Eromanga-sensei – 03

When Masamune investigates the abandoned, possibly haunted house next door, he’s surprised to find Yamada Elf has just moved in: and likes to play the piano naked after a shower to get inspired to write.

After the standard accusations of peeping tommery, she invites him in, and most of the episode is given over to making Elf a little more dimensional, if still grating in her intense, obnoxious arrogance.

As Sagiri’s bedroom window faces Elf’s office, you’d think it wouldn’t be long before she found out who Eromanga-sensei is, but Elf sees Masamune’s sister and thinks she’s just that: a little sister who has fun drawing, not the person whose services they’re fighting over.

It’s also a bit shitty of Masamune not to even mention to Sagiri his little wager with Elf, considering Sagiri is the ‘prize’. Then again, it’s a good thing that Masamune isn’t the perfect MC while everyone around him is flawed in some way.

Indeed, Masamune’s flaw seems to be that in spite of Elf’s toxic personality, incessant pretentiousness, and pronunciation of ahhh-neee-may, he can’t help spending time with his new neighbor, nor indeed being a fan himself, even if meeting Yamada-sensei wasn’t what he expected.

For a time, it doesn’t seem like Elf invited Masamune in just to rub his nose in her superior success, but to spend time with a fellow author. She earnestly asks why he’s a fan, and he earnestly answers: after a death in the family, her books cheered him up. They taught him that novels can “save lives” of some readers, and for that she has his heartfelt thanks, competition or no.

Elf’s reaction betrays a softer, more genuine side to her, even if it’s short-lived and she’s back to being awful the next day. But it’s also clear that she’d rather have Masamune around than not, and also strongly disagrees with his workaholic approach to authoring, as she considers her job a “hobby” and only writes if her motivation is maxed out.

Despite knowing nothing of their competition involving her, Sagiri is uneasy anyway because her big brother, who has been All Hers up to this point, is suddenly ‘in the web’ of a cute, rich next-door neighbor.

While her music and online fans keep Eromanga merry, I feel one of the factors that drives her motivation to draw is knowing Masamune will always be there in the house, serving her meals and protecting her.

Yamada throws a thorn in that arrangement, and it will be interesting to see whether that motivates Sagiri to explore beyond her room. But yeah…Masamune really should tell her about his wager with Elf.

Saekano 2 – 02

Utaha has finished her script, and to celebrate has Tomoya take her out for a day of shopping, dining, and watching films that aren’t poorly-received (i.e. ghosty, shelly) live-action anime adaptations.

It’s a date, no doubt about it, at least as far as Eriri is concerned, observing the couple’s interactions from afar like, well, a stalker, with Megumi forced to tag along for plausible deniability.

But Utaha doesn’t merely toy with Mr. Ethical: she makes it a point to bring up the fact that now that the script is complete, her job with Blessing Software is also done, and she’s looking to the future.

She asks Tomoya his opinion not only on where she should attend university (out in Kansai or fifteen minutes away) as well as to pick which script should be used: she wrote two. She’s basically telling the director to choose a direction; not unreasonable.

When Eriri and Megumi meet with Tomoya (thanks to Megumi having a key to his place!) they see the ending and see Tomoya’s dilemma. Eriri both acknowledges Utaha’s artistry, comparing it to the Metronome of Love series she claims to have never read, while complaining that it’s a lot more work.

Still, she doesn’t automatically reject this new ending, nor does Megumi: they, like Utaha, leave it up to Tomoya. Sorry dude, gotta make some hard choices, and not everyone is going to be happy. Especially with Izumi’s doujin game already out there in demo form, living in the same genre as their game.

Saekano excels when Tomoya is one-on-one, as he is with the lovely Utaha most of this episode. But I also liked how their interactions were shadowed by Eriri and Megumi (especially the difference in Utaha and Eriri’s reactions to the movie, which chose a “childhood friend-friendly”, and thus Eriri-friendly, ending).

I can’t say whether the script of Saekano is cliched per se; all I can say is that it is unafraid of commenting on the very genre and medium it exists in, or of being almost self-back-pattingly self-referential and irreverent of those institutions.

But the dialogue is expertly delivered by the actors, and the character design is strong, so even if this show’s ‘weakness’ is its script (which I’m not saying is the case), it’s more than capable of making up for it in other areas, which makes this show enjoyable to watch on any given week.

But I don’t think it needs a live-action adaptation.

Rokudenashi Majutsu Koushi to Akashic Records – 03

Episode 3 puts it all together in a rousing, magic- and action-packed jaunt, completing the “opening trilogy” that sets the stage for the rest of the series. In the beginning, Glenn may have been a useless shite and Sistine may have hated his guts, but at the end of this episode neither is the case.

