Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 15

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Ever since learning Haruka may still be alive, Ayato has been distracted. Julis thinks he’s afraid his sister abandoned him, but she’s big enough to admit this time she isn’t the person best-suited to bringing him out of his mini-funk.

That person is Saya, who knows her mission and swoops in like the adept climber she’s always been, as when she watched Ayato and Haruka spar from a tree branch years ago. I’ll admit, I half-forgot these two go back so far, but it’s nice to see Saya get to be nice and cozy with Ayato for a change.

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In one of the more sustained flashbacks involving Haruka, we see a big sister clearly concerned with the potential of her little brother, whose approach could either be ‘you’ll never beat me so please don’t try’ or ‘you won’t beat me until you not only become stronger, but employ the aid of strong friends.’

Ayato tries both in the flashback, but fails both times. But at least, with Saya on his side (asking a favor of her with “favor cards” they often exchanged to help each other out) Haruka had to fight more seriously than when she was sparring with Ayato alone.

And Saya of the present finishes their little get-together by saying, with a melancholy smile, that as much as she may not like it, sometimes she won’t be the one best-suited to fight beside him either.

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The message is clear, and it’s kind of a repeat of what we already know (hence the mere 7): you can be the strongest, but you’ll still never be as strong as if you have someone fighting beside you. That’s why fighters have partners in the Phoenix Festa, and why the fights are often more interesting than one-on-one matches.

The match with the Li Twins doesn’t disappoint in terms of sheer frustration. Having thoroughly researched their opponents, the twins coolly reach deep into their bag of tricks, employing illusory smoke, shadow clones, invisibility, and explosive talismans to make life a living hell for Ayato and Julis and, more importantly, drag the battle out until Ayato’s dreaded 5-minute limit arrives.

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The match follows a pretty well-worn pattern of moves, counter-moves, and one-upsmanship. The Li twins grow more and more sadistic and evil-grinny as the match intensifies (Shenhua’s finger caress being particularly creepy), and while they acknowledge the pluck of their opponents, they have full confidence they will emerge victorious, with a wealth of tricks left to use if they ever get into trouble.

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Indeed, Ayato uses what seems to be his last ounce of strength to slice the medallion of who he believes to be the real Shenyun, but turns out to only be another shadow clone; Shenyun, like Shenhua, has in reality spent most of the match concealing himself.

But Ayato isn’t alone here, and before he gets blasted to smithereens, Julis flies in and rescues him. As they regroup, she asks him to rely on her, repeating the words he said to her back when they were first starting out: “Well then, who’s going to protect you?”

The line does a lot more than Julis expected, as Ayato seems somewhat restored in vigor, as if he suddenly sees something he didn’t se before; perhaps something involving his sister’s seal on him. Maybe the seal can come undone once he accepts the strength within him is to be used not alone, but in concert with another. Like Julis!

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 19

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Due to the Dort excursion, it’s been a while since the last big space battle. I was hungry for a new one, and this show delivered a feast with its usual excelent timing. Before the battle commences, however, Kudelia gets her long overdue handshake with Mika.

In her first such attempt (in the very first episode), Mika demurred because his hand was dirty, but she never cared about dirt, and now her hands are dirty too, and whatever their personal inadequacies tell them, they’re on more equal terms than ever, with a united cause.

Kudelia also warmly thanks Orga and Tekkadan for getting her this far (and she’s sure they’ll take her further still), promising to make them all happy. As she glances at Fumitan’s empty chair, it’s also clear she doesn’t want her maid’s sacrifice be in vain, any more than all the other people whose blood is on – and dreams are in – her hands.

We also get a nice symmetry between Commander Carta Issue, who choreographs her men as part of their preparations for battle, and Eugene getting all fired up on Isaribi. Both strive to meet their personal ideal of cool to all around them. Eugene wants to be like Orga. Carta, as it happens, wants to show how far she’s come to McGillis and Gaelio.

