Vinland Saga – 10 – Dawn in the Age of Twilight

Vinland Saga has become an exercise in guarded patience, centered around the question of how long Thorfinn going to pursue revenge, and when he’s going to wake up and live his own damn life. Maybe that’s what he thinks he’s doing, and his father, both in life and in his dreams, is just wrong that there’s a better path than the one he’s on.

Maybe Thorfinn is simply caught in the inertia of the events surrounding him, and would simply rather put effort in what he sees as a sure thing—one day cutting Askeladd’s throat—than the uncertainty of returning to a life of peace with his mother and sister. After all, Thors tried to live that life, and failed when his past caught up to him.

Whether consciously or not, Thorfinn is drawing nearer to ending up just like his old man: strong and distinguished, but in too deep to ever get out. But he’s still young, and as many lives as he’s taken, it probably doesn’t come close to the number his father took. There is still plenty of time to turn his life around into something worthwhile.

His dreams start as an idyllic life that never was with his family in the endless, rolling, fertile hills that look a lot like England (or possibly Vinland). They end with the skies darkening, his village attacked, and his father run through with arrows. Will Thorfinn ever take that dream to mean stop wasting your life chasing revenge and return to his family?

Maybe, maybe not. As Vinland Saga reaches its midpoint, I’ve found Thorfinn’s quest for revenge misguided and increasingly not that interesting. I’d like to know whether it’s going to reach a point where he either finally manages to kill Askeladd and moves on to something else, or walks away from that quest entirely.

But the cloud of uncertainty persists without any regard for my wishes, and in the meantime, the Danish war with England seems to be winding down. Askeladd’s men have been mopping up lesser villages as the main army has headed north to rest. Canute has failed to do anything with his 4,000 men in London, preferring to pray to Jesus in his tent.

Askeladd’s men are so restless, the smallest insults between them become pointless fights to the death. Having awakened from his beautiful, terrible dream before dawn, Thorfinn stays above the encampment, among Roman ruins, where Askeladd finds him.


It’s there where Askeladd attempts small talk but is rebuked by Thorfinn, asserting “they’re not friends” and that he hasn’t given up his goal of slitting his throat. Askeladd likes Thorfinn’s look, but still isn’t scared. He knows time isn’t on his side, and that his would-be killer will continue to grow stronger as he grows older and weaker.

But by that same token, if the Christians are to be believed, Judgment Day and the end of everyone and everything on earth, could be upon them in as few as twenty years (an event Thorfinn likens to Ragnarok). Considering the Romans were a far more advanced society than the Saxons who defeated them (not to mention the Vikings on the cusp of defeating the Saxons), it certainly seems like humans have had their time in the sun, and now live in an age of twilight.

And yet, the sun still rises just as it always has, bathing the land in light and possibility. With the dawn comes a rider from London, who reports that Canutes forces were routed by the English led by Thorkell, who’d grown impatient waiting on the bridge and is marching his men north to meet the main Danish army.

The war is not over as long as Thorkell is with the English, while Askeladd sees the potential for great riches if he and his men rescue Prince Canute. Not wanting to share the glory or spoils of such a victory, he kills the messenger, and will make do with what he has. He fires his men up, and Thorfinn seems poised to continue following him.

If the end is coming for all, Askeladd will be satisfied with “going out with a bang.” But as we know, the world wouldn’t end in twenty years, meaning final blazes of glory are woefully premature, especially for someone like Thorfinn, who still has a mother and sister to protect, and a family and home of his own to build. With so many dawns he has yet to watch rise above the horizon, it would be a shame to descend into night now.

Little Witch Academia – 07

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The Gist: In a desperate attempt to turn her grades around and not get expelled, Akko ‘treats’ Professor Pisces to water only the finest of celebrities drink. Of course mineral water is a terrible thing to pour into a tropical fish tank and, all too soon, Akko has ‘flushed’ the professor into the sewer and a grade-saving adventure!

Along the way, Akko learns to speak Fish, save an endangered species from a poacher, improve on her polymorphing skills, and win the grudging recognition of the faculty (and not get expelled, obviously).

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This week finally nailed a slice-of-life tone for LWA. The supporting cast members received balanced screen time, spread across Akko’s many classes. Lotte and Sucy were the consistent observers, which is the role they fit best structurally, and the scenes felt full and fit together in a way that made Akko’s world feel lived in.

