Kokkoku – 02

Kokkoku’s second “moment” delivers some welcome answers. The bad guys are part of some kind of religious cult, they want Grandpa’s stone, and the giant “Handler” (the cult calls it the “Herald”) stops anyone who tries to break the rules of the Stasis (crunching a hired goon’s head for trying to kill the “stalled” Makoto.

However, after a relatively nicely staged and directed opening action set piece last week, things kind of devolve into wandering around the drab frozen city, with Grandpa filling Juri in more on the details, while the bad guys send goons after them as they kinda stand around and wait.

One important new addition to the cast is Majima, a mysterious woman who seems to have assited the cult in finding the Yukawa family stone, which they call the “Master Stone” and is crucial for their plans.

A flashback seems to suggest Majima and Juri may have been friends at one time, and she witnessed the stone being used; this also explains Juri’s vague memories of being exposed to the time-stopping powers before.

There’s a funny moment when Gramps and Juri realize they left Takafumi behind, but in keeping with this family’s tendency to close ranks when shit hits the fan, there’s no question of rescuing him before using the stone again in hopes of escaping to a new Stasis, leaving the bad guys behind.

Just a few issues: One of the “jellyfish” turns Tsubasa from stalled to moving, and he’s very, very confused and flustered. When he finds Makoto unresponsive, he heads to the nearest hospital, where he’ll get no help whatsoever (and may even incur the wrath of the Handler).

So if they commit their plan without Tsubasa, they’ll never see him again. But even more detrimental to their plan is the fact Gramps didn’t know the cult was after the stone until he and Juri split up (never a good idea), with him going to free Takafumi and Juri going home to grab the stone.

Unfortunately, Juri simply ran there without trying to be sneaky at all. Even if she had been, the whole group of bad guys were staking the place out, waiting for someone to show up. Since it’s Juri, who they presume they don’t need to activate the stone, her death by strangulation is ordered, and she passes out before the credits roll.

Now, you and I both know Juri ain’t dying…but perhaps something more interesting will happen as a result of the goons’ attempt. Whatever that is, I think it’s time the Yukawa’s were allowed some kind of win. I also want to know what’s up with Majima; if and how she and Juri are connected, and why she’s okay with her being strangled.

Kokkoku – 01 (First Impressions)

I love shows about distinctive families, be they rich or down-on-their-luck, and the Yukawas definitely fit the bill in lacking in the luck department. 22-year-old Juri works tirelessly to secure a job that pays enough to enable her to move out, but for now she lives with her NEET brother Tsubasa, 31, her laid-off (and seemingly defeated) father Takafumi, her older sister Sanae, 25, a single mother to young Makoto, and last but not least, their retired grandfather.

There’s an immediate tension between those who work in the family and those who sit on their asses, but also a close-knit feeling that things aren’t so bad they’ll all one day turn on one another. Tsubasa may be a layabout, but Juri is able to sufficiently shame him into picking up his nephew from school.

There, another kid immediately calls him out as a suspicious character and Juri jokes about it over the phone. She’s having a little fun at Tsubasa’s expense, but is also proud he gave enough of a shit to actually do something for the family. It’s neat little family-centric details along with their general underdog nature, that quickly endear the Yukawas to me.

Just when you thought they had enough to deal with, circumstances thrust the family into a crisis situation straight out of the movies, when a gang of toughs kidnap Tsubasa and Makoto and ask the impossible: for 5 million yen to be delivered to the designated location in 30 minutes time.

Knowing they don’t have the time or the money, Juri grabs a knife and prepares to head to the kidnappers, presumably to take back her brother and nephew by force. Her dad Takafumi, suddenly awakened from his slumber by the emergency, deems only he as head of the house should go (with his dad’s savings).

It’s Grandpa Yukawa, however, who presents an alternative: that they use the mysterious, ancient stone that’s been in their family for years…to stop time.

And that’s exactly what Gramps, Juri, and her dad do. Once time slows, we’re treated to a number of fast moving things freezing in mid-air, along with strange “beings” made of light within the suspended time. Suddenly with all the time in the world, they strike out into the “stopped world”, and Gramps explains what he can as they head to the exchange spot.

Juri, for her part, experiences memories of the stone from when she was a young girl, while Gramps also points out that anyone who can move about in the “Stasis” too long ultimately becomes corrupted by the power they have over those who can’t move.

