Akiba Maid War – 07 – RocknPorkRolla

A week has passed since Nerula was gunned down in an alley, and Nagomi has run away from the Oinky Doink. The others, particularly Ranko, are worried about her, especially since Manami and the Maidalien war hawks aren’t finished. While Ranko is out distributing flyers, she spots a pink ninja who claims not to be Nagomi, but clearly is.

Since Nagomi insist’s she’s not Nagomi, Ranko tells this “mystery ninja” the situation: she and the Oinky Doink maids are worried about her. But if Nagomi fled out of fear to the oddly safer ninja café business, it wasn’t fear of being hurt or killed. It was fear of standing by and doing nothing while another friends of her dies.

This is a typical action movie protagonist pattern: after a great defeat, the hero withdraws, suffering a crisis of purpose. But outside forces, like Nerula’s grieving fans, conspire to bring her back to where she needs to be: at Oinky Doink, as the new kind of Akiba maid Nerula knew she could be.

But how? The ramen guy gives Nagomi the other piece of the picture to bring her around. It’s something he’s learned being in the ramen business with the reputation as someone whose ramen never changes: staying the same actually requires change. So Nagomi returns to the dojo and considers what that means.

That night, Manami and over two dozen of her henchmaids advance on Oinky Doink, outnumbering them over two-to-one. I knew Ranko and Zoya were worth ten of the average maid in fighting ability, but that’s still a lot of maids and a lot of bullets. The pig maids make use of homefield advantage and the element of surprise as much as they can, diverting and splitting up Manami’s maids.

This is the first time we see Shiipon and Yumechi in sustained action (their attack on the Sheep happening off-camera) but they handle themselves well. Even so, eventually the Maidaliens surround the Pigs, and Manami’s machine gun looks like a decisive advantage.

Ranko prepares to make a desperate charge to take Manami out or die trying (as far as she’s concerned protecting the café is worth it) but suddenly the elevator opens and a cloud of smoke gets off. Dozens of smoke bombs explode and disorient both sides. And through the smoke, Nagomin appears, prepared for battle.

With her almost preposterously hastily-acquired ninja skills, within seconds she’s disarmed Manami and claimed the machine gun for their side. Manami switches to her trademark bat, but once she’s in the pigsty, the maids of Oinky Doink and their ninja maid savoir are ready for her.

True to who she is, through the ensuing chaos, many bullets fly, but none of them from a gun held by Nagomi. Instead she uses the tools of the ninja trade, like kunai and nets, which buy her co-workers time to go on the offensive.

When the dust clears it’s just a wounded Manami and her lieutenant Miyabi, surrounded by the bodies of their fallen comrades. Miyabi gets Manami to retreat before they too are killed, but after Miyabi dresses Manami’s leg, Manami dismisses her and she departs in shame.

Nagomi shows up with Ranko as backup, and despite her sorry state Manami is still ready to throw down. But Nagomi isn’t there to fight. Nor is she there as a ninja. She’s a maid, and she reminds Manami what maids are truly all about: not dying in glorious battle, but serving their masters with moe moe kyun.

When Manami rises to shut the young whippersnapper up, Nagomi again uses her new ninja skills to lay the smackdown on Manami. Again, Nagomi demands that Manami feel the moe moe kyun, and she finally relents, deciding that pig hunting time is over.

Ranko lets Manami withdraw, and welcomes Nagomi back into the pigsty. But Manami gets a rude awakening back at Maidalien HQ. Not only did the boss Ugaki refuse to commit any more forces to this silly war, but she got all the Maidalien brass to agree to a merger with Creatureland.

Manami could not change like Nagomi did, and ends up gunned down by her former allies who are sick of her bloodlust. They want to make money, and they’ll make more if she’s dead than running around shooting people. So she meets her end in a swirling puddle of her own blood. Unfortunately for Oinky Doink, their next foe looks to be their own Creatureland masters.

This was a great step forward for Nagomi, but it wasn’t perfect. I kinda wish Manami had stuck around a bit, as small a chance as redemption for someone her would have been. Also, the animation of the raid, aside from some fun moments, was also surprisingly underwhelming, considering what I know the show is capable of from the premiere and the MMA episode.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Genius Prince’s Guide – 10 – Cooperative Relationship

Princess Falanya leads the people out of Mealtars, past the armies of Lowa’s brothers, and into the waiting arms of Caldmellia and King Gruyere, who were not prepared to deal with so many refugees. The stunning move, made possible thanks to Falanya’s charisma, essentially freezes all parties and gives Wein ample room to negotiate a way out of this that’s acceptable to all, yet still takes advantage of his opponents’ disadvantage.

