Juuni Taisen – 09

When we begin Aira Kanae’s backstory, she’s just an ordinary high schooler riding her bike to the dojo…but she’s too good. She surpasses everyone, and becomes head of the Aira-style school, and is put to work as a warrior. The practicalities of a hand-combat specialist in bullet and grenade-strewn war zones escaped me, but apparently she’s just that damn good.

The hypocrisy of the war-torn world starts to weigh on Kanae, until she finds that drinking lets her forget so she can move forward and kill more efficiently and viciously. She engages in each successive battle drunker and drunker.

She’s kicked out of her dojo for abandoning the teachings. Heck, she abandons everything, including her humanity, and reason, all to become an unstoppable raging beast—the Tora of the present. But I’ll admit: watching Kanae drink, kill, and repeat got a bit repetitive (even if that was kinda the point).

I can’t say I got a whole lot out of her backstory, aside from the fact that she can only be an effective warrior by killing her brain cells. She also doesn’t seem to have a wish in mind after victory.

Tora remains in a temporary alliance with Ushii (Ox) this week as they face off against Zombie Snake and Zombie Dragon. Oh yeah, Usagi used Sharyu to propel himself into the sky and kill Dragon, then make him another member of his little team. So while there are only two twins, it’s essentially four-on-one against Tiger and Ox.

The resulting battle has some of the smoothest and most interesting motion to date, though it’s pretty clear when the characters are drawn and when they’re CGI models. Still, the battle looks great, even if it only lasts a few moments, as Tora busts open Dragon’s tank of liquid nitrogen, which takes out both Dragon and Snake…at last.

That leaves Usagi on his own against Tora and Ushii, and they charge at him and appear to tear him to pieces…but I’m not convinced he’s dead by a long shot. He must have something up his sleeve, as well as a reason he didn’t involve the very capable Zombie Sharyu in this encounter. Indeed, his red eyes may indicate he himself was never “alive” to begin with.

Of course, Tora and Ushii believe he’s dead, which is dumb, and prepare to duel one another. It doesn’t help these purported elite warriors’ credibility to have such gaping blind spots all the time. As for Rat, the last character shown in the end credits, he’s still alive, somewhere. Could he end up being the last warrior standing?

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Juuni Taisen – 08

Juuni Taisen finds itself at the bottom of the Fall 2017 barrel, and while that’s due in part to an overall above-average season, it’s also due to the show’s own up-and-down, variable quality.

When there’s an interesting warrior’s story being told parallel to the present events of the battle, it’s a good watch. But when present events are halted in order to deliver even more backstory on the Tatsumi Brothers, who are boring…it’s a bit harder to get through.

In this interminable outing, there’s another “flashback-within-the-flashback” as the brothers are put on trial (in what looks like the Supreme Court) for acting far beyond their purview as warriors.

The defense (which Dragon provides himself, but seems to include two of the judges?) note that they’ve done a fair bit of Robin Hood-style stealing from the rich to give to the poor, and even sponsored a little kid by funding the procedure to restore his sight, only to kill his big brother on an evidence and witness-liquidation mission.

Neither the trial nor the events it covers really tell us anything new about the Tatsumi Brothers. Even when they’re doing good deeds, it’s basically for the same reason they pull off heists: to kill time. These guys don’t really seem to have any real motivation in life, except to stay occupied.

We only get about five minutes of time in the present, during which Ox’s saber sparks ignite Tiger’s alcoholic mouth-foam (no one has ever combined those eight words before), and Ox learns Zombie Snake can be killed with fire. The brief Ox-Tiger alliance proves successful, though Ox promises a proper duel with her at a later date.

Meanwhile, high above the fray, Dragon seems to be preparing to team up with his brother Snake one last time (despite dead Snake being loyal Usagi now), hoping he’ll destract the others while he prepares a “memorial” for him, which I assume will involve Dragon’s signature ice.

Unfortunately, most of this episode felt like filler.  I await the backstories of Ox and Tiger, which will hopefully be both more interesting and less long-winded.

