Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka – 01 (First Impressions) – Voice of Destiny

Three years ago the Disas invaded Earth, but thanks to a treaty with the Spirit Realm, nine select human girls were transformed into Magical Girls. Four were killed defeating the Disas, and five remained…and went their separate ways.

The ostensible leader of the Magical Girls, one Ootorii Asuka, lives her life as a normal high school student, though whenever she sees any kind of animal mascot, she thinks back to the bad old days. Magical trappings aside, Asuka is a traumatized combat veteran trying to move on from the horrors she experienced.

But at school, she’s the cool mysterious transfer student. She stands out by dint of her physique and apparent aloofness. And when her classmates are accosted in the street, she rushes to their aid…and has to remember not to kill the guy.

The beneficiaries of small act of heroism, Nozomi and Sayoko, thank Asuka and announce their intention to befriend her. Nozomi wants her to join track since she’s in great shape; Sayoko wants her to join the lit club because she sees her reading.

But while Sayoko reads because she loves it, Asuka does it to escape; to keep her mind busy so it doesn’t go back to those bad old times of blood, sweat, and tears. When her guardian Iizuka arrives to tell her about a new squad being assembled, she passes on his offer without hesitation.

Back when she was in middle school, she came home to find two Disas had already killed her parents and were prepared to “give them back” to her one piece at a time, which is why Iizuka ended up her guardian.

Her takeaway was that while she fought to save the world, those around her suffered and died. Now that she has two new adorable friends, she doesn’t want history to repeat itself. Of course, Asuka she puts it, despite all the effort she’s put in to escape her past, battles keep finding her, because “a Magical Girl’s battle never ends”.

Whether it was a minor incident like the asshole who shoved Nozomi (who dared to call him out on his assholery), or an escaped terrorist leader and his kill squad with Sayoko in the crossfire, when duty calls, she’ll always answer. Once a Magical Girl, always a Magical Girl.

While Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka is almost painfully straightforward in its premise, the Disas are super goofy-looking, and the show lacks anything resembling originality, I found Asuka’s emotionally-wounded vet profile resonant, and the show is crisply designed and animated and accompanied by a cool Square Enix JRPG-style soundtrack.

The idea of Magical Girls moving on to more conventional military operations after the Magical enemy has gone is also intriguing, as Asuka is not alone and we’ll soon see what became of the other four of the Magical Five. Both the bloody action and the lighter school life scenes are executed with aplomb. Definitely entertaining enough to stick with for now.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 41

I much prefer my 3GL with the Kawamoto sisters, and when they’re not around, regardless of whether Rei is with them, it’s just not the same. So I’m happy to report this week has no shortage of Akari, Hinata, Momo, and their Gramps.

In preparation for a town festival where Moon Crescent will have a stall, Gramps has left the production of rice flour dumplings to the sisters, who make them even better than Gramps was expecting (though he never lets on that they surpassed his expectations).

As for the proper dipping syrup to accompany the dumplings, Gramps likes the plum the best, which Hinata got from Chiho on her first visit to the farm where she’s slowly, gradually building back her ability to interact with kids her own age. Even the sight of Hinata can cause the profoundly tramatized Chiho to simply freeze up.

Hinata and Akari do not leave Chiho with smiles on their faces, but they take solace in knowing Chiho is fighting with everything she’s got to get better.

“Everything You’ve Got” could well be the Kawamoto family slogan. Even down a mother, a father, and a grandmother, Gramps and the sisters (with drudgery help from a game Rei) don’t have ass a single thing, and pull off a marvelous festival. People buy everything they make so quickly Gramps has to pull up his sleeves and make more dumplings.

In the middle of it, Hina and Rei share a nice little moment in the doorway of the store, simply taking in the cozy warmth of the festival, and all the happy customers and couples and families around them. Takahashi pays a visit, taller than ever, but let’s not kid ourselves about who’s #1 in Hina’s heart!

Despite it being summer vacation, Hinata’s class has a summer term test, while Mr. Kokubu prepares to step down as their interim teacher, passing the duties to a young and extremely nervous new homeroom teacher, not just terrified by having to deal with Takagi, but her fire-breathing mother as well.

Kokubu’s time with Takagi Megumi is just about at an end as well. Takagi, ever the wannabe nihilist, scoffs upon hearing Kokubu was never able to give her a definitive answer for why everyone has to put in effort and do their best.

However, what Kokubu has been able to determine is that Takagi is paralyzed by anxiety over not knowing what to do with herself. She never makes an effort because she’s scared of learning her “capacity” and being disappointed by it.

His departing lesson to her is that it’s okay to be disappointed; it is simply part of life. One cannot go anywhere in life until they find their capacity that will give them an understanding of what they should do, which will make more clear what she wants to do, thus reducing if not eliminating her terrible anxiety. In short, Takagi needs to do her best so she can learn what her best is.

