Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – 10 (Fin)

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Hey, endings are tough; no doubt. But there’s nothing worse than an ending that has you constantly thinking ‘Gee, this really feels like they just realized this is the last episode, and they’re rushing as fast as they can to end it.’ That’s even more disappointing considering Chaika got a second season, albeit a shortened one, to craft a satisfying, well-paced ending.

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Well, it failed. That thought above, that’s something that takes you right out of the fantasy world and into the harsh realities of anime production. I can’t imagine why the producers decided to throw all this stuff into one breathlessly-hasty, plot-stuffed episode, with practically no time to spare for characters, beyond the basic idea that Tooru and Chaika kinda like each other maybe, and that’s why they fight.

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Meanwhile, you have the same huge amount of side characters milling around, needing something to fight, so Gaz has Black Chaika, the Twins, and the other Chaika Dolls deal with Akari, Red Chaika, Vivi, etc. These battles are meaningless and over so quickly they inspire only a faint shrug. Same goes with Tooru’s sudden decision to contract with Fedrica and defeat Shin; it all happens so much there’s no time to care.

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But, yes, in case you were still unaware, Black Chaika has a nice body. Most egregious, however, is the treatment of Gaz, who is a villain so aloof and emotionless it’s easy to forget how powerful he was built up to be. He’s also so wooden in his half-assed monologues about anger, hate and love driving humanity that even Tooru tells him more than once, “Just shut up already, nobody’s listening!”

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Yup, after five hundred years and all the trouble he went through to use the Chaikas to resurrect himself and rebuild his empire, it takes less than five minutes to eliminate him, far shorter a time than Layla and her compatriots last year, who at least had some personality and edge to them. I’m really not surprised Niva abruptly abandons Gaz and flies over to Chaika so she can use her to kill him. The last we see of the Great and Powerful Gaz is him going “Huh? What?” as his Gundo splits. He can’t even muster a loud outburst.

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The ‘cost’ of defeating Gaz is kind of artificially created when Chaika uses all of her ammo randomly shooting at Gaz’s castle, even after Tooru was allowed access. Because of this, Niva has to draw from Chaika’s memories for magical fuel.

This means it’s her turn to make funny noises, then is rendered unconscious and feared dead (or worse, a vegetable) by the time Tooru gets to her, but again, there’s no time for anything to sink in; we’re shoved right into the epilogue starting with a final scene of the GIllette Corps that’s as dull as ever. And no, Vivi doesn’t get a chance to say anything to Gillette.

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The show apparently does have time for one last ‘Akari love loves her Brother’ joke, and we both her and Red Chaika in peacetime garb. As for Chaika…she’s fine…I guess? A bit weak, and she doesn’t call Tooru by name, but not dead. How much of her memory was lost? We’re not really told enough. Doesn’t Fredrica want to fight Tooru to the death? Ah, never mind.

They just stare at a blooming tree and the show cuts to the same ol’ credits as the previous nine episodes. There isn’t even so much as a ‘Thanks for Watching!’ card. I’m almost sorry I did. This was not a good ending.

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Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – 09

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Things are a little more focused this week (though there was no way it was going to be as jumbled as last week’s), as we finally build up to the great culmination of all of Arthur Gaz’s designs: his resurrection by Black Chaika, using the parts collected by the others.

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It’s a scene the show’s been building towards for two seasons. So why did it feel a little…flat? Why was I only half-invested in all of this? ‘Chaika Fatigue’, perhaps. Also, Penultimate Episode Syndrome, where the second-to-last episode is either better or worse than the last. As our heroes mostly stand around and gawk at the mustache-twirling bad guys as the shit hits the fan, it seems like the latter.

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That’s not to say this episode was a failure on all counts. For one thing, it succeeded greatly in destroying pretty much all hope of White Chaika performing a funeral for her father, and not just because he’s not her father and he’s no longer dead. There’s also something so very wrong about Black Chaika birthing the reincarnation of her father beneath her skirts while making moaning and wailing in apparent…arousal.

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Final Fantasy-style final chapter cutscenes are notorious for the rambling speeches and grotesque transformations of the Big Bad(s) as the good guys stew in the corner with clenched fists. In that regard, this episode succeeds admirably. Before you start fighting the final boss, the game wants to make sure you hate him as much as possible, but also learn his twisted worldview. And the simple reveal of Young Gaz — who looks a lot like Guy, not accidentally — had an understated awe about it.

