Classroom of the Elite – 12 (Fin)

The first seven episodes of Classroom of the Elite were solid, but gave way to an increasingly unfocused and often downright tedious Island Arc. After pointing out how delicate and demanding the girls are compared to the guys, demonstrating the class’s appalling ignorance of outdoor fundamentals (except for one character who camps out a lot), and introducing a set of rules and objectives only slightly less complicated than the U.S. Tax Code, we were then treated to thrilling whodunits involving the theft of a girl’s undergarments and the burning of a manual.

Class C student Ibuki was planted as the obvious culprit to everything, but we can’t be sure if she’s really the culprit, because the biggest question mark of them all is, and has always been, Ayanokouji Kiyotaka, whom it’s implied was the sole “survivor” of a “gifted kid farm.”

Meanwhile, his interactions with Horikita Suzune have been dull and repetitive (due in no small part to the nebulousness of his true motives and  intentions), while what had been perhaps the best character dynamic of the show—that between Ayano and Kushida—has curiously been abandoned altogether, with no further exploration of her character. Some of Kushida’s screen time was replaced by Sakura, whose puppy love for the unperceptive Ayano isn’t nearly as compelling.

But WHO CARES? This was a bad-ass finale. It stuck the landing.

It starts slowly, in basically the same place we left off last week: in a state of confusion and frustration. Horikita wakes up to find Ayano nearby, telling her she should drop out and that whatever goal she has in mind, whether it’s making Class A to prove something to her brother, or something else, she’s going to need allies. She faints again, and Ayano carries her to the teachers.

Ayano tells Hirata everything that’s happened and how it will effect the points, and Hirata is devastated, no doubt believing he let his class down…but Ayano asks a favor of him. When the day the Special Test ends arrives, Sakura asks Ayano what he thinks their points will be, and Ayano simply looks over to Hirata, who is holding the leader identification form.

All of the classes assemble on the beach, except Class C…but a dirty, disheveled Ryuuen does appear…in his mind, to declare victory. Once he lays out his scheme to gain the names of all three class leaders, things don’t just look bad for Class D, but Classes A and B as well.

Ryuuen’s plan is extra-complex, as befits the finale of CotE: signing a binding contract with Class A in which they’ll supply 200 S-points in goods and provide the names of B and D’s leaders, using Ibuki and another C-class student as spies D and B.

Of course, Ryuuen intended to betray Katsuragi, because an ally of Katsuragi’s rival Sakayanagai gave him the name of Class A’s leader…which was never Katsuragi to begin with. Ryuuen runs the math as the calculations are displayed on the screen.

Then the points are announced: Class C gets ZERO points, Classes A and B make just over 100 each, and Class D…WINS, with 225 points. SHOKU!

How’d it happen? Cough-cough. C’mon now, you know: it was all Ayanokouji-frikking-Kiyotaka. What Horikita doesn’t know is how. Class A continues its internal strife as Sakayanagi’s ally antagonizes Katsuragi’s furious levies, while Ichinose doesn’t feel too bad about her class’s high score, since she’s likely close to amassing enough points to buy her way into the class of her choice (which I’m assuming would be A).

Ayano managed to win by pivoting from a strategy of spot-occupation points to leader identification points, and used virtually everyone and everything he had on that island to discover the identities of the leaders of Class A and C (leaving B alone to preserve their alliance). He even used Horikita’s illness, which was actually crucial to giving him a “legitimate reason” to change the leadership of Class D to him at the very last minute. Thus, Ayano was right about Ryuuen and Ryuuen was wrong about him – a 100-point swing.

As an apparent apology for using Horikita and potentially making her even sicker, he had Hirata tell the rest of Class D they owe everything to her, not him. It’s a brilliant move that accomplishes two things: it keeps Ayano in the shadows where he can do the most, and brings the class together, which was Hirata’s goal all along.

Kushida seems to know there’s something a little off about Horikita being the hero here, but can’t get a straight answer out of Ayano when she asks which girl he’d choose. It’s not much, but I did appreciate one last scene with “Real Kushida,” especially in which she resents the fact a girl like Horikita doesn’t have a “side to hide.” But Ayano rightly points out that most people have one.

In his chat with Chabashira-sensei in the ship’s theater, she commends him for having performed up to the standards not only she, but “that man” (AKA his dad) expected. There’s talk about Daedalus and Icarus, but Ayano doesn’t intend to lose his wings any time soon. That’s good, because Ryuuen (and his loyal lieutenant Ibuki) are coming for him, armed with a windfall of points thanks to one other stipulation in their contract with Class A.

Finally, Horikita loses her throng of admirers long enough to track down Ayano and ask him why he told Hirata to spread the word that she, not he, was the class savior and mastermind behind their victory. He tells her, in a scene that’s played quite tenderly at first, to remember when he said she needed allies to succeed – giving her the credit helps get her those allies (and she did suffer in sickness for the cause).

Horikita’s Tsundere Levels reach critical levels as she both thanks Ayano and acknowledges him as an ally while making it clear their future interactions will be purely professional in nature and focused on getting to Class A.

She’s fooling no one, but Ayano is fooling her along with everyone else, because, at least according to his inner thoughts, he’s only looking out for one guy: Ayano. Hirata, Sakura, Ichinose, Kushida, and Horikita are nothing but stones he’s all too willing to step on to win, because winning is all that matters to him.

