Those Snow White Notes – 10 – A Little Longer

Sakura has made a special bento for Setsu on the day he’s to perform in the individual competition. Of forty entrants, he’s to perform 36th, meaning he’s been given a place reserved for competitors with proven skills. While set up to be bitter rivals Souichi continues to treat Setsu as a friend, sitting close beside him while eating his red bean rice.

We then learn something of a bombshell: Setsu’s dad is also Mai and Souichi’s dad! In fact Setsu is the only child related to Kamiki Ryuugen by blood, as Souichi and Mai are adopted. Kamiki has come to “ascertain his son’s skills”, clearly not ashamed even in his wife’s presence of his love child with Umeko.

As Yui thinks impure thoughts about Setsu and Mai (quickly shot down by Kouta, Sakura delivers her special lunch to Setsu, along with the best wishes from the entire shopping district. This seems to be the first time Sakura and Shuri encounter one another, and each regards the other as incredibly cute.

Umeko has her hired goons escort Kamiki to her, where she declares her father’s sound to belong to her, and as such she’ll never let him take Setsu and train him. Kamiki, on the other hand, has the opposite goal: he wishes Setsu to inherit his title. He and Umeko have a spirited argument, and neither is particularly interested in Setsu, only how he can help either of them expand their power.

After that, that’s pretty much it for Setsu & Co., as the episode shifts to the individual performances of Arakawa Ushio and Kaji Takaomi. Ushio is naturally daring and rebellious, and while his super-twangy performance isn’t enough to win, the sheer fun he was having playing rubs off on the audience in a big way.

Knowing if he sticks to what he did in the group stage, he won’t be able to summon the full measure of his musical potential, Takaomi is forced by Arakawa’s brash performance to swing for the fences himself. All who know him in the crowd can tell hes fiercer than usual.

Through Takaomi’s sound, Setsu envisions a fierce gale blowing down from the mountain peaks. But he’s also described as “a good kid trying to be rebellious.” Then his frikkin’ string snaps, and since a shamisen only has three, I imagine that’s enough to keep Takaomi out of the running.

But we knew from the get-go that neither Ushio nor Takaomi were going to win. That’s why we’re getting their performances now, rather than at the end when they’d have more of an impact. This somewhat lessons my interest in the episode, as neither of these kids makes much of an impression besides “confident brat” and “meek puppy dog.”

Like his birth father, I’m waiting for Setsu, and to see how he compares to Souichi. But I’m also as disappointed as Mai herself that she’s not able to compete in the individual, and thus diurectly against Setsu.

Those Snow White Notes – 09 – You Got Me All Excited

This week’s Captivating Shamisen Performance is the longest yet, clocking in at over seven minutes, but it also features the most shounen battle-style crosstalk by the most characters yet as well. I have to admit, there were times when I wished everyone would stop blabbering (in their heads or otherwise) so I could just listen properly!

Even so, since this is as much a shounen anime as a music one, especially during a fierce competition, there were just as many times when I appreciated the commentary. It turns out Setsu talked with Rai about employing Nagauta-style techniques normally reserved for theatre in their arrangement.

That’s the kind of simultaneously smart and bold tactic that makes Setsu a great leader of his group despite his staunchly soloist background. Having spent so much time with the other four, he knows their strengths and weaknesses and how to best harness the former while minimizing the latter.

For most of their piece, this angers Mai to no end, because it means Setsu is “playing in the shadows” by using his sound to support Kaito and the others. Compare that to her, who didn’t give a damn about the rest of her group and simply dared them to try to keep up.

After helping to make his team’s “ordinary” sound still sound better than all the other ordinary groups that came before, Setsu does eventually bring out his own cold, quiet, snowy sound, a sound that indeed captivates the crowd. It’s quite a journey, from cheering during their playing to being awed into silence by the end. Least impressed in the crowd is Umeko, who only set up this whole tournament to hear her father through her son.

After leaving the stage to raucous ovation, the groups’s very first post-performance high is exhilarating, only to be interrupted by Mai glaring ruefully at Setsu. She’s about to turn about and leave without saying a word, so Setsu speaks up instead, telling her her shamisen was “really stimulating” and “got me all excited.”

