Kizumonogatari I: Tekketsu-hen

I haven’t read any of the Monogatari novels, but I have seen the events of Kizumonogatari before—in extremely condensed form, in the cold open of Bakemonogatari way back in July of 2009.

That immediate Tsubasa upskirt, followed a dark, bloody, brutal, prologue was one hell of an introduction to the agony and ecstasy of the Monogatari Series. Ever since, I’d hoped we’d get a proper telling of those intense events. Seven-plus years (and a hell of a lot of Monogataris) later, we finally get that story; in the form of a three-part film, no less.

Right off the bat, I have to say the franchise has never looked or sounded better: Shaft and co-directors Oishi Tatsuya and Shinbo Akiyuki pull out all the visual and auditory stops to really give this story the weight (sorry Hitagi) and grandeur it deserves. Familiar buildings and vistas are given a bit of a makeover with no expense spared.

We start with that upskirt from the very beginning of Bakemonogatari, in which Araragi Koyomi happens to catch a good long look at the lacey undergarments of one Hanekawa Tsubasa.

Rather than react the way your typical anime character would after such an incident, Tsubasa laughs it off and discovers that it’s very easy—and fun—to talk with Koyomi, despite the fact he’s a loner-by-choice with no friends.

By the end of their encounter, she’s given him her contact info and declared herself his friend. Tsubasa’s friendly down-to-earth manner is infectious, and Koyomi is over the moon by his encounter, and gets so excited he ends up racing to the adult bookstore.

While talking with Tsubasa, she informs Koyomi of rumors going around town about a hauntingly beautiful blonde woman with piercing gaze. That prepares us for when he discovers a very long trail of blood that leads him deeper and deeper into a deserted subway station that feels like a descent into the underworld.

With Kubrickian precision, a marvelous tension is built up as signs of a horrendous struggle mar the otherwise pristine metal, tile, glass, and white of the station. And then he finds her: our favorite super-vampire, Kiss-Shot Acerola-Orion Heart-Under-Blade, lying in a pile of her own blood, relieved of her limbs, and near death.

She beseeches, or actually more like commands Koyomi to give him her blood to save her—all of it will probably do—but the kid is understandably terrified beyond rational thought, and his first instinct is to run the fuck away screaming, even as she too screams and pleads for help.

Eventually, however, the thing we all knew was coming occurs: Koyomi has a change of heart, and decides to head back down and offer his blood, which he believes to mean his life, to the vampire, hoping to earn the right to have a next life that isn’t so horribly fucked up.

But that’s just the thing: his life doesn’t end; his ‘clock’ starts right back up in a revamped-for-film, more impressive than ever abandoned cram school. Beside him is a dozing little blonde girl who isn’t ready to wake up yet.

Koyomi steps outside, and we return to the dramatic cold open of the film in which he’s set ablaze. I thought at the time it was just a nightmare, but no, his flesh actually bursts into flames upon exposure to the sun, but is continually regenerated.

Kiss-shot runs out and brings him back inside, and warns him not to go out during the day now that he’s an immortal vampire, and her second and newest servant.

As Koyomi points out, she’s no longer as “mature” as she was when they met, but it’s to be expected: Koyomi’s blood alone was not enough to fully restore her; she must be content with her smaller form. And while she’s been reduced in size, her personality is as big and imperious as ever.

Kiss-shot has little power remaining, and so must rely on Koyomi to destroy her enemies: three specialist vampire hunters whom she initially underestimated and allowed to attack her all at once. She believes if Koyomi takes them on one-by-one it should be a simple matter.

Of course, Kiss-shot’s perspective is somewhat skewed by the fact she’s over 500 years old and did things like jump from Antarctica to Japan over three centuries before the Meiji Restoration. If Koyomi can pull it off and get Kiss-shot’s limbs back, she promises she’ll turn him back into a human.

Unfortunately, when Koyomi first encounters these three hunters: Dramaturgy, Episode, and Guillotine Cutter, not only does he have no idea how to fight the extremely tough customers, they come at him all at once just like they did Kiss-shot.

All Koyomi can do is crumple into a ball and wait for another inevitable end, but the universe ain’t done with him yet, because one particularly badass dude stops all three specialists in their tracks at once.

