Great Pretender – 17 – Coward of Oz

Edamame is moving up in the Scarlet Company thanks, in part, to the Chinese lessons his late mother insisted he take. Back then, he idolized his valiant attorney father Seiji, as did his mom, whose only complaint was that her husband worked too much. Both were completely unprepared for the news that he was helping the mafia traffic children.

While Makoto responded to his dad’s betrayal with rage and resentment —and eventually turning to a life of crime just like the ol’ Pops, only pettier. His mother collapsed from the shock, and was bedridden the rest of her days, but she never gave up hope in her Seiji.

The flashbacks to good times abruptly turning bad then worse for Makoto are efficient but particularly well-done. His mom warmth and forgiveness despite the harsh betrayal she endured—something it’s clear Makoto never understood.

“Sleepy Princess” Abby and her reluctant jailor Makoto is such a bizarre scenario, such is her keeping-it-real ethos, Abby doesn’t treat her jailor any differently than the guy with whom she jumped out of a building in Singapore. Their growth as something like friends is evident when she asks him if he’s alright working for such a despicable business, and isn’t just asking, but is genuinely concerned.

She should be! Suzaku Ikemi’s Scarlet Company is on the brink of war with their satellite organization in Shanghai, which due to China’s economic boom has grown more profitable than its parent and unilaterally declared independence. Their disdain for their Japanese bosses is expressed when their boss, Liu, sends his second-in-command—the boorish Chen—instead.

Chen is accompanied by his interpreter, whom Makoto recognizes is his damn dad, who now goes by the name “Oz”. So that’s where he slithered off to!

Suzaku isn’t impressed by Shanghai’s little power move and declares an ultimatum, claiming 80% of Shanghai’s profits, even she must know won’t be forthcoming without a degree of bloodshed. Still, her options are limited; with their Chinese cash cow’s leash becoming slacker by the day, she can’t appear weak, lest they regard her as a paper tiger.

Makoto, meanwhile, is furious with the news of his dad’s participation in this job, and suspects it was kept from him on purpose by Laurent, who is flirting with a couple local women when Makoto violently confronts him. That leads Laurent to ask: if the geezer truly “means nothing” to Makoto, why get so worked up about him?

In his next meeting with Abby in her cell (where she’s playing way too many video games), she raises the possibility Seiji did what he did “out of necessity”, got in too deep. She suggests he compare his “loser scumbag” critique of his dad to what he himself was, before he met her and Laurent. Perhaps Seiji has returned to his life because he wants to be forgiven.

Makoto tests that theory by visiting Seiji in his hotel room. Seiji reveals he was actually just outside the door of Mom’s hospital room, but was too ashamed to walk inside. If he walked inside, she might forgive him, and he wasn’t sure he deserved that. But seeing what a shell of a man his dad has become, Makoto decides to be like his mom, and give him that second chance to be in his life. After all, Seiji is still wearing his wedding band.

Early in the morning, Makoto executes a modified version of the prison break plan, this time threatening the kids with his dad’s handgun; a necessary tactic to get them to go with him. Cynthia arrives with a bus big enough to hold them all, and seems both amused and heartened to see not one but two Edamuras in her presence.

Everything seems to be going smoothly until they get off the main highway and are immediately sandwiched and forced to stop by two mafia cars. One of them carries Ishigami, who while so charming and friendly before suddenly exudes cruel menace. He laments that both he and Suzaku saw something in him, and are disappointed it “didn’t work out”—i.e. that now he’ll have to murder him for his treachery.

Speaking of treachery: Seiji is the one who ratted Makoto, Abby, and Cynthia out to Ishigami, identifying them as the same group of con artists who have been causing trouble in the underworld. When Makoto can’t contain his rage and rushes at his dad, Seiji puts a gun to his forehead, reminding him he’s not his dad anymore…he’s “Oz.”

It’s possible he’s playing a longer game that requires he betray his son so he could save him later. Or he could just be a bastard. We shall see. In the meantime, Makoto & Co. are in deep shit!