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I always knew McGillis and Gaelio went way back, but now we see there was a third member of their childhood clique, the lovely (but also tomboyish in the day) Carta, who is spellbound the moment she first lays eyes on the newly adopted/arrived McGillis.

In the present, she’s pissed McGillis chose Gaelio’s little sister instead of her, and in order to further his career, no less. But Carta herself was only given Ariadne fleet command because of her silver (as opposed to iron) blood. Gaelio sees her as a figurehead, but she takes her role seriously.

As he watches the confrontation unfold between Tekkadan and Carta, McGillis (AKA “Montag”) monologues the importance of “unveiling the past” of those one wishes to predict and control. At the same time, living in the murky past “wastes” the bright future. He’s hoping Tekkadan is taking steps forward, and wants to see that he’s right.

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Speaking of a waste, just imagine if Tekkadan had the manpower and firepower at Carta’s disposal. Carta is rusty, if her blade was ever sharp to begin with. Earth’s orbit may be “her sky” to her and her loyal men, but that title had probably never been challenged in any way until now.

Some may decry how poorly she performs here as making it too easy for Tekkadan to succeed, but I take a different tack: there are good and bad, experienced and inexperienced commanders in Gjallarhorn. Her ability simply doesn’t match (or frankly justify) her arrogance or theatricality.

Faced with an unpredictable and fully committed opponent, Carta is outmaneuvered by “old school” tactics such as the Isaribi using the Brewers’ ship as a physical shield from long-range bombardment, which when destroyed releases a huge cloud of nano-mirror chaff that blinds the fleet, giving Tekkadan time to get the landing party into position.

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To pull off these tactics, Eugene had to control both ships with his A-V system, which takes him to the extent he looks like he’s just seen up someone’s skirt by the time he’s finished. Hopefully, he’ll be okay. The landing party, guarded by Shino, Akihiro, and Mika, is then ambushed by Gaelio and Ein, who in hindsight doesn’t seem so much obsessed with revenge here and now as he is eager to prove to Gaelio that he’s worthy of the trust and opportunities bestowed on him.

In the cold open Eugene and Shiro threw what you might call death flags, but since this is IBO not all death flags are genuine. Nevertheless, with so many people in play, I figured someone else we care about was going to die in this battle, especially when the transport carrying Orga, Kudelia, Atra, Biscuit, and Merribit is targeted. Enter the cavalry: Laffter and Azee, piloting suits modified so as not to tip off Teiwaz involvement.

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Ein has always been an intriguing if one-note character, but he faces another serious setback here as his suit and his body are pierced by Mika when he jumps in front of Gaelio to protect him. Like Carta, Ein simply can’t back up his rage and enthusiasm with actual ability. I doubt he’s dead dead, but he’s in bad shape, and now Gaelio has a another reason to want Tekkadan blood.

When Carta sends out her mobile suit forces, elite though they may be (or believe themselves to be) they can’t hang with Mika, especially when Montag joins the fray (in what I’m guessing is a suit that disguises his identity from Gaelio and Carta, whose reactions to his involvement aren’t seen). One of Carta’s pilots actually does give Mika a pretty hard time, making him miss his opportunity to use the transport ship as a atmospheric entry shield (Barbatos won’t make it on its own).

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Things look bleak for Mika (whose handshake with Kudelia could also be considered a death flag), especially when he thinks back to the convo he had with Orga back when the were kids, which set them on this course. But Mika’s not ready to say goodbye to the world yet; not when he hasn’t yet seen with his own eyes the place they belong Orga talked about.

So as the transport occupants worry and fear the worst during the long, violent atmospheric entry, Mika hitches himself to the mobile suit of the guy he defeated and uses it as an ablative heat shield, safely emerging not long after the transport. Kudelia, Atra, Orga…they’re all elated. Another close call, that’s all. Now, after that exciting space battle, our people are finally on Earth, where several new battles will commence.

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Attack on Titan – 09

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The show chooses a rather odd time to introduce us to a new group of characters in the elite Scout Regiment, led by “neat freak” Captain Levi. I saw bizarre because there’s still quite a bit that needs to be resolved with Eren. As great as it is to see soldiers other than Mikasa having success in killing Titans, the truth is I was patiently waiting for the show to get back to the main characters, which thankfully happens about a third of the way in.