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Speaking of awe, Neo-Gaz wastes no time killing Hartgen (with a casual but lethal one-word incantation — “Pierce”). Harty was just a pawn, after all, whose power, clout, and charisma were used to gather both the Chaikas and the masses of bloodthirsty warriors. War only appeals to Gaz in that it is the state of civilization that nets him the most powerful emotions and memories which make the magic he feasts upon. He’s less a megalomaniac and more a force of nature at this point: an all-consuming storm.

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And Chaika? Not only was she never his daughter (he has none), but “Chaika” is merely the term for the magical technique he used to resurrect himself. Pawn, tool, technique, doormat — however Chaika wishes to call it, as far as Gaz is concerned her task is complete.

After destroying the flying fortress Red Herring with his personal Gundo Niva Lada, he uses her to activate a heretofore dormant fortress in orbit. Space Fortress. Now we’re talking. Where the heck to the good guys go from here? I don’t know, but the fact Gaz and his underlings are too arrogant to bother killing them all immediately proves they have a chance.

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Hitsugi no Chaika – 12 (Fin)

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The bad guys Ricky, Layla, and Grad have a pretty firm hold on the situation at the beginning of this episode, and have the benefit of the commander of the opposing flying fortress being an absolute clod (“Advance! Fire!…Keep Firing!” Really?), but as battles rage both within and without the fortresses, that hold grows more and more tenuous as the good guys regroup and persevere.

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But here’s the thing: at no point do the bad guys ever consider changing their course. They’ve chosen their purposes and paths in life, and they’re sticking with them, even if they lead death…which they ultimately do. This only represents the midpoint of Chaika’s journey, which I’m glad about, and not just because there’s a lot more remains to find, but because the Mad Trio worked far better as a midpoint villain than a final villain.

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But while this wasn’t the end of the show, it was the end of a great many things. It was the end of Chaika being the helpless damsel-in-distress, as she takes it upon herself to take out Layla and rescue Tooru all by herself. When he protests he’s only her tool and she shouldn’t be saving him, she’s as upfront as she’s ever been to that point with her real feelings for him. They even almost get a kiss in before Akari and the others show up (they kissed a few moments previously, but it was more about the delivery of precious oxygen than romance).

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It was also the end of the Mad Trio’s Big Scheme to plunge the world back into the chaos where they once thrived. They were undone by failing to realize that there are others just as determined, and even a little more capable than they are. Take Grad, who didn’t think the opposing commander would launch a suicide attack, even though that’s what Layla just suggested they do when they reach the city.

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Layla too underestimated Chaika’s desire to escape and continue, in Layla’s words, being a tool of Gaz and his ilk. Layla cast away the purpose programmed into her and forged her own, and I can’t be entirely without sympathy considering the life she’s lived when it finally ends. As for the hellspawn Ricardo, whom she pledged the balance of her life? In the end he comes off as less a monster and more a sheltered, pitiable wretch.

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Something else ends: the life of Alberic Gilette. It’s a very quick, almost unremarkable death, but it’s a death that happens when he too is absolutely determined to stop war, even if he has to do it with his bare hands. The way the scene is shot, it almost looks like Leonardo and not Alberic is going to be the one hit by the laser. When Vivi hears he’s gone, she transforms into a Chaika. I wasn’t expecting that!

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That transformation holds a lot of promise come second season airs, because Vivi suddenly became something else. Frederica can change form and even molt into “Minifred”, but she stays Frederica. I’m not sure what the Vivi-Chaika will be like, but it looks like one more way in which Gaz and his followers set up a diverse array of tools. I also hope the budding romance between Chaika and Tooru is explored further (though I’m probably in the minority).

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Until then, we leave a tool who knows she’s a tool but is going to keep tooling around anyhow, along with her tools who know they’re tools but she’s told them they’re more than that, along with the dragoon who still needs to kill Tooru, a Vivi who’s lost her love and her…Vivi-ness, and half a Gaz body—including his head!—left to find. It’s a full plate; one I look forward to scarfing down this October.

