DanMachi II – 11 – Godstage Situation

As one could have predicted with reasonable certainty, the episode immediately following DanMachi’s biggest battle to date was a much lighter weight affair. You wouldn’t immediately know it from the cold open, which features huge armies of the Kingdom of Rakia approaching Orario.

Then entire companies of soldiers are “blown away” by solo adventurers. Turns out they’re not tough…at all. Aries is a buffoon of a commander of a vast army of weaklings, and his buffoonery annoys the hell of of his top lieutenant Marius.

Meanwhile we learn something new about Haruhime from Aisha as she bids farewell: whenever she saw a naked man she’d pass out, meaning she remains as chaste as the virgin goddess of the hearth. Aisha doesn’t tell her that, but she’s right that it didn’t matter to her hero, Bell.

Still, Haruhime’s wonderful chemistry with Bell causes a jealous Hestia to ban all contact between the sexes, which Lili makes a big stink about. When Hestia all but asks if Bell would be her lover, he refuses, honestly but also flatly and rudely, not taking into consideration just how much Hestia loves him.

She runs off, and Bell chases after her, realizing he erred. A chance meeting with Hephaistos and Miach has them confirming that he erred by not showing his goddess proper respect. They discuss how even though the lifetime of a mortal is but a moment, the love gods feel for their mortal lovers is not any less powerful or real.

Unfortunately these two gods hold Bell up long enough that Hestia manages to sneak out of the Orario on an errand to gather ingredients for the potato snacks so popular in the city. Ganesha lets her through due to the importance of her mission, but she’s quickly snatched up by Ares in disguise, executing a “brilliant plan” to get Orario to surrender by taking a god hostage…or…sigh….godstage.

Bell ends up bumping into Ais, who takes him to where Hestia was last. There, Loki is coordinating a rescue op; she may not be besties with the shrimp but they can’t go letting Ares kidnap gods whenever he likes. She agrees to let Bell accompany Ais outside the walls to track Ares down.

Fueled by awesome Celtic-style overworld music, and with help from Hermes’ child Asfi, they locate Ares in the gray gloom, and it isn’t long before Ais is crossing swords with Ares, and just as quickly snapping his sword. Like his armies, he’s not as strong as he looks.

Still, he has enough numbers to surround and isolate Ais, while Bell manages to sneak around and reunite with Hestia, who freed herself but promptly stumbles and falls down a huge canyon. Bell jumps in after her, then Ais jumps in after him, setting up a cliffhanger for the finale next week. Chances are they’ll all be fine!

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Divine Gate – 03

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As Arthur summons Oz (that’s right: the Wizard of Oz…oh my) along with Loki, not necessarily for their aid but to at least bear witness to the impending discovery of the Divine Gate, the show takes a closer look at the cheerful, energetic Midori, who not surprisingly is dealing with demons just like Aoto, which affects her focus and performance in a sparring exercise, and may prove more of a crippling liability as the quest to find the gate heats up.

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We haven’t even been formally introduced to three of the six kids in the core group, but as Akane talks with them, one makes clear that Midori’s intense belief in the Gate, or something related to it, could be hampering her development, like an anchor holding back a boat (not the most flattering metaphor, I’ll admit).

As Aoto is initiated into the academy, he still declines warm food and has trouble putting into words why exactly he’s there (as opposed to how he came to be there). But it’s a brief outburst by Midori about “being number one” that shifts Akane’s attention to her later.

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Midori decides to open up Akane, telling him about her friendship with Elena, someone who only wanted one friend: her. When Midori, a far more outgoing girl, inevitably made other friends at school, it poisoned the bond between them, culminating in an ultimatum from Elena that Midori simply could not accept. This was a decent, no-nonsense execution of the Obsessive Friend theme.

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Midori fails to make up with Elena, who rather than attend the summer festival as they always do, heads off to find the Divine Gate on her own. Once Midori hears of a girl disappearing in the mountains, she rushes to a police-filled scene, and actually sees the massive gate looming over the mountain.

Ever since that strange, vivid experience, Midori has not only believed in the gate, but believed Elena was already there, waiting for her. She wants Elena to still be alive, but she also wants to repair the bond she broke by rejecting her ultimatum (which wasn’t an unreasonable move, but obviously came at a stiff price).

Aoto hears a little of the story, and it probably shows him that he’s not the only one with issues, but unlike her, he’s also got a little boy in his head telling him how messed up he is all the time. Akane and Midori can see him talking to someone they can’t see, and it worries Midori.