One other lesson Kokubu could have given Takagi is that it might not be a bad idea to hang around Hinata more. Not necessarily to seek forgiveness, but to witness someone her own age who always does her best,

Hinata knows what she can do and wants to do, and is always looking to expand what those two things are. The festival just ended, and she’s already planning next year’s menu…but until after studying for her test.

Then again, perhaps that’s not such a good idea. Takagi in her current state could well be blinded to death by getting too close to Hinata!

Violet Evergarden – 01 (First Impressions)

Violet’s life was once simple to the point of elemental. Rather than earth, fire, water, and air, she had the Battlefield, the Mission, the Orders, and, most importantly, the one who provided the last two on the first, the Commanding Officer; Major Gilbert.

When she comes to in a hospital, her face and arms bandaged, unable to hold a pen, Major Gilbert is the first person she calls for. She believes she’s in sufficiently good working order to begin the next Mission. She wants Orders as soon as possible. She wants to return to the Battlefield. She wants Gilbert.

She doesn’t get any of that. Instead, there’s this guy Colonel Hoggins. Violet’s new orders are simply to come with him. He takes her to a mansion, and there lives the Evergarden family to whom Gilbert has entrusted her until she comes of age.

In this civilized civilian capital untouched by war, Violet must feel utterly out of place. You don’t go stashing a military asset in a civilian setting, now do you? That would be improper. And Violet has always seen herself as such an asset. It’s why she stands at attention and salutes Mrs. Evergarden.

When Violet cannot grasp a lovely-looking cup of tea, it’s a highly symbolic gesture that becomes far more explicit when she reveals her adamantine hand. The metal on that hand is unlike anything else in that mansion, and so it doesn’t look like it belongs. Violet senses this.

When Hoggins starts to go, she protests. She must have orders at once. She must contact Gilbert. She must restore those elements that made up her world as long as she could remember. But again, Hoggins is unaccommodating. The war is over, he tells her, and to her that means she no longer has a purpose, and should be disposed of.

Colonel Hoggins, realizing Violet won’t adjust to life in peacetime so easily, decides to take her with him to the new postwar business he started: a civilian post office that also ghostwrites letters for the many members of the populace that can’t write (presumably due to the ravages of the war).

Because Hoggins, once the a leader of a force dedicated to destroying the enemy and nothing else, found a new niche in the war their blood and toil created, so can Violet. It’s just a matter of re-configuring the nature of those elements which she requires to live.

The “Battlefield” is now the port city of Leiden. In Gilbert’s stead, Hoggins is now her Commanding Officer (he prefers “Boss”). He’ll issue her Missions and Orders.

Those orders will consist not only of work—sorting and delivering mail—but also to learn that she needn’t work all day and night; that she must take breaks, eat, sleep, and all the other things civilians take for granted every goddamn day.

She seems to gradually get the hang of things, but there’s still a “fire” within her Hoggins hopes she’ll one day recognize. Not a literal fire, of course, but the fire of the trauma she suffered. She may regard herself as a weapon and tool and much of the rest of the army might’ve thought the same, but there’s also a human girl in there, and it’s time for her to live and be free.

Live and be free were Gilbert’s last orders, so Violet has no qualms about carrying them out. One day, she listens to one of the “Auto Memoir Dolls” writing a letter for a man who wants to urge his childhood friend not to marry another man.

As the words flow out of the “Doll” (really a beautiful, perceptive woman), memories of Violet’s former Battlefield surface. They’re brutal, and cruel, and dark. She’s every bit as brutal, taking out every enemy soldier that comes near her with grim efficiency and with no regard for her personal safety. We also see Gilbert, who seems to silently curse having to send her out to fight and kill.

The Doll’s closing words in the man’s letter are “I love you”, which are the last words Violet heard from Gilbert, who most likely died in that alley.

Violet didn’t understand those words, any more than a rifle would, but after witnessing the Doll use those words with such surety and conviction, she wants to learn what they mean. As such, she asks Gilbert if she can join the Auto Memoir Dolls in order to learn more about love and other emotions. Gilbert agrees, and Violet’s new Mission begins.

My first impressions of Violet Evergarden are…Wow. Dayum. This is how shit is done. KyoAni really balled out, delivering a wonderfully structured, quietly thrilling portrait of this broken vet. The war between nations may be over, now a new, more difficult war begins: to survive and find purpose in peacetime; to learn what an individual is and to learn what love is.

Ishikawa Yui (AKA Mikasa Ackerman) also delivers a compelling perfomance as, well, someone very similar to Mikasa in terms of loyalty to the person she loves most (though Vi doesn’t know what love is yet) to her general badassery.

Animation is, in a word, majestic. There’s a very vivid sense of the ugly pall of war being lifted over this alternate world, and yet the episode never banged us over the head with exposition. The flashbacks to the battle are effective in their brevity and intensity.

And the score, composed by American Evan Call, was the perfect aural accompaniment to Violet’s story. I don’t award 10s to first episodes lightly, but in the case of this episode, there is no other choice. Bravo.

