Hibike! Euphonium 2 – 07

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As BSG’s President Roslin said, “Alright…Next Crisis!” Kumiko may be dealing with a widening rift between her and her sister, but that takes a backseat to a more pressing issue that affects the entire band. It’s also the reason we’ve gotten so many close-ups of Asuka’s sadface: her mom is making her resign.

Taki-sensei refuses, but after her mom slaps her (an incident Kumiko happens to witness), the mother and daughter go home, and Asuka returns to school bright and cheery like nothing happened, she just plain stops showing up to band practice.

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The sudden loss of Asuka, and all the swirling rumors about it, instantly, negatively affects the band’s performance in practice on the eve of a very public performance at a big train station. Taki is not pleased with this, and basically peaces out and leaves President Haruka to deal with it (which is the right move to make, rather than continue trying to focus a clearly rattled band).

Haruka steps up to the plate (well, the lectern), and performs admirably, telling the band, essentially, that all this time they’ve built up Asuka as someone “special” and irreplaceable; but that’s not really the case. And now it’s up to them to support her for once, by bearing down and putting on a show they, and she, can be proud of, in hopes she comes back. That’s all they can do.

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The day of the station gig, sure enough, Asuka is there with a bright smile, ready to see what the band can do in her absence. Haruka wrests control of a massive, unwieldy baritone sax and belts out a badass solo. Taki suggested the solo to “shake things up”, and it worked: the performance boosts the president’s and band’s confidence as the Nationals draw nearer.

Asuka’s future with the band is still unclear, but the band will survive. As for Mamiko, there’s something very foreboding about the episode ending with her putting on her shoes and walking out the door of her family’s home.

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Aldnoah.Zero – 17

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This episode was titled “Dawn of Intrigue: The Turning Wheel”, and not for nothing. A/Z went into full-on Space Opera Mode this week, as in a soap opera in a sci-fi setting. The enjoyment you derived from this episode depends on how much you like this kind of thing: beautiful people wearing their hearts on their sleeve, clashing plots and motivations, intrigue, betrayal, tests, tears…all delivered with a slightly amplified emotional intensity.

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I for one enjoyed it immensely. For all the lack of physical action, this episode kept me happy with ample duels of wits and wills everywhere you look, and a number of character expressions oozing with depth, starting with Rayet’s look when she’s locking Count Mazuurek away.

Yuki finally tracks down Inaho and asks her straight up why he’s come back to the Deucalion. She became a soldier to protect him, but she can’t very well do that when he’s a soldier too. But he tells his sister he knows Seylum—the real Seylum—is still alive. She tried to help him, and now he’s going to help her. It’s a simple as that. If Yuki has to find a new reason to fight, that’s her problem.

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Frankly, of the two Kaizukas, Inaho is the more resourceful and versatile soldier, which he proves in his talk with Mazuurek, during which we hear my favorite musical theme from the first season for the first time in the second.

It’s well-placed here, as Inaho steadily brings the arrogant count around to his line of thinking, not with brainwashing, but just by knowing and saying the right things at the right time. As Inaho puts it so eloquently, a man who doesn’t look or sound at all like a man who would sell out his country is the perfect man to ask.

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Meanwhile, Slaine is a little drunk on power, as he’s already using visual aids from David Attenborough’s The Life of Birds in his monologues to his audience of one (Eddelrittuo, unless Asseylum can hear him in that tube). He talks about flightless birds (like he used to be) being well suited to survival without flight, and the pity that must be bestowed upon birds who can fly but are placed in cages.

While Slaine is partly correct that birds are put in cages “because they are so beautiful”, in Lemrina’s case she’s a bird in a cage because she is the key to Slaine’s power. Right now, she’s feeling restless, useless (or at least under-utilized), and in the dark about far too much.

She hoped for an equal partnership, but she just feels used right now…and she’s not entirely incorrect, because at the end of the day, she is not the princess Slaine is most intent on protecting. If the real Asseylum wakes up, Slaine will have another key, a no need for Lemrina.

