Tower of God – 13 (Fin) – Just Climb, Baby

“‘Be sure to drink your Ovaltine’. Ovaltine?! A crummy commercial?! Son of a bitch!”—Ralphie, A Christmas Story

I thought of that quote from a movie I watched a ton growing up when I watched this finale, because over and over I’d heard that this adaptation was nothing but a pale shadow of/introduction to the sprawling webtoon, something I’d never seen, and was more of a commercial than a product in its own right.

Don’t get me wrong: both Ralphie and I should have known that at the end of the day anime—like radio—is a business. Unless it’s original content, part of its raison d’etre is to sell its source material, be it a manga/manhwa, novel, or game. Much like Bam, I can’t say Tower of God “tricked” me into watching it only for it to be a glorified prologue. Like Rachel’s attitude towards Bam, its true nature was always apparent.

But I only watch anime for anime’s sake. Any product that tries to steer me towards something that isn’t anime is never going to succeed. I watched Tower of God simply for the characters it introduced, the story that was told, and the setting in the title…which, it turns out, we never really got to see. There was never any actual climbing…that doesn’t begin until the very end.

Up top you see Rachel’s look of relief as she says “Finally,” her long ordeal with Bam is over (at least for now). One mark against this finale is how little new content it contains; much of it is a recap of past events with Rachel’s narration providing fresh context, right up to when she shoves Bam out of the bubble and to his apparent death.

We start with Rachel arriving at the base of the Tower, meeting Headon, and being told she’s too weak to climb it. But she’s eventually able to convince both him and Hansung Yu to let her make the attempt anyway, but only if she completes a special test: She must kill Bam. They even provide her with a Rak-sized bodyguard, as well as guidance from the redhead Hwaryun.

In Rachel’s mind, what she must do is never in dispute, so much of her ordeal throughout the training sessions is convincing her body to respond to her mind’s intentions. Climbing the Tower and becoming a star, not just seeing them, is her primary objective, and Bam is an obstacle.

She watches and stews with envy and resetment as he gains everything she wants with hardly any effort: an amazing weapon, a tight-knit circle of loyal friends who believe in him, the ability to summon and manipulate shinsu at an elite level.

But finally, the incident with Hoh puts her in a position to get rid of Bam, but tying him to her more closely than ever. Bam was never going to abandon her not matter how badly she treated him, so when she loses the ability to walk, he offers to stay by her side and be her legs.

Throughout all of this, Rachel has no illusions about who and what she is. She’s no savior, she’s nothing special; only something “extra”. She’s not a star, but at best a shadow cast by one. But that doesn’t mean the shadow won’t try to take the star’s place. If she climbs the Tower and becomes a star, perhaps the self-loathing within her will go away.

Yu and Hwaryun arrange things so Rachel is found by the others in a puddle of worm slime, and when she comes to she has no idea what happened to Bam. Anything could have happened, but the theory they’re left with is that he was probably eaten by a fish. In any case, he’s gone, Rachel is free of him. Climbing out of bed with very functional legs, she stands by the window and laughs a villainous laugh.


That’s because despite no longer having Bam to lean on, all of his friends (except maybe Parscale, who goes along with the group anyway) believe that helping Rachel in Bam’s place is what he would have wanted. They’re not wrong, either—even though Rachel played them all.

She continues to pretend she’s disabled, and while Khun most definitely has his suspicions about Rachel and what went down in that bubble, what he doesn’t have is proof, so he holds his tongue as Yu transports the surviving examinees up to the Tower to begin their clumb.

As for Bam, he’s not really dead, but was held in a bubble of shinsu until everyone else was gone. Then Hwaryun releases him and offers to continue training him to climb the Tower, if he still seeks answers at the top. Bam responds that he doesn’t think there are any answers up there, but he’ll search for them as he climbs anyway, because…well, what else does he have going on?

That’s honestly a lot of vague cliched “what will you do” platitudes at the end there, which aren’t very enticing considering how relatively little happened in these past thirteen episodes, and how no Tower climbing at all took place. There’s a certain feeling of arrogance that an audience will simply keep letting itself get strung along a la Attack on Titan, season after season, year after year…and as a newcomer to the series ToG just didn’t develop the clout to do that.