A dark ending…but also a wide-open door for a sequel down the road. Horikita has changed a lot, and she says it’s all Ayano’s fault. Maybe she, along with Kushida and the others, will get a chance to change him. Or maybe he’ll just dance on their corpses when he’s king of the world. Here’s hoping we get to find out!

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Classroom of the Elite – 11

Prior to watching this episode, only one persistent wish occupied my mind: Get off the damn island. Just get off. It’s been a convoluted mess and I’m honestly having trouble caring anymore. The primary reason I watch anime is to be entertained, and the island arc just ain’t getting the job done. It’s a slog.

Alas, we do not leave the island, as time only transitions from Day 5 to Day 6, with the girls and boys of class D continuing to bicker amongst themselves, a storm coming, and the hidden fact that their leader Horikita has been ill since leaving the boat.

Way too much time is spent on the secondary and tertiary classmates yelling at each other. I already get that there’s discord, the episode just repeats itself. Furthermore, there’s absolutely no reason for Yamauchi to put a clump of mud on Horikita’s head, except perhaps to serve the plot, as Horikita must exert herself by throwing him.

More importantly by having mud randomly dropped on her head, she has to wash it off, which means stripping down to her skivvies…which means temporarily not having her key card on her person. Her one primary job as leader is to hold on to that card, but she failed, and only informs Ayanokouji.

Their talk is interrupted by a fire at the camp, which sets off another round of argument. Hirata kinda loses it once it starts to pour, and then orders the others to do useless things like cover the already-wet firewood and collect the already-soaked clothes.

Completely independent of the events on the island, we keep making small check-ins on Ayano’s past as some kind of organization-raised “special” kid, the last one remaining among of a large group of potentials, for which he seems to be placed behind bars.

I honestly couldn’t tell how these little glimpses of Ayano’s past are trying to relate to the events of the present…unless, perhaps, Ayanokouji means to betray Horikita, and is the one who told Ibuki to steal the key card. It could also be an elaborate plan to make their rivals think chaos reigns in Class D, and “betraying” Horikita is part of that. Still, Ibuki doesn’t hold back on beating her up.

That person remains a mystery for now, but the reveal that Ibuki is the one causing all the mayhem feels a bit…obvious, even though the episode tried to keep its cards close. Ayano must’ve found something buried in the spot where he found her, and we don’t know that either.

I have no idea if we’ll get another cour of CotE, but if not, it’s been an interminable, disappointing, seemingly aimless final arc, in which everyone has become progressively dumber, except perhaps Ayano, whose true intentions remain stubbornly opaque. It will take one hell of a finale to bring all the disparate pieces together and deliver some satisfying answers.

Classroom of the Elite – 10

How could a show that started out so fresh, slick, clever, and cerebral feel so stale, dull, dumb now? The first mistake seemed to be taking the classes out of the proverbial classroom and onto an island…then proceeding to do basically nothing for five days.

Horikita conducts recon of Classes A and B, both times having unpleasant encounters with their respective leaders, both of whom are drawn as if they were in their thirties. Fine, I’ll forgive the disappointingly goofy character design—this is Lerche, after all—but I won’t forgive the obvious holes in logic that keep creeping up this week, even if the sexism subsides.

Remember how I said Horikita came into contact with the leaders of Classes A and B? Isn’t there a 50-S-Point bonus to anyone who correctly guesses the leader of another class—an a 50-point  deduction from the leader correctly ID’d? Am I missing something here? Katsuragi and Ryuuen aren’t exactly being subtle in their leaderliness—nor is Horikita herself.

Days 2 thru 4 breeze by without any incident…or any meaningful developments whatsoever, aside from more of Sakura flirting with Ayanokouji (who has never been portrayed as anything other than an unromantic, assexual character, making her flirtation seem like a futile waste of time), a mysterious scene in which a mystery student of unknown gender steals a girl’s bag from the tent, and Sudou suspecting Class C exile Ibuki of some kind of treachery.

I suppose I should look to the episode’s title for guidance, a Kierkegaard quote: “Every man has in himself the most dangerous traitor of all.” I’m no philosophy major, but off the top of my head, this seems to have dual meaning: everyone has the potential for treachery, but no other person is capable of betraying you more than you can betray yourself.

It could also just mean there’s a traitor in Class D’s midst, which Sudo believes is Ibuki, so I gravitated to her as well. Then, on the morning of Day 5, the girls are united in their outrage that Karuizawa’s underwear was stolen in the night. The rest of the episode deals with the investigation of this panty heist. See what I said about feeling a bit dumb and rote?

Despite that feeling, things to sharpen up a bit when Ike finds the panties in his bag. Clearly they were planted there, but by whom? What the heck would Ibuki have to gain by sowing discord, when her own Class spent all their points and headed back to the boat to party?

By the way, I’m happy Class C’s strategy was not immediately dismissed as the wrong one; none of the remaining classes are guaranteed to earn enough points to make all the trouble they’ve been through worth it. It’s almost as if the show is saying “yes, this whole island survival premise is indeed dumb, but only Class C and Koenji decided to reject it.”

Ike gives the panties to Ayano, and Hirata finds them when giving the boys pat-downs at the girls’ demand. But Hirata doesn’t turn in Ayano, because he understands the distinction of Ayano having the panties and Ayano stealing them.

