Phantom in the Twilight – 01 (First Impressions) – Supernatural Study Abroad

Just minutes after arriving in London for their study abroad, Bayrou Ton and her BFF (and secretary?) Shinyao are robbed of their luggage, passports, credit cards, and Ton’s heirloom ring. Ton is a girl of action, and so runs through London chasing the semi-transparent beast-like thief.

Despite arriving during late afternoon at the latest, this chase goes on until after midnight, when she finally realizes she’s lost and separated from Shinyao. She throws a paper airplane with a spell written on it, which flies right into a night cafe that just happens to have been founded by her great-grandmother, Sha Rijan.

At Cafe Forbidden, Ton meets three strapping young lads who knew Rijan, suggesting they’re actually very long-lived lads. here’s the aloof, prickly one (Vlad), the tall, dark, and quiet one (Tauryu) and the kiddy, friendly one (Luke). They believe the thief is a goblin, and race to Hyde Park to deal with it.

Ton follows them in a taxi (I guess she had some pocket money), and watches a very bizarre spectacle unfold. The three lads, decked out in their fancy black coats, do battle with a whole band of goblins, while Vlad confronts a Spriggan. Ton reveals herself to warn him, but he’s distracted and is briefly stunned.

Ton uses the heirloom ring a monocled stranger returned to her and told her to wear to pull some kind of magical chains out of the ground she uses to protect herself. Vlad pounces on the Spriggan from behind and kills it with a coup-de-grace. Rather than explain to Ton all of the straight-up weird shit that just went down, Vlad glamours her instead; replacing her memories with false ones involving a police chase. Luke later wonders if it was the right thing to do.

Ton wakes up in the park like nothing weird at all happened, gets in touch with Shinyao, and after credits that underscore just how much these two friends care about each other, Ton meets her at their new apartment…only for Shinyao to be immediately kidnapped. Well played, show.

So, not the bestest first couple of days for Bayrou Ton! She has a cool name, though, and she’s voiced by Hanazawa Kana, making it two characters in short red jackets she’s voicing this Summer! Other than that, and despite some competent animation and a decent soundtrack, I came away a bit less enthusiastic for this than the quieter, more thoughtful Holmes of Kyoto. Twilight has a likable heroine but is a bit all over the place so far.

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Devils Line – 01 – Back to the Well…of BLOOD (First Impressions)

“AND I’m a vampire…what a week!”

From Blood and Shiki to Dance in the Vampire Bund, Rosario + Vampire, Seraph of the End, and Help! My Little Sister is a Vampire!, there is no shortage of vampire anime out there, old and new, good and bad.

There’s so much, you might not have realized that I simply made up that last one, though for all I know it might actually exist (and Tasukete! Watashi no Imouto wa Kyuuketsuki! can be readily pared down to Tawamokyu!). 

The point is, we know all about vampires in anime. So any time a new one comes around, I ask two pretty standard questions:

#1: Does this add anything notably new to the table?
#2: If not, what makes it worth watching?

In the case of Devils Line, the answer to Question #1 is a firm “no.” Sure, the vamps’ chompers are a bit over-sized (not a great look!) and there’s an emphasis on vamps as crazed blood-and-sex addicts, but we’ve got a standard “pure maiden gets drawn into the dark side” story, which hearkens back to Lucy Westenra.

As to Question #2, I actually found a lot to like in the first 19/20ths of the episode (more on the final 20th later). First, the setting is realistic and grounded rather than surreal or baroque, and there’s a familiar Tokyo Nighttime atmosphere that pervades the episode and draws you in. I took note of the way characters were back-lit from various light sources.

In keeping with the much-like-real-life setting, the vamps, while ostensibly the “bad guys”, are also given a good degree of nuance and humanization. It’s not an accident that the blood-soaked cold open depicts a vamp tearing people apart…but not being all that happy about it! (no doubt because his fangs are so comically huge).

Finally, while it’s ultimately a red herring, the chase scene does good and efficient double duty, introducing us to the special division and their procedures for dealing with vamps in this world (a bad-ass cop lady fights on a higher footing than the vamp, probably because she too is a vamp) while also giving us a nifty Vamp-Speed chase and moonlit brawl.

So what didn’t work so well? Pretty much what the ED portends will be the entire premise of the show going forward: a Vampire Romance. College(?) student Taira Tsukasa goes with the flow, while sometimes looking off to the side like she needs new friends (or possibly very very old ones, amirite?!) but one thing I like about her is that she’s comfortable not having a boyfriend.

It doesn’t help when one of her two close friends confessed to her at school, she had to reject him, and he’s been basically tolerating the fact they’re “just friends” ever since…for now. Turns out Mr. Unrequited Love was the vampire she needed to watch her back for, and it’s to the kid’s credit that my disgust turned to pity once the Shadowy Subway Guy came between him and Tsukasa.

Subway Guy is a special division officer named Anzai, who suspected Tsukasa’s friend would soon crack from the pressure of having to hold in his vampiric nature, but concedes the kid’s desire not to hurt her was genuine…it’s just that Vamps can’t be trusted. When they see someone’s blood, they’re off to the sexy races.

