Fate / Zero – 13

Caster and Uryuu finally return to their lair (where did they go?) to find all their “artwork” has been burned by Rider, an proceed to have a long conversation about the ephemeral nature of their work and Uryuu’s belief in a god who is eagerly watching and cheering humans on as they find new depths of depravity in witch to toil.

Of all the dialogue between Servants and Masters, it should come as no surprise I find Caster and Uryuu’s the most tiresome and least compelling. I mean, both are sociopaths and homicidal maniacs with incredibly twisted views of the world, and have never once demonstrated any hope of redemption.

As far as I’m concerned, they can’t be knocked off soon enough, because they are guilty of the worst sin of all: boring me. Rider and Waver are far more interesting to watch, both because neither are crazy monsters and they’re not basically the same person.

But after his demonstration of power in the Reality Marble, Waver’s confidence has hit a new low. Waver doesn’t believe himself worthy of being Rider’s Master, and while it’s hard for Rider’s attempts to console him to not sound patronizing, he perseveres, telling Waver to have more faith in his ability. After all, stolen relic or not, he would not have been chosen by the grail if he wasn’t worthy.

As Caster, encouraged by Uryuu to do something big and flashy for God, strides out into the river to perform some big, flashy spell, Sola-Ui and Lancer, Iri and Saber, and Waver and Rider all sense it, and head to Caster’s location.

Sola-Ui wants to stand by the Servant she’s fallen for, but Lancer urges her to keep her distance in this case, while it remains to be seen if Iri recovered from her weakness sufficiently to participate in the imminent battle.

And what a battle it should turn out to be: Caster ends up summoning a colossal eldritch creature from the deep to ravage Fuyuki. It’s the kind of foe no single Servant will be able to handle, so Rider, Saber, and Lancer agree to a truce and temporary alliance to take out Caster once and for all.

The absence of Kariya/Berserker and Tokiomi/Kirei/Archer at the outset of this battle leads me to believed one or all of them will get involved or otherwise take advantage of the fact three of their opposing pairs are busy fighting Caster and his monster off. It will also be interesting to see if, when, and which Master Kirei will attempt to steal in order to fulfill the Grail’s desire to make him a Servant anew.

Advertisements

KonoSuba 2 – 09

This week Aqua leans in on the job one would think she was born (in human form) to do: the job of a high priest. That means confessional duties, which she takes very seriously, to the point of stonewalling Kazuma and forcing him to “confess” to breaking her favorite cup and drinking her good hooch, at which point she gets flustered and whiny.

You can’t say Kazuma doesn’t know how to press her buttons! But she’s also cheeky enough to give an old man troubled by the temptation from Eris’ boobs a mantra to repeat whenever he feels that temptation again: Eris pads her chest. The artful way she says it really makes it sound like a mantra, too.

Kazuma, now convinced he won’t be able to get Aqua to reign in her overzealous, abusive followers (who have reduced Megumin to a crumpled ball of nerves, but continue to turn Darkness on), hits the baths. The mixed baths.

There, he sees (and sees, and sees) a buxom (and creeped out) she-elf, a man on the brink from all the proselytizing, and hears an earful of genuinely good things said about him by Megumin and Darkness, but only because they thought he wasn’t there, trying to spy on them.

Still, it’s nice to occasionally hear from the characters why they stick together.

That night at supper, Aqua is in another state, this time because she was kicked out of the very church that worships her, for accidentally purifying the hot springs.

In an ill-conceived effort to re-win the people back, she decides to blame the purification on the Devil King, and asks her party-mates for help in her crusade to save her people and their town. Darkness only agrees to help when Aqua gets up in her face (and purifies her grape juice…how rude!)

I also greatly enjoyed the running gag of Aqua’s holy-element tears of distress actually doing harm to poor, undead Wiz, to the point she’s basically on the verge of death this entire episode.

Kazuma and Megumin are out, obviously, because they have no interest in helping the townspeople, who in their opinion ruin an otherwise perfectly nice town.

In an otherwise lovely day, those people proceed to do jut that: ruin Kazuma and Megumin’s day with constant urgings to join the church, until the two are on the brink of madness.

The townsfolk may be unrelenting in their enthusiasm for aggressive recruitment practices (we witness a number of fine examples), but they’re not fools. Their golden goose is the hot springs, and when Aqua seems to be the culprit in purifying them, they’re not happy.