We know this guy, even if Koyomi hadn’t yet been introduced: he’s Oshino Meme, who describes himself as a keeper of “balance” between the worlds of humans and oddities (AKA monsters).

In this instance, at least, maintaining the balance means helping Koyomi and Kiss-shot get her limbs back so she can return to full strength and restore Koyomi’s humanity. And so off we go!

There’s a unique exhilaration in watching earlier versions of characters I’ve known for years meeting for the very first time, particularly a Koyomi who is new to all this oddity stuff and extremely out of his depth.

Prequels are notoriously tricky to pull off, but if the first of three parts is any indication, with a neat balance of levity and gravitas, Kizumonogatari is one of the rare ones that succeeds and excels; actually more powerful and engaging for arriving so long after the series it precedes.

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Aho Girl – 11

This week Yoshiko intercepts Ruri lamenting another perfect “0”, and suggests that maybe studying and academics just aren’t in the cards for her…without suggesting what she should do instead. This leads Ruri to attempt to do a great many things—cooking, cleaning, riding a bike—and Ruri is terrible at all of them, which puts her into a state of depression no 11-year-old should have to deal with.

The next segment is one of the best in Aho Girl’s eclectic repertoire; when Ryuuichi helps Yoshiko try to find one of the last special banana frappuccino drinks in town, he is beaten up by toughs from “Dick High”. More importantly, they disrespect the bananas, which flips a switch in Yoshiko’s head from “Aho Girl” to “Badass One-Girl Wrecking Crew”. And every tough she defeats gets a banana in the kisser.

The final segment follows Dog when he gets loose from his chain. While trying to deliver a flower to Sayaka’s dog Pomi, he has to rescue a boy from the river, another boy from a car, and beat up some armed bank robbers, before finally giving the flower to a scared girl to brighter her spirits. Good Dog! Good Aho Girl, too…

Made in Abyss – 05

Riko and Reg’s first hours in the Forest of Temptation go easily enough—even the giant leaves point them in the right direction. But we knew the silkfang wasn’t going to be the only man-eating beast they encountered, and sure enough, rushing in the direction of what they think is a man yelling “help me” turns out to be the luring call of a corpse-weeper, who snatches up Riko with the intent to feed her to her young.

Reg’s extending arm’s aim is true, but other weepers knock it off course. In addition to being torn apart and eaten, ascending worsens the Curse and puts extra strain on Riko, who vomits in midair before passing out.

Even though I knew there was no way she’d buy it here, my heart was still in the pit of my stomach. When Reg’s arm doesn’t work and he’s swarmed by weepers, he changes tactics, firing his hand cannon at the weeper nest and obliterating all the weepers, including the one carrying Riko.

He then catches her in mid-air with his arm, gathers her into his arms, and soft-lands on an itty-bitty column of rock. Whew, that was close. but it’s also telling. Things are not going to get easier from this point on! It’s a dangerous place. Here, all humans (or robots that look like humans) are prey.

Riko is tough-as-nails, and doesn’t even mind that Reg took her top off (to check her for injuries) when she was out; because she knows full well that like any other ordinary human Red Whistle (or even above), she’d be silkfang, or weeper food, or simply a dark red spot on some rock face, without Reg’s help.

She calls his beam weapon “Incinerator” (even though he’s still weary of accidentally hitting her with it), and makes a meal of the meat from the weepers he killed. While the weepers eat the flesh of men, Riko doesn’t consider it any different than the times cave raiders brought Abyss meat to the orphanage. It’s just the Circle of Life, baby.

Another realistic detail about their quest for which I’m thankful so far is that Riko keeps losing things: first her seemingly useless (but probably not) Star Compass, and most recently her book of field notes, which she did not memorize. In both cases, they can’t risk trying to search for or retrieve such things; they can only press on.

And press on they do, to the bottom edge of the Second Layer, the Inverted Forest. I’ve been looking forward to them reaching this place ever since we got a glimpse of it in the OP (and since Sigy described it on the map). It does not disappoint, as it is not only a stranger and more fantastical landscape; it’s also darker, colder, more foreboding and treacherous. The waterfalls going up are also a nice touch.