Hirata takes the panties from Ayano, supposedly to protect his classmate, as Karuizawa’s boyfriend is the one the girls suspect the least to have them, but despite the fact it’s (I’m assuming) to prevent further discord from compromising the class, Hirata is betraying himself here, by lying.

And the fact he’s able to be dishonest here makes me start to think that maybe his whole upstanding, “Everybody Loves Hirata” act is merely cover for…more sinister designs.

Ushio to Tora – 30

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With Mayuko doomed to live the rest of her life replacing Ushio’s mom, Asako in the hospital still growing her skin back, and a lot of people either dead, turned to stone, or unable to remember Ushio, this entire second season has been one big fat DOWNER.

There seems to be no end to Ushio’s torment, as one thing after another crops up to make his life that much more dark and tragic. Just take Nagare, who “frees” Ushio and Tora from a JASDF transport taking them who knows where.

As was teased previously (by his evil grin), Nagare is now on Hakumen’s side. There’s no explanation why, nor why he retreats as suddenly as he appeared when a HAMMR helicopter approaches (he sliced an armored humvee in half; he can’t take out a chopper?)

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So yeah, there’s been a lot of piling on this season, and each episode has dug deep into the vast repository of Ushio to Tora characters from the first season, dusting them off and putting them back on the game board, like the two HAMMR scientists who didn’t die.

All the negativity of compounded ordeals early on made it hard to enjoy this episode, but the show does,to its credit, throw us a few bones of both hope and levity, which are much appreciated—though Asako getting out of bed and wandering around town with her skin still healing, looking like a damn mummy, is definitely not one of those bones. For the love of God, Asako, go back to the hospital!

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Rather, Ushio’s first bone is the Rock Eater armor HAMMR procured from the Kouhamei Sect before shit went down. They believe it will help them in the latest trial he must face: stopping the JASDF, all the brass of which have been fooled by a false Jei Mei, to launch missiles at the stone pillar at the bottom of the sea where Hakumen is (barely) being held.

It’s pretty obvious by how she speaks and looks that this Jei Mei is not Ushio’s mother, but a Hakumen fake, and it’s just as clear destroying the stone pillar will have the opposite effect of destroying Hakumen’s power.

You know you’re in a plot-heavy show when a fleet of submarines makes an appearance in your supernatural action fantasy shounen rom-com-a-drama! So much stuff going on.

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After Nagare’s tease and HAMMR, Ushio decides to stop by at home to…clean his room for some reason. Naturally, he runs into an ambush by more agents of Hakumen determined to crush the stone Azafuse before they revive and join the fight.

In the process, Ushio’s house is fucking destroyed (I can’t believe that hasn’t happened like five times already, considering all his dangerous adversaries!), and even when he dons his arguably badass Rock Eater armor, he and Tora end up in a tight spot.

So it falls to the shattered bits of petrified Azafuse to glom onto Tora like armor which, while lamer-looking than Ushio’s, enables Tora to take out the baddies with ease.

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After that, all that’s left is for Ushio to collect a couple of mementos from previous episodes and go down to the cellar to re-enact the scene where he first met Tora, which was….weird. I guess it speaks to how on-the-same-wavelength these two are—and how desperate for a moment of fun and levity among all the destruction and despair—that they’d do such a goofy thing.

However, after seeing Asako wander the streets in her bandages, I was really hoping she’d end up at Ushio’s place, even if, realistically, she’s still probably too frail to make it there. But she didn’t, which sucks, because now Ushio is off to the Okinawan Sea to stop those JASDF subs from doing something stupid.

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Ushio to Tora – 29

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With the East and West youkai still not remembering Ushio (but admitting he and Tora are probably their best hope), Mayuko gone off to relieve Ushio’s mom, and Asako healing in the hospital, Ushio and Tora…don’t have much to do this week. Instead, they learn a couple of new nuggets of information and run into an old acquaintance. A pretty quiet, often lumbering episode.

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That old acquaintances is Hyou, who we haven’t seen in who-knows-how-long. He doesn’t get much of a chance to explain why he’s at Ushio’s house when another unexpected visitor arrives: Guren, the black Tora working for Hakumen.

Hyou gives Ushio and Tora the scoop about Guren, whose name used to be Sokuei when he was a human thief who loved to kill, found the Beast Spear in the mountains, used it to make money, and eventually let it corrupt him and consume his soul (Ushio got close to a similar fate, but his friends saved him).

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Anywho, Guren continues to do what he wants, which in this case is doing the bidding of Hakumen. However, Ushio doesn’t fight Guren, and he tells Tora not to either. That’s because Guren also happened to be the sonofabitch who killed Hyou’s family.

That gives Hyou a better claim to fighting him, and he does…but I’ll be honest, it’s not the most thrilling or consequential fight. It doesn’t help that it doesn’t even end decisively, with Hyou managing to survive and leaving a knife in Guren’s body to track him later.

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The other big news is that Tora himself was once an ordinary human whose soul was corrupted by the spear, which is news to Ushio. A lot of other Tora-like monsters showed up for Hyou and Guren’s duel, but they didn’t do any more than Ushio and Tora, which was watch.

