To Aru Majutsu no Index III – 03 – Precedence: Show Higher; Tell Lower

I realize Index is shounen, and a lot of chatter and explanation of tactics is par for the course, but by God there seemed to be a lot of it this week! Much is made about Terra of the Left’s “Precedence” ability, but as a member of the Right Hand of God, neither his presence or his abilities evoke terror. One big problem is it just takes so goddamn long for him to spit out the various incantations that give one thing (like flour) precedence over another (stone, metal, flesh, etc.).

Terra’s seiyu is the venerable Ootsuka Houchuu, but saddling the old man with explaining his attacks and making him say “Precedence: X higher, Y lower” every time he attacks just slows the battle way down to the point where when he gives Touma and Itsuwa “ten seconds” to attack or run, I had to laugh out loud; Dude, you’ve given them over half an hour!

Touma and Itsuwa eventually end up with Tsuchimikado, but only for a hot minute, as they split up again so he can face down some of the invading Academy City Powered Suits. Again, much of the battle is spent with him talking, explaining how he’s going to bring the suits down.

Two other weird little details: when Touma calls Misaka to ask if Avignon’s in the news (which it most definitely is), they didn’t bother to add a “phone filter” to Misaka’s voice, making it sound like she’s there in the Papal Palace with him. Not only that, for a kid who can’t always afford food, he’s racking up quite an international call charge leaving his phone on the hook!

If it sounds like I’m nitpicking, well, I am, but only because the show is so consumed with explaining every, attack, effect, and motive, it all kinda ends up muddling together into a gray mass that makes it easy to be distracted to the little things like the sound Misaka’s voice or Touma’s phone bill.

And at the end of the day, Terra and his attack just aren’t that impressive; certainly not as much as Imagine Breaker (even though Touma either forgot its true power or wants confirmation from Terra). Touma punches Terra a couple times, and then destroys the Document of C when he touches it with his right hand.

Back in the Tower of London, Lidvia continues explaining how the Right Hand of God wants to not only gain the power of angels, but gain equivalency with God himself and even surpass him. Such a lofty yet abstract goal is akin to Jafar’s final wish to the Genie in Aladdin: becoming an all-powerful genie. Sure, you can juggle planets in your hands, but to what end? At what point do you have enough power?

I’m not sure, and neither is the show. The Right Hand of God are simply Bad Guys, and Touma, Misaka, Itsuwa, etc. are the Good Guys. Spending the better part of two episodes on Terra feels even more pointless when we learn the RHG isn’t even really a united force; after having a chat with Terra, Acqua rips a column of the vatican off its mounts and crushes him with it.

Besides being a needlessly destructive way to kill someone, it was also a “twist” that had absolutely no effect on me. Acqua is an even more boring dude then Terra, who at least had a certain joie de vivre about him. Meanwhile, the second straight episode ends with Misaka just hanging out in her dorm, doing nothing. Not a rousing start!

Darling in the FranXX – 15 – Two Jian Become One, and a Much Bigger World Reveals Itself

When the Battle of Gran Crevasse begins, Hiro has no pistil, partner, or FranXX…a bird with one wing and one eye, unable to fight without his one and only partner. A Jian.

While his friends head out into by far the biggest and most dangerous battle they’ve ever fought, one that will surely determine the future of mankind—a battle from which they may not return—Hiro is merely a spectator in Plantation 13’s CIC, with Hachi, Nana, and Dr. FranXX.

Thankfully, he won’t remain one.

Oh, look: the Nines swap the “gender roles” in the cockpit. It figures that they do things quite a bit differently. Zero Two is of their ilk, but also pretty much her own animal; when we check in on her she’s already devoured all of her disposable Stamens, and is operating Strelizia alone in Beast Mode.

While she and the Nines aren’t having any trouble destroying scores of Klaxosaurs, their foe’s numbers are being replenished as quickly as they can dispatch them, meaning no progress is being made, even when Squad 13 joins the fray with their own unique brand of combat.

Plantation 26 is obliterated, and when a mountain-sized “Super Lehmann-class” Klaxosaur emerges from beneath the ground, Plantation 13 is also pierced and thousands of smaller Klaxosaurs infiltrate the city within.

Hachi and Nana’s foreboding was more than justified: this episode of DFX raises the scale of the threat and stakes to dizzyingly huge, TTGL-esque levels. In doing so, the show reaches a high watermark; everything has been building up to this, and the execution is equal parts breathless and flawless.

At one point, Hiro has seen enough. He’s tired of standing by, and curses himself for having suddenly stopped asking questions and challenging the limited world he’s been spoon-fed his entire life.

Thanks to Zero Two, he managed to find the memories the adults tried to steal from him, and now that he remembers the inquisitive brat he once was, he intends to get back to discovering the true boundaries of the world with immediate effect.

To that end, he pilots a wimpy training mech into the warzone—and nearly gets himself killed. Ichigo, who has tried at all costs to keep him and Zero Two apart, both for his safety and due to her wanting him to come love him as he loves her…but that’s simply not going to happen.