While Glenn saved Sistine from the first baddie, they’re far from out of the woods: neither Celica nor anyone else can get to the Academy due to the teleportation circle being out of service. Baddie #2, Reik, sends a squad of bone golems, and when they kill Baddie #1, Sistine witnesses mortal bloodshed for the first time.

Glenn keeps “Shironeko” calm and focused, which is just as well, since he absolutely needs her vaunted magical ability to support him as he takes out the golems, then faces off against the mage who summoned them.

Glenn also makes it clear to Sistine, understandably frustrated she can’t save Rumia on her own, that magic isn’t useless, and tells her what Rumia told her about using it to help people. He’s not going to let either of them die. Not on his watch.

That seems to be the reason he shoves Sistine out of the destroyed hallway, but Sistine remembers his question about Dispel Force spell earlier, and takes it to mean he’ll try to pull the spell off to stop Reik, and she’s there in time to bolster his piddling mana reserves with her own.

It’s a surprisingly brutal battle with Reik, resulting in Glenn getting impaled by several swords, but in the end, he only needs one to kill Glenn. After that, he and Sistine pass out. He’s the first to awaken, and there’s no time to lose, for he’s realized that Baddie #3’s plan is not to destroy the teleportation circle, but to redirect it.

That Baddie #3 turns out to be the traitor, Huey-sensei, as well as the teacher he’s been subbing for. Because of the spell he’s activated, Huey…can’t actually move, nor is he all that mocking or mustache-twirling. He considers this all a big game, albeit with big stakes, and with Rumia as the prize.

As such, like Reik, Huey can’t help but be impressed when Glenn, even in his severely-injured and depleted state, deactivates four of the five barriers binding Rumia to her spot, before passing out again. She’s able to reach through the fifth, and because she’s one of those super-rare “amplifiers”, she can transfer stores of power and energy to him.

Glenn wakes up, deactivates the final barrier, the spell shuts down, and Huey concedes defeat before taking a good ol’ fashioned punch to the jaw. Crisis averted.

For a group of evil mages who have supposedly been planning this for years, was it silly for them not to have done their homework on Glenn, once a “skilled mage killer” in the Imperial Court Mages? Was it also stupid for the headmaster and Celica to leave Rumia in such a vulnerable state, knowing who and what she was? Sure.

But it’s just as likely Celica was confident enough in Glenn that whoever came after Rumia would regret it, and so it came to pass, with many a crucial assist from Sistine, as well as Rumia herself. The ordeal also leads to Glenn deciding to stay on as a full-fledged teacher, which no doubt pleases both Rumia and Sistine, despite the latter’s disapproving frowns.

With this impressive opening tirlogy completed, the new OP runs at the end, indicating a third main student will be introduced soon, this one blue-haired and a food fan. I eagerly await the classes, battles, and adventures to come, and at some point hope to learn what, exactly, the titular Akashic Records are.

Saekano 2 – 01

“Why are things so bad between them?” asks Mr. Awful Thick-Headed Deaf Protagonist, AKA Aki Tomoya, referring to the near constant bickering and fierce competition between Eriri and Utaha. Cue a flashback to a year ago when the two rivals first meet, and Eriri learns Utaha is not only the author of the “Metronome In Love” novels she enjoys with Tomoya, but that she’s trying to snatch her Tomoya away.

Eriri tries in vain to steer Utaha away from Tomoya, while Utaha is irritated to learn how well Tomoya knows his childhood friend Eriri. Utaha brings Eriri up to Tomoya because she’s “interested in knowing more about her”, meaning she’s eager to gather info on a foe.

For all the contempt Eriri and Utaha have spewed at one another throughout last season, they are nonetheless connected by a strong underlying mutual respect. They’re not just foes, but worthy foes. And however much they may differ in creative philosophy, neither can deny the other’s obvious talent, or even be a bit envious of it, considering they excel in different areas (Eriri art, Utaha words).

Utaha learns that Eriri’s motivated by revenge for all the frustration she’s suffered having to hide her talent away beneath a pristine social facade; while Eriri believes she has the haughty Utaha figured out as a cold, calculating ice queen who looks down upon and manipulates her fans with her technique. Neither is wrong!

So back in the present, while they’re still bickering as fiercely as when they first met (with Tomoya as the totem of their rivalry), they can still acknowledge one another’s skill and passion for their craft, and can agree with Tomoya when he says theirs could be a collaboration for the ages.

The praise and enthusiasm of the guy they both like makes it easier for them to look past their surface hate for one another, and the value in working together, even if it’s not always, or ever, smooth sailing.

When Tomoya requests an illustration by Eriri autographed by both her and Utaha as Kashiwagi Kazumi, Eriri, Utaha, and Megumi also requests autographed illustrations. The apparent mortal enemies proudly hang them in their homes, proving their respect and admiration for one another beyond any doubt, even if they’d never ever say it to each other’s faces.

