Kekkai Sensen & Beyond – 09

The “Desperate Fight in the Macro Zone” concludes in epic, massively satisfying, and surprisingly moving fashion, proving that splitting it into two parts was a smart move. Hellsalem’s Lot gathers on rooftops to watch the pandemonium unfold, confident the world’s largest individual, Gigagigafutmassif will put the Rielmonster in its place.

Of course, using force against Riel only makes him bigger and stronger, leading Giga to beat a hasty retreat and leaving the crowd without a champion to save them from certain ruin. Chain and the Werewolf Bureau are in the midst of a week wine cellar-emptying girls’ “night” out, and miss the whole thing.

Riel has long since had his fill of his situation, but Gemnemo is unsympathetic; he wants his latest experiment to play itself out to its devastating conclusion, with him pulling the strings the whole way. Riel now knows how solitary it is “at the top” of the city’s food chain.

For such an action-packed episode, the first act is mostly Riel fondly remembering one fine day in Central Park (or whatever it’s called in HSL) with Leo. When a batted baseball breaks Riel’s arm, Leo goes to bat for him, not only standing up to the bully that hit the ball and laughed at Riel’s arm, but headbutting him.

Leo didn’t back down on that lovely, pastoral day (it really is a gorgeous memory accompanied by an appropriately wistful musical score), despite being small and relatively puny; Riel, on the other hand, is disgusted with himself for running away in a similar situation.

Now that he’s more lucid, he can see Libra members not back down even though their opponent is orders of magnitude bigger and stronger. And with infiltration expert Chain indisposed, it falls to lil’ Leo and Sonic to deposit Li Gado’s weapon into Riel’s giant body. Leo has to take his God’s Eyes to their absolute limit, but he’s not giving up on his friend.

Gado makes it clear that Riel is probably not even in control of his body any more, as Gemnemo is a control freak who responds to Riel’s second thoughts by starting an operation that will eliminate his free will—but not his senses, making him watch and hear all the millions he’ll kill.

Gemnemo, in the end, is just another bully who has exploited Riel’s need to be stronger for his own scientific gain. Thankfuly, Sonic gets to Gemnemo in time to stop him, and Riel’s giant body gradually shrinks, until he stumbles and falls into the Eternal Hollow.

In the aftermath, Zapp tries to excoriate a contrite (and likely hungover) Chain for being AWOL during the battle, but Leo steps in to remind Zapp that he was indisposed as well due to his attempt to swindle Riel when he was more human-sized.

Five days later, Leo has a walk in the park, still picturesque and tranquil, but seems lonelier without Mr. Riel by his side. All of a sudden, he notices something under his shoe: Gado’s weapon shrunk Riel to the size of a mouse!

But Riel is actually just fine being this size; for one thing, the view’s not bad (Leo now appears monumental to him, matching his bravery and loyalty to his friends); for another, he wouldn’t feel right being all the way back to normal after the fuss he caused.

ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka – 12 (Fin)

Leave it to ACCA to save its best episode for last. And why not? Each of the eleven preceding episodes perfectly prepared us for this finale. Everything pointed towards a smooth, peaceful, and efficient coup, and that’s what we got—only it wasn’t a coup to unseat Schwan, but a coup to secure ACCA’s future and thwart the Liliums and Furawau’s plans to snatch hegemony from the Dowa Royal Family. That, my friends, is one surprising yet completely logical and satisfying twist.

At first, things seem to be going according to Lilium’s plan: Once it’s Schwan’s turn to take to the podium and speak, he and his outnumbered guards are surrounded by ACCA officers in riot gear, and Schwan’s plans to dissolve ACCA are exposed to the throng, which quickly sides with ACCA in the matter, as expected.

But then Schwan calls Jean out, knowing exactly why he’s on the dais with the Chief Officers. Just then, Lotta (and I for that matter) are relieved to find Niino by her side. This is the moment when Director-General Mauve completely flips the script and reveals that beneath ACCA’s plan was another plan that Lilium was not made aware of.

In this plan, Mauve, rather than Jean, steps forward. She explains the theatrics were only meant to demonstrate Schwan’s need for greater then very loudly and publicly proclaims Schwan as the one and only Crown Prince of Dowa, thanks Schwan for his continued support of ACCA once he ascends to the throne and into the future, then bends the knee. Knowing how unpopular dissolving ACCA would be (and would make him), Schwan can only affirm Mauve’s words and commit to preserving ACCA.