That said, I don’t see what will possibly stop me from tuning back in if and when the anime adaptation of ToG continues. Perhaps this really does mark the end of the beginning, and that an end—teased at the very end with what I assume to be an older, longer-haired Bam standing triumphantly near the corpse of a monster with a color palette similar to Rachel’s—may someday come.

I just won’t hold my bread that we’ll see that end in that next season. But perhaps we’ll finally see the Tower, a bit of climbing, and learn more about why those things are so important. Also Rak eating more chocolate bars. Till then, I’ll be sure to drink my Ovaltine.

DanMachi II – 01 – May I Have This Dance?

After a four-year pause, DanMachi resumes, starting with Cranel and his party (Lili, Welf, and Mikoto) on thirteenth floor, taking care of business. The baddies are threatening; the action is smooth, slick, and packs a punch. Mikoto is a nice addition with her lightning-quick, multidirectional katana strikes.

While unwinding at the tavern, talking about the future of this party full of members of different Familias, Bell is suddenly verbally accosted by a young pipsqueak, backed up by a group of his friends all wearing the same military uniform: that of the vaunted Apollo Familia.

He says a couple of the wrong things about Hestia, and Bell gets mad, but it’s Welf who stoves in the kids face with a flagon. One of the kids’ much tougher (Level 3) friends quickly rearranges Bell’s face and nearly chokes him to death; he’s “saved” by Bete, complaining about the noise.

Hestia, ever the goddess of warmth and kindness, is proud of Bell for fighting for her name, but impresses upon him how sad she’d be if he got hurt again for her sake (Lili tends to Welf).

The next day, after reporting the fight to Eina, Bell is approached by two Apollo’s children—Daphne and Cassandra, whom I’m sure we’ll see later—who present him with an invitation to a Banquet of the Gods.

Since Hestia and Apollo have a sour history (she rejected his offer of marriage—Poseidon’s too—choosing instead to remain pure), there could well be some unpleasantness, but Hestia is excited nevertheless, in part because she gets to take a child plus-one.

It’s an occasion when everyone gets to show off how nicely they clean up, and while his hair remains stubbornly messy, even Bell looks pretty damn dapper in his tux.

It’s also an effective way of re-introducing all the gods, goddesses, and children after a long hiatus. Still, it’s hard to feel easy at the house of Apollo, the Familia Bell & Co. “disrespected” so recently. You can’t trust a god with children that…sophomoric.

Hestia and Loki snipe at one another as Bell and Ais give each other eyes, but neither has the guts to defy their goddess right in front of them. Even so, Bell lingers a bit as Ais walks away, and once he turns his head, Ais turns back too. Though members of different Familia, particularly those whose gods don’t like each other, don’t often mix, Bell and Ais clearly don’t feel that way.

While out on the balcony, Bell spots the Apollo child who almost killed him talking to someone and gets suspicious, but is saved from locking eyes with him when Hermes shows up and, after hearing Bell explain why he became an adventurer (at least in part to meet cute girls), steers him in the direction of one with whom Bell should dance.

A completely unexpected but utterly delightful dance scene between Bell and Ais ensues, the two looking absolutely killer in their classy duds, but looking even better because of how much goddamn fun they’re having dancing with each other.

I was gradually reminded of a similar dance scene in FFVIII (that was top-notch CGI in 1999!), starting out awkwardly but becoming smoother as the two grew more comfortable. Even if it was shameless bait for AizBell shippers, I don’t care; it was freaking beautiful and I loved every moment of it!

Unfortunately, the episode’s crushing low immediately follows its dizziest high, as Apollo pulls the plug on the pleasantness and reveals his resting crazyface. Yep, he’s one of those…gesugao or whatever…

Previously described as “spiteful”, he demonstrates he’s petty too, calling Bell and Hestia out for the bar fight his children started, then using it as a transparent excuse to challenge Hestia to a “War Game” between their Familias. And if he wins, he’s claiming Bell.

And there you have it: one of the littlest Familias (but sporting the biggest heart in that of Hestia) going up against one of the biggest, most powerful and militaristic. Assuming allowing outside help (like Ais, for instance) is forbidden, Hestia, Bell and Lili will surely have their work cut out for them!

