Noragami Aragoto – 08

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As a fully committed Ebisu creates more masked ones, Yato continues to bask in the elation of finally having a real shrine to call his own, along with all the honors and privileges that come with it, from official registration to a plot of land and admittance to Takamagahara. He also wastes no time lavishing an excessive amount of attention on Hiyori, who probably didn’t realize when she made it how big a deal a little shrine could be for a god who had never had one.

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That importance is driven home when Hiyori encounters Manabu at school (the bullied kid who appeared in last season’s episode 8), but he only thanks her, he doesn’t remember anyone named Yato. Gods are created from the wishes of humans. No wishes, no gods. Meanwhile, Yukine takes advantage of his new resident status to look up Kazuma and beg him to help him become a better exemplar to Yato.

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Because as annoying as Yato has been, Yukine and Hiyori both are glad to see him so happy. He’s so happy, he doesn’t even know what to do, because as he says while drunk in a rare glimpse into his deep past, his “father” told him he’d never need a shrine. This is because Yato is a god of calamity. His clients would never be long-lasting, but due to human nature, there would always be clients for his kind of services.

With his blessed vessel and shrine and Hiyori, Yato wants to leave that past behind and hold tight to these new gifts, and even arranges to release Nora AKA Hiiro, believing he no longer needs her, and since she has many other masters, she doesn’t need him either. But Hiiro reminds Yato that he made her a Nora, then sics her phantom dogs on him to demonstrate how much he needs her to continue existing.

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From there, Nora pulls him off the wagon altogether and back into the life they used to lead, with her as the sharp sword of not-always-righteous retribution. Yato sinks back into the rut all too easily, like a drug he thought he kicked. Because as long as he’s fulfilling the dark assignments of the damned, he continues to exist. It was instilled in him long ago that he needed Nora for that.

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In this way, a full month passes during which neither Yukine nor Hiyori see or hear from Yato. Hiyori goes to Tenjin asking if he’s seen him, and Tenjin reiterates his concern that she’s gotten caught up in too much god stuff and needs to spend more time enjoying her adolescence. Almost on cue, as she’s worrying about whether Yato’s continued absense will cause her to eventually forget him, she trips on a flight of stairs and a strapping young lad catches her.

And as Ebisu recovers from a bad reaction to his latest masked creation and Bishamon and Okuninushi are apparently ambushed in a parking garage, Yato is off in some house with Nora, playing out the same old destructive patterns. Only thoughts of Hiyori bring him out of his complacent trance and he demands he be allowed to leave. The door opens, Nora appeals to their “father”, who gives them one more job before letting him go: rescuing a conjurer from the underworld.

Something tells me neither Nora nor this father figure are anyone Yato can trust, but at the same time, they were and continue to be a part of him, and his perceived obligation to them isn’t something easily cast aside, no matter how much progress he’s made reforming himself. Even for a god, old habits die hard.

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Ushio to Tora – 18

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Few anime this year have worn their hearts so brazenly and so effectively on their sleeve as Ushio to Tora, and these past two episodes—in which the women (and one special woman in particular) in Ushio life literally save his soul—comprise UtT’s finest and most thrilling hour yet. Not a single line or action is wasted, and the dramatic stuff is expertly garnished with bursts of UtT’s trademark comedy.

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Two girls have successfully combed his hair, and once Yuu uses her athleticism and courage to be the third, that leaves his closest friends Mayuko and Asako. Mayuko almost instantly falls into a river charging ahead, but she is continually rescued by Tora, under the pretense of preserving a future meal.

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That neither Mayuko, a grateful Asako, nor anyone else take Tora’s malevolence seriously cracks Izuna up while showing how far he’s come whle maintaining his preferred way of showing affection to the humans around him: by claiming, almost defensively, they’re all food. With Jiemei showing him the way, Tora carries the girls to Ushio’s new location by the mouth of the cave where “a piece” of Hakumen no Mono dwells, and Mayuko reflexively uses the comb to parry a blow from the Beast Spear.

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That sends her flying to the edge of a cliff from which she falls rather than drop the comb that contains “all their hopes”, but fortunately for her Tora is really diligent about keeping his food clean and unharmed. Mayuko in arm, he decides he’s sick of Ushio, a human, acting like this. So he lets Ushio stab him with the spear, giving Mayuko the opening she needs. Four down, one to go.

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As suspected, for maximum dramatic effect, the one who loves Ushio the most is saved for last. Jeimei reveals it’s her brother who is the Beast Spear trying to devour Ushio in service of destoying Hakumen, but she begs him to stop. Ushio is even able to get the words “it hurts” out, sending the tears streaming from Asako’s eyes as she laments that all this crap is happening. Like Tora, she wants the old Ushio back, preferring him and all his lovable flaws to the mindless monster before her.

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As she wipes her eye she combs his hair, but the Spear senses Hakumen close and seemingly undoes all the progress the combing made, and neutralizing the power of Asako’s emotions. But she doesn’t give up, grabs hold of Ushio and doesn’t let go, and remembers all the times throughout the years Ushio pissed her off by teasing her, only to be her dopey knight in shining armor when she was in a spot.

