Aldnoah.Zero – 16

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Oho…A/Z straight up brought it this week. Not to be outdone by Durarara!!’s best episode to date, it fielded its best as well. I held back a 10 last week purely due to the pure dumb (non-Kuma) shock from the suddenness of what had unfolded. This episode had no such shortcomings, and not only had time for a decent amount of well-paced, efficient action, but also time and room to paint some nice character strokes.

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That started with Inaho’s sister and guardian Yuki, whom we’d only seen in flashback form when she accidentally discovered Inaho could activate Aldnoah cores. That turned out to be a curse for a big sister, or any parent figure, for that matter, as his new ability meant things were only going to get harder for him as the earth leans more and more heavily upon him. She feels that again when he wakes up in the hospital.

Like us, Yuki thinks it’s all just too much for one young lad to bear, to say nothing of the strategic vulnerabilities of staking all your hopes to one prized thoroughbred. But her mothering ended up getting her separated from Inaho and reassigned to the Gulf of Aden, along with Marito. When news comes that the Deucalion is coming to port, the tee-totaling Marito declines Calvados, but Yuki drowns her tea in it. Being Inaho’s family is a stressful thing.

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Speaking of bearing burdens, Count Slaine is enjoying a brief honeymoon free of criticism from other counts who find it distasteful to gang up on him while Vers is still mourning the loss of Saazbaum, who despite his later decisions remains well-regarded in the empire. Slaine doesn’t just inherit his lands, titles, and equipment, but guardianship of Princess Asseylum, as well as the care of Princess Lemrina.

Lemrina tells Slaine she was the product of an affair by her father on the Moon, which is now in tatters. The only one who came to her aid was Saazbaum, and while she will never know his true intentions, she cannot deny that he owes her, as well as whomever succeeds him. She’s no Lady MacBeth—yet—but Lemrina and Slaine have the makings of an epic power couple. And at this point, Lemrina would really prefer if her sister never wakes up.

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Things seem calm and leisurely on the UE side as the Deucalion prepares to return to the surface, but Slaine wastes no time making his next move. He knows it’s only a matter of time before other counts start to move against him (we see two of those dandy counts indeed planning to accuse him of killing Saazbaum), but he also knows simply destroying them will accomplish nothing.

Instead, he will wrap himself in the very glory and honor of Vers: “The key is to show yourself to be so superior that they will not defy you in the first place.” This is Slaine at the top of his game, focused and merciless, and prepared to use any and all of the considerable resources he has come into to reach his goals.

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The same sentiment about demonstrating overwhelming superiority in order to crush your foes’ spirits is what fuels Count Mazuurek, who is one of the counts who wants to avoid unnecessary destruction and death so as many as the earth’s resources are preserved. He has been convinced/nudged into attacking Aden by his fellow counts Marylcian and Barouhcruz, and his victory is meant as the foundation for a coalition they mean to build against Slaine.

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They fail miserably, because as awesome as Mazuurek’s Gravity-Tornado Kataphrakt is, he’s only focused on the forces in front of him, not the battleship directly above him in low earth orbit, where Inaho disables him with one shot.

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Marito is able to distract him the proper amount of time because he’s able to overcome the traumatic flashbacks. Where they used to cause him to freeze up and become useless in battle, now they seem to fire him up. Souma believes that’s worth some celebratory hooch.

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But because Inaho and the Deucalion helped Marito and Yuki out, Trident Base was left unprotected. This wasn’t necessarily a foolish choice under the circumstances, as it was believed an attack would be highly unlikely so soon after the last battle, especially with the huge debris field to contend with.

But the UE brass probably weren’t thinking that someone like Slaine would pilot the Tharsis through the debris and blow up transport shuttles packed with the brim with munitions as they were in the process of docking. By the time the Deucalion hears of the attack, the base has been obliterated.

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Slaine returns to base triumphant, and one by one, everyone, aristocrat and mechanic alike, salute him, for doing what he set out to do, and doing it brilliantly. Not only did he deal a serious blow to the enemy and make them feel weak and helpless than ever, but he headed off any potential moves against him by his cowardly fellow counts. The mangy cur has become a wolf, and they can no longer touch him and come away unscathed.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Slaine’s troubles are over—far from it—but he’s in a far stronger position now than he was at the beginning of the episode, and he knows it. Bravo, Slaine. You are doing all the heavy lifting and power consolidation, while Inaho is content with small operations.

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…Or is he? Frankly, I think that Inaho would prefer not to do any of the shit he’s had to do. He does it because he’s the only one who can, and because he can’t close his eyes and will the war away. He, his friends, and his planet’s existence is at stake, so as always, he will try to use what he has to make a difference, and step up his game when necessary. And Inaho doesn’t complain or hesitate, even for a second.

He discovers pretty quickly that his nemesis is responsible for Trident’s fall, which he admits has forced his hand. I’m glad the gloves are coming off, but has Slaine progressed too far for Inaho to ever hope to catch up?

I’m gonna say no. And that can only mean good things for this show moving forward.

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Stray Observations:

  • I have to mention Sawao Hiroyuki’s musical contributions to this show, which hit new heights of awe and cinematic grandeur this week, particularly in the scene between Slaine and Lemrina, and his triumphant return to base.
  • Yuki’s reunion with Inko, Rayet, Nina and Calm is a sweet little scene I’m glad was included.
  • Along with the drinking scenes, that reunion was proof that even in an episode and a show packed with Huge Events, it doesn’t forget about the little moments.
  • The episode’s title is “Soldier’s Pay,” with significant scenes of Yuki and Marito. Marito’s “pay” are his dark memories he must make work for him; Yuki’s “pay” is her beloved little brother she’d tried so hard to protect. But consider what they’re both buying: Not just survival or pride, but freedom and victory over Vers. If Inaho pans out.
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Tokyo Ghoul 2 – 04

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Tokyo Ghoul combines lots of concepts and themes familiar to me through other shows, animated or not, and elaborates upon, improves, or polishes them to a sheen, resulting in an end product that is greater than the sum of those appropriated parts. Four shows that came to mind were The X-Files, Battlestar Galactica (the newer one), and Bleach. A strange trio, I know.

