DanMachi IV – 11 (Part 1 Fin) – The Banquet Continues

When we last saw Bell he looked…pretty dead! Fortunately, Ryuu soon finds a pulse—the Goliath Scarf Lili and Welf gave him saved his life. Ryuu keeps him alive by tying off his arm and healing him, but he’s still unconscious when Bors and what’s left of his party arrive and become the Juggernaut’s next targets.

Ryuu saves Bors by coming between him and the beast’s initial strike, and she’s even able to kinda fight it, though she soon suffers too many wounds to continue. There also apparently isn’t adequate time to warn Bors & Co. that their magic will be reflected back onto them. When the dust clears, only Bors is still alive, and only thanks to a magic dagger that is now dust.

The force of the reflected magic sends Bell rolling into the river, where he’s found by Marie. Would it be nice if Marie were more than just a plot device with fins? Sure, but that will have to suffice, as she uses her magic mermaid blood to reattach his severed arm and heal him.

The last episode’s one saving grace is that it truly raised the stakes by having Bell taken out so easily. I thought he’d have to deal with having only one arm at least until he returned to the surface where it could be treated by higher healing. So while Marie’s healing powers have been demonstrated, this frankly feels like a cop-out.

Regardless, it at least puts Bell back in the fight, and this time he knows how to fight the Juggernaut: with numerous precise strikes to its legs to slow it down. Ryuu, who is still out of commission, can only watch and marvel at how much stronger “Cranel-san” has become since they last crossed paths.

She yells to him when it looks like he’s going to repeat his mistake of launching a Fire Bolt at his foe, but this time he uses the Goddess Blade to absorb all of the magic the Juggernaut reflects back, which he then uses for an all-or-nothing coup-de-grace.

Unfortunately, when the dust clears, the Juggernaut isn’t defeated; it’s merely stunned and wounded. Worse, this is exactly what Jura (remember him?) wanted, as it enables him to attach a beast-taming magic stone to Juggernaut. After a little more maniacal laughing, he cracks his whip, hoping to finish Bell and Ryuu off once and for all. But Juggernaut either can’t be tamed, or just can’t be tamed by someone of Jura’s level.

It turns on him immediately slicing him clean in half. Let it never be said that the Juggernaut never did anything right, and let us hope that’s the end of the maniacal laughing. Unfortunately, it’s far from the end of the ordeal, and Jura’s final whip-crack attracts a still-alive Lambton, who then proceeds to swallow up both the immobile Ryuu and a Bell lunging after her.

Back up at the 25th Floor, Cassandra is doing everything she can to keep Lili and the others from descending any deeper without spilling the beans about her premonition. But while her vision seemingly didn’t factor in Marie’s clutch assist, it turns out the banquet of tragedy is only getting started. The 27th Floor’s Boss, Amphisbaena, an impressively huge two-headed dragon, is now Lili’s crew’s new opponent, and there’s seemingly nowhere to hide.

As for Bell and Ryuu? He blasts them out of the Lambton’s stomach, but they only end up out of the frying pan and into the freezer. Remembering Eina Tulle telling him different parts of the Dungeon have different colored walls, he notices the walls here are white, which means the Lambton transported them all the way down to the Deep Floors, an area known as the White Palace where death is around every corner even for the most elite (and unwounded) adventurers.

So yeah, Bell and Ryuu are in deep shit, and Lili and the others aren’t that much better off. I honestly don’t know how they’re going to get out of this one, but I very much want to find out, so both cliffhangers can be considered an unqualified success!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

P.S. Looks like that’s it for this cour! DanMachi IV will continue in Winter 2023.

DanMachi IV – 10 – Game Over, Man

When Marie hears the shouts of agony from the Dungeon itself, all she can do is stay below the water and cover her ears; later, she wishes she was by Bell’s side again. But unfortunately for most of this episode, Bell and Ryuu are simply standing around as they express outrage at what Jura has done.

Jura, in turn, laughs maniacally as he describes his diabolical scheme, then laughs some more. Rinse, repeat. It got to the point I actually said to the TV “Alright already, enough build-up…let’s get to it!”

Not helping matters is that the static, repetitive scenes of Bell, Ryuu, and Jura are interspersed with scenes of Ouranos delivering exposition to Fels via magic telephone. It’s all very dull and plodding, not what you want when trying to build tension for the Dungeon’s most vicious beast.

When Bell’s party starts to hear the screams from below, Lili prepares to head down to see if they can help, which is quite possibly the dumbest thing she has ever attempted. Thankfully, a weeping Cassandra stops her and tells them they’re only alive right now because they’re here.