GATE – 16

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Considering how last week ended, one would think we’d be in store for some adventures with the party of Inami, Tuka, Rory, Lelei and Yao, right? Wrong. We only see them for less than five minutes this week. The rest of the episode somewhat disappointingly checks in numerous other plotlines, darting from one place to another for the apparent purpose of making GATE as complicated as possible.

We see more Yanagida than Itami this week, as he explains Itami’s actions to the General, then convinces another one (far easier than he expected) to mobilize a unit to support Itami. Then he meets with the old dude who gave Itami advice last week, who turns out to be a king, and negotiates a deal for tax-free non-currency mining rights. If this all sounds a bit dry, you’re not alone.

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Things get a little spicier when Yanagida’s various dealings intersect with Tyuule’s order for her spy in Arnus, Delilah, to assassinate Noriko, who has learned her family is missing and presumed dead and isn’t that upset when an assassin crawls out of the shadows.

Yanagida stops Delilah, but her being an extremely adept warrior, she’s able to dodge his bullets and plunge her knife into his side. He responds by emptying his clip into her. I suppose this is some kind of commentary on the combat prowess (or lack thereof) of “administrative” soldiers like Yanagida. In any case, Tyuule’s plot is foiled. I wonder what she’ll try next.

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I’ll admit, while it’s kinda random, I still enjoyed watching the pair of F-4 Phantoms messing around with the Fire Dragon, whom they intercept without much trouble, test its speed, maneuverability, and intelligence, then duck out before it barbecues them.

I know, Itami needs the dragon alive so he can show Tuka the thing that kill her father and hopefully snap her out of her psychosis, but wouldn’t it have been more prudent to simply fully arm those fighters, sortie a couple more, and take the big guy (or gal) out? I guess they’re not willing to risk losing a plane or a pilot on a dragon that, at the end of the day, isn’t threatening JSDF assets…yet.

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The five minutes of the core gang go by far too quickly, but they’re an exciting five minutes, as the dragon comes before them, Rory and Lelei do their thing to keep him busy, and Inami puts an RPG launcher in Tuka’s hands and tells her to fire. She misses, and the dragon skedaddles, but perhaps the experience will make her more lucid?

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GATE – 15

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My first thought as to why Tuka is crying? Why, because she and the other two main girls have barely been in this second season. And what we have seen – her wandering around, looking for her dead father – was troubling.

When Itami finally has time to visit the trio, he learns that Yao Haa Dushi told her the flat-out truth – that her father was killed by the fire dragon – and Tuka just couldn’t handle it. The result is a state of psychosis in which she searches the camp endlessly for her father, forgetting about food and sleep; it’s so bad Lelei has had to sedate her periodically.

When Tuka sees Itami after waking up from one such sedation, she sees him as her father and embraces him accordingly, much to everyone’s dismay.

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Yao freely admits to “breaking” Tuka, something she did to force the hand of Itami, someone she believes will be able to help her slay the fire dragon and avenge her people. Yao is as fanatical as Tuka in this desire, only she hasn’t succumbed to as deep a madness as Tuka has. It’s cruel manipulation of our blonde elf, but you can’t fault Yao, who had been refused by everyone else in the JSDF.

Now, as she sees it, in order for Tuka to be healed Itami must make sure she gets the same thing Yao wants: revenge. Only then can she accept her father’s death and move forward. Unfortunately, the only way to get that revenge is by slaying the fire dragon, a foe Itami isn’t keen on facing off against anytime soon.

Meanwhile, Pina informs Diabo that Zolzal has been named their father’s heir. I’m not sure if he’s on Zolzal’s side or Pina’s, but he lets Pina know Zolzal told him to pick a side, that he doesn’t think Zolzal’s reign will last long, and that he’ll bring everyone down with him if he can. If Pina wants peace with Japan, she may have to do something about Zolzal, which would mean defying her father.

Finally, we see Tyuule’s true colors, as she’s been manipulating Zolzal into a pliable, unstable state of supreme arrogance, and is now confident he’ll do whatever she says, she tells an informant who sneaks in to make a delivery in exchange for being allowed to lick her leg. Tyuule hopes to incite a war that will destroy the empire, using Misako as the match to light the fire. Tyuule remains an interesting wild card; on no one’s side but her own, herself fueled by revenge.

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Itami is loath to carry out the plan Yao wants, because he wouldn’t be able to secure a large enough group to bring the dragon down (you’re probably talking about sustained air assault with gunships, rockets, and missiles, plus artillery to finish it off). He believes if he goes in with a small group, they’ll get wiped out, and the last thing he wants is to lose anyone in battle, especially for what is essentially a personal mission.

While he ponders the situation, he decides to go all in and pretend he’s Tuka’s father for the time being. Tuka is elated about this, and they hit the town on a father-daughter date, spending every moment of Itami’s R&R together (she even sleeps with him in bed, naked for some reason…)

While it’s nice to see Tuka so happy, it’s a false happiness that cannot be sustained. Eventually Itami will have to tell her the truth, and she’ll go right on denying it, or possibly plunge deeper into madness. Itami himself dealt with the loss of his father (if I’m reading the flashback correctly, his mother, herself mentally unbalanced, killed him and was committed for it, leaving Itami alone), so he can certainly relate to Tuka.

