Overlord II – 05

Following his thorough intimidation of the Lizardmen, Lord Ains and his guardians travel to his newly-built forest stronghold. He learns it comes with a super-creepy throne made partially from human bones, and decides he’ll finally dole out Shalltear’s punishment by sitting on her.

Shalltear turning the intended pain into naughty pleasure, combined with Albedo’s violently jealous outburst in the next room, are both examples of OverLord silliness at its best. Things get even sillier when Ains uses a spell to see inside one of the village’s huts, only to catch Zaryusu and Crusch doing the nasty.

The Lizardmen elders and warriors, including Zaryusu, make their one last desperate stand against Cocytus, and are (figuratively) disarmed by his polite and respectful demeanor before being disarmed (literally), halved, and riddled with icy projectiles.

The comedy shifts from the silly to black, as Cocytus calmly, quietly explains how not a single one of his opponents’ magical or physical attacks will have the slightest effect on him; they’re simply too low a level to put a dent in his Guardian-class defenses.

That doesn’t stop Zaryusu & Co. from charging forward, even if it’s right into their grisly deaths. Zaryusu is the last to be killed, but Cocytus promises he’ll remember his name and that of his brothers as the names of warriors.

Back at base, Cocytus is praised for his victory by Lord Ains, and suggests the bodies of the dead Lizardmen be used for undead research. Cocytus makes a counter-proposal: raise Zaryusu, who had been such a valiant fighter, from the dead.

Something like that is well within Ains’ mighty means, but he wishes to make it a transaction, and so asks Crusch to spy on the other Lizardmen in exchange for the resurrection of her lover. (Her momentary assumption he wanted her body enrages both Albedo and Shalltear.)

Crusch agrees, and Zaryusu is brought back to life, and yet even here OverLord doesn’t shy away from having a bit of a laugh; Zaryusu’s speech is all high-pitched and messed-up, like he didn’t quite come back 100% right (rest will apparently restore his former gravitas).

But Ains got what he wanted: the allegiance of the Lizardmen tribes, and a mole who will alert him if that allegiance ever wavers, secured by a “spell” (in reality just a lie) that will kill Zaryusu if Crusch ever betrays him. All in all, some shrewd maneuvering by His Skullfaceiness.

Overlord II – 04

The Lizardmen are allowed to bask in their victory over an army of the undead for an evening, while back at Nazarick the Great One Ains Ooal Gown is debriefing Cocytus before his other guardians.

Momonga got what he wanted: Cocytus forms an original thought—that he doesn’t want to exterminate the Lizardmen. But when he can’t come up with a good reason to spare them, Demiurge comes through with an alternative plan: they’ll make the Lizardmen an experiment in rule without fear.

Everything is going according to Ains’ plans, and his guardians think that’s only natural, but privately, Momonga is excited at the prospect of his guardians learning independent thought and gaining experience through defeat…not that he likes defeat.

That much is clear the next day when he shows up with an enormous magically-armored undead army, catching the still celebratory Lizardmen unawares.

Ains himself shows up, and makes quite an entrance, freezing an entire lake, using Gargantua to throw a huge cube of rock into the middle of it, then having his grunts form an undead staircase.

Ains climbs to the top of the rock with his retinue of guardians, proud as you please, and when Zaryusu and his brother meet them in the lake, Demiurge has them prostrate themselves.

Zaryusu knows he and his people are at the mercy of Ains and his forces, and that they don’t have a hope of victory against such power. However, he also presumes the Great One does not intend to utterly exterminate his people, but wants a proper battle to make things interesting.

If that requires a few sacrificial lambs, with him among them, Zaryusu can live with that, even if it distresses the woman he loves. He asks that she put up with his selfishness this once and hold out hope he’ll come back from the battle in one piece. She seems willing to go along with this…IF he impregnates her first. Love: it’s all about give-and-take.

Overlord II – 03

In order to build great things, one must construct a solid foundation. The first two episodes accomplished that. At first, I wondered why all of a sudden we were so immersed in the lives and politics of a bunch of Lizardmen. Then, when I got to know a few of them, I became emotionally invested in their fate, even rooting for their victory against the armies of Cocytus, even though Cocytus is a servant of our ostensible protagonist, Momonga.

What was made clear this week is that not only was it well worth all the table-setting, which I enjoyed far more than I ‘endured’; but that Momonga and his court were given heightened mystique by being pushed into the background, such that every time we cut to them (which wasn’t often, or for a very long duration), it felt like an occasion.

Things start out small, with Zaryusu earning Zenberu’s trust and an alliance after fighting him one-on-one. Crusch heals both, and after returning to Zaryusu’s brother Green Claw, the five assembled tribal leaders have a strategy meeting.

The enemy outnumbers them over three to one. Zenberu is confident every lizard can take out three zombies or skeletons each, but they have to plan carefully to avoid being routed. Zaryusu forms an elite squad with Crusch, Zenberu, and his trusty hydra Rororo, to face the enemy commander when they show themselves.

Cocytus orders his army to advance, and Ains Ooal Gown seems slightly disappointed that things aren’t going the way he hoped, and that’s all we see of him. From here on in, it’s all battle, which means it’s all payoff for the careful preparation of the previous two episodes.

The Lizardmen send out their forces to meet the undead army, while their magical units efficiently keep the foes at bay. Cocytus confides in Demiurge for advice on how to proceed (that is, how to salvage what is starting to resemble a defeat on the field); Demiurge muses that their great lord meant to give Cocytus a weak army and a wide berth in hopes it would promote his awareness.

