Girl Friend BETA – 05

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This week’s delicious episode of Girl Friend BETA centers on an entirely new set of students, namely the school’s student council, led by President Amatsu Kanata and Vice President Shinomiya Risa (Hikasa Yoko). The schools in a rather unusual pickle: with the entire cafeteria staff stuck on Easter Island, the cafeteria finds itself stocked with food, but no one to cook, order, or serve. President Amatsu decides the StuCo will take up the challenge and cook for the school in the staff’s stead.

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Amatsu is notorious among the council members below her for being terrible at absolutely everything except making tea, which she’s almost preternaturally good at. She’s also good at suggesting ideas that require an immense amount of work, the bulk of which ends up being done by Shinomiya and the other members, because Amatsu can’t do anything properly and ends up creating more work than had she not lifted a finger at all. But again, when the first morning of training is over, she makes everyone a fantastic cuppa.

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Do not watch this episode on an empty stomach! Between the curry and rice, meat and potatoes, tonkatsu, freshly-made yakisoba bread, udon, and “random” designer bentos, there’s a lot to make one’s mouth water. I for one love cooking, and the episode does a good job showing just how Herculean a task running the cafeteria can be…especially when word gets out the council is kicking ass in there and the number of customers increases.

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Throughout it all, Risa is essentially a very hands-on Executive Chef, handling several orders at a time and keeping the rest of the kitchen running smoothly while making sure Amatsu doesn’t serve anyone raw chicken. At one point when the orders pile up, Risa starts to think she’s in over her head and screams out for help. Amatsu is there in the break room with the perfect cup of Chamomile with honey to calm her nerves.

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And that’s what makes Amatsu the X-factor in the whole operation: Sure, she’s terrible at cooking, recommends dishes that aren’t on the menu, and is generally a nuisance, but the phenomenal tea actually makes a big difference for the makeshift staff throughout the episode; she almost serves as their White Mage. But it’s not just about the tea: Amatsu knows how to rally her troops, set lofty goals, bring out the best in everyone, including Risa, and never ever lose heart. That’s what makes Amatsu a good leader. It’s not really a mystery why she’s the president.

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Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 05

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Fate/stay night: UBW episode 05 has all the pieces of a fantastic thirty minutes of anime, but never quite comes together as a fantastic piece of anime.

Ultimately, it falls down because all these pieces, as understandable and dare-I-say believable as they are, do not fit together. At any given moment, the story lurches from breath-taking action, to relationship dialog, to Scooby-Doo style mystery.

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Emiya starts off his day by ignoring Sabre’s recommendation and going to school. Alone. Then he runs into Rin, who is completely besides herself at how stupid he is, and how he’s totally ignored her warning that she would kill him next time too.

Despite his recent encounter with Berserker, and nearly being killed by Lancer before that, Emiya’s character fails to grasp how dangerous his situation is. More accurately, his attitude comes off as ‘Whatev’s! I know best’

Thank goodness he doesn’t whine when Rin tries to kill him later.

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In some ways, I could see Emiya as a proxy for the viewer. (at least, young male viewers) He’s bold, knows enough to follow along, and isn’t totally useless . He’s like any starting JRPG character and we’re right there with him.

So, naturally, if he were our RPG character, we’d probably throw him stupidly into every fight and expect the level balance to make it beatable too.

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However, this is an anime and we have to watch Emiya ignore everyone and rush in stupidly. We don’t have any control to make the decision for his character, and there’s clearly no level balance to save his skin, which makes his decisions feel all the stupider.

Honestly, who here isn’t wondering why he isn’t trying to learn more magic, grind up some n00bs for XP, or locate a secret magic weapon? \I’d never invite this thick head on a raid and that’s the truth!

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At school, Emiya has lunch with the student council president, learns about mysterious bad goings on (the archery captain-chan never came home from school and Shinji the douche-hole was the last person seen with her)

So naturally, Emiya decides to put on his investigation hat and look around the school after everyone has gone home.

