Zero kara Hajimeru Mahou no Sho – 04

Grimoire of Zero continues to feel episodic; last week was the big city episode, while this was largely a transitory outing, full of little slice-of-life vignettes that serve to deepen our understanding of who Mercenary, Zero, and Albus are—not to mention having the latter two bounce off the former, both literally and figuratively.

One thing is clear: Albus has quickly softened his “kill all beastfallen” stance, while Zero, neophyte to the outside world that she is, has formed a very close bond with Merc, considering him not just an employee, but a project.

She and Albus repeat the joke about them being sex slaves to the gate guards, but when one of the children he scared away is hurt (when another beastfallen shoves her out of his way), Zero makes it look like Merc fully heals the young woman’s ankle.

Changing hearts and minds will be key if the war between the factions of this world is to ever cease. After that, the downright leisurely pace of the episode is mitigated somewhat by the fact the trio covers a fair amount of ground, much of it very picturesque (see above).

Albus gets some pointers on fishing magic from Zero, while Zero also attempts to give Merc a kiss (and is rebuffed by the bashful tiger).

The trio tucks into another fine meal by Merc (who wants to one day open and run a tavern), and learns that Albus was orphaned and raised by his granny, and that Zero grew up in the caves studying sorcery and may well have developed her Grimoire of Zero in order to eat better. Not a bad reason, if you ask me!

Continuing the theme of Zero wanting to get closer to Merc, she offers to train him in magic, which will keep them together for some time. All this sticking around with people for an extended length of time is clearly a new concept for Merc, but I don’t think he loathes it as much as he sometimes protests; quite the contrary.

Thinks finally take a turn for the dark, and a rather sudden one, at that, once the trio reaches the outskirts of their next destination, the village of Latette. Albus knows the village well, and a dog he knows comes to greet him, but it’s carrying a burnt doll. The trio looks on and is horrified to see it is also smoldering; its inhabitants burned alive.

Is it mere raiders, or more likely, hostile witches fighting in their late idol Sorena’s name to exact revenge on humans? Whatever it is, our trio will likely have to tread carefully once again, and avoid revealing too much of themselves to strangers—something they now have no trouble doing with each other.

Grimoire of Zero has its charms, but it isn’t particularly spellbinding; it’s a bit of a dawdle at times. It’s certainly no match for recent fantasy adventure shows like Grimgar, Alderamin, or Re:Zero. If it was airing any other day but Monday I’d have probably already dropped it, but after a four-episode sample, I believe I’ve watched enough after all.

Zero kara Hajimeru Mahou no Sho – 03

This week the party of Mercenary, Zero and Albus arrive in the bustling trading town of Formicum. Zero reports to the guards at the gate that she and Albus are Merc’s sex slaves, and they’re allowed to pass at half cost…though it could be argued you can’t put a price on Merc’s reputation.

Once there, Zero shows Merc some gems, and he tells her she only needs one small one to buy a fine set of new threads, which she does. I like the look, even if the clothes are a bit baggy on her. Zero also shows off her utter lack of modesty by trying to change in front of men and women alike. That’s so Zero!

Once they’re settled in…at an inn, Merc tries to sneak out but Zero spots him and they go out drinking, only to re-encounter another Beastfallen who has three captive girls who Zero knows are not witches. So Merc enters and wins a duel with the wolf-man and the girls are freed.

The sprightly dialogue between Merc and Zero continues to entertain, and it’s always fun to watch Merc take down a baddie. But as Merc’s defeat is never remotely in doubt, the whole episode lacks any kind of serious stakes. Still, it’s a pleasant enough watch for an overcast Monday afternoon.

Zero kara Hajimeru Mahou no Sho – 02

Wenias is a world where inaccurate assumptions abound while forgiveness is in short supply. It’s in a state where most witches hate humans, most humans hate witches. And it’s one assumption—that Mercenary is a witch-hunter rather than a present witch-harborer—that leads to an episode of trouble for Merc, Zero, and their third member Albus.

