Owari no Seraph – 08

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Ahh, good ol’ Omotesando Station… I remember it well, travelling on the Ginza Metro line between Shibuya and Shimbashi. It was in a far better state of repair when I was there. On Owari, after the fall, it’s been re-purposed as a creepy lair for the team’s next targets: seven vampires. Shinoa says they’d probably do okay fighting individually, but better to work together and defeat them without a scratch. For once, Yuu agrees.

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They enter not to find fello Metro users like myself, but the vampires’ thralls, who give their blood in exchange for protection from the monsters above ground. They glare at the soldiers as they press on to their primary targets; saving them is secondary, and for once, Yuu doesn’t protest. They glare because they wish they had the power to choose a different fate for themselves besides this or death.

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When Mitsuba gives the order to prepare their weapons, Yuu takes it upon himself to cut down an unarmed vamp, their first catch of the day, following the letter but not necessarily the spirit of his orders. This irks Mitsuba, but he catches her hand before she can slap him again, then maneuvers her out of the way of a second vamp’s strike, whom he takes care of without any trouble. Two down, five to go, and Yuu’s first rescue of Mitsuba.

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When they confront the final five, three more pop out from behind Mitsuba, and one of them grabs her by the throat. But in one of the vamps’ sillier choices, he decides not to kill her immediately, but wait until Yuu and the others have engaged his comrades to do it, by which time it’s too late, and Yuu slices him in half.

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With Mitsuba rescued by Yuu once more (who regards her as his family), the team closes ranks and mops up the remaining vamps, armed with second-rate weapons no match for their cursed gear. In all, it’s a good first subterranean fight, packed with peril but ultimately not too difficult to pull off with the lessons they’ve learned.

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The girl who told them about the vamps in the station lowballed the figure to save her own friends/family, something Yuu doesn’t hold against her when they return to base camp, where other former thralls are being tended to by the army. When Mitsuba learns from Shinoa about Yuu’s past, and how it so closely resembles her own, but his denseness annoys her and she storms off without telling him anything. There’s pretty textbook romantic bonding exercise in practice here, but not unearned due to solid fundamentals and decent voicework by Iguchi Yuka.

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The second half opens with Shiho getting a derelict Hummer H2T running again to shorten their trip to Shinjuku. While Yuu grows up a lot in this episode, the comedic scene the show allows as a breath between life-and-death ordeals successfully reminds us he still is a kid, judging from how stoked he is about driving a car for the first time. This is Yuu as a charming, wide-eyed kid, not an annoying angsty or arrogant; and it’s nice.

The shot of Shiho gathering the others, as Yuu drives into the frame and crashes into a lamppost, demonstrates decent comedic timing (plus it looks like Yuu is having a ton of fun, which I can speak to having driven one of those brutes). Shinoa sitting in the drivers seat is a nice sight gag, as is her off-camera revenge over the lads for laughing at her.

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Once everyone’s aboard and they near the Shinjuku barrier wall, they spot a Vampire Noble, the first we’ve seen in action since Yuu ran from Ferid. Everyone bails as they set the Hummer on a collision course with the vamp, but he stops the three-ton SUT with one hand and flings it back at them like a toy. *GULP*. They had a relatively easy time with vamps up till now, but it’s clear this will be a little different.

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The noble is so fast he’s upon Shinoa before she can raise her weapon. Yuu is able to block his blow and disarm him, showing her yet again why he and Shiho are Guren’s favorites. The noble is a little impressed as two more noble vamps descend from the sky, flanking him.

Yuu asks if they should retreat from this. Let me repeat that: Yuu mentions retreat. But it’s too late; Shiona believes they’ll still have a chance if the five of them work as one unit at the very limit of their demon power, but she doesn’t pretend there won’t probably be a casualty or two.

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The lady vamps have come to bring their comrade to the front lines, and he grudgingly goes along with them, sparing Yuu & Co. from a fight but promising he’ll drink their blood when they meet again, casually tapping him on the shoulder before flying off. That easy arrogance really ticks Yuu off, but Shinoa is still visibly terrified from the bullet they just dodged.

Even if Yuu had what it took today to take that noble on one-on-one, his friends would get killed as he fought without teamwork. Shinoa also does what Mitsuba couldn’t: thank him promptly for saving her life, noting that as Guren said, he really does care about his friends. Her gratitude brings the bashful boy out in Yuu.

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Those nobles were pretty damn scary, but they’re gone for the moment, and while the episode ends with the team staring down a Shinjuku under assault, about to enter that inferno themselves, it ends with an upward pan right into the smoke, as upbeat music plays. It will be tough going from here on, but they’re going in together, and whatever they face in there, they’ll get through it with teamwork.

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Owari no Seraph – 07

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“She’s already dead.” That’s the line Shinoa delivers to Yuu as they prepare to strike out into Tokyo’s ruins beyond the walls, referring to her late sister, who had big boobs, thus giving Shinoa hope for the future regarding her own developing bod.