Mauve’s speech is one of, if not the most badass moments of the series, if not the Winter season as a whole, because of how much it changes, all of the careful preparation that gives it so much power, and the jazzy soundtrack that adds a cool gravitas.

Suddenly, Lilium finds himself on the wrong side of the river with a very weak hand. He was so focused on his own machinations he failed to realize there were counter-machinations going on behind his back. Jean had been strategizing with Mauve since he learned of his lineage, and informed Grossular of what would go down the night before.

Mauve and Jean arranged things so ACCA would win before Furawau would, making the continuation of “the game” pointless. Sure enough, Lilium folds, but he also takes his ball (being Furawau) and goes home (meaning secession). I will now cease the sports metaphors.

After all the drama subsides, Jean and Lotta encounter Prince Schwan and Magie, who reveals it was the prince himself who ordered him to warn her of the attack. Between agreeing not to kill ACCA and this, Schwan turned out to be not-such-a-bad-guy after all, which is more interesting than a petulant, one-dimensional villain. And since there’s no usurping going on, Jean and Lotta’s lineage can remain secret, even as they’re allowed to meet with Schwan and King Falke.

With Lilium and Furawau leaving the Dowa Kingdom to start their own, Grossular dissolves the remaining three of the anachronistic Five Chief officers, who then go home and become chiefs of their respective districts, and seem all the happier for it, while Grossular stays on in an advisory role for the new single leader of ACCA, Mauve. She certainly earned it.

In other good (if a bit convenient) news: Just as Furawau seceded, Pranetta finally hit paydirt, and a resource (presumably oil) rush leads to the district’s revitalization, Suitsu is finally allowed to develop to the level of the other districts and its people allowed to vote.

We even find out who Niino’s secret other contact was, and it’s who I expected: Abend, the ever-loyal servant of the Dowa Family, who had colored his hair and taken on the identity of Owl to watch Jean that much closer. With the family members reunited, Niino is formally relieved of his photographing duties. Mauve and Grossular seem to be spending a lot more time together, while Jean assumes the feelings he has for Mauve are unrequited.

But that doesn’t change the fact that he and Jean are best mates, something that hasn’t changed since they met in high school (the post credits flashback to their prom, which Niino won but gave Jean the crown, was a nice touch), and won’t change now. Jean takes comfort in knowing he’s not alone. And, no doubt, in being able to stay in his old job. For all that’s changed around them, Jean, Niino, and Lotta really haven’t, and that’s for the best, as they’re perfectly happy with the lives they have.

So ends one of the most thoughtful, detailed, and elegantly beautiful looking and sounding series in recent memory, which came completely out of nowhere. Those are my favorite kind of shows: ones about which neither I nor anyone else have any potentially corrupting preconceptions.

It’s also a show with eminent rewatch value; there’s enjoyment to be found in watching the story unfold again whilst knowing its resolution. It’s also a show for which I’d happily embrace a sequel. Until then, I say goodbye to ACCA, a well-crafted and engrossing anime if ever there was one.

Prison School – 03

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Three episodes, in, and I’ve been subjected to three sickeningly funny, pants-shittingly good outings by Prison School…and hope is still alive that Kiyoshi will have his date! But while there’s plenty of sex and toilet humor, and enormous boobs to be had, there’s also taut, witty dialogue, tremendous voice performances, and a solid narrative replete with “cause and effect” situations. And holes. Lots of holes.

Cause: the guys peep on the girls. Effect: they’re thrown in Prison School. Cause: Kiyoshi escapes the scorn of his sweetheart. Effect: the date is still on, he just needs to break out. Cause: Kirihara also has a secret he needs to conceal. Effect: Kiyoshi’s Plan A fails, and he’s forced to move to a more daring Plan B.

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But those are just the main plot points. There’s also the fact that Shingo, Andre, and Joe start getting suspicious when Kiyoshi and Gakuto start spending so much time together, while they start to suspect Shingo is on to their escape plan. Then Shingo catches them in the shower in a couple of very compromising (but ultimately innocent) positions, giving Shingo the idea that his two friends have begun a physical relationship. And while his initial reaction is shock and horror, he accepts Kiyoshi for who he is. What a nice friend!

