Kuromukuro – 13

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Two Efidolg knights seem to have “gone rogue” in order to pursue their own personal ambitions against Earth. The first is Mirasa, who fights the Black Relic and GAUS units to a draw and escapes into the woods to regenerate. The second is “Muetta”, whose hair immediately indicated is Yukihime, or at least some kind of Efidolg clone of her.

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As Takeyama High prepares for their cultural festival in the interests of maintaining normalcy and taking a break from studies and battles alike, Yuki looms over the episode like a silent wraith, crouched and ready to strike.

Yukina’s class decides to do an “Efidolg Forum”, what with three UN pilots in their class. Unfortunately, everyone else at the base is too busy to join the forum, so it’s just Yukina, Ken, and Sophie.

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In a particularly clever bit of plotting, because one of the activities at the school festival is cosplay (with Mika switching her usual school uniform for another), Muetta is able to slip into the school without any trouble. Indeed, she’s commended for the craftsmanship of her armor and arms.

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While Muetta closes in, Yukina and Ken have a grand old time at the festival, with Ken remarking that modern life itself has always felt like a festival to him, but this takes it to another level. Yukina asks him what he plans to do once he avenges Yukihime, because he has his whole future ahead of him (dundundunnnn).

Almost immediately after Yuki mentions how everyone has two doppelgangers, her Efidolg doppelganger leaps on the stage and charges at Ken, who is so shocked by the sight of her (having just seen her in the digitally altered photo of Yukina), he lets his guard down and gets run through.

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The show, knowing we knew who this was all along, still expertly kept most of Muetta’s face out of the frame right up until the very end, when showing it had the most impact. And the camerawork of the stabbing is great stuff, with an extreme closeup of Muetta cutting to a dumbfounded Ken, who then falls to reveal an equally shocked Yukina.

Where goeth things from here? Hard to say. I wonder if Sophie can somehow suppress Muetta, and why Muetta stabbed him. Perhaps, like him, her memories had bene lost on Earth those centuries ago, but now they’re back and she’s punishing him for betraying their people?

In any case, this was quite the exciting cliffhanger to place between Kuromukuro’s two halves: the moment Ken’s two princesses met.

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P.S. The rock band in the auditorium is playing the show’s opening theme, a cover of “Distopia” by GLAY.

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Kuromukuro – 12

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As the Gezon-Reco of Efidolg decide to send another of their own (Nouet) down to Japan to deal with the Black Relic that’s been ruining their plans, the school term has given way to Summer break for Yukina, Ken, and Noelle, as well as Akagi, Mika, and Kaya.

Yukina boasts that she needn’t participate in extra lessons despite her deplorable marks, since she’s already been enrolled in what amounts to boot camp at Kurobe, with the always pleasantly profane Tom Borden as drill sargeant and Noelle, Shenmei, and Seb joining both out of solidarity and to stay sharp. Akagi also joins, in hopes of becoming a geoframe pilot.

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What ensues is your standard boot-camp/training episode, with Yukina predictably bad at pretty much everything early on. Indeed, after the first day of exertion she’s skipping dinner to throw up in the sink, but Shenmei grabs her from behind, throws her on the bed, sits on her, and…gives her deep massage and reiki. We’ve seen precious little of Shenmei, but I like how she’s so quietly supportive during Yukina’s descent into her Summer of Hell.

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To add insult to injury, Seb is assigned by her teacher to make sure she and Ken don’t fall behind on lessons. But the training is a long time coming now that Yukina is committed to co-piloting the Black Relic with Ken: she can’t rely on him to rescue her from every little thing.

That being said, Ken still saves her on numerous occasions, whether it’s a hand or word of encouragement, or something more dramatic like saving her from drowning when Tom shoves her into a pool in full kit.

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Ken is punished for “babying the Princess”, but thanks to Tom not thinking when activating the shock collar, Yukina and Noelle also get zapped, and the three zappees get a day off while Shenmei and Tom test the experimental GAUS water-walking system.

The unusual-for-Kuromukuro level of fanservice continues when Noelle shares photos of Mika in sexy fantasy cosplay that Ken can neither resist voicing his outrage and snapping a pic of the pic for his own, erm, records.

When the water-walking GAUS goes literally sideways and water starts leaking in the sinking frame, Shenmei remains almost comically (but also impressively) cool as a cucumber.

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The training continues, with Ken having to push Yukina less and less since she’s pushing herself (though Noelle notices how much he stares at Yukina), and things get easier as she grows stronger and more confident. Where once she couldn’t shoot with her eyes open, now she at least opens one, so it’s only a matter of time before she opens both.

