Netsuzou TRap – 03

Another five minutes of Hotaru fooling with Yume using “practice” as an excuse. Even Yume is starting to have her doubts, and while Takeda is totally unaware, Fujiwara has now caught the two kissing on the slopes.

Rather than elucidate Takeda on the situation, he decides to take Hotaru to his room for the night, leaving Yume little choice but to invite Takeda into hers, or leave him out in the cold. Not exactly forcing a choice, but certainly limiting them.

For the record, Fujiwara and Hotaru are (separately) in agreement that Yume has the power to stop this…but she has to want to. At least she knows Hotaru has the tendency to throw her off balance.

But at some point she’ll have to decide which way to tip the scales: first boyfriend, or best friend who seems to want more…or maybe she’ll continue to be in this state of limbo for the whole run of the show! Either way, if it’s all the same to ya’ll I think I’ll be stepping back from this.

Netsuzou TRap – 02

In its latest five minutes, NTR tries to get a little more granular with the relationship between Yuma and Hotaru. They go back years, and Yuma always played the protective role of shining knight when the Hotaru was teased.

Fast-forward to the present, and Yuma is still Hotaru’s only female friend. Yuma is still a little resentful that Hotaru found a boyfriend before her, but now that Yuma has one, Hotaru is being almost clingy with her teasing, and the kissing was a big deal for Yuma.

Yuma’s boyfriend Takeda is a pretty nice guy, proposing bold sleepover but changing it to a double date out of consideration for how close Yuma and Hotaru clearly are. But Hotaru was pretty blatantly manipulative with both Yuma and Takeda.

At the amusement park, we learn possibly why that is, and why Hotaru just might prefer Yuma: her boyfriend Fujiwara, has a bit of a temper, slamming his foot on the bench she’s sitting on when she refuses his advances. He’s also already suspicious about her and Yuma, while Takeda is blissfully unaware.

It would seem then, that Hotaru yearns to maintain the knight-and-damsel dynamic Yuma and her have always had. Hotaru just doesn’t seem that interested in Fujiwara. She seems to prefer Yuma, and wants her, whether Yuma has a decent boyfriend or not.

Alderamin on the Sky – 13 (Fin)

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Ikta is able to complete his mission of covering for the main Imperial forces’ retreat while besting his Kiokan rival Jean Arquinex in a match of wits, drawing deep to create a multi-layered plan to outwit the young major. Because the safety of his men is more important to outright victory, everyone is behind Ikta.

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Major Jean notices the obvious fire trap in plain sight, but fails to see the larger trap hiding beneath it; Ikta’s men springing out of the straw, blinding and slaughtering their horses. Most importantly, Jean wrongly assumed his opponent would try to fight him for control of the battlefield, but Ikta’s strategy eliminated all control for everyone, creating chaos.

How Jean handles this chaos betrays his lack of experience, despite his military brilliance. He is so obsessed with control, losing it knocks him off balance. In the negotiations that ensue, he also wrongly assumes the Igsem soldier is in charge, and also wrongly assumes that he’s safe.

Ikta’s resulting bluff, placing a light target on Jean’s chest for a Torway sniper who isn’t really out there, and his explanation for why he’s not in violation of military law, works really well. Ikta is at his scrappiest, and while he does sweat, he never lets Jean see it (what with the glare from all the bright lights).

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Jean knows he was bested, this time, and wants to know more about the man who did it, and what he’s fighting for. He’s outraged when Ikta tells him he cares not for protecting his country, only its people, and gets even more steamed when Ikta warns Jean if he keeps up his blind loyalty to country, that country will suck him dry and toss him aside. Definitely seems like setup for a rematch in a future season, if we get one.

Whatever may be ahead for Alderamin, I’m glad the Northern Campaign is wrapped up here, and I especially like how glad Princess Chamille is to see her knights, and Ikta in particular, return safe and sound, even compromising propriety to give him a big ol’ hug.

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We also learn in this final week why it is Chamille wanted, nay needed Ikta to return so badly, which has been hinted throughout the series by her narration. Chamille has bigger plans for Ikta, and needs him to utlitze his considerable talents and the support of his comrades and friends to keep rising up in the Imperial ranks…so he can lose the war with Kioka.

Chamille is young, but not stupid, or ignorant: her empire is rotting from the inside out, and it must be purified. The mission she gives Ikta, which could consume many of the best years of his life, is to become the leader Imperial military, then lose the war “the right way”, allowing the outside influence of Kioka clean out the Empire without losing its unique culture.