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Final Cumulative Rating: 7.92
MAL Score: 7.62

Hitsugi no Chaika – 11

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Hitsugi no Chaika has chosen to close with an epic three-part finale, of which this is the middle part. Middle parts are tricky, as it’s hard to have two episodes in a row with no concrete resolutions (it just kind of…ended), while putting that much more pressure on the third part to deliver. Even so, I think this middle part performed admirably, providing a nice balance of action and fresh insights, some of which confirm/reinforce my ideas about the Chaikas.

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Our heroes remain at the mercy of their enemies, two of whom, Ricardo and Grad, we met last week and got a cursory idea about what makes them tick. The third girl, Layla, only revealed her duplicity at the very end, but when I saw her for the first time with her hood concealing her face, I was pretty darn sure she was another Chaika. Like our Chaika and the Red Chaika we met previously, she too is driven to collect Emperor Gaz’s remains. The difference is how they all go about it.

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Red Chaika is a warrior. Our Chaika is a damsel in distress. And Layla is, or rather, was, a seductress, using her body, wiles, and drugs to acquire remains. Once she learned she was only one of many tools with diverse talents created for the sole purpose of re-appropriating Gaz’s remains; that her heart and soul and emotions and memories were all essentially manufactured for that purpose, she quit being Chaika, joined forces with Ricardo and Grad, and now lives for her own purpose: to help them start a new war.

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War, you see, is when those two felt most content, and, more importantly, most useful. Ricardo’s bloodlust and Grad’s desire to dominate could find true and enduring expression. They’re really more over-the-top versions of Tooru and Akari, saboteurs who had nothing left to sabotage after the war. The atrocities this trio has committed condemns them to villainhood to be sure, but on one point we can feel for Layla: wanting revenge against those orchestrated this whole dastardly plot. Why should she let it continue?

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But our Chaika isn’t like her…at least, not yet. Not only is she still committed to gathering her “father’s” remains even after all Layla has said, but in doing so she’s given the Acuras a new purpose. With their flying fortress packed with magical fuel-giving corpses and drug-manipulated soldiers, Ricardo, Grad, and Layla aren’t going to be satisfied with a grand adventure. They want to set the world back on fire and dance in the flames. And by episode’s end, they’re very close to achieving that goal.

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It would seem that as tough-as-nails as Akari is, her older brother would seem to have a slight edge over her in combat ability. I say that because he manages to evade and withdraw from her attacks on numerous occasions while consciously trying not to kill her, while she’s most definitely trying to kill him. I’m also on board with Tooru teaming up with Zito and Vivi when they cross paths, saving each others’ lives in the process.

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Perhaps the best feint of the episode was the heroic arrival of Fredrica, who seemed poised to rescue Chaika when a creepy-ass human-like spider thing snuck up behind her and stabbed her in the brain. It continues the trend of the show using her sparingly; if she were always around to save the day, things would be pretty boring. It was also a promising sign that this mess won’t get wrapped up by a last-seond deus ex machina, but hard-earned with with blood, sweat, tears, and wits.

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Hitsugi no Chaika – 10

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“Fortress in the Sky”—no ambiguity in that title. It’s what we were promised, and it’s what we got, and then some. Things start out as previous episodes have: new town, buying fuel; but it’s quickly apparent that this won’t be the usual get-in-get-out smash-and-grab operation. The fortress, and the Triumvirate of Evil running it, pose the greatest threat yet to Chaika’s quest, as well as to her life and those of her retinue.

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First of all, though, the fortress: It’s pretty cool-looking, and definitely calls to mind a few of its brethren from other fantasy anime or video games, while fitting snugly into the world of Chaika, and in that world, it’s also a big deal. It’s enough to put a serious drain on magical fuel, thoroughly wilting what looked like a once-proud and prosperous city in its massive shadow.

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Then there’s the fact all the city’s young women are rounded up by the Duke’s army, building him up as some kind of old, fat, mustache-twirling pervert adding to his sky harem. But we never see that Duke, and it turns out he doesn’t even exist. Well, he might have, but his son Ricardo murdered him a while ago, along with his mother, brother and sister.

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Ricardo’s a sadistic piece of work, who is held back from dissecting a captured Akari by his wizard adviser Grad Lancia, who keeps the fortress floating. Grad’s a piece of work too, employing invasive mind manipulation magic on Akari, and, we’re pretty sure, all the other girls too, who now wear armor and fight as their army.