Anyway, Ushio patches Hyou up as best he can and lets him help himself to the house sake, which is apparently the best thing to drink after a big battle, win or lose, in order to “wash the hate out.” Hyou is also confident that not only will he defeat Hyou eventually (not caring what happens to him) but that Ushio and Tora will eventually defeat Hakumen.

That may be because Hakumen is fueled by the fear of its enemies, and Ushio and Tora are too busy bickering with each other to have much fear. Still, they’d better not come at Hakumen with anything resembling fear, or they’ll likely be toast.

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 07

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Ranta believes that the party now knowing about Mary’s past doesn’t change anything, at least in a practical sense. You can’t be friends with someone who simply doesn’t want to be friends with you, and he doesn’t see why they need to go out of their way to accommodating her because she had a tough past. They’ve all had tough pasts.

But that last point is the hole in Ranta’s logic: they’re not so different from Mary, so they can find a way to connect. They lost Manato, their leader, but Mary left a part of herself down in the caverns where her friends were killed. Haruhiro and the others managed to pull out of a similar tailspin because they were still together, and were able to work through the pain.

Shinohara and Hayashi also live with the pain of losing friends they cared about, but didn’t realize until they were gone that they had to treasure those bonds while they were still around. When Haruhiro hears Ranta’s grievanes about always being dismissed or ignored, he listens and takes it to heart: Mary isn’t the only one he hasn’t been attentive to.

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After the party tentatively agrees that they’re all friends, and that they should embrace Mary as one as well, it all comes down to execution. Haru is clearly apprehensive about the conversation; so much so Yume has to jump on him so he doesn’t reveal their position to a goblin (albeit one who has his dagger). By the way, I liked how Yume acted to protect Haru, their leader, from his own emotional desire to get back what he lost, since a dagger is far easier replaced than a comrade.

When Haru asks to speak to Mary, she seems resigned to the fact he’s about to kick her out, just as she’s left so many other party’s after her trauma. There’s the underlying feeling she’s contributing all she thinks she can, but it isn’t enough, and that frustrates her. She’s trying to find the Mary she left behind.

Obviously, Haru doesn’t want her to leave. Instead of pry into her past, he gives her the past of their party, painful as it is. He tells her how important Manato was and how hopeless things seemed without him. He admits he agreed to her joining the party because they needed a priest to survive, period.

But now, after some time, he’s decided, and all the others agree, that she’s become more than a hired hand. She’s become a valued friend, one he wishes to cherish as much as all his other comrades. Shihoru, Yume and Moguzo share the same feelings. And yes, even Ranta relents, buying into the generous atmosphere in the room – leading to one of present-day Mary’s most expressive looks.

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Now that Mary knows the score, and knows that her new comrades also carry pain with them every day, she softens a little more. She doesn’t join them in shopping for Moguzo’s helmet, or any of several subsequent meals, but not because she doesn’t want to, but because she’s easing into a new situation. “Not yet”, she says, which isn’t “no”.

Like all things in Grimgar, Mary’s coming-around takes time, not because the show is stalling, but because such things take time in real life. It’s great that they think of her as a friend, but she still needs to process that and figure out how to have friends again.

Haru takes the party out to fight goblins in the city ruins day after day, creating a strict routine. Each time they go out, they get a little better as individuals and as a team, and rather than spend on better accommodations, they invest in better equipment. Soon, Haru notices it’s getting easier to kill goblins – the spot where he needs to cut is now lighting up in his head.

Repetition strengthening muscle memory, and increasing the efficiency of his motions. They make the most of their newfound skills, and fill each other’s shortcomings. They also include Mary in on their downtime chatter, including Ranta tactlessly asking Mary which guy she prefers (she doesn’t answer).

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After taking things one day at a time for many days, Mary finally agrees to come to the tavern, and it’s a wonderful moment to see her in the middle of the party, sharing in the glow of the fire. Shinohara and Hayashi are also relieved to see her finally looking like she belongs in a party.

Before long, the time comes when it looks like Mary is going to move in with the others. On the last night she’s on her own, Haru is out in the courtyard, where Manato comes to him once more, likening the excitement and anticipation Haru feels to the night before a field trip (a rare look into their unknown past lives).

I don’t see Ghost Manato as a real ghost physically there, but the memory of Manato who appears when Haru is alone with nothing but the calm of night and the crackle of the fire nearby. But that doesn’t lesson his importance as a presence Haru treats like Manato.

The new leader wants to show the old leader what kind of party they’ve become. Other tavern patrons may be half-mocking in calling them the Goblin Slayers, but it’s a name Haru intends to wear with pride.

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 06

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Grimgar simply keeps knocking it out of the park with its quietly ambitious yet nuanced character work. Ranta grows more likable by the week. His reaction to Shihoru’s misunderstanding of Haru and Yume’s long tight hug is true to who he is, but balances the jealousy with playfulness (wanting all the details; disappointed when Haru gives them to him).

But Shihoru’s apology, public and early in the morning as it is, is a crucial step forward for her, too. The misunderstanding gave her an excuse to go to and talk with the boys, and the less isolated the genders are from each other, the more cohesive and efficient team they’ll become.

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But the star of this week’s episode is unquestionably Mary, followed by Haruhiro. Haru and Yume have decided to try to reach out to Mary more, and Shihoru and Moguzo are also game (Ranta is the lone holdout, blaming Mary for isolating herself).