“Fight until we lose!” is a novel slogan and a nice subversion of the usual notion of fighting for victory. Here, it’s almost as if we’re on the side of the bad guys, who know they’re bad and want to change for the better. If anyone enact that change, it’s Ikta, but it won’t be easy.

He worries not only about coming into conflict with Yatori, but dragging her into such a conflict in the first place; any conflict where the Empire loses. This season appropriately ends with Ikta and Yatori leaning on one another in the moonlight, and Ikta affirming their devotion to one another first and foremost.

I haven’t heard anything about a second season yet, but if it were to continue I would absolutely watch it. After all, the epic chronicle of the Invincible Lazy General, the Heir to the Twin Blades, and the Last Princess seems to be just getting started. It would be a shame if the tale ended here.

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Qualidea Code – 12 (Fin)

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Qualidea Code wasn’t always (or really ever) the prettiest, but it was the best-sounding (musically at least), and also never seemed to stand still. It improved right up until the end, at least as far as resolving a major issue early on: a mysterious, faceless, malevolent enemy.

By this final episode, the enemy is no longer faceless, or malevolent (though some mysteries about what they are or where they come from remains unknown to the end, thankfully). In fact, it seems strange to call Airi and Asanagi enemies at all; merely a party with a different agenda.

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Placing them in a grayer area, and resolving their story in a more nuanced way than “kill bad guys” went a long way towards helping me mostly overlook the fact that the show seemed to have run out of budget this week, as huge swaths of animation are simply missing.

I didn’t even mind Aoi’s sudden but inevitable (and heavily telegraphed) “betrayal.” But just like Asanagi, who turns out to be her father, her decision to side with him and Airi is borne out of love, not hate, so it’s hard to condemn what she does.

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That doesn’t mean I don’t want Ichiya and the others to succeeding in ridding the world of the Unknown, and watching them fight desperately, initially without their worlds, made for a thrilling final battle, despite the animation shortcomings. Asuha headbutting Aoi, and Hotaru holding her sword in her mouth were among the highlights.

In the end, everyone gets a boost in power thanks to the return of Canaria’s song, which gets a slightly different (but still very danceable) arrangement for the finale, in which Airi is killed by Hime, who remembers learning which conditions would allow Airi to die contented.

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In the end, Airi does not mind leaving her mortal coil, for she achieved what she wanted: she and Asanagi were able to make another, entirely new life: Aoi. Asanagi does not die, but stays with his daughter.

The Kasumis visit their injured mom, who is ecstatic they’re safe and sound. The dimensional tear is sealed, the skies return to blue, and the heads and subheads of Kanto all vow, in their own way, to rebuild what was toppled.

While we don’t get to hear Ichiya’s answer to Canaria’s question “how do I look to you now?”, we didn’t need any words from him to know how he feels: She’s all he needs.

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Qualidea Code – 11

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Kasumi and Asuha’s mom isn’t shy about her goal: to wipe out each and every Unknown she can. In addition to being angry they kept her children captive and used them as tools for so long, she also believes there’s no reasoning with a creature so alien.

And yet, as we learn later this week as the Unknown wind down their operations on Earth, Johannes isn’t quite right about the second thing. Not only is an Unknown able to feel how a human feels, she’s also able to love, in her way. And she in turn is loved back by a human.

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Aoi, who continues to be a tense wild card just waiting to go off and undermine the plans to eradicate the Unknown, seems to understand this. It’s not just that she lacks perspective due to an emotional attachment to Yunami and Asanagi…it’s that they’re worth being worried about. She can sense that the two are different from Johannes’ black-and-white, no-quarter viewpoint.

Unfortunately, a great deal of the Unknown still seem committed to attacking humans, and Johannes isn’t in the mood to carefully pick her targets. She launches a huge attack with her big cannon, but when it proves insufficient and she’s taken out of action with an injury, it provides an opportunity for the kids to keep doing what they do best: fight for themselves.

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Of course, for our six peeps, fighting for themselves means fighting for those they love: Rindo and Hime, Asuha and Kasumi…and Canaria and Ichiya. Whatever other issues are at hand, they don’t want to lose each other, so they have to fight and they have to win. That means infiltrating enemy HQ and closing the dimensional gate that allowed the Unknown in to begin with.

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Aoi remains the third, or rather seventh wheel, following everyone but constantly looking conflicted, and with, as I mentioned, good reason. The ones she wants to protect are the adults who cared for them so kindly all those years, making them more parents than her actual parents (which are probably gone).

As Rindo and Hime encounter what seems to be Yunami’s true form, and the others meet Asanagi, who was human all along, it will be interesting to see how the final showdown will turn out. Will there be a need for fighting? Will the Unknown, led by Yunami, peacefully return to where they came from? Are there more twists in store that will test everyone’s priorities? The endgame approaches.

