Fire Force – 06 – Wherein Opposite Paths Converge

As shounen heroes tend to do, Shinra struts into Princess Hibana’s lair and prepares to go a second round, despite having learned nothing about how to defeat her ability that had him flat on the ground. He’s confident that between his talents and determination he’ll figure something out and rescue Iris. Hibana is ready for him, but because she’s a shounen villain, she explains what her ability does, which enables Shinra to resist it.

Of course, heating up her opponents so they become lightheaded ragdolls isn’t Hibana’s only trick. She conjures up scores of flowers to launch at Shinra, and finally releases her featured attack, which bears more than a passing similarity to Captain Kuchiki’s Senbonzakura.

Hibana is convinced that the world is made up of the burned and those who burn, and ever since all the sisters but her burned in the convent, she’s dedicated herself to…herself. Burning whoever and whatever she needs to to get ahead. It’s how she became a successful researcher, and it’s how she became Captain of the 5th.

But here’s the thing: Iris survived too, and Iris is still around and kicking despite not becoming “the devil” to the god Sol everyone prays to. Which means there were obviously more than just the single evil path Hibana took. Iris continued her sister training and became a good and caring person who helps comfort people both during and at the end of their lives.

As we see in the expanded flashback, Hibana was unique among the other sisters in her ability to manipulate flames into beautiful flowers, and change their colors with chemicals. Iris and the others loved her flowers, but the nuns in charge discouraged her, warning that she was, well, playing with fire.

But Iris never forgot their promise: that if she overcame her shyness, Hibana would show her her flame flowers once more. This time, defeated by the flames she believed only served her, and by someone she deemed just more “gravel” to be trod upon, the hard crust that those old flames created around her heart shattered, revealing her heart wasn’t hardened to the core.

Princess Hibana is redeemed, the 5th and 8th cease hostilities, and she even develops a little crush on Shinra, who after all managed to defeat her, making her reconsider whether his prattle about heroes and saving people without getting anything in return was just empty BS.

As for Captain Oubi, after the credits he calls Hinawa, announcing he’s finally ready to join the fray, only to be told that it’s already over, and the dramatic battle music stops abruptly.

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BokuBen – 01 (First Impressions) – Don’t Forget the Frustration

BokuBen or We Never Learn pulls off a fine trick; one so admirable knowing the potential underlying cynicism for its formula doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the show. First, it draws you in with its catchy, vibrant OP, two girls as lovably drawn and animated as Trigger or Shaft fare, and brings three consummate-professional seiyuu in Shiraishi Haruka (wonderful as Asirpa in Golden Kamuy), Tomita Miyu (excellent as Abyss’ Riku) and Osaka Ryouta (from everything) to the party.

Then, once you’re at that party, you learn that the beauty is more than skin deep, and that the three main characters presented so far are richly detailed and both their dreams and motivations are clearly and strongly defined. More to the point, all three are extremely likable rootable characters, so let’s meet ’em!

Osaka’s Yuiga Nariyuki is your standard hard-working kid with a good heart. We learn his family is poor, his father deceased, and later, that he’s the man of a dilapidated house, desperate to help hold both it and the family within it together. And there’s your motivation for why he’d accept almost any condition in exchange for getting a free ride at the college affiliated with his high school.

That condition involves him having to tutor the two school geniuses, Furuhashi Fumino (Shiraishi), the “Sleeping Beauty of the Literary Forest”, and Ogata Rizu (Tomita), the “Thumbelina Supercomputer.” Those amazing nicknames are incredibly accurate in describing the two girls’ strengths, but fall far short of describing the full measure of their respective characters.

That is because Furuhashi, a genius in liberal arts, wants to go to college for science, while Rizu, a genius in science, wants to go to college for liberal arts. The scenario almost too deliciously perfect, right down to their hair and eye color resembling Eva’s Rei and Asuka.

Yuiga quickly learns that Furuhashi is as hopeless at math as Rizu is hopeless at literature, and that this will be no easy task. But the reward will be getting into college without burdening his family, which makes it worth the challenge.

At first, his frustration with their ineptitude in the fields they wish to pursue, and suggestion that they simply tutor one another, lead the girls to suspect that he’ll abandon them just like all the (numerous!) previous tutors. I mean, he’s saying the same thing they all did: stick with what you know, you’re both geniuses in that! Let your talent take you as far as it can! USE YOUR GIFTS.