Great Pretender – 16 – Surly Princess in the Demon Castle

Makoto knowing he’s in on Laurent & Co.’s latest scheme doesn’t make coming to work at Scarlet every day any easier. He cooks tasty food for the captive children, who then leave it untouched—one of their only available acts of defiance. It wears on him, but Laurent tells him Cynthia is about to make her move.

The next day, she does just that, posing as a wealthy foreign “dealer” who speaks English—I’ll note some of the best English I’ve ever heard in an non-dubbed anime. I’m glad they didn’t skimp on that detail, as the language barrier makes Makoto’s role as Ishigami’s (and later Suzaku’s) interpreter crucial to the deal.

Cynthia and Kim take Ishigami and Makoto out to the UAE, where they situate themselves at a vantage point from which to watch their services in action. They use Clark and Abby to stage a desert kidnapping, with Abby posing as a royal princess.

As is typical of a GP episode, this scene wears its Hollywood action influence on its sleeve, and is quick and well-executed—like a Hollywood action movie, only animated. Makoto also notes how convincing Abby appears during the staged attack, considering she’s not one to panic when a gun is pointed in her face.

More importantly, the charade and “Princess Abigail” convince Ishigami, who brings Cynthia, Kim, and Abby before Suzaku Akemi herself for inspection. Suzaku treats Abby no differently from any other human trafficking victim: like a piece of meat to be stripped down and viewed from all sides. Makoto wisely averts his eyes to avoid Abby’s ire.

Suzaku indicates her interest without strongly expressing it, and initially low-balls Cynthia with an offer of 100,000,000 (Cynthia hopes that’s not yen, since that would amount to less than $1 million). When Cynthia forces the issue, Suzaku blows smoke in her face and cops a feel, stating that if Cynthia were a little younger she’d get a pretty good price.

Cynthia doesn’t react to the abuse, which is clearly Suzaku testing her mettle, because she revises her offer to a cool billion. While that’s over $9 million US, it still feels like small potatoes compared to Laurent and Cynthia’s previous con jobs.

The deal is struck, and Princess Abby gets Ishigami’s winddown room as her cell, complete with TV and video game console. Meanwhile, Makoto continues to switch out the kids’ untouched food, and urges them to eat for their own sakes. But their looks indicate they don’t care about their sakes.

Hanging his head the whole way back to his apartment, Makoto is shocked to find Laurent, Cynthia and Kim waiting to surprise him with celebratory drinks. Makoto rightfully suggests this is sloppy on their part (who knows if Suzaku is following any or all of them since they arrived?) and they leave.

The plan from there is to spring Abby after they get their money. To do so, Makoto needs the key to her room, which Ishigami all-too-easily offers up when he falls asleep after drinking too much beer. Makoto presses the key into a bar of soap, and Kudou makes a copy.

On the appointed night, everything goes smoothly except for Makoto’s not-so-sudden crisis of conscience. (I particularly liked Abby hesitating to escape because she was in the middle of a game—it really nailed her character’s nonchalance in a crisis) He’s not prepared to simply hurt Scarlet by taking their money then stealing Abby back; he wants to free all ten kids being held there too. But when he and Abby try to do so, the kids don’t budge. Just like they wouldn’t eat because they have nothing to eat for, they won’t escape because they think they have nowhere to go.

They might reconsider that once they’re sold off to people who will use them for unspeakable purposes, but the bottom line is these kids’ spirits have long since been broken. They were already abandoned by their families for cash, after all. They don’t care what happens to them, and care even less about helping Makoto realign his moral compass. When a kid asks where they’d go from there, Makoto doesn’t have an answer. As Rachel Menken said to Don Draper: “You haven’t thought this through.”

Due to a security guy Makoto initially relieved returning when he forgot his phone, Makoto is unable to free Abby, so the op will have to wait for another day. But it feels like even if they do free Abby and get the money, this isn’t the whole job. Or maybe it is, and the job that follows may lead us more into Laurent’s past—the apparent focus of this final arc.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Great Pretender – 15 – The Brutal Return to Reality

It’s been four months since the Wit Studio-produced, Netflix-distributed Great Pretender closed the book on its satisfying London art dealing/Cynthia romance arc, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting its return for its final and by far longest arc, involving the ever-mysterious Laurent. But at least in its first of nine episodes, it’s an almost completely Edamame-POV episode.

