Urusei Yatsura – 06 – Earth, Lightning, Fire and Ice

Ataru is a man of simple pleasures. When it’s sukiyaki night at the Moroboshi house, he’s super-pumped. Unfortunately he’s never able to partake in the feast, as Lum grabs him and leaps through an inter-dimensional portal she made in his closet that leads to the Oni homeworld.

Lum is in battle gear, and soon so is Ataru. The lines are drawn between the Oni and the “Lucky Gods”. Ataru feels like some kind of bloody, horrific war is going to start, but the “battle” takes the form of…tower basket ball toss, an even not out of place on school sports days.

This is kinda boring to Ataru, until he spots a major babe in Benten, one of Lum’s old friends (Ishigami Shizuka). Back home, Ataru’s parents wait as long as they can, then eat all the sukiyaki, before hearing their son’s voice and freaking out. Cherry arrives to help them speak to their son, now allegedly dearly departed to the hereafter.

In reality, they can just hear him through the portal as he flirts with Benten. While she’s understandably “who is this guy” at first, once she realizes he’s Lum’s husband she decides to have a little fun at her expense and plays along. This results in Lum and Benten, the two basket minders, ignoring the game completely to fight over Ataru.

Before Cherry summons Ataru’s voice again, he has Ataru’s folks make more sukiyaki, at which point his mom has lost her patience and holds the tiny priest at knifepoint. He does the same nonsensical chanting as his niece Sakura, tuning into Ataru just as he’s facing his “punishment” as the weakest link on the losing team: being pelted with pellets by both sides.

As is typical of Urusei Yatsura, the next morning is a bit of a reset, but Ataru is in bed with a cold. Somewhat surprisingly, Shinobu is by his side tending to him, and Lum is nowhere to be found. Soon Mendou, Ataru’s friends, and Cherry are crowding the room, just as it starts to grow very cold and snowy.

Lum went to Neptune to visit a friend through the portal, so a bit of the icy world seems to be “leaking” into his room, including an avalanche’s worth of snow that buries Ataru. He’s dug up not by Shinobu or his friends, but by a new character who resembles a yuki-onna. She goes back through the portal and then down a deep chasm.

Starting with Ataru (who is pushed), everyone follows suit, and lands upside-down on the snow-packed surface of Neptune. There, Ataru reunites with Lum (in a smart tiger-print two-piece combo more appropriate for the climate than her usual bikini), who reveals the yuki-onna is her old friend Oyuki (Hayami Saori, of course).

Neptune is a world full of nothing but women, which makes it a paradise for Mendou, who is all to happy to dig snow for them endlessly. Meanwhile, Oyuki invites Ataru, Lum, Shinobu and Cherry into her futuristic mansion. Ataru can’t help but flirt with Oyuki, incurring the rage of both Shinobu and Lum (as well as Lum’s lightning).

Ataru begs to go somewhere where he’ll be safe from their wrath, praising Oyuki for being a pure, gentle, and above all non-violent maiden. However he soon finds that Oyuki, who ditched her outdoor robes for a revealing ice-blue one-piece, was planning to seduce Ataru all along. Things are about to get racy when the wall crumbles before them and B-Bo, Oyuki’s yeti attendant, takes exception to Ataru’s presence.

B-Bo chases Ataru through the Neptunian wastes and back through the portal to Earth, where news choppers capture the ensuing rooftop spectacle. Once the King Kong style incident is over, Ataru finds himself in a full body cast, tended to by both Shinobu and Lum, who hoped he learned his lesson about chasing every girl with a pulse. Of course, he didn’t learn, and will never learn—otherwise he wouldn’t be Moroboshi Ataru!

The third and final segment is the shortest, and takes place after the credits. At the end of the semester, Ataru has an announcement for everyone: he’s retiring. His teacher thinks this means he’s dropping out due to his upsettingly terrible grades, but it’s Mendou who shatters the fourth wall by assuming Ataru was retiring … as the main character of Urusei Yatsura.

Everyone goes along with this, because everyone wants to be his replacement. It results in a callback to every character large and small we’ve met so far in the first six episodes, each making their case. Finally Ataru has to disappoint them all: he’s not retiring from being the MC, but from the school presidency.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Summertime Render – 24 – Everything Mattered

Ryuu and Shinpei are able to catch Ushio before she falls to her death, and she’s reverted to a child since her hair wasn’t quite enough to fully restore her. She’s well and truly out of gas and can no longer fight, but has one more ace up her sleeve.

If Ryuu and Shinpei can buy her two minutes, she’ll turn herself into a hacking shotgun shell that, once fired at Shide, will sever his connection to Hiruko and delete him. While stalling that long won’t be easy, it’s far from impossible, especially as Shide is the loquacious type and enjoys toying with his prey.

