TenSura – 02 – A Slimy New Hope

When some initial attempts to free Veldora the Storm Dragon fail, Satoru decides to envelop him in his stomach, but not before they give each other names: with Satoru being named Rimuru Tempest and the dragon Veldora Tempest. It works: the dragon is no longer a prisoner of the spell, but nor does he have physical form anymore. Rimuru, however, knows he’s in there somewhere.

For the next few weeks Rimuru sets to work gaining new skills, some of which he gains just by performing a new task; some of which he takes from the various beasts he defeats. It’s a very procedural sequence but it’s well-paced and always satisfying when he slays a new foe with the skills of the previous one.

In this way he gathers quite a bit of power, and eventually reaches the front door of the cave, which to his surprise opens to reveal three human adventurers. Rimuru slips out without them noticing, and the “disappearance” of Veldora changes the balance of power in the entire region.

For instance, Rimuru assumes Veldora, or at least his power, kept direwolves away from a village of (non-rapey!) goblins, whom are extremely frightened of the slime due to the intense magical aura he’s emitting. It seems even sealed away Veldora cast a big shadow in the area.

Rimuru hears out the goblin elder and decides to help out, considering how hopeless their fight is (there are only 60 goblins to 100 wolves, each of which requires an average of ten goblins to defeat, so they’re at least 940 short). In exchange, the villagers offer him their undying loyalty.

And so, not long after befriending and then absorbing a tsundere storm dragon, the Slime has now become a goblin leader. Never a dull moment here on TenSura.

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Overlord III – 10 – Prelude to War

Emphasis on prelude: this episode is all kinds of setup with no real payoff; a calm of political wrangling in the Kingdom before the storm of war with the Empire. Chief Warrior Gazef Stronoff knows what Lord, er, Sorcerer King Gown is capable of and makes it known to his king, but at the same time knows the king could never heed his advice to simply give up land without a fight.

A fight there must be, even if it won’t be like the other wars with the empire, all of them relatively quick, clean, and predictable. In a compromise to the noble and, er, ignoble factions, King Ramposa names Marquis Raeven as the leader of the forces who will defend the kingdom. The ep injects a bit of humanity in the guy by showing how much he loves his son. Unfortunately, Princess Renner has only a moment of screen time and no spoken lines.

While Raeven will lead the fight, the kingdom is counting on two months of stalling before the fighting actually begins, so they can prepare as much as they can. Of course, with another noble estimating Gown himself is as powerful as 5,000 men (five times Gazef’s strength), they face a very uphill battle.

Gazef comes through as honorable and levelheaded as ever, and reunites with his pals Brain and Climb prior to the war. The three agree to meet at a place in the capital to eat, drink, and celebrate when the war is done, but Gazef also warns Brain that he’d better not face off against Gown, or it will be the end of him.

99% of the episode is from the perspective of the opponent Gown has chosen, as part of his (really Demiurge’s) larger plan to gain power and territory for Nazarick. The final 1%, in which Gown takes the field of battle, opens a gate, and unleashes and entire legion of death knights, only comes during the end credits.

Renner’s King Ramposa’s eldest son and heir to the throne Prince Barbro, meanwhile, is sent to Carne to gather information, an errand he feels is both beneath him and meant to prevent him from achieving greatness, despite everyone’s insistence he’s the future king. But he should thank his lucky stars if he stays far, far away from the core of the battle in which Gown himself will take part; staying away means he’ll actually be alive to succeed his father.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 39

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No big battles this week, just lots of stock-taking and important setup for the next conflict. Just as Lafter, Azee and the rest of the Turbines contingent say farewell to Tekkadan, Iok Kujan launches a major crackdown on Turbines, making the split well-timed. It’s Jasley (hoping to manipulate the “spoiled brat” who tells Iok its the Turbines and not Tekkadan he should go after.

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Thus you have the head of one of the illustrious Seven Stars families doing the dirty work for a rogue member of Teiwaz who wants to rise, and for whom Naze is in the way.

Even Iok’s subordinates aren’t quite sure what he’s on about, but Julieta joins the fight for her own reasons: she’s eager to become stronger and a good old-fashioned Gjallarhorn crackdown is as good an opportunity as ever.

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After Atra calms down and tells Kudelia what the shopkeeper told her long ago (“babies are like clamps”, keeping men from running off), Kudelia understands Atra’s sudden urgent need for someone to have a baby with Mika. But Kudelia doesn’t see why that someone can’t be Atra herself.

