Vinland Saga – 07 – Getting a Head in France

The Danish King Sweyn orders his armies’ English advances halted to give them time to rest for the winter. That means Askeladd’s crew’s contract work with the army ceases, which means they have to do as the birds do: migrate south in search of food.

It turns out there are already various factions within France fighting one another, including a siege on the Loire river in which a numerically superior Frankish force is unable to take a fort held by only a handful of their enemies. Askeladd sends in Thorfinn, older but still a kid, to make a deal with the besieging army.

Their general—who has a distorted cartoony design that resembles a fat toad, and with a weird voice to match—reluctantly agrees to ally with Askeladd’s men for the siege. The general’s out-of-place appearance is another sign that while Vinland Saga can be very realistic when it wants to be, it’s still depicting a highly stylized version of history and reality.

A more overt sign is when Askeladd’s men join the Frankish general’s armies in the siege the next morning, they come lugging their three boats on their shoulders and running at full speed; at least 25mph (the current record for human speed is Usain Bolt’s 27.8mph; he was not carrying a viking ship).

So yeah, even if the Vikings did carry their ships around on occasions when it was necessary to take land shortcuts, they certainly didn’t carry them that quickly, and I imagine when they were done carrying them they didn’t have enough energy remaining to not just fight a battle, but absolutely dominate in it.


Of course, challenging realism in this show is a slippery slope, so I’ll stop there, as it’s more plausible that after however many years Thorfinn has trained and killed for Askeladd, he’s become a finely-honed, ninja-like killing machine. There’s a long line of soldiers between him and their commander, but he cuts through them all like butter. Unfortunately, when he beheads the commander, the head falls into the lake, and the whole reason he went up there was to claim their leader’s head.

The Frankish general/prince was planning to betray Askeladd when it made the most sense to do so, but Askeladd betrays him first, pillaging the village of all treasure and leaving the worthless empty fort, and the victory, for the general.

Presenting the head of the commander, Thorfinn formally challenges Askeladd to the duel he’s owed once more, and Askeladd formally accepts…but only after they’ve escaped to safety. That means rowing their three big viking ships—likely overladen by treasure and other spoils—down a steep waterfall. Not only do the ships make it down without a scratch, but not a single gold coin spills out.

Despite all the action in this episode, it still felt rather static, in that Thorfinn and Askeladd’s unresolved conflict hung over everything, and the fact it was once again delayed despite Finn meeting the requirements feels like another artifical delay, for which their French excursion felt like so much window dressing. The comic-relief buffonish toad man and questionable physics further undermined the outing.

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Alderamin on the Sky – 13 (Fin)

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Ikta is able to complete his mission of covering for the main Imperial forces’ retreat while besting his Kiokan rival Jean Arquinex in a match of wits, drawing deep to create a multi-layered plan to outwit the young major. Because the safety of his men is more important to outright victory, everyone is behind Ikta.

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Major Jean notices the obvious fire trap in plain sight, but fails to see the larger trap hiding beneath it; Ikta’s men springing out of the straw, blinding and slaughtering their horses. Most importantly, Jean wrongly assumed his opponent would try to fight him for control of the battlefield, but Ikta’s strategy eliminated all control for everyone, creating chaos.

How Jean handles this chaos betrays his lack of experience, despite his military brilliance. He is so obsessed with control, losing it knocks him off balance. In the negotiations that ensue, he also wrongly assumes the Igsem soldier is in charge, and also wrongly assumes that he’s safe.

Ikta’s resulting bluff, placing a light target on Jean’s chest for a Torway sniper who isn’t really out there, and his explanation for why he’s not in violation of military law, works really well. Ikta is at his scrappiest, and while he does sweat, he never lets Jean see it (what with the glare from all the bright lights).

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Jean knows he was bested, this time, and wants to know more about the man who did it, and what he’s fighting for. He’s outraged when Ikta tells him he cares not for protecting his country, only its people, and gets even more steamed when Ikta warns Jean if he keeps up his blind loyalty to country, that country will suck him dry and toss him aside. Definitely seems like setup for a rematch in a future season, if we get one.

Whatever may be ahead for Alderamin, I’m glad the Northern Campaign is wrapped up here, and I especially like how glad Princess Chamille is to see her knights, and Ikta in particular, return safe and sound, even compromising propriety to give him a big ol’ hug.

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We also learn in this final week why it is Chamille wanted, nay needed Ikta to return so badly, which has been hinted throughout the series by her narration. Chamille has bigger plans for Ikta, and needs him to utlitze his considerable talents and the support of his comrades and friends to keep rising up in the Imperial ranks…so he can lose the war with Kioka.

Chamille is young, but not stupid, or ignorant: her empire is rotting from the inside out, and it must be purified. The mission she gives Ikta, which could consume many of the best years of his life, is to become the leader Imperial military, then lose the war “the right way”, allowing the outside influence of Kioka clean out the Empire without losing its unique culture.

