The Duke of Death and His Maid – 10 – Not Weird at All

While sleeping in her little cabin, Alice dreams of when she was a little girl, hiding behind her mother Sharon’s skirts at the sight of Rob but always waving to young Bocchan, who always waved to her. Even back then, he didn’t see her as a servant, but a normal girl he wanted to befriend. We’re not talking about Prince Joffery here!

After that dream, there’s a sequence involving Caph going food shopping for the first time while Zain keeps an eye on her. Once she figures out what it means to “pay” people “money” for things, she gets the hang of it, and even stops a boy that was trying to pickpocket her from getting impaled on a sharp cast iron railing. Zain only comes in to “bail her out” insofar as he helps her pick up the dropped groceries.

When Bocchan can’t sleep, Alice offers to sleep in his bed with him until he can, then runs off to change into her pajamas without waiting to hear if he was okay with that. Having Alice next to him is stressful at first, but when he sees her beauty up close and how calm and relaxed she is, he manages to calm down. Granted, that would have happened faster if she hadn’t tried to strip out of her PJs more than once!

The meat of this mostly slice-of-life episode involves what should happen if Bocchan lifts the curse. Yes, he’ll presumably return home and take his place as the next family head. But what of Alice? While Bocchan professes his love for her and assures her if his family objects to their marriage, he’ll cut ties with them. That is the last thing Alice wants, but believing his future to be more important than hers is the last thing he wants.


After singing a lovely, pure duet of the nursury rhyme “The Owl and the Pussycat” together, Bocchan ends up insisting on escorting her back to her cabin, armed with the scarf and gloves she lovingly knit for him.

Assuming the curse will end some point before the end of the show’s run, Alice seems convinced she and Bocchan won’t be able to see each other anymore, at least not they way they currently do. But who says that’s the way it has to be? Doesn’t Bocchan get a say?

Arte – 11 – Crossroads

Having made excellent progress with Katarina, Arte gets back to the official reason for coming to Venice: Lady Sofia’s portrait. Arte also paints a portrait of Katarina, and accompanies her to the workshop to learn more about artisans first-hand.

While there, the apprentice Matei states that he “envies” Arte for being an educated noblewoman and an artist, and when she sees his battered hands, this compels her to step up her work considerably. Aside from her modeling sessions during her portrait, Katarina never sees Arte.

She stays up all night sketching and studying, not eating any the food Daphne brings. After being told she was the wrong gender for the world of artisans, suddenly hearing the opposite lights a fire under her.

As one would imagine, this eventually catches up to Arte, and sure enough Daphne and Katarina find her passed out from overwork and exhaustion. For this, Yuri gives her a very stern, businesslike talking-to that amounts to “I don’t care about your problems, don’t make my niece cry again.”

She eventually recovers and finishes Katarina’s portrait, and Kat is so bowled over by its quality she rushes back to the workshop to show Matei that Arte isn’t just an educated noblewoman who paints, but an immensely talented artist in her own right.

After meeting with Matei Arte must’ve thought she wasn’t dedicating enough time to art and was wasting her privilege. Of course, that’s rubbish! We’ve seen Arte work till she literally vomits; no one, including herself, can call her a loafer or coaster.

Both Arte and Leo also have moments this week when they truly miss each other (though Leo puts up a stoic front as always). Presumably Arte will return to Venice, but then again, perhaps not: Yuri offers to be her full-time patron going forward if she remains in Venice permanently.

That means a steady wage and a comfortable life, neither of which any woman of any station can take for granted in these times. If Yuri and his sister-in-law are satisfied with her portraits, perhaps there’s nothing more Leo can teach her she hasn’t already learned during her solo time in Venice.

We know Katarina doesn’t want her to go, but what does Arte want? Is her personal and professional bond with Leo worth declining a potentially once-in-a-lifetime offer? (Leo would probably say no way.) Yuri gives her until she finishes Sofia’s portrait to decide. I wonder which path she’ll choose!

Arte – 10 – For Her Sake

When Katarina invites Arte to a meal, it’s more than just servants preparing everything for them. Katarina is in the middle of everything, working hard with the help, and not thinking of them as mere servants. Arte’s never seen her more happy. What gets Katarina down is the prospect of returning home to her parents’ house, which has never felt like home to her, so how can she be happy there?