She does some digging online (on a computer with a keyboard that seems way too loud and disruptive for a library), but as soon as she accesses Aoto’s files, a red “Restricted Access” wall goes up, stopping her in her tracks and making her and Akane wonder what the heck Aoto did, or what was done to him.

Another episode that efficiently fleshes out one more character, Midori, without solving all her problems, but making us understand her better. I imagine the show will eventually do this with Akane and the other three prominent kids in the group, parallel to Arthur and the Round Table’s more abstract machinations.

However, I won’t be around to see it, because the mystery of the gate just isn’t doing anything for me, and there’s no indication the revelations (if they ever come, as we’re likely to be strung along for some time beforehand) will be any less half-baked than the characterization of iconic characters like Loki and Oz. So I’m making a discreet exit now; no hard feelings.

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Divine Gate – 02

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Divine Gate’s second episode delves further into both Aoto and Akane’s troubled (if very different) pasts, and there’s some okay character work going on as Aoto discovers a way to start moving forward.

But it paints with awfully broad and familiar strokes, and my initial enthusiasm about Divine Gate being an absorbing if imperfect diversion took a big hit when I was introduced to Loki, another very loaded character name.

The idea of a character who’s neither entirely good nor evil is good in theory, but the execution falls short, thanks to his really dumb clown/jester design.  I don’t particularly want this joker pulling the strings. Also, a name like Loki has inescapable baggage attached to it. Like King Arthur or Leonardo da Vinci, if you’re going to use a name, you’d better do something interesting with it.

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Meanwhile, the refreshingly normally-dressed Akane and Midori visit Aoto again, they see he takes care of alley cats, but not all the time, only “when he feels like it”, something Akane thinks is worst than not feeding them at all. But when the hungry creature in need shifts from cats to a little boy, Akane himself can’t help but help, even if he can’t always be there to do so.

When Loki makes a police robot go berserk and the kid ends up in mortal peril, and the father is too terrified and injured to save him, Aoto has to make a choice; like the one he made on the train last week.

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He chooses to help Akane and Midori, who destroy the robot while he extinguishes the fire. While the saved boy initially hesitates going to his inept father, and Akane curses the dad for doing nothing, Aoto can relate to consciously wanting to do something—like move forward—but being hampered by a subconscious that’s not in sync. The father’s fear overpowered his conscious desire to save his boy.

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I know all this because a little boy with white hair and red eyes in Aoto’s subconscious tells him and us, which is a bit clunky, truth be told, like the clowny Loki, the very sight of whom irritates me. But he apparently staged the whole crisis to shake Aoto off the shelf, and he succeeded.

Aoto goes back to the night his parents were murdered, and we learn it was his brother, the favorite son, who actually did it. When Aoto takes his hand, he briefly sees the Divine Gate, but his subconscious delivers a shock of pain to his brother, who separates their hands and walks off, never to be seen again.

So Aoto isn’t the parent-killer. Yet I felt that absolving him so easily was an overly safe choice that sapped his character of darkness and complexity. Being messed up because you killed your parents, and being messed up because your brother did, are two different things.

But it’s because his brother is still out there, and he wants to see him again, that Aoto joins the academy. Also, because Akane and Midori were “annoying”.

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DanMachi – 03

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I don’t think there’s a relationship this Spring as good or as balanced as Hestia and Bell. Part of that greatness lies in its simplicity: both were alone and no one believed in them, until they found each other. Now that they’re together, they can do great things. But first Hestia had to break Bell out of his insistence he protect her, even at the cost of his own life. Her line after finally succeeding in this says it all:

I didn’t want to just watch, or you to just take care of me, or just to have you save me.

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First, the giant silverback stalking Hestia has to be dealt with. It looks like Bell is going to be bailed out by Ais, but in a clever bit of misdirection she’s actually slaying a different beast on the other side of town. Bell is saved by Hestia running the other way around and putting herself right back in harms way, which initially angers Bell.

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He grabs Hestia in his arms (which makes her very happy!) and they find a hiding spot, where Hestia is finally a able to present the “Hestia Knife” to him, promising him he’ll now have the strength to defeat the monster. All he has to do is keep his chin up, believe in himself, believe in her, and believe in them.

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I just wanted to pause and voice my appreciation for the producers’ restraint in building a beautiful yet not overly ecchi rapport between these two. They really come off more as soulmates than a goddess and her child, and they really do make each other better.

I’m also glad Bell has the good sense to listen to Hestia and not the voice inside his head demanding he be her sacrificial knight when that’s neither what she wants nor what’s best for him or her. Dying for her, after all, would only leave her alone again, going back on his promise.