Cocytus is ready to take his medicine, but first sees how his reserves will fare, led by the Elder Lich Iguva, who launches huge fireballs in Zaryusu’s direction, helpfully revealing to the elite unit the position of the enemy leader.

Zaryusu decides upon a direct frontal assault, using Rororo’s bulk to shield himself, Crusch, and Zenberu. Once close enough, Zenberu starts carving up the reserves while Zaryusu faces off against Iguva, who is a formidable opponent from any range. It’s too bad none of the Lizardmen had Holy magic!

For a moment, Iguva has Zaryusu caught trapped in a Scare spell, but Crusch comes through in the clutch and breaks him out with Lion Heart, in addition to healing Zaryusu’s wounds. Good to see Crusch can hold her own on the battlefield, and indeed plays a vital role keeping Zaryusu up and running.

Iguva is full of hubris until the end, when he wrongfully assumes Zaryusu foolishly unleashed the full power of his Icy Burst against him (as a lich he’s immune to ice). However, the ice was only meant to provide cover for Zaryusu’s attack from above, stabbing Iguva through the eye.

After a struggle, Iguva is vanquished, and the Lizardmen are victorious, in what was a hard-hitting, heart-pounding, perfectly-paced battle. From his base, Cocytus congratulates the Lizardmen; it was a very close victory, but a win’s a win.

Not only that, the battle forced the Lizardmen to give up their tribal squabbles, come together, and sacrifice for the sake of their race’s survival. I would think they would continue in peace the unity that was forged by the threat of annihilation, while Zaryusu and Crusch, having come out of the battle in one piece, are poised to marry.

Overall, this episode was as satisfying, complete victory; a sure-handed execution of an intricately-constructed, multi-layered story in which the lines of heroes and villains are blurred. I’m eager to see what Lord Ains has planned next—and for whom.

RokuAka – 12 (Fin)

Rock Bottom: Leos threatens a frightened Sistine into submission; if it means protecting Rumia, she’ll marry him; sure, whatever. Rumia visits the absent Glenn, who say’s he’s got this. But then the day of Sistine’s sham wedding arrives, with no Glenn in sight. Sisti is resplendent in her nuptial white, but her face is a mask. Rumia and Re=L aren’t fooled; Leos is a Bad Man. But where the heck is their hero?

Ah, there he is. Just when Leos is about to plant a kiss on Sistine’s lips to seal the deal, he bursts in to object to and cancel the wedding. Sistine, who had worked so hard to steel herself, and isn’t convinced Rumia will be safe if she doesn’t do as Leos says, is initially upset about being saved.

But Glenn insists he’s got this. When hordes of Angel Dust addict puppets appear, things start to feel a lot like the battle he fought years ago; the one in which Sara died. Meanwhile, Sisti gets a front-row seat to some bloody, intense professional mage shit…and she’s not steeled for that.

When Leos turns out not to be Leos, but a former fellow Mage Corpse Executioner, Jatice Lowfan (dumb name), who tells them the real Leos died horribly, Glenn again orders Sistine to get the hell out of here; she doesn’t belong in this world.

She obeys, but after slipping in her long, bloodsoaked gown, she remembers how much she cares for Glenn and isn’t willing to let him kill himself in some random fight for which he already carries emotional baggage.

She tears away excess fabric so she can run and saves Glenn from a critical hit in the nick of time. She knows she doesn’t belong in this world…but neither does he. She’s taking him back where they both belong.

Glenn and Sisti form a two-man cell and proceed to hand Jatice his ass-tice, even ruining his lovely summoned esper, Justia. Jatice straight up wasn’t expecting Sistine to join the battle; not when he was sure he’d sufficiently messed up in the head with the Leos wedding ordeal.

So yeah, it’s another villain who simply underestimates the power of Sisti, Glenn, or the combination of the two. He admits defeat this time and strolls off…but of course, This Isn’t Over…Jatice is after the titular Akashic Records that allow their owner to essentially rule the world, and he thinks he has to get rid of Glenn with his own hands to do so.

As bad guys go, Jatice is pretty lame; as his his name. But the threat he poses will surely drive a chunk of a second season, if RokuAka ever gets one (I’ve heard no plans). Nevertheless, the re-reconciliation between Sisti and Glenn, and in particularly Sisti overcoming her fear, saving Glenn rather than vice versa, and fighting by his side made for a satisfying tentative conclusion.

RokuAka was far from perfect, but it featured a great core of highly likable, rootable characters which kept things entertaining and made it easier to overlook the fact the show’s not that great-looking. Not only that, but starting with its first episode, it’s always had a great way with its audience, balancing comedy, drama, and outright peril with wry aplomb. If a Season 2 ever surfaces, sign me up.

RokuAka – 11

Glenn and Leos’ duel for Sistine’s hand in marriage (ostensibly) is realized as a battle between the two teachers’ classes. Class 4 is far stronger than Class 2 and Leos is way more bookish than Glenn, so everyone assumes it will be a cakewalk, but Leos does whatever it takes to win, employing tactics deemed shameful by the elites of the academy.

Frankly, it’s all a big snoozer for me. I don’t mind hearing about magical tactics in theory, but in practice it leaves much to be desired. There’s way too much pace-killing, shounen-style explanation of what’s happening for my taste, and the mechanics of the fighting itself are clunky and kinda all over the place.