After a ~5-minute recap (as narrated to his mom’s grave) of his adventures so far, we learn Makoto considers his latest job with Laurent, Cynthia, Abbie, et al will be his last. He returns to Japan to seek honest gainful employment, and Laurent seems to wish him well, urging him to “do what feels right”.

While his criminal record would seem to be a massive obstacle to getting a job, Makoto snags a job at a “trading company”, with the very expressively-faced Ishigami as his immediate boss and mentor. Makoto proves a natural at the job, using the people-reading and interacting skills normally used to con people to instead sell them stuff.

He rises literally to the top of his company’s tower, where he and a select group of model employees await the arrival of their chairman, the cool and fearsome Suzaku Akemi. Her lazily muttering “do your best” to Makoto upon meeting him signifies her approval of him, making his employment official.

Not long after meeting the big boss, however, Makoto learns that while gainful, this employment may not be quite on the level. That’s made painfully clear when, while in Hanoi with Ishigami for a pickup, he learns that the merchandise freaking children.

That’s right: Suzaku Akemi, Empress of the Underworld, has a large controlling interest in human trafficking, buying orphans and refugees for cash and auctioning them off to the super-rich. And Makoto thought the art dealing business was cutthroat! It’s a wonder he doesn’t vomit in disgust as the poor kids are dressed up and paraded out like lambs to the slaughter.

Then it dawns on him: if this “Sacrlet Company” Laurent recommended to him is a front for the mafia, than Laurent has had Makoto infiltrate the company for a job….his biggest yet. While the focus is on Makoto for the lion’s share of the episode, the fact of the matter this is Laurent’s show, because Makoto went and did exactly what he hoped he’d do. The Puppet-master’s strings extend across oceans!

Laurent fesses up to this job to an outraged Makoto, who is as angry with himself as his French friend, having let himself be played yet again. But Makoto isn’t the only one Laurent has in mind for this job, which is presumably to bring Scarlet and Suzaku down while pocketing a tidy profit. Cynthia, Abbie, and Kim are in, as is a welcome face from the Singapore arc, Clark, the nicer of the Ibrahim brothers.

With the recaps over, the broad strokes of the new job drawn, and the awfulness of the mark made crystal clear, all that remains is to actually dig further into Laurent’s past, which this week only amounted to a brief but beautiful dream where he and an unknown lover gaze up at the Aurora Borealis. Eight eps should be more than sufficient to do that, and they’re sure to look just as fantastic as the previous fifteen.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 02

Chito fights to stay awake at the handlebars as she searchs for shelter in a stinging snowstorm…and Yuuri builds a mini-snowman on her head. It’s pretty indicative of their relationship: Chi-chan may be the brains of this survival operation, but her seriousness is tempered by Yuuri’s more easygoing nature—when she’s not pointing a rifle at Chito, her only friend in the whole world (no one threatens anyone this week).

They find an old building, but it’s still cold—until they find a pipe that isn’t. Chito helps a freezing Yuuri steady her gun and blasts a hole in the pipe, then they use the Kettenkrad to haul a pipe fragment to fill and make a hot bath. Not only does the bath look extremely comfortable to spend time in, but proper hygiene is absolutely essential when trying to survive and this is only their fourth bath since leaving home.

After the bath they get a fire going, and Chito writes in a journal by the light. We learn Yuuri can’t read or write (at least not on Chito’s level), and the difference in education and value placed on the written word brings the two into philosophical conflict:

Chito: Memories fade, so we write them down.
Yuuri: Memories just get in the way of living.

(It’s also worth mentioning the language Chito reads and writes in isn’t Japanese, at least as we know it; they come across a Japanese sign she can’t read. Another indication we’re either dealing with the distant future or an alternate universe.)

Yuuri doesn’t even really pay attention when Chito is underscoring how valuable books are, so when asked to add fuel to the fire, she tosses a book in, and Chito isn’t able to put it out until it’s half-destroyed. Chito goes to bed angry at Yuuri, and when the winds outside intensify, it looks as though Yuuri is going to add Chito’s journal to the fire. If the choice is between staying warm enough to live versus the book, there is no choice.

