Violet Evergarden – 01 (First Impressions)

Violet’s life was once simple to the point of elemental. Rather than earth, fire, water, and air, she had the Battlefield, the Mission, the Orders, and, most importantly, the one who provided the last two on the first, the Commanding Officer; Major Gilbert.

When she comes to in a hospital, her face and arms bandaged, unable to hold a pen, Major Gilbert is the first person she calls for. She believes she’s in sufficiently good working order to begin the next Mission. She wants Orders as soon as possible. She wants to return to the Battlefield. She wants Gilbert.

She doesn’t get any of that. Instead, there’s this guy Colonel Hoggins. Violet’s new orders are simply to come with him. He takes her to a mansion, and there lives the Evergarden family to whom Gilbert has entrusted her until she comes of age.

In this civilized civilian capital untouched by war, Violet must feel utterly out of place. You don’t go stashing a military asset in a civilian setting, now do you? That would be improper. And Violet has always seen herself as such an asset. It’s why she stands at attention and salutes Mrs. Evergarden.

When Violet cannot grasp a lovely-looking cup of tea, it’s a highly symbolic gesture that becomes far more explicit when she reveals her adamantine hand. The metal on that hand is unlike anything else in that mansion, and so it doesn’t look like it belongs. Violet senses this.

When Hoggins starts to go, she protests. She must have orders at once. She must contact Gilbert. She must restore those elements that made up her world as long as she could remember. But again, Hoggins is unaccommodating. The war is over, he tells her, and to her that means she no longer has a purpose, and should be disposed of.

Colonel Hoggins, realizing Violet won’t adjust to life in peacetime so easily, decides to take her with him to the new postwar business he started: a civilian post office that also ghostwrites letters for the many members of the populace that can’t write (presumably due to the ravages of the war).

Because Hoggins, once the a leader of a force dedicated to destroying the enemy and nothing else, found a new niche in the war their blood and toil created, so can Violet. It’s just a matter of re-configuring the nature of those elements which she requires to live.

The “Battlefield” is now the port city of Leiden. In Gilbert’s stead, Hoggins is now her Commanding Officer (he prefers “Boss”). He’ll issue her Missions and Orders.

Those orders will consist not only of work—sorting and delivering mail—but also to learn that she needn’t work all day and night; that she must take breaks, eat, sleep, and all the other things civilians take for granted every goddamn day.

She seems to gradually get the hang of things, but there’s still a “fire” within her Hoggins hopes she’ll one day recognize. Not a literal fire, of course, but the fire of the trauma she suffered. She may regard herself as a weapon and tool and much of the rest of the army might’ve thought the same, but there’s also a human girl in there, and it’s time for her to live and be free.

Live and be free were Gilbert’s last orders, so Violet has no qualms about carrying them out. One day, she listens to one of the “Auto Memoir Dolls” writing a letter for a man who wants to urge his childhood friend not to marry another man.

As the words flow out of the “Doll” (really a beautiful, perceptive woman), memories of Violet’s former Battlefield surface. They’re brutal, and cruel, and dark. She’s every bit as brutal, taking out every enemy soldier that comes near her with grim efficiency and with no regard for her personal safety. We also see Gilbert, who seems to silently curse having to send her out to fight and kill.

The Doll’s closing words in the man’s letter are “I love you”, which are the last words Violet heard from Gilbert, who most likely died in that alley.

Violet didn’t understand those words, any more than a rifle would, but after witnessing the Doll use those words with such surety and conviction, she wants to learn what they mean. As such, she asks Gilbert if she can join the Auto Memoir Dolls in order to learn more about love and other emotions. Gilbert agrees, and Violet’s new Mission begins.

My first impressions of Violet Evergarden are…Wow. Dayum. This is how shit is done. KyoAni really balled out, delivering a wonderfully structured, quietly thrilling portrait of this broken vet. The war between nations may be over, now a new, more difficult war begins: to survive and find purpose in peacetime; to learn what an individual is and to learn what love is.

Ishikawa Yui (AKA Mikasa Ackerman) also delivers a compelling perfomance as, well, someone very similar to Mikasa in terms of loyalty to the person she loves most (though Vi doesn’t know what love is yet) to her general badassery.

Animation is, in a word, majestic. There’s a very vivid sense of the ugly pall of war being lifted over this alternate world, and yet the episode never banged us over the head with exposition. The flashbacks to the battle are effective in their brevity and intensity.

And the score, composed by American Evan Call, was the perfect aural accompaniment to Violet’s story. I don’t award 10s to first episodes lightly, but in the case of this episode, there is no other choice. Bravo.