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Just as Tora has a shorthand for why he helps out his “food” so much, Asako has a shorthand for the “idiot” Ushio. But she also happens to love that idiot, and all but says it when his crystal eyes shatter for good, released from the Beast Spear’s hold. Back in “normal” Beast Mode, he summons Tora and the two deal with the threat that had been bubbling around them, and had been dealt with by his dad, the chosen four, Jun, the priests, and even Hyou (Hi Hyou!), until the end of their limits: the massive swarm of Hiyou.

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Noting he seems stronger than before, Tora works with Ushio to obliterate the storm, after which Ushio collapses from exhaustion, back to his old self. He mutters to Tora how before he woke up, he felt like he was having a strange dream full of strange people, but also filled with warm people who were at their very best. But it all seems like a dream to him; he’s unaware of what has transpired and who was involved.

That Ushio may forever be ignorant to their deeds and hard-won victory is a little disappointing, but they’re right: if he learned what he did to them, he’d likely never forgive himself. They’re protecting him from needlessly punishing himself for hurting them, because to a woman, they were there by choice, and would do it again to save him in a heartbeat.

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This is an experience none of them will ever forget, but it’s also notable that it’s an event that brought them all together, as shown when they decide to go party together to celebrate a victory everyone who was present knows about except the one they saved.

But while many friendships were forged in this ordeal, as Ushio heads into the cave with Tora (no time to waste!) all the girls not named Asako know that Ushio will definitely be back, but won’t be coming back to them, but to her.  That will be some reunion.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 02

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Gundam IBO backtracks a bit with the first of what seemed like a redundant scenes whose heavy lifting had already been more efficiently handled last week: Orga sends Mika to fire up the Gundam. This week we see Mika’s side of it, and I can’t say we didn’t learn a lot: why Mika was bleeding last week (Gundam’s visceral neural interface is a lot tougher on the body than the mobile workers), Aina’s condemnation of using such barbaric interfaces (no surprise there; but Mika doesn’t care if it will help them survive), and the fact Mika can’t read. That’s right, Mika is the Charlie Kelly of GIBO.

That’s all well and good, but it was an awful lot of infodumping so early in the episode, and I enjoyed the alacrity with which Mika simply showed up in the Gundam that had been teased early last week, without excessive explanation.

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But once we’re back in the present with Mika battling and bleeding in Barbatos, we learn that he and his Gundam are only the savior’s by a very shallow margin. Because a lot of quick jerry-rigging had to take place to even get it going, the mechanic forgot to fill it up with gas. Also, Mika himself soon runs out of juice and passes out, mere moments after Lt. Crank, his arrogant young CO killed and his subordinate injured, orders a retreat. The Third Group lives another day thanks to Mika and Orga, but only barely.

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As Mika’s adorable love interest Atri heads to CGS for a supply run while giving Biscuit’s twin sisters Cookie and Cracker a lift, Coral lays into Crank for not getting the job (getting Aina killed in “glorious battle”) done. This was the other scene that I felt went too far out of its way to explain the Aina assassination plot, which was more elegantly implied last week. Still, Coral’s men’s failure harms his reputation and threatens his unit’s funding, so he orders Crank to take care of Aina before the blue-coated Gjallarhorn inspectors show up, which is soon.

Crank, an old space salt, has no desire to do further battle with child soldiers like the pilot of the Gundam, as he fears they’re fighting against their will. His empathy falls on deaf ears, as Coral will certainly find someone else to do his dirty work if Crank doesn’t. But this is the first case of someone in Gjallarhorn having an ounce of empathy for the childrens’ plight, and depending on how things go, it could be paving the way Crank defecting.

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Atra’s encounter with Mika—which she was clearly very much looking forward to any may well have been the primary reason for her coming at all—lasts all of ten seconds. Atra doesn’t challenge the still-bloodstained Mika’s assurance that he’s all right, and he shuffles off, saying he has things to attend to. Mika may regret taking Atra’s love for granted down the road.

As Mika attends to things, he crosses paths with Aina. During the battle, she felt useless. After the battle, she’s still there, and feels she can’t leave, out of guilt for everyone who died for her sake, feelings she relays to Mika as an act of contrition. But Mika doesn’t want her sorrow or her pity, and coldly requests she not look down on his fallen comrades and think they only died for her. They also died for him, for their other comrades, and for themselves.

That brings us to what is perhaps the Third Group’s breaking point: the First Corps is back, but rather than have their tails between their legs, they’re eager to punish the Third for their insubordinate actions. Orga, respectful of his superior on the surface but clearly restraining his contempt, works out a lovely explanation for what happened, but is met by his superior’s fist.

Orga takes this beating for his men, but it looks like he’s not any more willing to take any more than his men are willing to watch. Orga knows how things will go with the First Corps dopes in charge. Declining business, higher-risk ops, and more Third Group death and suffering as they’re used as bait. He’s through with that life, and starts preparing for a mutiny.

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In another instance of their strong fraternal, symbiotic bond, Orga says he’ll call the whole thing off if Mika isn’t on board, while assuring the men that Mika will definitely say yes. When he meets up with Mika, who is fueling the Gundam that is stuck where he left it, he says he’s on board with whatever Orga thinks is best. He’s also working rather than paying respect for the dead because of something Orga said to him when they were young: “You can see the dead when you’re dead, so to keep the living alive, do everything you can.”