Just as Riko is losing things, Reg’s foolproof extending arm is getting more and more flummoxed; first by the weepers, and here with the intermittent strong winds. They also run afoul of a colony of ape-like Inbyos, who are not interested in interlopers in their territory. So Reg has to get used to his arm’s more limited effectiveness while getting himself and Riko away from violent primates.

But even here, there is some small relief: the same reason it’s dark and cold is the reason most of the fauna is relatively peaceful, while the effects of the Curse are diminished (or at least more bearable) around the Seeker Camp, which they eventually arrive at.

When they don’t see a lookout and no gondola descends, Reg does what he does, using his arm to ascend to the camp. But something else unexpected happens: his arms don’t grasp any rock or wood: they are grabbed and held by the person Habo warned them of; the one who helped Lyza carry baby Riko back to the surface; who notes the “brat” is still alive.

She’s the one they call The Unmovable Sovereign: Ozen. Will she be a source of hope or despair for our adventurers?

 

Made in Abyss – 01 (First Impressions)

Just a minute or two into Made in Abyss and I was already thinking What have I been doing these last five weeks, not watching this? I don’t know how it goes from here, but you can scarcely do a first episode better than this right here. Grandeur. Wonder. And sure, a little cutesiness. Abyss offers it all in spades, plus one of the most surprising, badass anime soundtracks I’ve heard in a long time.

Abyss goes into Tell Mode, but not until the very end, once it’s showed a whole lot. Seriously, it gets the showing down pat in no time, as the ethereal soundtrack plays over an otherwise soundless montage during which the fantastical yet cozy world is unveiled, bit by tantalizing bit. This is after the heroine saved her friend by drawing a monster to her, only to herself need prompt rescuing from a mysterious “robot boy” she takes home.

Home is the Belchero Orphanage—Riko and Nat are orphans—a grand place that has vertical classrooms with desks nailed to the wall accessable by ladder. That right there is some good fantasy, along with the familiar and yet otherworldly scenery, architecture, and clothing.

But just as gorgeous as the scenery, vistas, and lived-in interiors is what’s going on between the characters. As I said, they’re little kids—and I’m most certainly not—and yet they are never for a second annoying. They remind me more of the Goonies or the kids in Stranger Things, because they’re so easy to watch and imagine ourselves at that age having adventures, getting one over on the stodgy adults (and older kids)…and stubbing our toes while running. And the android Regu is just the kind of friend you’d want if you were a little kid: one who shoots powerful beams and has extendable arms.

Having successfully escaped responsibility and punishment for causing a blackout in the orphanage, Riko takes Regu to the best spot to watch the sun rise over her magnificent city of Orth, which surrounds the kilometer-wide-diameter aperture of the titular Abyss, the true depth of which no one knows, and the depth of previously unknown relics and treasures seems to similarly know no bounds.

Riko wants to follow in her late mother’s footsteps by going as deep as a human has ever gone in that Abyss, and bring back something new and amazing. But she may have already stumbled upon that discovery in Regu, without even descending more than 100 meters. It’s a great start for her, and for Made in Abyss. I’m fully onboard.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 16

Action is the name of the game on this week’s Baha Soul, with thrilling chases, an intense arena battle, daring escapes, and high-altitude rescues. It all starts when Bacchus, Hamsa, and Nina start talking about how and why Bacchus left Heaven, mentioning the hippogriff. El waits for his chance.

As Alessand continues to side with Charioce and Dias holds out hope for their old captain, Kaisar is stuffed in a cage and released in the middle of the arena, where he must fight Azazel to the death. Azzy may not be quite clear about why he’s still alive, but he’s not just going to lay down for the fallen knight, who manages to hold his own even though he’s missing a hand. Jaime Lannister, eat your heart out.

Once Bacchus, Hamsa and Nina realize El is missing (with Nina wearing El’s clothes, suggesting El went to the unusual trouble of dressing her after stealing her clothes) and formulate a plan to retrieve him, using lots of wordless hand (and wing) signals but getting the timing all wrong, causing a startled El to take wing and fly off.

