Cardcaptor Sakura – 55 – Alice in HOEEE-nderland

From the opening scene in which Sakura narrates a beautiful sequence of illustrations, it’s immediately clear what’s going to go down this week, even if you didn’t watch the preview. Sakura’s totally getting trapped inside Alice in Wonderland by Eriol. Meanwhile Tomoyo proves adept at shit-stirring by noting how nice Sakura and Eriol look together in earshot of Syaoran, forcing another staredown that Sakura notices for the first time.

While everyone is reading at the library, the enchanted leaf Eriol gave Sakura as a bookmark activates, and sure enough, she’s sucked in. It’s interesting to note that while Alice typically wears blue, Sakura is dressed in a pink dress with a heart suit theme. Eriol appears as the Cheshire Cat, but like said cat is more cryptic and mischievous than helpful.

Sakura encounters Yukito the White Rabbit, who transforms into Yue, scoops her up, and drops her in the middle of her brother the Mad Hatter’s tea party. She drinks the tea he makes and finds it delicious, but is too late to realize it’s a potion to make her tiny, an experience she did not enjoy last time it happened.

Once she’s small enough to fit on a flower, she’s confronted by twin Syaorans as Tweedledee and Tweedledum, who curiously enough quiz her on whether and who Syaoran likes. Sakura still thinks Syaoran likes Yukito, but his feelings have since shifted in her direction, hence her being wrong about the one he likes being taller than him.

Ultimately,. Sakura converts Big to grow bigger than Little to shrink back to normal size, and finds herself on a chessboard where Tomoyo AKA Humpty Dumpty is playing against Queen Kerberus. Sakura takes flight, and once she remembers the big leaf in the sky is the portal through which she entered, flies into it and emerges back in the library.

Tomoyo and Syoaran do their best to keep the others in the dark about all the magic stuff going on at their table, and Sakura ends up getting sleepy from creating two more Sakura Cards and falling into Syaoran’s arms. CCS delivers exactly what it said it would—Sakura in Wonderland—and does so with style and with some fun character moments. That said, I wonder if Sakura will remember that the one Syaoran likes isn’t taller than him…

Hamefura – 08 – Pages of Desire

All Mary Hunt wants is to study alone with her one true love Catarina. Unfortunately, the object of her affection is also the object of everyone else’s, so the study group in the library consists of…everyone. Alas, while taking a break Catarina notices a flashing book on the shelf, and when she opens it, she and everyone except Mary and Maria are sucked inside!

It’s a high concept Hamefura this week, as one by one everyone in the book lives out their deepest desire, as interpreted and amplified by the magic of the book itself. Gerald, for one, reveals some of his sadist qualities in his wedding night desire, or Keith revealing his steamier side in his. Before anything can “happen” between Catarina or anyone, Mary slams the book shut in disgust.

The desire I enjoyed most was Catarina in Sophia’s private library, in which Sophia delivers an epic wall slam to Catarina like she’s the guy in a shoujo manga and declares her love. It’s just a shame nothing more comes of our discovery that Sophia may be the reincarnation of Acchan.

Mary and Maria endure all these desires until they finally come to Catarina, which involves finding an entire house made of sweets, only because the sweets are fictional no matter how much she eats she’s never satisfied. This seems to break the logic of the book, which explodes in a cloud of sweets and the trapped people. All’s well that ends well!

We end with a post-credits scene I found a bit puzzling: Catarina, with no inner monologue at all, ends up barefoot and up a tree with Alan during a gorgeous sunset. Mary spots them and moves to intercept. It’s a pretty scene, but Catarina feels out of character here; certainly have an inner council meeting or two before getting so friendly with Alan…

The Quintessential Quintuplets – 11 – Their Own Campfire

There are two distinct sensors that can’t be tripped when she and Fuutaoru are trapped in the storage shed, potentially overnight: the burglar sensor on the door to the shed, or the sensor in her heart. It’s a corny line, but it’s said internally, where as we all know all manner of corny things are said in the comfort of our own heads, so it’s fine. It’s also adorable, and another reason why Ichika has pulled away as my favorite of the five Nakano quintuplets. That, and amazing lines like “No enjoying my thighs!”

As Yotsuba, Miku and Itsuki notice that both Ichika and Fuutarou are missing, Ichika tries to pass the time chatting with Fuutarou, only for him to be preoccupied with making a fire. What finally gets his attention is her telling him she’s thinking of quitting school—something she couldn’t tell any of the sisters. To her surprise, he doesn’t judge or condemn her. Instead, he lauds her for finding something she wants to do, and envies her for having the requisite options.

Ichika needed someone to tell her it’s okay, and he does so, unaware of how significant it is coming from him. Then he successfully starts the fire, and Ichika assents to calling off their dance at the school campfire. However, that doesn’t preclude them having their own little campfire dance right then and there, and further driven by her heart, she holds out her hand with the brightest smile we’ve seen from any quint to date.