“Everything you can” means rising up against their First Corps oppressors before they’re sent on a mission they can’t come back from. But with Aina still at the base, Coral nervously receiving the two elite young Gjallarhorn inspector-majors he has no intention of revealing his failures to, and the decent veteran Crank deploying alone to complete the mission Orlis could not, possible alliances abound. Yet at the end of the day the Third Group will probably have to take care of themselves, as they always have.

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Noragami Aragoto – 02

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That shaman-looking regalia did the “Evil Smirk at the End of the Episode”, so there was a good bet he’d turn out to be a less than swell guy, and this episode confirms that with all the subtlety of a Hiyori Iki Suplex.

Yukine comes clean about having made a friend outside the Circle of Trust, but everyone’s happy about it, and Yato, while a little weary that Suzuha is a Bishamon regalia, merely urges caution going forward.

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Suzuha already has Yukine in his thrall with his friendly demeanor and approachability, but seals the deal by telling a very sad tale about a girl who used to notice his flowers every Summer, but could never remember him, and forgot about him altogether thirty years ago, when they promised to meet at an old cherry tree he’s now desperately trying to rehabilitate.

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Suzuha’s longing turns to obsession and despair one night, after the shaman-looking guy (named Kugaha) seems to twist the knife, telling him even his master has forgotten him and that he has nothing. A pack of phantom wolves then kill Suzuha right there, and Bishamon, who may well have forgotten Suzuha what with the legions of other regalia she has to keep track of, only wakes up when she feels the loss.

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Unaware that Suzuha is gone, Yukine arrives at the time they agreed on for a picnic, along with his friend Hiyori. Yuki makes no bones about his concern about Hiyori forgetting about him when she grows older and moves on with her life, both to Yato and to Hiyori herself, but she tells him not to worry: she’s not going anywhere. At least, not until she’s satisfied Yuki has gotten a good academic education. When/if Yato fixes her tail problem, even she can’t say what will happen, but she doesn’t want Yukine to worry.

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The pain from Yukine’s worrying, after all, is also felt by his master Yato. So it really puts into perspective how much pain Bishamon endures every day from the collective pain of her myriad regalia. And she only knows it’s Suzuha who is gone when she spots a dead plant in the hall; all the low-level regalia put on happy faces so as not to add to her suffering, a geture that’s both helpful and unhelpful.

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Even though her exemplar Kazuma watches her like a hawk, he’s still caught off-guard when blight suddenly appears on Bishamon’s neck. He acts quickly and decisively, gathering all regalia for a full-body inspection to ascertain who gave Bishamon the blight. When Dr. Kugaha performs the examinations and finds no blight, and Bishamon shows up with no blight on her neck, Kazuma is confused and his confidence shaken.

And that’s probably also Kugaha’s doing: the guy’s a doctor; maybe he faked the blight to stir Kazuma up? It would seem he’s poking and prodding at the weak spots of his fellow regalia. Suzuha was only the first. As he remarks to Nora (who the bad guys always seem to consort with on this show), Kugaha doesn’t consider Bishamon worthy of being the War God, is acting to topple her, and seems bent on using Yato to facilitate that outcome.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 01 (First Impressions)

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One thing I’ve learned about Gundam over the years is that no one show or OVA with its name slapped on it can ever wholly ruin its legacy, nor prevent me from checking out the next project with an open mind. Reconguista was an unqualified disaster in part because it was so in love with itself, it built a towering wall of self-congratulatory retrospection around itself, leaving me out in the cold.

Recon in G was also spearheaded by Yoshiyuki Tomino, whose specific style came off as both out-of-touch and proudly, stubbornly exclusionary of anyone but the most die-hard fans of his work, ignoring all Gundam that had followed, most of which improved on the original.

It was not a step, but a zero-gravity leap backwards, one even more troubling because a full 26-episode season’s worth of resources were committed to an sugary, empty love letter to itself. But like I said, I wasn’t going to let past failure prevent me from catching something new and exciting from the Gundam brand…and Iron-Blooded Orphans (which I’ll shorten to GIBO from here on) is just what the doctor ordered.

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One reason I had reason to believe GIBO wouldn’t be another dud was staff: Putting Gundam in the hands of Tatsuyuki Nagai (AnoHana, Railgun, Toradora) pays immediate dividends. Nagai retains much of the charming Gundam milieu, but rather than keep it exactly as it was in the Carter Administration, he updates and refines the flow of the action.

Okada Mari (AnoHana, Hanasaku Iroha, Nagi no Asukara, Toradora) tweaks and humanizes the classic Gundam dialogue style and brings it into the 21st century, while Yokoyama Masaru (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, Yamada-kun to 7-nin no Majo) brings a fresh musical perspective to the sweeping score.

Compared to Reconguista, there’s young blood at work here, but their impressive CVs and relevance in the current anime world shines through in their collaboration here. While Reconguista shut me out, GIBO drew me in, with a slightly dirty hand.

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So what’s GIBO about? Well, there are many thick, juicy layers to excavate, but it’s all pretty organically unfolded. On the Martian colony of Chryse you have the titular Iron-Blooded Orphans like protagonist Mikazuki Augus, who serve at the bottom rung of the private security company CGS.

The citizens of Chryse are starting to demand independence form the Earth Sphere, but their own cowardly president intends to save his own skin by throwing his people to the wolves. Those he betrays include his own daughter, Kudelia Aina Bernstein, a well-loved, charismatic young agitator who Earth Sphere wants out of the picture.

