Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 03

Quite disappointed the words she worked so hard to say to Kondou didn’t give her the response she wanted, Akira becomes so preoccupied by Kondou and her feelings for him she seems to float above everything else with little interest.

She reconsiders asking her classmates for advice, and we kinda see them through her eyes. She knows how they’d respond if she mentions someone she likes, and especially if she tells them his age. So she doesn’t bother. When two track kohais lure her back to the track to watch and offer tips, it feels like a gross imposition, and an insensitive one at that.

Upon watching one set a new personal record, she regrets having been lured. When she goes, the girls consider going to her restaurant, she snaps: “DON’T!” That place is her world. Hers…and the manager’s.

As if mimicking Akira’s darkened mood, the heavens open up and a steady rain falls. Akira has no umbrella or coat, so she get soaked. She doesn’t care; she’s too lost in thought.

This rain reminds her of the day she injured her ankle, having felt something but simply taped it up and practiced in the rain anyway. We see everything from the injury, the doctor visit, and the isolation she felt upon being knocked out of action…and it’s frikkin’ heartbreaking!

Mind you, all of that ends with her getting a free cup of joe from Kondou and BOOM, it’s gone from the rain to…After the Rain. Great title, that. When she arrives at the restaurant in the present, soaked head to toe, she meets Kondou there, having a smoke.

He beckons to her to get inside, but she isn’t there for a shift. She’s there to repeat her words, and phrase it so there’s no mistake: I like you. Then she leaves. Kondou, bless him, gets the message, and it causes him to space out at a green light. Was Akira’s confession just a dream; a mirage in the rain?

After it rattles around his aged cranium, Kondou determines that it is not a dream, but a prank Akira and the other young staff members are pulling on him, because there’s no way she’d seriously be into him. He’s SO SURE of that he curses himself for almost falling for the prank!

But as he’s an adult, he doesn’t make a big deal of it. Kids will be kids, and sometimes kids are awful, both to each other and to their elders. He shrugs it off, though not because he isn’t irritated. Those punks!

Akira’s behavior upon returning to work seems to back up his theory, at least for a time. But when her casual talk immediately turns to I’ve told you how I feel; what’s your response, all hope that this was something “shrug-off-able” disintegrates.

Kondou is very careful with how he proceeds. He offers Akira a ride home, since it’s still wet out and she’s still recovering from her ankle tweak. He’s direct about his response: he can’t give her a proper one, because he’s 45 and she’s 17.

Akira immediately disputes the relevance of their age gap, and when Kondou persists, she repeats her confession so loudly and strongly he puts the car in a skid. This isn’t something he can shoo away with what he thought was common sense and social conventions. She’s resolute!

Sensing both of them could use some air (and that continuing to operate a motor vehicle could be hazardous at the moment), the two go to a park. Kondou follows a respectable distance behind Akira, who surely wishes he’d walk beside her. They come to a tree where there’s shelter from the stray raindrops that linger.

He asks her why she likes him, of all people. We already know she has plenty of reasons, and isn’t just interested in him because he “saved” her when she was at her lowest—when the proverbial rain was at its harshest. She’s come to like him even more since getting to know him more. He’s hard-working, honest, kind, fair, and a good father.

And he makes her laugh; indeed, when he insists she reconsider, as he’s a 45-year-old boy with no hopes or dreams, that right there makes her smile and laugh in a way he’d never seen, because she’s hearing him talk in a way she’s never heard him talk before.

Akira doesn’t care that he’s 45, or that she’s 17, or how low an opinion he may have of himself, and she doesn’t list any of the reasons I mentioned above. Instead, she questions the very notion of liking someone requiring a reason at all. And she’s right; you can cherry-pick whatever reasons you happen to brainstorm when explaining why you like or love someone.

But the reality is perhaps closer to Akira’s particular philosophy at this time: that love is ultimately a mystery. You may never know for sure why you feel it for someone; but you can never let that lack of answers frustrate or discourage you.

Being pursued in this way is a strange feeling for Kondou, and a nostalgic one, since it’s been decades since he’s felt it. But he has felt it, so he knows what it’s like better than most. He remembers being Akira’s age, and for a second, we see him like that.

When Kondou jokingly challenges Akira to go on a date him, and find out just how short a time it would take until she finds it creepy, Akira takes it to mean We’re going on a date? We’re going on a date! Kondou dare not correct her, at least not then and there. So, at least for now, on a date they shall go.

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Darling in the FranXX – 01 (First Impressions)

Hiro and Zero Two first cross paths when her enormous transport arrives at Plantation 13. They each look in each others’ general direction, but they’re very far apart, and there’s a lot of loud noise and bright lights. Zero Two yearns for the ocean, but there is none on P13. So when she breaks free of her minders she finds the nearest thing to an ocean: a lake.

Hiro comes upon that lake, where Zero Two is already bathing naked. When she goes underwater too long for comfort, Hiro runs out to save her, but she’s not drowning, she’s fishing. She has no reaction to Hiro seeing her naked, and she notes that his taste makes her “heart race,” but says so very clinically.