That new tidbit about Itami’s life makes us wonder if he’s ever actually fully processed that loss and moved forward, or if a part of him is still trapped in the past, if not to as extreme degree as Tuka.

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When Itami has to return to the capital to translate – this time a longer-term arrangement, he breaks it to Tuka as best he can, but the pain in her face is plain to see before she replaces it with an understanding smile.

He crosses paths with Yao once more, who reminds him playing house isn’t going to work forever (no shit Shirlock), and even Lelei and particularly Roroy also appear to be concerned about how long the charade should be allowed to go on.

Heck, posing as her father is messing Itami up, to which his comrade Yanagida suggests: why not just go on the damn mission and slay the dragon?

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That night, as he watches the moon to think about whether to do just that, he meets a wizened old man from the special region with an prosthetic arm and leg, things Japan brought that make it possible for him to continue living his normal life. This old man knows what’s eating Itami before he even sits down: he’s worried about the cost of action. His advice is to listen to his heart, which already knows the answer. Sometimes you gotta act even if it’s dangerous.

So on the dawn when he’s about to head back to the capital via helicopter, after saying his goodbyes he spots a tear on Tuka’s face the moment before the cargo door closes, and jumps out of the helicopter to stay with her. The old man gave him a nudge, but it was Itami who made the leap.

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And that, ladies and gentlemen, means Itami won’t be doing any dreary capital duty anytime soon. No, he’s going on an adventure with Tuka to find and destroy the Fire Dragon. Sure, she still thinks he’s her father, but he can sort that out later.

I don’t know why Itami thinks it will just be him and Tuka, but he’s quickly corrected when Rory makes her presence felt, bites his arm, and forms a contract whereby his soul his hers if he dies. Lelei and Yao also join the party.

At this point I was wondering why he didn’t ask his closer subbordinates with whom he’s been in so many scrapes to volunteer to join him; I’m sure they’d come along if offered the choice. But that’s okay. I’m happy with the five-person group, and looking forward to watching them hopefully kick some fire dragon ass.

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GOD EATER – 06

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Hey, remember that show GOD EATER? Which airs sometimes, when it feels like it, but not necessarily every week? Well, it’s still around, and you know what? Those who have been patient with it, like myself, have been rewarded: the last two episodes have been excellent. Episode five tore away the invincibility of the titular God Eaters, and Episode six stripped them of their weapons, making these supposed hunters the hunted, at the mercy of the elements and their own fear.

Fighting the Aragami, saving the world; these are meaningless this week. The mission, the only mission, for Lenka and Alisa, is to stay alive. And the harsh, rain-soaked, Aragami-infested world doesn’t make it easy. But we’re drawn into this basic, visceral, at times pathetic struggle for survival.

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Lenka saves Alisa’s life by giving her CPR, and they then hole up in a hotel room. His God Eater is broken, her’s is missing, and he’s at the end of his tether, bleeding out in the corner. Alisa first considers leaving him behind to go look for her God Eater, but instead gets him on the bed and patches him up. It may be an uncharacteristic act of kindness, or a pragmatic move, seeing as how she only had one pill left when she woke up, and she took it. After that, she’ll need Lenka.

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The crux of the episode is that without her drugs, Alisa falls into a state of intense anxiety and helplessness, almost reverting to when she was a small child happily playing hide-and-seek with her parents when an Aragami killed them before her eyes. I didn’t see this as neutering or weakening Alisa as a character. On the contrary, I saw this as finally revealing who Alisa really is beneath the tough-as-nails exterior. The drugs don’t just repress her fear, they repress everything else that makes her a person, making her nothing but a tool for killing Aragami.

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It’s gratifying to see the curtain pulled back and to see some actual emotion in Alisa’s eyes, voice, and body language. In a way, both God Eaters are rendered inert: Lenka because his Arc is dead; Alisa because she’s lost what the Cowardly Lion called “Da Noive”, which had been drug-induced up to this point. Now, she’s back to playing hide-and-seek, against Aragami she could pummel in her sleep under ideal circumstances.

What I appreciate most about GOD EATER’s recent foray into hopelessness is that it’s so utterly and mercilessly stripped away all those ideal circumstances. Now the Aragami have all the advantage, just as they do over all the other helpless humans scattered around the rainy wasteland. Seeing the disheartened look on Alisa’s face, and the look of fear whenever the Aragami find them, really draws us into their plight, where even a simple gesture like Lenka offering his cape thingy is given extra significance.

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When her parents were killed, she was left all alone before she was old enough. Now, at least, Lenka is by her side, and while he’s probably scared too, he’s not as profoundly scarred by his past. He’s for lack of a better term, simply better-adjusted to this world, and doesn’t need drugs to stare down Aragami. And that’s exactly what he ends up having to do, since even when Alisa finds her God Arc, it doesn’t magically make her better in the head. She’s still paralyzed by fear when the Aragami surround her.

