Rail Wars! – 09

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Halfway into last week D4 wrestled their Little Draisine That Could to life and started their harrowing journey across the Usui Pass on a retired line. That draisine keeps rolling throughout most of this episode as they battle tree roots, a punishing ride from the ABT that keeps them planted to the rails, and gravity and brake fade when it fails.

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The draisine is therefore the entire world for D4 for an extended period of time. It’s a world that depends on their constant alertness, smooth cooperation, and quick thinking when disaster threatens to strike, which it does, again and again. Had the team simply sat in their seats for the ride, they’d have derailed a half-dozen times over last week alone, before they got to the old tunnels.

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Due to the close quarters and the constant demands of the draisine, it’s also an intimate and physical world, with bodies flying all over the place, hanging (or almost falling) out; pushing and pulling and yanking and pedaling and sweating…“Almost sexual, isn’t it Smithers?” Unsurprisingly, Naoto and Aoi come together the most, but what’s clever is that all their contact is incidental, and crucial for that task at hand.

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Everyone gets pretty trashed, including the Draisine, which leaves a trail of shed parts in its wake. Shou hurts his foot pushing off the tunnel wall to right the train, but still pedals with all his might, and even jumps out the back and slides along the rails on his rubber soles, trying to slow the draisine. Ultimately, the others have to bail out, with Naoto cushioning both Haruka and the organ box.

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Ah yes, the box. While Haruka’s role in the mission is largely non-physical (or at least less taxing than those of the others), she’s also responsible for taking care of that organ box. If it’s damaged or falls off the train, it’s Mission Failed. That, and her quickly-acquired mechanical know-how comes in handy again this week, and on the last curve, all four have to lean out, including her.

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The draisine was a micro-world for a while, but it was also a crucible: one in which D4 became stronger and closer. Naoto thanks his team and tells them even if he wants to be a driver, right now he’s public safety, and there’s no where he’d rather be now. Once the mission is complete, they have another go at the simulator and pass, and the group finally gets to relax and have fun—or rather less death-defying fun—together.

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Rail Wars! – 08

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The girl standoff is defused in the ep’s first two minutes, which I thought was a good move. Goofy harems? Not so exciting. Emergency organ delivery runs via draisine? Way more exciting…not to mention topical! The story is simple: a storm has caused rockfalls and mudslides, knocking out rail service, but one of the train’s passengers is delivering an organ that won’t be viable by the time service is restored.

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Enter D4, who are in earshot of the dilemma and are ready and willing to do what they can to get that organ to its destination. Naoto, Aoi, Haruka and Shou have the blessing of both Narita and a high-ranking JNR official, and are assigned to a vintage four-man draisine to make the trip along the abandoned but possibly open old line.

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Naoto comes up with the idea, after Haruka offers to deliver the organ on foot, which is admirable, but would probably take too long. The draisine itself is a nifty mechanism in which to place D4: a small, temperamental machine in which the four members of D4 must work together as a cohesive unit, relying on one another’s individual strengths to traverse the not unperilous 11.2 km distance.

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I also like how this draisine’s operation isn’t as simple as pedaling and braking, as D4 finds out. Due to time constraints, Haruka speed-reads the manual and fills in the others in transit. Notably, the numerous bends in the track make the little car lean to one side, requiring the muscle of the group, Shou and Aoi, to lean out of one side or the other to provide counterbalance.

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It’s super-dangerous, daredevil work, but it’s absolutely necessary to prevent catastrophe, and neither hesitate in their task. Aoi even tears up her best dress in order to gain more freedom of motion. This crazy roller coaster ride turns out to be a far better test than any simulation without being as heavy a responsibility as driving a full-size train loaded with passengers. They still have lives to protect: their own, and one life to save: the organ recipient.

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At episode’s end they’re halfway there, reaching the old part of the line fouled by branches, roots, and other obstacles. That is, the “easy part” is over, and it didn’t feel that easy, which means the hard part should be that much more interesting. What I know for sure is that this episode was a lot of fun, which along with the bomb threat and concert episodes, form the three reasons I’m glad I’ve stuck with this show.

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Rail Wars! – 07

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Things could scarcely get worse than last week’s fiasco, so this week I reveled in the fact the episode was at least partially about actual trains and advanced training, as well as the fact no one was acting like a crazy person.

Sure, a (simulated) train is derailed, there’s a pointless bath scene, and we get perhaps far more Haruka camel toe than we needed, but at least she’s not running around naked while Aoi fires wildly across city streets. More than anything though, by the end of this episode it’s clear the show has laid the tracks for a Naoto-centered harem of generous proportions, and that’s exactly what we get.

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Mind you, it’s not terrible. Naoto may have some weak qualities about him, but I’m not going to sit here and say he doesn’t deserve the affection of any individual girl who is presently pursuing him at this time, be it Aoi, Mari, Haruka, or Aoi (he’s had the most time and contact with the latter). But to all go after him at once…it’s just a little exhausting.

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However, I do like how it affects their training. During the Usui Pass simulator run, which D4 thinks is the real thing, Aoi is upset about Naoto saying he wants to be a driver, which is another way of saying “I don’t want to be a public safety officer”, which she interprets as “I don’t want to be with you; you smell.” So she’s understandably upset, and they don’t go over anything before they set off with her in the rear locomotive and Naoto up front.

Because they never worked out the signals, Aoi increases speed when he signals for brakes, and I guess she’s either unwilling or unable to use the phone Shou and Haruka use to keep in contact with Naoto. So they end up derailing magnificently. If it were a real train, that would have been more than enough for them to wash out of the JNR entirely.

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It’s kind of a perfect storm of Naoto being coy about being a driver because he doesn’t want to upset Aoi, while Aoi lets herself be blissfully unaware that Naoto might want to be a driver, despite the fact he’s constantly geeking out about the engines. It all blows up in their faces, and then they blow up a train, which is thankfully fake, but they’ll have to work that much harder to gain back the trust of their instructor.

As for why Naoto wants to be a driver (beyond loving the engines), that’s a bit thin. I’m not sure how he ended up by a mountain railway “starving and alone out in the cold”, yet he has a camera and tripod. Were his parents that neglectful? Also, he wants to be a driver to “cherish lives”…but isn’t that more a public safety officer’s job? How often is he realistically going to have to pull his train over to rescue urchins?

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In any case, Naoto still isn’t quite sure what he should do, but his good friend (who wouldn’t mind being more, natch) Mari is there to cheer him up, while Aoi slips an apology in his door. And then, the next day, we have this huge harem explosion, with Iida ordering Naoto to a chapel in the woods, Aoi meets him there, Haruka shows up feeling betrayed, and then Noa pops out of the confession booth.

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I was kind of hoping Naoto would eventually settle down with someone—Aoi (holy crap she’s adorbs at the end of this episode) or Mari, preferably—but that’s looking far less likely, unless he gathers the agency to sort through all these girls and pick the one he wants, a task arduous enough to be deemed the Usui Pass of character development. With all that pushing and pulling, things can go off the rails fast.

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