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KonoSuba – 09

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KonoSuba has made it a point to never play any fantasy/adventure convention straight, but that doesn’t mean it always results in ridiculous farce. Sometimes, when it turns a quality or trope of its genre on its head, it ends up more like real life than fantasy, which actually makes the world of KonoSuba more relatable than some of the shows it lampoons.

Take the boy-girl dynamic in KonoSuba. It’s a party of one guy and three girls, but the show has always successfully resisted the urge to pit them against each other with Kazuma as the prize only one of them can claim.

This isn’t a group of love rivals, it’s a group of comrades and friends, where gender isn’t an issue so much as the strange brew of personalities, be it Aqua’s haughtiness, Megumin’s megalomania, Darkness’ eccentricity, and…all of Kazuma’s myriad issues.

Often in fantasy adventure shows, party members of the opposite sex will start off not liking each other, and end up in sexily compromising positions that nonetheless end up bringing them together in some way. Naturally, KonoSuba aims to take that convention and put its own personal twist on it, and again succeeds.

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Of course, before we get to that inversion, we’re faced with another one: Kazuma follows his horny male friends into a den of succubi, where men sign contracts to be given dreams that provide “necessary release.” In exchange, the succubi get to take a small amount of the client’s vitality, though not enough to interfere with their day-to-day function.

In another show, this would be a clear racket and/or trap our horny protagonist gets tangled up in due to his inability to control his raging hormones; a predicament his female comrades would rescue him from, even as they hold their noses at the protag’s perversity.

But…this isn’t a racket, or a trap. As usual with this show, Kazuma is in no physical danger whatsoever. The succubi are simply running a business, performing mutually beneficial transactions with consenting customers. Nor is Kazuma patronizing a den of inequity where women are objectified or exploited – they’re succubi. Seducing men is what they do.

That being said, they still resemble women—shapely, sensual women—wearing next to nothing. As such, after purchasing a dream from them, Kazuma can’t help but start looking at his female comrades in a different light after all that, er, stimulation.

Kazuma starts to see Aqua, Megumin, and Darkness as the temptresses whose wiles he must withstand, since he was warned not to drink too much the night he’s to have his dream, and the girls are trying to ply him with choice crab, sake, and hot sake with crab guts. Just when his thoughts seem about to lead him to cutting loose, he calls it a night, and everyone, particularly Darkness, is disappointed.

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That brings us to Kazuma’s erotic dream involving Darkness in the bath, which it’s pretty obvious from the start…isn’t a dream. Still, Kazuma is convinced this is what he ordered from the succubus, and even when Darkness acts in ways different than what he specified, he kinda just goes along with it, simply happy to be having the “dream” (while also chalking it up to mild clerical errors).

Poor Darkness is of the disposition that no matter how raunchily Kazuma acts, she still feels compelled to do what she says. The sceneis obviously played for comedy, and it works, yet I was also intrigued by how Darkness is not made the butt of the joke. In fact, as the one person in this situation who knows this is not a fantasy, we’re more on her side. Furthermore, she doesn’t just turn into a puddle of masochistic goo at Kazuma barking orders.

Rather, she expresses a wide range of understandable emotions: mostly embarrassment and bewilderment. Sure, she may talk about having things done to her, but for it to actually happen, and for Kazuma to do it? It all but switches her Masochism Chip off and snaps her into emotional coherence. Basically, ‘this is not okay’. ‘Please, Kazuma, realize this isn’t a dream before you do irreversible damage!’

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Kazuma is bailed out not by sudden awareness, but by an intruder alert; Aqua and Megumin have captured a young, inexperienced succubus; the very one sent by her guild to give Kazuma his dream.

Obviously, the girls don’t know that, and as a goddess, Aqua is compelled to exorcise the succubus. But more than duty, it’s Aqua and Megumin’s loyalty to Kazuma that drive their actions. They know she’s here to drain their male friend, and they won’t let her.

The thing is, they’re operating under several understandable—but in particular case, inaccurate—assumptions: that succubi in this world are a lethal threat (they’re just running a business); that Kazuma’s a victim (he arranged for this); and that Kazuma is presently in this succubus’ thrall (when she never actually got to him).

The latter assumption is courtesy of Darkness, who just had an experience with a Kazuma that couldn’t possibly have been in his right mind. And yet, for all their good intentions, and the fact they give Kazuma the benefit of the doubt (and he knows they do), Kazuma believes his comrades are in the wrong, and won’t let them kill the succubus who was only doing her job and screwed up because she’s new.

