Witch Craft Works – 04

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Takamiya Honoka’s innate magical power is so great that when he’s in Kagari’s proximity, she’s virtually invincible. This begs the question: why hadn’t Honoka ever been attacked while Kagari wasn’t around? They’re close, but they’re hardly inseparable. This episode answers that question, both for us and the Tanpopo-led Tower Witches who make another ill-fated attempt to attack Honoka: someone else is protecting him. Namely, his little sister Kasumi (a very sharp, indignant performance by Kayano Ai).

In hindsight, we should’ve known Kasumi would step out of the shadows and margins of the frame and have a bigger presence, but we didn’t think it would be this fast or this big. Frankly, we liked the idea of keeping her in stealth-stalker mode for a few more episodes, but the whole reason she was doing that turns out to be because Kagari was stepping on her toes by hanging out with Honoka on a weekend. Kasumi is a jealous, possessive imouto who is resolved to protect her brother, who while slightly taller is far weaker in the magical tactics department.

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Faced with the intolerable prospect of more of her precious time with her beloved brother being sapped away by the Princess, Kasumi takes action, subjecting Honoka to a tense bathroom interrogation, then (successfully) guilt-tripping him by mentioning she’s being picked on by the masses at school upset with his closeness to said Princess. But when Tanpopo’s crew distract Kagari, it’s up to Kasumi to save Honoka, arriving atop a gargantuan stuffed bear. Tanpopo counters with a giant rabbit, and a huge, silly fight ensues, resulting in much destruction of property, but ultimately not as fun as last week’s broom ride.

Yet again, the baddies look like hapless fools, with two exceptions: Chronoire, low on mana after her first encounter with the “King and Queen”, smartly uses Tanpopo’s crew as pawns to keep the pressure on, and later collects all 30-odd Tower witches in town for a powwow. All the while, Tanpopo’s crew’s boss, Medusa, has escaped from SuperMax confinement, meaning we could soon see an “if you want something done right, do it yourself” scenario. Still, after their impressive displays of power and collective devotion to Honoka, we don’t expect Kagari or Kasumi to shrink in the face of whatever evil threats are converging.

7_very_goodRating:7 (Very Good)

Witch Craft Works – 03

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About those “larger and more organized attacks” we talked about? They don’t quite arrive this week, as an early-morning strike by Tanpopo and her girls is twarted in the blink of an eye by Kagari; almost too easily. But the focus here is the start of Takamiya’s magic training, and here the episode excels at evoking the awe and wonder inherent in such an exercise. While short-statured and not immensely strong, while wearing the magical garb Kagari personally selected for him, he can leap tremendous heights and even carry her with ease.

But we knew Chronoire Schwarz VI was planning to attack, and this week she finally does, luring Kagari and Takamiya onto a magic bus and quickly paralyzing Kagari. She then puts Takamiya in his first real spot, telling him to swallow something that will extract his mana, or watch his beautiful knight bleed out. But ends up not having to do much, as Kagari is able to overcome her paralysis and destroy Chronoire’s avatar (it’s assumed the body we see isn’t her only one). But he still has the mana-extracting candy, a symbol of the insidious threat Chronoire still poses.

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The threat of enemy witches aside, Takamiya is also finding himself particularly hated by everyone in his school, and we mean everyone. There hasn’t been so much as a bawdy male classmate to put Takamiya in a half-nelson for no reason; he’s literally friendless, except for Kagari, which is kind of sad. In this regard, the remainder of the student body is really just one uninteresting character that worships Kagari and curses the one she favors. Though it isn’t as if Takamiya was Mr. Popular before Kagari started doting on him.

The piece-de-resistance this week was the broom-flying lesson, a very majestically-presented scene that surely dulled the effect of the peer-hate for Takamiya. It’s also an opportunity for him to show initiative independent of Kagari, when he summons his own broom to save one of those peers from delinquents—despite not knowing how to fly yet. It proves to be another Tower witch trap that Kagari must swoop in and handle, but we like how Takamiya isn’t going to allow Kagari’s fear of him getting hurt stop him from doing what he feels is the right thing.

