Shoukoku no Altair – 01 (First Impressions)

Take away the exotic setting and lush costumes, and Shoukoku no Altair is the very common story of an overachieving young man determined to move forward, be useful, and protect his country, after enduring tragedy earlier in life in which he wasn’t able to save his family.

Fortunately, Altair does have an exotic setting, lush costumes, and a very decent soundtrack to boot. And so we have ourselves a show that isn’t all that original in storytelling but is able to just sail by on competent, often stylish execution.

Newly-appointed Pasha Tughril Mahmut is the youngest Pasha ever, but never comes off as arrogant or petulant, even when a comrade accuses him of having a “tantrum.” Rather, I liken him to Tintin: young, courageous, resourceful, cunning…and yes, a bit dull. He has a strong sense of justice and is always ready to shut naysayers down…but has no idea what to do with women.

One of his mentors, Pasha Halil, sees a great future for Mahmut, so when the Balt-Rheim Empire accuses their homeland Turkyie of assassinating their prime minister, Halil chooses to be the sacrifice they demand.

War claimed many lives twelve years ago, as we see in a heart-wrenching, well-directed flashback in which a young Mahmut struggles in vain to save a woman I presume is his mother. From that point on, he swore always to do whatever he could, never standing still.

So Mahmut does what Tintin would do: investigate the incident and find the real truth, which is that the arrows used to kill the minister were of Balt-Rhein design. He joins up with with Halil, who believes the Empire as a whole does not want war, just an isolated element.

Thanks in part to a clever use of mutton stew and the local eagles, the pashas weather an attempted ambush, capture the conspirator’s men, and bring them and the false arrows before the Emperor himself.

War is staved off—for now, but the minister who conspired to start it was not tried or even named for his role, meaning this is only the beginning of Pasha Mahmut’s duty. With only THE REFLECTION left to air on my Summer list and my interest in Apocrypha fading fast, Altair is just interesting enough for another look or two.

91 Days – 05

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After a rough, uneven road trip last week, 91 Days smooths out a bit as Nero is lured back home by the promise of a truce with Orco. Unfortunately for Nero, that truce is dependent on him dying, something his brother is willing to make happen for the good of the family, with Ronaldo’s blessing.

Nero smells something rotten in Denmark and bugs out of the meet-up, leaving him, Avilio, Volpe, Valbero, Colteo, and a wounded Tigre out in the wind. If Avilio isn’t careful, fate will take care of Nero before he can!

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Naturally, he’s not going to let that happen. He’s gotten this far in gaining Nero’s trust, and he needs to get closer to Don Vanetti before he’s satisfied. So he sneaks to the Island with Colteo and his fine, fine hooch, in order to parlay with Fango.

Nero wants nothing to do with Fango (since he believes he killed Vanno), but Avilio forces the issue, confident Nero’s loyalty to his friend Tigre overshadows his hatred of Fango.

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Fango doesn’t so much receive Avilio and Colteo so much as they’re delivered into his clutches by his lover. Fango claims to not want to do business with Avilio after what happened to Serpente, but unlike Nero, he’s only joking. Avilio offers Fango something he wants—Don Orco on a silver platter—in exchange for protection.

Never mind that Nero has no plan to nab Orco; as long as Fango thinks he has a plan, he won’t kill them all, which is the whole point. I for one am glad we’re seeing a more reasonable, less chaotic Fango who is willing to hear the enemies of his enemies out. Returning the Island is the best thing 91 Days could have done.

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91 Days – 04

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This week documents the adventures of Nero and Avilio on their road trip, with dwindling funds and a hitman on their tail. After the action, intrigue, and tragedy of the first three episodes, this…was a bit of a drag.

A road trip is an opportunity to spice things up, but the manner in which 91Days does this is scattershot and disjointed in nature. The guys have a little fun doing tricks for kids, but it’s too obviously a means to show Avilio the innocence he’s lost.

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Meanwhile, the lumbering Mexican hitman is about as one-dimensional as you can get; more a walking plot device to be defeated than a character. Fango, while evil, was a lot more interesting than this guy.