But like any gift someone didn’t specifically ask for (nor had the opportunity to do so) if it’s not something they wanted, they should be free to pursue something they do.

The polite, apologetic, self-berating Furuhashi and fiery, direct, and suspicious Rizu may differ in many ways but one way in which they do not is in their steadfast determination not to take the paths of least resistance, nor let a consensus of outside voices they had no control over determine what they should be.

In their haste to take their leave of yet another tutor who doesn’t understand where they’re coming from, the girls leave their practice books behind with Yuiga, and when he finds them packed with notes proving how hard the two of them worked to understand, Yuiga proceeds to understand where they’re coming from, because it’s a place he’s been to too.

Yuiga used to suck in school, and remembered the pain and frustration of simply not understanding something, not matter how hard he tried. He’s able to empathize with them not possibly being happy if they gave up on what they wanted to do simply because what they could do was easy.

So he supplies them with advisory notes and suggests they study in the library together. I loved how he got so into his explanation of how he got them and relates to them, it sounded at first to both of them that he was confessing his love for them at the same time! Thankfully, he’s able to quickly diffuse that misunderstanding and they head to the library.

There, Yuiga learns another layer of difficulty beyond the practical matter of getting these two into the colleges of their choice—the fact that he’s a high school guy, and they’re both insanely cute high school girls. Getting his VIP recommendation and free ride doesn’t just mean making sure they succeed; he has to continue keeping his grades up.

But it’s hard to focus when, for instance, Furuhashi nods off and rests her head on his shoulder, during which he gets a whiff of her hair, or when Rizu draws in so close to show him a problem that her chest brushes against his side. Yuiga’s romantic history isn’t mentioned here (it’s likely he’s devoted all his time to studying and improving his grades), but it’s clear both of those events were probably firsts for him.

Meanwhile, Fusuhashi and Rizu remain charmingly unaware of the effect they’re inadvertently having on Yuiga. I appreciate this distinction: they’re not intentionally flirting with him, nor are they in conscious competition for him. This is all in Yuiga’s head right now. They’re both there to study. So when he starts blushing and breathing heavily, they assume he’s not feeling well due to a fever.

Yuiga’s interactions with Furuhashi and Rizu post-“confession” plumb satisfying new depths in both their character stories, both for Yuiga and me. Those new layers further explain why Furuhashi and Rizu are pursuing fields opposite their strengths, and it isn’t just for the sheer challenge.

Furuhashi wants to pursue a career in astronomy because she loves the stars and wants to have a closer connection to them, especially as one of them might be her late mother’s star. Meanwhile, Rizu’s family owns an udon restaurant, but while on break between deliveries she is playing a card game for 2-10 players…by herself. Yuiga plays her learns she sucks at it, but she still loves board and card games, and wants a career that will help her understand more about the human emotions that blend with the math to make those games special.

In both cases, Yuiga promises both he’ll support them, and again, their conversations take a turn that could be construed as romantic, only this time he isn’t being supportive to them both at the same time, like his “confession,” so each girl has more cover to express their gratitude for his continued support.

The episode closes by putting faces on the family Yuiga wants to protect: his mother, two younger sisters, and younger brother. But he’s no mercenary in this effort; and his family is no longer the one and only reason. He seems genuinely invested in working to help secure Furuhashi and Rizu’s happiness, as someone whose late father urged him to value failure, and the pain and frustration that result form it, as among the most important teachers in life.

When he’s approached by both Furuhashi and Rizu at school in front of his friends, and both of them whisper in his ear not to mention to anyone what they talked about last night, it creates a third layer to Yuiga’s increasingly complicated mission: the social aspect outside the trio’s dynamic. This is high school; rumors will spread and misconceptions will develop. How will the three of them deal? Not to mention there’s a third girl on the horizon: one who may be a genius in swimming.

I’m over 1200 words here, so I should wrap this sucker up—BokuBen had a very strong start, as I’m invested in everyone I’ve met so far. It’s a great-looking show with great-sounding seiyuu and has a very promising premise. If it can maintain the quality of its premiere, I’ll have no problem tuning in.

Alderamin on the Sky – 13 (Fin)

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Ikta is able to complete his mission of covering for the main Imperial forces’ retreat while besting his Kiokan rival Jean Arquinex in a match of wits, drawing deep to create a multi-layered plan to outwit the young major. Because the safety of his men is more important to outright victory, everyone is behind Ikta.

