Attack on Titan – 32

Those who had a hankering for a knock-down drag-out Titan brawl were treated to one this week, with the added gravity of the Titan combatants being Bertholdt, Reiner, and Eren. As the latter two go at at the base of the wall, Bertholdt swallows Ymir (and someone else) and gives the soldiers atop it a big hit of burning steam, making attacking him impossible until he wishes it. It’s a stalemate, with Krista holding out hope Ymir is alive, and Connie, the poor bastard, hoping Bertholdt and Reiner are okay.

With the top of the wall stalemated for the time being, both Eren and Mikasa learn their usual attacks are worthless against Reiner’s armor. Eren, flat on his back, suddenly recalls his first martial arts lesson with Annie, who showed him for the first time that someone who isn’t Mikasa can be far stronger and effective in combat than they look, due to using their opponent’s size and strength as weapons against them.

The flashbacks mostly made me miss Annie dearly, wish she was still around, and wonder when if ever her story will be continued and/or resolved, what with all this other stuff going on taking precedence so far this season. I also dearly wanted to see her fight Mikasa, even if I was pretty sure Mikasa would win such a fight (considering what she did to Reiner).

Ripped from that happier past into a far more morose present, Eren finds his feet and the proper technique against Reiner, and a titan MMA match ensues, with Eren ripping Reiner’s limb off and the armor gradually flaking off in enough places that Mikasa can finally cut him.

I was a little irked why none of the other armed soldiers were going at Reiner’s obvious weak spots, rather than just Mikasa, but then it did take a while for her to fly over there, and more importantly, Reiner and Eren’s mutual hold is to Reiner’s advantage, as he drags Eren with him to a place directly below the simmering, deteriorating Bertholdt, whose smoldering colossal skull falls off and threatens to crush Eren.

Head’s up!

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Busou Shoujo Machiavellianism – 01 (First Impressions)

The Gist: Aichi Coexistence Private Academy was once an all girls school but, for reasons not entirely clear, it was made co-ed. However, this resulted in the girls bringing weapons to school and, eventually, the rise of the Supreme Five Swords—the baddest warrioresses on campus who ultimately run the school.

Now, Aichi is the destination for male students too tough for the regular school system and Nomura Fudou, our unwitting protagonist, fits that bill to a T…

You may get a kick out of Armed Girls’ if you can roll with how silly it all is. The art is decent enough, with short-cut but acceptable action animation and good enough character designs. Everyone in the cast speaks with a slight accent. All the boys are in drag. The first of the five swords wears a literal devil mask, which breaks cheekily after she and Nomura accidentally kiss. Silly stuff like that.

You may groan and roll your eyes at Armed Girls’ because everyone in the cast is basically a pretentious a-hole, a cliché, or both. (The french girl’s haughty fake laugh is especially cringe inducing)

The pace is also a bit slow, with an over reliance on characters standing still to yell at each other and/or introduce special techniques that don’t stand out visually from each other. The result feels very formulaic and, combined with the characters all being unlikable, Armed Girls’ doesn’t feel like much love was put into its production.

The Verdict: Nomura Fudou seems like the intended protagonist, obviously, but in many ways Rin Onigawara is set up to experience more emotional change along the way. Regardless, I’m not sure Busou Shoujo Machiavellianism actually has a protagonist, as Rin and Nomura  get about the same screen time and neither has an especially compelling backstory, mystery, or quest.

I didn’t find Busou Shoujo Machiavellianism especially funny or exciting. It’s just good enough to review, but not so much so that I actually want to review it. For goodness sakes, the only eventful element of the first episode is Nomura x Rin’s accidental first kiss, which is itself a total cliché…

Taboo Tattoo – 02

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From a professional artistic standpoint, Taboo Tattoo is garbage. A simple example of this is it’s incomprehensible choices in framing. As seen above, Seigi is talking to two characters sitting next to each other. This isn’t a pan-shot. They literally did not frame one of the characters.

In this same frame, Seigi is also information repeating as a question… information he’d been given last episode and had time to absorb. Call and counter call scenes like:

“we’re in the Army” “you, the army?” and “it may result in your death” “my death?” are a convention for abhorrently bad anime/rpg writing, they also waste of our time as viewers, since we’ve been told the information multiple times and gain nothing from hearing the character’s non-reaction.

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An example chest level shot… after a floor level shot, transitioning into an over the shoulder (but back in the room) shot, all within a second’s time. (then 2 different shots of Seigi gasping for air on the floor of his room — jesus stop moving the camera!)

In more general examples, the framing bounces from multiple characters’ points of view during an exchange. Maybe it’s low with a character on the floor looking up at who’s talking, followed by looking back down at the listening character, or across the room in an establishing shot.

