Charlotte – 12

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The harrowing events of last week, which resulted in the rescue of Nao and the capture of anti-wielder actors, along with Pooh’s heroic sacrifice, eventually bring Yuu around to Shun’s big-picture way of thinking. It’s not enough to keep those he loves safe; in order to ensure their safety, he has to save everyone.

But at first, this week, he’s unsure of how to do that. In the beginning, all he can do is heal from the injuries he sustained, accept he’ll probably never see out of his right eye (or time leap), and allow himself to be spoon fed delicious meals provided by Takajou (school beef tongue curry), Yusa (cream stew) and Ayumi (omelette rice that has never tasted so good).

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I enjoyed the rhythm of the very people he cares about and wants to help the most visiting his room one after the other, helping him build up his strength with food they made with love. And having almost died, he makes sure to tell Misa to see her parents before Yusa loses her ability and she passes on for good.

Yusa rather ingeniously uses her job on a TV show to visit her parents, and Misa has a cathartic moment in which she actually possesses Yusa on camera to describe the love she tastes in her parents’ otherwise run-of-the-mill soba set. Combined with Yuu’s newfound love of Ayumi’s cooking, there’s some lovely blood family beats to be had this week.

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Despite being back on his feet, the one person Yuu can’t get himself to see is Nao, but as her injuries weren’t as bad as is (and let’s face it, she’s a tough one to boot), she’s discharged before him, and ends up visiting him. He asks her what he should do, and she says it’s technically possible, if extraordinarily difficult and dangeous, for him to simply end the entire crisis by plundering the abilities of every wielder in the world.

She almost seems to be shrugging it off as she proposes it, but Yuu agrees that’s exactly what he’ll do: travel the world, find every wielder, steal their abilities, and trusts he won’t turn into a world-ending monster. When Nao asks why, Yuu is upfront: it’s his turn to save her, because he loves her. The reaction of a Nao who didn’t actually save him in this timeline is dubiousness and confusion, which frustrates Yuu unti they’re literally growling at each other, seemingly proving to Nao they have the worst chemistry possible.

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But Nao’s rather aggressive inability to instantly accept Yuu’s confession doesn’t sway him; he still loves her, and he’ll still save everyone, including her, in order to repay the debt of her alternate self. She rather perceptively points out that other Nao may have just been taking responsibility, as she brought Yuu into all this to begin with, but she can’t deny Yuu has become someone dear to him that she knows she can believe in.

So she makes a deal they pinkie-swear on: they’ll settle down as lovers. Yuu warns her she may be putting too much faith in the one-time “cheating fiend”, but to Nao that’s the point of the deal: if he can pull off this final mission, she’s convinced she’d be in a position to fall for him. Before they part, Nao has Yuu plunder her power first, thus officially setting him on his path.

Once it happens, Nao looks lighter, relieved, and grateful. I want to believe these two didn’t just exchange death flags by mapping out their ideal future together. That is, I’m hoping Maeda Jun doesn’t rip my heart out again; I’m tired of putting it back in my chest!

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Having already started his mission, Yuu visits his brother on the hospital roof, who is still mourning Pooh and fills him in. He gets the blessing of Shun, who tells him to go overseas while he and the Syndicate handle Japan. Yuu also takes Takajou and Yusa’s powers, which in the latter means the end of Misa, who writes a tearjerking farewell letter to her sister thanking her for letting her borrow her now and then.

Finally, while packing to leave on a trip to do something he must do because only he can, Nao pops by to wish him Godspeed, and they exchange tokens of their commitment to meeting again. Nao gives him English conversation notes, and Yuu gives her the media player she gave to him. Hopefully this isn’t ZHIEND for these two, because they’ve emerged as one of the better romantic pairings of the year, in one of the finest shows.

9_mag

Charlotte – 11

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If it hadn’t already, with this, its third 10-rated episode, Charlotte has established itself as not only one of the year’s best shows, but one of P.A.Works’ and writer/composer Maeda Jun’s best, as well. Even though I knew full well last week’s rescue of Ayumi was essentially a cakewalk that returned us more or less to the status quo, and that there would be hell to pay this week, I wasn’t fully prepared for just how much hell would go down.

