Kageki Shoujo!! – 02 – Sink or Swim

The morning before their first day of actual classes, Ai deigns to attempt to wake Sarasa up…in the gentlest and most ineffectual way possible. But their class rep Sawa personally wakes Sarasa the hell up, because the people they’re facing this morning are far more fearsome than the JSDF: their second-year advisors, AKA “Big Sisters”.

The students of the centennial class have already demonstrated their capacity for ill-natured backbiting, but it’s the same way in the classes above them. We learn that Risa and Hijiri, Sarasa and Ai’s Big Sisters, are bitter rivals who usually hide their contempt for each other behind smiles and niceties.

When Risa flat-out tells Sarasa she’ll never be Lady Oscar, she makes the poor tall girl sob into the floorboards. When she asks why not through the tears, Risa mentions the curse of the tree, and in doing so gives Sarasa all the ammo she needs. If everyone believes the tree is cursed, she’ll just have to prove the curse is fake!

While Risa admires Sarasa’s innocence and drive (as does Sarasa’s childhood friend and kabuki actor-in-training, Akiya), Hijiri reports that “Naracchi” has “zero motivation” for Kouka. But just as Hijiri’s barbs about Risa only being suited for villainess roles have led her to strive towards greatness, she tells Hijiri they can’t know what future winds may lift Ai’s sails.

I can take a stab at the identity of that wind: she’s somewhere around 5’10” with green-tipped twin tails! But it won’t just be Sarasa’s bottomless confidence and enthusiasm gradually wearing down Ai’s apathy: she also isn’t just gong to sit back and take abuse, passive-aggressive or otherwise, from her classmates.

During class introductions (which are wonderful shorthand for the various girls’ personalities) Ai at first gives a curt description of herself, but Kaoru, the big shot legacy musume-yaku-in-waiting says everyone knows “that’s not all”. So Ai stands back up and says she’s there because she was forced to quit JPX48. It’s an important step for Ai standing up for herself against damn fools.

During a tour of backstage, Sarasa sees a dramaticaly-lit door and goes through it, leading to the main stage of the Kouka Revue. Andou-sensei warns her to get off the stage and under no circumstances walk out onto the “Silver Bridge”, the part of the stage where only Kouka’s top stars are permitted to stand.

Sarasa doesn’t break that taboo, but she also takes her sweet time leaving that stage! That’s because as soon as she stands on it, it’s clear she feels she’s where she’s supposed to be. As if by divine providence, a spotlight is cast upon her. Ai can feel that belonging too, dazzled as she is by Sarasa’s stage presence.

Incremental progress is made on several fronts. We’ve got a huge cast of young women, some sympathetic, some clearly villains, and some who are just kind of there. But as long as the spotlight stays on Sarasa and Ai most of the time, I’ll be a happy camper. As Ai’s stalker arrives in Kobe, we’ll likely learn next week how close he ends up getting to Ai, how she deals with that, and where Sarasa (or other classmates) might factor into the forthcoming confrontation.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

DanMachi III – 12 (Fin) – The Hero (and the Status Quo) Returns

As Asterius walks along Daedalus Street in search of the “ultimate adversary” of his dreams, Hermes clarifies his request for the Xenos to “die”. Rather, he’ll need some of them to die by Bell’s hands, so that Bell’s honor and reputation can be restored. Whatever else Hermes is planning, Bell continuing to be the beloved Little Rookie is a big part of it.

Gros and three others decide to acquiesce to Hermes’ request, and make a big show of attacking a square full of civilians and adventurers. With this “stage production”, Hermes is conceding that Ouranos’ desire for humans and monsters to achieve piece was little more than a pipe dream. He just can’t see thousands of years of continuous enmity ever ceasing.

The moment Eina is threatened by Gros (who I believe is being berserk-ified by Asfi), Bell comes between them, and Gros’ inner voice hopes Bell will defeat him before he kills her. But Bell isn’t altogether interested in playing the exact role Hermes laid out for him.

Rather than raise his blade to Gros, he simply puts his arms up and serves as Eina’s human shield. Gros ends up shoving him back. That’s when a frustrated Hermes has Asfi berserk-ify Asterius, who flies at Bell like a bat out of hell and presses a vicious, building-smashing attack.

Bell somehow manages to hang in there, and DanMachi’s Big Battle Theme starts to play as their epic duel carries through the night and into the dawn. Unfortunately, while the battle is quick, brutal, and fun, it also can’t really hold a T to Bell’s duel with Ais. In addition to Ais being easier on the eyes, it was more satisfying on both a thematic and character level.