Just when Azazel is about to put Kaisar down, Favaro, in the stands all along in a very puffy disguise (and clean-shaven), throws him Rocky, and Kaisar quickly gets the upper hand and “runs Azazel through” (though his precise strike doesn’t really touch Azzy).

As Favaro’s matador-like theme plays, he unleashes his crafty bounty hunter arsenal of crossbow bolts and smoke bombs, giving the three lads cover to escape, as Charioce reclines in his throne, seemingly unconcerned.

Nina catches up to El in a hovering platform in a very pretty chase through Heaven, but when she tries to pounce on him in mid-air she misses and starts to fall down and through the celestial barrier. Naturally, El descends at top speed to catch her, because he’s still, in her words “Mugaro”, despite having changed “a little bit.”

The two of them are then saved by Bacchus and Hamsa, who called Hippogriff and skedaddled just when Heavenly guards surrounded them. Back to Anatae they go, where El intends not to fight, but to bring peace.

At a very picturesque meeting spot, Rita unites with Kaisar, Rocky, Favaro and Azazel. The latter tries to slink off, claiming “this is as far” as he goes; but Kaisar tells him if they all work together, they can save demons as well as humans and gods from Charioce’s havoc. I loved Rita’s smile when Azzy walks by her, Kaisar’s words having worked. And all it takes is a look to bring Favaro along for the ride.

Not long ago all of the main cast was imprisoned in some way. Now, suddenly, they’re all free (for now) and in strong groups (again, for now). Will the two groups stay apart, or combine to create a force even Charioce will have trouble with? Will Nina’s continued Charioce conflict jeopardize the whole enterprise? Can El succeed without using force (which we know is limited in its scope an duration before he collapses)? We shall see.

Renai Boukun – 08

Yuzu and Guri mount a daring rescue of Akane (armed with cosplay and retro dramatic music), only to find she doesn’t want to be rescued… naturally. The story is very standard issue, and on paper sounds like dozens of such rescue episodes. What makes Renai Boukun’s take on it fresh and watchable (if not outstanding) is its commitment to inserting punchy, often self-referential comedy wherever it can.

As the subtitle above demonstrates, Renai Boukun will often go to the trouble of pointing out the cliches it’s using, because characters like Guri are themselves knowledgable students of anime like the one they’re in. Guri’s status as a cupid, with her “love detection” ability, easily cuts through the stoic masks both Akane and her mother are wearing.

Akane’s mom may not ever break her stern, Vulcan calm, but when Akane herself has her blade pressed to Seiji’s neck, and he tells her he’d never be able to hate her no matter what, her eye highlights come back, and then some: shimmer, tears; the lot!

Renai is also shameless in its portrayal of Akane and Yuzu’s moms as aged-up versions of their daughters: they loved the same man, bearing the girls who now both love Seiji. Akane’s mom left her dad when her family calling beckoned, but she has to deal with the fact her daughter might not go down that very same path.

The moms are also even more powerful than their daughters, and their unhinged battle on the roof of Akane’s house surprises Seiji, even though at this point he’s used to getting stabbed (but likes the pain from Akane’s stabbing more than Shikimi’s).

As expected, by the end of the episode everything is back to the way it was, relationship-wise, only now Akane has the implicit approval to “do as she likes”, which is to keep loving Seiji. Seiji also feels closer to her now that he knows the whole truth about Akane and Yuzu’s family.

Akua got to fight some goons in suits. Coraly got to scare Akua shitless. Shikimi got to stab Seiji a bunch. Everybody’s happy! Well, until the very end, when Guri sees how close Seiji and Akane have grown, and no doubt ponders what, if anything, she can do to get Seiji to look at her the way he looks at Akane.

Renai Boukun – 07

After establishing its kooky cast, Love Tyrant has proceeded to explore more and more serious dramatic stuff with the trappings of a quirky comedy. Guri first attempts to test out Akane’s “heartache” theory about love by stabbing herself with one of Akane’s kukris.

But after her desire to go to the festival is rebuffed by Seiji, who already has plans with Akane, she goes off on her own and is approached by The Perfect Guy, who is kind, patient, and respects her interests—the opposite of Seiji, leading her to question whether Seiji’s even worth her time.