Things start out tentatively, however, with Yuu returning to the syndicate headquarters with Ayumi, who meets her big brother for the first time since her memories were erased. It’s wonderful that Ayumi is breathing and free of Collapse, but to learn her memories of Shun are gone forever is the first of many harsh blows to the cast this week.

And hey, we finally learn why the show is called Charlotte, and more importantly, why there’s an outbreak of kids with abilities: it’s the name of a comet that spreads particles across the earth, activating dormant parts of the human brain. It last happened 400 years ago, and there was a witchhunt. When the comet passed again 12 years ago, more kids were bestowed with “magic powers”, and the witchhunts started back up.

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Shunsuke shelters a research team working on a vaccine for the “disease” that always leads to such horrible massacres throughout histroy, though he admits there’s little to be done for those who already possess powers except to protect them and wait it out until they age enough to lose them. With his Plunder ability Yuu is the most powerful, most valuable, and hence most at-risk ability wielder in the world, so Shun is committed to protecting him.

However, Shun reveals that for all his planning and good intentions, all it took for his syndicate to be unraveled and all of his friends and family to be put squarely in harm’s way, and for the entire vaccination plan to be put into jeopardy, is the syndicate’s hired driver, Furuki.

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Because Furuki has a family, and when that family is abducted and held hostage, Furuki has no choice but to betray Kumagami, who is also captured by a group of foreigners.

These foreigners don’t use the kid gloves on Kumagami, pummeling him, administering truth serum so he spills the beans about every “psychic” he knows and has been in contact with, and ripping out all his teeth and nails. From there, the enemy storms Hoshinoumi’s dorms and Nao is also captured, though she puts up a valiant fight.

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Yes, this is all Furuki’s fault for working with the syndicate when he has something as important as a family to be manipulated with by the enemy, but the responsibility lies with Shunsuke for hiring him, and he knows it. He messed up bad, and Kumagami and Nao won’t be the only ones to suffer for it.

Being more or less powerless himself, Shunsuke has no choice but to give in to the enemy’s demands to send Yuu to them, alone. Yuu is the only one who can stand against them, and his only hope is to steal the enemy’s abilities in order to rescue Kumagami and Nao.

Suddenly having all this shit shoveled on his plate almost causes Yuu to blow from his Collapse ability before the operation even starts, but Shunsuke manages to calm him down, and in any case Yuu feels he must save Nao, the girl who wouldn’t give up on him even when he gave up on himself.

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Whereas Ayumi’s rescue went like clockwork, here the clock is blown to bits and then the bits are set on fire. Murphy’s Law rules, as infiltrating his two foes reveals they neither have powers nor weapons on their person. While the muscleman is not present, a spry little green-eyed ability wielder ambushes Yuu and gouges out one of his eyes, making it impossible for him to make an emergency time leap (and possibly wrecking his plunder ability too).

I’m curious who this Ayumi-sized girl is and why she’s fighting on the wrong side, but I imagine her masters either have some kind of leverage on her like they did Furuki, or she was raised by the masters to hate others with abilities…or perhaps a wielder betrayed her and she’s sworn to make them pay.

Whatever her motives, she’s only one of the enemy’s tools here. Climbing on Yuu can stabbing him in the shoulder,  she causes Collapse to activate in him, bringing the whole warehouse down.

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Shunsuke and his friends rush to the scene to survey the sheer breadth of Yuu’s failure, which was again bourne from Shunsuke’s poor judgement in hiring Furuki. Yuu was able to save himself with telekinesis, but Kumagami wasn’t so lucky: he was run through with several pieces of metal and rebar, using his body as a shield to save Nao.

Now, not only is the syndicate’s ability to identify new ability users and a close friend since the beginning of the resistance dead, their trump card Yuu may be totally neutralized. The only bright side is that they’re able to capture the unconscious foreigners, but I’m sure they have friends too, and right now no user or former user in or out of the syndicate is safe, including the just-rescued Ayumi.

Earlier in the episode, Yuu remarks that the witchhunts happening overseas “have nothing to do with them,” but Shunsuke rebutted that “this story can’t possibly be that easy.” It seemed that way last week, but now there are no delusions. It’s not easy, and this looks to be only the beginning of the hardship. Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

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Darker than Black Gaiden – 04 OVA

Claude has kidnapped Yin and plans to sell her to the highest bidder, who turn out to be some old Chinese friends of his. When Hei rolls in to rescue her, Claude disguises himself as her to trick him, then disguises her as himself so that he electrocutes her. This completes her awakening into Izanami, who begins sucking up the souls of thousands of contractors, until the Syndicate steps in, pacifies and re-captures her. Depressed over the loss of his love, Hei takes up drinking, and is then confronted by Madame Oreille.

