Isekai Shokudou – 05

While Gaganpo was primarily a hunter, this week’s demi-human is a warrior who ends up crossing swords with the famous half-elf Alexander, who sells him into gladiatorial slavery. While preparing for an arena match against a manticore that may well kill him, the door to Nekoya opens.

He goes through, is greeted warmly, and treated to not one but five pork cutlet rice bowls, which he wolfs down with gratitude. Because “katsu” means victory, he returns to his world and makes short work of the manticore, which is just as well, as he must win 99 more fights to win his freedom – as well as pay his restaurant tab.

Like our liony warrior, the next customer, Victoria, has a very limited niche in society in which to operate. Because she’s a half-elf, she had the choice of becoming a sorceress, an adventurer-for hire, or the resident of a remote village of her own kind. Vicky chose sorcery, and quickly rose to the upper echelons of magic users, tutored by the venerable Sage Artorius.

Both Victoria and the Sage are regulars at Nekoya; Artorius ordering his fried pork cutler, and Victoria preferring pudding a la mode, in contrast to the full elf who won’t eat anything from an animal. She also takes some of the soft, velvety, delicious, springy pudding to go, storing it in a magical mini-fridge she keeps in her bedchamber. As noble a use of ice magic as I can imagine!

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Berserk – 01 (First Impressions)

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“Guts, known as the Black Swordsman, seeks sanctuary from the demonic forces that pursue him and his woman, and also vengeance against the man who branded him as an unholy sacrifice. Aided only by his titanic strength, skill, and sword, Guts must struggle against his bleak destiny, all the while fighting with a rage that might strip him of his humanity. Berserk is a dark and brooding story of outrageous swordplay and ominous fate, in the theme of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.” —MAL

Full disclosure: I’ve never read the manga this is based on, so I came in knowing nothing. I also haven’t read Macbeth since junior high, so all I remember is that there’s a manipulative Lady in it. So forgive my ignorance and read on to learn a fresh perspective on Berserk unblemished by prior consumption of the material (at least that I remember).

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Berserk definitely has its draws: a lush yet grim fantasy world full of violence both human-and-human and demon-on-human; an overpowered cursed antihero with a bad attitude and even worse effect on the lives of the innocent; decent voice acting and a great soundtrack. Some  strong elements of horror (body and otherwise), blood, and gore, though all tastefully censored.

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Those pros were not able to overcome the cons for me, at least in the first episode. The cons are pretty big: the CGI animation of characters is distractingly weird. If you know my work you know I reviewed (and loved) two seasons of Sidonia, but for some reason this style works far better in a futuristic sci-fi milieu for me.

It took me a couple of episodes to get used to Sidonia (and I never got far with Ronja), but I’m less optimistic about Berserk. It’s not so much the uncanny valley effect as the inescapable feeling that these are wooden CGI armatures moving around very awkwardly mechanically.

That suits the frenetic combat at times, but any natural movements, including mouth movements and expressions, suffer greatly, marring the overall viewing experience.

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This comes down to a question of style: Berserk’s producers for whatever reason decided not to use conventional animation, and frankly, that could well be a dealbreaker. Even if not, the naked annoying motormouth Puck would be (sorry, Puck fans out there).

I can’t immerse myself in a world that announces its “fakeness” so transparently, in a manner most anime manage to avoid. Some say more and more full CG will be the future of anime, but with some notable exceptions, I hope that’s not the case.

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Ushio to Tora – 38

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Despite the title “The End”, this week is not the end; just the beginning of it for Hakumen. The united counterattack is now in full swing, with supernatural and military forces working in concert to make Hakumen’s life increasingly difficult. Even better, the battle is being broadcast to Japan from a news chopper, lessening the fear of those who didn’t evacuate (like Asako and her fam).

I must say, after so much darkness and dread, I was glad to see the mood of the show brightening along with the skies around the battle. The irreverent chatter between Ushio and Tora flies as furiously as the cameos, which, to be honest, are a bit out of control; but are to be expected, as the end, titles aside, is very quickly approaching.

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Hakumen is a little slow on the uptake, and in assessing exactly why things are going so bad, determines that Ushio and Tora are the cause. If they can be smitten once and for all, Hakumen can crush everyone else’s spirits and get back to wreaking havoc. So Hakumen unleashes a Malboro-esque poison cloud, isolating and trapping the duo.

All everyone else can do, from Asako to Mayuko to Hinowa and the Moritsuna siblings, is keep fighing; keep doing their part; and trust Ushio and Tora will be okay.

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And they do do okay. Ushio’s armor is shattered and he comes close to his soul shattering as well, but he’s not like the other wielders who turned into azafuse, and both he and the spear are able to calm themselves, buoyed by the knowledge, and Tora’s confirmation, that Hakumen is not only terrified of his adversaries (for their ability to unite humans and youkai, among other things)—he’s also insanely jealous.