To make that happen, Aina’s dad Norman lets her handpick the CGS Third Group to serve as her bodyguards for her trip to Earth. Doing so appeals to her desire to “see and feel the truth” and feel the pain of the victims of the Earth Sphere’s rule over Chryse. But in actual truth, the irregular child soldiers, used as cannon fodder by the greedy CGS president Maruda, aren’t expected to stand a chance against Earth’s elite Gjallarhorn unit, which is being deployed to put down the Chryse rebellion in its infancy.

It’s a cowardly, dastardly plot by the self-involved old guard to retain power by snuffing out the flame of youth and hope. It also shows that these old guys know how to play the game far better than Aina, at least at the moment.

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The main couple, Mikazuki and Aina, are from the opposite extreme ends of Chryse’s social spectrum, but unlike your typical aloof princess character, Aina wants to be “on equal terms” with the CGS grunts protecting her, so as to better understand the people she leads and serves. In a clever bit of misdirection, Mika refuses her repeated attempts to shake his hand not because he resents or distrusts her, but becaused his hands are filthy.

Even as Aina tries to reach out to those below her, they’re so conditioned to keep their distance they politely decline her entreaties. Aina’s seiyu Terasaki Yuki often voices boys and younger versions of adult male characters, but her robust pipes lend the pretty Aina some gravitas.

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The same night Aina arrives at CGS headquarters, Gjallarhorn springs into action, but in their arrogance their stealth attack is quickly sniffed out. CGS soldiers like Biscuit Griffon (whose retro design I really dug) whisk Aina to safety as the bullets start to fly. She’s constantly insisting that she can help out, and no one refutes her claim, but she has infinitely more value as the leader of the Chryse resistance than an exposed front-line soldier.

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Mind you, it isn’t CGS as a whole that is sacrificed in this operation, but the Third Group members composed of Mika, his “big brother” Orga Itsuka, Biscuit, et al. The higher ups try to use them as a decoy and human shield to cover their retreat, but they’re foiled when Biscuit remotely launches signal flares, giving the retreating brass and First Corps’ position away to the enemy, which eases off the Third. Still, it isn’t long until Gjallarhorn stops messing around and fields a mobile suit, which can outrun and outgun anything the Third Group has…with one very notable exception.

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In the cold open, we see a sight not out of place in a previous Gundam series, 00, in which a young Mika has just killed on apparent orders from Orga. He turns arond and nonchalantly asks Orga “What should I do next?” It’s a dream of a memory Orga wakes up from, which is revisited when the present-day Mika asks him the very same question. In the memory, Orga replies “We’re going…somewhere not here…to the place where we truly belong.” Their lives aren’t just about surviving when the deck stacked against them at every turn. It’s about finding purpose to those lives they’re fighting for tooth and nail.

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So how do they get there? By fighting the man. Gjallarhorn’s cocky young commander Orlis swats at the CGS bugs with his mobile suit until he’s challenged by a second, stronger suit, a Gundam, piloted by Mika as the Third Group’s trump card. Mika brings Orlis’ suit down in iconic fashion, creating a symbol of what must be done in order to find that place where the iron-blooded orphans belong.

No doubt Mika, Orga, Biscuit & the rest of CGS’s third group will serve as a vanguard for what will become Aina Bernstein’s Chryse Independence movement. Their deeds will change the history of Mars and will affect the lives of many, from Danji, the would-be rookie hero who got too close to the enemy and paid the ultimate price, to the too-adorable-for-words shop girl who seems to carry a flame for Mika, all the way to the most powerful sniveling old white guys in the galaxy.

I can’t wait to see what comes next.

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 23

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The calm is over, bring on the storm. And my oh my, is that storm ever gross. Let it be said: shutting down the Holy Grail is a task akin to wading through refuse in the bowels of the Death Star; at least that’s the vibe I got. This is mana given physical form, but that form is nasty. It seems too crude weapon for a King of Heroes would use to “cull the mongrels” as he so eloquently puts it. Then again, I imagine it’s the only weapon he has to get the job done.

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Shirou, Rin and Saber’s plan falls apart almost immediately, as Gil confronts the former two while the latter is tied up for the entire episode by Assassin, who has not vanished yet, due to…good fortune? Don’t you mean ‘plot convenience,’ show? Regardless, I’m glad the show didn’t forget about Assassin, and even though he’s fading away, he puts up his usual tough fight at the temple gate, complete with his original brand of stoic banter.

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As for Gil, the glimpse of yore is striking, but his grandeur is let down by his unceasing monologues, which make him sound like a garden-variety villain, contemptuous of humanity, seeking to reshape the world to the way it was, when everyone’s life had purpose. I don’t remember the Gilgamesh of the eponymous epic to be such a dick towards humanity.

Then again, I haven’t read it in a while. He also seems to take his sweet old time killing Shirou, even saying out loud he’s going easy on him, since he’d consider taking the “Faker” seriously a defeat in and of itself. Look, I don’t need all villains to have a sympathetic side, but Gil is essentially nothing but a harbinger of death. He’s barely even a character, and for all his talk of originality, he’s always felt like the thinnest, least developed Servant in UBW. 