First, this episode started out like X-Files, what with the odd-couple investigators diving into a dark secret-of-the week. Amon mirrored Mulder in the bearing of his traumatic event from the past that shaped the man he is today: having to pay a visit to a ghoul who once ran the orphanage where Amon grew up. Akira is Scully, questioning why they’re even there and turning out to be right about it probably being a bad idea.

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That’s because the day they’ve come to the Ghoul internment facility is the same day Aogiri Tree planned a massive attack, turning the quiet detective episode into an all-out spectacle. Few shows did bold spectacles better than Battlestar, and the creepily-cloaked Aogiri forces massing atop the prison, then descending upon the norma-looking prison guards below, reminded me of a swarm of implacable Cylon raiders going in for the kill. This is going to be a bad day for many many people.

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One place where Koutarou and Akira definitely have Mulder and Scully beat is in the combat department, as neither embarrass themselves in the heated battle against those swarms. Akira just happened to be unlucky enough to come afoul of the childish yet lethal Naki, who bites her in the leg and renders her a non-factor for the duration.

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It’s the doves fighting with their quinques and the masked ghouls fighting with their kagunes…well that’s just Shinigami with their Zanpakutos versus Arrancar with their Resurrection. The difference being, in Bleach, battles were often handled one at a time, and at a very deliberate pace, often stretching several episodes. TG compresses and distills the elaborate character and weapon designs and myriad battles into one bonanza of an episode with a lot more going on.

Then it has matchups that are clever, if unexpected, vehicles for fleshing out characters, like the black and white twins bumping into Suzu (who they know somehow) or Ayato facing his father…in the form of Shinohara’s armor.

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This is also just a good bonding experience for Koutarou and Akira, with the former invoking the words of the latter’s father about not letting up the fight even if you lose your arms and legs…the Black Knight mentality. Koutarou insists Akira not give up, and climb onto his shoulders while he handles the numerous but uncoordinated and fairly weak Aogiri third-stringers.

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Ken, meanwhile calmly walks about the facility, unfazed by everything around him. His role in the mission is limited to releasing a high-security captive in “Mr. Shachi.” You’d think he’d be grateful for being sprung, but he smells Rize on Ken and they initiate the fight that’s the centerpiece of the second half of the episode. These are two tough customers, but Ken is still inexperienced, and Shachi essentially toys with him.

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Even so, there’s a kind of inevitability to this fight, as if Ken was meant to be beaten senseless so that he can awaken an even stronger version of himself. He certainly seems to be on board with that, as he knows everyone he cares about (his “liabilities”) will die unless he get stronger. Eto stops Kamishiro from continuing his onslaught, while Ken sprouts a new and even more unsettling mask, something I can’t help but think Eto intended to happen.

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Aldnoah.Zero – 15

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As Captain Magbaredge and Inaho’s pre-battle match so subtly implies, this episode is a game of chess being played by Troyard Slaine, and his opponent doesn’t even know he’s playing until it’s too late.

The match is also a chance for Darzana to note just how valuable Inaho has become to Earth’s defense, now that he has the Aldnoah activation factor. Even so, she’s doesn’t feel it’s right to keep him away from battle.

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A couple of garden variety racist counts try to put Sir Slayne in his place, but Saazbaum stops them, going so far as to name Slaine his son. Sure, it sounds sudden, but he’s surely been thinking about this in the last ten months since Slaine came back to him, and the situation called for a gesture that would make any action the counts take against Slaine a act of war against Saazbaum, something they’re far to cowardly to try in the open.

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Now that Slaine has been named Saazbaum’s son an heir in the presence of witnesses both common and elite, his manservant Harklight congratulates this next step towards achieving his dreams, to which Slaine responds above. Sure you don’t, Slaine.

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With his new skills, Inaho isn’t just a hero. He’s become The Hero. With Vers’ overwhelming military superiority, if they lose him, they lose everything. Some have expressed frustration that Inaho and Only Inaho is the only one who can do much of anything, but that’s the natural result of the events.

Earth’s survival dangles by a thread, and he’s that thread, grabbing and clawing and maintaining his grip, finding every advantage and blind spot…yet as his quips indicate, the same old Inaho is still in there somewhere. Inko, Rayet, Calm and Nina are there to keep him grounded, but he’s always threatening to float out of their reach.

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Then the battle dawns (last week was just a glancing taste), and, well, A/Z has always been pretty unassailable when it comes to combat, and the orbital setting continues to dazzle. Here we see the UE kats protected (for a time) by energy-absorbing umbrellas, along with Inaho’s Space Tarzan-like use of swinging cables against the rocks to speed up his maneuvers.

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Still, Inaho’s out here to fight Slaine, as Slaine is apparently out here to fight Inaho. Inaho suspects Slaine is able to somehow see a hint of the near future in order to dodge attacks, so he tries to launch an attack he won’t be able to totally dodge in time But events force us to consider the possibility that Slaine allowed Inaho to hit him (an outcome that surprised even Inaho), so that Saazbaum would come to his son’s aid.