As the officially sanctioned negotiator for Mealtars, Wein makes use of the city’s ample treasury and offers to buy Levitian’s surplus surplies with both gold and the promise of a memorial and temple to Levetia. With the Levitian army hanging back in reserve, Wein uses the supplies to raise a militia the princes won’t want to fight.

But his true masterstroke comes when he meets with Lowa’s brothers, who like the Levetians have limited room to maneuver due to the sensistive military scenario that has been created. With a knowling Lowa present, Wein dusts off the “trial in absentia”, pinning the blame on the assassination  and the war on the absent Demetrio and forcing his younger brothers to agree, as it’s the best option they have.

As a result, the armies end their siege of Mealtars, the Levetians return home, and the people of Mealtars are cemented not only as a strong friend and ally to Natra, but in Lowa’s faction as well. The mayor tells Lowa over tea how he asked Wein “why are you doing this?”, and was charmed by his response: to gladden his little sister’s heart.

As we know, nothing is more important to Wein than his family, be it Falanya or Ninym, so we know he was being sincere. But there’s no denying siding with Mealtars in their hour of dire need paid huge dividends for Natra and Marden, as imperial exports, passed off as Marden exports, are now flowing through the vassal state and into the west.

Ninym rightly brings up the fact that the richer Marden becomes, the more likely it is they’ll desire independence again. Sure enough, Marchioness Zenovia is encouraged by her advisor to take advantage of their newfound prosperity to “extract a commitment” from Natra when Wein pays them a visit on his way to Soljest.

The advisor proposes that Zenovia ask for Wein’s hand in marriage…which is exactly what Wein thinks she’ll ask for when he visits. Only…she doesn’t? Wein is totally thrown off as they discuss only matters of state such as a conservative western nation sending a letter of protest regarding trade goods.

Wein lets his hair down and be his impetuous self in front of Ninym, as usual, assured that the next day Zenovia will broach the topic while giving them a tour of her capital. But once again, Zenovia—disguised as Zeno and fooling no one—simply gives him a tour…no proposal.

Wein is the one to broach the topic, but when they have a seat on a bench in a park, Zeno pivots by asking why Wein is so “oddly distant” from his people. Wein proceeds to give a cautionary lecture on the responsibility of nobility and royalty to maintain a certain mystique and remove from their people.

This is for a reason Zeno hadn’t considered: she, as well as Wein, Soljest, and even Lowellmina Earthwold, can trace their venerable royal and noble lines all the way to commoners. That means all of the people in one’s kingdom could one day become the first humble branch of a new royal tree…hence his vigilance. He must be the best prince he can be, because he’s surrounded by potential replacements.

Zenovia acknowledges that Wein is a great man, even greater than she initially believed, and that’s the reason she’s happy, for now, with Marden remaining a loyal vassal of Natra (also, she jests that his face isn’t her type). But as she confides to her advisor, Zenovia also feels that marriage with someone like Wein, someone she lionizes as a hero, would be impossible.

I feel she’s selling herself short here, but it’s not my place to tell her how to feel! Even the advisor concedes that she should trust her heart in this matter, and it doesn’t make her a bad leader to refuse the clever play of strategic marriage.

I’m usually not a fan of characters running themselves down to prop up ones they idolize, but considering what she’s witnessed Wein achieve in the time she’s known him, it’s hard to argue with her feelings of inadequacy. Such is the sold writing of this show that I can both disagree and respect her position. Now, what’s up with Delunio?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Genius Prince’s Guide – 09 – The Princess Pride

At first, Wein thinks he’s arrived in Mealtars at the absolute worst time: just when Falanya has insisted that Demetrio seek Wein’s approval for his marriage to her. Wein, Ninym and Lowa exchange subtle nonverbal cues as he expresses his heartfelt approval for the union. After all, it will be the second—with Wein marrying Lowa, Natra’s Imperial influence will skyrocket!

This prospect causes Demetrio to agree to discuss it another day, which buys his sister time, but Wein assures Falanya that he won’t let her be married to such a man. Later, despite showing signs of fatigue, Wein joins Lowa for a secret clock tower meeting. Things aren’t going quite as Lowa planned, but she’s in a good position to snatch the throne, and promises Wein she will get him “all mixed up” in her “epic tale”.

As we learn Prince Manfred to be an incredibly decisive and logical man, planning to assassinate someone as intelligent (and thus dangerous) as Wein, Falanya continues to spend much of her time in the Citizen’s Assembly. Not only does she soak up the discourse like a sponge, but garners the esteem and admiration for watching and listening so intently.

Demetrio welcomes Wein to further talks, but when a maid serves them tea, Wein asks, then demands the maid drink it herself. When she hesitates, Demetrio takes his cup, accuses Wein of cowardice, takes a sip…and collapses as blood trickles from his mouth. Ninym starts to chase the maid, but Wein orders her to find a doctor instead. They may never learn Manfred ordered the hit, but he’s not about to let an Imperial prince die…even the worst one.