Boobs aside, there was something chilling about how cool and calm and almost enthusiastically she uttered those three words—the same way she always talks around Yuu. To be a fly on the wall when Shinoa first contracted with her Cursed Gear, eh?

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(Kudos to the art team for rendering a brooding, ruined Tokyo full of tragic awe and grandeur, which is unveiled vista by vista as the two soldiers set out).

Thankfully, Shinoa doesn’t end up measuring boobs with the newest member of the five-team squad, Sanguu Mitsuba, voiced with angst by Iguchi Yuka (Index), but they may as well be measuring some part of their body the way they go at with weapons drawn at the first sight of each other. Or rather, it’s Mitsuba who draws first, provoked into anger by Shinoa.

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Sound familiar? That’s becaue Mitsuba is the female version of Yuu on this trip. Cursed by a dark past, she finds having all these amateur newbies to care for a big pain in the ass, and obviously she also resents the guy who’s most like her in Yuu.

But Mitsuba seems capable enough, and as Guren says, squads of less than five don’t typically fare well, so her addition is not only welcome, but vital to the squad’s survival. That is, if Yuu doesn’t screw up and get them all killed.

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Naturally, the moment she orders everyone to stay in formation when the vampires release bait in the form of a human girl, Yuu disobeys and rushes off on his own. A furious Mitsuba understands Yuu’s desire to save the girl; she’s been there, but she also knows what becomes of reckless, selfish actions in the field.

Three vampires descend on Yuu with frightening speed, and all of a sudden shit has gotten real, with Yuu struggling to block and parry one foe’s strikes while keeping track of the other two. There’s a great sense of occasion to this sudden fight, the distinct sense things could go very badly in the blink of an eye, and the reality that Yuu truly is a rookie this far out in the ruins.

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He survives because Mitsuba and the rest of the squad follows him into the trap she knew was set for them, and they simply hope for the best, meaning everyone is lucky to be alive. Shihou’s twin blades, Yoichi’s arrows, and Mitsuba’s—er…Axe? Mace? Hammer?—Mitsuba’s Salad Shooter manage to bail Yuu out, but he needs to knock this shit off, because there are lucky days and unlucky days, and you can guess which is more frequent for the downtrodden humans.

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Mitsuba tries to make this clear to Yuu after slapping him in the face and pointing at him the way pint-sized blondes tend to do; but it’s not until she’s showering with Shinoa that we learn why she hates reckless people like Yuu so much: because she used to be exactly the same, had a bad day, and blames herself for getting a comrade killed.

Here again we see the stark contrast between Yuu and Mitsuba’s mindset (or even Yoichi and Shiho’s, for that matter) and Shinoa’s continuously upbeat, happy-go-lucky attitude. Is it a product of her Hiiragi upbringing? Did the events in her past force her to forget them, at least on the surface, in order to keep living and fighting? I for one hope we learn a bit more about her at some point.

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Owari no Seraph – 06

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Last week was all bickering and buildup, but this week was the payoff, with Yuu, Yoichi and Shihou battling both the demons of the cursed gear and their own demons within. Thankfully, this week was a lot better, even if the show seems determined to drill the same lessons into Yuu & Co.’s heads every week. One hopes it sinks in more now that they’ve been through this initiation.

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That lesson is that it’s not enough to life for revenge. Demons will take your lust and warp it to their own purposes, or just take over your body outright and make you a full-fledged monster. The key to subjugating a demon, or at least coming to an understanding with one, as Yuu kinda does, is balancing lust and love; the desire to protect one’s new family, not avenge the old ones they failed to save.

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And wouldn’t you know it, Yuu’s new blade and partner in vamp-hunting has a name (Ashuramaru) and a loli/elf character design. She also carries a healthy distrust of humans, and warns Yuu they can be worse than either demons or vampires simply because they’re so goshdarn conflicted and unpredictable.

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Yoichi has a different problem. It’s not that he doesn’t trust his friends, but like Yuu, having seen his family die right in front of him infused him with a deep-seated survivor’s guilt. The feeling that he doesn’t deserve to live while his sister died holds him back. She told him not to come out from under that bed no matter what, but he has to if he’s to subjugate his demon and gain his cursed gear.

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Yuu and Shiho come out of their ordeals easily enough, but Yoichi ends up turning into a demon, which Guren orders them to exterminate with their newly-contracted weapons. Already, Yuu’s heart is tested, and neither he nor Shiho can kill their comrade.

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Yuu tries the classic “Snap out of it!” routine, but ultimately, it’s casting his weapon aside and trusts in the Yoichi still inside, against Ashuramaru’s recent warning.Because Yuu can’t kill a comrade, he surmises that Yoichi can’t either. Guren, who’d been holding back to that point, finally pipes up, telling Yoichi to come out from under the bed. The arrow the demon knocked misses to Yuu’s right, causing Yuu to smile.

