Val x Love – 05 – No Obedient Banquet

All nine Valkyrie sisters attend the campus festival despite knowing the chance of an attack there is high, because they have the opportunity to all level up at once. The greater the risk, the greater the reward. Takuma is his usual insufferable scaredy-cat self, but that doesn’t stop him from ending up spilling viscous white liquid all over Yakumo or having to fish an eel out of Misa’s clothes—pretty standard lucky lecher stuff.

When the enemy (whom they don’t know is Garm) strikes, he robs the women of their source of power, the Einherjar by impaling him through the stomach and locking him in the bounded cube, while all the other festival attendees are converted to akuma minions that keep the sisters plenty busy. First sister Ichika and Natsuki protect the entrance, while inside Garm toys with Takuma, counting on him to do nothing and die as he enjoys a McDonalds banquet.

Things start to get dire as Itsuya and Mutsumi end up overwhelmed by akuma army and their various appendages, providing more ecchi content. But it’s Natsuki’s earnest belief that Takuma will indeed stand and fight when the time comes (because he’s done so and saved her many times before) that holds more power than all the T, A, and ahegao. Upon standing, Takuma is swiftly taken down by Garm, but Second sister Futaba finally locates them. He held out just long enough; now a Valkyrie has access to the Einherjar, and the tables can be turned.

Val x Love – 04 – He’s “It” (Unfortunately)

Val x Love loses the nice rhythm it had developed in which a different sister’s power was awakened to eliminate a demonic threat. Instead, it felt like nothing of consequence happened. The second daughter Futaba indeed reveals her “Castle” power, but it doesn’t quite fit in a game of tag where she’s the one who is it and thus on the offensive.

While the game of tag is meant to “refresh” Takuma after some stressful exams, thinking he’d be okay with them running around the house destroying stuff as she steals her sisters’ underwear makes Futaba look pretty dumb. The game is a transparent vehicle for incidents of accidental groping.

VxL digs deep into the cliche toy box for the second half, which has no connection to the first, combining a school festival, maid outfits, and jealousy of Takuma’s male classmates for his proximity to Natsuki. Garm ends up using this as an opportunity to transform the classmates into akuma to test a Valkyrie’s strength in human form.

He determines that Natsuki isn’t much of a match even for low-level demons, but that Takuma will spring to the rescue. And there’s the main issue with this episode. Aside from rescuing Natsuki and later telling her he thinks she’s cute, his general denseness, near-constant terrified state and dopey stammering is really starting to get old.

Val x Love – 03 – Idolization

With her two triplet sisters leveled up, it’s the turn of sixth daughter Mutsumi, proving the greatest challenge due to her occupation as a wildly popular idol. Leveling up means going on a date with Takuma and not only getting through his layers of social anxiety, but avoiding being exposed, which could cause scandal and deep-six her career. That’s tricky when Takuma inadvertently attracts all the wrong attention; he’s essentially the anti-idol to her idol, the source of all their fear and hatred rather than hope and love.

Matters are made worse by the fact the watchdog from Hel Garm is shadowing them, but rather than attack the Valkyrie directly, sends the Gjallarhorn to disrupt her leveling up. In one of the weirder and more aggravating depictions of the legendary horn, this one takes the form of a small robot with a siren on its head constantly pointing out the presence of MUTSUMI to the public. Takuma just wants to get away, but recalling how Mutsumi just wants to help her family, he takes her hand to lead her away from the gawkers.

Despite having frequented the mall since he was little, Takuma leads them not to an exit, but a dead end, and he and Mutsumi must squeeze intimately into a storage locker as their pursuers close in. Due to their positions and height difference, Mutsumi can’t kiss him on the mouth to transform instantly; she must resort to kissing his chest, which takes three minutes. They just make it thanks to a last-minute assist from the eldest daughter Ichika, and Mutsumi flies them out of there with her signature wings.

