Tower of God – 03 – Any Door Will Do

As his party waits for the latest test, Aguero (who I’ll call Khun going forward since that’s what Bam calls him) recalls some sore memories about his sister Maria, who was basically his version of Bam’s Rachel. Maria betrayed Khun once she became a Princess of Jahad, and he was exiled. Rachel’s sudden abandonment of Bam could also be called a betrayal, but for the fact Bam doesn’t consider it that.

Instead, he saw it as the ultimate motivator: If you want to follow me, there’s some shit you gotta do without me. As for Khun, his mind sometimes fills with the murmurs of those who mock his failure and foolishness, and a “Plastic Bag person” is able to provoke him with that same kind of talk. However, the Bag person isn’t trying to start a fight, but deliver a hint for the next test.

That test involves ten doors, one of which must be opened within ten minutes to avoid elimination. The Bag guy tells them that no one who has opened the door within five minutes has lost. Once the clock has started, the lack of further hints by the administrator Hansung Yu serves as a hint in and of itself.

Sure enough, as Khun’s head fills with doubt and more mocking murmurs, it’s Rak who takes decisive action, opening a door just before the five-minute mark. The test isn’t a matter of choosing the right door—any door will do—but trusting in one’s instincts enough to open any door fast enough. If Khun can’t be certain about his actions, it’s good that he has Rak on his team.

This otherwise clever, elegant test is somewhat undermined by the sheer amount of explanation that takes place before, during, and after the test—a full ten minutes of this episode. I realize there’s a lot of source material to work with but this test still felt padded.

The next yest is described as a voluntary “bonus” test, but the team who wins it won’t have to take any more tests and be granted permission to climb the Tower. It’s a five-round “crown game” in which one member of a team must wear a crown and sit in a throne while the other two fight off challengers.

Again, there’s a lot of explanation of this test, which is necessary to know what’s going on, but that means there’s only time for the first round of that test, which is undertaken by Anaak, Hatz and Shibisu (who earlier befriends Bam). The ridiculously competent Anaak absolutely ruins the first team of competitors and claims the crown herself, promising her teammates she won’t let anyone have it.

Had the relatively simple door test been pared down to a more economic length, we could have gotten more of this more complicated test. While I enjoyed some of the moments of Bam’s team just chillaxing between tests, during which it’s revealed the sky above them is fake and the real one might not exist, the pacing of the episode as a whole still felt sub-optimal.

And is that a cloaked Rachel, descended from the top of the Tower to check on Bam’s progress? Will he be able to flag down and talk to his idol, or will she vanish in the shadows? We’ll have to find out next week.

Shironeko Project: ZERO CHRONICLE – 02 – Marking Time

As befits a show shows central message is balance, this episode is evenly split between White and Black. First the White: elemental spirit-summoning Elf mage Alantia leads the defense of Metis against a Bahamut-style dark boss named Bahl. Queen Iris eventually shows up and puts on quite a light show, but isn’t really able to put a scratch on Bahl, which is concerning to say the least. She’s worried the Progenitor Rune is being taxed to its limit, and her kingdom can’t afford to lose it.

The would-be Prince of Darkness’s story is progressing at a much faster clip. This makes sense, as Iris is already Queen of Light so he has some catching up to do. Still, the difference in the pacing of the light and dark halves is noticeable…and not necessarily complementary. Valas impresses upon the young prince that becoming king is about more than just being good with a sword. It means learning how to govern and pitching in when needed (as presented in a montaaaage).

This “king of the people” angle is seemingly at odds with the present King of Darkness, who is little more than a smoke monster with a Sauron-like “cover everything in darkness” policy. He considers future generations like the prince to be unnecessary. Where “Egoism of the world” Bahl fits into this isn’t quite clear yet.

One assumes from the OP and ED that the prince and queen will meet someday, but for now, the prince settles for meeting Princess of Black Groza, AKA the “Gray-Green Demoness.” She’s a bit spoiled what with her squad of loyal troops, but when the Prince rescues her from a stray monster, she proves quite amiable to the lad, and tells him of the official competition with other potential successors in which he must participate in order to become an official Prince of Darkness.

