Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 05 – Hindrances to Her Chosen Fate Arise

Much to the surprise of the mages on guard, Alice and Rin show up at the new vortex site unannounced, and are soon joined by TuxedoLord Mask and his younger Zoa relation, Kissing, whom he considers to be on a power level close if not equal to Alice’s. He assures the princess they’ll be enough to protect the vortex from the Empire’s forces. Alice is troubled that the Zoa family seeks all-out war—and if she hadn’t come, they’d have exploited the vortex to towards that goal.

Meanwhile, Mismis locates the vortex—which wasn’t hard, as its a giant pillar of light on the horizon!—but they’re not the first on the scene. Their unit is confronted by Shanorotte’s, but when Mismis runs over to hug her, Noro-chan reveals her true colors: she and her unit are and always were loyal mages of the Sovereignty. She shocks Mismis with magic and prepares to take her away as a POW.

That’s when Nameless, who was nearby all along, de-cloaks and wounds Noro’s fellow mages. Nameless prepares to send a sword at Noro which will go through Mismis, but Iska deflects the blade. Nameless threatens to bring Iska up on charges for insubordination, but he doesn’t have time for him. He must return to the Imperial Base so he can bomb the vortex, which is a lost cause now that it’s firmly in enemy hands.

Back at the vortex, Noro presents her captive Mismis to Mask and Alice, who fears Mismis will recognize her from the Neutral City. Thankfully, Rin knocks Mismis out before she can say anything that could incriminate Alice. Mask and the Zoas are hawks, after all; the crown princess meeting with the enemy could be all the excuse they need to move against the Lous.

As it is, Alice simply asks Noro where the enemy base is, as she’s eager to meet back up with Iska as the fortune teller foretold. Only Iska has Nene and Jhin hang back while he infiltrates the enemy base, headed to the place Alice was just as she’s leaving.

Iska is able to easily wrest Mismis back from Noro’s sadistic clutches, but Noro is bailed out by Kissing, who attacks with summoned thorns that take on a variety of forms. Iska, who recognizes Kissing as a strong purebred, is able to hold out until Noro uses the thorns to destroy, then reconstruct an incoming Imperial missile.

That explosion is seen by Alice after she returns to the Imperial base. Nameless is waiting for her there, and manages to cut both Rin and Alice, but then Alice goes all out with Ice Calamity, forcing Nameless to flee. The blast in the distance convinces Alice she should never have left the vortex zone; she must’ve just missed Iska.

Iska is able to slip past Kissing’s thorny offense-defense and knock her unconscious with a non-lethal blow, but then Mask shows up to carry her away, shoving Mismis into the vortex to buy time for their escape. Iska jumps in after her and eventually grabs hold of Mismis. Alice returns just in time to watch him leap in, and she leaps in after him.

The ensuing scene is highly amusing for its informality considering the situation. Despite descending through a column of surging astral energy that apparently has no bottom, Alice blushes at the sight of Iska and treats him as if he stood her up at the base. Still, she agrees to help him and Mismis out of there if he agrees to fight her as soon as they’re back on the ground.

Iska agrees, and the two join hands just as the astral energy surges further. Suddenly they hear a fell voice in the din—an astral spirit’s chant—and the column detonates and dissipates, separating Alice and Iska and dispelling them to different remote areas of the surface. Rin meets back up with Alice, who is annoyed her next battle with Iska has again been postponed by outside forces. Nene and Jhin pull up to find Iska and Mismis, none the worse for wear all things considered.

With the vortex gone, there may be nothing left for either side to do, but more vortices are sure to crop up. We’re left wondering if it was Alice and Iska’s holding hands that caused the vortex to close, which could portend an interesting possible destiny for the pair. If astral vortices are akin to nuclear weapons, or at least sources of atomic-esque energy that can bring about great death and destruction, it falls upon these two to ensure those sources never fall into the hands of either side’s warmongering factions.

I may be off-base with that theory, but it fits with both Alice and Iska’s reluctance to escalate the conflict and desire to bring about a lasting peace. This week’s events underscored the difficulty of that goal, with players like Noro, Kissing, Mask, and Nameless all unwittingly conspiring to hinder Alice and Iska’s continued interaction. The more they fight, the more they’ll understand and trust one another, and the better positioned they’ll be to save the world.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 04 – Feeling Lucky

Part of what makes a good show comes down to tempering expectations as much as surpassing or subverting them. With three straight episodes of Iska and Alice bumping into each other, this episode felt oddly empty because the two never meet. Instead there’s some bonding of Unit N07 at a casino, which is nice, but can’t help but feel like filler, stalling the inevitable next confrontation between the star-crossed lovers.