After managing a smile while around the kids, later in the night Avilio continues practicing his murder face while Nero remenices on his first job with the family, which was the night Avilio’s family was killed. Nero was the one who shot at Avilio as he ran. He realizes there were “three”, but I thought he already knew this.

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The episode kinda goes off the rails when the hitman making his move is played for laughs for some reason, complete with a slapsticky kick in the nuts, and failing to kill him by hitting him with the car (which is totaled by the impact).

Sure, the hitman is good at tracking, but never seems to apply his superhuman strength when he needs to. That, and the goofy comic tone to his pursuit near the end, really kills the tension.

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He tracks them to a barn late in the night, but once more, “Big Mexico” can’t get the job done. Nero empties a clip into him to no avail, but his well-thrown knife to the back gets the job done…only he gets right back up a few seconds later (only to be blown away by a shotgun-wielding Alex Trebek).

This wasn’t a total loss; Nero had some more adventures with Avilio, making their bond that much closer for when Avilio decides to make his move…but other than that, this was a pretty uneven episode.

There was a bad omen in the beginning, when a waitress’ eyes were pale blue one second and deep green the next. Unlike Nero with his juggling skills, a ball or two was dropped here.

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91 Days – 03

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Things went down much faster than expecting in last week’s outing, with Avilio taking out Vanno, only to have a gun pulled on him by Nero. Turns out Nero is willing to hear him out – if they can locate Serpente’s body.

We also meet Don Orco (or should I say Orca?), who is reeeeally particular about the butter content of his lasagna, as is Fango. Where they disagree is on the nature of the response to the apparent death of Serpente. Fango wants a war; Orco wants to make the Galassias happy.

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With an assist from Colteo, Avilio locates Cerotto, the guy who sold Serpente’s body to the prohibition official, and locates the place where the body is being stashed. Unfortunately, Fango spots Nero by pure chance (I know tinted windows weren’t around back then, but what about curtains?) and is led to the same place.

Avilio wears Serpente’s suit and a burlap sack on his head to fool Fango into giving up his Vanetti hostage, but like the hit on Fango, it goes sour. Fortunately, Avilio and Nero make it out unscathed; unfortunately, a war between the families is all but inevitable…which is just fine with Fango.

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After this latest ordeal, perhaps still stung by grief over losing his friend Vanno, Nero softens towards Avilio once more, even turning his back on him. When Nero’s brother insists he get the hell out of dodge until things blow over, Avilio volunteers to be his driver.

You can kinda tell Nero still isn’t anywhere near 100% sold on Avilio, but if he still suspects him of some kind of treachery, better to keep him close than let him operate out of sight. Avilio, meanwhile, has had nearly everything fall into his lap so far. Is the universe compensating for his past suffering?

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We indeed see the grief Nero feels for his fallen friend when he falls to his knees at the funeral. Avilio is sent back to the car, but he still turns back to get a good look at what he has wrought. At this point, he must be content not to give the game away until he’s wiped out the Vanettis entirely. Long game stuff.

Of course, with a call coming in to a hitman ordering him to go after Nero and Avilio, we can expect things to get even tougher for our antihero after his initial small victories.

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91 Days – 02

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Avilio could have joined the Orcos and helped them take down the Vanettis, fulfilling his duty as a member of the family while satisfying his thirst for revenge. But he didn’t, and the answer why is clear: it’s easier to accomplish what hell-bent on doing by joining up with the Vanettis. He can earn their trust with his competence, with Colteo’s skill providing cover.

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He arrives at a Godfather-like wedding, with a groom who’s the nephew of the Chicago-based Galassias, who are more powerful than either of the families in Lawless. Because of that, they can pressure the two to make nice, something that doesn’t sit right with Vanno Clemente.

Not only that, he has to watch his pal Nero’s sister Fio be snatched up by the Chi-town clown. So when Avilio makes a flippant remark to the groom and dodges his punch, Vanno takes a shine to him. When Nero gives the okay to take out Fango, Vanno turns to Avilio—just as Avilio planned.