While the constant references to MUTSUMI’s ample bust (and ample close-ups of same) weren’t the most necessary, they do paint the picture of the challenges she faces every day as a cute-yet-pure idol. And yet we learn through her inner thoughts throughout the date (delivered with gusto by the squeaky but talented Hidaka Rina) that she has the same desires as anyone else.

While she thought she’d given Takuma nothing but bad memories on their date, when they’re floating in the sky watching the sunset, Takuma actually smiles, fondly remembering sunsets he watched with his mom. Garm and that horrid horn aside, the foes he and Mutsumi had to beat this week weren’t demons, but rather his fear and her fame. On to the next sister!

Val x Love – 02 – A Pat on the Head, a Peck on the Cheek

This week it’s the turn of Odin’s fifth daughter, the Student Council President Saotome Itsuya AKA Schwertleite. A raven-haired maiden beloved at school for her peerless looks and elegant ladylike aura, Itsuya has somewhat less ladylike plans for Takuma after witnessing what she deemed was a pretty chaste exchange between him and her sister Natsuki.

In her head, she’s not that interested in Takuma at all. He’s just a means to an end: if he can awaken her powers and she can save the world, she’ll get a pat on the head from Odin. It’s a simple, childish wish that she keeps entirely to herself, until a frosti shows up ahead of schedule and she suddenly has to level up with Takuma in a hurry.

The thing is, her full-speed-ahead approach doesn’t work on the nervous, petrified Takuma, and once she starts to undress and moves in on him, she suddenly loses her nerve as well, as she can no longer reconcile her mature outward manner with her inner innocence.

Seeing her freeze up in fear causes Takuma to remember what his mom did to calm him down—a good old head pat—so he gives one to Itsuya and it manages to do the trick. The extent of their hanky-panky is that head-pat and a kiss on the cheek just like Natsuki’s, but it’s enough.

With Natsuki just barely holding on against the monster (even getting all bondaged-up and getting her outfit torn), Itsuya swoops in with her chain of white crosses, enveloping the frosti so Natsuki can finish it off with a giant sword. Mission complete, and now two of Odin’s daughters have leveled up. Seven to go.

We also learn that Itsuya’s treasurer in the StuCo is actually Garm, named for Garmr, a helldog/wolf whose howling heralds the coming of Ragnarök. He’s listed as a “watchdog” and sports a level three times higher than Natsuki’s. If he starts something, head pats and cheek pecks may not be enough to beat him.

Val x Love – 01 (First Impressions) – Love is the Source

This is the story of Akutsu Takuma, who is huge and scary-looking and thus is always likened to an akuma or demon and ostracized. In reality, Takuma is just as scared of people as they are of him, and prefers to live and study alone.

And yet, after a discussion among class boys about the school’s three most beautiful girls, Takuma comes home to find not just those three beautiful girls (in the middle of undressing no less) but five other women of various ages, all of whom have the same last name Saotome which isn’t his. He doesn’t like this situation, but it’s been this way for some time.

Val x Love makes an interesting choice to ease us into its supernatural elements by first presenting everything mundanely, and offering only hints as to what the Saotome sisters really are, why they alone don’t fear him, and why Takuma has allowed them to take over the house he inherited from his departed parents.

What is prevalent throughout the episode are references to a spate of recent “suspicious attacks” that many attribute to akuma; but until one actually appears, one could imagine people were only being superstitious (if you didn’t watch the OP, that is). In reality the attacks are being caused by summoned demons, one of which Takuma encounters when he’s out shopping with the second-youngest sister Natsuki, on the orders of the second-oldest, Ichika.

The other sisters gather on the roof to watch the result. Turns out the nine of them are Valkyries of Valhalla, brought to Midgard by Odin to save humanity. Because “love is the source of a maiden’s power”, the more they are loved, the stronger they are. Natsuki was chosen by the others to level up first, and after Takuma is wounded saving her from falling debris (not the first time that’s happened), she disrobes, has him massage her breasts, and kisses him.