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Kakegurui – 06

Following her stunning victory, Mary is approached by her former entourage, who offer a half-hearted apology…that she accepts, and things are back to the way they were before she became a Miké.

She doesn’t seem to hold a grudge for how they treated her; written or unwritten, they abided by the rules and traditions of the school with regard to treatment of livestock.

But they also revealed something about the school’s enrollment: one need not be in debt to be livestock. These three girls aren’t technically Mikés, but they are another kind of livestock: they never lead; they only follow, even unto the slaughterhouse.

Momobami and the council seem interested only in those who break out of that mold; in someone like Yumeko, who has yet to pay her debts and be relieved of Livestock status even though she has the funds…and like Mary, the “girl who became a human.”

No one truly knows why Yumeko maintains her Miké status, but it’s assumed its so she can challenge the council to another offical match, and it’s assumed the one she wants to gamble with the most is the president, Momobami Kirari. But she doesn’t get Momobami; not this time.

Instead, she’s intercepted and arrested by the council member she’ll have to play with first in order to get to Momobami; Beautification Committee chairman (and noted gun nut and lunatic) Ikishima Midari.

Midari has her stylish gal-goons take Yumeko (and Ryouta) to a dank interrogation chamber in the bowels of the school, where they’ll play an “ESP card game” in which they guess which cards will be drawn in the adjacent room. Each correct guess means a point, and the person with the most points gets to fire one of two .357 Magnum revolvers loaded with anywhere from zero to six bullets.

Knowing what we know about Midari, it’s a very Midari game (what with the large amount of pure chance involved), and if Yumeko is worried, she doesn’t let on, keeping her calm, cool face throughout. However, Midari also sees in Yumeko a slightly more buttoned-up version of herself: a pervert who gets off on gambling to fulfill her appetites.

Making Ryouta deal the cards that he believes will determine the fate of two women is a great exercise to toughen him up (or just make him a nervous wreck), while Midari agrees that if she loses, she’ll pay Yumeko a cool billion yen ($9 million).

Following a fairly routine pattern in this show, Yumeko loses the first of three rounds by one point, giving Midari the first shot. Since she fully loaded her pistol, Midari has at least a 50-50 chance of shooting her. If Yumeko loaded any bullets into hers, the odds are better. Of course, either of the guns could backfire, which could be why Yumeko warns Midari not to fire when the time comes.

Yumeko always seems to gamble like her life (and certainly her enjoyment) is on the line, so as theatrical and wild as Midari is, this is simply a more raw and concentrated version of the feeling Yumeko craves. I forsee both parties coming away from this not only alive, but…satisfied.

As for Mary, she’s the one intercepted by President Momobami, who doesn’t mince words over tea: she wants Mary to join the council. Clearly, she sees potential in her. Mary may not be as nuts as Yumeko, but she’s definitely going places.

Kakegurui – 05

I may have bristled at least week’s structure (spend the entire first half introducing Ikishima, someone not involved in the second half’s gambling) but it was a blessing in disguise, putting a welcome kink in the gamble-a-week rhythm of the show to this point. Also, a poker game this layered with lies, deceit, and glorious twists needed more than two halves of an episode; it needed three.

Liberated from the need for setup (ably achieved in the first half) the crazy-faces showed up early and often here, as did the twists, the most important one being that the moves of the seemingly superfluous fourth player, Tsubomi, are being controlled by Kiwatari, the only non-livestock in the game.

Tsubomi and Mary are aware of this (Tsubomi isn’t so great at hiding the cheating), but in the tenth and final game, when Kiwatari tells Tsubomi she’s not allowed to beat him, Tsubomi does her stuff: painstakingly picking and peeling back the emotionless facade Tsubomi had built to repress the trauma of losing her beautiful locks of hair, roughly hacked off by Kiwatari himself once she became livestock.

Tsubomi tells her that losing intentionally here, when she has a perfect opportunity to prove she’s not “lifelong livestock”, would be like a “motionless pig in an open cage.” Unable to accept that, Tsubomi’s facade cracks, beats Kiwatari in the round, and becomes a human again.

The game would have ended with Tsubomi in first place, if the chip count, which we’d been getting from Kiwatari, was accurate. Turns out that is the last and final twist in the game: Mary and Yumeko falsified their debt reports (just like Kiwatari did), then swapped them, so the boards in front of them at the card table gave Kiwatari the wrong figures to do his math throughout the game.