Demetrio survives, but Wein is detained for questioning for several days, during which time Mealtars is surrounded by Bardloche and Manfred’s armies. No sooner is Wein free than news comes the Levitians, led by Caldmellia have also brought an army to the city’s doorstep. The increased strain on the besieged city will lead to unrest, riots, and eventually military intervention. But as Wein is calculating all of these variables, he suddenly passes out from exhaustion.

That means, surprisingly, that it’s once again up to Princess Falanya, and unsurprisingly, considering how much she’s learned in so short a time, she rises to the occasion and handles the shit out of it. As the Citizen’s Assembly threatens to devolve into every-man-for-himself chaos, she stands in the center of the assembly (who we already know to be enamored of her) and makes an impassioned plea for solidarity.

It works, and Mealtars manages to hold together even with three armies staring them down. Ninym scarcely leaves Wein’s bedside, so when he finally awakes, she leaps at him for a tearful hug that’s probably a little too tight for his current condition, but speaks to how he’s as much her heart as she is his.

With the entire city united behind their new idol Falanya, Wein has her lead them out of the city walls in a peaceful and orderly evacuation. Through her speeches, she’s able to convince them to leave it all behind in service of a better future for all of them. Strategically, of course, this has the effect of paralyzing all of the armies outside, who even combined are dwarfed by Mealtar’s sheer numbers.

Even Caldmellia and the Levitians weren’t prepared to take in and provide for so many, meaning whatever ulterior motives they had, they’ll have to put on hold. As Falanya tells the masses, Mealtars isn’t the walls or streets or houses; Mealtars is its people, and with the power of the people at her back, even the tiny, adorable little princess can stare down imperial armies and religious zealots alike.

I’m truly loving Falanya’s rapid ascent to greatness from her humble beginnings as the character who listens to exposition for the benefit of the audience…and if Wein is still hoping for a slow life down the road, I’m sure he is too!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Genius Prince’s Guide to Raising a Nation Out of Debt – 02 – Heart of Gold

After bathing and dressing, Ninym goes to wake Prince Wein up, only to find he’s dreaming of a woman with a bigger chest than hers. What would have been a sweet moment was marred by a dumb boob joke. It’s kind of a harbinger for what’s to come: a tolerable story marred by poor execution.

Last week I forgave the fact that armies looked like grey blobs, and that CGI chess pieces replaced the combat animation for the most part. But after this week’s siege of the gold mine Natra just conquered, I no longer see clever workarounds, but cheap shortcuts. Weeks supposedly pass in this episode, but the action is so poorly portrayed it feels like a long afternoon.

The whole premise of the show is that Prince Wein is a genius, but this week it’s abundantly clear that it doesn’t require a genius to defeat Marden’s larger numbers. Not only are the enemy commanders one-dimensional mustache twirling villains—and racist against “Flahms” like Ninym—they’re also dumber than a sack of bricks, falling for the most obvious traps and failing to understand concepts like “high ground” or “bottlenecks”.

That said, the Marden general’s biggest mistake is the racial slur his pompous envoy directed at Ninym. Wein confirms that the envoy’s words are the general’s, then sets up a raid on the enemy headquarters that ends with him telling the guy that Ninym is “his heart”, and any who wound his heart shall die by his own hand. This is devotion we didn’t quite see last week, and it at least gives this part of the battle a pulse.

Sadly, the rest of the episode doesn’t really measure up, as between the awful personalities of the enemy commanders and the awful production values that I sometimes worried would stray into Wizard Barristers Episode 11. With Wein’s common sense tactics being laughably portrayed as potentially empire-shattering genius, I struggled to find something to keep me watching next week, and for now, that’s the easy rapport between Wein and Ninym.

Golden Kamuy – 33 – A Wolf in Vladivostok

As Kiroranke and Sofia exchange correspondence, smuggled in and out of the prison with a little help from master of disguise Shiraishi, Asirpa, Kiroranke, Shiraishi, and Ogata stay in a village of the Nivkh, Karafuto’s most populous ethnic minority. Kiroranke maintains that Sofia could have crucial information about Wilk and the code for the gold.

Because he claims the gold will benefit all minorities including the Ainu, Asirpa is willing to go along with his plans. We also learn that Sugimoto’s team has reached the reindeer farmers who previously hosted Asirpa’s team. They’re still a ways behind, but Sugimoto is looking forward to reuniting with her at Ako Prison.

That’s pretty much all for present-day events, as Kiroranke spends much of the rest of the episode telling a story about—among other things—how he, Wilk, and Sofia learned Japanese from a man named Hasegawa Kouichi, who ran a photography studio in Vladivostok. Kouichi has a happy life with his wife Fina and infant daughter Olga.