Juuni Taisen – 07

We finally get a bit of story on Snake and Dragon, the only two warriors who came into the Juuni Taisen as a built-in pair of allies, at least until only the two of them were left. The older Dragon is more serious and into hacking, while the younger Snake has a little less caution and prefers to do the smash-and-grabbing.

When the two learn they’ll be in the Taisen, fighting in a battle where there is only one person left standing, they’re…mostly fine with it? I guess? I mean, neither seemed interested in going against the path laid out for them. Of course, we learn that being matched pair going into the battle meant absolutely nothing against the psychotic Usagi.

If Dragon can barely muster a shrug at the death of his younger brother, um…why should I? These two are probably the most boring of the twelve warriors.

Sharyu is more interesting even as the undead servant of a necromantist, as Usagi has her collect the expired Uuma from the bank vault, likely to make yet another servant. He’s really running the table here.

Tiger’s talents seem to include being able to consume an infinite amount of alcohol (though we don’t get her story this week) and striking how and when her opponent least expects it, owing to her drunken-fist style.

In this case, her opponent is the headless Snake. She easily snatches his fuel tanks from him, and then…starts drinking them. Why she just assumed it was potable alcohol (and not de-natured or, worse, gasoline) I don’t know, but perhaps she could smell the difference?

Ox drops in on the headless, tankless, and one armless Snake…and then takes his other arm, and threatens to take his legs too. Why the “genius of slaughter” is being so sporting with a corpse is a bit beyond me; all he does is make himself a sitting duck for the instance when Snake’s disembodied arms fly out from the darkness and put a choke hold on both Ox and Tiger.

Ox ignites Tiger’s flammable mouth foam, seemingly incapacitating the Snake but also seemingly burning Tiger. And above it all, watching closely, is Dragon, still alive, but not seen since the opening meeting.

At this point, I’m starting to wonder if anyone will be able to succeed against Usagi, his growing legion of corpse friends, and his bottomless bag of underhanded tricks.

Juuni Taisen – 06

It’s a pretty good bet that anyone who gets a backstory on this show will probably be the next one to die. The last two weeks we got the stories of Monkey and Sheep, and get Horse’s this week. By episode’s end all three have bought the farm, just when all three are confident they have things well in hand.

Sharyu, a master of martial arts, doesn’t see anything particularly challenging about Usagi’s way of fighting…until it’s too late, and he seemingly uses a master-level move for the first time. But Usagi doesn’t have eyes in the back of his head, he has the head of Snake up in a tree watching his back. Very slick. I’m sure we can expect Usagi to use Sharyu’s corpse to add to his zombie support group.

Like Sharyu, Hitsujii approaches Tora and thinks she’s weak and not a threat to him. After all, she’s just lounging around getting sloshed. Little does he know she’s a famous “drunken master”, despite her looks, and wastes no time killing him while his guard is down. With six warriors now dead, the bidding is open for the faceless rich people to choose who will win; an aspect of the show that remains the least interesting.

Then there’s Uuma, Warrior of the Horse. He survived Ox’s onslaught thanks to his life of making his body an impenetrable suit of armor, but has lost the will to fight and holes up in a super-secure bank vault.

Nezumi, being a rat, is still able to slip in, and hides there for a moment from the pursuing Zombie Snake. Nezumi warns Uuma that the vault is no longer safe, and simply surviving is the same as being dead, but Uuma pays him no mind.

Still, the Rat’s words irk Horse, who gets so lost in his thoughts by the time he realizes Snake is burning down the entire bank with him in it, it’s too late; his body can handle the heat, but there’s no oxygen to feed that body.

Assuming he doesn’t survive (though he’s a tough dude; who knows), that leaves five warriors: Rat, Tiger, Dragon, Rabbit…and Ox, with six episodes remaining. All in all, an efficient, focused, and satisfying outing to mark the halfway point.

 

Juuni Taisen – 05

Juuni Taisen has so far worked best when it’s focused—say on one character or one battle. This week gets off to an uninspiring start involving a big meeting room full of literally faceless VIPs and a unsolicited speech by Duo-whasisface.