Naturally, it doesn’t go perfectly; attempts at small talk with Mary are swiftly batted away. She’s in the party, but apparently only to do her job by the limited parameters she herself has set.

Then again, in the midst of battle as she’s hanging back as usual, Mary finally pipes up, scolding Moguzo for falling back after such a minor wound from a goblin. She’s absolutely right, too: Moguzo is a warrior, he has to keep slashing and smashing forward to be effective – and survive.

Her observation helps Haru realize Mog needs a proper helmet so he can go all out. Mary also heals his head wound, only after the battle (Ranta’s scratch goes address only by a warning that he’s almost hit her last nerve). Haru’s takeaway: Mary made a contribution beyond her strict role as healer. It’s progress.

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That night, Haru, Mog and Ranta finally invite the girls to join them at the tavern – another important gesture in building team cohesion, but also an acknowledgement that the five of them aren’t just party members: they’re friends.

They care about each other, and hanging out while not fighting is only natural. They freeze up, however, when Mary enters. No one calls her over, or even says hi. They just stare at each other, and Mary takes a lonely seat at the bar.

The group wrings its hands over the failed encounter, but before long Ranta starts underestimating Yume’s bust, and Mary is forgotten…until they see her talking to Shinohara, master of Orion. Could he be a source of info on Mary they can’t get from her?

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In the episode’s best scene, in a place where Haru and Manato often talked over the fire, the night noises fade away and Manato appears before him, just as he’s doubting both his ability and will to lead the party.

This Manato “ghost” tells Haru not to waver, and rather show him what the party is made of. While Haru may not want to be the leader, he cannot simply forsake the faith Haru put in him, even if there was never an overt promise to take over should he die.

The sound and camerawork create a hauntingly sad yet also calm warm atmosphere (thanks to the fire and Manato’s presence). When Haru “returns” to the “now”, the night noises are brought back up, and Manato vanishes from the shot.

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Whether being “nice” to Mary is working or not, Haru and the others see even more change in her the next day, when she not only protects Shihoru from a charging goblin (after which Ranta protects Mary), but fights on the front line, demonstrating her staff skills for the first time.

Still figuring out how to communicate with Mary, Haru offers her a simple thanks, which she nearly seems to say aren’t necessary. The episode makes sure to linger on Mary after everyone else has turned away, to see delayed responses in her face and voice that suggest she’s keeping a lot pent up inside her.

That evening, Haru invites Mary to join them for a bite, and rather than turn her nose up, she politely declines. Haru decides to go to Shinohara in order to learn more about Mary so he can understand her better. Shinohara refers them to Hayashi, who was in her previous party.

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As we learn, she was his party’s Manato: making everyone around her better (and more importantly, feel better), while keeping everyone at 100% health at all times and keeping them on the right side of the razor-thin edge between victory and defeat. More than that, Hayashi & the others were her dear friends.

Bright, cheerful, and strong, her party rose quickly…and fell even faster. Rather than run from a major boss, they decided to challenge it. Mary ran out of magic early in the fight, and they lost three comrades, thus destroying the party. After that, Mary “stopped smiling”.

No doubt blaming herself for the tragedy that befell her party, now she’s far more reluctant to form close bonds with her new party. From her experience, being too close to and being too nice to them gave them undue confidence, causing all including her to drop their guard, which was enough to shift them to the side of catastrophic defeat.

It all makes sense now. Now Haruhiro understands Mary’s attitude and manner with them. It’s the flip-side of their party: they lost their Manato, but she lost her Haru, Moguzo, and Shihoru. Haru & Co. Mary then, it would seem, simply needs time, understanding, and the knowledge that it’s alright to survive, to make new friends and care about them.

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P.S. There’s a new OP with Mary as a full member. I liked it! (The ED stayed the same, but I love that drawing of the original party of six, so it’s fine).

Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 05

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After effectively portraying the immediate effect of having a huge Manato-shaped hole in the party and its surviving member’s hearts (along with the quiet outrage of Manato’s funeral expenses totaling one measly silver), this week deals with the aftermath. Surrounded on all sides by reminders of what they’ve lost, Ranta is the first to peace out, and the other two boys follow him into the tavern where they try to drink away their sorrows…shutting the girls out of what should be a shared grieving process.

Haru and Ranta are about to come to blows when Moguzo shouts them down in a rare display of anger. When Kikkawa hears they’ve lost their priest, he recommends a new one, which Haruhiro, by default the new leader of the party, hires without consulting Yume or Shihoru, simply because, well, they need a darned healer! Mary is a very no-bullshit kinda gal who doesn’t like messing around, which is to say she’s immediately a bad fit in our (usually) tight-knit band of misfits.

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They continue their battles against the goblins in Demuro, but Haruhiro can tell Mary is throwing off what little cohesion the team had prior to losing Manato. She even refuses Haru’s field order to heal Ranta because she deems the wound not serious (which it isn’t). Her uncooperative attitude isn’t helping matters, but she’s under no obligation to help out. It’s up to her “leader” to get his shit together.

Back in the tavern with just Ranta and Moguzo, Haru is approached by Renji, who started in the same place as their party but has done a lot more in the time they’ve had since. He offers a gold coin (worth 100 silvers) as a “gift” after hearing of Manato’s death. It’s charity, plain and simple, and Haru doesn’t take it. Buying their volunteer army badges with alms won’t help the underlying problems with their party. And it’s up to him to start fixing those problems.