7_very_goodRating:7 (Very Good)

Witch Craft Works – 02

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It’s only been two weeks, but we have a good feeling about Witch Craft Works if it keeps up this level of quality. This was a complete episode: we got lots of tasty plot, colorful characters, explosive action, and even a little romance, as Kagari and Takamiya end up on what amounts to be a first date. We’re also consistently impressed with how funny this show is; since he’s “normal” like us, and a newcomer to the magical world, he can comment objectively on all the weird witchy stuff going on around him, with comical results.

And a lot goes on around him: turns out Takamiya isn’t as “normal” as he always thought: he’s a very “popular” young lad, and in the wrong hands he could start a war; a magical nuke, if you will. We see many of those wrong hands, the Witches of the Tower, as they descend upon Takamiya with talons spread. They’re vain, greedy, selfish, cool-looking witches who thirst for power, unlike Kagari, who’s a member of the Crafting (or Workshop) Witches, who build cities and maintain the natural balance and peace. It’s a neat little (actually, huge) conflict going on right under noses of the muggle multitudes, of whom Takamiya knows he’s no longer a member.

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Takamiya, meanwhile, continues to not be threatened by Kagari’s power, or opposed to being protected out of misplaced masculine pride. At the same time, he doesn’t want her to keep getting unnecessarily hurt for his sake (he quickly realizes her sudden scarf was hiding a wound). He wants to help her, and so asks to be her apprentice. Maybe once he learns a little magic, the Tower witches may think twice about spur-the-moment attacks, like the one Ai attempted at the mall. What’s great is that all of the Tower witches we’ve seen in action so far exude a dangerous malice despite their inability to lay a scratch on Takamiya.

They don’t come off as bumbling incompetents; it’s more that Kagari is such a badass that she makes dealing with them look easy. In fact, at this point they only seem to be poking around, assessing the prey along with its guardian. Kagari says straight up that she wishes she could protect Takamiya without him knowing anything, but that time has passed and there’s no going back. While teaching him magic is prudent, the witches are likely to keep hunting him with ever larger, more organized attacks, no doubt led by heavies like Chronoire Schwarz VI. Takamiya may find himself in a perilous new world with numerous targets painted on his body, but he can’t say he’s not enjoying the ride!

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • Tanpopo mentions the Towers are only interested in Takamiya’s body; specifically, his…“white stuff.” Whatever that is, it’s apparently not the first thing one would think of.
  • Despite her always-serious face, Kagari does crack the occasional joke!
  • We love how sweet Ai acts when we first see her, then how coldly she tosses the child aside when she recognizes Takamiya. Bad witches hate kids; that’s science.
  • We techincally meet Takamiya’s little sister, who seems to be very interested in her brother’s goings-on. How do we know? Well, the episode smartly avoided any big “brother-complex” scenes, and instead kept her in the far corners of the frame or in the background, spying on his date with Kagari. Very subtly, cleverly done. I don’t think we ever saw her face.
  • The thing Kagari went shopping for? A smart warlock outfit for Takamiya. Awesome.
  • The ED, in which five witches are being tortured in various ways, strikes a fine balance between cute and macabre. The theme is quite catchy too.

Kamisama no Inai Nichiyoubi – 06

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There’s a solemn, melancholy beauty in the ceremony performed by Princess Ulla, revealed to be the Idol of Murder who takes life from the living so they can be admitted Ortus. The hundred-plus whose lives she takes do so of their own free will, having come for no other purpose. When they rise to join the death of the city, they’re elated and relieved. Even when we later learn that she was partially aware of what was going on, we can’t really call Ulla evil.

Since he first met her when she was a tiny, adorable little kid, Kiriko has treated Ulla as a precious artifact, isolated from the harshness of the world and even the truth about her power. But we can’t really even be mad at him for doing so. He loves her, and swore she’d never come to harm, and the truth hurts. Instead, he waited for the time when there would be no more living for Ulla to kill; even if that meant she’d grow old and frail in the process. Even if he deceived her and obstructed her free will, we can’t really call Kiriko evil.