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Major Jean notices the obvious fire trap in plain sight, but fails to see the larger trap hiding beneath it; Ikta’s men springing out of the straw, blinding and slaughtering their horses. Most importantly, Jean wrongly assumed his opponent would try to fight him for control of the battlefield, but Ikta’s strategy eliminated all control for everyone, creating chaos.

How Jean handles this chaos betrays his lack of experience, despite his military brilliance. He is so obsessed with control, losing it knocks him off balance. In the negotiations that ensue, he also wrongly assumes the Igsem soldier is in charge, and also wrongly assumes that he’s safe.

Ikta’s resulting bluff, placing a light target on Jean’s chest for a Torway sniper who isn’t really out there, and his explanation for why he’s not in violation of military law, works really well. Ikta is at his scrappiest, and while he does sweat, he never lets Jean see it (what with the glare from all the bright lights).

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Jean knows he was bested, this time, and wants to know more about the man who did it, and what he’s fighting for. He’s outraged when Ikta tells him he cares not for protecting his country, only its people, and gets even more steamed when Ikta warns Jean if he keeps up his blind loyalty to country, that country will suck him dry and toss him aside. Definitely seems like setup for a rematch in a future season, if we get one.

Whatever may be ahead for Alderamin, I’m glad the Northern Campaign is wrapped up here, and I especially like how glad Princess Chamille is to see her knights, and Ikta in particular, return safe and sound, even compromising propriety to give him a big ol’ hug.

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We also learn in this final week why it is Chamille wanted, nay needed Ikta to return so badly, which has been hinted throughout the series by her narration. Chamille has bigger plans for Ikta, and needs him to utlitze his considerable talents and the support of his comrades and friends to keep rising up in the Imperial ranks…so he can lose the war with Kioka.

Chamille is young, but not stupid, or ignorant: her empire is rotting from the inside out, and it must be purified. The mission she gives Ikta, which could consume many of the best years of his life, is to become the leader Imperial military, then lose the war “the right way”, allowing the outside influence of Kioka clean out the Empire without losing its unique culture.

“Fight until we lose!” is a novel slogan and a nice subversion of the usual notion of fighting for victory. Here, it’s almost as if we’re on the side of the bad guys, who know they’re bad and want to change for the better. If anyone enact that change, it’s Ikta, but it won’t be easy.

He worries not only about coming into conflict with Yatori, but dragging her into such a conflict in the first place; any conflict where the Empire loses. This season appropriately ends with Ikta and Yatori leaning on one another in the moonlight, and Ikta affirming their devotion to one another first and foremost.

I haven’t heard anything about a second season yet, but if it were to continue I would absolutely watch it. After all, the epic chronicle of the Invincible Lazy General, the Heir to the Twin Blades, and the Last Princess seems to be just getting started. It would be a shame if the tale ended here.

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Alderamin on the Sky – 12

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Another solid episode follows last week’s, as Ikta’s thankless task to clean up the horrific mess General Safida created continues. During a brief respite in the action, Nana engages with Suya, offering her both her arms if it will set things right.

It doesn’t, because Suya doesn’t want Nana’s legs chopped off. In an episode where several characters work to relieve burdens from their comrades and/or friends, Sazaluf clarifies that Suya didn’t kill anyone; he did, with his orders to them.

He, in turn, doesn’t share the entire burden of responsibility, since he too has superiors. But when the guy at the top—Safida—doesn’t know what he’s doing and does everything wrong (and for the wrong reasons), it undermines the entire system.

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Torway has grown these last twelve episodes, and he believes he can help relieve some of the burden Ikta carries once Sazaluf all but hands over command of the operation to him.

Ikta is up to it—indeed, it’s where he should have been all along—but even for Ikta, up against someone he hasn’t ruled out being the real genius of his generation, this is a desperate situation, and the margin of error on the Imperial side continues to narrow.

It’s nice to see even the Kiokans know and respect what it means to be of the Igsem family. But this week we see the beginning of the end of their hegemony on the battlefield.

The mission Torway undertakes is air rifle-on-air rifle, from a great distance. Many died repelling the would-be ambush, but not a single blade touched blood. It’s interesting, though that the leader of the “Ghosts” laments it has to be this way; that things can’t be settled in a duel with Yatori.

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It’s telling that Yatori and her unit didn’t have much to do today, another day when the primacy of The Sword dwindled a little bit more. It’s all but snuffed out along with Ikta’s entire strategy when Jean deploys explosive cannons for long-range bombardment, jeopardizing the entire enterprise with two days remaining.

