DanMachi II – 04 – The Lightning Rises

With Liliruca successfully rescued and Bell sufficiently trained up, he arrives home to find his familia has grown by three, with Lili, Welf, and Mikoto official Hestians. Ryu, merely a helper and not a familia member, keeps her distance, but is with them all the way.

The night before the siege, Cassandra relays to Daphnie what many a Star Wars character would call “a bad feeling about this,” particularly when she sees their pint-sized ally Luan entering the fortress at the last minute and pulling a wagon carrying a massive cargo. Who do we know who’s that small and can lug that much?

Cassandra calls this a Trojan Horse, and that it will seal their defeat. Who am I to argue with her?!

Every eye (and a good chunk of cash) in Orario is trained upon the magical viewscreens transmitting the War Game, from the adventurers in the tavern to the gods in their meeting place. Outnumbered 100-5, Hestia gets off to a rousing start, with their elven masked mercenary Ryu rushing the walls wielding not one but two of Welf’s magical swords, one fire, one lightning.

Ryu expends every drop of magical power in both those swords carving through as many Apollos as possible, including a fellow elf who is outraged by her use of the same swords that burned through their villages. Ryu feels helping a friend in need is more important than keeping the fires of hatred burning. She also makes such a rukus that Mikoto easily dashes right through the lines and into the castle courtyard.

There, she repels dozens of arrows and lets herself get surrounded by as many Apollos as possible before unleashing a spell that took a few minutes of incantation to cast, but is well worth it from a tactical perspective: it’s high-level gravity magic that immobilizes everyone who pursued her, taking still more Apollos off the board.

Proving each one of the five party members is worth at least ten Apollos, and that big, bold moves by every one of them is absolutely essential to snatch victory from such lopsided numbers, “Luan” “betrays his god and opens the front gate for Bell and Welf. Turns out he’s not Luan at all, but Lilisuke in disguise, who snuck in the night before. The huge wagon wasn’t the Trojan Horse, she was.

Welf covers Bell as he rushes to the central tower where Hyakinthos has so far been comfortably watching. Daphnie holds Welf up, but as one of the two main DanMachi themes blares (“Heroic Desire,” an all-timer that always gives me chills) Bell slides right in and blasts a massive Firebolt straight up, reducing the tower to a pile of rubble and bringing Hyakinthos right to him. He also wastes no time snapping his prized sword.

Cassandra almost spoils the upset when she tackles Bell, letting Hyakinthos unleash his special attack, but Lili tackles her just in time to let Bell dodge it enough to survive. Bell also got some help from that pendant Syr gave him before he went off to battle—one bearing the symbol of Freya Familia.

That moment, when he is so close to defeat and Hyakinthos so close to victory, is what Ais drilled into his head was the moment to wait for. When it comes, Bell doesn’t waste it. He knows Hyakinthos is about to finish him, so his opponent is basically opening himself up. Bell evades his dagger, kicks him off his feet, then delivers a knockout punch.

War Game Over: Hestia Familia is the winner.

Those who voted for the ultimate underdog get one hell of a payday while all of Bell’s friends who cheered him on rejoice, from Ais to Syr and even Freya. Even better, Hestia does NOT go easy on Apollo, who tries to backtrack and pretend he was just messing around because he found Bell cute.

Hestia confiscates all of Apollos property, declares his familia disbanded, and banishes him from Orario forever. She then takes her newly-expanded familia to the front gates of their new palatial home, and scrawls a new symbol to represent them: the guardian flame of Hestia, combined with the bell of…well, Bell.

I’m duly impressed by the speed with which DanMachi II has gotten things done. Here I was loathing a long, drawn out, multi-episode arc involving just the war game with Apollo, complete with constant reaction shots from the assembled spectators, changes in momentum, and cliffhangers.

Instead, the show understood that, outnumbered 100-5, the Hestians had to get shit done in a hurry if they wanted to win. And they did, in a superbly breathless battle helped in no small part by a cinematic orchestral soundtrack by Inai Keiji that absolutely fucking OWNS. Nice to see the little guys win one going away.

Advertisements

Weekly OP: Cross Ange

Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo is second only to Shingeki no Bahamut in terms of shows I look forward to most each week. Yes, it’s dark and bloody and more than a little messed up, but that’s the point!

Meanwhile, it also has a pretty sweet OP, one of the more memorable of the Fall season due to its combination of usual sci-fi mecha J-Pop styles with a welcome infusion of the kind of Celtic instrumentation usually reserved for lower-tech fantasy shows.

It works because not only is this a sci-fi mecha series with a fallen princess (and that music is a nice reminder of the fancy, ideal life she used to lead), but there’s also knights and dragons.

And yes, Ange herself, Mizuki Nana (you may also know her as Saya from Blood-C and Kirihara from Darker than Black), sings the vocals to the opening theme, “Forbidden Resistance.”

Summer 2011 OPs and EDs

We’re not even going to bother posting videos of these anymore, since most of not all won’t be working links in a few days time due to YouTube policies. Stills will have to do. And suffice it to say, you’ve probably seen/heard these openings and endings before…otherwise, go check ’em out; we deem them the best of the Summer.

