Attack on Titan – 13

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The episode that marks the end of the first half of Attack on Titan also, mercifully, marks the end of the interminable Battle of Trost. It’s an episode full of big, great, “Hell Yeah” moments. One of those is when everyone, believing they’re all at death’s door, suddenly stops what they’re doing and listen to the steady, ominous footsteps. Clearly they’re from a Titan, but it’s when they see the boulder moving that they know it’s their Titan, Eren, finally doing what he’s supposed to be doing.

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Finally, with the mission on the right track, everyone knows what to do: Eren must be protected at all costs. If he is swarmed by Titans again and God forbid, drops that boulder, it really is all over. Mikasa for one, is clearly not going to let any Titans get near him, belting out a primal war cries as she cuts them down one by one.

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Another great moment is when Eren finally gets to the broken gate and slams the boulder in place, kicking up a huge cloud of dust. All the torment of the arc’s past episodes seems to be worth it; for the first time, the humans can truly claim victory over the Titans (albeit thanks to another Titan). Rico admires Eren’s handiwork and is staggered by the enormity of what just happened. An most importantly, none of the hundreds of soldiers who fell today died in vain; they all died so that the gate could be sealed and the district saved.

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But there are still a good number of Titans still within the walls, so as much as everyone wants to stand down or pass out from exhaustion, there’s still a battle to be won. Fortunately for Mikasa, Armin, and a freshly-extracted Eren (it seems to get tougher and tougher to separate him from the Titan…uh-oh), the cream of the Scout Regiment arrives, confused by what the hell just happened, but ready to mop up. Captain Levi’s movements in particular are like nothing we’d seen in the battle before, even from Mikasa.

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With the last of the Titans dealt with, the butcher’s bill comes in: over 200 dead, nearly 1,000 wounded. It’s up for the soldiers like Jean and Sasha to gather up the bodies (or what’s left of them, having been horrifically spit up by stuffed Titans) and burn them before an epidemic finishes what the Titans started. It’s a ghoulish, traumatic business that ensures there won’t be any celebration for this first victory; not while one is surrounded by the stench of the burning remains of comrades.

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The final big moment of the episode, which paves the way for the second half, is when Eren wakes up behind bars, chained to his bed. He may have been the linchpin of the operation that saved Trost District and Wall Rose, but he’s still a potentially dangerous and unstable element, so the bars and chains are a wise precaution.

Fortunately, it would also seem that his captors hew more towards Pixis than Woerman, with actions driven by reason rather than fear. The commander of the Scout Regiment, flanked by Levi, simply asks Eren what he wants to do. If they’re to investigate Dr. Yeager’s secrets, hidden in the basement of Eren’s now-destroyed home in Titan-riddled Shiganshina, having a Titan on their side could prove as decisive as it was in the battle of Trost.

Eren wants to join the scouts and drive the Titans out. That impresses Levi enough to decide to take him under his wing. With a clear path set for the second half, and an interesting new master-student dynamic, I’m looking forward to seeing how things shake out with Eren, Levi, Mikasa, and Armin.

As for the other members of the 104th? Well…aside from Sasha and Jean, they haven’t made much of an impact for me, and even those two are a bit muddled. IMO AoT has most effective when it has resisted the urge to give every single character their two minutes in the sun, and instead focused on the core trio.

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First Half Pros/Cons:

Pros:

  • Richly-rendered world with well-defined scale and complexity
  • Palpable atmosphere of large-scale despair, desperation and futility
  • The Titans stike a weird balance of terrifying and cute
  • The Eren/Mikasa/Armin dynamic works very well, with each character contributing a unique strength
  • Mikasa is the undisputed star, cool outside but all churning emotions inside, making it all the more awesome when they break out

Cons:

  • Front-loading of episodes with recapping and retracing to start episodes
  • I’m sure the creator/producers thought through the 3D harnesses, but it still took a while to get on board with the fact they actually worked, and how
  • The supporting cast is generally bland, amorphous, and served mostly to steal valuable time from main triad
  • Excessive explanation combined with camera cutaways from overt gore suggest the targeted audience is younger than me
  • The show suffers from inconsistent pacing; the Trost battle went on far too long
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Attack on Titan – 12

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After another extremely long and annoying (for someone semi-marathoning) recap of What’s Happened So Far on AoT, we return to the situation in Trost: Eren has transformed into a Titan, but he’s useless. All he manages to do is blast both of his fists off going after Mikasa, who insists to her CO Ian that Eren is “family”, not her boyfriend. Your blushing says it’s more complicated than that, Miss Ackerman.