But, above all else, that world was finally fun again. From slapstick to a silent ‘talking’ character, the humor was perfectly timed and delightfully absurd. I absolutely died when Megumi Han delivered Akko’s sobbing response to flushing her teacher down the drain.

The Verdict: This is LWA doing the right things – being fun, upbeat, unexpected and bizarre. Sure, it could benefit from an overarching plot for the cast to focus on but, as long as it keeps Sucy and Lotte by Akko’s side (but not crowding her spotlight) and keeps the weird fun rolling, I don’t mind.

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Little Witch Academia – 06

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The Gist: Akko continues to struggle with magic and is forbidden to attend the school’s banquet for heads of state. So, Akko attempts to visit a forbidden magic location on campus instead.

Along the way, she meets Andrew, a handsome boy who considers magic outdated and is totally her love interest. Together, they are chased by a polar bear, saved by that professor who is totally not secretly Chariot, and gain an the understanding that magic takes hard work and dedication.

Roll credits…

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While this week continued LWA’s streak of filler episodes, it did contain a few gems. I loved that Akko’s transformation spell, which requires the caster to ‘imagine what the result will look like,’ literally turns Andrew into an Ass. The story also benefited by Andrew having no interest in Diana, thankfully removing any love triangle distractions from future episodes. It was also nice for Akko to finally get a reality check, which may allow future episodes to be framed with greater purpose.

On the down side, the episodes narrative points were heavy handed. Seeing Professor Ursula’s hair change from red to blue makes it obvious that she is Shiny Chariot. It was also unnecessary, because her interaction with Akko immediately after Akko witnesses Chariot’s school-days-montage already implies that to the viewer. I’d argue the entire chase scene with the polar bear was superfluous too, because it only results in the viewers seeing the Ursula/Chariot reveal, and gives no real development for Akko/Andrew.

And that’s saying nothing of Frank, Andrew’s friend who’s existence in the plot serves no purpose at all. Between Frank and Andrew’s father, and the uneventful moments of the banquet, not much happens. Rather, those non-scenes isolate Akko and Andrew’s argument about magic scene and the polar bear chase scene in a way that makes them feel ‘not enough’ to float the over all episode on their own.

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Are the twin dark-complexioned girls an homage to Harry Potter’s Pavarti twins?

The Verdict: The image above captures my frustrations pretty well. There are a lot of characters, few of which we know or care about, standing around doing nothing. The world is full of details, but we are told nothing about them (presuming the different color details on each witch’s costume means anything).

Akko and Chariot are the only central characters who get screen time this week, and Chariot was and still is a compete enigma. Why is she hiding? Why does she care about Akko? (beyond having a similar backstory) Why should we care as viewers when Akko’s narrative purpose is barely more than ‘she will learn magic?’

This would matter less if the show was just a slice-of-life piece, but that would require stronger relationships between the characters, and a greater emphasis on day-to-day living in the world, which LWA does not really do (Lotte’s episode was the closest we’ve seen of that…and half the reviewers didn’t like it).

In closing, I’m pretty disappointed with LWA. It’s well-animated, has a potentially interesting setting, and characters that could be charming. However, its focus on Akko is structured too much like a destiny piece to let that world grow, but isn’t focused enough to feel like an epic journey and the characters come and go from each week’s story in too disposable a fashion. You just can’t care for a character if they aren’t there.

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Little Witch Academia – 05

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The Gist: Akko and Amanda are at each other’s throats this week, which quickly lands them in detention. Fortunately, or not, this positions them perfectly to witness a flock of dragons fly off with the Sorcerer’s Stone, which leads the adversaries to pool their collective trios for a witches verses dragons chase.

Along the way they meet Lord Fafnir, an ancient but financially forward thinking dragon, get into a robot dragon fight complete with shotguns and rocket-propelled grenades, free the school from its debts (via Diana) and land back in detention. Akko and Amanda even become friends…at least, for a short period of time.

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Akko-centric ‘outbursts’ aside, this week was all about story at the edges…

Unfortunately, this week is far less than the sum total of its parts. Despite Akko’s wonderfully elastic facial expressions, her squabbling with Amanda just isn’t interesting. Similarly, when Akko flips Amanda backwards out of her chair and spends detention scowling and belligerent with everyone, our ability to empathize with her plucky underdog status is greatly reduced. Combine that with Akko’s lack of impact on the plot, her story doesn’t feel like it had any purpose (She is the reason for the six students to witness the plot’s resolution, nothing more.)

