Kakegurui – 04

Gentleman that he is, Ryouta offers Yumeko a small contribution of 1 million yen ($9000 US) but she tells him she’s got cash on hand; the council hasn’t yet come to collect her massive debt. Instead, she, Mary, and other livestock are presented with “Life Plans.”

With these, the council is “collecting” by taking ownership of Yumeko and Mary’s futures and planning them out accordingly, stripping them of all human agency. In Mary’s case, she’ll marry a lolicon Diet member and have three kids, grow old, and die. Yumeko is likely in for a similar fate.

We also learn there’s yet another downside to being livestock: non-livestock like towering brute Kiwatari feel empowered to demand, say, that Yumeko strip in a dark corner of the school.

When she refuses, he threatens to violate her. With Kiwatari and his two goons to deal with, the noble Ryouta is hopelessly outmatched, but still looks ready to try rescuing her.

That’s when the “fun” is interrupted by piercing and accessory-laden student council member and Beautification Committee chairman Ikishima Midari. Rather than outright stop Kiwatari’s assault, Ikishima challenges him to a round of Russian Roulette with a massive revolver. Kiwatari retreats, so she retires to a bathroom stall to play alone.

Ikishima (voiced by unhinged-girl extraordinaire Ise Mariya; see Aku no Hana), like Yumeko, literally gets off on the thrill of gambling, but takes it to a very visceral extreme, playing with her very life rather than chips or cards. Yumeko promises she’s repay her for saving her, and Ikishima seems very excited at the chance to collect.

That first half is to introduce Midari, but she plays no role in the remainder of the episode, which is given over to the “Debt Adjustment Assembly.”

Livestock are invited to play Blind Man’s Bluff (AKA Indian Poker) in order to try to transfer their debt to someone else in exchange for a lower sum—a much lower sum in Yumeko’s case. And just Mary’s luck: she ends up in Yumeko’s group…and Kiwatari’s there too.

Two issues: First, so much time was spent on the intro of Kiwatari and Ikishima that this game is left unfinished. Unless Ikishima plays a role in this gamble next week, it would have made more sense to save her intro for later, establish Kiwatari as a rapey dick quickly and efficiently during the game, and have the whole game contained within this episode.

Second, while BMB is a fairly simple game, the way it’s employed here, and the way it’s explained, threatens to sap all of the enjoyment out of the proceedings. It’s very convoluted and requires a lot of words—too many, in fact—to get the point across of what is going on.

Still, I enjoyed watching Mary utterly reject the life plan the council (and that stupid “kiddy” council member in the bunny suit) laid out for her, as no matter how comfortable and happy a life it might be, it’s not a life she chose. This motivates her to put in an effort to try to claw out of her situation.

She even breaks out her crazyface, as does Kiwatari (the latter looking for all the world like he wouldn’t be out of place in Attack on Titan), but Yumeko doesn’t join the party. She remains quite calm as the episode pretty abruptly ends without any resolution.

Surely more wrinkles will be added to the game as things escalate, but of all the ways Kakegurui could shake up its formula, giving half an episode over to two character intros and then rolling credits before a game can finish didn’t quite work for me, especially when the game itself required so much narration to lay out.

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Kakegurui – 03

Upon watching the “official match” between Mary and porcelain-faced council member Nishinotouin Yuriko, Yumeko becomes excited at the prospect of the chouhan bakuchi style game they play, in which swords are used rather than dice, and how they land determines the distribution of chips to a wild extent.

It’s not a gamble for the weary, but as Yumeko is a compulsive gambler, it’s perfect. However, if I didn’t know better, I’d say there was more to her facing off against Yuriko than simply wanting to play or win, and that gets back to Saotome’s humiliating, devastating loss to Yuriko in the episode’s opening moments.

Yumeko takes exception to Yuriko “showing a weakened human a glimmer of hope than beating them into despair” and calls the councilperson a loan shark, the lowest of the low, and a piece of shit to her face. She even messes with the characters in her distinguished name to show that her favorite numbers are right there, but missing a couple in the middle, a “perfect name for an airhead.”

This is Yumeko exercising psychological warfare on a highly accomplished and studied opponent—and largely succeeding. And while there is a practical purpose for getting Yuriko riled up, I don’t doubt Yumeko also takes satisfaction in putting Yuriko in her place, suggesting she won’t let people like her have their way with livestock unchallenged.

Add to that the fact that, naturally, Yumeko’s opponent is cheating (with the dealer using magnets to manipulate one—but only one—of the metal swords), and it looks like this gamble will take the same shape as the previous two, with Yumeko prevailing at the last second and Yuriko’s mask finally cracking and breaking.

