Hitsugi no Chaika – 01

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Well, here it is: my favorite first episode of the Spring so far, slightly edging out Mahouka. It sneaked up on me, too; I had no idea what I’d be getting into, but I didn’t think it would be so stylish, plucky, vibrant, and witty—words with which I’d also describe myself. From the first scene where Chaika pops out of the bushes, surprising the plant-foraging Tooru, who though she was a rabbit—I was almost immediately on board.

I will note that people may find Chaika Trabant’s clipped, concise manner of speaking will charm some and vex others, but I fall into the latter category; she’s cute without being too cloying, and as someone who uses so few words, she chooses and arranges them with that much more care, often to humorous effect. There’s also a wealth of physical comedy inherent in the enormous coffin she lugs around.

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I also liked being introduced to Tooru and Chaika as apparent models of incompetence, only to see them exhibit exemplary competence (and badassery) in taking down a very unpleasant-looking unicorn, which mutters in a strange language and gallops through the air upon magic circles. There’s a hefty Final Fantasy vibe to the world that really drew me in, yet still exuded an original and novel feel; a new twist, rather than a ripoff. That’s hard to pull off.

Like FF, everyone’s donning super-chic garb and have specific “jobs”: Tooru and his cool, acerbic sis Akari are quick, deadly thieves/saboteurs while Chaika is a gun mage, requiring her to stay still as she prepares her magic, making her and Tooru a good pair in the unicorn battle, during which some pretty awesome boss music plays; I thought the music excelled in general.

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Akari’s violent introduction in the town tavern was, for me, the comedic centerpiece that also managed to provide a lot of exposition; we learn that Tooru hasn’t been pulling his weight of late, and the sight of him chowing down with Chaika sends her on a hammer(mace?)-swinging rampage. It has the look and feel of a far more serious confrontation, and yet not only does Tooru dodge every blow, but the bystanders take Akari’s side to a man.

He’s clearly a capable fellow (like Akari) but lacks motivation, and has to be threatened with taxidermy to agree to help Chaika steal an article from a lord’s palace. Chaika is apparently the wandering daughter of the land’s defeated emperor. When the lord does a double take at the sight of her when he catches them in his palace. While her ultimate goals remain unknown, her chances of success will surely rise with the two Acura siblings at her side, and I’m looking forward to following their journey.

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Gundam Unicorn 1 & 2

It’s been a while since I saw the first Gundam Unicorn, so I watched it again before number two. It is glorified setup; with Banagher bascially being swept along in a semi-dazed state, still unaware of what’s in store. The first OVA is a gorgeous symphony of sci-fi action and drama. Number two propels the story forward and sets the stakes.

Unicorn could be the best-looking Gundam I’ve seen, particularly the outstanding high-speed space duels, pyrotechnics, rich character design, and fluid animation. It’s apparent little expense was spared in crafting the look and feel of this new Gundam chapter. The score is appropriately grandiose. There are also some nice details: mobile suits with airbags, prison cells with gorgeous vistas, for instance.

All the production values in the world won’t save a bad story. Luckily, the story isn’t that bad. It’s typical Gundam, to be sure…you have your plucky hero (Banagher), his civilian friends, a flamboyanty-dressed, masked antihero (Full Frontal); your rival ace pilot, your strong, brave princess (Mineva), the jealous other girl (Micott) and your kickass tomboy (the stoic Marida Cruz, perhaps my favorite character thus far). Thematically? Fighting to end war, transcending sides for justice, doing the right thing, best intentions leading to tragedy, et cetera.

Sometimes sticking to a formula works, and so far I’m impressed. Part of me would have preferred a 26-episode series like 00, but the superior production values are an amicable trade-off for having to wait so long between installments…which is now the position I find myself in. Rating: 3.5