Fate / Apocrypha – 02

While still not quite exciting enough to fully recommend, the second episode of Fate/Apoc is nevertheless an improvement, as things move from the explanation of the mechanics of this new Grail War to all of its various players. There are many little scenes in which a master and servant introduce themselves.

That interaction ranges from Gordes yelling at his Black Saber, Siegfried, to Celenike licking her new “toy”, Black Rider AKA Astolfo, 12th Paladin of Charlemagne. The servants are represented not just from historical heroes, but a fictional monster like Frankenstein’s, or Jack the Ripper.

Kairi meets and gets to know Red Saber AKA Mordred, “son” of Arthur. Kairi gets off to the wrong start when he calls her a woman, but as long as she’s able to pull an Excalibur-like sword out of the stone and become King, she’s willing to work with the guy. Aside from Caules testing Black Berserker (Frankenstein)’s power, Red Saber and Kairi’s raid of the Yggdmillennia stronghold of Trifas is the only sustained action we get.

It’s a quick fight, only meant to test both sides of the conflict, and Red Saber and Kairi find a nice rhythm. I also liked Saber’s ability to add and shed armor according to the situation (she seems prefer wearing as little as possible)

We’ve got two Sabers, two Archers, two Assassins, two Berserkers…you get the idea. But there’s also a “watchdog” in Kotomine Shirou, who is planning to kill the fifteenth servant to make an appearance in this war: Ruler, who bookends this episode and is established as being Jeanne d’Arc (the second one I’m watching after Baha Soul) and being on her way to Trifas.

We’ve yet to met her master, but as he and she are listed as the two main characters (and displayed as such in the promo art) this is still very much another piece-introducing and arranging episode. Other than the deliberate pace, the animation still sticks out as lacking compared to ufotable works, but at the same time the characters seem to have a lot more “punch” to them, particularly the more fiery Red Saber.

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Fate / Apocrypha – 01 (First Impressions)

Full disclosure to new readers: I have never played any of the Fate games, and my only exposure to the franchise’s anime was Unlimited Blade Works seasons 1 and 2. UBW was quite entertaining, but didn’t really leave me chomping at the bit for a spinoff that doubles the number of participants in the Holy Grail War.

Apocrypha is the spinoff we got, whether I asked for one or not, and it offers a decent soundtrack but bland masters (at least so far) who spend much of the episode sitting around in rooms talking after four minutes of heated battle. And even those four minutes, while exciting, only serve to emphasize this is not a ufotable anime, as is much less smooth and sophisticated in both character design and animation.

That’s…somewhat problematic right off the bat, as I’m already getting more than my fair share of fun knights-and-magic battle from MAPPA’s Baha Soul (empty calories and all) as well as Re:Creators (when it deigns to include action in its episodes, that is). Unbacked by the ufotable pedigree, this looks more to someone like me (who has only seen ufotable Fate) like, well, a poor imitation.

Take out all the familiar terminology like Holy Grail War, Servants, Masters, etc., and we’re left with a simply okay-looking magical fantasy drama that hopes to capitalize on the cache of the Fate brand. That may prove to be enough for passionate (or at least completionist) followers of the franchise, but I’m just not that enamored with the alternate King Arthur milieu to overlook this spinoff’s technical shortcomings.

Bottom line: this premiere told me a lot, but didn’t show me enough to warrant an enthusiastic dive into its 25-episode span. However, I may still tune in to see if a second episode can capture my interest.

Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku – 07

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After the ordeal with Magicaloid and Hardgore Alice, Koyuki wakes up in her bed, shaken but none the worse for wear, and in possession of a rabbit’s foot, a rare item Fav says belongs to Alice. Koyuki wants to return it, but wants nothing else to do with Alice, who freaks her out royally.

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When Calamity Mary gets wind of Magicaloid’s death, she seeks out Alice, but no matter how hard she tries, she just can’t kill the bitch. Riddling her with bullet holes? Nothing. Blowing her to a bloody pulp with a shotgun, machine gun, and grenade? Nada. Chopping her gooey remains to pieces, setting them aflame, pouring acid over them, burying them in a drum full of cement and tossing it into the ocean? Absolutely no effect.

Calamity Mary has finally found an implacable adversary, and it’s uncertain whether she’s excited or simply going insane from that prospect. It is interesting, however, that by trying to take out Alice, she’s showing a kind of loyalty to her former business associate. Honor among thieves and all that.

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Sazanami Kano AKA Ripple is billed as a main character alongside Koyuki, and we’ve seen a bunch of her, but didn’t know quite where she was coming from until this week. Her life is presented as a series of incidents where she can’t take it anymore, lashes out physically, and ends up alone.

