Classroom of the Elite – S2 01 – Strife on Mars

Do you like enormous casts of people mostly acting standoffish and suspicious of one another as they navigate school tests with rules that read like stereo instructions? Well, your five year wait is over: the kids are off the damn island and back on the boat, but a new Special Test that threatens all the strides Class D made is waiting for them.

After an uneasy interaction between Ayanokouji Kiyotaka and Karuizawa Kei involving Hirata (who wants Ayano to join them, but Kei objects), Ayano and Kei end up at the same table anyway, as two of the four Class D reps in Mars, one of eight groups named after planets.

There are a lot of rules, and it’s almost impossible to summarize easily, but I’ll try: there are four outcomes, each of which has specific pros and cons to either the individual, their group, or their class. Four possible outcomes involves who guesses who the VIP is, when, and whether they’re correct. A lot of private and class points are on the table.

Of course, a lot of personalities and loyalties are on the table too. Having each group made up of three students each from Classes A and B and four students each of C and D creates an enticing imbalance; Ayano’s Mars Group’s Class A decides right from the get go that they’re abstaining from all discussions in order to avoid the worst case scenario.

Class B’s idol Ichinose Honami insists that the best way forward is together (even if she ultimately intends to stab some folks in the back). Ayano can’t be 100% neutral, as even saying he’d “like to cooperate” is taking a stand against Class A and its leader Machida Kouji.

After Mars Group’s first unproductive meeting, the three Class C girls gang up on Karuizawa, accusing her of bullying their classmate. She says she has no idea what or who they’re talking about, but when they try to snap her picture she quickly becomes upset. Machida helps Karuizawa and tells the C-girls to buzz off, earning Karuizawa’s cutest smile.

Mars’ second meeting of Day 1 is just as unproductive as the first, with Class A gumming up the works with their refusal to discuss…anything. Even when she says they should just relax and shoot the breeze, it seems like Ichinose is carrying out some kind of strategy. As for Karuizawa, she seems normal enough at the meeting, but that night breaks down into a sobbing mess in the shower.

Continuing as if five years were merely a week, CoE returns to its distinctive blend of clashing personalities and motivations, split loyalties, and absurdly complicated rules (Karuizawa even gets the line of the episode: “I’m not sure I followed all that.” With the necessary setup of this new test out of the way, perhaps next week will be a little more exciting.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 10 – Will the Real Eustiana Please Stand Up?

Well, the overarching arc of Pecorine/Eustiana stepping into the light and reclaiming her throne all comes down to this, with a newly-masked Karyl joining Kaiser as her right hand and primary weapon. It’s not clear how much of Karyl’s cooperation is forced, either by magic or deference to Kaiser, but there’s no disputing she’s in a bad way.

When Karyl attacks Diabolos and captures three of their members, Shinobu and Miyako manage to escape and head to the Gourmet Guild to give them the bad news: Karyl has turned her coat. Soon all of Landosol learns this, when Kaiser uses Labyrista’s ability to encircle the city in a shell, then project a giant Karyl who will be the instrument through which Kaiser will sacrifice its citizens.

It’s not just the Gourmet Guild that springs into action to stop Karyl and Kaiser. Doctor Yuni and the Friendship Club collaborate with Kasumi and Tamaki, and the good doctor discovers that the truth that was “out of joint” all this time was the person sitting on the throne: a false princess who has manipulated the minds of everyone in the kingdom.

By the time Yuki, Kokkoro, and Pecorine arrive in town, the place is crawling with Shadows, but adventurers, warriors, mages, and ordinary folk alike manage to hold their own, with the latter even saving Yuuki and Kokkoro when things are looking their most grim. Peco goes on ahead, and from that point on it’s really all about her and Karyl, whose attacks she either dodges or absorbs as she manages to tackle her.

When Yuni uses her “Rosetta Network” of pet rocks to broadcast the truth about the princess currently on the throne, Kaiser orders Karyl to kill everyone—and Karyl is powerful enough to make it happen. But her rain of purple magic bolts ends up hitting no one. As much as she wants to obey her majesty, she just can’t hurt anyone anymore. Kaiser doesn’t take no for an answer, and uses magic threads to manipulate Karyl like a puppet.

Karyls mask falls, she starts to cry and beg someone, anyone to destroy her so she can’t harm anyone else. Instead, her attacks, and Kaiser’s hold on her, are neutralized by a stalwart Pecorine, who finally, finally finds the proper time to tell her dear friend the truth about her true identity. While the duel this week isn’t nearly as badass as the Kaiser-Labyrista bout, it’s a hell of a lot more emotionally charged.