They also don’t believe, even for a second, that she’s actually the goddess Aqua…even though she is. These are people who live among magic, fantastic beasts, and demi-humans. But the suggestion that Aqua might be an in-the-flesh goddess elicits only stifled laughter or anger.

That anger boils over into an angry mob surrounding the gorgeous inn where Aqua and the others are staying. And all I can say is, how has it taken this long for Aqua to end up with an angry mob (with torches and everything!) eager for her blood? I guess she’s just been lucky.

In any case, the peoples’ refusal to believe their own goddess contrasts with non-Axis followers Darkness, Megumin, and Kazuma’s acceptance of Aqua in their party. They’re all misfits, after all. These guys just don’t do well in big crowds.

And while the mob doesn’t pose any danger (one EXPLOSION from Megumin could resolve the standoff) and may not even be picked back up next week. But it’s a fitting end to a visit to a city Kazuma and Megumin can’t leave soon enough, Darkness can’t help but love, and where Aqua may have lost faith in the faithful.

Alderamin on the Sky – 12

ald121

Another solid episode follows last week’s, as Ikta’s thankless task to clean up the horrific mess General Safida created continues. During a brief respite in the action, Nana engages with Suya, offering her both her arms if it will set things right.

It doesn’t, because Suya doesn’t want Nana’s legs chopped off. In an episode where several characters work to relieve burdens from their comrades and/or friends, Sazaluf clarifies that Suya didn’t kill anyone; he did, with his orders to them.

He, in turn, doesn’t share the entire burden of responsibility, since he too has superiors. But when the guy at the top—Safida—doesn’t know what he’s doing and does everything wrong (and for the wrong reasons), it undermines the entire system.

ald122

Torway has grown these last twelve episodes, and he believes he can help relieve some of the burden Ikta carries once Sazaluf all but hands over command of the operation to him.

Ikta is up to it—indeed, it’s where he should have been all along—but even for Ikta, up against someone he hasn’t ruled out being the real genius of his generation, this is a desperate situation, and the margin of error on the Imperial side continues to narrow.

It’s nice to see even the Kiokans know and respect what it means to be of the Igsem family. But this week we see the beginning of the end of their hegemony on the battlefield.

The mission Torway undertakes is air rifle-on-air rifle, from a great distance. Many died repelling the would-be ambush, but not a single blade touched blood. It’s interesting, though that the leader of the “Ghosts” laments it has to be this way; that things can’t be settled in a duel with Yatori.

ald123

It’s telling that Yatori and her unit didn’t have much to do today, another day when the primacy of The Sword dwindled a little bit more. It’s all but snuffed out along with Ikta’s entire strategy when Jean deploys explosive cannons for long-range bombardment, jeopardizing the entire enterprise with two days remaining.

Ikta doesn’t care all that much about the Igsem star falling as the Remion light rises. To him, the greatest burden out of any of their circle is borne by Yatori, even if she won’t admit it. And he makes it clear everything he’s done since joining the military (against his mom’s wishes) was to lessen her burdens, and make that broken promise more forgivable.

In other words, Yatori is not just Ikta’s other hand, but his muse as well, driving him to find an ideal future. But in the present, Jean is advancing, once again changing the rules. If they’re going to survive the next two days, they’ll have to adapt even more, while never losing sight of a future where, at least, they get the hell out of there in one piece.

16rating_9

Alderamin on the Sky – 11

ald111

Jean Arquinex appears far more frequently this week, but the episode remains at heart The Ikta Show, as even Jean concedes, though he doesn’t know the “brilliant general” he’s up against is only a first lieutenant. Presented with a mind equal to his own and with far inferior numbers, Ikta himself begins to doubt if he’s really his generation’s greatest hero, or if the “bloom is about to come off the rose.”

His inner thoughts, and his own doubting voice whispering inside is his head, are the latest in this show’s consistently successful efforts to humanize and deepen Ikta’s character. When he unwittingly tells the voice to shut up out loud (in earshot of Suya), Ikta snaps back into serious Strategy Mode. That voice inside may wonder if his plans will succeed this time, but it’s not going to stop him from carrying it out.

ald112

When the Aldera army sends units down a narrow path, Ikta & Co. are ready, but they’re only 600 Imperials and 120 Sinack against 10,000; even slowing down such a force is a tall order, and one not without costs. When the Aldera put up barricades, Yatori and Nana agree that they have to go out and take them down.