Ikta doesn’t care all that much about the Igsem star falling as the Remion light rises. To him, the greatest burden out of any of their circle is borne by Yatori, even if she won’t admit it. And he makes it clear everything he’s done since joining the military (against his mom’s wishes) was to lessen her burdens, and make that broken promise more forgivable.

In other words, Yatori is not just Ikta’s other hand, but his muse as well, driving him to find an ideal future. But in the present, Jean is advancing, once again changing the rules. If they’re going to survive the next two days, they’ll have to adapt even more, while never losing sight of a future where, at least, they get the hell out of there in one piece.

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Alderamin on the Sky – 09

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For a show in which some people are aided by pocket-size elemental spirits, Alderamin is fairly down to earth. And if it was glorifying, say, the daring rescue and return of Princess Chamillie in its early episodes, it is just as careful to downplay whatever glory and honor is to be had in the Sinack campaign, which is precious little.

Indeed, Ikta and his pals are lucky to have a commander unwilling to order them to participate in the wholesale slaughter of the enemy, instead making them burn their villages and march them to new homes. It’s also a show whose heroes may not agree with the horrible strategy they’re a part of, but are either unwilling or currently unable to do anything about it.

When a little kid starts attacking Ikta, he flicks him in the nose. I doubt he intended to draw blood, but the noble knight Deinkun immediaely punishes him for striking the child, doling out a degree of justice so the other villagers don’t riot.

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Suya, who has clearly gained not only respect but affection for Ikta, is angry that Ikta let himself be punched like that, but Ikta takes responsibility for his error. Sometimes one can separate oneself from undesirable actions to such an extent, one can forget that there are things that can be done to lesson suffering, whether it’s taking a punch, or burning a village after it’s been evacuated. Not big things, but things.

When Matthew asks Ikta and Torway how they’ve been dealing with their sexual “needs” on the front, Ikta puts men into two columns: “heroes” who need bonds, and solitary “warriors”, avoiding any details about his own persuasion. But it’s just as true of the two ways knights go through life. Deinkun, a warrior, prefers to put as much on his broad shoulders as possible.

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Ikta may be a rare bird when it comes to strategic or tactical thought, but he’s no hermit. He needs bonds, not just to survive and keep himself in check (See Yatori) but to acknowledge and define his existence. He dosn’t care if his personal honor is besmirched by a punch to the face; he does care when he’s too late to say what he wanted to say to Kanna or protect her when she needed him.

Yatori may want to be a solitary knight like Deinkun, but the fact she goes into a berserk-like state only Ikta can bring her out of denies her that status. She too is a hero, whose brawn, along with Ikta’s brains, and the various talents of the others in their circle, comprise perhaps their empire’s best hope at avoiding self-destruction, which people like General Safida are inadvertently hastening.

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But still, neither Ikta nor Yatori have any designs of overthrowing Safida’s leadership. Indeed, Yatori’s Igsem heritage and conditioning make such a choice unthinkable, even if Ikta was pondering such a rebellion. No, these heroes, must work within the system into which they were recruited; play with the hands they were dealt. It’s yet not their turn to decided how the game is played.

So Yatori saves Safida from an ambushing Nanaku Daru, who learned how to fight from Mugen in Samurai Champloo. Yatori bests her, only to let her go when a group of shady assassins takes advantage of the chaos. They fail to kill the general, but slay Deinkun in the attempt.

He joins Kanna and the scores of other Imperial soldiers who gave it their all despite having to serve under a terrible general in a ridiculous war that isn’t quite over yet.

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Alderamin on the Sky – 08

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A splendid victory, brought about by his command, and a bitter conclusion brought about by his choice.

The show, courtesy of narrator Princess Chamille, provides a concise but accurate synopsis of this episode. It’s an episode loaded with the consequences of the stupid decisions of Ikta’s superiors, all in the name of a show of force.

The General has completely bungled this “punitive” campaign against the Sinack, and due to the chain of command Ikta & Co. can only do too much to mitigate the damage that has been done. But Ikta & Co. still doe what they can, which does make a difference.

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Ikta’s splendid victory to come is prefaced by a splendid defense of their camp in which the attacking force is totally annihilated without a single casualty on his side. But things would have gone far differently—and badly—had Ikta not been there to put orders in the commander’s words.

