Fruits Basket – 20 – Sickeningly Immature

Yes, it was wonderful that Tooru was able to become good friends with Kisa, and through that friendship, encourage her to talk and go back to school. And yes, it’s also nice that Tooru gets to meet the Sheep (Goat) of the Zodiac and assure him that with his smarts and courage to admit to his own failings and weaknesses, he will one day be a splendid “prince” to Kisa’s princess.

BUT. But but but but but. But. God DAMN is Souma Hiro an immensely annoying brat! One who comes into Tooru’s life out of nowhere and immediately starts treating her like dirt. And he never, ever, ever shuts the fuck up. While I realize his importance to the story, his presence almost always detracted from my enjoyment of the episode.

In this regard, I identified with Kyou, in that I really wanted to slug the little punk at times (though I would have probably not made that known to Hiro as Kyou did, as owning up to the deside to knock Hiro’s teeth out doesn’t make things any more pleasant for Kyou).

Yes, there’s a reason Hiro is such a little shit: he’s just in sixth grade, and while he’s an otherwise sharp kid, the fact of the matter is he’s intensely jealous of Tooru spending so much time with Kisa, even as he spend much of recent weeks ignoring Kisa and pretending he doesn’t want to hang out or watch anime with her.

We eventually learn the reason for that, as well, and suddenly Hiro’s frustration and lousy attitude come more into focus. Hiro blames himself for what happened to Kisa, because before she was bullied at school, she was badly beaten by Akito, all because Hiro told Akito he loved Kisa.

Once more Akito emerges as the bogeyman, the uber-villain of Fruits Basket: vicious, cruel, wildly unpredictable, and utterly determined going to make sure every Souma is as miserable as he is, if not moreso. As Shigure and Hatori discuss Hiro’s case and the toll of Akito’s wrath, Shigure not-so-subtly declares that one day Akito will be sorry for doing as he pleases all this time.

So yeah, it makes sense for a kid like Hiro to act out as a result of hating how helpless he was to spare Kisa, as well as how easily Tooru managed to comfort and heal her when she’s such a damn space cadet. At times, I was almost glad someone was finally calling Tooru out on her constant apologies and modesty, but at the same time, Tooru’s apologies are always genuine, as is her modesty.

She’ll never admit she’s good at sorting out Soumas. She helps them simply by existing as herself, even if that self is deeply flawed and troubled. This episode did as good a job as it could rehabilitating Hiro into someone sympathetic and understandable, but likable? He’ll never be that for me. Not until he grows up a bit more, and stops kicking Tooru! Damnit!

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Vinland Saga – 01 (First Impressions) – Hard Times in a Hard Land

Fresh off the heels of Attack on Titan’s third season, Wit Studio brings us something just as harsh and bleak and serious, but with its roots in real history; specifically, Vikings. We’re immediately thrust into a melee aboard a longship in the middle of a huge naval battle, as the stoic warrior Thors is rudely awakened from a pleasant daydream of greener pastures and his wife Helga by an attacking foe.

Thors easily defeats his opponent, then carves through dozens more in a very businesslike fasion before anyone lays a finger on him—or in this case, an arrow to his shoulder. Still, he pulls a warrior into the freezing sea with him to even the odds, kills him, and eventually comes ashore, none the worse for wear. The battle is an impressive display of mixed 2D and 3D animation, particularly the sudden storm of hail.

Fifteen years later, in the harsh colds of Iceland, Thors lives with his wife Helga, his daughter Ylva, and his young son Thorfinn, who longs to go on adventures like another village member, the gregarious Leif Erikson (who discovered North America, which he called Vinland, half a millennium before Columbus).

Donning a headpiece and smoking a pipe from the natives he met, Erikson evokes both awe and skepticism from the kids, but Thorfinn is mostly among the former. He doesn’t like Iceland, and would rather be anywhere. I can’t blame him; while an achingly gorgeous land, surviving there is a constant battle, and the spirit of a warrior like his dad Thors is paramount in such an exercise.