For his continues heroism and lack of betrayal, Ken is rewarded by having his sword returned to him (by Yukina) and his collar removed (also by Yukina), resulting in some very close proximity between the two.

I’m enjoying the slow burn of their mutual attraction and respect, even if it doesn’t go far. Like it or not, Ken has found a new “princess” in Yukina, and thus a new commitment and purpose.

Yukina tells him he gets the sword on the condition he won’t seek his death with it through reckless action. And as the episode closes with a descending Nouet, Yukina’s newfound skills and stamina will be put to the test very soon.

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Kuromukuro – 11

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No sooner than I complained about the show dragging a little do things really start picking up. And while they picked up in more or less the most predictable way they could, it doesn’t change the fact that this was the first Kuromukuro that actually got my heart pounding, both with the suspense (and suspended disbelief either of the leads would die) and the kinda-sorta-maybe budding romance (or at least mutual respect) between those leads.

Fusnarnie is truly a loose cannon this week, and for a second, I thought Mulder and Scully weren’t going to release Kennosuke to deal with the situation. Also, there’s no more playing around with big robots and evacuations; there is blood and death here, and Yukina witnesses it close up for the first time, and reacts exactly how a non-grizzled warrior would: with fear and near-paralysis.

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That fear keeps her alive, though; one wrong move, and she knows she could be toast; this guy only wants her alive long enough to let him contract with Glongur. Before he can, Ken corners him, but he still has his hostage.

This is when Yukina finally springs into action to facilitate Ken’s rescue; quickly darting back and smacking Fusnarnie in the face, a move he clearly didn’t expect her to make. Sure, she stumbles immediately, but she gives Ken just the opening he needs to engage the enemy. Who knows how things would have gone down had Yukina not chosen to act.

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Ken is able to best Fussy, but that doesn’t stop the guy from trying to take Yukina down with him. He gets perilously close to her—and she’s again too terrified to move—but Ken does what he has to to protect Yukina, stabbing Fusnarnie in the back. Shortly thereafter, Fussy lets himself fall over the railing to his death rather than stay alive in disgrace.

What follows is a pivotal moment in the show, when Yukina makes a connection to Ken when she sees him trembling just as much as she is. Is this his first kill? Probably not, but it’s certainly his first in a while, and in any case killing is never easy, nor was killing Fusnarnie Ken’s first choice (and not just because the agents wanted him alive; surely Ken wants answers too, particularly about his so-called “altered memory.”

But as he shakes, Yukina sidles over to him and hugs him from behind, as much to calm him as to calm herself. It’s a lovely moment and proof of real growth in their relationship.

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Speaking of love interests, I have just plain had it with Akagi, and not because I’m a Yukina x Ken shipper (though I’m certainly far closer to being one after this week).

His impulsive desire to become a GAUS pilot (and belief he has the talent based on his hi-score) is just so dumb for this show; as if he’s some shounen hero in another show who really should have become a pilot in the first episode or two, but instead just talks about it over and over. We get it: dude wants to protect Yukina. I just don’t see him as GAUS pilot, ever. I enjoyed his dad’s incredulous and exasperated expressions, however.

I’d much rather see more of Sophie, who is ostensibly one of the three main characters in the show but has been woefully underused. Hopefully the second half will feature more of her.

Uncle Oshou is another story altogether; he’s a side character who steals nearly every scene he’s in; I especially liked his story about the seated statue and how Ken reacted to it. I also liked how in the same scene, Yukina asks Ken out on a date without even knowing it. And while on the hiking trip, she sticks to the map while Ken of all people embraces the wonders of GPS to get them on the right track. That was unexpected.

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Unfortunately, there’s as much mystery surrounding where exactly Yukina was, who or what rescued her, and what became of the “80’s Electronics Cave Base” as there is surrounding Ken’s past, and those answers still aren’t forthcoming this week, but the hiking trip did allow Ken and Yukina to process their emotions about recent events involving one another, and that made up for it.

Yukina and Ken will still blush whenever he conversation turn slightly romantic, but they’re becoming more comfortable being honest with each other. Ken is devoted to protecting her, and Yukina is just fine with that. She’s very candid about how his rescuing her made her feel, and it’s doubtless a feeling she’d never felt before, just as she never before saw Ken trembling. This episode definitely re-stoked by enthusiasm for the show as it approaches its second half.

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Kuromukuro – 10

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A quick trip to MAL will show you that Kuromukuro currently only manages a very meh 6.95 rating, which for MAL means “Good” but we’ve since come to mean “watchable, but not necessarily recommended.” I’ver certainly dropped higher-rated shows before.

The low score isn’t due to a disgruntled source material audience unhappy with the adaptation, either: it’s an anime original. So what gives?