Rokudenashi Majutsu Koushi to Akashic Records – 02

Now that’s more bloody like it. Thanks, Akashic Records, for validating my optimism! After an episode that makes Mr. Radars look like a total loooser, this week starts much the same way, with Glenn picking a fight with Sisti over the value and utility of magic, then going so far he makes her cry and slap him before storming out of class.

At the end of the day, Glenn spots Rumia working on a magical circle, and decides to help her out. She (and by extension we) learn a little more about Glenn, and we learn a lot about Rumia. She’s super-gung-ho about becoming a mage because she’s both indebted to and inspired by a ‘mage of justice’ who once saved her life.

Chances of this dude being Glenn are around, oh…99.99%. Still, I like the dynamic between Sisti’s fire and Rumia’s water regarding Glenn. It’s as if she knows he’s a better man than he’s letting on.

Glenn also takes Rumia’s advice and properly apologizes to Sisti, which flabberghasts her, but also eases their conflict considerably. From there, Glenn, outraged by the “For Dummies” approach his class had taken towards magic thus far, decides to actually give a shit and teaches them what he knows.

Mind you, he still manages to tease “Shironeko” Sisti in the process, but turns out to be a really good magical instructor. The class starts filling with rapt students. Shit is getting done. Just as Rumia saw a good man somewhere in Glenn’s initial bastardry, his mentor Celica predicted he’d be a great teacher.

This episode has a very talky middle, but I didn’t mind because it’s all fascinating stuff that delves deep into the magical lore of the show’s world. I also liked how Glenn actually had the know-how to back up his constant posturing.

But when the other teachers peace out for some kind of magical conference, a group of magical terrorists take advantage. One confronts Glenn in the streets, while others invade the school, looking for Rumia, who they call “Princess Ermiana.”

Sisti stands up for her friend, but when it’s clear the terrorists ain’t messin’ around, she comes forward, with a distinctly defiant look about her. Her faith in Glenn hasn’t been extinguished; she believes he’ll come and rescue them.

Sistine’s attitude gets her in real trouble when one of the terrorists takes her into an isolated room with designs on raping her, calling her out for her facade of strength masking a scared and fragile girl, and stating her type is his favorite. Yikes…shit got dark in a hurry.

Fortunately, this asshole’s associate’s magic didn’t actually do squat against Glenn, who arrives just in time to put a stop to his assault. He uses his ‘original spell’ The Fool’s World to nullify all magic within a certain radius around him, then uses some fly physical martial arts to incapacitate the jerkwad.

As Rumia—or Her Royal Highness Princess Ermiana, if you’re not into that whole brevity thing—thought, this Bastard Magic Instructor isn’t going to stand by and let even bigger bastards hurt his dear students. The straightforward comedy of the first episode wasn’t bad, but I enjoyed that same cheeky comedy interspersed with danger even more. The fact the “Magical Punch” is a kick, for instance; call me easily amused if you must.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 11

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What started out as a simple errand (retrieve Sukeroku and bring him back to Tokyo) becomes much, much more for Kikuhiko, due in no small part to Sukeroku’s daughter, Konatsu. The girl is pretty hostile to Kiku right up until she learns who he is, and then her demeanor rapidly shifts to tearful veneration, and she insists Kiku come with him to see her Dad.

I’ve always loved Konatsu, and lamented how little of her we’ve seen (albeit out of necessity) since Yakumo’s story began. Kobayashi Yuu isn’t quite as convincing as a five-year-old as say, Kuno Misaki, but it doesn’t matter: by the end of the episode, I was in love.

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On the way to her Pops, we learn from her that her mom has run off, abandoned them, and I take her at her word (we later learn Miyokichi does this often, but always comes back eventually). She also says her mom forbade her dad to perform rakugo, and when we arrive at Konatu’s domicile, we see just how well Sukeroku functions without it.

I mean, a frikkin’ five-year-old is the breadwinner here! Things are bleak. The only thing that rouses Sukeroku from his mid-day nap is Kikuhiko’s voice, which sends him flying out of the filthy house. In a perfect reunion moment, Kiku smacks him in the face with his bag, but Sukeroku pounces on him anyway.

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Kiku gets down to brass tacks, but Sukeroku is initially unwilling to hear him out: he’s done with that part of his life; rakugo has gotten “boring”; he’s out of practice; the raft of excuses is almost unending. But Kiku cuts through all that with one simple fact: ”

If people want you, you have to do it.” And Kiku is one of those people. After hearing and being envious of Sukeroku’s rakugo—and being unable to replicate it—Kiku needs it back. He’s starved for it, and wants to hear it again, and continue striving to match it, even if he never will.

Kiku doesn’t come out and say he’s been gliding along without Sukeroku around, because he hasn’t—he’s been working his ass off—but when his brother compares how he looks to a shinigami (which sends a shiver up a listening Kona’s spine), it’s clear he’s missed him.