Hiro is alone at the moment, and as FranXX needs two people—male and female—to pilot it, he is also powerless. But Zero Two, called the “partner killer”, is also alone, because so many partners can’t handle being paired with her, and because of her horns and her weird behavior.

It’s definitely a unique and “educational” encounter for Hiro, but before he knows it, Zero Two’s minders have showed up to collect her, and right after she offered to make him her next partner, her present partner is among the minders, burly but still in pretty tough shape.

Now Hiro and Zero Two have had two encounters: one from a afar and one much more intimate. After they part, life aboard Plantation 13 proceeds apace, with the welcoming ceremony for all of the “Parasites” (copilots) for FranXX being held in a great hall as adults watch (all Parasites are minors).

Hiro isn’t a part of the ceremony, because he, AKA 016, and his former partner Naomi, AKA 703, failed their FranXX tests. Now deprived of the only purpose they’ve ever known, the two share one last chat before Naomi departs for her new, apparently pointless life. It feels for all the world like a tough breakup, tinged with sci-fi trappings.

It’s likely at some point Hiro would have boarded one of those yellow spherical vehicles as well, but before he can, Plantation 13 is attacked by a “klaxosaur”, a ferocious biomechanical beasie that wrecks the entire elaborate platform Hiro is standing on.

Eventually a FranXX appears in the form of a four-legged beast, far outsized by the klaxosaur but every bit as vicious in its counterattack. This is where Trigger’s patented wreckage-strewn chaotic action scenes begins, which continues all the way to the episode’s end.

When the klaxosaur fires its main weapon, the FranXX crashes right beside where Hiro is watching. A bleeding Zero Two emerges, bleeding but still in the game, but her partner is out for the count. She’s fully ready to go out there and pilot the FranXX alone to fend off the ‘saur, unafraid of death, but Hiro won’t let her go alone, and he isn’t, like doing anything else, so he tearfully declares he’s coming with her.

Zero Two is pleased, and the tears and look in Hiro’s eyes again makes her heart race. She pulls Hiro into the cockpit and plants a big ol’ smooth on him, activating the FranXX (named Strelizia) and revealing its true humanoid form and Gurren Lagann-esque face. We see no more of the two parasites, but merely watch Strelizia make quick work of the wounded klaxosaur.

When the newly-minted parasites, those who passed all the tests, approach Strelizia after the battle, and Zero Two emerges carrying a passed-out but otherwise-okay Hiro, they’re shocked. Hiro, more than anything else, is revealed that someone came along to make his life meaningful again, while Zero Two seems happy to have found a true “Darling” for her FranXX.

This was a strong start to a show that may not have a whole lot of original big ideas, but excelled in design, details, execution, and that good old Trigger style. Hiro may be a generic guy, but Zero Two’s got a neat design and Tomatsu Haruka’s husky voice is well-paired. I like what I see so far.

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.

Houseki no Kuni – 03

Land of the Lustrous continues to be, one of the strangest and most otherworldly beautiful anime of the Fall, and I am loving it. After their encounter with the Lunarians’ giant snail, Phos has…changed. That is to say, they no longer have a humanoid body. They’re still “alive”, as much as all of the Gems of this land are.

But while the standard rules of flesh-and-blood humans don’t apply to Phos or any other gem, there are other considerations that do: their “humanity”, i.e. the network of interpersonal relationships that define Phos to others.

Despite being shiny gems, these people have the same social structure as any normal human group. Which explains why the overriding reaction to Pho’s apparent transformation into some kind of semi-sentient invertebrate is…indifference. Apathy. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯-ness.

The Gems are largely a pragmatic and practical bunch; if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem; if you don’t have an immediate, measurable use, you’re of no value.

Diamond, perhaps the most altruistic of the Gems, scoops up the creature believed to be Phos and seeks help first from the doctor, but Rutile only knows how to heal Gems, and would only dissect and kill the creature if left alone with it. When presenting it to other Gems, most see Phos’ metamorphosis as an improvement, and in any case wouldn’t know where to start in terms of changing Phos back.

There’s an almost Christmas Carol quality to this…if Scrooge were a slimy slug being carried around by an anthropomorphic diamond, and the Gems were the various ghosts who visited him. So, basically, A Christmas Carol exactly. :D

Dia ends up far out in the country, and their observations of “Bio-Phos” indicate Phos might not care or want to change back. The creature eats plants, poops them out (like watermelon seeds), then curls up and falls asleep, like any biological organism would do. Dia laments that Phos had such crappy connections to the others that they’d care so little about Pho’s present situation.

Where is Cinnabar, I kept asking myself, what with their unique poison gooey properties. Well, Cinnabar is where they always are; far. far away from everyone else, on the night watch. They spot a bright light they believe to be Lunarians, but turns out to be a dozing, but still dazzling, Diamond.

Despite not taking any active role, just being in contact with Dia proves crucial to Phos’ return to corporeal form. You see, on the isolated shores of the country there are a good number of snails, and Cinnabar observes that those snails eat stone to restore and harden their shells.