Well, like Kennosuke’s bizarre experience 450 years ago, it’s kind of hard to put my finger on it, and that’s part of the problem. It’s one thing to be consistently and demonstrably great or terrible; Kuromukuro is merely solid, at best.

It’s not badly put together, and some of the character interaction is quite strong; it’s just not particularly original or exciting. A lack of 9 ratings bear this out: Kuromukuro has entertained, but never wowed.

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I never like quitting a show right in the middle, but with a planned 13 more episodes in addition to the 13 this Spring, I need to start taking a good long look at whether this show will be worth retaining into the busy new Summer season, which promises several new mecha series, the quality of which I can’t vouch for. (Macross will likely be continuing on as well, but I’m unaware of whether it will take a season off).

Basically, things need to start picking up, and soon. This episode promised a lot, but it really only amounted to table-setting. Now, table-setting can be interesting, but this week wasn’t, despite the fact we now have an Efidolg captive and learned more about Ken’s aforementioned experience, both under questioning by UN officials brought in from outside the Kurobe Lab.

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Interrogation episodes can be great, too, but again, Kuromukuro does not distinguish itself or add anything new to the genre. The interviews are largely dull and uninformative, as Fusnarnie, as he’s called, isn’t interested in giving many detailed answers, and Ken simply doesn’t remember very well what happened.

This is frustrating to him, on top of his whole “continuing to live in shame while his princess is dead” dilemma, and Yukina is just as frustrated (as I was) by the lack of answers from that weird cave with the “demon” who may have been her dad. What could have been an episode of bombshell revelations amounted to little more than more teasing of larger but still obscured things, combined with lots of moping by the main pair.

And don’t get me started on Akagi; this stiff’s cockamamie idea to simply become a pilot without actually putting any work in (and thinking his arcade high score is a gauge of his talents) just fell flat with me. Yukina couldn’t care less about this guy; why should I?

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One of the better parts of the episode was the flashback, in which we see Ken is a member of the soldiers fighting for Yukihime, and not, as Fusnarnie claims, an Efidolg advance guard. Or is he? How far in advance did he arrive? Did he bonk his head and forget who he was, and simply joined the princess’ guard since he’s good with a sword?

I’m not sure how else to explain how he’s able to pilot the Black Relic so easily. Was there something in Yukihime’s blood that made that possible? More to the point, is Yukihime really even dead, or was that light just a tractor beam that took her up to the mothership, where she remains? Lots of questions, as you can see, but precious few satisfying answers.

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I’m not particularly interested in the UN and Sophie being suspicious of Ken, either, seeing as how he’s only served the good guys faithfully all this time. Also, if Fusnarnie is to be believed, Ken betrayed his people; why would he switch back to the “enemy”?

Nevermind, all we get at the end is a somewhat obvious cliffhanger in which Fussy breaks free, kills his captors, summons his “Lion”, and just happens to bump into Yukina in the corridor, grinning when he realizes she’s a wielder. So great; now Yukina probably needs to be rescued…again.

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Kuromukuro – 09

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Not long after coming to in a cave filled with clocks and obsolete electronics, Yukina passes back out, as if hypnotized by the mysterious figure with the robotic voice and her dad’s watch and journal. She wakes up in a bus shelter, where Akagi and Kaya find her.

Just like that, all the potential answered questions about Yukina’s dad, and all the other mysteries in that cave, dissipate. That was a little disappointing, and the whole cave thing felt like a tease, but I came to forgive the episode when Yukina came around on piloting the artifact with Ken.

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What I like is that there wasn’t any one reason she didn’t want to and tried to run away: she’s scared; overwhelmed by the pressure; uncertain if this was the right path. But she also doesn’t like how she’s been ordered around like some automaton. Would it hurt for someone to ask her nicely?

Having dealt with her absence, Ken is resolved to let Yukina go, but Yukina isn’t ready for Ken to disappear from her life. She’s taken a shine to the guy, and vice versa, and when he realizes it’s as simple as asking nicely, he does so, and before lone Yukina is back in the cockpit with him.

I also appreciated that Hiromi’s decision not to let the military force her daughter into the artifact, even using her body as a shield. The protection is unneccesary, as Yukina was only “annoyed with herself” and needed some time and space, which she got, and is now willing to do her part.

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Once Yukina and Ken are in their tough new skin-tight nanofiber flight suits, Yukina puts on a brave front but Ken sees her hands shaking. She admits it: she’s scared shitless, but that command artifact out there isn’t going to defeat itself, and she doesn’t want Ken to use her absence as an excuse to get himself killed, nor does she like the idea of him sacrificing his life to save her. She’d prefer if they get through this together.