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He does, right on cue, aboard his new kat Dioscuria II, and suddenly Inaho is a bug being swatted at by a raging papa bear. When Inko flies in to offer relief, my heart sinks, warning A/Z “If you kill Inko here, I’m through with you”, but she obeys Inaho and stays put, which is wise, because Inaho gets Saazbaum into the precise position to be pelleted by high-speed debris he detected was incoming.

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What Inaho didn’t know is that the debris was a cloud of bullets, fired by Slaine in the Tharsis using the maximum extent of its time-bending ability. Originally a gambit meant for his face-off with Inaho, Slaine pivots and instead uses Inaho as a chess piece in order to cripple and destroy…Count Saazbaum.

The count might have shout “Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!”, if he weren’t simultaneously heartbroken and proud of how Slaine played him. Saazbaum, in his typical Versian arrogance, believed he’d won Slaine over, but Slaine wasn’t going to serve under the man who shot his princess a second longer than he needed to.

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As Inaho is busy becoming the Savior of Earth, Slaine ascends to the rank of count, vowing via broadcast to exterminate all remaining Earth resistance in the name of Princess Asseylum before slipping on the burgundy coat. Both lads have risen higher than ever…but even this only feels like one more step on a long road for Count Slaine. Those dreams he claims not to have: what are they, truly? And will Inaho be able to divine a way to stop him?

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Tokyo Ghoul 2 – 03

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I know, it’s early, but Tokyo Ghoul Root A has the makings of a rare sequel that surpases the original. It’s firing on all cylinders, both in  Ghoul/Dove conflict and in making us feel every inch of agonizing distance between people who were once so close and familiar they used to get on each other’s nerves. So much has changed, but people keep on keeping on with varying degrees of success.

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TG2 has also proven more adept than most shows at juggling a cast that was stupendously huge before all the new intros. It’s mixed things up wonderfully these past two episodes, and made interesting connections and re-connections between disparate characters, lending a sense of community.

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The characters aren’t having a sprawling or blurring effect I want to distance myself from; on the contrary, they’re drawing me in even closer. The conflux of characters in every shade of moral and mental gray, dotted will well-thought-out, punchy action set pieces like the opening attack on the police convoy (which black-and-white one-eyed sisters use to test Ken’s strength), and a script that crackles with poise, all set to a captivating soundtrack, and you see what I mean about all cylinders.

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As “Eyepatch” trashes police convoys and makes it on the news, we’re reminded Touka isn’t the only one he left behind; Hinami has a big-bro-shaped hole in her life now, and can’t help but talk about him, even though Touka rather wouldn’t. The next morning, she’s surprised to find Hinami all dolled up going out by herself (sort of; she has a chaperone) to a Takatsuki Sen book-signing. Hinami doesn’t want Touka to worry about her.

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When Nishiki stops by the cafe, he offers to show Touka Kamii University, where she’s thinking of attending herself. Little things like the fact she won’t stand out by not eating appeal to her, but it isn’t long until Ken’s dumb, innocent staring back at her: a wanted poster; a symbol that he can’t come back even if he wanted to anymore.

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Her heart sinks, but Hideyoshi, who’s been on the periphery of the show so far, steps in to help lift her spirits anyway he can. It’s been a while since these two have seen each other, but just hanging out with someone else who used to be close to Ken, whom she doesn’t have to put a brave face on for (like Hinami) comforts Touka. I particularly love this line by Hide:

“Come to think of it, he once had the lead part in a play! He was surprisingly good, too. He was quite an imposing presence on the stage. Whether it was him playing a part, or him putting on a mask, he always seemed to be saddled with things all unto himself.”

Hinami wanted Touka to reassure her that there must be a good reason Ken left. Hide helps restore a little hope in Touka’s heart that that is indeed the case.

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If Ken is putting on a grudging act, he’s playing a dangerous game, because between B&W and Eto, he still knows very little about his new Aogiri comrades. As for Eto…we finally see her unmasked in the most unexpected place: the book signing Hinami is attending! Turns out she’s the author Takatsuki Sen.

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I picked up on this fact because I recognized Sakamoto Maaya’s voice, and the camera was settling on the lower part of her grinning face, as it did at the end of last week’s episode. To have Eto sign a book she wrote for Hinami as a gift to Ken, the very guy she’s become interested in, is one of those awesome connections that feels both spontaneous and logical.

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Another interesting connection is Hide, whose delivery job affords him access to the CCG station, where he uses his friendly personality to get as much info on the eyepatch case out of Seido as he can (for what purpose I can’t yet fathom) until he’s shut down by a suspicious Akira. Though, to be fair, Akira is suspicious about everyone…but she’s also brilliant, and Natural Police, and Hide better watch himself, because I’m sure she’s watching him from here on out.

Oh yeah, Juuzou is given a new quinque, a huge scythe made from the deceased Jason which he names “Juuzou’s Jason.” Certainly not the most imaginative name, but it’s a frighteningly powerful weapon. Akira and Juuzou are cerebral and physical reminders that the Doves may have taken their licks, but they’re far from toothless in this fight.

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Such is the stength of the case right now, Ken only needs to show up in a couple brief scenes to be effective. Here, we see him take it upon himself to help the late Yamori’s inconsolable underling write the name “Yamori” properly. For some reason I was reminded of when he used to tutor Hinami.

Back at CCG, it’s not Akira who reaches a breakthrough in the case, but Saido (with considerable assistance from Houji). They determine through news reports and such that Eyepatch is Kaneki Ken, a Kamii University student who was injured by falling girders and given organ transplants without his consent from the woman beyond saving he was with at the time of the accident.

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With the Doves now hotter on Ken’s trail than ever, Hide studies the wanted signs he took down on campus, lamenting that Ken is making “such a nice girl worry about him.” But as she lies in bed, a faint smile comes to Touka: Maybe Ken is just out there playing a role, taking the stage and making a big show, for a good reason.