Before returning to the present, we find out what became of Eren after being swallowed. Not surprisingly, he ended up in the Titan’s gut, surrounded by his dead comrades being slowly digested, which…gross. But Eren refuses to give up, doggone it, and a light flashes and he transforms into Titan Eren, bursting out of the Titan who ate him and commencing his rampage.

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When Eren wakes up, he finds himself in a bit of a predicament. No good deed goes unpunished here on AoT, which means an entire battalion of his fellow soldiers have their weapons trained on him, Mikasa, and Armin. They’re led by a very twitchy commander who looks like he needs a lot more sleep, and everyone is convinced Eren is a Titan in disguise who needs to be eliminated.

With Eren still highly disoriented, negotiations break down pretty quickly, with Mikasa only offering temporary relief by putting herself between the guns and Eren and challenging anyone who wants to try to hurt him to get through her first. Eren finally cries that he’s a human, but the commander has already made his decision. Mikasa tries to get Eren away as the cannon above them fires, but Eren…does something else.

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And that something else is transforming back into a Titan, using his only partially constructed Titan body to shield his friends from the cannon blast. Once again, a bold action keeps him and them alive, but only a little longer: it doesn’t exactly help his claim he’s human, and I doubt such a trick can be pulled twice in such short order.

Preceding Eren’s last-ditch effort to keep death at bay, he experiences flashes of memory, like his dreams in earlier episodes, in which his father tells him the key around his neck and the secrets in the basement of their home are of utmost importance. I imagine the power he’s awakened has something to do with those secrets.

But first things first: how are he, Mikasa and Armin going to stay alive long enough to uncover those secrets? Forget the Titans; he’s got humanity against him at the moment. Talk about ‘out of the frying pan, into the freezer’.

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Attack on Titan – 08

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Man, those Titans look like the “Came With the Frame” family, wearing seemingly warm, friendly expressions. To bad they only look like that because they’ve found fresh humans to eat. The fact that Titans (unique variants aside) aren’t particularly grotesque monsters  but look simply like scaled-up naked humans who act purely on instinct, has made for quite a skin-crawlingly disturbing dynamic.

This week, we see Jean, who never wanted to fight on the wall in the first place, almost fall backwards into a position of leadership and the esteem of his peers, not because he performs amazing feats of badassery like Mikasa, but because he’s just…one of them. Not particularly strong, but able to assess situations and rally others to his side. After all, if someone like him can keep his cool (most of the time anyway) in such awful scenarios as he faces this week, so, they believe, can they.

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Speaking of lacking either physical or emotional brawn, Armin starts this episode content to be left behind lest he slow Mikasa and Connie down. But like Eren, Armin is Mikasa’s family, and she’s lost enough of that, so she’s not leaving him. Since he’s going to be a burden to them one way or another, Armin hatches a plan: something neither Mikasa nor Connie would have ever conceived of: lead the weird Titan-fighting Titan (TFT) to HQ so he can take out he Titans there, allowing them to resupply and continue the battle.

So Mikasa and Connie (with Armin in tow) set to work killing all the Titans around the guy, until he notices the ones gathered around HQ and gets to work. That handsome couple up top are his first victims, who are killed before Jean’s eyes just as he’s ready to give up (there’s a lot of instances of people about to give up in this show; all of them perfectly justified).

Once there, Armin comes up with another plan. In the process, he transcends his whiny third wheel act. Now, he’s a crucial member of the ramshackle unit, not just because Mikasa draws strength from him being alive, but because he just might be the sharpest tactician they’ve got.

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This plan has a lot less margin for error than the TFT-luring operation. Everyone has to put their lives on the line for the sake of everyone else. Any slip-ups, and they could all die. Seven athletic fighters hide in the rafters, waiting for the rest of the unit to blast the seven Titans in the head with shotguns so they can swoop in for the kills.