A lovely festival date with Mystery Guy leads to a romantic setting in which he leans in for the kiss, only to have his eyes shoved into his brain by Guri; a reflex, she says contritely. Nice Guy is nice, but isn’t Seiji, and kissing him feels wrong.

So when she happens to bump into Seiji, who came to festival as per her original wishes anyway, she kisses him, it feels right, and she proclaims that while Seiji may have his issues—not handsome, stubborn, quick to anger, boring, insensitive—but she doesn’t hate him after all.

It’s good to see Guri and the show point out Seiji’s flaws, but also demonstrate how love is more than an equation of pros and cons. As for Perfect Guy, he was under a spell from Maou as part of his larger plan to recruit Guri, which, sure, fine.

Someone else who loves Seiji deeply in spite of his flaws is Akane, but unlike the cupid Guri, she’s supposed to have no need for love. In fact, giving her heart to Seiji is a serious crime against her family, and her mother Suo soon has her captured and bound, and gives her an ultimatum: break up with Seiji, or else.

What ‘or else’ means, precisely, I don’t know, as Akane is technically immortal. As is Seiji, as demonstrated when a group of thugs try to kill him in broad daylight in the park. He’s rescued by his tough little sister Akua, who is then totally freaked out by Coraly, because who wouldn’t be?

(I for one actually have a soft spot for Coraly because my roommate’s cat looks just like him…without the human face of course.)

Shikimi arrives to tell Seiji and Akua what Suo has done with Akane.  In solitary confinement, Akane remembers not giving a hoot about anyone’s feelings and keeping her heart to herself, as her mother wanted. Until she met Seiji by chance in an alley, and for some reason when he says she’s kind, it resonates, and whether she liked it or not, she fell for him right then and there.

Though it definitely weighs down what had been a lightweight rom-com, I appreciate the show elaborating on Akane’s feelings and showing their origins and how she must choose between love and family. I also like Seiji (and Akua!) teaming up with Shikimi to rescue Akane (even though Shikimi is clearly up to something).

Meanwhile Guri and Yuzu don’t have much time together in the second half but they make the most of it, first with Yuzu’s takedown of the cat maid cafe Guri brought them to, then in planning a sleepover, then ditching that plan to join the fight to save Akane.

Alice to Zouroku – 05

(In an attempt to balance our workloads, I’ve taken over Alice to Zouroku reviewing duties from Preston.)

In this episode apparently brought to you by SNICKERS® (You’re not you when you’re hungry. Eat a SNICKERS®.) Minnie C doesn’t easily give up her captives, so she and Ichijou Shizuku enter a long, sustained battle full of CGI effects that holds together reasonably well, considering the show itself has never striven for ufotable-level precision.

Minnie C puts on a good fight, but Shizuku eventually wears her down due to her superior power: the ability to summon any number of 666 weapons and 13 grimoires from a magical storeroom derived from an anime she used to watch.

That’s not as satisfying a powers-origin story as, say, Minnie C, but the major difference is that Shizuku is fighting for others, while Minnie is only fighting for herself, angry at the world for taking away her darling. When she runs out of energy and Shizuku stands triumphantly over her, I really feel for Minnie C when she apologizes to her husband for continuing to be alive, because she’s completely wrong: her husband wants her to live. That means finding another reason for living beyond being with him.

Meanwhile, the now-freed (and largely static during the battle) Alice celebrates and underscores her and Zouroku’s new freedom by floating with him high up into the sky, something he’s fine with after being cooped up on that container ship so long. He’s also fine that Alice is accepting of his and Sanae’s love and invitation to join their family, no matter what kind of being she truly is.

Minnie C is shipped back to the states, and the organization that employed her and the other ability-users and pursued is dismantled by the police. Alice takes to the granddaughter role with gusto, further charming her new big sister Sanae, who has no end of plans to use Alice’s newly-restored energy to have “fun”, a concept once foreign to Alice.

Shizuku and Ryuu rest easy, knowing all’s well that ends well. Ryuu almost seems to want to will the next crisis into being by wishing another “incident” would come along, but until then, it’s nice to see Alice, Zouroku, and Sanae simply having a normal dinner on a normal night, in the normal lives they hope to maintain even after all that’s come to light.