What “that” is could have been very intriguing indeed, had Efidolg succeeded in abducting Glongur and bringing Yukina and Ken up to the mothership. But that possibility is negated when the UN’s hunch about the tractor beam neutralizing the artifacts’ shields proves true.

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Another possibility not realized: Akagi and Kaya are once again very close to an errant missle explosion, but neither is even slightly injured. Not sure why they keep teasing the fact that these two could end up stains on the mountainside, adding to Yukina’s burden by association, but Akagi is determined to play a larger role in her protection, and not just because he teased her when they were little.

Sophie and the guy with the dirty mouth show up to take out the small fry, leaving Ken free to take on the boss artifact. He has trouble with his acrobatics, but Yukina again uses her unusually extensive knowledge of geology to lure the artifact onto a rock face she knows will crumble.

Rather than self-destruct, the Efidolg pilot surrenders. This was initially surprising, but I’m pretty sure when both Plan A (capturing Glongur) and Plan B (defeating Glongur in a duel) failed, he pivots to Plan C: letting yourself be captured by the enemy so you can learn more about them and possibly escape and cause more damage from within. We’ll see how he plays it.

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Kuromukuro – 08

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Like Ikari Shinji, who was overwhelmed by duties and expectations, Yukina seeks refuge away from the places that have oppressed her, but neither strays too far. Yukina hides out in Ogino’s room (decorated with posters of other P.A. Works), unsure of what she wants to do but very sure of what she doesn’t, namely fight and kill people in Glongur.

Ogino is a good friend in that she lets her crash there, lies to her mom for her, and gives her space to sulk. But she’s also a good friend because she provides her own perspective on Yukina’s plight—i.e. it’s a blessing, not a curse—and tells her the sulking and running has to end eventually, and she has to go home.

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Akagi and Kaya turn out to be fine, and were only gone as long as they were because Akagi’s bike ran out of gas. He gets a punch and a stern reaming from his father, warning his son not to “keep living for others’ approval,” but Akagi is mostly concerned with gaining Yukina’s approval, and he feels bad for ending up in a position where she might have been hurt.

Ken claims not to be worried about Yukina, and is only searching for the key to his artifact, but let’s be real here: of course he’s worried; after all, he’s still not certain Yukina isn’t the reincarnation of his princess. The princess is gone and his sense of purpose with it…except that Yukina has been filling the role of protectee he needs so dearly.

Talk about what Yukina wants comes up both in class and at UN control. Sophie suspects that if Yukina being in that artifact’s cockpit is the only thing keeping Earth safe, Yukina’s getting in that cockpit, whether she wants to or not. Unlike Shinji’s dad Gendo, Hitomi isn’t ready to commit to forcing Yukina; she’s more concerned with simply finding her.

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Yukina’s would-be protectors mount a search for her; Ken on the big horse he met earlier, Akagi on his refueled bike (with Kaya tagging alone, hungry for more viral streaming).

Rather than go to school (which would feel like a quick surrender), Yukina heads into the Kurowashi Valley, where the castle of Ken’s lord once stood but has since been reclaimed by nature.

Not having any satisfying answers about how to proceed, perhaps she thinks following her father’s journal and exploring the site where the demons once attacked might shed some light on her proper path. Or heck, maybe she’ll find her missing dad.

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Little does she know, the area is swarming with formerly dormant Efidolg Cactii, one of which zeros in on her location and attacks her. She’s saved neither by Ken (who gets close but never finds her by episode’s end) or Akagi (who took off later).

Instead, the magenta cactus is destroyed by a mysterious blue robot and a man with a very sharp sword and a watch Yukina instantly recognizes as—you guessed it—her father’s. The way this reunion has unfolded, it’s almost as if Yukina was always meant to ‘run away’ (even just a little bit) in search of either a reason for—or alternative to—pilot Glongur.

I’ll close by presenting two little snippets from the episode of both Ken and Yukina talking to themselves:

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I just wanted to point these moments out because I laughed heartily at both, for different reasons. Ken’s surprise at the horse’s size is another unique product of a samurai from four centuries ago suddenly finding himself in the present, where horses (and Japanese people) are simply larger due to better food, medicine, and breeding. His delivery is great too.

Yukina’s observation, on the other hand, is one of the most sophisticated collections of words she’s spoken. It seems meant to show us there’s more to this unmotivated airhead than meets the eye. She’s either a secret geology buff or maybe she was just paying special attention to one particular part of class.

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My Hero Academia – 03

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What is All Might’s quirk? It has been debated exhaustively on- and offline, and remains one of the world’s greatest mysteries. While the vast majority of those with quirks get them from birth, All Might’s is different: he inherited his powers of super speed and strength from his predecessor. And now that he knows the kind of heart and heroic drive Midoriya possesses, he’s ready to transfer his power to him. His quirk, then, is power transfer…One For All.