Merc & Co. are welcomed to the village with open arms, because they appreciate his service as a beastfallen witch-hunter. But when an old woman reports a ring stolen and Albus produces that very ring (which he found in the spring outside of town), the villagers, wracked with grief and pain from witch raids, turn on a dime and demand justice.

The villagers have been through too much, and suspect outsiders so much, that it doesn’t matter if Albus is in fact innocent, and they’re immune to calm discussions, only taking it as further proof of guilt. So Merc has to scoop up Zero and Albus and skedaddle while they still can. But the villagers, desperate to blame and punish someone for their ills, pursue them deep into the forest.

Only one villager—the old woman who lost the ring—has the trio’s side, and shows them a safe escape route. She does this to thank Albus for finding her ring—which was given to her by none other than the great witch Sorena—but also because she to is a witch, albeit one in hiding.

The older generation seems more open to negotiation, cooperation, and forgiveness regarding “the other side”, while the younger people on both sides want blood and fire to satisfy their thirst for justice. And yet just like this little incident with the ring in the village, Sorena herself fell victim to a misunderstanding, having been performing magic when a plague broke out.

She was blamed and burned to death, leading to the violent witch rebellion that rages on. But the witch-in-hiding with the ring believes there’s still hope that witches and humans can—and must—coexist peacefully, someday. The developing Merc-Zero-Albus trio is small-scale but important proof that she’s right.

Zero kara Hajimeru Mahou no Sho – 01 (First Impressions)

In a world where witches are hunted and burned by normal humans, a half-man, half-cat “beastfallen” witch-hunting mercenary encounters a petite, seemingly young witch named Zero in a forest.

They make a pact: the Mercenary will be Zero’s guard as she searches for her associate Thirteen. In exchange, she will make him human. She’ll do so using magic from the Grimoire of Zero, so-called because she wrote it. She impresses that upon a young witch named Albus who tries in vain to hunt the Merc. 

Fresh of the heels of Re:Zero, this similarly-named, similarly-set new show eschews the modern-guy fish-out-of-water angle for a more straightforward pact-between-classic-foes story.

The nameless (for now) Mercenary fears and hates any and all witches, and kinda hates himself too, for causing his family and village to suffer and die. But he’s got a good heart, so he’s not going to leave a hungry, cute little girl in the forest.

Does he bite off more than he can chew, oh, definitely. And a great deal of the appeal of this otherwise not-too-original fantasy milieu is in the relationship that forms between the Mercenary and Zero, complete with lots of informal, playful banter.

It’s an intro that doesn’t try to do too much, but gives us a good-enough glimpse of the situation and then focuses on the two lead characters, quickly breathing life into both so we care about them immediately.

Is there excessive explanation of “sorcery” and “magic” and the differences between them? Sure, but because Merc wasn’t totally informed himself, Zero’s lessons at least serve the story rather than simply bring us up to speed.

Also, there’s the fact that this seemingly-young girl literally wrote the book on magic, to the extent that fellow magic-user Albus has his ass handed to him when going up against the author. And they’re on a journey to a place with a defined goal, which can be nice for contrast when watching other, more mysterious shows.

Add the fact it’s a Monday show, and Zero looks like a keeper.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 32

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I lauded McGillis’ decision to take to the battlefield to personally end the “mayhem” stewing between Arbrau and the SAU, but I did not expect the enemies he was fighting to be the Earth Branch of Tekkadan, but that’s exactly what went down thanks to the scheming of Galan Rossa and Radice.

Takaki and Aston have been so thoroughly, well, brainwashed by the charismatic veteran Galan that they’ll fight their own ally without hesitation – though it’s unclear how well they know McGillis and his relationship to Orga and Mika.

