GATE – 21

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Pina’s Rose Knights fight, bleed and die, but ultimately prevail against the initial force of Gimlet’s cleaners, seeing as how the latter aren’t equipped with plate armor and aren’t exactly great fighters. Sherry, wasting no time demonstrating what a badass she is, stands and watches with unblinking eyes the violence and death she knows is of her making (though I wish she and Sugawara had retrieted within the Palace, lest, say, a stray arrow find one of them).

The knights managed to keep Oprichnina at bay and protect the embassy this time, but a bigger, tougher force will show up eventually, and they’re going to be woefully outnumbered. This leads the officials responsible for the diplomats’ safety to beseech a minister for authorization to rescue them, along with the pro-peace refugees.

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The civilian politician is, well, like pretty much every civilian politician in GATE: a weak weeny who is waffling about doing the right thing because he’s too concerned about his own career and upcoming elections.

He has reason to worry: Alnus is full of press and military officials from all over, and he doesn’t want to look weak. As if the waffling politician weren’t enough, we also have a self-important journalist who has a low opinion of the noble SDF, and makes no bones about his journalism not being totally objective, since at the end of the day it’s a business.

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Meanwhile in Rondel, assassins make another attempt on the lives of Lelei & Co., only they are foiled by Itami’s stuffed beds and a flash grenade. The assassins are far from pros, but they are representative of the M.O. of someone called the “Pied Piper”, who exploits those who are easy to convince of huge plots and conspiracies and lies; in this case, young inn employees were told Lelei & Co. were impostors and murderers.

The key, then, to stopping these attempts on Lelei’s life is to figure out who this Pied Piper is and take him out. At the same time, Rondel has learned through recent messenger of Team Itami’s exploits with the Fire Dragon. In particular, Lelei is lauded as the one who finished it off, furthering the Imperial position that a human and Imperial citizen get the lion’s share of credit for the feat, which doesn’t sit right with Lelei (her word for it is “nasty”).

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Because the Jade Palace-protecting Rose Knights are under Pina’s command, it isn’t long before Zolzal “kindly requests” that she order them to stand down, promising no harm will come to the diplomats (but making no such promises for Casel or Sherry). Naturally, Pina refuses, and attempts to set off for the Palace to see what’s what, but then, in the least surprising move yet by the Acting Emperor, he places Pina under arrest. Frankly, Pina should have sneaked out of the Capital ages ago.

With a force of Imperial regular army—the Rose Knights’ own comrades—over one thousand strong at the Palace gates, the situation is about to explode. So it’s a relief that the civilian minister finally gives the go-ahead for a rescue mission.

Like Sugawara last week, his professional training gives way to his humanity, and he makes the better of two bad choices. There were going to be consequences either way, but at least this way he won’t be sitting back and twiddling his thumbs while his diplomats are slaughtered, along with what’s left of the pro-peace movement.

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GATE – 20

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I often groan at GATE episodes that mostly or wholly omit the core gang of Itami & Co., but that’s a bit unfair, knowing that GATE is about more than just one man or one group’s adventures, but about an entire sprawling world of multiple races, political affiliations, and ideologies.

This week may have felt more like a Sherry & Casel spin-off than the GATE I typically like, but it was nonetheless a strong and surprisingly moving episode that gave the current political troubles and Japan’s involvement (or lack of same) a smaller, human scale.

Under Tyuule’s manipulation, Prince Zolzal has passed extraordinary laws and raised a paramilitary force called “Oprichnina” to oppress all pro-peace actors in the Empire. Among those is Senator Casel, who hoped to find safety with Sherry’s family, but are soon set upon by Orpichnina “Cleaners” led by the sniveling Gimlet.

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Sherry leads Casel out of the house, and her parents proceed to burn it down, presumably dying in the process but covering the escape of both their family’s and country’s futures. Of course, Tyuule is on the scene and aware of Sherry and Casel’s movements, and uses her porcine assistant to get the two to “dance for her.” Not sure why Tyuule is micromanaging things to this extent, but I do know her evil smirking is getting old.

Sherry, despite being only twelve years old, doesn’t show her fear as she finds herself out in the world with people after her and an adult senator to protect. She haggles with a villager for food and secures a room at the inn, but the only way they’ll both be safe is if they can reach and gain asylum at the Jade Palace, a territory that is technically Japanese soil by treaty.

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They get to the boundary of the de facto embassy easily enough, but are met by Princess Pina’s knights, who relay the Japanese diplomats are unwilling to harbor political dissidents at this time, thanks to a hard line from the ministry back home that doesn’t want to look weak or further embolden Zolzal by harboring doves. Even Sugawara, whom Sherry is in love with and truly believes she’ll marry someday, won’t let his personal feelings interfere with his diplomatic duties.