It was nice to see the unit dressed to the nines just for the heck of cutting loose and having fun, as well as to learn that both Captain Mismis and Alice’s attendant Rin have the same love of gambling that neither Iska nor Alice share. But for the two to be so close to each other—at the same casino and then receiving the exact same accurate fortune—without meeting feels like a letdown.

After a scene with the Octet revealing that Risya for all her cheer is a sometimes ruthless ladder-climber, she informs Mismis and her unit that they’ll be part of an Imperial team charged with heading to the Myudol valley (located between the Empire and Sovereignty) where a new Vortex (a massive confluence of astral energy) has been found.

At roughly the same time, Alice and Rin are informed of the same thing by the shifty Tuxedo Mask” Masked Lord”, who is a member of the Zoas, one of the two royal families not on the throne. Turns out the Sovereignty isn’t as monolithic as I thought; there’s ongoing enmity between the three families, something Alice regrets.

When Iska and his unit head to the valley, the guy in charge is a fellow Saint Desciple, named, er…Nameless, and is also faceless thanks to his state-of-the-art optical camo armor suit. He’s unambiguous in the troops’ mission to either capture the vortex or destroy it, as well as in warning everyone not to “get in his way”.

But when over ten soldiers go missing during the recon mission, Nameless insists that there be no search-and-rescue ops, and orders the search for the vortex to continue. This doesn’t sit well with Iska, but he is dismissed as a traitor by Nameless when he tries to get more answers. He’s also too low-ranking to even speak to Nameless, but Mismis isn’t, and she’s as eager as Iska to know why they’re essentially sacrificing their comrades.

As for Alice, she’s distrustful enough of the Zoa family that the only way to learn the truth about the valley and alleged vortex is to go there herself, representing both the crown and the Lou family. This means that after this week’s near-misses, Alice and Iska are sure to meet back up. Unlike their team-up to stop the Founder, they’ll be on opposite sides of a battle to secure a key strategic asset.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War – 12 (Fin) – The War Continues

Last week ended on a hopeful note, but there was still a lot that could go wrong with Kaguya and Miyuki’s big night at the fireworks festival. And what do you know, it does! Just as she’s ready to head out, one of the butlers not named Hayasaka vetoes her outing as too dangerous, so she has to text Chika that she can’t go, and she’s sorry.

Kaguya enters heretofore unplumbed depths of dejection, but Hayasaka tells her to regain her Kaguya attitude that would have normally had her trying to sneak out by now. Hayasaka aids in all the ways she can by posting a tweet to Kaguya’s feed that Miyuki picks up on, then disguising herself as Kaguya so she can swing Tarzan’s Jane-style over the wall and to a waiting taxi.

While getting out of bed and sneaking out of the house was a big win, Kaguya still has to get to the fireworks before they’re over…and she isn’t able to succeed. The taxi is stuck in traffic, and there’s only so much ground she can cover in yukata and geta. She’s able to glimpse the fireworks closer than ever before—between buildings—but by the time she reaches the meeting spot, the display has concluded and the crowds are cleaning up after themselves (what a concept!) and heading home.

Of course, all this time, we know that Miyuki has been racing around on his bike, attempting to intercept Kaguya on her ill-fated solo mission to reach the fireworks. He manages to pick the right alley where she’s chosen to cry, then takes her by the arm and tells her he’s going to make sure she sees some fireworks. He accomplishes this with help from Yuu and Chika, who are waiting with the same taxi  Kaguya took before, driven by one of the Four Ramen Kings.

The driver takes liberties with the speed limit and gets them under the Aqua Line towards Umihotaru, where the fireworks display will still be going on for another twenty minutes. There’s an action thriller flavor to their undersea tunnel trip, and an ultimate feeling of triumph when they emerge at the other side to a sky full of gorgeous fireworks. Only now, that she’s closer than ever to those fireworks, all Kaguya can watch is Miyuki’s face, and all she can hear is the beating of her own heart. Daaaaaw.

While the fireworks night turned out to be a great victory for everyone, pulled from the jaws of defeat numerous times, the real proof in the pudding of whether Kaguya and Miyuki’s relationship has grown would come in the aftermath. We get a glimpse of that as the new school term begins, and both of them are so bashful and self-conscious that every time they try to approach each other, they end up sailing by like ships in the night—or two dogfighting planes.

Again and again they swoop by, with Chika eventually getting into the spirit of things with an “asterisk” before Yuu arrives and unwittingly makes it a “triangle.” Kaguya and Miyuki then banish both Yuu and Chika (“shooting them down”, as it were) in order to get the privacy they need to finally confront each other about last night.