It’s a total defeat brought on by Kiwatari’s confidence in his control over Tsubomi, as well as his hard-headed belief he can judge everyone as if they were cut from the same cloth. Meanwhile, Tsubomi may still technically be livestock, but regained her will to live and fight for solvency.

The council secretary Igarashi worries about what Pandora’s Box President Momobari (whom she seems to love) has opened by allowing someone as inscrutable as Jabami Yumeko to roam free. However, when Igarashi says “the usual things” that one can use to control a person don’t work on her; she’s not entirely right.

I have no doubt if Yumeko’s friends were threatened, she wouldn’t stand by and do nothing. And now Yumeko has two friends—Ryouta and Mary—who may be leveraged against her in the future. We’ll see how she deals with that as she faces off against more and stronger opponents.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 50 (Fin)

Once the tunnel digging is complete, everyone falls back except for Akihiro and Mika, who stand their ground and continue to buy time for their family. And while Tekkadan’s two toughest pilots put up a hell of a fight, even initially surviving a direct Dainsleif attack from orbit, they’re sufficiently softened up to allow Julieta and Iok to go in for the kill.

Akihiro gets Iok in his giant binders and crushes him, but he in turn is killed by Iok’s subordinates. Julieta, who has vowed to remain human while being as ruthless as Rustal needs her to be, beheads the bestial Barbatos Lupus Rex and raises it in triumph before her elated comrades. It is over. Mika, Akihiro are dead, and so is Tekkadan.

But life goes on, and those who survived thanks to their fallen brothers continue to follow Orga’s final order to keep moving forward. And what to you know, things end up working out both for Gjallarhorn (which reforms from within to a more democratic system under Rustal) and Mars (which gains nominal independence from Earth, as a new union under the chairmanship of Kudelia).

Kudelia and Rustal work together to end the practice of turning destitute orphans into human debris once and for all. Even without the main actors who set the stage alive to see it, and very few people remember who they even were, a measure of their ideals were realized anyway. Atra’s powerful monologue about how one doesn’t notice a flower blooming by the side of the road really drove that point home.

It helps that the “bad guys” who “won” are interesting and likable enough that years after they brutally took Orga, Mika, Macky and Tekkadan down, it’s still satisfying to see Gaelio returning to his old “frivolous” self, only now far more wiser, while Julieta has steady-competenced herself to being the likely successor to Rustal for leadership of Gjallarhorn.

Meanwhile, some survivors, among them Ride, can’t move forward without taking revenge, as he does when he assassinates Nobliss Gordon while he’s sitting on the toilet.

As for Kudelia? She’s overjoyed to learn Merribit and Yukinojou are expecting their second child soon, but can’t go out drinking with Chad and the guys. She heads home to the Sakura Farm, where an older, taller, and very badass Atra is waiting with their kid, with the unmistakable blue eyes and vacant expression of Mikazuki. The kid’s name is, naturally, Mikazuki, and unlike his father, he’ll have a childhood full of love and kindness, not desperation, and violence.

While chatting with Gaelio, Julieta admits the fighters of Tekkadan weren’t devils; she knew that the moment she saw an unconscious Mika when his cockpit cover sheared off. They were, in fact, the most human of us all, belonging on the battlefield for no other reason than to keep living and fighting. So it’s fortunate that there’s civilization to filter out some of our raw, instinctual humanity.

Thanks to the sacrifices of Tekkadan, McGillis and their allies, that civilization has been improved and made available to the next generation of youth, so maybe there won’t be a need for another Tekkadan ever again.

And that’ll do it. Whether you just checked in this week or have been following them since the very beginning, thanks as always for reading my reviews of what I believe to be one of, if not the best Gundam yet. It was a fantastic ride, and the franchise will be hard-pressed to surpass the greatness it achieved in these fifty episodes. But if they make a (non-SD) attempt down the road, I’ll be there to review it.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 49

Orga is dead, but he succeeded in giving Tekkadan one last chance to survive. Eugene and Mika agree (without saying anything) that Orga’s orders to not stop and keep moving forward stand. The way Mika works, he doesn’t need Orga around to tell him what to do; his final words were broad enough to last Mika the rest of his days—which hopefully aren’t too few.

While some Tekkadan members are thirsty for blood and revenge (unaware it was Gordon’s men, not Gjallarhorn, who gunned him down), but in a rare instance of Mika gathering everyone ’round, he stands atop Barbatos and informs/warns everyone of the consequences of getting in the way of Orga’s orders. Eugene flashes a downward gaze, realizing he could never hold a candle to Mika’s charisma any more than Orga’s. But everyone’s roles are clear. All that’s left is to execute Orga’s orders.