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She suspends herself in front of his face and tries to reason with him, to no avail, so the episode, like many others before it, is more about what happens when things go wrong than what happens when they go right. But to the credit of Ian and the elite squad with Mikasa, the mission to protect Eren, even though he’s currently useless, takes precedence over their own lives.

Rico is angry about it, because he doesn’t think Eren is worth it, but he still obeys orders. He doesn’t let The Fear overcome his discipline. Instead, he resolves to go out fighting, showing the Titans what they’re made of. Elsewhere in the district, Jean tries to keep it together and prove—more to himself than the others—that he has what it takes to be a good soldier.

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Every minute Eren is out of action, dozens of soldiers both fit and unfit are being slaughtered and/or eaten by the growing horde of Titans. Pixis admits that he and he alone is responsible for these deaths, but is willing to be called a butcher if his actions save humanity.

Even though the elite squad signaled failure, he’s not throwing in the towel. Of course, one could say a great many of these soliders were going to die whether Pixis hatched this cockamamie plan or not, and one would be correct. If they do nothing, humanity is eventually going to be toast, to a man. So why not try something?

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Speaking of which, when Mikasa’s verbal pleadings fail to rouse Eren (who is stuck in an idealized dream in their old house in Shiganshina with his still-alive parents), it falls to Armin to try something else. Remembering the location from where Eren emerged was the same as the weak spot of all Titans, he digs his sword in, nicking Eren in the arm, and yells at him through the opening to wake the fuck up.

Again, AoT demonstrates why Eren and Mikasa alone can’t survive; it takes Armin’s extra perspective. Mikasa never would have risked harming Eren by stabbing him in the neck, but that’s exactly what needed to be done to snap him out of his blissful but self-destructive fantasy. Now that he’s awake, we’ll see if Eren’s able to exert enough control to pick up that boulder and seal the gate. Better late than never, right?

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Attack on Titan – 11

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Supreme Commander Pixis decides the fate of humanity will depend on whether Eren can seal the broken gate with a boulder. At no point does he ever go a step further to what the plan is if Eren can’t, or say, if the Colossal and Armored Titans reappear and destroy the boulder or blast a new hole in the wall. I guess that doesn’t really matter at the moment; one crisis at a time and all that.

The advantage of semi-marathoning (2-3 episodes per week) is that I can go from one episode to the next without waiting a week. In the case of the Battle of Trost arc, I’m starting to wonder how viewers back in Spring 2013 could stand the snail’s pace. Part of that is the fact the first few episodes covered five years; for the last seven to be about the same battle is a bit disorienting.

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Time is moving so slowly, serious damage has been done to the arc’s sence of urgency. Despite often claiming there’s no time in various ways, there’s still plenty of time for leisurely strolls along the wall and interminable motivational (or sobering) speeches. A disadvantage to semi-marathoning also rears its head: the use of narration and repetition of events we just watched don’t do the episode’s urgency any favors.

Stretch out a daylong battle across so many episodes, and the viewers’ minds can stray. I know that if this battle had been wrapped up by now, I wouldn’t be noticing details like it’s strange that Pixis’ voice can carry far enough for everyone below to hear him, or soldiers worrying about “losing discipline”…as dozens of scared soldiers start deserting en masse. Uh, I think that’s a sure sign discipline has already been lost, actually…

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Finally, near the end, we get beautiful and highly kinetic sequence of soldiers flying through the city. I’d been mired in speeches and exposition so long, this scene made me sit up straight. Like the rest of the episode, it’s little more than people getting into position, but it does so without listing a bunch of names of redshirts we may never meet, something Rico does to Eren as they’re running. Why does everyone suddenly think Eren’s a spoiled brat? He’s going to save everybody.

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Only, he’s not. Not really. And that was the most glaring problem with this episode, from my perspective: Titan-Eren was never going to actually succeed. When he transforms, he turns from the boulder and smashes the roof where Mikasa is standing, in an apparent attempt to kill her. Oops.

This show has proven, Lucy-from-Peanuts-like, that just because it’s carefully positioning a football on the ground, doesn’t mean it won’t pull it back up just when you’re about to kick it, leaving you, Charlie, flat on your back. Not always, mind you: Armin’s gambit worked very nicely indeed.

But past results are no guarantee of future success, and it would have been too easy if Eren just picked up the boulder and plugged the hole like a good Demi-Titan. So…how about that Plan B?

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Sore ga Seiyuu! – 09

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After eight episodes focusing on the seiyu, mostly Futaba, this episode switches things up a bit and re-tells many of the past events, along with a couple future ones, from the perspective of Futaba’s petite but tireless manager Konno Aoi.

As the intermediary between numerous seiyu and numerous production companies, her day is never not busy, and it’s full of small victories and failures, either made better or worse by how she reacts to them and how she delivers the news to her charges.