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Again, the girls see this as the succubus using Kazuma himself as her shield, and “grudingly” beat the shit out of him to try to get to her, but Kazuma stands his ground. Whatever misunderstandings the girls harbor, he’s not going to let someone get caught up in it, even if it means sacrificing himself. It all makes for a wonderfully complex and funny confrontation, that’s far more entertaining than simply making it all a dream, or having the girls rescue Kazuma.

It’s also more satisfying, because Kazuma now has to deal with the consequences of totally freaking out Darkness. In this, Kazuma exercises self-preservation by lying about not remembering any of it because of the succubus’ power, and in doing so reinforcing their original misunderstanding while avoiding undue awkwardness with Darkness.

But then he gives away details of the bath, proving to Darkness he actually did remember what he said and did last night, so the awkwardness endures. For her part, Darkness said she didn’t necessarily dislike any of it, staying true to who she is, but with a clear intention to maintain certain boundaries in their relationship.

This was a surprisngly rich, deep episode that breathed new life in the “compromising position” trope (with accompanying titillating fanservice) by making it a meaningful exploration of Kazuma’s relationships, now that they’re all living together in a huge fancy mansion with private areas where misunderstandings are inevitable, succubi or no.

Just to add one more layer to this onion, the show doesn’t make it explicit that the succubi are running a legitimate (or harmless) business, and it’s definitely within the realm of personality that Kazuma and the other males who gave them their business actually were being unfairly influenced. Caveat emptor, and all that.

Kazuma said in the beginning (while Aqua was trying to commandeer the fireside couch): they’d satisfied the essential need for shelter and protection from the bitter cold of Winter. It’s only natural other…needs be addressed in turn. And they were, just not the way Kazuma or anyone else expected.

But never mind that shitDESTROYER ALERT!!!

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Ore Monogatari!! – 19

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For most of the run of this tremendously touching and often uproariously funny show, Gouda Takeo has been portrayed as both a mensch (a person of honor and integrity) and an Übermensch (a goal for humanity to set for itself, given form). Yamato certainly sees him as a virtually flawless mate.

Yet when Yamato gets to sit with Takeo’s tough (and very pregnant) mom Yuriko, she—and we—get an entirely new perspective on Takeo. His mom still sees him as a little kid who will run out in the street and get killed if you don’t stop him. She’s also pretty confident Takeo is a wimp, in that he, like his father, worries about her too much.

Yuriko is basically handing her grown son on to another woman so she can care for him. She’s teaching Yamato a valuable lesson that she already intrinsically understands: Takeo is tough and strong about some things, but not definitely not everything. That’s where she comes in: just as his mom did, Yamato needs to protect him.

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In Takeo’s cool dad’s flashback, we see that Yuriko has always been tough and selfless, putting herself in danger to spare others pain, a big part of being a mom. Those qualities made her future husband fall for her right then and there. Yuriko isn’t overestimating her abilities when she keeps a fellow pregnant woman from falling down steps, she’s acting reflexively.

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Yet the rescue ends up hurting Yuriko, and when Takeo has to get her in a cab to go to the hospital, we see the weakness she still sees in her boy: he kinda falls apart. It’s thanks to Suna that things don’t get worse. Takeo may be great at saving strangers, but when it’s his mom, who he’s always seen as an invincible, indomitable force of nature, in trouble, his worry overwhelms him and prevents quick and rational decisions.

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When we see Yamato during these trying times for Takeo, she’s never frowning or outwardly worried, but has her usual cheerful, glowing smile. She goes to Takeo’s and cooks dinner for him. She comforts him with a simple touch of his arm, like a magical girl. She takes care of him, in a preview for how things will be for the formal hand-off (i.e. marriage one day). Yamato may be much twee-er than Takeo’s mom, but she shows she’s just as tough and able to protect Takeo.

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Witnessing these strong women around him inspires Takeo to pull himself together. When his mom gives the wheelchair meant for her to another mother going into labor, Takeo picks his mom up and carries her to the delivery room, surprising her. It’s a gesture that makes her realize he’s not a dumb little kid anymore; he has grown up a little, and he’ll keep growing up into a good man, a good big brother, and if all goes well with Yamato, a good husband and father as well. I’m sure as hell pullin’ for him!

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 13

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Prince Alfonso buries his mother and starts the long process of rebuilding his country, Herman makes a friend in the lady who was doing laundry back during his extended streak session, and Emma is the only one looking for Leon, though even Garm doesn’t know what’s become of him.

Leon, meanwhile, is lying in a riverbank, near death after his plunge into that gorge. He is no longer keeper of Garo nor Zaruba’s partner. He’s just Leon again. Having failed miserably in the world of demons and dark magic and fantasy, what he needs is a good dose of reality, which is exactly what he gets thanks to his savior, a farmgirl named Lara.