In a massive flash of heavenly flame, the giant akuma is utterly eliminated, and for a few moments we see Natsuki in her Valkyrie form as Siegrune, The Blade, before passing out in Takuma’s arms. This makes Takuma Einherjar (named after those who died in battle and go to Valhalla), here the lover of the nine Valkyries appointed by Odin to raise their levels.

If that all sounds like a lot of poppycock, I’m here to tell you…it’s not the worst? I was expecting more comedy from a show that had it among its genres, but it mostly arose from the fact such a large brute as Akuma is so intimidated by everyone, and yet has what in his case is a case of very-unlucky lechery. The akuma designs are marginally striking, while the action was brief but convincing. High marks also go to Technoboys Pulcraft Green-Fund, who composed all of the music.

For those who see the Valkyrie angle as just another excuse for a lame harem, consider that Takuma’s strong reluctance to have in one feels more genuine than most harem MCs. His introverted personality and public perception that constantly feed his self-loathing make him a sympathetic lead. As he is the source of love that powers the Valkyries, they too could fuel a transformation in him from someone who only hopes to become a quiet, respectable person to something far greater.

Vinland Saga – 11 – A Valkyrie in Midgard

Thorkell leads his 600 men through the forest with his new hostages: Prince Canute, his master-at-arms Ragnar, and a drunken priest, all Christians. The men start to mock the Christian faith and Jesus as a weakling with lame magic powers, but the priest starts to yell and scream about “seeing Him,” leading Ragnar to urge his captors to give the poor man more booze.

When Thorkell asks the priest which god is best, he responds “whichever god created booze!” Canute, perhaps the most passive character of the Summer 2019 season, having neither said nor done anything in any of the episodes in which he appears, simply sits in stoic silence. This suggest that his faith is so strong, if he simply lets the cards fall where they may, he’ll ultimately be saved.

Sure enough, his forces catch up to Thorkell and demand they return the prince, claiming they outnumber them nearly four-to-one. Thorkell can smell a bluff, but lets them have Canute anyway. His magnanimity is matched by his ability to effortlessly provoke Canutes men into resisting Ragnar’s orders for surrender and place their own honor above the well-being of their prince.

In the ensuing melee, Thorkell learns his opposing force numbers no more than 400. But then he smells something; something other than blood and guts: charcoal. A third party—Askeladd’s crew—has set fire to the forest in order to confuse both sides.

Askeladd, still trusting Thorfinn implicitly as long as he still owes him another future duel, soaks the kid in water and orders him to ride in and rescue Prince Canute. The confusion caused by the flame and smoke is plainly demonstrated when one of Ragnar’s own men attacks without ensuring his target is the enemy.

That soldier, in turn, is killed by Thorkell’s men, who used Ragnar’s method of communication against him by pretending to be friendlies. They never get close to the prince, however, as a flaming horse separates the two sides, and a hard-looking boy in a cloak appears between them. Thorfinn is ready to take on the whole group coming after Canute, but they are interrupted by a cheerful-as-ever Thorkell, happy to see another “true warrior.”

Thorkell knows Thorfinn is a true warrior because he is the son of Thors, whom he says is the only man stronger than him. Finn is surprised Kell not only knows his father’s name but his mother’s, Helga, but his father’s fame precedes him, even after death. Kell decides to play nice this time, letting Finn have Canute, certain they’ll meet and fight again soon.

Just as Bjorn is voicing doubts about Finn’s ability to get the job done, the kid arrives with Canute, Ragnar, and the priest in tow. Askeladd and Bjorn pledge their fealty as his new escorts, and Ragnar has no choice but to accept it.

Askeladd only asks if he can see Canue’s face, and the prince slowly removes his helmet to reveal a ethereally beautiful, feminine visage—like a Valkyrie in Midgard. With their new royal charge, Askeladd’s men are poised to rejoin King Sweyn’s main force…the same force Thorkell’s men are eager to fight, assuring them a place in Valhalla.