He says the Zodiac War is a proxy for far costlier global conflict, but I’m not buying it; there’s clearly plenty of war in this world, both that which Monkey cannot prevent through negotiation and in which all of the other warriors fight when they’re not in a battle royale.

The “no betting until half the field is gone” rule made no sense to me either. In a a horse race, every horse is bet on, not just the half of the field that pulls ahead halfway in. This was just needless babbling that took me away from the actual battle, involving nobody I cared about.

Next up is the start of the much-anticipated duel between Usagi and Sharyu, which turns out to be a bit of a stalemate, as every blow or zombi bird Usagi sends Sharyu’s way is parried or otherwise countered, as Sharyu continues to ask Usagi to reconsider her offer of cooperation. I know she’s Monkey, but I fear she’s barking up the wrong tree.

Unfortunately, her fight with Usagi not only comes to any kind of resolution, but what we do see of it comes in fits and spurts, constantly interrupted by the episode’s A-plot involving Sheep, his backstory, and his plan for victory involving partnering with mid-level warriors (unaware of who has died besides Snake).

Bouncing between his admittedly impressive tale of his life as a warrior (including fighting a previous Juuni Taisen aboard a space station—why couldn’t we watch that?) and the Sharyu-Usagi duel serves neither storyline. I fail to see why they had to be intertwined in this way rather than have one flow into the other.

Much of Sheep’s time is spent looking at and sorting toy versions of the animals that represent the other warriors. Considering the thrust of the duel happening concurrently, it almost feels like stalling, especially when he’s working with less info than we have regarding the remaining players.

As if the episode weren’t packed enough, we have the subplots of Nezumi being chased by Zombie Snake (great band name, BTW) and Ox resuming his battle with Horse, which he presumably left temporarily to kill Niwatori, and can saunter right back and continue wailing on Horse because Ox is just badass like that.

It’s just another case of staggering the storylines for little to no narrative gain.

We’ve now gone two episodes without anyone else being killed, adding to a sense of stagnation throughout the episode. Nezumi and Sharyu may as well be running/fighting in circles. When Ox suddenly comes after Sheep, Sheep withdraws, and the first warrior he encounters turns out to be Tiger, ranked the weakest (and likely tied for the most scantily-clad with Usagi).

The way this episode ended—with everything just kind of pausing in the middle—was more frustrating than satisfying. I look forward to learning more about the next warrior next week, and I’m really not opposed to the show mixing things up or jumping from warrior to warrior within an episode…just not for its own sake.

There’s a right and wrong way to doing these things, and it wasn’t done quite right this week.

Juuni Taisen – 04

Only a quarter into Juuni Taisen, at least four warriors had fallen (we learn Horse may still be alive; maybe Ox left his fight with him to take care of Niwatori last week). This week, we get Monkey/Sharyu’s backstory, indicating she may be next.

But she’s not…at least not this week. The four front-loaded kills so far give the show a chance to slow down and paint the picture of who the Warrior of the Monkey is, where she comes from, and why she does what she does.

Yuuki Misaki, as she is also known, was trained by a triad of monkey elders who never argue in the art of changing the state of whatever she wills. While that’s demonstrated as turning stone to sand, she uses her skills to turn war into peace.

Responsible for hundreds of ceasefires and prevented civil wars, Sharyu can honestly state she may well have saved more people than anyone else in the world. Nezumi at least knows her as this, and even believes it was Sharyu’s unblinking optimism that “weakened” Niwatori to her death.

On the flip side, having saved so many means she’s also failed to save more than anyone else alive. Things don’t always go as she plans, and the result is often bloodshed and other atrocities, in some cases more intense then had she not intervened or held negotiations.

What does she do? Well, Misaki doesn’t seem to blame or torture herself, for one. She takes the defeats in stride, along with the victories. She retires to her perfectly normal home life with her husband, who wishes she’d just give up the fight and live a full life with him. Misaki understands, but makes it clear: he knows what he got into, and if he truly loves her, he must fight his own battle as she fights hers.

Back in the present, after scolding Nezumi to not “sell platitudes short, little boy” (he thinks she’s a naive idealist, but she thinks he’s naive, since he’s seen so much less of the world than she has), Sharyu spots a zombie bird; necromanced by Usagi along with all the other birds Niwatori killed last week. The flock chases Sharyu and Nezumi, forcing them to the surface.