The inter-family banter is again a winner here, with Gramps expressing both affection and disappointment in his son, Juri’s dad, and when they find Tsubasa and Makoto among their now-frozen captors, it looks like they’re going to come out of this on top, thanks to a little hereditary time magic.

Of course, things don’t go that easily, because there are other people who can move in the stasis, much to the Yukawa’s shock and confusion. They’re assaulted, forcing Gramps to pull out another trick from his bag: instantaneous transportation from one spot to a spot a few feet away in either direction.

It’s not a game-changing power, however, and they can’t take their still-frozen family members along for the rides. When two bored-looking men in suits arrive with a band of henchmen, it becomes clear there’s more to this than careless kidnappers who decided to target a family with no money. One of those suits is jealous of Gramps’ power, so it’s likely this whole ordeal was set up to draw Gramps and the Yukawas out.

Just when it looks like the Yukawas are done for, a gigantic tree-like monster emerges from the sky and descends on the henchman holding a knife to Makoto. Is this tree-dude a friend to the Yukawas; some kind of guardian for Makoto, or an enemy to all of the humans in this bizarre static realm? I don’t know, but his appearance sure does pump up the supernatural vibe. In any case, I hope the Yukawas can get out of this mess.

Stocked with both very realistic human characters and said bizarre baddies, Kokkoku struck a good balance of show and tell, drama, peril, and dark comedy, and was bookended by fantastic opening and ending sequences. This one’s a keeper so far.

Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 18

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This week is—the second semifinal match, the second-to-last of the Phoenix Festa— The winner shall face Allekant’s AL-D and RM-C. The challengers? Ayato and Julis versus the two aces of Galadadworth Academy: Doroteo Lemus and Elliot Forster.

Wait…WHO are these dudes? Never mind; it doesn’t matter.

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That’s right, this match is a gimmie. The show doesn’t even pretend that the outcome is in doubt. If it had, these guys would have been built-up more in past episodes. These guys are comically weaksauce, to the point I hate to think about the chumps who had to lose to them in order for them to advance this far. Sure, Ayato and Julis have a tendency to make even great opponents look silly, but knowing they’d advance to the finals for sure made this whole match a bit perfunctory.

Elliot is very skilled but also very young, and Ayato senses and easily exploits his lightweight resolve, while Julis simply pops off standard attacks of gradually increasing intensity until Doroteo lets himself get roasted inside his suit of armor. Yes, he had a mecha-horse and a long lance, but couldn’t lay a finger on an opponent on foot with a sword.

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Indeed, this is an example of bad seeding. It would have been far more interesting to me if AR-D and RM-C faced off against Ayato and Julis in the semifinal, so that Saya and Kirin could waste these knights and the four friends could face off in the final. What would have been wrong with that?

I don’t know, but for now Saya and Kirin can only stew in the sting of their defeat to an opponent they should never have had to face to begin with (the Festa is clearly rigged to favor Allekant’s puppets), while they search for the kidnapped Flora. Did I mention I don’t much care for Flora, nor do I care for her basically showing up just so that she could get kidnapped?

Well, I don’t, but she’s just a little kid, and clearly important to Julis, so I understand Ayato wanting to go all out to track her down, even meeting all secretively with Irene, who laments she has no hard intel for Ayato (since Dirk never bothered to brief her), but she does manage to narrow his search to Rotlicht with a hunch.

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Meanwhile, Ernesta and Camilla work through the night preparing their puppets for the final with Ayato and Julis. This is the build-up scene (combined with the previous battles and scenes featuring these two) the Galahad guys didn’t get. These are the guys to beat.

In this scene we learn a lot more about these two Allekant scientists, how Camilla’s body was severely damaged in a terrorist attack, and how Ernesta built her half a body, leading Camilla to pledge half her life to Ernesta in return.

We also learn the two have different goals: Camilla wants to develop a universal lux anyone can wield; Ernesta wants no less than to create a new form of sentient artificial life. She’s already on her way, thanks in part to the puppets’ match with Saya and Kirin.

AR-D wants to keep his face scar to remind him of his imperfections; RM-C wants a less embarrasing way to transfer her luxes to AR-D during limit transfer. Ernesta is over the moon by this progress; Camilla is clearly more weary.

As for Ayato, his cover is quickly blown and he gets chased all over Rotlicht by Men In Black, before a gorgeous young woman pops out from behind a column offering safety.