Even after all Atra has done throughout the adventures of Tekkadan, she still thinks she’s “not nearly good enough” for Mika, but she’s wrong. The fact is, she may be the only one for Mika. That being said, she has a long way to go, what with Mika not-quite joking about babies looking tasty.

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Before he learns just how fully he’s been backstabbed (be it by Jasley or McMurdo or whoever), Naze has a long talk with Amida, about Lafter likely finding another man, and about how much Tekkadan reminds him of the Turbines when they were just starting out.

It was Naze and former-mercenary Amida who started it, fell in love, then went to work gathering women living and working in horrible conditions and creating a family where all could thrive and protect one another. Change the gender and it is pretty famliar…only the Turbines have since expanded to 50,000 members. Not mentioned: how many of those are Naze’s children.

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But Tekkadan is no longer a fledgling; not only does it have its wings and the wind underneath, but something to work towards for themselves: the Kings of Mars. When Naze sees the head of the Gjallarhorn hammer above, coming down upon the Turbines, he insists Orga and Tekkadan stay out of it, even if it’s the exact opposite reflex Orga has.

Naze knows someone in Teiwaz is doing this. Who is irrelevant, it’s why that concerns him: it’s bait to lure Tekkadan to ruin, and Naze won’t let Orga swoop in just as their enemies planned. As much as they’ve done and promised to each other, Naze and Orga aren’t family; Orga and Tekkadan are, and that’s what he must protect from this latest threat.

That’s especially true with Rustal and Vidar still sizable thorns in McGillis’ side. McGillis’ own grand plans are suddenly not only in play but at legitimate threat. “Doing what he can” may not be enough to keep Tekkadan from the rough stuff once they lose the security blanket that was the Turbines.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 38

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This episode teases us a bit by jumping from the beginning of Mika’s battle with Hashmal to “One Month Later”, but thankfully Orga’s talk with McMurdo is a vehicle for rehashing that battle, which is one of the more vicious ones we’ve seen.

For perhaps the first time, an opponent is able to keep up with Mika, push him back, and do a ridiculous amount of damage, such that Mika truly has to pull out all the stops (and borrow Isurugi’s ludicrously huge sword) to get the job done. And he does: it’s immensely satisfying to hear the smash of Hashmal finally hitting the ground, out for the count.

McMurdo, like Naze before, gives Orga a polite — for now — warning not to let his interests clash with Teiwaz’s, because his life won’t be the only one to be forfeit. With each battle, it becomes more and more impossible for Orga to deviate from his forward path to dominion over Mars, as more and more alternate avenues close around him and Tekkadan.

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In another satisfying scene, Master Rustal all but drops his alliance with an increasingly chaotic Iok Kujan, and in doing so, gains a lot more respect from me. Rustal wants to rid himself of McGillis, but he’s not going to operate, or continue to allow someone like Iok, to work outside of the established ideals of Gjallarhorn; i.e. to protect order.

This is why Rustal gives Iok the cold shoulder at the meeting of the Seven Stars, congratulates Fareed for his hard-won victory, and bides his time. Like Iok, Julieta wants to act and act fast, but she’s at least able to take dierection from Rustal better.

What he wants from her isn’t mere brute strength like Mikazuki Augus; he wants something more; perhaps something that will endure longer than a bright-yet-brief flame. Julie is willing to try to find out what that is.

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As for Mika, he continues to sacrifice pieces of himself, almost exclusively for Orga’s sake. One could argue Orga has the power to stop him, but he simply can’t say the words, perhaps for fear it would undermine their relationship and Mika’s faith in him; perhaps simply because he knows Tekkadan would likely have fallen many times by now were it not for Mika’s singular contributions.

But Mika’s whole left side is paralyzed now. He needs (a very willing) Hush to carry him around, and is constantly asking if Barbatos is repaired so he can get back into the cockpit and be able to “move” again. In exchange for its Calamity War-ending power, Barbatos is exacting a heavy cost upon Mika by making it increasingly difficult for him to function without it.

There isn’t even any discussion about whether such effects can be reversed, so it certainly isn’t looking good for Mika long-term. This upsets Kudelia and Atra alike, who are also worried that all the gains Tekkadan has made hasn’t really changed Mika at all; he still sees himself as a blade; Orga’s blade, and only lives to serve him in any way he can, until his body and mind and soul are utterly spent.