DanMachi II – 00 – The Story So Far

Yes, the first Saturday of the Summer season does not start with the first episode of the long-awaited, non-spinoff sequel to 2015’s DanMachi. It was your typical colorful, energetic J.C. Staff series that distinguished itself from other fantasy shows not only by not being an Isekai, but also featuring one of the more endearing untraditional boy-girl (or rather boy-goddess) pairings—though it can be argued he has a harem, Cranel Bell’s first loyalty is to Hestia.

In this zeroth episode, the two cheerfully narrate a recap of their adventures so far, culminating in the grand final boss battle that while a bit rushed at the time still provided a satisfying topper to a series that had plenty of potential for a second season. Instead, we got a pretty weaksauce spinoff (Sword Oratoria) with an entirely different cast which I quit after four episodes. It will be good to see the main characters back in the spotlight…but for that we’ll have to wait another week!

TenSura – 24.5 – Recap

Ifrit finds himself trapped within Rimuru and meets Veldora Tempest, who forces him to play shogi since it’s not as fun playing alone. As they play and chat, the events of the last 24 episodes run by…and that’s about it.

I’ve been made aware that the manga has “Veldora’s Journal” entries at the end that similarly recap what’s happened in the story so far, but there wasn’t really anything I had forgotten or needed to be reminded of, making this episode rather superfluous after the first couple minutes.

Another somewhat puzzling capper to a season that felt like it needed two or three fewer episodes than it got.

Re:Creators – 13

One thing on which Oigakkosan and I can agree is that one of the best scenes of Re:Creators to date comes at the end of the very first episode: a smash cut from the serious end credits to the newly-arrived Meteora and Celestia going on a convenience store snack spree on Souta’s dime.

It’s a successful scene for so many reasons, among them that it establishes the clever fish-out-of-water dynamic that was later largely abandoned once the battle with Altair began in earnest.

It was also a strong indication that the creators of Re:Creators had a sense of humor, and unlike some Troyca shows, wouldn’t mind cutting loose and having a little fun from time to time.

Aside from some in-show commentary from Chikujouin Magane, Re:C hasn’t done as much as either Oigakkosan or I wanted with the potential established in that first episode’s final scene. Heck, they even killed off my favorite Creation at the time (Mamika), the one with the most ridiculous attacks and sound effects.

Fortunately, and quite to my surprise, that cheeky, mildly self-deprecating tack returns with a vengeance in this, the ostensible recap. It turns out to be more of an Osterreich recap, as Meteora delivers a fun and amusing fourth-wall breaking commentary, even embellishing her own importance and appearance in the story.

Where her potential had been somewhat dulled by being trapped in the show, with Meteora free to discuss things like the synopses of the various characters’ anime (often lifting it verbatim from the official websites), she morphs into a neat audience surrogate, and share her opinions on how things have gone thus far the normal format of the show wouldn’t allow.

The show’s willingness to pull Meteora, the talkiest of the talky creations, out of the world of the show and into ours matches the premise of the show, and reestablishes that first episode potential by making sure my smile rarely leaves my face throughout her recap.

Initially portraying herself as far “sexier” than she really is; taking great pains to explain why Celestia lost her first battle against Mamika so badly; criticizing Yuuya and Alice (AKA Grasshopper Glasses and Muscle Brains) for so easily falling for Magane’s deceptions; it’s all great stuff.

At the same time, we’re getting little glimpses and tidbits of their stories before they became a part of Re:Creators.

After appearing again as a statuesque, scantily-clad pool hustler (with the other characters represented as balls), Meteora saves her most biting verbal venom for the show’s villain, Altair, tearing her character design apart as needlessly, annoyingly complicated, and suggesting that the producers change her outfit to a tracksuit and sandals (which we unfortunately never see, but which I’m sure a fan will draw at some point). Badly karaoke-ing “World Etude” was also a nice touch.

In the final scene, we’re back in the conference room from the previous episode with all the characters assembled, everyone but (regular-looking) Meteora frozen in time while she walks around with a spotlight above her.

Here, before returning us to the “normal format” and those final moments of the last episode in preparation for the show’s second half, Meteora aims to assure those who are concerned about the future of Re:Creators that, far from a sign of diminishing quality and an “industry in crisis”, this recap was always meant to be.