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Interestingly (for me anyway), the show doesn’t simply hand victory to Avilio. Despite a nice bit of disguise and stealth, Fango is a motherfuckin’ survivor (not to mention a masochist), and doesn’t go down easily. I imagine even if Avilio had gotten a bullet or two in him, it wouldn’t be enough to stop Fango from parkouring into the night.

But someone wanting to off a jerk like Fango probably isn’t such a surprise to his employers (he is a mercenary, after all), and Avilio claims he hasn’t killed before, so Vanno isn’t that upset by the failure; hell, he half-expected it. He knew you need more luck than Fango to kill Fango.

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What Avilio does get him, by dumb luck, is Serpente, the somewhat sadistic dude who killed his young car-loving pal earlier in the episode. At this point, Avilio has Vanno eating out of his hands, meeting him in a place and time where no one will see or hear them, so that Vanno can get his revenge.

What surprised me was that Avilio acted so fast. We’re only on Day frikkin’ two, and here he is, already taking a shot at one of the three main guys on his list, which he shares with an increasingly worried Colteo. The only problem is…he seems to have messed up again, and all the trust he earned may have been wasted. That’s typically the assessment when you’ve got the barrel of a gun in your back!

But judging from Avilio’s look, he’s not going to let things end here. I was expecting him to be friends with Vanno and Nero longer than he was. But I’m not disappointed the show didn’t go in the direction I assumed.

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91 Days – 01 (First Impressions)

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Seven years after his family is killed in a mob power struggle, Avilio returns to the town of Lawless, reuniting with his friend Colteo to sell his quality moonshine to discriminating customers on the “Island.”

They end up facing the Orco family’s new attack dog Fango, but manage to escape with their would-be-buyer, who turns out to be Nero Vanetti, the son of the man who killed Avilio’s family.

91 Days wastes no time establishing Avilo’s backstory and resultant vendetta, and the title leaves no doubt as to how long he’ll have to get his vengeance.

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What might be lacking in complexity or surprise in the story is made up for by 91 Days’ rich, detailed, earthy prohibition-era setting. There’s a pall of melancholy and fallen grace everywhere, no more overt than a church on an island converted to a bar.

Unlike GANGSTA, this is a show that sticks to realism; no magical super-beings here, just good old-fashioned blood, brawn, sweat, and smoke. The weapons are bats, bullets, but exclusively knives in the case of Avilio, who has clearly been honing his mind and body for this quest for revenge thes last seven years.

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Even a wild dog like Fango doesn’t faze Avilio when the guy interrupts his negotiations. In fact, he uses it as an opportunity to show his worth to some people who seem important, and turn out to be the very people he wants to get close to.

Avilio is a man with nothing to lose, since he already lost it all, so he’s no someone you want to bet against. That being said, there isn’t much else to his character, at least not yet in this first episode. His childhood pal Colteo welcomes him back in his life, but I wonder how long he’ll last, as he’s not as hard or strong as Avilio has become.

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Where the originality comes into play is Colteo’s mad distillery science, and the decisive blow to Fango is a chemical reaction that harkens to seven years ago, the night Avilio’s fam was murdered, when then-Angelo put out a candle with his finger, showing it was the paraffin burning.

Colteo hoped to make money off his quality hooch so he could go to school, but now that he’s swept up in Avilio’s plans, that’s probably not going to happen.

For all the looming stone buildings and iron bridges in Lawless, There’s a distinct sense of impermanence to 91 Days. Avilio probably doesn’t want to be on this earth any longer than he needs to take care of business, and he probably won’t be. I’m looking forward to seeing how he uses his 91 days.

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GOD EATER – 10

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GOD EATER is back. Repeat: GOD EATER is BACK. And just when I was about to give up hope. Turns out they waited until the point in the season when the rest of the Winter shows were in their final quarter, either because they needed more time or because they didn’t want this show to end when everything else was at episode 4 or 5.