“Fight until we lose!” is a novel slogan and a nice subversion of the usual notion of fighting for victory. Here, it’s almost as if we’re on the side of the bad guys, who know they’re bad and want to change for the better. If anyone enact that change, it’s Ikta, but it won’t be easy.

He worries not only about coming into conflict with Yatori, but dragging her into such a conflict in the first place; any conflict where the Empire loses. This season appropriately ends with Ikta and Yatori leaning on one another in the moonlight, and Ikta affirming their devotion to one another first and foremost.

I haven’t heard anything about a second season yet, but if it were to continue I would absolutely watch it. After all, the epic chronicle of the Invincible Lazy General, the Heir to the Twin Blades, and the Last Princess seems to be just getting started. It would be a shame if the tale ended here.

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 20

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In an initially cryptic prologue, a young man who looks like a more well put-together Subaru approaches a fair lass who looks like a redheaded Emilia. It’s actually a very young Wilheim van Astrea meeting his future love, Theresia, but I’m sure the resemblances aren’t an accident.

Theresia may be gone and isn’t coming back, but this entire grand battle is Subaru’s attempt to protect Emilia from a demise (and, in turn, himself from Puck’s primal wrath). He couldn’t do it alone, so he called upon those with common purpose, and the result unfolds this week.

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Watching him dust himself off and craft the plan and set up the pieces made for a World Heritage List-worthy outing; and while it wasn’t really in doubt that the payoff would, er, pay off, there was also a lingering feeling that Subaru was due for another setback. This is Re:Zero, after all. Not victory comes easily, nor on the first try.

That being said, the joint Karsten/Hoshin army packs a whollop, unleashing all their best attacks and dealing seroius damage to the whale, who is none to happy that the ambush tables were turned. One weapon even turns night into day, which makes the battle a lot easier to see. This isn’t ufotable-level combat, mind you, but it doesn’t need to be, and gets the job done.

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After Wilhem cuts out one of the whale’s eyes (GROSS!), it unleashes a cloud of fog, and its counterattack begins. We see concern in Crusch’s expression as the sky dims, and Wil remembers telling the lovely redhead in the ruins how his sword is the only way to protect someone as a knight.

He failed in that task, but not for want of trying, and is resolute in his desire to make up for the failure by vanquishing the whale once and for all.

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But the whale has more tricks up its sleeve: its fog cleaves the earth and utterly destroys a good chunk of the force. Many of the survivors succomb to the whale’s devastating, mind-piercing song, which makes them hurt themselves. Fortunately Felis is there to neutralize the effects with his healing magic.

Subaru sees that someone needs to step up and change the tune of this battle, and decides it should be him. He openly mentions Return by Death, which has the desired effect of infusing him with a fresh batch of the Witch’s stench, drawing the whale to him like a fish to a lure.

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This gives Wil a fresh chance to do more damage to the whale, but he ends up in the wrong position at the wrong time: right in front of the whale’s mouth as it scoops the earth around him up like a cloud of shrimp.

Wil stops and recalls one last time, the night he was saved by the Master Swordsman, who turned out to be Theresia. The fact is, he was never strong enough to protect her; instead, the reverse was the case. Even when he lashed out in frustration, Theresia proved she was the better swordsman, even if she didn’t understand why.

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But Wil never got over the face he could not protect the woman he loved, nor stop her from protecting him. He saw himself as the expendable one, and would have died happily if it meant she could live on, or even better, especially if she could then step down as Master Swordsman.

But that’s not exactly fair to Theresia, and I’m glad the show brings up the fact Wilheim’s desire for revenge, and putting himself in the literal jaws of the whale, may not have been the right thing to do, or indeed what Theresia wanted. She died to save him so he could live on. But he spent the last fourteen years living only for this day.

Whether he survived this battle or died fighting, he was going to end things. And I’m not sure Theresia would approve. Especially since we learn there isn’t just one white whale, but several. Talk about a Re:Zero knife twist!

What if now, Subaru has to die, plan all this out again, and the next time, include Priscilla and possibly others? I’m also weary that the Witch’s Cult will take advantage of the Karsten’s scattered, weakened army to launch their own strike.

The plan was sound, it just wasn’t quite enough to end things. Will Subie be able to accomplish what Wilheim couldn’t—save the one he loves—without sacrificing himself?

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 19

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MAN, I LOVE IT WHEN A PLAN COMES TOGETHER.

It’s a tired phrase, but I can’t think of a more apt use for it than the latest Re:Zero, where Subaru gets to start over from Zero and doesn’t squander the chance. Rather than begging like a babbling loon for an obscure, partially-formed goal, he comes to Crusch Karsten—and Anastasia Hoshin, and the Merchant’s Guild—with a sensible, viable arrangement, with the White Whale at the core.