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As for the holes I mentioned, a change in their duties the day of his date means Kiyoshi must find an alternate covert route to his hole in the wall, so he uses a drainage channel. While hiding there, he comes across an even smaller hole, through which he can watch Shiraki doing Hindu squats, as is her wont, from the most favorable possible angle.

But again cause and effect rear their ugly heads: due to his position, when Shiraki’s stiletto slips and falls through a hole, it goes right into Kiyoshi’s hole. The resulting blood makes his friends, who’ve been told about him and Gakuto by Shingo, think he pitches as well as catches. But Shingo makes the excuse to Shiraki that Kiyoshi has hemorrhoids.

That segues nicely into Gakuto’s revised plan for Kiyoshi to escape: using an audio recorder with sounds of flatulance to serve as a diversion for Kiyoshi while he’s away. Only their internet access is restricted, so he must record those sounds himself.

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The Three Kingdoms-obsessed Gakuto is always extremely formal and archaic in his speech patterns and vocabulary, so when he and Kiyoshi discuss the pros and cons of what he’s about to do, it’s given all the pomp and heft of a far nobler venture than intentionally shitting oneself in computer class. Yet Gakuto sells the ever-loving shit out of it, cutting loose and producing the necessary audio to aid Kiyoshi—who is, after all, getting him his ultra-rare 3K figures.

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Cause and Effect strike again, when a weak-willed Kurihara, having dug up the booty pics he buried, re-buries them in concrete, he also patches up Kiyoshi’s escape hole. But Kiyoshi doesn’t despair long; he decides he’ll break out by dressing as a girl (snatching a uniform from the laundry truck that will come Friday) and walking out the front gate with the other girls. This is a very old, very stupid bit, but I have full confidence in Prison School to put its unique mark on it when the time comes.

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That confidence is even further buoyed by the final dramatic set piece of the episode, a masterpiece of movement, timing, and ecchiness. Gakuto, who seems a little more weary of Kiyoshi’s chances of success, seemingly goes nuts when he’s supposed to lay low, getting up in Shiraki’s crotch, being smothered in her bust, and finally pulling down President Mari’s skirt. What is his deal…has he lost it? Or is this another plan? Is he creating a cause for some intended effect? We shall see, my friends.

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Attack on Titan – 13

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The episode that marks the end of the first half of Attack on Titan also, mercifully, marks the end of the interminable Battle of Trost. It’s an episode full of big, great, “Hell Yeah” moments. One of those is when everyone, believing they’re all at death’s door, suddenly stops what they’re doing and listen to the steady, ominous footsteps. Clearly they’re from a Titan, but it’s when they see the boulder moving that they know it’s their Titan, Eren, finally doing what he’s supposed to be doing.

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Finally, with the mission on the right track, everyone knows what to do: Eren must be protected at all costs. If he is swarmed by Titans again and God forbid, drops that boulder, it really is all over. Mikasa for one, is clearly not going to let any Titans get near him, belting out a primal war cries as she cuts them down one by one.

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Another great moment is when Eren finally gets to the broken gate and slams the boulder in place, kicking up a huge cloud of dust. All the torment of the arc’s past episodes seems to be worth it; for the first time, the humans can truly claim victory over the Titans (albeit thanks to another Titan). Rico admires Eren’s handiwork and is staggered by the enormity of what just happened. An most importantly, none of the hundreds of soldiers who fell today died in vain; they all died so that the gate could be sealed and the district saved.

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But there are still a good number of Titans still within the walls, so as much as everyone wants to stand down or pass out from exhaustion, there’s still a battle to be won. Fortunately for Mikasa, Armin, and a freshly-extracted Eren (it seems to get tougher and tougher to separate him from the Titan…uh-oh), the cream of the Scout Regiment arrives, confused by what the hell just happened, but ready to mop up. Captain Levi’s movements in particular are like nothing we’d seen in the battle before, even from Mikasa.

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With the last of the Titans dealt with, the butcher’s bill comes in: over 200 dead, nearly 1,000 wounded. It’s up for the soldiers like Jean and Sasha to gather up the bodies (or what’s left of them, having been horrifically spit up by stuffed Titans) and burn them before an epidemic finishes what the Titans started. It’s a ghoulish, traumatic business that ensures there won’t be any celebration for this first victory; not while one is surrounded by the stench of the burning remains of comrades.