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It’s a relief, then, that all of the delaying is done away with and the Barbatos arrives in the middle of the battle just in time to save McGillis from Takaki and Aston. And man does McGillis, and all that he represents, almost get killed in a nameless skirmish spearheaded by a nameless mercenary, all for the benefit of his political and military rival, Rustal. Mind you, Mika isn’t helping an old friend, or even a guy who gives him cool chocolate: he’s simply obeying Orga’s orders not to let him die.

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As for Aston, he steps in front of Takaki and takes the brunt of an attack from McGillis that kills him, and all of Takaki’s hopes and dreams and innocence seem to die with him. That last thing is surprising considering how much Takaki has gone through, but up until Aston dies with a grateful smile on his face, Takaki was determined to go home to Fuka with Aston, not leave him behind. This may have been a pointless battle, but it might just cost Takaki the most.

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As for Hush, he gets to tag along with Mika, as Mika is willing to give him a shot, but let’s just say Hush doesn’t do so great in his mobile suit debut. Indeed, he’s quickly disarmed, loses his cool, and very nearly cries for his mommy before Mika has to bail him out (the second big bailout Mika executes this week).

Hush’s comrade later tells him he’s still got the self-awareness of his weaknesses to be a good pilot, but yeah, that doesn’t change the fact that he’s a very very weak asset to Tekkadan right now, and can’t be trusted with anyone but Mika, someone who can take care of himself.

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Okay, maybe Mika isn’t the only one who can take care of himself and his own affairs when it comes to mobile suit battle. When Eugene and Akihiro arrive at Tekkadan Earth HQ, corner Radice and learn of His and Mossa’s treachery, and furthermore learn that Aston has been lost as a result, he goes the fuck after Mossa, and doesn’t stop until the guy has to self-destruct himself to keep form being halved by Akihiro’s giant vice-grips.

Their battle is the most emotionally and physically intense of the episode, illustrating both how badass Akihiro is and how fiercely he defends (and avenges) his fellow ex-human debris. Though like Aston, Akihiro has never really come to grips with the “ex-” part; he always puts others before his own well-being, and almost gets blown up by it, moments before Laffter can arrive to warn him. Laffter doesn’t want to lost Akihiro because of his own paltry sense of self-worth.

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I enjoyed the little scene between McGillis and Mika near the episode’s end; both because these two are always fun to watch interact directly with each other (especially now that they’re on the same side), but that it almost shows that for all their differences, these are two guys utterly ruthless in their own ways, going after very specific goals only they believe they can achieve.

He’s almost an Orga surrogate here, without the shared past. Both McGillis and Mika seek a better tomorrow, and for now, their interests are aligned, with no sense of that changing anytime soon. And just as McGillis has Mika, his rival Rustal has Julieta, who seems to be the only one who sheds any tears for Galan Mossa, but is told not to do so by Rustal, as it wouldn’t be what Mossa wanted.

But as much as Mossa—who seemed to be a good friend of Rustal’s; perhaps even a blood relative—tried to erase his identity and that of his entire operation, he couldn’t erase one eccentric pilot’s regard for him, nor her grief over his loss.

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As for Takaki, the loss he experienced is more than evident both in the cockpit, at Earth Branch HQ, and back at home. His gaze has changed, from his easygoing glint to more of a Mikazuki stare. He decides to take care of “Earth branch problems” in the injured Chad’s stead, doing what Mika casually offered to do and putting three bullets in Radice for his treachery.

The once kind and gentle Takaki has crossed over into new territory, and both the blood of Aston and the lies of Radice and Mossa crafted this new, darker, more tortured Takaki, who no longer seems comfortable in Fuka’s presence.

This was a hard-hitting and very satisfying episode that swiftly and efficiently wrapped up the Earth Branch arc. I won’t lie that bringing in Mika, Akihiro & Co. definitely raised my interest level, but I also won’t deny that despite the fact either Takaki or Aston (or both) were doomed here, I was still fully emotionally invested in their fates. Not a bad feat for a miniature war with no name.