If that invitation to dance didn’t cause your eyes to shimmer at least a little, you might be a Grinch! But then Fuutarou brings up the campfire legend that Ichika did not know about, and she withdraws from him, overcome by guilt for inadvertently hurting Miku. In the process, she knocks over a big log, which almost falls on her before Fuutarou swoops in to rescue her, locking the two in a romantic dance-like pose.

When the log falls it damages the door, trips the alarm, and activates the sprinklers, but fortunately it’s switched off before security is called. Unfortunately for both Fuutarou and Ichika, Miku and Itsuki are the ones who deactivate the alarm and unlock the door, discovering Fuutarou and Big Sis in what could artfully described as in flagrante delicto, through no fault of their own.

The next day, both Ichika has caught cold (due to the sprinklers) but Fuutarou is yanked out of bed by Yotsuba to go skiing. When he meets Miku on the slopes she’s cold towards him, as neither she nor Itsuki 100% believed his and Ichika’s explanation of last night’s events. Mostly, Miku is frustrated with her predicament: if she and her four sisters are all “equal”, what is she supposed to do with her feelings for Fuutarou if Ichika has already taken steps?

Yotsuba proposes a game of ski-tag, Ichika eventually joins the others, and while she’s skiing beside Fuutarou makes sure he hasn’t/won’t tell anyone else what she told him about quitting school. Not knowing how to stop, Fuutarou crashes, and ends up in the vicinity of where Nino was snowboarding. When wiping his brow, the band-aid she put on “Kintarou’s” forehead comes off and she finds it.

Once again, I wish he’d simply reveal to Nino that Kintarou is an invention and that he’s the cool guy she likes, only with different hair. But at least when he hides from her (and Yotsuba, as the game of tag is still on), he ends up in the same igloo as Miku, and in the warmth of that space her frustration gradually fades. It’s a lovely, cozy, disarming scene between the two.

Miku proposes a handicap against Yotsuba, but he doesn’t want to ignore the work she put into being the most athletic quint. He wants to be “fair, not equal” in their treatment of her, and that’s when a light bulb blinks on in Miku’s head. She doesn’t have to feel restricted by the notion that she and her sisters are all equal. All is fair in love and war!

As Itsuki skis all by her lonesome, Miku gives Ichika a call. Hopefully some air can be cleared in the last episode of the season…and I’m not talking about ski jumps! Whatever happens, I’m just not ready to say goodbye to these characters.

As expected, Ichika’s extended time with Fuutarou gained her top ranking in the penultimate episode, giving her an insurmountable 11-point lead over Yotsuba going into the finale. Miku’s igloo scene gave her a boost this week. Yotsuba, Nino and Itsuki rounded out the episode ranking.

Darwin’s Game – 01 (First Impressions) – Quick Study

After a quick look at someone standing on an I-beam high above the city, we begin with a chase that isn’t quite as thrilling as the music would want us to believe. But the chase kinetically, succinctly presents and answers questions about the nature of the titular game.

Will you be relentlessly pursued by a baseball panda with a cloaking device and a cleaver? Yes you will! Can you call for help? Sure, but it will cost you, with no assurance anyone will respond. What if you lose? You die. So far so good. All we need is a protagonist more likable than the guy who just died.

Enter Sudou Kaname, friend of the deceased, who was one of the people the guy texted before he died. That text is an invite to a free-to-play mobile game. Before his other friend Kyouda can stop him, Kaname accepts, and a goddamn snake pops out of his phone’s screen and bites him.

Now that he’s an official player in the game, he almost immediately ends up in his first battle, not knowing the rules or that the stakes are all too real. The baseball panda Banda-kun is his first opponent, and the bear apparently notorious for beating up on rookies like Kaname.

Fortunately for Kaname, his “Luck” stat in the game must be pretty high. After a frightful chase during which Banda kills a cop, Kyouda intervenes but is injured, and Kaname gets a basic grasp of some of the game’s rules, Banda is hit by a car and Kaname gets the win.

The catch? Both Banda and Kyouda are killed in the most unnatural way: being blinked out of existence one cube at a time. Kaname has lost two friends and narrowly escaped with his life. When he checks the loot from his win, a handgun appears at his door. He doesn’t like this game. You can’t really blame him.

Still, as far as inescapable Battle Royale scenarios go, it could be far worse for Kaname. His first battle is a fluke win, while an experienced player in Karino Shuka reaches out with an offer to teach him more about the game, and she’s gorgeous. Shuka’s also not very trusting, so when Kaname reveals he brought weapons to their meeting, she initiates a battle between them.

Despite having air superiority and knowing the warehouse location back to front, Shuka’s mistake is not achieving her objective of eliminating a potential threat without dilly-dallying. Their battle only stokes Kaname up, awakening his inner sense of self-survival at any cost—even shooting a gun at a woman, something he’d never do. That gun is conjured by his previously-unknown “sigil”, or special skill.

Yet as exhibited when he cared for Kyouda, Kaname is a nice, well-adjusted guy. He doesn’t end up having to kill Shuka, as she surrenders instead, and promises to obey Kaname henceforth. That’s a surprising wrinkle in what had been presented as a “win-or-die” scenario, but not an unwelcome one, as Darwin’s Game had already killed off a fair number of characters and Ueda Reina is too good a seiyu to only bring in for one episode.