As Thors talks with Leif long into the night about the worsening winters in Greenland and Iceland, and how his family’s battles are only going to get tougher, Thorfinn dreams of captaining a grand longship on a westward journey.

Unfortunately they run into the legendary Jormungand, who proceeds to squeeze Thorfinn until he awakes. Turns out Jormungand was Ylva, sharing his warm bed (a “hot” commodity in such a cold land). Vinland Saga wastes no time showing that while life is hard, this family has endured by sticking together.

Ylva, it seems, would still prefer if they bought a slave, since her mother has grown weaker, something to which her dad seems morally opposed. But when she falls off the roof they’re clearing of snow (a scary moment), she lands on something strange, and after some digging, she finds a runaway slave.

Meanwhile, Thorfinn, probably not doing his fair share of chores considering he’s just hanging around Leif, wants to start adventuring at once, not waiting until he grows into a man. Leif warns him of the dangers of the sea, particularly so far north, and how he was once the only survivor out of a crew of seven whose ship was crushed by ice floes.

When Thorfinn asks why they all live in such a hard place, Leif doesn’t sugarcoat it: their forbears once lived in Norway, but when a king rose there and demanded the people choose fealty or exile, they left. Thorfinn is angered and doesn’t believe Leif, seeing this fleeing of his ancestors as cowardly.

The slave gains consciousness after Thors warms him by the fire gives him a kind of primitive CPR, and is awake long enough to tell him he doesn’t want to go back to Halfdan’s household. We soon learn why when Halfdan suddenly shows up at the village, causing a standoff. Still, the chain-obsessed Halfdan is looking for a slave, not a fight, so even when one of his own men tries to attack a villager, he flays the skin from his face himself. Talk about lawful evil…

Upon entering Thors’ house, he demands they return the slave to him. Thors offers to buy the slave instead, for more than Halfdan paid for him—over four times more, when the negotiations conclude. The whole time, Ylva can’t believe her dad is making such a deal, which isn’t a good one in any century.

Sure enough, the slave dies soon after the deal is struck, leaving Thors’ family short eight goats. But I know why Thors did it. The slave had already suffered enough, and Thors wasn’t going to be the one to return him to his earthly torments. Better to die peacefully, which is what he did. It was a bad deal, but it was the right thing to do.

That night, as the family watches the Northern Lights from a dramatic promontory (it really is a shockingly gorgeous land), presumably after burying the slave, Thorfinn asks his dad if Leif was telling the truth about their people running away. Thors quietly confirms that “that’s what they say.” To which Thorfinn asks, if one wanted to run away from here, where would they go?

The answer, it seems, will likely drive Thorfinn from this sleepy, cold, and often cruel village, no doubt after whoever is smirking in a longship attacks his village…at least that seems to be the likeliest sequence of events. Not being well-versed in Norse history (and never having read the manga), his journey will be new to me.

While a mostly quiet and understated beginning, Vinland Saga built a strong foundation for the coming twenty-three episodes (the following two of which I will review soon) by showing us Thorfinn’s roots, and why his wanderlust is so strong. I can assure you if Leif Erickson regailed us with tales of his travels every night, I’d probably want to head out too.

Kino no Tabi – 12 (Fin)

In Kino’s final adventure of the season, she and Hermes find themselves relentlessly pursued by a huge flock of super-aggressive sheep. Yup, definitely didn’t see that coming! Hermes suggests they’re after her as payback for all the sheep she’s eaten in her lifetime.

When Kino comes to a steep ravine, she has to ditch Hermes and climb down to escape the raging flock. She walks upstream, but the sheep follow her. Even at night, they watch her like hawks, waiting for her to come back up so they can get a piece of her. Eventually, she comes upon a Land Rover, a drum of fuel, and their dearly departed owner, whose skeleton Kino buries before commandeering the truck.