Fortunately, things aren’t that bad (yet), and in the morning, Chito finds that Yuuri drew her sleeping face in the journal, along with the scrawled words “I’m sokky[sic].” She’s no longer mad. And how can she be, when the snows have finally ceased and the skies cleared, giving us a better look at the sprawling ruins of a colossal city of multiple vertical layers, Fifth Elementstyle.

The duo treads water out to the edge of one of the massive structures they stand upon, where a row of huge drains begin to spew forth fresh, pure snow melt, which Chito suggests they’ll use to do laundry—no point in washing yourselves if you’re going to keep walking around in filthy rags.

As their clothes dry, Yuuri finds a fish—something neither of them has ever eaten or even seen—but they’re right on when they fire-roast it on a spit. A hot bath, clean water, laundry, and a fresh meal: it’s been a downright luxurious outing for our post-apocalyptic wanderers.

There’s so much to like in SSR, starting with cute (but-not-too-cute) character designs, yin-yang characterization, deft voice work by Minase Inori (Chito) and Kubo Yurika (Yuuri), and gorgeous, gorgeous scenery of a ruined, deserted, but still thoroughly impressive civilization

The camerawork is great too, with some shots capturing two tiny human specks against the majestic the infrastructure, and others in which the girls’ widening faces fill the frame as they exhale in extreme relaxation. It’s a beautiful, heartfelt show; at once big and small; cold and warm; scary and comforting.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 01 (First Impressions)

The premise couldn’t be simpler: two girls on a bike in a world of nothing. They are, as far as they know, the only living souls left in that world; the rest is in darkness and ruins. Yuuri and Chito are their names. The more serious, reserved Chito drives the Kettenkrad half-track motorcycle; the more Yuuri rides along and carries a rifle.

Ever since they were thrust out of their home (which looked on the verge of falling to an unknown enemy force), they’ve had no direction except towards fuel and food; no directive except survival. And somehow, for an unknown period of time, they have managed to survive.

Their stomachs are always growling. They’re often cold, though warmer when huddled together. Food is never plentiful. They’ve been meandering through the darkness of a vast system of underground spaces for so long, that when they finally find themselves back outside, they’re blinded…by the starry sky, full of shooting stars.

They also behold a sprawling landscape of ruined, snow-covered civilization. These are kids, and they mess around and get on each others’ nerves, even as they work together to survive. They seem almost blind to the destruction and have perhaps compartmentalized the fact the two of them are all they have and possibly all they’ll ever have.

Things get a bit testy when they find a chest full of chocolate-covered ration biscuits that come five to a pack. Yuuri, the one with the rifle, unexpectedly turns that rifle on the unarmed-by-choice Chito, taking the fifth biscuit for herself. Even though they escaped and survived a larger war, the war to stay alive wages between the two of them, and one day one biscuit may make all the difference.

Chito is pissed, beating Yuuri up as punishment, and Yuuri seems to laugh off the incident, but it sure didn’t seem like a silly joke at the time. It seemed like a petty thing to do when they had a whole box of biscuits, especially considering a warm Chito to drive the bike and sleep beside (rather than a cold corpse) is surely more important to survival as the difference between three biscuits and two and a half.

Macross Delta – 14

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When Walkure, Delta, and Chaos retreated from Ragna, they did so with a ragtag fleet led by the reliable Macross Elysion, but lagging behind it is the Island Ship, a 30-year-old relic that didn’t get to properly warmed up and is now experiencing cascade power failure.

On top of air, food, and weapon shortages there are thousands of refugees who want to get back home ASAP, several of which wonder why they left in the first place.

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Makina and Reina formulate a plan to shore up the Island Ship’s systems, but they have to accelerate their plans when an energy blow-out causes a hull breach right near where Hayate, Mirage and Freyja are hanging out.

For a second, I thought things would go from bad to worse, but Freyja has always been pretty lucky, and so is not sucked out into space when she’s separated from the other two by an emergency bulkhead.