In this manner, Subaru unwittingly becomes the catalyst for a grand battle that was in the making long before he arrived in this world. EVERYONE detests the White Whale. Thanks to his past lives, he not only knows how to properly approach and negotiate with these people—from a position of strength and common cause, and pride—he knows where the White Whale will show up next, and most importantly, when, thanks to his “metia.”

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When Subaru is speaking to Crusch, and Felis, and Wilheim in a manner that makes them receptive, he seems to find the unlikely hero within himself, a hero who has united groups with various opposing interests in less important areas but a shared loathing of the White Whale.

And because of the way he composes himself and presents his plan, everyone is not only willing, but eager to hear him out. Crusch is suspicious at first, but she can see the wind of dishonesty when someone lies, and Subaru, though clearly still intimidated, is making an honest, courageous effort that she doesn’t overlook.

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Part of me hated Crusch for so cruelly refusing Subie’s assistance the first time around, but I couldn’t blame her, as he was giving her no reason to help or believe him. Here he did his homework, recalling all the various goings-on in his past lives (combined with Hoshin’s major burn) to uncover the battle Crusch was preparing for anyway, and offer something that could give them all a decisive advantage over their foe.

Everyone works through the night to get ready, and Subie meets Hoshin’s mercenary captain Ricardo, numerous veterans who came out of retirement to, like Wilheim, avenge their lost loved ones upon the Whale. Subaru sees this is bigger than him, but none of this would be possible without him. He’s making it, damnit…he’s making it!

And God, it’s so good just to see everyone smiling and laughing again, even if it is, in part, to hide how goshdarn scared they all are of the task before them.

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This week, Subaru succeeded in all the ways he failed in previous attempts to save Emilia all by himself, or with last-minute help from others. Even though Priscilla isn’t a part of the alliance (and is totally absent this week), her reaction to Subie trying to kiss her feet was a powerful lesson Subie keeps with him, and is brought up again when he chooses his ground dragon, a breed known for its intense pride. He can’t accomplish anything alone, and he can’t inspire or convince others without that pride.

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Last week was ALL Rem and Subie, elevating Rem to “best girl of the year” status for many. I don’t have many strong arguments against that, so I’ll let it stand, especially when she doubles down this week on her absolute faith in Subaru, keeping his spirits up even when he starts to doubt if his cell phone will actually help them (considering how cruel this show can be, I too was worried this to all be for nothing).

But now Rem isn’t the only one trusting of or grateful to Subaru. He’s convinced two candidates battling for the throne to join forces, for crying out loud. And the merchants! As for stern-faced Wilheim, he gets a lot more fine strokes this week as one of those older men in this world who lost something to the WW, and is grateful for the opportunity to avenge his wife (who was once Master Swordsman, underscoring how dangerous the WW is).

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Perhaps one of the best moments of a highly satisfying and morale-boosting episode, another gem in a show full of them, is the moments of silence as the hour of the Whale’s arrival approaches. There’s so much built-up tension, combined with the possibility that it might not show up, or that the Witch Cultists would ambush the army.

Then the silence is broken by a strange electronic musical noise that took be totally off-guard (even though he said he’d set it earlier): Subaru’s cell phone alarm.

The cheerful chime feels like a terribly foreboding harbinger to some foul occurrence, but then the whale makes its appearance, and Subaru charges in first with Rem loosing her magic with prejudice. That changes Crusch’s face from terror and worry to a defiant smirk, and the battle begins.

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 16

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In an episode that doesn’t really come close to last week in terms of emotional or visceral impact, Subaru manages to stay alive the whole time. The beatings Subaru receives this week are more intellectual than physical (though he gets beaten up physically too), as he is outwitted, embarrassed, and enraged by each of Emilia’s rivals.

First up, the ever-calculating, ever-level-headed Crusch. Subaru asks her for military aid against the impending Witch’s Cult raid on Mathers’ domain, but Subaru is not able to convince her that it’s in her best interest to help, or offer anything she won’t profit from anyway if Emilia were wiped out.

She never once loses her composure as Subaru fumes and bites his lip bloody, ultimately resorting to begging. Crusch simply sees right through him, that there’s more to what he wants than what he’s saying, though as we know, there are things Subie simply can’t say that has nothing to do with pride or loyalty.

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Next up, Priscilla. Surely she remembers him saving her in that alley, right? Nope. Priscilla doesn’t even pretend to treat Subie with the slightest whiff of respect, offering to help if he’ll kiss her feet, but quite unlike Crusch, loses her cool completely when he actually tries to do so.

Just as he only managed to convince Crusch that he’s, at best, mad as a hatter, he only manages to convince Pris that he’s a detestable pig who will do anything, no matter how debasing, to get what he wants.