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Having physically and emotionally charged Bell up and literally lent him her strength, Bell blasts out of his hiding spot like a bat out of hell, and suddenly the silverback seems slower and more plodding against his lightning-quick moves. Bell dodges its blows, smashes its chain and armor, and places a critical, surgical strike on its heart.

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The huge THUD and kicked-up cloud of dust is an immensely satisfying moment, as is the cheering of the crowd and Hestia’s warm embrace after a brief pause. But then Hestia goes down. I didn’t see this as being as bad as it looked (or as Bell thought it might be), considering she had stayed up to make his knife and expended a lot of energy. Up in the rooftops, Freya smirks, as Bell apparently passed her test, and she looks forward to their next meeting.

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Sure enough, Hestia just needs a lot of rest after a couple of very intense days. Bell dutifully guards the inn room lent to them courtesy of Syr and the landlady. Syr apologizes, as her lost wallet (which apparently wasn’t intentional) got Bell into this whole mess. She also works up the courage to tell him she fell in love with him for sure after his heroic display.

When Hestia wakes up, she gives Bell the quote above, and tells him she wants to help him in any way she can, and always will, because she loves him. Her words move him (and me, almost!) to tears, happy as he is to have someone in his life so devoted to him and only him. Also, two confessions in one day and an admiring look from Ais: Not a bad day’s work for Mr. Cranel!

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DanMachi – 02

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The increasingly symbiotic patron/servant arrangement between Bell and Hestia reminded me of Chaika in DanMachi’s first outing, but it’s second is all about its similarities to SAO—and not just because Bell has the same seiyu as Kirito, but the whole rpg-like setting, where experience and equipment matter, as do relationships. And it’s relationships that DanMachi excels at in the early going.

The dialogue is very leading at times, but it’s also heartfelt, moving, and quite solid in general, starting with Hestia’s little speech to Bell about her commitment to supporting him no matter what, so he needn’t be so rash. It’s not just their official arrangement she’s concerned about, but Bell himself: she doesn’t want to be left alone, and neither does he. This is an important break from SAO, where it took time for Kirito to trust, work with, and love others.

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There’s even a hearty helping of SAO-style arbitrary fanservice! Yes, despite her slight build, Hestia is quite well-endowed. I knew a girl like that in high school, and though I had to tip my hat, I also worried for her back.

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It’s also nice to see the show follow up on things like Bell running out on his bill, but being forgiven by the landlady thanks to the silver-haired Syr, who’s taken a liking to the white-haired rookie. Bell has a nice face and a kind heart, and he’s a classic underdog with hidden value, so it makes sense that he’d attract more than just Hestia, even if he’s as inexperienced with girls as he is in the dungeon.

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I have to applaud this episode not just for bringing the heart and the world-building and that comedy, but for delivering so much in one episode without overwhelming me. Just as Hestia tells Bell not to leave her alone, she leaves him alone to attend a Banquet of the Gods. Unfortunately, Nanami didn’t get a cameo. ;)

But the banquet does a very efficient and entertaining job of laying out the various gods in play here on DanMachi, from the fiery, plucky Loki (the Norse trickster god) to the floating-above-the-fray Freya (Norse goddess of love). Heck, even Ganesha is here, throwing an arena extravaganza.

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Ah, so that’s why she has such big boobs…so she has rhetorical ammo against those of lesser endowment who would mock her stature!

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While they spend the middle section of the episode apart, Bell is foremost on Hestia’s mind. She attended the banquet in hopes of bumping into Hephaistos (god of blacksmiths and other craftsmen and artisans), and prostrates herself and begs for Bell’s sake for her to make him a weapon to match his potential. Hephaistos is initially dubious, but sees Hestia’s devotion to her child and agrees, as long as she helps her make the knife, and promises to eventually pay for it.

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In a nice bit of misdirection Freya is initially portrayed as a neutral if not benevolent goddess, but shows her true colors in seeking out the new up-and-coming talent in Bell, whom Hestia hasn’t been able to keep under wraps. Here’s hoping Freya isn’t just a female Nobuyuki Sugou, and there’s some nuance to her impending villainy.

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As for Ais Wallenwhatsit (as Hestia amusingly refers to her), we only get the slightest glimpse of her, catching a glimpse of Bell in the crowd outside. Ais looks to be the Asuka to Bell’s Kirito (while Hestia is definitely a Suguha…and Syr a Lisbeth), but with the added twist that her goddess also seems interested in him, and perhaps not in a wholesome or honorable way—Freya is the god of sex, war, and death after all, and Ais is beholden to her.