So Ichigo concedes defeat. Goro gives up his spot so Hiro can pilot Delphinium to Strelizia’s location. You can’t help but feel for Ichigo: she can finally pilot a FranXX with the one she loves, only so he can get to the one he loves. But even Ichigo has to admit they can’t save the day without Strelizia at full chat. For that, it needs two pilots working as one.

Ichigo delivers Hiro to Zero Two, but not before she gives Strelizia a couple of frustration slaps to help dull the sting a small bit. Once inside, Hiro finds Zero Two unresponsive, but grabs hold of her over-sized horns and enters her thoughts.

There, he finds the little red girl and comforts her. There, Hiro learns how long Zero Two fought to keep her memories; how she fought the world without him. We learn she got the term “darling” from him, referring to the picture book she ate in order to never forget.

Her horns shatter, and the human Zero Two returns. She tells Hiro to stay away, but he won’t. She may have called him fodder, and he may have called her a monster, but it doesn’t matter anymore, because there’s a world out there to explore, far beyond what the adults might like or allow…and he’s ready to fight by her side for that world once again.

Hiro kisses Zero Two, Strelizia returns to its humanoid form, only red and souped-up, and the two confess to each other emphatically over open comms for all of Squad 13 to hear. Ichigo is “happy” for them.

Oh, and the New Strelizia borne from their mutual confessed love not only tears through the Super Lehmann, but opens a hole to the blue sky, literally piercing the old boundaries of the world that simply aren’t adequate anymore.

But just when the immediate threat is eliminated, a newer, stranger, and most importantly even bigger threat emerges in the form of a gargantuan Klaxosaur(?) arm and hand that rise up and smashes the majority of Plantation 13 to dust.

The two Jian have finally joined to become one, and their world has never looked bigger…but now the question arises: how much longer do they have to explore it?

P.S. Miku and Zorome discover a Klaxosaur core containing a golden mass with a vaguely human form that might be a pilot, covered in some kind of protective coating. Something to keep an eye on…

Darling in the FranXX – 14 – Ichigo Wins the Latest Round but It’s a Pyrrhic Victory

It seemed like they had all the time in the world to talk in the cockpit after waking up from their mutual, past-recalling, truth-revealing dream. But they don’t, because Hiro passes out from his exertion, and Ichigo storms in and separates the two immediately. After all, she knows nothing of the extent of their past together.

From Ichigo’s perspective, Zero Two is a monster who was willing to either turn Hiro into one or kill him trying and move on to the next stamen. From circumstantial evidence alone, it certainly doesn’t look good for Zero Two. Add in Ichigo’s competition with her for Hiro’s love—on which she clearly hasn’t given up—and it’s a perfect storm of bad luck for the formerly red girl.

We know who Hiro wants to see the moment he comes to, but he doesn’t get to see that person. She’s kept away, while everyone else is there, relieved and supportive of his recovery (the adults paint a bleaker picture of his health, but not near open doors this time).

In the midst of this love triangle drama, I’m glad Hiro still had time to speak with Mitsuru alone, and start to offer apology for breaking his promise before Mitsuru tells him it’s “no big deal” and “in the past”, even if we know full well how much the perceived betrayal affected him.

At the briefing for what will be the largest and more dangerous sortie ever attempted, involving not just Squad 13 and the Nines but a host of other FranXX squads, Ichigo formally requests Zero Two be ejected from the Squad. Nana tells Ichigo Zero Two was scheduled to sortie with the Nines for the mission anyway.

And so it’s all happening how Zero Two feared: no matter how many klaxosaurs she killed, even now, when she knows Hiro was her darling all along, she can’t talk to him or even see him. Everyone is blocking her way, having already formed their conclusions about who and what she is.

It’s patently unfair, in my view, and despite how much I personally like Ichigo as a character, I take no pleasure in watching her and the other squad members work together to block Zero Two and guard Hiro from any contact, because none of them have the whole picture. Heck, Hiro doesn’t even have the whole picture, which is why he wants to talk with Zero Two so badly. He wants to know if she knew he and only he could pilot FranXX with her…perhaps due to the fact he drank some of her blood.

Still, it’s a credit to Hiro’s genuine “goodness” that he doesn’t rage and fume when he’s unable to get his way. And when Ichigo cuts herself with a knife, he’s just as caring and nurturing as he’s always been. But Ichigo’s luck is almost as bad as Zero Two’s, as even her attempt at an apple bunny recalls the image of Zero Two’s red horns for Hiro, and he’s right back to thinking about how much he wants to see her.

Zero Two is done holding back. If the squad won’t let her see her Darling, she’ll use force to see him. At the same time she starts to fight them, Hiro asks Ichigo to leave the knife behind before she leaves, a dead giveaway he intended to use it to “escape” his friends’ supervision by climbing out the hospital window.