This show is full of battle royale and shounen cliches, one of them being the hero suddenly collapsing from exhaustion moments after victory. Another is his one-time-opponent seemingly falling for him on the spot. It yet another spot of luck (or possibly horror), he wakes up Shuka’s bed, with a naked-as-a-jaybird Shuka dozing beside him.

In addition to T&A, Shuka offers an abrupt proposal for Kaname: she wants to “make a family” with him. Huh. BIT random, but not altogether out of the blue. It’s clear Shuka, nicknamed the “Undefeated Queen”, has been doing this for a while. It’s likely been lonely game, and she likely hasn’t met someone quite like Kaname before: someone who risked himself to trust and spare her.

At this point I’d like it more if this was some long game to exploit his kindness to use and dispose of him, or perhaps it’s the start of an earnest romance in the making. Either way, this was a diverting and intriguing enough opening double episode to warrant further viewing.

Darling in the FranXX – 09

Poor Goro. The girl he’s coming to understand that he has feelings for has only ever had eyes for Hiro, whom Goro also likes and values as a person. Yet Goro is better at reading Ichigo’s often wildly shifting moods, and since becoming partners his affection for her has only increased.

Meanwhile, he must stand back and watch Ichigo stand back and watch Hiro get along so well with Zero Two. Ichigo and Goro are the “losers” in this love triangle, as neither has the attention of the person they want. But only Goro has a constant reminder of that staring him in the face: the hair clip Ichigo wears is identical to one he was going to give her; Hiro simply gave her one first.

Since he’s very new to all these feelings, now that he knows them he knows how long they’ve lasted, but he can’t resent or hate Hiro, even though Hiro is oblivious to Ichigo’s feelings. But the time for being silent about his feelings is over. Whether it’s uncomfortable for Hiro or not, Goro tells Hiro that he loves Ichigo just as Ichigo loves Hiro.

While it’s been established since they were youngins at the parasite “orphanage” that Goro and Ichigo are stronger as a duo, Goro’s one flaw as a Stamen is that he’ll always put Ichigo first and himself second, rather than treat the two of them as having equal value. In this regard, he loves Ichigo more than he loves himself, so when a Klaxosaur swallows up Delphinium, Goro hits the ejection button…for Ichigo alone.

The parasites are ordered back to base to regroup, and Nana and Hachi make it clear that the priority moving forward is protecting the Plantation from the Klax, even if it means leaving Goro to die. He did, after all, dig his own grave by ejecting his Pistil; he cannot pilot Delph without her.

When Ichigo wakes up from ejection blackout, she’s furious with everyone; from her squad mates for turning tail to Goro for being so stupid and selfish. She wants to know why he did this, but it’s blindingly obvious to Miku. She gives Ichigo a piece of her mind, saying how Goro has always looked out for her and tempered the volatility in her persona that has always threatened to compromise her leadership (Zorome sheepishly slinks away during their exchange).

The parasites have their orders, which do not prioritize saving Goro, but Ichigo is allowed to contact Goro, who is slowly running out of power and air, stuck in a relatively harmless part of the Klaxosaur but unable to move Delphinium. Ichigo’s exchange is more of a scolding, for Goro never leaning on her a little and taking everything on himself.

When Zero Two mentions a way for a parasite to enter the area of the Klax where Goro is trapped, Goro’s punishment for his “selfishlessness” is for the very person he aimed to save—Ichigo—to go right back in there to save him. It’s a quick and thrilling sequence as Argentea gives a boost to Strelitzia—carrying Ichigo in her palm—and then tosses her down the gullet of the Klaxosaur.

As she passes through the hazardous layers of fuel, Goro reminices on how he first met, befriended, and fell for Ichigo—when she decided to stand and fight bullies beside him. They’ve always worked better together…ejecting her went against that.

While he regrets never having the opportunity to tell Ichigo how he really feels, he takes solace in the fact that he’ll at least take the Klax out with him by self-destructing Delphinium.

He comes oh-so-close to turning the dial when Ichigo bursts in to the rescue, flashing the same peace sign she did when they first teamed up years ago.

She takes her position, Delphinium wakes up, and they blast out of the Klax, leaving the remaining fuel behind to detonate and destroy the Klaxosaur in an epic explosion.

Delphinium lies inoperative and powerless, but the Klaxosaur is gone, and Ichigo and Goro are alive. While swimming to his rescue Ichigo lost the hair clip Hiro gave her, but Goro has always carried the clip he meant to give her, and finally gets to here.

Goro takes the opportunity to confess his love, but asks for nothing else in return. Ichigo’s flustered reaction is priceless, as is her thanking Goro for being her partner and willingness to let their hug last a little longer.

She could learn a thing or two from this moment, as Goro was able to say something he needed to say to the person he needed to say it to, and will no longer worry about living with regret for not doing so, or saying “I should’ve done that back then.”