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Too many anime deal with immensely-powerful, insidious, oppressive, greed-driven, categorically evil, boring systems with real-world parallels to politics and/or religion, leaving the audience no doubt who to root against. It takes great skill and care to contrive a similarly powerful system with the initial trappings of malignancy that refrains from doling out facile moral conclusions that go down easy. Sunday Without God does this. Neither pure evil nor easy answers exist in this world. For all its imposing battlements and foreboding towers, Ortus is a dazzling, wondrous place, surging with life despite the status of its citizens.

In the last episode we opined: “Why should Ortus change if their system is working out brilliantly for them?” In this episode, we get the answer: they shouldn’t. Death isn’t some curse or dark affliction: death comes to all. No one, not even Hampnie, can escape it, or ever will. But Ortus is proof that burial need not immediately follow death, at least for all. On a planet abandoned by God, a measure of mankind dwells in a heaven of their own making—imperfect, but serene.

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Rating: 9 (Superior)

 

Kamisama no Inai Nichiyoubi – 05

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Ai moved up fast this week, having met the retainer of the Princess of Ortus in the back of the van, then Pox, Rex, and the royal doctor Diva, and finally Princess Ulla Eulesse Heckmatika herself (that’s a mouthful, but she’s royalty, so we’ll allow it.) She finds all of them to be friendly, kind, and hospitable. So she wonders: why can’t the living, dead, and gravediggers live in harmony in Ortus? Why is death only way to become a citizen?

There’s no straight answer, but history, trust, and fear clearly all play a role. The dead had been oppressed and forced to wander the earth because the living feared they’d turn into monsters. That oppression rendered most of the dead unable to trust anyone who wasn’t. Finally, it’s precisely because Ortus is so large and grand and happy a place that the dead who live there fear losing everything they’ve built if they’re not constantly vigilant.

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As a practical issue, that fear seems misplaced: they’ve been able to handily deal with any gravediggers who came by, while gravediggers are too rare to muster a force large enough to overpower the city. Yet the fear remains. Moreover, the living who wish to remain so either stay away or limit their contact to trade, while the living who wish to be citizens of Ortus must give up their lives. In short, Ortus’ system is working out just fine…for them. Why should they change it?

This episode wasn’t quite as strong as the last five, juggling lots of plot less elegantly as previous outings (plus Dr. Diva was kind of annoying). Still, there was lots to like: the lion-mask guy’s warning preceding a large group of cloaked people approaching Ortus, only to learn they were peaceful migrants, not raiders? Nice misdirection. Also, the show’s unrelenting truth onslaught on Ai continues, showing her new friend Princess Ulla participating in the “acceptance” (read: killing) ceremony.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Valvrave the Liberator – 18

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L-elf receives intel from the Royalists about an old-fashioned multi-stage rocket in a museum in the old capital of Dorssiana, and a list of JIORans who were deported to that town, including Haruto’s dad Soichi. When L-elf figures out Lieselotte is the member of the royal family helping him, he runs off. Haruto’s dad turns out to be the head scientist in charge of the VVV Project, and engineered Haruto and the others to create a new, superior lifeform. Disgusted, Haruto promises his dad he’ll destroy the Valvraves. L-elf infiltrates the castle where Lieselotte is being held captive, and offers to take her away.

Back when he and Lieselotte were last together, L-elf didn’t have a plan, but now he does. He has a friendly country in New JIOR she can escape to, and powerful weapons to protect her in Haruto and the Valvraves. If indeed everything L-elf has done since participating in the invasion of JIOR and defecting from Dorssia has been so he could one day rescue his princess, well, we must applaud his long game and diligent planning. So…what will be her excuse for not coming with him this time? The wrath of Cain, perhaps…

Anyway, everyone’s got something to do this week, with Saki still possessing a boy and chillin’ with A-drei, Otamaya and his team preparing to commandeer an old rocket in a museum for transportation (?!?), and L-elf off doin’ his thang, Haruto finally gets to meet his dad, something he was very excited about until, oh, about a minute after reuniting with him. His dad turns out to be a deluded, comically awful human being. But hey, you didn’t think this show was going to cut Haruto any slack, did you?

