Fate / Zero – 02

“OMG I LOVE MAPS!”

This first normal-length episode Fate/Zero leaves out a few faces so it can spend more time with others, starting with the first meeting between Waiver Velvet and his Servant, Iskandar (AKA Alexander).

The contrast in personalities is wonderful, as Iskander immediately pooh-poohs Waiver’s “small” goal to get people to treat him fairly and take him seriously despite not being from a grand old family.

Alexander, meanwhile, wants to re-conquer the world as soon as possible. That means winning the Holy Grail War first, so at least he’s motivated. He also enjoys reading atlases, as I do.

Illyasviel von Einzbern : Good Anime Kid

We return to The North, where Kiritsugu is enjoying his last hours with his young daughter Illyasviel, hunting for Chestnut buds. Saber watches from inside and can’t help but think she must’ve offended her Master in some way for his demeanor to be so different than it is with Ilya.

Iri, however, chalks it up to Kiritsugu and Arturia “never being able to see eye-to-eye”…because…she’s shorter than him? Both he and Iri expected a male King Arthur, after all; for the King of Kings to appear as young woman was a shock. But perhaps that’ll wear off and they’ll establish a rapport, in time.

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Meanwhile, in an episode where Sakura’s tormentor Zoukan is mercifully absent, we meet a new contender for Worst Guy in Zero: Uryuu Ryuunosuke, a serial killer who “prefers little boys and girls”, and has been using their blood to paint magical circles.

His grisly rituals end up ‘accidentally’ summoning Caster, who calls himself “bluebeard” after pretending to free one of Uryuu’s captives, only to jump him in the genkan with eldritch tentacles, teaching his new Master a lesson about the ‘dynamism’ of terror; Uryuu blushes with glee at his new Servant. Wonderful.

“There’s no such thing as TOO much hair gel.”

The last Master featured in this episode is Kirei, who I thought would be a little more discrete in his alliance with Toosaka Tokiomi, but wastes absolutely no time sending his Servant Assassin on an extremely ill-advised mission to eliminate Tokiomi.

I loved his ‘shrug, don’t worry about it’ when Assassin asked Kirei if he’s sure he wants to do this. Assassin shows off some moves in taking out and dodging various magical security devices, but before he gets near the house, he’s run through by a number of weapons belonging to none other than Gilgamesh, Tokiomi’s Servant, for whom Assassin was never anything other than a bug, squashed and left to die face down on the ground.

I had nothing against Assassin, but his quick exit was an unexpected surprise, to the point I wonder if he’s actually gone. As for Caster, he’s a sadistic dick but I still like him better than Uryuu, who looks to be another wild card. They’re both pretty grating, though.

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Ushio to Tora – 38

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Despite the title “The End”, this week is not the end; just the beginning of it for Hakumen. The united counterattack is now in full swing, with supernatural and military forces working in concert to make Hakumen’s life increasingly difficult. Even better, the battle is being broadcast to Japan from a news chopper, lessening the fear of those who didn’t evacuate (like Asako and her fam).

I must say, after so much darkness and dread, I was glad to see the mood of the show brightening along with the skies around the battle. The irreverent chatter between Ushio and Tora flies as furiously as the cameos, which, to be honest, are a bit out of control; but are to be expected, as the end, titles aside, is very quickly approaching.

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Hakumen is a little slow on the uptake, and in assessing exactly why things are going so bad, determines that Ushio and Tora are the cause. If they can be smitten once and for all, Hakumen can crush everyone else’s spirits and get back to wreaking havoc. So Hakumen unleashes a Malboro-esque poison cloud, isolating and trapping the duo.

All everyone else can do, from Asako to Mayuko to Hinowa and the Moritsuna siblings, is keep fighing; keep doing their part; and trust Ushio and Tora will be okay.

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And they do do okay. Ushio’s armor is shattered and he comes close to his soul shattering as well, but he’s not like the other wielders who turned into azafuse, and both he and the spear are able to calm themselves, buoyed by the knowledge, and Tora’s confirmation, that Hakumen is not only terrified of his adversaries (for their ability to unite humans and youkai, among other things)—he’s also insanely jealous.