Before the three revolutionaries arrive at his doorstep wanting to learn Japanese, Kouichi spots a lone wolf on the outskirts of town—an ill omen, if you will. Still, Kouichi welcomes the three and they learn quickly, with Wilk learning the quickest while Sofia seems least motivated to learn. Sofia is also immediately smitten with little Olga. Kouichi even likens the three to the Three Great Nobles of the Restoration who successfully modernized Japan.

It isn’t long until Kouichi learns that his three visitors from the far west were responsible for assassinating the emperor. Assuming the Russian secret police will descend upon his studio soon, he tells Fina to take Olga and go far away to await word from him, insisting she not return under any circumstances.

As it turns out, the police aren’t there for the revolutionaries; they’re there for Kouichi, a Japanese spy using the studio as a front. Sofia, Wilk, and Kiroranke break out the guns and do their thing; none of the police can be allowed to escape. Kouichi makes things a little easier in the ensuing siege by revealing he keeps a machine gun hidden amongst his photography equipment.

As the three take out the police, Sofia fires a shot into a tree, and I half-expected it to be that lone wolf Kouichi spotted earlier, which he encountered a second time while Wilk was teaching him about traps. Instead, it’s Fina, who did come back for Kouichi. A bullet hit both her and Olga, killing the child and leaving the mother in bad shape.

Sofia is beside herself with grief and regret, but there’s little time for either; she and her compatriots must flee before attracting more attention. When they reach the seasonal ice floes that allow passage from Russia to Karafuto—the same ones Kiroranke will use in the present to help Sofia & the other inmates reach their allies on the mainland—Sofia declares she won’t be going with Wilk, whom she loves, or Kiroranke, deciding to stay in Russia to stoke the fires of revolution.

We then return to Kouichi holding his dying wife, and the moment he tells her the truth: his real name is Tsurumi Tokushirou. That’s right, that Tsurumi, with the busted skull. It truly is a small world. Now we know the connection between him and the revolutionaries, and it’s another horribly tragic story, this time centered on one of the series’ main players.

Lt. Tsurumi seemed to accept his wife and daughter’s death as an accident, but he’s quite a different man since his head injury. This added history will color all future interactions (if any) between Tsurumi, Kiroranke, and Sofia. Kiroranke also writes to Sofia that Wilk has died, and though the woman has become hard-as-steel in the years since she last saw him, she still can’t help but weep from the news.

DanMachi II – 04 – The Lightning Rises

With Liliruca successfully rescued and Bell sufficiently trained up, he arrives home to find his familia has grown by three, with Lili, Welf, and Mikoto official Hestians. Ryu, merely a helper and not a familia member, keeps her distance, but is with them all the way.

The night before the siege, Cassandra relays to Daphnie what many a Star Wars character would call “a bad feeling about this,” particularly when she sees their pint-sized ally Luan entering the fortress at the last minute and pulling a wagon carrying a massive cargo. Who do we know who’s that small and can lug that much?

Cassandra calls this a Trojan Horse, and that it will seal their defeat. Who am I to argue with her?!

Every eye (and a good chunk of cash) in Orario is trained upon the magical viewscreens transmitting the War Game, from the adventurers in the tavern to the gods in their meeting place. Outnumbered 100-5, Hestia gets off to a rousing start, with their elven masked mercenary Ryu rushing the walls wielding not one but two of Welf’s magical swords, one fire, one lightning.

Ryu expends every drop of magical power in both those swords carving through as many Apollos as possible, including a fellow elf who is outraged by her use of the same swords that burned through their villages. Ryu feels helping a friend in need is more important than keeping the fires of hatred burning. She also makes such a rukus that Mikoto easily dashes right through the lines and into the castle courtyard.

There, she repels dozens of arrows and lets herself get surrounded by as many Apollos as possible before unleashing a spell that took a few minutes of incantation to cast, but is well worth it from a tactical perspective: it’s high-level gravity magic that immobilizes everyone who pursued her, taking still more Apollos off the board.

Proving each one of the five party members is worth at least ten Apollos, and that big, bold moves by every one of them is absolutely essential to snatch victory from such lopsided numbers, “Luan” “betrays his god and opens the front gate for Bell and Welf. Turns out he’s not Luan at all, but Lilisuke in disguise, who snuck in the night before. The huge wagon wasn’t the Trojan Horse, she was.

Welf covers Bell as he rushes to the central tower where Hyakinthos has so far been comfortably watching. Daphnie holds Welf up, but as one of the two main DanMachi themes blares (“Heroic Desire,” an all-timer that always gives me chills) Bell slides right in and blasts a massive Firebolt straight up, reducing the tower to a pile of rubble and bringing Hyakinthos right to him. He also wastes no time snapping his prized sword.