Ryuu and Shinpei do battle with Shide, who in addition to being very annoying with his monologues is also a tough customer due to three centuries of honing his shadow skills. Neither of the boys can match him for pure creativity, and Shin can tell they’re not going to make it if they don’t do something drastic.

That something is having Ryuu possess Shide’s armor, depicted as Ryuu literally wrestling with a mass of mud with eyeballs, resulting in Shide being frozen in place. The downside is that now that Ryuu is out of Shin’s body, Shin can feel all the pain Ryuu was suppressing. He nearly passes out, and then his body starts to disintegrate.

However, all this rash, all-or-nothing action pays off, as Ushio is able to finish the hacking shell. This leaves Shin having to get to the shotgun two meters away before Shide (who isolates Ryuu and tosses him away in a glob of mud) can charge and kill him.

He won’t make it, and Ushio can’t move the shotgun as she’s the shell inside, but Haine can, and moves the gun right into Shinpei’s hands. Ushio helps him hold it steady, they get the shot off, and Shide finally, finally bites the dust. His plans to both cause and witness the end of the world come to nothing.

This leaves Shinpei, Ushio, Ryuu, Haine, and lil’ baby Hiruko, whom Ushio attempts to delete. Instead her and everyone else’s data is transported to the real world of over 300 years ago, the very day that the original Haine finds the dead whale that is Hiruko on the beach.

Realizing that Hiruko sent them back to break the cycle, Shinpei scares Haine off before she reaches the whale, and then Ushio deletes it. Baby Hiruko vanishes, finally able to rest. Haine vanishes shortly thereafter, hoping that she and Ryuu can be friends again somewhere, someplace.

That just leaves Shinpei and Ushio on the beach, and what we know must be one more tearful goodbye. Ushio is a shadow, after all, and with Hiruko gone she’s not far behind.

Shinpei wants to disappear with her, but she throws a characteristic “dummy” his way; the time they got to spend together in the past few days made her—made them both—so happy, but she wants him to live on. Not to mention everyone is waiting for Shinpei back home in 2018. Ushio vows to use her remaining power to transport him back to his proper time, but that’s not all she aims to do.

It would seem she’s inherited at least some of Hiruko’s power, with which she plans to overcome the loops and re-draw the summer. So as Shinpei ends up on the boat to the island, his face landing in Hizuru’s chest, maybe it’s not goodbye, but more of a see you later situation. We’ll find out in the finale.

Summertime Render – 23 – Realm of the Dead

Haine has devolved into an eyeless, helpless child that Shide apparently has no further use for. But he does want her Observer’s Right Eye, which is now in Ushio’s head. He provokes Ushio and Shinpei into following him to through a tear in the cave wall into another dimension.

Ushio tells Shinpei if he goes in he’s not coming out, but with both Ryuunosuke possessing him and her by his side, he’ll be fine. But even if things go pear-shaped, he hastens to tell Ushio he loves her, he wants to be with her, and he will never leave her side again.

The remainder of the episode takes place in a thoroughly weird—and hauntingly beautiful—dream world: Haine/Hiruko’s true home. As a result of Ryuunosuke pushing his body too hard, Shinpei’s right leg is ruined, but Ryuu offers to control his body and taking on the pain.

This enables Shinpei to walk, which he needs to do to find Ushio, whom they know is both still alive and no more than 50 meters away due to the shotgun she printed still being whole. Shinpei and Ryuu come upon a ball—Haine’s handball. They follow it into a Hitogashima frozen in time from when Haine lived.

There they find Ushio, apparently in great pain and in contact with Haine. But this Haine is different: she’s just a kind little girl like the one Ryuunosuke’s sister befriended years ago. Assured there’s no threat, Ushio introduces Haine to Shinpei and Ryuunosuke.

Haine tells them they’re in the realm of the dead, Toyoko. While the power of the awakened Observer’s Eye can only be fully utilized in the real world, Shide has brought Ushio here to steal the eye from her. Once he has the eye, he will transcend to a still higher dimension…and destroy the world.

Right on cue, Shide uses Baby Hiruko to summon one of Haine’s memories of her island being firebombed by a squadron of B-29s in World War II. Ushio’s hair shield protects them while Haine prepares to use her innate power to suspend the memory, giving Ushio a shot at attacking Shide. Without Hiruko in his possession, his armor will disappear, and she can kill Shide’s inner body within.

As you can tell from the screenshots, this episode is a trip, packed with gloriously detailed, imaginative, gorgeous, and frightening imagery, and an even more heightened reality when it comes to action, with Ushio using falling bombs as steps up to the plane where Shide is.