While he’s on a resupply mission to a position that’s been taken by the Sinack, Kanna Temari, in a different unit led by an even dumber commander, learns just how tough she is. In a scene riddled with death flags, she waxes nostalgic about the liberating, expanding power of books, and the fact Ikta is like a book, and someone she’s looking forward to seeing again.

But as sad as it made me, the fact that her unit made camp in a fortress deliberately abandoned by the Sinack, and the commander fell for an obvious trap, made me doubt Kanna and Ikta would ever meet again. The events of the episode all but eliminated that possibility, and it followed through with the threat it presented.

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Even Ikta can only do so much about the incompetence of the military leadership. But he engages his CO in such a way that he gets what he wants: a chance to score a victory. He gets it thanks to the prototype rifles designed by his mentor; in other words, thanks to science.

But the science that won him such an easy, splendid victory, also ended up dooming Kanna. For Ikta makes his unit rest for two days in order to avoid suffering altitude sickness, which is what Kanna and her comrades are going through thanks to their dimwitted superiors.

For the record, Ikta makes the right choice. Even if he knew Kanna, a girl he liked (and whom he suspected liked him back) was in danger, he wouldn’t endanger his entire unit to rescue her, especially after seeing what the altitude has done to the health of the army.

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Of course, making the right choice doesn’t make it any easier to choke down the bitter result of following science to the letter. The fortress wasn’t able to hold out long enough for his platoons to relieve them, and all they find is a fortress full of corpses, including Kanna’s.

It’s a gut punch, both for me, and for Ikta, who is often so laid back and casual and jokey that when he finally gets serious, it’s that much more powerful. This wasn’t just some girl he had fun teasing or flirting with; this was a kindred spirit; someone for whom science resonated; someone he could both teach and learn from.

She was looking forward to seeing him a third time, and so was he. Instead, she joined her late husband in the afterlife, leaving Ikta in a recklessly ignorant world. To be fair, it wasn’t just his choice that doomed her—the brunt of the blame falls on the superiors—but that’s woefully inadequate consolation for a character who left us far too soon.

It will be interesting to see how Ikta deals with this loss. Will he shrug it off in a few days, or resolve himself to pushing ever harder against the morons who caused it?

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Alderamin on the Sky – 07

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This week threw me for a bit of a loop by starting out on such a light and comedic note, with Ikta returning from the dungeons parched but otherwise fine. The glowing secret he discovered were all of the fire and wind spirits confiscated from the Sinack under the direct orders of General Safida, whose character crosses over from doddering pompous figurehead to the kind of dangerous fool with the power to cause a needless war.

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Taking the natives’ hahashiku turned the region into a tinderbox, and sure enough the chieftain lays a trap for Major Toakk and his men in the town. That’s also where Ikta reunites with his apparent new “protege” Kanna, who is starting to understand “science” as he does.

She compares their imperial religion and the spiritual religion of the Sinack and question the primacy of the former. Her conclusions delite Ikta, who leads her in a lovely celebratory dance that’s interrupted by gunfire.

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Yatori is too late to save the major, but assumes command and cheases after the band of Sinack who killed him, stopping her advance before she gets caught in an ambush. There she meets the young Sinack chieftain Nanaku Daru, who officially declares “holy war” against the empire.

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When everyone’s back at the base, Yatori learns from Ikta about the stolen spirits, and they both conclude that General Safida is not a good guy, and he’s totally antagonizing the Sinack in hopes of making them do something desperate (like start a holy war) so he can clamp down on them.

Before you can say Bob’s your uncle, he’s sending out a punitive expedition to the Sinack territory, of which Kanna is a part. Like Ikta, Yatori, and even Sazaluf, they don’t like the idea of having to fight imperial subjects. It’s just…not chivalrous.

I was hoping Chamille could step in and stop this madness form getting out of hand, but Safida sends her away “for her own safety”—though not to Central, where she could spread word of his actions. Safida is a little king of a little hill and wants to make his war in the darkness.

Will Ikta & Co. simply follow orders and go with the flow, even when their commander is wrong? Somehow I doubt it.

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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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Attack on Titan – 15

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Eren’s first big mission as a newly-minted member of the Scout Regiment is…cleaning a dusty old castle that once served as the Regiment’s HQ. It’s not glamorous, but it is a good opportunity for him to meet his new comrades, among them Petra, Oulo, Eld, and other people with funny names.

But despite those funny names, they’re all elite soldiers with dozens of Titan kills and perhaps hundreds of assists between them. Whatever his status is here (and it’s not high), he intends to soak up as much as he can from these veterans of his calling.