Mai’s (and Yui’s) faces go neon pink, but Mai shakes it off and is back to Miss Competitive. She won’t ever utter a compliment about Setsu’s playing, and vows never to forgive him for running away from Aomori. It’s all about winning and being the best for her; the opposite of her brother Souichi, who set aside their impending individual competition and enjoyed his new friend’s sound.

Similar to Souichi and with the additional quality of being far more of a normal young man is Kaji, who praises Setsu’s sound like an eager puppy. Contrast that to loud brash guy (Arakawa-something), who gave Setsu his life story unbidden and eliciting little more than a “huh?” from Setsu. Honestly, it’s an absolute crime that this guy (name forgotten) is in the Individuals while Mai isn’t.

The episode really nails the intense anxiety and tension that comes in the moments before the winners are announced. Only six of the 22 teams get an award and the rest leave with nothing but competition XP. While Setsu’s team initially worries they failed to place, they’re somehow even more crestfallen when they come in third.

Mai’s team beats them, but they still only place second to Kaji’s team. While Setsu and Rai were carrying Kaito, Shuri and Yui on their shoulders and Mai and her teammates basically fought each other, Kaji’s teammates complemented each other perfectly. They truly were the best all-round ensemble.

Setsu & Co. get a brief respite from their third-place despair when they’re awarded the Judges’ Special Award for having the greatest effect on the crowd. But once they’re again off the stage and preparing to leave, their spirits have fallen again. Neither Koyabu-sensei nor Oodawara can shake their blues over losing to Mai’s team by just one point and Kaji’s by only three—that’s a close freakin’ margin!

But the adults in the room are right: Kaito, Shuri, and Yui in particular should be extremely proud of themselves, while Setsu should be commended for helping such green players place third in the entire dang country. Back home at the tenement house while having an understated celebration with his brother and his friend, Setsu lets Sakura know he appreciates how much she’s always doing for him.

At this point, I wanted him to invite her to join them—not as the daughter of the landlord, but as a friend—but instead they part ways, with Sakura quietly wishing him luck in the Individuals. Here’s hoping he doesn’t screw it up!

DanMachi III – 12 (Fin) – The Hero (and the Status Quo) Returns

As Asterius walks along Daedalus Street in search of the “ultimate adversary” of his dreams, Hermes clarifies his request for the Xenos to “die”. Rather, he’ll need some of them to die by Bell’s hands, so that Bell’s honor and reputation can be restored. Whatever else Hermes is planning, Bell continuing to be the beloved Little Rookie is a big part of it.

Gros and three others decide to acquiesce to Hermes’ request, and make a big show of attacking a square full of civilians and adventurers. With this “stage production”, Hermes is conceding that Ouranos’ desire for humans and monsters to achieve piece was little more than a pipe dream. He just can’t see thousands of years of continuous enmity ever ceasing.

The moment Eina is threatened by Gros (who I believe is being berserk-ified by Asfi), Bell comes between them, and Gros’ inner voice hopes Bell will defeat him before he kills her. But Bell isn’t altogether interested in playing the exact role Hermes laid out for him.

Rather than raise his blade to Gros, he simply puts his arms up and serves as Eina’s human shield. Gros ends up shoving him back. That’s when a frustrated Hermes has Asfi berserk-ify Asterius, who flies at Bell like a bat out of hell and presses a vicious, building-smashing attack.

Bell somehow manages to hang in there, and DanMachi’s Big Battle Theme starts to play as their epic duel carries through the night and into the dawn. Unfortunately, while the battle is quick, brutal, and fun, it also can’t really hold a T to Bell’s duel with Ais. In addition to Ais being easier on the eyes, it was more satisfying on both a thematic and character level.

Asterius’ whole deal is that Bell apparently beat him once, and he wanted another shot at him, and…that’s it. Everyone else allows the battle to unfold without interruption in part due to Ottarl, operating on Freya’s wishes. Asterius ends up delivering a huge defeat to Bell, and even though the battle served a purpose—both to rehabilitate his public image and serve as cover for the Xenos’ escape—Bell is still super upset about losing.