And while Connie and Sasha fail to strike killing blows to their Titans, Mikasa and Annie, two of the toughest ladies around, bail them out. I like how Sasha is pissed off with herself for giving up and not trusting her comrades would save her. Now she knows better.

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When they resupply and return to the surface, their would-be TFT ally is in the middle of a cannibalistic scrum. As they debate over whether to continue to rely on him, he dispatches the last of the Titans and collapses, armless. Then, from the dissolving remains of the TFT carcass, a regular-sized human form emerges – the human we all knew was in there, kicking Titan ass as a Titan.

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But I must tell you, while I fully expected Eren to be in that TFT, I was not prepared for the emotional impact of Mikasa running to him, embracing him, then totally losing it when she hears his heartbeat. That was even the title of the episode, and it still absolutely slew me.

There will certainly be many different reactions to Eren being a Titan (or having the ability to pilot them). Not all of those reactions will be positive. But right now, the only thing that matters to Mikasa—and me—is that the heart of the person she holds most dear in all the wretched world is still beating.

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Heavy Object – 02

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This is my courtesy second viewing of Heavy Object, and I can predictably report no significant improvement. It didn’t help matters that this episode spends its first four minutes re-staging last week’s cliffhanger, as if it needed padding. While there was more action and drama in this second outing, none of it came close to meet my quality standards, to say nothing of impressing me with anything novel.

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When the Princess’ Object gets its ass-kicked, she ejects and sends out an SOS to lure the enemy Object, which ignores the white flag and continues attacking the Alaskan installation. Dozens if not hundreds are killed gruesomely, but there’s almost no weight to any of it, because Qwenthur and Havia don’t seem to be in any danger at all out in the open, for some reason. There’s a particularly bad sense of where they are in relation to everything else on the battlefield, and how exactly they manage to stay alive while ducking the Object’s massive, deadly weapons.

Even worse is the pacing and timing of the battle. Q even points out how freakishly fast for their size Objects can move, and yet Q and Havia have enough time to bicker for an extended period with their commander Frolaytia, scamper around, and cover an undisclosed distance on foot out in the open while. Whenever it’s off-camera, the Object ceases to exist as a threat, and when it’s on-camera, Q and Havia survive its attacks and only faceless extras die. It’s a mess.

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I’m not opposed to any and all black-and-white, good-vs.-evil conflicts, but I think I can do better than Heavy Object in that regard, as demonstrated when the enemy troops locate the Milinda and immediately start talking about tying her to the Object and seeing how long it takes for her suit to tear off, then implying she’s in for a night of torture and gang-rape whether she survives the dragging or not. Gee, ya think we should root against these guys?

When Q kills the SOBs and rescues the Princess (while Havia saves him from an RPG), Q goes unconscious, and is presumably watched by the other two, while all the while that gigantic enemy Object just…twiddles its thumbs behind some mountain, I guess.

When Q wakes up, Milinda falls over herself wondering why anyone would bother saving her, and then the three decide to try to find a weakness in the Object, as if getting anywhere close to it wouldn’t mean their instant deaths. Q also manages to land on Milina and asses her boobs in his thoughts again, which…yeah.

One would think that the Objects in this world have been effective precisely because they can’t be brought down by a trio of enterprising kids. Then again, the Object was so shy towards them this week, perhaps it’s keeping its distance because it’s pilot is scared of that very possibility, which begs the question: Why exactly are wars fought this way again?

Never mind, I don’t want to know.

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Ookami Shoujo to Kuro Ouji – 05

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Aki and Marin reminded us so much of futaba’s superficial friends of Ao Haru Ride, I thought Erika would eventually go on a similar “realness” trip and dump them, but to the show’s credit, they’re keeping them around, only their role has changed. Now instead of being slightly annoyed by them talking about their boyfriends, Erika is jealous of their happiness with pliable boyfriends, not hard to crack nut like Kyoya.