Cassandra almost spoils the upset when she tackles Bell, letting Hyakinthos unleash his special attack, but Lili tackles her just in time to let Bell dodge it enough to survive. Bell also got some help from that pendant Syr gave him before he went off to battle—one bearing the symbol of Freya Familia.

That moment, when he is so close to defeat and Hyakinthos so close to victory, is what Ais drilled into his head was the moment to wait for. When it comes, Bell doesn’t waste it. He knows Hyakinthos is about to finish him, so his opponent is basically opening himself up. Bell evades his dagger, kicks him off his feet, then delivers a knockout punch.

War Game Over: Hestia Familia is the winner.

Those who voted for the ultimate underdog get one hell of a payday while all of Bell’s friends who cheered him on rejoice, from Ais to Syr and even Freya. Even better, Hestia does NOT go easy on Apollo, who tries to backtrack and pretend he was just messing around because he found Bell cute.

Hestia confiscates all of Apollos property, declares his familia disbanded, and banishes him from Orario forever. She then takes her newly-expanded familia to the front gates of their new palatial home, and scrawls a new symbol to represent them: the guardian flame of Hestia, combined with the bell of…well, Bell.

I’m duly impressed by the speed with which DanMachi II has gotten things done. Here I was loathing a long, drawn out, multi-episode arc involving just the war game with Apollo, complete with constant reaction shots from the assembled spectators, changes in momentum, and cliffhangers.

Instead, the show understood that, outnumbered 100-5, the Hestians had to get shit done in a hurry if they wanted to win. And they did, in a superbly breathless battle helped in no small part by a cinematic orchestral soundtrack by Inai Keiji that absolutely fucking OWNS. Nice to see the little guys win one going away.

Overlord III – 11 – Enri the Golbin General

While his father sent him on an intel-gathering mission to Carne ostensibly to protect his heir, First Prince Barbro is determined to earn the throne through distinguishing deeds, not simply sit back and inherent it (also, he must suspect either the nobles or his siblings will ultimately plot against his succession once daddy’s dead).

This would be all well and good if Prince Barbro were good at anything. But reader: He is not. Scratch that: he’s good at making increasingly bad decisions and only quitting when it’s too late to save either his army or his own hide. And it didn’t have to be this way; had he negotiated peacefully with Carne rather than try to kill her, she wouldn’t have blown the little horn Lord Ains gifted to Enri.

When Barbro’s troops reform after initially getting their clocks cleaned by Carne’s trained ogres, he forces Enri’s hand, and with no other options and Barbro’s horsemen nipping at the heels of the escaping children, Enri blows the horn, not quite knowing what it will do.

Well, the Horn of the Goblin General does no less than summon a massive, 5,000 strong goblin army, extremely well-equipped, well-trained, and unquestionably loyal to the person who blew the horn. We’re presented to wave after wave of (somewhat shoddy) CGI columns of all the various units kitted out in splendid battle attire.

Even Momonga/Ains is caught off guard by this sudden development; he had assumed the horn would summon twenty decent goblins at best, but nothing like this. He deduces internally that the size and strength of the army must be determined by the individual blowing the horn; in this case Enri.  She already had the loyalty and love of her village and its goblin garrison; the horn thus conjured a suitably badass force.

Needless to say, Barbro’s forces are routed and thrown into retreat, though as I mentioned, the order to flee is given too late. Later that night we learn the truth of the matter: Beta “added her voice” to Enri’s horn blow, resulting in the overpowered goblin army (even she was surprised by how big it was).

She also nonchalantly (as befits one of the Seven Stars) breaks the bad news to Barbro that his existence isn’t part of Lord Ains’ plans, and so he and his entire force will be massacred forthwith.

So it’s R.I.P. Barbro–it’s probably better for the kingdom that he never ascended the throne–and all hail the Glorious Goblin General and victorious Chief of Carne Village, Enri Emmot. May she and Nphirea someday get to roll around in the hay without interruption from incompetent princes.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 16 – Meiling Out

From the word go, the airborne Sakura was one busy Cardcaptor this week, pushing Siege to its limit by covering the entire Daidouji estate, stopping the burrowing Card in its tracks, then securing it before it destroyed the mansion. Flight is so happy to work with Sakura, her wings carried her so quickly Kero-chan couldn’t keep up with his head camera.

After finishing tea with Daidouji’s mom, Sakura and Meiling go one way, while Akiho goes another, with the latter encountering Yuna D. waiting for her. When he lets slip something about Sakura’s father that he shouldn’t know, he whips out his pocket watch, stops time, then rewinds it to before he slipped up.

This leaves Akiho confused but totally oblivious to what just transpired. I shudder to think how many times he’s used this magic to get Akiho to collect information, then make her forget, to say nothing of the “dreams” in which she and Sakura appear. None of this is the conduct becoming someone you can trust!