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His bluster about not going all out is also an opening to his defeat, as arrogant villains like him are often their own worst enemies. His complete lack of understanding of humanity’s complexity is also demonstrated as Rin casually wades through the goo, climbs the grail, and pulls its vessel Shinji out, disrupting Gil’s plans. Rin isn’t doing it for her would-be sexual predator, but for his sister, someone the show has totally forgotten about but we know to be a good person.

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Gil think’s Rin’s actions are part and parcel of what’s wrong with humanity, but hey, the grail ain’t got a vessel any more, and it forms a giant arm to reach out to him when Shinji is gone, interrupting a fight that Shirou is hanging in fairly well, now that he’s copying all of the weapons Gil sends at him.

In one of Gil’s cooler moments, his mouth is actually mostly shut. Instead, he summons a strange lock-like mechanism which he then unlocks, summoning a bizarre-looking sword Shirou neither recognizes or nor can scan. Gil calls it Ea—no doubt named after the Sumerian deity also known as Enki—and dispatches the grail arm with ease, also destroying the temple he’s standing on and knocking Shirou out.

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Meanwhile, as their battle rages on, Assassin reveals nothing he’s ever done has had any meaning, since he was always a false, fictional servant. Sasaki Kojirou was never his name; he has no name, and only exists to replicate the skills of the real Sasaki.

Yet despite all that untold time as nothing, doing nothing of consequence, he considers the final moments he spends locked in battle with Saber to finally provide him with purpose. Saber manages to cut him through with her Holy Sword, and he lets her pass, making me wonder if she’ll now disappear because she used it…

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So that leaves us with a Rin with an out-cold, messed-up Shinji in her arms, a grail seeking a new vessel and being rebuked by Gilgamesh, a Shirou who is severely winded and lying in a pile of rubble, and a Saber whose time on this earth may or may not have just become severely curtailed a result of using her trump.

Of these people, Gilgamesh certainly seems to be standing on the firmest ground, but with his grail sabotage Saber sure to bear down on him momentarily, he may want to start thinking about a Plan B. I’m certain he’s going down—he’s the bad guy and this is that kind of show—it’s a matter of how fantastically he’s brought down, and what it will cost our heroes.

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 22

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After a tense multi-episode battle with Archer, Shirou, Saber and Rin get a much-deserved respite back home, which almost seems like a preview of sorts for the “household of three” domestic arrangement that represents the ideal ending for these three once the war is over.

But it’s far from a sure thing, as there’s still Gilgamesh/Archer and his Shinji Grail to deal with. Rin determines that it’s all going down at Ryuudou Temple, so after a meal (gotta feed the brain), they determine the best course of action.

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There’s an interesting dance between the three in Shirou’s sprawling manse, as he happens to not be around while Rin is conferring with her servant, while Saber happens to not be around when Shirou goes to Rin’s room, where she tells him how they’re going to get over his lack of mana (and thus inability to maintain a reality bubble like Archer): she’s going to transfer her magic crest to him, giving him all the mana he’ll need to face Gilgy.

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This is treated as very intimate act, but not too intimate. While it’s certainly the hottest thing these two have done together (on this particular show, that is), things stay tasteful…if a bit dull and underwhelming.

Considering the affection these two have for each other, everything they’ve been through, and the fact they may not come back from their next fight, part of me wanted a little more amorousness.

Yet their contact never comes close to veering into the territory of sex, with Rin only removing her iconic turtleneck and Shirou taking off his shirt, with the understanding that more efficient “exchange of body heat” helps the process. Whatever you say, show.

While the transfer takes place, Shirou has some trippy dreams about being amongst jellyfish-style marine animals in the sea, to a scene of a kid practicing the high jump over and over as a young Rin watches.

I gathered that the jumping kid was him, and this was an actual memory Rin cherishes, and bristles when Shirou brings it up, because she doesn’t have an intimate memory of his to lord over him.

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When they’re all done, Shirou goes out to see Saber, who was thankfully not peeking through the window to see what was going on or anything silly like that. Shirou is resolved to take care of Gilgamesh and come back home safe and sound, but Saber seems more tentative about that last part.

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So this was the calm before the storm—which is brewing menacingly on the other side of town—but a warm and enjoyable one. Again, I don’t particularly care about Gilgamesh’s ideals or anything; he’s just an arrogant Bad Guy who needs to be put in his place. Here’s hoping our Power Triangle can make it happen.

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 21

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Yes. The long, long battle between Shirou and his alternate future self continues this week, though thankfully comes to an end around the halfway point. I say thankfully, because as cool as the animation is and as beautiful a setting their fighting in and as poignant the points both combatants are making are, I’ve kinda seen and heard enough, and I was really ready to move on.

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While standing around bearing witness to the Shirous, Saber sees a little of herself in the duality, remembering her days as a farm girl before she drew the Excalibur from the stone. “Even if nothing but regrets remained, if I was able to achieve many of my ideals in the process, then…” Saber trails off, but I believe she means to say it was worth making the choice she made, though both possibilities were correct.

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Shirou, too, doesn’t care about the regrets that have burden Archer and brought on his suicidal rage. His dream to help others so they can be happy is beautiful, and he won’t abandon it. His dream isn’t wrong. The universe around him would tend to agree, because no matter what Archer throws at him, he’s able to slash it away. He’s got almost no mana left, but his spirit is unbreakable.