Best Opening: Mawaru Penguindrum. A no-brainer. Like the series itself, it’s slick, smooth, full of color and motion. The theme, “Nornir” by Etsuko Yakushimaru Metropolitan Orchestra, is catchy and serious with just a tinge of cuteness to compliment the presence of the cartoon penguins.

Runner-up: Dantalian no Shoka. “Cras numquam scire” by Yucca is soulful and melancholy with just a hint of hope mixed in. The visuals, like the backgrounds and settings of the series, are richly textured and lush.

Honorable Mentions: Blood-C and Kamisama Dolls. Blood-C benefits from its kinetic ballad-like theme, “Spiral” by DUSTZ, whose lyrics span three languages without sounding too silly. The visuals are unambiguous in laying out the content of the show: namely Saya kickin’ ass. Kamisama Dolls’ latinesque theme – “Fukanzen Nunshō” by Chiaki Ishikawa – is the openings pièce de résistance. The multilayered shapes moving over characters, changing their colors, is also a nice touch.

Best Ending: Mawaru Penguindrum. “DEAR FUTURE” by coaltar of the deepers is full of pent-up energy and longing being belted out with lots of fancy melodies. The Himari triplet imagery doesn’t make much sense, but its cool anyway. A good way to end each (so far) excellent episode.

Runner-up: Ao no Exorcist. A series of cubes jumping up and down to the pumping electropop beat of “Wired Life” by Meisa Kuroki prefaces a stylish, elegant ending sequence. It’s a simple but well-executed concept using pans and conceals of characters.

Honorable Mention: Kamisama Dolls. More Chiaki Ishikawa’s amazing voice, now in a more spacey, sci-fi style than the latin opening. I particularly like the very end, which pulls out of a shot of the core characters to an almost U2-like 12-string closing chord.

Fall 2010 – Best Openings and Endings

Openings

Star Driver – The sequence was directed by Shinichiro Wantanabe, and it shows: few do rough+fluid better than him. The right-to-left side-scrolling mimics how you’d read a Japanese manga. I love how the cybody bursts out of the ocean at the end, and Takuto jumps in and blasts off: Alrighty, we’re ready to start this thing! A stirring rock number by Aqua Timez brims with hopeful lyrics and melodic diversity, matching and augmenting the energy of the animation.

Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru – I love jazz, and I love Japanese Jazz even more (Pizzicato Five is a good example). You can’t help but tap your feet to the number that accompanies lots of vibrant, syncopated animation in which the cast dances and sings along while performing maid duties. The title is a CGI spinning globe covered in lights. This opening perfectly encapsulates the soul, energy, and potential of the big city. I also liken the whole opening to Hotori’s imagined ideal of the city and her life: happy, upbeat, and full of promise.

The World God Only Knows – This opening could very well have been done by the same people who did Eden of the East (one of my favorite openings ever), as a lot of the style is simply lifted from there, but I don’t care. Like any effective opening, it’s an accurate depiction of the series as a whole: Keima is a god in the (2D) world of games, and uses that power in the real (3D) world. The transition from pulsing electronica to an impromptu aria is sudden, but it works, as it reinforces the religious undertones of Keima’s abilities.

Honorable Mention: Kuragehime – The numerous parodies to western popular culture (Star Wars, Sex in the City) are fun, but the main reason I like this opening is the sweet, earnestly-sung theme, “Koko Dake no Hanashi”, by Chatmonchy. It’s not an easy song to sing, requiring lots of range, but it’s beautifully pulled off with a nice balance of resolve and vulnerability.

Endings

Panty & Stocking – Both the ballad (“Fallen Angel” by Aimee B) and the animation are spot on in this short but sweet ending that captures the essence of the show perfectly, and in a refreshingly more serious tone than the show itself. The animation consists of the girls in simplified form about to be killed by various means (driving off a cliff, eaten by a monster, passing out in the desert and picked apart by vultures), all while bobbing their heads to the beat. The dark visual themes are lightened by the style in which they’re rendered…and the gorgeous vocals. In the end, the girls ascend to heaven, get their halos, come back down, and tip them like barbershop hats. The whole thing lasts only 58 seconds.

Arakawa Under the Bridge x 2 (episodes 1-5) The opening of Arakawa’s first season was one of my favorites, and season two’s, while fun, isn’t quite as good. This season’s ending is better than last’s, however, with a fully live-action sequence following Hoshi through a lush green forest and on stage, and Kappa along the riverbank. Even the real-life bridge itself makes an appearance. While the live action character’s faces are just plain creepy, I love it whenever anime jumps ino the real world (the splendid endings of FLCL and Kare Kano, for instance), and the haunting, slightly melancholy ballad is a good musical choice, though it couldn’t be further from anime Hoshi’s out-of-tune strumming.

Shiki (Second Season) – Many series pick one musician or group do the opening and one to do the ending, then switch them either halfway through the season or in the next season. A post/Gothic rock band called Buck-Tick did the stirring opening for Shiki’s first season, and it was excellent. This season, they did the ending theme. Slow pans of four key characters lounging nude in a foreboding, eerily moonlit pond full of blood. Combined with Buck-Tick’s dark, brooding theme, the atmosphere has the darkness and silky thickness of a warm pint of Guinness.