You know, completely ignoring the fact that mages don’t fight in public because PEOPLE are around. SMERT!

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Then Rin tries to kill him or, more likely, beat sense into him over how stupid he’s being OR, since he’s already been warned, remove his command seals so that she can have control of Saber or, just because he’s incredibly annoying.

Rin’s conflict (that she likes Emiya or feels responsible for him) is obvious and accounts for why she doesn’t put all her effort into actually killing him but I’m sure this is an area many viewers will find annoying. Very very very well animated but tsundere’ly annoying.

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Then a girl screams, clearly being destroyed by Shinji and the fight is broken off. Until Emiya prevents Rin from being killed with his arm and runs off to fight against Assassin all alone.

Again, showing that he’s profoundly ignorant or just plain stupid.

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After a fight that can only be described as putting even Bahamut’s animation to shame, Rin saves Emiya AGAIN, considers herself frustratingly semi-in-his-debt AGAIN, and they go to her house to talk about.

Ultimately, they talk about family and info-dump us a bit, drink tea, and form a truce that Emiya will no doubt take for granted and make Rin want to kill him again.

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From morning exposition to aimlessly screwing around at school, to mystery investigation, to angry relationship fight (with magic) to compassionately helping a civilian, to another magic fight, to info dump and happy relationship moments, the constant shifting of gears gave me whiplash.

Hot. Cold. Hot. Cold.

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That said, while it didn’t hit last week’s balance of exposition with action, this week was in no way as eye-rolling as our first major info dump at the church. If anything, the erratic focus captures how life must feel for Emiya.

However, I get the feeling that Emiya is kind of stupid and his erratic world would flow a whole lot smoother if he was smarter about living in it.

9_ogk

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 04

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Fate/stay night: UBW episode 04 is a fantastic little sequence of exposition, interwoven through a pleasant day in the life of Emiya Shirou and bookended by the harsher realities of Rin and Einzbern.

Like All F/sn, this week was beautifully rendered and calmly paced. However, the story was told with such a casual speed, and told through so many cheerful people (often walking slowly or listening to each other with a warm and obvious intent), that watching it felt like taking an evening stroll in the Fall.

FSN4_3…always question scenes where a character disappears from your view conspicuously close to the end of her sentence…

This week’s arc is all about timing and the threat of failure due to a mage tipping his or her hand.

For Emiya, he must hide Saber’s identity (and truthfully, his tortured memories of hell fire) from his friends for their own safety and he must even allow Saber to hide her true identity from him, or risk being defeated by the more experienced mages who may be able to read his mind. It’s a clever way to keep us guessing and in the dark, but it also shows Emiya’s trust in other people, and his trust in other people to trust him.

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For Rin, the risk is that she’s already revealed too much in the last fight to anyone who could have seen it and that, by saving Saber for last, she risks too much by leaving taking on too strong opponents too quickly. Worse, she risks having to face and kill Emiya because he’s likely not going to stay away for her.

She risks tipping her hand, even to herself, that she actually likes him, which will no doubt be her undoing.

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Einzbern risks the least and the most, depending on how things unfold. Her adherence to a predator’s nature — to torment her prey until it can scream no more — will most likely come back to bite her.

Yes! Berserker is unimaginably powerful but it’s arrogant to think he can not be defeated. Especially after revealing what his Nobel Phantasm is to her opponents. Giving them time to consider the best solution to defeating him (which Rin and Archer are most likely doing) is an obvious mistake. For her sake, she better hope his power is as unbreakable as she treats is.

FSN4_5the teacher is threatening because this angle makes him look larger than our hero and not seeing his face means we can’t read his emotions…

As for the actual events of episode 4? Emiya recovers from his wounds (he appears to have self-healing magic) and goes to school on an off day. Saber follows him and is a distraction for many girls who like him or worry about how rarely he truly smiles.

Saber explores the school and encounters a teacher who seems like dangerous news but that avenue remains unexplored, or just a red herring.