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Jeez, has it only been five episodes? Things are moving along so well on Ookami Shoujo. I feel like most shows like it take an entire cour to get to where Kyoya and Erika are romantically even though there’s still much work to be done and fresh obstacles on the horizons. I say “work”, but as the next episode music suggests, Erika’s struggle is a battle, one to wrench open Kyoya’s heart and conquer it.

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Making that happen starts with believing it can be done, because despairing at his imposing gates, believing their impregnable-looking surface, will only lead to defeat. While going over her ideal Christmas (which is pretty standard: cake, fried chicken, gifts, being together), Kyoya complains on more than one occasion that “women are a pain”, and Erika agrees. He’s not wrong; women are a pain…but so are men. Especially Kyoya.

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After touching cheeks during their staged Christmas selfie she promised to send to Aki and Marin (a promise she cares about keeping) and going to a cafe to warm up, Erika gets a stomachache, then asks Kyoya a direct question in an attempt to quell it: “What am I to you?” Is she nothing but a useful servant? A convenient toy? Does he care about her? Erika is essentially scrambling up Kyoya’s ramparts here, blind to all the defenses he has waiting for her at the top; defenses she’s seen before.

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Her own defenses drop completely when Kyoya gives her precisely the perfect response of her dreams: He likes her, always has, but has been to shy to come out and say it, and the nervousness that builds from that pressure led to all of the nasty teasing. When she asks him to have a silly cliche Christmas night with her, he agrees without complaint, saying that whatever will be fun if it’s done with her.

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I’ll admit, my defenses were lowered too, this went on so long. Then evil shadows form on his face and he admits to just messing with her, calling it a “monkey show” and mocking her gullibility.  In other words, he pours hot pitch down upon her, and she falls back down to the base of the wall. Kyoya gets a glass of ice water to the face. He’s a terrible piece of trash, Erika shouts, and she hopes he dies, storming out in a public display.

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Men aren’t just a “pain” to women (and vice versa) because they make you jump through hoops, or interpret things without sufficient information from your perspective: they’re a literal emotional and physical pain. A pain in the gut, A dull burning in the heart. Kyoya cuts deeper there than he ever had before, and I feel Erika’s pain clearly, having been there as we all have.

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Here’s the maddening thing about Kyoya: he cruelly passed his sweet and sincere confession off as false, but it wasn’t the content of the confession that was really false; only the florid presentation. Confessing like that isn’t Kyoya’s style; it’s far outside is comfort zone where he picks on and teases and runs down Erika because, almost like a little boy who likes a girl, he doesn’t know how to process what he’s feeling, and that frustration causes him to lash out. It’s pretty textbook stuff…but Kyoya isn’t a little boy anymore, and he knows he went to far.

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Erika’s parents are really chill. They didn’t even make the couple keep the door open!

But in fixing things, which is what he wants it wouldn’t do him any good to pretend he’s comfortable (yet) saying the kinds of things that made Kyoya so happy she cried. No, he atones in the most Sata Kyoya way possible: announcing himself as her boyfriend to her folks, coming into Erika’s room, demanding an apology for her throwing water and wanting him to die, and slapping a “collar” – or rather, a cute gold necklace, around her neck, so everyone knows she’s his. He resorts to his code.

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BAAAAAAAAAW. So f-ing cute. And hey, we finally learn Aki and Marin’s boyfriends are REAL!

The impregnable defense Kyoya maintains is as false and deceptive as the psych-out that got water thrown in his face. Erika hasn’t busted open the gates to brought her main force in yet, but she did sneak over the walls, and found that she’s always had a place there. He won the battle in the cafe, but she won the battle after that, when Kyoya comes to her and, in his way, apologizes and tries to make things right. Like me, Erika chooses to believe what Kyoya said, because that was him going out on a limb, before retreating and laughing it off as a joke.

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But, yeah, the war isn’t over. Post-credits, we see Kyoya returning home to a ringing phone. After the answering machine prompt, the caller hangs up without a word. Who was this? Kyoya’s parent? A stalker or ex-girlfriend-gone-bad? My two guesses: either a red herring cliffhanger to be quickly resolved next week (less likely) or…trouble (more likely). Trouble for Kyoya, trouble for Erika, trouble for Kyoya+Erika, and trouble for me.