Fortunately, the battle isn’t the entire episode. It ends in a draw, which I should have expected. Leos, embarrassed by the performance of his class, isn’t satisfied, and throws another glove at Glenn. Sistine tries to cut in and put a stop to the pissing match, but is ignored, as Glenn goes off about wanting to marry into money.

It’s a bit too much for someone who doesn’t know he’s only joking—who Sistine unfortunately happens to be—and Glenn receives a slap and “I hate you” from her for his conduct.

But we know there’s a very good reason Glenn is going so far; and Rumia (who also knows) urges Sisti to find out what that is from Glenn himself, noting to herself she must talk with him too about the “weird aura” surrounding Leos.

While reflecting on the roof, Glenn is met by Sistine, and she gets the answers she seeks in the form of an abridged tale of Glenn and Sara, the girl he “let die” while on duty in the Imperial Mages.

Sisti doesn’t think Glenn’s been particularly mature in letting his emotions drive him, but she also admits she’s touched by his desire to preserve her dream. She also has no idea just how thoroughly and ruthlessly Leos intends to crush that dream once she’s agreed to marry him.

As in serious battles against pros in the past, Sistine Fibel is utterly unprepared, physically and mentally, for the shitshow she’s found herself in. This isn’t merely a pissing contest between two guys who are into her. It’s a battle between someone with her interests at heart and someone who essentially wants to enslave her, body and soul.

She learns Leos’ true colors when he joins her and Glenn on the roof, gets Glenn upset by bringing up the bloody details of his past, and then overpowers him with an ability that bypasses “The Fool’s World”, which is literally Glenn’s trump card. At this point, Leos is beyond any kind of airs, promising Sistine both she and her friends will suffer if she doesn’t marry and submit to him.

The next morning, Glenn doesn’t show up for the duel, and a narrating Sistine laments that Glenn never returned to the academy. That either means Glenn has returned to his life of post-tragedy seclusion and deprivation, in which case he’ll need a serious talk from someone to get back into the game and rescue Sisti, or he’s gone off to plan a defense against Leos so he can properly rescue Sisti. We’ll see which Glenn shows up next week—if he shows up at all.

RokuAka – 10

After a super-clunky third mini-arc finale, RokuAka rebounds with a strong opening for the fourth, albeit one somewhat hampered by a very obvious Wolf-in-Self-described-Fiancee’s-Clothing.

We start with a little housekeeping: Re=L enjoys a nice warm conciliatory dinner at Sistine and Rumia’s folks’; Celica travels to the depths of the library to peruse a map of what looks like Melgalius’s Sky Castle (hey, they didn’t forget about that!).

In that same library, Glenn thanks Sistine for saving him with Reviver, making her remember her mouth-to-mouth, which causes her to turn red as a hot poker.

All of this is preamble to the main event: the arrival of handsome young elite professor, Leos Kleitos, sent to fill in for a Alzano professor on leave. Leos also introduces himself as Sistine’s fiancee, going off of what Sisti believed to be just joking around when they were both kids—but Leos takes their childish promise seriously, and will harbor no dissent.

If Glenn is jealous, he copes by expressing shock that such a fine upstanding man such as Leo could possibly fall for such an “impertinent white cat”—a case of the pot calling the kettle black if I ever heard one. He sits in on Leo’s lecture, which is impeccable in its goal of clearly, succinctly teaching students how to become as powerful as possible as fast as possible.

But that’s just it: Leo is teaching students, not necessarily recruits for the magical branch of the military. He’s teaching them how to use these powers, but leaving out how not to let them use them, something that fits more with Glenn’s philosophy. The contrast isn’t lost on Rumia, who almost seems to read Glenn’s mind about his disapproval of Leos’ approach.

Leos also finds in his private chat with Sistine that not only is she not someone who’s simply been standing around waiting for him to come and sweep her off her feet; she’s one of those students not necessarily interested in becoming a solider. Indeed, she’s still very much committed to keeping her promise to her gramps and exploring the Sky Castle.

Apparently oblivious to the irony of someone who puts so much weight in what Sistine said as a young girl about marrying him one day, Leos dismisses her dreams of pursuing magical archaeology as worthless in no uncertain terms. And this is where Leo’s calm facade shatters: to him Sisti is someone who should fawn before him, accept his offer of marriage without hesitation, and let him hone her into a powerful military weapon.

Glenn, eavesdropping not on his own but at Rumia’s behest, can only take so much of Leo’s verbal abuse before he leaps from the bushes. Leo tells him to mind his own business, but it’s Sisti who says it is his business, for she and Glenn are “lovers who have sworn our future to each other!” The announcement comes as a bit of a surprise to Glenn (and everyone) but it’s really a long time coming.

Sisti has feelings for Glenn, and has deemed he’s worthy of them. And Glenn is quick to swoop in and accept the mantle of lovers, perhaps going a bit far with details, but all in the noble service of irritating Leo. By the end of the confrontation, Glenn has challenged Leo to a duel.

And just as he lobbed barbs at Sisti when he saw that Leo wanted her, Glenn looks forward to one day marrying Sisti, which means marrying into money, which means not having to leave the house or work. It’s a veneer of the old bastard, but I’m not buying it anymore, and I’m not really meant to. It’s just how he confronts the world.

Albert can see through him too, but for a reason that only the OP had spent much time hinting at: Sistine reminds Glenn of his and Albert’s old comrade, Sara Silvers. We don’t get a clear look at Sara’s face, but we do see the similar hair and the fact Glenn calls her “White Dog” and blushes in her presence.