And to the list of Vamps that can’t be trusted, go ahead and add Anzai in there, because once he notices Tsukasa’s scratched face, he starts French-kissing her. This burst explosion of passion might not have come out of nowhere, but it still felt sudden and oddly staged.  It looked less like the pure Tsukasa suddenly yearning and embracing a man’s touch, and more like he just jumped her.

So yes, this show has some good things going for it, but some big questions moving forward about whether and how the whole vampire romance thing will work. That she’s ostensibly dealing with a vamp who has his shit mostly under control (and is working for the “good guys” i.e. public safety) works to Anzai’s advantage, but I want to see more agency from Tsukasa, not for her to keep going with the (blood)flow.

 

Overlord II – 01 (First Impressions)

It’s been over two years—833 days—since I last watched or wrote about Overlord, so an immersive episode packed with exposition wasn’t the worst way to be introduced back into its world.

In a lengthy eight-minute cold open, we meet a good number of parties I either have fuzzy memories about or don’t know at all (I haven’t read the light novels).

But the bottom line is, many of these parties spread far and wide throughout the world know of Ainz Ooal Gown, which is precisely how Momonga wanted.

When we finally meet up with the big dude, he’s in Momon Mode, taking out a giant lizard with help from Hamasuke; Nabu by his side. It’s not a tough opponent at all, more of a warm-up, like this episode.

From there, he returns to the Tomb of Nazarick where Albedo is waiting for him, as eager as ever for praise and, well, more physical contact than Momonga’s player is able to consent to (seeing Alby and the other NPCs more as children). Still, Flustered Skullface is always welcome.

Momonga then has a seat, unfurls a big map, and methodically points at each destination, as Albedo gives a report on all the various projects his guardians are working on, from the building of a Fake Nazarick in the nearby great forest, to the status of the investigation to find the one who used a World Item on Shalltear, forcing her to fight her master.

Shalltear is drowning her overwhelming guilt in drink, so Albedo suggests Momonga issue some form of punishment in order to exorcise that guilt, which he considers. He also sends Cocytus off to fight Nazarick’s “first war”, though the details on whom it’s against and where are not shared. There’s also a talking penguin with a very stern look on its face, which…cool, cool.

The episode closes out with a visit to the land of Lizardmen; specifically, Zaryusu, a supposedly disgraced yet respected warrior, and the grizzled chief of his tribe, inspecting Z’s first-of-its-kind fish farm.

Then inky black clouds coalesce and swirl above the village and a super-creepy ball of purple skeletal faces with red eyes announce it is a herald of the “Great One”, declaring death unto the lizards.

So yeah, was this episode a bit all over the place? Sure. But it was still fun. And after so much time, it was great to see the gang back in action (or planning future action) while meeting a few new faces.

Lastly, after the credits, we have a nice little auspicious note from original creator Maruyama Kugane thanking the fans of Overlord for making a second season possible, and dedicating the season to us; a gesture I appreciated.

Fate / Zero – 19

In Part 2 of How Kiritsugu Got So Messed Up, young Kiritsugu finds himself in a gender-swapped version of The Professional. Natalia is Leon, the ‘cleaner’ with a heart of gold who suddenly isn’t alone, and Kiritsugu is Matilda, the trauma-stricken, anger-filled youth searching for purpose.

After saving him, Natalia takes Kiri under her wing, gradually teaching him the basics. Before long he’s accompanying her on jobs, and if there’s one complaint I have with this episode (and it’s not a biggie), it’s that there’s really no transition between Kiri’s ‘kid’ and ‘adult’ voices.

What Nat continually drives into Kiri (whatever voice he has) is that her line of work, one’s own survival is the most important consideration. If you’re dead, it’s all for nothing. As a result of her training and care, Kiri becomes a highly capable and reliable apprentice. (She also eventually powders some of his ribs into 66 bullets).

The moment a Dead Apostle named Odd Vorzak appears in the tray of Natalia’s fax machine, I had the ominous feeling that it would be her last job, but while the destination was basically known, I still greatly enjoyed the journey. As a big job in which Kiritsugu plays a crucial role, flying to NYC ahead of Natalia and utilizing his bullets, there’s an auspicious tone to the proceedings.

While there are few things worse than getting the back of your seat kicked on a plane, what Natalia does to Vorzak is most definitely one of them. It’s a great scheme, transporting Kiri’s bullet into Vorzak’s back, and it’s executed perfectly. But it’s also all too easy, and I couldn’t help but think there would have been better, and more importantly safer ways to eliminate him.

Sure enough, while taking care of the bees in Vorzak’s luggage in the hold, all hell breaks loose in the cabin, as Vorzak was carrying more bees in his body. All 300 crew and passengers are quickly turned into vicious ghouls. By some miracle, Natalia is able to reach the cockpit, but it’s a long, tense trip to New York with those ghouls at the doo, and you can feel it.

Kiritsugu keeps Natalia company over the radio, in a beautiful scene that lessons the tension but still feels like it captures the specific emotions of the situation perfectly. As they talk, Natalia gets more an more sentimental, wondering if “playing at a family” is what caused her to screw up so badly, while Kiritsugu subtly talks of her in the past tense, sailing out into open water on one of the small, efficient little boats he loves to use.