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This compels Atra, likely too bashful to consider herself for the job, to beg Kudelia to have a baby with Mika, so that, if the worst happens and Mika doesn’t come back one day, they’ll still have a part of him to love and care for. It’s very in-character for Atra to propose such a thing, but I doubt it will go anywhere, since I don’t see Kudelia ever being able to propose such a thing to Mika, even if Mika could well simply say “ok, sure fine” about it.

But for now, Mika is focused on one thing: continuing to fight, kill, destroy, for Orga. For Tekkadan. For the Kingdom of Mars. He considers his current position “not that bad” as it “simplifies things.” Kudelia wants to create a world where he doesn’t have to fight. Now he can no longer move, let alone fight, without Barbatos, so as far as Mika’s concerned, there is no going back until Kudelia’s dream is attained. The only other outcome is death.

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Again, it makes sense for Mika to be so obsessed with Barbatos’ status; it is literally the machine that keeps him alive and able to be useful. When Orga visits him, thinking he’s asleep, he refuses to apologize for what happened, but Mika isn’t asleep; he hears him.

And he agrees: Mika chose to do what he did, and he can live with the consequences. He is also willing to keep going, and keep giving up pieces of himself for the cause. He won’t let Orga apologize, because there’s nothing to apologize for.

As McGillis considers Gaelio’s apparent return to the field of play, and Julieta aims to emulate Mika in her unswerving devotion as her master’s blade, Mika stays the course. With Orga, he believes he can go anywhere. In the final dozen episodes, we’ll see how far that is and how much more it will cost.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 27

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This striking image encapsulates the episode pretty nicely: Hash (or Hush) wants to be able to do what Mika can do, and what what his “older brother” couldn’t do back in the slums. He is at the head of the new recruits who have heard tales of Tekkadan and seek greatness—and purpose—in this new Mars, but haven’t escaped their past.

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We also check in on Tekkadan’s Earth Branch in Edmonton, where Takaki lives with his sister Fuka and takes her to school. Things are still a little delicate, but Takaki will take all the stability, normalcy, and domesticity he can get. He’s an iron-blooded orphan success story; in a way, he achieved what Biscuit tried to but could not. Now that he has it, he has no qualms about paying it forward.

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We jump from a meal on earth to one on Mars, where Hash makes his pitch to Yukinojo: he wants the A-V surgery. “Too old” is the cold reply, along with warmer words from Atra that Hash simply doesn’t want to hear. He’s poised to shove Atra aside, but Mika grabs his arm. And here Hash is: faced with the person he wishes to be more than anything, even at the cost of his life.

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Hash seems an over-eager brat in a hurry to die—until we hear his story, and it’s a sad one. His “big bro” Builth went off to CGS looking for glory, but his A-V surgery failed, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.

Hoping to make the lives of the younger kids like Hash easier, Builth’s actions had the opposite effect, and he took his own life before he could over-burden them too much. But doing so bestowed Hash with a new and potentially deadlier burden: to follow in his footsteps, but succeed where he failed.

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Meanwhile, Tekkadan is going to subjugate the Dawn Horizon Corps pirates, Todo reappears (as a Very Irritating Person), and Fareed has sent the Arianrhod Fleet to Mars to join the pirate fight. Aboard is Iok (who seems put out), Julieta (who seems less crazy but no less devoted to Rustal), and…a new Masked Man.

Who the heck is this? Will he ever speak, or does he rely on the pulsing lights on his face to communicate? I’m not quite sure, but Julieta doesn’t trust him. Nor does Orga trust Fareed, but that doesn’t mean they can’t work together, at least for a time, towards a shared goal.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 26

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Donna Draper, Creative Director

Tekkadan is finally legit, Kudelia is getting shit done from her Mad Men office, and Gjallarhorn has fallen out of favor. Perfect opportunities to introduce new players on all fronts. Tekkadan’s standing is more solid, but there are still tectonic rumblings throughout this episode, which starts out peaceful, even mundane, but becomes progrssively more Gundam-y as the unintended consequences of everyone’s success mount.

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Looks like a family

Kudelia’s underestimating of a sniveling economic rival mirrors how seemingly innocuous threats could end up a pain in our heroes’ collective rears. Cookie and Cracker are getting a decent education, but they cling to Mika when he even thinks about going back out into danger, something he obviously has to do and will continue to do.

