Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – 08

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How fitting that on the eve of a holiday centered around stuffing yourself,  we get perhaps the most overstuffed episode of Chaika ever. Seriously, there was a lot going on, and while the episode made an admirable attempt to keep everything interesting, it couldn’t keep some parts from feeling like padding.

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Compared to, say, Akame ga Kill!, which has been progressively killing off characters so it can focus on fewer and fewer, Chaika has kept everyone alive with just two episodes left, and so has to find a place for them, just as one has to find a place for every thanksgiving dish on the table. Its one major death – Gillette’s – was a fake-out causing more of a “huh” than a “wow”.

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Not to mention it chooses this time to finally reveal who the “Head Chaika” is, as Zita, Leo, and Matthaus interview one of Hartgen’s retainers. It seems like Gaz had reason to smile after Hartgen killed him, because henceforth Hartgen started acting just like Gaz, as if he was a man possessed.

Hartgen isn’t exactly Gaz re-incarnate, as he needs Head Chaika to show up (the evil Chaika’s are always the most scantily clad) and give him the idea for the martial arts tournament. Killing Gaz did something to Hartgen to change him into a pliable, warmongering pawn for Head Chaika to manipulate.

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Hartgen wants to be Gaz II, and so uses the tournament as (flimsy) cover to raise an army, hoping the Six Nations will react too slowly. Two ministers do deploy the Flying Fortress Cima to Hartgen; it’s sure to play a role in the near future.

In the mean time, Akari and Fredrica find a room with dozens if not hundreds of coffins just like Chaika’s…and then they’re ambushed by Chaika Puppet Ninjas. Yes, that is a thing that was in this episode, because everything in creation was in this episode.

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Meanwhile, the guards arrest the various pairs one by one and send them into a subterranean arena, where Black Chaika and her twin sisters sit and watch their own mini-tournament, betting on who will come out the victor.

First, Vivi and Nikolai are forced to fight Dark Gillette, something that’s initially very hard for Vivi to do because she loves the guy and has no idea what’s going on. But in the end, when Gillette prepares to kill Nikolai, she takes GIllette’s sword hand off with Niko’s greatsword, in a pretty badass display.

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The shock of his injury apparently brings Gillette’s memories back, and it seems he’ll keep living, though why is anyone’s guess. Next, Akari and War Maiden Mode- Fredrica are stopped by Shin, then Fred’s locked in a magical barrier and riddled with arrows, continuing the tradition of neutralizing the overpowered ally in crunch time (though serves them right for not looking up).

White Chaika and Tooru are up next, forced to fight Red Chaika and David (and winning pretty dang easily, when all’s said and done. When David is wounded, Chaika forfeits the fight and runs off in tears, rather than let her comrade come to further harm.

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Of course, they’re only Tooru’s appetizer; the entree is Shin, who shows up with the captured Akari and Fredrica. White Chaika is jumped by guards, forcing Tooru to fight Shin alone, and he gets schooled by his mentor. With that, the episode kinda fizzles out, without showing us what’s for dessert.

There were a couple cool moments, and I liked the arena format for the gauntlet of boss battles, but at the end of the day this episode had way too much squeezed into it, and strained and groaned under the weight of it all.

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Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – 07

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This episode had a workmanlike quality to it, like the buildup to the final act of a JRPG-style fantasy/adventure story that it is. One does not simply skip to the final boss (whom I presume is Hartgen) without first carving through a considerable number of dungeon grunts.

That being said, Tooru and Akari actually do try to skip ahead, but encounter the mini-boss Shin, someone they’re not prepared to fight just yet. In a refreshing twist on the “students must face their mentor” trope, they don’t particularly care about having to fight him eventually, because they’re saboteurs, and are mentally prepared to fight former friends or allies if they’re working under different clients…that’s what the job requires.

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It’s also confirmed what King Hartgen is after: basically, he’s tired of the tedious peace, and regrets ever killing Gaz. He wants to return the continent to a state of war where he can have a Purpose again. One could say “Hey man, you do have a purpose…preserving the peace you fought for!” but he’s a warrior first and foremost, and a warrior needs war.

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To that end, he has gathered tens of thousands of like-minded warriors without a war to his principality to fight in his tournament. Perhaps the competition is to thin the herd and net him only the fiercest fighters for his army of continental conquest, but there seems to be more to it than that, and that has a lot to do with the fact three…no, two and-a-half Chaikas are among those assembled.