While pondering the possibilities of a future Kaito/Sakura confrontation, Sakura and Meiling end up the targets of some kind of Card in the form of a martial arts-wielding killbot in Chinese dress, who comes at the girls with extreme prejudice.

Here, we get to see Meiling’s own martial arts in practice, as well as Sakura’s natural athleticism and agility. The two are able to defeat their attacker by coordinating their counterattacks to be mirror images of each other, crystallizing the bot and giving Sakura enough time to secure the second card of the week, “Struggle.” I for one am glad this card is now  on Sakura’s side!

After the battle and later that night, Sakura is overly worried about Meiling. While appreciative that Sakura cares about her so dearly, she reminds her what she said before the killbot attacked about “good people making her sad”, because some of those good people are looking out for others so much they don’t care about themselves.

Meiling things this applies to both Sakura and Syaoran, and thinks both of them need to take a step back and think of their own happiness—at least occasionally—and not in a “seeing other people happy makes me happy” kind of way. But one thing Sakura is certainly happy about is that she finally got to fight side-by-side with Meiling. And they kicked some killbot-card ass!

Before hopping on the plane back to Hong Kong, Meiling also warns Syaoran over the phone that whatever he knows or has planned that neither she nor Sakura (with whom she’s now on first-name terms) knows about, if he gets hurt, she knows who’ll be saddest, and if he makes Sakura sad, he’ll regret it. Bottom line: Don’t mess with Meiling.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 05

As Chekhov’s Teddy looms in the background, Sakura prepares for a day of delicious lunches and beautiful flower petals that share her name.

Kero-chan teases her a little, her brother teases her a little, but she’s off nevertheless high in spirits.

Ain’t nothin’ bad gonna happen today! And how can it, with such sweeping, majestic, upbeat music playing as she walks to the park?

If I rated episodes purely by the quality of the soundtrack, this would easily be a 10 out of 10.

Upon meeting up with Tomoyo, the only thing that seems amiss is a slight feeeling that something has a hold of Sakura’s leg, but it’s only momentary, and engenders her smallest of “ho’es?”

The girls arrive earlier than the meet-up time to find their friends already waiting for them, having arrived even earlier.

It’s pastoral perfection and universal punctuality in perfect harmony, and it couldn’t be a prettier day to relax, eat good food, and enjoy the cherry blossoms.

But those little feelings of being pulled become more frequent and more forceful, until Sakura is being pulled away from the picnic and across the park (though she’s able to get her boots back on, somehow).

The weather turns dark and gloomy, and her destination comes into view: a gargantuan sakura tree with glowing purple blossoms that looks particularly sinister, especially with its whipping vines.

Obviously, it’s a card. Boss music plays, Sakura releases her staff, and tries to use a flexible Siege Cube to arrest her momentum, to little effect.

Still, all this card seems to be doing is pulling her towards itself, so it’s really just a matter of pointing her staff at the epicenter and yelling “Secure” from just the right distance without hitting the tree.

The new card she gains is “Gravitation”, which will come in handy if any future cards try to play hard to get. And sadly, Tomoyo once more fails to record Sakura’s heroics; I might be crazy, but this seems like it could be recurring gag.

Sakura is actually full of recurring interactions that differ in the details. We get out latest Lovey-Dovey Sakura x Syaoran Scene in which Syaoran initially says he just ate, then remembers Sakura made a lunch for him and eats that as well (I mean, he would’ve been a jerk not to).

Following some of Yamazaki’s patented Nonsense-Spewing and Sakura-, Syaoran- and now Akiho-Believing, and something, we get something new: everyone pipes down and listens to Tomoyo sing—and she sings beautifully.

There are no weird dreams with the hooded figure who may or may not be Akiho this week, nor any shadowy talks between Syaoran and Eriol; just a nice, idyllic spring picnic with just a brief interruption by a card that was more bark than bite.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 04

So, the pretty new transfer student Shinomoto Akiho is totally the cloaked figure in Sakura’s dreams, right? Someone her same height (and even a similar-sounding name) shows up way too concurrently with the arrival of the cloaked figure in the real world at the tail end of last week’s outing.

If Touya doesn’t let on like he knows anything concrete (for now), he certainly seems to sense Sakura is out of sorts the morning after her disturbing vision of the figure. As for Sakura, she and Tomoyo are bowled over by Akiho’s beauty and eager to make friends with her ASAP.

Whatever, I say, could go wrong here?!

Syaoran certainly seems suspicious of Akiho, even if the others are just as charmed by the newbie as Sakura (then again, remain suspicious of Syaoran…what a tangled web we weaved). Akiho seems singularly invested in making Sakura like her as much as possible, flattering her when they’re alone in the hall, and again when Sakura gets an answer right in class (apparently not a common occurrence!).