Priscilla is disgusted even to be in his presence, and extends her disgust to Emilia’s whole camp. And she’s clearly deeply disappointed; doubtless a part of her wondered if he wasn’t quite as “insignificant” as he seemed; alas.

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o-for-2…will the third time be the charm? Subie didn’t even bother going to Anastasia Hoshin until they bumped into each other in the street. But while Ana seems a lot friendlier on the outside, she’s only playing games with poor Subaru, dangling something he needs (and a trifle at that; a carriage) in order to pump him for info on who Crusch has been meeting with.

Like a common schoolyard bully, the haughty Anastasia drops her mic and walks out of the tavern, taking her private army with her, utterly assured that Subaru is incapable of doing anything, giving him a curt lesson on being prepared for negotiations, and warning him that the things he does “won’t ever go away,” which hits particularly close for the respawning Subaru who has now struck out on securing an army to protect Emilia.

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Chance smiles upon him one more time, however, as he runs into Otto and a convoy of merchants carrying large amounts of oil. Oil that, I’m sure Subaru is thinking, could be repurposed as some kind of weapon against the cult. Getting back to his old resourceful self, he also hires the merchants to help him evacuate Mathers’ domain. It’s a far more modest and improvised plan, but it’s the best plan he has, and time is a wastin’.

Naturally, even this plan runs into a snag, when a carriage he believed was right alongside his turned out never to exist, and a gigantic beast (probably the fog-making white whale Rem mentioned in episode 14) appears in its place, staring its huge eye right in his face as he shines his phone flashlight at it, and then letting out a monstrous roar…

…And that’s where we leave things: wondering if that beast will send him back to the apple merchant’s stall (erasing all those unpleasant failed negotiations in the process), or if he manages to make use of that oil to progress his hasty, threadbare plans.

As Priscilla said, Subie “hasn’t thought this through.” True, but after a few more failed plans, absorbed blows, and lessons learned, perhaps he eventually will. OR perhaps he’ll simply keep suffering and dying shortly after watching those closest to him do the same, growing more and more insane from the trauma.

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Whatever the case, he’s certainly come a long damn way…

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P.S. Lovely new ED…and quite a departure from last week’s “Headless Subie and dead twisted Rem being buried in the snow as blood red credits roll”

GATE – 13

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After a brief stop at Princess Pina’s diplomatic banquet where she and Sugawara prepare to negotiate with various ambassadors and senators, in the episode’s first few minutes we’re subjected to her brother Zolzal having rough sex and slapping around a captive bunny warrior girl, who doesn’t seem that into it.

I know, the show wants to quickly and categorically establish that this guy is scum, but there’s this thing called subtlety. There’s also a thing called boredom, and it exudes from the shallow, evil-for-the-sake-of-evil bad guys like Zolzal.

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Finally meeting Pina’s awful brother makes me sympathize even more she has to be this guy’s sister, after all. As far as I can tell, she’s the only good member of the whole rotten imperial family. As for Zolzal liking the Japanese food and leaving the banquet as quickly as he arrived with a hefty supply in tow…what, was that meant to humanize this abuser of women?

I must say, if we have to deal with this guy on a regular basis, I’m not going to be happy. I can understand Pina’s reluctance to kinslay, but can’t someone accidentally blow him up with a mortar or something?

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Anyway, the JSDF is finally in the capital now, with a small presence in the red light district. They managed to blow away one of the largest gangs, apparently keeping the others away with intimidation, and are distributing health care, including birth control, to the prolific population of half-beast sex workers.

Some shows are slice-of-life; but it would be more appropriate to call GATE slice-of-society, in particular a coming together of two totally different ones. Most of the time, that’s enough to hold my interests.

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But still, with Itami on the periphery and the trio of Rory, Lelei and Tuka barely in this episode, the show put one a hell of a handicap on itself. The episode wasn’t well-served by any frames in which Zolzal appeared, nor any discussion involving the Emperor nor the goofy Japanese politicians back home (ok, we get it; civilian leaders are feckless cowards).

But I’ll admit there’s still much for the JSDF to accomplish, and their progress may be undermined by an impending major earthquake, forewarned by the beast-women who apparently have the same sixth sense that causes Earth animals panic just before a disaster.

Then again, it could also be an opportunity for the JSDF to shine—not as an unstoppable military juggernaut that no power in the special region can ever hope to defeat—but as a force for good.

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Noragami Aragoto – 09

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Because Yato is in a charitable mood and possibly harbors guilt for the things he did with her, he goes along with Hiiro’s idea to go into the underworld to rescue a conjurer, despite the fact he could very easily get trapped down there by it’s queen, Izanami. When that conjurer turns out to be Ebisu (who is absent for the latest colloquy, correctly suspected, and for whom an arrest warrant is issued), suddenly Yato’s personal dilemma is intertwined with the overarching threat of Ebisu.

