Hitsugi no Chaika – 11

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Hitsugi no Chaika has chosen to close with an epic three-part finale, of which this is the middle part. Middle parts are tricky, as it’s hard to have two episodes in a row with no concrete resolutions (it just kind of…ended), while putting that much more pressure on the third part to deliver. Even so, I think this middle part performed admirably, providing a nice balance of action and fresh insights, some of which confirm/reinforce my ideas about the Chaikas.

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Our heroes remain at the mercy of their enemies, two of whom, Ricardo and Grad, we met last week and got a cursory idea about what makes them tick. The third girl, Layla, only revealed her duplicity at the very end, but when I saw her for the first time with her hood concealing her face, I was pretty darn sure she was another Chaika. Like our Chaika and the Red Chaika we met previously, she too is driven to collect Emperor Gaz’s remains. The difference is how they all go about it.

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Red Chaika is a warrior. Our Chaika is a damsel in distress. And Layla is, or rather, was, a seductress, using her body, wiles, and drugs to acquire remains. Once she learned she was only one of many tools with diverse talents created for the sole purpose of re-appropriating Gaz’s remains; that her heart and soul and emotions and memories were all essentially manufactured for that purpose, she quit being Chaika, joined forces with Ricardo and Grad, and now lives for her own purpose: to help them start a new war.

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War, you see, is when those two felt most content, and, more importantly, most useful. Ricardo’s bloodlust and Grad’s desire to dominate could find true and enduring expression. They’re really more over-the-top versions of Tooru and Akari, saboteurs who had nothing left to sabotage after the war. The atrocities this trio has committed condemns them to villainhood to be sure, but on one point we can feel for Layla: wanting revenge against those orchestrated this whole dastardly plot. Why should she let it continue?

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But our Chaika isn’t like her…at least, not yet. Not only is she still committed to gathering her “father’s” remains even after all Layla has said, but in doing so she’s given the Acuras a new purpose. With their flying fortress packed with magical fuel-giving corpses and drug-manipulated soldiers, Ricardo, Grad, and Layla aren’t going to be satisfied with a grand adventure. They want to set the world back on fire and dance in the flames. And by episode’s end, they’re very close to achieving that goal.

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It would seem that as tough-as-nails as Akari is, her older brother would seem to have a slight edge over her in combat ability. I say that because he manages to evade and withdraw from her attacks on numerous occasions while consciously trying not to kill her, while she’s most definitely trying to kill him. I’m also on board with Tooru teaming up with Zito and Vivi when they cross paths, saving each others’ lives in the process.

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Perhaps the best feint of the episode was the heroic arrival of Fredrica, who seemed poised to rescue Chaika when a creepy-ass human-like spider thing snuck up behind her and stabbed her in the brain. It continues the trend of the show using her sparingly; if she were always around to save the day, things would be pretty boring. It was also a promising sign that this mess won’t get wrapped up by a last-seond deus ex machina, but hard-earned with with blood, sweat, tears, and wits.

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Hitsugi no Chaika – 10

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“Fortress in the Sky”—no ambiguity in that title. It’s what we were promised, and it’s what we got, and then some. Things start out as previous episodes have: new town, buying fuel; but it’s quickly apparent that this won’t be the usual get-in-get-out smash-and-grab operation. The fortress, and the Triumvirate of Evil running it, pose the greatest threat yet to Chaika’s quest, as well as to her life and those of her retinue.

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First of all, though, the fortress: It’s pretty cool-looking, and definitely calls to mind a few of its brethren from other fantasy anime or video games, while fitting snugly into the world of Chaika, and in that world, it’s also a big deal. It’s enough to put a serious drain on magical fuel, thoroughly wilting what looked like a once-proud and prosperous city in its massive shadow.

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Then there’s the fact all the city’s young women are rounded up by the Duke’s army, building him up as some kind of old, fat, mustache-twirling pervert adding to his sky harem. But we never see that Duke, and it turns out he doesn’t even exist. Well, he might have, but his son Ricardo murdered him a while ago, along with his mother, brother and sister.

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Ricardo’s a sadistic piece of work, who is held back from dissecting a captured Akari by his wizard adviser Grad Lancia, who keeps the fortress floating. Grad’s a piece of work too, employing invasive mind manipulation magic on Akari, and, we’re pretty sure, all the other girls too, who now wear armor and fight as their army.

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The third member of this happy family of villains is Layla, who successfully plays innocent until Chaika is in her clutches, and then Grad sics the re-educated Akari on her own brother, a real “oh, shit” moment in the episode. Did we mention Fredrica, the only one who can fly the others out of there, was run through with a longsword and tossed into a pit?

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Yeah, there’s a lot going on here, and none of it good for our heroes. And hey, the show even manages to fit the Gillette Corps into this puzzle somewhat organically: Vivi and Zita had infiltrated the fortress before Tooru & Co. to gather intelligence, but their mission is quickly countermanded by the decision of the six allied nations to attack Duke Gavarni’s fortress.

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What’s better than a flying fortress? That’s right: TWO flying fortresses. I thought, for a brief time, that this would be good for Tooru & Co: in the midst of the chaos of the battling fortresses, they’ can snatch the remains and be on their way. But several factors conspire to make that easy route all but impossible.

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Chaika and Akari’s mind are in the enemy’s hands. Fredrica’s fate is unknown. And most importantly, these three villains are no pushovers, and they’re actually glad the other Fortress is headed their way, which can’t be good. Everything is going the bad guys’ way. How long can they keep it up?

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