Returning to Hermes, who is surrounded by the killer sheep, Kino rides dozens of them down, creates a ring of fire with the fuel drum, and picks off the ones caught inside with her various guns. She then builds a quick-and-dirty ramp, gets on Hermes, and they jump over the ravine, leaving the sheep behind.

They later learn from the next country they enter that their sheep were bred for fighting each other, much like fighting dogs in other countries (like, say, ours). Animal rights activists shut the system down, and the sheep were released into the wild, where they now terrorize any passersby unfortunate to come afoul of them. Kino wisely omits the fact she killed a good number of them before arriving in town.

With the sheep escapade complete, there’s only a little bit of episode left, and it’s spent mostly on just one shot: the camera slowly pulling back on Kino relaxing in a hammock between two trees.

It’s a very static segment that goes on a bit too long for my taste, and Kino’s assertion that one journey has ended and another is about to begin doesn’t elicit much more than a shrug from me.

Still, she’s not wrong; journeys begin and end when we wish them to. It was nice to see Kino & friends back in action for twelve episodes. Here’s hoping no matter what journeys may come in the future, she never stops being a pragmatic badass.

Juuni Taisen – 06

It’s a pretty good bet that anyone who gets a backstory on this show will probably be the next one to die. The last two weeks we got the stories of Monkey and Sheep, and get Horse’s this week. By episode’s end all three have bought the farm, just when all three are confident they have things well in hand.

Sharyu, a master of martial arts, doesn’t see anything particularly challenging about Usagi’s way of fighting…until it’s too late, and he seemingly uses a master-level move for the first time. But Usagi doesn’t have eyes in the back of his head, he has the head of Snake up in a tree watching his back. Very slick. I’m sure we can expect Usagi to use Sharyu’s corpse to add to his zombie support group.

Like Sharyu, Hitsujii approaches Tora and thinks she’s weak and not a threat to him. After all, she’s just lounging around getting sloshed. Little does he know she’s a famous “drunken master”, despite her looks, and wastes no time killing him while his guard is down. With six warriors now dead, the bidding is open for the faceless rich people to choose who will win; an aspect of the show that remains the least interesting.

Then there’s Uuma, Warrior of the Horse. He survived Ox’s onslaught thanks to his life of making his body an impenetrable suit of armor, but has lost the will to fight and holes up in a super-secure bank vault.

Nezumi, being a rat, is still able to slip in, and hides there for a moment from the pursuing Zombie Snake. Nezumi warns Uuma that the vault is no longer safe, and simply surviving is the same as being dead, but Uuma pays him no mind.

Still, the Rat’s words irk Horse, who gets so lost in his thoughts by the time he realizes Snake is burning down the entire bank with him in it, it’s too late; his body can handle the heat, but there’s no oxygen to feed that body.

Assuming he doesn’t survive (though he’s a tough dude; who knows), that leaves five warriors: Rat, Tiger, Dragon, Rabbit…and Ox, with six episodes remaining. All in all, an efficient, focused, and satisfying outing to mark the halfway point.

 

Juuni Taisen – 05

Juuni Taisen has so far worked best when it’s focused—say on one character or one battle. This week gets off to an uninspiring start involving a big meeting room full of literally faceless VIPs and a unsolicited speech by Duo-whasisface.

He says the Zodiac War is a proxy for far costlier global conflict, but I’m not buying it; there’s clearly plenty of war in this world, both that which Monkey cannot prevent through negotiation and in which all of the other warriors fight when they’re not in a battle royale.

The “no betting until half the field is gone” rule made no sense to me either. In a a horse race, every horse is bet on, not just the half of the field that pulls ahead halfway in. This was just needless babbling that took me away from the actual battle, involving nobody I cared about.

Next up is the start of the much-anticipated duel between Usagi and Sharyu, which turns out to be a bit of a stalemate, as every blow or zombi bird Usagi sends Sharyu’s way is parried or otherwise countered, as Sharyu continues to ask Usagi to reconsider her offer of cooperation. I know she’s Monkey, but I fear she’s barking up the wrong tree.