When Rustal is informed of Orga’s death in a convo with Gordon, a healed Julieta is present to hear it. She laments that Tekkadan must fight in such a desperate fight after being used by so many “shady adults.” Rustal reminds her that he’s one of those adults; she understands, but perhaps she’s just as trapped as Tekkadan. Meanwhile we see two of the best adults in the series, Yukinojou and Merribit, saying a tearful goodbye.

Cut to the shadiest but also one of the toughest and wiliest adults of the series, Todo, who we learn arranged a shuttle for McGillis so he could rejoin his flagship, which he quickly evacuates. The final stage of his battle will be fought alone, for he believes it will give him the most freedom.

Contrast that with his wife Almiria, who towers over her towering father in proclaiming she will stand with her husband, and that they’ll bear their sins together…just so long as he returns home safe. She wears the mantle—or, if you will, shackles—that bind her with Macky with pride and nobility. All I can say is…Poor Almiria.

Meanwhile, true to McGillis’ style, he puts on a hell of a show, ramming his flagship into one of Rustal’s ship (unfortunately, not the ship Rustal is on), bursts out of the wreckage with Bael, and starts menacingly hacking away at the fleet, one ship and suit and pilot at a time. He’s slowed down by Gaelio, whom he warns he’ll truly kill this time if he impedes him. But Gaelio is intent on showing his former friend and comrade that being alone isn’t freedom, it’s a death trap.

Gaelio has what’s left of Ein by his side, and Carta in his heart. When he delivers a coup-de-grace to Bael, McGillis bails out and boards Rustal’s flagship, bleeding out from a shrapnel wound. He’s met in a corridor by the masked Gaelio, but he removes his mask and insists McGillis really look at him. McGillis demurs almost to the last, telling him that as wonderful as it was having him and Carta in his life, being with them clouded his resolve.

That might be Macky’s fatal flaw: his inability to trust even those closest to him (or as close as he ever let anyone get to him). Just think if he had confided in his friends, and instead of tattling, they joined him? McGillis’ plan to reform Gjallarhorn would have been bolstered by his friends’ family fleets. Instead, he treated them like parts of the system he had to destroy, but only led to him isolating himself into a checkmate.

What’s worst of all is that it’s plain he never entirely gave up his friendships. Gaelio can see this in Macky’s face and words, and killing him gives him no joy. Gaelio says Farewell, but as is the case with so many supposed death scenes (including…Gaelio’s), it’s not 100% certain Macky will succumb to his wounds.

One thing is for certain: McGillis Fareed has lost. His crusade to wrest control of and reform Gjallarhorn has failed spectacularly. In his wake he leaves hundreds of his loyal officers and men, as well as the orphans of Tekkadan, whose only slim hope now is to scurry under ancient tunnels and trade their identities for their lives.

Even that is not so easily done. Mika, Eugene, Akihiro, Dante, and Hush buy the tunnel-diggers time, but Hush seems to buy it, fighting hard until the end, and it seems like the best the rest can manage is be “ground to dust” as slowly as possible by the seemingly endless Gjallarhorn onslaught.

We can only hope Mika’s words of reaching the place Orga was headed is a place of the living; a place where they belong and won’t have to fight; and that his words won’t end up ringing as hollow as Macky’s.

Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 14

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Shirayuki knows this visit to Tanbarun is a little suspicious, and so does everyone around her. Like Obi, who splits his time looking for the bishounen Kazuki and observing how Shirayuki is taking her sudden orders.

Naturally, she’s working as hard as she can to learn enough about dancing, etiquette, and comportment in order to not bring shame upon Clarines during her visit. Whatever plot, if any, has been hatched, it’s starting with a gentle whisper, rather than a bang, which if anything, is more unsettling, considering how many times Shirayuki has found herself captured by someone.

But maybe there isn’t a plot…right? (No, there definitely is.) But theoretically, if there weren’t one, Shirayuki wants to take advantage of this opportunity anyway. She’s also heard Raj is a “new man”; and I’m as curious as she is to see if that’s true.

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As for Zen, well, he’s pretty sore about the whole thing, but like Shirayuki, keeps himself busy with palace and state matters, and whenever he’s not, he’s sparring with himself, in order to vent his frustration. I enjoy watching his entourage watch and comment on their master, who is more than just their master.

More and more since he became a permanent member of the posse, Obi seems like he’s cultivating a little bit of a crush on Shirayuki, or otherwise wants to be close to and protect her. That would make his master his rival for her affections.