It’s clear Glenn had feelings for Sara, but she was apparently killed in action while they were on a mission to eliminate a drug called “Angel’s Dust”, which Al has on authority is somehow back and in the city. Angel’s Dust can apparently turn people into “ruined husks for others to control”, which sounds right up the RDW’s alley…along with Leo, for that matter.

But it’s also made clear that Leo was also putting on an act at the academy, and that it was his job to get Glenn to challenge him to a duel. He succeeded, and his shadowy contact—who I’m going to go out on a limb and guess is related to Glenn by the look of him—is happy about that…which can’t be good.

But more on that next week. Till then, we’ve learned the depth of affection Sistine has come to feel for Glenn after all their harrowing adventures, and that won’t change just because a prettier face from her past shows up. Also, maybe Rumia doesn’t get kidnapped this time, yeah?!

Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 06

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Perhaps energized by their new status as lovers, Stella and Ikki dispatch their opponents with ease in their respective selection matches. Stella still has to deal with Shizuku glomming onto Ikki, and Ikki has yet to set his sister straight (perhaps because he doesn’t realize the extent to which she likes him), but there’s a new problem: Ikki has a stalker girl!

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Thankfully, she’s not a stalker, she’s just bad at looking at or talking to men. She’s Ayatsuji Ayase, the daughter of a famous swordsman who Ikki worships and whos style he knows of. Ayase has a good reason for coming to Ikki: having seen what he can do in the matches, she wants to train with him to get her out of her rut. If this sounds a lot like Kirin and Ayato training in Gakusen Toshi Asterisk, well, I’m with you in my continued astonishment by how often the shows echo one another.

In this case, since Ayase is older and a third-year, she’s not the Little Sister-type like Kirin, but rather the (slightly) Older Woman-type. Despite her mentioning her discomfort with men, Ikki gets right down to business putting his hands up and down her legs in order to adjust her stance. Stella and Shizuku are mortified, Ayase is embarrased and beet-red, but Ikki is very clinical about the whole thing, and doesn’t once express arousal by what he’s doing.

And dagnabbit, his adjustments pay instant dividends for Ayase’s fighting style. Her attempts to exactly copy her father, someone of the opposite sex, was what was holding her back. She needs to capitalize on the strengths her female body to improve.

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Ayase is amazed by her improvement and ebullient in her gratitude, to the point of possibly coming off as romantically interested in Ikki, despite him having no idea or desire for such a thing. Stella asks Shizuku if she’s okay with this, but it’s a question that could just as easily be asked of her. That’s when Shizuku states that as long as the person Ikki is with makes him happy and never betrays him, she’ll be okay with it.

Of course, Shizuku’s not talking about Ayase, but Stella. Only problem is, Shizuku still thinks she’s the best woman for the job, despite being his sister. Ikki, however, is a lot more certain. He touched Ayase as a doctor or therapist would; that’s it. Stella is the only girl he likes. And if she wants his hand and a kiss in the middle of the night, she—and only she—gets them. And she’d probably get more, if she asked.

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With that fact reiterated, Stella joins Ikki in training Ayase, who treats them to dinner to thank them. That’s when the subject of why she needs to get stronger and become a Seven Star finalist. One big reason might be the guy who walks into the restaurant (Wagnaria?) with his entourage of floozies and toadies: Karaudo, who picks on Ayase, then bashes Ikki’s head with a bottle and spits in his face when Ikki comes to her defense.

Stella wants to jack Karaudo up, but Ikki stops her, and does nothing to retaliate himself, leaving Karaudo free to take off with his posse in a cloud of insults at what a cowardly punk he is. But even if Ikki wanted to fight back, to do so would probably get him expelled, so he endures. I mean, his life isn’t all that bad; he has a badass live-in girlfriend, a cute sister, and a beautiful training partner. And Alice! Enduring a little bullying is a small price to pay, right?

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A couple of student council members were watching the whole thing, just waiting for Ikki to make a move, then commending him for not. The whole incident leads Ikki and Stella to want to know what’s going on with Ayase and those douchebags. But before she can tell them, she and Ikki get simultaneous texts: they’ll be fighting each other in the next selection match. That’s…unlucky.

Now Ikki is in a tough spot: he promised he’d help Ayase become stronger, but Ayase only wants to become stronger to progress in the Seven Star Battle; if he beats her, it will ruin her. But he also promised Stella they’d be the last two fighters standing, and that promise must take precedence.

After briefly consulting with Alice (a nice scene between the two that shows how good an adviser Alice is with everyone, not just Shizuku), Ikki decides to accept Ayase’s ominous rooftop invitation, where she stands wearing a kimono and an enigmatic grin. If her goals are as important as they seem to be, and Ikki is in her way, this could be the beginning of the end of their friendship, which despite having just begun this week, still feels like a loss I’d lament.

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Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 05

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RKC is full of surprises. I never thought I’d be awarding two nines in a row to it, but it showed this week, categorically, that the excellent handling of Stella and Ikki’s confession wasn’t a fluke; that wonderful romance is here to stay, and there’s lots of room to grow.

But there were sure to be bumps in the road, and the first is that they’ve been lovers for two weeks…but haven’t done anything. That seems to bother Stella more than Ikki, but as we eventually find out, that’s not the case at all. It’s another common romantic convention: both lovers waiting for the other to start something and getting frustrated by it. Yet it’s another convention RKC picks up and runs with, showing how potent and relatable idea it can be.

