Vinland Saga – 24 (Fin) – The Prelude Hath Ended

I tell you, gentle reader, I was not ready for the epic-ness this episode dished out, nor the way it completely exploded my idea of where I thought this show might be headed in a rhetorical second season. But I don’t watch shows to have my feeble theories proven right; I watch to be entertained and surprised, which I very much was. Though in hindsight, it was folly not to expect absolutely anything from Askeladd.

Last week we saw Askeladd dreading the corner into which he’d been pushed. On one hand, he must make nice with King Sweyn in order to keep the longer-term plans for Canute’s ascent viable. On the other, Sweyn seems to have deduced Askeladd’s Kryptonite to be Wales, and aims to mercilessly exploit that weakness.

Sweyn entertains Askeladd’s boldness after he attempts to dissuade the king with logic: Wales just isn’t worth it. But in exchange for his lenience, he draws in close to Askeladd and gives him a choice: Canute or Wales. He can only save one. Sweyn twists the knife by telling Askeladd the only good export from Wales is slaves.

Out at the port, Thorfinn boards Leif’s ship—the very same ship he dreamed of boarding as a boy so he could join Erikson on his adventures hither and thither. Finally he’s been given permission to embark, but Thorfinn’s attention is captured by a seabird preening then taking flight into the bright blue sky.

It almost looks like a metaphor for Thorfinn’s present state of freedom and potential for more, but it turns out to be an omen. The bird isn’t his freedom, but the lodestar to which he’s hitched his wagon these past eleven years, about to take off without him. Thorfinn suddenly vanishes from the ship, to Leif’s unyielding dismay.

Let it be said that Askeladd is, as Thorkell puts it, “good with words.” It’s why he had his own loyal army for so long, and why he’s able to openly question the king’s judgment.  But he’s always had deep thoughts to match behind those words, as well as decisive action to back them up. But had thought long and hard for a scenario in which Sweyn would make him choose between his homeland and his chosen heir to the throne?

Hard, perhaps; long, hard to say. “Plan B” happens in a hurry, because Askeladd would never get as good a chance as he had in that moment. So he draws his sword and beheads Sweyn with one swipe before the guards can come near. If he and Sweyn were playing chess, this is Ashy flipping the board and letting the pieces clatter on the ground in chaos. He also reveals his true birth name, Lucius Artorius Castus, offering it as proof he is the rightful King of England.

Askeladd, to most in the hall, appears to have gone quite mad, and the extremity of his rambling continues as he carves through the guards, who it is notable to mention follow orders from Prince Canute. Askeladd isn’t really mad at all; he simply surveyed the board and knew he wouldn’t win without sacrifice. When Canute tells Thorkell of Askeladd’s “act”, Thorkell makes it clear that it must be Canute who executes his father’s murderer.

Canute manages to do so, plunging his sword into Askeladd’s heart, impressing the old man with the precision of his first killing strike. Thorfinn is too late to stop it. The plans surrounding who will rule the Danes and England proved too large and important to pay any bother to his personal vendetta, something that had gone on so long it had soured into a pathetic futility; a source of pathos, not fear.

When a stunned Thorfinn suddenly lashes out at Canute, cutting his perfect cheek, the new king’s loyal subjects line up to kill his would-be assassin. But Canute interrupts their attempts to win favor with the new boss; Thorfinn still isn’t that important. Canute immediately cancels any incursions into Wales, and as everyone assembled bends the knee, he orders his armies to prepare for English revolts in the wake of his father’s death.

The conquered must be made to understand that the new king has no intention of giving up what has been taken. Thorfinn could potentially have a part in that, thanks only to Canute’s surpassing charity, which saved his life. It would be too easy to say Canute did a disservice to Thorfinn, even if the kid’s life has never looked bleaker.

There he sits, beside the fresh corpse of his surrogate father and nemesis, unable and even possibly incapable of even considering how he’ll live the next five minutes, let alone the remaining years of his life. Before he dies, Askeladd begged Thorfinn not to let himself get stuck in “such a boring place” as he currently inhabits.

As he’s carried away, Thors’ dagger falls out of his son’s hand, the past twenty-four episodes of Vinland Saga thus far rapidly unfold, reflected in the blade. Then we’re teased with new locations and new characters, but no explicit announcement of a second season. While it seems highly likely one is coming, questions abound: Will Thorfinn be a part of it, or will his story conclude in an upcoming film?

Whatever the case, this finale was a brilliant culmination of the events that have unfolded thus far, with the stories of old players like Sweyn and Askeladd coming to a close and the stories of young players like Thorfinn and Canute still up in the air. More than anything, it left me wanting more, and hoping to get it as soon as possible. After all, if such a tremendous work was merely the prologue, how does that bode for the story proper?

Akuma no Riddle – 06

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First and foremost, this was an efficient episode in which three assassins fell, leaving only five (excluding Tokaku) left with seven episodes remaining. But it also happened to be one of the show’s more intricate and affecting episodes, due to the use of the Romeo & Juliet play to serve as a mirror of sorts for the couple of Namatame Chitaru and Kirigaya Hitsugi.