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Julieta here (voiced by MAO) is sure be in a cockpit soon, facing off against Mika

Kudelia and Tekkadan alike gained feisty rivals by showing the world that not all underdog causes are hopeless. Now that McGillis has a seat at the Seven Stars Big Boy Table, he, like Orga in Tekkadan, isn’t going to stop moving forward; it’s the only way for either figure to survive. Only Orga just wants to settle down make an honest living some day. McGillis has big ambitions, which attract both ire and push-back from the families whose toes he’s stepping on.

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Mika makes another grand entrance in the nick of time

The world(s) is familiar, as are most of the faces, but it was exciting to see many in new or refined roles. It was also good to see new recruits positioned below, experiencing at the end a measure of the hell of war the main cast went through in their first episode (though these newbies have much nicer bosses.

All of Kudelia’s, Tekkadan’s, and McGillis’ plans to “let it ride” on the gutsy gambles they’ve made are being challenged at every turn by those who want to keep them down in the muck. We’ll see how the new role of the challenged, rather than challenger, fits our scrappy team.

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 07

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And so we return to Sorey, Alisha, and Zestiria, right where we left them: staring down a massive storm with a dragon at its core. But just as soon as it appears, it disappears, and while everyone gives him credit as Shepherd for vanquishing it, Sorey didn’t actually do anything.

It was so anticlimactic, it made me wonder if it was the same dragon Velvet was fighting last week, and it vanished because she vanquished it? Maybe dragons transcend time and place, being the manifestation of malevolence and all?

Anyway, all Sorey can do is accept the gratitude of Alisha, the town, and even Lord Bartlow, who invites him to sup with him. Nobody trusts the guy, but he only seems to want to get the measure of the lad, and lets him go when dinner’s over.

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From there, Sorey, Alisha, and Mikleo’s paths diverge, although Alisha and Sorey travel together for a spell, affording Alisha the opportunity to learn more about the Shepherd. As for Milkeo, he’s starting to feel like Sorey has surpassed him so far, he doesn’t know what to do next.

Lailah steers him in the direction of the Galahad Ruins, where a scred relic similar to the holy sword lies; if he can retrieve and wield whatever it is, she believes he will have amassed the strength to continue standing beside his friend.

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Alisha is headed to the learned city of Mirland to deal with a worsening epidemic, while Sorey is headed to the intimidatingly-named Rayfalke Spiritcrest, where he hopes to find a dragon to slay.

By the episode’s end, everyone has gone their separate ways – an interesting development this far along in the show, considering the OP and ED are so gung-ho about a united party that includes Rose, whom we still barely see, and a few characters we have yet to meet.

Instead, everyone has their own business and are on their own in radically different (and beautiful) lands. Only Lailah is with Sorey, but he and Mikleo are looking at the same sky. We’ll see everyone fares in their solo missions—and when and how they’ll reunite.

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 05

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Last week’s TZX left us hanging, with apocalypse apparently upon Ladylake, but this episode made no attempt to arrest that suspense in any way. Indeed, this week’s story may well have been in another world than the adventures of Sorey, Alisha & Co., but I didn’t mind, because it was so goddamn awesome.

TZX has proven adept at embellishing simple scenarios with its imposingly gorgeous production values, and does not stray from that M.O. here. This is a simple prison break for the episode’s protagonist, Velvet Crowe. But it’s a prison break given great weight by how it’s presented and more importantly, why she’s breaking out.

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Trapped in the lowest dungeon for three years fighting and absorbing daemons into her left arm, Velvet receives a sudden visit from an unlikely ally: Seres, a former(?) Malak of her nemesis, Artorius. I loved how Seres would land softly on her feet no matter how hard Velvet tossed her.

Once they’ve climbed out of her vast cell, Velvet and Seres immediately face a group of exorcists, and Velvet demonstrates the results of all that daemon-eating by taking them all out herself.

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The duo reaches a storeroom where Velvet dons her sexy, elaborate armored pirate outfit and finds a gigantic Tempest Blade. Shortly thereafter, the blade’s owner shows up, also breaking out of jail. Velvet claims finders-keepers, but will give the guy his blade back if he joins the party; he agrees, and the duo becomes a trio. There’s a great satisfaction in watching Velvet clear each hurdle and build a party that will facilitate her escape.