Granted, people say and do awful things to her that warrant a good punching, but it’s clear she’s not exactly what you’d call fulfilled. Maybe she sticks with Top Speed out of a desire to connect with someone that still endures despite all the awful experiences she’s had with people…as enduring as Hardgore Alice’s invincible Terminator body.

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As for Alice, she confronts Koyuki, and won’t leave her alone even when she tries to run away, but while doing this makes her threatening, Alice takes no violent action against her. In fact, she’s adamant that she merely gave Koyuki her rabbit’s foot because “she felt like it.”

Maybe despite appearances she’s not someone Koyuki needs to be worried about. Swim Swim is another story, as the episode ends with her setting up an ambush for Nana and Winterprison, who are seeking unity in these troubling times.

As for Calamity Mary wanting to meet with Ripple, I’m not sure what that’s about, but surely someone has to bite the dust at some point, as there are currently more girls left than episodes.

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Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku – 06

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La Pucelle never had a chance. Cranberry played her like a fiddle till the end, first by rejecting his call for a “fair fight” (she’s clearly more powerful than her, able to block her sword with her bare hand), then getting him to launch one more last-ditch assault to “rid the world” of such an objectionable magical girl, only for Souta to get knocked out, tossed in the street, and run over moments after coming to.

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It’s a strong statement from Magical Girl Raising Project that really ups the stakes for Snow White/Koyuki. Her friend and protector is lost. She’s all alone and all-too-tempting a target, both for more aggressive girls and for Fav to try to tease some years out of her life in exchange for rare trinkets.

Koyuki’s fear of death finally leads her to hit “buy”, only for everything to be sold out; she waited too long. Now she’s in even more trouble: no more ready to fight, but without a defense against those items. The show is really piling on with Koyuki’s misfortune, further convincing me she’s the one Fav either is trying to build her up into the Ultimate Girl—or kill her trying.

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As for the items, they seem to have been snatched up by Swim Swim’s crew, with her taking on the most lifespan reduction. She wants to protect herself and the gang at all costs, even going so far as to name her weapon after the old ruler who failed them and led Swim to pick up the ball and run with it.

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Ripple is disappointed she couldn’t acquire anything and nervous about the consequences, but Top Speed assures her they’ll be fine and that neither of them will die, based on…well, nothing but blind optimism, really. Despite her titular speed, I’m wondering how long Top Speed thinks she can stay above the fray, and how long she can keep Ripple as an ally. It seems she only needs six months.

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The final act of the episode is the goriest and most chaotic, with Hardgore Alice (groan) finding Koyuki and seemingly preparing to kill her, only to be beheaded by Magicaloid 44 (who was ordered by Mary to kill someone that night). For a moment, Alice seems like she was never anything more than a MacGuffin.

Then, before Magicaloid can kill Koyuki too, she is killed by a headless Alice, whose power is quick regeneration, making the quick look back to pre-magical girl Andou Makoto at the beginning of the episode seem like a too-late attempt to humanize her. As for Koyuki, she’s starting to lose it fast.

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Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku – 05

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Surprisingly, no one dies this week, despite plenty of palls being cast over various magical girls, and none darker than those upon Sister Nana and/or Weiss Winterprison, AKA Habutae Nana and Ashuu Shizuku, a couple in real life.

What we get instead of a death is the full laying-out of what I’ll call the “Spectrum of Light and Dark”. We now know more or less where everyone stands, and the makeup is such that Fav will likely get what he wants: the field of sixteen is already fourteen, and it’s gonna get smaller.

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Mind you, this is a spectrum, not a black and white situation. Way over on the Light End end are goody-two-shoes like Snow, Pucelle, Nana and Weiss who want to end the conflict. Then we have those way over on the Bad Side like Calamity Mary and Cranberry, who just want chaos and good fights, but also want to win. They like Fav’s new strategy.

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Other than these extremes, a whole bunch of people are various distances from the middle of the spectrum. You have opportunists like Swim Swim and her gang, who might be less unscrupulous if circumstances were different. You have Magicaloid-44, who is after a buck first, but seems at least aware of how much she screwed the person who became Weiss Winterprison. Others, like Top Speed and Ripple, are on the fence.

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Now that we know more about where people are coming from—both in their real lives, in Nana and Weiss’ case, or where they stand on the spectrum, like everyone else—I’m starting to become more invested in the supporting characters of this show. Nemurin’s fate moved me, and I even felt bad for Ruler even though she was a haughty piece of work.

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Now, as Cranberry descends upon Nana and Weiss, I feel bad for them too. Weiss depends on Nana’s buffing power, and Cran would rather fight a strong Weiss than a weak one, but someone has to die eventually, and it’s more likely to be those who would rather not fight than those who love to fight. Nana loves peace, and she loves Shizuku. The baddies will exploit those things to ruin her.

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The only chance the good-to-near-good guys who don’t what to fight is if they stick together and look out for each other. It’s not enough for Nana to rely on Weiss, or Snow on Pucelle: they’ve got to join forces. The baddies aren’t going to make that easy.