For a supposed Big Bad, it’s surprising how casual Yato and Ebisu are when they meet. Perhaps it’s because Yato trusts a far more famous god, or because hasn’t always been the most scrupulous fellow himself (as his continued entanglement with Nora attests) but he doesn’t really protest Ebisu’s use of Masked Ones as “phantom regalias”. In fact, we get a lot of Ebisu’s silly, eccentric side, rather than any goofy evil face-twisting. It’s a nice change of pace; I like it.

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While Yato, Hiiro, and Ebisu tread deeper into the underworld, Hiyori is snagged by her high school friend into a triple date at Amagi Brilliant Park some Capybara-themed park. Notably, Tenjin stops Tomone (curious about where Yato went off to) from getting Hiyori’s attention in the street; it’s been established Tenjin wants Hiyori to stop hanging out with gods an regalias and live a normal living high school girl’s life.

Now it looks like that might be happening. We don’t know her friends that well, but their meeting up and pairing off at the park is very well done. It’s amusing to see the girl who arranged everything ended up pairing up with a different guy, leaving the handsome, well-spoken Fujisaki (who caught her from falling last week) to Hiyori, and the two have instant chemistry, courteously apologizing to each other for putting one another out.

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When Yato and Ebisu encounter Izanami, everything seems arranged to keep them by her side. She takes the form of people they care about—a very forward Hiyori, in Yato’s case—and she constantly offers food, drink, friendship; all of which will keep them stuck in the underworld as her “friend” forever. Hiiro actually does Yato a solid by protecting him from “Hiyori’s” kiss; let it be said that Yato and Hiiro really do make a good team; it’s just that being in that team puts serious strain on Yato’s newer relationships in the living world.

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Yukine, for his part, has very little to do this week, but he continues to train and become stronger in body and mind under Kazuma’s wing. Kazuma notes that Yukine is also trying to remain strong for Yato’s sake, even though he’s worried about him.

He should be, it would seem: when Izanami says she’ll only give them the brush if one of them stays behind, Ebisu picks Yato to stay with the logic that he’s the more famous god with a lot more at stake. Obviously, Yato takes exception to this—he has as much a right to exist as Ebisu, regardless of his past—so they fight.

But it all turns out to be an elaborate distraction. When Ebisu “beats” Yato by snatching Hiiro from him (she once served him as well, taking the form of a pistol), Izanami celebrates the fact Yato will be her friend. But then Ebisu uses his little masked phantom bat to snatch the brush, and he and Yato high-tail it together as Izanami fumes.

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As they flee, Yato thinks only of getting back to the near shore and to Yukine and Hiyori, whom he cares for so much. Surely this is the end of his dealings with Hiiro, right? He’ll pop back at an awkward time during the date and Hiyori will be embarassed but relieved and happy at the same time, right? Right?

Well…no. As the date progresses, Hiyori continually remembers someone who’s name and face she can’t place, and it starts to eat at her, until it’s clear to her date Fujisaki that something is very wrong. But Fujisaki reads her demeanor as something that can be remedied by taking her hand and kissing her in front of the hugely-romantic fireworks parade.

His instinct isn’t wrong, nor could he possibly be aware that by being kind and charming and comforting to Hiyori all but snaps the thread connecting her to Yato. Who was the one she wanted to take to the park so badly? Wait…she’s at the park with someone now. Does it matter? 

This is what Tenjin – and Hiiro – wanted. Will that kiss really work, or will Hiyori become even more troubled by her inability to remember? Will someone be able to jog her memory before it’s too late?

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 08

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This week’s IBO opens with the end of the battle from the perspective of the four-man boarding party, as they quickly infiltrate the Hammerhead’s systems and fill the corridors with combustible gas to ensure no firefights. Throughout their operation, Naze sits calmly on the bridge as his crew reports what’s going on, until Orga & Co are literally in the doorway.

The nonchalance with which both Naze and his crew greets them really says a lot about the Turbines; this intrusion may have been a surprise, but they’re not ones to overreact. And as Naze said, they used an “old method” but executed it perfectly. That opinion demonstrates he’s been around the block, tactically speaking.

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Of course, he’s also been around the block sexually speaking. Not only is the entire crew of the Hammerhead female, but nearly all of them are sleeping with him (the OP updated to reflect this). I wasn’t sure about this at first (the reactions on the Tekkadan reps’ faces are absolutely priceless), but Naze is not an ordinary fellow, and all of the women are with him by choice and are fine with sharing him, so who am I to judge? Even Laffter considers him her “darling”, but has to admit the pilot in Barbatos got her juices flowing, too.