Hatred, pain, fear, and death are the only things Hakumen has ever known, and perhaps believes they’re the only things in the world. But seeing what Ushio and Tora have been able to accomplish; watching all the assembled friends and allies fight with everything they have for their sake; even watching the beast spear reassemble itself to fight again; it’s no surprise the increasingly puny bastard would be a bit envious.

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Ushio to Tora – 37

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This week we check in with a thoroughly defeated and battered Tora who is basically ready to throw in the towel; a Tora we’ve never really seen before. So who better to cheer him up and remind him of the work that must still be done than Mayuko, via her her “spiritual form”.

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I’ll be honest, I never thought all that much about Mayuko’s feelings for Tora, and when she comes out and confesses here, it’s not that surprising, but the tears she sheds when she realizes she can’t turn Tora back into a human no matter how much she loves him (or combs him) was pretty damn moving. I too want to see Human Tora and Mayuko double-dating it up post-Hakumen with Ushio and Asako!

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Mayuko takes some solace in the fact that Tora gets his fighting spirit back, and she also heals him, ending what had been a precipitous drop ever since he killed Nagare. His revival couldn’t have come at a better time: even with all the myriad barriers of various parties in play, Hakumen is not returning to the spot in the ocean where he was originally locked away without a fight, and those barriers are weakening.

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The earlier scene with Mayuko and Tora and dozens of other instances before are ample evidence Ushio to Tora isn’t able getting a little emotional, which sometimes can’t escape stiltedness or maudlin. I wanted to like the half-hearted insult-slinging reunion of Ushio and Tora more than I actually did.

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Cutaways to Kagari and Raishin helping out some human soldiers, or the HAMMR guys making a valiant last stand, felt like curtain calls of a kind for these characters as we wind down to the finale.

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Thanks to all their friends and allies, Ushio to Tora manage to back Hakumen back into his pen, where he’s none to happy to be, no sir! He promises to kill the ones erecting all the barriers through his minions, but something tells me he’s not going to find a whole lot more success.

He’s had his day in the sun; now it’s time to put him away for good so we can bask in the glow of a victory hard-earned by enduring all this hardship and emotional stress and strain.

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Ushio to Tora – 36

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The last three weeks have been rough and the ratings have suffered because everything’s so dark and brooding and hopeless and INTENSE GRRRRR, but glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel have been gathering.

Take Saya. She’s through sitting on the sidelines, and adds her own lights to the battle, in the form of summoned dead she brings back in order to help bind Hakumen. She’s totally badass, even though she’s all on her own.

Now that everyone else has their memories back, everyone is working towards the same end, which means Hakumen finally, thankfully has his ass righteously kicked by their combined efforts.

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Nothing like hearing all about your monster friend’s appallingly tragic past to forgive that friend for his recent transgressions. Tora doesn’t come out of his unconsciousness this week, but he does become the forge into which the millions of shards of the Beast Spear accumulate and bring forth a new spear, one far more powerful than the first.

As all his friends and allies prepare to launch fresh attacks on the Big Bad, Ushio takes a moment to thank Tora for everything he’s done, and even gives him some blood from his arm, though if I’m honest, that was a lot of blood; Ushio should probably be a little woozy at this point!

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No matter. Hakumen sets up the underbosses at the tips of his tails, and Ushio knocks ’em down. Combined with the HAMMR scientists’ TRUMP weapon, Ushio’s Mom and Mayuko, a ghostly Oyakume, Saya, and the Kouhamei sects on nearby islands, Ushio’s new spear packs a whollop, and Hakumen gets the beating he’s so sorely deserved all season.

Up against the wall and moving in another direction against his will, Hakumen calls for help…from uber-Tora Guren. But Guren is occupied with Hyou, who we find, of all things, in the yard of an alcoholic, Academy Award-winning starlet. HWAHHH?

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Yeah, it’s pretty random, and the actress is kinda a dick to her seven-year-old daughter, but when Hyou repeatedly saves them from Guren, at the cost of numerous parts of his body and quite a bit of blood, the woman undergoes a swift transformation. It’s almost too perfect that Hyou should make his last stand not dying alone for no reason, but to save a mother and daughter, after he couldn’t save his own so long ago.

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Letting the gluttonous gasbag Guren eat his eye and arm are certainly last-ditch tactics, but hey, they work, and Guren goes up with n immensely satisfying big blue BANG; Guren was almost as annoying as that whiny Hakumen, and I’m glad he’s gone, and essentially by his own dumbassery.

As for Hyou, well, he achieved the revenge he sought his whole life, and saved a couple of people in the process. One can be forgiven for getting a little glassy-eyed at his farewell, when he joins his family in the afterlife. It certainly seems to have an effect on the previously disaffected mother, who isn’t as quick to swat her little girl away when Hyou passes away.

The cherry on top?  Hakumen can whine and scream all he wants, Guren ain’t coming. You’re on your own, chump!