Until Sukeroku reconsiders, Kiku is staying. He fronts cash for Sukeroku to pay off all his debts, but fully expects him to repay him by acquiring jobs in town. He’ll live with them, but insists they clean the house thoroughly. In this manner, Kiku is like a stiff, purifying breeze that blows out the cobwebs.

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But Sukeroku and Kona aren’t the only two benefitting from Kiku’s stay. Kiku decides to do small performances at dinner parties and the like to pay for food and his fare home, and gets really into it. The master of the inn even presents him with a more formal performance space (ironically formerly a geisha prep room).

In a bath scene that hearkens back to one of the first between the two brothers (something Sukeroku points out but Kiku claims not to remember), Kiku does confess that he’s never felt this way abotu rakugo before; this good.Sukeroku knows why: Kiku can see his audience; there’s less physical and emotional distance between them, motivating him to strive do his best.

At times it seems like Kiku himself could settle down here as Sukeroku did, and if not thrive in the upper echelon of his craft, at least lead a happy life.

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But that’s not really the case. Kiku still wants to return to Tokyo, with Sukeroku taking his rightful place as Yakumo. As always, Kiku is looking out for Sukeroku, striving to put him on the path he thinks is best. That means getting him out of debt, cleaning his house, and cutting his little girl’s hair so it’s out of her face.

In one of my favorite scenes of the whole show, Kiku scolds Kona for badmouthing her mother, then discourages her from taking up rakugo, since he earnestly believes it’s a man’s job to be on the stage performing. He then goes into a pretty woman’s crucial role as the rakugo performer’s muse, drawing out their best performance.

Konatsu then puts Kiku in checkmate by getting him to admit she looks pretty with her new haircut, so now he has to do rakugo for her!

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If Kiku was enjoying himself at all the small informal gigs in town, he seems even more at ease and in the zone with an audience of just one. The story Kona makes him do—an at times creepy, at times hilarious story involving sexy ghosts or some such—is one of the best I’ve heard, and it’s made even better when Sukeroku, who can’t help himself, joins in and turns the solo performance into a duet; their first.

These are two brothers who haven’t seen each other in five years, and yet here they are, a perfect comedy duo. Perhaps the performance is technically a little rougher and unpolished than it sounded like, but who cares? Konatsu is over the moon, and Kiku is hopeful he’s shown Sukeroku why he can’t give up on rakugo. It’s not just Kiku who needs it, it’s his daughter too.

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We don’t hear Sukeroku’s answer, but their performance, and Konatsu’s elation, clearly has a powerful effect on him. Then Miyokichi enters the picture, at the very end of the episode, having been handed a sign announcing a public dual rakugo performance starring Sukeroku…and Kiku-san.

Miyokichi’s reaction suggests she’s still carrying a torch for her old boyfriend after all this time, which goes a fair way in explaining why she’s not home with Sukeroku or Konatsu; perhaps the former reminds her too much of the man she really loved. The question is, will she attend the performance?

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KonoSuba – 04

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This week’s KonoSuba felt like three separate and distinct KonoSubas in one, all coalescing at the end around a single theme: whether Aqua is any good. We begin with Darkness showing off her repaired armor (and somewhat sadly asking Kazuma to praise her sometimes) and Megumin getting really excited about her new Manatite staff.

Kazuma also isn’t wanting for anything, as he later buys clothes and equipment better suited for his environment (albeit the same green shade as his tracksuit). All three spent their cabbage spoils wisely, but Aqua didn’t. In fact, she spent all the money she had and built up a 100,000-eris bar tab, thinking she’d be good for it, only for most of her cabbages to turn out to be lettuce, which isn’t worth nearly as much.

This is ridiculous and hilarious and makes perfect sense, since Aqua has so little luck. Kazuma, meanwhile, is roling in luck and cash, and wants to move out of the stables, but instead pays Aqua’s tab, after she tries pretty much everything: flattery, begging, and finally shaking her bum.

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Part Two of the three parter is the marvelous story of how Kazuma is forced to tag along on Megumin’s practice sessions far from town (where she won’t get scolded by guards) so she has someone to carry her home (just thinking about the silliness of such arrangement would send any milk I’m drinking out my nose).

She finds an abandoned castle perched atop a cliff, and day after day, once a day, blasts it with explosion magic, and every day, Kazuma carries her home. At first, it’s a chore, but he starts to get into it in spite of himself, gradually becoming a kind of aficianado; the equivalent of an “explosion foodie.”

Every explosion has its own intensity and personality, and Megumin has good and bad days. They bond through the experience, and Kazuma’s previously dismissive attitude toward her gives way to a kind of respect and understanding.

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His attitude towards Aqua, on the other hand, remains extremely dismissive. Aqua seems happy to be bringing home free dinner (and I’d be happy too!) but Kazuma is restless. He doesn’t think they can beat the Devil King, and he thinks a lot of that has to do with Aqua not being the all-powerful goddess he thought he had.