As a recap, it succeeds in going over the various players, where the sides stand, and what’s at stake. But what makes it a far better recap than I could have imagined—and a more effective episode than some of the normal format ones that preceded it—is its willingness to let its hair down and have some fun with its admittedly cool premise.

In doing so it demonstrated bolder, more creative thinking, and gave me fresh hope the show will find its second wind. One thing’s for sure: I’ll never watch Meteora—or listen to her many measured words—the same way again.

Tsuki ga Kirei – 06.5

After Chinatsu’s request to confess to the same boy Akane is dating, Tsuki ga Kirei hits the pause and rewind buttons for a “the road so far” recap. BAH!

The only thing to note is that after six episodes of a highly-filtered live action Shinto cultural dance sequence in the middle of the OP, it looks like they finally got around to animating it (see above).

Alas, there’s no new story until next week. Booo :(

Sousei no Onmyouji – 14

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After last week’s big battle and catharsis, we were due for a break at the show’s midpoint. SnO tries to make the recapping medicine go down easier by surrounding it with Tanabata festivities, but they only comprise about half of the episode, making this a half-recap requiring lots of fast-forwarding.

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The Tanabata content also rehashes Rokuro’s triangle with Benio and Mayura, but there just hasn’t been enough of Mayura for me to harbor any hope whatsoever that Mayura will have any success in that arena, despite the wish on the back of her tanzaku.

As for “Ohagi-Man”, the bit is funny at first (especially Rokuro’s running commentary), but grows repetitive fast. Checking in on the various adults guiding Rokuro and Benio doesn’t really result in any new insights; they’re just here to recap what’s happened.

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The episode ends on a nice note, with both Rokuro and Benio, having procrastinated what to wish for all night, gaze up at Altair and Vega, and both privately wish for the same thing: to become stronger with one another.

It seems they will certainly have to become stronger, with many foes and battles looming on the horizon. But whether they’ll ever become a true couple capable of producing a child—the Miko—is not addressed here.

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Attack on Titan – 13

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The episode that marks the end of the first half of Attack on Titan also, mercifully, marks the end of the interminable Battle of Trost. It’s an episode full of big, great, “Hell Yeah” moments. One of those is when everyone, believing they’re all at death’s door, suddenly stops what they’re doing and listen to the steady, ominous footsteps. Clearly they’re from a Titan, but it’s when they see the boulder moving that they know it’s their Titan, Eren, finally doing what he’s supposed to be doing.

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Finally, with the mission on the right track, everyone knows what to do: Eren must be protected at all costs. If he is swarmed by Titans again and God forbid, drops that boulder, it really is all over. Mikasa for one, is clearly not going to let any Titans get near him, belting out a primal war cries as she cuts them down one by one.

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Another great moment is when Eren finally gets to the broken gate and slams the boulder in place, kicking up a huge cloud of dust. All the torment of the arc’s past episodes seems to be worth it; for the first time, the humans can truly claim victory over the Titans (albeit thanks to another Titan). Rico admires Eren’s handiwork and is staggered by the enormity of what just happened. An most importantly, none of the hundreds of soldiers who fell today died in vain; they all died so that the gate could be sealed and the district saved.

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But there are still a good number of Titans still within the walls, so as much as everyone wants to stand down or pass out from exhaustion, there’s still a battle to be won. Fortunately for Mikasa, Armin, and a freshly-extracted Eren (it seems to get tougher and tougher to separate him from the Titan…uh-oh), the cream of the Scout Regiment arrives, confused by what the hell just happened, but ready to mop up. Captain Levi’s movements in particular are like nothing we’d seen in the battle before, even from Mikasa.

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With the last of the Titans dealt with, the butcher’s bill comes in: over 200 dead, nearly 1,000 wounded. It’s up for the soldiers like Jean and Sasha to gather up the bodies (or what’s left of them, having been horrifically spit up by stuffed Titans) and burn them before an epidemic finishes what the Titans started. It’s a ghoulish, traumatic business that ensures there won’t be any celebration for this first victory; not while one is surrounded by the stench of the burning remains of comrades.