After giving that answer, Sakura notices the trees getting up and walking around outside, setting off a series of Sakura’s patented all-purpose catchphrase, HOEHHH! At this point I always look forward to every time she does that, and hearing all the subtle variations on that exclamation. Tange Sakura is a treasure.

It’s Tomoyo to the rescue, having the class believe Sakura is not feeling well. Of course, she also has ulterior motives, and has prepared a Chinese-style costume for Sakura to don during her next card-capturing escapade.

Sadly for her, Tomoyo doesn’t get to film much of the spectacle, as Sakura encloses the runaway trees within Siege, then floods the cube with water from Aqua to immobilize their scampering roots.

Every action sequence thus far in CSS has been a delight to watch, from the novel ways in which Sakura achieves victory, to even the more repetitive elements like her chants and pose-striking (week-to-week variety to which is achieved by the varying costumes).

Her next card, “Action”, thus secured, Sakura takes it to Yukito, whose alter-ego Yue inspects it and concludes that it also seems to lack magical power; it’s all, apparently, in Sakura’s key and staff. The visit gives us the opportunity to see both sides of Yukito/Yue, and learn more about the interesting dynamic he has with Sakura.

Then Syaoran calls, and we’re treated to another heart-melting romantic exchange between the two, with Syaoran accepting Sakura’s offer to make him a lunch sometime, then asking her to call him if anything unusual happens, and Sakura taking it further and asking if she can call him even if it isn’t something unusual.

While Sakura is calling from Yukito’s porch, bathed in gorgeous light of the setting sun, Syaoran is holding the phone at arms length, holed up in the shadows, because he is clearly up to some shadowy shit. He immediately calls Eriol, who isn’t returning Sakura’s calls, and reports on Sakura, Akiho, and the new card, before these words are exchanged:

Eriol: I’m sure it’s hard on you, but this is not the time.
Syaoran: I came here to be ready for that time, when it comes.

All the while, the true mastermind, the dreaded teddy bear, looks knowingly, menacingly on.

I kid, but seriously, what is Syaoran’s deal? Has he been deceiving Sakura with a fake lovey-dovey act (I won’t forgive him), or is there a less sinister explanation, like he’s working in the shadows to protect her? While it’s still a bit too soon to tell, things are not looking good…and that’s not an accident.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 03

The rate of strange magical happenings in Tomoeda increases this week, with Sakura capturing not one but two Clear Cards. The first is a water-element Card called Aqua, which telegraphs its presence to us early on with an unexpected rain that grows heavier and heavier as the day progresses.

School goes on as it pours outside, affording us a look at “indoor lunch”, as well as another demonstration of how Yamazaki and Chiharu’s running bit in which he comes up with bizarre and dubious facts about things, Sakura and Li believe him, and then Chiharu hits and/or scolds him.

Finally, the rain is so heavy Sakura has to respond by releasing her staff, while Tomoyo provides a frog-themed battle suit. Sakura also makes use of her Clear Cards for the first time, using Gale to disperse the rain and Siege to surround and hold its source so she can secure it.

Indeed, it’s as if a Card showed up that specifically required the power of the two Cards she’d already collected to capture. I’m also now versed in Sakura’s trademark lingo, be it “Release”, “Secure”, and her all-purpose exclamation of “HOEHHH!” All good stuff. Also: consistent Battle Music!

When Sakura texts Yuki that she’s gained another Card, her brother Touya is nearby, and lets on that he may know a little about what Sakura and Yuki are up to, and that he himself once gave them power which he doesn’t expect he’ll ever have back.

The next day Sakura and Chiharu get to show the Cheerleading Club what they’re made of, but after stooping down to tie her shoe, Sakura gets up to find every other person at school gone. With nothing attacking her, she releases her staff and goes on the offensive, only to have her Gales either hit nothing or get reflected back.

Eventually, Sakura can see a faint wisp of something racing around, but it’s mostly invisible, so she employs Aqua’s rain to render it visible. Upon securing it, she herself is drenched by the rain she used, but Li races to the rescue and lends her his jacket until she can change.

It’s a cute and heartwarming moment, and it’s nice that every episode has at least one or two such moments (even if Li still seems a bit shady).

Just as Sakura thought she was done with magic for the day, she suddenly loses consciousness and ends up in her recurring dream with Cloaky. This time the figure tries to steal her Key, and when she grabs hold of it she gets pulled along with it, until she’s face to face with them.

Upon waking up, she notes that they’re about the same height, but that’s about all she seems to know. I’m now caught up on CCS:CC, and must now wait until next week like everyone else to see where this goes.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 02

Sakura has a new key, a new staff, and new clear cards, but neither she nor Li can detect any magic emanating from them. Sakura wonders why these kinds of things are happening in Tomoeda again, while Tomoyo is simply disappointed she wasn’t present for Sakura’s first card capture in a while with a fitting outfit or her camcorder.