A Megumin aptly puts it, his “verbal lashings are pretty nasty;” subjecting Darkness would bring her tears of joy, but they only bring Aqua tears of sorrow (though Aqua reacts interestingly to Darkness’ interest in being reamed by Kazuma).

Kazuma’s war with Aqua is put on hold when a Dullahan arrives in town – one of the Devil King’s top generals. Looking kinda like Ains Ooal Gown’s cousin, his main grievance is with the constant explosion spells being cast on the castle where he’s taken up residence. Heh, I knew that castle wasn’t abandoned!

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After failing to pass of blame to another town wizard, Megumin steps forward and actually takes responsibility, though she refuses to apologize for or cease doing what is, for her, as natural and necessary as breathing. If she has to fight the Dullahan into submission for him to understand, so be it. Aqua arms herself and stands beside Megumin in solidarity.

Then the Dullahan, out of patience, prepares to his Megumin with a Death curse that will kill her in one week, but Darkness races in front of her and takes the curse instead. Now, I know enough about Death spells to know they’re typically not reversible; once you get one, it’s only a matter of time. This incident actually heightened the peril dynamic of the entire show for me; it looked like it was actually going to get serious.

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Of course, this being KonoSuba, feelings like that don’t last long, but that’s just fine, because the route it takes instead is true to its mission statement to send up every fantasy trope it can find in the most creative way possible. Because the Dullahan death-cursed a masochist, he only made things weirder and more of a hassle for himself, so he retreats before Darkness jumps on his horse.

Before he does, he challenges the party to come after him, and if they can fight their way through his castle fortress and get to him, he just might lift the curse. After he leaves, Megumin again shows she has heart and guts by resolving to take that challenge. Kazuma, who as we saw bonded with her somewhat in training, declares his intent to accompany her. It looks like the party is about to embark on a grand adventure to save their selfless comrade.

But NOPE, Aqua just uses her magic to instantly lift the death curse from Darkness as easily one balls up a tissue and tosses it in a dustbin. JOB DONE. I have so say…I wasn’t expecting that at all, but again, it made perfect sense.

Aqua had been beaten down the entire episode as an underachieving, whiny, pathetic excuse for an arch priest, but ends up the heroine, gaining the adoration of the entire town while utterly sapping Kazuma and Megumin of their motivation. So going back to the question of whether Aqua is any good…well, she is, but only at very specific things at very specific times. If this bizarre party is going to thrive, it will do so mostly by threading needles.

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Attack on Titan – 08

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Man, those Titans look like the “Came With the Frame” family, wearing seemingly warm, friendly expressions. To bad they only look like that because they’ve found fresh humans to eat. The fact that Titans (unique variants aside) aren’t particularly grotesque monsters  but look simply like scaled-up naked humans who act purely on instinct, has made for quite a skin-crawlingly disturbing dynamic.

This week, we see Jean, who never wanted to fight on the wall in the first place, almost fall backwards into a position of leadership and the esteem of his peers, not because he performs amazing feats of badassery like Mikasa, but because he’s just…one of them. Not particularly strong, but able to assess situations and rally others to his side. After all, if someone like him can keep his cool (most of the time anyway) in such awful scenarios as he faces this week, so, they believe, can they.

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Speaking of lacking either physical or emotional brawn, Armin starts this episode content to be left behind lest he slow Mikasa and Connie down. But like Eren, Armin is Mikasa’s family, and she’s lost enough of that, so she’s not leaving him. Since he’s going to be a burden to them one way or another, Armin hatches a plan: something neither Mikasa nor Connie would have ever conceived of: lead the weird Titan-fighting Titan (TFT) to HQ so he can take out he Titans there, allowing them to resupply and continue the battle.

So Mikasa and Connie (with Armin in tow) set to work killing all the Titans around the guy, until he notices the ones gathered around HQ and gets to work. That handsome couple up top are his first victims, who are killed before Jean’s eyes just as he’s ready to give up (there’s a lot of instances of people about to give up in this show; all of them perfectly justified).

Once there, Armin comes up with another plan. In the process, he transcends his whiny third wheel act. Now, he’s a crucial member of the ramshackle unit, not just because Mikasa draws strength from him being alive, but because he just might be the sharpest tactician they’ve got.

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This plan has a lot less margin for error than the TFT-luring operation. Everyone has to put their lives on the line for the sake of everyone else. Any slip-ups, and they could all die. Seven athletic fighters hide in the rafters, waiting for the rest of the unit to blast the seven Titans in the head with shotguns so they can swoop in for the kills.

And while Connie and Sasha fail to strike killing blows to their Titans, Mikasa and Annie, two of the toughest ladies around, bail them out. I like how Sasha is pissed off with herself for giving up and not trusting her comrades would save her. Now she knows better.