The snails who eat red stone turn red. Those who eat white stone turn white. So a snail who ate phosphophyllite would have a minty glint to their shell. That’s when it hits Dia: the creature isn’t really Phos. Phos’ crystalline structure is now in the shell at the bottom of the pool back home. We saw the answer, those green crystals, in the opening moments of the episode.

Now knowing what to do, Dia rushes back as fast as their diamond legs can carry them in a gorgeous, lyrical sequence that really illustrates the great distance that must be covered and neatly establishes the scale of the land, along with Dia’s determination to cross it and save Phos. Even the stern Bort can’t refuse that determination; indeed, Bort averts their eyes at the sheer brilliance of it.

And so Dia, who unlike Phos has strong bonds to all of their fellow Gems, calls upon everyone to assist in heaving the great shell to the surface, carving out the Phos deposits from the shell, and delivering them to Rutile, who reconstructs Phos in another gorgeous sequence that makes full use of the 3DCGI.

Phos awakens, surrounded by the other Gems, and is immediately off on the wrong foot, attacking and yelling at the creature Diamond is holding rather than, you know, thanking everyone for saving them once again.

And yet that act of communicating with the creature and responding to its noises reveals a new and potentially groundbreaking fact: Phos can understand what the creature is saying. That makes Phos unique and potentially valuable…for once.

Phos endured quite a bit over the last couple episodes—to an extent worse than the routine smashing into pieces—and seems to have made some kind of connection that may even prove useful in future dealings with the Lunarians. If only Phos would take their ordeal to heart and start mending relationships with others.

Houseki no Kuni – 02

After a beautiful (if somewhat hard-to-swallow) explanation of how the gem people came to be, we see that gaining crystalline form hasn’t changed the fact that people still procrastinate and whine, as Phos does for most of this episode.

They’ve assigned themselves the role of finding another role for their new friend Cinnabar, but ends up making zero progress with the encyclopedia Kongou instructed her to compile.

After getting no love from Jade, Phos goes out to meet Diamond, who is on patrol. Diamond is very pretty and ethereal to behold with their irridescent features and gentle Kayano Ai voice.

But Dia doesn’t have much to tell Phos either; Phos may look up to Dia, but Dia wallows in the shadow of the just-as-hard but also tougher Bort, who swoops in to save both Phos and Dia when there’s a Lunarian attack.

Bort also exposes Diamond’s hidden missing hand, making Dia a liability in the field. Then another Lunarian cloud appears, but it passes right over the three gems and heads to HQ, where it dumps a giant shell at colonnade.

The Lunarians are dealt with by Bort, Dia and Jade, but while they are, a snail emerges from the shell and slurps up Phos, who instantly starts to melt and dissolve in the snail’s digestive juices. Phos’ impudence may be grating, and I assume they won’t die from this, but their rapid dissolution was still graphic and upsetting. They seem to be a magnet for trouble.

One thing’s for certain: this snail looks like just the kind of threat Cinnabar could deal with when no one else can, due to their corrosive poison. I realize Cinnabar is stationed pretty far off, but their complete absence from this episode was nevertheless conspicuous.

Houseki no Kuni – 01 (First Impressions)

There are instances where 3D CGI has turned me off (Ronja, Berserk) and instances where it just…works. Polygon’s Sidonia no Kishi is one such example, an Orange’s new series Houseki no Kuni is another. Characters are crisp and elegant, with elongated designs reminiscent of fashion illustration and jewel-like hair that casts reflections on the shoulders of their black uniforms.

Another thing HnK has going for it is…it’s just so bizarre. Forget jewel-“like”—the 28 characters are actually humanoid manifestations of gems, all with a “hardness” matching the gem they’re named after. They’re genderless, and also immortal; no matter into how many pieces they shatter, they can be reconstructed.

That’s good, because they shatter often while fending off the Lunarians (Moon-Dwellers) who try to use them to make jewelry. Phosphophyllite, the main protagonist this week, is voiced by Kurosawa Tomoyo (Kumiko from Euphonium), who brings a lot of brightness and humanity to the role of the youngest (and one of the weakest) Gems.

After shattering to pieces simply after their leader Kongou-sensei shouts, Phos is assigned to create a natural history encyclopedia. Their peers, most of whom dismiss them as useless, lazy, dumb, or all of the above, suggest they seek out the reclusive Cinnabar for info on nature, as they’re essentially all alone on the night watch.

While looking for Cinnabar, Phos finds herself nearly a victim of the Lunarians, but is saved by Cinnabar at the last second. Cinnabar (voiced by Komatsu Mikako) has a kind of Midas Touch that turns everything to ruin, and vomits out a poison that consumes the charging Lunarians in an intense but beautifully executed action scene.

Phos tries to lend their arms to keep Cinnabar from falling—and they shatter off—but both Gems are safe, and Phos finally managed to meet the person they were looking for.

The encounter makes Phos feel bad for Cinnabar, and after being repaired by Dr. Rutile, goes back out to where Cinnabar is wandering. Cinnabar (the only Gem with a hardness factor lower than Phos’)  voices their desire to be taken to the moon where there might be a decent use for her, but Phos doesn’t like that fatalistic talk one bit.