As much as Sakura wants answers, for the time being there’s not much for it than to continue on with her middle school life, slices of which are wonderfully presented this week without any shoes dropping. Sakura intends to join the cheerleading squad, the girls have art class, and Syaoran is stubbornly non-specific in the “things” he has to “take care of” which preclude him joining any clubs.

Still, just two eps in and I’m a fan of Sakura and Syaoran, because neither try to be in each other’s lives every second of every day. They each have their own stuff going on, and each respects one another’s need and right to be individuals. Pretty enlightened relationship strategy for middle schoolers!

 

CCS:CC is also full of little life lessons about not worrying too much about things outside your control. Sakura resolves to do what she has to do and put one foot in front of the other every day, and she’ll cross bridges when she comes to them.

One problem that often arises is the need to conceal magical things—like Kero-chan—from her older brother Touya. Kero must be completely still when he’s around—kinda like Hobbes—but Touya can’t help but wonder what’s going on when he sees fruit sauce on Kero’s mouth, and later spots beads of sweat. Amusingly, Sakura employs literal hand-waiving to distract her bro.

After dinner, Tomoyo presents Sakura with a new outfit (the first she’s worn in years, a meta statement referencing how long it’s been since the last CCS series), but no sooner does Sakura don the garb of a magical girl than she, Tomoyo, and Kero suddenly find themselves in a giant white cubic room with no doors or windows, an eerie situation well-sold by both visuals and the soundtrack.

When Sakura and Kero try to touch the walls, they bend out of the way, and before long, the entire cube starts to wobble like Jell-O. Kero deduces the material is similar to rubber, and that they’re inside the equivalent of a giant cubical balloon.

The seamstress Tomoyo, armed with her trusty pincushion, proceeds to pop the cube once Sakura summons her Staff of Dreams to capture another new card: “Siege.” Just like that, the trio are back in Sakura’s room, and have to play things cool when Touya checks in.

Let’s face it, neither of the two challenges Sakura has faced so far have been all that difficult to crack, nor the cards difficult to capture. However, there are still numerous unanswered questions, and while a new dream only adds to them, Sakura’s friend Eriol in England is holding off on contacting her until “the time is right”; presumably not until she captures more clear cards.

Kino no Tabi – 07

Eating a hot dog reminds Kino of a time she once unsuccessfully tried to get one over on her Master, who was cooking hot dogs at the time. Kino then shares a story with Hermes that her Master shared with her, about a country with a big clock tower and, suspiciously, an even bigger police force.

When Master’s young male apprentice is framed for drug possession and locked up, and she is unable to bribe the dirty cop to let him go, Master uses some of her Apprentice’s infiltration equipment and uses an elaborate set of diversions in the form of city-wide trash can bombs to clear the jail of police and slip in wearing one of their uniforms.

The Apprentice knew she would come—like Kino, he knows very well how good she is—and the question is not can they leave, but how. Both Master and Apprentice agree to make a bang rather than sneak out; demonstrate their full power to an arrogant bully that could use a good nosebleed.

For three days and nights they hole up in the central clock tower, shooting any and all policemen who draw within range, but not killing anyone; only wounding them. They cause such a disturbance, the police start to lose their grip on the country, as the public and their leaders demand something be done.

Master and Apprentice do not relent as smaller and smaller formations of police form up at the base of the tower. All are scattered by gunfire, until the very petty-tyrant commanding officer who sat on his petty throne and told Master no price was high enough to free her companion, is now the one who must offer a price to the Master—and it better be high enough, or more bullets will rain down.

It’s a good story, and one I’d think was apocryphal were it not for the somewhat magical realist nature of Kino’s world. Not to mention it just makes sense that the woman who made Kino the kind of “traveler” she is would be that badass!

Kino just so happens to be in the neck of the woods of that Clock Tower Country, and when she arrives in the courtyard where many shots were once fired without taking a life, she finds a monument made from a door blown off one of the police trucks back then.

An old man with a cane and and a granddaughter explains to Kino and Hermes that the memorial is a tribute to the two “Travelers of Justice” whose brazen acts freed the people from a corrupt and oppressive law enforcement system by essentially wearing them down until they grew ashamed of their conduct and shaped up.

Kino and Hermes alike are a bit amused that the country took Master and her Apprentice’s actions in such high esteem, but was the Master simply keeping her skills sharp in service of escaping the country, or did she have grander plans for that three-day-and-night stand?

We’ll never know, nor will Kino, but after this black-and-white and sepia-tinged look back to the past, she turns Hermes around and continues forward, into that Beautiful World, to  make some history of her own.

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