Wave, Listen to Me! – 07 – The Evil is Defeated

 

“I have no doubt other women have thought of doing what I did. They just didn’t do it.”Abe Saba, who cut off her lover’s genitals while making love. She also worked at a restaurant, FWIW…

Minare’s first radio job in the field is turning out to be a weird one, but she and Mizuho are able to calm Shinji down enough to talk about his lost dead Slavic girlfriend, Azohara Ritsuko. When he proposed they “cross the line” from friendship to romance, they agreed upon a secluded volcanic hot spring in Zao as the dramatic venue for their inaugural doing of the nasty.

However, after disrobing but before getting down, Shinji passed out from the volcanic gasses. He woke up in a cabin, rescued by good Samaritans…but they only found him. For all he knows, Ritsuko could be dead or still wandering around Zao as they speak.

With his tale of woe out of the way, Minare climbs into the ceiling to investigate the stinky dark liquid, and finds an absolute nightmare: six fly-covered garbage bags filled with what she assumes to be the remains of a petite woman, soaked by a leaking shower line.

Minare calls the police, and Shinji is arrested on suspicion of killing Ritsuko and storing her remains in the ceilng. But at no point does Shinji admit this, or even get overexcited: he merely calmly asserts his innocence, all while Minare is certain “evil was destroyed” in that apartment.

In the face of such a traumatic experience (Mizuho got less of the meat juice on her but still needed three showers), Minare crafts an even more fanciful story nevertheless rooted in reality rather than the supernatural.

She imagines that Ritsuka was a Russian spy, and Shinji proposed the remote site to speak to her without being surveilled. Ritsuka was trained to kill if her cover was  blown, but whether due to her love for Shinji or the effects of the gas, she couldn’t do it.

However, neither the murder and dismemberment story nor the spy thriller make it to her first official broadcast of Wave, Listen to Me! The afternoon before the show she stops by the police for questioning, and the real, unvarnished mundane truth is laid bare: the stinking dark liquids, and the bags from which they seeped, were originally put there…by Minare herself.

They were the remains not of a murdered Ritsuka but of 50 kilos of on-the-bone mutton delivered to her apartment by her parents when she first moved there. She stowed them in the under-floor compartment as a temporary measure but then completely forgot about them. They sank through the floor into the space above Shinji’s apartment, mixed with the leaking water, and the rest is stinky history.

This puts Minare in a bind, as she’s facing charges to be brought by Shinji, whom it’s indisputable was someone to whom she did harm, even if she didn’t mean to, and then went further by having him arrested. But Shinji magnanimously provides Minare with an out: she’ll break down the truth of what happened and apologize to all involved. Shinji is in the booth when she does this, just to make sure.

Not only that, Minare makes the theme of the show for, about, and by “people who have caused countless problems for others” in hopes of finding ways for those people (including her) who don’t want their lives going to waste simply because they’re predisposed to such troublemaking.

It’s not at all what she expected to be doing, but rotting mutton comes at you fast, and it’s actually a great subject for a radio show airing so late at night. An audience will no doubt project themselves in the stranger-than-fiction scenarios Minare puts herself, and appreciate how she’s is open, vulnerable, and ready to be redeemed.

She won’t claim to have all the answers—that’s for that sumo guy—but she’ll have plenty of entertaining questions!

Wave, Listen to Me! – 06 – A Warm Fluffy Towel Drenched in BLOOD

We’ve now reached the halfway point of WLM!, and while this week’s installment lacks the adrenaline high that accompanies a live broadcast and the moments leading up to it, it further fleshes out its eclectic, sometimes eccentric, but always authentic-feeling cast of characters, while setting up stranger things to befall Minare on her path to becoming a radio star.

We learn more about Minare through those she came from, starting with her dad when she accidentally calls him. He’s outside a pachinko parlor on his fifth or sixth beer (Sapporo, natch) so he’s…got some issues, but you can tell he loves his daughter and just wants her to be happy— just as sure as Minare can smell the alcohol through the phone!

Meanwhile, Casa Nakahara is hardly the sordid lovenest Minare might imagine in her more jealous moments. Yes, Makie is living there, but so is Nakahara’s sister Meiko (Minare, Makie, Meiko…dude knows some M’s!), who walked out on her husband with their baby for going to a hostess club. Far from being treated as a burden, Nakahara is appreciative of Meiko for being to get Makie to talk more in the wee hours of the night as the two women lie in adjacent futons.

Makie confides in her that after her parents died in the mountains, her brother grew obsessively protective and locked her up like Kaspar Hauser…which explains her manner. Meiko tells her she shouldn’t feel ashamed for using the car accident as an opportunity to reclaim her agency freedom, which she has every right to have.

After a thoroughly confusing little sequence involving Minare’s dad talking about a dream of “decades ago” and a “brutal accident”, we suddenly cut to Minare talking to her mom this time. Unlike her dad, her mom is a littler sterner, insisting she seek out “a life people can respect”, not just one in which she’s happy, and not to listen to a “loser” like her dad. And her little “It makes me sad…oh, very sad” line about Minare telling her dad about her radio job first—*Chef’s Kiss*

Still, her dad still managed to buy her daughter a slick Sky Sensor 5900 radio as a cute “good-luck-in-your-radio-pursuits” gift. Makie’s family may have bitten the tragedy bug, but it’s refreshing that our protagonist Minare not only has both parents still living, but on talking terms with her (if not one another). Like Makie, her parents feel like longingly-rendered real human beings.