Taimadou Gakuen 35 Shiken Shoutai – 04

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Note: Preston and I have been watching both TG35 and Subete ga F, but we’ve decided to swap reviewing duties of those two shows. So going forward I’m your TG35 reviewer, while Preston will be handling the SgF.

As Preston observed last week, this show is proving very swift and decisive with its character orientation arcs. Ootori was essentially one of the gang last week after a tense gestation, and by this episode’s end, Mari has also become an official member of the 35th.

It’s great when Mari notes how famously Saionji and Suginami get along, Takeru reveals that the two used to be as much at each others throats as Mari and Ootori, and he looks forward to the two settling down, which he’s sure they’ll do in time. Takeru dismisses any notion of abandoning Mari should he, say, find out one day she’s an evil murderer. Instead, he promises to help her.

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Indeed, Ootori learns about Mari’s past and relays it to Takeru, but he goes into mock battle with her all the same, which is interrupted by the necromancer Haunted bursting out of one of their opposing players; a grim, demented entrance if ever there was one. He’s there for Mari, but Takeru won’t let him have her.

Takeru is surprised to find Haunted has an armored suit and legendary sword able to pierce Lapis, and ends up bloodied very early in the fight. But as he fights, Ootori is having words with her adoptive father the director about the circumstances of the crime scene where Mari was arrested. The magic used to kill people wasn’t hers.

This means, witch or not, the director had Mari arrested on false charges. In exchange for overlooking such a crime, Mari makes a certain demand of the director that proves crucial in the battle with Haunted.

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Now we know why Takeru had zero problem heading into battle with Mari, nor did he seem the slightest bit troubled by the news Ootori gave him: she’s innocent. When Haunted restores Mari’s memory, she remembers being surrounded by a lot of death—including that of her family at an orphanage—and blaming herself both for being such a valuable resource to Valhalla, and for not being able to save them.

With all her terrible memories back, Mari must feel like going with Haunted is what she deserves, and it’s what she’s prepared to do in order to stop others from dying because of her. But Takeru will have none of it. As he promised Ootori, if need be, he’ll carry half her burden, but he won’t leave her side or let Valhalla swallow her back up.

Haunted may be a swordsman, but he’s not a Kusaragi, and Takeru cycles through Lapis’ many weapon forms and effectively drives him back.

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Haunted is a tough customer, however, and it’s everything Takeru can do to stay alive in their duel. Mari decides to cast a spell to help Takeru out, even if it means the collar around her neck detonating. But it doesn’t, because Ootori had the director shut it off just in time. Ootori then tells Mari to prove to her that magic can be used for things other than death and suffering. Now’s the chance to change my mind about you.

Naturally, both Mari and Ootori insist they’re not doing this for the other, but in truth, they’ve already warmed to each other and are working as one. Ootori saved Mari so Mari can save Takeru. Ootori provides cover fire so Mari can cast her spell. Suginami wakes Saionji up by riddling her with insults from when they were frenemies, and then Saionji covers Ootori with her sniper rifle.

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Finally, rather than fire her magical attack at Haunted, she sends it to Takeru, and it’s absorbed by a grateful Lapis, whose pride has been impugned by Haunted’s “lost-type” Dainsleif’s trash talk. The attack is enough to push Haunted back and disperse his armor, and he retreats with a smile on his face, intrigued that he has a challenging new foe keeping him from Mari.

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The magical barrier falls, Takeru passes out, goes to hospital, and wakes up with Lapis by his side eating apples (her low-key presence continues to be a nice contrast to the powerful personalities of the other girls). There’s one more “uh-oh” moment this week when Ootori tells Takeru of bad news, but it’s just bad news for her—Mari has officially enrolled at AntiMagic Academy—but it isn’t really such bad news for Ootori either.