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When they resupply and return to the surface, their would-be TFT ally is in the middle of a cannibalistic scrum. As they debate over whether to continue to rely on him, he dispatches the last of the Titans and collapses, armless. Then, from the dissolving remains of the TFT carcass, a regular-sized human form emerges – the human we all knew was in there, kicking Titan ass as a Titan.

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But I must tell you, while I fully expected Eren to be in that TFT, I was not prepared for the emotional impact of Mikasa running to him, embracing him, then totally losing it when she hears his heartbeat. That was even the title of the episode, and it still absolutely slew me.

There will certainly be many different reactions to Eren being a Titan (or having the ability to pilot them). Not all of those reactions will be positive. But right now, the only thing that matters to Mikasa—and me—is that the heart of the person she holds most dear in all the wretched world is still beating.

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Attack on Titan – 07

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We quickly learn this week that those intense flashbacks to when Eren and Mikasa first met, and Mikasa found her purpose in life—to be with Eren—was all simply building up for the moment Armin tearfully informs her that Eren died to save him.

It’s another cruel blow to someone who’s already endured so much pain; in fact, it figures to be the final blow; after all, Mikasa has been going on over and over about there being no other reason for her living than Eren.

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To Armin’s surprise, and mine too, however, Mikasa doesn’t break down; not outwardly anyway. Instead, she seems to shut down right then and there. Her eyes lose their sparkle. But for now, she sticks to her duty. She gives a big speech about being far stronger than all of them (which is true) and calling them pathetic cowards.

She’s going to go fight and live, even if she has to do it herself. Others follow her, whether due to a sudden spark of motivation from her words, or out of shame. Elsewhere, it’s so grim one soldier successfully loads a gun so he can put it in his mouth and end it all.

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But like Armin, we know something’s not right about how Mikasa is proceding. She’s going too all out; killing with extreme prejudice until her gas supply is totally exhausted. And with no gas, she has no mobility, and no more hope of suriving the gathering Titans.

She kneels in an alley, waiting for death…but she reflexively doesn’t let herself die, in spite of herself. As a Titan comes at her, then another, she remembers Eren, and dodges, and fights back, like he did, to save her. Then one of the Titans kills the other, and leaves her alone. Wait…what?

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This “ally” Titan—with familiar unkempt hair and steely teal eyes—is Eren in another form, to my eyes. And he kills the other Titan with the same raw ferocity he killed one of Mikasa’s captors; as she puts it, putting “all the manifest anger of humankind” behind his righteous blows that rip his own fist apart, only to re-heal instantly.

It’s too soon to be sure, but this “unique variant” may be humanity’s first real effective weapon against the Titans. If he pans out as a reliable human ally, he certainly won’t be a total game changer; he’s just one “good Titan” against countless scores of Titans of all shapes, sizes and strengths. But I for one am glad Mikasa and the little people have scored a break, even if it’s a temporary, incomplete one. Like them, I’ll take every break I can to stem the rising tide of blood and anguish.

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Attack on Titan – 06

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I wasn’t all that enamored of Armin’s extended whimpering at the beginning of this episode, but his realization that not only is it a cruel world where the strong slaughter the weak, but it has always been so; he just had to lose his best friend to realize it fully. And messed up as he is, he can still look at a desperate Hanna performing CPR on her clearly-dead Franz and think stop…he’s already dead. I am weak. We are weak. But we don’t have to fall to the strong today.

While Armin laments the apparent loss of Eren and the rest of his unit in its entirety, Mikasa bags her first Titan (or at least the first Titan we see her bring down), an “abnormal” that runs a lot faster than the others and was about to go to town on a throng of evacuees who weren’t able to escape because a haughty merchant is blocking the gate with his wagon full of goods.

Mikasa’s job is to kill Titans, but she’s killing Titans to save lives, not goods. So she clears the gate a blade less than an inch from the merchant’s eye, then goes back to work killing Titans once the evacuation can proceed. Her superior wonders what the hell this kid went through to become so tough and unyielding. I too have been wondering where she got her seemingly superhuman strength…and how she, and Ackerman, came to live with the Yeagers.

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The show enlightens us with a gut-punch-riddled flashback. Armin’s assessment of the cruelty of the world is felt firsthand by Mikasa, whose loving mother and father are murdered right in front of her eyes. They prepare to sell her into the service of old perverts, as she’s a rare (if not one-of-a-kind) “oriental”. And that’s exactly what would have happened, had Eren not tagged along with his dad on a house call to the Ackermans.

When Eren realizes what has happened to the parents of a girl he was going to meet for the first time (and was going to weigh whether to be friends with her based on “how she acted”), he goes off on his own to rescue her, achieves entry to the criminals’ hideout by pretending to be lost, and then kills two of the men holding her, one with a knife to the gut at the door (just how Mikasa’s dad was killed), the other more viciously with a spear-broom.