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Rin investigates the ‘gas leaks’ more directly and, with Archer’s help, identifies the culprit as the Caster Class servant. They seem powerful and, given the spell seems to be a love-crushing spell, presumably female. Archer is concerned by their chances of success of defeating this opponent.

This scene includes a short but dramatic fight against skeleton dogs in an office building hallway. Skeletons are hard to render by any standard and F/sn does not disappoint: not even Bahamut’s recent zombie/sea monster battle looked this good!

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Then the women in Emiya’s life decide to move in with him — and who can blame them? Saber’s sudden appearance, lack of spoken words and the fact that she is living with him would make any friends nervous, if not a little jealous.

Fujimura-Sensei practically lives there anyway and, given how obvious Sakura’s affections for Emiya are, it’s no surprise Fujimura-Sensei helps rope her in too.

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For all these happenings, ep 4 explains a lot about Servant Classes, vaguely how and why the grail summons them, and the intrinsic tactical advantages gained by knowing exactly which servant you are fighting. This is exposition to be sure, and delivered by Saber-monologging, but it’s all lovingly rendered in ghostly CGI — which is implied to be inside of Saber’s tea cup.

The implication is that she is imagining these roles and we (and Emiya) are getting to see. It’s rather clever and very effective at making the info dump engaging and grounded within the scene.

If etherial imagery can be grounded?

FSN4_4…Sakura is alone. Small and literally spot lighted in the darkness…

What’s left to say? F/sn’s slowness — its deliberate nature — is artful in a way that transcends what is already visually beautiful to become something totally beautiful.

In short, F/sn is masterfully constructed Art, in all senses and disciplinary applications of that word.

10_ogk

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 03

fsn4_1Atmosphere and sense of scale? Yeah, this show’s got that covered!

Fate/stay night: UBW episode 03 picks the pace right the heck up with a jaw-dropping battle that both spans vast miles AND stays uncomfortably close quarters in a wooded graveyard. This is the best non-movie quality magical fighting I’ve ever seen.

On top of that, F/sn manages to deliver equal parts information-bump and mystery without breaking its stride or ever feeling talky or expositional. As with episodes 00 and 01, you owe it to yourself to watch this in HD with a good set of speakers turned way up. This spectacle looks and sounds awesome!

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Illyasviel von Einzbern is her name and Berserker, her massive orc-looking servant, is her game. And her game is good, shrugging off an onslaught of full-power attacks from both Saber and Archer, and sometimes both at the same time.

It’s a great fight (or fights, if you consider the short chase Berserker gives to Saber as she relocates to the cemetery, where his advantage will be reduced) and it teases us with as many reveals as it actually gives us more information.

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What’s the deal with Archer’s sword-like arrow? What’s the deal with Saber’s sword, for the short moment it’s visible and firing what looks like a death star blast through Berserker?

Who knows? Obviously not Shirou, who’s the only one close enough to clearly see both of these things. Einzbern and Rin probably have an idea — and Einzbern in particular pulls a 180 after seeing Archer in true action. Must be some high-level stuff if the early favorite of the first four masters we’ve seen is going to take notice!

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A huge boon to the fight comes in the form of space. Not only is Archer incorporeal for the beginning of the fight, he spends most of it fighting from miles away. This would feel cheep normally…except none of his attacks are effective. Pretty as hell, but not effective.

Unfortunately, even his super sword/arrow attack comes up short and F/sn really drives home how absurdly powerful Berserker is. He’s not just nigh-unscratchable, nor just good at regeneration: it’s like he can roll back time itself and undo all the damage as if it never happened in the first place.

Crap!

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And then there’s Rin’s fight with Einzbern, which is equally spectacular but totally different than the Servant battle. Where the servants rip into each other with a pounding fury, the Masters prod, taunt and look for each other’s weakness.

The stillness of their battle was masterful and brilliantly kept the tempo fresh, keeping what was basically twenty minutes of action from wearing us out.

And Man, her hair-birds are freaky!