That’s right, it’s yet another girl for Ayato—though at least one who has been foreshadowed not just by the inter-world signage of the show, but by the fact the OP and ED are sung by this girl, the famous idol Sylvia.

I got a kick out of the post-credits preview with an increasingly desperate CG-Claudia trying to impress Ayato with her own singing. Sorry Enfield, I don’t think you’ll feature much next week either!

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Kekkai Sensen – 06

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Hellsalem’s Lot (or HLC) seemed like a topsy-turvy melting pot up until this week, when we learn there is a fully-enclosed “Humans Only” district along 42nd Street called “Ghetto Heights.” I guess it’s to be expected; after all, most humans wouldn’t venture to deep into the Alterworld.

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Still, the fact there’s a pocket of segregation where ignorance of and prejudice towards the alterworld “monsters” who inhabit the rest of the city can take root and fester gives this episode a distinct political bent, and paints Leonardo Watch as someone who’s not 100% okay with the idea of such a district…even if its where you can get the best burgers in the city.

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When stripped of its Blood Blockade Battlefront trappings, this week’s story is simplicity itself: Leo comes across a mushroom-type Alterworldian named Nej who also loves those famous burgers; so much so that it’s the first thing he asks for when hit by a tanker truck. But because he isn’t allowed in Ghetto Heights, it isn’t easy to acquire them.

When the truckers start screwing Nej on the price of the burgers, Leo decides to buy them for him without any upcharge, and they become fast friends, sharing the food that united them all over the city.

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One night, those same two up-to-no-good truckers hit Nej again, and one of them starts to beat him with a bat in the street; about as awful and dark moment in race relations as we’ve seen in Kekkai, which is saying something in a show with vampires!

Beating Nej turns him red, until he finally releases a cloud of spores that knock everyone out and wipe their memories of the past 13 hours, including his own. Everyone, except the one trucker who was wearing a gas mask because his partner peed his pants in the truck. I’m not going to asks who these guys owe money, but they’re certainly not the sharpest tacks.

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When Libra gets word of the amnesia cloud, Leo gets it in his head Nej may have had darker motives, but we know, of course, it was all a misunderstanding; the cloud his body simply reacted naturally to stress. In any case, Nej doesn’t remember anything.

The truckers then kidnap Leo and Nej, hoping to use the latter to help them commit crimes and amnesize their victims. Except that they underestimate the depth of Leo and Nej’s friendship. Leo hits the truckers with his trippy nausea-vision, and gets slugged in the head for his trouble, causing Nej to get so angry he blows his top again.

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Leo wakes up in a familiar place—the hospital—with White by his bedside. He goes out for another burger from 42nd Street, and scenes of all the places where he had burgers with Nej flash through his mind’s eye, only with no one in them. He tears up, but knows not why, until Nej is once again hit by a vehicle in the street and asks Leo for a burger.

Whether because the friendship he forged or his eyes transcended the effect of the spores, Leo kinda sorta remembers the affable mushroom man, and gladly hands a burger over. He unwittingly ordered enough for two, after all.

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I like how the Leo & Nej story comes full circle like this, and that even people who supposedly “never met” (but really did) still find each other in HLC and still manage to hit it off, despite their profound biological differences.

The episode closes on a not-so-related but still interesting note, with Leo entering the hospital ward to find White sitting on a bed smiling and laughing with another guy. Leo switches from panic to nervous relief when he learns the guy is White’s big bro, Black.

But to both Leo and us, it’s the kid on the subway, whom we’ve also seen with Femt, opening a whole can of worms about whether Black always intended for Leo to get close to White so he could meet him this night. He’s got the All-Seeing Eyes, after all.

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Kekkai Sensen – 05

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Sometimes, when there’s a girl you like, you just need a kick in the pants to ask her out, or in Leo’s case, a gargantuan monster truck-slash-fortress operated by Aligura, the Queen of Monomania.

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Leo is out with Zapp, lamenting the fact he can’t tell what White is thinking, when that truck suddenly bears down on them, and Aligura snatches up Leo. Once aboard Aligura’s awesome, sumptuously-appointed vehicle-base, Leo gets a little crash course in the monomania Aligura is infamous for.

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Love could be described as a kind of monomania, and when Aligura loved two men: Dendro Brody for his personality and Dog Hummer for his looks, she combined them into one, similar to the way someone takes separate ingredients to make their ideal dish.  Throughout his ordeal with the highly unstable Aligura, who tries to press him for details about his own love life, Leo is mostly terrified and begging Klaus to save him.