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Love Lab – 01

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The popular school tomboy Kurahashi Riko has become bored with school life, until she walks in on the also-popular student council president Maki Natsuo making out with a dutch wife. Riko gets caught up in Natsuo’s skits and schemes dealing with training for a romantic relationship. The training includes the toast-in-mouth bump and the handkerchief drop, but while Natsuo is supremely capable girl, she often goes too far with the training, to Riko’s chagrin. Still, she agrees to keep advising her and they become buddies.

Having seen so very many of these school comedies in which a handful of students start a club about nothing and banter for most of the episodes, something like Love Lab has to offer something different in order for us to stick with it for this very busy Summer season. And we’re not going to lie; this wasn’t awful, and we found ourselves laughing at the comedy and ridiculous action on numerous occasions, even if it somewhat heavily relies on swift escalation, randomness and sheer absurdity. But that kinda stuff is often up our alley, so we didn’t really mind.

Like Kill Me Baby!, we’re dealing with a classic double act: Maki Natsuo is the erratic, eccentric comic, while Riko is the straight man, who often comments on the strangeness and inappropriateness of the former’s behavior. This series differs in three key places: the comedy is less random and simplistic, focusing on the subject of love; both characters are actually immensely popular at their school for different reasons (Maki’s a princess, Riko’s a badass); and the animation is really top-notch (rare for these kinds of series), which when combined with the crackling dialogue and quick pacing, compels us to keep watching, at least for now; we’re suckers for pretty series.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Tamako Market – 11

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Word spreads around the district that Tamako is a “princess”, but she’s more excited about winning a medal for filling 100 order cards throughout the years. Her dad is sour about the entire idea, and Mochizou isn’t altogether ecstatic either, especially, when Tamako gets to chat briefly with the prince via Dera. After Mochizou tells her if she’s happy, he’s happy, and Anko sleeps with her, Tamako wakes up to find the medal gone. In the street, it is handed to her by none other than the prince.

As one of the shopkeepers says to her dejected dad, Tamako is very good around the house and with the mochi shop. But that doesn’t mean that everything’s going to stay the same forever. Even if she herself doesn’t want to leave yet, one day she may. No one, not even Choi, knows exactly what the future holds. We certainly don’t, after an episode that’s all about how everyone reacts to the biggest change yet: Tamako moving away to marry some weird prince. And to be fair, no one – not her dad, Anko, Midori, Kanna, Shiori, or Mochizou, saw that coming.

Of course, a lot of smaller changes have already taken place in the course of the series: When Dera arrived, that was certainly change; but it didn’t really shake anything up, because he was the one sticking around, in a new life. For everyone else, it was the same old life. In fact, now that he’s a fixture of the household. But Tamako leaving? That’s a change that scares everyone close to her, and her most of all, especially because she doesn’t know exactly how she feels or should feel about this, and no one has satisfactory answers, because it’s her life.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Sasami-san@Ganbaranai – 06

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Sasami starts seeing her deceased mother in random places. One day while shopping she shows up and they spend the day together like an ordinary mother and daughter. But she has an ulterior motive: she’s made a pact with the god of the underworld and come back to make sure Sasami returns to her training to become a Tsukuyomi princess. The Yagami sisters are powerless against her; Kagami is stabbed and Tsurugi is pushed down the slope of Yomi. Before she can harm Tana, Sasami surrenders, and she and her mom are transported to another place, presumably to resume her training.

This episode was something. It had us thinking the myriad gods created Sasami’s mother as she remembered her to fulfill her wish to hang out with her more like ordinary people, not as Tsukuyomi princesses or nursing her when she was bedridden. And eventually the Yagami sisters would show up and tell her she’s just another wish fulfilled that must be put aside to move forward. Needless to say, we were dead wrong. The formula (such as it is) of previous episodes was roundly subverted this week. The priestess fish-out-of-water story is over, and we’re now in full Serious Mode, where everyone’s lives are at stake.