Unfortunately, her fight with Usagi not only comes to any kind of resolution, but what we do see of it comes in fits and spurts, constantly interrupted by the episode’s A-plot involving Sheep, his backstory, and his plan for victory involving partnering with mid-level warriors (unaware of who has died besides Snake).

Bouncing between his admittedly impressive tale of his life as a warrior (including fighting a previous Juuni Taisen aboard a space station—why couldn’t we watch that?) and the Sharyu-Usagi duel serves neither storyline. I fail to see why they had to be intertwined in this way rather than have one flow into the other.

Much of Sheep’s time is spent looking at and sorting toy versions of the animals that represent the other warriors. Considering the thrust of the duel happening concurrently, it almost feels like stalling, especially when he’s working with less info than we have regarding the remaining players.

As if the episode weren’t packed enough, we have the subplots of Nezumi being chased by Zombie Snake (great band name, BTW) and Ox resuming his battle with Horse, which he presumably left temporarily to kill Niwatori, and can saunter right back and continue wailing on Horse because Ox is just badass like that.

It’s just another case of staggering the storylines for little to no narrative gain.

We’ve now gone two episodes without anyone else being killed, adding to a sense of stagnation throughout the episode. Nezumi and Sharyu may as well be running/fighting in circles. When Ox suddenly comes after Sheep, Sheep withdraws, and the first warrior he encounters turns out to be Tiger, ranked the weakest (and likely tied for the most scantily-clad with Usagi).

The way this episode ended—with everything just kind of pausing in the middle—was more frustrating than satisfying. I look forward to learning more about the next warrior next week, and I’m really not opposed to the show mixing things up or jumping from warrior to warrior within an episode…just not for its own sake.

There’s a right and wrong way to doing these things, and it wasn’t done quite right this week.

Gunslinger Stratos – 01 (First Impressions)

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Aw man, this made two straight Spring premieres that take place in a strange future with bland male-protagonist. Seriously, this guy wants to be a sheep.

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Oh no…an inappropriately-dressed sexy teacher with a map of a fractured Japan run by mega-corporations? That’s two ani-cliches in one shot. Not a good start, GS.

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Okay, this is a little more like it. This school has combat training for P.E., which allows the two pairs of guys and girls have at each other with both paintball and lightsaber. The dynamics are straightforward and believable: Kyouka likes Tooru; Kyouka’s bro Kyouma doesn’t like Tooru; and Kyouma’s pint-sized acolyte resents Kyouka.

The character design is almost too simple, but at least the combat animation is smooth, crisp, and fun to watch.

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Things went a bit nuts from there, which reminded me of Patema Inverted, right down to the rickety bridge over a huge vertical shaft. While chasing what seems to be a hologram of a girl from Tooru’s surreal recurring dream in which she’s writing a large and complex mathematical proof on the sidewalk, Tooru and Kyouka fall down that shaft and end up in a totally different world, one that looks more like present day Japan than their futuristic, overly stuffy Utopia.

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While exploring, they find a recently-murdered guy and end up in a firefight. Again, they put their school training to good use. I’m not sure how you can dodge a steady stream of bullets with acrobatics, but nor do I care, because as I said, it’s fun to watch them twist and bound through the air.

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That brings us to the “DundunDUNNNN” moment at the end, where the gunman pursuing them shows his face and reveal that that he’s Tooru…too. There’s Two Toorus. To quote Neo: “Whoa.”

Unlike Plastic Memories, events unfolded in a way I was able to engage in, and without a wildly fluctuating tone. The characters here are pretty bland too,  but I prefer a couple who are on good terms in stories like this to, say, a dense dunce and a tsundere (or doll-like whitehair).

Tooru and Kyouka both like each other, and Tooru’s robot doesn’t too closely resemble a human. There are also a lot of weird sci-fi mysteries I’m eager to see explained, as long as it isn’t through infodumps. Gunslinger Stratos is nothing special, but it’s tolerable, has quantifiable strengths it largely sticks to, and most importantly, never rubbed me the wrong way.

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