Ikta lets Yatori’s unit and Nana’s Sinack detachment across the wall, but they suffer numerous casualties when Jean’s air rifle units open fire. Instead of letting the units get mopped up, Ikta decides to go out himself with everything they’ve got in order to protect the wounded before retreating.

ald113

It’s a bold move, with Ikta and Yatori fighting back to back and working as one unit, and in the end, the Sinack and Yatori’s wounded are evacuated successfully. Ikta has a huge fire hit behind their retreat to seal the path, buying a little more time.

Jean is impressed by the enemy commander desperately making shrewd, effective moves to forestall Aldera’s advance. Suya, who loses two valued comrades, isn’t as enamored. She doesn’t see why they had to give their lives so the Sinack they were killing just days ago could live.

What kicks this episode from an 8 to a 9 was the ensuing exchange, which played out like, well, a play, with the stage populated by Ikta, Nana, Suya, Haro, and eventually, Yatori, who claims it is she, not Ikta, who should bear responsibility for the casualties incurred.

ald114

Yatori asserts that Ikta ordered the charge because he knew she’d charge anyway to save her allies (a term she doesn’t take lightly). She also points out that feelings cannot interfere with a soldier’s duty. When Suya asks if Yatori would kill Ikta, I already knew the answer was yes before she opened her mouth, but she still said it in a very cool way (“That question is 300 years too late.”)

That cold assertion hangs in the air after Suya runs off, leaving Ikta to ask what would have to happen for her to actually be able to kill him if ordered to do so (though the word Ikta uses, is when). Yatori replies that she’d have to utterly destroy…Yatori first; leaving only the Igsem steel behind. It would be Igsem, not Yatori, killing him.

Ikta then tells her until the moment he died he’d think of nothing but how he’d lost her, bringing a tear to Haro’s eye (and almost one to mine as well). So if Ikta was to die, she’d die too, and she’d die first. That’s some heavy shit right there, and yet another layer to the already wonderfully rich, dense relationship that has been carefully built between Ikta and Yatori.

Things are desperate right now; the victories available are small and costly. But I know who I want eventually coming out on top, and it ain’t Jean Arquinex. So I have to believe Ikta, with Yatori, Nana, and everyone else’s help, will find a way.

16rating_9

Alderamin on the Sky – 10

ald101

This tenth Alderamin begins with a flashback from nine years ago, and the show is hardly timely in revealing that the fiery Sinack chieftain Nanaku Daru was childhood friends with Ikta.

It’s also hardly subtle in juxtaposing her paying a visit to Ikta’s bedroom of her own free will—but too young to know the true reason woman would do such a thing—with the present, where she suddenly finds herself in a huge heap of trouble, surrounded by three enemy soldiers who plan to rape her.

ald102

Who comes to her rescue in the nick of time but her old friend Ikta, whom she doesn’t yet recognize? Ikta is pissed, not being one to suffer “beasts.” Nanaku is taken into safe custody. It’s a sobering glimpse of what war often boils down to, and what depths the battle-weary and under-supervised can stoop to when their enemy is demonized and dehumanized by their superiors.

The war is over between the Empire and the Sinack, but before they can even catch their breath, a new, mutual, and well-rested enemy arrives at their doorstep in the form of “La Saia Alderamin”, a once-neutral, highly religious country Ikta suspects is being used as a Kioka pawn as part of the wider conflict.

ald103

What made this episode so strong, and, for me, eliminated any concerns about plot convenience or retconning, was how Ikta handled things with “Nana,” knowing they’ll need her help to cover their retreat from Aldera, and he’s the only one who can negotiate with her.

He gets her attention and reveals who he is by carrying out the Sinack tradition of cutting digits off one’s hand; a legend she told him about nine years ago. He cuts his entire left pinky off in a visceral, powerful scene, and you can tell he’s not putting on a performance, but dead serious about his role as agent of apology and olive branch.

That last part is important, since Nana agrees to help because she knows the religious Alderamin will never tolerate their “heretical” religion, but the Empire will. Obviously it’s not what she wanted (to be rid of both), but she has to compromise, because Aldera won’t.

ald104

Our Knights all get promotions this week – Yatori and Ikta to First Lieutenant, the others to Second, and after Matthew and Haro protest, they agree to stick together in the force that will delay the Alderamin advance. That is achieved by creating a fire line at a crucial forest crossing.