Newcomer Hardgore Alice seems singularly fixated on Snow White (as she’s kinda the opposite with the Goth look), Swim Swim’s crew has yet to come up with a solid plan but will shit on Snow White and Pucelle on social media for now, and Cranberry wants Pucelle.

There are magical girls on the board who are in this for themselves, and those who are in it for or because of others, and the ones they love. This isn’t just a last-girl-standing battle, but a struggle to determine what a magical girl should be. Classically, it’s the ones who want to protect the weak, but they’re the ones looking weak in a game rigged to favor those with poorly adjusted—or nonexistent—moral compasses.

Then again, we’re currently being led to believe the likes of Nana and Koyuki will simply crumble if they lose their respective knights. But is that really the case? If that happens, it will be interesting to see if these “light” girls will embrace the darkness and, having nothing more to live for, commence personal quests for vengeance.

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Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku – 04

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In Magipro, Ruler is what Mokuou Sanae can’t be in the real world: in control. She always ranked at the top of her class, but speaking out of turn at the office where she worked got her reassigned by a boss who wanted her to learn her place. She always saw everybody in the world as idiots to be brought to heel. It’s how she ruled as Ruler, and it was her downfall.

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Getting Ruler’s backstory was a sure sign that she’d be the next victim, despite having come up with a devious scheme to steal Snow White’s Magical Candies. As it happens, her desire to keep distance from her subjects by insulting them at every opportunity became her fatal flaw when she relied on Swim Swim to transfer Snow White’s candies while she held her pose to keep Koyuki from moving (the flipside of her magical power to control).

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As such, Swim Swim took it upon herself to doublecross Ruler, only taking half of Snow White’s 50,000+ candies and distributing them evenly to all but Snow White herself, La Pucelle…and Ruler. That puts Ruler in last place at the time of the rankings, and it kills her.

Tama seems torn up by the coup, but the twin “angels” are fine with it, and acknowledge Swim Swim as their new leader. In a nice twist, Swim Swim was the young girl who Nemurin said could be a princess if she tried hard enough. But Swim Swim couldn’t be the true Ruler until the old one was eliminated. And so it comes to be.

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The entire situation disgusts Koyuki, who was ready to die rather than let anyone else die in her place before she learned Swim Swim only took half of her candies. But Souta isn’t so dedicated to Koyuki’s ideals, especially if it means Koyuki’s death. So La Pucelle re-vows to be Snow White’s knight, doing whatever is necessary to keep her alive and safe – whether Snow White wants such treatment or not.

With the sixteenth magical girl entering the field, Koyuki will no doubt continue to need protection, not just from those who would eliminate her, but from her own stubborn refusal to defend herself at the cost of others.

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Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku – 03

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Once Sister Nana and Winterprison find a recording of Fav telling Cranberry retired Magical Girls die in real life as well, it isn’t long before they make the connection to the sudden real-world death of Sanjou Nemu, and start to worry about their own lives. It’s no longer a fun game. The lives they have as magical girls are the only lives they’ve got..and they’ll have to fight for them.

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We spend a fair amount of time with Ruler’s gang: twins Yuna and Mina, the doglike Tama, and the quiet but equally loyal Swim Swim. Ruler keeps emotional distance from her “subjects” by calling them idiots and useless, but she clearly cares about them and has taken it upon herself to make sure no one drops out.

Yuna and Mina initially try to depose Snow White with a PV, and get close, finishing second in popularity polls. But once the truth of their plight is out, that petty jealousy is twisted into a competition for their very lives.

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Koyuki reacts to the news exactly how you’d expect someone with as much purity and empathy as she has: lamenting her situation and even feeling guilty about always taking the top spot.

Souta tells her it’s good and right to feel that way, but for now all they can do is keep surviving for the day they can perhaps find a hole in Fav’s oppressive “that’s the way it is” system. I doubt that will actually happen before most of the girls die, but still! Until then, Souta vows to be Koyuki’s sword.

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She’ll need it. Ruler wastes no time plotting to exploit the “update” to the game that allows girls to exchange candies. She believes it’s a move by the game’s admins to egg the girls on into taking candies from one another, now that they’re exchangeable. And there’s no more tempting target than Snow White, sitting on hundreds if not thousands of candies, and with no personal desire to hurt her fellow magical girls.

Ruler doesn’t plan to eventually take all of Snow White’s candy. As far as she’s concerned, it’s written in stone that Snow White will die, tonight. She is not messing around, and while her subjects aren’t the most reliable, they are still magical girls with unique powers.

Whether Koyuki survives depends on how capable Souta is of protecting her, as well as how far she’s willing to forsake her cherished ideals of purity, righteousness, and beauty. Because shit’s about to get ugly fast.

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