Kaguya just wants to thank him for everything he did, but as they finally meet and end up bumping into a kind of half-hug, her broomstick juts into his chest, and she says the very words he feared she’d say as an appraisal of his “egotistical” behavior and “cringeworthy lines” the other night: “it must be painful.” Of course, she was talking about the broomstick, not his behavior. But he runs off anyway, and Kaguya gives chase, and henceforth everything is pretty much back to normal.

Surely other situations will come in the future where the two will be able to hang out and do fun stuff and experience moments of beauty and honesty together—but due to their stubborn pride and persistent self-consciousness, any such interactions will only come after much hand-wringing and hesitation. Perhaps, given enough time, it will get easier. But as long as they think something that manifestly isn’t a war is, it’ll remain akin to pulling teeth. But hey, a romantic can hope!

Kaguya-sama: Love is War – 11 – Twitter, Ramen, And Missed Connections

This week’s collection of stories vary wildly in tone from ludicrous to serious to unabashedly earnest and poignant—and that’s all fine, since it depicts the reality of high school life, it’s highs, lows, and MEHs. First, due to their stubborn refusal to make the first move, both Kaguya and Miyuki are letting the sand pour away in the hourglass of summer without meeting up.

When Kaguya learns Hayasaka is following Miyuki on Twitter, she decides to sign up to mitigate her loneliness. Her appalling lack of IT skills (beyond speed typing) mean poor Hayasaka’s much-needed replenishing bath is being constantly interrupted by Kaguya panicked cries for assistance. In the end, Kaguya runs into the same issue as texting or calling: she has to make the first move to follow Miyuki (garnering her mental image of Miyuki saing “how cute” for once).

Alas, she’s unable to do so and risk breaking the stalemate. She and Miyuki might describe the importance of to winning the “war of love” and preserving their pride through inaction, but the “war” is Pyrrhic, and their pride only a thin facade barely concealing their fear. Hayasaka muses at how happy they’d be if they simply acted on their obvious mutual feelings, and is envious of the depth of those feelings.

Part Two is from the POV of a “ramen connoisseur” who treats the acts of ordering, seasoning, and eating ramen as a kind of war all its own. When Chika enters the same shop, he assumes she’s lost, but all of her actions suggest a fellow connoisseur, one of “his people.”

Even when she seemingly makes missteps that detract from his respect for her, she surprises both him and the chef with increasingly choice moves, from choosing super-firm noodles that will withstand the “mini-ramen” method, crushing garlic into the broth, and even draining the bowl like a boss, something that makes the aging dude recall his youth when sodium intake was of no concern.

Chika is adorable and awesome throughout the segment in which she attains an easy victory, living her best summer life while her president and vice-president wallow in their dark rooms. One day it finally becomes too much, and both of them don their uniforms and go to school in hopes of possibly meeting the other there.

They both have the right idea, but the wrong timing, as Kaguya has already departed the office by the time a winded Miyuki gets there by bike. The ennui and melancholy so very palpable in this gorgeous third segment that takes its time, and in which no one wins. The solution to seeing each other (something both want very badly) is to simply shoot a quick text to each other, but because neither can do that, they fail to meet. The pointless war continues.

Post-credits we get a surprise fourth-segment, narrated entirely by Kaguya in monologue. She describes all of the things that have kept her, the privileged daughter of a very wealthy man, from living a normal girl’s life and experiencing the simple things people like Chika take for granted.

The segment makes no attempt to hide Kaguya’s ornate, grandiose lifestyle, but also never fails to make us sympathize with her. The lack of warmth, love, or even the sharing of a damn room with her father, who summoned her to the main house for a two-second exchange, causing her to abandon shopping plans with Chika, her sister, and Kei, is particularly devastating, as is Hayasaka’s holding of her hand for emotional support.

The segment thankfully ends on a triumphant note: no longer will Kaguya have to settle for the view of distant lights from her giant, lonely bedroom window; she’s going to the festival to see them up close, with people she cares about and who care about her in return. Maybe, just maybe, an armistice in the war of love can be reached…

Citrus – 10

Mei unblinkingly offers Yuzu her body with open arms, ostensibly out of gratitude for how Yuzu helped her with her grandfather and father. But when Yuzu finally has the object of her infatuation in her arms…she just can’t do it.

Emphasis on she; Mei looked ready to go all the way, and from the look of her reaction to Yuzu’s declining, isn’t cool with being turned down. That feeling lasts the length of the month of January, with the two stepsisters rarely talking.