You know what else? My patience was handsomely rewarded. This was the best episode of GOD EATER (and one of the best of the entire Winter) yet, using Lenka’s ordeal with adjusting to a new God Arc as the framing device for a heretofore untold story of Lenka’s childhood, starting with when he was found in the mud by a kind family who tested negative for entry into Fenrir.

More than a story, it is an often horrifically heartbreaking tragedy that is epic in scale, stretching across the fifteen years that precede the show’s present day, and being far more emotionally powerful than any of the black-and-white flashbacks that came before.

A lot of this episode’s power comes from our amassed knowledge of the previous nine. And yet, this could very well have been the first episode of GOD EATER—or even a completely standalone short film—and still been effective.

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After Lenka was rescued and named by his new big sister Iroha, his family lived in a shanty town living off rations and constantly at risk of Aragami attacks. When his mother develops a cough and becomes bedridden, he and his sister strike out with other town members to find medicine, but are ambushed.

Lenka, who wants to become strong enough to protect everyone, hits an Aragami with a stick, but it has no effect. Still, he’s bailed out by a God Eater – Lindow, specifically. Lenka is both jealous of Iroha’s attention towards Lindow, and of Lindow’s strength to protect. Lenka’s father doesn’t like the Fenrir system in which “people choose people” and leave others to die due to limited resources, but that’s exactly what happens in the shanty town as well.

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When Lenka grows ill and there’s only one dose of medicine, Lenka’s mother demands it be used on him, for he is the future. That’s confirmed when they test him for the first time and he reads positive, making his dream to become strong a more real possibility. It’s Iroha who injects the drugs, as both she and their father weep uncontrollably over tacitly condemning their mother to die. They bury her not long after.

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A few years pass, and Lenka is on the cusp of fifteen, the age when he can join Fenrir. His older sister has also grown more beautiful, and still quite close and protective of her brother. But she’s also mature enough to slap Lenka when, after an Aragami attack, their father is trapped under wreckage. All they can do is escape on a motorbike their father prepared for such an eventuality. Like his mother, Lenka’s father died so that he could live.

But while escaping the Aragami on the bike, one manages to scratch Iroha’s leg. It doesn’t look that bad, but the wound bleeds and festers, and before long, she can no longer walk (an analog to a similar desperate journey he’ll go on with Alisa later on). Once they check the wound and it’s riddled with maggots, once more a choice must be made.

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Lenka can’t make that choice—Iroha is all he has left—so she chooses for him, by slitting her own throat, forcing him to leave her. Before they part, she tells him to go to Fenrir, because he tested positive, and always was positive. That didn’t do the family any good, however, because they weren’t related by blood. But no matter how Fenrir cruelly defines it, Iroha always considered Lenka her brother – she even named him, because like a lotus, they found him in the mud, where lotuses bloom.

To twist the proverbial knife once more, before and then in the process of being devoured by Aragami, Iroha briefly envisions the world she always dreamed of, a beautiful pastoral paradise where plants have returned, and where she’ll be together with her dear brother forever. She looks like a Studio Ghibli character in this fantasy, before a devastating smash cut to her being eaten. No point in trying to hold back the tears here; this was utterly dejecting. Rest in peace, Iroha.

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The Utsugi family, then, sacrificed themselves one after another to save a boy who wasn’t even related to them by blood. But if any of the three of them, including Iroha, had to do it all over again, I doubt they’d change a thing. The choices they made led to Lenka being in the position to “overturn” the world they had no power to change.

When Lenka stops re-living the memories of losing his family members one by one over the course of his life, he awakens to find the adjustments for his new God Arc are complete. All that’s left is to re-declare what he means to do with his newly-resotred (and likely greatly increased) power: to kill Aragami. But also, to be someone whom people can entrust their hope for a better world, the way his family was for him.

GOD EATER is back; with brutal, gorgeous, heart-rending, unyielding authority. Episode 11 has its work cut out for it.