The thing is, calmer heads prevail when Goro and Kokoro insist Ichigo stand down lest things get out of control. Goro doesn’t think Zero Two would be so desperate if she didn’t have something very important to discuss with Hiro.

Ichigo isn’t convinced that won’t just be more manipulative lies, but she relents, and the whole squad escorts Zero Two to Hiro’s room…but he’s already gone, discovering how feral Zero Two has become from the state of her dorm room.

Zero Two, already on her last nerve, thinks Ichigo and the squad tricked her, and proceeds to beat them all up. Such is her horrible luck and timing that Hiro walks back in just as she’s choking Ichigo nearly to death with one hand, and Hiro condemns her for being, in that moment, a real monster.

But it goes further than that. Zero Two knows what she did, and knew, one day, she’d be punished for it. By setting Hiro up as her one and only Darling, she put him on the path to becoming a monster like her (Nana and Hachi even discuss his imminent “saurification”).

So she accepts her punishment and is sent away, just as the Beast was separated from her human Prince. Such a simple thing as existing in a room and talking things out was never allowed to happen; other people and her own actions kept conspiring to get in the way.

So Zero Two leaves the Squad 13 dorm without speaking a word, her horns longer than ever, wearing an imperious white coat, and flanked by minders. She meets up with the other Nines, who present her with a procession of disposable stamens ready to give their lives so that she can pilot Strelizia and keep killing klaxosaurs.

Only now her original reason for wanting to fight, along with her sole reason for wanting to be human, are gone. Now, she seems poised to embrace the Beast within, seemingly convinced she was never meant to have a Darling in the first place.

Hiro can’t fight back tears as Zero Two departs, and when he tries to run after her, Ichigo grabs him and won’t let go. She’s decided she’s not going to let Zero Two influence or change him any more than she has. She thinks there’s still time to get back her Hiro. She takes hold of his face, gets on her tiptoes, kisses him, and confesses her love for him.

But once again, bad luck strikes: Zero Two’s transport soars overhead immediately after she says the words, and it looks for all the world like Hiro was a lot more focused on that than her confession.

Ichigo may have Hiro in her arms, and he may have just been told how much she loves and cherishes him, but she won’t escape punishment either: Punishment for the ruthlessness with which she sent her rival away; for refusing to give her a chance; for not allowing two people who loved each other to talk things through.

Fate / Zero – 22

For an episode preceded by such disturbing spectacle as a broken man murdering his best friend and making Rin an orphan, and followed by the casual malice of a born-again nihilist discarding his hostage before setting a foreboding trap, this episode has the most charming, heartwarming opening: an exhausted Waver finally arrives back home just before daybreak.

We know it’s not really his home, and he hypnotized its occupants into thinking he’s their grandson. But when his “grandpa” beckons for him to join him on the roof for a truly spectacular sunrise, something else dawned on me: Waver is Me. He’s the most normal, decent, well-adjusted participant in a war stocked with utter weirdos on all sides.

He seeks only simple glory and acknowledgement; the underdog raised high; his doubters and haters silenced. Sure, hypnotizing the couple was wrong, but how can I judge when even after the hypnosis wears off, the grandpa is not only forgiving, but wants Waver to stay. He’s a better grandson than they ever had.

On to the weirdos. While I more easily related to him early as a young kid having fun before all hell broke loose, and continue to recognize the emotions in his heart, support his goals (as laid out by Iri) and feel for his many losses, I simply haven’t lived a life as intense as Kiritsugu, so while I’m rooting for him, I’m on the outside looking in with Kiritsugu.

And Kiritsugu is alone again. It’s not ideal, but he’s not going to slow down or stop, even though he’s gone forty hours without sleep. He says “alone again” because, like Natalia, Maiya has left him. He doesn’t seem to count Saber as a person he can work with or trust, let alone a person at all; instead, she’s a tool to win the war, and he treats her as coldly as ever as she makes her report.

Kiritsugu probably also feels alone because Iri has been taken by the enemy, and he no doubt fears he won’t see her alive again. But a defiant Iri makes use of her captivity by Kirei to get in a number of barbs that cut the priest to the quick. Notably, that Kiritsugu isn’t an “empty man” like him; he seeks nothing less than the salvation of the world through the elimination of all violence and conflict.

Unsurprisingly, Kirei hears nothing but the naive utterings of a child in these words, but Iri does manage to give him something he didn’t have before he kidnapped her: Kiritsugu’s dream, which he will now proceed to destroy, along with the Holy Grail itself, which he can think of no use for. And since he gets all he needs out of Iri, he snaps her neck, seemingly killing her.

That I’m a bit fuzzy on how this whole Einzbern homonculus system works—and thus unclear whether Iri is dead dead or even ever alive—is irrelevant; it’s still absolutely gutting to see such a gentle, loving person treated with such contempt. Kirei is one hell of a villain, and his frustration and resentment for lacking something fundamental Kiritsugu seems to possess is palpable; he’s an almost pitiable wretch.