A large part of that unhappiness stems from Katarina’s disgust for the nobility’s inclination towards always wanting there to be a clear difference between themselves and poorer levels of society. Her egalitarian attitude was developed by osmosis when she was raised far from Venice by her wet nurse Buona, who had a son Gimo with whom Katarina was close. When Buona suddenly died (as people did with far more regularity back then) she was thrust back to Venice, separated from the only home and family she knew to that point.

Yuri tells her about Katarina’s past in order to contextualize his opinion on the matter: Katarina finding her happiness depends on her ability to accept that she’s in the place she’s supposed to be, where that happiness is to be found, and that moving forward is the only way to find it. Even so, Arte can tell there’s a serious lack of closure, so she offers to take Katarina to see Gimo.

As Arte observes how both Katarina’s parents and servants act around her, it becomes clear that no one is really looking at the girl. When she overhears Malta complaining about how expensive her dowry’s going to be, and Sofia not challenging him, Arte recalls how her own parents argued spiritedly about her. The difference is, while they disagreed on the details, they were arguing for her sake.

Yuri tells Arte that Gimo is on Murano Island, and maintains his utmost faith not in her, but in his decision to choose her. It’s an interesting distinction, but Yuri didn’t become the rich and successful person he is by doubting his instincts.

On the island, Gimo regards Katarina coldly, but mostly out of deference to his mother Buona, who told him he couldn’t have any more contact with Katarina, since she was a noble. Their being a family was a beautiful dream, but that’s over.

Gimo tells her that there are times when he has to do things he doesn’t like, but because he was able to face forward properly and move on, he knows Katarina can do the same. When she does, he’ll look forward to welcoming her back with a smile.

Upon returning to Venice, Katarina ends up in bed sick for three days, and Arte is dismissed by Malta for failing to live up to her expectations. However, Katarina appears before her parents, performs all the requisite aristocratic gestures perfectly, and begs them not to fire Arte.

While Malta and Sofia are shocked to see their daughter behaving so properly, Malta still bristles at the idea of changing his mind, until Sofia, her hands trembling, speaks up and offers her opinion to her husband for the first time, agreeing that for Katarina’s sake, keeping Arte around is best.

Katarina’s home was a house of closed hearts, but thanks to Arte’s sentiments on doing things for someone’s sake, Sofia and Katarina’s hearts are now open. Like Arte, Katarina is a modern young woman with modern ideas, and they’re steadily learning together the ways to strike a balance between their modern values and the customs and obligations of their class.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 01 (First Impressions)

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One thing I’ve learned about Gundam over the years is that no one show or OVA with its name slapped on it can ever wholly ruin its legacy, nor prevent me from checking out the next project with an open mind. Reconguista was an unqualified disaster in part because it was so in love with itself, it built a towering wall of self-congratulatory retrospection around itself, leaving me out in the cold.

Recon in G was also spearheaded by Yoshiyuki Tomino, whose specific style came off as both out-of-touch and proudly, stubbornly exclusionary of anyone but the most die-hard fans of his work, ignoring all Gundam that had followed, most of which improved on the original.

It was not a step, but a zero-gravity leap backwards, one even more troubling because a full 26-episode season’s worth of resources were committed to an sugary, empty love letter to itself. But like I said, I wasn’t going to let past failure prevent me from catching something new and exciting from the Gundam brand…and Iron-Blooded Orphans (which I’ll shorten to GIBO from here on) is just what the doctor ordered.

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One reason I had reason to believe GIBO wouldn’t be another dud was staff: Putting Gundam in the hands of Tatsuyuki Nagai (AnoHana, Railgun, Toradora) pays immediate dividends. Nagai retains much of the charming Gundam milieu, but rather than keep it exactly as it was in the Carter Administration, he updates and refines the flow of the action.

Okada Mari (AnoHana, Hanasaku Iroha, Nagi no Asukara, Toradora) tweaks and humanizes the classic Gundam dialogue style and brings it into the 21st century, while Yokoyama Masaru (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, Yamada-kun to 7-nin no Majo) brings a fresh musical perspective to the sweeping score.

Compared to Reconguista, there’s young blood at work here, but their impressive CVs and relevance in the current anime world shines through in their collaboration here. While Reconguista shut me out, GIBO drew me in, with a slightly dirty hand.