The beast itself is…kinda weak looking? Like some kind of giant emaciated, skeletal horse-mutant. Maybe that’s the point; even Bell notes that it has barely any armor, even as a well-placed strike from his sword simply bounces off. It does kill a great number of the adventurers in the Ryu hunting party through slicing in half, dismemberment, and straight-up glomping, but the vast majority of its victims are nameless NPCs.

It isn’t until Bell says enough and charges at the beast that we truly learn just how deep into the shit everyone is. Bell is level four, and has learned a lot in his short time on these lower floors, but against the Juggernaut, as it’s known, he might as well be one of those scores of Bors’ adventurers getting cut in half. None of his attacks have any effect, and Juggs is far faster than he anticipated.

By the end of the episode, Bell’s right arm has been sliced off, he’s been thrown across the cavern like a ragdoll, and the life is fading from his eyes. Considering he may be the strongest adventurer down there, that’s not a good sign. He’s no longer in any condition to even dodge the Juggernaut’s next attack, which begs the question of who (or what) will come to save the day—or at least get him and Ryuu to safety?

DanMachi IV – 09 – Somebody Set Us Up the Bomb

Will Bell have to fight his friend in order to stop her from murdering Jura? Well…no, because after Ryuu insists she didn’t kill Jean, it only takes a couple of “gotcha” questions for him to determine that Jura has been setting Ryuu up this whole time. Right on cue, Jura sports a villainous smirk and (somewhat forced-sounding) cackle.

Jura, a monster-tamer, has a surprise for Ryuu and Bell: a Lambton, which is not Lamb-themed Reggeton but a giant burrowing snake from the lower floors. Jura is controlling it with a magical stone around its collar that responds to a similar magical stone on Jura’s whip. A second Lambton attacks Lili, Aisha, Welf, and the others.

The Lambtons’ movements seem erratic, but once Ryuu discovers a pattern, she asks Bell to back her up while she brings it down. When the great snake tries to go to ground, Bell stops it with a Fire Bolt, and Ryuu finishes it off with a Luminous Wind.

Bell’s Party defeats their Lambton by having Haruhime cast Level Boost on Welf and Ouka to serve as the party’s shield while the archers riddle its head with arrows, and finally Aisha chops off its head with a Hell Kaios. They got the tools, they got the talent. It’s Miller Time.

But Cassandra is worried. This can’t be the disaster that causes a “banquet of tragedy”. Sure enough, it’s just the appetizer: Jura and the Lambtons were just stalling for time while Turk and the other anti-Ryuu squad mined the entire level with blazerocks. Once ignited, Jura helpfully explains that the Dungeon is made “delirious”.

This, in turn, awakens “Despair”, which like the Lambton has glowing red eyes. While Ryuu has fought Lambtons before, one look at her face, equal parts shock, anger, and fear, says it all: this guy is trouble. Unfortunately, this episode didn’t feel like much more than what it was: stalling for time before the main course.

86 – 11 (Fin) – All Over but the Crying

We arrive at October 30th, the day the five remaining members of Spearhead get into a scrap with the Legion and lose Fido as well as all but Shin’s Juggernaut. Things are getting desperate and they’re running low on ammo, fuel, and food, which means soon their recon mission will be at an end. All of them know what that means, but rather than dwell on that, they simply keep living their lives until the time fate decides to take them.

This means taking shifts piloting the ‘naut while the others rest or watch the rear from the remaining cargo bot. Thanks to Shin’s instincts and a rainstorm they manage to evade another Legion patrol, but the Legion become more legion by the day. The group finds an abandoned town and decide to take shelter in a school—the first school Kurena’s ever been to. They take a final roll call, and “graduate” the next day.

When they hit a literal wall of sheer rock, Shin suddenly asks to switch with Anju, who is piloting, claiming he’s bored. Once they switch, he cuts the tether to split off from the others and uses his grappler to bring down some rocks so they won’t follow. He sensed more Legion were coming; Legion they wouldn’t escape unless he lured them away. The others aren’t okay with this. Raiden, Anju, Kurena and Theo all agree to go after him.

With no Juggernauts, they have to go on foot, and arrive just as Shin’s ride is trashed and a Legion prepares to crack it open like a tin of sardines and claim his head. Only the weakest of the charging Legion are susceptible to their small arms, and even then only headshots, and there are too many of them. First Theo, then everyone else goes down fighting. The light of the Legion prepares to take Shin’s head—but he has his sidearm. Does it succeed?