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Dimension W – 07

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Dimension W’s best episode to date succeeds because it finally lets us into Kyouma’s past, both the heady highs and the devastating lows. Kyouma’s unplanned first meeting with Azumaya Miyabi, the girl who would become his soul mate, girlfriend, and fiancee, is a chance possibility that fits neatly in the show’s description of Dimension W as not only a place of infinite electrical energy, but infinite possibility.

Miyabi may be tiny and soft-spoken amateur photog, but she’s not scared of the semi-delinquent, samurai-looking Kyouma. Why would she be? He saved her! She also prefers her old-fashioned Pentax camera to anything with a coil, something that Kyouma either shares or will come to develop as he grows closer to her.

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The heady highs come first, and it’s just nice to see a young Kyouma who is happy and has whole life to look forward to. He gets into brawls to protect those weaker than him, and ends up in trouble a lot, but there’s the feeling he’ll be alright as long as he has Miyabi by his side to smooth his rough edges (and her sister Tsubaki to bail him out of jail!)

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Then come the devastating lows, as one little trip-and-fall by Miyabi reveals she has an incurable condition that will wear her muscles away to nothing, similar to ALS. Not willing to let such a fate be her reality, Kyouma desperately reaches out and claws at any possibility of saving her, including a full-body cybernetic replacement. Clearly, at this point, with Miyabi’s future on the line, he’s not above embracing the power of coils.

His efforts lead him into the restraining hold of Colin Keys, bodyguard to NTE Yurizaki Seira, Shidou’s wife. Together they’re gathering test subjects to achieve precisely what Miyabi needs: a new body through technology. The catch is, Kyouma has to agree to join Keys’ Beasts of Grendel. Before heading off to battle (presumably fighting a rogue NTE faction), he puts a ring on the bedridden Miyabi, promising to marry her when he returns.

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The battle is a victory, but only Kyouma and Al survive. When Kyouma awakens (he doesn’t remember most of the battle), Miyabi is already gone. Worse, due to a coil malfunction during experimentation, her head is gone, meaning Kyouma doesn’t even have the comfort of looking upon his love’s face before saying goodbye.

Don’t get me wrong: at its heart this is a pretty familiar story: a man twisted and haunted by his lost love rejects everything that he believes led to her destruction, which Mira embodies. But I can’t deny the intense emotions I felt when Miyabi slipped away, or the pain the Kyouma has felt ever since. He couldn’t save her or be there when she died either.

Also, I’m pretty sure Miyabi was voiced by Ueda Reina, the same seiyu that voices Mira (EDIT: According to MAL she’s voiced by Ohara Sayaka, same as her older sister). I’m grasping at straws in Dimension W here, but I’m thinking a part of Miyabi’s mind made it into Mira’s sophisticated cyberbrain, perhaps combined with that of the Yurizakis’ daughter.

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And that’s another reason why Kyouma is loath to get too close to Mira, or even treat her like he would a human being he doesn’t loathe: Maybe Kyouma sees and hears Miyabi in Mira’s voice and mannerisms, and Mira is guilty of nothing other than not being Miyabi. Sure, she may be the next best thing, but that may as well be the difference between infinity and zero, which is…infinite.

Nevertheless, Kyouma is taking Mira with him to Easter Island. He’s just not taking his old Toyota. Instead, he’s taking his gorgeous, newly fixed up Lexus LFA. The show doesn’t immediately explain why the change of cars – and why a car at all – until later, but for now it’s nice to see Kyouma’s taste in cars extends past the seventies.

Meanwhile, Prince Salva makes his case to the other 59 NTE central heads, and explains he’s using self-involved collectors instead of NTE staff to explore the island in order to avoid any possibility of appearances of internal NTE treachery, of the kind that led to the initial battle Kyouma participated in, as well as Yurizaki Seira’s assassination.

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Obviously, recruiting collectors from all around the globe meant we’d be bombarded with new characters, much like the haunted mansion mini-arc, but it bothered me less here since this is a competition to see who can get to the one functioning coil still on Easter Island, so you need competitors. They’re all colorful characters to boot, and Liz and Loser are there too.

