Juuni Taisen – 05

Juuni Taisen has so far worked best when it’s focused—say on one character or one battle. This week gets off to an uninspiring start involving a big meeting room full of literally faceless VIPs and a unsolicited speech by Duo-whasisface.

He says the Zodiac War is a proxy for far costlier global conflict, but I’m not buying it; there’s clearly plenty of war in this world, both that which Monkey cannot prevent through negotiation and in which all of the other warriors fight when they’re not in a battle royale.

The “no betting until half the field is gone” rule made no sense to me either. In a a horse race, every horse is bet on, not just the half of the field that pulls ahead halfway in. This was just needless babbling that took me away from the actual battle, involving nobody I cared about.

Next up is the start of the much-anticipated duel between Usagi and Sharyu, which turns out to be a bit of a stalemate, as every blow or zombi bird Usagi sends Sharyu’s way is parried or otherwise countered, as Sharyu continues to ask Usagi to reconsider her offer of cooperation. I know she’s Monkey, but I fear she’s barking up the wrong tree.

Unfortunately, her fight with Usagi not only comes to any kind of resolution, but what we do see of it comes in fits and spurts, constantly interrupted by the episode’s A-plot involving Sheep, his backstory, and his plan for victory involving partnering with mid-level warriors (unaware of who has died besides Snake).

Bouncing between his admittedly impressive tale of his life as a warrior (including fighting a previous Juuni Taisen aboard a space station—why couldn’t we watch that?) and the Sharyu-Usagi duel serves neither storyline. I fail to see why they had to be intertwined in this way rather than have one flow into the other.

Much of Sheep’s time is spent looking at and sorting toy versions of the animals that represent the other warriors. Considering the thrust of the duel happening concurrently, it almost feels like stalling, especially when he’s working with less info than we have regarding the remaining players.

As if the episode weren’t packed enough, we have the subplots of Nezumi being chased by Zombie Snake (great band name, BTW) and Ox resuming his battle with Horse, which he presumably left temporarily to kill Niwatori, and can saunter right back and continue wailing on Horse because Ox is just badass like that.

It’s just another case of staggering the storylines for little to no narrative gain.

We’ve now gone two episodes without anyone else being killed, adding to a sense of stagnation throughout the episode. Nezumi and Sharyu may as well be running/fighting in circles. When Ox suddenly comes after Sheep, Sheep withdraws, and the first warrior he encounters turns out to be Tiger, ranked the weakest (and likely tied for the most scantily-clad with Usagi).

The way this episode ended—with everything just kind of pausing in the middle—was more frustrating than satisfying. I look forward to learning more about the next warrior next week, and I’m really not opposed to the show mixing things up or jumping from warrior to warrior within an episode…just not for its own sake.

There’s a right and wrong way to doing these things, and it wasn’t done quite right this week.

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Juuni Taisen – 04

Only a quarter into Juuni Taisen, at least four warriors had fallen (we learn Horse may still be alive; maybe Ox left his fight with him to take care of Niwatori last week). This week, we get Monkey/Sharyu’s backstory, indicating she may be next.

But she’s not…at least not this week. The four front-loaded kills so far give the show a chance to slow down and paint the picture of who the Warrior of the Monkey is, where she comes from, and why she does what she does.

Yuuki Misaki, as she is also known, was trained by a triad of monkey elders who never argue in the art of changing the state of whatever she wills. While that’s demonstrated as turning stone to sand, she uses her skills to turn war into peace.

Responsible for hundreds of ceasefires and prevented civil wars, Sharyu can honestly state she may well have saved more people than anyone else in the world. Nezumi at least knows her as this, and even believes it was Sharyu’s unblinking optimism that “weakened” Niwatori to her death.

On the flip side, having saved so many means she’s also failed to save more than anyone else alive. Things don’t always go as she plans, and the result is often bloodshed and other atrocities, in some cases more intense then had she not intervened or held negotiations.

What does she do? Well, Misaki doesn’t seem to blame or torture herself, for one. She takes the defeats in stride, along with the victories. She retires to her perfectly normal home life with her husband, who wishes she’d just give up the fight and live a full life with him. Misaki understands, but makes it clear: he knows what he got into, and if he truly loves her, he must fight his own battle as she fights hers.

Back in the present, after scolding Nezumi to not “sell platitudes short, little boy” (he thinks she’s a naive idealist, but she thinks he’s naive, since he’s seen so much less of the world than she has), Sharyu spots a zombie bird; necromanced by Usagi along with all the other birds Niwatori killed last week. The flock chases Sharyu and Nezumi, forcing them to the surface.

Waiting there is Usagi, proving Niwatori right in her assertion he and Ox are the most dangerous warriors. Were it not for Sharyu’s quick reflexes, mobility, and speed, Zombie Snake would have sliced her in two as soon as she emerged from the manhole.

Instead, Nezumi takes on Snake while Sharyu accepts Usagi’s challenge. She may be a pacifist, but she’ll fight if she must, and she really must here. Will Usagi’s reign of terror continue? Will Sharyu and Nezumi end up as macabre additions to Usagi’s collection of zombie thralls? Or is there hope, however small, that Sharyu can end the fighting with words? If anyone pull it off, it’s her. On the other hand, Usagi’s pretty psycho…

Tokyo Ghoul 2 – 01 (First Impressions)

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TG’s first season ended abruptly with the lesson that You can’t have it all, and in Ken’s present situation, wavering pacifism is no longer an option. His survival, and the survival of those dear to him, required him to transform himself drastically, something Yamori helped him along with quite nicely.