Her dad was also responsible for delivering four whole Aramaki salmon, which won’t fit in Minare’s little fridge. After Nakahara drops off his ideas for Minare on possible radio story ideas (hilariously, she reads them and immediately apologizes for even asking him!) she decides to hang the fish from the doorknobs of her neighbors, which Nakahara mentions could be construed as some kind of criminal mischief.

By the way, another absolute doozy of an exchange: Minare describes her dad to Nakahara, and all Nakahara can see is Minare. Drunk half the time? Check. Either in dirty joke-telling mode, venting mode, or preaching mode? Check. Goes off on random tangents? Check. Makes no sense at all? Check. Can’t have a proper conversation? Check!

Granted, these are exaggerations of who Minare really is, but sometimes the rougher edges stick out more…especially from the perspective of someone like Nakahara, pursuing her with little to show for it. Another main takeaway from the fish-hanging scene is that Oki Shinji, who accepts one of the fish without hesitation, looks very out of sorts, and Nakahara notices the stench of rotting protein emanating from Shinji’s apartment.

The strangeness continues at the studio, where Mizuho shows Minare a creepily-scrawled fax about a dead girlfriend who hasn’t forgiven the writer…who happens to be Oki Shinji! Minare wants to shift gears to something more fluffy and less occult, but Matou is eager for her to learn the full ropes, which means she and Mizuho are going on a field recording adventure!

After reiterating her commitment to always protect her (something Mizuho doesn’t remember her saying before), Minare drives them to their destination: her former apartment building (note that Mizuho calls Minare’s car a “mini” but it’s not a MINI Cooper, but rather a Daihatsu Mina Giro Minilite. IMO the Giro’s cooler than any Cooper!) They also dress for the occasion, like an onmyouji and a shrine maiden.

Shinji welcomes them in without so much as a flinch from Minare’s stellar long-range joke about the same woman showing up drunk to his door also showing up to appease a spirit since “rituals, sake, and women” have been inexorably intertwined throughout history. Still, Shinji has good reason to be the way he is, because something very very strange and gross is happening inside his apartment.

Reddish-black liquid starts to ooze from the ceilings and drops on what couldn’t have been a cheap costume rental. Then again, it’s likely the station will cover the dry cleaning, just as Matou promises to bail out Minare should things take a turn. After all striking out into the untamed wilds diagonally below her old place means she’s no longer an amateur, but a professional, like Mizuho…risking their very lives for entertainment.

Wave, Listen to Me! – 05 – The Irregular at MRS High

Minare arrives at the station with a birthday cake for Mizuho only to find that Matou has already presented her with a cake. Mizuho smooths things over by telling Minare she’s never been happier to celebrate it twice on the same day, and the preparations for Minare’s first broadcast as a pro begin.

Matou has devised a “broadcast gaffe” that will break into and out of the normal late night music a la War of the Worlds. He makes sure Minare understands that the ceiling for success is as high as the stakes are low. There isn’t a sponsor, which means they have a little more leeway to go wild.

Minare takes the barebones, improv-filled script and runs with it. It involves the moment she just killed Mitsuo by stabbing, making good on the threat from her last broadcast. By amazing coincidence, a different woman has bound and gagged Mitsuo and is about to stab him when Minare’s program suddenly interrupts the music.

Had the mundane music continued, she may well have murdered Mitsuo for real. But are these events actually happening? I would say yes, since it isn’t Minare in the role of the murderer, and the woman hasn’t carried out the murder yet. They’re out of sync in a way that’s very advantageous for Mitsuo, who lives to break another heart.

The buildup and countdown to the broadcast gave me goosebumps, in the same manner as the tension and anticipation that immediately preceded a performance in Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, or Hibike! Euphonium. Those are all five-star anime, and I don’t mention them or compare the emotions felt during Minare’s monologue lightly.

As with her previous shows, Sugiyama Riho absolutely knocks it out of the park, taking scarce narrative crumbs and creating a chocolate mocha mille-fille. Minare flubs yet a single word yet comes off as unhinged, vulnerable, empty, grateful, and above all raw and human. She may not know it, but her passion and talent saved Mitsuo’s life.

More importantly, while Minare walked in an emotional mess due to witnessing Nakahara inviting another woman home, she walks out of the station at the crack of dawn feeling like a billion yen. Matou is genuinely impressed, and Mizuho is proud of her.

That night, due to the talk of Martians and UFOs (an homage to War) she dreams of having to save Mitsuo via a nutriet-absorbing facehugger that turns out to be one of Mizuho’s turtles sitting on her face…and shitting in her mouth!

That morning, Minare and Mizuho discover a lively online discussion, which is exactly what Matou both hoped and worked towards, discretely  posting the audio online as if he were an independent listener. As he suspected, Minare’s the kind of voice that creates buzz, and he’s eager to have her create more.

As for Minare, it’s back to working at the curry restaurant a mere five hours after she left the recording booth. And yet a group of men have already come to the restaurant as one of them recognized her voice. Minare loves the attention, and in the break room she declares to Nakahara that from now on she’ll be pursuing her radio career full-on.

She knows that what she felt in that booth and afterwards isn’t something she can get from that white waiter’s tunic—or from a man for that matter!

Wave, Listen to Me! – 04 – The Pleasure of Despair

The first day of Minare’s life gets off to a rough start as in the space of what feels like just a second or two, she oversleeps three hours. It’s a very relatable experience, and why I find myself so invested in Minare as a person. Like any other person, she’s often forced to react to things—good or bad—that come at her quite suddenly.

Far faster than the turtles she agrees to feed. One of those things is the breakfast Mizuho prepared for Minare. It’s so considerate and tasty she jokes that she’d marry Mizuho in a heartbeat and make love to her every night…until she finds the way-too-detailed feeding instructions! Suddenly things aren’t as simple as the seemed.