Fortunately for Kyouma and Mira, bringing his LFA means having to take a separate flight, relying on Al to fly them to the ruined island. The other collectors travel with the prince aboard an NTE airship that is quickly downed by the strange and unpredictable probabilistic phenomena that rule Easter Island, as well as the sea and sky around it.

Kyouma does eventually explain he needs the car to race around the contour of the island in order to reach the coil first. And combined with the other collectors’ rough start and uncertain state, the episode ends with Kyouma and Mira in a good early position to be the ones to claim the 50 million dollar reward.

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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).

Prison School – 08

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Yours truly should have known, but my “manly feelings” were also manipulated, as I, like Shingo, stopped worrying about what was or wasn’t too good to be true and actually roll with the idea of a random girl at Shingo’s school being legitimately into him. After all, Chiyo can’t be the only one who likes having the guys around, right? Well, it’s not really a yes or no question.

But let’s just say for most of the episode and all of last week, Anzu was putting on an act. Unlike Chiyo, who puts herself at risk trying to warn Kiyoshi of the impending plot afoot (writing it in Go stones…so refined!), Anzu is acting on behalf of the Underground Student Council, in exchange for Mari’s recommendation she be named to the executive committee next year. She was a part of DTO…but by the end, she’s almost responsible for foiling it.

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Why does she do that? Well, everything was going according to plan, with cheek-pinching about to move on to something else, until Shingo just cant sit there and watch some random kid in the park get sand thrown at him by his friends. When he yells at them too harshly, they cry, and the kid who was getting bullyed throws sand on him. 

This isn’t just a show about T&A. It’s a show about fate and justice; friendship and forgiveness. The confessions that take place in that park aren’t of love between Shingo and Anzu. Shingo confesses to being a snitch, and can’t betray his friends anymore. But then Anzu ‘fesses up about being appointed by Mari to seduce him as part of a plan to get the boys expelled.

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Of course, Anzu was only one of Mari’s variables in her devastatingly intricate scheme, which involved using Meiko’s voluptuousness and lack of punishing Andre to drive him mad until he’s chasing cardboard cutouts, and finally, the real thing. When Meiko offers to whip him if he just comes through the fence, Andre can’t help himself, pushes through the wire (which had already been cut), and is guilty of the boys’ second breakout. If Shingo doesn’t get back in time, that will be three strikes, and they’ll be out. Baseball Metaphor!

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In the time Anzu’s spent with him, culminating in those shared confessions, she can no longer play him any more than he can play Kiyoshi and the others. So she does everything she can to get him back to school on time. At first, their getting along seemed all to easy, then was revealed to be an artificial fondness that then became real. I just hope this isn’t the last we see of these two.

If Mari and the council have their way, however, it will be…and the boys won’t get to experience “seaside school” in the summer, when the girls hold a wet t-shirt contest. While I’m almost positive that’s just bullshit to get them riled up, the fact they believe her so intensely is pretty hilarious.

In fact, it’s that dream of transparent tops that move Kiyoshi, Gakuto, Andre and Joe to put their wishes and hopes together and chant for Shingo’s on-time return. Shingo is almost hit by a truck, but avoids it, and that truck happens to be the laundry truck for the school! Almost as if the universe is rewarding him for his honesty, eh?

Well, not quite: the kicker in DTO is that the other four inmates were put to work adjusting how the door to the stockade opens so it slides rather than pushes in, so Shingo can’t open it, and he’s outside when his time runs out. Dayum, that is one ice cold checkmate.

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Happily, as they await their impending expulsion, Shingo prostrates himself and apologizes profusely for what he’s done…and he’s forgiven, just like that. Well, until he mentions details of what happened with him and Anzu; then they lay into him, but when they’re done, they’re all of them satisfied and even. Mari may have gotten them expelled, but she failed to break their brotherly bonds.