Ichigo also has something to say to Ichigo, who thanks to Goro at least has a cursory knowledge of what that might be, even if he remains frustratingly dense about it. I’ll be pulling for Ichigo, as always. And please, Trigger: don’t kill her off immediately after she confesses. That would be lame.

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 12 (Fin)

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Now that he’s killed the Daddy who never loved him, and is well on the way to destroying the capital with the sister he turned into a monster, there’s not much for Biba to do but sit on the throne and…wait. Wait to be defeated by Ikoma, that is.

There wasn’t really much doubt of that, as this show has typically stuck to tried-and-true plot developments. That being said, Ikoma and Kurusu storming the city, going to town, and leaving piles of bodies in their wake is a sight to behold, as is the latter’s understanding that he’s to waste no time ending the former should he go Full Kabane. (Never go Full Kabane; the audience can’t connect.)

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While on the outside Mumei is at the core of a grotesque yet also oddly beautiful fused colony, in her mind she’s fighting memories of being weak and stamping them out. It’s as much a prison for her mind as her body.

As for Ayame, she’s able to break some locals out of a prison of fear and rigid lashing-out simply by getting in their face. Not sure that wouldn’t have resulted in someone accidentally pulling a trigger on her, but she’s always had relatively good luck.

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With Kurusu by his side, Ikoma continues to carve his way to Mumei, leading to a minor boss fight with one of Biba’s lieutenants, who tries to run a train into Ikoma but is thwarted when Ikoma’s super-Kabaneri power allows him to blast the train straight off the rails and into mid air. He then kills the guy himself with his arm-gun, justifying the killing by saying the guy kill too many. No arguments here.

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There’s just one last obstacle before he can save Mumei: Biba himself, who takes the stage excited to “hunt” a rare, fearless foe such as Ikoma. In her fever dream prison, Mumei sees Ikoma as the one blue butterfly in a cloud of red ones, because butterflies have never been used in this way in anime before.

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In all seriousness, as we’ve seen, Biba is highly skilled at combat, but when you don’t seem to be fighting for much anymore, but when up against a singularly motivated and nigh unkillable Kabaneri, it was only a matter of time before he took a hard lick that took him down.

Biba doesn’t stay down, however, even after Ikoma downs him and gives Mumei the magical white blood, reviving her and bringing her back to normal. It isn’t Ikoma who delivers the killing blow to Biba; he’s unconscious. It’s Mumei, who repeatedly implored Biba to stop hurting Ikoma, and stabbed him through the heart when he didn’t.

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With Biba dead and Mumei back to normal, she and Kurusu (with Ikoma on his back) race back to the Kotetsujou, which seems like a rather manufactured final hurdle, even though I did like how happy she looked when she saw the whole gang ready to catch her with a big fabric net.

The only real problem is that Ikoma won’t wake up…until he does, on Mumei’s insistence. When he does, she embraces him closely, her shield returned to her by white blood Biba must have injected before being killed, a last act of selflessness and compassion in a life full of violence and hatred.

With Mumei and Ikoma both alive and relatively unhurt (amazingly), the Kotetsujou steams off into the sunset, ending a very dark show on a very bright—if awfully tidy—parting note.

Kabaneri initially grabbed my attention with superior visuals (and audio) and thrilling action. But once the novelty of that quality wore off, the shows shortcomings grew more conspicuous, keeping this show rather far from greatness. Still, it was a hell of a rousing watch…most of the time.

If a second season comes one day, I will definitely give it a look—I’d like to see Mumei’s humanity restored, for one thing—but if it’s all the same to Wit Studio, I’d prefer a second season of Attack on Titan first.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 11

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Both Kuromukuro and Kabaneri managed to reignite my passion for watching them in their eleventh episodes. I didn’t really know what to expect after last week cliffhanger would have had us believe Ikoma had been stabbed through the heart and tossed into the sea for dead by a Mumei now lost to him. This week quickly debunks the first assumption and paves the way to debunk the second, even though shit is still hitting the fan, as it were.

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First, Kongokaku: it’s a grand, peaceful, and impressive place when the Kotetsujou arrives at its gate, but we see from the shogun eliminating a messenger with knowledge hat could sow public panic, theirs is clearly an uneasy peace, especially with Kabane lurking right outside those “impregnable” walls.

Biba doesn’t need to besiege his father’s seat, however; he comes in through the front door; a “captive” of Ayame; a role she’s forced to play because he’s holding her people hostage. Of course, going by his script only proves to Biba that’s he’s weak, and it’s become painfully apparent that the weak don’t live long once they meet him.

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To his credit, the shogun immediately knows Biba is up to something; he just doesn’t know what until it’s too late. Biba uses the same fear his father used as an excuse for stabbing him in the dark as a child to destroy his father. The dagger he gave him contains a hidden needle that infects the shogun with the virus, and his own men gun him down in a panic.

Biba need only deal the killing blow with his sword, and just like that Kongokaku is his. The Kabane in his hold are released onto the city to stoke up fear, paranoia, and people killing people, but he simply sits on the throne, not smirking an evil smirk, but remembering a day when he rode a horse with his father. Do I detect a hint of…weakness, AKA love? No matter; there’s no one around to punish Biba for it.