After getting some material for their encyclopedia, they vow that they’ll find something better than the night watch that only Cinnabar can do…so Cinnabar can quit talking about leaving for the moon. It’s the beginning of a friendship between two misfits whose collaboration could benefit both in contributing the maximum amount to the group effort.

Shoukoku no Altair – 04

Mahmut’s first posting as a newly-demoted Binbashi is his home village of Tughril, rebuilt since its destruction twelve years ago in the last war. Mahmut still carries emotional scars and has nightmares of that night, but he’ll no doubt have to overcome or refocus those fears if he wants another shot at Pasha.

Using the Pyramis crystal at the water shrine, we and Mahmut quickly find ourselves deep in the intricate spy world of Turkyie. Barbaros, an old man who once carried the flag for Halil Pasha, now kulak of the village, serves as go-between between Mahmut and Zaganos’ spy in the area.

That spy turns out to be Suleyman Kara Kanat, who along with Mahmut are the last survivors of the previous Tughril village. Like Mahmut, he cursed himself for not being in the position to save his village, but for a different reason: while Mahmut was just a wee kid of five, Suleyman was off eating, drinking and cavorting in far-off Florence.

Consumed by despair and self-hatred and pity, Suleyman ended up raised up by one Zaganos Pasha, who would later visit him the first day of his promotion and offer him a job in his new spy network, one to rival the splendid information system that was the real power of Florence. Given purpose and a goal again, Suleyman gladly entered Zaganos’ service.

Meanwhile, after a scene of Minister Louis drawing up some dastardly scheme, his Rod Orm assassins arrive in the village and attempt to knock off Barbaros, who turns out to be as spry as Yoda and gives them a fight.

Mahmut and Suleyman join the fight, but Mahmut makes a couple of potentially fatal mistakes when he underestimates the assassins’ ability to adapt to his tactics and use some of them against him, as well as misjudge their weaponry.

After a literal cold shower (to get the eagle-luring blood off his clothes), he puts his trust in Suleyman and Barbaros, and the three re-confront the female assassin and run her out of town, destroying her mask in the process.

When called upon, Altair can execute action competently, albeit at a slower pace than most shows in the genre muster. That said, it’s good to see Mahmut’s usual tricks countered, suggesting a worthy foe. This is all a valuable learning experience for the next stop on his spy-world itinerary: Phoenicia.

Kuromukuro – 04

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A handful of demons are still at large all over the globe, but there’s no imminent existential threat to humanity. But Kennosuke still has a challenging battle to fight: adjusting to the modern world, where even the eating utensils are different, to say nothing of the kind of food people eat.

Much of this episode’s first half is Ken settling into Yukina’s uncle’s house, much to Yukina’s consternation. Samurai otaku Koharu, on the other hand, is delighted to have a real life samurai around to criticize the little men in the box (TV) whose stances are all wrong.

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I must say I fall more on Team Koharu in terms of Ken’s fish-out-of-water antics being immensely entertaining and amusing. The show really flexes its slice-of-life and comedy muscles, after previously showing it can do hand-to-hand combat, mecha battles, and general peril.

I especially enjoyed how Ken turns everything—from the strange food to the pet ferret on the roomba—into little mini-battles that test his mettle. As the uncle says, he really is a warrior, and warriors don’t always make the best houseguests, but they are fairly predictable in their behavior and values…especially a distinguished samurai such as Kennosuke.

Of course, there will always be hiccups, like repurposing Yukina’s favorite towel as a loincloth. But that’s just part of the fun, as Yukina’s often mortified reactions are as funny as the words or incidents by Ken that cause them.

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So this isn’t the most heavyweight episode, plot-wise, but it does continue to gradually build up a bond between the two leads, Yukina and Kennosuke. She’s tasked with taking him to the mall (which he mistakes for a castle), and she takes the task seriously, even though she’s reluctant. Something about Ken rubs her the wrong way (especially now that she learns they’re about the same age) because he’s new (or rather old) and different; shaking up her old mundane life.

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But as I said last week, there’s an upside to Kennosuke, beyond laughing at his archaic way of speaking and the unique ways he sees certain aspects of modern life, and its that very shaking up of Yukina’s life; giving it sudden and profound purpose.

When Ken looks around at all the happy kids at the mall, he remarks that the world has become a very peaceful place, and so his princess did not sacrifice herself in vain. It’s a very poignant, melancholy moment, which is expanded upon when Ken essentially assures Yukina that her father—who was dismissed as a whack-a-doo for his theories on alien demons—was right.

Of course, her father being right doesn’t change the fact that he left, something Yukina, who seemed close-ish to her father in the flashbacks, probably laments/resents about him. But when Ken sees and verifies his bigfoot-like photo of a demon, it’s as if a missing piece of a puzzle has fallen into place. I’m all for badass mecha action, but quiet episodes like this that develop the players are welcome too.

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Kuromukuro – 03

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After the yellow “Demon” retreats, Ouma spots another part of the world (other than the mountains) that hasn’t changed since his time: a castle. When he calls out to be given an audience and gets no reply, he is confused. When he gets a look at Yukina’s outrageous-for-his-time outfit, he scolds her.