Mari all but smacks her dad in the face with the official school regulations and how the boys are indeed guilty of breaking out three times. Chiyo is there to argue their case, but her pleas are shouted down by Kiyoshi and her confederates. This is one of those times you’d really wish her dad the chairman had some backbone, but considering how awkward and awful he feels about Mari seeing so many overt glimpses of his fetish, he probably feels he has no moral ground to stand on, even if Chiyo were to back him up in the pro-boys corner.

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So, is that that? Will the end of the week after next be all she wrote for our lads? Or is the festive victory celebration by the council—complete with cake, sparkling cider, and Meiko getting her thong caught on the door after doing fingertip pullups—premature? For her part, Anzu tells her boss how she ended up failing her mission when she fell for the target, but Mari lets her off the hook, while ordering surveillance on her as soon as she’s out of the room.

As for the boys, because their bonds have never been stronger, and their hopes somewhat miraculously reached Shingo, they belive anything is possible. They’re not done yet. They’ve got allies in Chiyo and maybe Anzu and the director, they have each other, and they have at least a couple of weeks. Can they somehow overturn the verdict of the council? Will they turn DTO’s victory into a defeat? I hope so.

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Prison School – 04

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It doesn’t take long to reveal what Gakuto intended by assaulting both the vice president and president: he wanted the latter to “punish and forgive” him. At first, this is played out as Shiraki sodomizing Gakuto with a pixelated vibrator…but turns out to be just harmless electric clippers (thank GOD), with which she shaves his head, the clippings of which Gakuto offers to Kiyoshi as the all-important pigtails he’ll need to complete his girly look. Gosh, what a friend! If only his powerful intellect were used to better humanity…

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His wig thus acquired, he must grab a girl’s uniform from the laundry; no mean feat. This show is a master of portraying suspense and stress, and dangling everything on whether someone comes out of a doorway, or turns around, or, later, spills tea on a backpack.

Thanks again to Gakuto (who literally pisses himself distracting the laundry service guy), Kiyoshi gets away with a uniform undetected. With that, he has everything he needs for the sumo date, and tries to get some sleep, promising he won’t fail Chiyo. Meanwhile, Chiyo seems super-psyched for tomorrow.

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The day arrives: so full of potential pitfalls and foreboding, but also ample hope that all will go according to plan. As Kiyoshi and Gakuto collect the purses of the girls of various girls who have come for track day, Chiyo makes huge amounts of onigiri for Kiyoshi, assuming all boys eat several times more than girls…not to mention believing Kiyoshi got permission to leave.

As Kiyoshi enjoys a bento and some “fine asses” as noon and zero hour draws nearer, a sense of calm seems to settle over the two. Everything has been set into motion, and everything they worked and shat and pissed and sweated and bled for is finally about to come to fruition. Kiyoshi also remarks on how close a friendship he and Gakuto have achieved in the last three weeks. Gakuto says its all for the Three Kingdoms figurines.

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The bell rings. Zero Hour. From this point on, Prison School becomes a taut, elegant thriller, complete with a first-person perspective of Kiyoshi placing the fartbox on the toilet, slipping out the window, into the drainage channel, through tunnels, beneath Shiraki beating his comrades, and out to his changing zone.

He’s barely done transforming into “Kiya-tan” when Shiraki, no longer busy beating the others, calls out to him. He has a choice: run and risk being exposed, or stay put and hope he’s a convincing enough girl from behind to fool the glasses-wearing Shiraki. Somehow, some way, it works, and Shiraki moves on. Is this fortune smiling on Kiyoshi’s Big Day?

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Oh no! Mari grabs him by the backpack before he can step outside of school grounds! But wait, she just wants “her” to take her backpack off her back. When she spots the tear in Kiyoshi’s jacket, she apologizes and lets him go, showing Mari’s empathetic side for once. After that, it’s smooth sailing till the rendezvous point.

Chiyo truly outdoes herself in the adorableness department, between her outfit, the way she sneaks up on an overjoyed Kiyoshi, and her intense enthusiasm over watching a student sumo match with him. Her seiyu Hashimoto Chinami is one of the few voices in this show I’m not familiar with, but she does a great job projecting Chiyo’s warm and genial personality, along with her excitement with the whole affair.