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He begins by waiting for Yume after her evening bath and asking if she’s angry because he hired Mary so quickly without asking her and Shihoru. Yume is troubled for a far more basic reason: they’ve been shut out altogether. Haru, Ranta, and Moguzo were at the tavern when the party of five should have been together. What Yume is upset about is the possibility Haru & Co. weren’t the friends she thought she had, who would be there for each other when things went bad.

Yume grabs Haru and the two embrace for a long time, and soon both are crying in each others’ arms, then calm down and feel more at peace, having finally shared in each other’s grief. Yume points out how good it feels to be held by Haru, which is obviously welcome red meat for shippers like me.

But I like how the two of them confronting the fact they’re not great at expressing their feelings led to doing just that. It’s the kind of scene we see a lot in romantic anime, but rarely is it done so well. The show refused to ignore the lasting impact of their mutual loss or the fact that this is a boy and a girl who are attracted to each other.

It helped Haru to realize that while Manato was integral to the party and will be impossible to fully replace, it was Manato himself who pointed how how he alone would never have been able to do anything without the rest of the party. That means the party, as it is now, with Mary, will be able to move forward, survive, and maybe even thrive. Big props to both Komatsu Mikako and Hosoya Yoshimasa for their passionate performances here.

Of course, when Shihoru spots Haru and Yume in a deeply compromising position, it kinda kills the moment. I would have been fine with the episode simply ending with their embrace, but adding Shihoru and her “misunderstanding” underscores the fact that these five friends need to be honest and open with each other if they’re ever going to find success on the battlefield.

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 04

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This week’s HGG starts out gently and quietly, with Manato and Shihoru returning from a dawn errand. Shihoru stops to feed the birds, and invites Shihoru to help. She’s startled by the birds, slips, and falls, but Manato catches her, protecting her from harm.

When she thanks him, he admits how glad he is to be talking with her again. Their interactions speak volumes. Manato is someone Shihoru can relie on to protect her; to catch her if she falls. Little did I know that this would be the last time they’d be alone together.

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Back in the ruined city, Haruhiro reports how each one of the party has gained a new skill, which when combined with their improving teamwork that covers one anothers’ weaknesses, results in a goblin-slaying bonanza; they can now take on three at a time, and are no longer squeamish about finishing off their quarry.

There’s a triumphant tone to this sequence, with our party kicking ass, taking names, and looking good doing it, all to some very upbeat, energetic battle music. The gang is finally getting the hang of it.

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When they settle in for lunch and some rest and relaxation, Yume goes off on a very long tangent about the deity she prays to and offers part of her food in order to keep her safe. The rambling irks Ranta, who wanted her story to have a point, but this is another example of simply passing the time, shooting the breeze, and gradually learning a little more about each other – and themselves; they are still amnesiacs – every day.

The casual joy of the scene is not lost on Manato, who proceeds to praise every other member of the party for their contributions, and how he’s happy they’re become a respectable party due to filling in each other’s gaps. He doesn’t get to talk about Haruhiro, as the party has to move on, but Haruhiro is sure he’ll have any number of chances to ask Manato what he thinks of him. Only, as it happens, he won’t.

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Haru sees a glint from the top of a building, and manages to save Manato from a sniper, taking the arrow in his shoulder. Soon, he gets another in his leg, and all hell breaks loose. Goblins of various sizes and skill sets come out of the stonework and ambush the party, who have to beat a speedy retreat to the forest.

As he runs, Manato, the party’s healer, vanguard, and glue, gets an arrow to the back, which pierces his vitals. He attempts to heal himself, but has lost too much blood, and passes out. Neither stopping the blood nor giving him mouth-to-mouth has any effect.

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His stunned, desperate party members take him to the priests to see what they can do, but there’s nothing they can do. No phoenix down; no Life spells; no respawning. In Grimgar, dead is dead, and that’s what Manato is. Worse, if his remains aren’t properly cared for within three to five days, he may rise as a zombie. Utterly dejected, you can taste the venom in Haru’s mouth as he asks whether the cremation costs money, then categorically rejects the priest’s charity.

What follows is an excruciatingly long and hard few scenes where Haru, Yume, Shihoru, Moguzo and Ranta simply sit or stand around, defeated, filled with grief, as they say goodbye to their friend and the one who bound them all together and never doubted them. In addition to huge holes in their hearts, they now have a gaping hole in their party with no more healer, a stinging irony.

Their first goblin kill was one of the first times we felt along with the party the full weight and stakes and cruel unyielding harshness of the world they now found themselves in without explanation. But Manato’s death was another first, and one that will be far tougher to recover from. There is no rage or talk about revenge in the end; only heartache and anguish.

In the first three weeks of Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash, we had no shortage of fantasy wrapped in a unique and refreshing realism, with all the horrors and joys of real life. Now, we’ve seen the ash, how far the realism goes, and a major death getting the weight and solemnity it deserves. Now all we can do is wait with nervous apprehension to learn how the party will carry on.

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 03

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Grimgar is definitely chugging along at a very deliberate pace, with regular pauses in action and dialogue that are usually employed sparingly if at all in the majority of modern anime. However, so far, that pace working just fine for me, thanks very much!