When Yukina starts talking to a “box”, a lady appears inside of it, and the castle’s floodlights come one, he believes it all a matter of demon trickery. This is a man stubbornly clinging to his time, but this week he finally relents, even if it means becoming, as he sees it, ‘useless’.

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What Ouma does not and will not set aside is his honor, which means even though he considers Yukina his hostage, he shan’t lay a hand on her, nor any woman or child. That policy is tested when he’s quickly re-captured by the UN, escapes again, and comes afoul of Sophie. She surprises him by taking him down and putting him in a hold, but she releases him when he gropes her. While not every female soldier in this day and age would have reacted as Sophie had, in this case he was lucky.

What’s nice about Japan is that many man-made things haven’t changed much in four centuries; not just the castle: Yukina’s uncle Yakushi Osho is a monk, and wears the same basic threads as his forbears of yore. He manages to finally calm Ouma in a great little scene in which the two men sit together and speak plainly.

Even so, when Ouma is in transit flanked by UN guards, he runs into Yukina’s precocious little sister Koharu, who came to the lab to see her sister and wandered off on her own. Koharu gets in trouble with the guards holding Ouma, who knocks them out for threatening to raise a hand to a child, something he cannot abide in any century.

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Now, it’s a bit implausible and convenient for Koharu to have such free rein in a high-security facility, and that of all the halls of the vast complex, she crosses paths with Ouma. Then again, Ouma seems to be a bit of a man of destiny, while Koharu is a known “adventurer”, as some little kids tend to be. She’s also a bit of a samurai otaku, and cheerfully greets him with the traditional –de gozaru vernacular.

She also follows him out into the woods, but it isn’t long before a demon “Cactus” gives them the jump. Koharu is captured, and Ouma must run back to HQ for help—and his “steed.” He enlists Yukina’s aid, promises seppukku if it turns out he’s wrong, and the steed flies to his location to scoop the two of them up.

A thrilling ride ensues, with the steed flying over the massive dam and through the river’s canyon, with Yukina using her phone’s GPS to locate Koharu. They find her just moments before the Cactus makes off with her (covered in some kind of cocoon) and with some UN assistance, Ouma is able to slay the demon.

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For his heroics, he is pardoned for his latest escape, but more than that, this whole ordeal ends up leading to Ouma’s final realization that much time has indeed passed since he went to sleep in that cube. He knows this because the landscape tells him: a great rock cleaved in two by his own (relic’s) hand so long ago, now covered in plants.

Meeting again with Yukina’s uncle, with no lord to serve Ouma knows not his purpose nor why he is alive anymore. But I will rest assured that purpose will be revealed to him in due time, if it hasn’t already. I presume he was awakened so he could join Yukina (distant relation to his former lady?) in fighting the new scourge of demons poised to wreak havoc across the globe.

That he was able to rescue Koharu can be a purpose in and of itself, though it’s true she only ended up in danger because of him. Still, before long everyone may be in danger, at which point his new purpose—to protect those weaker than he—will be clear.

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Attack on Titan – 19

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What does Levi’s big flare gun shot set into motion? Well, in the immediate moment, not all that much; it’s only an acoustic round that doesn’t seem to affect the She-Titan at all, but could serve as a signal for the soldiers ahead of them, as well as wiping everyone’s slate clean, so to speak, and focusing them.

But the more Eren focuses on what’s behind him—scouts engaging the Titan and getting killed, while he runs away—the more upset he gets, to the point he’s ready to bite his hand and become a Titan himself so he can stop the killing. Levi, looking ahead the whole time, doesn’t discourage him from this. Rather, he tells him to make his own choice, though Petra begs Eren to believe in her and his other comrades.

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Those words—“Believe in us.”—triggers a flashback, which is another suspension of the momentum of the present events, but actually turned out to be a worthwhile detour. When Eren climbs down a well to test his Titan-transforming powers, biting his hand doesn’t work. Levi tells him not to sweat it, and they have some chow.

But as Eren reaches for a spoon that’s just out of reach, the Titan transformation occurs, as he unwittingly creates a partial Titan torso and arm grasping that spoon. All of a sudden, Eren’s comrades draw their swords and start yelling, ready to kill him if he so much as flinches. The sense of cascading fear and mounting chaos in this scene was quite palpable.

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Eren tries to de-escalate by shouting “Be quiet for a second!”, but he’s really saved by an elated Hange Zoe, whose mouth is literally watering at the chance to see Eren’s ability in the hot, skinless flesh. Ironically, it’s Hange’s crazed, reckless thirst for knowledge and unapologeticly light mood that defuses the tense standoff. And Romi Park is immensely entertaining in this role.

An assist goes to Levi, who stood between Eren and his trigger (or rather blade)-happy officers and insisted they all basically chill the fuck out. No one acts in the time between Eren’s transformation and Hange’s arrival because the others are heeding their Captain, even if the compulsion to act decisively without thinking too much is strong.

