Alderamin on the Sky – 06

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I wasn’t expecting this episode of Alderamin to match last week’s awesomely transcendent look back at how Ikta and Yatori met and became something more than friends or family. But it didn’t have to. What we got was another strong, competent outing wherein Ikta and the rest of the knights are assigned to the Northern frontier for further training with its garrison.

Before they do, Ikta reports that “Anarai’ box” is about to open, which sounds like a kind of Pandora’s box, since Anarai was his master, who defected to Katjvarna’s enemy Kioka. He also informs Torway and Matt about the possibility of wonderful, energetic girls in the Northern Region, which has the effect of lessening their weariness of going to a land of backwater “barbarians.”

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He also manages to sexually harass Haroma, but Yatori keeps him in check nicely. Speaking of check, I liked how this episode opened with Matt beating Haroma at chess, but having no confidence whatsoever of beating Ikta, understanding his role as second-stringer.

When the knights/officer candidates arrive at the garrison, they are greeted by a somewhat stereotypical dottering self-important commander who clearly does not impress Ikta. In addition to Ikta and Yatori, Alderamin’s strength is its dialogue, both spoken and unspoken.

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While at the banquet celebrating the arrival of the fresh troops, Ikta meets his new direct CO Senpa Sazaluf, who seems like someone smart enough to give Ikta leeway, but in return gets to say things like ‘you don’t look like a knight…but [Remion] does’, as Remion, much to Ikta’s chagrin, is surrounded by pretty young women without haing to say a word.

Just as the handsome young marksman is quickly beset by admirers, Yatori is almost immediately challenged to a duel by the biggest badass in the garrison, who knows the Igsem name well. After asking proper permission, Yatori graciously accepts, but only uses one of the two wooden swords the cavalryman tosses her.

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The Igsem two-sword style, you see, is for multiple opponents at once. One opponent, one blade. The big dude bristles at her perceived presumptuousness, but it’s really he who is being cocky. The princess laments Yatori having to demonstrate her skill as everyone gawks, but Ikta corrects her: that’s exactly what the Igsem style is all about.

Only the Igsems have leave from the emperor to pursue their two-sword style, as long as they never lose a duel. That power and prestige creates it’s fair share of would-be rivals like the armored gentleman here. But all he’s doing is giving Yatori another chance to demonstrate the invincibility of her house and its style.

That has the effect of both discouraging the less committed among their rivals, but also motivates a few to becoming stronger and stronger, that they may one day challenge Igsem properly. They project an invincibility others in the empire seek to match, and the emperor reaps the rewards.

Ikta wants Chamille to understand that Yatori fights and wins and does her duty because she believes the princess will do hers. Whatever reservations about her blood Chamille may have, the Igsems only exist because of it.

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If you don’t like watching Igsem prove she’s the strongest or Ikta prove he’s the cleverest, this just isn’t your kinda show, but I’m fine with it, especially now that I’ve glimpsed their past together. These guys are special, which means they both get a degree of independence not afforded other soldiers of their rank; there’s also the whole knighthood and rescuing-the-princess business that has made them famous.

Yet Ikta, unlike Yatori, is not constantly hassled by those seeking to observe his not inconsiderable talents. Igsem is to Yatori as Anarai is to Ikta, but much of the emprie considers his beloved master a traitor and blasphemer. But just as Yatori carries the mantle of invincibility, Ikta is a stealthy preacher of Anarai’s Science, and it almost always comes in handy against less sophisticated minds.

Enter the officer trying to confiscate all of Private Kanna Temari’s beloved books, including one written by that Bad Man Anarai. Not only does Ikta swoop in to stop him from striking Kanna, he also exposes his plan to sell the books for a tidy profit. He also uses knowledge from Anarai’s book—one of Kanna’s most prized, which he’s probably read many times—to neutralize the aggressive officer via giant spider.

Kanna is suitably impressed, and Ikta shows what a charmer he can be. Unlike Torway, Ikta has to seek out girls, and he needs an in. This time, that in isn’t that he slept with the girl’s mother (that would be quite a coincidence!), but that even if Kanna doesn’t know it (or want it to be true), they are both of them students of Anarai…and of science. It will be interesting to see how their friendship progresses.

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Of course, we’ll see if it ever does progress, because the episode builds to a kind of crescendo of mysteries and threats at the end. Sazaluf doesn’t have much choice but to jail Ikta to save face for his blatant failure to report for duty, but Ikta runs off and uses his spirit to shed light on…something that causes him a degree of concern.

We then cut to one of the Sinack villages in the mountains, where a charismatic young lady named Nanaku Daru is poised to start a fresh offensive against the imperialist intruders who have stolen half of their land, as well as the Hahashiku, probably the artifact (or person) Ikta discovered in the dungeon.

A fight is clearly coming, but I have the utmost confidence in Ikta, Yatori, and their comrades to defend the empire.

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Alderamin on the Sky – 05

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I’m on the older side, so as I watched the magnificent origin of the relationship of young Yatori and Ikta unfold, I couldn’t help but think of Captain Picard and Guinan (I also thought of Muppet Babies, for what it’s worth). In addition to the fact that TNG had an Oscar-winning actress on TV before it was cool, one of the great big unanswered questions of the show was the history of those two.