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While the plan to restore the ship unfolds, Walkure takes an impromptu stage to keep the refugees calm, hopeful, and entertained. Things get a little silly when Hayate and Mirage inexplicably strip down to their skivvies, ostensibly to get a better grip on a crucial power conduit.

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Things get a little sillier (and worrying for Freyja, who can kinda hear what’s going on in fits and spurts but comes to the wrong conclusion) when Mirage has to embrace Hayate tightly like a lover in order to turn the dang valve over, and when the power, gravity, and lights come back on, they’re literally left hanging from that valve, looking to everyone watching like they’d just been up to something untoward.

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With Elysion successfully docked and the Island Ship working more or less normally again, our heroes’ have cleared their first post-defeat hurdle: stay alive. Chaos also gains new sponsors (the old ones being occupied) in mining corporations who hire them to take the Globular Cluster back.

They’re still way outgunned, but at least they don’t have to worry about going broke, and they’ve staved off a more serious crisis with the refugees. Meanwhile, a power struggles seems to be afoot, with Keith in an apparent coma, Heinz poised to succeed his dead father, and Roid believing he possesses Gramia’s “will.”

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GATE – 07

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Itami’s run-in with the Rose Knight Order turned out to be one big misunderstanding, and Pina is furious enough to throw a metal cup at her subordinate’s head, which isn’t that extreme a reaction considering she now fears the treaty is over and the SDF is going to destroy the empire. She doesn’t know yet that that’s not how Itami or the SDF really rolls.

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With some heretofore unseen sleeping spell powers of Tuka Luna, Recon Team 3 re-infiltrates Italica, as their CO is gently nursed by no less than five maids, including a catgirl, a bunnygirl, and a medusa. The cut from these characters, who wouldn’t look out of place in a maid cafe, to the SDF soldiers who barge in fearing the worst, is admittedly a pretty funny sight.

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The fact that Itami’s beating at the hands of the Rose Knights isn’t that big of a deal—but various parties still consider it as such—is drilled home to an extreme degree when Pina essentially orders blondie to “use her body” to make Itami forget anything bad ever happened to him. Replace the pain with pleasure, and all that.

The blonde, being of high breeding, admits she’s been trained to perform such duties, and is steeling herself up to meet Itami in his bedroom (wearing a sheer nightie), only to find Itami’s maids and the SDF posing for digital photos.

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The blonde is insulted when Itami doesn’t notice her entering and seems to be ignoring her, so she slaps him, but again, she’s lucky Itami’s such an easygoing laid-back guy despite, to Kurebayashi’s shock, the fact he’s a certified ranger, i.e. a badass warrior.

Yet perhaps it’s because Itami has undergone/endured such vigorous training to become a ranger that the beatings aren’t that big a deal to him. Pina gets to accompany Recon 3 to their base, along with Blondie, where the two formally apologize to the general, with Lelei interpreting all day and getting so tuckered out Itami has to put her to bed, which is a cute but dubiously necessary scene.

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The next morning, Itami, Kurebayashi & Co. are kitted out in their dress uniforms in preparation to meet with the Diet in Japan. Not only are Lelei, Tuka Luna, and Rory coming along, but Pina and Blondie too (she didn’t make enough of an impact for me to remember her name, sorry :P).

And while seeing the special region people we’ve come to know setting foot in Japan is sure to be a momentous occasion (and a lot of fun to boot), we have to wait until next week to actually see it. This week, rather than fight, the JSDF kinda shifted around from place to place as Pina failed to control her violent subordinate.

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GATE – 06

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Pina Co Lada’s forces are being massacred by the more numerous and experience (and bloodthirsty) brigands, and all the death is arousing Rory, until she can’t take it anymore and rushes towards the east gate. We see just how much you don’t want to mess with her when her blood’s up.

Rory as a concept remains a bit silly in an otherwise straightforward low fantasy setting, but not nearly as silly as what GATE pulls when it’s time to call in the SDF cavalry…or to be more precise, the air cav.