But as cool as this sequence is, it still isn’t enough to stop Shide, because the body she attacks is a hollow one – nothing but an empty suit of mud armor being controlled remotely through Hiruko. Gaining this new piece of information may prove costly, as Ushio passes out and starts to fall.

If any of this is wrong, I apologize, but the plot mechanics and rules of Summertime Render become more and more baroque with each passing episode. But this is such an engrossing spectacle and I’ve come to love these kids so much, I don’t really mind the growing complexity.

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 07 – Sonny Girl

Naofumi’s arrival in another another world doesn’t turn out at all like I’d thought. Instead of being a fish out of water in Glass & Co’s backyard, he ends up in a prison with just Rishia. Both their levels have been reset to 1. Later, Raphtalia jumps out of a pile of hay, revealing that she’s reverted to her previous smaller self. The three may have been tanks in their isekai, but this place seems to follow an entirely different set of rules.

That said, the cell they’re in is unlocked and they still have their weapons (Raph’s sword is way too heavy for her), so they start exploring. They soon find a portal of light that takes them to an isolated island. The sea stretches to the horizon, where it glitches in and out. Instead they head into the jungle, where they slowly start to level up by defeating easy lesser monsters. There’s a refreshing feeling to this, like just starting out on a new JPRG.

When they find a body of fresh water and are attacked by a kappa that’s way too strong for any of them, it looks like they’re about to suffer an ignominious defeat and end up God-knows-where, but they’re saved, by none other than the “Hunting” Hero, Kazayama Kizuna. She’s voiced by Tomita Miyu, who along with Penkin makes this a welcome Abyss reunion.

Before Naofumi, Raph, and Rishia arrived, Kizuna was all alone in this place, which she calls the Infinite Labyrinth. She says she was trapped there by a hostile country, and has long since lost count of how many years it’s been. At one point she even considered suicide, but that was long enough ago that she can talk about it in a cheerful tone. For someone who’s been a alone so long, she’s remarkably well-adjusted and “normal”.

Naofumi proceeds to make an absolute mockery of the untold years she spent here, as the moment she shows them what she believes to be the edge of the Labyrinth, he comes up with a plan to bust them all out. He has her cultivate a Bio Plant Seed, which he then detonates right next to the portal none of them can move through.

The plant starts to grow, and with it the portal grows. I suppose this has the effect of thinning out whatever barrier kept them out of it, because once it reaches a certain size everyone is able to go through it. Naofumi, Raph, and Rishia call out to Kizuna to come with them, and she snags them with her fishing wire, hitching a ride through the infinite.

The four are spat out in a place Kizuna recognizes as the world where she was originally summoned, and as soon as she realizes she’s finally free of the Labyrinth, she leaps on Naofumi and spins around in giddy elation.

While the Labyrinth crisis was solved way too quickly and easily, I still enjoyed this trippy, slightly unnerving, yet fun bridge between the Tortoise arc and whatever’s to come. Similarly, while Kizuna was rapidly introduced and had to spout a lot of exposition (much of it rendered moot by their escape) Tomita made her effortlessly charming and rootable throughout.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 06 – Blessed Are the Weak

Just when this second season of Shield Hero was flagging and reminding me of another series that crashed and burned in its second season (cough-cough PROMISED NEVERLAND cough), it puts out one hell of an epic mid-cour finale. A lot is owed to the persistent mugging of Mid-Big Bad Kyou Ethnina, whom I thought was pretty generic at first—and kinda remains throughout—but there’s such a goshdarn charisma to him. Dude just loves being evil as shit and does not care.

Another welcome addition to an already packed stage? Queen Fitoria, AKA Tange Sakura in giant regal bird form, arriving in the nick of time to press the fight against the regenerated Spirit Tortoise. Through Filo, she tells Naofumi and the others to destroy the heart while she destroys the head. If they do it at the same time, the shield around the core will fall and it will be Bye-Bye Tortoise.

It’s a simple plan, but our boy Kyou isn’t about to let them pull it off without resistance. When Ost tries to open a way to the heart, Kyou stops them, and it’s a testament to his arrogance that he doesn’t bat an eyelash even when his fellow heroes from another world show up, having come up empty in finding the real heart, poised to team up with Naofumi’s party.

While L’Arc, Therese and Glass are deferent to their Vassal Weapons, Kyou treats his book like he stole it (which may be he did?). He doesn’t worry about being vastly outnumbered because he has the power of his book and the Tortoise and the other three heroes he captured at his disposal. With that power, he casts a supergravity spell that presses everyone to the ground. But as he gloats and stomps on Naofumi’s head, the seething magma within Rishia’s timid exterior finally erupts.

Rishia alone is able to rise to her feet and walk towards Kyou, mastering her ki manipulation just as her sensei knew she could. When her goofy bird costume gets burned away, she burst forth from the flames a dazzlingly cool avenging knight, taking the fight directly to Kyou embracing her weakness while exposing his, and then breaking the heroes free (though it must be noted they remain unconscious while Rishia does all this cool stuff).