There’s a wonderful ambiguity to what Natalia’s particular thoughts are about the conversation she’s having with Kiritsugu, and if and when she realizes that he’s preparing to destroy the plane before it lands. After all, she trained him, and always knew he had way too much potential in her line of work, not to mention her edict that her apprentice think of his survival first and foremost.

Whatever she feels or knows, the reveal of the missile launcher just as the dawn arrives, with a flock of seagulls circling Kiritsugu as if he were the center of a storm—it’s all wonderfully staged and directed. And before pulling the trigger Kiritsugu makes sure Natalia knows: he was glad to have her as a mother.

As is usually the case with Kiritsugu, I can totally understand why he does what he does, even if it’s absolutely horrible: that plane could not be allowed to land just because Natalia is dear to him. The other 300 people on the plane weren’t people anymore, and if they get out into the city, many many more people would’ve died. Kiritsugu couldn’t allow that, so he does what he couldn’t do when Shirley turned into a vampire: nothing more or less than What Has To Be Done.

There’s such a dark, bleak symmetry to Kiritsugu killing his real father and adoptive mother as bookends to his transformation into the Emiya Kiritsugu currently fighting the Holy Grail War. Natalia was such a great character who came out of nowhere, it was sad to see her go so soon, but we were dealing with flashbacks after all, and I had no reasonable expectation she would survive them.

The break in the present-day story was abrupt (especially since I haven’t watched episode 17 yet), but it was well worth the detour to learn more about the key protagonist of the story. It also demonstrated that whatever the timeline or setting, Fate/Zero knows how to tell a damned compelling story.

Fate / Zero – 18

Per a reader’s suggestion, I am watching the next three F/Z episodes in the order of 18-19-17. We’ll see how this goes. At the end of episode 16, Saber wondered what the hell happened to make Emiya Kiritsugu the kind of person he’s become. Episode 18 begins to answer that very question by taking a trip back to Kiritsugu’s childhood on picturesque Arimago Island.

Things couldn’t start out any more idyllic, with “Kerry” (what everyone calls Kiritsugu) cliff-diving with his friends on an absolutely perfect day before being picked up by Shirley, a very pretty young local who is serving as his father’s assistant. Kerry’s father is mage, developing flowers that never wilt in hopes of someday applying the same principles to humans.

Throughout the episode’s first acts, the gorgeous tropical setting could never quite hide the fact that there was something very fishy about Kerry’s father taking up residence in a secluded property on a remote island for mysterious magical experimentation related to immortality. That’s a lot of red flags.

One night Shirley shows Kerry that her flower has wilted, and that she will never be able to be anything other than a glorified lab assistant. She believes Kerry has a bright future following in his dad’s footsteps, and they both agree that his dad is doing something that will be able to help humanity immensely.

Kerry also recoils from Shirley when she gets too close to him, as he’s of the age where boys typically deny their attraction to the opposite sex despite biological evidence to the contrary.

However, it’s clear Kerry likes Shirley very much, which makes it that much more heartbreaking when I realized that beautiful night they talked would be the last. The next day, Kerry’s dad asks if he went into his lab, then warns him to stay in the house for the day.

When Shirley doesn’t arrive at the usual time, he sneaks out to look for her, and finds an empty medicine bottle on the floor of her house. Shirley herself has set to work sucking the blood of the chickens in her yard, as whatever medicine she took turned her into some kind of vampire.

Kerry, unable to grant Shirley’s wish to kill her, seeks refuge in the church, but before long the entire island turns into a battlefield. The vampirism spreads quickly from Shirley to the other townsfolk, and Church Executors have to work overtime to kill them, while the Mages Association sets everything ablaze in order to protect their secrets.

Kerry ends up running through the middle of this hellscape (and as he’ll say to Saber years later, all war is hell) and almost gets himself killed, but he’s saved by a mysterious woman who is very handy with firearms, using them in an efficient manner that reminds me of Kiritsugu’s own style in the present.

She tells him everyone has turned into “dead apostles”, and she’s there to eliminate Kerry’s father…but Kerry gets to him first. When he asks his dad about his work and what it did to Shirley and the town, his father is, shall we say, not particularly contrite. Indeed, he seems to consider all of the horrible things that have happened a minor inconvenience, and is eager to escape the island get back to work.

Unable to muster any words in response to his father’s despicable attitude, Kerry stabs him in the gut with the dagger Father Simon gave Shirley to protect her from the evils he believed Kerry’s father to be messing with. He then takes a pistol and kills him, before the lilac-haired woman shows up.

By doing so, he did what had to be done, something he wasn’t able to do with Shirley, a misstep that ended up costing the entire town. As he escapes from the island with the woman, I imagine Kiritsugu—no longer “Kerry”—won’t be hesitating that much more from here on out.

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 03

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Well, Mumei and Ikoma got on the train, but hardly any of the ingrate cowards aboard want them there. Unfortunately, they can’t do shit about that, and Mumei makes it clear that if they think she’s their enemy, the feelings mutual and they’re welcome to die by her hand if that’s what they want.