This is a show that tells you to forget what you know about shows with similar premises and settings. In this show, a very shy girl remains upset about being peeped on for a long time, and when the rain comes, they don’t make any money.

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While the chemistry of the cast as a whole together is still a bit uncertain, it’s the wonderful one-on-one interactions that dot this episode and give it life. Interactions like those between Yume, who sees Shihoru is attracted to Manato, is learning as the days go by that Haruhiro is a nice guy, and is consistently nice to him as a result.

Yume is bad with words, but is still able to communicate that it wouldn’t be the end of the world if he saw her naked, as opposed to Ranta, because Haru would apologize properly. Yume wants respect, and Haru offers it without even trying.

The episode also shines in Haru’s narration. This isn’t a party of fighters who are trying to defeat the boss on Level 99; they’re trying to earn enough to afford new underwear.  All that activity, and dampness, is quickly destroying their primative but expensive clothes.

It makes sense that Haru, our narrator and most reliable conduit into this world, is the first to notice that the girls have the same problem as the guys, and are forced to go commando until new skivvies can be procured. He decides not to use this knowledge for evil, steering Ranta away from the girls.

And it’s Yume who helps him make that decision by greeting him warmly rather than suspiciously; Haru doesn’t want there to be further unpleasantness between the genders.

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The rainclouds eventually pass, and once the weather is good, the party strikes out to a city abandoned by humans and now inhabited by goblins, many of whom have been separated from their groups for whatever reason, making them vulnerable. It’s good to see the group getting better at performing their own jobs in addition to working better as a unit (with Manato as their general).

It’s also good to see a follow-up to the party’s thoroughly unpleasant but absolutely essential first kill. It may not be sporting to kill a goblin in their sleep, but they can’t afford new undies, they can’t afford the luxury of sportsmanship, and must put their morals aside for the sake of survival. And as we see (and Haru remarks), it gets easier, and they begin gradually raking in loot.

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Haru worries they’re starting to turn into volunteer soldiers – cold, hardened, singularly obsessed with their own survival – but Manato points out they’re already soldiers. Plus, their well-earned day of rest doesn’t bear out that worry: luxuries like hot food prepared by someone else, or trinkets like hairclips, are still very much appreciated. It just takes less to make them content now.

It’s on the day of rest that Shihoru hides from Manato behind Yume, even though it’s clear she wanted to talk with him. That leads Yume to have a talk with her back home about starting to talk to the boys again; it’s been long enough, and they’ve been good.

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The subtle little romantic subtext in the conversations continues in the boy’s bunks, with a curious mention of Yume’s name by Ranta makes Haru perk up; if the guys and girls pair off, two guys will be left out. Moguzo seems content with cooking and whittling, while Manato and Shihoru seem like a good match.

That leaves Haruhiro, Ranta, and Yume, and while Yume and Ranta aren’t on great terms right now, that doesn’t mean Haruhiro has nothing to worry about. If he doesn’t want to be just a “good friend” to Yume, he’ll have to speak up. At the same time, there’s a possibility Yume likes Manato too, making her and Shihoru rivals. (Of course, this is all conjecture, but all the various interactions and looks and tones by the very good voice cast make it so you can’t help but wonder who likes who and what that will mean to the party as a whole.)

It even looks as if Haruhiro might bring up girls to Manato, but instead simply thanks him for being their leader. For all his eminent competence, Manato doesn’t have a lot of self-esteem, believing his past self wasn’t someone who’d have many friends – perhaps because he’d elicit envy in those not as skilled or handsome as he?

Haru tries to put Manato at ease by saying it doesn’t matter who they used to be. What matters is that they’re all friends here, and after twenty-three days, they’ve managed to not get killed or kill each other … despite the fact that Ranta is a member of their party! That in itself is a minor miracle to be thankful for. Because nothing, not food, not money, not underwear, not tomorrow, can be taken for granted in Grimgar.

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 02

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HGG makes another strong case for continued viewing, in an episode that chronicles the trainees’ first kill, what they went through to get it, and what it does to them. Yet we’re not thrown into the heat of an ultimately futile battle like last week. Instead, we get an wonderful scene of Haruhiro and Manato having some tea in the middle of the night, just shooting the breeze.

In the morning, their task would seem easy: for the six of them to take out a single, isolated goblin unaware of their presence. They got the tip about the location thanks to Manato frequenting a tavern (and drinking to make friends and gather intel). What we quickly learn, however, is that even with superior numbers, it isn’t easy to kill the goblin…because as much as they all look the part, nobody has ever killed anything before.

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The goblin isn’t some gamehen or rat, it’s a humanoid biped with clothes, weapons, and formidable combat and survival skills. The long range girls miss their marks while the short-range guys don’t cut deep enough when they get the chance. They only do real damage to the goblin when he stabs Haru in the shoulder and pins him down.

Just when the gang thinks they’ve got the goblin beat, he gets back up and doesn’t stop fighting, despite his injuries. Finally Ranta has to go a little nuts and continually stab the shit out of the goblin until it stopped moving. It’s a gorey, nasty business that has everyone shaking, crying, even fainting, in Shihoru’s case.

This is the gritty realism HGG brings that sets it apart from similar recent fantasy rpg-style anime. There are no gimmies, no lightweight foes, and no victory fanfare. There’s only physical and emotional trauma, along with a wolf fang and a silver coin, enough to keep everyone fed a little while longer.