But it’s not that simple: Midoriya’s heartmay be ready to be a superhero, but his body is sorely lacking. All Might knows all about fitness regimes, and so sets up a comprehensive “American Dream Plan” to transform Midoriya’s body into something his to-be-inherited powers can work with. AM admits it’s a hard plan, but Midoriya does not waver in agreeing to it…then going above and beyond.

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His first mission as a hero is to clear a beach of washed-up and illegally-dumped trash—most of it quite heavy—as an act of selfless service, of the kind heroes used to do before so many villains showed up to keep them busy. So begins Midoriya’s ten months of hell, presented in Rocky-style montage form.

At first, Midoriya can’t do much of anything, but he keeps going…pushing more, pulling more, running more, eating more, and enduring the physical toll. At the same time, he has to keep his grades up to keep his hopes of enrolling at UA alive.

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Seven months in, All Might notices Midoriya has simply hit a wall, but not because the plan is too tough: Midoriya has been going far beyond the proscribed plan, and falling victim to overwork. AM adjusts the plan accordingly to allow for a little overachievement without burning out.

On the dawn of the day he’s to report to UA for his entrance exam, Midoriya stands on the tiny pile of wreckage that is all that’s left on an otherwise gorgeous, spotless, beach, and roars at the sunrise. Moved by this sight, AM suddenly transforms into this public visage to exclaim “Oh My Goodness!” (much like Franklin often does at the RABUJOI main office).

He also makes sure that on the eve of achieving hero-hood, Midoriya understands there’s a difference between being lucky to receive something (i.e. AM’s powers) and being given those powers as recognition of his hard work. And he has worked hard.

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Now all he has to do is eat one of AM’s hairs (gross) and the real hard part begins: getting into UA. While on his way in, he crosses paths with Kacchan, who he’s noticed has not bullyed him once since the incident with the sludge monster. He also encounters a cute retro girl who saves him from tripping on his feet with her anti-grav quirk.

After an uneventful orientation, the examinees are split up into groups and sent to various walled-off model urban battle centers, in which they will engage in a mock battle to see who can amass the most points from destroying simulated villains.

It’s pretty much a video game, only using their real abilities. And interacting with or harming fellow examinees is prohibited, though I’m reasonably sure there will be interactions in there. Midoriya has come a long way in a short ten months; I look forward to seeing how he fares—and what bonds he’ll forge—in that battle center.

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My Hero Academia – 02

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While on their brief flight through the city, the bottles containing the goop villain fall out of All Might’s pockets, and Kocchan kicks one of them, releasing the monster in a shopping district. Meanwhile, just as Izuku is hoping for inspiring words about how he can become a hero even without a Quirk, All Might deflates into a grotesque husk of his usual public self.

Turns out, this is his true form—more heroin than hero—the result of a near-fatal injury sustained in a battle years ago that limits him to three hours of heroic duty a day. Like the doctors and mother who told him about his limits, Izuku gets another grim dose of reality from All Might, who can’t simply say he can be a hero.

Kocchan, being tougher than Midoriya, is able to stay alive far longer in the villain’s clutches, but he can’t defeat the thing, and none of the heroes who show up have to proper skill sets to defeat it either.

I love the practical snags that result from the super-specialization of these heroes, be it the guy who only shoots water, the tree guy who can’t be near fire, or Mt. Lady, who doesn’t have enough room to work.

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When Izuku and the emaciated All Might arrive (seperately) at the scene, things are bad; everyone is waiting for someone to show up and save the day. Then, something happens to Izuku that apparently happens to a lot of heroes early in their lives: he moves without thinking, after seeing fear in Kocchan’s eyes and what he thinks is a wordless cry for help.

There’s very little Izuku can do besides run at the monster, scream, and throw his effects at it, but it doesn’t matter, it’s his heroic gesture that inspires All Might to pump himself back up, rescue Izuku, and knock the villain out with a right fist so hard he creates a pocket of precipitation above the city.

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Afterwards, All Might gets all the credit, Kocchan is praised for hanging in there…and Izuku is scolded by the other heroes for acting so recklessly. But both Kocchan and All Might know who is really responsible for saving the day, and it’s Izuku.

Kocchan may not have been trying to look desperate, but he did, and All Might wouldn’t have acted had Izuku not acted first. He doesn’t thank Kocchan, but you can tell he’s pissed about Izuku being more than just talk and kiddy dreams. That being said, All Might can’t keep this up much longer, so the obvious thing to do is to train Izuku to be his successor.