After that unpleasantness, what sure feels like the final day of the War transitions into the final night, and Waver awakes to find Rider in no particular hurry. Mage signals in the sky indicate that someone wishes to challenge them—Kirei arrranges for Archer to fight Rider while Berserker will keep Saber company—and Rider summons a horse, the backup to his chariot.

Waver has no intention of going along. As Rider said, only the strong remain, and Waver doesn’t consider himself strong. He’s Just A Guy, after all, the Everyman of Fate/Zero, with no business in the final battles. He even expends all of his Command Seals at once so he can say with certitude he is no longer Rider’s Master.

And yet Rider still picks him up by the scruff and dumps him in front of him on his horse. He wants Waver to accompany him as he has on all of their great battles thus far, not because he’s his Master, but because they’re friends and equals.

Having gone from gut-punch to heartwarm, the episode closes with a bit of a mindblower, as Iri, apparently not quite dead (or…whatever) after all, goes Beyond the Infinite.

In a surreal, bizarre and thoroughly unsettling sequence that calls to mind Akira, Evangelion, and Dalí, Iri sees hundreds of naked doll bodies piled up before her, one of which cracks a way-too-wide evil grin; then she has a touching scene with her daughter Ilya before an oozing black darkness encroaches upon them, and dozens of tiny arms grab at her and pull her down into the goo.

When she emerges, she realizes what’s happening: she’s in the Holy Grail. What exactly that means, and whether and how she can aid her beloved from there, remains to be seen. But I have to say I’m digging the extra metaphysical layer the show has revealed.

Fate / Zero – 21

I can only admire Fate/Zero for its willingness to include a little bit of everything for everyone in its Holy Grail War, and as it had already featured a dogfight between Archer and Berserker, it was only a matter of time before Saber got into a chase with Rider, she on her motorcycle and he and Waver on his giant chariot.

The resulting chase does not disappoint, as Saber squids fearlessly through traffic, pushing her steed to its mechanical limits before deciding Screw it, I’m bosozokuing this motherfucker. While I prefer the more classic look of her bike, it’s still hella cool she can soup it up the same was she can soup up her armor.

With only five episodes left (my how time flies) I wasn’t ruling out the possibility this would be it for Rider, but Saber is content to withdraw after destroying his chariot with Excalibur, after which Waver and Rider lament that they have to walk home; a not inconsiderable distance considering the speed and length of the chase.

And that’s pretty much the last of the levity in this episode, as things go visually and thematically super-dark from there. Turns out Rider didn’t kidnap Iri (didn’t seem very in-character); it was Kariya’s doing, using two command seals to A.) control Berserker and B.) disguise him as Rider. Kiritsugu tortures Kariya’s brother Byakuya but doesn’t get much out of him.

Kirei has been busy since killing Tokiomi; further exploring his capacity for “entertainment” by manipulating Kariya, using new Command Seals and his bloodlust for Tokiomi as bait. While this all makes sense, I wish we’d have been able to witness Kirei initially approach Kariya after healing him and his stint with Zouken. Instead, the plan came together entirely in the background and has to be swiftly explained after the fact.

Once Kariya is off to the church to duel with Tokiomi (by now very dead), Zouken reveals himself to Kirei. If there is one remaining bit of levity in this episode, it’s here, as Zouken, truly a top-class Master of Evil, seems to take a shine to Kirei. Kirei is understandably disgusted by the mere suggestion of being compared to scum like him.

But for once, Zouken is right: I have no doubt that after a few more decades of this kind of stuff, Kirei will be standing in the exact same place as Zouken, King of Shitbags – so shitty, he’s not sure what he wants more: to win the Grail War, or watch his son continue to suffer.

And does Kariya ever suffer. After entering the church and yelling at a corpse, he discovers Tokiomi is already dead, just when the deceased’s widow Aoi arrives, no doubt summoned by Kirei. It’s not what it looks like (that Kariya just killed Tokiomi) but it sure looks bad, and Aoi doesn’t go easy on Kariya, rejecting his excuses and condeming him for never having loved anyone, despite the fact he always secretly loved her.

Kariya is clearly not in a stable place mentally here, and that instability and the resulting breakdown is chillingly depicted with a series of blackout shots, tinged with flashes of him attacking Aoi (the dark church appearing bright beside the blackness), before returning to full vision of him slowly strangling her to death.

After that all Kariya can do is get up and stumble out, screaming and wailing incoherently; becoming more like his unhinged Servant all the time. And who enjoyed a prime vantage point for this macabre entire “play” up in the church balcony? Kirei, who along with Archer were watching and sipping wine the whole time. Kirei notes the wine tastes different; better. He wants to sample more.

Fate / Zero – 20

This week is 95% talk and 5% action, resulting in an episode that’s 75% “8” and 25% “9.” Kiritsugu’s backstory duology was fantastic, as well as instrumental in helping us understand him more. One could also argue that positioning it after the Mion River Battle made sense, as all the Servants and Masters who survived the battle would require resting-up.