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From a flashback in the cold open we see what brought Konno into this kind of work: while taking the stage or the spotlight isn’t for her, facilitating the rise of others is not only something she’s good at, but something she enjoys, especially when she gets a big hug from the recipient as a reward.

Just as Futaba makes up for her relative deficiency of otherworldly talent of the Kamiyas and Hories by working hard and trying to stay positive, Konno works no less hard to get Futaba two jobs in one day, further building up her experience, motivation, and confidence as she gets better with time.

Plus, their increasingly dramatic run through the city to make a recording appointment (instead of simply calling to say they got held up in traffic) made for an unexpectedly amusingly action sequence.

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Sore ga Seiyuu! – 08

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This week Futa-Futa, Ichigo and Rin-Rin are reunited for an in-store event marking the release of their first CD single, “Into Your Ears.” There, they learn of the stress and anticipation prior to the event starting, along with the understanding that the designated performance room will not be packed, judging from the wider spacing of the seats and the fact a couple of employees will be in the crowd (I count 31 total people above).

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But despite all that, the girls do their best for their small but passionate mini-legion of fans who did turn out to watch their first performance, and while the song doesn’t start exactly when they think it will, they don’t make any mistakes in the actual performance, which is good. Far from a fiasco, everything goes pretty smoothly.

It becomes clear to Futaba that Rin and Ichigo are more popular than she, but is heartened by an encounter with one particular fan of hers who not only knows her C.V. and traveled from Saga to see her, but bought the same Korori doll she has. I’m also glad the show didn’t go too dark or cynical with regard to the intensity of the fans; they all behaved themselves…except, perhaps, Rin’s hyper classmate/”first fan” Sayo!

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Earphones as a group also learns that they have to be realistic about the speed of their ascent into J-pop relevance, and have to be satisfied with a few CD sales rather than selling out, just as they have to be satisfied with a third- to half-full hall. Everything takes time, patience, resilience, and work work work.

After the event, Futaba ends up being called into Gonzo’s TV studios to do a narration for a show, her first such job. She’s understandably nervous about this too, especially when she learns the guy doing the job with her is the famous TV voice Machi Yuji (also the voice of Ultraman Tiga, and Tsukino Usagi’s dad). Machi-san is a Pro with a capital P, having amassed enough skill and experience to nail a script that’s literally just been handed to him, even offering the producers corrections down to the frame.

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Watching Machi work and make it look so easy is obviously quite intimidating to Futaba, to the point she totally blows her dry run. But when Machi-san tells her he used to be in her position—no one starts out perfect, or even good—she’s stops worrying about how bad she was and starts working to be as good as she can be.

Her second try is much better, and Futaba’s seiyu Takahashi Rie does a fine job clearly differentiating between bad and better to even the untrained ear. She gets through the job, and impresses enough that Machi mentions finishing a story he started next time they meet, suggesting she’ll get more work there.

If she does, each time she goes, she’ll learn more and more, and get better and better. But she won’t ever be able to stop working any less hard than she is now. Constant improvement requires constant struggle, especially for people like Futaba.

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Takanashi Rikka Kai: Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! Movie

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So, we finally got around to watching this movie, which is a suitable substitute for the first season, as it’s pretty much the first season (our reviews here) on fast-forward, complete with a few awkward cuts from one episode to the next. The conceit is that in the time before Rikka knows whether she has to move away or will be able to live alone above Yuuta, she retells her story to the audience from her perspective.

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The only problem is, aside from the sequences that bookend the film and a couple narrations, there’s nothing different from the events that take place here and the way they unfolded in the first season. It would have been interesting to see more new material from that time, rather than simply rehash it all in abridged form. Thus, this film is kind of a let-down, but only for those who went into it not knowing what it was going to be.

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For those who want to be brought up to speed on how Yuuta and Rikka fell for each other and ended up living alone together (however briefly), this film does the trick, though certainly nowhere near as efficiently as, say, Kill la Kill’s excellent cold-open recap. For those like us who thought there’d be more original material, it was still enjoyable to go back and be reminded why we liked the franchise so much we eagerly awaited its sequel, which is proving just as good.

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As for the original material, the ending, in which Yuuta (along with Touka) have to go to bat against Grandpa Takanashi, and it was great to see Rikka’s moment of jubilation upon learning they succeeded. But the star of this film is the entire pre-opening credits sequence: a gorgeous, lavishly-animated wedding-slash-battle that’s really just a Rikka daydream. If you’re not interested in a gorified season recap, we still recommend watching at least this first bit of the film, which is a great microcosm of why we love the franchise so much.