Pecorine does this in front of most of the town, revealing herself to be the real Eustiana von Astrea and vowing to not only save Karyl, but protect her people as well. Considering the power we saw on display from Kaiser last week and all the tricks she has up her sleeve (from Metamorregnant to Labyrista’s power), I’d say the gloves will be coming off next week, which means Pecorine…which means Eustiana will most likely need a little help from her many, many friends.

Magia Record – 17 – Back Into the Lions Den

In a usual cour, there’d be time and space for a cooling off episode, but with only eight episodes to work with, this lean, mean second season of Magia Record has no time to waste. And you know what? That’s just fine with me!

Not only did the entire first season feel more like an introduction and explanation of this world and its expansive cast, but it just makes sense to the flow of the story that once Iroha got caught up on what’s going on, she’d make a beeline for Nemu and not spend half the episode tidying up Mikazuki Villa with Yachiyo and Kuroe.

It also totally tracks that Iroha is almost fanatically eager to do her part in this story. Last week’s dreamy rescue mission got the ball rolling, but this week is where Iroha reasserting herself as the protagonist of this story really picks up momentum. Yachiyo is certainly weary of Iroha jumping right back into the dangerous realm of Magius, while Kuroe is a follow-not-lead sort.

So it’s really quite exhilarating to see Iroha take the initiative, get her friends aligned and on board; she’s both the glue bringing everyone back together and the lodestar guiding everyone to what’s good and right while Kuroe guides them through the fanciful book-filled caverns below Hotel Faint Hope. Unfortunately, in order to get those two through the portal, Yachiyo had to stay behind to keep the Amane sisters at bay.

Fortunately, it’s not long that due either to fate or coincidence—hell, why not both?!—Iroha encounters the ena, who is on her way out after deciding to defect from Magius. She has a very weak and vulnerable Kaede in tow, whose Doppel looks ready to pop out and kill everyone.

Again, alacrity demands that this reunion eschews the usual pleasantries; after all, all four girls are in a hurry with good reason: Nemu says she’s dying, while Kaede looks close to death, or a fate worse than it. But with the portal Iroha and Kuroe used closed, the four decide to team up for now.

What I’m glad there is time for is to check in with the Puella O.G. (including yours truly), who appear to have arrived in Kamihama City judging from the Alina Gray posters and Magius recruitment flyers. Besides it always being great to see these girls, it’s even more gratifying to know that there’s an actual reason for their inclusion here.

They’ve essentially crossed the dimensional barrier to find their beloved Mami, whom we know to be in way too deep with Magius. I like how their fish-out-of-water status is accentuated by the fact their colors are so much more muted than those of “native” magical girls like Iroha & Co. I can’t wait for if and when Madoka and Iroha meet and join forces.

But while on the way to the main exit (Rena and Kaede) and Nemu (Iroha and Kuroe), Iroha follows Little Kyuubey to another inconvenient truth about Magius: they’re farming witches. Knowing full well how fuzzy the line between magical girl and doppel, and goppel and witch, Iroha demonstrates why she’s the beating moral heart of the show, as she declares her distaste for this whole enterprise and questions what could possibly justify it.

Mind you, Iroha is not infallible in her role, and in fact her strong sense of what is right and what just seems wrong clashes with the real-world realities and wholesale suffering not only of less fortunate magical girls who lacked both the strength to defeat Kamihama witches and the support network to make up for their weaknesses. Iroha’s no Yachiyo (no one is) but she’s no slouch in terms of power or friends. Her moral certitude comes from a place of privilege.

But its that certitude and that privilege that make Iroha so well suited to leading the charge. When the girls are attacked by some kind of Uwasa sentry, Kuroe ends up cornered and her soul gem blackened, and almost takes the easy way out by using her doppel for perhaps the last time.

But Iroha won’t let her; instead, she clears Kuroe’s gem, and then the two Connect and their combined power obliterates the sentry. Magius is an organization that is hoping magical girls like Kuroe give up. Iroha’s selflessness and refusal to sacrifice anyone is anathema to them, because it’s explicit proof that their way isn’t the only way.

A new crisis emerges right on the heels of the defeated sentry, as Kaede has hit her limit. Her doppel emerges and goes berserk, and in another positively virtuoso battle sequences, Iroha, Kuroe, and Rena fight together to tame their gentle friend—turned chaotic monster.

As is usually the case with anime like this, stills just don’t due the battle animation the slightest bit of justice. Suffice it to say that in terms of artistry, grace, eclecticism and pure uninhibited style, there are few series out there that can match Magia Record. The benefits of putting 12-13 episodes worth of budget into 8 are on full display here.