We finally check in on Lena, who is under house arrest for her little stunt with the mortars. Even so, she pays a visit to the front lines, and to Spearhead’s HQ. A new group of 86 are being processed. The cycle continues.

Lena is greeted by Lt. Albrecht, who reveals he’s an Alba like her whose wife and daughter were 86 and died in battle. Thanks to Shin, he was given a measure of solace in knowing they didn’t become Legion, as Shin never heard them call Albrecht’s name.

Lena then walks through the now abandoned living space like a ghost looking so out of place after having been in essentially another world the whole time. It’s just so heartbreaking that by the time she was finally able to make it here, everyone she spoke to over the Para-RAID was already gone.

While the cycle of using 86 as cannon fodder continues, there was at least a crucial change. Lena and Shin forged a genuine connection, and it rubbed off on the others too, as they left her a memento: Theo’s drawing of her with handwritten notes from him, Shin, Raiden, Kurena, and Anju. More importantly, they left a Polaroid of the whole group, helpfully labelled by Theo “so she wouldn’t cry” about not being able to tell who was who.

In the end, as a practical matter, all Lena was able to do by breaking protocol and getting in trouble was extend the five’s lives by a few more days. Instead of dying on one battlefield, they died on another. But with Fido gone and his records destroyed, Lena now holds some of the last remaining artifacts of their existence—other than the wrecks and bodies they left behind somewhere out there, after reaching their final destinations.

Lena will surely treasure these things, as well as the cat left in her care, but they’re also primed to fuel her continued rebellion against the broken evil system she’s blindly served for too long. She couldn’t end the injustice for Shin and the others, but perhaps with enough allies and some luck, she can end it for others. Or maybe not. But like them, she’ll fight until fate comes for her.

Maybe then they’ll all get to finally reunite…for the first time.

So ends the first cour of 86. What a powerful show. We’ve known since the start there would definitely be a second one, but now we know there will be a “Special Episode” in between the two. What I’m a little fuzzy on is what exactly became of Shin.

I’d like to hope he managed to shoot himself in the head, and that seems to be supported by the fact he reunites with his brother, whom we know he freed from the Legion. We also see Shin’s headless body. But nothing is certain, which is why I’ll just have to keep watching to find out.

86 – 10 – We’ve Come This Far

86 eschews dialogue and even diagetic sound, sticking with visuals and music to tell the story of Spearhead’s newfound freedom. Followed by their ever-trusty robot porter Fido, Raiden, Theo, Kurena, Anju and a far happier, less haunted Shin continue their “deep recon” mission by heading further and further from their Republic minders, camping out and keeping a low profile as columns of Legion pass by in the night.

It’s so nice to finally see these good kids get to live like the kids they are, not always having to worry about going into battle or being killed or being turned into a Legion. Being in the vivid blues, greens, and purples of nature make for a nice change of pace from their usual gunmetal grays and blood reds. They wash their uniforms, and trip to an old Imperial town nets them a boiler in which to heat a much-appreciated bath.

Shin is smiling and laughing the whole time, but still seems distracted by something, though it’s no longer his brother, whom he’s satisfied is now at rest. Like the others, I feared the worst when they woke up to find him gone, but Raiden remembered the tunnel in the town Shin took a good look at, and it leads them to a zoo where he’s found an immobile Legion with the brain of an 86, which Shin puts out of its misery.

The five stare for a long time at the skeleton of an elephant and other beasts who died locked behind bars, and wonder if they’ll end up the same way. It’s Fido, of all of them, who tells them to stop talking about such things and keep moving forward. While Raiden withdraws his question of whether Shin will be going across the water by himself—and possibly to the good Major, who doesn’t appear this week—he probably already knows the answer.

After the credits roll with almost ten minutes left, we get a retrospective of sorts of the life of Fido, starting with him finding and befriending Shin. He’s been there since this most recent cycle of Spearhead began, and probably before that, and all this time has been capturing all of these small moments of joy and grief. Shots of characters long gone smiling and playing are shown, then immediately juxtaposed of images from the day they died.

The most foreboding and indeed deeply upsetting moment we see happens at the very end, with Fido, and all of the memories he contained that for many of the 86 represented their only record of having existed on this earth, is blown up, most likely by Legion, on October 30, the latest date we’ve seen so far.

On one level, I have to think Shin and the others will be alright, even if Fido very clearly isn’t. And even with Fido’s stored “memories” have gone up in smoke, those five still carry memories of the fallen—all 576 of them, including Shin’s brother. The question is, assuming they’re alright, what will become of them? Will Shin find a way to get to Lena? I suspect next week’s season one finale will focus exclusively on her, and what progress if any she’s made in her one-woman crusade to save the soul of her nation.