But it would seem Ikta has finally met his match in the form of newly-introduced Kioka Army Major Jean Alkiniks, he of tirelessness to Ikta’s sloth; white hair to Ikta’s black. Both seem excited to have met strategists who will really challenge them for once.

One of the weaknesses of the show has been the appalling ineptitude of the brass, but Jean here is high-ranking enough to do what needs to be done at a larger scale. He’s come further than Ikta so far, but will no doubt be the catalyst by which Ikta continues to advance and progress to become the hero Princess Chamille believes him to be.

I also hope we get to see a little more Nana.

16rating_9

Alderamin on the Sky – 09

ald91

For a show in which some people are aided by pocket-size elemental spirits, Alderamin is fairly down to earth. And if it was glorifying, say, the daring rescue and return of Princess Chamillie in its early episodes, it is just as careful to downplay whatever glory and honor is to be had in the Sinack campaign, which is precious little.

Indeed, Ikta and his pals are lucky to have a commander unwilling to order them to participate in the wholesale slaughter of the enemy, instead making them burn their villages and march them to new homes. It’s also a show whose heroes may not agree with the horrible strategy they’re a part of, but are either unwilling or currently unable to do anything about it.

When a little kid starts attacking Ikta, he flicks him in the nose. I doubt he intended to draw blood, but the noble knight Deinkun immediaely punishes him for striking the child, doling out a degree of justice so the other villagers don’t riot.

ald92

Suya, who has clearly gained not only respect but affection for Ikta, is angry that Ikta let himself be punched like that, but Ikta takes responsibility for his error. Sometimes one can separate oneself from undesirable actions to such an extent, one can forget that there are things that can be done to lesson suffering, whether it’s taking a punch, or burning a village after it’s been evacuated. Not big things, but things.

When Matthew asks Ikta and Torway how they’ve been dealing with their sexual “needs” on the front, Ikta puts men into two columns: “heroes” who need bonds, and solitary “warriors”, avoiding any details about his own persuasion. But it’s just as true of the two ways knights go through life. Deinkun, a warrior, prefers to put as much on his broad shoulders as possible.

ald93

Ikta may be a rare bird when it comes to strategic or tactical thought, but he’s no hermit. He needs bonds, not just to survive and keep himself in check (See Yatori) but to acknowledge and define his existence. He dosn’t care if his personal honor is besmirched by a punch to the face; he does care when he’s too late to say what he wanted to say to Kanna or protect her when she needed him.

Yatori may want to be a solitary knight like Deinkun, but the fact she goes into a berserk-like state only Ikta can bring her out of denies her that status. She too is a hero, whose brawn, along with Ikta’s brains, and the various talents of the others in their circle, comprise perhaps their empire’s best hope at avoiding self-destruction, which people like General Safida are inadvertently hastening.

ald94

But still, neither Ikta nor Yatori have any designs of overthrowing Safida’s leadership. Indeed, Yatori’s Igsem heritage and conditioning make such a choice unthinkable, even if Ikta was pondering such a rebellion. No, these heroes, must work within the system into which they were recruited; play with the hands they were dealt. It’s yet not their turn to decided how the game is played.

So Yatori saves Safida from an ambushing Nanaku Daru, who learned how to fight from Mugen in Samurai Champloo. Yatori bests her, only to let her go when a group of shady assassins takes advantage of the chaos. They fail to kill the general, but slay Deinkun in the attempt.

He joins Kanna and the scores of other Imperial soldiers who gave it their all despite having to serve under a terrible general in a ridiculous war that isn’t quite over yet.

16rating_8

Alderamin on the Sky – 08

ald81

A splendid victory, brought about by his command, and a bitter conclusion brought about by his choice.

The show, courtesy of narrator Princess Chamille, provides a concise but accurate synopsis of this episode. It’s an episode loaded with the consequences of the stupid decisions of Ikta’s superiors, all in the name of a show of force.

The General has completely bungled this “punitive” campaign against the Sinack, and due to the chain of command Ikta & Co. can only do too much to mitigate the damage that has been done. But Ikta & Co. still doe what they can, which does make a difference.

ald82

Ikta’s splendid victory to come is prefaced by a splendid defense of their camp in which the attacking force is totally annihilated without a single casualty on his side. But things would have gone far differently—and badly—had Ikta not been there to put orders in the commander’s words.