Another estranged member of Team Mikazuki Villa, Momoko, arrives with Mitama shortly after the other thee girls manage to neutralize Doppel!Kaede. Mitama seals Kaede a big glass sphere, then wheels it into a gallery absolutely filled with similar spheres: an isolation ward for troubled doppels.

The other girls are not okay with this situation any more than what Magius is doing with witches. But Mitama is unmoved by their outrage, reminding them with almost Kyuubey-esque haughtiness that she warned them not to overuse their doppels.

She also reports that Kaede the other afflicted girls likely won’t wake up—let alone return to normal—until Magius’ “plan has succeeded”—an objective Iroha, Yachiyo, and now Rena and probably Momoko are committed to thwarting.

Again, Iroha serves a focusing and uniting role, corralling and calming the hotter heads and offering a possible Other Way. Even after all that has happened since returning to Faint Hope, her mission is the same: meet with Nemu, find out what’s going on, and find a way to save her.

Iroha has already demonstrated what can be accomplished by bringing the “family” together in a single, clear effort. Why can’t it be so with this? After all, unlike Touka, Nemu remembers Iroha, and the bond they shared. He’s hoping Big Sis gets to meet with her soon.

 

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – 12 – The Lost Princess

It’s been pretty clear since the start that Pecorine was a runaway princess, but chose to conceal that from her guildmates, no doubt so as not to burden them. But as we see from her dark dream in which her royal mother and father don’t recognize her before disappear, there’s a lot more going on in her head than the next meal. With the Shadows literally amassing, it’s only a matter of time before she must take up the mantle of her nation’s protector.

You—not to mention Yuuki, Kokkoro and Karyl—would never know that judging from Peco’s bubbly breakfast attitude. Still, Karyl notes the unforgivable lack of bread, which Peco uses to segue to a quest to defeat a monster that’s blocking the flow of supplies into the city. Karyl (grudingly) lures it away from the bridge and Peco finishes it off with a Princess Strike. Easy Peasy!

While Yuuki is filling out the activity reports at the main guildhall, he inadvertently writes part of his name in Japanese, confusing the others but proving that his memories of another life are in there somewhere. The gang celebrates the completed quest with crepes from the very first stall Yuuki and Kokkoro visited, which also now employs Yuuki’s “sisters”.

That night, memories and possible pasts and/or futures continue to surface Yuuki’s dream, including visions of past and present comrades falling before the might of an evil cat lady. Ames, the guide at the gate to the world of PriConne who still knows Yuuki better than he knows himself, makes another appearance to cite her trust in him and encouraging him to stay strong when the time comes.

Yuuki asks Peco to train him in swordsmanship, something she’s both eager to do and very much up to the task. But in the middle of a large “training” meal, the Mega-Shadow Karyl saw her master create attacks the town. Peco springs into action, but to her shock, even Princess Strike isn’t enough to bring the monster down. And while Peco doesn’t seem to notice it, Karyl hesitates when she’s asked to support her, not wanting to make that master angry.

Faced with two roads, Karyl stands still, but Peco doesn’t read anything into it, and just assumes Karyl is injured and/or terrified, and continues to attack the monster while protecting Karyl from harm, even giving her a shoulder guard for extra defense. Peco’s ultimate attack cleaves the shadow in two, but she loses consciousness before she can defeat it. Yuuki steps forward to take over, and chaos—and several powerful magical attacks—ensue.

When Yuuki comes to and the smoke clears, he finds himself in a field of wreckage, and is confronted by none other than the red-headed crepe stall lady, Labyrista. She stopped the monster from killing him and transported his friends to safety, so perhaps she’s on their side against the Cat Lady and her Shadows? One can hope, because she’d be a powerful ally!

The ultimate fate of Pecorine and Karyl is left up in the air, but Kokkoro ends up in the royal palace at the center of town, and comes across a portrait of the Eustanian royal family: the king and queen and their daughter…who looks just like Pecorine.

This must be a shock for Kokkoro, who had thought of the Princess as a fairy tale only to learn she was beside her all along. This episode had a little of everything, with the usual adventure comedy fare dotted with foreboding visions and transitioning into awesome no-holds-barred action and the potential for some serious character drama. We’ll see how things shake out in the finale—and see if there’s a second season in store.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – 11 – Sisters Act

It all starts with Pecorine not wanting Karyl’s breakfast to get cold. When Karyl doesn’t answer her door, Peco fears the worst and burst through her window like an action hero, damaging her favorite stuffed animal. Turns out Peco has never heard of the concept of “personal space”, and assumes it’s something to eat.

Kokkoro is confident she can mend the plushie, so she, Yuuki and Peco take a trip into the city to buy materials. The three don’t have any luck and split up, and that’s when Yuuki is attacked by a Shadow that was attacking someone else, and is rescued by Shizuru, his…big sister? Yes, that’s right: throughout most of his adventures he’s been watched over by Shizuru, along with his little sister Rino.

