Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 11

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I was hoping something substantial would come of Zen’s stolen kiss in the watchtower last week (God, that just sounds romantic), rather than serving as a tease. I was hoping that kiss would start something that couldn’t be undone. This week, AnS’s penultimate episode, confirmed those hopes and then some with the loveliest, most upliftingly romantic outing of the show, that looked every bit as good as it felt to watch.

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It starts off with a speechless, stunned Shirayuki. Zen’s warm words of concern and his kiss have lit a fire in her heart, one that burns with a brightness and heat she didn’t know was possible. She’s got it so bad, she finds it difficult to even look at Zen, which obviously causes him to worry. Fortunately for both, Zen must off to Kihal’s island to negotiate a deal for the messenger birds. As Zen’s absence makes her heart only grow fonder, Shirayuki has at least a little time to process her feelings and figure out how to form a proper response.

While away, Zen shows the island elder’s he’s not a shitstain like their Viscount and impresses some kids, but while Kihal seemed especially nervous to travel with Zen, the two are never alone, dashing any possibility of a side-romance. As for Obi, he not only takes up an interest in Shirayuki’s herbalism, but also wants to help sooth her heart, which he suspects is troubled by something Zen said or did.

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He’s about to take her hand to comfort her when Zen re-appears, saying he’s right on schedule but still shocking both Shirayuki and me with the promptness of his return, just when Shirayuki was seeking someplace to think in solitude. Obi gives her one last assist by urging her to run into the forest. It turns out to be an assist for Zen as well, as he’s able to follow her into the forest to talk.

Once he actually gets her to stop running and look in his general direction, they simply walk around, enjoying the forest breezes, and end up in the same spot Zen once hung out with Atri; a place he’s been uneasy returning to since, but feels totally at ease thanks to Shirayuki’s presence.

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The opportunity for Shirayuki to tell Zen how she feels is here, and she doesn’t waste it. She tells him she loves him in addition to him being very dear to him and wanting to be his strength; her concern is whether it’s really alright to feel that way and look that way at Zen, to which the answer is obvious, since we’re in Zen’s head as much as we’re in hers.

Just as he lit a fire in her heart, she did the same to him, and he finally knows that there is someone out there who truly needs him, and doesn’t just go along with his wishes because he’s the prince.

The lighting, the music, the close-ups, and the gentle, precise animation as the two lovers draw closer together and finally kiss again, making official what had been an informal truth for some time; it’s all superb. As for Hayami Saori, it’s her best scene since Hatoko’s Rant in InoBato, though truly, she’s been on a roll all Summer with her work as Shirayuki.

I also appreciate that the mutual confession is now taken care of with an episode to spare, in order to bask in the afterglow, so to speak. Hopefully, Shirayuki can avoid getting kidnapped one last time!

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Hitsugi no Chaika – 07

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The quest for Chaika’s fathers remains continues, as Guy helpfully materializes in the night to point them towards the next hero, one Simon Scania of the Koenigsegg Empire (both Scania and Koenigsegg are Swedish automakers…perhaps the writer is a petrolhead?), last seen four years ago in the town of Rademio. Unfortunately for them, the Alberic Corps has decided to defy the Council of Six after all and keep up their pursuit, confronting them on the outskirts of Rademio.

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When Tooru says he’s going to have trouble with an opponent, he has our full attention, and indeed, they run into trouble fast against Alberic, Nikolai, Vivi and Leo. They only end up escaping serious trouble thanks to their trump card Dominica, who luckily happens to be in the mood to transform into a dragoon (which could be cooler-looking, IMO) and carry the trio to safety. Just like that, we’re done with the Alberic Corps in the first eight minutes. This was fine with me; I don’t mind a little bit of them like we got here, but I don’t like it when they steal too much screen time from the core trio…er, quartet.

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While Tooru, Akari and Chaika owe their skins to Dominica, her fickle nature leads to their next dilemma, as she refuses to fly them around over the dangerous “Valley of No Return.” Not hanging about, Chaika starts climbing down, with the other three following, including Dominica in human form, strangely enough. The rocks they cling to end up crumbling, sending them falling. Then things get weird: Tooru wakes up, leaning against an unfamiliar stone wall, with Chaika leaning against him. When she awakes, she starts talking…normally.

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Illusion fog is nothing new, but I appreciated the sneakiness of dropping us in a strange situation and delaying the explanation, if only for a time. It’s also an opportunity for some comedy that isn’t just superfluous fluff: as Tooru falls more and more for the normal-talking Fantasy Chaika, he gets more and more lost in the fog. When Chaika betrays him, hopping on horseback with Alberic, who announces their marriage, and handing her Gaz’s decaying arm like a bouquet, Tooru is devastated, but just as convinced it’s reality.

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The episode could have just as easily placed the others in fantasy worlds (Akari and Chaika’s Fantasy Toorus could have been pretty funny), I like the decision to have Dominica save them and for the three of them to be protected from the fog with a magic barrier. This also means they have to watch Tooru’s fantasy, which is why when he draws close enough for them to grab him and pull him in the barrier, Akari slaps him into coherence a bit harder than she probably needed to, and Dominica gets some pretty good punches…’cause why not?

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After some nifty utilization of Chaika’s Gundo (interestingly, there’s no mention of her low magic fuel level), they destroy the source of the magic fog, revealing the hermit Simon Scania, a bitter, somewhat manic shell of his former self. Unlike previous heroes, he doesn’t give a hoot about the remains in his possession; he’d been spending the last few years stewing over his friends betraying them by having the fog create the same situations for intruders, the bones of which litter the area.