It’s great that Mumei hasn’t the slightest will or compulsion to calmly explain herself. She saved all their pathetic lives; that should be enough reason for her to be allowed aboard. Ikoma, on the other hand, would like to explain himself, but he doesn’t quite get it yet himself.

Ayame, who is de facto in charge of the train following the loss of her father, tends to agree. She’s the only one standing between the Kabaneri and the jumpy ingrate cowards eager to kill them, and she lets Mumei and Ikoma stay in the boiler car, provided they promise to stay there.

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Mumei doesn’t keep her promise long, as she senses a Kabane and rushes into a car full of scared evacuees, including a woman who is pretty clearly bearing a Kabane child, a possibility that probably escapes Mumei because she’s never come across it.

The resulting standoff with guns is defused when an engineer warns the train must stop before reaching the next station to repair the precious water tank, which I’m starting to think was manufactured by Ducati.

While the train is stopped we get a little more world-building with the evacuees, led by elders and holy men, conduct a funeral service for the scores who were lost. Ikoma takes the opportunity to recount the story of how he ran from his sister rather than stay and fight, resulting in her death (he also still carries around the green stone he and his sister kept as good-luck charms).

Ikoma wants to believe his past cowardice and trauma are exceptional in some way, but Mumei is again on the spot with the cruel truth: Ikoma isn’t special, and neither is his story: the weak died; the strong survived.

That cynical but not-wrong summing-up implies Ikoma is strong, by the way, even if he gets his ass handed to him in his first “training” sessions with Mumei. Clearly she believes him strong enough to be his shield when she falls asleep.

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But she gets no sleep tonight, as a gang of disgruntled ingrate cowards gathered by a tsking ringleader (who of course hangs back) challenges Mumei, despite Ayame’s pleadings for calm. Again, Mumei exposes her arrogant streak, perfectly fine with taking out anyone who raises a weapon to her with killing intent.

Ayame again, somehow, manages to stop a full-on fight (i.e. massacre) from breaking out, by pulling out her dagger, putting it to Ikoma’s chest, and proving to the malcontents (and to herself) that he’s not the enemy.

Meanwhile, Mumei slipped away to hang with the women, and kinda proves that she’s not the enemy either by comforting a baby and generally being able to slip into the role of ‘just one of the girls’.

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That act doesn’t last long, however, as after all the fun, Mumei gets hungry. She declines an offer of dumpling soup and asks for blood instead. That’s right; the dun dun duuuun moment occurs at roughly the same time for both Mumei among the girls and Ikoma with an initially relieved, thankful, even bashful Ayame.

This week, I came to empathize a little more for the ingrate cowards of the train. They’re weak, and can’t help being freaked out by the mere possibility a Kabane is walking among them, pretending to play nice, but only for now. Mumei doesn’t help matters by being aggressive and arrogant, but she can’t help being like that either, because she’s strong.

But like a vampire, she still needs blood to stay strong (and operating at peak efficiency). So does Ikoma, which is why after leaking a bit of blood, he starts to go at Ayame like, well, a thirsty vampire. I also learned this is a show that likes its cliffhangers, despite the fact that we know Ikoma isn’t going to remain in that state forever, nor is he going to kill Ayame.

But his and Mumei’s sudden need for fresh blood certainly doesn’t help their chances of ever being trusted by the people they keep saving.

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Owari no Seraph 2 – 04

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On the way to Nagoya, after fighting off Four Horsemen of Johns, Shinoa has a little fun by leaving Yuu behind to walk the rest of the way. In addition to being a little too mean, it seems extraordinarily stupid thing to do under such serious circumstances. The show thinks it was dumb to, and Shinoa later comes to regret it, because Guren throws and elaborate lesson their way that drives the message into her and all the other newbies’ heads. Fooling around will get your family killed, so knock it off.

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When the five show up late, they make a bad first impression on the more experienced squads Guren has amassed. Then Yuu takes full responsibility, but Guren knows he’s covering. Then he, Shinya, and Mito face off against the five right there and then to test how well they gel as a team. Even three-on-five, the older soldiers barely break a sweat overwhelming the noobs. Yuu hangs in there with Guren, but in the process, all of his comrades are “killed” by the other two veterans.

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The lesson is, take this seriously and learn to work better together under duress, because the vampire nobles they’re going after are even tougher, and won’t end the lesson by sparing lives and mussing Yuu’s hair. Yuu is uncharacteristically mature throughout this lesson, already working out how they should handle such a fight next time, and taking it in stride when Sgt. Narumi protests the newbies’ inclusion in the plan.

Speaking up backfires for Narumi, as Guren puts him and his haughty squad in charge of teaching Shinoa’s squad the ropes, much to their chagrin. But Yuu doesn’t feel like a hot potato, or at least doesn’t show it: he’s eager to work and learn. As long as he can kill vampires and get Mika back, he’s growing up in a hurry.

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As for Mika, the day Krul warned about—when her blood alone would no longer be sufficient—is fast arriving. Mika has insisted on not drinking human blood, but the blood calls to him as his partner and their squad rounds up children for tribute to the very nobles Guren’s group of 100 are going after.

He pounces on a girl and grabs her by the throat, but is able to pull himself back…for now. But that control will only get more and more difficult to maintain. When that happens, he’ll have little choice but death or human blood. But would he really choose the former, knowing what it might do to Yuu?