There are no guarantees, as Izuku still has no Quirk of his own, but he’s gotta try, and if nothing else, Izuku’s crazy actions proved to All Might that he can be a hero, with a little help. And then, as a little surprise, Izuku’s voiceover informs us this is actually the story of how he became the greatest hero. So he won’t be weak and unheralded for long.

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My Hero Academia – 01 (First Impressions)

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A world where humans develop superpowers and a government-sanctioned hero industry that battle villains? With a comedic bent? We’ve seen this premise before. We’ve even seen this art style applied to this premise before, with One Punch Man, a bona-fide future classic covered by Zane last Fall.

Of course, that might be a dumb statement: most premises of new anime are premises we’ve seen before. Anime’s been around a while, and there are some premises that endure and continue to be relevant as long as there are talented people to put a new twist or their personal touch to them.

Does the well-worn familiarity hamper the freshness of My Hero Academia a little? Yes; that’s unavoidable. But if it doesn’t contribute anything new or groundbreaking, is it at least diverting entertainment? Most assuredly; and at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.

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We’ve seen weird heroes fighting weird villains before (and heroes fighting each other for the credit). But we haven’t seen these weird heroes and villains, vying for attention through the use of brute strength, speed and maneeuverability, or plain ol’ sex appeal.

The most “conventional” superhero also happens to be the top hero in the business, All Might, an amusingly grotesque Superman caricature who is blonde, burly, and perpetually grinning from ear to ear. This is the guy who inspires our protagonist, the pint-sized, “quirkless” Midoriya”Deku” Izuku.

He wants to be like All Might. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the genes. A third-year in middle school, he still has no powers, and doctors have told him not to hold his breath. Still, he takes careful notes of all hero/villain clashes and studies hard in hopes that he can enroll at the prodigious U.A. High (which no longer prohibits quirkless).

Izuku doesn’t just have his lack of powers to contend with, but also the universal general awfulness and cruelty of his peers, chief among them Bakugo Katsuki. Your typical bully with his corps of toadies, Katsuki wants to be the only one from his school to get into U.A. High, so threatens Izuku to forget about following him.

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That’s a nakedly petty position that is sure to set up a scenario in which Izuku somehow ends up with the power to oppose/surpass his Katsuki (or possibly lead to the two developing a grudging friendship).

The first brick in the foundation of Izuku’s rise is laid by an unexpected (and thoroughly disbelief-suspending) encounter with All Might himself. Izuku is wobbly-kneed in his presence, but is still able to grab on for dear life as Might flies away to his next gig.

Here, we see All Might cough up some blood, suggesting A.) his heroing days may be numbered and B.) Izuku is uniquely positioned to possibly succeed him. We must be content with this first brick, for My Hero Academia chose not to convert its loser MC to hero status in the first episode. But it’s a very promising first brick in what looks to be a fun Spring romp.

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Attack on Titan – 08

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Man, those Titans look like the “Came With the Frame” family, wearing seemingly warm, friendly expressions. To bad they only look like that because they’ve found fresh humans to eat. The fact that Titans (unique variants aside) aren’t particularly grotesque monsters  but look simply like scaled-up naked humans who act purely on instinct, has made for quite a skin-crawlingly disturbing dynamic.

This week, we see Jean, who never wanted to fight on the wall in the first place, almost fall backwards into a position of leadership and the esteem of his peers, not because he performs amazing feats of badassery like Mikasa, but because he’s just…one of them. Not particularly strong, but able to assess situations and rally others to his side. After all, if someone like him can keep his cool (most of the time anyway) in such awful scenarios as he faces this week, so, they believe, can they.

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Speaking of lacking either physical or emotional brawn, Armin starts this episode content to be left behind lest he slow Mikasa and Connie down. But like Eren, Armin is Mikasa’s family, and she’s lost enough of that, so she’s not leaving him. Since he’s going to be a burden to them one way or another, Armin hatches a plan: something neither Mikasa nor Connie would have ever conceived of: lead the weird Titan-fighting Titan (TFT) to HQ so he can take out he Titans there, allowing them to resupply and continue the battle.

So Mikasa and Connie (with Armin in tow) set to work killing all the Titans around the guy, until he notices the ones gathered around HQ and gets to work. That handsome couple up top are his first victims, who are killed before Jean’s eyes just as he’s ready to give up (there’s a lot of instances of people about to give up in this show; all of them perfectly justified).

Once there, Armin comes up with another plan. In the process, he transcends his whiny third wheel act. Now, he’s a crucial member of the ramshackle unit, not just because Mikasa draws strength from him being alive, but because he just might be the sharpest tactician they’ve got.