However, we get a different outcome, and notably no overt “gamblingasm”. Instead, Council President Momobami enters with two other council members, to oversee the result of the sword toss, which is something neither Yumeko or Yuriko expected, and puts Yumeko 310 million yen (over $2 million) in debt to Yuriko.

Momobami’s presents makes Yumeko suspect she was not only the victim of magnets, but a “badger”, and that this was a multifaceted cheat that may have required the ignorance of both players. Yuriko may have won, but she certainly doesn’t look or seem to feel like she won. Meanwhile, despite her immense new debt, all Yumeko is focused on is facing off against Momobami, which is her right as newly-minted livestock.

As for the hazing and bullying that results from her initiation into the livestock, it runs off Yumeko like rain from a fireman’s hat; when they call her the common cat name “Mike”, she simply gets on her knees and starts talking and washing herself like a cat, completely immune to the students barbs and, on the contrary, scaring them off with her bizarre antics. Here’s hoping this is a preamble to Yumeko becoming an inspiration to all livestock.

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 02

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Let me just first say I thought it was awesome that the show gave Ikoma a moment of nerdy victory with his friend Takumi, who helped him research both the gun and the method of stopping Kabane transformation in its tracks. That victory high lasts all of two minutes, before the next crisis is upon them: the train they need to get on is being blocks by legions of Kabane.

Ayame and Kurusu try talking sense to the masses, but panic is upon them and they’re about to lose their grip on the situation…until Mumei shows up in her battle guard, ready to do her part. When a much, much larger guy tells her not to talk out of turn and puts his hands on her, well, the guy isn’t in a vertical, painless position for long, and we learn again exactly how formidable a warrior Mumei is.

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Not 30 seconds later, she arms her dual steam-guns and goes on a one-woman Kagane-wasting spree. While she exceeds her self-imposed time limit of 100 seconds (by ten), it’s still an impressive feat that definitely rose my heart rate. This “kid” can flat-out fight, and this show can flat-out animate that fighting.

Ikoma is about to expose his Kabane parts to guards running a routine security sweep when he’s bailed out by Mumei, back from her spree…and she senses instantly that something is different with the guy. His aura feels different to her, and her’s to him. They can feel the power—and the connection—within them.

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Ikoma manages to get on the train with Mumei and Takumi, but he goes to the back with the latter while the former curls up and…takes a nap. A well-earned nap, to be sure, after all the ass-kicking she did. But beneath her cloak, we see why she fights so fiercely…she’s got a secret.

As Ayame enters her key we get to see the procedure of starting up the great rail fortress Koutetsujou, and all it’s steam trian-like details like an inability to start up too fast and a dependence on lots of water to operate.

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The regrouped Kabane storm the train as it lurches out of the station, and make no mistake; these are fast, parkour zombies; the worst kind IMO. The slow ones you can escape most times; these guys are just a headache. The show does a very good job making us not want to be anywhere near these monsters.

Naturally, it isn’t long before Ikoma is exposed as possibly one of those Kabane, and even after saving a family from a burst steam pipe and killing a Kabane with his new gun, when he sees his chest glowing, even HE starts to doubt whether or not the virus is continuing to spread, contrary to Takumi’s theories.

Kurusu is in no position to take that chance, and shoots Ikoma straight off the train. There’s just no time for the kind of nuanced, evidence-based explanations Ikoma wants to provide.

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After Ayame sees her former father turned into a Kabane, Kurusu orders the hatch shut and the train run all the Kabane (including his former lord) over. But once they reach the bridge, the switch to lower it won’t work; it’s jammed.

Kurusu prepares to go out and pull the manual lever, quite possibly giving his life for Ayame and the rest of the train’s occupants—but Ikoma, who wasn’t killed by Kurusu’s bullet, beats him to it, killing all the Kabane around him and lowering the bridge himself.

All the while he’s doing this, he’s cursing every soul on that train who doubted him, and hope they all live long, tortured lives knowing they owe them to the actions of someone they tossed away. He’s being a little melodramatic, but he’s also not wrong: humanity isn’t going to survive if they toss out their heroes and generally act like self-destructive, paranoid dicks.

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Still, Takumi, who hesitated and recoiled form his friend earlier, is the one to toss him a line to grab before the train is out of his reach. He gets on the train, but after a nudge from—yup—Mumei, who woke up from her nap in time to save him and help Takumi get him aboard. Thank goodness. There’s something about this train slowly leaving the station that made me thinking ‘he has to get on that thing before it leaves, or he’s going to die.’