They’re not brainwashed or enslaved, but more like a pride of lions, and only one has a mane. And they know when they’ve seen capable soldiers, even if they’re young and raw. So when Orga and Biscuit ask if the Turbines will not only escort them to Earth, but make Tekkadan a subsidiary of Teiwaz, Naze is open to both ideas. Only making either happens requires a visit to his boss, McMurdo Barriston, and there’s a matter of Kudelia possibly being “property.” Did her father arrange a marriage?

Oh, and Maruba? Naze sends him to the mines. grumpycatgood.jpg.

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With the war postponed for now and both ships en route to Teiwaz headquarters, a ship called the Saisei, the crews busy themselves with training, repairs, R&R, etc. Mika seems a little off to Atra (he only ate half his usual portion), and Orga learns why: Mika thinks he screwed up in the battle with Laffter. No one is as tough on him as he himself is.

Atra also thinks Aina could use some cheering up, so they visit the Turbines’ nursery, which is a ridiculous thing to have aboard a mercenary ship, until you realize that like Tekkadan, the Turbines are far more than a group of comrades. They’re family, who have spilled and mixed blood. Regardless, the little babies delight Aina, who Atra is glad can finally relax a little, at least until the next crisis.

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One of those crises is that Tekkadan is pretty much broke back on Mars, due to the scarcity of lucrative clients with Gjallarhorn looming over them. This means Orga and Biscuit must present Naze with a list of stuff they can sell to make ends meet. Naze couldn’t care less about such trifling stuff, and wonders why Orga didn’t take his original deal.

It’s here where Naze learns Tekkadan is a family like his, and breaking it up isn’t an option. Orga tried to come in on equal terms with the Turbine leader, but at the end of the day he’s still a kid by comparison. That’s not to say Naze wasn’t exactly where Orga is sitting at one point in his life, with a paltry harem of two or three women and a lot of self-doubt he couldn’t show to anyone, but which many could see nonetheless.

With Mika getting so upset about “failing him”, Orga feels the pressure to lead and succeed that much stronger, but Biscuit tells him not to get too bent out of shape.

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Laffter and another Turbine pilot are impressed with how hard both Akihito and Mika are working, but Mika reiterates he can’t do anything else. In the end, two very tight-knit but very different types of couples confer. There’s Naze giving Amida his measure of Tekkadan (the money stuff made his butt hurt), while Orga praises Mika for working hard. Mika says he’s working hard so Orga won’t “ditch” him, but obviously he doesn’t have to worry about that, because they’re family.

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GATE – 11

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This was a pretty good episode of GATE; a vibrant episode thankfully bereft of real-world leaders and full of transition and change, opening five months after Itami & Co returned to the Special Region. The area around the military base and refugee camp is now a bustling town and a melting pot of Special Regioners and JSDF.

Pina continues the diplomacy, bringing a minister from Japan to work with the Imperial elites to negotiate a peaceful resolution, and as an old elf continues to struggle in the present, there’s a new elf on the block who has a mission only the JSDF can pull off.

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First, Tuka: Itami’s subordinate Mari wants to do more to help Tuka, who’s spent much of the last five months wandering the new town, looking for her dead father. Mari wants to make Tuka see reality so she can move forward, but Itami basically tells her not to rock the boat, because Mari doesn’t know she will be around to support Tuka indefinitely. No one knows what the future holds, so Itami is content with the status quo for now. Mari is understandably frustrated with Itami, but agrees not to do anything.

Having checked in on the Tuka situation (and even more briefly on Lelei, who looks disheveled but content in her modern clothes) we shift to Rory, still stubbornly donning her gothic lolita garb and trying to sleep with Itami. Itami, while flattered, still has an issue with Rory looking like a child, even if she’s 27 times older than him.

Her evening plans are foiled for good by the appearance of a new dark elf character, who also mistakes Rory for a child. Interestingly Rory plays along by pretending to be a child, putting Itami in a spot and forcing him to beat a hasty retreat when the elf draws her sword. I like how Rory takes her frustrations out on both the elf and Itami.

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We learn this dark elf is named Yao Haa Dushi, continuing the show’s George Lucas-style approach to fantastical-sounding names. Her misunderstanding about Rory is forgivable because she’s on a noble quest to meet with the JSDF. Her village has been attacked by a fire dragon, and she needs the “green people” to help finish it off. She doesn’t intend for them to work for free, either: she’s brought a ginormous adamantite crystal as payment; a material that doesn’t even exist beyond the Gate in Japan, which makes it very valuable.

Yao spends the night in a beautiful forest on the town outskirts, dreams of the village attack, and then wakes up to the sound of practice-dogfighting JSDF fighter jets screaming through the sky. It’s a sight that’s full of awe and majesty, and convinces Yao the JSDF are indeed the people who can save her village.

She’s convinced again when she spots a dual-rotor cargo helicopter zoom overhead. Itami is aboard that chopper, which is packed with goods from Japan furnished by the ministry of foreign affiars, who regard such items as ammo in the fight to turn Imperial hawks into Senatorial doves.