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Owari no Seraph 2 – 03

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This week’s opening scene was wonderful, and perfectly demonstrates how much of a family Guren’s squad has become. Summoning the boys to a breakfast, Shinoa and Mitsu prove a bad combination in the kitchen, leaving Shiho to reveal his culinary talent. Everyone tucks into a warm, cozy meal before getting down to business: Shinoa briefing Yu on both the incident in which he went berserk and almost killed her, and whether the five of them continue to trust and follow Guren, even if the possibility exists he’s only using them to further his own goals.

I went to see The Martian last night, and part of what I liked about it so much (and also why it’s so critically lauded) was how it never took shortcuts, but let us in on the intimate and detailed process of solving all of the myriad problems that befell the stranded astronaut. Because the film “showed its work” to us, it made me us that much more invested in the eventual payoffs. These last three episodes, that’s exactly what Owari no Seraph has been doing, and it’s similarly effective.

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As the five kids ponder the paths they should take, their superiors are already traveling on theirs. Kureto meets with Guren under the guise of having him kill three vampires who failed to turn into demons. Guren refuses (Kureto has them sniped) and asks his boss to quit wasting his time. As tough a front as he presents, Guren is far more of a softy than Kureto, something Kureto uses as proof he can trust him.

He’ll keep Guren alive as long as he’s useful, and having three Black Demon users in his squad, however he came upon them, will be useful in his future plans. Those plans, which finally make mention of this season’s titular battle in Nagoya, are grand, involving a complete eradication of vampires in Japan before advancing abroad, wiping out any other human organizations, and ruling the world.

Guren will serve as Kureto’s tool and follow orders as long as it serves him, I imagine, exploiting Kureto’s confidence he’s incapable of betraying his comrades. But as we see, Guren’s sword, Shinoa’s demonized sister Mahiru, also wants a say in who Guren follows.

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While Yu is contemplating alone on the roof, Shinoa joins him, breaking the ice as usual by jokingly wondering what naked girl he’s checking out from his vantage point. Her wry levity continues, but Yu is more somber, particularly about whether he really tried to kill her, and whether it was Guren’s intent that he go berserk.

After offering his hand to Shinoa, which she gingerly takes, they join the other three back in the apartment where Yu announces his decision: Guren said they’re a family, and he’ll help him with Mika, so he’s going to trust him and stick with family for now, realizing he’s being selfish. Shiho is the first to go along, followed closely by everyone else. So mutiny averted…for now.

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Back in Vampland, Mika, unwilling to drink form humans, is dependent on Krul’s blood, which is the way she likes it. But he wants answers to wash that blood down, answers he eventually gets out of her. Krul is sending her main force to Tokyo to wipe out the Demon Army once and for all, but she has a different mission for Mika: go to the side of Yu, the Seraph of the End, and protect him from both humans and vampires. At this point Mika doesn’t care if he or Yu or both of them are being used by others, as long as Yu is safe.

Shinoa pays a visit to Guren, reporting Yu and Shiho’s successful possession, and also opens up with regards to Yu: she’s not sure if what’s happened is that she’s fallen for him, but she knows he needs her and has asked her to stay with him, so she doesn’t intend to let him down. For now, Yu, Mika and Shinoa are putting the preservation of family above all other considerations, including being exposed to manipulation, betrayal, and destruction.

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Owari no Seraph 2 – 02

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Shinoa has the feeling “something horrible’s about to happen” in a world with human experimentation and war with vampires, but that something doesn’t happen this week, so in the meantime, the gang trains. Specifically, with Yoichi having already achieved control and balance with his demon, Yu and Shiho’s turn to attempt to achieve “manifestation.” Once Yu passes out, it’s a waiting game for his friends.

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Now at the mercy of Ashuramaru, she tries to get him to break down, by first showing him a vision of his parents lamenting they created a “devil child”, the “Seraph of the End”, and his dad trying to kill him with a kitchen knife. Then she shows him the strewn bodies of the dead members of his family, who he’s told died because he ran away.

But Yu’s already been through something like this (as have we), and he’s not so easily falling for it this time. He breaks out of Ashuramaru’s illusion, and when she rushes to kill him, he tosses his sword at her, not in surrender, but in understanding: he was once alone; now he isn’t. The same is true of his demon.

He has family in Shinoa and the others. He still has Mika, who he knows wants him to save him. He asks Ashuramaru to be his blade, and in return, he’ll be her friend. She’s a bit annoyed by his new “whatever” attitude, but can’t deny his strength, and agrees to the deal.

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Between Yu and Shiho’s manifestation training sessions, we get a useful look back into the world of vampire politics, with Ferid parading Mikaela about and showing video evidence of Yu-as-Seraph during Kurl’s vampire conference call, making her look bad by undermining her claim she dealt with the Hyakuya clan and anyone who might’ve been the Seraph the humans could use against the vampires.

After a call that got her challenged by one of her peers and placed under a stronger microscope, Krul fumes at Ferid’s apparent insubordination. But Ferid has even more secrets, and even if she kills him, they’ll get out and ruin her. Similarly, she knows Ferid let Yu escape. So the two are bound by secrets with a pawnish Mika between them.