86 – 09 – No Signal

“If you find yourself alone, riding in green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled…for you are in Elysium, and you are already dead!”—Maximus

This week, Spearhead, whose living members now consist only of Kurena, Raiden, Theo, Anju, and Shin, ride out into a vast, dark, and bleak battlefield, where the five of them must face hundreds if not thousands of Legion, because they were never even meant to make it thisfar in their military “careers”.

Of course, Shin has something else in mind: he’s singularly invested in finding his brother and putting him out of his misery. He orders Raiden to take over the unit and find cover in the nearby forest, but his four comrades aren’t about to leave him. Instead, they do what they can to give Shin a clear shot at Shourei.

As it turns out, Lena has a surprise in store for all of them: she managed to get access to the republic mortars, while also being able to swap vision in one of her eyes with Raiden so she can target more precisely. In that split second, Raiden—and only Raiden—catches a glimpse of their “pig princess” Handler.

When Lena prepares to launch a massive mortar attack on Shourei Legion’s position—which is also where Shin is, dodging and grappling—the others are apprehensive: doe she mean to kill Shin too? Far from it; instead, she’s giving Shin the opening he needs.

The impacting mortars are represented in Shourei’s mind by the young Lena slapping him into something resembling coherence, and acceptance that Shin no longer needs his brother to look after him. Instead, his brother needs to know that he’ll be at rest.

The opening is created, and Shin takes his shot, saying goodbye to his brother and then sobbing his eyes out both in grief over his brother’s loss and relief that he’s no longer a technological abomination who wasn’t allowed to die naturally.

From here we shift to Lena’s little control room, and she heeds Raiden’s call to shut off the link for now, as Shin wouldn’t want anyone hearing him cry. She then turns to a sullen-looking Annette sitting in the corner with laptops. We go back a bit to before the battle, when Lena visits Annette despite Annette saying she didn’t want to see her again.

Lena tells Annette that her old neighbor Shin is none other than Undertaker of the Spearhead unit, that she speaks to him every day, and that this is now Annette’s third chance to save him, the first two times having run away. While at first apathetic, knowing it’s Shin forces Annette’s hand. She calls Lena “the devil” for pulling such a stunt, but Lena simply says “that’s right; I am…and so are you.” Better to be devils who care.

With what was supposed to be the battle that should have wiped out Spearhead once and for all ending in unlikely victory thanks in large part to Annette’s hacking, Shin and the others give their heartfelt thanks to Lena, as well as tease her for having turned into a “bad girl” by breaking the rules to save them.

But after that, the group continues their advance without further input from Lena. In fact, all she can say as they head closer and closer to a foreboding “UNKNOWN” area is “please don’t leave me!” It occurs to her that while she made little drawings of them, her only connection to them is the Para-RAID, and soon the distance between them will grow too great to maintain that connection.

Lena bolts out of her control room and runs out of the headquarters, out into the streets, and just keeps running, all while Kurena, Raiden, Anju, Theo, and Shin describe their surroundings, mentioning a “cathedral” the same time we see the one in Lena’s capital, and describing flowers that fall when you touch them carpeting the ground.

As they approach at the barrier of District 86 and the limits of the Republic’s control area, Lena’s desperate dash to maintain reception ends with her losing a heel and ending up collapsed on a lonely cobblestone bridge, suddenly, heartbreakingly alone. Her Para-RAID blinks out, and back at HQ the signals of the five remaining members of Spearhead are lost.

Losing  Spearhead is just one of many burdens Lena will have to bear if she’s truly serious about helping all Eighty Six—not just the ones with which she cultivated a quasi-friendship. Her resolute insistence on Doing What’s Right despite being a devil demands she keep doing what she can—as long as she is able—to end the unjust suffering of the oppressed.

Kakushigoto – 09 – The Time Traveling Virtuoso

We’re nearing the end of June IRL, but in the world of Hidden Things December has come. That means the harrowing end-of-year grind when editors crack the whip on the creatives. So why is Kakushi’s team so upbeat? Because they’re expecting the reward of a fancy hotel Christmas party at the end of the tunnel. Kakushi was originally not going to go, but will use whatever methods of motivation are needed to get through the grind.

Leave it to Tomaruin to pop everyone’s balloon of motivation by informing them that due to the publishing recession the company will only be holding a modest bar-and-karaoke gathering. Still, Rasuna scrounges up an invite from a rival publisher Kakushi worked for a while ago, and they are having a fancy party they can attend. Kakushi can even bring Hime, since it’s unlikely anyone there will recognize him as a mangaka.