Hatred, pain, fear, and death are the only things Hakumen has ever known, and perhaps believes they’re the only things in the world. But seeing what Ushio and Tora have been able to accomplish; watching all the assembled friends and allies fight with everything they have for their sake; even watching the beast spear reassemble itself to fight again; it’s no surprise the increasingly puny bastard would be a bit envious.

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Ushio to Tora – 37

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This week we check in with a thoroughly defeated and battered Tora who is basically ready to throw in the towel; a Tora we’ve never really seen before. So who better to cheer him up and remind him of the work that must still be done than Mayuko, via her her “spiritual form”.

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I’ll be honest, I never thought all that much about Mayuko’s feelings for Tora, and when she comes out and confesses here, it’s not that surprising, but the tears she sheds when she realizes she can’t turn Tora back into a human no matter how much she loves him (or combs him) was pretty damn moving. I too want to see Human Tora and Mayuko double-dating it up post-Hakumen with Ushio and Asako!

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Mayuko takes some solace in the fact that Tora gets his fighting spirit back, and she also heals him, ending what had been a precipitous drop ever since he killed Nagare. His revival couldn’t have come at a better time: even with all the myriad barriers of various parties in play, Hakumen is not returning to the spot in the ocean where he was originally locked away without a fight, and those barriers are weakening.

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The earlier scene with Mayuko and Tora and dozens of other instances before are ample evidence Ushio to Tora isn’t able getting a little emotional, which sometimes can’t escape stiltedness or maudlin. I wanted to like the half-hearted insult-slinging reunion of Ushio and Tora more than I actually did.

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Cutaways to Kagari and Raishin helping out some human soldiers, or the HAMMR guys making a valiant last stand, felt like curtain calls of a kind for these characters as we wind down to the finale.

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Thanks to all their friends and allies, Ushio to Tora manage to back Hakumen back into his pen, where he’s none to happy to be, no sir! He promises to kill the ones erecting all the barriers through his minions, but something tells me he’s not going to find a whole lot more success.

He’s had his day in the sun; now it’s time to put him away for good so we can bask in the glow of a victory hard-earned by enduring all this hardship and emotional stress and strain.

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Ushio to Tora – 36

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The last three weeks have been rough and the ratings have suffered because everything’s so dark and brooding and hopeless and INTENSE GRRRRR, but glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel have been gathering.

Take Saya. She’s through sitting on the sidelines, and adds her own lights to the battle, in the form of summoned dead she brings back in order to help bind Hakumen. She’s totally badass, even though she’s all on her own.

Now that everyone else has their memories back, everyone is working towards the same end, which means Hakumen finally, thankfully has his ass righteously kicked by their combined efforts.

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Nothing like hearing all about your monster friend’s appallingly tragic past to forgive that friend for his recent transgressions. Tora doesn’t come out of his unconsciousness this week, but he does become the forge into which the millions of shards of the Beast Spear accumulate and bring forth a new spear, one far more powerful than the first.

As all his friends and allies prepare to launch fresh attacks on the Big Bad, Ushio takes a moment to thank Tora for everything he’s done, and even gives him some blood from his arm, though if I’m honest, that was a lot of blood; Ushio should probably be a little woozy at this point!

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No matter. Hakumen sets up the underbosses at the tips of his tails, and Ushio knocks ’em down. Combined with the HAMMR scientists’ TRUMP weapon, Ushio’s Mom and Mayuko, a ghostly Oyakume, Saya, and the Kouhamei sects on nearby islands, Ushio’s new spear packs a whollop, and Hakumen gets the beating he’s so sorely deserved all season.

Up against the wall and moving in another direction against his will, Hakumen calls for help…from uber-Tora Guren. But Guren is occupied with Hyou, who we find, of all things, in the yard of an alcoholic, Academy Award-winning starlet. HWAHHH?

