fact that Tuka is no longer insane, but has gotten the revenge she needed to move forward…though she still intends to keep calling Itami “Dad” as her pet name for him.

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Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 12 (Fin)

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The night before her fight with Ikki, Touka asks Shizuku to ask him to withdraw, a request she never ends up relaying. Touka makes the request out of concern for Ikki’s health after all he’s been through. But even if he doesn’t withdraw, she’s not sure she can be proud of the outcome, since it’s all been fixed by the adults.

But she can only control what she can control, which is having a fight she can be proud of, something Uta is sure Ikki wants as well. There may be one-dimensional adversaries in RKC, but Touka is most certainly not one of them, and no matter what the peripheral circumstances, she wants to fight Ikki.

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It’s nice to see even fleeting doubt in Touka, whom Ikki places on a pedestal as the paragon of self-assuredness and conviction, while he wallows in despair following his father’s quiet but devastating takedown of him. He’s never been lower, not knowing what he can do with his “empty worthless sword.” Never underestimate the power of a father’s candid words to his son.

At the main arena, Ikki’s battle with Touka is the Main Event, with a packed house, helicopters circling, and TV cameras rolling. It’s all been arranged, Gladiator style, to maximize Ikki’s humiliation should he be defeated, which Akaza believes is a foregone conclusion, after the “softening up” they did on him…and the fact if Ikki fails to show up in fifteen minutes, he forfeits.

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But Ikki is on his way, filthy and beaten and exhausted as he is, he still manages to remember his master’s advice: if he’s frustrated about the fact he’s the weakest, hold onto the feeling, since it’s proof he hasn’t given up. He always chose to take those words as the Gospel, and he’s not about to stop now.

Then he faints, but he wakes up to Shizuku smiling above him. She’s not going to tell him to withdraw from the fight; instead, she’s assembled all of the people rooting for him, who put their dreams in his hands. He’s responsible for taking their defeats and going as far as he can, for the sake of those dreams. Oh yeah, and Stella advanced to Seven Stars, so if Ikki wants to keep his promise, he must, too, even if the odds are extremely against him.

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The fight itself? It ends surprisingly quickly. After exchanging their mutual excitement for fighting one another and Ikki vows to “beat her strongest with his strongest”, he casts Itto Shura immediately, but puts everything he has into one swing, while Touka banks everything on her undefeated Raikiri. Like AsteriskRKC breaks out a special animation style for the singular occasion, but its battle is, as I said, far briefer, but still plenty exciting.

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Then there’s the traditional long pause before we know who won, but c’mon, we knew Ikki was going to win, right? …Right? Well, that’s what he does, he wins, in front of a crowd of thousands and an audience of millions around the world. Akaza tries one last-ditch attempt to deprive Ikki of what he is due (and, incidentally, his life as well), but Stella closes on him fast, blast him out of the way, and embraces Ikki before he falls.

He’s able to stay conscious long enough to publically propose marriage to her in front of those cameras, achieving what he had always dreamed to: present Stella as the one he wishes to share his life and soul with, in front of everyone who matters, along with everyone who doesn’t. The display is enough to move Stella’s father to call Ikki’s, insisting they no longer use their children as pawns in their games.

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Touka, who looked pretty rough after the fight, recovers along with Ikki, who regains his freedom and the admiration of his school. Touka names him school flag-bearer for Seven Stars, and wishes him well. No bad feelings here; he really did beat her strongest with his. Of course, even after the tournament, there’s still two more years of school, during which time Shizuku promises to teach Stella how to be the ideal Kurogane bride, having already assessed her fitness to join the family and determined Stella a worthy match for her big bro.

As far as I know, RKC isn’t continuing for a second season like Asterisk, despite the possibilities for further epic battles and romantic progression. That’s a shame, because I thought RKC was the better show. But I’m also not choked up about it, because the show built up the finale well and delivered a solid payoff. It truly reached the greatest heights of chivalry!

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Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 11

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I don’t believe the first and second halves of an episode of RKC have been as different as the the ones in this week’s outing. Things certainly start out foreboding with Ikki and Stella getting photographed kissing and the director warning him about the Ethics Committee chief Akaza (the gangster in the fedora we’ve seen in the shadows) snooping around, while promising she’ll protect him should the need arise.

But then the episode takes a turn for the lighthearted and fluffy, with Ikki and Stella officially meeting Toudo Touka for the first time, and learning she’s not at all the same person when not in the arena. She’s clumsy and highly susceptible to instances of fanservice, but also friendly, kind, and compassionate.

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To whit, she and the council spend a day with underprivileged children from a local orphanage, and Ikki and Stella are invited along; Stella because she’ll be a hit with the kids, and Ikki…well, Ikki helps out with the cooking. It lets him further observe what a generous and wonderful person Touka is (he also hears about it from the tiny white-haired council member, whose humanity Touka restored in his darkest hour).

To him, Touka’s trump card isn’t her lightning or her ability to essentially read the minds of her opponents. It’s a far less easily quantifiable power to make everyone around her better, and more importantly make them feel like they can be better, than their humble origins. Proving it and inspiring people every day is her source of strength, which makes Ikki ponder what his own source might be.

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And boy, is his strength tested in the second half, when things take such a dark and sinister turn, the very palette of the show dissolves into stark black and white with harsh spot color and the grainy texture of film, complete with multiple title cards documenting the passage of time.

After the newspaper with their kissing photo on it is circulated, Ikki is incarcerated by the Ethics Committee and forced to endure days, then weeks of interrogation before a tribunal led by Akaza (his fathers’ henchman), then locked in a room with no furniture and strange noises coming from the walls. The intent is clear: get Ikki out of the picture.