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When Lara brings Leon home and nurses him back to health, his first words to her are “Why did you save me?” when they should have been “Thank you.” Lara’s dimiutive but tough-as-steel grandmother puts an end to his pity-party right then and there: if they hadn’t saved him, he would have died on their land and they’d have had to waste time tending to his body, and time is the farmers’ enemy.

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This is a strange new world for Leon, whose former life had been pretty transient and action-packed. Here, it’s quiet, calm, boring, but the onions have to be planted and the firewood collected and the irrigation canal fixed before the ice comes. There are debts to be paid to the lord, and that Lara’s father was killed by wolves doesn’t change the fact they need a good harvest to pay them off.

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Leon watches these farmers, and the kinda and lovely Lara in particular, as if they were some kind of exotic animal. When he asks her how she can stand this unending routine of drudgery, and whether she ever dreamt of leaving and living a different life, she states simply that this is her father’s land, and it’s up to her to keep tending it. She isn’t the kind of person to abandon her mother and grandparents for her own selfish dreams. But in any case she seems to like her life just fine, and it’s been made a lot more interesting by the traveler’s arrival.

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Once Leon is strong enough, the grandpa gives him the shovel so he can take a breather (the episode is full of close-ups accentuating just how hard the elderly characters are working). Leon is understandably terrible at this non-combat manual labor, and Gramps shows him how, making it look easy. But it dawns on Leon as he sleeps beneath the full moon: nothing here is easy, but nor is it pointless, and he can be of help.

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The highlight of the episode is, surprisingly, a montage, but a truly powerful one, set to a bold, epic piece of soaring orchestral music that calls to mind the work of Joe Hisaishi (the whole episode has a distinct Ghibli vibe to it, for that matter.) It sounds like a determined march to a tough battle, only the enemies are nature, the elements, and time, and the weapons shovels, hoes, axes, and elbow grease. This really is a new world for Leon, but takes up these arms all the same and fights beside Lara and her family.

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And they are victorious, completing the canal before the ice comes, giving the family a chance at that good harvest. This was just one battle, but the war Lara and the farmers are fighting is unending. Now Leon can answer his own question from back when Lara first saved him: it was as if fate had brought Leon to Lara’s lands so she could restore his health, and in turn he helped them rebuild the canal and save their crops. They saved each other.

More enticing still, Leon doesn’t say farewell and leave by the end of the episode. Is Garo not quite done with this new, good-honest-labor setting for Leon? Will Lara continue to play a role in this second cour? In both cases, I hope so.

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Back in Santa Bard, Nuncle Herman assists his nephew the prince with a nasty-looking leftover horror from a Giger sketchbook, before considering hitting up a brothel or two, but his “butterflies” euphamism soars right over dear sheltered Alfonso’s head. The Herman/Alfie dynamic is a nice one, and while both are worried about what’s become of Leon, they know only he can help himself now.

I kinda wish Alfie hadn’t retained Mendoza’s closest confidant, and connected the dots that she was the one keeping his father ill. But that’s a classic rookie prince mistake, and I’m sure it won’t be his first.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 12

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Last week, our brave, valiant, devoted young Makai knights, brothers in blood as well as calling, stood shoulder-to-shoulder against Mendoza and his partially-summoned beast, poised to teach the bad guy a valuable lesson about going up against good. But then Mendoza got Leon to focus on him, took him into his clutches…and pretty much ruined him forever. I didn’t see that coming, I’ll tell you that right now!

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Overcome by grief, pain and rage over vivid imagery of his mother dying (courtesy of Mendoza’s magic), Leon loses control and transforms into a terrifying beast. Mendy made it so that it’s as if Leon never left those flames his mother was being roasted in when she birthed him, and the flames that protrude from the Berserk-Garo cause significant damage and death to the city.

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Obviously Leon didn’t mean for things to go this far, but the fact remains he has to be stopped, one way or another. Herman is too injured to do it, so it falls to Alphonso, who hasn’t let Mendoza get close and still has full control of his faculties and his armor. You know your final battle isn’t going well when you have to allocate significant time and energy to taking out your own ally before he destroys the city you’re supposed to be protecting!

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Alfie manages to kick Leon out of the Garo armor at a very high altitude. Emma saves Leon by cushioning his fall with a soft, fluffy stone column. By this time, Mendoza’s pet is fully formed and ready to complete the work Leon inadvertently started.