Put simply: the Moon believes it’s time for the Sun to step aside and let it rule the universe. To that end, Sasami’s mom has been sent to set her back on the path she strayed from. And Sasami’s protectors, virtually invincible up until this point, are dispatched with terrifying speed and ease by the mom, who was no slouch even when she was a human, and possesses a divine, god-slaying sword. (Both Tsurugi and the mom have some awesome dialogue throughout their dealings with each other). Anyone wondering if Sasami was going to one day face the consequences of walking away from her birthright…needn’t wonder any longer.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Jormungand – 13

Click here to browse our reviews of the first season (12 episodes) of Jormungand.

Dr. Miami finds Karen Low on the street in Port Elizabeth and hires her as a secretary. She meets up with Koko on a ship in the Solomans to watch the launch of the last of the 126 rockets sending up satellites for a navigation support system that will give HCLI a decisive business advantage. Meanwhile, R meets with Bookman, who wants Koko kept on a leash, while Hex – who sent the three assassins to Koko – wants her dead…but not before she hurts her.

The last time we hung out with Koko & Friends, Valmet was gettin’ her catharsis on, Koko was getting rid of assassins, and R was revealing himself as a CIA mole. This week picks up pretty much where we left off, but also shows us what was going on in the first episode with the rockets. It’s a huge project that will no doubt make Koko more money (whether or not that’s what she wants), but is also netting her plenty of unwanted attention from concerned (she’d say nosy) parties all over the world.

Like R for the two years he’s worked for her, we’ve still only seen the Princess, the girl with the mask so perfect and complete, ascertaining her thoughts and true self are all but impossible. R believes that mask isn’t indestructable, and even saw her lose composure for a brief moment. Hex, a new face this season, is planning on shattering that mask, and the episode is not subtle about her potential first target: Koko’s teddy bear Jonah. We’ll see if the Real Koko (if there even is one) comes out this season as a result of external forces.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Car Cameos: Many cars seen in previous episodes are also seen here, including a Citroën C4 3-door, Mercedes C-Class, and Volkswagen Touareg 2. Hex drives up in a yellow Bentley Continental GT convertible.

Last Exile: Ginyoku no Fam – 01

Young, fiery, and talented vanship pilot Fam and her copilot Giselle are members of a band of sky pirates who race to the aid of the two princesses of Turan, Lillia and Millia, who have been ambushed by the treacherous Ades Federation led by Premier Luscinia. In exchange for their rescue from the battlefield, Fam demands the Turan flagship, the Lasas, in return. Her colleague Dio Eraclea boards and feints a scuttling in order to escape the battle, but as Turan’s capital is vulnerable to Ades attack, the ship will have to be quickly mended.

It’s been eight years and a month since Last Exile concluded, and even as the Fall 2011 Season started, we had to wait a little longer. The first series wasn’t perfect, but it was (and still is) one of the best-looking we’ve ever seen, had a lot of ingredients that really got out juices flowing, and indeed stoked our passion for anime that strives to transcend its medium. If ever a universe deserved a sequel, it was Last Exile…and here we are. Studio GONZO returns in force, Koichi Chigira is back to direct, as is our favorite character designer, Range Murata, and Hitomi Kuroishi, who composes a haunting and exciting score. The voice cast is excellent, with Aki Toyosaki (Railgin’s Uiharu, Hanasaku Iroha’s Nako) providing the voice of Fam, who kicks ass every which way, and her more tranquil partner Giselle is voiced by Aoi Yuki (Shiki’s Sunako, Puella’s Madoka). The princesses are Ai Kayano (AnoHana’s Menma, Memo-cho’s Ayaka) and one of our favorites, Miyuki Sawashiro.