All Guinan said to Riker when Picard was captured by the Borg was that what they had was “beyond friendship, beyond family.” That sums up Yatori and Ikta perfectly. One was raised from birth to be a knight, which is no different from a blade. The other was raised into a world of science and deep, distant thought about mysteries once left to the comfort of theology.

Yatori decides to study abroad with Ikta as his father Sankrei was a celebrated military mind whom she sought for enrichment. What she got was a lifetime companion who not only made her more whole, but whom she made more whole as well.

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Japanese can be at times wonderfully onomatopoeiaic, as I was reminded when Ikta conveys how “stiff” Yatori speaks, even to a fellow kid like him. But throughout their early interactions, Ikta never tries to impose his will or philosophy upon Yatori; instead, he shows her parts of her world and levies suggestions on how she might become something more than the Igsem blade she was forged to be.

A sword, after all, is only an inanimate object; no mater how much intense training Yatori undergoes, she cannot deny her flesh, her blood, and the emotions all humans possess. Indeed, Yatori is as much a sponge as a blade, benefiting greatly from her exposure to Ikta, his father, and the scientists associated with them. She also learns to play, which for Ikta means outsmarting adults.

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It’s really quite invigorating to see these two at an early age right after seeing Ikta bring Yatori down from her killing fever last week. This episode painstakingly explains the bond these two share not with idle exposition, but by telling a story in its own right; a story of two very bright and talented kids bouncing off one another.

Just as Yatori had never met a kid quite like Ikta (nor met any kid period, for that matter), Ikta had never come across such a stern, stiff, duty-obsessed girl. It’s refreshing how quickly they hit it off despite their profound differences in upbringing.

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Their bond is formalized quite by chance, when the adults they followed to a remote locale for a geological survey forgot their gear and turned back to retrieve it. Yatori and Ikta end up on their own, up against a pack of starving wolves, who are treated by the show with the same respect one would show a group of starving people.

Yatori and Ikta have no quarrel with the wolves, but they cannot allow themselves to be killed and eaten for the sake of the wolves. They are meant for greater things. I love how Ikta calls out for Yatori when the first wolf corners him, and Yatori comes through like the knight she is.

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But this is not simply a tale of Ikta coming up with a game plan and Yatori carrying it out. It isn’t simply the knight saving the damsel in distress (who is Ikta in this case). Rather, when the desperate wolves infiltrate the house, and Ikta and Yatori must retreat to a smaller space ton ponder their next move, Ikta rejects Yatori’s pre-programmed intent to protect him at the cost of her own life.

That won’t do at all! For Ikta, any outcome where one of them dies is no good. Chivalric training aside, he rejects the notion that Yatori must lay down her life so that he might live. Having met and gotten to know Yatori, Ikta knows she can be more than a blade.

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So he proposes they look at it another way: she is not the hero and he the recipient of heroism: they are together the right and left hand of a single entity, one far smarter and stronger than either of them alone.

Yatori, still young and relatively impressionable (as well as quite a smart cookie in her own right) can pick up what Ikta is putting down. They work together to outsmart and defeat the remaining wolves, forcing the survivors to retreat.

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In the process, they burn down the whole damn house, and eat what’s left of the dried meat they have on hand. Yatori says it feels like they’re eating the wolves’ meat, which for Ikta is definitive proof that she can, indeed, be more than just a blade.

Not long after that unforgettable, life-changing experience, Ikta and Sankrei go missing…but one day Ikta returns, and Yatori is happy, for it is neither her brother nor her lover nor her dear friend who has returned to her: it is her other hand.

The best part of Alderamin is Yatori and Ikta’s relationship. I’ve said it before, and this episode went and capitalized on that strength, with exceptional results.

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Alderamin on the Sky – 04

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This episode of Alderamin provided great bang for the buck, not only giving us a highly satisfying mock battle where Ikuta can flex his keen military mind and Yatori can flash her considerable skills in combat (albeit on the wrong side), but it also inserts a fresh plot against the princess by skilled knights loyal to the late Gen. Rikan.

That once more places our core of protagonists between training and war, and neither Yatori nor Ikuta flinch when the time comes to flip the switch to “playing for keeps.”

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But first, Ikuta easily outwits an overconfident and intellectually outclassed opponent, just as we thought he would. It wouldn’t be any fun if his chess moves proved incorrect and a clearly semi-villainous character were to prevail, even temporarily, eh? In fact, had Sarihaslag not had Yatori on his side, he would have “died” much sooner than he did.

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Ikuta steers the mock battle exactly how he likes, exerting as little effort as possible and making his off-balance opponent fret and sweat (I like how he let Torway do the honors of taking out his bro). Like farming and digging wells, his strategies are borne out of laziness; the human desire to make life easier.

You’d think Suya would still be opposed to this kind of philosophy, but she looks as dazzled as the rest of Ikuta’s men, who surprise him by chanting his name. But he doesn’t think he did anything special. Just Ikuta being Ikuta.