Asterius’ whole deal is that Bell apparently beat him once, and he wanted another shot at him, and…that’s it. Everyone else allows the battle to unfold without interruption in part due to Ottarl, operating on Freya’s wishes. Asterius ends up delivering a huge defeat to Bell, and even though the battle served a purpose—both to rehabilitate his public image and serve as cover for the Xenos’ escape—Bell is still super upset about losing.

Satisfied that their head-to-head record stands at one win and one loss apiece, Asterius withdraws. We later see his arm is restored, as Fels heals all of the Xenos injuries once they arrive in Knossos. Wiene is happy where she is and not crying over missing Bell, and the Xenos have a new haven in which to survive and maybe even thrive…just separately from humans for the foreseeable future.

I can’t help but be a little disappointed that more effort wasn’t spent trying to move the peace process forward, but at least from Bell’s perspective part of the reason that process failed was he just wasn’t strong enough. Even though he beat Bell, Asterius isn’t standing still, and continues training the moment he’s healed.

Bell too returns to the battlements of the castle where he and Ais have met and trained so many times, and is surprised when she too arrives at that spot, telling him she had a feeling he’d be there. Bell asks Ais once more to teach him how to fight. He wants to become stronger, and their friendship remains strong enough to have survived the recent adversity.

91 Days – 12 (Fin)

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With Avilio’s grand revenge plan all but complete (but for Nero), this final episode is not a lot more than an extended epilogue in which the remainder of the Vanettis are wiped out, Avilio is captured by Nero, and the two kind of dance around each other until Nero finally does what he needs to do.

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I’ll be honest: I’ve never been fully emotionally invested in any of the characters, even Avilio, and was never all that big a fan of Nero, so watching all of the underlings, whom I often couldn’t tell apart from each other, was a bit of a bore. Not to mention the tommy guns in this show were way too reliable (not a serious criticism, just sayin’).

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I’ve also expected for a while now that Avilio would eventually end up succeeding but feeling utterly unfulfilled, in the same way Vincent was when he killed the Lagusas seven years ago, so the campfire confrontation isn’t all that impactful. These are two people who have been set up from the start to be unhappy and alone, and they’ve done too much to each other for there to be any outcome but one or both of them ending up dead.

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The bottom line: any and all hope this show had was wiped out back when Avilio killed Corteo, believing that last shedding of his humanity would be worth it, but it wasn’t. Avilio and Nero have a pleasant final road trip to the seaside, but only Nero gets back in the car and drives away, and we have no reason to believe he’ll be alive long with the new Don Strega and the long arm of the Galassias after him.

As their two pairs of footsteps are washed away by the waves, the lesson of 91 Days is clear: if you’re going to kill a family in a mafia coup, make sure you get all that family’s members. Nero can blame Avilio all he likes, but it was his nervousness/mercy that kept Angelo alive, leading to a life spent—wasted—planning only revenge.

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91 Days – 11

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Avilio’s time in Chicago was productive; he was able to strike a deal with the Galassias – just not the one Nero thought. Don Galassia takes a shine to Avilio, as the capable inside man who could help him get rid of the Vanettis.

But it’s also painfully evident that killing Corteo took a bigger chunk of Avilio’s soul than most of the killings. He’s barely keeping it together, catching glimpses of Corteo’s ghost off in the distance.

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The stage for the final act of Avilio’s revenge couldn’t be more appropriate: the grand opening of Vincent’s opera house in Lawless. One gets the feeling like Vincent is willing himself to stay alive just to get to this evening. Little does he know Avilio has been looking forward to the evening just as much, if not more.

Avilio, Ganzo, Don Galassia and his nephew Strega all know the game plan, but things don’t go according to that plan, as Del Toro takes longer to bring down and Barbero gets wise to Avilio’s treachery.

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It matters not, as Ganzo is able to free Avilio, killing Barbero in the process, and give Avilio a free path to Vincent and Don Galassia’s royal box, even as Nero is running off to stop a potential sniper all the way on the other side of the theater.

Avilio manages to do worse than simply kill Vincent: he kills Don Galassia, which is a death sentence to the entire Vanetti family. Strega takes out Ganzo, leaving Strega, Avilio, Nero…and not many others still alive.

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Avilio is pretty happy with how things worked out, as he sits in an alley as sirens blare. The Vanettis have lost everything, just as he did the night his family was taken. But the cost is high, and his decision to kill Don Galassia made him an enemy of Strega, who finds him in the alley. Is he there to thank Avilio for getting his uncle out of the way for him, or to kill him for it?

While the animation continues to be a serious liability, the overall experience this week was some thrilling and heart-wrenching mob drama. Avilio did most of what he set out to do, but he’s even more of a wreck than when he first got that letter. All of this, like Vincent’s murder of his family, might end up being for nothing.

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