Crucially, Rishia’s unexpected outburst buys the others time to move. Ost bestows the power of the Spirit Tortoise in Naofumi’s shield, allowing him to cast the all-powerful All Liberation Aura, freeing everyone from the gravity spell. Filo joins L’Arc & Co. to destroy the heart, while Naofumi prepares to use his Evil Shield, and the cost that comes with it. Ost repeats her wish for Naofumi to kill her…

A multi-cast spell, the destruction of the primary shield and the creation of an emergency backup shield later, and Naofumi can’t bring himself to summon any anger or hatred for Ost. But she played a little trick on him, already having embued and now fully awakening the Tortoise power within his shield. As the emergency shield and core are blasted away, Ost collapses, but the threat of the Tortoise is neutralized, and the lands are safe.

At this defeat, Kyou simply shrugs, as he’s kept “the bare minimum” of souls he collected within a vial that he uses to open a portal back to his home world. He tells Naofumi and Rishia “smell ya later” and hops. in. Ost, fading fast, tells Naofumi the Tortoise shield was only unlocked because he wasn’t swallowed up by rage or sorrow. He won’t have to use the evil shield anymore.

L’Arc, Therese, and Glass hop into the portal to chase after Kyou, but when Naofumi tries to follow, he’s stopped by “game rules” that say Cardinal Heroes can’t invade other worlds. However, Ost gives him one last boon by granting permission to go through the portal to help the others. Perhaps out of habit, Naofumi calls for Raphtalia and Filo to join him and tells Rishia to stay behind with Itsuki, but again she refuses.

She’s on the Shield Hero’s party now; they’re her comrades, and her rightful place is through the portal with them. Just like that, Naofumi has left one otherworld and is bound for another. It’s an unexpected but intriguing development here at the halfway point, and this episode just singlehandedly salvaged the season.

Magia Record – 17 – Back Into the Lions Den

In a usual cour, there’d be time and space for a cooling off episode, but with only eight episodes to work with, this lean, mean second season of Magia Record has no time to waste. And you know what? That’s just fine with me!

Not only did the entire first season feel more like an introduction and explanation of this world and its expansive cast, but it just makes sense to the flow of the story that once Iroha got caught up on what’s going on, she’d make a beeline for Nemu and not spend half the episode tidying up Mikazuki Villa with Yachiyo and Kuroe.

It also totally tracks that Iroha is almost fanatically eager to do her part in this story. Last week’s dreamy rescue mission got the ball rolling, but this week is where Iroha reasserting herself as the protagonist of this story really picks up momentum. Yachiyo is certainly weary of Iroha jumping right back into the dangerous realm of Magius, while Kuroe is a follow-not-lead sort.

So it’s really quite exhilarating to see Iroha take the initiative, get her friends aligned and on board; she’s both the glue bringing everyone back together and the lodestar guiding everyone to what’s good and right while Kuroe guides them through the fanciful book-filled caverns below Hotel Faint Hope. Unfortunately, in order to get those two through the portal, Yachiyo had to stay behind to keep the Amane sisters at bay.

Fortunately, it’s not long that due either to fate or coincidence—hell, why not both?!—Iroha encounters the ena, who is on her way out after deciding to defect from Magius. She has a very weak and vulnerable Kaede in tow, whose Doppel looks ready to pop out and kill everyone.

Again, alacrity demands that this reunion eschews the usual pleasantries; after all, all four girls are in a hurry with good reason: Nemu says she’s dying, while Kaede looks close to death, or a fate worse than it. But with the portal Iroha and Kuroe used closed, the four decide to team up for now.

What I’m glad there is time for is to check in with the Puella O.G. (including yours truly), who appear to have arrived in Kamihama City judging from the Alina Gray posters and Magius recruitment flyers. Besides it always being great to see these girls, it’s even more gratifying to know that there’s an actual reason for their inclusion here.

They’ve essentially crossed the dimensional barrier to find their beloved Mami, whom we know to be in way too deep with Magius. I like how their fish-out-of-water status is accentuated by the fact their colors are so much more muted than those of “native” magical girls like Iroha & Co. I can’t wait for if and when Madoka and Iroha meet and join forces.

But while on the way to the main exit (Rena and Kaede) and Nemu (Iroha and Kuroe), Iroha follows Little Kyuubey to another inconvenient truth about Magius: they’re farming witches. Knowing full well how fuzzy the line between magical girl and doppel, and goppel and witch, Iroha demonstrates why she’s the beating moral heart of the show, as she declares her distaste for this whole enterprise and questions what could possibly justify it.

