Vinland Saga – 20 – Everything Must Change

Flanked by Askeladd, Thorfinn, and his new follower Thorkell and his army, Canute marches into Gainsborough like at…well, like a Prince—a clueless boy no longer. Floki can clearly tell something has changed just by looking at Canute’s eyes and hearing his tone.

His newfound backbone, charisma, and will conspire to put Floki in his place. It’s a good start, but the prince knows swaying his father won’t be so easy. More likely than not, the king will have to die before Canute’s Paradise on Earth can be realized.

Canute takes only Askeladd and Thorfinn to his meeting with the king, but the three realize almost immediately that they are walking into a potential ambush. Sweyn has packed his hall with hidden soldiers and archers, and his precise commands for where the trio to stand/kneel makes it clear he’s not shy about his intentions to finish what the war in England couldn’t—dispatch the son he no longer needs.

Askeladd demonstrates what an asset he is to Canute by using his silver tongue to beg Sweyn to reconsider what he believes the “will of the crown” to be. Sweyn has certainly seen better days (long ago, he apparently resembled Canute), and he’s not so subtly implying that the crown he wears is largely responsible, as it has a will of its own…much like the One Ring.

All a king can do is hold onto and increase his power. When Askeladd explains how that wouldn’t necessarily happen if he assassinates Canute, the king withdraws from that course of action, and an uneasy truce is reached. They’re to reconvene in York, where he’ll have a “reward” for his son’s service to the crown.

That night, Canute sits and drinks with his men (and a fresh-shaven—and 23-year-old!—Williband), and hears Askeladd’s impression of his father. Bottom line: Sweyn is no slouch, and dealing with him will pose a considerable challenge.

While pissing outside, Atli and his now brain-damaged brother bid their former boss farewell. Askeladd, a good sport, gives Atli some gold and one final order: never pick up a sword again, but take a wife and work the land. Canute’s paradise will need many more men like Atli and less like Askeladd or Thorkell. Because everything has to change.

P.S. Another Leif Erikson sighting, in Northumbria. Will his and Askeladd’s paths cross once more before the curtain falls?

Astra Lost in Space – 05 – The Kids Are Alright…Right??

Even after last week’s harrowing ordeal, the crew is not yet ready to pack up and leave Shummoor—not until they’ve gathered enough food. Thanks to a successful hunch from Charce, they learn that the pole trees, once their nemesis, are actually the yummiest food on the planet, and with the stores filled, the Astra departs from Planet #2.

The crew are also grateful to Yunhua, whose voice had both physical and psychological healing effects for all who were poisoned. That gratitude quickly shifts to straight-up admiration when they learn she’s the daughter of the superstar singer Lucy Lum. She then enlists Luca to give her a haircut, and Quitterie bristles as all the guys swoon.

Meanwhile, back home, Aries’ mom Emma listens to her daughter’s last video message to her, saying all is well—and probably isn’t watching it for the first time. It’s been over forty days since Team B5 was last seen on McPa, and Ulgar’s father has gathered all the other parents to decide whether to call off the search and declare their children permanently lost.

Emma is not ready to make that determination, and even correctly conjectures that the reason there’s neither remains nor luggage on McPa is because their kids are somewhere in space, still alive. But many of the parents are past the “denial” phase of loss (or don’t love their kids as much as her) and are ready to give up.

Meanwhile, at the very same time, many thousands of light years away, not only are their kids perfectly fine…they’re living it up on a tropical beach.

Planet #3 is Arispade – which is 99% water with one tiny islet that features a wealth of food and a sugar-white beach on which to break out and show off one’s swimsuit. It’s paradise. It’s so paradise, Quitterie almost loses it; after all they’ve been through, why are things suddenly so easy and comfortable that she can totally see herself living out the rest of her days on that beach?

Since this is, in fact, Kanata no Astra‘s beach episode, it wastes no time delivering the goods, as Quitterie insists on comparing boob sizes with Aries and Yunhua, and also assures Aries she’ll have no problem attracting Captain Kanata with her “spicy” bikini. The implication flusters Aries.