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In fact, those instincts are one of the very reasons Levi chose them for his unit. None of the men or woman directly under Levi can be said to be like Armin; they’re not overthinkers. If they see an imminent threat, they don’t assess; they act. But another reason he chose them is their unswerving loyalty. When Hange determines Eren’s actions were involuntary, they know when they’re wrong and that they were threatening jerks to Eren, and not only apologize, but bite their own hands.

Would they act exactly the same way as they did if the clock was turned back (as tends to happen on this show) and they faced identical circumstances? Definitely, but that’s not going to ever happen, because now they know a little more about Eren and his ability: he only transforms when there’s a specific purpose to it, whether it’s protecting his friends from a cannon, plugging the gate, or reaching for a spoon.

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That night when Petra and the others bite their hands pledge to believe in Eren, and urge him to believe in him; that’s the end of Eren’s deliberations. Petra’s look up top is the same as the one from that night, an earnest plea for him to put his trust not only in himself, but in her, and Levi, and the rest of his comrades. Rather than transform, with the purpose of beating the She-Titan, he decides to keep racing forward on his horse. He’s growing a lot on this mission…without having to grow into a Titan.

His faith in his comrades and the Scout Regiment in general pays off, as the She-Titan, having been harried by several scouts who gave their lives to enable Levi, Eren, Petra & Co. to stay just ahead of her, is led straight into an elaborate trap consisting of hundreds of restraining wires that stop her in her tracks.

This was Erwin’s plan all along: using Eren to draw the She-Titan into captivity. She’s covering her nape, but they believe someone is in there (probably someone with that same hairstyle, I’m thinking), and they’re itching to get her out of there so she can answer for what she’s done…whoever she is.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 06

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Gundam IBO is so deft at telling its story, crafting compelling characters, and drawing us in to its world, that even an exposition-heavy episode that would have been boring in less capable hands is almost as engrossing and thrilling as the big adrenaline-fueled battles. One reason is easy: people tend to hew closely to what they know, both about themselves and the world.

The company and family that is Tekkadan is between worlds right now, but they have a place and a home in their ship, if only a transitory one. When we watch Atra and Mika act like an old married couple, we’re comforting that however much has changed, both for better or worse, some things haven’t.

Which will make it that much more impactful (and potentially devastating) when the core status quo is seriously challenged. Which it certainly will once Tekkadan reaches out the Jovian mafia, Teiwaz, for help, and Fareed continues his slow-burn pursuit.

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But that comes later. IBO recommends we be on our guard by checking in on the outside parties pursuing Tekkadan, but also welcomes us to kick back and enjoy the slice-of-life aboard a ship that’s equal parts military contractor transport, orphanage, school, and embassy.

Like any small community, everyone must pull their weight. Atra has settled in as the cook, and the better food is crucial both for growing young ones and morale of the older ones. Even Fumitan flashes her technical skill, getting hired as communications officer. But until this week, with the exception of securing funding from Nobliss, Kudelia has felt increasingly useless.

She’s being unfair: as she makes clear in her elevator speech to Mika and Atra, she might just have the most important role in Tekkadan’s survival—her pursuit of Martian independence. But she’s still restless and wants to make immediate positive contribution to what she sees as a microcosm of the planet she wishes to free, so I like how she settles on the one important role the ship glaringly lacks: a teacher.

That’s doubly important considering how un- or under-educated Tekkadan’s crew is. Most of the youngest are illiterate like Mika, who doesn’t even know why Kudelia is going to Earth, while Atra doesn’t even know they were headed to Earth (technically, they’re headed to Jupiter for the moment).

Mika smiles a bit when Kudelia says she wants to make everyone happy, because to hear Kudelia, complicating his life by expanding his world through reading and writing is the key to that happiness.

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And Kudelia would be right: as long as Mika and the others aren’t properly educated and remain in the dark about how the world works, they’ll always have a disadvantage that makes them vulnerable to those who do. Their potential enemies are getting smarter as the dumb ones exit stage right.

Enter Fumitan, who Orga seems to trust enough to not only make her comms officer on a mission requiring radio silence whenever possible, but leave her alone on the bridge. In my Mika-like ignorance (Mika would trust whoever Orga trusted), I’d hope Fumitan and her close-up eye-narrowing were only a red herring, not something more sinister. But I can’t discount that she’s the new internal threat to Tekkadan, and someone to worry about far more than the hapless Todo.

Similarly, Fareed is light-years ahead of Coral in antagonistic competence. He lets Tekkadan go so he can learn more and more about them, and in particular the weapon that’s keeping them alive. That weapon isn’t the outdated Barbatos (about which he already knows plenty), but its pilot Mika. Fareed reaches out to 2nd Lt. Ein Dalton for more insight into that pilot, and considers rewarding him by letting him join the pursuit mission. “I understand your feelings. I’ll think about it.” So far, that’s Fareed’s credo.

One of the unsung (no pun intended) elements that makes IBO such a great show to immerse oneself in (like an Utawarerumono hot bath) its its excellent score, and the theme that plays under Fareed’s talk with Ein is quintessentially Fareed: quiet, subdued, exacting, and inquisitive, building to more dramatic instrumentation when Ein expresses his desire to avenge his fallen comrades.