Throughout this talk of parties is a discussion on the use of titles like “sensei” or “virtuoso” to describe mangakas. Those on the rungs below a manga artist use them as terms of respect; editors use them mockingly or as an expression of resentment. Naturally, Tomaruin calls Kakushi both, and for both reasons!

Kakushi likes the idea of showing Hime the “dignity” of his fake office job through a fancy party, and to correct her misapplication of the word “chandelier” to more lowly disco balls. He even digs himself a bit of a hole by calling December by its old Japanese name, Shiwasu, describing it as a time “when all the senseis are running” (due to the end-of-year grind).

Hime’s penchant for misinterpreting words means she starts to believe that all runners she sees are senseis, even though all senseis are runners—including her dad when he runs to get her after a misunderstanding regarding party invitations.

Tomaruin (perpetual thorn in Kakushi’s side, him!) invites Nadila to the lame party, so she take Hime there instead of the fancy hotel. Having already seen a “chandelier” at the karaoke, Hime assigns the term “Cinderella” to the real chandelier at the hotel, since it resembles that character’s flowing dress.

Kakushi learns he’s safe in his suit (no higher-ups at the rival publisher will suspect a mangaka of wearing one), but he has a different problem: that’s right, Tomaruin. He crashes the party hoping to poach an artist, and looks for one based on their outward appearance. In this case, since female artists are popular, a girl in a frilly dress flanked by a man in a suit.

The first such person to match that description…is Hime. She thankfully doesn’t recognize Tomaruin, but by taking back the business card given to her, Kakushi learns that it’s not the first Hime has gotten. Despite Hime’s misgivings, she actually attracts a lot of attention as a child magazine model.

When word spreads that there’s a poacher from a rival publisher, the exits are blocked. Tomaruin is dressed up dingily by Kakushi and the assistants in order to escape safely, but Kakushi himself is briefly suspected as the poacher—he’s wearing a suit, after all!

The misunderstanding is cleared up when a higher-up recognizes him. He’s reimbursed for his destroyed suit, but the bare-chested Kakushi needs some covering to leave, and must settle for the same embarrassing loli shirt Tomaruin wore to pose as a mangaka.

It’s a night of books incorrectly judged by their covers, but Hime still had a lot of fun, and Kakushi’s true profession remains a secret, so we’ll call it a win for him. Before heading home, the father and daughter encounter the “virtuoso” of chandeliers: a dazzling LED stylized Christmas tree Hime calls a “Super Cinderella.” Kakushi wisely doesn’t try to correct her…let her have her own adorable terms for things!

The ever-so-brief obligatory flash forward provides one more clue about Kakushi’s future status in the form of another incorrect term: “disappeared”. His former assistant Shiji, now working at a bookstore, sells a book to a customer about three mangakas who disappeared, one of whom is Kakushi, before quietly declaring that a lie. My first thought? He kept drawing, but merely changed pen names. In any case, I’m fearing the worst about this future less and less.

Kakushigoto – 08 – Surpassing the Rough Draft

This episode’s first half concerns rough drafts of all kinds, starting with the rough draft of Hime’s new Puppy, whose name is still accompanied by (Tentative). Hime wants the puppy’s name to be perfect, but if she waits too long, it won’t know what name to answer to.

Hime’s own name wasn’t chosen by Kakushi—it was unveiled in a calligraphy ceremony to which he was just another spectator. Still, he can’t deny it’s a damn good name, regardless of where it came from. Similarly, Hime picks “Gotou Roku” after misunderstanding the pet registrar.

Kakushi has actually attached (Tentative) to the title of all his manga, only for the (Tentative) to be eventually dropped in the absence of a better name. Once a name is chosen, even a tentative one, it becomes harder to justify changing it as time goes on.

This phenomenon also applies to rough drafts, in which Kakushi can never quite match in ink the full essence of the original pencil-drawn line. This, despite the fact that finished manga requires ink, leading him to attempt to submit the rough drafts—a submission quickly rejected by the brass.

While on a visit to the storage house in Kamakura to return the painting of his wife and her dog, Kakushi stumbles across another painting by his father-in-law: a portrait of him, his wife, and Hime enjoying a meal in that very house. It’s titled “Ordinary Future Plans (Tentative)”, but the title isn’t what’s tentative, the future is.