In fact, this could be the finale to a five-part miniseries, as it leaves me wondering what the show has lined up next.

Macross Delta – 26 (Fin)

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Delta surely wasn’t going to end with Lloyd using Mikumo as the instrument to bring the entire humanoid population of the galaxy under his command; we just needed some clutch performances from our heroes—plus a confession or two—to turn things around.

Before heading out to the final battle (which is the final battle, in case you missed last week), neither Hayate nor Freyja can say “I love you”, merely mumble, while King Heinz essentially lets Lloyd do whatever he wants, even though he eventually wants peace talks with the UN, a far less ambitious (and less crazy) goal than Lloyd has planned.

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Kaname, Reina, and Freyja do their thing shorthanded while Delta Platoon does theirs, but everyone is sent to the Naked World when Lloyd gets Mikumo singing the Song of the Stars. For a few minutes we see the future Lloyd has in mind for the galaxy, and, well…nobody on either side likes it very much.

Heinz realizes Lloyd is up to no good too late, but thanks to Freyja’s determined singing, he adds his own song to the mix to notify Keith, Bogue, and the other knights to assist Delta and Walkure in stopping Lloyd. When Freyja’s voice falters, Hayate finally gives her the “I Love You” she’s been waiting and hoping for.

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The connection turns triangular when Freyja doesn’t immediately respond, leaving Mirage free to confess her love for Hayate and challenging Freyja to say something back already. She does, telling Hayate she loves him too. Everything turns pink, everyone is cast out of the Naked World, and Walkure is back on the stage, in new, Final Battle outfits.

A nominally-healed Makina adds her voice to the other three, and eventually not even Lloyd can keep Mikumo from singing along, donning her own Walkure outfit in Macross Giant Songstress Mode. At the same time, Delta blasts a hole in the Windermerean flagship, and with help from the Aerial Knights (someone called that), rescue Mikumo.

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Keith ends up being the one to take out Lloyd, his own best friend, with an air of disappointment he strayed so far from reasonable ambition. While his stated goal is universal peace, Lloyd wanted to become no less than a god, with total control over every living soul at once…which just wasn’t going to, er, fly. 

This is a finale full of nicely-composed images, including the Chaos fleet’s daring entry into battle, the Giant Mikumo on Ragna, Keith and Lloyd’s last moments before the ship blows up, the reunion of Walkure, and the parting shot of Mirage, who unsurprisingly ends up being the loser in the triangle, despite the fact she’s going to probably end up living far longer than Freyja.

Freyja’s skin crystallization doesn’t simply vanish when Lloyd is dealt with. But Hayate chooses the possibility of far outliving the object of that love, rather than the alternative (the part-Zentradi Mirage far outliving him). The flame that burns half as long burns Twice as bright.

And so ends Macross Delta, surely not the strongest of Macrosses, but perhaps better than no Macross at all? For all its flaws (and the fact one of its meal tickets—its eye candy—was out-candied this Summer by Zestiria), it was a show with deep ties to the past, which marched to its own beat in a 2016 where so much can feel the same. It was a fun ride.

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Alderamin on the Sky – 02

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Alderamin continues to move along with a wonderful briskness, but not so quickly that the events that transpire don’t hold weight. Last week’s predicament is handled fairly easily by Ikuta, but only because he makes it look easy.

In reality, he’s doing something really hard, especially for someone relatively young: he realizes what he can do and what he cannot; when to act and when to let his friends act. Igsem and Torway follow his lead and thanks to their assistance, the three guards are dealt with.

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Torway is shaken by his faltering during a crucial moment, but Igsem is there to support and praise him for his role in securing the princess. As for Chamille herself, the deaths of the three Kioka soldiers weighs heavily on her, to the point she bites her finger to release the “rotten” royal blood.

While Igsem comforted Torway, it’s Ikuta who comforts Chamille, assuring her her blood “tastes just fine” and to take care of the life he and his companions have worked so hard to preserve. His words make the princess blush, but she can also clearly see there is greatness in Ikuta.