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Whatever that reason, Ken has buried himself in his part. Like last week, we close with them about to start another operation: this time at Cochlea, a ghoul internment center in the 23rd Ward. What fresh devilry—or moral ambiguity—lurks within those  maximum-security ramparts? Where will Ken’s performance lead him next?

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Aldnoah.Zero – 14

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I don’t usually pay much attention to episode titles, but “The Beautiful and Damned” is pretty damned apropos. Beautiful, damned people are fighting for their respective beautiful, damned worlds.

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Let’s start with Inaho. His new eye (flawed though it still is), has greatly increased his ability to measure and assess situations and formulate tweaks to existing resources and strategy in realtime. It also allows him to determine not only that Inko has put on weight, but whose words are accompanied by a vocal “tell” indicating she’s not being entirely honest with him (due to her feelings for him).

Using Inko as a test subject for his new eye is a dick move, sure, but it’s Pure Inaho. Rayet rightly calls him a dick (well, an idiot, at least), but this is how Inaho flirts. He detects a similar tell in the “Princess Asseylum’s” speech. If he survives the war, he’d make a badass detective.

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To my relief, it turns out Asseylum is in a persistent coma, not intentionally imprisoned in that tube, which makes sense considering her injuries last season (I can see either she or Inaho surviving relatively unscathed, but both? Nah-ah). Eddelrittuo isn’t strictly allowed to see her, but Slaine’s a nice guy so he won’t tell anyone, and promises her the princess will wake up someday.

Listening from the other side of the heavy metal door (she must have really good ears) is Princess Lemrina, who doesn’t seem to like Slaine’s regular visits to Asseylum one bit. To the point she deactivates Tharsis’ Aldnoah drive just when Slaine is about to embark on a mission.

Slaine and Lemrina stand out among all the beautiful, damned people in the world of A/Z. Up to this point, many people were asking ‘Hey, where the heck did this chick come from?”…turns out, that was the point. All her life, Lemrina has been the ignored and forgotten princess; Asseylum’s sister by another mother; the Kato Megumi of the Vers Royal Family.

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No one ever had any cause to admire or love or even take notice of her, until Asseylum was out of the picture. Only then is she unique and indispensable to Count Saazbaum and Slaine. In this context, it’s perfectly understandable that we’ve never seen hide nor tail of her.

When she calls Slaine out on this bullshit, he’s ready, showing her he’s dealt with hardship and isolation as well (and still has the back scars to prove it), getting on one knee, and earning a kiss that gives him the power to activate Tharsis once by himself.

There’s so much good stuff going on in this exchange: Slaine is either being extremely manipulative or extremely sincere (or both), and Lemrina either totally believes him or is willing to let the display appease her. Regardless of whether either or both harbor deceit, the fact is they need one another: Lemrina wants to take over everything her sister once had, and Slaine needs his kat to move.

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Speaking of beautiful and damned, how ’bout that view of Earth from the Satellite Belt? I haven’t mentioned the fact that this week we get a space battle, and a damned good one, at that. The setup is simple: like two ships passing in the night, UE and Vers bases are about to cross paths along their orbits.

The largest UE space force since the very beginning of the war (which didn’t go well for Earth) has been amassed at Trident, while a similarly large force is making the trip to Marineros. When those forces meet, there are lovely fireworks, but the build-up is handled nicely, particularly the logistics of transporting Slaine, Saazbaum, and the Stygis Platoon where it needs to be.

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The tension also builds on the EU side, allowing Darzana to get another little dig in on her uncharacteristically nervous XO. Not surprisingly, Inaho isn’t the slightest bit flustered at the prospect of his first space battle. He simply floats over to his by now highly-modded but still orange trainer, steps into his office and gets to work.

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There are few backdrops to a space battle more attractive than the big ol’ Blue Marble itself, partially obscured by clusters of satellites, which we learn create a gravity gradient that must be compensated for in order for weapon shots to hit their targets (gravity gradient=”wind”).

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Inevitably, Orange and Bat encounter one another, but between Inaho’s mad skillz and Tharsis’ superior stats, neither Inaho nor Slaine are even able to land a love tap on the other. Their brief skirmish this week was a stalemate, but now Slaine knows Inaho is alive, and Inaho knows what’s become of Slaine.

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I don’t think I’m alone when I say I’d truly like to see these two not only at each others’ throats on the battlefield, but trading dry insults in person. We’ll see how and when the show decides to bring them back together in either setting, and when Chekhov’s Comatose Princess wakes up and puts the kibosh on both Saazbaum and Lemrina’s ambitions.

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Tokyo Ghoul 2 – 02

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This week’s Ghoul was smart, introspective, and robust. The most action we saw happened in the cold open, where a young Mado Kureo and his fellow Doves battle the Owl ten years ago, and we got a little bit of Ken running around. If this episode wanted to remind us that Ghoul is not merely about the Ghoul-on-Dove action, it succeeded, surpassing its season opener in mood and immersion.

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The CCG brass are licking their wounds as more wounds are being inflicted: Marude’s incompetence in the 11th ward lead to an unacceptable loss of manpower and equipment, and as a result, Aogiri Tree, with their new eyepatched captain, have been able to easily overrun the 9th and 10th wards as well. Their backs are against a wall, but no one is panicking, and they make the capture or destruction of the Owl their top priority.

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We do cut back to Touka now and again, and while she’s maintaining at school and planning to apply for the same college as Nishiki, every shot of her is tinged with melancholy. She had become accustomed to Ken and his absence notable. Moreover, his activities with Aogiri Tree are stirring up even more anti-Ghoul sentiment than usual, making for a distinctly more uncomfortable school life.