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Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 04

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There were times during last week’s ep when I was a bit lost, dazed and confused, but now I take solace in the fact that Kusanagi was too! I love an episode of anime that tosses all the pieces on the table and makes you simmer with the chaos and the depth of the mystery to solve before solving it this week. It did so bit by bit, both with some of the Spring’s best snippets of noirish dialogue and some of the best combat.

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After Batou attacks her, suspecting her of dirty deeds, and Aramaki’s men dig up the same dirt, it becomes clear to Kusanagi that like us, she doesn’t have the whole picture. Much of the truth of her mentor’s murder is hidden behind blocked pathways in both her memory and sensory perception.

The fact that we don’t see the real body or hear the real voice of her heroine, only those filtered through prosthetic body and cyberbrain, is one of Ghost’s best conceptual assets. The Kusanagi we follow is only a projection, layered within another projection: the anime in which she dwells. But she still knows herself, and knows when something is amiss, as it is here.

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When the official report is that Mamuro’s grave was never disturbed, she decides to test that report. Turns out the perpetators literally buried the truth below a lie, as the mobile mine trap was buried above the LTC’s real remains, including his cyberbrain.

Once she connects to it, Kusanagi learns a lot more, and is able to remember a plot she had probably already uncovered before her cyber-virus tore up her memory. Mamuro had uncovered a plot by a military and a civilian official to cover up an arms smuggling racket, and those parties then moved to eliminate and then discredit Mamuro.

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After some slick modifications of a mobile mine to get the confirmation from the vice-minister (before not-killing him with a point-blank flash-bang), Batou covers her as she heads to a seedy site where enemy spies were being lured with Mamuro’s cash by the very 501 organization he once headed.

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After a not altogether necessary but still awesome fight with Raizo, Kusanagi gets the rest of the truth from Kurtz. Had Mamuro tried to take down the minister, 501 would have been purged, so she prevented that by letting Mamuro die. Neither she nor the enemy included Kusanagi in their equations, picking up the football dropped by her mentor’s death.

But because she linked with him in the alley where she found him, she was infected with same memory virus he had – the same “fire-starter” virus that played big in the first two eps. Kurtz knew about the virus, and used Kusanagi as bait.

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Considering all that, it’s not surprising Kusanagi wouldn’t want anything else to do with Kurtz or the 501. And with Mamuro exonerated, his recommendation for her goes through. She’s promoted to major and provided an inheritance, part of which was earmarked for her prosthetic body, which is no longer government property.

She may have had to run away from spider girls, dodge blows and bullets from past and future friends, and get her arm torn off, but she’s now freer now than she’s ever been.

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Kusanagi then wipes the rest of the slate clean by undergoing an eradication of all the false memories, planted by the virus, of a mother-like figure who cared for her in her youth. But…were they really false memories? Did Kusanagi really get down to the bottom of things, or simply down to a place she can be satisfied with?

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In the final scene, after a montage of all the future members of Section 9 going about their pre-section 9 lives, Aramaki meets with Kusanagi on the street to report his results: the Captain was replaced and the minister will be quietly tried, and one day Mamuro’s findings will be made public.

In the meantime, he invites the new major to form a team with the independence she always yearned for and her new circumstances allow – a team that won’t simply defend against its enemies, but attack them head-on. With all the pieces thus locked into place, we can gaze on the final product: a pretty sweet re-imagined origin story..

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Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 03

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The second arc of ARISE takes us back to before Kusanagi Motoko joined Section 9, when she was still in the 501 Organization. It’s another tautly-produced episode packed with richly-detailed environments, slick action, a dope score, and good old-fashioned police work, performed with the aid of cyber-technology.

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That police work surrounds the recent murder of a Colonel Mamuro, a soldier with a reputation for integrity being smeared by allegations of corruption surrounding the circumstances of his demise. Mamuro also happens to be Kusanagi’s mentor and de facto benefactor. With him gone and new rules in place, what remnants of her physical and financial freedom remain are in jeopardy. Even more so, now that he’s suspected of corruption. Talk about crap luck.