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I’ve always had conflicted feelings about the “Ride of the Valkyries” Helicopter Attack scene in Apocalypse Now, which I think is the point. On the one hand…America, Fuck Yeah! On the other hand…Why the fuck are we in Vietnam indiscriminately slaughtering random villages? 

There’s a different kind of conflict in GATE’s homage to that scene because it so thoroughly, accurately lifts entire shots, music, and dialogue from that scene, it’s really less of an homage and more of, well, a knockoff. Which, I’ll be honest, was a little lame.

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The situations in both works are the same: a overwhelmingly superior force eviscerates a pitifully under-equipped enemy. But Apocalypse Now did it first, did it better, and did it in a way that I really didn’t need to see so shamelessly copied.

Mind you, for the elements of the audience who’ve never seen the film, this probably came across as pretty snazzy war porn. But it’s pretty clear the creators expected viewers to catch the references. If they didn’t, then it would be as if they were trying to pawn off an iconic scene from another work as their own.

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In any case, the battle itself, and the parts that aren’t ripped from AN, work well enough. Watching Kurebayashi pair up with Rory and go Medieval on some folks was pretty fun to watch too, even if I’m a bit dubious about the efficacy of rushing in and fighting at close range when there’s plenty of long-range weaponry to defeat the enemy from a safe distance.

Then there’s Itami taking all female prisoners (coincidence, eh?), and when Pina’s comrades in the Rose Knight Order intercept his convoy, he sends his team back to base, making himself the prisoner of two very tough, very beautiful “chicks.” These get Itami back to his roots as an otaku looking to meet all the exotic characters he can…but you’d think all the vicious slaughter they just carried out would be a little more sobering.

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GATE – 05

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This week, we learn that Princess Pina Co Lada’s Rose Knight Order was something she herself created in her youth out of a desire to be a knight and a hero to her people. She gathered other children of the court, mostly girls, and with the help of her knight and protector Grey, whipped them into shape. Seven years later, the order was officially established, but only as a ceremonial honor guard, to Pina’s consternation.

But with so much of the conventional military lost to the JSDF, Pina’s father finally deployed her unit. But her first battle, defending Italica from hordes of bandits (made up of former allied soldiers who fled the JSDF slaughter), doesn’t go so well, as most of the bravest and most skilled town conscripts are killed, leaving her handful of trained knights and a bunch of scared townsfolk. I’d want to stay in my dreams too, as she tries to do until doused with water by the maid.

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She awakes to learn that some people have arrived. She knows not whether they’re friend or foe, but once she gets a look at them, assumes any force with Rory Mercury on their side would have already taken the city, and let them in. Her first interaction with Lt. Itami is slamming the doors of the gate right in his face, but things improve a bit from there, as Pina can’t afford to turn down help in defending the city.

While Pina may not know it, she and Itami are of like mind: protecting the people is the primary concern, even if the JSDF recently killed thousands of her father’s soldiers. Itami defers to Pina’s command, and she places him and his men at the South gate to serve as decoys, where they proceed to simply stand around, waiting for the enemy to return.

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When the battle begins at 3 in the morning, the enemy attacks the East gate, not the South, and the gate falls almost immediately due to their superior numbers, tactics, and a “spirit wielder” on their side deflecting arrows. Pina looks upon the besieged walls as they breach and the bandits pour in with a stunned look on her face, trembling in fear.

It turns out Pina is a lot more green than I’d originally thought. In honorable one-on-one combat I’m sure she’d do quite well, but this is war, something she’s never experienced, and when her carefully-laid plans go awry, she stands frozen, like an honor guard, with the only force that can turn this around all the way on the other side of the city. I’d call for them if I were her.

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GATE – 04

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In this necessary and functional—if not particularly flashy or exciting—episode, many things come into focus as the various pieces are arranged on the board. It is clear now that Lt. Itami is a man who has always been in the right place at the right time: first Ginza, where his heroic actions gained him this new command, then his battle with the fire dragon, his decision to take on refugees.

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As his fellow lieutenant (a go-getter if I ever saw one) remarks, Itami’s circumstances make him a very valuable man who will likely have a lot more freedom to decide what is to be done about this Special Region. The Japanese government suddenly finds itself with a potential windfall of natural resources within its borders, which could be a game changer in geopolitical affairs.