Mind you, Iroha is not infallible in her role, and in fact her strong sense of what is right and what just seems wrong clashes with the real-world realities and wholesale suffering not only of less fortunate magical girls who lacked both the strength to defeat Kamihama witches and the support network to make up for their weaknesses. Iroha’s no Yachiyo (no one is) but she’s no slouch in terms of power or friends. Her moral certitude comes from a place of privilege.

But its that certitude and that privilege that make Iroha so well suited to leading the charge. When the girls are attacked by some kind of Uwasa sentry, Kuroe ends up cornered and her soul gem blackened, and almost takes the easy way out by using her doppel for perhaps the last time.

But Iroha won’t let her; instead, she clears Kuroe’s gem, and then the two Connect and their combined power obliterates the sentry. Magius is an organization that is hoping magical girls like Kuroe give up. Iroha’s selflessness and refusal to sacrifice anyone is anathema to them, because it’s explicit proof that their way isn’t the only way.

A new crisis emerges right on the heels of the defeated sentry, as Kaede has hit her limit. Her doppel emerges and goes berserk, and in another positively virtuoso battle sequences, Iroha, Kuroe, and Rena fight together to tame their gentle friend—turned chaotic monster.

As is usually the case with anime like this, stills just don’t due the battle animation the slightest bit of justice. Suffice it to say that in terms of artistry, grace, eclecticism and pure uninhibited style, there are few series out there that can match Magia Record. The benefits of putting 12-13 episodes worth of budget into 8 are on full display here.

Another estranged member of Team Mikazuki Villa, Momoko, arrives with Mitama shortly after the other thee girls manage to neutralize Doppel!Kaede. Mitama seals Kaede a big glass sphere, then wheels it into a gallery absolutely filled with similar spheres: an isolation ward for troubled doppels.

The other girls are not okay with this situation any more than what Magius is doing with witches. But Mitama is unmoved by their outrage, reminding them with almost Kyuubey-esque haughtiness that she warned them not to overuse their doppels.

She also reports that Kaede the other afflicted girls likely won’t wake up—let alone return to normal—until Magius’ “plan has succeeded”—an objective Iroha, Yachiyo, and now Rena and probably Momoko are committed to thwarting.

Again, Iroha serves a focusing and uniting role, corralling and calming the hotter heads and offering a possible Other Way. Even after all that has happened since returning to Faint Hope, her mission is the same: meet with Nemu, find out what’s going on, and find a way to save her.

Iroha has already demonstrated what can be accomplished by bringing the “family” together in a single, clear effort. Why can’t it be so with this? After all, unlike Touka, Nemu remembers Iroha, and the bond they shared. He’s hoping Big Sis gets to meet with her soon.

 

Cautious Hero – 11 – Seiya the Unready

This episode comes a long way from its comedic beginning, in which Rista leads Eruru and Mash on a shopping trip, she ends up sniping with a clothier about topless and bottomless swimsuits, then gets the idea to arrange an evening that will end with scoring with Seiya.

Things take a distinct turn when, upon returning to the palace at sundown, Seiya is nowhere to be found. No matter what reasons the three can come up with for his absence, and no longer how long they wait, Seiya…just doesn’t show up.

On the verge of panic, Rista visits Ishtar for guidance, where a tearful Ariadoa leads her, Eruru and Mash to a realm where time stands still. There, Ishtar informs them that Seiya has already headed to the Demon Lord to defeat him himself.

The reason Seiya has been so cold and distant to the three of them is that he actually cares for their well-being to the point he doesn’t want to put them in harm’s way. Since the Demon Lord now has a weapon that can destroy Rista’s soul, Seiya felt it best to keep her away from the battle.

Rista also wasn’t aware due to his Fake Out skill, but Seiya has been totally maxed out since the fight with the Dragons, and has been adding skills like Valkyrie’s Gate of Valhalla to make up for his stagnation (it wasn’t sex after all).

There’s more: Aria is in tears because in a different world 100 years ago, Seiya was the Hero she summoned, and he was far less cautious, adopting the catchphrase “Gonna be okay. Something will work out.” The healer of their party was Tiana, a princess from that world…who happens to have the same eyes, face, and voice as Ristarte.

Things wouldn’t work out for Seiya back then, as his party members were eaten one by one by the Demon Lord, whom he’d insufficiently researched. Tiana meets a particularly grisly doom, as it’s revealed she was with child when the Demon Lord ate her.

Finally, Rista learns that she was Tiana, before she was reborn as a goddess. Neither she nor Seiya retained memories of knowing or fighting each other, but fate brought them back together, and Seiya, knowing he was summoned before and failed, became far more cautious, and hence unwilling to let anyone else die this time around.