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The Unlimited Blade Works setting suddenly vanishes, and we’re back in the mansion, with Shirou scoring a fatal blow to Archer. And all because the split second before Shirou stabs him, Archer recalls the memory of sitting on the porch, taking Kuritsugu to step back and let him carry on that wish.

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Oddly enough, it’s Shirou, the victor, who collapses in a pile, as Archer stands his ground, defeated but dignified. He accepts defeat and seems ready to depart, but then he’s stabbed by swords from Gilgamesh.

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Gil, the “genuine article”, means to destroy both of the “fakes” that stand before him, ruining his day, but in his last moment of life, Archer plays the hero once more, shoving Shirou aside and taking the full attack head on, vaporizing him. Rin, abandoning all common sense, shoots a little magic bolt at Gil, shifting his gaze to her, but fortunately, Saber is there to protect her.

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Gil, who was Archer in the previous war, delays killing everyone in order to initiate a enlightenment/gloating session, in which he tells Saber, Rin, and Shirou that the Holy Grail itself is a weapon; a gateway to Hell itself, capable of killing billions of humans. His goal is to do just that, and anyone who survives what pours forth from the grail will be “worthy of his rule.”

Then pieces around the mansion start to fall, and he halts his attack once more, worried about getting soot on him. This was an odd choice, because you’d think if he could effortlessly do so, he’d eliminate anyone who was even the slightest bit of a threat against his plans. Instead, he’s almost challenging them to foil those plans, despite saying their lives are worth less than soot to him.

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So Gil just struts off, finding the wounded Shinji in the forest, and decides to turn him into the vessel for the grail, and Shinji undergoes an Akira-style transformation that is none too pleasant. Then again, this show has been extremely clear about how huge of a piece of crap Shinji is, so this kind of an improvement.

This episode was an improvement over last week’s more open-ended affair, but still suffered a bit from repeating itself too often. There’s also the problem that Gilgamesh is a two-dimensional demigod with lofty but obvious goals of world destruction and domination. In other words, he’s not as interesting a foe as Archer was; not yet, anyway. Prove me wrong, F/sn.

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 20

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Remember, I don’t know anything about stats or paths or ends or zeros or kaleids, nor do I have any plans to branch out and learn. I judged this episode the only way I could; the same way I’ve judged every episode of UBW: on its own merits. And I judged it to be another mostly thrilling important event and important revelation-packed powerhouse.

But it wasn’t perfect. In fact, there were a couple times when Archer’s lengthy, repetitive monologues threatened to drown the central battle’s momentum.

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What saved this episode was the awesome wrap-up of Rin’s predicament, which didn’t take up nearly as much time, but packed plenty of punch. When we left her, Lancer was apparently dead and Kirei was preparing to rip her heart out.

To my delight, Lancer wasn’t quite dead yet, and he not only kills Kirei (we hardly knew ye…at least on the show…so ‘bye bye Kirei, but scares Shinji off with a little prick to the shoulder after yanking him off of Rin once more.

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I never quite understood why he wanted to rape Rin so badly, but it wasn’t in the cards thanks to a particularly chivalrous Lancer, who refuses Rin’s thanks, as things merely “worked out.” But from there it’s clear Lancer won’t be getting back up again, and Rin tells reiterates her dispassionate view of Archer, thinking his regrets are justified, but at the same time knowing she’s not the one to judge or save him.

All she can focus on is herself and moving forward. Lancer sets himself and Kirei on fire as Rin departs. His fitting final rhetorical wish before he vanishes: that Rin look him up when she’s got a few more years on her. I’ll miss you Lancer, you magnificent bastard.

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My take is if Shirou survives his fight with Archer and continues on a path with her and Saber, that would be peachy. But again and again he projects his twin daggers and again and again Archer shatters them, telling him he’s no match for him.

Still, every time Shioru crosses blades he learns a bit more and his skills get a bit better, and even though he’s taking a lot of hits and losing a lot of blood, he keeps fighting even when Archer transports them back to the UBW.

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He literally fights until his body stops working, and his mind enters “hell”, both the hells his future self created and participated in, and the hell-fire from which Kuritsugu saved him. In this psychic limbo, he remembers something Archer forgot: how happy Kuritsugu looked when he saved him; a feeling Shirou wanted to experience for himself.

Unbeknownst to Shirou, Kuritsugu saved his life by somehow infusing him with Saber’s scabbard. That same scabbard heals him in his present UBW fight, and he gets back on his feet.

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Thus the fight will spill at least partway into next week, with Shirou proclaiming he doesn’t mind being beaten by someone else, but he’ll be damned if he’ll let himself be beaten…by himself. That’s only the last of several great shonen moments Shirou gets this week.

With his body, spirit, and resolve all in good repair for the first time, here’s hoping the “sham” beats the “original”, regardless of whether he can change his mind, proving the borrowed wish of becoming a hero of justice is still a wish, and a powerful one at that.

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Golden Time – 24 (Fin)

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Here’s what we knew going in—or at least what we assumed: the restoration of “Old Banri” would be permanent, but while he’d forget all about Koko and the others, Koko wouldn’t forget about him, and would re-introduce herself and start all over with him, hopeful the Banri who loved her was still in there, hiding, in a larval state. Just waiting for a time to hatch out.