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I will give Hartgen this: he already has the hearts of those he’s invited. Even though many if not most of them will fall in the course of the battle royale, they’re still gratified for the chance to prove themselves and do what they were born and trained to do. Back in his castle, Guy presents him with Gaz’s Fortune: Niva Lada, and we learn that the Black Chaika twins have a third Chaika sister who seems to have more power than them. She instructs the guards to capture the Chaikas who have come, hoping to stage a little Chaika battle royale of her own parallel to the battle proper.

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Inevitably, two of the rival parties were going to cross paths, and that turns out to be Harley Quinn Vivi/Nikolai and Chaika/Tooru. The former warns the latter that they’re going to be arrested when they’re done their business here, but for this brief scene the two groups are at a truce and exchange information.

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O HAI, Grown-up Fredrica! Haven’t seen her in a while; she’s pretty cool looking. She and Akari are responsible for finding a way to get to Hartgen’s share of remains and stealing them. But let’s be honest here: Fredrica’s true mission is not to get stabbed in the head this time!

As the battle goes on, the other Six-Nation rulers squabble over how to proceed. One faction is eager to fall right into Hartgen’s trap and start a war so he doesn’t have to, but cooler heads deferring to Gillette Squad’s findings prevail for the time being. Frankly, I don’t know how a war is going to be prevented at this point…but that’s what the last three episodes are for!

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Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – 06

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The secret island was a satisfying action-packed adventure, but it turns out it was just a brief detour; a checkpoint to stop by and gather more information about the sheer scale of Gaz’s machinations pre-and-post death. The Main Event is in the Principality of Hartgen, and it was always going to be. The guy simply has everyone: Chaika twins, a Dark Acura, a Dark Gillette…even, seemingly, the inscrutable Guy.

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A case in point for the relative triviality of the island: the Gillette Corps arrive way late, but learn everything they need to to carry on in less than five minutes of conversation with Kiril and Ursula. But then again, they’re after Chaikas, not the answers to what they are and why they exist. Gillette Corps and Vivi in particular are quite sure of the latter: they’re to preserve the peace – albeit a peace their former Captain — Vivi’s former flame — is no longer a part of.

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One nice thing that came from the island was that it made it quite easy for Tooru and Chaika to repair their bond, though again, that kinda happened last week. Tooru is committed to sticking with Chaika, whatever she decides to do: for now, continuing to search for remains. And Akari follows where Tooru leads, and also hastens to put herself physically between the two. Akari likes Chaika…but her brother is hers.

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There’s a “Martial Arts Tournament” being held by Hartgen at the ridiculously huge Goeranson Castle, which is essentially a huge walled battleground surrounding the main keep. There, contestants from all over the six nations pour in and fight to the death for the grand prize: knighthood and Gaz’s remains. The first people we know to arrive and enter are Red Chaika, Selma and David.

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Not far off is Gillette, who take three different tacks: Zita and Matteus go the diplomatic route with Hartgen (which goes nowhere), Leo sneaks around and takes attendance, and Nikolai and Vivi, well…Vivi’s In It To Win It:

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Yes her new outfit is super-gaudy, but that’s what a fantasy swordmaiden character is supposed to be, damnit!  And hey, it’s clearly very easy to move around in. Her hair may have turned white, but she hasn’t lost a step.

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Guy, who’s been pulling the strings for all the Chaikas, reveals that he was the one who saved Alberic, by making dozens of men pile themselves on top of him to serve as shields. The thing is, Guy’s reasons for why he did it — something about him “seeing the hate in his heart” and knowing “he wasn’t made to live in a world of peace” are kinda flimsy. I get that Alberic’s a great warrior and all, but wasn’t his attempt to save Vivi and Zita an act of love (for them), not hate (for the army he tried to stop)?

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Far clearer are the present, if fleeting, purposes of Red Chaika and Vivi: get Chaika (Trabant), who just had Niva Lada snatched away by Guy. Hey! Give her back [shakes fist]… I’m sure if Vivi could see what’s become of her beloved Alberic, she wouldn’t be happy. I’m sure she will come across him sooner rather than later, as he’s one of Hartgen’s trusty bodyguards. Goeranson Castle is the place to be, and everyone is here. Still, this had a feeling of table-setting and warm-up about it. Not un-entertaining, but not particularly outstanding, and at times, repetitive/redundant.

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Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – 02

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The first hero Tooru, Akari and Chaika encounter this season kinda spoiled them, and us as well. It isnt often an adversary comes around who isn’t really an adversary at all, but dwells within the same nuanced gray area of reality as everyone else. Claudia killed many people back in the day with her colleagues. But that was then. Now she makes wine.