Waiting there is Usagi, proving Niwatori right in her assertion he and Ox are the most dangerous warriors. Were it not for Sharyu’s quick reflexes, mobility, and speed, Zombie Snake would have sliced her in two as soon as she emerged from the manhole.

Instead, Nezumi takes on Snake while Sharyu accepts Usagi’s challenge. She may be a pacifist, but she’ll fight if she must, and she really must here. Will Usagi’s reign of terror continue? Will Sharyu and Nezumi end up as macabre additions to Usagi’s collection of zombie thralls? Or is there hope, however small, that Sharyu can end the fighting with words? If anyone pull it off, it’s her. On the other hand, Usagi’s pretty psycho…

Juuni Taisen – 03

Is it just me, or have the POV warriors gotten progressively more interesting with each episode? After Boar and Dog, we now learn more about Chicken (Niwatori), who had spent last week showing Dog one side only to turn on him and show her true one.

Niwatori’s childhood was…rough, to put it comically mildly. We find her where the cops do: malnourished and filthy in an apartment filled with garbage and blood. It’s not her blood; it’s that of her parent(s), which, considering her “pecking” specialty, she killed by repeatedly pecking bits out of hem with an egg topper.

Her own memories of this time are quite foggy; she spent some time at a facility after a hospital visit, and after regaining her physical health, she was adopted by the Niwa family, whose matriarch was interested in utilizing her special ability to speak to birds.

They trained her into a soldier and assassin who can hide in plain sight and deceived and betrayed so many people, she had no idea who was a friend or enemy.

Back in the present, Niwatori has successfully fooled Dog unto his death, and makes quick work of Zombie Boar with a swarm of birds under her control, who peco their prey to pieces and pick flesh from bone.

Feeling peckish herself, Niwatori enters a convenience store and encounters Rat, who has no quarrel with her, and leads her to the sewers to meet Monkey.

Niwatori finds herself unusually affected, even moved by Shuryuu’s seemingly catch-less kindness and earnestness, and believes Dog’s One Man Army poison has heightened her emotions as well as her body.

Even though she finds herself perfectly capable of killing Monkey and Rat right there and then, and knows that is the best course of action to ensure victory in the Zodiac War, she just…can’t do it. She withdraws…and when she does, she’s so busy cursing herself for making such a dumb move, she doesn’t realize Ox is right there, ready to kill her.

Naturally, because Niwatori is the POV character this week, she has to die, and she’s not even the first warrior Ox kills this week (that honor goes to Horse, whom we don’t learn much about before his demise).

Still, she faces her imminent death standing tall, with a defiant look in her eye, and after sacrificing so many of her beloved birds to defeat Zombie Boar, there’s a poetry to her giving up her body to feed still more of those birds.

I won’t say that she came out of the hell of her childhood—in which she was no doubt pecked away at to the brink of death—to live a life of honor or morality. Indeed, she saw herself as an instrument—another weapon in the Niwa family’s arsenal—and little else.

We don’t know what wish she’d have asked for had she won the Zodiac War. But I will say that for the brief time I got to know her, I emphasized and liked Niwatori, and the show feels a little smaller without her, as I’m sure it will continue to feel as more POV characters meet their maker.

Alderamin on the Sky – 12

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Another solid episode follows last week’s, as Ikta’s thankless task to clean up the horrific mess General Safida created continues. During a brief respite in the action, Nana engages with Suya, offering her both her arms if it will set things right.

It doesn’t, because Suya doesn’t want Nana’s legs chopped off. In an episode where several characters work to relieve burdens from their comrades and/or friends, Sazaluf clarifies that Suya didn’t kill anyone; he did, with his orders to them.

He, in turn, doesn’t share the entire burden of responsibility, since he too has superiors. But when the guy at the top—Safida—doesn’t know what he’s doing and does everything wrong (and for the wrong reasons), it undermines the entire system.