But the fact the two episodes are wholly self-contained, with no ‘bookends’ to tether the story to the present-day rest period, is a double-edged sword. The bad edge being that we simply time-traveled to Kiritsugu’s past; no one in the present was reminiscing. That meant a hard stop to the present-day story, which is a little jarring from a momentum and pacing standpoint.

It also means we barely skipped through the rest-and-recovery period for the Servants and Masters post-battle, so we’re presented with them now. Of course, Tokiomi getting killed and replaced as Archer’s Master was huge, but much of the episode that preceded that event felt like time-marking.

Fate/Zero’s long talks in dark rooms are always tolerable at worst and momentous masterpieces of the spoken word at best, but setting aside Kiritsugu’s past episodes, the proportion of present, legitimate Holy Grail War action set pieces and those of static dialogue has felt imbalanced.

That imbalance is amplified by the similar orientations of so many of the participants in those talking scenes, which are so simple in their execution one wonders if the studio was being more conservative with its budget post-Mion, post-Arimago, and post-Natalia. But they weren’t all bad. There were just a lot of them.

Iri is on her back, her body continuing to weaken as the War’s end draws closer, giving Kiritsugu Avalon since he’ll be needing it from now on. Their exchange is sad but also comforting; a kind of love has indeed taken shape in their nine years together, and there are no regrets, only the hope that Ilya will be able to avoid fighting in the next War, because there will be no next War. (Never mind that we know ful well there will be, of course…only adding to the tragedy).

Waver is on his back, in a full-length sleeping bag in the woods, trying to do all he can to restore Rider’s physical form and mana after having to use Ionian Hetairoi a second time (and saying there won’t be a fourth). They may have started out as comic relief, but they can pull off their share of dramatic scenes too; they’ve come a long way.

In the weakest scene, Kariya, while not supine, is strung up crucifixion-style, back under the tender care of Zouken, Evil Dad, who implants in him a crest worm that “first tasted Sakura’s purity”, and thus contains a lot of her life force, which Zouken then blames him for stealing, which is kind of like a bully using his victim’s own hand to hit him in the fact while saying “stop hitting yourself.” Such a creepy dick.

We don’t see Tokiomi, but we can assume he’s supine in death (unless Kiritsugu chose a more creative way to dispose of his body). And then we’re back to Iri, being watched by Maiya. As Kiritsugu infiltrates the Toosaka mansion and discovers Tokiomi is dead, Maiya answers Iri’s question about why she’s stood  beside Kiritsugu all this time.

We learn that as Natalia did with him,  Kiritsugu delivered Maiya from child soldier hell and, by taking her under his wing, inserted her into a different kind of hell that was better simply because neither of them were alone anymore. Despite Maiya’s believe that should she survive the war she won’t have a purpose any longer, Iri implores her to live life perhaps to find out what her name was and if any of her family still live.

A non-main character being told she has her whole life ahead of her is usually a sign that character’s hours are numbered, and so it comes to pass when Rider suddenly busts in their hideout, kidnaps Iri, and mortally wounds Maiya when she tried to stop him. The suddenness of Rider’s vicious attack really awoke me to the fact that the time for parlays, truces, and mercy is quickly waning, if it isn’t already gone.

That brings us to the final—and best—scene of a character lying on her back, the dying Maiya. Saber arrived almost immediately when Kiritsugu blew a Command Seal, but Iri had already been taken, and there was no time to heal Maiya and go after Rider.

By the time Kiritsugu reaches Maiya, she’s too far gone, which means Kiritsugu has to endure watching yet another person he loves die before his eyes. But the world without fighting he wants to build isn’t meant for him or Iri or Maiya; they’re all merely tools. That world is for his daughter, for all the world’s sons and daughters. So he will press on.

Fate / Apocrypha – 02

While still not quite exciting enough to fully recommend, the second episode of Fate/Apoc is nevertheless an improvement, as things move from the explanation of the mechanics of this new Grail War to all of its various players. There are many little scenes in which a master and servant introduce themselves.

That interaction ranges from Gordes yelling at his Black Saber, Siegfried, to Celenike licking her new “toy”, Black Rider AKA Astolfo, 12th Paladin of Charlemagne. The servants are represented not just from historical heroes, but a fictional monster like Frankenstein’s, or Jack the Ripper.

Kairi meets and gets to know Red Saber AKA Mordred, “son” of Arthur. Kairi gets off to the wrong start when he calls her a woman, but as long as she’s able to pull an Excalibur-like sword out of the stone and become King, she’s willing to work with the guy. Aside from Caules testing Black Berserker (Frankenstein)’s power, Red Saber and Kairi’s raid of the Yggdmillennia stronghold of Trifas is the only sustained action we get.