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After dinner, those veterans clear out when Eren shows curiosity in Hange Zoe’s activities experimenting on Titans. Hange ends up talking to Eren the entire night before she’s to perform some tests on him to get a better idea of what the regiment has to work with. She also proves to be the most knowledgeable person on the Titans either he or we have yet encountered.

Not only that, Hange is a very odd duck in a regiment full of ’em, but there’s a method to her madness. As she tells Eren, she enlisted and was once driven solely by hatred for humanity’s “mortal enemy,” but the closer she got to the Titans, and the more she learned about them, the more the hate faded and the desire to learn still more grew. They may be a voracious plague on mankind, but that doesn’t change the fact that Titans are inscrutable, wondrous creatures.

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Part of that wonder is derived from the fact that Titans are so light for their size, which makes Hange consider the possibility that they way humans perceive Titans and the way Titans really are may be two completely different things. The show has been so extremely stingy with solid info on the Titans, so theories of this nature burnish their mystique.

Fear and rage haven’t gotten humans far, so she has always strove to study them from a different perspective, and with that has come an ungrudging admiration of and affection for her “subjects”. I never thought Titans could be portrayed with something like compassion, but Hange’s interaction with them does just that.

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So when, the morning after the whole night she talked Eren’s ear off, those subjects, named Sonny and Bean, are discovered having been murdered, she’s genuinely devastated and flips out. Meanwhile, Erwin seems to have a plan that diverges from the “company line”, which Mike has sniffed out. No doubt Eren is integral to that plan, whatever it consists of.

Eren has learned in no time at all that he’s in a strange place full of intrigue among strange people who want to use him for one reason or another. He’s passed the Don’t-Get-Eaten-By-A-Titan Test, but surviving in a swirling sea of eccentric, erratic, and ambitious personalities is a whole new ballgame.

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Sakurako-san no Ashimoto – 05

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Just as Sakurako assembles piles of bones into completed skeletons, she assembles piles of clues into solved mysteries. And this week she wastes no time revealing Fujioka’s “curse” by applying a hefty dose of science. All the rain and humidity caused mold to grew behind the frame of his painting; a mold that reacts to the arsenic-based Sheele’s Green paint to generae diethyl arsine gas.

Fujioka’s banded nails and cough were symptoms of arsenic poisoning, from being in close proximity to the painting in his closed-off room. She “lifts” the curse by opening a window, hopeful the fresh air and truth will set Fujioka at ease. But when Fujioka goes off to smoke his last cigarette, Sakurako senses this skeleton isn’t quite complete: more bones lay scattered whose proper place must be found.

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Among those bones: the fact Fujioka was fine having both a dog and a painting he believed to be cursed nearby; the fact he closely researched the causes and age of deaths of all his male relatives and printed out the results; the large life insurance policy he took out on himself; it all points to him looking to off himself and make it look like an accident; another victim of the family curse.

It almost works, too, but thanks to an alert Hector and a razor-sharp-minded Sakurako, his plan is foiled. She turniquets the leg he wounded with an axe, and as they wait for the ambulance, he confesses that after the global financial crisis, he’s broke, and could see no other way to provide for his wife and child than by sacrificing himself. But as someone who was “left behind” herself, Saku is personally offended by such an attitude.

Being alive and with his family is far more important to them than solving money troubles. So they sell the big black house—black, Saku believes, not because of that color’s association with death, but because of its psychological healing power: those in mourning who wear it aren’t merely expressing their grief, but fighting their fear of death.

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We hear bits and pieces of what becomes of Fujioka and his family: his leg on the mend, he gets a job at an IT company; they sell the house and move into a small apartment; and Sakurako adopts Hector so he can have the proper space to run around. Despite being taken down a couple of pegs, it’s still a happy ending for Fujioka, because his wife’s hope that they’ll grow old together and see their great grandchildren remains.

Sakurako remains weary of the art appraiser who insisted Fujioka get close to the painting with his wife and son, believing he may have had sinister intentions toward the family. Ultimately, his manipulation of Fujioka, and all the heightening anxiety it entailed, may have been the real curse that threatened to kill him. Hopefully, it’s gone now. But Saku still carries her own curse; one pile of bones she has yet to touch, and which Shoutarou continues to remind her of. I wonder when we’ll learn how those bones fit together in earnest—those of the titular ‘corpse under Sakurako’s feet’.