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Torway has grown these last twelve episodes, and he believes he can help relieve some of the burden Ikta carries once Sazaluf all but hands over command of the operation to him.

Ikta is up to it—indeed, it’s where he should have been all along—but even for Ikta, up against someone he hasn’t ruled out being the real genius of his generation, this is a desperate situation, and the margin of error on the Imperial side continues to narrow.

It’s nice to see even the Kiokans know and respect what it means to be of the Igsem family. But this week we see the beginning of the end of their hegemony on the battlefield.

The mission Torway undertakes is air rifle-on-air rifle, from a great distance. Many died repelling the would-be ambush, but not a single blade touched blood. It’s interesting, though that the leader of the “Ghosts” laments it has to be this way; that things can’t be settled in a duel with Yatori.

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It’s telling that Yatori and her unit didn’t have much to do today, another day when the primacy of The Sword dwindled a little bit more. It’s all but snuffed out along with Ikta’s entire strategy when Jean deploys explosive cannons for long-range bombardment, jeopardizing the entire enterprise with two days remaining.

Ikta doesn’t care all that much about the Igsem star falling as the Remion light rises. To him, the greatest burden out of any of their circle is borne by Yatori, even if she won’t admit it. And he makes it clear everything he’s done since joining the military (against his mom’s wishes) was to lessen her burdens, and make that broken promise more forgivable.

In other words, Yatori is not just Ikta’s other hand, but his muse as well, driving him to find an ideal future. But in the present, Jean is advancing, once again changing the rules. If they’re going to survive the next two days, they’ll have to adapt even more, while never losing sight of a future where, at least, they get the hell out of there in one piece.

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Alderamin on the Sky – 11

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Jean Arquinex appears far more frequently this week, but the episode remains at heart The Ikta Show, as even Jean concedes, though he doesn’t know the “brilliant general” he’s up against is only a first lieutenant. Presented with a mind equal to his own and with far inferior numbers, Ikta himself begins to doubt if he’s really his generation’s greatest hero, or if the “bloom is about to come off the rose.”

His inner thoughts, and his own doubting voice whispering inside is his head, are the latest in this show’s consistently successful efforts to humanize and deepen Ikta’s character. When he unwittingly tells the voice to shut up out loud (in earshot of Suya), Ikta snaps back into serious Strategy Mode. That voice inside may wonder if his plans will succeed this time, but it’s not going to stop him from carrying it out.

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When the Aldera army sends units down a narrow path, Ikta & Co. are ready, but they’re only 600 Imperials and 120 Sinack against 10,000; even slowing down such a force is a tall order, and one not without costs. When the Aldera put up barricades, Yatori and Nana agree that they have to go out and take them down.

Ikta lets Yatori’s unit and Nana’s Sinack detachment across the wall, but they suffer numerous casualties when Jean’s air rifle units open fire. Instead of letting the units get mopped up, Ikta decides to go out himself with everything they’ve got in order to protect the wounded before retreating.

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It’s a bold move, with Ikta and Yatori fighting back to back and working as one unit, and in the end, the Sinack and Yatori’s wounded are evacuated successfully. Ikta has a huge fire hit behind their retreat to seal the path, buying a little more time.

Jean is impressed by the enemy commander desperately making shrewd, effective moves to forestall Aldera’s advance. Suya, who loses two valued comrades, isn’t as enamored. She doesn’t see why they had to give their lives so the Sinack they were killing just days ago could live.

What kicks this episode from an 8 to a 9 was the ensuing exchange, which played out like, well, a play, with the stage populated by Ikta, Nana, Suya, Haro, and eventually, Yatori, who claims it is she, not Ikta, who should bear responsibility for the casualties incurred.

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Yatori asserts that Ikta ordered the charge because he knew she’d charge anyway to save her allies (a term she doesn’t take lightly). She also points out that feelings cannot interfere with a soldier’s duty. When Suya asks if Yatori would kill Ikta, I already knew the answer was yes before she opened her mouth, but she still said it in a very cool way (“That question is 300 years too late.”)