But that theory did not allow for an all-but-PERFECT VICTORY, which is what we get, much to our surprise and frankly, our delight. We here at RABUJOI aren’t shy about the fact that we often cultivate a transactional relationship with the anime we watch: if we are to suffer through hardship, pain, we wouldn’t mind being rewarded for that commitment in some way. In the case of Golden Time, we wanted a happy ending, but didn’t see how it was going to happen.

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Golden Time found a way, and really, it was something it had been planning all along. In the last couple episodes, Banri had become, like, super-resigned to his cruel fate of losing everything he had become as the result of his peculiar neurological trauma. And we followed him down that pit of despair, forgetting along with him that a way back was possible. A wealth of resources were at his disposal this week, starting with the notes he wrote himself. They have no immediate effect, but provide the building blocks for his recovery, further aided by his friends.

Add to that Koko’s mirror (the unbroken one which is hers, not the broken one he left behind in Tokyo), and the strange string of obsessive emails someone who hacked his account is sending to Koko. We initially thought were being sent by Koko herself as a cryptic message to Banri, but they turned out to be from 2D-kun. That’s right, 2D-kun turns out to be the architect of Banri’s recovery, by sending those emails and also rattling Koko’s cage (when she finds out it was him) and moving her to action.d

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That’s how Koko ends up at Banri’s front door. At first things aren’t going so well—Banri thinks she’s Chinami because she’s returning a DVD—but his broken mirror is also in the bag, and the memories start flowing back. It’s fitting that everything comes together on the bridge where everything fell apart. It’s a little silly seeing all the different Banri’s milling around in a fog (including drag Banri, one of our faves), but in the end it works, as Linda (very belatedly) finally gives the original Past Banri the “Yes” he had been hoping for for so long.

That’s apparently all the closure he needs, as present Banri gets his memories back, including his love for Koko, and we get an extended scene of the two embracing passionately and reveling in pure joy…and relief! Frankly, we’re relieved too it wasn’t a downer of an ending. Like we said, we’d sat patiently through the awful fights and disasters and misunderstandings, and Golden Time rewarded us with a good old fashioned happy ending.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)
Average Rating: 8.417 (episodes 13-24), 8.458 (total)
MyAnimeList Score: 7.97

 

Golden Time – 23

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After blowing up the central romance and putting the brakes on all the secondary ones, Golden Time has been determined to break our hearts in its home stretch, then stomp on the pieces. It isn’t even as if we weren’t warned on numerous occasions by Banri himself, but that doesn’t make it any easier a ride to the finish. It would seem, for the Banri we’ve come to know, and the only one everyone save Linda knows, has finally run out of golden time.

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Last week, a multitude of actions and words conspired to shake the circle of friends to their foundation and threaten to level it to dust. While he still knows who Koko is, Banri quickly comes to realize, and understands why Koko broke up with him: she simply doesn’t think she’ll be able to withstand what’s coming. But 2D-kun (the one most out of the loop trying to put the pieces back together) and Chinami agree she’s forcing herself away from him. Both also hate they way things are, but depite 2D-kun’s optimism, there’s no stopping Banri’s cruel biological fate.

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At least Banri and Koko make up, and Koko even promises not to leave his side, even if the Banri she knows disappears. Banri assures her that no matter what happens, he’ll always love her, and never hate her. We’re not doctors, but it would seem the truth of the matter is, at some point in the near future, he’ll feel nothing at all for her, because it will be as if he never met her. But if she wants to re-meet and re-connect with him after he’s “gone”, that’s Koko’s choice. In effect, she’d be undertaking what Linda didn’t after Banri fell, at least initially.

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With all the yelling and screaming and hitting and avoiding all over and done with, friendships are repaired, but they also seems like they’re going into mothballs. Banri is like an astronaut about to embark on a dangerous mission. He doesn’t know the exact launch time, but he feels it coming and is preparing for it. More than that, though, he is living every last moment he has as the Banri he is, savoring them, for even if they’ll disappear, it doesn’t mean they didn’t happen, nor that didn’t enjoy his time with 2D-kun, Chinami, Nana, Mitsuo, Linda, and Koko. We know we did.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • Linda’s role this week was particularly interesting, as she’s cross with Koko (rightfully so) but also comes to the rescue when Banri has another freakout.
  • Nana slips in bed with Banri…because she just kinda feels like it. Banri is a lucky dude.
  • We appreciated Mitsuo tearing up when Banri apologizes to him, and we’d never seen him as passionate and emphatic as when he promised, like Koko, that he wouldn’t leave him.
  • A lot of the festival club president’s pep talk could be applied not just to the Awa dance, but to Banri’s last remaining days as himself.

Space Dandy – 11

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We open this episode with gifted scientist Dr. Gel so deep into complex, esoteric calculations, he doesn’t even hear Admiral Perry’s orders to invade the library planet Lagado. Gel’s assistant Bea, who seems like a capable chap, takes command. Meanwhile Dandy is trying to register a rare alien in a box he isn’t supposed to open for reasons he forgets. When the box is opened, sirens blare, a booklet and ticket to Lagado are revealed. While we suspect Gel’s calculations have something to do with all this, we are, for the moment, as confused and clueless as Dandy.