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Alfie needs to make a choice quick, and makes it, taking Leon’s sword, donning the armor of the Golden Knight himself, and going after Mendoza and the beast. All a dazed Leon can do is watch his prized armor he worked so hard for move and fight without him. All because he let Mendoza get too close, and continued to harbor thoughts of anger, hatred, and revenge – which even Mendoza correctly asserted were piss-poor motivations for a Makai Knight, any way you slice it.

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Mendoza doesn’t get any lengthy farewell speeches, however, nor does his face contort very dramatically, before the very horror he summoned swallows him up and is then sliced clean in half by Alfie-Garo. The scourge of Valiante is gone…but sadly, so are Leon’s days as a Makai Knight.

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He says he did ‘nothing’, but that’s not true…he burned much of the city and probably killed a lot of people, and wouldn’t have stopped had Alfie not forced him out of his armor. I must say, that’s a heck of a bitter pill to give one of your heroes to swallow in the penultimate episode.

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The hero-ship basically passed from Leon, who utterly failed, to Prince Alfonso, who is welcomed back to the palace with open, happy arms. Unfortunately, one of his first actions upon returning is to go to his mother, who committed suicide rather than serve as Mendoza’s hostage.

In the heat of the moment the previous night, Alfie cursed Leon as a useless weakling, a coward, and above all, a great disappointment…but he knows that if his own mother hadn’t sacrificed herself, he might well have gone the exact same path as Leon.

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Mind you, just because Mendoza had ammo against Leon and used it doesn’t completely vindicate Leon; the fact remains his actions were motivated by the wrong reasons for someone wishing to be a Makai Knight. He was wrong, and that wrongness accelerated his downfall. At the end we see him alone, with no more means to fight nor anything to fight for.

To him, that means there’s nothing to live for either, so he prepares to toss himself off a cliff. Seems to me like a perfect time for Emma to show up with her magic thread! Not to mention, back at Santa Bard, Octavia is ostensibly still lurking.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 11

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One could say the Makai Council created a monster when they marked Mendoza for life. They should have just killed him and saved a lot of trouble (and lives). Mendoza then went on to create a monster of his own with Bernardo. This week we get the rest of the story of what happened to Bernie as he fights Herman in the present, which is a much more interesting and satisfying story than Mendoza, who was pretty much always an irredeemable shit.

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Bernie wasn’t. He just got seduced by the Dark Side, so to speak. As a Makai Knight he swore to protect the people, but all he got for his duty was persecution by those very people. Anna insisted that turning the other cheek was also their duty, but cornered in the city, with Anna and Roberto still in trouble, Bernie chooses to protect them. He won’t sacrifice his friends, and especially Anna, whom he always seemed to have a thing for, just to protect the scum before him.

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He kills dozens of guardsmen, but ends up pretty gravely hurt himself, and probably should have died right then and there, having disgraced his oath, even if for a good cause. But Mendoza watched him fight, and restored his body with dark magic, and told him to join him, with the philosophy that people shouldn’t be protected; they should be ruled.

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Herman’s repsonse to all this is to call Bernie a “stupid idiot”, though perhaps that’s not quite harsh enough an insult; Herm could learn a lot from Captain Haddock! In any case, he agrees with me that Bernie should have died on that night and not lived on in darkness and disgrace, and so they go at in in one hell of a quick but visually impressive knight-on-knigh battle.

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They eventually fight each other into exhaustion, losing their armor and ending up in heaps on the ground. Bernie uses one of many dirty tricks to stab Herm in the chest, but that’s after Herm threw a knife a long way away, which makes its way back…into Bernie’s back. The mortal wound seems to bring the old Bernie back, who is glad Herman survived that awful night, and asks about Anna. Herm tells his old friend she’s safe, which I suppose is true if the afterlife is safe!

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It’s a pretty good death with an air of redemption and forgiveness to it; an end I’m practically certain is not in store for our low-pitched pal Mendoza. As Herm and Bernie were fighting, Leon and Alfie infiltrated Mendoza’s underground lair. I didn’t say anything about it because it wasn’t that interesting. But once they find him, he’s summoning a particularly nasty looking horror from Makai.

Insufferable bastard that he is, Mendoza is still an immensely powerful fellow, and far more experienced than these two kids. But then again, as the face of the Makai Order’s future, this is their time to prove they’re worthy of their armor. They’ve got to get it done.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 10

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Sorry for the late review, but I apparently wasn’t in a great hurry to review GARO this week. I’m not sure if that speaks to any waning of my passion for the show, or general late-Fall fatigue as our myriad shows wind down, but I shall endeavor to stick with GARO to the end, if for no other reason than to watch Mendoza get put in his place. God, I can’t stand his smugly evil voice.