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You can see both Chamille and Ikuta sharing a distaste for bloodshed; Chamille due to her imperial status; Ikuta do to his latent ability as well as the nature of the empire he lives in. As such, Ikuta treats the fallen Kioka soldiers’ remains with respect.

The next day, now possessed of a Kioka blimp, Ikuta formulates an ingenious strategem to get the princess safely across the border without firing a shot. Donning a Kioka uniform and armed with great acting ability and balls of steel, he marches right to the Kioka garrison and threatens the commander (his career, not his life) with the errant blimp.

There are a couple issues with this plan—the lieutenant in charge doesn’t ask for any identification, and lets Ikuta escort the others across. We also cut to a full month after they return to the empire, during which much has transpired that will shape their fates.

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But the events that unfold a month later justify the rapid jump in time. During that month, the famous General Rikan is sent to a battle Ikuta knows he’ll lose, since the empire no longer wants the undeveloped territory. But Rikan, the quintessentiall badass military man, is going to do his goddamn job, even if he knows the war is rigged. Honor, loyalty, “unscientific stupidity”; Ikuta can call it what he likes; he can’t stop Rikan.

Shortly after news of Rikan’s defeat, a demoralizing blow to the people of Katjvarna, the emperor gives Ikuta, Igsem, and the others an audience. Igsem had to knock Ikuta down when he was getting in Rikan’s face, but she warns him not to try pulling any of that shit in front of the emperor, and Ikuta seems to get it. I love their relationship!

Ikuta, of course, probably has an inkling of why they’ve been summoned, and his suspicions are confirmed when the emperor bestows upon them the title of imperial knights. That means they’re going to be trained as soldiers, whether that’s what he wanted or not.

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After the ceremony, in a coach with Igsem, Chamille (who is still just a kid, after all) can’t quite control her enthusiasm for making Ikuta into a hero, one of the three things he never wanted to be (the others being a noble and a soldier). She tells him too much about what she knows about his father (disgraced famous general) or his mother (former imperial concubine awarded to his dad).

Here we see just how much trouble Ikuta can get into when his emotions run rampant: he threatens to snap the princess’ neck; Igsem takes him down and warns him she’ll have to kill him if that happens. She doesn’t want do, but you can tell she sure as shit will. She’s a vital check on the wreckless abandon a troubled Ikuta can get into. He’s got the brilliance—and the ability—of Howl.

Later, when everyone’s cooled down a bit, Igsem leaves the festivities on what may be one of the best nights of her life, to sit with her good friend who declares he’s having one of his worst. Igsem doesn’t lecture him, she just listens and sits. Because like Chamille, she sees great things in Ikuta. No doubt he sees this in himself, and it probably scares the hell out of him. But he won’t be alone on this impending journey.

This episode demonstrated Alderamin’s ability to draw in very close to its surprisingly nuanced characters, and yet still draw back to reveal the huge world they inhabit, which is bound to explode into further combat as the show progresses, and in which heroes will rise.

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Macross Delta – 09

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This week Hayate officially learns (in a noxious cloud of technobabble) that he possesses fold receptors just like Freyja and the other members of Walkure. Specifically, he “resonates” with Freyja; something that causes Freyja to blush when she hears about it. Poor girl doesn’t realize she’s in a love triangle the show probably isn’t that concerned with resolving, like the one in Frontier.

Also this week, Messer puts his own pride and personal desire to “repay” his savior Kaname (the one who first saved him from the Var) above his safety and the safety of Delta Platoon and Walkure.

Hayate and Mirage follow the chain of command and honor their colleagues wishes, but insofar as their overarching duty, it seems like a very bad idea to put a ticking time bomb like Messer in a Valkyrie and hope for the best.

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For their part, Hayate and Mirage are conflicted over how to do with what they know about Messer, and try to put their heads together to come up with a solution throughout the episode.

Of course, because they’re largely doing this alone, in front of a romantic sunset, everyone, including Freyja, thinks these two are going out now, or something. Freyja is overcome by a combination of jealousy and FOMO, but is too timid to interfere, so she doesn’t, and thus never finds out the truth until the end of the episode, after much emotional stress.