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While all that excitement is going on, Ikoma, having washed up on a shore not in the greatest shape but very much alive, is temporarily incapacitated by the immense weight of the guilt and regret over what went down, including Takumi’s death. He didn’t run, he was tossed out, and he’s right that at the time there was nothing he could do.

Kurusu, who has one of Biba’s scientists captive, finds Ikoma, and is actually patient with him as he goes through various stages of grief. In the end, Kurusu makes Ikoma set aside all the reasons he should simply die, and asks him why he’s still alive in the first place: his chest wound is so precise, Mumei must have intended to miss his heart, meaning she is not totally lost.

Granted, as we cut back to the capital, we see that Mumei is considerably more lost than the time she spared Ikoma. And she’s just as helpless here as Ayame, or as Ikoma was back on the train. Biba controls every aspect of her life, and despite all he’s done she still harbors loyalty to him, because she’d have died long ago (and been “beckoned by the butterflies”) were it not for him.

That combination of coercion-by-obligation, as well as the reality that Biba has kept Mumei weak and unable to oppose him even if she wanted to (and she did try), have led to her simply giving up. She will let the butterflies come, with the small consolation that at least she was able to free Ikoma a similar fate.

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Only thing is, Ikoma hasn’t given up, thanks largely to Kurusu and the captive he has for some reason (I forgot why; sue me). That scientist just happens to have on hand two serums: one is white, and could save Mumei; but to get to her Ikoma knows he needs to be stronger (and apparently, less scruffy) than he is.

So he injects the black serum, an accelerant that indeed causes him to undergo yet another transformation. When we leave him, he seems that much less human, and particularly stable, but fueled by his resolve to stop Biba and save Mumei, odds are he’ll be able to endure. I certainly hope so, because Mumei deserves better than the same fate as Horobi—who also didn’t deserve it.

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(Almost a 9 based solely on the new Aimer ED, “Through My Blood”, which brought it)

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 10

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Thinks are bad for the good guys: Ikoma is in prison, and Biba’s goons are harvesting blood from the Kotetsujou to feed the Kabane, and they’re not exactly being nice about it. Like Mumei, these are people who weren’t taught to think of the weak as people worthy of compassion, but in this case they’re more like livestock. It ain’t pretty.

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When I saw Biba alone in a car with Ayame, my skin crawled, because I knew he wouldn’t be honoring whatever deal he was striking with her. He only needs her until she can arrange an audience between him and his father the Shogun; after that all bets are off; that’s just how villains operate, and Biba is a pretty conventional villain.

He certainly has the look down, as well as the way he creepily wipes blood off Mumei’s cheek, after appeasing her with another promise he won’t keep: that the passengers of the Kotetsujou will not be harmed.

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That’s because a group of passengers are doing the one thing that will make Biba come down on them even harder: planning a revolt. Ikoma is the ringleader, taking note of the comings and goings of the key man. When the moment is right, he breaks out and the group strikes.

Sukari was portrayed early as someone who apparently betrayed his friends because he knew resistance was futile, but I had him pegged as a double agent pretty quickly, and that’s what it turns out he is, having helped slip intel to Ikoma, thus earning a measure of Takumi and Yukina’s forgiveness.

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When Biba gets word of the revolt, of course he makes Mumei choose to either take care of the disturbance—killing Ikoma and her friends in the process—or stop receiving the medication that’s keeping her virus from spreading and turning her into a full Kabane.

At the end of the day, this is Mumei’s most damning weakness: her utter dependence on her brother’s good side, which never really existed in the first place. He even lowered her dosage, anticipating her possible betrayal, so that she doesn’t have the strength to get away when she does bolt.

As for Ikoma, for some reason he thought the key man had all the keys, but he doesn’t; why would Biba make it so easy for Ikoma to get to the most important part of the train? Instead, Ikoma and his men block Ikoma, and when Ikoma refuses to join his fight (an offer most conventional villains usually give the protagonist), his guys open fire. Only Ikoma doesn’t get shot, because Takumi took the bullet.

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So yeah, RIP Takumi, who at least managed to repay Ikoma for his getting show earlier in the run. Naturally, Ikoma isn’t all that pleased his best mate has been murdered in front of him. Unfortunately, that’s not all he has to deal with on this particularly shitty day.

That’s because Biba brings in Mumei, only she’s not really his friend anymore; likely she’s been “re-programmed” with drugs from the mad scientist car. Without hesitation, she drives her dagger into Ikoma’s chest and lets him fall out of the train, off a cliff, and into the sea.

Now, don’t think Ikoma’s dead, and neither do you—he’s the frikkin’ main character, for crying out loud. So the question then becomes, how will he manage to survive, and how will he get back to where Ayame and Mumei are? Talk about a stacked deck…

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 09

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This week, any illusions about Biba having a shred of good (or nuance) are wiped away for good: this is vendetta, against all who wronged him, and wronging him includes acts of cowardice perpetrated by the Shogunate. Ikoma and Ayame are in agreement that Mumei has to be taken away from this guy, but doing so is no mean feat, at least initially.