She sets out on a job-hunting excursion in slim hopes of gaining both an employer and sponsor. When Katou informs her of the massive cost of sponsorship, she basically gives up. But by having Nakahara join her, she finds life suddenly tossing her back into her own job, as Takahara and her replacement were injured in a car accident.

While it’s a dream come true for Nakahara—he always dreamed of running a restaurant as husband and wife—Minare is more ambiguous, and with good reason. Leaving Voyager felt like a step forward; returning there erases that step. And she’s still not sure about Nakahara as a partner; she asks him to wait until she’s 30…which is four years. Nakahara might be the kind of guy to wait that long, but does she really want a man who’ll do that?

Then the fourth woman in the pencil-sketched ED is introduced: Tachibana Makie (Noto Mamiko), the sister of the man who caused the accident involving Takarada. She comes offering her services for free, filling a much-needed labor gap.

She starts out washing dishes, then waits tables, works in the kitchen, and develops a new menu item. She even updates the blog, and gets rave online reviews for her gentle, quiet manner. And yet she seems to make Minare uneasy and suspicious—why would someone go this far on behalf of their brother?

There may be no need to be dubious of Makie’s motives, but because Minare feels something’s off, so do I. In the meantime, Minare comes home from the restaurant to share a meal and booze with Mizuho (whom we see refusing Koumoto’s advances right after regaling him of how she met Mr. Kureko. I also love how Mizuho is voiced by Iwami Manaka—Honda Tooru herself!

While Mizuho is glad Minare is working and making money again (far from a guarantee in these trying times!) she doesn’t want Minare to forget about radio. Whether Mizuho is on orders from someone at the station to encourage Minare or not, she seems to genuinely believe in her talents and doesn’t want her to feel overwhelmed or that Matou is overestimating her.

Life keeps coming at Minare fast on the night of Mizuho’s birthday. Minare gives a curt goodbye to Nakahara and Makie after closing, but doubles back to grab the cake from the kitchen fridge. That’s when he finds Nakahara confronting Makie about staying in the staff room…then offering to let her stay at his place, just as he did with Minare.

Clearly something is going on with Makie that makes her hesitant to go back to her home (if she even has a home). And when you put a man who loves hard-luck cases and a woman in an apparently uncertain emotional place, shenanigans are more than possible. Minare has taken Nakahara for granted as a will-they-won’t-they certainty, but Makie threatens that status quo.

Fortunately (or not), life isn’t done coming at her that night, as she gets a call from Matou urging her to report to the studio immediately to rehearse for a 20-minute slot that will air at 3:30 AM. It’s Go Time. No doubt her experiences with Nakahara Makie, and all the stuff that keeps coming at her will inspire her material. And no doubt it will be eminently watchable.

Wave, Listen to Me! – 03 – Graveyard Slot

Takarada fires Minare right after the festival, and no amount of ranting or begging can change his mind. After going out for commiseratory drinks with Takarada, he casually suggests she move in with him. After a quick simulation of their time together, she concludes he’d end up stabbed to death (though not by her!).

After tricking him into saying he loves sleeping naked (she doesn’t), she decilnes, assinging him the nickname Zenra (the fancy way to write “naked”). That said, she’ll him in mind should she fall into truly dire straits. Takarada feels used…but he wants to be used if it’s by someone like her.

Minare returns home…or at least she thinks it’s home, but there are immediately two troubling signs: her shoes aren’t lined up neatly in the genkan, and there are other pairs of shoes. The creepy man who ended last week’s episode and cold opened this one lifts her off the ground, and she goes into Self-Defense Mode and calls the cops.

Turns out she’s the one committing a crime, as she’s not in her apartment, but her neighbor Mr. Oki’s. He’s been the one returning her blackout drunk self to her own bed and lining up her shoes. If he simply kicks her out of his place, she shows back up, or otherwise bangs on his door and sobs.

The revelation of not being an end-of-the-night neat and organized drunk hits Minare like a ton of bricks; indeed Oki likens her dramatic epiphany to that of Neo when he’s unplugged from the Matrix.

The sheer difference in scale between Minare’s plight and Neo’s, as well as the care with which the reference is visually presented, makes for a ludicrous moment that had be howling with laughter. There are other overt pop culture references, but this was one I got without the need for research.

With only about $2500 in savings and $2600 in incoming expenses, Minare finds herself at a crossroads. She can either go back to school, or see where this radio host thing takes her. It’s not a tough choice…especially when Matou agrees to let her crash at the radio station’s storage facility. She arrives with a full rucksack strapped to her back, as if she’s about to climb a mountain…and in a way, she is!

As one would expect of a more mature form of media, the path to success is a slow and gradual climb, if the climb happens at all. Katou doesn’t want Minare to be under any illusions of instant celebrity, but maintains that she Has What It Takes, just like his idol Sissel Komei, who be believes Minare resembles in both appearance and style.

As it turns out, Minare isn’t allowed to crash in storage; for one thing, there’s no heat there. For another, assistant director Nanba Mizuho is happy to let Minare crash on her floor for a while, and is actually excited to drink cheap Chablis hang out with her one-on-one.

At first Minare pretends to be drunk as a kind of social defense mechanism, but Mizuho sees through the ploy, and admits she was never much of a social butterfly. That said, even though she’s never even had a boyfriend, she felt deeply connected to Minare’s fiery words when she came in for her first live session.

Sometimes before I go to sleep I listen to the Shipping Forecast on BBC Radio 4. Especially on a cold or stormy night, there’s something comforting and relaxing about hearing a prim and proper voice flawlessly deliver the conditions around the British Isles, as well as thinking about all those ships at sea, out there, somewhere, in the middle of the night.