It’s a beautiful, idealized initial vision Kakushi feels he’s not yet been able to surpass, and  may never be able to do so. But simply returning home to Hime to find she’s made a friend, Kayo, who claims Hime “saved her” by reaching out with a hand of friendship, helps puts things in perspective for Kakushi.

The second half of the episode is about anniversaries, be they weird random ones like the 38th anniversary of the comic book in which Kakushi’s manga appears (which can sometimes spell desperation and trouble ahead), to something more round and substantial, like the 100th chapter of his manga. The former has a fancy crest and heavy promotion; the latter goes largely un-celebrated, but for a “flash mob” frame Rasuna snuck in.

When Hime hides something she’s reading from Kakushi when he comes home, he suspects she may have received a love letter, and tells her to politely decline while following her to see what swine would try to ask his Hime out. It turns out to be an invite to a birthday party, which Hime actually wants to go to. She only wavers because she’s worried about all the extra work Pops would have to do for her birthday party.

Doing his best to realign her priorities from “not troubling daddy” to “celebrating milestones while she still can”, Kakushi assures her that not only will he be honored to work his butt off throwing an awesome party to which she can invite anyone and everyone she wants, but they’ll also have a party that’s just the two of them (plus Roku).

That last bit is important, because as soon as Hime sees Kakushi with the pretty cooking tutor in the kitchen, she becomes weary of losing her very important and exclusive father-daughter bond. That bond may not have been planned, nor did Kakushi plan on “being saved” by Hime like her new friend Kayo. But before he knew it, the (Tentative) became the final.

As Hime learns upon discovering a house in Kamakura just like the one she grew up in Nakameguro, which has a stained glass window depicting a happy family of three, a great deal was planned out prior to her awareness, from methods of upbringing to clothing and celebration guides. But it dawns on her that this house, which was initially meant to be her home, was abandoned in favor of the other house.

An older Tomaruin and Rasuna muse over the practicalities of Kakushi moving to an identical house closer to the city, in part so his assistants wouldn’t have to travel so far to work on manga with him. But despite not growing up in that first draft house in Kamakura, it’s clear Hime still had a happy childhood in its second draft in Nakameguro.

Chihayafuru 3 – 19 – Hollow Man

I don’t like Master Suo.

I don’t like his creepily soft voice, or his obsession with sweets, or the way he macks on Chihaya, or the way he plays karuta, or the way he’s clogging up a throne I’d rather see Arata in sooner rather than later. The show hasn’t gone out of its way to make him a likable character, as it has so many others whose backstories we only get at a crucial point in a match, but at least this week it makes the attempt.

Suo has always seen himself as “hollow,” taken away from deadbeat parents to live in the main family’s house full of relations young and old. One of his aunts took him under her wing, insisting that he one day “make something of himself.” We learn that he has the same affliction she has that narrows the field of vision and may one day blind him.

He doesn’t learn of this prognosis until he’s already attempted several different paths and, not feeling passion for any of them, moved on to another. It’s a pretty lady at college who first attracts him to karuta, and like everything else he picks it up quickly.

That young woman gets a boyfriend who’s not him, but he still becomes so good at karuta he scares opponents away, leading to the adoption of a playing style in which he intentionally narrows his margin of victory and forces opponents to fault. He feeds on the passion of others because he has none himself.

Sympathy for Suo can be found for those looking hard enough, in his unenviable parentage, his loyalty and devotion to his aunt and her wish for him to make something of himself, and the two ticking clocks in his eye sockets. Backed into a corner with no more room for slacking off, Suo then feeds off Dr. Harada’s passion in order to turn an eight-card deficit into a one-card advantage.

Dr. Harada has passion to spare, but after three games and change his knee is starting to howl, as he knew it would, hurting his focus. That knee makes him a little less surer of his form and speed, and a refocused Suo capitalizes. Kitano, well aware of Harada’s discomfort, looks past their decades of fierce rivalry, sees how close one of them is to beating him to the throne, and tosses his friend a cushion to ease the agony.

Over on the women’s side, it’s becoming clear to Shinobu that the cards have become fickle, and that some of them like Inokuma too. Shinobu makes it a point not to get into a luck-of-the-draw scenario, no longer sure the remaining cards will side with her.

In the end, Inokuma double-faults at the worst possible time, while Shinobu uses her left hand to reach confidently across the field. Inokuma is devastated and tearful by her loss, but Queen Wakamiya shows her kind side by asking Inokuma to count the cards, assuring her they still like her despite the loss.