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On its face, his accusers’ case is ridiculously arbitrary and unsubstantiated; it’s all trumped up rumor and intrigue and public opinion. But that’s exactly what those accusers want, and those who control the levers of power and information have their way with Ikki; he never had a chance.

Back at school, Stella, Shizuku, Alice, and the newspaper girl read about Ikki still wining selection matches in captivity, but the cloud of rumors and looks and laughs and side comments eventually gets to Stella, to the point she wonders if it would be best for Ikki if she broke up with him, blaming herself for his treatment.

At this, Shizuku hits her with a splash of cold ultrapure water, and warns her she won’t forgive her if she betrays Ikki, who decided to willingly face his accusers out of his love of Stella, and his desire to be with her out in the open. Of course, with scandal in the air and the subtle truth of their relationship drowned out by innuendo, that may no longer be possible.

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Even so, Stella realizes she erred in considering a breakup as the solution. Ikki is fighting for her, in the arena and the courtroom, so she sends him a lock of her hair (relayed to him by the blood-puking teacher in a neat bit of guard misdirection) as a symbol of her solidarity in his efforts.

Seeing that Stella is still out there fighting for him and for them as well, he decides to swallow his pride and speak to his father Itsuki one-on-one; a request that is granted despite Akaza’s objections. There, Ikki plays the Good Son and tells him of his exploits and victories at school, hoping it’ll be enough for his dad to finally acknowledge his strength.

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Then the final hammer is brought down: his father has always acknowledged him, but only as a mediocre talent not deserving of instruction, who would only create a mediocre result. If he were to succeed, it would create hope in others who aren’t optimally skilled, putting strain on his organization. His father has the opposite aim of Touka: to keep those who are low low, “in their rightful place.” He considers Ikki one of those people who aren’t worth his time, effort, or love.

It’s a devastating blow to Ikki, who thought, perhaps unreasonably, that his father still had a loving bone in his body for him, but no. Further more, that Touka, who works to lift people up rather than let them keep being trampled on? She will be Ikki’s opponent in his 20th and final selection match. Akaza says if he wins, all charges will be dropped.

I know what my first reaction to this was: Maybe Touka will let him win? But I only thought that a viable possibility for a moment; there’s no way Touka would throw a duel. Still, if one is to believe Ikki’s dad, that Shizuku is the superior talent in their family, and she couldn’t come close to defeating Touka, what hope does Ikki have, who still doesn’t know his source of strength (maybe Stella, buddy?) and has just been crushed by his “father?”

First Half:
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Second Half:
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Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 10

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There are no further developments in Ikki and Stella’s sex life this week, as Todou Touka’s brisk and powerful introduction late last week segues into her battle against Shizuku, who has worked to become strong so that she can provide all the love for Ikki the rest of the Kuroganes refuse to provide. While she doesn’t have to worry about Touka’s opposing element (due to her ability to produce ultrapure water), this will still be her toughest opponent yet, and she’s at least somewhat nervous.

I do like how Stella reaches out to Shizuku and the two don’t snipe at all, but simply have a normal conversation. Stella’s concern on Ikki’s behalf is acknowledged by Shizuku, rather than shunned. But Shizuku thinks Ikki is worried because she’s not strong enough and might hurt herself. This battle is the ultimate opportunity to show him the full measure of the strength and resolve she’s amassed for him.

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After a lot of keeping their distance and waiting for the other to strike, Shizuku finally starts with a ranged attack, and both battle and episode take on a furious pace, as befits such a high-level battle. The crowd is immediately impressed with the magical skill on display and how evenly matched Shizuku and Touka seem to be. Even when we think Touka lands a killing blow, it’s only a “water shadow.”

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But Touka draws first blood, and then uses the mysterious art of Nukiashi to “hide under” Shizuku’s unconscious, making her miss her movements, like a slight of hand. This gets Shizuku into dire straights, but like she did with Ikki, Stella manages to snap her out of it by cheering her on. Unlike Ikki, Shizuku doesn’t like “that woman” cheering for her one bit, but is thankful to have been roused from her temporary funk.

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From there, the battle is taken up a notch, with the names of moves being announced but no more time to explain what they are. The battle proceeds to show, not tell, and it shows a lot. The battle’s second act is tremendously awesome, but it ultimately ends how I thought it would, with Shizuku drawing too close to Touka and falling for her trump card, Raikiri, a move that has yet to be overcome. The final moments of the battle take on a very cinematic quality, complete with letterboxing and subtler lighting.

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The immense, fog-shrouded winter wonderland Shizuku created is dissolved in an instant, and Shizuku falls, but not because she tried a reckless suicide move in a last-ditch effort to defeat Touka. Ikki saw that Shizuku made the best move she could have made…it just wasn’t enough. Which means in all likelihood that unless Touka had a particularly unlucky day, Shizuku was never going to be able to beat her.

Shizuku is very sore about it when she wakes up in the hospital, unable to face Ikki and wanting to simply be alone. Only Alice remains, to give her the hug she knows she needs, so she can drop the armor and let everything out she was repressing in order to act cool for her brother and Stella. And as Alice tells her, it doesn’t matter whether she lost the battle: her brother watched every minute with pride and love.

Shizuku may not know it yet, but proved all she needed to prove to him in that battle. And that turns out to be not much, because even if she was a terrible fighter, or a complete weakling, Ikki would still love her. That’s what real family is.

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