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Lenka is bandaged up, but his Arc isn’t long enough to reach the foes, and when it is, he’s only able to deliver a tap to them. You can see the Aragami figuring out these guys are no threat; only food. Lenka knows when it’s pretty much Game Over too, so he drops his useless weapon, puts himself between the Aragami and Alisa, and either makes peace with his end or prays for a miracle. He gets the latter when Lindow comes out of nowhere and easily defeats the low-level baddies.

After making a slightly sexist remark about protecting people being “a man’s job”, he admonishes Lenka for almost giving up and putting his life in someone else’s hands. Lenka, not wrongly, protests that there really wasn’t shit he could do, unless his God Arc magically came back to life, which would be no less a miracle. He and Alisa are safe now, and Alisa is sure to get back on the meds as soon as they get back to Fenrir. But now Lenka, and we, know and understand her a little better, and the rough hand she’s been dealt.

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Back in Flashback Land, Aisha discovers Johannes has been falsifying reports, blah blah blah, then comes to his house, ostensibly to comfort him. Their relationship will eventually produce the dour Souma, and their work will be insufficient against the approaching Aragami explosion and apocalypse.

Alisa’s flashback made perfect sense this week, and added to the power of her arc, but we didn’t even see Johannes or Souma, so I continue to be perplexed by the show’s need to end episodes this way, aside from reminding us that they’re starting to figure out how doomed they are. At least it didn’t interrupt anything important in the present.

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Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – 03

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It’s so weird. I could have sworn the trio had been to the ocean before, but now that I look back, they never actually had, and are legitimately awed and stoked to see and stand in it for the first time. I like stuff like this; it reminded me of a roommate from Hawaii who’d never seen snow before.

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Akari really wants to see Tooru naked

We see, and learn of, many things this week, along with Chaika and the siblings. And like Chaika, the more we learn, the more we want to learn. At this point, there’s no satisfying her until she knows everything, and she thinks the island and Gaz’s fortune are the best way to get there. Tooru, well, doesn’t agree, like at all…more on that later.

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First, the reason they’re at the seaside city is to pay a visit to the next hero on Claudia’s list, one Clay Morgan. All Akari knows at first is that he wields a spear. And to his credit, the man still wields it pretty well, considering how long he hangs in there against Tooru. I imagine long-reach foe would be annoying to a saboteur who likes close-quarters combat.

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Clay is kind of a joke: unlike other heroes who either fought or challenged the Acuras, the mere sight of Chaika (he saw her head roll) sends Clay fleeing his tacky mansion in terror. When they finally pin the big guy down (Pro: Drydock Fight! Con: Boat not accidentally launched), he agrees to give them whatever they want if they promise never to show their faces near him again. I can’t say I can blame Clay; he obviously has a bit of PTSD, and when the guy you’re helping to kill merely stares at you smiling like your an insect, well, that’s a rough day right there.

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Oh, those are your twin DAUGHTERS…(Sighs, very relieved)

While Morgan’s a relative pushover, their next target, Stephan Hartgen, has the makings of a villain with staying power. When we meet him, he’s sitting on a throne with two of his “daughters” who look just like Chaika, who both want very much to see what happens when all the remains are gathered, which is why he’s luring Chaikas to him via rumors. Is he an ally of Gaz? Does he want the remains for the power?

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Whuuuuh? (left) and WHUUUUUH? (right) look on

Another clear sign this guy means serious business: he has two equally serious guys under his employ: one is from Acura and may well be Tooru and Akari’s big brother, who is looking forward to fighting them. The other is AAAAAUGH, a G-G-G-GHOST! J/K, it’s just Dark Albéric, who didn’t die in that Flying Castle attack after all. Or maybe he did die, and Hartgen brought him back to do his bidding.

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“Alright, I’ll talk to her. JEEZ.”

Back to the Chaika Crew, Tooru is furious that Chaika ran off wihout Fredrica, and repeats his believe that going after secret islands and fortunes is a fool’s errand, and retrieving the remains should be the priority. But Chaika’s at the point where she’s learned too much to be patient. That knowledge is a splinter in the mind in the head that was supposedly separated from her body years ago. Even if she has to go alone, she’s going to the island, period. Miffed, Tooru takes her to mean she’s firing him, so he storms off, and Akari, his dutiful sister, follows.

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Was totally expecting a fight…but not mad we didn’t get one

It was sad to see the happy family break up, even if the split was very temporary. Still, in her haste to find the island and answers, Chaika begs Fredrica to fly her to the island, which, in hindsight, should have been an option from the start, unless Tooru assumed Fredrica would refuse because she refuses to help all the time. This time, however, she smells a lark and agrees.

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Not a fan of Fredrica’s Dragoon design, but it looks pretty cool from this angle, topped by a Gundo-wielding Chaika

Realizing what she did, Tooru and Akari hurry to chase her down, “borrowing” Morgan’s cargo ship for the journey. Red Chaika, David, and Selma stow aboard, but before a fight can break out, a freaking kraken wastes the boat, tossing them all in the sea. Not good! Then Fredrica has her wings sliced off and Chaika falls. Also Not Good! Things are getting very tense and hazardous in a hurry, which is a good thing, as there’s just seven more episodes. No one ever said learning everything was going to be easy!