Back on the ship, there’s more good slice-of-life, with Quitterie pressing her attack upon Aries, urging her to go ask Kanata out, or at least find out if he already has a boyfriend. Aries actually musters the courage to ask him if he’s popular with girls (he says he’s popular with “all humans”) and then asks if he has a girlfriend (he says all girls are his friends). Neither Aries or Quitterie are happy with Kanata’s lame replies. Quitterie exacts swift punishment by sticking Kanata’s toothbrush up his nose; Aries goes to bed early; dejected.

Meanwhile, Luca thinks he’s making progress becoming friends with Ulgar, having fashioned a bow, arrow, and fishing poles for him to do what he apparently does best: shoot and hunt. Yet Ulgar remains aloof and hostile, and becomes…something else entirely when he learns that Luca’s last name is Esposito, and that he’s the son of a senator back home.

Ulgar’s reaction—like a switch had been flipped in his head, combined with the image of the gun we saw a couple weeks back, spell nothing but dread for the final scene of the episode, an otherwise placid sunset repast among the crew members, with only one person absent: Ulgar.

After waxing romantic about the time they have and how neither photos nor medically secured memories will ever adequately convey the emotions they’ve felt in the last fifty-or-so days, and Luca remarks that he doesn’t even believe there’s an enemy among them, that enemy finally reveals himself, and points his gun at Luca’s head, warning he’ll shoot if he moves.

And that my friends is how you go from a solid “8” episode that lacked any danger or difficulty for twenty-two minutes, to a solid “9” in the twenty-third. The good-old cliffhanger. It doesn’t even matter if the most likely of the crew to be the bad guy is the bad guy (unless he isn’t, and there are more twists afoot); that was marvelously done.

TenSura – 14 – Rimuru’s Cheat Day

Gelmud arrives to put the invasion back on track, but he wasn’t counting on encountering anyone more powerful than he, a superior majin. While he tries to kill Gabiru, who he himself named just to be another pawn to make his Demon Lord stronger, Rimuru steps in to deflect the relatively weak attack, then tosses some potions to Gabiru to heal his fallen loyal subordinates.

Gelmud is little more than an annoyance; the one thing Rimuru wants from him is the name of the one pulling the strings, but Gelmud won’t give him up, confident Orc Lord Geld will attack on command (he named him out there in the desert, after all). Instead, the Orc Lord beheads Gelmud and eats him, after which he evolves into the Demon Lord Orc Disaster Gelmud was trying to create all along!

The Kijin and Ranga throw everything they’ve got at the Demon Lord, all but exhausting their magicules in the process, but nothing can cause anything other than light scratches and burns, and he heals almost instantly. This is certainly the toughest boss Rimuru & Co. have faced to date.

So tough, in fact, Rimuru decides to cheat a bit, by activating “Auto Mode” and leaving the Demon Lord up to the Great Sage and all her amassed wisdom. Rimuru’s eyes glow red and reflect the Great Sage’s geometric form, and starts to go to town on the Orc, culminating in enveloping it in a massive column of flame.

Unfortunately, probably since he ate Gelmud, Geld has a resistance to fire, so the big attack has no effect. Rimuru takes back control and proceeds to Plan C…pivoting from Cheat Mode to Cheat Day, as in eating way more than he should.

It becomes a struggle to see whether Geld’s Starved or Rimuru’s Predator can devour the other first. As Rimuru’s expandable slimy body envelops Geld, he can see a bit of the former Orc King’s past, when he had to pull off his arm to feed starving children under his protection during a horrible famine. He soon set out to find help, which is when he encountered Gelmud.

Geld insists he can’t lose, because he must live to bear his sins and those of those who sinned on his behalf…but Rimuru ain’t havin’ it: this is an eat-or-be-eaten world, and Geld can’t win against him. At least Geld has a momentary rebirth when his barren home is transformed into a lush, green paradise before evaporating.

The Demon Lord Geld is gone, and Rimuru and his allies are victorious. He relieves the Kijin, keeping his promise to release them from his service once they took care of business…but unsurprisingly they all want to stay by his side. I’d say it was time for a celebratory feast, but I’d also say Rimuru’s eaten enough for one day!

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 01 (First Impressions)

After an appropriately intense prologue in which a red Saber is magnificently defeated by what looks like some kind of golden deity. She starts falling and her eyes meet those of a dying girl—perhaps the female version of our protagonist (in a different life). Like Bakemonogatari or Madoka Magica, Shinjo starts things out loud and brash.