After two episodes Shironeko Project: ZERO CHRONICLE remains perfectly watchable, if unexceptional and a bit sluggish. I continue to be driven to watch by the simple premise, Iwasaki Taku score, and promise of the eventual meeting of Iris and the Prince. Mainly I’m neither turned-off nor busy enough to drop it!

Shironeko Project: ZERO CHRONICLE – 01 (First Impressions) – The Desperate Pursuit of Balance

In the Kingdom of Darkness, an unnamed young lad (Kaji Yuki) flees from his village with younger children when monsters attack. Neither the villagers nor the children survive, leaving the lad alone. Not knowing what else to do, he digs a huge hole for the dead, but also for himself, because he comes to like how the sun pours in, coating everything in the hole equally.

He encounters an old but stout knight named Skears, who urges the kid to come out of the hole and direct his energies elsewhere. He manages to inspire the kid into having a little duel with him, and he shows a bit of skill. That’s apparently enough for Skears, who by the way is dying, to name the kid his successor as well as the next Prince and future King of Darkness, a title Skears himself failed to gain.

Meanwhile, high above the clouds in the Kingdom of Light, Queen Iris (Horie Yui) leads an attack on an encroaching darkness that is expanding in both size and density, making each battle tougher. Shironeko Project takes pains to accentuate the stark contrast between the kingdoms of darkness in light.

Obviously, there’s more light, but more saturation, richer hues, and an ethereal vividness. It’s as squeaky clean and gleaming up here as it is muddy and brooding down there. And just as important as the visuals are the sounds, and Iwasaki Taku’s lavish orchestral score is excellent, featuring distinct leitmotifs for the two kingdoms: more orchestral and soaring in the sky; more grungy and metal down below.

The Lad makes it to the capital where he’ll become stronger and challenge the current King, but he’ll need allies. He gains his first in Valas, a knight friendly with Skears (and possibly his former student). Valas presumes the kid is a thief, but after flashing some skill and more importantly Skears’ words, Valas changes his tune, pledges his loyalty to the kid’s claim, and takes him to Skears’ mansion.

This all happens rather fast, but as the Bard said, “brevity is the soul of wit.” If you’re using my viewing time wisely and efficiently I’m rarely going to be mad, as long as you don’t run out of story or worse, the speed hurts my ability to get engaged with the material. Neither is the case here…at least not yet.

Back in the Lightdom, we get to know Queen Iris’ top officers, like the knight Faios and mage Sima. They know their queen is more concerned with maintaining balance than achieving a total victory. Interestingly, Sima was once a candidate for Queen but lost to her best friend. Refreshingly, she seems to hold no hard feelings, and wants only to serve her queen as best she can.

Iris’ commitment to minimizing fighting and death is noble, but the expanding darkness is forcing her hand, and a report comes that the Western capital is under attack, she must immediately head back into battle. Even so, she sees this latest incursion as a sign it’s time for the King of Darkness to be replaced. She’s confident his successor will work with her to maintain the balance.

I first approached SPZC with skepticism—with so many fantasy anime out there (isekai or no) any newcomer would have to make quite the impression. I wasn’t encouraged by the breakneck speed and simplicity of the early scene of the kid and Skears, but once I saw both sides of this dark-light coin, and heard more of that sweet, sweet Iwasaki sound, this gradually grew into something I’d tentatively recommend.

I’m also a sucker for star-crossed love stories in the midst of warring nations, and a big fan of both Horie and Kaji, so the inevitable meeting of Prince and Iris is a built-in reason to keep watching. SPZC is telling a very old story with very basic elements, but telling it reasonably well. We’ll see if it can elevate that material.

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 06

Akira is more than just her infatuation with Kondou; she’s just choosing to dedicate all of her headspace to him at the cost of everything and everyone else. I’m not judging her choice—I have no right to, and don’t even really disagree with it—I’m just stating the facts here.

One of the casualties is Kyan Haruka, who has been friends with Akira for ages. Theirs is a friendship that endured being separated for their last year and change of junior high. They said they’d be back together again, and then they were. Then Akira was injured and was torn away from the thing she loved most,  and the primary reason for their hanging out: running.