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The final big moment of the episode, which paves the way for the second half, is when Eren wakes up behind bars, chained to his bed. He may have been the linchpin of the operation that saved Trost District and Wall Rose, but he’s still a potentially dangerous and unstable element, so the bars and chains are a wise precaution.

Fortunately, it would also seem that his captors hew more towards Pixis than Woerman, with actions driven by reason rather than fear. The commander of the Scout Regiment, flanked by Levi, simply asks Eren what he wants to do. If they’re to investigate Dr. Yeager’s secrets, hidden in the basement of Eren’s now-destroyed home in Titan-riddled Shiganshina, having a Titan on their side could prove as decisive as it was in the battle of Trost.

Eren wants to join the scouts and drive the Titans out. That impresses Levi enough to decide to take him under his wing. With a clear path set for the second half, and an interesting new master-student dynamic, I’m looking forward to seeing how things shake out with Eren, Levi, Mikasa, and Armin.

As for the other members of the 104th? Well…aside from Sasha and Jean, they haven’t made much of an impact for me, and even those two are a bit muddled. IMO AoT has most effective when it has resisted the urge to give every single character their two minutes in the sun, and instead focused on the core trio.

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First Half Pros/Cons:

Pros:

  • Richly-rendered world with well-defined scale and complexity
  • Palpable atmosphere of large-scale despair, desperation and futility
  • The Titans stike a weird balance of terrifying and cute
  • The Eren/Mikasa/Armin dynamic works very well, with each character contributing a unique strength
  • Mikasa is the undisputed star, cool outside but all churning emotions inside, making it all the more awesome when they break out

Cons:

  • Front-loading of episodes with recapping and retracing to start episodes
  • I’m sure the creator/producers thought through the 3D harnesses, but it still took a while to get on board with the fact they actually worked, and how
  • The supporting cast is generally bland, amorphous, and served mostly to steal valuable time from main triad
  • Excessive explanation combined with camera cutaways from overt gore suggest the targeted audience is younger than me
  • The show suffers from inconsistent pacing; the Trost battle went on far too long

Attack on Titan – 12

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After another extremely long and annoying (for someone semi-marathoning) recap of What’s Happened So Far on AoT, we return to the situation in Trost: Eren has transformed into a Titan, but he’s useless. All he manages to do is blast both of his fists off going after Mikasa, who insists to her CO Ian that Eren is “family”, not her boyfriend. Your blushing says it’s more complicated than that, Miss Ackerman.

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She suspends herself in front of his face and tries to reason with him, to no avail, so the episode, like many others before it, is more about what happens when things go wrong than what happens when they go right. But to the credit of Ian and the elite squad with Mikasa, the mission to protect Eren, even though he’s currently useless, takes precedence over their own lives.

Rico is angry about it, because he doesn’t think Eren is worth it, but he still obeys orders. He doesn’t let The Fear overcome his discipline. Instead, he resolves to go out fighting, showing the Titans what they’re made of. Elsewhere in the district, Jean tries to keep it together and prove—more to himself than the others—that he has what it takes to be a good soldier.

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Every minute Eren is out of action, dozens of soldiers both fit and unfit are being slaughtered and/or eaten by the growing horde of Titans. Pixis admits that he and he alone is responsible for these deaths, but is willing to be called a butcher if his actions save humanity.

Even though the elite squad signaled failure, he’s not throwing in the towel. Of course, one could say a great many of these soliders were going to die whether Pixis hatched this cockamamie plan or not, and one would be correct. If they do nothing, humanity is eventually going to be toast, to a man. So why not try something?

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Speaking of which, when Mikasa’s verbal pleadings fail to rouse Eren (who is stuck in an idealized dream in their old house in Shiganshina with his still-alive parents), it falls to Armin to try something else. Remembering the location from where Eren emerged was the same as the weak spot of all Titans, he digs his sword in, nicking Eren in the arm, and yells at him through the opening to wake the fuck up.

Again, AoT demonstrates why Eren and Mikasa alone can’t survive; it takes Armin’s extra perspective. Mikasa never would have risked harming Eren by stabbing him in the neck, but that’s exactly what needed to be done to snap him out of his blissful but self-destructive fantasy. Now that he’s awake, we’ll see if Eren’s able to exert enough control to pick up that boulder and seal the gate. Better late than never, right?

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