I’m far from the only person who thinks this way about it. The BBC once tried to get rid of the Shipping Forecast, and its loyal (and predominantly land-based) audience practically rioted until the Beeb caved and brought it back. Like the big fax machines at the station, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

As Mizuho switches on the radio at 3:30 to hear the beginning of Sound High Tide before nodding off, Minare stays awake, and starts to speak as if she were on the air, with the sounds merely a backdrop. If all goes well, her yet-to-be-produced new show will replace Sound High Tide in that 3:30 slot.

Will her very different, non-ambient, provocative style catch fire in that dark depths of the early morn, and sway the small but likely passionate legion of High Tide listeners? Only time will tell…

Wave, Listen to Me! – 02 – Elephant = Car

After being duped into not one but two separate radio broadcasts, Minare considers legal counsel, until Matou produces her business card with a drunkenly-scrawled note declaring that she wouldn’t complain no matter how many people he shared their conversation with. Even if it’s not a binding document, with the hole Minare has dug with her boss Takarada, she may not be able to turn down a new job at the radio.

Takarada can’t really afford to drop an experienced waiter like Minare on the eve of the summer festival, so he claims her life for that duration. Her co-worker Nakahara, who has a thing for her, would rather she stay put and fulfill the things she promised to do for him…probably while drunk, because she doesn’t remember any of those things. In any case, while updating the restaurant blog, Minare learns that much of the customers are so attuned to her voice that they immediately recognized it on the radio.

Radio host Chisato Madoka casually asks Matou if he’s looking to replace her, but that’s not his intent with Minare at all. Mostly, he wants to bring up a voice talent from the ground up, and there’s never been an amateur who is so clear and presice with her words while delivering a tone that’s harsh and overbearing yet somehow also not unpleasant—pretty much the opposite of Chisato’s. So he and other members of the crew visit Minare at her workplace to offer her a more permanent job.

Some time passes, but eventually Minare is picked up in a car by the fit mixer Koumoto, whom Minare immediately considers asking out before reconsidering due to her uncertain economic future. Matou has her sit in to deliver a 5-minute promotion for the festival. Minare warns him she might not paint it in the best light since she’s not a fan of Urasando, but does a fine job anyway, and like before, doesn’t mess up once.

You can hear Minare on the radio while she tends the food stall, and a discussion with Nakahara emerges about the nature of the food they’re selling at the stall under the name “Gagarin.” Turns out it’s the predecessor restaurant to “Voyager” run by Takarada’s culinary master, and they’re selling what’s left of Gagarin’s food at festivals to phase it out.

Honestly I wasn’t so sure what the point of all that talk was about the two restaurants, except as an opportunity for Minare to introduce a more dramatic scenario than the mundane truth…only for it to be the truth? As for Minare’s weird neighbor who remembers a date and starts seeing blood? What’s up with that?! Could that be fodder for a future Minare broadcast? Finally, her ex Mitsuo heard her, and seemed amused. That can’t be good!

Wave, Listen to Me! – 01 (First Impressions) – She’s Got Something to Say

Wave, Listen to Me! is a lot of fun. That is to say, it’s fun, and it’s also…a lot. The opening minutes is a surreal scenario in which late-night radio talk show host Koda Minare finds herself in the woods, face-to-face with a big brown bear. She tackles fluffy write-in comments from listeners that are well beneath the urgency of her present life-threatening situation.

But it’s all an illusion; we’re seeing what a radio listener would imagine, and we see it vividly because Minare is such a good audio performer. Her producers and assistants are along for the ride as she starts riffing off-script, drawing from her own extensive emotional baggage. It’s not just what you say on the radio waves that matters, but how you say it.

You can see why a radio programming director like Katou Kanetsugu would switch on his phone’s voice recorder upon encountering Koda Minare in the midst of the fifth—and worst—day of Getting Over a Tragedy; in this case her boyfriend breaking up with her. Minare is just her own unvarnished self, but Katou can sense the innate talent within her, and can’t let it go to waste.

Minare goes home, blacks out (though not before perfectly arranging her shoes in the genkan) wakes up, puts herself back together, and has a good therapeutic cry watching Ghost Ship (though her friend recommended Ghost). Then, while working at the soup curry restaurant Voyager, she suddenly hears herself drunkenly ranting on the radio during a “lonely hearts” show called September Blue Moon.

Minare drops what she’s doing (risking firing by her uptight boss), hops into her adorable little Daihatsu Mira Gino, races to the station, marches into the studio, and demands that they shut off her ranting immediately. Matou tells her three seconds of radio silence is a gaffe, and eight gets him canned, so if she wants it shut off, she’ll have to provide new material.

Surely knocked off balance, both by her recent relationship woes ( and associated bender) and the fact there’s always going to be something dreamlike, surreal, and disorienting about hearing yourself on the radio, to say nothing of being thrust into the recording booth, having a mic shoved in your face, and being asked to start talking when you get the signal.

When that signal comes in the form of a tap on the back, Minare comes out of the gate blazing, backtracking on her drunken stereotyping and hoping for the opportunity to judge a future partner by his unique individuality and not toss in a box based on his region of origin.

She closes by vowing to kill her ex Mitsuo even if she has to chase him to the end of the earth. Matou’s gamble pays off: Minare has “it”. She was born for this. It’s cathartic and thrilling to behold…and reminded me of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel of all things!

What’s so satisfying about Matou finding her and giving her the opportunity to talk on the radio is how much it fits her personality. While she has her own private life (and inner monologue that only we hear), whenever she’s around others she’s going to talk, talk and talk some more, especially when she’s on the sauce. It’s high time she made money doing this, right?!