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Well, I don’t watch it for Herman’s backside, which we see yet again this week, but his entrance, being chased by a furious husband, was a joke that kind of clanged to the ground. I’m actually glad that Leon and Alfonso are getting along so famously (no prince-vs.-pauper clashes). What I’m not so glad about is that so much time this week was spend on Mendoza’s backstory.

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Yeah, I get it, the guy’s an evil, mustache-twirling caricature. He was branded by the Makai order for experimenting on the very humans he was meant to protect and warned not to procreate, but he tries anyway after Lord Fernando awards him a wife for leal service. He then proceeds to dispose of both wife and newborn son. To his credit, he doesn’t seem to be a sexual deviant, as he refuses Octavia’s advances, but he’s still a bad bad man who didn’t learn his lesson the first time and needs to learn it again.

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Back to what worked: the semi-flirtatious banter between Herman and Emma. Emma is far more willing than Leon to see the good man behind all the tomfoolery, while Herman respects her more than his usual diet of wenches, both her ability and her pragmatism.

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Emma, for instance, declines to join the guys in their raid on Santa Bard, fearful she may lose her life there when there’s still a horror out there she wants to hunt. Maybe we’ll get an Emma-POV episode down the line? I hope so; if only to wash out the bad taste in my mouth from watching Mendoza’s past. For now, we’re in store for a long-anticipated fight between Bernardo and Herman AKA Roberto.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 09

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Rafarel Banderas’ training of Alphonso is proceeding apace, but not quicky enough. His body is failing him and he knows he will soon die. He must make a Makai knight of Alfie much sooner than he’d like, but rather than complain or fret, he rolls with the punches his life — what little of it is left — gives him. A knight must never stop moving forward.

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To this end, Raffy pays a very rare visit to Garm, spending not a second longer than he must to learn of the location of a powerful horror with which to test Alfie. Coincidentally, Leon shows up looking for the exact same thing, and keen to grow strong enough to face the black knight.

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Of all the ways I expected Leon and Alfie to meet, this wasn’t one of them, but I shouldn’t be surprised it happened now, with only a few episodes left, and I rather like how they end up interacting so amicably right out of the gate. The far-more-streetwise Leon gets Alfie out of several spots of trouble, and rather than stick his nose up, Alfie is genuinely grateful for the help. It’s a refreshing take on the exiled prince type, and indicates that he has what it takes to be a good and just king…he just needs to get rid of Mendoza.

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Lending a bit of levity to an otherwise solemn episode is the fact that not only do these two have no idea they’re brothers, but that they’re after the exact same hollow. The latter isn’t cleared up until both realize the other isn’t going to withdraw. Meanwhile, after coughing up more blood and collapsing moments after Alfie left, Raffy wakes back up, suggesting we haven’t seen the last of him.

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It doesn’t take long at all for both to realize their target will require diligent teamwork. The horror in question isn’t a chimera as we thought, but some kind of dread tabernacle floating a few feet above the ground, its underbelly lined with hundreds of upside-down ghouls. It’s a suitably creepy, messed-up looking foe.

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When Leon/Garo and Alfie get crushed and tossed aside, respectively, Raffy makes his appearance, dons Gaia one last time, and gravely wounds the horror with a dazzling, psychedelic blow. But one blow is all he can muster. Before he dies, he removes his armor and tosses his sword to Alfie.

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Alfie finds Gaia a good fit, and wastes no time finishing the ghoulish construct. The resulting massive explosion is a fitting way to herald Alfie’s entry into the order of Makai knights. Rafael was only his mentor for a short time, but Alfie vows to use the armor he passed down to him as he used it: moving forward without fear and protecting the people by any means.

Because Alfie defeated the horror here, Leon is no closer to becoming stronger. But with Alfie as his ally — or sparring partner — perhaps he’s as good a position as ever to do so. At the very least, I hope the two don’t part ways too hastily. After all, revenge aside, they want the same thing.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 08

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This week’s Herman-centric episode was as good as last week’s Leon-centric episode was bad. Because both took place over the same period of time, Garo could have structured it as a more integrated two-parter, in which Herman’s and Leon’s scenes would be woven together. But if that had been the case, this second episode would have suffered for it.

One way to think about it is that Leon lost, and learned he’s not as ready as he thinks he is, so it stands to reason his episode would also lose to Herman’s in terms of story, action, and especially comedy. This week repaired all the damage to my faith in the show last week caused.

Keeping the two sides separate let us experience All Herman, All the time. Mind you, if Herman’s horny roguishness and rubs you the wrong way, you probably didn’t enjoy this episode any more than last week’s…but I did.