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Rather than fight wave after wave of exorcists with no distractions, Velvet has Seres open up all the cells, and the prison becomes a chaotic battleground between the escaped daemons and exorcists, allowing Velvet to reach the top of the tower.

There’s a definite tinge of “badness” to Velvet and her party that’s not present with the innocent goody-two-shoes nature of Alisha, Sorey, and Mikleo. These guys, particularly Velvet, have been through some shit, and they’re going to do whatever it takes to survive, even if it means a big collateral body count.

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TZX also breaks out its “dramatic vista unfolding” to show us how isolated the prison tower is, upon a rocky island surrounded by ocean. Velvet isn’t going to let a steep drop stop her, and she uses her daemon claw to slow her descent. Rather than a pancake, she survives the drop with a dislocated shoulder she nonchalanetly pops back into place, and which Seres (who teleports down) quickly heals.

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So…they’re out of the prison. But how to get off the island? As fortune would have it, a ship is approaching, and it would seem that Velvet’s nemesis is aboard, meaning a huge confrontation is imminent. And thanks to the game-like previews, we learn that we won’t be switching immediately back to Sorey’s story next week. I haven’t mentioned those previews yet, but I like them, because they allow the characters to take a breather and let their hair down a bit.

And despite Velvet looking for all the world like a tortured villain, the fact she’s seeking revenge for a guy who killed a kid to become stronger (and is now considered a savior) is all we need to know her heart is in the right place: seeking to avenge the innocent and week from those whose heads have grown too big to do the same. And as a quick look at her Wiki indicates, she’s the heroine of Berseria.

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 04

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Sorey wakes up, ReZero-style, in an ornate room, with Lailah and Mikleo by his bedside and a relieved Alisha not far behind. Wanting to provide more than a simple thank you for taking on the mantle of Shepherd, she provides him with some dope Shepherd threads. Now the hero looks the part.

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What continues to be an refreshing twist on the RPG party-gathering is that Alisha can’t see or hear two of the party members. But she does believe, and her faith is affirmed when Lailah sets it up so Sorey, blocking his senses and holding his breath, can serve as a conduit through which she and Mikleo can speak to Alisha, and she an hear them. I loved how her eyes sparkled at this revelation.

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From there, after a brief tour of Ladylake (where everyone has raised flags of the Shepherd in celebration of his rise) Alisha splits off from the other three, to meet with the council and refuse Lord Bartlow’s demand she “hand over” Sorey to them.

Surely she suspects the not-so-good lord had a part in the hiring of that assassin last week, even if there’s no proof. Meanwhile, Sorey, Lailah and Mikleo go down a Zelda-style staircase into a dungeon, towards the source of a large amount of nausea-inducing malevolence.

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There, they encounter a swarm of bats who have turned into hellions, which coalesce into one giant bat that serves as a miniboss. The enemy is frightening, but the battle goes relatively easily for Sorey thanks to backup from his fire-and-ice-aligned Seraphim comrades.

Lailah also shows him that now that they’ve contracted, she can turn into a ball of light and retreat into his body when not needed, and also tells him he’ll be contracting with more Seraphim before long. It’s crucial for him to travel the world in order to gain wisdom and strength to fight the big bad: the Balrogesque Lord of Calamity.

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After discovering a charnel house filled with malevolence-filled bones of defeated rebels, things get a little more hairy, as malevolence starts to seethe from beneath their feet, blowing bits of the dungeon floor into the air, creating action-RPG-style obstacles to avoid.

When they surface, a great dread storm has arrived in the city, complete with a massive swirling twister. Surely the Lord of Calamity hasn’t already arrived? Whether it is or not, it looks like a pretty bad situation.

Sorey will have to hold close to his comrades absent the wisdom and strength he has yet to amass, while Alisha must deal with both political and existential threats to her monarchy.

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Alderamin on the Sky – 04

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This episode of Alderamin provided great bang for the buck, not only giving us a highly satisfying mock battle where Ikuta can flex his keen military mind and Yatori can flash her considerable skills in combat (albeit on the wrong side), but it also inserts a fresh plot against the princess by skilled knights loyal to the late Gen. Rikan.

That once more places our core of protagonists between training and war, and neither Yatori nor Ikuta flinch when the time comes to flip the switch to “playing for keeps.”