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Because the mock battle was so entertaining and yet still fairly lighthearted, the episode wisely decided to follow Ikuta’s victory up with a serious situation, as Chamille, hearing false reports that Ikuta was injured, ends up surrounded by rogue knights who want to exact their vengeance upon her for what happened to their beloved leader.

Yatori is Johnny-on-the-spot, but these are seasoned warriors led by someone who looks just as badass as her, if not moreso. Indeed, he quickly demonstrates how tough he is by driving his bare hand through Yatori’s sword and pinning her to the ground.

That’s when Torway fires a shot at the rogue captain’s head, and things get crazy.

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The moment Yatori’s movement is freed by the shot, she kills the captain, then explodes into a furious killing frenzy, ending the entire group of renegades with the vicious grace of some kind of wild cat. It’s Alderamin’s best combat sequence to date, beautifully staged and animated for maximum breathless effect.

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When it’s all over, all the traitors are lying dead in pools of their own blood, which also covers both Yatori and Chamille, who is fine, but stunned by what she just witnessed. Yatori too can neither move nor let go of her swords, as if unable to switch off her berserk mode.

That’s where her “left hand”, Ikuta comes in, saying just the words and touching her in just the way that calms her down and brings her back into the world, as no one else can. This is clearly not the first time this has happened; Ikuta has been supporting Yatori since they were very young. If anyone wondered why she puts up with this twerp, here it is.

When Chamille sees Ikuta with Yatori, she seems in awe of the bond they share, not to mention jealous. And when Ikuta starts teasing her for drenched in blood (probably not the best idea considering she’s twelve), she starts to bawl like the kid she is and lets him have it.

Ikuta may be annoyingly good at a lot of things, but he has enough flaws and nuances to balance him out and bring out his humanity. And his chemistry with Yatori, and the dialogue, combat and direction in general are all marvelous. If it weren’t obvious already, Alderamin is a sure keeper for me.

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Alderamin on the Sky – 03

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I’m really enjoying Alderamin’s milieu, which in the case of this week is comprised of simplified but still satisfying military procedural elements. It also gets right down to business, as Ikuta & Co. have made their chivalric beds (or rather Chamille made them for them) and now they have to sleep in them, so to speak, by undergoing the very high-level officer training Ikuta had sought to avoid.

That being said, Ikuta does not spend the whole episode skulking. Though he does yawn a lot, he also makes lemons with lemonade. When other students attempt to haze him with a centipede of all things, he shows them just how off-base they are in their line of attack by cutting off the venomous head and chowing down.

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Ikuta also shines in class, and if we’re honest, he could probably teach the class, as the answer he gives the instructor is not only far more detailed than expected, he even questions the lesson they’re supposed to be learning in favor of a different, more important lesson about snatching tactical victory from a strategic defeat.

Chamille and the rest of the class is impressed, while his old friend Yatori simply takes it as yet another familiar Ikuta moment, though there’s a quiet pride for her friend in her expression.

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That brings us to one of the episode’s less interesting elements: Torway’s asshole big brother, who has zero respect for Torway and makes it known. While he uses the excuse of “interrupting his nap” (from a hammock, where else?), Ikuta picks a fight with Sarihaslag that results in his getting stomped on; but he won’t admit defeat or show fear; indeed, he has the haughty bastard right where he wants him.

Enter Yatori, who arrives with Chamille, deems the incident a sparring session in progress, and continues the fight in Ikuta’s name, taking out three of Sarihaslag’s men with ease and forcing his retreat. It’s a showcase for Yatori’s skill in combat, her loyalty to her friends, and her general badassery. Taneda Risa is the perfect voice for her.

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She makes quite an impression on the bully too, for when a mock battle is announced, she’s on Torway’s brother’s team, while Ikuta, Torway, and Matthew are on the other. It either means they value her skills, or they wanted to handicap Ikuta while gaining her knowledge of his strategy and tactics.

Frankly, I doubt those dopes thought that much about it; but Yatori for one speaks with a respectful, almost affectionate glint in her eye when talking about Ikuta’s unpredictability in battle, still able to surprise her after all the time they’ve known each other.

As for Ikuta, the second-in-command of his battalion, Suya Metcalf, is the daughter of a married woman Ikuta slept with, which is actually a refreshingly mature, if unfortunate, situation to have pop up! True to their relationship, Yatori informs him he’s on his own in sorting this out.

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Cute as she is, Suya seems pre-manufactured to be someone Ikuta must prove his worth to, as she’s more concrned with his physical aptitude than her personal issue. Sure enough, once they mobilize and Ikuta doesn’t do things by the book, Suya pushes back, but always lets him have the final decision.

As such, Ikuta positions his camp and his men somewhere perfectly within the rules, and because his opposing commander wouldn’t know the first thing about blindfolded chess, he’s at the “recommended battle site” like some kind of jamoke.

Yatori’s scouts finally learn of Ikuta’s position, and their force has to hustle southwards to avoid being too tardy for the battle. Ikuta already has the upper hand, but he seems to be just getting started. Hopefully he puts that sniveling “sadistic hottie” Sarihaslag in his place.

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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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