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In this, TG’s expected second season, we pick the sprawling battle right where we left off in episode 11, and the show continues to dart from one battle to another to keep things fresh. I’ll admit my memory was a little fuzzy ( I also don’t have the benefit of having read the source material, which likely fleshed some of these guys out :P) but it’s still all very heated and exciting.

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One pertinent battle is the one between the Kirishima siblings, which Touka is losing badly until Ken appears to scoop her up and stand in as Ayato’s opponent.

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It must piss off Ayato to no end that all of a sudden Ken isn’t so easy to take down. Indeed, Ken makes it look easy with his graceful evasions. Ken isn’t here to kill Touka’s brother, though. Rather, he says he knows Ayato’s “secret”, and why he joined Aogiri Tree. This pisses Ayato off even more, because knowledge is power.

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Noro finally breaks up the fight, snatching Ayato up and retreating as a number of explosions rock the site of the battle. Ironically, I had suggested Harude simply bomb the hell out of the mall rather than commit so many men to what amounted to an enormous trap to kill as many men as possible.

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Harude’s top men can’t quite eliminate the Owl, but nor does the Owl eliminate them, and if I’m not mistaken, even saves one of them from getting crushed. I must say, with their nifty full-body, life-sapping “Arata” quinque-suit things, they definitely made their fight a lot more interesting than it had any right to be, what with the Owl going all philosophy professor on them.

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Once the battle is over, the episode lags a bit, which I’m guessing is meant to build up tension about when Ken will do next, as well as introduce a few new characters, but it still lags. That’s not to say it isn’t without its charms: there’s a couple of nicely-staged encounters, first, as Eto emerges and recedes from the smoke in several different places, almost teasingly.

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Another is when Touka is propped up against a tree, looking forward to going home, and warns Ken he’ll have to do something about that crazy white hair. But Ken isn’t going back to Anteiku, even after all the trouble they went to to rescue him. No, Ken is going to Aogiri Tree.

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It’s a drastic but sensible move on his part, and for the sake of Touka and the others, not himself. He has to see where his dark potential, brought forth by Yamori’s torture and by letting Rize out of the cage, perhaps for good. He’s through doing nothing. Now comes figuring what exactly he can and should do, now that he’s doing something. I for one am game; the warmth and comforts and easy smiles of a place like Anteiku are no longer any kind of place for this new Ken.

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Tokyo Ghoul – 12 (Fin)

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Much of this episode was mind-searingly unpleasant and hard to watch with full focus, and I don’t think that was an accident. To give Ken’s eventual acceptance of Rize within him and the transformation that followed proper heft, The route to the destination had to be as excruciatingly awful as possible.

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Of course, that doesn’t make for the most enjoyable viewing experience, but I think this final episode of Tokyo Ghoul (for the time being) ended up succeeding because it adopted the same philosophy that Ken had always rejected and refused to live by but by the end of the episode embraces with gusto: You can’t have it all. Sometimes you have to choose. Sometimes survival requires change…horrible, irreversible change.

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Yamori is fascinated with Ken’s healing ability, and also getting a kick out of snapping off his toes and watching them grow back. Thankfully this grotesque spectacle is not continuous, but segmented with scenes of Ken in an abstract construct of his mind. While Yamori destroys him out there, Rize works on him in there, eventually uncovering Ken’s unconventional mommy issues.

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Represented by a field white flowers, Ken’s mom literally worked herself to death trying to make enough for her and Ken to survive while her sister came by often seeking money, which his mom always gave her. Rize argues his mom died because she refused to choose between her son or her sister. When Yamori asks Ken to choose between the two assistants who were trying to help him, he can’t do it, and as he wallows in his decision not to choose, Yamori kills them both.

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He might’ve done that anyway, regardless of who Ken chose, but it gets to a more fundamental decision in which Ken has chosen to abstain: the reality is, with Rize within him, he is far stronger than Yamori. Ken loved his mother so much, he vowed to live by the very mindset that led to her death. It takes Rize some talking, and showing him possible futures in which Hide and Anteiku are killed for Ken to finally snap and come around to her way of thinking.

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The first part of TG’s finale last week dealt with the ver external battle between Doves and Aogiri with Anteiku, but it follows it up with a very internal, cerebral battle between Ken’s often self-destructive pacifism and his dark potential. Ultimately, Ken seems to turn because he has so much to lose. He won’t make the same mistake mom did and lose all the people he’s come to care for since.

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To prevent his friends’ annihilation at Yamori’s hands and defeat him, Ken must give up whatever semblance of restraint he had upon his ghoul side, and let Rize out of the cage, even if getting her back in later proves impossible. The white flowers turn red and Yamori is dispatched with ease, and TG closes out its first season just as it began: with Rize (in one form or another) messily feasting upon a ghoul. Because devouring others (one way or another) is what life is all about!

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Final Average Rating: 7.67
MAL Score: 8.02