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GATE – 08

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GATE benefits from a major change of scenery, as suddenly its the Special Regioners who are the fish out of water, emerging from the gate into a wondorous, perplexing, and at times frightening world of skyscrapers, subways, and ramen.

Pina and her blonde comrade are whisked off to negotiates with envoys of the prime minister, while Itami, Kuribayashi, Rory, Lelei and Tuka prepare to present their testimony before the Diet. They’re escorted by a shifty-looking guy who looks like he might be trouble, but turns out to be not that bad a guy after all.

He’s done his homework on Itami, and it’s not altogether surprising to hear he’s always been a bit of a lazy fellow. But not only did his laid back attitude get him into Ranger training—which he passed, to Kuribayashi’s shock—he’s also  a member of the “S” special forces, outraging her even more.

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The continued inflation of Itami’s badassdom aside, the Diet session, broadcasted live to the whole country, starts off with a very clearly anti-JSDF Diet member hoping to use the session to further her agenda and mar the SDF’s reputation. She’s actually the worst part of the episode, because the show is so transparently contemptuous of her and her political positions.

As one of the show’s first depictions of an anti-military Japanese politician, she comes off as shrill, ignorant, and unreasonable.  That being said, it’s still fun to watch the three Special Regioners deal with her, particularly Rory. And the response of the public through social media and the like also added to the spectacle. And she’s certainly not wrong in saying while a fourth of the refugees were killed by the Fire Dragon, the SDF saved the other three fourths.

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The grilling doesn’t last that long—curiously, only the female Diet member asked the Special Regioners any questions—and Pina’s conference with the Japanese envoys also goes well. From there, the group leaves on a bus, only the bus is a decoy, as they end up taking the subway, and when the subway closes down, someone tries to steal Rory’s scythe only to be crushed by it, being utterly unable to lift it.

The complex journey is a means of throwing off those elements who received leaked information about the Regioners’ movements, and while the gang never seems to be in that much trouble, the fact all these modern modes of transportation almost send Rory into a panic attack makes it clear the ordeal isn’t a mere cakewalk.

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When Itami’s grizzled escort throws out his back trying to pick up Rory’s scythe (watching her twirling it with ease as he’s carted off is, I’ll admit, pretty funny), Itami leads everyone to the home of his ex-wife, who is living in an apartment with dwindling utilities, and rejoices at the arrival of hot food. Lazy, Otaku, Ranger, S, ex-husband: we just keep learning new things about Itami.

And to be honest, I’d much rather the story stick to him, his various relations and his Special Region friends, then dive to far into the larger world affairs. Mercifully, we only see glimpses of the world leaders as they watched the Diet session. But the quasi chase the gang underwent is a reminder they’ve got to watch their backs, perhaps more so in Japan than in the other world.

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Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 10 (Fin)

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ARISE – Alternative Architecture last episode wasn’t just a glorified prologue to the upcoming film that continues the re-imagining of Ghost in the Shell, but a petty satisfying conclusion to the ten-episode television adaptation of the four ARISE movies. It’s an ellipsis, to be sure, but I didn’t feel cheated. It’s a good place to pause, and created anticipation for what’s to come.

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Pyrophoric Cult’s second part succeeded as both end and prologue to ARISE because it captured and distilled the cyberpunk fun of Ghost in the Shell. Things are pretty simple this week: transport Hozuki’s head to the Americans, where her secrets will be extracted and she’ll be sent into exile.

The show’s dry and somewhat dark (in this case) sense of humor comes out in the way Kusanagi says goodbye to the Hozuki head before closing her in a convenient carrying case, then tells her men that as Hozuki is still technically alive, they need to treat her as such, right before unceremoniously heaving the case into the back of a van like a sack of rice, making a satisfying clank in the process.

It’s a great expression of Kusanagi’s frustration with the piddling transport job, as well as a nice F-U to Hozuki for all the trouble she’s caused.

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Not long after the job starts, though, Pyromaniac escapes from custody with the help of Kurtz who just waltzes into the facility where he’s being held, a rare case of hands-on action on her part that would incriminate her if her quarry weren’t someone capable of wiping all security records of said facility.

Before he escapes, he hacks into the cyberbrains of all the scientists analyzing him, some of whom are American. Among those codes is the capability of launching a nasty-looking American drone helicopter to harass Kusanagi’s convoy.

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The drone doesn’t destroy them, but leads them to an American base, where a platoon of Fire-Starter-hacked special forces wearing optical camouflage are waiting. The purpose of the multi-pronged attack on Kusanagi is ostensibly to take out any possible agents who are a legitimate threat to the existence of Fire-Starter virus, which include her and Hozuki.