This all works thanks to crackling, realistic dialogue and a brash, bravura performance by Sugiyama Riho, whose robust, confrontational, delinquent-ish voice reminds me of prime Sawashiro Miyuki and Shiraishi Ryouko. It will be interesting to see what other scenarios like the bear attack the producers come up with, as well as to see if and how Minare balances restaurant work, broadcasting, and finding a new partner…or just finding her ex and killing him!

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 06

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Fate/stay night: UBW episode 6 follows last week’s trend of Emiya making poor decisions, introduces another servant and, in the least surprising surprise of all, reveals Shinji is the third Mage at school.

Through all of it, episode 6 had a distinct slice-of-life vibe, which was a good thing. Archer’s flamboyant red costume aside, the casual way people have to talk to Emiya and the matter-of-fact way he responds to all information, went a long way to make the exposition and infodumping feel grounded.

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After seven episodes, my biggest disappointment with F/sn is its choice to make Emiya the protagonist, instead of Rin. Rin certainly presents other storytelling challenges, being a hot tempered know-it-all, but I get the sense that whatever she is up to when Emiya can’t see her, is probably a more interesting story to see.

Perhaps I’m most frustrated because Emiya’s surprise does not often match my surprise? Likewise, Emiya’s total lack of introspection, narration, planning or strategy of any kind makes me wonder what Rin is up to and leads my eye to probe the backgrounds for what he must be missing.

If this is intentional, it’s annoying but a clever trick. Think of it this way: because we occasionally see Rin planning and up to interesting things, and because we see her Servant Archer around more than her, we must assume, as viewers, that Archer is an intentional distraction and that Rin is up to something very interesting, without the writers and animators having to spend effort on showing us.

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Why do I describe this episode as feeling like a slice-of-life?

The episode starts with Archer and Emiya talking on the street as they walk home from school. Sure, Emiya’s arm is covered in blood and they are talking about magic, but there’s nothing magical about the conversation or setting. Emiya even has his school bag, casually in hand. If they weren’t talking about servants, it could just be two dudes beefing about school on the way home.

Emiya’s following day at school plays out the same way. Ignoring the magical implications of his confrontation with Shinji and the Sigil removal with Rin, we really just watched a guy walk around a school building with a girl and accuse another guy of beating up another student. Heck, he accuses Shinji of something every other day and that ‘Emiya Casual Swagger’ makes it feel like any other day.

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This is where the lack of Rin’s point of view makes Emiya seem more stupid than he probably is. From his perspective, Rin just pops in and out of his life and appears to skulk around the school, largely unnoticed.

However, for all we know, Rin goes to class in the same casual way. Perhaps more understated than Emiya does, as I doubt she’s accusing suspicious classmates in public. We just don’t know.

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If we saw Rin in class, laughing it off with her friends and seeing her day-to-day, Emiya wouldn’t seem so clueless. It’s an interesting choice to not show that, and I’m curious to know what advantages the story will carve out by making its protagonist look stupid — with structure no less.

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In one scene, Saber tries to make Emiya understand that as soon as they deal with the third master at the school that his alliance with Rin will end. Then Saber agrees to train Emiya in swordfighting and we see how much everyone is putting into his survival and how ineffective all of it is.

Emiya is crushed by her blows almost immediately and only resents her for it afterwards. Likewise, while Emiya claims otherwise, it’s clear that the temporary nature of his alliance went in one ear and out the other.

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However, this scene is quickly followed by a delightfully opposite one where Emiya is working on his magic and Saber comes to watch him.

The mirroring of the scenes is obvious but thought provoking. Where Saber’s scene is warm and bright, his is cold and dark. Where hers has them stand far apart, his has them crouched close together. Where hers is quick, wordless, and fierce, his is instructive and patient.

I don’t know the writer’s intention — if Emiya’s world is more personal and small and Saber’s is more violent and to the point — but it was interesting to see that comparison.

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Overall, this week was thoughtful and well-constructed. We learned that Archer has no desire for the Grail, that Shinji is not only a monster but a mage, that Caster has an alliance with Assassin and that the Servant I thought was Assassin was most likely Thief. We learned a lot and none of it felt like an instructor yelling facts at us.

Coupled with my salivating need to see what happens next week, even if it’s only jaw-snapping action, that smacks of something great. Thoughts? Counterpoints? Hit me up in the comments below!

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Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 05

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Fate/stay night: UBW episode 05 has all the pieces of a fantastic thirty minutes of anime, but never quite comes together as a fantastic piece of anime.

Ultimately, it falls down because all these pieces, as understandable and dare-I-say believable as they are, do not fit together. At any given moment, the story lurches from breath-taking action, to relationship dialog, to Scooby-Doo style mystery.

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Emiya starts off his day by ignoring Sabre’s recommendation and going to school. Alone. Then he runs into Rin, who is completely besides herself at how stupid he is, and how he’s totally ignored her warning that she would kill him next time too.

Despite his recent encounter with Berserker, and nearly being killed by Lancer before that, Emiya’s character fails to grasp how dangerous his situation is. More accurately, his attitude comes off as ‘Whatev’s! I know best’

Thank goodness he doesn’t whine when Rin tries to kill him later.

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In some ways, I could see Emiya as a proxy for the viewer. (at least, young male viewers) He’s bold, knows enough to follow along, and isn’t totally useless . He’s like any starting JRPG character and we’re right there with him.

So, naturally, if he were our RPG character, we’d probably throw him stupidly into every fight and expect the level balance to make it beatable too.