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Back to the Dove side, where we check in with Amon Koutarou, recently promoted to senior investigator. While visiting Kureo’s gave, he comes upon Mado’s daughter, Akira (voiced by Seto Asami of Chihayafuru), who happens to have been assigned as Koutarou’s new partner. Harking back to the flashback cold open, this Ghoul/Dove conflict has been going on long enough to become a family business of sorts. Akira has decided to follow in her father’s footsteps, and no explanation is really necessary for why.

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Ghoul doubles down on the Dove focus by placing us in the middle of the 20th Ward office, led by Shinohara and staffed by Koutarou, Houji, Akira, Juuzou, and Seidou. Seidou is the kind of character who might be a protagonist in a lesser show; here he butts heads with Akira, as he came up second to her in the academy. A simple way of comparing their worldview unfolds as Akira warmly compliments Juuzou on the same stitches that creep Seidou out.

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Akira is a brilliant, efficient, hungry investigator, who quickly impresses her superiors with her (correct) theory that the 20th Ward has been regulated for some time. She also unilaterally does away with classic decorum, explaining to Koutarou precisely how much time is wasted per year voicing all the extra syllables such formalities demand. Amon could have told her in all the time she took to explain herself, she could have managed a simple “Yes, Sir”…but gives her the win, knowing she’s truly her father’s daughter.

Shinohara tries to get Amon, new to seniority, to ask Akira out to dinner to break the ice. Akira turns him down instantly, but not out of dislike, but because she simply doesn’t eat after 9:00 PM as a rule. So there are rules Akira breaks and those she doesn’t. She was intriguing enough knowing who her father was, but I’m looking forward to watching “Amon/Mado Mark II” get along.

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After saying goodbye to her friend Yoriko (whom I imagine could become a victim of the present war at some point), Touka again appears distracted and unsure of what to do next, even though she technically has a plan and motions to go through.

Meanwhile, in some dark Aogiri hideout, having shed so much, Ken still makes himself a decent cup of coffee. Is this a force of habit, or a conscious effort to maintain the slightest tie to his past life at the cafe?

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Either way, as tasty as that coffee might be, Ken seems just as miserable as Touka, and can only get one sip in before Touka’s brother summons him for an op.

The Anteiku gang celebrates the re-opening of the cafe after all that unpleasantness, but Touka is only half-involved with the festivities. The other half is fixed on the night outside, where Ken is up to no good.

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Ken seems to have gained some admirers within Aogiri, from black-and-white twins to the mummy-bandaged Eto, who runs off to her quarters to remove the bandages and reveal a normal, healthy-looking young woman, or at least the lower part of her face. Her demeanor suggests she’s excited about the possibilities of having Ken on her side.

While Ghoul did not go into details about those possibilities regarding Ken specifically, they did show a confident Aogiri Tree on the march, a CCG scrambling to mount a defense, and an Anteiku trying to survive and maintain normalcy. Most impressively, I find myself neither able nor willing to pick one ‘good’ guy and one ‘bad’, as all factions are compelling and possess legitimate motivations.

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Aldnoah.Zero – 13

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A/Z’s second cour picks up nineteen months after the incident at Saazbaum’s castle. Slaine is now a Vers Knight piloting Tharsis and taking it to Terran Kataphrakts raiding the satellite belt.

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Meanwhile, Princess Asseylum (who IS still alive) delivers a propaganda speech voicing her newfound support for the war against Earth and praising the Orbital Knights. I buy that she may have recovered from her wounds, but my first thoughts were that she’s either an impostor or being forced to toe the hard line. In any case, something’s not quite right.

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Down on Earth, Inko, Nina (who was watching the speech on her phone) and Rayet are enjoying R&R, and Inaho seems to be on Inko’s mind.

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Up in orbit, Count Saazbaum (also not dead!) welcomes Sir Slaine back aboard and praises him for his prowess in battle. We’re also introduced to the frail Princess Lemrina, who is clearly the one posing as Princess Asseylum in those videos.

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When Martian Count Yacoym launches an assault against UEF headquarters, the girls are recalled. Inko is weary, but Rayet assures her, they “don’t have time do die.” In fact, as they form up to defend their base, Rayet seems to have replaced Inaho as the calm, cool squad leader. But neither she nor Inko can get close to Yacoym’s Kat, “Frozen Elysium”, because it freezes solid all enemy kats that come near him, along with the pilots inside.

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Things are about to go bad when Inaho surprises both girls by coming up from behind them in Orange and taking control of the situation. At this point, come-from-behind wins are his specialty, and he’s got it down to a science, using his new bionic eye to analyze all of the variables needed to determine the proper way of taking Yacoym out.

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Inaho still has that insufferable Martian arrogance and overconfidence aiding him, as he times his shots to his advance until he’s in point-blank-range, and it’s bang, Game Over. Slaine may have been badly wounded by that kat crash, but in a year and a half he seems to be back on top of his game.

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It seems to have been many months since Inko and Rayet have seen Inaho, so their reunion is appropriately warm and touching, even though Inaho is as stiff as a board. Inko’s joy and relief are palpable, while even Rayet cracks a joke about how Inaho’s people skills have improved since they last met.

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As for what happened after episode 12 went dark, Slaine chooses Vers and escapes with Saazbaum and Asseylum, while Inaho’s sister finds him and brings him to the bridge of the powerless Deucalion. He needs surgery, but there’s no way to get him there. But then, when Inko’s tears mix with Asseylum’s spattered blood on his face and runs into his mouth, his body suddenly glows with the light of Aldnoah, and the core starts back up, saving everyone. Jeez, even while passed out Inaho even manages to come through big when it counts.