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Horobi, who we only just met, is given greater focus this week as Biba’s sacrificial subject. What’s so brutal is that she knows this, and is resigned to it, vowing her loyalty even while betraying a glimmer of regret and fear of death. For Biba has gotten it into Horobi’s head that he’s stronger than her, which means she’s expendable.

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No doubt Biba feels the same way about Mumei, and her time to lay down her life so he can walk over it will surely come soon; that is, if Mumei doesn’t get her mind right and escape. She and Ikoma actually get into quite close proximity this week, but Mumei is still following her brother, opening the gate to Iwato against Iwato’s wishes.

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Once Mumei has opened that gate, all hell breaks loose. Biba unleashes his army of captive Kabane on Iwato’s guards, and his meeting with Lord Maeda quickly turns to bloodshed. Ayame takes up a spear, but Yukina has to take a dart to the chest from Horobi. There’s a palpable feeling that the two are very very unsafe in this room with Biba and his true believer followers.

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Mumei quickly comes to regret opening the gates, since the Kabane proceeded to tear through the station, killing and turning hundreds of townsfolk. Of course, she blames herself, which is what Biba wants, as if perhaps she lacked something that would have resulted in a better outcome. That something is, of course, the awareness that her “brother” is an horrendously deluded evil dick.

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That dickishness is confirmed once and for all when, after Horobi goes berserk—first as the core of a fused colony, then a monstrous super-kabaneri killbot—her blade stops an inch from Biba’s throat. A bead of sweat rolls down his cheek just before he runs her through with his sword, taking advantage of her honor and loyalty to the end. RIP Horobi. We hardly knew ye.

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With Ikoma thoroughly “liberated”, as Biba rather unconvincingly claims, Ikoma, Ayame, and all her people are held at gunpoint and warned not to resist or interfere. Even Mumei has guns pointed at her, on order from her bro. Ikoma can’t really do much, and is beaten by one of Biba’s lieutenants, but if one good thing came out of this episode, is that it caused Mumei to wake up to the truth about Biba, meaning she and Ikoma are back on the same side.

The pace of Kabaneri, and Biba’s treachery in particular, has been breathless in its alacrity, almost to the point of not allowing anything to sink in deep enough, because there’s always more stuff to deal with. That being said, if this is only an 12-episode series, I’m not wholly unappreciative of the show picking up the pace for a showdown in the capital.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 08

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Before he even meets him, Ikoma isn’t subtle about his reticence towards Biba-sama. But the show is willing to give him a chance in our eyes when the two do meet, because Ikoma wastes no time calling out the twisted philosophy Biba ingrained in his sister who isn’t really his sister (he just lets her call him brother).

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We’ve seen a lot of sides of Mumei these past seven weeks, but one thing is for sure: being with Ikoma and Ayame and other normal humans has somewhat softened her previously hard line against all forms of weakness. She’s gone from someone with no need for a name (mumei means “anonymous”) to someone with friends who use that name as if it were Yuki or Haru-chan.

Once she’s back in her beloved brother and savior Biba’s shadow, however, she slips back into Heartless Battle Mode all too quickly. It’s a testament to how much history she has with Biba, and how carefully he molded her into a weapon. She’s not the only one, either: Biba’s force of elite Kabane fighters deal with a seven-horde raid with relative ease.

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In the aftermath of the battle, Enoku seems to simultaneously threaten Biba with assassination and offer his services, one among many assassins after Biba’s life. Biba has no use for him; he’s pretty sure Enoku will betray him no matter what, and that falls under his very strict code against all forms of weakness, including treachery, so Enoku buys it.

Unfortunately for Biba, Ikoma witnessed him kill Enoku free of the context of their particular situation. All Ikoma saw was Biba killing someone calling for help. The fierce sympathy Ikoma exhibits also seems to turn Biba off, as if feeling for other people is another form of weakness to be excised.

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Let’s also talk about that little smirk he gives Ayame, shall we? I’ll be honest…it kinda made my skin crawl. What villainy does that tiny grin portend?

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This week confirms what was already fairly obvious: Mumei didn’t become a Kabaneri by being bitten by a Kabane; she chose to become one and let Biba infect her with the virus to make her stronger. Biba’s train has medical facilities where Mumei and other weapons of his like Horobi undergo maintenance.

He also keeps a fair number of Kabane locked in captivity, and seems quite interested in a very bizarre and in no way altruistic experiment that looks like a giant Kabane heart cage. It’s pretty clear everything he does is for one purpose: to make himself stronger and surround himself with stronger weapons in order to protect himself.

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He knows exactly how much power he has over Mumei (all of it), and doesn’t hesitate for a moment in wielding it by asking her to collect Ayame’s master key. Once in Key Retrieval Mode, Mumei has no patience for Ayame’s questions, and even flashes a kunai to show she means business. It’s a chilling scene.

I shudder to think what would have transpired had Yukina not defused the situation with the boiler room key, but it’s only a temporary solution to a very very big problem: Biba’s train is right in front of Ayame’s leading the way, so in a way, Ayame and her train are already his to do with what he will.