Haruka now finds herself in the unintentional, unfortunate position of being a constant reminder of what Akira has lost. That can wear down a friendship in a hurry, so when Haruka spots Akira at a bookstore, she’s weary of approaching her (especially after their last, not-so-smooth encounter) and almost seems relieved when Akira’s co-worker appears.

It’s not just Haruka keeping her distance. Even when Akira doesn’t have her head in the clouds about Kondou, when she spots Haruka, her friend is seemingly constantly being orbited by a host of other runners. It’s not intimidating per se, but perhaps too brazen for her to be able to handle.

This week’s episode covers Akira’s latest efforts to court Kondou while Haruka seeks a way to reconnect, and while that’s about it in the plot department—and that’s all very nicely done—what truly made this a treasure (and a 9) for me was the wonderful atmosphere, and the amount of breathing space one has within the episode.

After the flashback to Akira and Haruka, we’re treated to a virtually dialogue-free montage of Akira getting on with her day: missing a bus; trekking in the Summer heat; catching a gorgeous view of the town; and going to work.

It’s a beautiful and effective way of showing us that there is indeed more to Akira than her Kondou crush or Haruka troubles. She’s her own person, living life and taking the time to stop and enjoy its scenery.

While waiting for a bus, Akira hears from two younger girls about the magical romantic properties of a certain rare cat keychain, and attacks the dispenser with her yen, gaining dozens of keychains, but none of them the one she needed.

It’s while she’s obsessively turning the crank when Haruka spots her. She hides at first, but when Akira doesn’t stop buying keychains, she intervenes, as a good friend should.

Their ensuing time together is rather distant, but cordial. After all, these two have no particular beef; they’re both victims of circumstances that have limited their interactions of late. But Akira gives Haruka some duplicate keychains she has, and before parting ways at cram school, wishes her good luck at practice.

Haruka and I both agree that “good luck” is an olive branch on Akira’s part; and an acknowledgement that just because Haruka can run and she can’t doesn’t mean she hates her.

I tellya, the skies just keep getting better and better in this episode, like the brewing thunderstorm near dusk when Haruka does a practice run. She remembers Akira’s smile earlier in the day, as well as the keychain(s) she gave her, and Haruka is suddenly taken back to the day she learned why Akira always ran so fast and far ahead of her despite her protestations.

It’s not because she doesn’t like Haruka, it’s because she loves the feeling and sound of the wind that one only gets from running. When Haruka says she guess she understands what she’s on about, Akira beams so brightly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Haruka fell for her right then and there. She certainly caught the running bug after that day.

Haruka doesn’t want to lose the person who made her realize how fun running was, especially when it was with that person. So the next day she tosses a plastic egg to Akira, who opens it to find not only the rare black keychain she couldn’t get on her own, but a note from Haruka clarifying (or hoping) that their friendship isn’t just about track and field.

I’m guessing Akira is grateful for Haruka’s gift, because it then proceeds to work immediately, and she finds herself in the same library where Kondou happens to be. Akira brings up classic Japanese literature (his fave) and asks if he’d recommend anything; he tells her that’s not the best way to discover books, since everyone has different tastes.

He then invites her to explore the library, which he likens to a sea of books, and see what sticks out. She thinks it’s more of an aquarium than a sea, and her surroundings change to match that feeling. She settles on a track-and-field picture book and the famous Souseki novel Botchan.

Juxtaposed with Haruka standing at a bus stop proudly displaying one of the keychains Akira gave her, Akira stands beside Kondou, offering to borrow a book for him to read. Window by the Wave by Kujou Chihiro jumps out at him. They settle up at the front desk, then walk a little ways together before parting for the night, and I can’t help but think finding that book created the tiniest little rift in their flow.

For while Akira was “called” to the library where Kondou was by her black cat keychain, Kondou seems to believe he might’ve been called there by Window on the Wave, calling the author by her first name. Could this book have been written by his ex-wife?

Finally, while walking home the rest of the way, Akira repeats in her head Kondou’s words about a book “calling out to her”, when all of a sudden a gust of wind kicks up and reveals a majestic full moon.

The sight, sound, and feeling of that wind called to mind the same sensations one experiences whilst running at top speed; the feeling she’s loved far longer than she’s loved Kondou.