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When Rayet hears that Inaho is interrogating the count, she comes down to offer her own two cents and proceeds to have all her buttons pushed by said count. Inaho gets her out of there, but Rayet’s point is that she’s no different than that count, or Saazbaum, or any other Martian, which is why she’ll always hate them, and herself. Inaho thinks otherwise, and is prepared to prove it.

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Lemrina uses Count Marylcian’s desire to speak with her (believing she’s Asseylum) as an in to the intrigue she’s been missing out on, and also to assert her authority; with Asseylum in a coma, she is the senior member of royalty in orbit. She avails herself of that fact, granting Marylcian an audience, and the wheels start to turn…against Slaine.

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For one brief moment I thought Mazuurek had broken out on his own, but then I realized that was unlikely after they had given him a full body search. When Rayet is the first person he encounters, I thought for another brief moment that Rayet was going back to the side she hated to punish herself, or something.

Then we see Inaho is in on it, and it’s all clear: Inaho knows Mazuurek wants to preserve Earth at all costs, so after convincing him Asseylum is an impostor, he sets him free, where he can be far more effective than if he remained a captive, because he can find out where Asseylum is, keep her safe, and learn what Slaine is up to. It seems mutually beneficial. Mazuurek seems sincere in his interest in earth beyond conquest; we’ll see if he honors the agreement.

But Inaho also involved Rayet, who’d be alone with the count as part of the plan, and thus in a position to kill one of the Martians she hates so much, like she tried to kill Asseylum many moons ago. She doesn’t, and that, to Inaho, says that despite what she says, she’s not the same person she was, and she’s not someone to be hated.

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So Slaine should expect Mazuurek to invite himself over at some point, he already finds himself outmaneuvered by Count Marylcian, who arrives at the base with Cuont Barouhcruz to challenge Slaine to a duel. There’s so much win in this entire situation, what with Lemrina, the scorned princess reduced to Slaine’s pawn, believing she’s controlling this chess game as Queen now.

But she could just as likely have fallen for Marylcian egging her on about being a caged bird, as I seriously doubt Marylcian cares about her beyond how much power he can gain by being her Royal Guard. Heck, he doesn’t even know she’s an impostor; I wonder how he’d react to learning he’d booted out the earth mongrel to take his place protecting a bastard princess.

Like sand through the hourglass…

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Aldnoah.Zero – 16

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Oho…A/Z straight up brought it this week. Not to be outdone by Durarara!!’s best episode to date, it fielded its best as well. I held back a 10 last week purely due to the pure dumb (non-Kuma) shock from the suddenness of what had unfolded. This episode had no such shortcomings, and not only had time for a decent amount of well-paced, efficient action, but also time and room to paint some nice character strokes.

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That started with Inaho’s sister and guardian Yuki, whom we’d only seen in flashback form when she accidentally discovered Inaho could activate Aldnoah cores. That turned out to be a curse for a big sister, or any parent figure, for that matter, as his new ability meant things were only going to get harder for him as the earth leans more and more heavily upon him. She feels that again when he wakes up in the hospital.

Like us, Yuki thinks it’s all just too much for one young lad to bear, to say nothing of the strategic vulnerabilities of staking all your hopes to one prized thoroughbred. But her mothering ended up getting her separated from Inaho and reassigned to the Gulf of Aden, along with Marito. When news comes that the Deucalion is coming to port, the tee-totaling Marito declines Calvados, but Yuki drowns her tea in it. Being Inaho’s family is a stressful thing.

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Speaking of bearing burdens, Count Slaine is enjoying a brief honeymoon free of criticism from other counts who find it distasteful to gang up on him while Vers is still mourning the loss of Saazbaum, who despite his later decisions remains well-regarded in the empire. Slaine doesn’t just inherit his lands, titles, and equipment, but guardianship of Princess Asseylum, as well as the care of Princess Lemrina.

Lemrina tells Slaine she was the product of an affair by her father on the Moon, which is now in tatters. The only one who came to her aid was Saazbaum, and while she will never know his true intentions, she cannot deny that he owes her, as well as whomever succeeds him. She’s no Lady MacBeth—yet—but Lemrina and Slaine have the makings of an epic power couple. And at this point, Lemrina would really prefer if her sister never wakes up.