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Lastly, Shirou gets a small spotlight. He’s the fish out of water but he wants to help…but HE HAS NO IDEA HOW? How the heck do you get in on this without getting yourself killed and helping no one in the process? His frustration over being useless — especially considering he just shook Saber’s hand and agreed to give it his all last week — comes through nicely.

Nicer? F/sn doesn’t harp on it. Shirou is around but we get as much if not more of Rin’s point of view and much more fighting than either mage’s POV and that is a good thing. I hear, and can guess from what little I’ve seen of ‘old stinky F/sn that an excessively-whiny Shirou would be bothersome.

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Oh! Kotomine Kirei and a new bad guy/important character were also introduced. We have no idea what their agendas are but it almost sounds like Kirei would be just as happy if the world ended. His little dialogue had a true-believer vibe to it — that Judgment Day is a good thing. Nice!

Or…problematic, since there’s no way our characters are going to agree with that point of view, if they ever hear it.

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Who is this guy?

F/sn is masterful and there isn’t much else to say. You’ll hear it over and over from me, as long they do it, but my biggest joys from it are how close it keeps its secrets to its chest (we know so little) and how much space it gives all the rest.

The world is a big place and Fate respects that, which sells the experience in a unique way. Freaking Huzzah!

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Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 02

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Fate/stay nigh episode two unexpectedly breaks from the mold established by the previous episodes. It’s shorter, running only 25 minutes, and that shortness doesn’t leave much breathing room for very thoughtful setting shots that I found so lovely in episodes zero and one.

However, most shows only get a half hour slot to keep us entertained. Sadly, Fate/Stay uses that time to runs its mouth and cover a lot of exposition. I hope you’re ready for some revetting talking!

fs3_6This is a neckless is a thing reminder! You’ve been reminded!

The sum total of the episode’s activity: Rin explains the holy grail war to Shirou over tea. Then they go to Kotomine Kirei’s fake church in New Fuyuki and Kirei explains the holy grail again, with a few more details. Then Rin and Shirou leave and encounter their first true opponent.

Sure, the details matter and explanation has to happen sometime but OUCH! That’s really all that happened this week.

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As we learned last week, Shirou doesn’t want to fight because he hates the artificial’ness of good guys killing bad guys to save the day. That said, Kirei’s point is simple: a bad person won the grail ten years ago and New Fuyuki was burned to the ground and lot’s of people were killed. Even Shirou himself was seriously injured.

While there was too much of it, the exposition wasn’t dreadful. Unfortunately, Shirou hails from the “repeat what was just said back as a rhetorical question” school of anime, which lengthens and adds nothing to an already drawn out scene of talking.

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At least we get a nice moment where Sabre and Shirou get some bonding and renew their vows and establish their determination to win. Cliché? Sure. But touching.

Still, the exposition is unfortunate. It’s wasteful and that would be better spent on what fate/stay does best: establishing mood and showing us — not telling us — what people are thinking and doing. Having both Rin and the priest explain the war was over kill.

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tl;dr? This was a talk heavy episode where we learn a lot at the cost of action and mood. Also, Shirou is… kinda bland, actually.

At least the cliff hanger was a giant ass monster servant, apparently easy to identify as ‘Berserker’ and obvious that next week will drop right into a fight.

8_ogk

Ikoku Meiro no Croisée 9

Part II of “Hangin’ With the Blanches.” Yune has tea ceremony with Alice while Claude reminisces about his past with Camille. The two were good friends despite the difference in status, but whenever Claude wanted to take her out to explore the city, she’d refuse and get all huffy. It turns out her family only let her hang out with him if she didn’t leave the house. That, combined with the fact they’d never be able to marry, makes for uneasiness on both sides in the present.

I didn’t really get the last couple episodes. Sure Yune has fun with Alice, but Claude has just sitting in a dark room for two episodes, and nothing was ever resolved between him and Camille. True enough, it may never be resolved, but his flashbacks with her felt repetitive. We get it; she’s rich, he’s not-so-rich; it could never be. But she still wanted to be friends with him, and I guess it didn’t turn out that way? What of it? What does that have to do with crossroads in a foreign labyrinth?