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She’s not interested in stopping the daughter of Gaz, nor is she interested in holding on to his heart, given to her as a badge of honor but never used for its fuel, despite the temptation. It’s just a trinket, and she said if she ever met Chaika and came to like her, she’d hand the remains right over. That being said, she has to see what Chaika’s made of first, hence the challenge.

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Even though the trio only has to land one blow on her, Claudia doesn’t make it easy: her Gundo skills and experience outweigh everyone else’s. Fredrica ends up serving as the wild card as she always does, distracting Claudia just long enough for Chaika to finish her incantation of “The Slugger” and winning the day. We say they’re spoiled because afterwards Claudia not only gives them the remains, but tea and cakes as well. Something tells me their next target won’t be so hospitable.

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That is, if there is a next target: we check in with Chaika Bogdan and her own two supporters, having just acquired Gaz’s forearm, and Guy (who talks to all the Chaikas but doesn’t tell them what the others are doing) informs her not only of the next hero to pay a visit to, but of the existence of an island where she’ll find “something pleasing.”

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Meanwhile, Steinmetz’s lieutenant Curren shows Vivi some of Alberic’s articles, including his journal, where she also learns of something on an island called “Gaz’s Fortune.” Seeing this stuff snaps Vivi out of her funk, and she swaps out her white tunic for her battle garb, ready to get back on the Chaika case and complete Alberic’s work. It seems she’s found, or rather reconnected, with her purpose, post-Alberic. Yet at the end of the day, however she came upon the intel, she is heading to that island, just as the other two are.

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Our Chaika learns of the island because Claudia tells her one of Gaz’s officials told the punitive force about it before they executed him, like they executed everyone in the palace that day. After they leave the vineyard, Chaika has a disturbing dream about being beheaded in the throne room, which she says is a false memory…and yet we’ve seen the scar that circumnavigates her neck. So which is it?

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I guess we’ll find out. TIll then, we know at least three Chaikas are headed to that island, and you could say all of them are going there because they want to find out more about themselves. Chaika can’t simply continue the mission to find her remains anymore; not until she’s gotten answers. This marks the first time she’s changing the objective she originally hired Tooru and Akari to assist her with, changing their own purposes in the process. That’s not likely all that’s going to change.

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Finally, while Fredrica assisted in their victory over Claudia, Chaika still had to get off a good shot with her Gundo, which she was only able to do once she had summoned emotions of the necessary type and potency. She did that by fearing Tooru was going to die, suggesting to Claudia that she cares for Tooru very much indeed; something we already know. Of course, there can’t really be any progress in that area until Chaika determines who and what she is. I look forward to the shift from a hunt for remains to a journey of self-discovery.

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Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – 01

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I believe this is the first time we see Gaz clearly.

Ah, it’s good to be easing back into the warm, tingly bath that is Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle. The show picks up pretty much where it left off, with the hunt for Gaz’s remains continuing. The heroes they’ve had to face have varied wildly on the moral spectrum, but their latest opponent, Lady Claudia, is possibly the nicest out of all of them, and is willing to give Chaika Gaz’s heart as long as she’s just giving him a funeral—but only if they can defeat her.

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Chaika has always been a show about finding a purpose. Chaika’s purpose is to bury her father. Tooru and Akari’s are to help her. After executing Gaz and paving the way for the Six Nations and peace, Lady Claudia became a different kind of hero: a Lady Eboshi-type of entrepreneurial woman who provides good jobs to veterans with nothing else to do. Her bucolic vineyard and winery is a kind of microcosm of the ideal world that was meant to be after Gaz was dealt with, and even if it isn’t quite that, it’s at least far better than the bloodshed and chaos that went on for three hundred years.

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Speaking of purpose, that of the Gilette Corps endures, even after its namesake has been slain. Even if our Chaika doesn’t intend to build a weapon that will end the peace and restore Gaz to power, we’re still not exactly sure that’s not exactly what she’s unwittingly doing, and in any case there are many other Chaikas out there who want to. It’s up to Gillette and its new Captain Nikolai to see to it that doesn’t happen.

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Which is why it’s so tricky that Vivi is, without a shadow of doubt, one of said Chaikas. Even if she denies is, the fact of the matter is, if that spectral dandy Guy pays you a visit, you’re a Chaika, The End. He’s there to make sure Chaikas carry out Gaz’s directives. Still, Vivi is still shaken to the core by the death of her love, and it doesn’t look like she’ll so easily be able to return to the live she lived before Alberic was killed.