It’s a quick fight, only meant to test both sides of the conflict, and Red Saber and Kairi find a nice rhythm. I also liked Saber’s ability to add and shed armor according to the situation (she seems prefer wearing as little as possible)

We’ve got two Sabers, two Archers, two Assassins, two Berserkers…you get the idea. But there’s also a “watchdog” in Kotomine Shirou, who is planning to kill the fifteenth servant to make an appearance in this war: Ruler, who bookends this episode and is established as being Jeanne d’Arc (the second one I’m watching after Baha Soul) and being on her way to Trifas.

We’ve yet to met her master, but as he and she are listed as the two main characters (and displayed as such in the promo art) this is still very much another piece-introducing and arranging episode. Other than the deliberate pace, the animation still sticks out as lacking compared to ufotable works, but at the same time the characters seem to have a lot more “punch” to them, particularly the more fiery Red Saber.

Fate / Apocrypha – 01 (First Impressions)

Full disclosure to new readers: I have never played any of the Fate games, and my only exposure to the franchise’s anime was Unlimited Blade Works seasons 1 and 2. UBW was quite entertaining, but didn’t really leave me chomping at the bit for a spinoff that doubles the number of participants in the Holy Grail War.

Apocrypha is the spinoff we got, whether I asked for one or not, and it offers a decent soundtrack but bland masters (at least so far) who spend much of the episode sitting around in rooms talking after four minutes of heated battle. And even those four minutes, while exciting, only serve to emphasize this is not a ufotable anime, as is much less smooth and sophisticated in both character design and animation.

That’s…somewhat problematic right off the bat, as I’m already getting more than my fair share of fun knights-and-magic battle from MAPPA’s Baha Soul (empty calories and all) as well as Re:Creators (when it deigns to include action in its episodes, that is). Unbacked by the ufotable pedigree, this looks more to someone like me (who has only seen ufotable Fate) like, well, a poor imitation.

Take out all the familiar terminology like Holy Grail War, Servants, Masters, etc., and we’re left with a simply okay-looking magical fantasy drama that hopes to capitalize on the cache of the Fate brand. That may prove to be enough for passionate (or at least completionist) followers of the franchise, but I’m just not that enamored with the alternate King Arthur milieu to overlook this spinoff’s technical shortcomings.

Bottom line: this premiere told me a lot, but didn’t show me enough to warrant an enthusiastic dive into its 25-episode span. However, I may still tune in to see if a second episode can capture my interest.

Sagrada Reset – 09


Sakurada Reset pulled off quite a lot last week, and got particularly exciting when things started coming together, but there’s still something unsatisfying about following it up with another flashback. Momentum had been built up, but this episode killed it, by valuing context-through-lengthy explanation over progress.

Mind you, I’m not mad about learning more about what happened just after Souma Sumire died—the two-year jump was pretty dang abrupt! It’s more a matter of timing, and the fact that I’d grown accustomed to being in the “present” of two years later.

With that said, this is an opportunity to see Kei and Haruki before they figured out how to be a well-oiled reset/recall machine. After Souma dies, both of them suspect the reset ability: Haruki, the ability itself, and Kei, the fact he used it so “thoughtlessly”—and in doing so sealing Souma’s fate.

While Haruki tries in vain over and over to reset on her own, Kei visits the spot where Souma fell, and meets a young Kit-Kat-loving woman named Ukawa Sasane (Koshimizu Ami) who thinks he’s Souma’s boyfriend thinking of offing himself.

She’s wrong about him being a boyfriend, or being suicidal, but Ukawa’s assumption is couched in her desire to save others from dangerous places like the bridge, be it with a Kit-Kat (an invitation to “take a break” and chill out) or with her “fence-making” ability.

A call to the Bureau for answers (and a request to save Souma) goes nowhere, and Kei eventually decides his choice to reset wasn’t what killed Souma, while Haruki realizes she can’t reset on her own because a part of her is scared of being hated by Kei.

Ultimately, the two come together and agree that the people they can help with their combined abilities outweighs the possible suffering resetting might cause. Kei tells Haruki to reset, it works, and they complete their actual first job in the Service Club.

Kei, however, isn’t done trying to find a way to bring Souma back. Her death and his inability to prevent it clearly still haunt him, and he believes if there’s a place where someone can be brought back from the dead, it’s Sakurada.

It would seem that he’ll eventually be proven right, since two years later the “Witch” considers Souma her successor, and assures Asai he’ll see her again. One can’t succeed anyone unless they’re alive, after all.

But this week, at least, is just more fuel for the fire of the show’s detractors. It lent more context to later events and positions, and introduced a new character, but even by Sagrada standards it was a dull trudge, not helped by the fact it took place entirely in a tension-sapping flashback.

Orange – 04

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I’ve mentioned how cold and bleak and dreary things look in Naho’s “bad future.” With Kakeru dating Ueda, it’s like that coldness has seeped into present-day Naho’s world. Heck, the first image in the present is of a futuristic—and somewhat frightening—looking interior of an automatic ice cream cone-serving machine.

In it, two cones are stuck in their stands, so close together and yet inexorably separate, being pushed and pulled by outside forces ever further away. One is filled with pink ice cream – which I saw as a symbol of the aggressive redhead Ueda’s new regime in Kakeru’s life.