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Turns out this is more than just a job for Klaus, or KK, Chain, Lucky, or Zapp; it’s also a job for the object of Aligura’s affection, as well as her creation: Hummer-Brody, who in his combined form is a massive red demon-like monster with incredible brute strength who is also intensely upbeat, friendly and personable.

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Aligura wants her man/men back, but as she herself says about love, you push and push and the one who pushes hardest wins, and that’s Hummer-Brody, fusing all of Dendro’s blood into a giant fist with which he launches Aligura’s truck into the sky, where it breaks up and spreads debris all over the city, injuring “hundreds if not thousands.” Chain plucks Leo out of the sky, and all he needs are five stitches. Just another day!

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Only it isn’t just another day, because even before Aligura kidnaps him, White is on Leo’s mind. When he mentions her, she sneezes where she is, and when she sees him at the hospital smiling and laughing with another guy, he’s jealous. So just when he’s about to drive off home after a long, tiring day, he marches into White’s room and asks her out to a movie.

After the giddy thrills of aiding her escape from the hospital and motorcycle ride, the comedy movie surprisingly makes her cry, but cheers her up with some good-old self-deprecation, calling himself “pathetic” compared to his more capable sister Michella, something White refutes by calling saying he’s a good guy before cuddling up to him.

Thanks in part to Aligura’s unique perspective on the matter, Leo was able to push himself a little closer to the girl he likes.

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Kekkai Sensen – 04

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A third of the way into Spring ’15, Blood Blockade Battlefront is my number one. Nothing can match its scale and complexity, and creativity of its world(s), the swiftness and confidence of its storytelling, or its rapidly expanding yet increasingly diverse and charming cast, anchored by perhaps the weakest among them, possessing the strongest of weapons in their battle for balance.

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Elaborate action and effective comedy go hand in hand with Kekkai, as demonstrated when a big Libra party to let their hair down comes to screetching halt when Leo finally decides to say something, which happens to be his description of something he saw in the subway that matches the description of the greatest potential threat to humanity: blood breeds, AKA vampires.

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Just like that the stakes are raised significantly. We only got the smallest glimpse of what Angel Scale could do to the balance, but this feels like a much more existential threat. Vampires are taken seriously here; something I’m thankful for after seven seasons of True Blood, in which they did everything from play Wii Golf in their living rooms to have sex with their head turned around backwards. But they were never very frightening, nor are the ones in Owari no Seraph. The Blood Breeds of Kekkai are, because they’re strange and unknown and…er…variably corporeal.

That doesn’t mean the leading expert on them can be the hilariously lucky Blitz T. Abrams, who possesses a curse that only affects people (and vehicles) around him, meaning he’s never that fun to be around if you don’t like physical pain, even if it’s not his fault. It doesn’t bother Klaus, who sees Abrams as a mentor of sorts.

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With Leo’s eyes, Abrams is confident they can really get the lay of the vampire land (normally people aren’t able to see vamps unless they want to be seen.) So they plunge into the depths of Hell—on public transportation!—so Leo can take a good look at the “Edge of Nothingness” so Libra can get a better idea of what they’re up against.

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Like previous journeys to the Alterworld, this was another lush symphony of bizarre dreamscapes—I really dug the Final Fantasy vibe of the train station carved into a tree, below which is their ultimate destination. Along with all its narrative and character pros, this eye candy, and the eclectic soundtrack, are what pull Kekkai ahead of the rest.

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While there are a lot of bright sparks affecting his vision, Leo is still able to discern the blood breeds within the nothingness, and it’s not good: more than the 13 believed to exist, there are hundreds of them lurking down there, and if any one of them wanted to take human form and wreak havoc in Hellsalem’s Lot, they’d do plenty of damage indeed. And As the members of Libra back in Hellsalem report, that’s exactly what’s happening.

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When the traditional authorities prove not to be up to the challenge against elite vampires, “specialists” Steven and KK take over, and at least for a time, hold their own with their special abilities, before the female vampire brings the hammer down on them. Klaus, who is watching a live video stream courtesy of Chain (use of modern mobile tech is another neat aspect of Kekkai’s world-building), hops back on the train with Abrams and Zapp, and implores Leo to find those vamps’ weaknesses, because only he has the eyes to see them.