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Her fortunes marginally improve when Aramaki, the head of the investigation, brings Kusanagi on as a consultant, familiar and clearly impressed with her bona fides, even if he doesn’t know her personal stake in Mamuro’s murder. She immediately gets to work, diving deep into the cybernetic aether, finding dots, and connecting them.

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That night, as Kusanagi gets in touch with Togusa, the civilian detective following Mamuro’s case, and his involvement with a prostitute, she is infiltrated, and runs out into the night in her underwear, only to be ambushed by her bitter 501 colleagues. Like Togusa’s boss, they want her to quit digging into the case, lest it cause trouble for all of them. Something tells me she won’t be so easily intimidated.

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The next morning, Kusanagi first meets Logicoma, a primitive but plucky assistant mecha to whom she literally gives a voice (Sawashiro Miyuki laying on the cute, if you were wondering), whom Aramaki assigns to Kusanagi for the duration of her consultation. The suggestion is that this will only be a temporary arrangement, but I one gets the feeling this is a trial run to determine of she’s right for Section 9.

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Kusanagi traces Mamuro’s last steps and gets jumped by an apparent n’er-do-well. Like the gymnast-like mobile mine, the combat is quick and frenetic, but also smooth and deliberate; not so chaotic we don’t know what’s going on. It’s neat then, that this isn’t just some random enemy going after Motoko, but Pazu, a cop who just happens to be working undercover with the outfit that was hired to take Mamuro out with mobile mines.

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After Pazu offers her useful info that propels her investigation further, he expresses his envy for her “freedom of movement”, unaware that her freedom is by no means a sure thing. At the facility where the mines came from, Kusaragi not only bumps into Togusa, who is looking for two military officers who match the description of the figures who followed Mamuro on security video.

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In that same warehouse, Kusanagi finally gets a good look at the guy who infiltrated her and has been tailing her ever since she took on the case. Anyone even casually familiar with the franchise knows him as Batou, Kusanagi’s beady-eyed second-in-command, but here, in the past, he’s pointing a gun at her. It’s amusing that Kusanagi first met almost every future member of Section 9 at gunpoint.

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Btooom! – 07

Sakamoto runs into Miyamoto and Natsume, narrowly escaping with his life (and without his BIMs), only to lead them back to where he, Himiko and Taira are hiding out. Miyamoto chops Taira’s fingers off, tosses Sakamoto off a ledge, and takes Himiko away, but Sakamoto lands in a tree and goes after him, believing Himiko is actually his vitual wife from Btooom. Sakamoto is able to take out Natsume, but Miyamoto grabs Himiko, who later activates a gas bomb hanging from Miyamoto’s shirt. Sakamoto finishes him off with a timer BIM, and he and Himiko are safe for the time being.

Even if Miyamoto Masashi wasn’t the best ex-mercenary, Sakamoto proved his valor, making up for leading Miyamoto to their hideout by rescuing Himiko and taking him and his crazy lawyer ally out. While Sakamoto insisted before he wouldn’t play the game, in this case, it was kill or be killed, in a rousing episode packed with violence, including chopped-off digits (poor Taira!), threats of flaying (poor Himiko!) and gross, melty faces (served him right). It was also packed with mistakes by Miyamoto, who decided it’d be a good idea to hang bombs from his shirt for anyone to trigger.

He also took his sweet ol’ time killing Himiko and Sakamoto, giving them ample opportunities to foil him, which of course they did. We suppose that’s overconfidence and a low opinion of his enemy. And then there’s the prospect we’d thought all along of Himiko being “the” Himiko Sakamoto “married” in Btooom. She denies it, but then why does she look and sound just like her? Like SAO, there’s not enough differentiation between real life characters and their online personas for us to suspend belief they’d recognize each other. Regardless, here’s hoping Himiko is finally coming around to trusting Sakamoto, who by now has saved her life many times (and she his).


Rating: 7 (Very Good)