While they’ve been lovers doing nothing for two weeks, Ikki has only risen in school standing, no longer the Worst One, but “Another One” (that’s not really his nickname, is it?). The girls swarm around him wanting lessons in swordsmanship; a group of guys gets jealous, but he beats them so easily they become his loyal students, a nice change of pace from the typical “you’ll regret this!” storming off that even the reporter mentions.

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The group of students he’s teaching keep growing along with his popularity, and while Stella is probably proud of him and admiring of his generosity, there’s no doubt she’s getting nudged out of chunks of time he could be with her.

Also Shizuku, as it turns out, hasn’t quite given up on him, or at least intends to make life difficult for Stella if she fails to assert herself. I particularly liked Shizuku’s ear-to-ear grin as Stella must follow through and chug her two bottles of Pocari Sweat.

Another great moment was when Alice lent Stell a game whose protagonist looks and sounds very similar, if not identical, minus the glasses, to Ikki. Her “illicit” vicarious play hearkens back to that great scene where she can’t help but touch Ikki’s chest while he’s sleeping.

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When Ikki takes his class to the pool, he invites Stella along. When she angrily wonders why he doesn’t want to teach her, he gives a very good explanation that not only appeases but flatters her: her ability is beyond anything can teach her, that his style would undermine her strengths, and he wants her, over any other, to continue to go beyond his imagination.

But the fact of the matter is, nothing continues to happen, and Stella is forced into the background as he teaches the others. The reporter puts two and two together, threatens to ask Ikki out, then gets Stella to let slip they’re lovers going nowhere. The reporter’s advice is simple: be forceful and tell him what you want. But of course, it’s not that simple.

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The reporter’s talk with Stella mirrors Alice’s talk with Shizuku, and in this case Alice has valuable insight into the male mind, since he shares their biology, if not that identity. The episode cleverly cuts between the two discussions, Archer-style. It’s also notable that Alice, hardly a conservative, doesn’t think Shizuku’s love for her brother is necessarily wrong, and that she shouldn’t accept defeat just yet.

Still, that’s because Alice is rooting for her beloved friend and roommate. In reality, Ikki is very much in love with Stella, and vice-versa. When the two come together, Ikki starts to talk in a way that Stella interprets as a break-up. The two have their first lovers’ quarrel, and it’s a damn fine one, with the two of them belting out increasingly reasonable things even as they get unreasonably upset with one another.

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Brass tacks: Ikki didn’t make the first move because he was worried she’d think he was a dirty man; Stella didn’t because she was worried he’d think she was a slut. They’re both wrong; both want the other to make a move. So they agree to say the thing they want to do right there and then, and it’s the same thing: kiss. Ikki makes it clear he wants her to ask him for a kiss when she wants one; Stella lets him know she only likes it when one guy looks at her in a naughty way: him.

Having cleared a common hurdle at the start of relationships when the two parties are still feeling each other’s patterns and ways of doing things out, they confidently hold hands on the bus ride home, each knowing a lot more what the other expects, and likely feeling foolish for ever worrying about it. Some tough battles with the Evil Student Council executives lay ahead for both of these lovers, but they won’t have to worry about what the other wants anymore.

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Charlotte – 13 (Fin)

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As we open on the Charlotte finale, the situation is dire and the task ahead for Yuu—locate and steal the ability of every person in the world—seems impossible. But the show wisely infuses dark comedy into the mix, like Yuu fumbling with his English flash cards, and the task starts to get easier with every ability he steals, including mind-reading and the ability to speak any language early on.

Yuu becomes even more of superhero badass as he travels the world, getting in, plundering, and getting out. He even earns a nickname: “The One-Eyed Grim Reaper (Shinigami)”, which he’s a bit embarrassed about.

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But he’s not just stealing powers from criminals or people like he used to be who only use them for selfish purposes. He also has to steal from the likes of a Peruvian girl with healing powers, helping her village stay healthy. He pillages her power without hesitation, then realizes he can heal his eye, go back in time, and bring Kumagami back. But remembering how far he’s come, and the primary goal of his mission, he abandons such a move as mission creep.

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As he moves around the world gathering tens of thousands of abilities, he becomes stronger and better at it, but at a steep cost: his memories short and long term, along with his very sanity. The episode follows him in a similar manner to when Ayumi died and he started falling. This time his intentions are honorable, and he’s literally saving the world and thousands of young people from horrible fates, but the toll on his individuality and soul are no less severe.

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The one thing that seems to anchor him to the past he can’t see anymore are Nao’s flash cards. Even though he doesn’t remember who gave them to him or why he treasures them so much, a part of him always wakes up when he focuses on them. Nao isn’t watching over him this time, but by giving him those cards, she is the sole reason he doesn’t totally lose himself or, while in the Arizona desert at the end of his tether, doesn’t give up completely.

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While a single episode could never do the scale of his mission justice, and the speed with which Yuu reaches his final target, a girl in Beijing, the efficiency, excitement, humor, and breathlessness of his journey that takes place this week and only this week can’t be overstated.

He’s literally limping on a walking stick when a lowlife seeking a bounty and an easy life starts firing crossbow bolts into his back, but the very girl Yuu is after is able to save Yuu by stalling his attacker. Yuu suspects her ability is immense courage, but even after he steals it, she still requires convincing that it’s alright to leave him. After all, he’s not as weak as he looks.

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The minute his mission is finally accomplished, he’s picked up by Shun & Co. in a police helicopter and brought home. When he wakes up in the hospital, he’s told he’ll survive his injuries. He’s told this by a pretty silver-haired girl with blue eyes sitting by his bed. Someone who, to him, in that moment, is a total stranger.