In fact, it was Ootori who used her leverage against the director to negotiate Mari’s present status as comrade. I can understand her doing this to stay in Takeru’s good graces, so to speak, but it’s just as much about Ootori being a champion of justice, as well as having her mind about witches changed, if only a little, by Mari, when it mattered most.

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Taimadou Gakuen 35 Shiken Shoutai – 03

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I’ll say this for TG35—it isn’t wasting any time developing its characters. While Ootori was the reluctant outsider last week, that roles passes to Nikaido Mari, AntiMagic Academy’s very first witch Inquisitor-in-Training. What the other 35s don’t know is that she was picked up last week on suspicion of murder, but had a powerful (but not ironclad) amnesia spell placed on her.

Apparently she’s dangerous enough to held naked chained by her ankle in solitary confinement, but is given back her regular clothes, which is odd, because the director wants her to blend into the school. The best way to do that would be to give her a green Taimadou uni, but alas.

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Like Ootori, Mari wants to be left alone, and Suginami and Saionji are fine with doing just that, but Ootori can’t help but get into verbal spats with her. Not only does Mari represent everything Ootori hates—witches and magic—but she’s also competition for Takeru’s attention. The two snipe at each other and square off both in the classroom and P.E., to essentially a stalemate, periodically swapping smug victory and angry defeats, all of it very petty.

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When Takeru tries to get between them, the two girls reflexively punch him, something Ootori regrets immediately and Mari regrets…a little later. In a very effective and efficient scene, Takeru ably disarms Mari: he doesn’t hate witches or magic, and he’s willing to give her a shot, just like he gave Ootori.

Takeru also shows genuine interest in her motivations for enrolling, and she eventually opens up: she’s enthusiastic about changing peoples’ hearts and minds about witches and magic. By the end of their exchange, they’re on first-name terms—if only because Mari thinks “Kusanagi” is lame and Takeru thinks “Nikaidou” is awkward to pronounce.

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The next day Mari is in the Platoon’s HQ, sparring with Ootori. Once she knows Ootori likes Takeru, she wastes no time using their first-name basis (and some close contact) to enrage her even further. To her credit, Ootori doesn’t let it come to blows; in fact she barely tries to conceal the fact Takeru’s promise to “share half her burden” is something she values very much.

At the same time, Mari looks a little nervous clinging to Takeru, like she’s getting swept up in the competition with Ootori in spite of herself. Not surprisingly, the other platoon members, including Lapis, fade into the background this whole episode, which I didn’t mind.

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A little more incredulous is the fact that Mari has nowhere else to stay but Takeru’s dingy, creepy apartment. Naturally, the protective Ootori won’t let the two spend time in Takeru’s place alone (she figures a “closet perv” like Takeru would be all too easily wooed even by Mari’s “meager charms”), so she tags along, despite Takeru’s building freaking her out.

That’s when we end up with the most ridiculous scene of the episode, in which Takeru walks in on a totally naked (and “insecure”) Mari drying her hair, just when Ootori runs out of the bathroom also totally naked, scared by some kind of ghost. The two naked girls end up on top of Takeru, who meekly protests none of this is his fault, leading to an off-camera double slap (though no synchronized scream).

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The next day the 35th begins their first round of a mock battle tournament, and things start to go pear-shaped pretty fast, until Mari decides she will assist them after all and serves as a decoy so Takeru, Ootori, and Saionji can clean up and advance (Suginami doesn’t participate).

It’s the episode’s one concession to action (unlike last week which was mostly action), and it’s pretty inconsequential. But the lesson to take away is that with Ootori, Mari, and Lapis, the 35th is climbing towards respectability…or at least less ridicule.

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When Ootori acknowledges Mari’s contribution in her roundabout double-negative-laced way, we see that despite, or even perhaps partially due to their intense co-antagonism, Mari and Ootori are on their way to gelling with the 35th. That’s of course, until Ootori delivers her report to the director, finds him absent, and picks up a document describing Mari as an ancient witch under suspicion of murder, thus confirming all of her earlier suspicions about the witch, without knowing the whole picture about her amnesia.