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She didn’t happen to stalk Mirage while she was talking with Kaname, for instance, about how Kaname used to be the lead vocalist of Walkure before Mikumo joined, and before that, she was a solo idol.

Kaname is very harsh and frank in her assessment of herself, and flat out believes she doesn’t have the talent to be lead vocalist, and has to be content with leading them in every other way. But as far as Messer is concerned, hers is the only voice that can save him.

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That’s pretty strongly demonstrated when the Aerial Knights arrive to do some scans on Ragna’s Protoculture ruins. The camera focuses on Kaname both singing and talking Messer through his Var flare-up as he duels with the White Knight, Keith. Meanwhile, Hayate and Mirage protect Walkure from Bogue’s bold but ultimately fruitless attack.

The Knights retreat almost as soon as they arrive, but not before learning they can use Ragna’s ruins, and Keith is impressed enough with Messer to want another rematch in the near future.

But let’s be honest here: Delta Platoon dodged a bullet here. Had their ace Messer gone fully berserk, he would have fallen under enemy control, and as we saw in training, it wouldn’t take long for him to waste the rest of the platoon.

That being said, Freyja’s misunderstanding is cleared up, though she’s already shown her hand, Hayate-wise, and has to bug out to scream at the night to relieve the embarrassment, in the same place where Messer is alone, thanking his own personal god things didn’t get too out of hand due to his own selfishness.

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Macross Delta – 08

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Like Kabaneri last week overcoming the Fused Colony boss, this week’s Macross Delta seems to let its heroes off a little bit easy, considering the hole they dug themselves in. I’d also question why so many high-ranking Windermereans not only end up on Vordor, but end up cornering Hayate, Mirage and Freyja…only to bascially quarrel with each other about what to do with them (kill or capture to interrogate).

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Let’s be honest here: Hayate and Mirage are no match for these guys in hand-to-hand combat. Bogue alone mopped the floor with them in the blink of an eye. And yet despite having our heroes right where they want them, the Windermereans muck it up, giving Walkure time to launch a counterattack, aided at least in part by the ruins.

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As a result, our triangle is freed, Hayate, Mirage and Messer hop aboard their Seigfrieds, and the battle moves to the air, as Walkure counters the sad wind song of Prince Heinz. That song actually infects Messer, who’s already sustained a bullet wound, and Hayate comes very close to having to kill the father of those kids he and Freyja saw (another odd coindence), but Freyja steps up to the plate and gives a solo performance that cures the pilot.

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Hayate’s flying actually resonates with Freyja’s song, and he’s able to shoot Bogue out of the sky without killing him, but keeping a guy that dangerous alive is probably going to come back to bite him. Meanwhile, Lord Roid is fascinated by Freyja’s song, and will surely try to capture her again, Mikumo is both proud and impressed by Freyja’s newfound voice and reason for singing (to end wars), and Messer, poor dude, still has the Var. All in all, another serviceable but not particularly exceptional outing.

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 20

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I’m gonna level with ya’ll: this was not an exceptionally interesting episode, but it kinda couldn’t help it: Ayato and Julis’ finals match against the puppets was never going to take up only one episode, which means this episode was always going to be only the first of a two or even three-episode final battle.

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From the get-go, our heroes are the underdogs, as they’re just flesh-and-blood humans facing artificial beings, and Ayato still can’t use Ser=Veresta because Flora is still at large. That being said, they’re still tough enough t make Rimsy and Ardy do their special move wher Rimsy gives up all her luxes to make Ardy extra-powerful, at the cost of her own badge.

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Meanwhile, Kirin and Saya get to Flora, and after a couple of hiccups, manage to defeat the shadowy dude who is holding her captive. Kirin takes a wound to the vitals, but her swordsmanship is enough, combined with Saya’s backup firepower. Looks like Ayato and Julis were right to trust in them after all!

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Claudia hijacks the mic from the Phoenix Festa commentators in order to relay to Ayato and Julis the news that Flora has been successfully rescued. This means Ayato can finally wield Ser=Veresta once more, and he and Julis only have one opponent left to defeat, albeit the strongest one they’ve faced yet. Perhaps they can turn the tables now that they’re not hampered by dirty tricks.

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