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Steve and KK weren’t sure if they’d survive the fight they were getting into. All they knew was that they had to buy as much time for Klaus and Leo as they could before being neutralized, trusting they’d come through. They do: Klaus makes almost as awesome an entrance as Abrams, and armed with the Vampire’s true name, seals her into a cyberpunk cross.

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Leo is amazed they made it, and weary that it took so much exertion to take out one elite blood breed when there are perhaps a thousand lurking in hell. But the lesson that sets him a little more at ease is as simple as the world he lives in is complicated: no one knows what’s coming tomorrow. Plenty of pain and suffering may be in store. But defeat is assured if one gives up.

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Kekkai Sensen – 03

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Leo isn’t one to freak out when confronted by a ghost, especially if she’s cute. Instead, he takes her picture to confirm if she’s a ghost, but she shows up in the photos. White tells him she likes him and draws nearer, only for Leo to wake up in his apartment. The transition has us wondering how much of his interactino with White is in his head, but there’s no time to ponder such things, as he’s being evicted and has forty seconds to vacate or, presumably, be eaten. Just another day in the ‘Lot!

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From there, we see him dozing on the couch in Libra HQ, refusing a stipend any higher than the standard rate even though he’s still delivering pizzas and sending money home. But this week Leo is on the sidelines, as the bulk of the episode follows Klaus on his quest to satisfy his fix of Prosfair, which is perhaps best described as “Chess on Acid”. It’s a game as intricate and bonkers as the world that conceived it.

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Initially, the game is introduced as a little joke, with the physically imposing yet cultured Klaus getting way to into it on his original Macintosh(!), to the bemusement of his colleagues. But when Zapp and Chain’s efforts to investigate the distribution of an advanced (and world-unbalancing) new drug called Angel Scale, it rises to the utmost importance, since one of the most powerful overbosses in the Alterworld, Arlelelle Eruca Fulgrouche (what a name!), happens to be a huge fan of Prosfair.

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When he arrives with his comely colleague K.K., Klaus is shocked to find Prosfair grandmaster Ulchenko has also come to challenge Fulgrouche. In the Russian’s mind, he has risen as high as he can amongst mankind in the game, and so playing a non-human is the next logical step. Also, he wants his country to have nuclear weapons, something Fulgrouche can make happen.

Alas, Ulchenko is no match for the don, coming up two minutes short of the nine hours he had to survive in a game. The exponentialy increasing speed and complexity of the game as it drags out nearly kills Ulchenko, and as per their agreement, since he lost, Fulgrouche will take the rest of that life.

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That’s when Klaus finds his opening to finally connect these events with the mission to uncover the Angel Scale ring. If Klaus lasts 99 hours straight, Fulgrouche agrees to not only reveal the trafficking routes of the drug, but also spare the Russian. And doggone it, the guy does it! As K.K. chain smokes and Ulchenko waits in stunned disbelief.

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Klaus doesn’t win, but he hangs with Fulgrouche for the full 99 hours, and all to the lovely stylings of Ludwig van’s vaunted Ninth Symphony, Ode to Joy, an inspired use of a classic piece of music that really lends the duel otherworldly grandeur, as befits a prosfair battle taking place in the Alterworld.

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Klaus gets the trafficking routes, Ulchenko is freed, and K.K. makes sure Libra takes out all the cells pushing Angel Scale. It’s all made possible thanks to Klaus’ unparalleled strength, selflessness, and perseverance. Yet, to hear it from Leo, book-ending the episode with his interactions with White, he has no idea what Klaus did for the firm, and he may never know.

All Steve Starphase said is that “anything in this world can happen”, which has so far proven true. For Leo, those words must be pretty reassuring, because the one thing he wants most in the world is to heal Michella.

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Kekkai Sensen – 02

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A giant Nausicaa-style beast flying over a Gothic/Art Deco alternate NYC skyline as if it were the most mundane thing in the world: This is one of the iconic, “nutshell” images of Kekkai Sensen, which joins the 10 Club this weekend with one hell of a second episode.

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After last week dropped us in the middle of Jerusalem’s (or Hellsalem’s) Lot with Leo and had at it, this week starts with formal introductions to his new co-workers at Libra, and they’re a fun, colorful bunch that also feels like a tight-knit family. Leo’s the ‘new adopted kid brother’ to Zapp, who is always butting heads with his ‘sister’ Chain, while Klaus has an undeniable dad-like quality to him. (He also looks like Beast from X-men.)