The thing is, even Mari isn’t sure who she is. She gets a flash of her true past after making nice with Takeru, and before going to sleep at his place, warns him she may not be someone he should be trusting in. I don’t know whether her amnesia spell is permanent, but even if it is, Ootori can’t unsee what she saw, Mari may not have the means to fully explain herself, and Takeru will continue to be in the middle, trying to keep the peace.

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Taimadou Gakuen 35 Shiken Shoutai – 02

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TG35 tables its fanservice and harem elements this week, instead focusing on the more serious matter of Kusanagi continuing his quest to make Ootori accept him as a captain and a comrade, a decision I felt made for a better episode than the first.

When Ootori affirms her unwillingness to allow being lumped in with the Small Fry Platoon, Suginami reveals her nickname of “calamity” in Inquisition, where she was a revenge-driven loose cannon – accusations she won’t deny.

Eager to make his unit better and not willing to sit back and let Ootori continue to fight alone, he keeps trying to convince her, but his efforts are interrupted by the summoning of a hero or “einhenjar” tasked with assaulting the academy. In confronting and battling that einhenjar, Kusanagi eventually backs into the very means to help shoulder Ootori’s burdens by contracting with a “relic eater”, Lapis Lazuli.

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But first, Ootori runs off and tries to take on the einhenjar (Arthur Pendragon, armed with a railgun Excalibur) all by herself, questioning what good she is if she can’t handle such a “puny threat” on her own.

When conventional attacks fail, she summons her own relic hunter, Vlad, in the form of two pistols, but she only has a provisional contract with him, and Vlad’s need to take her blood to function effectively weakens her more.

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Finally, the director de-summons Vlad, leaving Ootori defenseless against Pendragon. But that action reveals the director’s intention: to give Kusanagi the opportunity to contract with Lapis, a pairing he’s been looking forward to.

Kusanagi comes to Ootori’s aid, backed up by Saionji and Suginami, but his attacks also fail. At the same time, Ootori realizes it was Kusanagi she beat back in the past; they didn’t meet for the first time last week. I wonder if there’s anything else to that past connection.

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Pendragon then does to Kusanagi what he did to Ootori, and he ends up bleeding out on the ground—until Lapis suddenly appears through the dust cloud (a nice visual), transports him to a different dimension, and takes him through the contracting ceremony, consisting of questions such as “would you abandon what is precious to you” (hell no) and “would you abandon your humanity” (sure) to achieve his goals.

I liked the prompt, no-nonsense introduction of Lapis, as well as her occasional moments of playfulness (bum-ba-da-bum!) amidst her usual ethereal stoicism. She also reminded me of Knight Rider a bit; a sentient piece of technology-as-companion. Also notable: no boob-grabbing or nudity silliness with Lapis, and her outfit, while cool-looking, is also pretty modest. Refreshing!

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There’s the sense Kusanagi isn’t quite sure what’s going on, but Lapis helpfully informs him the contract is complete and she is now his. And what she is is an unbreakable sword and suit of armor which are just the two things someone with his sword skills needs to not only fight witches effectively, but also in order to convince Ootori he can be relied upon, despite his normally unreliable aura.

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With Pendragon easily dispatched,  Kusanagi joins Ootori against a tree trunk, saying he won’t presume to lecture her about revenge, but earnestly asks her to at least let him share half of her burden, as her comrade and her friend.

Ootori, having been saved from certain death, is hardly in a position to protest further, and in any event, once Kusanagi passes out on her lap, she privately confesses to not really minding the feeling of having someone wanting to, and being allowed, to share her burden. If her fight with Pendragon taught her anything, it’s that she won’t get far alone.

As for the sixth main character, the witch Nikaidou Mari, she seems to be in reluctant cahoots with the murderous necromancer who summoned Pendragon, but passes out before Inquisition arrests her. I imagine she’s on a course that’ll eventually lead her to Kusanagi and the 35th.

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