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The third member of this happy family of villains is Layla, who successfully plays innocent until Chaika is in her clutches, and then Grad sics the re-educated Akari on her own brother, a real “oh, shit” moment in the episode. Did we mention Fredrica, the only one who can fly the others out of there, was run through with a longsword and tossed into a pit?

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Yeah, there’s a lot going on here, and none of it good for our heroes. And hey, the show even manages to fit the Gillette Corps into this puzzle somewhat organically: Vivi and Zita had infiltrated the fortress before Tooru & Co. to gather intelligence, but their mission is quickly countermanded by the decision of the six allied nations to attack Duke Gavarni’s fortress.

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What’s better than a flying fortress? That’s right: TWO flying fortresses. I thought, for a brief time, that this would be good for Tooru & Co: in the midst of the chaos of the battling fortresses, they’ can snatch the remains and be on their way. But several factors conspire to make that easy route all but impossible.

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Chaika and Akari’s mind are in the enemy’s hands. Fredrica’s fate is unknown. And most importantly, these three villains are no pushovers, and they’re actually glad the other Fortress is headed their way, which can’t be good. Everything is going the bad guys’ way. How long can they keep it up?

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Hitsugi no Chaika – 09

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Chaika has been so swept up in the quest for her father’s remains (and in getting hoodwinked and/or kidnapped), that in spite of how long she’s been with the Acura siblings, she still knows very little about them, besides the fact they’re fierce fighters and loyal friends. That’s rectified this week, in a quiet, reflective episode focused on memories, and how they make us who we are and set us on our paths.

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Chaika first brings memories up as a potential source of magic fuel when all the shops are out as a result of the End of War Anniversary festivities. Having watched Valvrave with Hannah, I knew all too well what could become of using one’s memories as a fuel that is merely consumed but not replenished, and Tooru is quick to dismiss the idea as a last resort, suspecting that in more desperate times (or against her will) Chaika had done so in the past, leading to her present memory gap.

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When they come across a wagon train of peddlers, Tooru remembers the ones who used to visit the village of Acura where he and Akari grew up and trained to become saboteurs under the tutelage of their mentor, Shin. Of those times Tooru has both happy and painful memories. Happy because he and Akari had so much fun together, but sad because one group of peddlers—including a woman named Hasumin whose praise he desperately desired but never got—were attacked by bandits.

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He watched her die, and all of Shin’s talk about him not being cut out for the cutthroat world of sabotage rang in his ear when he couldn’t protect her. It’s a painful memory; one Tooru often clings to, and wishes he could turn into magic fuel. Elsewhere, an impoverished ex-soldier steals from a rich woman, while the keeper of the last shop on their list happens to be the one with fuel in stock, because he doesn’t feel like celebrating the end of the war, which claimed his wife and children.

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Not to quote Captain Kirk, but he was right that we shouldn’t want our pain taken away; we need our pain; both good and bad memories define who we are. Hasumin didn’t really die in vain, because the Tooru that pain shaped would go on to meet Chaika in that forest and save her, from not only that evil unicorn, but most likely from using up the rest of her memories as fuel. Now that Chaika has friends and memories to cherish, she won’t be as cavalier with them.

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Stray Observations:

  • “‘Fireworks?’ What are ‘fireworks?’ We only got ‘pyrospheres’ in these parts!”
  • I loved Chaika’s wordless exchange of faces with the shopkeeper’s spawn. GET TO BED, WASTREL.
  • It was definitely fun to see Lil’ Tooru and Lil’-er Akari dashing around in the past. Akari was just as devoted to him back then. It’s funny to see how little she’s changed, even if she tries to hide it in deadpan.
  • I actually didn’t mind Alberic and Vivi’s scene at the market, which boiled down to the notion that “justice doesn’t fill stomachs”. Their cookie fortunes were a bit on-the-nose, however.
  • I was less interested in the other Gillette guys shootin’ the breeze. I feel like it would have been better if the entire GIllette Corps was just Alberic and Vivi. The rest still feel extraneous to this time-strapped show (even if a second season is in the pipeline).
  • Looks like there’s a sky fortress in our future…those are the best kind!