Kiyoshi and Chiyo are just plain infectious to watch here; it’s like he’s died and gone to heaven. Sure, he doesn’t give a shit about sumo, and she sucks at cooking, but HE DOESN’T CARE IT’S CHIYO, for cryin’ out loud. He eats every bite of plain salted white rice, and gets rewarded with a close-in selfie with her, as if they were already boyfriend and girlfriend!

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Then…heaven turns to HELL, and so heart-rippingly fast it made my head spin. I was rooting so hard for Kiyoshi and his success, but in the back of my head I still remembered that he’d done things for which a penance would someday be exacted. I just didn’t think it would happen so fast! From peeping to peeing to stealing and fleeing, to so easily allowing Gakuto to sacrifice his dignity and high school years…Kiyoshi is no pure angel.

And yet, it’s nothing in particular he does or says that leads to him so harshly receiving his “karma” and being driven into the ground. It’s something that just happens, as a result of what he’s already said and done, along with what he failed to do, like check to see whose uniform he stole.

Turns out, he stole CHIYO’S. And because he ate too much of the rice to be “nice”, and had to go to the bathroom (for real this time), he leaves Chiyo alone with his bag, and when she spills tea on it, she notices her uniform in that bag, and it’s over. It’s ALL OVER. She manages to get “You’re disgusting” out before storming off.

Meanwhile, back at the school, his cover is about to be blown, as Shiraki loses patience, goes into the mens room, and prepares to knock down the door where the now-malfunctioning m-poop-3-player sits. It looks like the boys are in for another month of prison. But far, far worse, Kiyoshi’s aspirations with Chiyo are in tatters. It’s going to be tough to come back from all that.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 21

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Leon has to duel his shitty dad this week, but he holds his own, as he’s no longer a whiny brat consumed by anger and revenge. He wants to protect people, which is why he just can’t understand why his dad is protecting Mendoza, who has only ever preyed on the weak to increase his own power.

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Herman isn’t saying nothin’, he seems more concerned with whether Leon can actually stay with him in a fight. He tries to push Leon’s buttons, but Leon hangs in there. Their fight moves to the roof of the palace, where Garm in bird form helpfully flutters over them, providing exposition. Basically, the body that governs Makai Knights and Alchemists has decided to let Mendoza release that giant legendary horror after all, since it will eat a great many other horrors, and likely destroy an in-over-his-head Mendoza along with them.

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It’s a sacrifice a few to save many plan, the kind of “tough decisions” Herman says Makai Knights must make. But Leon isn’t having it. He dons his armor and presses his attack (the two wisely travel far from the city to avoid too much collateral damage). He won’t let Garm’s kind sacrifice Santa Bard, a city full of people he and his brother have sworn to protect. He won’t let one person be killed to save another. It’s arguably an even tougher stance than that of his dad, who, at least on the surface, seems to be hiding behind his orders.

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Leon’s frustration with his dad’s position is made clearer in a flashback when the two were traveling from town to town, with Herman taking out local horrors and training Leon, whose present belief that every single person must be protected at the cost of a knights life, was instilled in him by his dad, after Leon tried to save him.

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But his dad also makes it clear that he and Leon are only brief participants in a war that will never end. The swords they drop when they fall will be picked up with others.

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In other words, there’s a long game here, and mortal knights cannot expect to save everyone and everything in their lifetimes. There are hard choices and compromises to be made that might clash with their otherwise rigid ideals, like capitalizing on the opportunity to destroy a vast number of horrors by letting Mendoza do what he wants.

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Leon can’t accept the sacrifice of a few now to save many later. Neither can Alphonso, the leader of the people in the epicenter of Mendoza’s plot. Ema also seems to have the brothers’ backs. But what can they do against the might of every other Makai Knight and Alchemist who has fallen in line? Evacuating the city and killing Mendoza would be a start.

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