The workings of the ice cream machine seem unchangeable, but that’s just an illusion brought on by its cold, intimidating, mechanical nature. In order to prevent the same thing happening this time, the machine has to be unplugged and reprogrammed. And Naho is the only technician who can do it.

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Kakeru is most definitely dating Ueda-senpai. He is also most definitely miserable, because of the note he got from Naho a hair too late. Now he’s trapped, and Ueda will not leave him alone. She’s hot, but she’s also clingy, monopolizing, and singleminded. She’s also not a fool, so she sees the glances between Naho and Kakeru, and doesn’t like them one bit.

There’s already tension—like Weyoun and Dukat when DS9 was occupied—that Naho could capitalize on if only she had the nerve to. Alas, she still doesn’t. Letters that tell her she can’t keep ignoring Kakeru, even when he calls you to her and Ueda is nearby (as she always is) seem all well and good to Naho, but her future self is looking back; she’s not in the moment, trying the best she can but coming up a few seconds or a few inches too short.

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What present Naho doesn’t realize is that those seconds and inches become the years and miles that end up dooming Kakeru. Ueda will be the death of him if Naho doesn’t stop running away.

When Kakeru says “bye” to Naho, and Naho calls out his name, Ueda hears it all and takes her revenge by knocking Naho over on her way to her boyfriend. But it backfires: Kakeru doesn’t take the side of his current girlfriend—who just demonstrated that one should never pick someone based on looks alone—but Naho’s side, angering Ueda, who storms off in a snit. Smell ya later, missy.

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Back to the subject of color temperature: what had been a cold and bleak episode got much warmer and more comfortable, starting with the Ueda fight and continuing throughout the remainder of the episode, as things start to turn around for Naho, her colors of green and yellow (or, ya know, orange) start to replace the blues and reds.

Naho alone may not have the strength to do what her future self asks of her, but her friends lend her some of theirs, including Suwa, who is putting Naho’s happiness ahead of his own feelings. He, Azusa and Takako have plainly seen what Ueda (whom they loathe) has done to their Naho and Kakeru. They want Naho to know it’s okay to talk to Kakeru; after all, he wants to talk to her too.

Interestingly, Suwa’s mini-intervention wasn’t in future Naho’s letter; Naho takes it as a sign that the positive change she’s affected so far has already started to change the timeline. She can’t very well stop now.

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She doesn’t, and we finally get to end an episode NOT in the depths of despair. Yay! Naho speaks up, from across the street (then crosses after looking both ways. Good Naho!), and she and Kakeru reopen a very enlightening dialogue.

Kakeru is thinking about dumping Ueda, and not just because of the little public fight they had. Naho’s “no”, which she assumed he’d forgotten or ignored, has weighed heavily on him ever since he said yes to Ueda. It’s never felt right as a result, because he only chose Ueda because, at the time, he didn’t know Naho’s position, and Naho’s position is far more important to him than arm candy.

What Kakeru won’t reveal to Naho is the person he likes more than Ueda, even though it would be clear to anyone who wasn’t Naho that he’s talking about her, and like her is too afraid to just come out and say it. But never mind; just the fact he’s considering dumping Ueda makes this a small but crucial victory for Naho.

She realized that her future self doesn’t  have it easy. She’s dealt with ten years of regret of not doing what she’s telling her to do; Naho’s only dealt with a few weeks. And while future Naho can do nothing about any of it because Kakeru is gone, Naho doesn’t have that problem. Kakeru is right there. She has to keep her chin up, and think warm thoughts.

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Ushio to Tora – 13

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Ushio gets a much-needed breather at the bread shop of the old man he saved from the youkai, but the youkai hordes are still out there, and once they find him, he’s thrown right back into a battle where the youkai have all the numbers, and Beast Spear or no, Ushio is getting worn down. Enter Kagari and Raishin, who are not only there to help him, but are willing to die by his side.

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The kamaitachi are nothing if not loyal to those who helped and empathized with their plight. I find myself liking them more and more. Yet even with them around, the youkai keep coming. It’s ultimately Tora who saves the three of them from the hordes, deciding not to sit on the sidelines after all. Sure, that puts him in Hitotsuki’s crosshairs, but he couldn’t care less; in fact, he wouldn’t mind fighting his old associate, for no other reason that he keeps calling him Nagatobimaru!

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Ushio finds himself deposited before a large traditional Japanese estate wreathed in fog, and he is welcomed to come in, calm down, sit, and listen. The Zashiki Warashi is there, along with the leader of the youkai who have been attacking him; Hitotsuki’s long-nosed boss. He tells Ushio a little more about who her mother is, and the nine-tailed Hakumen no Mono she protects from the youkai with a powerful barrier, as her predecessors have done for the last thousand years. What the youkai boss can’t tell Ushio is why, but he suspects Ushio can ask her himself when he finds her.