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Aldnoah.Zero – 09

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With the human crew out of constant immediate danger for two episodes now, A/Z has had more chances to demonstrate its sense of humor. For all the horrors it’s presented, the show can be pretty funy, and its outlook has remained optimistic. One look no further than all the little side moments that have peppered more tense situations.

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Now those moments have more room to breathe, whether it’s Yuki’s alleged ability to interpret Inaho’s mood from his stonelike face, to her teasing of Inko and Rayet, to Nina managing to snatch up Asseylum’s princess gown for reasons both practical and selfish. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the continuation of the wry banter between Magbaredge and Mizusaki; a nice blend of bitchy and chummy.

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All this joking around early in definitely lightens the mood, but also softens us up for the blows that come later, as the episode suddenly descends into darkness. The seeds are planted when Rayet is in the simulator, and Yuki dials up the purple kataphrakt that killed Rayet’s dad right in front of her. The experience shakes poor Rayet to the core, and continues to be baffled by Asseylum’s calm, collected outer facade.

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What Yuki did was an accident, but Yagarai gets the idea to use the simulator to recreate Marito’s own ordeal. Again, the comedy peeks through when Marito initially dismisses the simulation as “blocky” crap. His mood changes on a dime when he sees a blocky version of the kataphrakt he and Humeray encountered fifteen years ago, and we dive along with him right into that memory in its entirety.

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Long story short, they were outmatched, tanks are cramped and suck, and there was nothing he could have done for Humeray other than what he did, which is shoot him so he doesn’t have to endure being burnt alive. It was an impossible situation, and he shouldn’t blame or torture himself for what happened. We’ll see how many more times he lets Yaganai make him relive it.

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But hold on, that flashback isn’t even the darkest, most fucked up thing to go down in this episode. Asseylum doesn’t mean it, but her very presence is driving Rayet crazy. While she and Eddelrittuo come in the shower prattling about how awesome she is, it’s the last straw. While Eddy is away for a moment, Rayet, seemingly in some kind of trance, slowly walks into Asseylum’s stall and strangles her with her necklace.

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Then the Deucalion shuts down and crashes, since Asseylum was its source of power…a fact we had forgotten right up until that point! I’m not yet buying that she’s dead—just unconscious—but it’s still serious business that Rayet’s passive disdain has turned active and unhinged. It’s also ironic that after all the Vers traitors’ attempts to off Asseylum in the most public and flashy way possible, it’s a human that ends up “getting to her” in the shower of a floating battleship.

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Finally, Slaine is now the guest of Count Saazbaum after the latter killed Cruhteo. Saaz comes right out and admits he is the traitor who plotted Asseylum’s assassination, but it’s not what we initially thought: Saazbaum isn’t just a selfish rich asshole, he’s a selfish rich asshole who felt used by the royalty fifteen years ago, whipping up wars to distract the masses back home, which led to the death of his beloved betrothed. He’s committed to taking out the royal family—Asseylum included—and no amount of surprisingly sharp butter knives will stop him.

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Sword Art Online II – 07

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In this calm-before-the-storm episode, SAOII puts the action on hold and takes the time to reflect on the present emotional states of Kazuto and Shino, painting the coming rematch as must-win for both of them. If Kirito loses, his chances of facing off with Death Gun diminish greatly, now that Death Gun is far more than the target he was hired to investigate.

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While outside of the MMO where he gets to shoot and slash and take his mind off things, in the real world Kazuto is haunted by his titular “crimson memories,” or rather the lack of detail in them. After putting on a brave, reassuring face for both Asuna and Sugu (a face they don’t quite believe), it’s Nurse Aki who finally gets to the heart of his torment: because he forgot two of the faces of the men he killed, he believes he’s a monster who doesn’t deserve to be saved.

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Aki can’t do much more than offer hugs of increasing intensity, but hugs can be immensely effective in moments such as this. I particularly like how Aki admitted she had no idea what it must’ve been like to kill in SAO, but as a medical professional she deals in life and death all the time, and sometimes someone has to die for someone else to live, and someone else has to choose, and live with that choice.

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Neither I nor Aki can believe that Kazuto is the monster he claims, simply because a monster wouldn’t suffer like he is. And as Aki says, people have a right to save themselves by balancing their guilt for the people they killed by remembering the people they saved and protected. It’s a burden to be acknowledged and carried, not a pyre upon which to immolate oneself.

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Shino is in a bit of a tough spot as well. Her time spent with Kirito in GGO has changed her; she’s even making a gun shape with her hand in the real world, something she never could do. As much as she doesn’t want to admit it, he’s helping her become stronger. Meanwhile, Kyouji confesses to her in both worlds, wanting her to go back to the way she was; a selfish notion, considering how much we know Shino didn’t like the way she was.