Nao introduces herself as his lover, and goes over their history together, right up until his promise to come home. Because he was successful, Nao holds up her end of the bargain, and while she’s truly hurt he doesn’t remember her, she’s just happy he came back in one piece and of otherwise sound mind, something that was by no means certain after the stress of absorbing so many powers.

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The show doesn’t make it clear whether Yuu’s memories are gone for good, or whether they’ll return once his body and mind get enough rest. Not plundering any more powers will certainly be good. But regardless, Yuu lets himself fit right back into the family he left behind, and Nao keeps her camcorder going. If his old memories won’t come back, then he’ll just have to make new ones with Ayumi, Yusa, Takajou, and Ayumi.

And there you have it! All in all, a very solid ending, if not quite Charlotte’s absolute best. All I asked was that Yuu and/or Nao survive the series, and they do, and the ambiguity of Yuu’s memory loss and the fact he’s happy to be back and start having fun again lends the right amount of hope that things are going to be just fine. Not a perfect ending, but a happy and satisfying one. And another faith-reinforcing triumph by Maeda Jun and P.A. Works.

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Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 08

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Who is Kusanagi Motoko? It’s a question ARISE has been constantly asking, and which she herself asks, now that this latest arc has become her most personal yet. By the end of last week’s installment, it was pretty darned evident that her love Akira was mixed up in some unsavory conspiracy with Dr. Theid and Col. Hozuki.

A question asked parallel to this is “Who is Scylla?”, a question everyone seems to want to know the answer to except Motoko and her former comrade Kurtz, who gives her a gun with a familiar mark carved into the grip, and the task of “burying” Scylla for good.

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In an interesting choice by the animators, Motoko spends most of this episode wearing hot pants instead of her usual pants, perhaps to accentuate the fact her right leg is still not quite behaving properly thanks to Fire-Starter. She even shows up in a smoking ball gown, indicating whoever she is, she wants to embrace her femininity and have fun with Akira even as suspicion about him continues to mount. Akira says he was drawn to her by her desire, through customization, to make her prosthetic body her own.

Akira’s work, the fruits of which are shown when he and Motoko attend a wedding between two elderly people in brand new young skins, are following a similar path as Motoko: blurring the lines between the technological and the organic. He also considers Motoko’s body to be herself, not merely a tool that allows her ghost to walk about, or choke people. Despite his seedy dealings, I found myself approving of him as Motoko’s mate.

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When Akira’s deal with Hozuki goes sour and he and Motoko are attacked while in bed together, Motoko is quick to blame herself for the targeting, but it’s really Akira the gunmen were after. Detective Togusa’s investigation overlaps with her unit’s, and he warns her that Akira can’t be trusted the way she’s trusting him, and the Qhardi leader confirms that Akira is the “new” Scylla.

After we see how Hozuki and Thied make that happen, and Aramaki and much of the rest of the unit are ambushed at the Vice Minister’s office, the body of evidence is too great and Motoko can no longer deny who Akira is and what she, and she alone, must do.

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Not that she’s looking forward to taking out her lover; someone who seems like a genuinely nice guy who got mixed up with the wrong people and took one too many wrong turns. But it turns out to be more than that: the Scylla in Akira’s brain was once Motoko, and Motoko was once Scylla, aiding the Qhardi separatists back when she was with the 501, before she faked her death.

By shooting him and destroying his cyberbrain, she’s saving her comrades and ending the latest crisis, but she’s also killing a part of her past. She was Scylla, but now who is she? It’s a question she still doesn’t know the answer to. But while she was in Akira’s arms, for a fleeting moment, she knew she was wanted, and that she was happy.

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So ends another tragic chapter in the chronicle of the enigmatic Kusanagi Motoko. But while my heart sank at her having to kill her lover, she’s always proven able to restore and reinvent herself and continue use her unique talents and unique unit to be a force for good in the world. She casts away the explosive “Ariel” parts Akira had furnished her, and rebuilds herself with more customization; if she forgot who the flesh-and-blood Kusanagi originally was, she’ll simply create a new one through prosthesis and cyberization.

The show doesn’t question the rightness or wrongness of such a path, but it does indicate this is all she knows how to do and it’s at least something. It also contrasts her with the all-natural, married Togusa, who impressed her in the last case to the extent that she offers him a job in her unit. With her lover gone that unit is now pretty much all Motoko has, but her offer to Togusa is interrupted by the news that his wife’s water broke and that he’s going to be a father.

Motoko’s look of bemusement as he races off seems to indicate she almost forgot there were still low-tech people like Togusa extant in this world. But in addition to his sleuthing skills, I’ll bet Motoko wants his perspective on her team—a perspective she’s lacked for untold years—as she continues to face threats like fire-starter and rebuild her own identity in the process.

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Kiseijuu: Sei no Kakuritsu – 22

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Shinichi’s blissful honeymoon with Satomi doesn’t last long; in fact, there’s absolutely no mention of it, or even Satomi’s name, this entire episode, lending it a somewhat disjointed episodic feel. Mind you, more big things go down this week, but once those things are over and done with, the episode kinda grinds to a halt.

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Migi alerts Shinichi that Gotou is on his way, and then Migi steals and drives a car, then ditches it off a cliff, hitting the one Gotou is driving. Naturally, this isn’t enough to kill him, so Migi decides to separate completely from Shinichi to act as a decoy, so the two can execute a pincer attack. However, in his weakened, separate state, Migi isn’t strong enough to fully behead Gotou, and begins to shrivel up.