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However, this is an anime and we have to watch Emiya ignore everyone and rush in stupidly. We don’t have any control to make the decision for his character, and there’s clearly no level balance to save his skin, which makes his decisions feel all the stupider.

Honestly, who here isn’t wondering why he isn’t trying to learn more magic, grind up some n00bs for XP, or locate a secret magic weapon? \I’d never invite this thick head on a raid and that’s the truth!

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At school, Emiya has lunch with the student council president, learns about mysterious bad goings on (the archery captain-chan never came home from school and Shinji the douche-hole was the last person seen with her)

So naturally, Emiya decides to put on his investigation hat and look around the school after everyone has gone home.

You know, completely ignoring the fact that mages don’t fight in public because PEOPLE are around. SMERT!

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Then Rin tries to kill him or, more likely, beat sense into him over how stupid he’s being OR, since he’s already been warned, remove his command seals so that she can have control of Saber or, just because he’s incredibly annoying.

Rin’s conflict (that she likes Emiya or feels responsible for him) is obvious and accounts for why she doesn’t put all her effort into actually killing him but I’m sure this is an area many viewers will find annoying. Very very very well animated but tsundere’ly annoying.

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Then a girl screams, clearly being destroyed by Shinji and the fight is broken off. Until Emiya prevents Rin from being killed with his arm and runs off to fight against Assassin all alone.

Again, showing that he’s profoundly ignorant or just plain stupid.

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After a fight that can only be described as putting even Bahamut’s animation to shame, Rin saves Emiya AGAIN, considers herself frustratingly semi-in-his-debt AGAIN, and they go to her house to talk about.

Ultimately, they talk about family and info-dump us a bit, drink tea, and form a truce that Emiya will no doubt take for granted and make Rin want to kill him again.

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From morning exposition to aimlessly screwing around at school, to mystery investigation, to angry relationship fight (with magic) to compassionately helping a civilian, to another magic fight, to info dump and happy relationship moments, the constant shifting of gears gave me whiplash.

Hot. Cold. Hot. Cold.

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That said, while it didn’t hit last week’s balance of exposition with action, this week was in no way as eye-rolling as our first major info dump at the church. If anything, the erratic focus captures how life must feel for Emiya.

However, I get the feeling that Emiya is kind of stupid and his erratic world would flow a whole lot smoother if he was smarter about living in it.

9_ogk

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 04

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Fate/stay night: UBW episode 04 is a fantastic little sequence of exposition, interwoven through a pleasant day in the life of Emiya Shirou and bookended by the harsher realities of Rin and Einzbern.

Like All F/sn, this week was beautifully rendered and calmly paced. However, the story was told with such a casual speed, and told through so many cheerful people (often walking slowly or listening to each other with a warm and obvious intent), that watching it felt like taking an evening stroll in the Fall.

FSN4_3…always question scenes where a character disappears from your view conspicuously close to the end of her sentence…

This week’s arc is all about timing and the threat of failure due to a mage tipping his or her hand.

For Emiya, he must hide Saber’s identity (and truthfully, his tortured memories of hell fire) from his friends for their own safety and he must even allow Saber to hide her true identity from him, or risk being defeated by the more experienced mages who may be able to read his mind. It’s a clever way to keep us guessing and in the dark, but it also shows Emiya’s trust in other people, and his trust in other people to trust him.

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For Rin, the risk is that she’s already revealed too much in the last fight to anyone who could have seen it and that, by saving Saber for last, she risks too much by leaving taking on too strong opponents too quickly. Worse, she risks having to face and kill Emiya because he’s likely not going to stay away for her.

She risks tipping her hand, even to herself, that she actually likes him, which will no doubt be her undoing.

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Einzbern risks the least and the most, depending on how things unfold. Her adherence to a predator’s nature — to torment her prey until it can scream no more — will most likely come back to bite her.

Yes! Berserker is unimaginably powerful but it’s arrogant to think he can not be defeated. Especially after revealing what his Nobel Phantasm is to her opponents. Giving them time to consider the best solution to defeating him (which Rin and Archer are most likely doing) is an obvious mistake. For her sake, she better hope his power is as unbreakable as she treats is.

FSN4_5the teacher is threatening because this angle makes him look larger than our hero and not seeing his face means we can’t read his emotions…

As for the actual events of episode 4? Emiya recovers from his wounds (he appears to have self-healing magic) and goes to school on an off day. Saber follows him and is a distraction for many girls who like him or worry about how rarely he truly smiles.

Saber explores the school and encounters a teacher who seems like dangerous news but that avenue remains unexplored, or just a red herring.

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Rin investigates the ‘gas leaks’ more directly and, with Archer’s help, identifies the culprit as the Caster Class servant. They seem powerful and, given the spell seems to be a love-crushing spell, presumably female. Archer is concerned by their chances of success of defeating this opponent.

This scene includes a short but dramatic fight against skeleton dogs in an office building hallway. Skeletons are hard to render by any standard and F/sn does not disappoint: not even Bahamut’s recent zombie/sea monster battle looked this good!

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Then the women in Emiya’s life decide to move in with him — and who can blame them? Saber’s sudden appearance, lack of spoken words and the fact that she is living with him would make any friends nervous, if not a little jealous.

Fujimura-Sensei practically lives there anyway and, given how obvious Sakura’s affections for Emiya are, it’s no surprise Fujimura-Sensei helps rope her in too.

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For all these happenings, ep 4 explains a lot about Servant Classes, vaguely how and why the grail summons them, and the intrinsic tactical advantages gained by knowing exactly which servant you are fighting. This is exposition to be sure, and delivered by Saber-monologging, but it’s all lovingly rendered in ghostly CGI — which is implied to be inside of Saber’s tea cup.