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It’s constant but unnecessary movement, generally in scenes where slower, more traditional pans would anchor us to a single point of view and let us absorb the scene from that point of view, thus gaining a degree of emotional connection with the character holding that view.

tl;dr throwing the camera around the room during a conversation doesn’t make the conversation more interesting. The opposite in fact.

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An example of the glimmer of greatness: casually reading a manga about a teen freaking out while talking calmly about a grim situation to a teen who’s freaking out…

What’s actually maddening about Taboo Tattoo is that, despite its artlessness, the dark character that shows up this week was actually interesting. Even if only for the chained-up loli aesthetic.

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Similarly, TT pokes fun at a few conventions of anime in general. Army-chan lolz off Seigi’s attempt to intimidate her by smacking the wall and his classmates are all like ‘you are a protagonist so we’re going to throw you out the window because screw you for auto-getting the girl’

It’s almost clever enough — almost fun enough — but god damn it’s so incompetently put together 90% of the time I can’t get into it. /Rant

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Taboo Tattoo – 01 (First Impressions)

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Seigi is a middle school martial artist living with his emotionally damaged grand father/martial arts sensei. See, Seigi’s father died ‘because he wasn’t strong enough’ and his mother made his childhood friend look out for him, which she does in wifu-like fashion.

Also, AMERICANS are plotting to destroy the second most powerful economy in the world, some south east asian island kingdom and Seigi’s middle school friends tell him the rumor is the AMERICANS have created super science tattoos to do just that!

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In fact, Seigi acquires one of these tattoos from a friendly stranger in the very first scene and then meets a young looking (but apparently 30?) female AMERICAN military spy who’s collecting the tattoos that were stolen from AMERICA (by the Yakuza?) and are being sold in Japan.

Unfortunately, she beats the living #$^* out of Seigi AND explains the entire premise of the show to him, including how the tattoos need to be primed before they will work. Except Seigi’s doesn’t, because it’s the most powerful tattoo (the Void Maker), which Seigi uses to save his life from an AMERICAN mafia guy named Bear Teddy, who’s also got a tattoo and is trying to kill all the tattooed competition.

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TT defies criticism, largely because it is so completely terrible that it’s hard to know where to start. The pacing is absurdly abrupt and the story is nonsensically idiotic. (AMERICA’s secret weapon is apparently common knowledge to Japanese middle schoolers who read Otaku blogs)

If exposition blasting us with the plot wasn’t bad enough, Seigi’s ‘become the super hero of legend’ arc is generic, his childhood friend’s personality and narrative purpose is generic, the art style is weirdly deformed (their heads are occasionally too big) and a character even has cat ears because, fuck why not right??

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The animation during the fighting is okay. Maybe even serviceable. But over all, it is not a looker.

The only moment of joy in the entire episode was Seigi’s request for “Native American Indian Curry Udon” for dinner, which his waifu’s closest approximation apparently involves cabbage and a Jamaican recipe. The runner up? …unexplained cat ears on the AMERICAN. ugh…

This show is complete horseshit.

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Musaigen no Phantom World – 05

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This week focuses on MPW’s member of the team who isn’t really a member yet, the aloof, distant Minase Koito. We learn she gained her powers at a young age, and at the cost of never being close to friends or family ever again. A chimera-like beast who loves preying on animals is the phantom that first awakened her powers, and she wants payback. Only she has two problems: she can’t take the phantom on alone, and Haruhiko won’t leave her alone.

It starts with one of Haruhiko’s friends saying something mean about Koito with Koito right behind him. Haruhiko means to apologize, but ends up caught up in the fight with the phantom. Koito saves Haruhiko from the brunt of its attack, but gets a face full of voice-nullifying gas, and without her voice, Koito can’t do squat.

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The episode is basically a progression of Koito realizing again and again that the phantom is too much for her to take on alone, as Haruhiko, Mai, Reina, and newcomer Kumamakura Kurumi (the girl who was observing the group from afar last week). Turns out Kurumi’s teddy bear Albrecht can balloon into a huge golem who fights for her

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Koito doesn’t take kindly to having her personal affairs intruded upon by meddlers like Haruhiko and Mai, but Haruhiko, feeling responsible for her voice getting damaged, can’t help but stay near her side as she tries in vain to take out the phantom. Mai, meanwhile, is very obviously miffed by Haruhiko’s sudden obsession with Koito, a classic childhood friend reaction.