That result gets Arata out of his sickbed and onto the subway, hoping to catch the end of the Master tournament in person. However, he probably should have stayed put, as there’s no guarantee he’ll get there in time, and the internet signal on his tablet cuts out every time his train goes into a tunnel (which, in tunnel-filled Japan, is often).

In between service interruptions, he manages to hear the word “luck”—Harada and Suo are in the luck-of-the-draw Shinobu managed to avoid. While I’m still not a big fan of Suo, and will be disappointed if after coming so close Dr. Harada comes up short, I at least understand the four-time Master a little better now. I just hope his musings this episode don’t set him up to not only win, but to decide not to retire.

After all, he’s still Master Suo…whom I dislike.

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 07 – Spilling Tea for Art’s Sake

Tsubame’s unyielding passion to capture the motion of the world around her through drawing started when she was in grade school, watching her grandma toss tea into the yard with a precise, practiced motion. The action fascinated her, and she yearned to master it herself so she could capture it in all its glory.

When she ended up in classes on how to stand, sit, and walk in preparation for her modeling career, Tsubame voraciously jotted down all the various motions, even discerning a better way for her infirm grandma to move and walk more comfortably. She carries that passion on in every frame of animation she’s drawing for this robot anime.

She does this in defiance of her mother’s insistence she not get involved in animation, but also in lieu of getting the proper amount of sleep or paying sufficient attention in class. Yet even if she’s sleep-deprived and her grades start to slip, there’s no alternative. Tsubame is gradually learning not to be a total perfectionist, but she’s never going to give anything less than 110% effort.

With Doumeki on board, the trio now have someone with far more audio know-how than the rest of them combined, but that just means she’s able to describe in precise demoralizing detail all of the challenges they face and the consequences of not properly harmonizing visuals and sound.

Meanwhile, Midori is presented artwork that the artists believe was following her instructions, but which she worries will fundamentally change the film they’re making. The artists need to be more flexible, but she needs to be more precise in her direction.

While I’m sure Sayaka considers it another strictly-business opportunity to give her talent a much-needed break, and it is their bathhouse visit after school is closed due to rain turns out to be a nice bonding experience. There’s a familial intimacy to bathing together that the team previously lacked.

It’s also fun to watch Midori dutifully call her very nice parents to let her know where she is and what she’s doing with whom, as well as the very rich Tsubame marveling at every aspect of the bathhouse experience, as well as insisting Sayaka douses Midori over and over so she can watch the motion of the water —much like she asked her granny to keep tossing tea.

The three then dine on crawfish after catching their fair share themselves (though they can’t eat the same fish they caught, as they must be purged of mud first, Midori points out), and Midori and Tsubame whip out their sketchbooks to capture their dinner in all its crustacean glory. Few moments of these young women’s lives seem to ever pass without them capturing it with pen or pencil on paper.

When the rain subsides, they return to their studio, and Tsubame gradually becomes frustrated with her animation of a chainsaw. After discussing possible remedies with Midori, the two bring in Sayaka, who thinks its fine and that they should watch it with sound. Sure enough, it makes more than enough impact for the quick cut…but Tsubame isn’t quite satisfied.

Both Midori and Tsubame consider anime to be the best way to appreciate movement, more so than even live action film, and that comes down to intent. The imagination, passion and effort of a great animator comes out in every frame of their work, lending it greater impact than a mere directed and photographed live-action actor.

Tsubame isn’t looking to “make people smile” with her anime. She wants to be able to wow people like her, who can’t help but spot every potential flaw or revelation; notice every triumph or defeat. By being her own harshest, uncompromising critic, an artiste like Tsubame could potentially problems for a production on a shoestring budget and tight deadline.

But doggone it, the eventual visual rewards of letting her go wild are well worth the pain. It’s why Sayaka is almost always irritated and annoyed, but she’ll gladly bear those emotions if it results in an exceptional—and profitable—final product. When you successfully harness the chaotic energy of special talents and personalities, great things can happen. And like a rocket taking off, the sky’s the limit.

Chihayafuru 3 – 18 – Right Now is Everything

As her grandmother surfs her regular TV in vain, (somehow) unaware the tournament is streaming online, Shinobu loses her focus. She can’t hear the cards, and loses to Haruka, tying them at one game apiece.

It’s the first game in Queen tournament play she’s ever lost, and everyone is shocked. A lethargic Suo drops the second game in a row to Dr. Harada, meaning both Master and Queen are in check: one more loss means losing their titles.

During the two-hour break for the women, Haruka experiences acute morning sickness. The timing sucks, but she’s hoping this means her third child will be a daughter. As she tells Rion, this may be her last chance, but she’s not going to let a little nausea keep her from making the very most of it.