Last week’s episode felt a bit too deliberate and hesitant, but the resolution (imperfect as it is in typical Sakurako-san fashion) more than made up for it, using every bone laid out last week to construct a beautiful skeleton. Saku’s science-y deductions continue to make this one of the smartest shows of the Fall, and references to the Great Recession firmly ground it in reality.

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Ushinawareta Mirai wo Motomete – 05

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What’s almost as annoying as a TV show or movie employing the “humans only use 10% of their brain” trope? A TV show or movie mentioning the Schrödinger’s Cat thought experiment as if it was the first to do so. Regardless of their scientific efficacy, both concepts are simply played out in entertainment, bordering on buzz terms.

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Don’t get me wrong; Schrödinger’s Cat is a very cool thought experiment, and it’s not like it turned me off the episode, which tossed a lot of other concepts for us to chew on, like the brane-world, strings, eleven dimensions, gravitons, cause and effect, etc. Clearly, the writers had spent an hour in the science section of the library (or wikisurfing). It was also an episode that started with the effect and then preceded to lay out the cause, as well as creep ever closer towards the Big Central Mystery that still endures. The precise temporal flow of the show remains unfixed and elusive. This is not a bad thing.

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When the Gardening Club chases the Survival Club for damaging flowers with paintballs, they cause a collision between Airi (minding her own business) and the student council, causing the destruction of three computers. Nagisa then secures the Computer Club’s machines by outwitting their experimental AI system.  It shows how random and intricate a set of events can get to lead to an Astronomy Club “job”, which only four members participate in, leaving Kaori alone with Yui in the clubroom so Kaori can ask Yui about Sou as well as why she’s keeping such a protective eye on her.

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Kaori doesn’t get much in the way of straight answers, except that Yui sees Sou as a “father.” What could that possibly mean? The episode also cuts ever so enticingly briefly to the dark lab where a girl is suspended in stasis while a scientist is hunched over a terminal bearing notes of the same concepts the teacher mentioned at school. Where, or when is this place, and who’s in that damned tube? I want to know these things.

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Kaori…the only character who’s been shown as both dead and alive … like Schrödinger’s Cat! And the episode closes with another example of causality, in which an already uneasy Kaori gets a call from her mother that she won’t be home that night, which means Kaori and Sou are alone for the night, and Kaori pays a visit to Sou’s room with her pillow.

Her first assertion of her feelings for him came under different circumstances; this has the makings of another attempt. If that’s what it is, could confessing lead to her death by other means, as well? Is this a cycle Yui is there to try to break? This is an average-looking show at best, but all these enticing mysteries are keeping me engaged.

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Sidonia no Kishi – 10

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With Shizuka either dead or no longer human and thus more or less out of the picture (for them, anyway), Izana and Yuhata are both committed to spending as much time with Nagate as possible, even if it means they have to reluctantly do so as a trio. There’s only so much of Izana’s whining I can take, so it’s a good thing they half-intentionally stumble upon a secret lab.

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That lab houses the incomplete masterpiece of one Dr. Ochiai, someone who’s name has been darted around now and again. He fused human and Gauna material together into a war machine, and that machine is being used to manufacture new experimental weapons to fight the Gauna. Nagate isn’t in trouble for his trespass; on the contrary, he’s named the test pilot for all this neat new stuff.

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Between this reveal and the first character Gaunazuka writes on the glass looks like a Christian cross, this episode had a serious Eva vibe. It captured the dual-sided loneliness that both the one learning all these secrets and the ones being left out of the loop experience. But no one’s more lonely and frustrated than Izana, who is neither the XO, a Gauna replicant, nor the clone of Sidonia’s ace.

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Punctuated by her very natural reaction of fear and dread upon learning she’s been made an official Gardes pilot—fully aware of the attrition rate of late—Izana has been consistently portraye as a thoroughly “normal” person. Despite the status of her grandmother, she leads a relatively normal life, and has normal fears: fear of being left behind; fear of dying before she’s done and said all she’s wanted to. It makes me feel like there is some kind of crucial secret about her we just haven’t found out about yet.

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Meanwhile, her best friend continues to visit a product of the enemy on the sly. It’s worrying to me that Nagate seems to get more and more excited about the prospect of getting his old Shizuka back just because the being behind the glass is writing his name with magic marker and manipulating the shape of her placenta to make a kind of maid outfit. The fact she snapped that marker into jagged shards was a nice way to show that she’s still very dangerous and it’s fairly clear no good can come of having her aboard.