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The final big moment of the episode, which paves the way for the second half, is when Eren wakes up behind bars, chained to his bed. He may have been the linchpin of the operation that saved Trost District and Wall Rose, but he’s still a potentially dangerous and unstable element, so the bars and chains are a wise precaution.

Fortunately, it would also seem that his captors hew more towards Pixis than Woerman, with actions driven by reason rather than fear. The commander of the Scout Regiment, flanked by Levi, simply asks Eren what he wants to do. If they’re to investigate Dr. Yeager’s secrets, hidden in the basement of Eren’s now-destroyed home in Titan-riddled Shiganshina, having a Titan on their side could prove as decisive as it was in the battle of Trost.

Eren wants to join the scouts and drive the Titans out. That impresses Levi enough to decide to take him under his wing. With a clear path set for the second half, and an interesting new master-student dynamic, I’m looking forward to seeing how things shake out with Eren, Levi, Mikasa, and Armin.

As for the other members of the 104th? Well…aside from Sasha and Jean, they haven’t made much of an impact for me, and even those two are a bit muddled. IMO AoT has most effective when it has resisted the urge to give every single character their two minutes in the sun, and instead focused on the core trio.

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First Half Pros/Cons:

Pros:

  • Richly-rendered world with well-defined scale and complexity
  • Palpable atmosphere of large-scale despair, desperation and futility
  • The Titans stike a weird balance of terrifying and cute
  • The Eren/Mikasa/Armin dynamic works very well, with each character contributing a unique strength
  • Mikasa is the undisputed star, cool outside but all churning emotions inside, making it all the more awesome when they break out

Cons:

  • Front-loading of episodes with recapping and retracing to start episodes
  • I’m sure the creator/producers thought through the 3D harnesses, but it still took a while to get on board with the fact they actually worked, and how
  • The supporting cast is generally bland, amorphous, and served mostly to steal valuable time from main triad
  • Excessive explanation combined with camera cutaways from overt gore suggest the targeted audience is younger than me
  • The show suffers from inconsistent pacing; the Trost battle went on far too long

Attack on Titan – 12

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After another extremely long and annoying (for someone semi-marathoning) recap of What’s Happened So Far on AoT, we return to the situation in Trost: Eren has transformed into a Titan, but he’s useless. All he manages to do is blast both of his fists off going after Mikasa, who insists to her CO Ian that Eren is “family”, not her boyfriend. Your blushing says it’s more complicated than that, Miss Ackerman.

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She suspends herself in front of his face and tries to reason with him, to no avail, so the episode, like many others before it, is more about what happens when things go wrong than what happens when they go right. But to the credit of Ian and the elite squad with Mikasa, the mission to protect Eren, even though he’s currently useless, takes precedence over their own lives.

Rico is angry about it, because he doesn’t think Eren is worth it, but he still obeys orders. He doesn’t let The Fear overcome his discipline. Instead, he resolves to go out fighting, showing the Titans what they’re made of. Elsewhere in the district, Jean tries to keep it together and prove—more to himself than the others—that he has what it takes to be a good soldier.

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Every minute Eren is out of action, dozens of soldiers both fit and unfit are being slaughtered and/or eaten by the growing horde of Titans. Pixis admits that he and he alone is responsible for these deaths, but is willing to be called a butcher if his actions save humanity.

Even though the elite squad signaled failure, he’s not throwing in the towel. Of course, one could say a great many of these soliders were going to die whether Pixis hatched this cockamamie plan or not, and one would be correct. If they do nothing, humanity is eventually going to be toast, to a man. So why not try something?

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Speaking of which, when Mikasa’s verbal pleadings fail to rouse Eren (who is stuck in an idealized dream in their old house in Shiganshina with his still-alive parents), it falls to Armin to try something else. Remembering the location from where Eren emerged was the same as the weak spot of all Titans, he digs his sword in, nicking Eren in the arm, and yells at him through the opening to wake the fuck up.

Again, AoT demonstrates why Eren and Mikasa alone can’t survive; it takes Armin’s extra perspective. Mikasa never would have risked harming Eren by stabbing him in the neck, but that’s exactly what needed to be done to snap him out of his blissful but self-destructive fantasy. Now that he’s awake, we’ll see if Eren’s able to exert enough control to pick up that boulder and seal the gate. Better late than never, right?

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