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Back aboard the Ex-Will-O’-the-Wisp, Biscuit wonders if Tekkadan is suffering from mission bloat on its first mission. Is this simply to tough with the manpower and equipment at their disposal? Shouldn’t they ask for help, like from a subcontractor? Biscuit asks these questions, but he’s fully aware of the answers: no and no. This is Tekkadan’s first mission, and they can’t compromise or fall short on the promises they’ve made.

Orga has to be bold, not just to make a name for the company, or cement the loyalty and confidence of its employees. It’s all for Mika. Her His eyes are there” every time he turns around. Mika is always ready for action; ready to be told what they’re doing next. To Orga, Mika is stronger and cooler than he’ll ever hope to be. So he, in turn, must be as bold and cool as possible.

That leads to taking shortcuts like balancing the fate of the entire mission on the presumption that Fumitan is one of the good guys who shares his values and goals. Or getting in bed with pirates and mobsters. Or embarking on a mission before determining the fate of your well-connected ex-CEO who ran off with a suitcase full of cash. We’ll see if Orga’s increasingly bold stance to carrying out his mission will pay off or lead to his downfall.

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 04

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Aha…so the man behind the attacks on Festa participants was…SILAS NORMAN. Wait, who? Julis’ opponent turns out to be Lester’s bowl-cut toady, with Lester himself unaware of the cowardly tactics Silas was implementing (Les is the sort to challenge his opponents face-to-face).

But I’m still grasping for reasons to care about Silas, or why he continually thinks he has the upper hand against Julis and Lester and that they’re DOOMED before his army of slow, lame golems. It’s like Crabbe or Goyle fighting Harry Potter instead of Malfoy, with substandard magic: nothing much other than shrug-worthy.

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He does have on thing on his side: numbers (and the fact Julis tends to block her own field of vision with her huge fiery spells, which…is actually a good point). So when her leg is grazed by a bullet the golems are able to bum rush her. Then Silas reveals he’s a sadist who wanted to “take his time” with Julis, because of course he is and does.

But before he can strike the decisive blow, Julis’ night in school uniform swoops in, halves the golems holding her down, and takes her aside. They then proceed to have a nice casual little chat together while Silas and his golems patiently wait. Again, Silas never struck me as anything resembling a credible threat (the episode refuses to respect him; why should I?), so this isn’t that strange.

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While Julis is initially upset Ayato came and put himself in danger for her sake, he tells her why: being by her side is the purpose he’s chosen, even if he has to do boring stuff like mop up Silas’ sad golem army, which is so easy with the Ser Veresta that he can do it while carrying Julis around.

The reveal that the army is structure like a chess game (Oooh, chess!) adds absolutely nothing to the tension; only the opportunity for Ayato to say “Checkmate!” at some point.

But he doesn’t! Instead, he says “Ripping apart the five viscera and severing the four limbs…Amagiri Shinmei-style, Second Sword: Nine-Fanged Sword!”…Not as cool. Plus, ya said “sword” twice there, brah.

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When Silas limps away on his last functioning golem, Ayato prepares to put Julis down and go after him, but Julis has a better idea: cast a flying spell and pilot Ayato to Silas up in the sky. Finally, after beaing nearly defeated way too easily by Silas, Julis gets to do something besides hang around in Ayato’s arm while he does all the fighting.

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He delivers one more blow, halving Silas’ lifeboat and sending him plummeting to the streets to be arrested by Claudia. (Lester is never seen again, for the record). But Ayato and Julis can’t enjoy the lovely sunset or their victory for long, because an imprisonment spell restraining Ayato’s powers takes effect, making him pass out. It was a spell cast by his sister, perhaps in order to protect him from himself.

He then wakes up in the lap of Julis, who is totally okay with having his head in her lap. What ultimately saves this episode from sixdom is the fact that the whole battle with Silas was a kind of audition for Ayato, to prove to Julis once more that even if she thinks she can go it alone, he’s going to be there for her. It wasn’t the toughest battle, but then again, Julis did end up restrained and almost taken out.

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So when Ayato requests to be her partner in the Festa, she eventually agrees, trying and failing to hide her blushing happiness the whole time. It’s all very nice. But more importantly, these two lovebirds are still chess pieces for someone, and that someone is Claudia.

While I don’t think she’s evil or anything, she is ruthless in getting her way, which means ensuring Ayato and Julis become a powerful pair who will go far in the Festa, as well as handing a viciously bloodied Silas off  to her “Shadow Stars” for further interrogation (i.e. torture). I almost feel bad for poor old Silas OH WAIT NO I DON’T.

Finally, Silas was only ever a pawn himself, for the rival school Allekant, a confident, scheming representative of which we meet for the first time, watching Claudia on surveillance video. Clearly, Silas wasn’t her only piece on the board.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 03

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I don’t hesitate to award this episode a 10, and can be confident it’s not just a kneejerk reaction to the adrenaline rush it provided as things moved forward very fast. I’m giving it a 10 because it was virtually flawless by my standards, and comprised the total package: a taut, refined narrative, intricate character dynamics and motivations, and beautiful presentation, all while preserving the Gundam heritage that deserves to be preserved and subverting it where appropriate.