Rounding out the core of the Libra we know is organizer Steven A Starphase and Combat Butler…yes, Combat Butler, Gilbert F. Altstein (Alfred, anyone?) Leo seems a little overwhelmed with all the new names, but thanks to the helpful HUD-style character labeling, and the sheer variety of colorful personalities, it was a cinch for me to remember them.

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There’s more great world and character building as Leo continues his pizza delivery route, as the untold numbers of Libra members are all over Jerusalem’s/Hellsalem’s Lot but keep a low profile like the Dollars of Durarara!!, so it makes sense to keep living his regular life. The only thing is, every pizza he tries to deliver is intercepted by Zapp, who seems to be testing Leo’s reflexes (and patience!) while simultaneously keeping an eye on the boy with the Eyes That See All, a valuable new tool in the Libra arsenal.

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Those eyes pay immediate dividends, as while Leo is on his pizza route with Zapp in tow, he detects a dry cleaning van that doesn’t look right. In fact, he’s just seen past a form of camouflage previously unknown to and undetected by Libra, hiding a demonic courier van illegally transporting live humans.

Leo decides to retreat and regroup when he accidentaly meets eyes with the baddies, but it’s too late, and swiftly pounce on his Honda Gyro and nab him, leaving Zapp out of commision in a pool of his own blood. Tellingly, Zapp makes sure to get some of that blood on Leo’s clothes before the crims take him.

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From here we see the true awesome ability of Libra in action, utilizing far more than just brute strength to maintain the balance in the city. As a tied-up Leo protests the bad guy’s blatant violation of the “Chrysler-Galadona Accord”, Zapp is in contact with Chain, Klaus, and Steve. Chain has eyeballs on the van, but when it turns into a far less conspicuous vehicle (a Toyota Camry, LOL), she loses it. But Libra’s not done yet.

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The whole reason Zapp is in such a bad way, and furthermore seems to absorb every blood transfusion the hospital gives him, is that he’s got a thin strand of blood tied to the van that nabbed Leo. When Leo manages to stop (read: crash) the van by using his eyes to overwhelm the vision of his captors, all Zapp has to do is ignite that blood thread, but since he can’t move, it’s up to Chain to follow the fire to paydirt. Klaus, Steve, and Gil also follow in their jersey-barrier-busting, badass LXG-style custom pursuit vehicle.

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From there, the chase is on, which we follow both by watching Chain fly along the rooftops, in the crazily-driving butler’s instruments, and a nifty 3DCG map that tracks everyone. It’s a fantastically set-up and thrillingly staged chase scene that really capitalizes on the complexity of the city and the super-abilities of the cast. And it’s all set to Jazz. This show knows what it’s doing.

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So does Libra, and so once they catch up to the van of couriers (who weren’t prepared to be detected in the first place, let alone for serious combat), it doesn’t take long to take them out and recover the missing people, along with Leo, who was badly injured in the accident.

Still, by taking it upon himself to fight his captors rather than just sit and wait for help from others is something his Libra-mates admire, and they congratulate him on a job well done, which they couldn’t have done without him in the first place.

Leo also realizes Zapp was stalking him because it was his way of serving as his bodyguard, something Libra would never let Leo go around without, considering his valuable eyes.

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Having been officially accepted into Libra and proven both to them and himself that he belongs there and has something unique to offer, Leo wanders the hospital grounds while completing his convalescence.

In a gorgeous, ‘I so want to go to there’ cemetery, he meets a philosophical ghost, White (Kugimiya Rie!), who asks him whether it’s best to fear death despite is inevitability, or not fear it out of the belief it isn’t inevitable? Some interesting food for thought from another intriguing new character, and yet another layer from among Kekkai Sensen’s elaborate multitudes to explore.

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Kekkai Sensen – 01 (First Impressions)

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There’s so much stuff in Kekkai Sensen, and so many neat concepts and ideas and details, I couldn’t help but almost constantly be reminded of all of the stuff I’ve seen before that it reminded me of; none of it bad: from the obvious structural and stylistic parallels to Durarara!!, FLCL and Space Dandy, to the retro-futuristic New York and L.A. of Fifth Element and Blade Runner, respectively.

Put the crazy aliens of Space Dandy in a big city and you either have Star Wars’ Coruscant or the New York of Men In Black. Heck, let’s throw The Matrix in there for good measure, since we have a group of humans with super-powers who are also interested in lookin’ correct.