That cold assertion hangs in the air after Suya runs off, leaving Ikta to ask what would have to happen for her to actually be able to kill him if ordered to do so (though the word Ikta uses, is when). Yatori replies that she’d have to utterly destroy…Yatori first; leaving only the Igsem steel behind. It would be Igsem, not Yatori, killing him.

Ikta then tells her until the moment he died he’d think of nothing but how he’d lost her, bringing a tear to Haro’s eye (and almost one to mine as well). So if Ikta was to die, she’d die too, and she’d die first. That’s some heavy shit right there, and yet another layer to the already wonderfully rich, dense relationship that has been carefully built between Ikta and Yatori.

Things are desperate right now; the victories available are small and costly. But I know who I want eventually coming out on top, and it ain’t Jean Arquinex. So I have to believe Ikta, with Yatori, Nana, and everyone else’s help, will find a way.

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Alderamin on the Sky – 10

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This tenth Alderamin begins with a flashback from nine years ago, and the show is hardly timely in revealing that the fiery Sinack chieftain Nanaku Daru was childhood friends with Ikta.

It’s also hardly subtle in juxtaposing her paying a visit to Ikta’s bedroom of her own free will—but too young to know the true reason woman would do such a thing—with the present, where she suddenly finds herself in a huge heap of trouble, surrounded by three enemy soldiers who plan to rape her.

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Who comes to her rescue in the nick of time but her old friend Ikta, whom she doesn’t yet recognize? Ikta is pissed, not being one to suffer “beasts.” Nanaku is taken into safe custody. It’s a sobering glimpse of what war often boils down to, and what depths the battle-weary and under-supervised can stoop to when their enemy is demonized and dehumanized by their superiors.

The war is over between the Empire and the Sinack, but before they can even catch their breath, a new, mutual, and well-rested enemy arrives at their doorstep in the form of “La Saia Alderamin”, a once-neutral, highly religious country Ikta suspects is being used as a Kioka pawn as part of the wider conflict.

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What made this episode so strong, and, for me, eliminated any concerns about plot convenience or retconning, was how Ikta handled things with “Nana,” knowing they’ll need her help to cover their retreat from Aldera, and he’s the only one who can negotiate with her.

He gets her attention and reveals who he is by carrying out the Sinack tradition of cutting digits off one’s hand; a legend she told him about nine years ago. He cuts his entire left pinky off in a visceral, powerful scene, and you can tell he’s not putting on a performance, but dead serious about his role as agent of apology and olive branch.

That last part is important, since Nana agrees to help because she knows the religious Alderamin will never tolerate their “heretical” religion, but the Empire will. Obviously it’s not what she wanted (to be rid of both), but she has to compromise, because Aldera won’t.

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Our Knights all get promotions this week – Yatori and Ikta to First Lieutenant, the others to Second, and after Matthew and Haro protest, they agree to stick together in the force that will delay the Alderamin advance. That is achieved by creating a fire line at a crucial forest crossing.

But it would seem Ikta has finally met his match in the form of newly-introduced Kioka Army Major Jean Alkiniks, he of tirelessness to Ikta’s sloth; white hair to Ikta’s black. Both seem excited to have met strategists who will really challenge them for once.

One of the weaknesses of the show has been the appalling ineptitude of the brass, but Jean here is high-ranking enough to do what needs to be done at a larger scale. He’s come further than Ikta so far, but will no doubt be the catalyst by which Ikta continues to advance and progress to become the hero Princess Chamille believes him to be.

I also hope we get to see a little more Nana.

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Alderamin on the Sky – 09

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For a show in which some people are aided by pocket-size elemental spirits, Alderamin is fairly down to earth. And if it was glorifying, say, the daring rescue and return of Princess Chamillie in its early episodes, it is just as careful to downplay whatever glory and honor is to be had in the Sinack campaign, which is precious little.

Indeed, Ikta and his pals are lucky to have a commander unwilling to order them to participate in the wholesale slaughter of the enemy, instead making them burn their villages and march them to new homes. It’s also a show whose heroes may not agree with the horrible strategy they’re a part of, but are either unwilling or currently unable to do anything about it.