The escalation from serving a warm, home-cooked meal to everyone—including the surly First Corps—to a complete takeover of CGS by Orga’s Third Group, was delivered with stealthy deftness that respects the viewers. We all knew something was going to go down; it was only a matter of when, how, and if it succeeded.

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The answers to three questions are ‘now’, ‘forcefully’, and ‘yes, most definitely’. The stew they feed the Firsts is drugged, and they wake up, they’re tied up and at Orga’s mercy. I really dug his wry response to his former boss’s classic “who do you think you’re dealing with?” line:

“Incompetents who can’t give proper orders and caused this much damage.”

They’re not just incompetents who got Orga’s comrades killed, they’re incompetents who will also fail at the business end, and lead to the death of the company, along with the rest of the Thirds, in time. Orga is putting an end to their reign before that happens. It’s not just revenge; it’s pragmatism. This is how they survive.

The First Corps commander still thinks he’s in control, talking about sparing the lives of the people with a gun to his head. Again employing Mika as his steady right arm of enforcement, he makes an example of the commander by having Mika put two bullets in his head. No negotiations. No deals. Join Us, Leave, or Die are the only options. It takes Mika having to shoot one more First dead before everyone else has made their decision.

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So…now what? Interestingly, those who decide to join Orga’s new CGS regime include the accountant, Dexter Culastor, who soon determines just how screwed the company will be if they don’t find work immediately, and Todo, a middleman between the First and Third who was going to go whichever way the wind was blowing.

The problem with CGS right now is that they’ve got Gjallarhorn on their asses. Far from being a feather in their cap, no one will do business with them lest they too incur the wrath of Gjallarhorn. Todo has a solution: hand the young miss Kudelia over, in exchange for being left alone (and a little cash).

It’s a self-serving, weaselly plan (apropos since it came from the self-serving, weaselly Todo), but it’s also one of the only ways to get Gjallarhorn off their backs, if there even is a way. Eugene likes the plan and wonders why Orga hesitates, but the discussion is tabled by the arrival of Crank.

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As we should have known, Crank is not there to defect; he’s there to put and end to things between CGS and Gjallarhorn one way or another. If he wins the duel, they’ll hand over Kudelia and the captured mecha. It’s an arrangement even Aina agrees to, because like Crank, she wants to minimize further needless bloodshed, especially where kids are involved.

Orga asks Mika if he’ll do it, but it’s only a courtesy, because he knows Mika will do it. He may be short and scrawny, but Mika is the toughest motherfucker in CGS, as demonstrated when Orga tells Aina (who wants to do something to help and is considering having a mecha interface implanted) that a large chunk of those implanted ended up in hospital beds for life or worse…and Mika’s had it done three times.

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The duel commences, and Thank God the mobile suits have P.A. systems so the pilots can talk to each other. To not have such systems was an obvious and intolerable, beaten-to-death plot hole in Recon. Here, Crank can tell he’s fighting a child, something he abhors, but he must do his duty nonetheless. Wisely, this episode’s sole representative of the “bad guys” is a reasonable, honorable man doing what he thinks is best in this scenario, and if he gets killed, at least all the responsibility will fall on him.

But like Aina, Crank is misguided about one thing, at least as far as Mika’s concerned: He’s not some poor kid being victimized. Everything Mika does, every order he’s obeyed from Orga, has been of his own free will, and out of his desire to stay alive. Mind you, this is Mika’s own perspective; in reality he’s a severely screwed-up dude; “a bit Touchy”, as Atra remarks, doesn’t nearly cover it).

Crank, for his part, never underestimated Mika; he saw what he was capable of the last time he watched him fight. Instead, Crank is simply limited by his loyalties in what he’s able to do. So when he’s done as much as he can and still loses the duel, and is unable to move to kill himself, he asks Mika to do it for him.

Again, he didn’t have to ask: Orga already told Mika to kill Crank; there wasn’t going to be a different outcome, because Mika isn’t the brains of this operation, nor do I think he wants to be. And a notable gesture on Mika’s part: both before he takes off in Barbatos and after he kills Crank, he smells the bracelet Atra gave Yukinojo to give to him, perhaps keeping him grounded in his humanity among all the carnage. For those keeping score: Aina got to feed Mika, while Atra got her bracelet to him.

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The role of brains belongs to Orga, who stands fast even as a huge piece of mobile suit comes crashing down feet away from him. And that’s when he comes up with a new name for their company. Goodbye CGS, Hello Tekkadan, meaning “Iron Flower”, one that will never wilt. Nice name.

As for Aina’s role, she first becomes the newly-named company’s first official client when she commits to using Tekkadan as her security service indefinitely, no longer depending on her untrustworthy father, but the largess of Nobliss Gordon—a name we heard from Coral as also being Gjallarhorn’s financier. It also seems Aina will be eschewing a mecha interface implant for a more political role with Tekkadan, the company that kept her alive.

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