It’s a lot for Rista to take in, and Toyosaki Aki does as good a job as she can reacting to it all, but this was an awful lot of exposition, rather inelegantly presented in one big plot-bomb. Regardless, the shift from goofy comedy to serious drama was surprisingly effective, and all the information we learned really does enrich what had initially seemed to be more of a skin deep relationship between Rista and Seiya.

Their history, even if there was no overt memory of it, explains not only why Rista and Seiya are a pair again, but why she’s so devoted, attracted, and at times obsessed with him. One could almost call them soul mates. The issue is, she now knows the truth of their past and he doesn’t, and his overarching mission to defeat the Demon Lord and save Gaeabrande overrides all other considerations.

Of course, Rista isn’t going to let Seiya have his way. She insists on joining up with him, and damn the consequences. Ishtar opens a portal for her, and Eruru and Mash announce they’re coming with her out of solidarity—Seiya saved them, after all. Hopefully, things are gonna be okay, and something will work out.

GATE – 05

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This week, we learn that Princess Pina Co Lada’s Rose Knight Order was something she herself created in her youth out of a desire to be a knight and a hero to her people. She gathered other children of the court, mostly girls, and with the help of her knight and protector Grey, whipped them into shape. Seven years later, the order was officially established, but only as a ceremonial honor guard, to Pina’s consternation.

But with so much of the conventional military lost to the JSDF, Pina’s father finally deployed her unit. But her first battle, defending Italica from hordes of bandits (made up of former allied soldiers who fled the JSDF slaughter), doesn’t go so well, as most of the bravest and most skilled town conscripts are killed, leaving her handful of trained knights and a bunch of scared townsfolk. I’d want to stay in my dreams too, as she tries to do until doused with water by the maid.

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She awakes to learn that some people have arrived. She knows not whether they’re friend or foe, but once she gets a look at them, assumes any force with Rory Mercury on their side would have already taken the city, and let them in. Her first interaction with Lt. Itami is slamming the doors of the gate right in his face, but things improve a bit from there, as Pina can’t afford to turn down help in defending the city.

While Pina may not know it, she and Itami are of like mind: protecting the people is the primary concern, even if the JSDF recently killed thousands of her father’s soldiers. Itami defers to Pina’s command, and she places him and his men at the South gate to serve as decoys, where they proceed to simply stand around, waiting for the enemy to return.

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When the battle begins at 3 in the morning, the enemy attacks the East gate, not the South, and the gate falls almost immediately due to their superior numbers, tactics, and a “spirit wielder” on their side deflecting arrows. Pina looks upon the besieged walls as they breach and the bandits pour in with a stunned look on her face, trembling in fear.

It turns out Pina is a lot more green than I’d originally thought. In honorable one-on-one combat I’m sure she’d do quite well, but this is war, something she’s never experienced, and when her carefully-laid plans go awry, she stands frozen, like an honor guard, with the only force that can turn this around all the way on the other side of the city. I’d call for them if I were her.

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GATE – 04

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In this necessary and functional—if not particularly flashy or exciting—episode, many things come into focus as the various pieces are arranged on the board. It is clear now that Lt. Itami is a man who has always been in the right place at the right time: first Ginza, where his heroic actions gained him this new command, then his battle with the fire dragon, his decision to take on refugees.

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As his fellow lieutenant (a go-getter if I ever saw one) remarks, Itami’s circumstances make him a very valuable man who will likely have a lot more freedom to decide what is to be done about this Special Region. The Japanese government suddenly finds itself with a potential windfall of natural resources within its borders, which could be a game changer in geopolitical affairs.

Meanwhile, Itami’s unit is tasked with taking care of the refugees, which include the sorceress Lelei, the demigoddess Rory, and the grieving she-elf Tuka (or Blue, Red, and Yellow, if you like).

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Not surprisingly, the SDF’s technology awes the natives, and even the spartan military accommodations are treated as the height of luxury, and that’s a big part about what technological advancement is all about: making what was formerly luxurious available to all, everyday. I try to never forget that when I take a shower or switch on a light…or write an anime review on the information superhighway.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Gate, after getting a brief and somewhat unfortunate glimpse of America’s government salivating over the Special Region the Japanese found, we see that the Chinese are also interested (and yes, the Geely GE has an optional throne).

So interested, they want to ship half their population across the Gate. Of course, that would mean taking the Gate—and the territory around it—from Japan, which would mean war. Somehow the animators resisted giving the Chinese Premier a mustache so he could twirl it – and a fluffy white lap cat to pet as he discussed his plans. I must say, these quick peeks at the highest echelons of Japan’s rivals are the least interesting part of the show, so far.