Camille is more interesting than Alice, but I fear we’ve seen too much of her. At the end of the day she’s just an angsty aristocrat who tacitly complains about her “plight” while doing absolutely nothing to change it. She’s been stuck in a stuffy mansion her whole life and hasn’t experienced anything new or real. She just pouts like a Persian cat. Bring Yune back into the spotlight. She’s everything Camille isn’t.


Rating: 3

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The rich, buttery, epic tale of Hyouge Mono continues with all the battles taking place inside Sasuke’s head. When Senno Soueki served him with the araki bowl, he suspected the tea master knew he had spared Araki’s life. He chose to be upfront and honest with him, and he proved correct; but Senno had no intention of ratting him out to Master Oda. Say what you will about Sasuke’s priorities, the man has good instincts, and it’s why he’s survived many battles and now serves as a governor.

Another example of his instincts is when Oda welcomes him to his sublime, over-the-top Azuchi Castle and offers him a choice of rewards for his deed: cash money, or an exquisite “barbarian” (read: Chinese) green lacquer container. Sasuke choses the cash, but reaches out and touches the box. Oda accepts his verbal reply for the cash as the wise choice, as a leader of men such as he must have cash to spend. He gives him both the money and the container.

Then Oda goes all megalomaniacal, proclaiming to a somewhat worried Sasuke that he intends to besiege and conquer the mainland, currently run by the Ming and Joseon Dynasties. The island isn’t enough for him. Just when Sasuke thought Oda had acquired and achieved everything he possibly could, he raises the bar. Later, one of General Akechi’s men insults Oda as deluded by grandeur. Sasuke all but demands satisfaction, but Akechi extinguishes the brush fire.

The true message – which only Sasuke can discern amongst those gathered at the banquer – is sent when Akechi uses an ordinary teakettle and not the exquisite gift from Oda. This could mean displeasure with Oda, or a refusal to follow him to China and Korea, likely to die in a blaze of glory. Speaking of exquisite, this series continues to feature the very best facial expressions and sayings. Old-timey Japanese talk is some of the most fun stuff to listen to, especially with chill, modern beats in the background, lending a noirish atmosphere. Rating: 4

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Another episode of Sasuke’s inner conflict between the aesthete and the warrior. He resolves himself to be a full-on warrior from henceforth (didn’t he do that last week too?) only to fall off the wagon at a crucial time. The strengths from the first episode: eminently watchable characters, addictive fancy-pants dialogue, a curiously satisfying pace, anachronistic soundtrack, and a whole lot of novel ideas about the self.

Sasuke has a relatively nice life – one could even say luxurious for the time frame. He has the favor of his lord, a sublime wife of ideal disposition for her time and place, a cute young daughter, a decent crib, and a smart wardrobe. His scenes with his wife – exchanging apologies to each other before getting it on – only to be interrupted by news of a rebellion – are resplendent in their austerity. Despite everything he has though, he remains deeply conflicted. His humbling meeting with a tea master – someone, to his mind, far better at this than he – reveals that it isn’t just his warrior side he doubts, but his aesthete side as well.

His true love of the way of tea clouds his judgment as a warrior. His bluff of all bluffs – threatening to kill his wife (the rebel’s sister) unless his brother-in-law surrenders – is a desperate attempt to show those around him he’s a serious warrior. But when he corners another escaping rebel, he is bribed into sparing him by, what else, another legendarily exquisite piece of ceramic. Had there been other witnesses, Sasuke surely would have taken the rebel’s head…eventually. But to possess the mettle of a warrior, one must do things of one’s own accord, without outside influences bending him either way.

Thus Sasuke falls of the wagon and we, the audience, still question his credibility as a warrior. But that’s why we love him. Better luck next week. Rating: 4