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So what’s GIBO about? Well, there are many thick, juicy layers to excavate, but it’s all pretty organically unfolded. On the Martian colony of Chryse you have the titular Iron-Blooded Orphans like protagonist Mikazuki Augus, who serve at the bottom rung of the private security company CGS.

The citizens of Chryse are starting to demand independence form the Earth Sphere, but their own cowardly president intends to save his own skin by throwing his people to the wolves. Those he betrays include his own daughter, Kudelia Aina Bernstein, a well-loved, charismatic young agitator who Earth Sphere wants out of the picture.

To make that happen, Aina’s dad Norman lets her handpick the CGS Third Group to serve as her bodyguards for her trip to Earth. Doing so appeals to her desire to “see and feel the truth” and feel the pain of the victims of the Earth Sphere’s rule over Chryse. But in actual truth, the irregular child soldiers, used as cannon fodder by the greedy CGS president Maruda, aren’t expected to stand a chance against Earth’s elite Gjallarhorn unit, which is being deployed to put down the Chryse rebellion in its infancy.

It’s a cowardly, dastardly plot by the self-involved old guard to retain power by snuffing out the flame of youth and hope. It also shows that these old guys know how to play the game far better than Aina, at least at the moment.

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The main couple, Mikazuki and Aina, are from the opposite extreme ends of Chryse’s social spectrum, but unlike your typical aloof princess character, Aina wants to be “on equal terms” with the CGS grunts protecting her, so as to better understand the people she leads and serves. In a clever bit of misdirection, Mika refuses her repeated attempts to shake his hand not because he resents or distrusts her, but becaused his hands are filthy.

Even as Aina tries to reach out to those below her, they’re so conditioned to keep their distance they politely decline her entreaties. Aina’s seiyu Terasaki Yuki often voices boys and younger versions of adult male characters, but her robust pipes lend the pretty Aina some gravitas.

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The same night Aina arrives at CGS headquarters, Gjallarhorn springs into action, but in their arrogance their stealth attack is quickly sniffed out. CGS soldiers like Biscuit Griffon (whose retro design I really dug) whisk Aina to safety as the bullets start to fly. She’s constantly insisting that she can help out, and no one refutes her claim, but she has infinitely more value as the leader of the Chryse resistance than an exposed front-line soldier.

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Mind you, it isn’t CGS as a whole that is sacrificed in this operation, but the Third Group members composed of Mika, his “big brother” Orga Itsuka, Biscuit, et al. The higher ups try to use them as a decoy and human shield to cover their retreat, but they’re foiled when Biscuit remotely launches signal flares, giving the retreating brass and First Corps’ position away to the enemy, which eases off the Third. Still, it isn’t long until Gjallarhorn stops messing around and fields a mobile suit, which can outrun and outgun anything the Third Group has…with one very notable exception.

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In the cold open, we see a sight not out of place in a previous Gundam series, 00, in which a young Mika has just killed on apparent orders from Orga. He turns arond and nonchalantly asks Orga “What should I do next?” It’s a dream of a memory Orga wakes up from, which is revisited when the present-day Mika asks him the very same question. In the memory, Orga replies “We’re going…somewhere not here…to the place where we truly belong.” Their lives aren’t just about surviving when the deck stacked against them at every turn. It’s about finding purpose to those lives they’re fighting for tooth and nail.

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So how do they get there? By fighting the man. Gjallarhorn’s cocky young commander Orlis swats at the CGS bugs with his mobile suit until he’s challenged by a second, stronger suit, a Gundam, piloted by Mika as the Third Group’s trump card. Mika brings Orlis’ suit down in iconic fashion, creating a symbol of what must be done in order to find that place where the iron-blooded orphans belong.

No doubt Mika, Orga, Biscuit & the rest of CGS’s third group will serve as a vanguard for what will become Aina Bernstein’s Chryse Independence movement. Their deeds will change the history of Mars and will affect the lives of many, from Danji, the would-be rookie hero who got too close to the enemy and paid the ultimate price, to the too-adorable-for-words shop girl who seems to carry a flame for Mika, all the way to the most powerful sniveling old white guys in the galaxy.

I can’t wait to see what comes next.

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