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Ookami Shoujo to Kuro Ouji – 04

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“Back again so soon?”

It’s one thing to end the third episode with a confession, regardless of result, so much sooner than I expected. It’s another still for Erika to cross paths with the girl who was at Kyoya’s place before him, hears that “he’s done with girls because he has a dog now”, then rushes back for clarification! This is just outstanding initiative from Erika, who won’t let things stand the last time she was this door. But while she gets him to believe she really does like him, she doesn’t get a straight answer about his feelings for her (though the “got a dog, done with girls” comment to that other girl made it pretty clear to me).

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Letting a soccer ball hit Erika head-on, then punching the one who kicked it…that’s Kyoya for you

With the answer still ambiguous to her about whether Kyoya likes her in the same way, she decides to operate under the assumption he doesn’t…quite yet, and that it falls to her to do something about it. Enter Kyoya’s friend from middle school, Hibiya Takeru, who comes in and immediately makes a big impact on the show.

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Likely still too sore over Kamiya’s deception to talk to him, and with Sanda never talking to Kyoya, she needs an ally, and finds one in the muscular, boisterous Takeru, who is very gung-ho about helping her crack the infuriating nut that is Sata Kyoya. But enthusiasm and good intentions don’t necessarily translate into success, and they don’t here.

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Backfired!

In short, Kakeru give Erika terrible, terrible advice and goofy stunts that would never work in a million years. It might even be that not allying herself with Kakeru could have made her better off, because all his advice seems to afford her is the opportunity to make a fool of herself in front of Kyoya again and again.

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The contents of Kakeru’s mind would make great van murals

That said, I’m glad Erika now has another friend (and a guy, at that), who she can talk with about these things earnestly. His ideas for her may be cockamamie, but she carries them out to the letter regardless; after all, love makes fools of us all. She’s so desperate for results, she pretty much ignores the logical side of her brain telling her this is all a waste of time, effort, and dignity.

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Your advice is crap! GIVE ME MORE!!!

Fortunately for us, watching Kakeru and Erika in action also happens to be a hoot and a half. Not only because they have great comedic chemistry, but because they’re both romantics, and feed off each other’s energy where someone like Kyoya either sucks it all up or deflects it entirely. Kakeru may be a a bit of a Mimbo, and more chivalrous and devoted to Erika’s cause than the average joe would be, but he’s a heckuva lot more normal than Kyoya in how he interacts with Erika. He and Erika are on the same level.

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That’s refreshing after seeing Erika play the servile supplicant so frequently, even though I know it’s been her choice to do so. You probably know where I’m going with this: the more I watch Kakeru and Erika together, the more I’m thinking they’d make a better couple, to the point even both of them seem to get that vibe. Kakeru uses this for his last, and perhaps riskiest idea yet: calling both Erika and Kakeru out, saying he’s fallen for Erika, and forcing Kyoya to decide right then and there.

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Oh, man, look at that! It’s a triangle! So on-the-nose. But hey, it’s also covered in little “cracks”, which means it’s a brittle triangle. While the prospect of Kakeru being a legitimate rival for Erika’s heart, the reality is, he hasn’t really fallen for her. The triangle is only rhetorical, and that’s how Kyoya sees it, which is why his seemingly cold, assholish response makes perfect sense: He tells Kakeru to “do what he wants”, even though it breaks Erika’s heart right then and there, because he knows Kakeru isn’t serious. In other words, “Nice try, but this isn’t going to work on me either.”

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Erika’s heartbreak is short-lived, as Kyoya chases after her and gives her a real arm (not a plastic skeleton arm this time), and essentially tells her she’s just going to have to keep working at it if she really feels the way she does. He’s essentially asking for even more emotional commitment from her…but he is asking for it, about as nicely as he can. As he says to Kakeru, “I’ll decide when I’ve fallen for Erika.” Neither Kakeru or Erika can decide. He’s asking Erika to buy into the self-importance he’s placing on himself, like a leap of faith, not knowing where it will lead, but looking forward to seeing what happens.