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But first, Ikuta easily outwits an overconfident and intellectually outclassed opponent, just as we thought he would. It wouldn’t be any fun if his chess moves proved incorrect and a clearly semi-villainous character were to prevail, even temporarily, eh? In fact, had Sarihaslag not had Yatori on his side, he would have “died” much sooner than he did.

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Ikuta steers the mock battle exactly how he likes, exerting as little effort as possible and making his off-balance opponent fret and sweat (I like how he let Torway do the honors of taking out his bro). Like farming and digging wells, his strategies are borne out of laziness; the human desire to make life easier.

You’d think Suya would still be opposed to this kind of philosophy, but she looks as dazzled as the rest of Ikuta’s men, who surprise him by chanting his name. But he doesn’t think he did anything special. Just Ikuta being Ikuta.

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Because the mock battle was so entertaining and yet still fairly lighthearted, the episode wisely decided to follow Ikuta’s victory up with a serious situation, as Chamille, hearing false reports that Ikuta was injured, ends up surrounded by rogue knights who want to exact their vengeance upon her for what happened to their beloved leader.

Yatori is Johnny-on-the-spot, but these are seasoned warriors led by someone who looks just as badass as her, if not moreso. Indeed, he quickly demonstrates how tough he is by driving his bare hand through Yatori’s sword and pinning her to the ground.

That’s when Torway fires a shot at the rogue captain’s head, and things get crazy.

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The moment Yatori’s movement is freed by the shot, she kills the captain, then explodes into a furious killing frenzy, ending the entire group of renegades with the vicious grace of some kind of wild cat. It’s Alderamin’s best combat sequence to date, beautifully staged and animated for maximum breathless effect.

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When it’s all over, all the traitors are lying dead in pools of their own blood, which also covers both Yatori and Chamille, who is fine, but stunned by what she just witnessed. Yatori too can neither move nor let go of her swords, as if unable to switch off her berserk mode.

That’s where her “left hand”, Ikuta comes in, saying just the words and touching her in just the way that calms her down and brings her back into the world, as no one else can. This is clearly not the first time this has happened; Ikuta has been supporting Yatori since they were very young. If anyone wondered why she puts up with this twerp, here it is.

When Chamille sees Ikuta with Yatori, she seems in awe of the bond they share, not to mention jealous. And when Ikuta starts teasing her for drenched in blood (probably not the best idea considering she’s twelve), she starts to bawl like the kid she is and lets him have it.

Ikuta may be annoyingly good at a lot of things, but he has enough flaws and nuances to balance him out and bring out his humanity. And his chemistry with Yatori, and the dialogue, combat and direction in general are all marvelous. If it weren’t obvious already, Alderamin is a sure keeper for me.

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Tales of Zestiria the X – 03

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Three episodes in (four if you count the prologue) and we still only know three of the eight party members in the OP, so the show largely skips past Sorey and Mikleo’s journey to the point where they’re at Ladylake’s gates, meeting the fourth (future) member. She’s got rosy hair, so I’ll call her Rose for now.

Were it not for Rose, Sorey wouldn’t be able to enter the city. That being said, Mikleo doesn’t do well around so many humans, who excrete a miasma of malevalence due to the worries about a war between Hyland and neighboring Rolance.

Princess Alisha’s non-aggressive stance, refusing to launch a preemptive strike, is only intensified by her experience in Elysia, where she say her dream of mankind (well, one man) coexisting with the Seraphim. Also, the hellion is also in Ladylake, though apparently not to kill Alisha, only to observe.

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The rest of the episode takes place within the confines of a kind of great temple to the sacred blade, which is stuck in a rock smack dab in the center. No pun intended, the relatively close quarters prove a double-edged sword, compared to the more exciting hellion chase last week or earlier this week on Ladylake’s rooftops.

It’s good that things are so compressed in this one room, because it ups the tension. There’s also the sense that the assassin hired by frustrated warmonger Lord Bartlow is closing in and tightening the noose on Alisha.

Of course, there’s no mistaking Komatsu Mikako’s wonderful voice, so it was clear the moment the female assassin started talking that she was Rose, the girl Sorey met. The episode isn’t coy about this, also showing her piercing blue eyes a small glimpse of her rosy hair under the helmet.