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Migi decides to stand his ground and cover Shinichi’s escape, saying a quick goodbye. But what’s interesting is that it isn’t just Shinichi who feels bad about this. Migi is no longer the cold, logical bastard he once was. Shinichi has humanized him as much as he’s parasytized Shinichi. Migi even considers Shinichi a friend. What he doesn’t do is wilt away into nothing, at least on camera. We don’t witness his death, so there’s a chance he’s not dead.

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Shinichi runs, feeling like a coward for abandoning Migi, and when trying to steal a drink from an old woman’s backyard, that old woman takes pity on him and takes him into her house.

This woman, named Mitsuyo, used to work in retail, so she can read Shinichi to a degree: he’s not a burglar (he’s too polite), he hasn’t had his right arm for a while (since it’s been Migi), and his injury is the result of being bullied in an unfair fight. She gets the gist right, but never in a million years would she ever believe the details…perhaps even if they were staring right at her.

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Shinichi ends up staying for days, making me wonder whether Satomi or his Dad are worried about him, or if by now they’re used to him pissing off for days at a time. In any case, while under Mitsuyo’s roof, he has another creepy dream in which he communicates with what’s left of Migi within him.

When he awakes, it’s even able to form an eye on his stump…but no more. If anything, Shinichi feels worse than if there was nothing left; those cells being a constant reminder of the fact he’s still alive thanks to Migi’s sacrifice.

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Mitsuyo, ignorant as she is to his specific situation, nevertheless imparts some wise council wizened old ladies tend to impart in these situations. When Shinichi blathers on about “making use of his life” to stop the monster that’s terrorizing the town, Mitsuyo scolds him on his youthful recklessness.

Having lived life far longer than him, she knows full well how precious it is. She won’t stop him from doing what he thinks he has to do (face the monster), but she does insist he exercise caution and flexibility, and not squander his life so readily.

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Deep in the forest, we see Gotou lying as if in wait for a rematch with Shinichi. But the emphasis on his single gleaming eye makes me wonder if Migi didn’t get absorbed into the weakened Gotou, either by his own will or not. That will mean one of two things: Shinichi will have to finish off his friend, or Migi has taken control of the parasytes within Gotou.

The fact that it’s not certain at all whether Migi is really dead and gone, and probably isn’t, detracts from the drama, and makes Shinichi’s crisis of confidence and extended stay with Mitsuyo feel like leisurely padding for a show with just two episodes left. Still, with Shinichi only armed with a rusty old gardening ax thingy, it should be an interesting fight. Here’s hoping this was the final “rest” in the narrative.

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Kiseijuu: Sei no Kakuritsu – 21

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Parasyte has been listing badly for the better part of a month, starting with a overly tidy, unsatisfying end to Tamiya Ryouko’s arc, followed by a tiresome, by-the-numbers numbers SWAT battle in the dark that seemed like it would never end. Even the majority of this episode’s A-part is devoted to wrapping up that story.

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Hirokawa turning out to be an ordinary human who just happens to espouse the parasyte philosophy is an interesting little twist, but as he’s killed in the process, it feels a bit like a dead end, especially when his faceless audience all ends up dead by Gotou’s hands (or rather claws). Even Yamagichi’s last stand on the building’s roof ends in his beheading, in a decidedly shrug-worthy end to a long slog of a battle.

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The episode only starts to show signs of righting the Parasyte ship when Shinichi is again involved. Then Gotou (whose muscle mass seems to vary greatly in every shot), has plans on killing him for “closure”, but there are a few more cops still alive, so he retreats, and…Wait….what? Why doesn’t he simply waste those cops like he wasted all the others and Shinichi with them? “Too much interference,” he says. Seems like a thin reason, after how powerful and efficient a killing machine the show just made him up to be.

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However, both the battle and Gotou’s promise of another meeting in the near future have a profound effect on Shinichi that we really weren’t able to see until now, when the cameras finally turn on him in the aftermath. He’s scared shitless, and very aware that all of the dozens of men who fell that day did so because they were between him and Gotou.

They all died tiring Gotou out just enough that he decided not to kill him today. As inept as they might have been tactically, they saved Shinichi’s life. And now that Shinichi realizes the life they died to protect, Gotou’s face appears everywhere he looks, poised to pluck that life away.

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Faced with this crippling fear of being watched and hunted, Shinichi goes to the only place where he feels he can be comforted; Satomi’s. She allows him to embrace her and feels him trembling, but when he squeezes too hard it frightens her, and her reaction causes him to run away again. But Satomi knows what she felt, and she’s not willing to leave things there.

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That night, in a park, Shinichi contemplates running away from it all, hoping Gotou won’t bother chasing him across Japan. Satomi finds him, knowing he likes parks as she does, and seeing that he’s calmed down, invites him to come to her house so they can “talk”. This leads to their having sex for the first time, in another significant milestone in a relationship that hasn’t gotten a lot of screen time, but in hindsight explains a lot about the trouble Shinichi’s been having.

Whatever horrors Shinichi has gone through, or subjected Satomi to (possibly including his foreplay…but I digress), she’s going to stay by his side, because she loves him. She wants to know everything, so he doesn’t have to suffer alone anymore…even if it means she’ll suffer too, at least they’ll suffer together.

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She may still not have a very good idea and the full scope of the shit Shinichi’s in, but scale and scope don’t matter: this is a matter of absolutes for her. The shit they’ve pulled through thus far, and the fact the Shinichi she loves is still in that mangled body Migi repaired and souped up, are all the proof she needs to have faith they’ll pull through whatever’s to come.