While he’s on a resupply mission to a position that’s been taken by the Sinack, Kanna Temari, in a different unit led by an even dumber commander, learns just how tough she is. In a scene riddled with death flags, she waxes nostalgic about the liberating, expanding power of books, and the fact Ikta is like a book, and someone she’s looking forward to seeing again.

But as sad as it made me, the fact that her unit made camp in a fortress deliberately abandoned by the Sinack, and the commander fell for an obvious trap, made me doubt Kanna and Ikta would ever meet again. The events of the episode all but eliminated that possibility, and it followed through with the threat it presented.

ald83

Even Ikta can only do so much about the incompetence of the military leadership. But he engages his CO in such a way that he gets what he wants: a chance to score a victory. He gets it thanks to the prototype rifles designed by his mentor; in other words, thanks to science.

But the science that won him such an easy, splendid victory, also ended up dooming Kanna. For Ikta makes his unit rest for two days in order to avoid suffering altitude sickness, which is what Kanna and her comrades are going through thanks to their dimwitted superiors.

For the record, Ikta makes the right choice. Even if he knew Kanna, a girl he liked (and whom he suspected liked him back) was in danger, he wouldn’t endanger his entire unit to rescue her, especially after seeing what the altitude has done to the health of the army.

ald84

Of course, making the right choice doesn’t make it any easier to choke down the bitter result of following science to the letter. The fortress wasn’t able to hold out long enough for his platoons to relieve them, and all they find is a fortress full of corpses, including Kanna’s.

It’s a gut punch, both for me, and for Ikta, who is often so laid back and casual and jokey that when he finally gets serious, it’s that much more powerful. This wasn’t just some girl he had fun teasing or flirting with; this was a kindred spirit; someone for whom science resonated; someone he could both teach and learn from.

She was looking forward to seeing him a third time, and so was he. Instead, she joined her late husband in the afterlife, leaving Ikta in a recklessly ignorant world. To be fair, it wasn’t just his choice that doomed her—the brunt of the blame falls on the superiors—but that’s woefully inadequate consolation for a character who left us far too soon.

It will be interesting to see how Ikta deals with this loss. Will he shrug it off in a few days, or resolve himself to pushing ever harder against the morons who caused it?

16rating_9

Alderamin on the Sky – 07

ald71

This week threw me for a bit of a loop by starting out on such a light and comedic note, with Ikta returning from the dungeons parched but otherwise fine. The glowing secret he discovered were all of the fire and wind spirits confiscated from the Sinack under the direct orders of General Safida, whose character crosses over from doddering pompous figurehead to the kind of dangerous fool with the power to cause a needless war.

ald72

Taking the natives’ hahashiku turned the region into a tinderbox, and sure enough the chieftain lays a trap for Major Toakk and his men in the town. That’s also where Ikta reunites with his apparent new “protege” Kanna, who is starting to understand “science” as he does.

She compares their imperial religion and the spiritual religion of the Sinack and question the primacy of the former. Her conclusions delite Ikta, who leads her in a lovely celebratory dance that’s interrupted by gunfire.

ald73

Yatori is too late to save the major, but assumes command and cheases after the band of Sinack who killed him, stopping her advance before she gets caught in an ambush. There she meets the young Sinack chieftain Nanaku Daru, who officially declares “holy war” against the empire.

ald74

When everyone’s back at the base, Yatori learns from Ikta about the stolen spirits, and they both conclude that General Safida is not a good guy, and he’s totally antagonizing the Sinack in hopes of making them do something desperate (like start a holy war) so he can clamp down on them.

Before you can say Bob’s your uncle, he’s sending out a punitive expedition to the Sinack territory, of which Kanna is a part. Like Ikta, Yatori, and even Sazaluf, they don’t like the idea of having to fight imperial subjects. It’s just…not chivalrous.

I was hoping Chamille could step in and stop this madness form getting out of hand, but Safida sends her away “for her own safety”—though not to Central, where she could spread word of his actions. Safida is a little king of a little hill and wants to make his war in the darkness.

Will Ikta & Co. simply follow orders and go with the flow, even when their commander is wrong? Somehow I doubt it.

16rating_8