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That’s a grim contrast to the bonds of mutual respect made not just between Yu and his comrades, but between wielder and demon. When it’s Shiho’s turn, his demon Kiseki-o, like Ashuramaru, thinks she’s got his number; the key to enslaving his body: his bedridden sister. In his illusion, Shiho’s friends say they have to move on to find more food, and his sister will only slow him down, they tell him to put her out of her misery. Heck, she told them to tell him.

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It almost works—for about a nanosecond—then Kiseki-o makes the mistake of speaking through Shiho’s sister, all but confirming this is just an illusion; a test, and he needs to look at it that way. Just as Yu threw his sword away when Ashuramaru rushed him, he gives up the power the demon thinks he wants so bad, and will be able to move on and wield once he kills his sister, by turning the knife on himself.

The message to Kiseki-o is clear: Shiho will never see his sister as a burden. Watching how hard Yu fought to protect non-blood family, he would never forgive himself if he didn’t do all he could to protect his blood family, even at the cost of his life. It’s enough strength and conviction to convince Kiseki-o that Shiho is worthy.

When Shiho wakes up, he immediately challenges Yu to a duel, to see who’s stronger. Shinoa lets them, since they’re only playing around, but she and Mitsu are amazed how all three guys were able to achieve manifestation so (relatively) easily, leading the girls to do some digging on their pasts…only to find those pasts have been erased. Hence, something horrible’s probably about to happen, but at least they’re more prepared for it.

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Owari no Seraph: Nagoya Kessen-hen – 01 (First Impressions)

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“It’s no longer clear who’s on your side and who’s not.”

That line by Shinoa reflects the main theme of this new episode of Owari no Seraph, and possibly of the season to come. On the battlefield, it was humans vs. vampires. Off it, all bets are off. Shinoa is worried Guren is using Yu for some dark purpose; Guren is worried about Yu switching sides when the Hiiragis summon him for an interview; the powerful Hiiragis, who essentially run the human resistance against vampiredom, have clearly been spooked by recent events, and suspect spies are in their midst.

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Meanwhile, Yu has pretty much fully recovered form his battle wounds, Shinoa is her usual, artificially bubbly and chipper self around him, always deflecting more serious matters…until it comes to the Hiiragis. She warns Yu that they’re scary. Guren makes an appeal to Yu’s loyalty to his family, which now consists of his unit. Mitsu warns Yu that they’re terrifying. 

But Mitsu also laments that she was promoted despite not doing anything of note on the battlefield. The New Yu who was born last season comes out here, expressing his support for her promotion rather than mocking her family connections. A lot of this show revolves around things the protagonist has little or no idea of, and the fact both Shinoa and Mitsu come from big families escaped him all this time, and in any case wouldn’t have affected their status as his family.

Still, even if she’s half-joking in deadpan, it’s a little unsettling for Shinoa to accuse Mitsu of ratting Yu out in exchange for that promotion.

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When Yu arrives at the Hiiragi “interview”, he first has to dispose of a captive vampire, then cross swords with both Hiiragi Kureto and Hiiragi Shinya. Kureto in particular isn’t all that pleased with Yu flaunting his ignorance, both of who Kureto is, and how much he still has to learn about Cursed Gear.

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But the trio of Hiiragi’s in that office aren’t half as scary as the ones who enter a dark room with a one-way mirror, revealing Shiho and Yoichi, bound and beaten. Kureto is convinced Yu is a vampire spy, and if he can’t convince him otherwise, he’s going to kill the two them. It’s a taut, tense scene, one in which the classic shonen hero is put on trial by the bureaucracy that has been in the shadows all along.

Yu doesn’t say anything particularly convincing, but the answers he does give help Kureto figure out for himself that Yu was rescued by Guren for a purpose, which must have something to do with the fact Yu was a human experimentation subject for the Hyakuya vampires. Yu dismisses all this as some bullshit feud between Kureto and Guren.

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When Yu finally emerges with Shiho and Yoichi to a relieved Mitsu and Shinoa, the camera pans around to reveal Guren is there too, only far away. The distance signified to me the lack of trust everyone in the unit has for him right now. But he admits he rescued Yu because he had value, and he says all the other right things to keep Yu on his side, for now.

As for Mika, who it seems will always be on Yu’s side if he has any say in the matter, is dealing with blood withdrawal, but refuses a human child Ferid offers as food to arrest his aging. This scene seemed to me a way to again portray Ferid as an awful guy, while the possibility exists he’s working with Guren—perhaps the very vampire spy the Hiiragis are looking for—against the vampire leadership.

The Hiiragis are Guren and Ferid’s enemy. Tepes is Guren and Ferid’s enemy. So are they operating in an “enemy of my enemy is my friend” mode? Whatever the case may be, Yu, Shinoa & Co. will clearly need to watch their backs vigilantly this season, and not just against vampires.

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OverLord – 13 (Fin)

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In a battle so epic it needed two parts, Momonga—sorry, Ains Ooal Gown—turns the tables for good. Having told Shalltear that everything has gone according to plan, he transforms into “Perfect Warrior”, the armor of Lord Touch Me, a former playmate. He then proceeds to summon superweapon after superweapon, so fast and unpredictably is the onslaught that Shalltear must abandon defense altogether and focus on offense, losing an arm in the process.