Shinobu tears off her gaudy kimono and rushes to the shrine to pray. Chihaya, sensing Shinobu is out of whack, follows her without a coat, leading Shiobu to lend her her Snowmaru scarf. Later, before the match, Chihaya insists upon fitting tatsuki to improve the Queen’s movement.

Shinobu may have gotten to where she is in part due to abject loneliness, and she doesn’t resent that trade-off, as she proceeds to win the third game with relative ease, restoring her focus. But it must nevertheless be heartening to have a so-called rival/maybe friend in Chihaya by her side when she needed someone, anyone.

Suo feels a solidarity with Shinobu, but only because of their statuses at the top of the karuta food chain (and possibly due to their shared social awkwardness and eccentricity). But there’s nothing he can really do to help Shinobu. In the third game, he trounces Harada by 17 cards, but Harada essentially threw the game.

Indeed, drawing from Chihaya’s final intel report, Harada is pulling out all the stops to attack and confuse the defending Master at every turn. This presents itself to the crowd as showing complete and utter contempt for one’s opponent, but considering the gap between their age and raw talent, and the ticking time bomb that is his leg, Harada can’t afford to play nice.

Unlike Suo, he has a wife, and he wants to make her proud. I’d be surprised if this doesn’t go to the fifth game, but hopefully he can.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 06

After Chise succeeds in cleansing the corruption, Renfred withdraws. Chise asks Elias how long she has; Elias states three years if nothing changes, but he doesn’t expect nothing to change, and didn’t tell her because her dying so soon isn’t “part of his plans.”

Having so thoroughly exerted herself magically again, Chise passes out, and doesn’t wake up even two weeks later. Elias stashes her in the middle of a forest where her magic can regenerate faster, and Titania, Queen of the Faeries, Titania, emerges from the woods.

Titania is best described as having weird boobs that are drawn one way in one shot and another way in another; they seem to be contained by her bodice one moment, but are spilling out another. It’s a bit distracting, frankly. She also has a very irritating husband in the Faerie King Oberon.

Annoying though he may be, Oberon, along with his wife, seem to approve of Elias’ new human hatchling/mate, and Oberon restores all of Chise’s magic, allowing her to finally awaken.

Having restored Chise and heard that she’s fine with Elias, Oberon and Titania take their leave, inviting Elias and Chise to visit them for a banquet in their realm; an offer their Spriggan guard warns them not to redeem, nor does Elias intend to. He already had to stop faeries from luring Chise into their realm, after all.

After saying goodbye to Simon (who was banished from the encounter by the faeries and made to roam the forest until their business was concluded), Chise tells Elias how she wishes he bought her ten years ago, when Simon first started observing him.

Elias assures her they’ll be together more than ten years, and that his “experiment” to lengthen her lifespan will not fail; together, they’ll make it work. What role Christmas pudding plays in that venture, I don’t know. All I know is, while it had a few interesting moments, this episode felt a bit thin!

Kujira no Kora wa Sajou ni Utau – 05

This week Chakuro and his friends locate the nous at the core of Falaina that apparently every sand ship has, are interrupted by three elders who bring archers to kill the nous, thus sinking the Mud Whale, but Chakuro manages to convince them not to, though they do manage to shoot Lykos in the leg.

After that, Suou is freed and Taisha’s aides gather to his side, he meets with Lykos, who tells everyone about the eight ships the empire has and how there could be other countries out there, and Suou gives a speech to the rest of the Whale’s population that they’re going to fight and defend until they can find allies.

That’s a good amount of material in one episode…so why the heck did it feel to me like virtually nothing happened? I suspect it’s at least in part due to the overall presentation, which has felt lacking in urgency and peril since the surprise attack that ended episode two.

There’s also the fact that the Mud Whale feels like such a small and static setting whose leadership seems to change on a dime with little to no repercussions. The rest of the population is treated like one united faceless entity that cheers at the prospect of Ouni joining the defense force.

Perhaps most troubling—and contributory to my waning interest in this show—is the protagonist Chakuro, whose defining character trait is a guy who says a lot—both to others and through narration—but does very little, while Lykos’ is simply “girl who developed emotions” and little else.

As a result, it feels like I’m watching a set of thin and fairly generic characters caught up in a world that’s groaning under the weight of its convoluted (and at times, random-feeling) mythology.

Right now, that’s just not grabbing and holding my attention as much as the other Fall shows I’m watching. Maybe next week, when the defense of the whale begins in earnest, I’ll be able to muster more enthusiasm.

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