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More interesting is the fact King Duran, who led his army to ruin but survived a couple limbs poorer, immediately knows what the Empire did and why, and won’t talk to the Emperor’s daughter Pina about what’s going on on Arnus Hill. Or that Tuka isn’t ready to accept her father is dead along with the rest of her village, and is worried that she and the others will have to repay the soldiers’ kindness with the only currency they have: their bodies.

Lelei tries to set her mind at ease about money, not just because the SDF lets them harvest valuable dragon scales from the battlefield, but because the “men in green” (and women too) aren’t going to charge them at all. Helping Tuka and the others is Itami’s best way to engender trust, win hearts and minds in the Special Region.

So he gives them a lift to Italica to peddle their wares. And Pina and her men are headed to the same place on their way to Arnus. When she encounters the SDF and their refugees, how will she play things?

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GATE – 03

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The appallingly one-sided battles have ceased for now, as Lt. Itami’s Recon Team 3 embarks on a mission of mercy. After rescuing the unconscious but alive she-elf, they return to Coda Village, which is evacuated for fear they’ll be the dragon’s next target. Among the evacuees are a sorcerer and his blue-haired apprentice, Lelei, who is rescued from a rearing horse by Itami’s troops, who are facilitating the evacuation.

Meanwhile, human vultures gather in the night to take advantage of the vulnerable villagers (unaware they’re being escorted), only to be slaughtered one by one with the scythe of one Rory Mercury, one of this land’s “twelve apostles” who is both feared and revered, and despite her sinister appearance, seems to be on the side of the weak and innocent.

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She’s also the closest thing to a cat-girl Itami has come across, and when they encounter her on the road, he can’t exactly refuse her a lift, though he does insist she not ride on his lap. Inevitably, the bloodthirsty dragon returns and starts laying waste to the convoy, and this is when we get to see Itami’s troops in action against a legitimately challenging foe.

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Itami’s trucks lead the dragon away from the villagers, and the she-elf (who lost her clothes to the medics) wakes up and gets the point across that the troops should aim for the dragon’s eye. They do, and the dragon is stopped in its tracks long enough to fire an RPG at it (after a belated shoulder check, of course). When the aim is off, Rory springs into action, making sure the dragon takes a direct hit. And with that, parties from both sides of the Gate worked together to drive off a mutual foe.

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Still, the damage was done, and many lives were lost to the dragon, but the troops arrange a burial detail and pay their respects before the surviving remnants of Coda Village depart for refuge. They can’t take everyone with them, however, leaving Itami and his team with around a dozen hangers-on, including Lelei and the sorcerer, Rory, and the she-elf. Itami decides they’ll continue to protect this contingent of natives, who may (nay, surely will) come in handy on their coming travels.

This episode showed the JSDF doing less mass killin’ and more un-glamorous but important humanitarian work, protecting and supporting those who would’ve ended up dead without them, and making exotic new friends. You win hearts and minds one heart and one mind at a time, and the compassionate Itami is cognizant of this.

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GATE – 02

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When the JSDF force sets up fortifications around the Gate, the Emperor calls for his tributary states to form an allied army to attack them (joining his Imperial Army), and we see just how effective a woefully-outnumbered force modern weaponry is against a massive army of 100,000+ with nothing but Middle AQges-era arms. None of the troops get anywhere near the JSDF, who wipe out most of the force with artillery and machine gun fire, using flares at night.

It’s a bloodbath, but it seems the Emperor was hoping for one, because it means all of the surrounding nations are now significantly weaker, solidifying his reign (though he too lost thousands of soldiers). The Japanese essentially did his dirty work, but he knows he’ll to deal with them again sooner or later, and so sends his daughter (and leader of her own military order), Pinya (Tomatsu Haruka), to infiltrate the enemy force and learn more about them.

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Frankly, other than the lopsided battles, the first half was a little slow, with an awful lot of time spent in audience chambers and military tents full of old men yelling about stuff. Things pick up in the second half as the POV shifts back to Itami, who is given command of Recon Team 3 and the same basic assignment the Emperor gave Pinya: gather information on the other side.

First, Itami has time to stand amidst the utter destruction wrought in repelling the armies, estimating they killed over 120,000 both there and in Ginza; a figure very similar to the number who lost their lives in the dropping of the first atomic bomb, and certainly the most life taken by the Japanese military since WWII.

Of course, with tens of thousands of armored troops and cavalry charging your comparatively puny garrison, the JSDF’s options were obviously limited. This wasn’t a force that was going to back down, as we see from the badass general launching a defiant arrow at the spray of bullets before getting blown up by a shell.

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It’s a somber moment, but it passes, and Itami shows how he runs a laid back command that borders on unprofessional/disrespectful when he and his buddy Kurata sing lyrics to his favorite magical girl anime. Itami’s is an approach that irks one of the sergeants under his command, the far more serious Kurebayashi (Uchida Maaya, an inspired casting choice considering how big an otaku she plays in Chu2Koi).