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But meanwhile, Bell fights hard to protect Hesita, while Hestia works hard to support him, in a very sweet, equitable, believable relationship. Bell would probably see Hestia as his little sister were it not for the fact she’s a goddess, while Hestia seems to have more romantic feelings for Bell, in an inexperienced goddess-courting-a-mortal kinda way.

She insists they go out on a date for the Monsterphilia festival, and Bell can hardly refuse. Frankly, he’d be a fool to do so, even though he’s trying to get Syr’s wallet back to her. I wonder if Syr “forgot” it on purpose so her co-workers could put Bell on her trail?

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But the date goes sour when a beast (controlled by Freya) escapes the arena and goes after Hestia, forcing Bell into another fight he’s not ready for; he has to shake off his fear, and his regular weapon shatters against the beast’s hide. I have to say, the sudden shift in mood is very well done, thanks in part to a nifty chase scene and some truly kickass battle music that reminded me of GARO’s boss fights.

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What’s also great about Bell is that he’s not a fool. He knows he’ll win if he survives, as the landlady said, but he won’t abandon Hestia. That said, he also knows he probably can’t win this fight as he is now, but after getting Hestia to a safe place (though behind bars is a bit harsh), he decides he’ll at least buy her as much time as he can.

Little does he know as he runs from Hestia and towards the danger, that the blade Hestia made with Hephaistos; the one that can probably defeat Freya’s beast, is strapped to her back. She needs to keep reminding him that they’re in this together.

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DanMachi – 01 (First Impressions)

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My Spring 2015 opens with the charming Dungeon ni Deai wo Motomeru no wa Machigatteiru Darou ka, which almost immediately reminded me of Hitsugi no Chaika in a good way. The cold open is quick and efficient, setting up the god-and-mortal cooperation setup along with a battle in which the serious Saber-like girl (Ais) saves the somewhat Vaan-like mortal guy (Bell), who falls for her on the spot.

Besides this simple but effective reversal of the classic rescuing knight trope, one little detail I liked was how a outdoor merchant reacted to Bell running past, spattering minotaur blood on his stall. He doesn’t yell like I expected; instead, he holds back an amused teehee. This isn’t that a harsh world, and Bell is a bit of a lovable buffoon who bit off more than he could chew.

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Bell lives with his appropriately-named goddess Hestia (virgin goddess of the hearth and home), who is perhaps not so appropriately dressed, but I’ll give her medieval clubbing outfit a pass since she’s a goddess. Hestia is all Bell has, and he’s all she has, but he wants more, and while he’s growing bigger and stronger, she is unchanging in her goddessness.

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I’d say Hestia had a brother complex were it not for the fact Bell isn’t her real brother, but their relationship is very much familial rather than romantic, and while he happens to notice her not unsubstantial bust when he wakes up to her spooning him, it’s clear she’s the underdog against Ais, his new object of affection.

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Bell and Ais only meet face to face in that cold open, but she shows up again in a tavern where Bell is weaseled into buying a ridiculously expensive meal by Syr, one of its servers. There, he and everyone else watches in awe as the Loki familia to which Ais belongs swagger in to celebrate. One of its members has a big mouth and wants to put “tomato boy” Bell (whom he doesn’t know is sitting in there listening) in his place.

In his drunken mocking rant, this guy Bete rather conveniently lays bare all of Bell’s insecurities, namely the patriarchal drive to gain a lady’s favor and become worthy of her by protecting her. He’s also driven by the words of his late grandpa: a dungeon is the best place to meet and prove oneself to the fairer sex, which is an only slightly modernized take on a tale as old as time.

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Bell is clearly not strong enough yet to protect Ais, but simply crossing paths with her seemed to start him on a new and accelerated path of improvement. But when he runs out, unable to hear anymore harsh lip from Bete, I got the feeling that perhaps Bell won’t have to surpass Ais so much as catch up to her, that they might fight side-by-side, rather than one or the other being the hapless benefactor of the others’ strength. Bell certainly hasn’t captured her heart, but he has her attention.

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Bell’s sudden spurt in strength and ability is also something that worries Hestia, because it could mean he’ll drift further and further from her as he draws closer to Ais. But we see just how far Bell has to go when the overzealous brother figure returns home half-unconscious in the morning, utterly dependent on her care.

DanMachi has a hearty helping of J.C. Staff fanservice, and Bell seems to have “lucky dull guy syndrome”, but the first episode does a decent job easing us into its world of gods, magic, and Western names. The show is easy on the eyes and neither hits us with a barrage of terminology nor skimps on the fantasy charm. Overall, a promising start. I’m interested in how Bell gets closer to Ais, and how that’ll effect the nice thing he already has with Hestia.

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