This episode gradually reveals its premise regarding the Great Librarian of Lagado (an alien in the form of a book) being checked-out by Admiral Perry because Dr. Gel said he needed it. The book manipulates Dandy & Co. to steal her from Perry, then manipulates them to successfully escape from the Gogol fleet and return her to Lagado. She had a desire to see the outside world with her own eyes, not merely in print. Now home safe and sound, she rewards Dandy with the box we see in the beginning, which they open again to reveal a videotape…and the cycle continues.

This episode was a showcase for Space Dandy’s uncanny ability to open an episode with a messy pile of disparate building blocks but end up with a relatively sturdy, recognizable whole by the end. The episode does so stylishly too, adopting a totally different aesthetic for the time Dandy, QT and Meow are being manipulated by the book, with most of the color being sapped out of the world, lighting becoming more dramatic and textured noir-ish. It’s a fitting depiction of the somewhat hazy, incomplete nature of memory.

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All the sci-fi mystery aside, the episode also manages to make a fairly unadorned commentary on the consumption of media. Whether it’s books, tapes, laserdiscs or floppies, mankind’s drive to record anything and everything is absolute and unrelenting. Such media provides their consumers with thoughts and ideas they didn’t have to come up with on their own, which can lead to those consumers being manipulated and their very lives directed by said media.

For us, that media is anime: we can scarcely get enough of it, and we schedule chunks of our lives to watch and review it. We’re not much different than QT sucking up punch cards of smooth yet bold-tasting data; it’s just a matter of complexity. And with the ultimate knowledge of the cosmos taken to its extreme, we witness Dr. Gel finally comprehending everything, leading to his destruction; moderation was not practiced. But hey, at least we now we know why the end credits contain all those weird calculations!

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Golden Time – 22

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And yea, there was a reckoning. Man, what an emotional centrifuge of an episode. After being unceremoniously dumped by Koko, Banri is more listless than usual, but Nana comes to save the day. When she realizes how hurt Banri is, she even tones down the dark sardonicism she typically employs to distance herself from other humans, and cheers him up as well as one could suspect. If only Banri could have gone for Nana from the start, right?

It could potentially have been a less eccentric love triangle with Linda, since it’s made clear this week that Koko does not fuck around when it comes to breaking up (despite having never done so before). Even before Nana got to him, Koko sent her dad to pick him up and talk to him. Their chat, and his chat with Nana, leave him in a position of bouyant optimism that he can turn things around with Koko the morrow. So did we.

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The next morning at college, and Koko is back to normal. Like the fools that we and Banri are, we fall for the act hook line and sinker as evidence Banri overestimated the severity of yesterday’s tiff. Everything’s back to normal and the happy music plays. Then Koko takes our optimism and CRUSHES us with it, unilaterally broadcasting to him and all their friends that they are indeed broken up and back to being Just Good Friends.

Forget Banri’s existential crisis; it’s as if Koko has gone back to a previous version of herself, bending the conventional rules of socialization to her own whims, and more distressingly, saying things that are patently untrue, a marked departure from the fierce honesty she’d exhibited right up to her apology to Banri (before she crushed us, that is). Mitsuo knows something’s up, and tells Banri not to accept the crazy things coming out of her mouth.

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But…is Koko really all that crazy? Well…yes, but hear us out. She had to find out from the garbage that Banri is on medication for anxiety. She had to find out from the Okamera (the owner of which must still evoke resentment in Koko despite all the progress they’ve made) about the extent of Banri’s condition. She has to hear him begging Chinami not to tell Koko at all costs. Accounting for all of that, anyone, not just a weirdo like Koko, might be inclined to take a long hard look at their feelings.

It puts into perspective all the confident, optimistic things Koko’s said to Banri whenever things were less than peachy. She dumps Banri with that same conviction, but it sounds like she’s trying to convince herself more than the others. When Mitsuo tries to put an end to the nonsense she lashes out at everyone, threatening to avoid them all, then leaving in a huff, insisting she doesn’t care about any of them anyway. It would be easier if she truly meant the things she said, but we don’t believe she does.

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But Banri is so crushed by the dumping, he doesn’t fight back. When he tells Linda, casually resigned, she doesn’t let it pass…and why the hell would she? She had to accept that Banri was with Koko, only for them to break up like it’s nothing? No, sir! Banri brings her past rejection of him into it (partly fueled by what Nana said to him last night), a misunderstanding Linda can’t let fly anymore, and the two let fly at each other in a vicious, raw argument; with shades of the charged fights of Kokoro Connect. Everything that had been under a rock is exposed to the terrible light for all to behold.

Banri learns Linda did love him, but was just too late (and possibly hears about it too late). Linda shouts that he’ll believe in Banri even if he won’t. Mitsuo happens to pop in and Banri tells him everything (what the heck; it’s as good a time as any). Then Koko walks in, not for any interaction with the others, but to give the Festival club Prez her resignation. All Banri can do is rip it out of her hands and glare at her, and she just glares right back. Everything is shit right now: nerves are frayed, tempers are short, nobody is happy, and there’s no solution in sight. It’s GLORIOUS.


Rating: 10

Stray Observations:

  • While things aren’t good with Koko and Linda, it’s interesting to see that Banri’s never been closer or more warm with either Nana or Chinami. So not everything is shit.
  • “There seems to be something going on.” Master of Understatement, President Koshino.