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When he gets on, there’s an immense feeling of relief—but his troubles aren’t quite over. Kurusu greets him with a suicide kit, acknowledging that he saved them, but urging him to “do what needs to be done.” Of course, he believes Ikoma is a Kabane, and about to transform into a ferocious, unthinking monster.

He’s mistaken. Mumei stands up for Ikoma by removing her jacket to reveal that she too has a glowing Kabane-esque heart. But she insists she and Ikoma are no Kabane, nor are they entirely human. They are Kabaneri: in between. Kurusu doesn’t have to like it, but he does have to accept that they are the closest thing to humanity’s salvation.

I like it just fine. I love it. Ikoma and Mumei make a compelling lead duo. I hope to see them kicking ass side-by-side soon—if they can manage to quell the naysayers.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 01 (First Impressions)

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Well, here it is: one of the contenders for King of Spring. KnK had a little bit of everything that you want in a heart-pumping steampunk horror-action-thriller (even a dash of wit). But mostly it’s gorgeously-rendered, dark, brutal, bloody good fun.

KnK wastes no time dunking our heads into its not-so-ideal world and not letting us come up for air until the very end. A good way to get a good pace going to start is a train job of some kind. This train happens to be a mobile fortress, transporting humanity from one “station” (heavily fortitied settlements) to another.

What is everyone running and hiding behind iron and wood from? The Kabane: zombies who move at a pretty good clip and have metal cages around their hearts, making them really hard to kill (though as we learn apparently beheading works too). The Kabane are indeed fierce and fearsome, as it only takes one bite to turn you into one of them. Once that happens and your peers know about it, you’re expected to commit suicide immediately.

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One dude who is trying—perhaps in vain—to stem the tide of the vicious Kabane is Ikoma, a mechanic who in his spare time is working on a stea gun powerful enough to pierce the Kabane’s heart cages. He’s very very close, and in fact would have probably had a breakthrough had he not been distracted by the train raid.

Of course, he’s at the bottom of the food chain, society-wise, so only he and some of his friends even know what he’s working on and its importance to the future of humanity. When the aristocracy deigns to walk among the masses, it’s either to have their gun fixed, or to sit back and watch as bushi (a force of soldiers with steam guns who protect everyone else and the peace) gun down a suspected Kabane who turns out not to be one.

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For trying to defend this poor wretch, Ikoma gets the butt of a rifle and thrown in jail, but he also catches the eye of the catbell-adorned, carefree aristocrat Mumei, as well as Ayame-sama, a high-class lady with a gentle heart. While he’s in jail, unable to perfect his gun, another train enters the station—one I knew from the foreboding atmosphere of its approach was overrun by Kabane.

They are smart enough to operate the train, and ram it into the city in a stunning derailment set piece, followed by a gory massacre of the townsfolk nearest the gate. Mumei, who snuck away from the castle for a lovely evening June constitutional, pays a brief visit to Ikoma in his cell, but is soon back on her way to the armored train out of this lost station.

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Ikoma frees himself and prepares his new jet gun just in time for a Kabane to drop in on him. He wins the subsequent struggle with authority, blasting the Kabane’s caged heart to smithereens. It worked; but the Kabane took a nasty bite out of his arm.

What happens next…is a little odd and hard to grasp, but Ikoma, unlike most people, knows the Kabane affliction is a virus, not a curse, and so can be dealt with if acted upon quickly enough. He manages to seal off his arm and improvises a kind of self-exorcism of the virus from his body, drawing it out like steam out of a tank.

We also learn while he’s undergoing this highly painful procedure that he once ran before, back when he was a kid and his family was killed and his hometown destroyed by Kabane. Ikoma is done running, and he won’t let a little (or even a big) Kabane bite interfere in his quest of redemption and vengeance.

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Yeah, comparisons to another apocalyptic steampunk thriller, Attack on Titan, are very much inevitable, and were always in some part of my mind throughout this episode. Still, it’s hard to complain about KnK’s ambitious, kick-ass execution. Basically, KnK differentiated itself more than well enough for my satisfaction.

I don’t want to close without mentioning Mumei, who seemed like an entitled brat when the episode opened, but more than proved her mettle in a climax that ran parallel to Ikoma’s. When her attendant is bitten and has to kill himself, she races to the train on her own, but is cornered by a big ol’ Kabane.

Without flinching, she stands her ground and lets the beast come to her, whereupon she decapitates him with her shoe, which not only houses the catbells we were hearing the whole time, but a razor-sharp blade. Then, for giggles, she gets that shoe stuck in a wood pillar. Bad…ass…like this show’s opening salvo. I’m greatly looking forward to seeing Ikoma and Mumei take it to the Kabane.

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