Satisfied that their head-to-head record stands at one win and one loss apiece, Asterius withdraws. We later see his arm is restored, as Fels heals all of the Xenos injuries once they arrive in Knossos. Wiene is happy where she is and not crying over missing Bell, and the Xenos have a new haven in which to survive and maybe even thrive…just separately from humans for the foreseeable future.

I can’t help but be a little disappointed that more effort wasn’t spent trying to move the peace process forward, but at least from Bell’s perspective part of the reason that process failed was he just wasn’t strong enough. Even though he beat Bell, Asterius isn’t standing still, and continues training the moment he’s healed.

Bell too returns to the battlements of the castle where he and Ais have met and trained so many times, and is surprised when she too arrives at that spot, telling him she had a feeling he’d be there. Bell asks Ais once more to teach him how to fight. He wants to become stronger, and their friendship remains strong enough to have survived the recent adversity.

Alderamin on the Sky – 13 (Fin)

ald131

Ikta is able to complete his mission of covering for the main Imperial forces’ retreat while besting his Kiokan rival Jean Arquinex in a match of wits, drawing deep to create a multi-layered plan to outwit the young major. Because the safety of his men is more important to outright victory, everyone is behind Ikta.

ald132

Major Jean notices the obvious fire trap in plain sight, but fails to see the larger trap hiding beneath it; Ikta’s men springing out of the straw, blinding and slaughtering their horses. Most importantly, Jean wrongly assumed his opponent would try to fight him for control of the battlefield, but Ikta’s strategy eliminated all control for everyone, creating chaos.

How Jean handles this chaos betrays his lack of experience, despite his military brilliance. He is so obsessed with control, losing it knocks him off balance. In the negotiations that ensue, he also wrongly assumes the Igsem soldier is in charge, and also wrongly assumes that he’s safe.

Ikta’s resulting bluff, placing a light target on Jean’s chest for a Torway sniper who isn’t really out there, and his explanation for why he’s not in violation of military law, works really well. Ikta is at his scrappiest, and while he does sweat, he never lets Jean see it (what with the glare from all the bright lights).

ald133

Jean knows he was bested, this time, and wants to know more about the man who did it, and what he’s fighting for. He’s outraged when Ikta tells him he cares not for protecting his country, only its people, and gets even more steamed when Ikta warns Jean if he keeps up his blind loyalty to country, that country will suck him dry and toss him aside. Definitely seems like setup for a rematch in a future season, if we get one.

Whatever may be ahead for Alderamin, I’m glad the Northern Campaign is wrapped up here, and I especially like how glad Princess Chamille is to see her knights, and Ikta in particular, return safe and sound, even compromising propriety to give him a big ol’ hug.

ald134

We also learn in this final week why it is Chamille wanted, nay needed Ikta to return so badly, which has been hinted throughout the series by her narration. Chamille has bigger plans for Ikta, and needs him to utlitze his considerable talents and the support of his comrades and friends to keep rising up in the Imperial ranks…so he can lose the war with Kioka.

Chamille is young, but not stupid, or ignorant: her empire is rotting from the inside out, and it must be purified. The mission she gives Ikta, which could consume many of the best years of his life, is to become the leader Imperial military, then lose the war “the right way”, allowing the outside influence of Kioka clean out the Empire without losing its unique culture.

“Fight until we lose!” is a novel slogan and a nice subversion of the usual notion of fighting for victory. Here, it’s almost as if we’re on the side of the bad guys, who know they’re bad and want to change for the better. If anyone enact that change, it’s Ikta, but it won’t be easy.

He worries not only about coming into conflict with Yatori, but dragging her into such a conflict in the first place; any conflict where the Empire loses. This season appropriately ends with Ikta and Yatori leaning on one another in the moonlight, and Ikta affirming their devotion to one another first and foremost.

I haven’t heard anything about a second season yet, but if it were to continue I would absolutely watch it. After all, the epic chronicle of the Invincible Lazy General, the Heir to the Twin Blades, and the Last Princess seems to be just getting started. It would be a shame if the tale ended here.

16rating_8