After cleaning up her room, Karyl heads into the city to pay Her Majesty a visit, and even picks some pretty white flowers for her. She finds her boss surrounded and preoccupied by numerous Shadows that she seems to be modifying to be even more dangerous, and their dark presence wilts the flowers, which the boss calls “filth.” Jeez, Karyl was just tryin’ to be nice!

When Kokkoro heads to a fountain to wet her handkerchief so she can clean the hot dog ketchup from Yuuki’s face and clothes (whew) she ends up meeting a jealous Rino, who learns that Kokkoro is Yuuki’s servant. But Yuuki suddenly vanishes. Fearing the Shadows got him again, they follow rumors to the food critic’s lair (who is more grotesque than ever) and end up rescuing Charlie, not Yuuki.

Turns out Yuuki was hiding from one of the demon girls from the hospital when he spotted a quest to acquire a rainbow silkworm, and completed it all on his own, off-camera. I guess he’s more capable alone than we thought! Shizuru and Rino end up receding from view after confirming that despite having lost his memories of them and a lot besides, their brother remains a kind and decent lad, and has found some good friends.

Karyl returns home in a far worse mood than she left, and feels even more down when she finds the guild house empty. However, Yuuki, Pecorine and Kokkoro arrive right behind her, proudly carrying her fully-repaired stuffed animal. The look on Karyl’s face says it all: the dark empty place she’d walked into was just a house; these three friends make it a home. And perhaps her increasingly unhinged boss doesn’t deserve her continued loyalty.

After the end credits we meet the red-haired woman who sent Shizuru and Rino to observe Yuuki, called Queen Labyrinth by her fellow “Seven Crowns leader” Metamorregnant. They seem to both be investigating “Omniscient Kaiser”, but Meta isn’t yet interested in collaborating. Not much to say about these two; hopefully we’ll learn a little about them and how they fit into the bigger picture in the penultimate episode next week.

Attack on Titan – 37 (Fin, For Now)

Erwin manages to tie off his arm stump and stay conscious enough to witness a lot more of his scouts get eaten by the swarming Titans, but Eren and Mikasa are rescued from “Momeater” by Hannes, looking to settle a score from the very beginning.

Historia, who is now correcting people who call her Krista, tells Ymir it’s time for them to live for themselves, and when Ymir is around, no matter how messed up things get, Historia isn’t scared. Seeing her brandishing a sword and a confident smirk is a great way to close this chapter on the character.

Hannes lasts about as long as one would expect, but Momeater ends up eating him in much the same way, as Eren and the injured Mikasa can only watch. Eren tries to transform before his hand is fully healed, resulting in failure and an emotional breakdown.

But Mikasa is there to pull him out of it, bringing out the Full Adorable Mikasa routine and essentially charming Eren into calming the eff down, which still leaves the matter of Momeater starting to finish up with Hannes.

When it reaches out to grab another snack, Eren stops its hand with his fist, and something happens: Eren gains a new power. That power transforms his ravings into orders for all the rank-and-file Titans to follow, making them his minions.

They surround and tear Momeater apart, then aid the scouts’ retreat by swarming Reiner, forcing him to give up on grabbing Eren. Seeing that Reiner and Bertholdt are in deep trouble, Ymir runs to their aid, leaving Historia behind with a simple “I’m sorry” and tender caress of her hair.

Reiner and Bertholdt survive the day, and that night, Ymir tells them why she helped: because the day they brought Wall Maria down was the day she was freed from her nightmare of a life, into a life that’s, if we’re honest, still a nightmare, but maybe not quite as bad because she does have a measure of freedom.

As for Eren, he has no idea what happened, so Armin has to put two and two together for him, having talked it over with Jean. That Eren now knows he can control Titans without becoming one (he’s the “coordinate”, as Reiner says), is huge. It means civilization behind the wall isn’t as imminently doomed as everyone thought the previous day.

Not that there’s going to be smooth sailing ahead. As the scouts look out, the camera speeds past the horizon and beyond any point the humans we’ve been following have ever reached…all the way to another wall; another civilization, where a shirtless man with glasses sits atop the Beast Titan…whom I’m guessing is Eren’s dad.

That’s an effective, world-expanding teaser for a continuation of the story…whenever it happens to come around. While I’m not greatly informed of the particulars, it seemed like a huge effort just to get these twelve new episodes produced and aired, so I’m not holding my breath for episodes 38-50.

However, for all the questions from the first season the second failed to answer, I still feel it did the job most people expect of Titan: to entertain. I can’t say I wasn’t, or that I don’t look forward to the next chapters.

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