When a little kid starts attacking Ikta, he flicks him in the nose. I doubt he intended to draw blood, but the noble knight Deinkun immediaely punishes him for striking the child, doling out a degree of justice so the other villagers don’t riot.

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Suya, who has clearly gained not only respect but affection for Ikta, is angry that Ikta let himself be punched like that, but Ikta takes responsibility for his error. Sometimes one can separate oneself from undesirable actions to such an extent, one can forget that there are things that can be done to lesson suffering, whether it’s taking a punch, or burning a village after it’s been evacuated. Not big things, but things.

When Matthew asks Ikta and Torway how they’ve been dealing with their sexual “needs” on the front, Ikta puts men into two columns: “heroes” who need bonds, and solitary “warriors”, avoiding any details about his own persuasion. But it’s just as true of the two ways knights go through life. Deinkun, a warrior, prefers to put as much on his broad shoulders as possible.

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Ikta may be a rare bird when it comes to strategic or tactical thought, but he’s no hermit. He needs bonds, not just to survive and keep himself in check (See Yatori) but to acknowledge and define his existence. He dosn’t care if his personal honor is besmirched by a punch to the face; he does care when he’s too late to say what he wanted to say to Kanna or protect her when she needed him.

Yatori may want to be a solitary knight like Deinkun, but the fact she goes into a berserk-like state only Ikta can bring her out of denies her that status. She too is a hero, whose brawn, along with Ikta’s brains, and the various talents of the others in their circle, comprise perhaps their empire’s best hope at avoiding self-destruction, which people like General Safida are inadvertently hastening.

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But still, neither Ikta nor Yatori have any designs of overthrowing Safida’s leadership. Indeed, Yatori’s Igsem heritage and conditioning make such a choice unthinkable, even if Ikta was pondering such a rebellion. No, these heroes, must work within the system into which they were recruited; play with the hands they were dealt. It’s yet not their turn to decided how the game is played.

So Yatori saves Safida from an ambushing Nanaku Daru, who learned how to fight from Mugen in Samurai Champloo. Yatori bests her, only to let her go when a group of shady assassins takes advantage of the chaos. They fail to kill the general, but slay Deinkun in the attempt.

He joins Kanna and the scores of other Imperial soldiers who gave it their all despite having to serve under a terrible general in a ridiculous war that isn’t quite over yet.

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Alderamin on the Sky – 05

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I’m on the older side, so as I watched the magnificent origin of the relationship of young Yatori and Ikta unfold, I couldn’t help but think of Captain Picard and Guinan (I also thought of Muppet Babies, for what it’s worth). In addition to the fact that TNG had an Oscar-winning actress on TV before it was cool, one of the great big unanswered questions of the show was the history of those two.

All Guinan said to Riker when Picard was captured by the Borg was that what they had was “beyond friendship, beyond family.” That sums up Yatori and Ikta perfectly. One was raised from birth to be a knight, which is no different from a blade. The other was raised into a world of science and deep, distant thought about mysteries once left to the comfort of theology.

Yatori decides to study abroad with Ikta as his father Sankrei was a celebrated military mind whom she sought for enrichment. What she got was a lifetime companion who not only made her more whole, but whom she made more whole as well.

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Japanese can be at times wonderfully onomatopoeiaic, as I was reminded when Ikta conveys how “stiff” Yatori speaks, even to a fellow kid like him. But throughout their early interactions, Ikta never tries to impose his will or philosophy upon Yatori; instead, he shows her parts of her world and levies suggestions on how she might become something more than the Igsem blade she was forged to be.

A sword, after all, is only an inanimate object; no mater how much intense training Yatori undergoes, she cannot deny her flesh, her blood, and the emotions all humans possess. Indeed, Yatori is as much a sponge as a blade, benefiting greatly from her exposure to Ikta, his father, and the scientists associated with them. She also learns to play, which for Ikta means outsmarting adults.

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It’s really quite invigorating to see these two at an early age right after seeing Ikta bring Yatori down from her killing fever last week. This episode painstakingly explains the bond these two share not with idle exposition, but by telling a story in its own right; a story of two very bright and talented kids bouncing off one another.