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One of the most famous couples in literature is a very easy well to draw from, but its used effectively here. R&J were victims of their famile’s mutual hate, which is really another way of saying “bad luck”; Chitaru and Hitsugi are similar victims of bad luck, in that the Hitsugi just happened to be “Angel’s Trumpet”, the murderer of Chitaru’s mentor’s daughter, and someone she’d sworn to kill. Had Hitsugi’s victims been strangers to Chitaru, there’d be no reason to kill her.

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But she was, and Chitaru won’t abandon her mission. Still, after some nice swordplay between Tokaku and Chitaru, Hitsugi fesses up, and later forces Chitaru’s dagger into her own heart, killing her. We’ll never know if Chitaru would have actually killed the girl she loved; considering she promptly poisoned herself right after, I’d say probably not. In any case, it’s a suitably tragic end, and we were invested enough to feel bad about it and wish things could have turned out differently.

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It was a good move to combine two assassin’s backstories, though in Hitsugi’s case, we don’t know any more than Chitaru why she killed her mentor’s daughter. Maybe it doesn’t matter; it was a job, and it was the job that made them enemies, even though they loved each other. The short shrift goes to the play’s director, Shiena, who is poisoned by Hitsugi, hospitalized, and disqualified. I guess that saves the show the trouble of giving us her backstory.

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Stray Observations:

  • The reveal of Kirigaya as this week’s baddie is very well done in general.
  • I particularly liked the loud, foreboding music that accompanied the montage of otherwise innocuous candid photos.
  • The civilian students are never shown in color, which may well save cash, but also makes the assassins seem that much more vivid and beautiful.
  • I also approved of the crowd’s predictable swooning at the sight of Chitaru-as-Romeo. She was one debonair girl.
  • There’s just one thing that bothered me a bit: when Chitaru thinks Haru is Angel’s Trumpet and she and Tokaku go outside to duel, Haru was left unprotected, and Kirigaya was free to assassinate her right there. I guess she couldn’t do it in front of the civvies…or maybe clearing up Chitaru’s misunderstanding by telling her the truth was more important. In any case, “the show went on.”
  • We almost forgot to mention: both Romeo & Juliet’s and Chitaru & Hitsugi’s fates served as a kind of cautionary tale for Tokaku & Haru, past enemies themselves. You never know if something about Haru comes up that Tokaku just can’t forgive, or like Chitaru, possibly be able to forgive, but ending up killing her anyway.

Zetsuen no Tempest – 17

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Hanemura’s Genesis-busting services are sought near and far. Such is his success, Hayakawa is reinstated, though his superiors are suspicious of events. Back in Japan, as Hanemura rests up, Mahiro, Samon and Junichirou begin a brainstorming session to determine who Yoshino’s girlfriend is, as he may carry the heart of Exodus and she could influence him. Meanwhile, after spending so much time with him, Hakaze has no choice but to confess to him, explaining how her love could kill his girlfriend. As Hanemura puts two and two together to suggest it’s Aika, Yoshino finally tells Hakaze that’s just who it is…or was.

Well, that’s it! Cat’s outta the bag! At least as far as Hakaze was concerned. Here she was, stewing and fuming and torturing herself, when all she needed to do was tell Yoshino she loved him and didn’t want to kill off his girlfriend to learn that that isn’t a possibility, ’cause she’s already been dead for a year. After everything these guys have been through, it’s amazing it’s never come up. But so deep and constant is Yoshino’s grief for his lost love, you can forgive him for not making a big deal of Hakaze’s increasingly erratic schizoid behavior. We get more beautiful, sad flashbacks of Yoshino with his Ophelia. When he finally revealed the photo to Hakaze, we couldn’t help but well up a little.

And yet, the episode manages to balance the drama with more bawdy comedy. Hakaze’s inner voice is pretty funny (and Sawashiro Miyuki certainly sells it) but the centerpiece was the brainstorming session between Mahiro, Samon, and Junichirou, with an exhausted Hanemura in the middle of it. They set up a frikkin’ whiteboard (so official!) and proceed to come up with every hairbrained possibility of who the girlfriend is (Teacher? Married woman? Big Boobs? Nurse?…Loli?), but it takes someone with a little more distance from everything (Hanemura) to suggest the most logical possibility…it’s Mahiro’s sister, stupid.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Zetsuen no Tempest – 16

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Samon and Yamamoto implement their plan to make Hanemura a very flashy public hero. Meanwhile Hakaze and Yoshino return to Kusaribe village to investigate a possible spy there trying to expose the villagers’ use of magic. Hakaze struggles to keep her feelings for Yoshino in check. When the spy reveals himself, takes a hostage, and sets fire to the shrine, Yoshino tries to resolve the situation without magic. The spy is apprehended, and Hakaze cannot help but embrace him. Yoshino’s effect on Hakaze has Tetsuma convinced he’s the real mage of Exodus.