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Sorey and Mikleo learn that the Lady of the Lake is a Seraphim who dwells right beside the sacred blade, though no one can see her but them. After Alisha delivers a speech that goes over with the crowd about as well as Ted Cruz’s at the RNC last week, the Malevalence coalesces into a giant hellion in dragon form, at about the same time Rose attacks Alisha.

Suddenly the vast interior of the temple feels like a suffocating braizer in which Alisha is fighting for her live against a very skilled opponent (who uses a very different style than a knight would) and a boss none of the people can fully see causing a right ol’ ruckus.

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Of course, we know what has to happen here: Sorey must take grasp the sacred blade, form a contract with the lady (named Lailah), and pull it out of the stone. Sorey becomes Lailah’s vessel, transforming him into a dazzling dandy of a hero to slay the dragon with the blade.

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The dragon is slain, and the assassin withdraws, but Sorey has been warned: being the Shepherd will be an exhausting, alienating, thankless, lonely job. I’m not so sure about that last bit, especially after seeing that ED featuring Sorey hanging out with Alisha, Rose, Mikleo, and the rest of the party he has yet to assemble.

So far, each episode has set out to progress Sorey’s story by a notch, and has so far succeeded. Alisha’s prologue set the stage. Then Sorey and Mikleo met Alisha. Then Alisha invited Sorey to Ladylake, where he met Lailah and became the Shepherd.

It’s a brisk, efficient pace that manages not to feel too hurried or contrived. The addition of Komatsu Mikako to an already strong voice cast is always welcome. And, as expected, ufotable’s visuals and music continue to be beyond reproach.

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Alderamin on the Sky – 03

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I’m really enjoying Alderamin’s milieu, which in the case of this week is comprised of simplified but still satisfying military procedural elements. It also gets right down to business, as Ikuta & Co. have made their chivalric beds (or rather Chamille made them for them) and now they have to sleep in them, so to speak, by undergoing the very high-level officer training Ikuta had sought to avoid.

That being said, Ikuta does not spend the whole episode skulking. Though he does yawn a lot, he also makes lemons with lemonade. When other students attempt to haze him with a centipede of all things, he shows them just how off-base they are in their line of attack by cutting off the venomous head and chowing down.

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Ikuta also shines in class, and if we’re honest, he could probably teach the class, as the answer he gives the instructor is not only far more detailed than expected, he even questions the lesson they’re supposed to be learning in favor of a different, more important lesson about snatching tactical victory from a strategic defeat.

Chamille and the rest of the class is impressed, while his old friend Yatori simply takes it as yet another familiar Ikuta moment, though there’s a quiet pride for her friend in her expression.

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That brings us to one of the episode’s less interesting elements: Torway’s asshole big brother, who has zero respect for Torway and makes it known. While he uses the excuse of “interrupting his nap” (from a hammock, where else?), Ikuta picks a fight with Sarihaslag that results in his getting stomped on; but he won’t admit defeat or show fear; indeed, he has the haughty bastard right where he wants him.

Enter Yatori, who arrives with Chamille, deems the incident a sparring session in progress, and continues the fight in Ikuta’s name, taking out three of Sarihaslag’s men with ease and forcing his retreat. It’s a showcase for Yatori’s skill in combat, her loyalty to her friends, and her general badassery. Taneda Risa is the perfect voice for her.

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She makes quite an impression on the bully too, for when a mock battle is announced, she’s on Torway’s brother’s team, while Ikuta, Torway, and Matthew are on the other. It either means they value her skills, or they wanted to handicap Ikuta while gaining her knowledge of his strategy and tactics.

Frankly, I doubt those dopes thought that much about it; but Yatori for one speaks with a respectful, almost affectionate glint in her eye when talking about Ikuta’s unpredictability in battle, still able to surprise her after all the time they’ve known each other.

As for Ikuta, the second-in-command of his battalion, Suya Metcalf, is the daughter of a married woman Ikuta slept with, which is actually a refreshingly mature, if unfortunate, situation to have pop up! True to their relationship, Yatori informs him he’s on his own in sorting this out.

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Cute as she is, Suya seems pre-manufactured to be someone Ikuta must prove his worth to, as she’s more concrned with his physical aptitude than her personal issue. Sure enough, once they mobilize and Ikuta doesn’t do things by the book, Suya pushes back, but always lets him have the final decision.