Watching it now, a year after it aired, we get a similar sense of this Gaiden series that we did with the Star Wars prequels, particularly Episode II with regards to this episode. That is the sense that everything in these four OVAs was inevitable. We saw the entire Ryuusei no Gemini series, so we knew what was going to befall Hei, Yin, et al. There’s not much in the way of surprise of novelty in the plot, as it’s merely filling in the blank between the two animes. So it comes down to execution: and it was executed pretty well.

There was also a sense that something good was gradually becoming corrupted, namely Yin. One new fun fact we did learn is that the entire reason the Syndicate was founded was to prevent a prophecy from coming true – that is, the Awakening of Izanami/Yin. That failed, but the Syndicate had long since forgotten its purpose anyway. Yin, it would seem, was a prisoner of fate; a puppet to events that had a mind of their own. Her love of Hei, and his of her, got pushed to the side. Despite growing to love and need one another so deeply, they were never meant to be. Which sucks…and also explains why Hei is such a drunken mess at the beginning of Gemini.


Rating: 3.5

Darker than Black Gaiden – 02 OVA

Hei and Yin are in Hong Kong, and while Hei believes continuing to run is their only course, Yin believes it’s pointless, and they should ambush their pursuers instead. To lure their enemies, Hei puts Yin up for sale. Xiao Jie, an contractor with two huge contractor brothers, is interested in her, but Yin provokes a fight. Hei and Yin split up while the three siblings chase them, but Claude intervenes, using the siblings’ own powers against them. Back in Tokyo, Youko meets Mina, and the two are on their way to catch BK-201.

In the words of Mugatu, Hei and Yin are two Hot Little Potatoes right now, though they’d rather not be. Yin continues to exhibit very un-doll-like qualities, expressing affection for Hei personally as well as suggesting an alternate course of action when she thinks he’s wrong. This episode pretty much follows the same chase-and-battle formula as the first one, with a couple more players.

Rather than just dealing with the Syndicate, they face off with the lovely Xiao Jie and her beefy bros. Her renumeration – shedding her garb bit by bit, makes her a great femme fatale-of-the-week, but the episode wastes no time icing her. Youko and Mina comprise the vanguard of the third party after Hei and Yin – the government. With all these people after them, Hei and Yin likely have no choice but to continue their international odyssey.


Rating: 3.5

Darker than Black Gaiden – 01 OVA

Being hunted by Syndicate contractors, Hei and Yin escape Tokyo for Okinawa, masquerading as newlyweds. Hei is looking to book passage to Taiwan, but Yin insists they’re safe, and they stay longer. Hei panics when he sees a hotel guest who looks exactly like Amber, but she turns out to be an impostor created by a contractor with power over illusion. Yin is kidnapped, but Hei is able to defeat the Syndicate team sent to kill him and recover Yin, who continues to evolve.

This four-part OVA that aired from January to July 2010 bridges the time between the first Darker than Black series (The Black Contractor) and the sequel (Gemini of the Meteor). We took an instant liking to the first series’ (obviously) very dark, rich atmosphere, kick-ass action, and stirring music by Yoko Kanno. The second series widened the DtB universe and appealed to younger audience by introducing Suou (voiced by Kana Hanazawa). Both series explored the power and motivations of the subset of society simultaneously gifted and cursed with superpowers that required renumeration.

In this first bridge OVA, Hei is on the run with Yin, a beautiful, formerly emotionless doll, who is suddenly evolving into more of a human, with emotions and a will of her own. This first episode wastes no time throwing us right in the middle of the aciton as Hei takes on a trio of deadly contractors while still in Tokyo. The tropical setting that follows subverts the dark atmosphere, and Hei and Yin have some nice quiet scenes together. But there’s still plenty of uneasiness, and inevitably, the Syndicate arrives, trying to use Hei’s past with Amber to throw him off balance. He cuts himself to break the illusion and thwart the Sydicate…for now.


Rating: 3.5