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Back in the present, Inaho, Inko and Rayet catch another one of Asseylum’s sketchy broadcasts, and in a nice callback to the time Inaho corrected Asseylum on why the sky was blue, the Princess on air makes the same mistake a second time. If I were Inaho, that could be enough to suspect the girl they’re watching is not the real Asseylum.

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That fact is confirms when the broadcast is over and Saazbaum and Slaine thank Princess Lemrina for her help. Slaine then pays a visit to the real Asseylum, who is floating in a stasis tube surprisingly, not naked. I wonder if she’s in there because they can’t fully save her, or if she’s there for security’s sake?

In any case, I’m not dwelling on the somewhat irritating fact A/Z couldn’t wrap up in one cour, and chose not to kill anyone important off. There’s still a lot of Martians holding territory on Terran soil, and Saazbaum was just one victory, and a costly one. Earth will need a lot more of them to turn the war around, and I’m looking forward to watching Inaho, Inko, and Rayet achieve them.

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Tokyo Ghoul 2 – 01 (First Impressions)

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TG’s first season ended abruptly with the lesson that You can’t have it all, and in Ken’s present situation, wavering pacifism is no longer an option. His survival, and the survival of those dear to him, required him to transform himself drastically, something Yamori helped him along with quite nicely.

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In this, TG’s expected second season, we pick the sprawling battle right where we left off in episode 11, and the show continues to dart from one battle to another to keep things fresh. I’ll admit my memory was a little fuzzy ( I also don’t have the benefit of having read the source material, which likely fleshed some of these guys out :P) but it’s still all very heated and exciting.

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One pertinent battle is the one between the Kirishima siblings, which Touka is losing badly until Ken appears to scoop her up and stand in as Ayato’s opponent.

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It must piss off Ayato to no end that all of a sudden Ken isn’t so easy to take down. Indeed, Ken makes it look easy with his graceful evasions. Ken isn’t here to kill Touka’s brother, though. Rather, he says he knows Ayato’s “secret”, and why he joined Aogiri Tree. This pisses Ayato off even more, because knowledge is power.

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Noro finally breaks up the fight, snatching Ayato up and retreating as a number of explosions rock the site of the battle. Ironically, I had suggested Harude simply bomb the hell out of the mall rather than commit so many men to what amounted to an enormous trap to kill as many men as possible.

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Harude’s top men can’t quite eliminate the Owl, but nor does the Owl eliminate them, and if I’m not mistaken, even saves one of them from getting crushed. I must say, with their nifty full-body, life-sapping “Arata” quinque-suit things, they definitely made their fight a lot more interesting than it had any right to be, what with the Owl going all philosophy professor on them.

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Once the battle is over, the episode lags a bit, which I’m guessing is meant to build up tension about when Ken will do next, as well as introduce a few new characters, but it still lags. That’s not to say it isn’t without its charms: there’s a couple of nicely-staged encounters, first, as Eto emerges and recedes from the smoke in several different places, almost teasingly.

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Another is when Touka is propped up against a tree, looking forward to going home, and warns Ken he’ll have to do something about that crazy white hair. But Ken isn’t going back to Anteiku, even after all the trouble they went to to rescue him. No, Ken is going to Aogiri Tree.

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It’s a drastic but sensible move on his part, and for the sake of Touka and the others, not himself. He has to see where his dark potential, brought forth by Yamori’s torture and by letting Rize out of the cage, perhaps for good. He’s through doing nothing. Now comes figuring what exactly he can and should do, now that he’s doing something. I for one am game; the warmth and comforts and easy smiles of a place like Anteiku are no longer any kind of place for this new Ken.

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Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – 10 (Fin)

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Hey, endings are tough; no doubt. But there’s nothing worse than an ending that has you constantly thinking ‘Gee, this really feels like they just realized this is the last episode, and they’re rushing as fast as they can to end it.’ That’s even more disappointing considering Chaika got a second season, albeit a shortened one, to craft a satisfying, well-paced ending.

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Well, it failed. That thought above, that’s something that takes you right out of the fantasy world and into the harsh realities of anime production. I can’t imagine why the producers decided to throw all this stuff into one breathlessly-hasty, plot-stuffed episode, with practically no time to spare for characters, beyond the basic idea that Tooru and Chaika kinda like each other maybe, and that’s why they fight.

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Meanwhile, you have the same huge amount of side characters milling around, needing something to fight, so Gaz has Black Chaika, the Twins, and the other Chaika Dolls deal with Akari, Red Chaika, Vivi, etc. These battles are meaningless and over so quickly they inspire only a faint shrug. Same goes with Tooru’s sudden decision to contract with Fedrica and defeat Shin; it all happens so much there’s no time to care.

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But, yes, in case you were still unaware, Black Chaika has a nice body. Most egregious, however, is the treatment of Gaz, who is a villain so aloof and emotionless it’s easy to forget how powerful he was built up to be. He’s also so wooden in his half-assed monologues about anger, hate and love driving humanity that even Tooru tells him more than once, “Just shut up already, nobody’s listening!”

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Yup, after five hundred years and all the trouble he went through to use the Chaikas to resurrect himself and rebuild his empire, it takes less than five minutes to eliminate him, far shorter a time than Layla and her compatriots last year, who at least had some personality and edge to them. I’m really not surprised Niva abruptly abandons Gaz and flies over to Chaika so she can use her to kill him. The last we see of the Great and Powerful Gaz is him going “Huh? What?” as his Gundo splits. He can’t even muster a loud outburst.

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The ‘cost’ of defeating Gaz is kind of artificially created when Chaika uses all of her ammo randomly shooting at Gaz’s castle, even after Tooru was allowed access. Because of this, Niva has to draw from Chaika’s memories for magical fuel.