Things tone down a bit (or possibly reset), as we settle into a more-or-less ordinary high school class. There, familiar faces abound as our protagonist, Kishinami Hakuno, has interactions with Matou Shinji, Toosaka Rin, Matou Sakura in short order.

These faces are familiar, but the setting is strange, and there are constant flashes to a darker, more sinister reality lurking beneath the bright top layer. Kishinami can sense the death, and he questions what anyone is doing in this place, or why it even exists.

When he goes against a teacher’s warnings and approaches “Limbo”, the incinerator in the bowels of the school, he gets a fresh lecture from a bespectacled teacher. This is indeed an artificial paradise; a “digital hell” made in the image of heaven. He calls it a “Moon Cage”, where those with Master compatibility are sent.

Once the number of potentials reaches 100, there is a purge, and only the strongest selectees survive. An already disoriented Kishinami is quickly stabbed in the back by Matou Shinji (I guess he’s a jackass in any reality!) and as he starts to bleed out, an army of terminators starts mopping up the losers.

But Kishinami refuses to die, not without “vengeance” or “bliss, ” and presumably, not without more answers. As he’s chased by some kind of stone golem, he makes it to Limbo and falls in.

When he’s at the bottom, he finds a red sword waiting to be plucked…some version of Excalibur? His would-be destroyer is breathing down is neck, but Kishinami reaches and grasps the sword in time, summoning the servant Saber, who cleaves the foe in two in a sumptuous display.

By choosing to fight rather than simply run or survive, Kishinami seems to have earned the favor of the most powerful of Heroic Spirits, and a chance at an “encore” to attain vengeance for his plight and the bliss of victory—and Kotomine Kirei seems to be rooting for the kid, in his way.

Hmm…I found this a fresh an interesting twist on the Fate formula, going virtual and combining advanced Matrix-esque technology with the more low-tech history of the various servants. The Holy Grail would seem to be, at least in part, release from all of the layers of virtual prisons; a “true freedom”.

Akiyuki Shinbo directs this much like Bakemonogatari and Madoka, juxtaposing epic spectacles with mundane daily life and not afraid to let things get a bit trippy. While I would like to see a little more humor infused in the proceedings, I understand the need to establish this world with a straight face. Let’s see where this leads.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 04

On this installment of Girls’ Last Tour, a foreboding title if ever there was one, Chito and Yuuri mess around with the digital camera Hanazawa gave them as thanks for sharing their food. Now on a much higher level, the scenery is all new, and we’re treated to vastly wide shots of the dwarfed Kettenkrad trundling along, Chi driving as Yuu tries to capture it.

Throughout this new abandoned cityscape are numerous curious stone columns with faces, kind of like idols. As Yuu is trying to take a picture of Chi, they crash into one and knock it over, but there’s no harm done to their ride save a small dent in the fender – and Chi’s pride as a driver.

That night Chi corrects Yuu that the camera’s capacity can be filled up, albeit after 50,000 photos have been taken. Yuu marvels at such a number, and how even if all of the things they take pictures of crumble and fall, the pictures will still be there as a record they existed.

With that sentiment in mind, Chi fires up the camera’s timer walks over to Yuu’s side, gets just a little bit closer, and says “Hi Chizu,” as is the tradition; a cute little moment of friendship, and a desire to capture it for posterity.

In the second half, the girls arrive at the central building that seemed to glow at night. Upon entering they find it very dark and full of the tall stone idols; Chi deduces it must be some kind of temple; a house for a god. When Yuu asks what a “god” is, we get this priceless, perfectly delivered exchange:

“A god is like…I dunno.”
“Can you eat it?”
“You can’t.”

When Chi’s lantern goes out, Yuu suddenly feels very alone. She calls out to Chi, but there’s no answer. I shared her tension as she stood there, in the impenetrable pitch black darkness, musing at what she’d do if she lost Chi. Then she bumps into Chi, who was beside her all along, and admits she didn’t answer Yuu because her reaction was hilarious.

You could also call it a bit of revenge for making her crash the bike. Chi may be serious and strict most of the time, but she has both a mischievous and a sentimental side.