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Not only that, HGG deals fully with the consequences of the ordeal the trainees had to endure, along with the weight of the knowledge that while it may get easier, this is how it’s always going to be, and it will change them.

After the battle everyone breaks off and simply relaxes in town. There’s no dialogue for the better part of five minutes, only a soothingly bittersweet insert serenade about how it’s going to be alright. As Haru walks about on his own, he sees both joy and despair, and it makes him go check on a brooding Ranta.

Yume has fun shopping with Shihoru, but later she catches Shihoru and Manato looking like the perfect couple, and her face is a mixture of sadness and acceptance. Finally, once Moguzo finishes repairing and cleaning his gear, he whittles an airplane—something from his past life that doesn’t exist in this world—out of wood. That gave me goosebumps.

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The gorgeous, painterly fantasy setting and the bustling town are beautiful and engrossing because they’re basically the same kind of things we can see everyday in our own world, which makes them resonate more. And the day of wandering around, observing others, and pretty much doing and thinking about anything other than slaughtering other living things, has a healing effect on the group.

We return to the straw beds of the guys in the last scene, as it turns out no one is really sleeping. Haruhiro has so many questions for Manato, but nothing comes out, and once Ranta announces he’s going to crash the girl’s bath session (an action that gets him tossed and yelled at by a furious Yume) Haru realizes he doesn’t really need answers from Manato just now, even if he actually had any.

He doesn’t know what will happen tomorrow—it could be better or worse than today—but he and his five companions will learn and draw strength from one another, and face it together. That’s sufficient comfort for him to look forward to tomorrow.

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 01 (First Impressions)

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This is a tale of six young people who suddenly find themselves in an RPG fantasy world with no other memories other than their own names. It’s a gorgeous, painterly RPG fantasy world, by the way, rougher in texture but just as lush as Norn9’s setting.

The show quickly separates itself from both SAO and OverLord by maintaining the mystery of what exactly the world of Grimgar is and how everyone got there. It could be an elaborate game or a world as real as the one everyone presumably came from, judging from their normal clothes at the outset.

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There were actually twelve “new entrants” to this world in the beginning, as protagonist (and our guide to what’s going on) Haruhiro harkens back to a couple days ago. Once they learned the rules—join the Volunteer Soldier Squad for Ortana’s Borderland Brigade, and basically root out baddies for cash—the strongest of them, Renji, took the next-five strongest and went their own way, leaving the six least-strongest.

But while the focus is on the “misfit” party, the show doesn’t cartoonishly overplay their incompetence as anything that wouldn’t be natural for any group of kids in their situation. They’re not that good, but they’ve only been at it a few days; they just need to get their bearings.

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The party consists of Haruhiro, who has chosen the role of thief; Ranta, a dark knight who, appropriately, goes on the most rants and is a bit of a self-involved jerk; Yume, an athletic hunter; Moguzo, a big brawny warrior with a gentle, polite personality; Shihoru, a warm but shy mage with a negative body image; and the priest/white mage Manato, who seems the oldest and most mature of the six and their de facto leader.

While it’s a party of clashing personalities (with much of the clashing being done by Ranta) the show is also very delicate and understated (again, aside from Ranta) in how it portrays the little interpersonal conflicts they have. Their mutual amnesia, shared plight and need to work together to maximize resource income, serves as an equalizer.

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Despite each character’s well-worn archetype, the character interaction is this show’s quieter secret weapon, as is its overall restraint. Nobody is too good too fast at what they’re supposed to do, but nor do things get too dangerous too fast. The goblins that are supposedly the weakest enemies to hunt aren’t hunting them.

No one is utterly overwhelmed by the weight of their situation. Everyone tries to keep a cool head and make the best of a very odd but unavoidable situation. The show also uses music and silence effectively. It’s definitely a less-is-more treatment to this kind of show (aside, perhaps from ample fanservice), which serves it well in terms of gently guiding its viewers into its milieu. I’m in, and I like what I see!

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Magic Kaito 1412 – 04

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Magic Kaito 1412 is simple good fun, with emphasis on simple. Episode 4 seems to go out of its way to make this point clear: the detective who’s chased Kaito for years doesn’t know how tall he is or even his gender, let alone any esoteric details that would be necessary to actually identify Kaito off the crime scene.

Likewise, Kaito himself relies on balloon decoys, gas bombs, and flying machines almost entirely. The occasional Mission: Impossible-style mask aside, “real police” should be able to deal with him by now. It all feels cheap and silly.

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“The truth will always come to light”

Worse, Kaito himself is terribly obvious about everything he does. He’s even in class with a master detective who’s out to get him but somehow stupid enough not to notice “Kaito” acts exactly like “Kaito Kid”.

Also, Really? The police chief’s son is a world-class detective transfer student to Kaito’s class? I know this show is aimed at a younger audience but this just feels contrived and silly.

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So…Here we are 4 episodes into the series and Kaito’s shine is starting to wear. Yes, it’s still a cute show that plays an up beat cat and mouse game. Everything is easy to understand and the goofy magic tricks Kaito pulls off can be fun to watch.

That doesn’t give me much to actually review though and, presumably, critically reviewing a show (not just summarizing events) is why you read them. Sadly, I’m dropping it. Sorry Kaito, your time is up.

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