This means it’s her turn to make funny noises, then is rendered unconscious and feared dead (or worse, a vegetable) by the time Tooru gets to her, but again, there’s no time for anything to sink in; we’re shoved right into the epilogue starting with a final scene of the GIllette Corps that’s as dull as ever. And no, Vivi doesn’t get a chance to say anything to Gillette.

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The show apparently does have time for one last ‘Akari love loves her Brother’ joke, and we both her and Red Chaika in peacetime garb. As for Chaika…she’s fine…I guess? A bit weak, and she doesn’t call Tooru by name, but not dead. How much of her memory was lost? We’re not really told enough. Doesn’t Fredrica want to fight Tooru to the death? Ah, never mind.

They just stare at a blooming tree and the show cuts to the same ol’ credits as the previous nine episodes. There isn’t even so much as a ‘Thanks for Watching!’ card. I’m almost sorry I did. This was not a good ending.

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Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – 09

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Things are a little more focused this week (though there was no way it was going to be as jumbled as last week’s), as we finally build up to the great culmination of all of Arthur Gaz’s designs: his resurrection by Black Chaika, using the parts collected by the others.

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It’s a scene the show’s been building towards for two seasons. So why did it feel a little…flat? Why was I only half-invested in all of this? ‘Chaika Fatigue’, perhaps. Also, Penultimate Episode Syndrome, where the second-to-last episode is either better or worse than the last. As our heroes mostly stand around and gawk at the mustache-twirling bad guys as the shit hits the fan, it seems like the latter.

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That’s not to say this episode was a failure on all counts. For one thing, it succeeded greatly in destroying pretty much all hope of White Chaika performing a funeral for her father, and not just because he’s not her father and he’s no longer dead. There’s also something so very wrong about Black Chaika birthing the reincarnation of her father beneath her skirts while making moaning and wailing in apparent…arousal.

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Final Fantasy-style final chapter cutscenes are notorious for the rambling speeches and grotesque transformations of the Big Bad(s) as the good guys stew in the corner with clenched fists. In that regard, this episode succeeds admirably. Before you start fighting the final boss, the game wants to make sure you hate him as much as possible, but also learn his twisted worldview. And the simple reveal of Young Gaz — who looks a lot like Guy, not accidentally — had an understated awe about it.

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Speaking of awe, Neo-Gaz wastes no time killing Hartgen (with a casual but lethal one-word incantation — “Pierce”). Harty was just a pawn, after all, whose power, clout, and charisma were used to gather both the Chaikas and the masses of bloodthirsty warriors. War only appeals to Gaz in that it is the state of civilization that nets him the most powerful emotions and memories which make the magic he feasts upon. He’s less a megalomaniac and more a force of nature at this point: an all-consuming storm.

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And Chaika? Not only was she never his daughter (he has none), but “Chaika” is merely the term for the magical technique he used to resurrect himself. Pawn, tool, technique, doormat — however Chaika wishes to call it, as far as Gaz is concerned her task is complete.

After destroying the flying fortress Red Herring with his personal Gundo Niva Lada, he uses her to activate a heretofore dormant fortress in orbit. Space Fortress. Now we’re talking. Where the heck to the good guys go from here? I don’t know, but the fact Gaz and his underlings are too arrogant to bother killing them all immediately proves they have a chance.

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Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – 08

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How fitting that on the eve of a holiday centered around stuffing yourself,  we get perhaps the most overstuffed episode of Chaika ever. Seriously, there was a lot going on, and while the episode made an admirable attempt to keep everything interesting, it couldn’t keep some parts from feeling like padding.

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Compared to, say, Akame ga Kill!, which has been progressively killing off characters so it can focus on fewer and fewer, Chaika has kept everyone alive with just two episodes left, and so has to find a place for them, just as one has to find a place for every thanksgiving dish on the table. Its one major death – Gillette’s – was a fake-out causing more of a “huh” than a “wow”.

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Not to mention it chooses this time to finally reveal who the “Head Chaika” is, as Zita, Leo, and Matthaus interview one of Hartgen’s retainers. It seems like Gaz had reason to smile after Hartgen killed him, because henceforth Hartgen started acting just like Gaz, as if he was a man possessed.

Hartgen isn’t exactly Gaz re-incarnate, as he needs Head Chaika to show up (the evil Chaika’s are always the most scantily clad) and give him the idea for the martial arts tournament. Killing Gaz did something to Hartgen to change him into a pliable, warmongering pawn for Head Chaika to manipulate.

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Hartgen wants to be Gaz II, and so uses the tournament as (flimsy) cover to raise an army, hoping the Six Nations will react too slowly. Two ministers do deploy the Flying Fortress Cima to Hartgen; it’s sure to play a role in the near future.

In the mean time, Akari and Fredrica find a room with dozens if not hundreds of coffins just like Chaika’s…and then they’re ambushed by Chaika Puppet Ninjas. Yes, that is a thing that was in this episode, because everything in creation was in this episode.

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Meanwhile, the guards arrest the various pairs one by one and send them into a subterranean arena, where Black Chaika and her twin sisters sit and watch their own mini-tournament, betting on who will come out the victor.

First, Vivi and Nikolai are forced to fight Dark Gillette, something that’s initially very hard for Vivi to do because she loves the guy and has no idea what’s going on. But in the end, when Gillette prepares to kill Nikolai, she takes GIllette’s sword hand off with Niko’s greatsword, in a pretty badass display.

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The shock of his injury apparently brings Gillette’s memories back, and it seems he’ll keep living, though why is anyone’s guess. Next, Akari and War Maiden Mode- Fredrica are stopped by Shin, then Fred’s locked in a magical barrier and riddled with arrows, continuing the tradition of neutralizing the overpowered ally in crunch time (though serves them right for not looking up).