Suddenly, the blinding light they witnessed outside suddenly switches on, and they finally see where they are: the central nave of the temple, where a giant idol stands tall among giant chimes, below which glass pools of fake water, lilies, and fish.

Chi seems impressed, but Yuu is disappointed…mostly because the fish are fake, but also because she wonders why they’d try to make “paradise on earth” (as the wall carvings described) with a bunch of fake stuff. Chi explains that even a fake paradise must give people comfort, solace, and hope in a world that’s sometimes dark and lonely.

For Yuuri, the thing that gives her comfort, solace, and hope in the dark isn’t a thing, it’s Chito. She wonders if Chi is a god…until Chi demands an offering of food; then Yuu names herself a god.

It’s always been clear that between Chi’s smarts and Yuu’s shooting skills, it’s always been best for the two to stick together to survive. They left their home together, and haven’t split up since.

These two stories continue building their relationship as not simply two people putting up with each other for the sake of the greater good, but because they’re friends, and want to explore, eat, sleep, and laugh together. It scarcely matters that there’s virtually no one and nothing else around; they have each other.

Kino no Tabi – 03

While resting before trying to figure out what to do next, Kino hears some rumbling in the distance. An earthquake? An avalanche? No … a country.

Neither this country nor any of its inhabitants are ever given names—the people only introduce themselves by their title(s)—but it is the coolest country Kino has visited yet: a country that moves.

Technically, that makes it a gigantic vehicle, so Kino does what one does when a vehicle approaches: thumb a lift. While the country-tank is initially a menacing thing, a kindly voice asks Kinos her intentions.

She’s then welcomed aboard with open arms by the immigration and diplomacy officer, who has a comfortable room available, with a bed with clean white sheets Kino probably hasn’t seen in a long time.

After beholding the consequences of shushing Hermes (who warned Kino to dry her hair before going to sleep) and fixing her bed-head, Kino continues her tour of this wondrous, awe-inspiring place full of contradictions—the same contradictions that face every country.

The country is powered by an advanced, self-maintaining reactor, but in order to avoid overheating (or perhaps a straight-up meltdown), the country has to be kept constantly moving, meaning the drive motors and caterpillar tracks must be carefully maintained.

But that’s not the only reason they keep moving: the people of the country, like Kino, want to explore the world as she does. The only difference is they all go together as a country, and take their country with them. That means leaving quite a mark, but the people have long since made their peace with that.

While maintaining the motors and tracks must be quite a feat, the scenes of life Kino sees are of a peaceful country where families relax in the lush rooftop park and schoolchildren paint murals on the country’s outside shell. Contemporary cars are driven around, and tablets are used. It’s a very comfortable living.

Throughout this flowery tour I kept waiting for the catch, but in terms of the people turning on Kino or becoming threatening in some way, that never happens. These are nice people, but their country is a huge nuisance what with the tracks it leaves, particularly when butting up against a conventional, immobile country.

Still, the leaders have no problem allowing Kino into their command center. After asking for and being forcefully denied passage through the country, those leaders simply shrug and order the country to press on. That means firing a laser to obliterate the border wall in their path.

While armed with artillery and missiles, nothing the other country has is any match for the moving country, which mows down everything in its path. Those aboard it can only apologize and assure them they’ll be out of their hair within half a day.

When the other country finds something they can damage—the children’s mural—the moving country goes on the offensive. Wishing to minimize casualties on the other side as much as possible, Kino steps forward offering her assistance.

She heads out to a vantage point, armed with her persuader sniper rifle, and efficiently destroys all of the missile guiding sights—without killing their operators. She also takes out a couple of stray missiles for good measure.

With that, Kino cements her role as a friend of the Moving Country…but she said at the start she was only there for a sightseeing visit of 5-10 days, and when those days are up, she bids the country farewell.

On to the next, not-moving country, but Hermes relays to her the very distinct possibility the next children’s mural will feature her fighting off the missiles.

And while the Moving Country is extremely intrusive to other countries its path happens to intersect with, it’s not like they have a choice! If they stop, the reactor blows. If they just drive around in circles, they’ll eventually lose their minds.

Moving is how this country survives. There is a cost to that survival, but it is acceptable. If they wanted, they could easily conquer and subjugate any other country or countries they wished, but they don’t. They only destroy what they must to keep moving.