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When Ikoma senses the captive Kabane, he races to the freight car, but Biba warns Mumei they’ll have to kill him if he gets in, so Mumei is as short and hostile with Ikoma as she needs to be to keep him away. There’s certainly a part of her that feels bad for what went down with Ayame, and a part that doesn’t want her shield Ikoma to be killed needlessly. But those parts are quickly being consumed by her unswerving loyalty and obedience to her brother.

As Ikoma says to Ayame after being shooed away, Biba is “no hero.” Indeed, he’s the first legitimate human villain; not a passive, ignorant ingrate who won’t hear the likes of Ikoma out, but an active user of people and things with potentially frightening plans.

He’s more dangerous than the Kabane right now, not only because he and his warriors are so good at dispatching them, or because he has Ayame & Co. in his clutches already, but because he has such a devastatingly complete hold over Mumei.

Still, he’s not a Kabaneri (at least as far as I know), which means Mumei could actually be stronger than her brother. Deep down, she could have a better moral compass, too. She just doesn’t know it, because he has her all twisted around his little finger. The key to defeating him, which may be necessary very soon, is to break that hold.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 07

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It had to happen sometime: you can only develop characters so much when their backs are constantly against the wall. Thankfully, the next station the Koutetsujou arrives at is not only populated by living people, but thriving; a veritable paradise compared to the various infernos the inhabitants of the train have gone through.

This brief but welcome period of piece is marked by what you would expect: the characters embracing the opportunity to kick back and relax for the first time in a long, long time. The train has stopped in the station, everyone is out in the open air, in clean new threads. It’s great to see.

It’s also a lot of fun. We’ve been in the frying pan and the freezer with these guys, so it’s highly satisfying to see them lower their guards, however briefly. I particularly enjoyed how impressed Mumei was with Kajika’s haggling skills, and Tatsumi using his newly super-strong best mate to teach a rude Bushi a lesson.

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Even secondary characters get their dues, as Sukari breaks it to a kid that the train his dad was on was overrun by Kabane, overriding Yukina’s attempts to spare him the grief. Sukari tells the kid the truth because it’s what he wanted to be told, but wasn’t.

Perhaps most amusing is Kurusu’s embarrassment at barging in on Ayame shamelessly stuffing her face while waiting for the station’s minister, or how that initially stingy minister offers Ayame all the food, provisions, and medical care she needs when she piles on the charm while demonstrating the power of the jet bullets.

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While we see Enoku meeting with Shitori, leader of the station, portending a possible rough political patch in the near future, and the occasional dive into melancholy (in the case of the kid), the show remains upbeat thanks in part to one guy: it’s protagonist Ikoma, whom I haven’t said anything about yet.

My favorite scene in the episode, and one of my favorite in the show, is when Ikoma tracks down Mumei, who feels blue after suddenly remembering she once celebrated Tanabata, which today just happens to be. Ikoma and Mumei have wonderful chemistry and it’s on full display in their exchange here.

Mumei feels safe with Ikoma, and opens up to him, telling him the dread she feels every morning, knowing one morning she’ll be a full-on Kabane and kill everyone around her. Now that Ikoma knows this, he immediately decides on a bold course of action: he’ll make Mumei human again.

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Her given name (another share) helps him make this decision, as well as his desire for her not to feel that way every morning. He believes her name, Hodsumi, was given by her mother in hopes her belly would be full of rice, and Ikoma is dead set on making sure that happens. He’ll kill all the Kabane, take back the stations and rice paddies, grow rice again, and full Hodsumi up, as her name, in its way a wish, demands.

Mumei is flattered by the offer, unrealistic as she may think it is, but Ikoma is so serious and charismatic, both she and everyone else gathered for Tanabata that night start to believe that simply wishing to survive isn’t enough; humans should strive for more, and more is what he wants to accomplish. It inspires everyone else to dream big. This is Ikoma starting to take on the mantle of leader.

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After some lovely fireworks and a restful sleep, Ikoma and Mumei awake to the sound of to jubilant crowds outside: the Scouting Legion—I-I mean, Hunters have arrived, along with some guy called the “Liberator”, Biba-sama, who is tall, beautiful, and tough as folded steel.

He’s also, as it happens, Mumei’s brother, and even though they greet each other warmly, Ikoma is suspicious. This is the guy who taught his sister that the weak are only good for dying, made her abandon the name Hodsumi, and who knows what else.

Just as I needed—and appreciated—an episode’s worth of rest and peace to get to know the shows characters better, Ikoma needs to spend some time with this guy to see if he’s right to suspect he’s not the gallant hero everyone worships.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 06

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We had another badass, satisfying resolution to another crisis, but when it’s all over it does feel like Kabaneri bit off a bit more than it could chew. If you’re going to bring out a foe as powerful and initially terrifying as a “fused colony”, as it did last week, you’d better not hold back in using it.

Last week’s cliffhanger was essentially Game Over…unless the Koutetsujou was able to seek shelter (and stop on a dime), complete with a blast door that managed to hold the colony monster back. Then the colony kinda takes a break, dicking around “gathering more Kabane”, giving everyone ample time to regroup. Too much time to maintain last week’s sense of immense peril.