The addition of Amanda, Constanze and Jasminka to the plot presents its own issue. What value does a third trio of student witches add to the narrative? Sure, Constanze’s inventions are cute, and her mechanical broom is a plot device to get the girls to the dragon’s hideout, but she and Jasminka aren’t actually characters. Beyond their physical characteristics and plot-devices, they don’t speak and do not physically interact with the rest of the cast. This lack of presence prevents them from even serving as counterpoints of Akko’s Sucy and Lotte or Diana’s lackeys.

This is a very strange choice for characters that get as much screen time as Amanda this week. It’s too much exposure (and design work) to serve the background role they otherwise appear to have been asigned.

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Lord Fafnir, in front of his stock exchange monitors…

The Verdict: If this week’s purpose was to not have a purpose, then it succeeded. More precisely, several of the episode’s elements are best described as ‘not being important in the first place.’

Diana revealing the school’s debt is a lie? Despite being mentioned in every previous episode, its rapid resolution with no zip or humor saps any fun from the payoff. Not that the dragon was built up in any previous episode, nor has the core cast suffered due to the financial conflict. So the debt, itself, was not a consequential conflict in the first place.

Akko x Amanda’s relationship reset? Amanda has barely been in the show so far, and her only contributions have been Akko x broom rides related. So who cares?

Ultimately, competent visual design and quality rendered action give it just enough to be watchable. It’s the power of ‘stuff happened coherently and it looked good’ but not much more. Compared to last week, which I enjoyed more than Preston enough to take over reviewing it, color me not pleased…

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Little Witch Academia – 04

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We’ve got ourselves a Lotte-centric episode, with Akko and Sucy simply along for the ride. After Akko steals a tart (not a pie; she wants that made clear) from the kitchens, all three roommates are punished, and Lotte’s weekend plans to attend a new book release are dashed.

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Akko comes up with a very simple plan to sneak the three of them out of school and into town, and Lotte’s fully on board because this is a can’t-miss event: the release of volume 365 of night fall, which is a pretty blatant (and only intermittently humorous) parody of Twilight and the crazed fandom that surrounds it, a world which Akko and Sucy are decidedly not a part of.

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While some of the ridiculous snippets from the bowels of night fall’s vast milieu elicit a chuckle or two, and Akko learns there are people who don’t simply try to become those they idolize, but are content to support them…but it’s a pretty thin premise, and the episode lacked the visual panache and, more importantly, the heaping helpings of Akko-moxie that characterized the first three.

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Dantalian no Shoka 10

Huey and Dalian encounter a woman in the park who can play the violin like a champ. She turns out to be Christabel Sistene, a famous violinist. It turns out she is a doll/android. Her companion Dallaglio built her to be able to play the dual unplayable “phantom scores” of Guillermo Baldini. Baldini’s music can have the same effect as narcotics, which the wealthy patron Kendrick exploits to begin an “artistic revolution.” However, when the concert begins, Christabel plays not the hypnotic Utopia score, but the destructive Twilight score, which destroys the hall and the phantom scores, and kills Kendrick and his ilk.

When Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” was first performed, the sounds were so new and strange, the audience rioted. It was neat to see that same principle employed here: the music has all sorts of effects on people, from addition to bliss to despair. I can forgive the anachronistic android in this time period; the creators aren’t going for historical accuracy.  It stands to reason when humans can’t do something easily or at all, they built something to do it for them, as Dallaglio did here with Christabel. His intention was to clear his’ father’s good name, but his creation would be perverted into a weapon by Kendrick.

Kendrick is an interesting villain, for as little as we get to see him. His obvious fatal flaw is believing Christabel has no free will or connection to her creator – she does. But his dream of a bloodless, “artistic revolution” with which to seize power. It’s a great scheme in theory: use the addictive music to bend others to his will, and use the destructive music as a threat against those who would oppose him. He could have simply used Christabel to make himself lots of money: if your customers are addicted, you’ll never want for cash – but obviously he had grander designs. Ironic too that being in the soundproof room prevented him from hearing Christabel’s “warning” music that led to everyone else’s evacuation.


Rating: 3.5