Ever since Hakaze met Yoshino, she’s been extremely intrigued by him. Now that they’re spending so much time together in person, she’s constantly retreating into her thoughts, simultaneously worried about whether Yoshino finds her attractive and trying to convince herself that there’s nothing too these strange feelings. But the old ladies of the village see right through her: she’s got it bad for Yoshino, and by episode’s end she’s in his arms. She has no choice. The question is, is this just a girl falling for a guy, or is it the mage of Genesis being seduced by the mage of Exodus by some kind of calculation?

We as viewers know that Yoshino’s girlfriend is dead, but Hakaze doesn’t, and part of her reluctance was Junichiro’s warning that her intensified interest in Yoshino would lead the tree of Genesis killing his girlfriend. But even that isn’t enough, as Yoshino sticks his neck out and risks his life to save Sana, a village girl who’d already suffered enough, while also trying to preserve the secrets of the village. All the while characters heavily reference the Shakespeare works, leading us to wonder where this series is ultimately headed: to the tragic end of Hamlet, or the happy ending of The Tempest.


Rating: 8 (Great)

Zetsuen no Tempest – 09

Samon successfully convinces Mahiro that Hakaze is only bones now, and is speaking to him from the past through the magic doll. Mahiro doesn’t care though, and will use the talisman anyway unless Samon grants the wish Hakaze couldn’t – to find Aika’s killer and bring him to him. Samon considers it a reasonable requests, and orders Tetsuma to investigate. Yashiro tells Hakaze what has happened, and when she mentions not having a line from Hamlet to say, Yoshino remembers when Aika told him why she quotes Hamlet. He tells her it’s too tragic, so she tells him about The Tempest, which had a happy ending. Yoshino attacks Mahiro, and begs him to rejoin his side to try to bring Hakaze back. If he does, he’ll tell him who Aika’s boyfriend was. This sways Mahiro, who agrees to hear him out, but only until Samon can get him Aika’s killer.

We know a little more about The Tempest thanks to Wishbone (who might’ve done Hamlet too, we just didn’t catch that episode), but not much more than the fact it involves a mage on an island, and, well, a tempest. But darn it all if our preoccupation with Hamlet and its connection to this story totally distracted us from the obvious: this story isn’t one or the other: it could go either way. Yoshino doesn’t want to end up in a duel with Mahiro over Aika, and she doesn’t believe a second girl – Hakaze – should be so easily abandoned to fulfill Mahiro’s selfish, immediate thirst for revenge. Of course, Mahiro has the gun, so Yoshino uses those flash bombs he hoarded to shake things up.

With one word – “boyfriend”, Yoshino is able to turn the tables a second time in as many episodes. And with Samon cursing the Tree of Genesis for everything that doesn’t go his way, it really makes you wonder, is logic and nature really still on Hakaze’s side, even though she’s dry bones in the present? Why not? Sure, things are complicated, and it will take a lot to nullify those bones, but as long as there’s magic in the world, and someone willing to stand and put his own life on the line to save her, Hakaze, the mage on the island, has a chance to return home and exact revenge upon those who wronged her. And Mahiro can get his sister’s killer and the name of her boyfriend…though who knows how he’ll take the latter revelation.

This episode may just be three guys yelling at each other while holding weapons while a half-naked girl lies on a distant beach (and another guy fights tanks with a spear) but good God was it powerful. It not only sports a ton of mythic resonance, but elegantly, effortlessly transfers the power to choose the fate of the world from the hotheaded trigger-happy vengeance junkie into more calm, collected hands, precisely because said junkie is so hotheaded, his knowing who his sister dated carries the same weight as the opportunity to face her murderer. Here’s hoping for that happy ending where he learns both, Hakaze is saved, and the world isn’t destroyed. It even takes a hearty jab at its own characters‘ (over?)use of Shakespeare.


Rating: 10 (Masterpiece)

RABUJOI World Heritage List

No. 6 5

Okay, so Nezumi’s an actor, but because he’s so pretty, he plays female roles, of course. Against his wishes, Shion goes to see him perform Shakespeare. Meanwhile, in No. 5, Safu is visiting a museum with her classmates when both she and Nezumi are hit by a strange “wind”, start to hear singing, and then pass out into a dream state.

Safu wakes up in hospital, while Nezumi is carried home by Shion, who then tells him about the parasite bee attacks. Nezumi teaches him how to dance for some reason, the lovebirds kill some time dancing, and then Shion touches Nezumi’s neck, surprising him, as he didn’t have time to dodge. Perhaps Shion’s new hair and tats lent him some powers?

The Safu and Nezumi connection threw me off a bit, especially when he said it had nothing to do with bees. What exactly is going on is still something that mostly escapes me, and aside from the shared dizzy spell and the suspicion next week Nezumi and Shion may be eskimo kissing, this episode felt too much like a holding pattern, even stalling.


Rating: 2.5