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I really like how comedy was such a persistent presence this week, in contrast to the stiff joylessness of Leon’s dealings. One source of that comedy is the fact Herman is naked as his name day for most of the episode. Ironically, Herman was talking last night’s conquest about how he prefers his birthday suit to any clothes, let alone armor.

Then universe grants his wish, along with one hell of a taxing day in which he just can’t seem to stay out of trouble.

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Mind you, the trouble he gets himself into is all his fault, for letting his little Herman lead him around. No one makes him disrobe; he does it of his own volition once he’s confident the pretty damsel in distress he rescued from three goons will sleep him…which isn’t the most unreasonable assumption, but it is an assumption; made in haste in hopes of satisfying his libido.

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The damsel turns out to be in cahoots with the goons and rob him blind, and since he already helpfully removed his clothes, they decide to go ahead and take those too. Thanks to some quick thinking and resourcefulness (as a Makai knight, he’s used to fighting larger opponent) he manages to escape.

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But must escape naked, which gets him into trouble fast in the busy city. It’s great how fast his plight escalates, until there’s literally an army chasing after the guy. Mind you, this is really just one drawn-out hassle for him; he’s not about to take any of this misfortune as some kind of lesson in being more cautious with women. Herman is who he is, and sometimes shit like this is going to happen.

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This is illustrated perfectly when Herman borrows a sheet from a washerwoman’s line. A crossbowman with terrible aim corners him and accidentally loses a bolt, and Herman catches it before it hits the lady. In effect, this was a transaction: Herman takes the lady’s sheet, and pays for it by saving her life. Though he put her life was put at risk in the first place, I still think she got the better end of the bargain.

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Herman loses his sheet almost immediately while being chased by mounted soldiers, but is rescued by Emma, who always seems to show up at the right time. But she doesn’t just vanish in ten seconds like last week; she reports to Herman what she witnessed: Leon losing to the Black Knight, Bernardo Dion.

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With that name drop, the mood gets more serious (you almost forget he’s nude but for a junk-covering pink bonnet), as you can tell from Herman’s and Emma’s Serious Faces above. Knowing Leon is alive, however, Herman isn’t in a hurry to go to him; he’s a teacher as well as a father, and a teacher can’t always be bailing out his student when they run into adversity.

Heck, part of him is relieved Leon lost; after all, he was never going to believe his carefree horndog dad telling him he’s not ready to storm the castle. And Leon didn’t just fall short in strength here; a Makai knight’s duty is to protect, not fight or to dream of taking revenge and defeating nemeses. A Makai knight must float above all that, or risk being turned by the darkness inherent in their business; ‘one who studies horrors is studied by horrors’, and such.

Anyway, below is the exchange that ends the episode’s A-part, and from the delivery of the lines to the pause between them, followed by an abrupt cut to commercial, it’s pretty much goddamned perfect:

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I Lol’d.

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Herman ends up paying a visit to Garm, someone we haven’t seen in a while but seems to be a kind of Makai Supervisor who never wants for fruit. She also knows a lot more than Herman does, which pisses him off when she doesn’t inform him Dion turned ‘dark’ and attacked Leon.

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This is important because he and Dion were once on the same side, despite being complete opposites in personality-wise. Herman was pretty much the same outwardly carefree horny guy back then, while Dion was sterner, more serious, and the look of being weighed down by something. Herman, Anna, and Dion stuck together as the witchhunts raged, and one night when the three were cornered, Dion stayed behind to cover the escape of the other two.

It’s a valiant, honorable thing to do, but it spells doom for Dion, as in order to save his friends, he puts himself in the position of losing himself to the darkness he always felt lurking within him (that ‘weight’ I mentioned). Herman and Anna may well have been the last two people Dion protected as a Makai Knight. Now he works for Mendoza.

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I didn’t think we’d ever return to that barn where Herman was cockblocked and robbed, but we do, and this time Irene is genuinely upset and in need of rescuing, as one of her associates has turned into a Horror. He’s not a particularly tough horror, and Nude Herman is able to dispatch him without even donning his armor.

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Heck, when he ends up back in a situation where he must protect Irene — for real this time — and it’s suggested they sleep together after all, it’s as if the universe is balancing things out, just as he expected they would. Though he still needs to go pick up his clothes at the pawn shop, which means he needs coin, and last week’s final scene of a naked Herman is thus fully explained.

Yes, I much preferred separation Herman and Leon’s stories to their being meshed across two episodes. I’m glad Leon’s story was over and done with so it didn’t have to stink this up. Throughout most of last week I was frustrated, lost, and a little bored, to the point of wondering “Hey, I wonder what his dad is up to!” Now we know. We got the Full Monty, and it was glorious.

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