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This plan has a lot less margin for error than the TFT-luring operation. Everyone has to put their lives on the line for the sake of everyone else. Any slip-ups, and they could all die. Seven athletic fighters hide in the rafters, waiting for the rest of the unit to blast the seven Titans in the head with shotguns so they can swoop in for the kills.

And while Connie and Sasha fail to strike killing blows to their Titans, Mikasa and Annie, two of the toughest ladies around, bail them out. I like how Sasha is pissed off with herself for giving up and not trusting her comrades would save her. Now she knows better.

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When they resupply and return to the surface, their would-be TFT ally is in the middle of a cannibalistic scrum. As they debate over whether to continue to rely on him, he dispatches the last of the Titans and collapses, armless. Then, from the dissolving remains of the TFT carcass, a regular-sized human form emerges – the human we all knew was in there, kicking Titan ass as a Titan.

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But I must tell you, while I fully expected Eren to be in that TFT, I was not prepared for the emotional impact of Mikasa running to him, embracing him, then totally losing it when she hears his heartbeat. That was even the title of the episode, and it still absolutely slew me.

There will certainly be many different reactions to Eren being a Titan (or having the ability to pilot them). Not all of those reactions will be positive. But right now, the only thing that matters to Mikasa—and me—is that the heart of the person she holds most dear in all the wretched world is still beating.

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Attack on Titan – 07

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We quickly learn this week that those intense flashbacks to when Eren and Mikasa first met, and Mikasa found her purpose in life—to be with Eren—was all simply building up for the moment Armin tearfully informs her that Eren died to save him.

It’s another cruel blow to someone who’s already endured so much pain; in fact, it figures to be the final blow; after all, Mikasa has been going on over and over about there being no other reason for her living than Eren.

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To Armin’s surprise, and mine too, however, Mikasa doesn’t break down; not outwardly anyway. Instead, she seems to shut down right then and there. Her eyes lose their sparkle. But for now, she sticks to her duty. She gives a big speech about being far stronger than all of them (which is true) and calling them pathetic cowards.

She’s going to go fight and live, even if she has to do it herself. Others follow her, whether due to a sudden spark of motivation from her words, or out of shame. Elsewhere, it’s so grim one soldier successfully loads a gun so he can put it in his mouth and end it all.

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But like Armin, we know something’s not right about how Mikasa is proceding. She’s going too all out; killing with extreme prejudice until her gas supply is totally exhausted. And with no gas, she has no mobility, and no more hope of suriving the gathering Titans.

She kneels in an alley, waiting for death…but she reflexively doesn’t let herself die, in spite of herself. As a Titan comes at her, then another, she remembers Eren, and dodges, and fights back, like he did, to save her. Then one of the Titans kills the other, and leaves her alone. Wait…what?

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This “ally” Titan—with familiar unkempt hair and steely teal eyes—is Eren in another form, to my eyes. And he kills the other Titan with the same raw ferocity he killed one of Mikasa’s captors; as she puts it, putting “all the manifest anger of humankind” behind his righteous blows that rip his own fist apart, only to re-heal instantly.

It’s too soon to be sure, but this “unique variant” may be humanity’s first real effective weapon against the Titans. If he pans out as a reliable human ally, he certainly won’t be a total game changer; he’s just one “good Titan” against countless scores of Titans of all shapes, sizes and strengths. But I for one am glad Mikasa and the little people have scored a break, even if it’s a temporary, incomplete one. Like them, I’ll take every break I can to stem the rising tide of blood and anguish.

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Attack on Titan – 06

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I wasn’t all that enamored of Armin’s extended whimpering at the beginning of this episode, but his realization that not only is it a cruel world where the strong slaughter the weak, but it has always been so; he just had to lose his best friend to realize it fully. And messed up as he is, he can still look at a desperate Hanna performing CPR on her clearly-dead Franz and think stop…he’s already dead. I am weak. We are weak. But we don’t have to fall to the strong today.

While Armin laments the apparent loss of Eren and the rest of his unit in its entirety, Mikasa bags her first Titan (or at least the first Titan we see her bring down), an “abnormal” that runs a lot faster than the others and was about to go to town on a throng of evacuees who weren’t able to escape because a haughty merchant is blocking the gate with his wagon full of goods.

Mikasa’s job is to kill Titans, but she’s killing Titans to save lives, not goods. So she clears the gate a blade less than an inch from the merchant’s eye, then goes back to work killing Titans once the evacuation can proceed. Her superior wonders what the hell this kid went through to become so tough and unyielding. I too have been wondering where she got her seemingly superhuman strength…and how she, and Ackerman, came to live with the Yeagers.