The Japanese refusal to accept Casel means as soon as Gimlet arrives with his Cleaners, they arrest the senator and prepare to take Sherry into custody too. It’s hard to watch her come so far, with so much childish faith in her shining Japanese hero, only to be turned away right before the finish line, and into the jaws of those who have already destroyed her family and likely have nothing good planned for her.

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At the same time, while I despised Sugawara as much as he probably despised himself when he refused to act, I also appreciated his duty to his country. People can’t just disobey orders all the time. I thought this would all come to a heartbreaking end, with Gimlet’s grubby mitts all over an increasingly pathetic Sherry screaming for Sugawara’s help.

Turns out, Sugawara couldn’t abandon Sherry to a horrible fate. He orders her brought over to the Japanese side. This obviously led to the desirable outcome of Sherry being safe (in exchange for Sugawara promising to marry her after all when she comes of age), but GATE doesn’t pretend such an action wouldn’t have messy consequences.

There are knots and kinks in this particular fairy tale: Just as Sherry’s parents gave up their lives to get her out, Sugawara may have sacrificed his career and complicated Japan’s position to a potentially disastrous extent to save her. He did something he didn’t have the authority to do. Zolzal and Tyuule wanted nothing more than to stir the shit with Japan, and Sugawara’s heroism did just that.

The Vice Minister, who previously respected his decision as a diplomat while loathing him as a man, is forced to reverse both positions: condemn his actions as a diplomat, but laud him for being a decent man who couldn’t let the screams of a child go unheard.

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GATE – 18

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For abandoning his original mission, Itami is stripped of his command and suspended for two weeks by his immediate superior (the chain is the chain), but he’s also awarded a number of commendations both from the MoD and the local powers who benefitted from the defeat of the Fire Dragon. He also apparently owns Yao Haa Dushi now, which is…interesting.

He’s also given orders to “investigate the Special Region’s resources”, which is basically carte blanche to do whatever the heck he wants (which isn’t all that different from how things have been up to this point). With this new/old power, he has Lelei practice her driving skills as they head to the academy city of Rondel.

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There, Lelei prepares to appeal to the academic authorities for a mastership, which means dressing the part. This requires interaction with the hyper Grand Master Mimoza, but Itami, Rory, Tuka and Yao also end up meeting Lelei’s sister, Arpeggio, with whom Lelei seems to have a strained relationship, at best.

I must say, the transition from the resolution of Tuka’s dilemma to Lelei’s arc seemed a bit…abrupt. It’s also a bit laughable how regularly Itami escapes punishment for breaking protocol. For a show that glorifies the JSDF, a force of thousands working as one, both GATE and the force are awfully forgiving to a single soldier who always acts on his own, simply because it always seems to work out.

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Anyway, that’s all we see of Itami & Co; the rest of the episode is spent with the crew in the capital, including Sugawara, who is being constantly hounded by the 12-year-old noble Sherry, who has fallen in love with him and is committed to being his future husband.

This would be annoying, except that Sherry exhibits wisdom beyond her years, understanding what needs to be done for Japan and the Special Region to achieve peace (though a senior diplomat is clearly concerned with Sugawara’s relationship with the girl). Meanwhile, Prince Zolzal is frustrated with the apparent progress in peace talks, while Tyuule, now allowed to wear more than a burlap shift, continues to barely restrain her contempt for the shitbag.

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The night Pina and Zolzal’s dad emperor Mort (quite the foreboding name) welcomes the Japanese diplomats bearing POWs from the initial attack on Ginza (people Zolzal knows by name), Tyuule’s latest scheme is set in motion. It’s a pretty simple scheme: she poisons the wine the emperor drinks to toast to peace.

With Mort dead, Crown Prince Zolzal is now emperor, and it’s pretty clear from what we’ve seen that he’s not at all up for the job. Of course, that’s just fine with Tyuule; he’ll press for an all-out war against Japan and the JSDF – a war he can’t possibly win – and in his foolhardiness and the arrgance she built up in him, he will hopefully destroy himself and his empire, giving Tyuule the revenge she’s sought all along.

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Plastic Memories – 03

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Oh dear…last week’s revelation that Isla has only 83 days left (and quite a few days fewer than that now) had rekindled our interest in Plastic Memories, but after a total dud like this third episode, I don’t see how I can ever trust it again. I mean, seriously, three eps in and we get a hokey, uninspired moving-in/living with a girl episode?

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Rather than anyone telling Tsukasa what should be obvious to anyone who’s been around her for a few years that yes, indeed, Isla will meet the same fate as all the other giftia they retrieve every day, the guys in the office instead offer him increasingly ridiculous advice that Tsukasa carries out Wile. E. Coyote style, to no avail.

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It’s cliched, repetitive, and boring, killing all urgency and goodwill created last week. Worse, the fact several days go by as Tsukasa struggles to connect with Isla in their dorm where she used to live alone. He never bothers to wonder whether Isla prefers to keep professional distance despite the fact they have to live together, a stipulation for which there is never any good reason given, so all we have is the implication that “well, if they’re not in the dorm there’s be no opportunities for lame comedy.”