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On that note, all the demilitarization people were finally granted permission to emigrate to a planet, but their exodus is interrupted by a Gauna attack. I really like how Kobayashi half-wanted them to get their comeuppance for opposing her, and while she allows Nagate to sortie in the experimental equipment (a quick but awesome battle in which Nagate fights his own frame as much as the Gauna), she considers a possible future in which she doesn’t let him do what he wants, and he does it anyway, and she can’t stop him.

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The immortals who rule Sidonia in the shadows are faced with quite the conundrum: they resent Nagate’s very existence, but need him to assure their own. The more powerful he becomes, the more effective their defense against the Gauna, but at the cost of their absolute control over everything. To whit: a Gauna mass eight thousand times the size of Sidonia (which isn’t exactly small) is bearing down. Nagate would have to become terrifyingly powerful to defeat that.

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Stray Observations:

  • I wasn’t a fan of the sound Izana’s sandals made either, but they were cute. And her shiny new black Gardes uniform is badass.
  • In a conventionally animated show, the punishment Nagate’s face receives from Izana in the dark would have constituted a stack of bumps. But here, in CGI land, Oh my God, his injured face is fuckin’ scary as hell. It was very jarring to see it back to normal a couple minutes later.
  • I liked Yuhata’s willingness to immediately abuse the power and security clearance she’s been given now that she’s XO by exploring restricted areas. But when it comes time to send Nagate out to fight, she doesn’t hesitate, despite her feelings for him.
  • Was it just me, or were Sasaki’s boobs a little too big?
  • Maybe we’re wrong: maybe Gaunazuka is perfectly harmless, and in time, will develop back into a fully-functioning human much like Shizuka was. Maybe…but I doubt it.
  • After a smoking start, Sidonia’s in a bit of a “9” drought…perhaps next week’s huge-looking battle will end it.

Sidonia no Kishi – 09

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After the stress of losing Shizuka and the strain of dealing with Kunato’s power games, this week Nagate settles into a stable new routine. Named lancer and squad leader, he pulls off one victory after another, gradually repairing his reputation, while spending most of his free time hanging out and trying to communicate with the new Gauna-Shizuka he brought back.

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Her/it’s behavior could indicate that the Gauna didn’t just replicate her body, but her mind, personality, and memories as well. They just have to be teased out by the one she trusts most: Nagate. That grates not only with Izana, a horrible part of whom probably thought she’d at least get more time with Nagate with Shiuzka gone, but with Yuhata as well, who goes so far as to call Izana a man to deny her status as a rival.

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The show does a nice job subtly bulding up a kind of obsession in Nagate regarding Shizuka. It’s clear he wants the Gauna sample to be the same girl he all but fell for, and even if from a scientific standpoint she very well could be the same girl, the fact remains, she’s also a Gauna, the ever-assumed mortal enemy of Sidonia, and as such not to be trusted.

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This episode is called “Gaze”, but the chilling significance of that title isn’t clear until the scientist studying the Shizuka knock-off notices she’s always staring in the same general direction. Piercing through the hundreds of barriers and bulkheads of the ship, her gaze is always locked upon the ship’s repository of Kabizashi spears. Uh-oh.

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I guess all the progress Nagate made with the sample would seem to be for naught, as it’s merely a tool being used by Hawk Moth to pinpoint the location of humanity’s only effective weapon against the Gauna. Nagate’s affection for the girl that was, and the curiosity of the scientists who studied her, are looking very much like the unwitting architects of their own doom. Hawk Moth Comin’.

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Stray Observations:

  • The Shizuka sample’s confines are striking in their stark simplicity…Very Kubrickesque.
  • Elsewhere in the bowels of the ship, and with the help of Izana, Kobayashi is working to access the “auxilliary brain” from the clone of Ochiai.
  • Kunato, sulking in his manor with his sister and tapping into various observation feeds, doesn’t seem in a particular hurry to arrest Nagate’s latest rise.
  • Izana certainly isn’t subtle in her displeasure with other girls interacting with Nagate, and we’re sure Yuhata’s “man” remark stung. But Nagate is far too dense to ever realize her feelings unless she beats him over the head with detailed diagrams illustrating said feelings.
  • Also, Sidonia seems to be nearing a world where thousands of colonists will be able to emigrate to. That’s probably good news for those who think the Gauna will leave mankind alone if it surrenders the Kabizashis.