Meanwhile, Itami’s unit is tasked with taking care of the refugees, which include the sorceress Lelei, the demigoddess Rory, and the grieving she-elf Tuka (or Blue, Red, and Yellow, if you like).

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Not surprisingly, the SDF’s technology awes the natives, and even the spartan military accommodations are treated as the height of luxury, and that’s a big part about what technological advancement is all about: making what was formerly luxurious available to all, everyday. I try to never forget that when I take a shower or switch on a light…or write an anime review on the information superhighway.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Gate, after getting a brief and somewhat unfortunate glimpse of America’s government salivating over the Special Region the Japanese found, we see that the Chinese are also interested (and yes, the Geely GE has an optional throne).

So interested, they want to ship half their population across the Gate. Of course, that would mean taking the Gate—and the territory around it—from Japan, which would mean war. Somehow the animators resisted giving the Chinese Premier a mustache so he could twirl it – and a fluffy white lap cat to pet as he discussed his plans. I must say, these quick peeks at the highest echelons of Japan’s rivals are the least interesting part of the show, so far.

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More interesting is the fact King Duran, who led his army to ruin but survived a couple limbs poorer, immediately knows what the Empire did and why, and won’t talk to the Emperor’s daughter Pina about what’s going on on Arnus Hill. Or that Tuka isn’t ready to accept her father is dead along with the rest of her village, and is worried that she and the others will have to repay the soldiers’ kindness with the only currency they have: their bodies.

Lelei tries to set her mind at ease about money, not just because the SDF lets them harvest valuable dragon scales from the battlefield, but because the “men in green” (and women too) aren’t going to charge them at all. Helping Tuka and the others is Itami’s best way to engender trust, win hearts and minds in the Special Region.

So he gives them a lift to Italica to peddle their wares. And Pina and her men are headed to the same place on their way to Arnus. When she encounters the SDF and their refugees, how will she play things?

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GATE – 03

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The appallingly one-sided battles have ceased for now, as Lt. Itami’s Recon Team 3 embarks on a mission of mercy. After rescuing the unconscious but alive she-elf, they return to Coda Village, which is evacuated for fear they’ll be the dragon’s next target. Among the evacuees are a sorcerer and his blue-haired apprentice, Lelei, who is rescued from a rearing horse by Itami’s troops, who are facilitating the evacuation.

Meanwhile, human vultures gather in the night to take advantage of the vulnerable villagers (unaware they’re being escorted), only to be slaughtered one by one with the scythe of one Rory Mercury, one of this land’s “twelve apostles” who is both feared and revered, and despite her sinister appearance, seems to be on the side of the weak and innocent.

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She’s also the closest thing to a cat-girl Itami has come across, and when they encounter her on the road, he can’t exactly refuse her a lift, though he does insist she not ride on his lap. Inevitably, the bloodthirsty dragon returns and starts laying waste to the convoy, and this is when we get to see Itami’s troops in action against a legitimately challenging foe.

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Itami’s trucks lead the dragon away from the villagers, and the she-elf (who lost her clothes to the medics) wakes up and gets the point across that the troops should aim for the dragon’s eye. They do, and the dragon is stopped in its tracks long enough to fire an RPG at it (after a belated shoulder check, of course). When the aim is off, Rory springs into action, making sure the dragon takes a direct hit. And with that, parties from both sides of the Gate worked together to drive off a mutual foe.

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Still, the damage was done, and many lives were lost to the dragon, but the troops arrange a burial detail and pay their respects before the surviving remnants of Coda Village depart for refuge. They can’t take everyone with them, however, leaving Itami and his team with around a dozen hangers-on, including Lelei and the sorcerer, Rory, and the she-elf. Itami decides they’ll continue to protect this contingent of natives, who may (nay, surely will) come in handy on their coming travels.

This episode showed the JSDF doing less mass killin’ and more un-glamorous but important humanitarian work, protecting and supporting those who would’ve ended up dead without them, and making exotic new friends. You win hearts and minds one heart and one mind at a time, and the compassionate Itami is cognizant of this.

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