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Continuing his campaign of acting like a very suspicious motherfucker, Shinkawa Kyouji makes Sinon even more uneasy—not the best thing to be when you’re in the tournament of your life—but Kirito is just as uneasy. These are two people whose souls have been wounded by the lives they’ve taken, and both have chosen the BoB as the venue of their redemption, if there’s any to be had. But only one of them will move on.

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Aldnoah.Zero – 06

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The Orbital Knights of Vers got what they wanted: an official declaration of war by their emperor. Upon hearing this news, quite a few mecha protagonists would gnash their teeth and tighten their fists in indignation, but Inaho just shoots Asseylum a look that says “Well, looks like your plan went nowhere, Princess!”

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With the war resuming, Captain Magbaredge and the ragtag combination of crew, trainees, and civilians, has little choice but to run and hide where they doubt the Martians would bother them: Tanegashima, an uninhabited land scarred by Heaven’s Fall. It’s a homecoming for Lt. Marito, as that’s where he and his friend Humeray fought Vers kataphrakts with obsolete tanks 15 years ago; a fight only Marito survived.

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Adding fuel to his fire of guilt, Darzana discloses that Humeray was her brother and she blames Marito for his death. I must say I wasn’t expecting that kind of connection between him and what seemed like a side character, but I did enjoy that whole scene of the three adults drinking on the flight deck.

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AZ continues its trend of keeping the peril cranked up and not giving its underdog heroes much of a respite. They could have done a momentum-killing rest episode of mostly character work and it probably would have been just fine, but AZ’s got things to do, so we meet the first female Orbital Knight, someone who apparently was interested in planting her flag on a ruin.

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In fact, it’s that calm, reflective drinking scene on the flight deck she interrupts by launching the four arms of her kataphrakt at the Terran ship like missiles. Even HE rounds won’t penetrate her armor, and the most they can do after Morito himself jumps in the cockpit of a Kat (and after having another panic attack) is to deflect her arms with the blast force of heavy ordinance. Even then, they’re on the verge of defeat when Inaho runs out of bullets.

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They’re saved in the knick of time by Slaine, freshly escaped from Cruhteo and looking for the orange trainee Inaho favors. Now, even if most of them don’t know it yet, the Terrans have the only one on Earth who can control Aldnoah tech (Asseylum), and the son of the lead researcher (Slaine). Combined with the cool-as-a-cucumber Inaho, the vengeful sister, and the functioning alcoholic vet, there’s a nice team coming into focus.

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Stray Observations:

  • I liked how Yuki told Inaho to address her as Warrant Officer Kaizuka on the ship, but when they’re in the cockpit, she allows “Yuki-nee”, which is as good a callsign as any.
  • The rivalry between Slaine and Inaho begins before they formally meet, as Inaho corrects Asseylum on why Earth’s sky is blue; Asseylum having been taught by Slaine.
  • Saazbaum brings up wanting to interogate Slaine now, when Slaine is on the run? Great timing, guy.
  • Even upside down, or out of ammo, Inaho stays cool.
    “Wait…We’re not dead?” Oh Inko…please don’t die!

Sword Art Online II – 06

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One of the nice things about SAO is that the previews are simply a static screen with the title of the next episode, as Kirito says “Next Time: [Episode Title]” It doesn’t spoil what’s to come, so we had no idea the show was about to hit fast forward on the BoB preliminaries and deliver what we’ve been waiting for: the first battle between Kirito and Sinon.

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By SAOII standards, that came in a hurry, but a welcome one. The second episode showed us how a GGO battle works and how good Sinon is, but fell down on both stakes and emotional resonance, since we hadn’t yet learned about Sinon’s troubled past, and the parties in the battle were fairly inconsequential, beyond reminding Sinon she has to get stronger.

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This episode improves on all of that one’s shortcomings, and while the vistas were cooler in that one, the quality and pace of the combat is maintained, only this time we care more about the outcome, which ends with Sinon conceiting defeat and surrendering. It also repairs the rift caused by a misundrstanding last week that drew Sinon away, and also turned her idea of the “strength” she seeks on its head. For all those reasons, I think this was SAOII’s best episode to date.

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Up until now Sinon had fathomed strength as the thing that allowed her to slay the most powerful foes with ease, and which allows Kirito to stand still and still dodge her sniper fire, or slice her final bullet in two in their final duel. Kirito sees all that as merely skill, not strength. He also relies on luck and circumstance; his interaction with Sinon after the first round wasn’t a calculation on his part, but it affected her aim from then on regardless.

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No, to Kirito, strength is the thing that allows you to continue living with yourself after having chosen to kill, and kill more than once. Even if it was to defend his comrades and the woman he loved, he still took their lives. Sinon also killed to protect herself and her mother, but both of them have the same problem: Sinon has been unable to move on from that event, and now that Death Gun has reawakened his crimson memories, neither can Kirito.