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And just to put a final cork in the short-lived Kakeru+Erika route, in a post-credits scene Erika meets Kakeru at the riverbank to politely reject him; naturally, he forgot he confessed to her for real. He may not be a love interest, nor a particularly useful ally in Erika’s fight for Kyoya. But he is still a new, real friend she can treasure. And real is always valuable.

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Nobunaga the Fool – 08

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This week Jeanne/Ranmaru draws “Ace of Wands” signifying the start of a “great journey of dreams and ideals” on which the wand serves both as a weapon, a guide, and a beacon. After seeing a vision of what might come to pass (Nobunaga getting skewered dead by Caesar), drawing this card places the ball squarely in Ranmaru’s hands, and she’s forced to act to change Nobu’s fate. She does so, and Nobu becomes the wand in the card, serving those three purposes. But ultimately it only happens because, Ranmaru steps off of the sideline and does something, for which we’re relieved and intrigued.

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This episode is also all about the regalia. We also knew they were important in the grand scheme of things, but da Vinci further underlines their value: whomever controls and masters them, controls the world. Since that’s Nobu’s goal in a nutshell, his next move after defeating Shingen is clear as crystal: get back the wind regalia Caesar stole. His advisers look ready to bristle at his call to table the investigation of Nobukatsu’s murder, but Himiko makes a surprise appearance—frail but alive and kicking—to support her husband’s call to look outward and move forward. This inspires Ranmaru to a degree, and she’s inspired further when she sees Ichihime’s inner strength, her unswerving faith in her brother, and her plea for Ranmaru to also have faith.

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It’s a good time to be behind Nobunaga, who has changed after fighting and defeating an honorable and worthy adversary in Lord Shingen, but also after almost losing Himiko. He is quicker to acknowledge not only her existence, but her contribution to his rise as his partner. It’s not lovey-dovey as Himiko would probably like, but it’s a start. He is also far more receptive to alternative opinions on how they should go about defeating Caesar. He’s a crafty Western bastard after all; even Nobu admits force won’t be enough. Nobunaga plenty strong on his own, but taking full advantage of the efforts of everyone around him—Himiko, Mitsuhide, da Vinci, Monkey, and Ranmaru—he augments his strength exponentially, and with it his odds of victory.

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Caesar still bears the look and aura of a formidable warrior and legitimate challenge to Nobu, but only for a time. He starts to look considerably less invincible when he learns that wwah-wwah, he can’t actually use the wind regalia he stole; it was entrusted by its former master to Nobu, and only Nobu will it answer. Caesar doesn’t expect that setback, nor does he prepare for the possibility Nobu will employ Western-style trickery in the battle. But his most egregious oversight was Ranmaru (though who can blame him considering how little she’s done in the last few episodes). She jumps into the middle of battle just as her vision is about to come true, and changes the future by activating the regalia of purity she’s been wearing all along but only recently realized its import. She’s decided henceforth to put her life on the line to support him.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – 04

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Fog fast battleships Kirishima and Haruna launch an assault on Yokosuka, breaching her defensive wall, entering the harbor within and laying waste to the human navy. Chihaya employs a number of unconventional tactics to keep the battleships off-balance, but lacking the firepower to pierce their Klein fields, I-401 has to goad them into docking together and charging their supergravity cannon. They fire a torpedo from a remote launcher hidden in the sunken museum ship Mikasa, which passes through the temporary hole in their foe’s field, sinking both ships. Haruna’s mental model barely escapes with Kirishima’s core, and is found unconscious by a human girl.

This week Blue Steel returns to its strengths, serving up its most exciting battle yet, and the I-401’s most improbable victory. Iona is outnumbered 2-1 and outgunned by a large degree, but once again, her human crew nullifies the shortcomings of her specs. The fog battleships seem to have more power than they know what to do with. The aggressive, arrogant Kirishima simply lashes out, getting more and more annoyed when things don’t go her way, and while the calm, analytical Haruna sees some value in human communication, she allows herself to be caught up in her partner’s intensity, and pays dearly for it, understanding in her moment of defeat the true feeling the word “regret” represents.