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Koito’s voice heals enough for her to go at the phantom one more time, but it isn’t long before it breaks out the gas and she finds herself in a tough spot. But thanks to Ruru, Haruhiko was able to locate her. He summons Marchosias to distract the phantom while Kurumi uses Albrecht to pummel him into submission.

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From there, it becomes a group affair, with Reina healing Koito, Mai employing her elemental magic, and Haruhiko sketch-sealing the phantom. Himeno-sensei then notes that the phantom isn’t the same one that awakened Koito’s powers years ago after all; Koito was chasing after the wrong phantom.

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After Haruhiko & Co. went the extra mile for her sake without claiming the quarry she meant to claim, Koito can’t help but ask Himeno for Haruhiko’s address so she can wait outside his place as he waited outside hers, in order to apologize and thank him for his help. Which for someone as introverted as Koito, is real progress.

This episode got repetitive at times – Koito faces off against the phantom; loses; gets bailed out; then protests the others’ interference – but it was a decent enough fleshing out of the heretofore least fleshed-out member of the team…aside from Kurumi, who seems to exist in the show for “cuteness (as opposed to comic) relief.”

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Musaigen no Phantom World – 03

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This was another beautifully rendered KyoAni episode bursting with wonderful character details and kickass action that make a rewatch a must to catch what one might’ve missed. But it did hamper itself somewhat with its overarching theme of memory and all the absurd (and boring) technobabble required to push out an episodic plotline.

The club’s next target is a phantom blocking a bridge, but when Mai, Haruhiko and Reina arrive, they find there are two phantoms, and they’ve both been waiting for Mai. She might’ve been able to take one by herself, but against the two she’s overwhelmed and she has to beat a hasty retreat facilitated by Haruhiko’s use of Marchosias to distract the phants.

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Realizing they’ll need more physical skill and strength against the dual warrior princesses, Mai quickly set sup a martial arts training regimen for Reina and Haruhiko. Everyone even deesses up in Chinese-style outfits for no reason other than it looks cool (gym uniforms could certainly have sufficed, right?).

But it doesn’t go so well; Haruhiko is hopeless, and while Reina is good at self-defense (throwing Haru for the third time in three episodes as a result of sudden too-close-for-comfort contact), Mai is loath to allow a young pretty girl get messed up in what could be a brutal fight. No, she’d rather keep trying with the more malleable Haru, whom she cares less about if he gets messed up.

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Then the rather bizarre idea of Haruhiko somehow copying Mai’s procedural memories of martial arts in order to assist her in the fight. Their teacher Himeno-sensei believes it’s possible due to Haruhiko’s ability to access the metaphysical world in order to summon phantoms.

There’s all kinds of talk about a collective consciousness where all human memory exists in the same metaphysical plane, like some kind of human cloud storage. Ok, fine…but then Himeno “makes” Haruhiko and Mai go on a friggin’ date around places where she has strong memories, to try to synch up his memories with hers.

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Don’t get me wrong; it’s a cute, lovely date, but there isn’t the slightest bit of romantic chemistry between Mai and Haru, giving the proceedings, prettily-rendered they may be (the music is nice too), a somewhat sterile feeling; that these are just motions they’re going through. More interesting is the fact Reina seems pissed whenever Mai and Haru are getting along (and she eats a lot to try to distract herself), but that’s only a bit part of what’s going on.

Eventually, they return to the river and the bridge where they first met the twin warrior princesses, and it dawns on us—well before Mai or even Haruhiko—that the two girls she met at that same spot ten years ago and made instant friends with were actually the princesses. In the rematch, Mai holds her own while Haru goes down instantly. The combat animation, as is to be expected, is top-notch, by the way.

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When Mai gets blasted and Haru rushes to catch her, he twists his ankle, and their two heads bang together, and that’s how he ends up accessing their minds. Excuse me, but WAT? I know this is fantasy, but Mai and Haru having a shared meta-conscious experience wherein Haru is able to perceive her memories as bubbles in a sea? Pretty, and fun, but awfully ridiculous, too.

Less absurd, however, is what he discovers: Mai’s memories of being a quiet, shy little girl are false. In fact, when she met these two girls, she beat the crap out of them, laughing all the way. That led them to train for ten years in order to beat her when she eventually returned to the bridge. The idea that we remember things the way we want—to fit our idea of ourselves, and accurate memories morph into fictions over long stretches of time—is a relatable one.

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Now back to the fantasy silliness. Haru gains Mai’s martial arts skills, but doesn’t have the strength or stamina to keep it up for more than a couple of minutes (this is actually pretty hilarious) Then he uses her five-element power (which was also copied over to him), and the two perform the same finishing move as her favorite movie as a kid, which they watched the re-release of during their date. Yelling, lightning, Itano Circus, victory.