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Things take a turn for the dark and pathetic when Tsukasa, now just treating Isla like a normal human girl, which she clearly isn’t, insists on shopping for clothes for her, unaware she has so little experience with street clothes she doesn’t know how to put them on. It’s nice to know Isla wears panties, but I don’t think that was the reason we were welcomed inside her changing room.

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The most irritating part of all of this is that Isla likely knows her time will soon be up too, which is probably why she’s trying to avoid making happy new memories or getting closer to anyone. She really doesn’t seem to want Tsukasa in there for that purpose…though I would hope she’d reconsider whatever feelings she has for him after witnessing his unbelievably stupid hijinx.

By the end, he realizes the only thing she’s really comfortable doing is serving him tea. We apparently had to waste a whole episode for him to learn that.

As unflattering as Tsukasa was this week, we also learned that Yasutaka and Kazuki, the two people we know without a doubt know Isla will be gone in less than 80 days left, are petty cruel people. What do they have to gain by keeping that info from Tsukasa…Productivity?

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Plastic Memories – 02

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This second episode of Plamemo was better than the first, which I can chalk up to getting to know the cast and particularly the protagonist a little better. I can also get on board with the fact that any workplace with such a somber job is probably going to be as laid back and cheerful as possible to avoid going mad with second-hand grief.

That being said, I’m still not fully on board with the whole concept of Giftia retrieval, nor do the additions of two more boilerplate characters like the ulcer-ridden Takao, who is just used for a joke, and the overly-informal veteran Kaji Ryouji Yasutaka, who feels like he needs to touch everyone during his intro. I think Michiru hides because she doesn’t want him to touch her.

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As derivative a character in look and feel as he is, Yasutaka does consistently bring one thing to the table: brutal honesty. For all of Tsukasa’s narration and other characters’ exposition, Plamemo has been unusually skittish about answering or even bringing up the tough questions that might allow us to make a better emotional connection.

The fact that Akari Shinji Tsukasa got this position at all thanks to his father’s connections is a welcome wrinkle in his heretofore plain beige sheet of a character. It means he knows he has to work that much harder to prove he belongs there, which is hard to do when he’s constantly having to babysit Isla, who seems increasingly incapable of doing anything right. Heck, he couldn’t even serve Takao his tea; she let Yasutaka snatch it.

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I also liked the obligatory professional dinner date between Tsukasa and Katsuragi Minato Kuwanomi Kazuki, who comes off as your standard late-20s/early 30s schoolteacher who hasn’t found a man yet and can’t hold her liquor. Then again, considering her job is not teaching kids but sending them out to tear families apart, it’s not unreasonable for her to want to drown it all out with booze. Yasutaka is made less of a prick by the fact he always gets Kazuki home safe from her routine imbibings.

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In a core dynamic similar to the one going on in DanMachi, Tsukasa and Ayanami Rei Isla are both working harder to improve themselves, in order make themselves worthy of working beside the other. There’s no mention of last week’s utterly unearned love-at-first-sight moment (probably for the best) but it’s good to see Isla actually undergoing training and tests, and her bumbling in the field explained by “rust.”

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As for Angela Langley Soryu Kinushima Michiru, well…she’s a bit of a problem, as I’m guessing she’s supposed to be the third side of a love triangle with Tsukasa and Isla. She hides her unsure feelings for him behind an overly rude and aggressive facade, which she at least has the decency to apologize for.

That being said, I like how her affection for him grows a little when he finds out he’s protecting Isla by sharing the blame for their failures. It not only shows he’s not as incompetent as she initially thought, but also a kind and caring dude. Which makes her jealous that Isla’s so close to him. She’s on the outside looking in.

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That looks to be the case for the foreseeable future, as Plamemo brings the hammer down, courtesy of who else, the truthsayer Yasutaka. He doesn’t give too much away to Tsukasa, only mentioning the consistent decline in her physical data (paired with what looks like a rise in errors). He also tells him Isla’s training is pointless; Giftia retain everything they learn and don’t get “rusty.” Even so, he respects Isla’s guts for doing everything she possibly can to stay in the game.

The most important question so far is answered, at least partially, to my satisfaction, in a private moment between Yasutaka and Kazuki: Isla has 2,000 hours of lifespan remaining. That’s only 83.3 days, which, assuming a Giftia’s max lifespan of nine years, would make Isla 8.99 years old. This revelation floored me, and put Isla’s motivations more emotionally accessible. I wish last week ended this way, rather than with a toilet joke.

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P.S. No, I didn’t really accidentally give lots of Plamemo characters Evangelion names…but I wanted to point out the rather bizarre abundance of similarities to Eva characters in the Plamemo cast…though some are admittedly more of a stretch than others.