When Matsuri hears the two didn’t do it on Christmas after all, she mocks Yuzu for wanting her romance to be perfect like the shoujo-ai manga she hides in her bookshelf. She also scolds Yuzu for not properly considering Mei’s feelings. Even if that’s a bit rich coming from her, she’s not wrong. Mei opened up, and Yuzu ran.

When Yuzu oversleeps the morning of their class trip to Kyoto, Mei leaves without her, and Yuzu misses her class’s train. As it would happen, another big sister from another school ends up missing her train and separated from her little sister.

That sister is Tachibana Sara, and she and Yuzu end up meeting and getting on the next train headed to Kyoto, and from there, the coincidences keep piling up. Yuzu and Sara set out to find their respective classes and learn they each have virtually the same schedule and are even staying at the same hotel.

In the process, Yuzu and Sara become friends, which I knew would make things interesting when Sara learns that the nice girl she fell for (and mentions to her sister Nina earlier in the ep) is Yuzu’s stepsister, whom Yuzu told her she fell for and is currently unable to reconcile with.

Sara and Nina reunite, and Yuzu learns Sara’s “little” sister is huge, and a gyaru to boot! But Himeko catches Yuzu and gives her the third degree, even interrupting Yuzu’s attempt to get Mei to talk.

They eventually do meet, later that night, but Mei is not in a patient mood, and when she asks Yuzu “What do you think of me?”, Yuzu has nothing but shallow answers, even if they’re the best she can come up with on short notice. Mei isn’t moved, and tells Yuzu to forget Christmas night.

In one final coincidence, Nina happens to overhear this conversation between Sara’s new friend Yuzu and the black-haired girl Nina knows her sister likes.

A coincidence or two can be perfectly fine, but when there are this many it can make the resulting drama a bit manufactured and thus less satisfying. And while I knew the Tachibana twins were coming from the promo art, and they weren’t nearly as grating as Matsuri, they were also just a bit dull.

Tsuki ga Kirei – 04

It’s the School Trip episode, and there’s a sense of adventure to the proceedings, as the whole amassed class boards the Shinkansen and arrives in a bustling Kyoto. It’s just the start of a dense, lush, richly-detailed episode that nevertheless has a light touch due to the elegant plot.

You see, amidst this big trip, all Kotarou really wants is to know Akane’s answer to whether she’ll go out with him; the sooner the better. Because cell phones are officially forbidden, he has to hide his and hope it’s not confiscated; otherwise he’s doomed.

And I’m not kidding when I say Kyoto is bustling; the scenes of throngs of tourists milling around are pretty impressive, even if the CGI models are a little stiff, it’s better than panning stills; not to mention the accurate-to-Kyoto environs look great.

The fact that Kotarou and Akane have to contend not only with their nosy classmates, but also the vast space and volume of humanity Kyoto throws at them, really heightens the tension. Will they be able to meet on this trip?

C’mon, haven’t we all been there at some point: staring at our phone, the only light in the room at night, willing that next text to come in from the person you like? Even if you haven’t, the tension is thick enough to cut through with a knife.

The show does an excellent job thrusting us into the shoes of both Kotarou and Akane, making their various friends, nice that they are, feel like hovering irritants. They want to reach out to each other, but they’re mired in their respective circles.

Kotarou finally gathers the courage to send Akane a place and a time to meet…only for his phone to be confiscated by a (drunk) teacher at the worst possible time.

From there, it’s a textbook “missed/lost connection” scenario, as Akane sent a text asking Kotarou to elaborate on what he meant by the time and place…and she waits and waits, to no avail. So much must fly through her head: did he lose his phone, or is he intentionally ignoring her replies?

The beauty of this particular situation is that it simply unfolds before us without undue explanation, exposition, and precious little inner dialogue, really giving the increasingly awful-feeling situation room to breathe without undue verbal interference.

Kotarou has to muster courage once more, in order to borrow Chinatsu’s phone to call Akane. And Akane is rightly pissed, though neither she nor Kotarou should place so much hope in the reliability of cell phones. That’ll lead them to ruin!

All’s well that ends well, thankfully, and the tension is released when, after voicing her frustration with her ordeal and with their inability to clearly communicate thus far, Akane is the one who musters the courage to say something: that she wants to talk with Kotarou more.

That’s her answer, all but eliminating the ambiguity her fortune said would lead to calamity. Sure enough, the pouring rain ceases and the clouds part to reveal the beautiful blue sky. Now let’s hope these two crazy kids didn’t catch colds!