As such, Ikuta positions his camp and his men somewhere perfectly within the rules, and because his opposing commander wouldn’t know the first thing about blindfolded chess, he’s at the “recommended battle site” like some kind of jamoke.

Yatori’s scouts finally learn of Ikuta’s position, and their force has to hustle southwards to avoid being too tardy for the battle. Ikuta already has the upper hand, but he seems to be just getting started. Hopefully he puts that sniveling “sadistic hottie” Sarihaslag in his place.

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Alderamin on the Sky – 02

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Alderamin continues to move along with a wonderful briskness, but not so quickly that the events that transpire don’t hold weight. Last week’s predicament is handled fairly easily by Ikuta, but only because he makes it look easy.

In reality, he’s doing something really hard, especially for someone relatively young: he realizes what he can do and what he cannot; when to act and when to let his friends act. Igsem and Torway follow his lead and thanks to their assistance, the three guards are dealt with.

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Torway is shaken by his faltering during a crucial moment, but Igsem is there to support and praise him for his role in securing the princess. As for Chamille herself, the deaths of the three Kioka soldiers weighs heavily on her, to the point she bites her finger to release the “rotten” royal blood.

While Igsem comforted Torway, it’s Ikuta who comforts Chamille, assuring her her blood “tastes just fine” and to take care of the life he and his companions have worked so hard to preserve. His words make the princess blush, but she can also clearly see there is greatness in Ikuta.

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You can see both Chamille and Ikuta sharing a distaste for bloodshed; Chamille due to her imperial status; Ikuta do to his latent ability as well as the nature of the empire he lives in. As such, Ikuta treats the fallen Kioka soldiers’ remains with respect.

The next day, now possessed of a Kioka blimp, Ikuta formulates an ingenious strategem to get the princess safely across the border without firing a shot. Donning a Kioka uniform and armed with great acting ability and balls of steel, he marches right to the Kioka garrison and threatens the commander (his career, not his life) with the errant blimp.

There are a couple issues with this plan—the lieutenant in charge doesn’t ask for any identification, and lets Ikuta escort the others across. We also cut to a full month after they return to the empire, during which much has transpired that will shape their fates.

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But the events that unfold a month later justify the rapid jump in time. During that month, the famous General Rikan is sent to a battle Ikuta knows he’ll lose, since the empire no longer wants the undeveloped territory. But Rikan, the quintessentiall badass military man, is going to do his goddamn job, even if he knows the war is rigged. Honor, loyalty, “unscientific stupidity”; Ikuta can call it what he likes; he can’t stop Rikan.

Shortly after news of Rikan’s defeat, a demoralizing blow to the people of Katjvarna, the emperor gives Ikuta, Igsem, and the others an audience. Igsem had to knock Ikuta down when he was getting in Rikan’s face, but she warns him not to try pulling any of that shit in front of the emperor, and Ikuta seems to get it. I love their relationship!

Ikuta, of course, probably has an inkling of why they’ve been summoned, and his suspicions are confirmed when the emperor bestows upon them the title of imperial knights. That means they’re going to be trained as soldiers, whether that’s what he wanted or not.

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After the ceremony, in a coach with Igsem, Chamille (who is still just a kid, after all) can’t quite control her enthusiasm for making Ikuta into a hero, one of the three things he never wanted to be (the others being a noble and a soldier). She tells him too much about what she knows about his father (disgraced famous general) or his mother (former imperial concubine awarded to his dad).

Here we see just how much trouble Ikuta can get into when his emotions run rampant: he threatens to snap the princess’ neck; Igsem takes him down and warns him she’ll have to kill him if that happens. She doesn’t want do, but you can tell she sure as shit will. She’s a vital check on the wreckless abandon a troubled Ikuta can get into. He’s got the brilliance—and the ability—of Howl.

Later, when everyone’s cooled down a bit, Igsem leaves the festivities on what may be one of the best nights of her life, to sit with her good friend who declares he’s having one of his worst. Igsem doesn’t lecture him, she just listens and sits. Because like Chamille, she sees great things in Ikuta. No doubt he sees this in himself, and it probably scares the hell out of him. But he won’t be alone on this impending journey.

This episode demonstrated Alderamin’s ability to draw in very close to its surprisingly nuanced characters, and yet still draw back to reveal the huge world they inhabit, which is bound to explode into further combat as the show progresses, and in which heroes will rise.

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