Even if he suspects he has little chance against what the two lovebirds have, he’ll do what he can, like beat Zen in a match (proving how tough he is even unarmed), and granting his permission to accompany Shirayuki instead of Mitsuhide.

And I like this development. Mitsuhide, bless him, is too stiff for this trip. Shirayuki and Obi’s chemistry, while perhaps not as magnetic as her and Zen, has its own strange-but not-in-bad-way energy; not to mention the show is pushing the suspicion that Obi likes her, not Mitsu.

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If Obi had been peeping in the windows of the palace wing where Shirayuki is boarding, he might’ve seen just how steep a hill he’d have to climb to change Shirayuki’s heart. For the first time in this second season, Shirayuki and Zen get to share some quality time, be calmed and reassured by each others’ presence.

Zen’s last-minute hug-from-behind may not have been steamy, but it was so warm and sweet and lovely, as the atmosphere tends to be when these two are alone. But lest we forget, this is a farewell, for perhaps up to a month, even if all goes smoothly. So the encounter’s sweetness is tinged with the bitter truth that they’ll be apart, something neither of them want but are strong enough to accept.

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Loved the very sudden surprise appearance by Lord Haruka, Eternal Stodgy Sourpuss, only this time he’s fully accepted Shirayuki’s right to be at court. Of course he doesn’t miss out on the chance to remind her not to return in disgrace. Shirayuki very adorably asks for a trinket of Zen’s to keep with her, and he gives her his pocket watch, which she promises to give back upon her return. Even Prince Izana, the apparent mastermind in this dastardly scheme, shows up to see Shirayuki off.

As for Izana’s reasons for doing this, I can think of three: he wants to make sure Prince Zen can still function as a Prince of Clarines when his girlfriend isn’t constantly by his side; he wants Shirayuki to learn more about court life, in preparation for her to one day become Zen’s consort; and finally, to give Shirayuki the opportunity to spend some time outside of Wistal Castle and return to her home; offering her a good look at other potential paths, to ensure she’s on the right one.

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And Shirayuki will definitely see other things and people on her journey, from an Obi who acts a specific way around her (and knows how to clean up and speak pretty when he needs to); and a Prince Raj who upon welcoming her (back) to his kingdom seems to have changed somewhat for the better…only to revert back to his old goofy, wishy-washy self once they’re in the throne room.

I actually thought the transition was too quick; I kinda wanted to see Raj on his best behavior a little longer. Nevertheless, he seems shocked and a little overwhelmed that the girl he tried to forceably marry not long ago is actually there. Maybe he has changed, in that he realizes how badly he acted, and acknowledges he owes her a debt to her from his last stop in Clarines. Time will tell, but for now, all eyes are on Shirayuki–and not just for that dazzling apple-red hair.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 13

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime hung around an 8 all last Summer, and it’s back with more of the same. There’s no surprises here, except for a better OP; if you liked the first season’s serene blend of earnest shoujo romance and slice-of-life with a touch of action, you’ll probably like this. Much of the episode is somewhat re-introductory, with no shortage of brief flashbacks to key moments from last season.

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Shirayuki and Zen, who has such a romantic breakthrough a couple episodes ago, don’t even encounter one another until nearly halfway through the episode. Instead, we get some elegant slice-of-life for court herbalists, carrying out their semi-annual cleaning operation, while Obi befriends Lil’ Ryuu, who doesn’t make friends easily.

Zen still makes Shirayuki’s heart pound, whether he’s taking her hand while napping or telling her how glad he is to see her face after a long, stressful day. Of course, the feeling is mutual: Zen is motivated to work harder after seeing how hard Shirayuki works. This definitely isn’t that kind of couple that hurts one another’s productivity. Rather, the two thrive off one another.

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So it’s inevitable that in the midst of all this lovely slice-of-life that life threatens to get a little more difficult and complicated, either when Shirayuki is inevitably kidnapped for the hundredth time, or placed in a situation where kidnapping is a distinct possibility. That threat is introduced by Mihaya, a former kidnapper, notifying her of the existence of a bishounen named Kazuki who may be her future kidnapper.

The same night they meet Mihaya, Prince Izana summons Shirayuki and orders her to Tanbarun to hang out with Prince Raj, who thanks to her motivational words to him, has actually started getting his act together. Izana wants her to work more of her magic to make sure the future king stays on the right track. Zen is upset, but accepts the decision, as long as Mitsuhide can accompany her.

As for Shirayuki, I’m sure she feels like she’s being pulled in multiple directions, while all she wants to do is keep moving forward with Zen. And not get kidnapped! We’ll see how that goes.

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