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Kirito and Sinon, sittin’ in a tree…A-N-G-S-T-I-N-G…so now Sinon may well belive that she’s found her soulmate, but Kirito is, not surprisingly, unaware of the connection, since he doesn’t really know about her past. He also already has Asuna. But in any case, he and Sinon are now no longer enemies, which means she could prove a valuable ally in the coming fight with Death Gun, should he choose to involve others. Of course, he’s said he’s done with killing, but up against a killer, he may have no choice.

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Stray Observations:

  • I really dug the GGO victory fanfare that plays when the battles are one. I counted at least three instances of it here.
  • Particular kudos are in order for Sawashiro Miyuki on her voice-acting in this episode. It’s always nice to hear her voice a leading lady, though her villains are pretty great too.
  • Notable Kirito and Sinon contrasts: she’s primarily in white, he’s black; he charges his opponents in a mad rush, she hangs way back and snipes.
  • I dug the flashback to when Asuna was still rocking her Knights of the Blood garb. Too bad we didn’t get to see her fight much. She remains a tragically underused character.

Sword Art Online II – 03

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After her great victory over Behemoth in GGO, Asada Shino logs off to find herself back in her lonely, tenuous, pitiable existence in the real world. Bullies shaking her down for fare in a dark alley threaten to show her a model gun, and we learn why that’s such a big deal: having put three bullets into a bank robber to save her mom as a small child, Shino now gets intense panic attacks every time she sees or touches a gun.

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Shino’s guy friend Shinkawa, who saves her from the bullies, suggested she dive into GGO as “immersive therapy”, and she found she could handle the guns in the virtual world without any issues. In fact, her entire motivation for rising in GGO is so the strength she’s gaining as Sinon will somehow “rub off” into the real world. But that seems like wishful thinking even she can’t always maintain, as she sinks into her bed thinking “Someone, please save me.” The real world is the real world, and GGO is GGO.

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Thanks to Death Gun, whom Kirito still hopes is just an urban legend but whom we know exists, those worlds are becoming intertwined. Those he targets in GGO die in the real world. Kirito and Shino’s paths have yet to cross, but now that he’s in GGO it’s only a matter of time, especially since we learn in the end that Sinon needs saving too: she’s Death Gun’s next target, no doubt having gained enough esteem to catch his attention.

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Kirito has a nice setup thanks to Kikuoka: a hospital room; the same saucy nurse Aki who took care of him when he was trapped in SAO; constant observation and instrumental monitoring. He’s not going in half-cocked, except for the fact he’s still not convinced the Big Bad is real. So…who is he? Well, we only see part of his face in the end as he strokes a picture of Sinon, but my guess would be Shinkawa. (Note that this is just a guess; no spoilers in the comments, please!)

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Their awkward tea revealed some of the inadequacies that could fuel a villain, from daddy issues and being on a path not on his making, to his friend surpassing him in the thing he introduced her to. It’s still unsettling to think he’d resort to murder; perhaps he bears deep psychological scars as Shino does, only his are expressed in violence towards others, particularly those who make him feel inferior, and he can’t stop any more than Shino can keep herself from vomiting. We’ll certainly see.

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Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta – 09

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This week Pilot’s Love Song delivers an aftermath episode that’s almost as good as the devastating battle that preceded it. After the memorial services for the dead, the rebuilding of Centezual commences and Isla’s course towards the End of the Sky continues, with the consensus of the higher-ups being that they should explore an alliance with the Holy Levamme Empire. Still, the Sky Clan continues its bombing raids and the people of Isla are on edge.

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We also see that the battle has had a very understandable demoralizing effect on all of the pilots (we can’t really call them “trainees” anymore). Chiharu is inconsolable, and many a pilot’s eye is red from lengthy tears. While lying in bed Kal experiences flashbacks of the carnage; while he may have performed his duty admirably, it still clearly traumatized him, as it does everyone. Being together, helping the townsfolk, and sharing meals can mitigate that pain.

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But what can also calm Kal’s troubled heart is finding the one he loves is alive and unharmed. Again, fate seems to bring the two together at the cemetery late at night, even as Claire is resolved to disappear from Kal’s life and the life of all the other pilots. Kal’s confession of love and their first kiss is a fleeting comfort, isn’t enough to convince her that she’s misguided in her actions, and she takes this, which she perceives as the last time she’ll be alone with Kal, to finally confirm he’s La Hire and tell him the truth, something we weren’t expecting to happen in an aftermath episode. Kal reacts predictably but understandably, with an overwhelming combination of confusion, shock, and rage.

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He’s hated Nina Viento for a long time, after all; though he loves Claire, he can’t just shrug it off. In fact, he can’t do much of anything afterwards, but lock himself in his dorm and lie sulking in his rack. No one, not even Ariel, can shake him from this state (not even when she tries to talks sense into him, then tells him she has to quit piloting due to her injury). In fact, this was the first time we liked Ignacio more than Kal in an episode, as he not only lets Ariel speak to Nina (who Ariel figures out is Claire immediately) and also by crashing Kal’s pathetic pity party and tossing him in the lake. You go, Nacho.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)