Surprisingly, the recon team actually makes a bit of progress, though the first contact with the villages they visit are only shown briefly and wordlessly. Suffice it to say, they’re starting to get a rough estimate of the geography of the region. Before they’re about to camp for the night, they encounter a forest being burned by dragon-fire; a forest they know to contain a village. Itami puts two and two together and assumes a massacre is in progress.

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By the time they arrive, there’s nothing but a charred wasteland to welcome them, along with a nearly dry well, at the bottom of which, to Itami and Kurebayashi’s shock, lies a beautiful young woman with pointy elf ears. Is this maiden a member of Pinya’s order, or merely a villager who escaped the carnage the only way she could? Either way, their imminent meeting will likely represent the first persistent Special Region-JSDF interaction.

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GATE – 01 (First Impressions)

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What is it: “Otaku First, JSDF Soldier Second” Itami Youji is on his way to a doujinshi event when a mysterious gate opens in the Ginza, and an army of warriors and beasts from the fantasy world pour out and start attacking civilians. Itami saves a woman from being killed and further participates in getting everyone to safety before the Police and JSDF eliminate the enemy army.

Itami is promoted to second lieutenant and hailed as a national hero, but is unprepared and undesirous of all the attention that takes time from his precious hobby. But when his unit is chosen to enter the gate to investigate the “special region” beyond, his priorities start to shift as he realizes he may be able to have his cake and eat it too.

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Why you should watch: This show is built around a solid, fascinating, and clever idea: What if your real and fantasy worlds literally collided? It’s also built around a similarly solid and intriguing character in Itami, who could be called the ultimate Japanese Everyman, with the most serious of jobs and the most serious of hobbies.

The promo art and OP spoiled the fact that he was a soldier, but I enjoyed how he not only kept his job and his hobby separate, but at least initially, considered the latter far more important. His genuine distress at not making the doujinshi event, and later interest in the loot his comrade scored since he did get to go, all add a welcome levity that sets us at ease.

That ease is welcome, because things could have gotten very dark, very quick with that surprise attack by an army from the other side of the gate. What also struck me was that, as a real-life solider, Itami and his comrades are far closer to the world of war games people play on their phones, just as Tokyo is closer to the cities in those games, since it has an Imperial Palace where the people can—and do—seek refuge.

Itami’s pal’s line while they’re on their way in—”Think there are any catgirls on this side?” followed by Itami’s assertion there damn well should be—is a lovely microcosm of a great premise.

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Why you may not want to watch: I know this show probably runs on a family-friendly time slot, but the peril of the sudden attack and its aftermath were somewhat undermined by the almost total lack of overt lack of blood or violence. If a force like that were to burst into the middle of a crowded Ginza crossing, it would be a goddamn bloodbath, not anything that could be honestly portrayed with a PG-equivalent rating. Considering the lighter tones of the episode, I guess such a spectacle had to be sanitized to avoid tonal dissonance.

Perhaps more disconcerting, and possibly not a problem for many if not most, is the same problem Franklin and I debated at length with Kantai Collection, only brought into the present: parts of this episode, particularly the bright, shiny glamour shots of military equipment and personnel on the march to the sound of stirring orchestral music, had the somewhat unseemly whiff of…er…nationalist propaganda. Itami himself felt, at times, like an avatar carefully-crafted by the creators to deliver the message “Join the JSDF: Otakus Welcome!” Not that they shouldn’t be (they should), or that there aren’t otakus in the JSDF (there most certainly are).

While frightening, pale, mute monsters stood in for Americans in KanColle, the fantasy horde stands in for any invading enemy force, be it of state or non-state actors, and the entire episode is a flattering commercial for the JSDF, showing them at their very best. Not that they don’t deserve to be portrayed in this light (I’m, generally, a Might-Makes-Right kinda gal, with veteran relations), it’s just that it was laid on pretty thick, and I’m watching an anime, not a JSDF recruitment video.

At the same time, there’s something to be said for an anime military not being portrayed as dependable, virtuous, and capable, rather than the usual evil, corrupt, and/or incompetent.

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The Verdict: As with KanColle, I’ll give the producers the benefit of the doubt and assume this isn’t meant as insidious nationalist propaganda, because at the end of the day there’s still a very neat premise in play. I’m looking forward to seeing where GATE takes us, and how Itami befriends the real-life elf, sorceress, and gothic lolita he once only saw in media, and briefly hallucinated after hitting a subway pillar.

This was a solid first episode with plenty of exciting action and well-placed humor, and is even able to summon some solemnity, pathos, and gravitas, as Itami is well on his way to no longer thinking of being a soldier only to support his otaku life, but to protect, defend, and avenge his countrymen.

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