This opening episode quickly re-establishes the crazy steampunk world of floating armadas, sky pirates, and gorgeous cities. It’s attention to detail is impeccable. Last Exile’s CGI was ahead of its time, but Fam manages (unsurprisingly) to surpass it, fully utilizing the widescreen HD environment and all the other new tech. From the quiet nighttime opening to the fantastic aerial battle on a clear blue day, this episode has all the scale and epic-ness of a full-length, big budget film combining all the best elements of Miyazaki and Final Fantasy. With everything that went on, there wasn’t a whole lot of time to get into the myriad characters, who occupy three distinct factions so far (warlike Ades, peaceful Turan, and opportunistic pirates), but we like the Fam/Giselle duo so far, and their blue-collar tomboy lives should clash nicely with the pair of princesses. We’ve looked forward to this series for a long time, and all it took was the opening episode to propel it to the best of the season so far.


Rating: 4

Kamisama Dolls 11

Mahiru learns from Aki that Kyohei has a girlfriend. Furious, she kidnaps Hibino and ties her up in a hotel room, then visits Kyohei to learn the truth of things. She crushes cookies Utao baked specially for Kirio, leading to a brief fight, and Mahiru teleports away again. Utao, Kyohei and Moyako take Kukuri and pursue her. Meanwhile, Shiba threatens to rape Hibino.

With a title like “Hibino Kidnapped”, it’s pretty obvious what was to in the 24 minutes that followed, but I was expecting…more. I mean, look up a the first paragraph; not a lot happened. Worse still, Mahiru is not the most interesting character to watch for the majority of an episode; she’s only good in short spurts. Here, she yells far too much, repeating a lot of what has already been established. Most notably, she’s in love with her hero, Kyohei. We knew this last week. She’s also threatened by Hibino. We assumed that.

Her idea to unite the Kuga and Hyuga clans by marrying Kyohei and wiping out the old ways makes sense in theory, but isn’t without its problems. For one, Kyohei isn’t a seki anymore, and he has no intention of returning to the village, which is what Mahiru asks him to do here. But all of this could have been done much faster; I feel the momentum has been hurt by spending too much time on the psycho Mahiru, who lost most if not all of the goodwill gained from her first episode. Most frustrating, there are no further developments on precisely what the Diet member has planned, and how Mahiru and Aki fit into that plan. In all, this episode was a regression.


Rating: 3

Kamisama Dolls 10

Mahiru of the Hyuga clan arrives in Tokyo unbeknownst to Koushiro or anyone else, and immediately makes her presence felt. Kuuko has put Aki before the diet member representing Kurakami village, who believes it’s time for the village to change with the times, which means eliminating the elders. He’s called Mahiru for the same purpose, though she insists she only came to see Kyohei, whom she loves and idolizes ever since a terrifying incident covered in a flashback.

So…yeah, introducing a character as volatile as Mahiru this late in the series was a bold move. She didn’t make the best first impression on me, but I had to remember, she’s essentially a princess, and she is a pretty powerful seki – some swagger comes with that. She’s also loud, highly irrational, prone to mood swings, and even a little sadist (she zaps Kuuko with her own stun gun just for the heck of it). In a word: unhinged. Seiyu Kana Hanazawa’s performance is feistier than I’ve heard her in a while – kind of a Kuroneko taken up a couple notches – I like it. Mahiru grew on me as the episode progressed and I learned more about her.

In a character- and action-packed flashback, Kyohei puts his life on the line numerous times to save Mahiru’s – and Aki’s – lives, when the three stumble upon a sekiless monster kakashi. It was an incredibly traumatic experience for all involved, but Kyohei saved the day, though he says it was the day he “lost his sanity.” Whatever happened, Mahiru still adores him for it, and despises Aki for being as helpless as she was, and a pain-in-the-ass to boot (he was ‘good’ back then, but the warning signs were there). Along with Hirashiro – the Diet guy – and his plans to uproot the old way in the village, there’s now a whole new layer to the series’ story. More to the point, do we care if those dusty elders get offed? Do I smell a second season…?


Rating: 4