It’s a real pleasure to watch the underdog I-401 crew poke and prod their superior foes as they navigate the sunken ruins of old Yokosuka, finally playing their trump card at the most opportune moment. It’s a very close shave, but as Captain Haddock says, “All’s well that ends well.” While she’s still afloat, Kirishima’s demonstration of her arsenal makes for an imposing spectacle, even more so when she and Haruna literally part the friggin’ sea, then merge into a single unit (which leads to their downfall, as they also become a single target.) As Chihaya defeats fog ships with Iona, he’s also converting them; being defeated by humans means seeing value in them; value Kongo ignores at her peril.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – 02

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In order to reach the port of Yokosuka, the I-401 must get past the Fog heavy cruiser Takao. Gunzou orders a direct attack in concert with their decoys in order to test Takao’s detection abilities. Takao fires her supergravity cannon at 401, which Gunzou predicts and dodges. Hiding along the seabed, the crew determine Takao’s sonar profile must be shrouding a stealth sub. Gunzou surprises Takao by using the supergravity cannon they took from Hyuuga – a previously defeated Fog ship. The sub hiding below her is sunk, but Takao herself is spared, retreating with weapons locked.

Ships in this series bear the same names as WWII warships, but aside from resemblance and the fact they ply the seas, the similarities pretty much end there, with transforming elements and futuristic weaponry. This week we’re treated to a full-on sub-versus-cruiser battle in which the creativity and pluck of the human crew aboard the outgunned patrol sub outwit the haughty, overconfident Takao, whose intense precision and attempt to be sneaky by hiding a sub below her ended up working against her. We also see that whether preparing for battle or in crunch time, Gunzou proves a singular tactician, and his crew is a well-oiled machine. They’re all exceedingly good at their jobs and trust their Captain – and Iona – implicitly.

The battle itself is gripping to behold from start to riveting finish, with crisp, polished animation and impressive weapons effects. The overall aesthetic remains straight-laced and video-gamey, but we prefer of seasons that are diverse in animation styles, and this one certainly stands out. We also found Takao’s progression from imperious, single-minded predator out for I-401’s pelt to chastened, demoralized ship on the run, to actually growing envious of and even smitten with 401’s “human unit” Gunzou, X-factor who not only beat her, but let her live. That sudden change in thinking might just represent a greater weapon the struggle with Fog than any firepower Iona can muster.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Mobile Suit Gundam AGE – 04

Famous mobile suit ace pilot Woolf Ennacle wakes up from “healing sleep” and immediately claims Gundam as his own. Flit obviously objects, and they decide to settle it with a mock battle, which is interrupted by the UE. The suits that attack them are only the escort for a massive UE warship only detectable by eyeball. Woolf blows up a nearby asteroid to mask their escape, and the UE ship cloaks.

In all the years it’s been around think we’d see a little improvement in the tactics used in Gundam, but alas, some real bush-league shit went down this week. Grodek seemingly has only two mobile suits, but sends them both out, unarmed, to fight each other, then lets the crew simply watch them fight on TV instead of, you know, attending their duties. Did it ever occur to them the UE could jump on them at any minute? The answer is a clear ‘no’.

Add to that one of the pilots is an inexperienced kid with no military training, who only barely won his first battle with the UE, and for some reason decides to give away his position and charge a far superior force. The only people who look worse than Flit, Grodek, and the dawdling engineering crew are the UE themselves, who could have easily detsroyed Flit, Woolf, and the Diva…yet didn’t. At least Woolf seems to know what he’s doing, though he’s a pretty cliched arrogant ace, while I’m fully behind Emily’s concerns about Flit starting to talk and act like a soldier. Forget soldier, or savior…if Flit keeps this up, the only thing he’ll be is space dust.


Rating: 2.5  (dropped)