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As Yoichi’s tearful embrace of Yuu that follows illustrates, Yuu, Yoichi, Shinoa, and Shiho are their new family. Protecting each other takes precedence over avenging their old families. Guren tells Yuu to forget his old family, and while Yuu isn’t going to be doing that, he now has his priorities stright. Maybe. Ashuramaru will surely try to challenge them!

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O hai Mika! Considering how early in the run of the show it was revealed he was still alive and a vampire (by “early” I mean “immediately”, in the OP) I’ve been waiting for him and Yuu to meet face-to-face. It looks like that’s going to happen with the two descending on Shinjuku. Here’s hoping it’s not a tease.

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Houkago no Pleiades – 04

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The magical transformations girls make in Magical Girl shows often go hand in hand with their personal growth. It’s as much about discovery and mastery of their identity as much as their powers.

Pleiades is no different from this convention; where it continues to distinguish itself is in the execution and the emotional impact of its situations. Last week was about Subaru. This week, it’s Hikaru’s turn to get fleshed out.

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At the same time, the show continues to incrementally extend the reach of its magical girl action with each passing episode, much to my delight. First the sky, then the boundary between Earth and space, and now…the moon. The training, involving being able to attain not only escape velocity, but a speed that will ensure they don’t miss school! I love it.

While largely about the highly intelligent and talented, yet underachieving Hikaru’s personal emotional impasse with her similarly intelligent, talented, overachieving parents, there’s also room this week for Subaru’s weekly visit to Minato’s garden of encouragement, where he plants the seed of believing someone, and being believed, if there’s no reason for them to think you’re lying.

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That’s important, because Hikaru’s family communicates their daily whereabouts primarily through whiteboard. Her apartment may look empty and lonely at first glance, but that board is crucial, dutifully filled out as it is every day without fail: it’s the way they devised to always stay in contact in spirit, if not often in person.

Before leaving for the moon, Hikaru makes something up on the board, once again “doing things halfway”. But then she decides to wipe out the white lie on the whiteboard and write where she’s actually going: the Moon.

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It’s another awesome journey full of grace and grandeur; another wonderful study on the full breadth of magical girl power. I especially liked the different, more subtle sound space made once the girls were clear of Earth’s atmo, and I really enjoyed Hikaru’s cute little dream where her subconscious’ version Subaru as a bit of an idiot—only to learn Subaru shared her dream!

That’s also key because Subaru knows about Hikaru’s unease with her father and the song he wrote. One night she heard music in his practice room even though he wasn’t in there, and decided to write a measure of music in a place where he had gotten stuck. It’s something she always felt guilty about, worried she was interfering in her parents fully achieving their dreams.

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Where she’s wrong is that she is the shared dream of her parents; one far more important than any concerto or astronomical discovery. When her dad sees she wrote down “Moon!” on the whiteboard, he and her mom work together to send his piano music to the Moon; to the cherished daughter they don’t feel they deserve.

She didn’t mess up her dad’s music; she helped him finished it, and the loving way he plays it demonstrates his pride and gratitude for that. The nabbing of their biggest fragment yet is a great product of their lunar excursion, but it’s overshadowed by Hikaru finally being able to show her feelings in front of her friends, who may be initially shocked by her tears, but are also happy they’re seeing another side of their friend.

So, all in all another very good episode from Pleiades. I look forward to seeing who’s turn it will be to get a little more fleshed out next week—Itsuki? Nanako?—and hope the show’s expansion will proceed deeper out into the solar system, and beyond!

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Ikoku Meiro no Croisée 1 – First Impressions

Literally “a cross in a maze abroad”, this is a very calm and deliberate slice-of-life that takes place in 19th-century Paris. In other words, it’s probably nothing like anything else this season. There isn’t a hint of magic, fantasy, the supernatural, nor any enemies lurking in the shadows. This is about a meeting of two people who are very different on the surface, but once they understand one another, become fast friends.

It’s a very enjoyable introduction, as the setting is a gorgeous Parisian gallery, and the very apologetic, submissive, yet curious girl, Yune, is a very colorful fish out of water. Fortunately, it’s at a time when all things Japanese are gaining in popularity – different isn’t feared so much as admired for the novelty of its different-ness. Claude, form a long line of metalworkers, is a rather inflexible artist who’s keeping his father’s store going, even as the tide of progress (and electric signs) draws near.

There are a few issues: while I realize Japanese people are smaller than the French on average, especially back then, Yune still seems a bit incredibly undersized for a bilingual young woman apparently old enough to travel all the way to France with a much older man (Claude’s kindly grandfather, Oscar). When a customer muses that she looks like a doll, I’m right with him: she looks a little to much like a doll. While kind of a glaring demerit, it’s no’t a dealbreaker. Rating: 3.5