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Yet for all the stuff that flies by the screen, and all the other things all that stuff reminds me of, there are two themes that bind it all together and make Kekkai not only approachable, but compelling, and those are love and family. The same kind of love and family that Kyousogiga was suffused with in the midst of all its chaos and zaniness and colorful characters and places.

As it jumps back and forth through the timeline of the first episode, there’s a keen surefootedness in play. Kekkai keeps track of all of its pieces and knows exactly where it wants them to end up, and what to do with them when they’re there. In this way, hapless protagonist Leo Watch ends up right where he wants to be, either by luck or clever fate.

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New York/Jerusalem’s Lot is a bit foggy, but it’s also gorgeous, and the architecture just won’t quit. Even better, the show isn’t afraid to carve and peel and chop those comely skyscrapers up like vegetables for a chili.

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There’s a nice irreverent atmosphere to the proceedings, nicely demonstrated with some superb back-and-forth camera panning across the penthouse office atop one of those carved-up buildings. The three members of Libra whom Leo encounters take the building’s “haircut” pretty well.

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But back to love and family. Leo is pretty sure he and his family came to New York hoping to find a miracle. Specifically, to heal his sister Michella (Mizuki Nana…Hi Ange!) so she could walk. Things didn’t turn out so well: some kind of demon offered a pair of super-powered eyes to one sibling, but the other had to go blind. Ironically, it was Leo who was paralyzed by fear in that moment, and his paralyzed sister who sprang into action, telling the demon to take her eyes.

It’s an act of selflessness and unconditional love for her brother, but ever since that tragic day, Leo has also been acting out of love, searching for the answers that could lead to the restoration of his sister’s mobility and sight. And he’s spent enough time in New York to see the abnormal—and there’s certainly a lot of it—as the normal.

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As their name suggests, Libra works to maintain a balance between the underworld entities vying for power and the remaining normal human population. Their work would seem to never end, as guys like the self-styled “King of Depravity” Femt are always stirring up heaps of trouble. Fortunately, thanks to their “Blood Martial Arts”, Libra is able to keep those entities honest.

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They bring in Leo thinking he was “Johnny Landis”,  but because an upside-down photo of him closely resembles a right-side-up photo of a demon, it was an honest mistake. It’s a fortuitous one, though. Not only does Leo find just the people he wanted to talk with, but they gain someone with eyes powerful enough to detect a gate the size of a flea on a monkey and squish both gate and flea, leaving the monkey unharmed and ruining Femt’s “fun.”

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In a continuation of the show’s irreverent tone (except where Michella is concern, in which case things are more sober and serious), Leo ends the day by trekking back to the diner where he’s a regular, which is still open for business even though it’s been leveled by the recent ruckus. He promised his busybody waitress Vivian (Sawashiro Miyuki) he’d wash dishes, after all!

Kekkai Sensen is a lot of fun, and its opening episode really paralleled Libra’s role by balancing zaniness and chaos with heart, soul, and humor. If they can maintain that balance, and keep of the quality of the eye candy, it’s a Spring keeper for sure.

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Kamisama Dolls 5

Utao’s mysterious brother, Kirio, is kind of a jerk, but he does have a point: Utao started the fight. For her part, Utao was understandably freaked out by the sudden appearance of another kid who looked just like her. What follows is the first sustained kakashi-on-kakashi battle, and at the start, Kirio seemed to have had more practical experience, because Kukuri is schooled by Takemikazuchi, as Utao panics and flails about rather haphazardly at first.

I was a little annoyed that we get no explanation for why Kirio would be so evil and cruel right off the bat, but not as annoyed that the battle was so public; in the view of dozens of people, even caught on camera, and resulting in casualties. I feel the consequences of this exposure are too underplayed. The seki aren’t Men In Black; they can’t just flashy-thing the town and remain in the shadows. This was a big screw-up. Still, the battle itself is very exciting and nicely animated. I’m sure we’ll see more of this.

Kirio presses his attack on Utao, even though he had clearly won the day. This is the sign of youthful exuberance, but not sense. He was sent to capture Aki, not play with Utao, and when he kicks Utao when she’s down, she digs deep and comes back in a big way, tearing Kirio’s kakashi to bits. Both seki must now return to the village for kakashi repairs. In Kirio’s case, that means returning to a physically abusive bearded bastard. Now we know what Kirio’s a cruel jerk: people have been cruel jerks to him.


Rating: 3.5