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This is also an episode torn between two different paces: that of the immediate threat of the colony (which spends a long time not attacking), and that of Mumei’s descents into the past, when a mysterious warrior, always kept out of focus and accompanied by a glowing butterfly, saves her from sharing the fate of her family and fellow townsfolk.

Mumei and Ikoma also have a nice leisurely chat about weakness and strength. Mumei doesn’t want Ikoma to save her, but he keeps trying anyway, even though the train could leave the station without him. He even gives her some blood when she starts going into withdrawal.

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Mumei loses consciousness again when Ikoma turns to fight a horde of approaching Kabane, but when she comes to again, she’s surrounded by crewmembers there to get her out, and she finds Ikoma bitten in the stomach, but alive. Her lesson is, even though they were weak, they still survived. Being weak doesn’t mean turning over and accepting death.

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The experience has an immediate effect on Mumei, who was about as despondent as one could be while trapped under the rubble, but now that she’s been given a chance, in spite of having a weak moment or two (by her reckoning), she’s a lot more chipper, and decides to mend fences with the family of the dead dog, and assures the other women she’ll take care of the fused colony.

The crew can say they didn’t go back just for Mumei and Ikoma, because they also picked up a huge Type 48 Cannon that they can use to dissipate the colony. But to do so the colony has to get close…too close. This is when things pick up and the episode starts redeeming itself…though I was a little skeptical that the rescue team, and the seriously-injured Ikoma and Mumei, could get back to the train as quickly as they could while the colony barely moved by comparison.

Never mind, it’s time for a patented Kabaneri action sequence, with Yukina showing off her muscles when releasing the train’s pressure limits, Sukari providing a crucial assist by un-blocking the works in a very hazardous part of the train, and Takumi firing the bullet at just the right time…on his second try.

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The core of the colony is exposed for Mumei, who flies up and pierces it, but not before seeing…someone? Is it someone from the “team” she mentioned, of which she is the last remaining member who isn’t a Kabane? Whatever the case, the woman in the core merely screeches at Mumei, Mumei collects herself and takes her out.

The resulting explosion sends Mumei flying, but Ikoma is there to catch her. When the train threatens to derail, everyone moves to one side to right it, and they escape Yashiro…though without, if I’m not mistaken, re-supplying.

The episode ends without any aftermath—a bit of a disappointment—but the taste of victory may soon be replaced by train-wide hunger and increasing frustration and unrest. But maybe that’s why the episode just ended without addressing that: just enjoy the win for now; we’ll tackle the next crisis next week.

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Attack on Titan – 24

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So, here we are: Annie is very  out-in-the-open about being the Female Titan, but it doesn’t change her plan: to capture Eren. Why is a question that remains unclear: if she wanted to deprive the humans of a weapon against other Titans, she could just kill him, like she killed Hange’s two test subjects. She’s been very careful to keep Eren alive.

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This episode flashes back to the planning of Annie’s trap, along with an Eren who won’t accept that Annie is the Titan, no matter how much circumstantial evidence Armin and Mikasa come up with to try to convince him. Back in the present, on the run in tunnels they thought would be safe but are actually quite the opposite, Eren finds out just how devastating the inability to give nothing up can be.

With no resolve whatsoever to kill or even harm Annie anymore, he can’t transform into a Titan when he needs to the most, no matter how much he may want to transform, it can only be for a purpose, and his heart just isn’t in it. He must’ve thought back to all those fun pillow fights with Annie back during their cadet days (which we never saw):

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Eren’s problem, then, isn’t that he doesn’t believe Annie is the Female Titan; that much is clear at this point, now that he notices the resemblance both in their appearance and fighting style (along with the fact she transformed right in front of him).

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But while Eren can’t give up on Annie as a human and a friend, Annie can give up everything, which is why she can transform any time she likes and kill with abandon. Even Armin and Mikasa put their lives on the line in a gambit to allow Eren to escape. As Mikasa says, it’s a cruel world. Shit like this goes down, and you can’t worry about what’s right, or you’re dead.

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Mikasa and Armin successfully lure Annie into a trap by Hange, but I knew from the pittance of arresting cables that she wouldn’t be held for long…It might’ve served Hange to fully incapacitate Annie before gloating about catching her then describing what she’s going to do with her (everything she can).

But this isn’t about whether the Scout Regiment can catch Annie, or whether Armin and MIkasa and Jean or Erwin and Levi and Hange can somehow pull something off without Eren in the picture.

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The only thing that’s going to bring Annie down is Eren in Titan form. And to become a Titan, he’s going to have to convince himself to give up on the idea of Annie as a friend to be cherished, but an enemy to be killed without hesitation.

Buried by rubble and with a stick of wood in his chest, Eren thinks back to all of the people lost before his eyes and/or in front of him, starting with his mother being eaten years ago in Shiganshina where it all started. This isn’t time to be worried about his soul, or about not being to walk away having lost nothing. This is about putting everything—even his humanity—on the line, and getting the job done.

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