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Things seem calm and leisurely on the UE side as the Deucalion prepares to return to the surface, but Slaine wastes no time making his next move. He knows it’s only a matter of time before other counts start to move against him (we see two of those dandy counts indeed planning to accuse him of killing Saazbaum), but he also knows simply destroying them will accomplish nothing.

Instead, he will wrap himself in the very glory and honor of Vers: “The key is to show yourself to be so superior that they will not defy you in the first place.” This is Slaine at the top of his game, focused and merciless, and prepared to use any and all of the considerable resources he has come into to reach his goals.

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The same sentiment about demonstrating overwhelming superiority in order to crush your foes’ spirits is what fuels Count Mazuurek, who is one of the counts who wants to avoid unnecessary destruction and death so as many as the earth’s resources are preserved. He has been convinced/nudged into attacking Aden by his fellow counts Marylcian and Barouhcruz, and his victory is meant as the foundation for a coalition they mean to build against Slaine.

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They fail miserably, because as awesome as Mazuurek’s Gravity-Tornado Kataphrakt is, he’s only focused on the forces in front of him, not the battleship directly above him in low earth orbit, where Inaho disables him with one shot.

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Marito is able to distract him the proper amount of time because he’s able to overcome the traumatic flashbacks. Where they used to cause him to freeze up and become useless in battle, now they seem to fire him up. Souma believes that’s worth some celebratory hooch.

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But because Inaho and the Deucalion helped Marito and Yuki out, Trident Base was left unprotected. This wasn’t necessarily a foolish choice under the circumstances, as it was believed an attack would be highly unlikely so soon after the last battle, especially with the huge debris field to contend with.

But the UE brass probably weren’t thinking that someone like Slaine would pilot the Tharsis through the debris and blow up transport shuttles packed with the brim with munitions as they were in the process of docking. By the time the Deucalion hears of the attack, the base has been obliterated.

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Slaine returns to base triumphant, and one by one, everyone, aristocrat and mechanic alike, salute him, for doing what he set out to do, and doing it brilliantly. Not only did he deal a serious blow to the enemy and make them feel weak and helpless than ever, but he headed off any potential moves against him by his cowardly fellow counts. The mangy cur has become a wolf, and they can no longer touch him and come away unscathed.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Slaine’s troubles are over—far from it—but he’s in a far stronger position now than he was at the beginning of the episode, and he knows it. Bravo, Slaine. You are doing all the heavy lifting and power consolidation, while Inaho is content with small operations.

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…Or is he? Frankly, I think that Inaho would prefer not to do any of the shit he’s had to do. He does it because he’s the only one who can, and because he can’t close his eyes and will the war away. He, his friends, and his planet’s existence is at stake, so as always, he will try to use what he has to make a difference, and step up his game when necessary. And Inaho doesn’t complain or hesitate, even for a second.

He discovers pretty quickly that his nemesis is responsible for Trident’s fall, which he admits has forced his hand. I’m glad the gloves are coming off, but has Slaine progressed too far for Inaho to ever hope to catch up?

I’m gonna say no. And that can only mean good things for this show moving forward.

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Stray Observations:

  • I have to mention Sawao Hiroyuki’s musical contributions to this show, which hit new heights of awe and cinematic grandeur this week, particularly in the scene between Slaine and Lemrina, and his triumphant return to base.
  • Yuki’s reunion with Inko, Rayet, Nina and Calm is a sweet little scene I’m glad was included.
  • Along with the drinking scenes, that reunion was proof that even in an episode and a show packed with Huge Events, it doesn’t forget about the little moments.
  • The episode’s title is “Soldier’s Pay,” with significant scenes of Yuki and Marito. Marito’s “pay” are his dark memories he must make work for him; Yuki’s “pay” is her beloved little brother she’d tried so hard to protect. But consider what they’re both buying: Not just survival or pride, but freedom and victory over Vers. If Inaho pans out.