The implication is that she is imagining these roles and we (and Emiya) are getting to see. It’s rather clever and very effective at making the info dump engaging and grounded within the scene.

If etherial imagery can be grounded?

FSN4_4…Sakura is alone. Small and literally spot lighted in the darkness…

What’s left to say? F/sn’s slowness — its deliberate nature — is artful in a way that transcends what is already visually beautiful to become something totally beautiful.

In short, F/sn is masterfully constructed Art, in all senses and disciplinary applications of that word.

10_ogk

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 03

fsn4_1Atmosphere and sense of scale? Yeah, this show’s got that covered!

Fate/stay night: UBW episode 03 picks the pace right the heck up with a jaw-dropping battle that both spans vast miles AND stays uncomfortably close quarters in a wooded graveyard. This is the best non-movie quality magical fighting I’ve ever seen.

On top of that, F/sn manages to deliver equal parts information-bump and mystery without breaking its stride or ever feeling talky or expositional. As with episodes 00 and 01, you owe it to yourself to watch this in HD with a good set of speakers turned way up. This spectacle looks and sounds awesome!

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Illyasviel von Einzbern is her name and Berserker, her massive orc-looking servant, is her game. And her game is good, shrugging off an onslaught of full-power attacks from both Saber and Archer, and sometimes both at the same time.

It’s a great fight (or fights, if you consider the short chase Berserker gives to Saber as she relocates to the cemetery, where his advantage will be reduced) and it teases us with as many reveals as it actually gives us more information.

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What’s the deal with Archer’s sword-like arrow? What’s the deal with Saber’s sword, for the short moment it’s visible and firing what looks like a death star blast through Berserker?

Who knows? Obviously not Shirou, who’s the only one close enough to clearly see both of these things. Einzbern and Rin probably have an idea — and Einzbern in particular pulls a 180 after seeing Archer in true action. Must be some high-level stuff if the early favorite of the first four masters we’ve seen is going to take notice!

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A huge boon to the fight comes in the form of space. Not only is Archer incorporeal for the beginning of the fight, he spends most of it fighting from miles away. This would feel cheep normally…except none of his attacks are effective. Pretty as hell, but not effective.

Unfortunately, even his super sword/arrow attack comes up short and F/sn really drives home how absurdly powerful Berserker is. He’s not just nigh-unscratchable, nor just good at regeneration: it’s like he can roll back time itself and undo all the damage as if it never happened in the first place.

Crap!

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And then there’s Rin’s fight with Einzbern, which is equally spectacular but totally different than the Servant battle. Where the servants rip into each other with a pounding fury, the Masters prod, taunt and look for each other’s weakness.

The stillness of their battle was masterful and brilliantly kept the tempo fresh, keeping what was basically twenty minutes of action from wearing us out.

And Man, her hair-birds are freaky!

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Lastly, Shirou gets a small spotlight. He’s the fish out of water but he wants to help…but HE HAS NO IDEA HOW? How the heck do you get in on this without getting yourself killed and helping no one in the process? His frustration over being useless — especially considering he just shook Saber’s hand and agreed to give it his all last week — comes through nicely.

Nicer? F/sn doesn’t harp on it. Shirou is around but we get as much if not more of Rin’s point of view and much more fighting than either mage’s POV and that is a good thing. I hear, and can guess from what little I’ve seen of ‘old stinky F/sn that an excessively-whiny Shirou would be bothersome.

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Oh! Kotomine Kirei and a new bad guy/important character were also introduced. We have no idea what their agendas are but it almost sounds like Kirei would be just as happy if the world ended. His little dialogue had a true-believer vibe to it — that Judgment Day is a good thing. Nice!

Or…problematic, since there’s no way our characters are going to agree with that point of view, if they ever hear it.

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Who is this guy?

F/sn is masterful and there isn’t much else to say. You’ll hear it over and over from me, as long they do it, but my biggest joys from it are how close it keeps its secrets to its chest (we know so little) and how much space it gives all the rest.

The world is a big place and Fate respects that, which sells the experience in a unique way. Freaking Huzzah!

10_ogk

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 02

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Fate/stay nigh episode two unexpectedly breaks from the mold established by the previous episodes. It’s shorter, running only 25 minutes, and that shortness doesn’t leave much breathing room for very thoughtful setting shots that I found so lovely in episodes zero and one.

However, most shows only get a half hour slot to keep us entertained. Sadly, Fate/Stay uses that time to runs its mouth and cover a lot of exposition. I hope you’re ready for some revetting talking!

fs3_6This is a neckless is a thing reminder! You’ve been reminded!

The sum total of the episode’s activity: Rin explains the holy grail war to Shirou over tea. Then they go to Kotomine Kirei’s fake church in New Fuyuki and Kirei explains the holy grail again, with a few more details. Then Rin and Shirou leave and encounter their first true opponent.

Sure, the details matter and explanation has to happen sometime but OUCH! That’s really all that happened this week.

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As we learned last week, Shirou doesn’t want to fight because he hates the artificial’ness of good guys killing bad guys to save the day. That said, Kirei’s point is simple: a bad person won the grail ten years ago and New Fuyuki was burned to the ground and lot’s of people were killed. Even Shirou himself was seriously injured.

While there was too much of it, the exposition wasn’t dreadful. Unfortunately, Shirou hails from the “repeat what was just said back as a rhetorical question” school of anime, which lengthens and adds nothing to an already drawn out scene of talking.