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But Shalltear wasted all her skills and most of her MP in the first half of the battle, when she thought the two participants were a lot more evenly matched. Turns out, Ains was simply lying to her, as well as failing to correct her incorrect assumptions about his weaknesses. The only weaknesses Ains had against Shalltear were dealt with in that first half, which is why he thanks her so profusely before Part Two begins.

Once a timer goes off, Ains dispenses altogether with the fiction that Shalltear had the slightest chance against him and casts “Fallen Down.” As she utterly disintegrates in the light of her overlord’s power, a smile marks Shalltear’s face. He was every bit as great as she thought, and then some. Of course she couldn’t win against him.

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The same reason Ains had all those cool weapons is the same reason he’s able to ultimately resurrect Shalltear, albeit, unexpectedly, without her ample bosom (something she laments once she notices). That reason is cold hard cash. I’ve played my fair share of RPGs long after the main quest is complete and amassed fortunes so large I could buy everything there was to buy, which is what Ains does. And while it costs a cool 500 million to resurrect Shalltear, it isn’t as if there was anything else for him to buy.

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It’s all too common for villains to simply disappear into oblivion, cursing the name of the hero who defeated them. OverLord is different. Not only is Ains not a hero but an antihero, but Shalltear isn’t a villain either; she was under mind control, which we learn was only partial, but it still did the trick in terms of having her rebel against Ains. And she comes right back, mostly the same as she was, and certainly just as in love with the adorable Ainsy-Winesy.

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With Shalltear returned to the fold and Nazarick back at full strength, Ains gets back to work, learning all there is to be learned about this new world he finds himself in. He’s awarded Orichalcum Plate, and plots to fortify Nazarick and discover the entities who tried to steal Shalltear’s Mind—we learn they’re from the Slane Theocracy, and they’re not done yet. We also learn that Brain Unglaus is still alive, as Stronoff finds him in an alley.

There’s no official indication at the end of this extended epilogue that there will be a second season OverLord, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was, whether it’s in Winter or next Spring or Summer. There’s certainly plenty of material left to explore, lots of awesome one-sided battles to be fought (and perhaps some not so one-sided), and, of course, the central mystery of What Exactly Happened to the human MMORPG player inside Lord Ains. Though, at the same time, I’m kind of glad weren’t spoon-fed all the answers.

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OverLord – 12

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As it did so marvelously with the Clementine fight (which was nowhere near as technically challenging as this one), OverLord once again delivers with an extremely fun and satisfying payoff to all of the buildup surrounding Ains’ duel with Shalltear. The battle that took up most of this episode’s running time got my adrenaline pumping and didn’t let up, right up to the delicious ending.

And yet it still gave us some time to check in on Ains’ guardians back at Nazarick. Albedo admits she let Ains go based on emotion rather than logic—a decision she likely wouldn’t have made had Ains not altered her personality to love him deeply. Demiurge, who he didn’t alter, thinks they’re being derelict in their duty to protect the one remaining supreme being by fighting in his place, but Cocytus considers it blasphemy that Demiurge would question Lord Ains’ orders or question his ability to win.

The bottom line: No one is going to interfere in this fight. So, like us, they sit back and watch. And let me tell you: they’re treated to quite a show.

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When Ains confronts Shalltear once more, she’s still inert and unresponsive, allowing him to cast a variety of high-level buffs that will prove crucial in surviving her attacks as well as doling out his own. Here’s the full list of pre-battle spells:

  • Body of Effulgent Beryl
  • Fly
  • Bless of Magic Caster
  • Infinity Wall
  • Magic Ward, Holy
  • Life Essence
  • Greater Full Potential
  • Freedom
  • False Data, Life
  • See Through
  • Paranormal Intuition
  • Greater Resistance
  • Mantle of Chaos
  • Indomitability
  • Sensor Boost
  • Greater Luck
  • Magic Boost
  • Draconic Power
  • Greater Hardening
  • Heavenly Aura
  • Absorption
  • Penetrate Up
  • Greater Magic Shield
  • Mana Essence
  • Triplet Maximize Magic, Explode Mine
  • Triplet Magic, Greater Magic Seal
  • Triplet Maximize Boosted Magic, Magic Arrow

That’s a lot of buffs, but it’s exactly what one expects of such a high-level fight. And while there’s some fun to be had in having your way with lesser enemies, squaring off against an opponent that will actually put up a fight—an optional super-boss, for instance— is one of the unique joys of RPG play. Watching Ain buff himself took me back to my own preparation for Yiazmat, the strongest foe in FFXII who has 50,112,254 HP in fifty separate million-HP bars.

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That level of preparation amplifies the sense of occasion, and Ains’ internal monologue establishes that even he doesn’t know exactly how this is going to go down. Then the fight begins, and a red battle armor-donning Shalltear cuts loose, matching Ains blow for blow. He surprises her with a few traps and attacks (and bluffs about more, knowing he must preserve his MP), but she has a few skills he’s not aware of, which he’s never witnessed her using but which she assures him her creator Peroroncino built into her.