White Chaika and Tooru are up next, forced to fight Red Chaika and David (and winning pretty dang easily, when all’s said and done. When David is wounded, Chaika forfeits the fight and runs off in tears, rather than let her comrade come to further harm.

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Of course, they’re only Tooru’s appetizer; the entree is Shin, who shows up with the captured Akari and Fredrica. White Chaika is jumped by guards, forcing Tooru to fight Shin alone, and he gets schooled by his mentor. With that, the episode kinda fizzles out, without showing us what’s for dessert.

There were a couple cool moments, and I liked the arena format for the gauntlet of boss battles, but at the end of the day this episode had way too much squeezed into it, and strained and groaned under the weight of it all.

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Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – 07

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This episode had a workmanlike quality to it, like the buildup to the final act of a JRPG-style fantasy/adventure story that it is. One does not simply skip to the final boss (whom I presume is Hartgen) without first carving through a considerable number of dungeon grunts.

That being said, Tooru and Akari actually do try to skip ahead, but encounter the mini-boss Shin, someone they’re not prepared to fight just yet. In a refreshing twist on the “students must face their mentor” trope, they don’t particularly care about having to fight him eventually, because they’re saboteurs, and are mentally prepared to fight former friends or allies if they’re working under different clients…that’s what the job requires.

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It’s also confirmed what King Hartgen is after: basically, he’s tired of the tedious peace, and regrets ever killing Gaz. He wants to return the continent to a state of war where he can have a Purpose again. One could say “Hey man, you do have a purpose…preserving the peace you fought for!” but he’s a warrior first and foremost, and a warrior needs war.

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To that end, he has gathered tens of thousands of like-minded warriors without a war to his principality to fight in his tournament. Perhaps the competition is to thin the herd and net him only the fiercest fighters for his army of continental conquest, but there seems to be more to it than that, and that has a lot to do with the fact three…no, two and-a-half Chaikas are among those assembled.

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I will give Hartgen this: he already has the hearts of those he’s invited. Even though many if not most of them will fall in the course of the battle royale, they’re still gratified for the chance to prove themselves and do what they were born and trained to do. Back in his castle, Guy presents him with Gaz’s Fortune: Niva Lada, and we learn that the Black Chaika twins have a third Chaika sister who seems to have more power than them. She instructs the guards to capture the Chaikas who have come, hoping to stage a little Chaika battle royale of her own parallel to the battle proper.

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Inevitably, two of the rival parties were going to cross paths, and that turns out to be Harley Quinn Vivi/Nikolai and Chaika/Tooru. The former warns the latter that they’re going to be arrested when they’re done their business here, but for this brief scene the two groups are at a truce and exchange information.

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O HAI, Grown-up Fredrica! Haven’t seen her in a while; she’s pretty cool looking. She and Akari are responsible for finding a way to get to Hartgen’s share of remains and stealing them. But let’s be honest here: Fredrica’s true mission is not to get stabbed in the head this time!

As the battle goes on, the other Six-Nation rulers squabble over how to proceed. One faction is eager to fall right into Hartgen’s trap and start a war so he doesn’t have to, but cooler heads deferring to Gillette Squad’s findings prevail for the time being. Frankly, I don’t know how a war is going to be prevented at this point…but that’s what the last three episodes are for!

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Madan no Ou to Vanadis – 02

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Before picking up where it left off last week, Vanadis back-pedals a bit to give us a peek into House Thenardier. They’re pretty much empty villains, with eyes on the throne and no real interest in Alsace.

They simply want to burn Alsace to the ground and pillage it before another powerful house has the chance. It’s also a good chance for their heir to grind some easy experience and break in his new dragons…

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“I’m so evil I can’t control my emotions face, face”

Okay, so there are a few (unconventional) signs I use to predict whether an anime is going to be crap over time, and this episode just trotted out one of them. Again, this may seem strange, but when a character makes the above face, I know a show is trying too hard to make someone evil in the most starkly black-and-white way possible.

Characters like that exist to shock us but usually don’t, because they are also usually quite incompetent (yet hard to kill for stupid plot reasons) Such characters also give us no drama and no nuance because they are what they are: pure, irredeemably evil, which is very boring to watch.

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Flashing forward, that ‘look’ is part of a pointless scene where Zion Thenardier decides to go to Tigre’s house alone and then decides to torture/rape Titta, Tigre’s maid because…evil reasons.

Why he’s there alone or cares at all about Tigre is not meaningful. He’s the villain this week, and probably in the future because he’s non-fatally shot with an arrow before he can do anything rapey-er than rip up Titta’s clothes. It’s dull and predictable.

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As far as plot developments, we learn Eleonora’s sword’s name, and that she can control the wind by slashing it. We also learn that she and Limalisha had a bet over how Tigre would respond to being kept from his fiefdom, and that he chose an option neither expected.

Ultimately, the result is Tigre giving Alsace to Eleonora in exchange for troops and then a brief overnight ride to save his (or now her?) lands. They somehow avoid (or haven’t noticed) the two dragons overlooking the town for now but…next episode.

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Tigre also ends up with his family’s magic bow. It’s black. Probably powerful. Nothing exciting here.

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You’re going to hear this a few times over the next two weeks, if it wasn’t obvious already: this fall season is stacked with excellent shows and there are simply too many to watch. Unfortunately, given it’s decent-but-not-astounding opening, and now a stumbling, uneventful, second episode, I can’t imagine Vanadis will make the cut.

Should it? That’s up to you and Preston, who will get to review it next week. For now, tell me why I should stick with it and I’ll lurk in the comments below.

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