Just as Yatori had never met a kid quite like Ikta (nor met any kid period, for that matter), Ikta had never come across such a stern, stiff, duty-obsessed girl. It’s refreshing how quickly they hit it off despite their profound differences in upbringing.

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Their bond is formalized quite by chance, when the adults they followed to a remote locale for a geological survey forgot their gear and turned back to retrieve it. Yatori and Ikta end up on their own, up against a pack of starving wolves, who are treated by the show with the same respect one would show a group of starving people.

Yatori and Ikta have no quarrel with the wolves, but they cannot allow themselves to be killed and eaten for the sake of the wolves. They are meant for greater things. I love how Ikta calls out for Yatori when the first wolf corners him, and Yatori comes through like the knight she is.

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But this is not simply a tale of Ikta coming up with a game plan and Yatori carrying it out. It isn’t simply the knight saving the damsel in distress (who is Ikta in this case). Rather, when the desperate wolves infiltrate the house, and Ikta and Yatori must retreat to a smaller space ton ponder their next move, Ikta rejects Yatori’s pre-programmed intent to protect him at the cost of her own life.

That won’t do at all! For Ikta, any outcome where one of them dies is no good. Chivalric training aside, he rejects the notion that Yatori must lay down her life so that he might live. Having met and gotten to know Yatori, Ikta knows she can be more than a blade.

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So he proposes they look at it another way: she is not the hero and he the recipient of heroism: they are together the right and left hand of a single entity, one far smarter and stronger than either of them alone.

Yatori, still young and relatively impressionable (as well as quite a smart cookie in her own right) can pick up what Ikta is putting down. They work together to outsmart and defeat the remaining wolves, forcing the survivors to retreat.

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In the process, they burn down the whole damn house, and eat what’s left of the dried meat they have on hand. Yatori says it feels like they’re eating the wolves’ meat, which for Ikta is definitive proof that she can, indeed, be more than just a blade.

Not long after that unforgettable, life-changing experience, Ikta and Sankrei go missing…but one day Ikta returns, and Yatori is happy, for it is neither her brother nor her lover nor her dear friend who has returned to her: it is her other hand.

The best part of Alderamin is Yatori and Ikta’s relationship. I’ve said it before, and this episode went and capitalized on that strength, with exceptional results.

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My Hero Academia – 13 (Fin)

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Sorry My Hero Academia, but I’m breaking up with you. But take solace in the fact it’s not you, it’s me. Okay, maybe it’s a little bit you.

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There is definitely an audience for this kind of shounen hero anime, and I’m not here to look down on anyone who has had an absolute gas watching MHA and can’t wait for the second season.

I myself enjoyed it quite a bit, and there were some truly inspired moments I don’t regret not missing.

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But my enthusiasm for MHA, and for following the show for a second season, has steadily plummeted throughout the season-closing USJ arc.

Once the pace slowed to a crawl and every last movement started to be pored over monologue, the jumbled, clunky aesthetic that had charmed me earlier in the show’s run started to become a liability.

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I totally get the notion that the villains were dumb to give the students so much battle experience, thus making them realize how much more they have to learn, and getting that much more motivated to become great heroes.

While it was a real battle and not training, it still feltlike training, because no matter how many threats Generic Villain #5 or Poorly-drawn Baddie #6 dished out, in the end they never felt like more than half-baked stepping stones in Deku & Co.’s academia.

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The show also failed to show any guts by killing off or even exposing an All Might who, let’s face it, shouldn’t have even stayed in his chunky form as long as he did at the end of the battle.

It would have been tragic for Deku to have lost his idol and mentor so soon, but it would also have meant a definite passing of the torch to Deku, who with the help of his friends (and frenemy) would have to learn to move forward with the gifts Might gave him.

It could have been the most devastating yet motivating lessons for Deku to learn in this season. Instead, All Might’s still around, and thanks to more magic healing by Recovery Girl Deku is quickly on the mend again.

Both visually and thematically, the show’s still got kids gloves on, and is too in love with keeping bigger things looming mysteriously on the horizon, at the cost of stakes in the present. So yeah, MHA. It’s been real. There were some good times. Take care of yourself!

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