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Ushio also learns the reason the boss is being so nice to him: he’s the old man he saved in the forest, who he hung out with at the bread shop. Like Kagari and Raishin, if one is kind to youkai, chances are they’ll be kind to you as well; they’re not wholly evil or anti-human under all circumstances.

As for Hitotsuki, the boss is miffed for him disobeying orders, but allows him to duel Tora to decide whether he gets to have his way. As I said, Tora is fine fighting him, considering they have history, but twists himself in knots explaining to Ushio that he’s not doing this for his sake (even though he really kinda is.)

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At first Hitotsuki mops the floor with Tora, slapping him around and biting him with his many serpent-head digits and goring him with his giant horn. But Tora eventually takes the gloves off, breaths fire on his opponent, then zaps him and smacks him around until he’s declared the winner (though Tora doesn’t kill him, again showing his new, slightly softer side). The boss shows his true form—a magnificent Tengu—and promises Ushio none of his youkai will harm him ever again, as per the terms of the duel.

With that, Kagari patches up Tora (I like the deference the kamaitachi now show to who is essentially their “senpai”), and he and Ushio head into the misty woods on the next leg of their eventful journey to find Ushio’s mom. Turns out it will take a lot more than bumping into an old acquaintance like Hitotsuki to break his complex bond with Ushio.

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Ushio to Tora – 12

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No Gate or Food Wars for Hannah tonight, as every other Summer show seems to want to take a week off at some point in its run, but at least I’ve got Ushio to Tora, which after this week has just one final episode until its second cour. And while there was a pretty good amount of action and fighting this week, there was also a lot of standing around talking and infodumping, indicating this was an episode to pause, take stock, and bring Ushio and Tora up to speed as to the youkai situation.

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And here is that situation: the youkai are pissed. They know who Ushio is, and more importantly whose son he is, and while we still don’t know a whole lot about what his mother has done (or continues to do), it’s enough to unite a whole mess of low-to-mid-level youkai into a marauding confederacy of sorts. If they can’t hurt his mom, they’ll sure as hell try to hurt him. Thing is, it doesn’t seem like they really can. They have the numbers, but like Tora, none of them can stand up against the power of the Beast Spear, which acts on its own to save Ushio when he’s bum-rushed.

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He gets away from the crowd and comes upon a swamp where a helpful kappa (who doesn’t share the youkais’ vendetta) heals his wounds and tells/sings him the story of Hakumen no Mono, a monster who wanted to do away with all other monsters and have all of humanity to itself to torment. Meanwhile, Tora is separated from Ushio and ends up getting the lowdown from his old youkai pal Hitotsuki, while the kamaitachi, now firm friends of Ushio, if not other humans, refuse to join the youkai lynch mob.

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It could well be that the power Ushio’s mom wields, and has apparently inherited as the lastest “tasked woman”, is a blight to youkai and a threat to the yin-yang balance of the universe. But this episode only goes so far in revealing who and what she really is, even to Ushio, who till the end thinks the welcoming committee is being a bit rough on him. But these are ancient monsters he’s dealing with, who have no qualms about hurting a woman who hurt them but can’t hurt her back by hurting her son.

As for Tora, Hitotsuki tells him he’s free to join in the hunt, but otherwise had better stay on the sidelines. Tora, for his part, seems to acknowledge he’s gone a bit soft, lacking the cruelty for humans he once possessed. He says he possesses Ushio so that he can one day kill and eat, but he has nothing to show for it, except an increasingly dull edge. I’d say he’s due for some kind of fresh betrayal of Ushio, but there’s the persistent issue of that Beast Spear, and the fear of 500 more years trapped in a cellar. So we’ll see which side he ends up on.

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Re-Kan! – 09

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The mystery of who Amami is making a very specific kind of handmade chocolate for, and why, isn’t all that mysterious. But as always with Re-Kan, the emotional resonance, not the mystery or animation, did most of the heavy-lifting, and succeeded admirably.

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Not only that, as we watch Amami’s activities through the lenses of both her living and dead friends, all of whom have fairly reasonable theories, I felt the episode kept things in doubt long enough for the final twist to have some impact.

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Working with the info we’re given from the start, Amami is going to make a traditional Japanese sweet, the recipe for which she learns from the kindly wife of a grouchy old humbug who infests the park scaring the Valentines-crazed youngs away.

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The episode staves off the last piece of the puzzle with the use of editing and camera angles to keep the wife’s status up in the air until Amami finally presents the chocolates to the husband, at which point we see he is a widower.

Yet again, Amami did a favor for a ghost who couldn’t do it herself: make chocolates for her still grieving, lonely husband. She also doesn’t disappoint the ravenous Yamada or her friends by offering all of them chocolates, so everyone wins!

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When the grumpy old man is alone again, he polishes off the whole box of chocolates, and realizing his departed wife is still there beside him on some plane or another, thanks her, his heart having been lifted from the gloom. The final shot that tracks from him sitting alone on the bench to the shadows of both him and his wife, was quite lovely and affecting.

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