Most intriguing of all, there are moments when Shalltear realizes she has no idea why she’s even fighting her former master, but then whatever parameters were overwritten to make her rebel (or which activated after a timer went off) kick in, and she presses her attack.

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Reality, Lightning, Fire, Dark, Holy; elemental and non-elemental magic flies in both directions, with moves and counter-moves coming as quickly as the two combatants can call out the enchantments. Indeed, the one thing I think the battle could have benefitted from was more of an enchantment “shorthand”. Sure, it’s impressive that all Ains and Shally have to do to cast ridiculously powerful spells is say the name of that spell, but the lengthy English spell names are a double-edged sword, giving the spells weight but also slowing the casting pace.

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But who cares about long spell names, when we’re treated to Lord Ains conjures an effing Sharknado. (He calls it a “Shark Cyclone”, but still, pretty sweet). I also enjoyed the seemingly mono-directional stream of light-spears that suddenly change direction and hit Shalltear, surprising both her and us. The two just keep pulling out of their bags of tricks.

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But Ains is slowly draining his MP, and Shalltear knows it. Hoping to break the stalemate, she summons her trump card (but probably not her only one), an ethereal doppelganger, Einherjar, as well as her “household” of lesser beasts. Ein lunges at Ains while Shalltear kills her own beasts in order to heal herself. But Ains is ready, activating the skill “The Goal of All Life is Death”; a giant clock counts down, and when the hands reach twelve, both Einherjar and the household disappear, leaving Ains and Shalltear alone again in the midst of a sandy desert where the forest glade once stood.

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Their surroundings thus drastically transformed, the two combatants assess their present state. Both are nearly out of MP, and Shalltear is almost out of skills, but she has all of her HP, and she believes the battle is all but wrapped up. But it would seem Ains was coy even in his internal thoughts, as he expresses to Shally how grateful he is she went all out and fought him with everything she had to this point, believing draining his MP would be the key to defeating him.

But that’s not the case: by not fighting him cautiously, she allowed him to arrange an even larger plan beyond the battle plan executed thus far. And next week, it will be time to show her just how badly she miscalculated. I can’t wait.

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OverLord – 11

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Last week demonstrated just how dark and nasty Shalltear can be, but she was also neutralized by a mysterious force in a forest clearing, and the true nature of her condition was not elaborated on with great detail. In effect, we were as in the dark as Ains. This week, he works to shed some light on what exactly is going on.

He uses a God-level item to locate Shalltear, and then he’s summoned by the Adventurer’s Guild. He tells them the vampiress is someone he’s been hunting for years, and if he nabs her—and he’s pretty confident he will—he wants Orichalcum, none of this Mythril mess.

When other adventurers accompany Ains on the hunt, even though he warned them they’d definitely die if they did, he makes good on that warning by having Mare kill them. That’s some Ice Cold Ains.

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The expected confrontation with Shalltear comes surprisingly quick, and is surprisingly brief. The episode subverts expectations that Ains can undo what’s been done to Shalltear with an ultra-rare item which enables its wielder to make a wish, by having the ring reject his wish. Shalltear remains still and silent. It’s then, when Ain’s rare “super tier” magic item fails to work, that he decides to beat a hasty retreat to reassess his tactics. I like how the show doesn’t always make things laughably easy for the big lug.

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I also like how he was holding back, even with that wishing ring; he’s got loads more trump cards locked up in his fancy treasury, minded by a guard of his own creation: Pandora’s Actor. The shapeshifting sentinel initially appears as a supreme being like Ains: Albedo’s creator; which is a pretty great shock when it happens, for it momentarily confirms he’s not alone on this world, nor is he unchallengable in power.

However, it’s just Pandora’s Actor, whom Ains hasn’t seen in a while and, now that he’s older, realizes how goshdarn lame the fellow is, what with his saluting and German (though I agree his threads are pretty sweet). I appreciated this scene of relative levity despite the solemnity of the task before Ains; he’s been at this game so long, he’s literally no longer the young man he once was: a guy who made goofy characters like Pandora thinking they’re cool, or who saved up all summer for the Shooting Star ring.

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Things return to seriousness when Ains and Albedo travel deeper into the depths of the treasury, into a mausoleum where he raised statues for each of his former comrades before they retired from Yggdrasil. Albedo remarks on the fact he calls it a mausoleum, and wonders out loud if Ain’s Supreme bretheren are dead and gone. He says that’s not quite the case, but wonders to himself if it actually is. This isn’t a game anymore, after all.

Finally, after showing Albedo the sconce where he plans to raise a statue of himself, Albedo can’t take it anymore, and begs her great lord to stay in this world and rule over everyone—over her—forever. He then tells her, he’s come to collect enough world-level items to face off against Shalltear, knowing he’s probably the only one who can stand against her (a revision of my understanding that Albedo was the second-toughest of the Guardians, or maybe Ains is talking about Shalltear in her current state).

With her tears and determination, she eventually gets him to promise to come back from the fight, no matter what ends up happening. But the truth is, Ains is using this Shalltear dilemma as an opportunity to prove to himself he’s worthy of being the Overlord of Nazarick, or if he’s in over his bony little head.

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