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Yeah, it’s pretty random, and the actress is kinda a dick to her seven-year-old daughter, but when Hyou repeatedly saves them from Guren, at the cost of numerous parts of his body and quite a bit of blood, the woman undergoes a swift transformation. It’s almost too perfect that Hyou should make his last stand not dying alone for no reason, but to save a mother and daughter, after he couldn’t save his own so long ago.

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Letting the gluttonous gasbag Guren eat his eye and arm are certainly last-ditch tactics, but hey, they work, and Guren goes up with n immensely satisfying big blue BANG; Guren was almost as annoying as that whiny Hakumen, and I’m glad he’s gone, and essentially by his own dumbassery.

As for Hyou, well, he achieved the revenge he sought his whole life, and saved a couple of people in the process. One can be forgiven for getting a little glassy-eyed at his farewell, when he joins his family in the afterlife. It certainly seems to have an effect on the previously disaffected mother, who isn’t as quick to swat her little girl away when Hyou passes away.

The cherry on top?  Hakumen can whine and scream all he wants, Guren ain’t coming. You’re on your own, chump!

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Ushio to Tora – 35

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Now that Ushio, his Mom, and Mayuko have gotten the skinny on Tora, as well as the knowledge that all previous wielders of the Beast Spear have become Azafuse, they can start to move forward (Saya also starts to add her power to the game). As Hakumen starts terrorizing city after city in Japan, the shards of the shattered Beast Spear that saved Ushio start taking their own journey.

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Those shards pierce each and every person who lost all memory of Ushio, including Asako, and just like that, she and everyone else remember him, and as a result, they start to rally all the frightened people around them and tell them that things are going to be okay.

Ushio dons his bone armor, meets up with the cloud of East/West youkai (who also remember him now and feel really bad about opposing him earlier), and begins the hunt for Hakumen; perhaps the final hunt.

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Tora gets to Hakumen first, but his attacks have no effect on him; apparently he has no memory of ever having raised Hakumen within his shoulder. No matter: as the calming words of Asako and all of Ushio’s other friends spreads, and Ushio’s own words spread, the fear across Japan weakens, and Hakumen starts to smell the Beast Spear re-gathering power.

Ushio to Tora has become so serialized at this point, it’s probably a better idea to binge-watch the rest rather than review individual episodes that are only pieces of a larger connected whole. That being said, I’m damned glad everyone has their memories back…that makes things a lot less dire for Ushio!

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Attack on Titan – 02

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As the first waves of Titan victims become a feast for crows, Eren, Mikasa and Armin retreat from Shiganshina and the breached Wall Maria to Wall Rose. Initially carried by Hannes, Eren fumes over running away, but there’s nothing else to do: he lacks the strength, as does all of humanity.

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As for the Titans themselves, there’s a bizarrely charming dumpy childishness to many of the smaller ones, acting like the humans spread out before them are simply fun toys that happen to double as food. But then there are some that seem much more purely evil, or at least more evolved to dispatch humans on a massive scale, like the Titan that blasts through the gate and uses fire breath to roast the garrison.

There’s a sickening inhuman cruelty at work, but also the sense that this is simply how nature has progressed; humans are no longer the top dogs, and life is going to get more difficult. The Titans are simply doing what they’ve evolved to do: feed on humans. Sorry, humans.

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The kids end up on a boat with a few hundred other survivors, who then become refugees within Wall Rose. Whatever picturesque, idealized town Shiganshina was, their new temporary home is far bleaker and harsher, with a populace already experiencing a food shortage, there’s great animosity for the newcomers; even wishes that the Titans ate more of them.

Once he’s over the initial shock of witnessing his mother’s death and the death of hundreds of others before his eyes, Eren switches to anger and goals that, at this point, are absurdly unreasonable and premature. He tries to run before he can crawl, or at least talk about running, i.e. driving the Titans out.

Thank goodness then, he has the more sensible Armin to keep him from getting an even more severe beating from a guard, and a no-nonsense Mikasa who isn’t above punching Eren out and stuffing bread down his throat if it means keeping him alive.