But there’s a third man, and once he has his hand around Eren’s throat, it falls to Mikasa, who had always abhorred the inherent cruelty and violence of nature. Eren gives her the rundown: Fight, or die. Win, and live. That’s it. With the knife in her hands, a switch flips: she’s the strong one here; the man busy with Eren the weak one. With overwhelming force, she fights and wins, and she and Eren live.

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The two kids are shell-shocked in the aftermath of that ordeal, but Mikasa is still in tune with reality enough to say she’s cold, and ask which is the way back home. Eren and his dad welcome her into their home, which becomes her home. Eren gives her his warm scarf; perhaps the same scarf she still wears in the present.

Eren is her everything; he saved her life, and woke her up so she could save both of them. He’s the reason she’s alive, and the reason she fights, and wins, and continues to live. As long as he’s with her, she can do anything, and goshdarn it, I believe it. But what if he isn’t with her? What if he’s Titan chow? I know he isn’t, because, well, this isn’t Gurren Lagann and he’s not Kamina…but she doesn’t know that yet.

That aside, this was a tremendous flashback episode that helped humanize and further deepen our understanding of our favorite character in the show by a mile so far. I daresay it was worth arresting the momentum of the last couple episodes.

9_brav2

Attack on Titan – 05

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When Eren ends up all alone with the Colossal Titan, he wastes no time attacking it, using his ODM gear to climb all over his body and delivering a blow to the back of his neck as he was trained to do. But Eren doesn’t have his revenge today; the Titan merely disappeared as mysteriously as he’s twice appeared. Just a couple of footprints where the enemy once was. And he’ll surely be back whenever he feels like it.  There’s no resolution, no catharsis…no glorious victory.

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Now in the heat of battle, Eren is the only one among his contemporaries who seems to have his shit together, and that’s because, as his instructor noted, he’s never seen anyone work with as much purpose as Eren. He’s singularly motivated to defeat the Titans, and hard-headed enough to let that drive drown out his nerves, if only partially and temporarily.

He tries with all his might to relay to those around him the importance of forgetting about what they have at stake and focusing on their immediate duties. Armin and Mikasa are brighter than Eren, but those extra smarts put them at a disadvantage here. They waver; they overthink. Eren has to headbutt Mikasa to snap her out of her feedback loop. “You’ll be fine. We’re all going to make it. Now get your ass moving.”

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Eren’s comrades on the battlements were conspicuously absent during his skirmish with the Colossal Titan, and not just because they were flung far away, but because they were to a man paralyzed with fear. Jean, enraged his transfer to the interior has been postponed, fumes about having to share his fate with a “suicidal maniac” even though he played all his cards right to get the cushy life he wanted.

Well, everyone, including Eren, learns this week that life isn’t fair, and life for the humans of AoT is a constant cycle of false security and horrendous massacre. No inspiring deeds or words from Eren can change that, but they are enough to motivate Eren’s comrades to follow him into battle. That…doesn’t go well.

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AoT is gradually starting to train me that Eren’s words about defeating the Titans and saving the world are, so far, just that and nothing more: words. And words are wind. Not a single Titan is shown being decisively killed. Eren and his mates look really cool dramatically swinging around the city, then Eren gets a bit too close to a Titan and loses a leg.

That leg is like our hope that victory is possible in this battle, but that Titan is this show, heartlessly snapping that hope up the blink of an eye and turning everything to shit. One by one, his comrades, who had enough lines (albeit mostly death flags) earlier that they’re not just pure redshirts, are plucked up by Titans and…the rest is left to our imaginations.

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Rather implausibly, Eren doesn’t let the loss of his leg (and whatever other injuries he sustained during his deceleration) stop him from literally snatching Armin from the jaws of death, only to be snapped up himself, losing an arm in the process and being swallowed, to Armin’s infinite dismay. Holy Crap, I thought to myself: the protagonist got eaten in the fifth episode.

But the Titans don’t care who you are, how much money or power you have, what your plans for the future are, or why you’re fighting. They’re only interested in what you taste like. I’ve seen few shows where it’s being a thinking, feeling, loving human being sucks this much. Where mankind has been portrayed as this damned and ineffectual. And AoT’s just getting warmed up.

9_brav2

Attack on Titan – 04

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I’ll say this about these first episodes of AoT: it does not dick around. Two more years pass during which Eren, Mikasa, Armin, and a large group of fellow young cadets are hardened and trained, and graduation nears. As the drill sergeant observes them training in the woods he helpfully lays out the strengths and weaknesses of each recruit.

Armin lacks strength, but he’s got a sharp mind; Eren isn’t spectacular at any one thing, but he learns quickly, works hard, and no one is more driven. Mikasa is perfect at everything; a once-in-a-generation all-round talent. But you know what? That’s fine with me, because she’s so damn modest and unassuming about that ability.