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At least we get a nice moment where Sabre and Shirou get some bonding and renew their vows and establish their determination to win. Cliché? Sure. But touching.

Still, the exposition is unfortunate. It’s wasteful and that would be better spent on what fate/stay does best: establishing mood and showing us — not telling us — what people are thinking and doing. Having both Rin and the priest explain the war was over kill.

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tl;dr? This was a talk heavy episode where we learn a lot at the cost of action and mood. Also, Shirou is… kinda bland, actually.

At least the cliff hanger was a giant ass monster servant, apparently easy to identify as ‘Berserker’ and obvious that next week will drop right into a fight.

8_ogk

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 01

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The second most difficult story to tell, is the story we’ve already heard, that we already known*. What’s there to add, really? Embellishment? Extraneous details? That sounds so dull.

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works ‘first’ episode does just that. It’s starts the same day as episode zero. It features the same characters and the same events. Only our point of view has changed from Rin to Emiya Shirou.

My God, it’s wondrous!

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As before, we begin with a quiet day where Rin is early to school and Emiya is repairing broken classroom heaters. We see he’s doing this partially with magic, which was not stated before, but may not have been important enough for Rin to tell to the audience.

Unlike Rin, Emiya is more interactive with his class mates. He spends a lot of time doing work for (and listening to) the class president, Sakura prepares some of his meals, and Fujimura-sensei is both his landlord and a constant mooch at meal time.

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Still, like Rin, Emiya appears a little detached. He’s recently been chased out of the archery dojo by school ass-hat Matou Shinji and he doesn’t even know who these girls are.

To be fair, I don’t know who they are or what their significance to the plot the have yet either…

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From Emiya’s perspective, we learn that Fujimura-sensei is quite a bit more competent than we may have suspected from her always on the edge of late demeanor. We also see, though do not know for sure, that Sakura is being abused, presumably by Shinji.

Ultimately, Emiya’s point of view is a great companion to Rin’s. Where she gave us magical world context and a taste of the non-magical people in the world, he gives us low-stakes magic use and a greater understanding of the non-magic human network. Same world, same people, opposite sides of the coin.

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The only completely new content is Emiya’s past, which shows his adoption by a mage named Kiritsugu. It also shows Emiya surviving a fiery tragedy 10 years in the past and establishes his motives and frustrations with heroism.

These scenes are superb. They carry a great sense of heat mixed with the stillness of giving up. Magically fueled or not, there is a grand magic to presenting so much chaos, yet capturing the isolation of being alone in the chaos, powerless.

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Emiya looks back on the disaster with frustration and sadness. Not everyone was saved — not everyone could be saved — and that conflicts him. As a hero, he doesn’t want to be limited by choice. Who lives or dies shouldn’t be a blessing to those he cares for more than others. It should be a blessing for everyone.

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As with Rin’s story, Emiya’s introduces several side mysteries that go unexplained — unexplored even within this admittedly long format episode. A murder is on the lose. Possible gas leaks are making people sick. Sakura’s injuries and, very briefly show, her mysterious acquaintance.

Each one of these mysteries is handled with care and, for the most part, given very little consideration in dialog. As always, Fate/Stay is playing its cards close to its chest.

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As it must, Emiya’s story catches up to the initial tragedy told in Rin’s: Emiya witnesses Lancer and Archer fighting at the school and is killed in the hallway. Even Lancer is annoyed that it must go down this way. If only has master wasn’t such a cruel and cowardly one.

Later, following a resurrection that we really only understand because of episode zero, Emiya returns home, Only to fight Lancer again. Fortunately, this time Emiya is ready. Sort of.

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Magically increasing the durability of a poster to fight a spear at close range makes for a exciting little fight. From the beginning, we know it’s a losing battle and, given the peeks here and there at Emiya’s pentagram, we also assumed that he would be revealed to be Saber’s summoner.

Even so! That was a satisfying fight and it’s immediate escalation into a servant vs servant fight put a satisfying cap on our retread. Well timed because the episode comes to a tight close face to face with Rin, who actually knows and is willing to give Emiya some answers.

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My favorite details this week came from Emiya’s television, which displayed a mixture of japanese programs. Some news. Some dancing mascots harrassing anchors. None of it was relvant to the story. They were just there, for your eye to catch and ponder instead of just staring at talking characters.

That’s some effective world building. Effectively lived-in world building.

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The locket remains a bit of a mystery, since it isn’t quite in the same place in the two episodes…

Episode One is a little more chatty, though actually has less exposition and more character interaction, which nicely rounds out the experience.

Additionally, episode 1’s magical battles are slightly less spectacular, as Emiya is less magical and can’t participate in the same way in the same way as Rin. However, his personal fight against Lancer with a reinforced magical poster was delightfully unique (even to Lancer) that it more than made up for its reduced after-effects budget.

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Really, what is the difference between a 9 and a 10? Certainly, Fate/Stay is superior in every regard to every anime we’ve rated 9 so far this season, but when you’re faced with a second week where you consider giving it a 10, you can’t help but second guess yourself. Really? Is Fate/Stay really as good as every single episode of FLCL, one of the only perfect-score-every-episode anime I can think of?

Yes. At least, so far. And yet, Fate/Stay accomplishes it’s perfect ten so brilliantly in the opposite direction of the FLCLs and Kill La Kills. Where they are masterfully orchestrated spectacles of brilliant action, style and re-watchable overload, Fate/Stay is serene, patiently dolling out story and character development and subtle with their mystery.

Goodness, if there ever was a season for a show to say definitively that it was the best, it’s now. It’s fall 2014’s killer season. Well done Fate/Stay. Well done!

10_ogk

*The most difficult story to tell is a prequel.