I’m already enjoying the dynamic of these three, in particular Mikasa, the steadfast rock of the trio with no patience for Eren’s empty speeches about wiping out the Titans when clearly, at present, nothing can be done.

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That fact is underlined when, after putting the refugees to work in the wastelands cultivating food doesn’t arrest the food shortage, 250,000 of them are sent back out to “fight” the Titans. Of course, they only serve as a massive buffet (only 200 survive), and a sign of how callous those behind an inner wall can be to preserve what they have.

A lot of time passes this week, making these first two episodes  a solid foundation chronicling the trauma endured by our protagonists that motivate them to enlist in the military, that they might do something, anything to try to push the Titans back.

Meanwhile, Eren has intense, disturbing dreams and/or visions of future events; his dad is still alive somewhere, and there was a secret in the basement of the family home his dad intended Eren to see. All of this points to Eren being more than just talk, but whatever power he possesses seems a long way from being unleashed.

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Reminder: Comments are welcome as always, but please limit discussion to this episode and avoid spoilers, as I am watching AoT for the first time. Many thanks—HB

Attack on Titan – 01

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Thanks to Netflix and a relatively light Fall season, I am pleased to finally crack open the massively popular Attack on Titan, a show I eschewed virtually sight unseen, choosing instead to follow Gargantia, Majestic Prince, and Valvrave. I’m only past the first episode of AoT, but I can already see I made a major oversight; one that will be corrected forthwith.

AoT’s cold open shows us the very moment the people of Shiganshina are royally hosed, then after the credits, rewinds to the morning before the shit hits the fan and begins the process of masterfully building up the dread and tension preceding the events of the cold open.

As we follow Eren (a loud-mouthed portentous shonen if ever there was one) and his sister Mikasa (a girl of few words but immense strength) as they wind their way through the streets of their huge hometown, the walls, streets and structures have a strength, solidarity, and safety to them. Even the sounds of everyday life are lulling.

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If there is one shortcoming to this first episode, it’s that Eren isn’t necessarily likable at first. His reasons for wanting to strike out into the outside world aren’t unreasonable, but he can be over-emphatic in his protestations and scolds.

Sure, he may have had a vision of doom descending on Shiganshina, but he’s fighting against a century of idleness and contentment. Conviction and loudness are no substitute for hard evidence. Also, the episode tries to paint Armin with broad strokes, but there’s not much to him yet except that like Eren, he’s not content to stay within the walls.

Then the evidence arrives in the form of a hand grasping the top of the 50-meter outer wall, and it’s a powerful “Toldya so” moment that shakes every inhabitant of the city to their core. Then…a hole is blasted in the wall with such force it causes widespread destruction to the rest of the city. And that’s before smaller Titans start rushing in.

Any early quibbles I might have had with Eren or Armin go out the window when the appalling carnage starts, with throngs of humans running for their lives and many being scooped up and gobbled up like hors d’oeuvres. There’s a distinct sticky aura of awfulness to the spectacle, and the utter powerlessness of the three young protagonists.

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When Eren rushes home hoping against hope his house is still intact only to find his mom’s legs crushed under its ruins, it’s a gut punch. Before I can recover from that, a Titan eats her with cold satisfaction as a fleeing Eren watches, flooring me yet again.

Amidst the wholesale butchery and mass despair, there are obviously glints of both hope and levity. Mikasa’s imposing brawn is employed for a snicker when she and Eren rescue Armin from bullies, and the smash cut from Hannes momentarily facing off against a Titan to reconsidering and scooping up the kids, and retreating was a legitimately funny “oh shit” moment.

As for hope, well, Eren, Mikasa, and Armin are still alive, which means anything is possible. Obviously, they won’t stay powerless for long. But nor is any viable counterattack likely in the immediate future. The onslaught of the Titans has only begun, after all. For now, surviving is the name of the game.

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Welcome to my weekly (or bi-weekly) Attack on Titan retro reviews. Comments are welcome as always, however please limit discussion to this episode and avoid spoilers, as I am writing these reviews as I watch AoT for the first time. Thanks—HB