But Kusanagi won’t go out without a fight, and indeed never seems to panic, even though she and her whole team have been lured right where the enemy wants them. Ever the level-headed military woman, she splits her men up and delegates tasks to them, each according to their skills, while she dives into her personal net, wrangles up an impromptu strike force of mercenary hackers to disable the hacked special forces.

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Once that’s done, she manages to find Pyromaniac himself and enters his “world”, which resembles the Kuzan battlefield that presumably embittered him to his present crusade. Yet she’s almost disappointed to learn he’s not even a “true” ghost, only an amalgam of false memories created by Fire-Starter; a glorified A.I. Even the banter he delivers turns out to be wooden because it was simply uploaded to give him a little more personality.

Most impressively, while Kusanagi may appear to be on the ropes, in reality she’s in complete control of the situation, creating a decoy of herself to fool Pyro and then surrounding him with delete protocols. All that was missing from her coup-de-grace was shouting “BANG!” as she formed a gun with her hand, though that would admittedly been a bit cliche.

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Thus Kusanagi gets a victory in this final week, one that’s both convincing and satisfying, and the product of relatively easy-to-follow teamwork, both from her unit guys and Aramaki pulling the political strings. Sure, her direct interfacing with and deleting Pyro may have been Kurtz’s plan all along, as Kurtz’s parting shot is one of confidence and anticipation rather than anger at being foiled. But the next confrontation between Kusanagi and her former CO will be one of many matters for the film.

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For now, I’ll enjoy Kusanagi’s provisional win, and the somewhat cheeky ending of Kusanagi appearing in a military uniform to receive formal thanks from the Prime Minister. Even Aramaki doesn’t want to hear about some of the things Kusanagi learned while in her dive with Pyro; proportionally speaking, the Prime Minister is completely in the dark about what the good Major and her team did and how they did it.

All the Prime Minister needs or cares to see is the smiling, uniformed Shell standing at attention, telling him it’s all in a day’s work, while it’s the jumpsuit-wearing Ghost and her cohorts working in the deep cyber-shadows to keep his government—and his brain—in one piece.

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Nobunaga the Fool – 12

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Nobu’s plan has failed, his army is in tatters, and scores of his people are dead or maimed, but you’d never guess he was in trouble from his demeanor. We were also a bit surprised that Caesar, still sore over being outsmarted by Nobu in the past, agrees to any sort of truce. We’ll call it an act of deference to Nobu’s sheer grit and audacity. Not only that, but this week, for the first time, you get the feeling Caesar would prefer it if Nobu were an ally rather than a foe.

Almost as much as the tea ceremony itself, we enjoyed the preparation that went into it, particularly that of Nobu and of Ichihime, who insists on being the host. We’ve always really liked the serene strength of Ichihime’s presence, but we always had precious few scenes with her; this episode corrects that by giving her a nice little brother-sister moment at the waterfall, and having her play an unexpectedly crucial role far beyond her services as tea-maker (at which she excels, by the way).

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The show has perhaps been wise to keep her on the periphery, somewhat out of focus, much like Mitsuhide’s trio of kunoichi; these women feel like mysteries compared to the comparatively open books of Jeanne and Himiko. The truth of the matter is, Ichihime is just as bad-ass as her brother (if not moreso)…she’s just quieter and classier about it. And while she’s vowed to always stay by Nobu’s side and support him in all things, you get the feeling she does it because it’s what she wishes, not simply because she’s expected to.

That independent will is put on full display at the tea ceremony, which starts out normally enough, but when Nobu notices Caesar is uncomfortable sitting in the traditional manner, he relaxes the protocol, which relaxes Caesar. When things come down to brass tacks, Caesar wants the regalia in exchange for an end to hostilities and a military alliance. At this point we were thinking Nobu could answer either way and figure something out, but he decides to firmly refuse, while still insisting they stop fighting.

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This is because Nobu suspects that Caesar’s boss Arthur, whom Caesar claims to be a Savior King as Jeanne insists it’s Nobu—perhaps there really are two of them?—is a pragmatic sort who’d prefer a minimum of collateral damage in his quest for the Holy Grail (or, like whatever). Caesar agrees to a temporary alliance if he can have Ichihime…and everyone protests but her. Knowing what it would mean if Caesar kept his word, and warning him she’d kill him if he didn’t, she makes another choice for herself and accepts his terms.

The tarot Jeanne draws this week is “The Fool”, and she immediately thinks of Nobu, especially when he loosens protocol at the ceremony. But the real “Fool” turns out to be Ichihime. Freedom, nonconformity, innocence, purity, cheer, possibility, imagination, and genius: these are all qualities she embodies more than anyone else at that juncture. She has become the wild card that could shape the fate of both worlds as much as Nobu, if not more. And after being so cold to her earlier, Mitsuhide seems particularly troubled by her choice. Sorry dude; you had your chance!

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Rating: 8 
(Great)