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But back to the winery: when their first attempt to fight Claudia ends in a draw, she offers them the swanky hospitality of her establishment, plus a second chance, on the condition the three of them are able to score a victory between tomorrow’s breakfast and tea. Like Chaika, she’s a Gundo wizard, but far more skilled and experienced. Six months of hiatus have not dulled Akari’s extra-dry wit a bit, but even an all-nighter can’t improve Chaik’s incantation speed.

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I really enjoyed the decency and chivalry of Lady Claudia; it’s not every day you get such an understanding and accommodating adversary. When the hour of battle is upon them, they march out to some more awesome Final Fantasy boss music; the show’s soundtrack remains a delight in general. Tooru assures Chaika if they can’t beat her they’ll just steal it, but Chaika isn’t a saboteur, or a thief. She wants to honor Claudia’s terms if she can. Judging from the start of the battle, I wonder if the Acuras would even be able to take the heart without Claudia’s leave; she’s quite formidable.

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Hitsugi no Chaika – 03

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The show’s Final Fantasy-like vibe continues as the trio of Chaika, Tooru and Akari arrive in the next town, where they gather info from “NPCs’ and a very secretive informant named “Guy.” The city’s ruler, a mysterious “dragoon cavalier” Dominica Scoda, is in possession of some of Chaika’s dad’s remains, so they have to seek her out, negotiate, and if she refuses to give it up, negotiate more aggressively.

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In the meantime, the Gillette Corps is hot on the trio’s trail. They’re a colorful bunch who wouldn’t be out of place as the protagonists in a side-story. While Vivi is angry that the trio defied her beloved Gillette, the rest aren’t really after them for any particular personal gain; they’re merely doing their jobs; working to the unthinkable—Gaz rising again. That they’re merely after our trio doesn’t make them villains. I also dig their messenger owl…I want one of those.

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The Corps also has something in common with the Acura siblings, Chaika herself, and us, the audience: they don’t know the whole picture, only bits and pieces from other sources. That they’re being so closely pursued is a dead giveaway that Chaika is a very “popular” individual, but she herself has gaps in her memory from around the end of the war. And their pursuers have captured “false Chaikas” in the past, none of whom gave up any useful info on the real one.

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All this mystery, and the still-disticnt possibility that Chaika is unknowingly acting as her late father’s pawn, floats over an episode in which not a whole lot happens but much is revealed. There’s also a fair amount of something that’s definitely a rarity, especially in recent Final Fantasy, and that’s subtle, effective comedy to break up all the stodgy seriousness.

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Chaika remains thoroughly endearing throughout this episode, going full tourist in town, fixing and operating a big truck, and blowing up a chicken in an ill-advised attempt at cooking. Akari’s deadpan sniping on her big brother also continue to amuse, and her “ghost stories” were great. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s a tense encounter with vicious dog-like Orthros, culminating in Tooru accidentally meeting the very person they came to see: Dominica, a consummate onna-kishi, gleaming in the moonlight.

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Hitsugi no Chaika – 02

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In addition to serving up a delectable buffet of thief/ninja/saboteur action, acerbic brother-sister banter, and giant steampunk tanks during the severed hand heist and the escape that followed, this episode provided us with more context about Chaika and the world, as well as trigger the commencement of the grand journey that lies ahead, to which I for one am very much looking forward.

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Contrasting viewpoints were as numerous as backflips herein: Abarth may be a hero to many, but the Acura siblings see him for what he is: selfish, arrogant, vindictive, and a would-be murderer of children. The un-murdered child in question, Chaika, is seen as a threat to peace in Verbist, for the simple reason that she’s the daughter of the “Taboo” Emperor Gaz.

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Gillette’s team of valiant badasses (who nonetheless get schooled by the saboteurs) seek to apprehend Chaika and the hand to preserve the peace they’ve won, but we learn the only reason Chaika is after her father’s remains is so she can give him a proper burial. But as simple as that task may seem, the nature of the man she seeks to make whole, and the sheer scale of outside opposition to her actions, means it won’t be an easy task to complete.

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In fact, it probably would have been impossible for Chaika alone. I like the equitability in the Acuras siding with her: she’s getting much-needed support in her quest, while they’re escaping the boredom of their postwar existence. They are what they are—sleek, intelligent, efficient weapons. Tooru is tired of hanging on the wall getting dull and rusty.

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With the arrival of Chaika in his and Akari’s lives, they’re suddenly useful again. These are all motivations I can get behind, and I’m on board with the burial goal, but as they collect(read: steal) more parts of Gaz, we’ll see if Abarth and Gilette turn out to be right. Even if Chaika has the best of intentions, it’s possible Gaz conditioned her to unwittingly aid his eventual resurrection…which I’m guessing wouldn’t be good.

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