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The guys grab Gaz’s leg and wisely slink away from the wretchedness. In the more lighthearted parting scene, in which Chaika starts to mention how she didn’t mind Tooru’s fantasies of her (before the betrayal part, which she’d never do), but she gets angry when Tooru laughs it off, while Akari peeks her head out to dispute his claim she’s “out of the question” for him. It’s not so much he’s unaware both girls like him; he’s just fine with things as they are.

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Hitsugi no Chaika – 06

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There are battles in which the hero is over-leveled against an adversary and carves through it like a cake, and battles in which the hero is under-leveled and has their ass handed to them. Then there are instances where the two sides are so equal in talent and skill, the battles always end in a draw. This episode explores that fertile middle ground, by having Tooru, and Akari, and Chaika repeatedly challenged by Chaika Bogdan’s companions.

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They both try to get the upper hand on one another in the first hostage exchange, but it’s broken up by Gillette’s Matthäus and Leonardo, sending a flock of vicious Cockatrices into the basin. David and Tooru protect their hostages as if they were their own Chaikas, and when Tooru gives Bogdan her sword, she uses it to fight off the beasts, and doesn’t escape or turn on him. There’s some great combat on display here.

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Chaika Bogdan is sufficiently impressed with Tooru’s prowess that she asks if he’ll switch sides, and then she comes up against his honor (saboteurs are for hire, but once hired, don’t betray the client). When a fresh exchange is arranged, Bogdan demands an explanation for why he won’t come with her, even though it could potentially mean more fighting, which is what he wants. It’s here where I’m starting to understand Tooru’s thinking.

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He’s not just interested in serving the person who will pay him the most money or let him see the most action. He’s come to care about White Chaika in his own way, and she needs protecting a lot more than the far less naive badass that is Red Chaika. I liked how Dominica was treated throughout this episode too: she could have probably easily overpowered David and Selma with her Dragoon magic, but she stays above the fray, except when she impersonates Akari, which actually surprised us.

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That levels the playing field between the two “Chaika groups”, which makes things more interesting. The Gillettes, meanwhile, are ordered to cease their pursuit of the Chaikas—just when they had gotten so close—by their superiors, who answer to the Council of Six Nations, who I instantly hate, not just because they recalled Gillette, but because they’re one of those Circles of Bickering Old Men. In fact, now I’m kinda rooting for the Chaika’s to bring Arthur Goz back; he can’t be any worse than those cats!

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But most gratifying about this episode is that once the exchange is made and the two groups go their merry way with their own Chaikas. Bogdan’s group attacks them almost immediately after. The Acuras are able to repel them again (like I said, they’re pretty evenly matched), but it underscores how the rest of their journey isn’t going to be a cakewalk. Which is fine with me!

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Hitsugi no Chaika – 05

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I like how the show has been spending a little time with the chummy members of the Gillette Corps to show that they’re not villains, nor does their leader really see his target as villains to be defeated. Alberic even envies Toru’s group a bit, for moving forward along a sure path, something he can’t yet see for himself.

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What he shouldn’t envy about the Acura siblings is their responsibility to watch Chaika like a hawk, lest she get snatched up by low-level thugs. Though after making a brief appearance as a dragon and then a cat, Fredrika bows out for most of the episode. No sooner is she absent than the others must cross an abandoned city and get ambushed.

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It isn’t Gillette that ambushes them, but the Bizarro version of their trio. The two trios end up abducting each other’s Chaikas. They’re remarkably similar, though not identical; Chaika Bogdan is older (and shapelier), and she dons another very cool-looking piece of fantasy RPGarb. I also enjoyed the two groups’ respective “torture” sessions, consisting of mostly harmless teasing.

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Here’s the rub: their goals aren’t entirely identical either. While Trabant the White wants simply to give her pops a proper burial and be on her way, Bogdan the Red seeks revenge against all who wronged him. We’re talking a lot of vengeance murders, but both the look in her eye and the nifty snake sword in her hand (a slenderer version of Renji Abarai’s Zabimaru) suggest she’s committed to this goal.

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She also insists Trabant is a fake, but as Tooru says, they could both be fake. Or real. Maybe the emperor made a whole batch of clone twins and scattered them around the world, all implanted with the same goal to avenge him should he fall, or even bring him back to life, which is well within the realm of possibility. In any case, the plot is building to a lovely velvety thickness.

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Hitsugi no Chaika – 04

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A fourth member unexpectedly joins the group at the end of this episode, but before the trio becomes a quartet, they’re saved by Dominica Scola, who invites them to her manor, and everything there is a bit…off. First of all, the place is run down and deserted, save a cat, and completely filled with statues and paintings of Scoda.

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When Tooru executes Plan A—simply asking for Goz’s remains—it’s no surprise the warrior ruler refuses; judging from the state of her existence, she’s longed for a good fight for some time. But I like how he’ll do this each time: after all, the goal isn’t to get into fights, but to fulfill the wishes of the master, i.e. Chaika.

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The twist is that the ruler they meant to take the remains from died herself years ago, having fulfilled her purpose: defeating Goz wih the other seven. That left her dragoon alone and without a purpose, or rather to find a new purpose. It’s the dragoon they fight, not Dominica, and she can take many forms, from her master to a metal dragon to a cat to what must be her “default” form, a girl called Fredrika.

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Having a defined purpose in life is a recurring theme here, with Chaika’s purpose seemingly to gather her father’s remains. By hiring Tooru, she gave him a fresh purpose suited to his nature. Interestingly, Akari, who seems to hold a legitimate flame for him, wasn’t able to do this, but could only stand by as he “rotted on the vine” while she adapted to a quiet domestic life.

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By allowing (or at least tolerating) Fredrika to accompany them, they’re gaining a powerful temporary ally, and she’s gaining a new purpose: to follow Tooru and eventually kill him, presumably for his transgressions. As for us, we get to hear Saito Chiwa show off her vocal range.

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