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What I also like is that Mikasa isn’t just tough for a girl, she’s the toughest cadet, period, and there are other tough girls too, like the food-obsessed Sasha and aloof Annie Lockhart. The latter teaches both Eren and Braun a lesson with combat skills her father taught her, but isn’t taking any of this seriously, as the whole idea of those who are the most talented at killing Titans get to serve furthest away from them, in the interior Military Police.

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Indeed the top ten cadets in the class of 218 have the option of reporting straight to the Military Police, where they may theoretically live out their lives in relative peace and safety. Mikasa graduates top in the class, while Eren finishes a surprising fifth, with Armin placing outside the top ten.

Eren will have none of the military police; he’s joining the Scout Regiment, where he can take the fight directly to the Titans who took his mother and home. Armin and Mikasa decide to join him in turn, with Mikasa convinced he’ll die a quick death without her by his side. Protective? Sure, but he is her family.

When they graduate, Eren gives a speech rejecting the notion the Titans cannot be beaten, and that there’s value in fighting them even at the cost of his life, as continuing to fight them will allow them to gather more and more intel about their foe, so that one day, future forces might be able to bring them down for good. He doesn’t want to die, but he can’t sit back and do nothing.

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The speech clearly moves a few of his fellow top tenners like Conny and Sasha, who join him in the Scout Regiment. When they arrive in Trost district along Wall Rose, they’re welcomed by an optimistic crowd; it’s been five years since the Colossal Titan attacked, and there hasn’t been any advancement by the enemy. In that time, the collective wounds have healed a little, and both hope and dignity are in the air.

…Then, on Eren’s first day atop the wall maintaining the cannon, the Colossal Titan returns, and the lighthearted mood is replaced by terror and despair. Man…Not particularly forgiving to its human populace, this show. Yet Eren doesn’t freeze in fear. He and his comrades are scattered off the wall, but he uses his ODM gear to get back to the battlements and face his nemesis down.

He’s not scared, he’s pissed, and his time has come to finally attempt what he’s wanted to do since he saw his mother get eaten. I have no earthly idea how he expects to take the behemoth on, who will help him, and who won’t survive the imminent battle, but I’m damned eager to find out on all counts.

8_brav2

Attack on Titan – 03

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Two years after the Titan attack destroyed their home, Eren, Mikasa and Armin begin boot camp, and their drill sergeant suffers no foolishness, especially from one Sasha Blouse, who just can’t help scarfing down a hot potato while he’s talking (the tension of the exchange is highly amusing, showing off Titan’s sense of humor even in such bleak setting. (The sergeant also thinks Armin Arlert is a dumb name.)

It’s a common strategy: strip the cadets down and then build them back up, in their case, into Titan-killing soldiers. As the sergeant walks down the line, we learn how the recruits are from all over, and have enlisted for many different reasons. Many don’t cut it and leave to work the fields on the first day. Others will wash out later. I liked how the sergeant knew from the look of the cadets who’d already gone through the wringer.

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Eren is eager to get through training so he can start kicking Titanic ass on the front lines, but he hits a snag: the omni-directional mobility gear all soldiers need to master. In short, he sucks at it. He has all the motivation and determination in the world, but appears to lack the aptitude. This is a huge setback for his life goals, and you can see in his haunted expression at dinner that he fears failure and his own weakness far more than any Titan.

This episode also presents the opportunity to spread out beyond our core trio to several interesting supporting characters, some of whom may well end up in the same unit as Eren. The aforementioned Sasha is a bit one note in her relentless pursuit of food, but Jean Kirstein’s honesty about wanting to join the military police so he can serve in the safe(r) interior provides a welcome contrast to Eren’s puffed-chest gung-ho act.

Even better though, Jean and Eren don’t just come to blows over the disagreement. A bell rings, and the two make up, perhaps aware that fighting each other is a waste of time. Then there’s Reiner Braun, who like Eren & Co. is one of the few cadets who has seen the Titans firsthand; in other words, who have seen hell.

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But the undisputed rockstar of this episode, and of the show so far, at least for me, is Mikasa Ackerman. We learn a little more about her intensely close, co-dependent bond with Eren; neither of them want to ever be apart from the other; both feed off of one another’s unique energy. She aces the OGM, makes someone fall in love with her just by walking past, looks awesome no matter what her length of hair is, and even owns Sasha by not surrendering her bread.

She also rejoices when Eren finally gets the OGM right (turns out he had a defective belt, but even managed to balance properly on that, proving he’s more than capable). But she’s also the only one who doesn’t see self-satisfaction in Eren’s face. She sees relief that he doesn’t have to leave her.

Not that he would have to: had he failed, she would have gone with him to the fields; Armin too, probably. Because if there’s one thing that’s working out for these three kids in this dastardly post-apocalyptic fiasco of a world, its the three of them sticking together.

9_brav2