The phantom princesses aren’t defeated for good, but they accept Mai is still stronger than them, for now. They promise they’ll be back when they’re stronger. But the bridge harassment will likely stop so I guess it’s a win for Group E.

What about Minase Koito, you say? Who knows? She wasn’t in this at all. Instead, there was a little girl with a teddy bear voiced by Kuno Misaki stalking and watching the group the whole time, with deep admiration. I’d wager it won’t be long before she formally meets them, and she seems eager to become closer to the group, just as Reina yearns to one day be as close to Mai and Haru as they are to each other.

But more than previous episodes, the characters seemed to be edged out by an overabundance of plot and metaphysical mumbo-jumbo. Lots of sugar and spice, but too little solid nutrition.

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Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 08

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On her way to her father’s former martial arts school, Ayase recounts to Ikki and Stella the story of how he came to end up “mortified” and comatose. His school fell to the whims of Kurashiki Kuraudo. This wasn’t the first school the pointy-toothed punk brought down with his raw brutality.

The last words her father said before he passed out were “I’m Sorry,” but these past two years it’s been Ayase who was sorry she didn’t step in and fight on her father’s behalf, even if it meant she’d have been the one to end up that way. After all, his school is all about pride and protecting.

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Aside from that additional insight into the plight of the Ayatsuji Itto-ryuu School, this episode wastes no time at the pool or in the showers, or even with fighting the front-line grunts in Karaudo’s operation.

Flanked by two tough, lovely young ladies, Ikki marches right into the dojo, challenges Karaudo to a duel for control of the school on Ayase’s behalf, and drops the IDs of the guys whose asses he just beat. We didn’t see that fight, but we didn’t need to. The fight that matters is this one.

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Not needing any further proof he’s worthy of fighting him, Karaudo stands up and summons his sword, Orochimaru (which is the name of a Naruto arch-villain and happens to resemble Renji’s zanpakuto Zabimaru in Bleach, BTW).  It’s a sick-looking blade that can take any form, but more important is just how daggone quick Karaudo is.

While he boasts about how great his sword is, laughs a lot, and bares his silly pointy teeth, Karaudo at least avoids threatening Ayase or Stella, or spewing any other kind of assholish trash talk. This is all about the fight.

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Ikki quickly determines Karaudo’s true weapon against the Last Samurai wasn’t just due to his strength or brutality or swordsmanship, but the ridiculously fast reflexes he was simply born with.

He calls the characteristic (not technique) “Marginal Counter”, and it’s the thing he’s exploited in order to successfully bring down school after school, as if to say “all your technique and practice, all your philosophy and discipline, is nothing compared to my raw talent.” He’s the rare bad guy on shows like this that’s actually justified in his arrogance.

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But while he’s a tough customer, he’s not flawless, and while he probably didn’t expect going into the fight that a stiff like Ikki would survive long enough to discover his weakness (lack of stamina), he expected even less that Ikki would be having as much fun as he did. The two fighters actually reach a kind of understanding with each other in the fight, making a connection through the mutual fun they’re having that would have been impossible with words or other actions.

At the same time, Stella starts to realize that maybe it wasn’t Karaudo alone who brought Ayase’s father’s school down, but the burden Kaito bore as the leader of the school. At his point in his life, he just didn’t have the glint in his eye or the smirk on his face to defeat Karaudo. But Ikki’s a different story.

But once Ikki has dodged and blocked and parried enough of his attacks and gotten him good and winded, Ikki breaks out Ten-i-muho, the finishing move Kaito once tried on him years ago. Karaudo is wounded, admits defeat, and relinquishes the school, but he’s already looking ahead to Seven Stars, where he now knows he can’t let a battle with Ikki go on too long.

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Ayase, meanwhile, who felt so helpless when her father went down, and felt so ashamed when Ikki used Ten-i-Muho so flawlessly, is rebuked by Ikki, who tells her the only reason he was able to use it was because she herself had mastered it so well. He merely stole her skill. She’s a true Ayatsuji Ikki-ryuu successor, and always was, and it’s her duty and honor to re-open the school.

With that, Ikki calls it “Case Closed,” he and Stella hold hands (I loved her line before about Ikki being the “right guy to chase”) until an eavesdropping Alice and Shizuku reveal themselves, sore that they were barely in this “Sword Eater” arc at all. But that was for the best, as it gave Ikki, Stella, and Ayase’s story room to breathe. Speaking of breathing, Ayase’s father eventually wakes up, so happy ending all ’round.

Combined with the cementing of Karaudo’s role as worthy (if uncomplicated) villain, this wasn’t a bad episode of RKC at all.

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