Getting Shinichi and Satomi back together and having them take the next step was a vast improvement over the tedium of the last few episodes, but also makes clear how lost and rudderless Shinichi was without Satomi by his side. She instills, comfort, confidence, hope, and above all, a desire to live. And whether living is running or fighting, he’d be wise to keep Satomi close from here on out. She knows what she’s doing.

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Durarara!! x2 Shou – 05

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The tone of the close of last week’s episode was clear: playtime is over, and this week largely renewed that tone by setting the table for the impending war, albeit with a healthy dose of both comedy and the overarching cynicism and disgust of Namie, who tosses away Izaya’s soul manipulation video journal and occasionally remarks on events through her unique lens I’ll call rubbish-vision.

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It starts with a newbie to Ikebukuro, Rokujou Chikage, or “Mr. Paternal.” He doesn’t hurt women, physically or emotionally, and severely punishes anyone who does. He’s also the leader of Toramaru (the white zebra-suit gang), and wastes no time throwing his weight around, protecting a damsel from a shoplifter but going so far in taking revenge for her sake that he ends up alienating himself (and having to run off with his harem before the cops come)

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Ironically, Rokujou is in town to voice his exception to be Shizuo’s overblown reaction to his men picking a fight with him. Rokujou is under the mistaken impression Shizuo has a low setting, but finds out pretty soon when he lands a right uppercut to Shizuo’s face, and while it knocks out his lit cigarette, an unfazed Shizuo simply continues the sentence he had started. With this utterly ineffective punch, the real war begins.

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Meanwhile, the Dollars new and old are having a lively online chat, when Kida suddenly private-chats Mikado, but not to catch up: his message is simple: stay indoors tonight, because there are shadows looming. He doesn’t explain how he knows this either, but for all I know he and Saki are holed up in Saitama, where the zebras are from, and heard things from people about them being on the move.

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Rokujou ends up enduring four of Shizuo’s blows before collapsing in defeat, but Shizuo doesn’t finish him and sends him to Shinra for treatment, because Rokujou told him he has a woman who can tend to those injuries, which makes Shizuo jealous. Still, unlike Izaya, Shizuo has no particular beef with him, either, and I’m sure he also subscribes to the “don’t hit women” ethos.

That doesn’t stop Shizuo from letting his guard down to an adorable little girl who seems excited to have found the guy in her photo. When he gets close enough, she zaps him with a stun gun. Another sign stuff is starting to Get Real: pint-sized assassins. Also a sign, from Namie’s perspective, that women aren’t something to be protected and treated like they’re made of porcelain.

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Rokujou’s bandages now explained, he plies through the sea of Ikebukuro with his doll collection in tow. But their chatter to one another about his general idiocy and immaturity give them agency that an airheaded harem wouldn’t normally have.

They’re well aware all of them lusting after this guy means they have strange tastes, but they like what they like, and they’re there because they want to be, not because Rokujou protects them. And other than Izaya’s ramblings and Rokujou’s fight, all of this week’s major action is the work of women.

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Ikebukuro is full of old-fashioned men with old fashioned ideas of what a woman should and shouldn’t be. That’s illustrated rather succinctly when highly independent badass Celty, paying the endlessly polite Shiki Haruya a visit for a new job, accepts his offer to remove her helmet, and Haruya’s henchmen wig out.

Haruya may speak like an old samurai, but his sensability is a lot more modern: when he tells his bald friend “It’s perfectly normal to remove your helmet indoors,” He’s really saying “Get with the times, cur.” This is how things are, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

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Of course this is not always the case. The throng of people who witness Shizuo interact with the little girl don’t see an innocent man being attacked by a crazy urchin, they see a sweet, innocent girl being brutalized by a cowardly brute.

When Shizuo and Tom realize how bad they look, they run off before the police arrive, as Rokujou did when his scene became too hot. But the girl clings to them. She may be far to young and small and weak to complete her mission to assassinate Shizuo, but those shortcomings do not faze her, and now that she’s found her quarry, she’s literally not going to let go.

This only creates more problems for Shizuo, who is always going to look like a creep and a criminal instigator in a fight where the other participant is this little girl.

(FYI, the girl is quite fittingly voiced by Kuno Misaki, who also voiced Hoshimiya Kate in Zvezda, another tiny but tough cookie.)

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Meanwhile, hopefully Mikado and Anri and the twins are safe in their homes, because Rokujou has brought EVERYONE to face the Dollars, about whom he has a very warped idea. The Dollars are high schoolers and a handful of otaku an itasha van who mostly chat online, right? Be that as it may, their territory is now officially under assault. Weathering it out indoors won’t accomplish anything, since I doubt the Zebras will leave without facing their rival head-on.

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Speaking of heads, the job the woman without one was give by Haruya was to locate the same little girl Shizuo encountered, suggesting she’s involved with the yakuza. But just before setting off (and giving her horse-bike a cute pat on the withers), another woman in a jumpsuit on a bike sidles up to her. Celty gets away, but her helmet is sheared off by a garrote the other rider had set up.

The Dollars would be a distinct disadvantage without one of their trump cards, so I’m eager to see where this goes. As for Namie, she doesn’t care if its men or women taking the lead, she remains disgusted with the number of humans continuing to increase in number, like so much rubbish being piled up in an alley.

Then again, considering how ludicrously obsessed with her brother Seiji, everything Namie says, no matter how much sense it may make, must be taken with a grain of salt.

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