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The show enlightens us with a gut-punch-riddled flashback. Armin’s assessment of the cruelty of the world is felt firsthand by Mikasa, whose loving mother and father are murdered right in front of her eyes. They prepare to sell her into the service of old perverts, as she’s a rare (if not one-of-a-kind) “oriental”. And that’s exactly what would have happened, had Eren not tagged along with his dad on a house call to the Ackermans.

When Eren realizes what has happened to the parents of a girl he was going to meet for the first time (and was going to weigh whether to be friends with her based on “how she acted”), he goes off on his own to rescue her, achieves entry to the criminals’ hideout by pretending to be lost, and then kills two of the men holding her, one with a knife to the gut at the door (just how Mikasa’s dad was killed), the other more viciously with a spear-broom.

But there’s a third man, and once he has his hand around Eren’s throat, it falls to Mikasa, who had always abhorred the inherent cruelty and violence of nature. Eren gives her the rundown: Fight, or die. Win, and live. That’s it. With the knife in her hands, a switch flips: she’s the strong one here; the man busy with Eren the weak one. With overwhelming force, she fights and wins, and she and Eren live.

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The two kids are shell-shocked in the aftermath of that ordeal, but Mikasa is still in tune with reality enough to say she’s cold, and ask which is the way back home. Eren and his dad welcome her into their home, which becomes her home. Eren gives her his warm scarf; perhaps the same scarf she still wears in the present.

Eren is her everything; he saved her life, and woke her up so she could save both of them. He’s the reason she’s alive, and the reason she fights, and wins, and continues to live. As long as he’s with her, she can do anything, and goshdarn it, I believe it. But what if he isn’t with her? What if he’s Titan chow? I know he isn’t, because, well, this isn’t Gurren Lagann and he’s not Kamina…but she doesn’t know that yet.

That aside, this was a tremendous flashback episode that helped humanize and further deepen our understanding of our favorite character in the show by a mile so far. I daresay it was worth arresting the momentum of the last couple episodes.

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Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 04

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Stella’s first battle is over before it begins, when her lower-ranked opponent forfeits out of a desire not to be hurt too badly. When she checks in on Ikki, he’s studying tape on his opponent, Kirihara Shizuya, and his “Area Invisible” technique that’s such a mismatch against Ikki’s swords skills. He seems focused and committed, and promises her he won’t lose. And Stella, having come off an easy victory, having lost to him herself, and used to Ikki acting tough and cool, believes him, without suspecting anything amiss.

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Alice is different. Her woman’s intuition, if you will, senses something is off with Ikki on this particular momentous, high-pressure occasion. She learns about how years ago there was a conspiracy to get Ikki expelled for some petty infraction, and how Shizuya attacked him brutally, but Ikki wouldn’t fight back no matter what, worried (rightly so) that he’d be kicked out for it.

Alice comes to the conclusion Ikki is so used to being downtrodden, both physically and mentally, by those who see themselves as better than him, that he’s developed a hard skin that prevents him from hearing the “screaming in his heart”—that release valve everyone has.

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Now that he has to either win the Seven Star Battle or be expelled, that pent-up anguish has a profound effect on Ikki, such that he does not strike the moment that gives him the best chance at victory: before Shizuya activates Area Invisible. He can’t, says Alice: he’s too damned nervous down there.

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And so, Shizuya, who is perfectly confident in his ability to hide and attack from the shadows like a hunter or assassin, has his way with Ikki, riddling him full of arrows. Ikki collapses in a pool of his own bloood, Shizuya mocks him, the crowd starts laughing and mocking and chanting “Worst One” and it’s almost a nightmare come true for Ikki, until a fed-up Stella stands up and tells the crowd to shut the hell up, and tells Ikki to stop looking pathetic and get up.

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So he gets up. He puts his cool face back on. He can, because Stella’s loud public words of encouragement wash away the nerves. He calms down, then uses his trump card and steals the “logic” of Shizuya’s ability, so he can see right through it every time. Shizuya is able to switch from tactic to tactic, but ultimately they’re all part-and-parcel of his ability, leaving nothing with which he can hold Ikki back other than cowering and crying “uncle.” Ikki spares his life (by one millimeter!) and wins. Then he passes out.

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When he comes to, he’s in the hospital, a dozing, drooling Stella by his bedside, his sister crying into Alice’s shoulder outside because it’s not to be for her. And since he has her alone, Ikki, who won his battle thanks to Stella, confesses to her, and expresses how important she is to him.

Her lovely dere response includes a closed-eyes first kiss and a small nod indicating she feels the same way about him. Then Ikki draws her into a big warm hug (bawww) and promises he’ll one she’ll face in the Seven Star final. You don’t get that a lot in anime these days: a couple working towards facing off against each other in the final battle. I like it!

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