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Ushio to Tora – 35

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Now that Ushio, his Mom, and Mayuko have gotten the skinny on Tora, as well as the knowledge that all previous wielders of the Beast Spear have become Azafuse, they can start to move forward (Saya also starts to add her power to the game). As Hakumen starts terrorizing city after city in Japan, the shards of the shattered Beast Spear that saved Ushio start taking their own journey.

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Those shards pierce each and every person who lost all memory of Ushio, including Asako, and just like that, she and everyone else remember him, and as a result, they start to rally all the frightened people around them and tell them that things are going to be okay.

Ushio dons his bone armor, meets up with the cloud of East/West youkai (who also remember him now and feel really bad about opposing him earlier), and begins the hunt for Hakumen; perhaps the final hunt.

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Tora gets to Hakumen first, but his attacks have no effect on him; apparently he has no memory of ever having raised Hakumen within his shoulder. No matter: as the calming words of Asako and all of Ushio’s other friends spreads, and Ushio’s own words spread, the fear across Japan weakens, and Hakumen starts to smell the Beast Spear re-gathering power.

Ushio to Tora has become so serialized at this point, it’s probably a better idea to binge-watch the rest rather than review individual episodes that are only pieces of a larger connected whole. That being said, I’m damned glad everyone has their memories back…that makes things a lot less dire for Ushio!

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Ushio to Tora – 34

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Things aren’t quite as bad as last week’s closing events indicated: Asako is safe (for now), Kouhamei is still kickin’, and Tokisaka has brought Kirio back from a past where he learned about the origins and weaknesses of Hakumen no Mono.

Ushio needs to rejoin the battle ASAP, but before that happens he takes a deep plunge not just into the ocean, but into the head and heart of a man named Shagakusa, who led a far worse life than Ushio, eventually becoming the Tora he knows.

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This show involves so much inexplicable magic that I didn’t really have a problem with Ushio going back 3,000 years to live Tora’s cursed life through his eyes (instead of drowning or being finished off by Hakumen in the present), but it still seems awfully late in the game to be digging into Tora’s past; not to mention somewhat momentum-killing.

That being said, I felt Tora’s hate and pain build as awful things kept happening, and even when he found happiness in his friend Raama and Raama’s kind and pretty sister, that small surrogate family of his was always bound to be doomed, adding fuel to the fire of hatred within him.

This constant “foregone-conclusion” feeling, combined with paper-thin supporting characters and intentional but still cheap-feeling animation, made it hard to get fully invested. And what’s all this about “hiding in Shagakusa’s mouth?”

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Raama’s sister, who tilled the earth and planted seeds so they’d bear fruit, warned Shagakusa that hatred breeds nothing. She wasn’t entirely right, as Shaga’s hatred eventually gives birth to Hakumen, a seed that had been planted in him as an infant when a shooting star fell upon his home and family, leaving only him alive.

There, in Shagakusa’s shoulder, Hakumen fed off of all that hate, until his corporeal body was strong enough to emerge. With the only people he ever loved dead, Shagakusa devoted the rest of his life to tracking down and ending Hakumen, including with the Beast Spear.

Now the spear is in shards in the sea with Ushio, but those shards form wings around him and help him rise to the surface. Now that his own hatred has passed for the time being, and he’s seen how ineffective that kind of tack is against Hakumen, Ushio is ready to return to a battle he now realizes has only begun. Those who love him are still alive, and they’re waiting for him. Hatred won’t work…but hope might.

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Dantalian no Shoka 11

The entire episode is a flashback to The Great War when Huey was a lieutenant in the Royal Air Force, where he quickly distinguishes himself. It focuses on his captain, Ilas, who switches sides to the Germans. He is writing a war anthology containing the voices of the battlefield. A biblioprincess, Raziel, visits him one night to tell him it is the egg of a phantom book. He meets Huey in a dogfight, at which time Huey tells him he should be dead, and uses the anthology to defeat him. Raziel’s keykeeper – whome Ilas met earlier as a bartender – raised him from the grave to finish the book, but when he didn’t, he returned him to the afterlife.

The subjects of this series have been as wide-ranging as those contained within a library, and I like that. The episodes can be enjoyed individually due to their unique and diverse characters. This week, there’s no Dalian, but another biblioprincess – the third we’ve encountered – but rather than focusing on her and her keykeeper, it’s mostly about their instrument, Ilas. This episode is also full of WWI-era bi-(and tri-)plane action, which when set against the picturesque European countryside, makes for a most impressive and bouyant setting. For Raziel’s (brief) part, she is quite nimble and light on her feet, sporting a very cool get-up.

Huey and Ilas are both total Wright-nerds and adept at “basquet-ball”. They’re both aces (Huey won the Victoria Cross and gave it to his underling without a second thought), but neither consider themselves “warriors”. Ilas is more interested in crafting his poetic war anthology than killing bogies, while we all know that when the war ended, Huey moved on to solving mysteries with Dalian. It must have been strange for Huey’s CO and mentor to die, then suddenly reappear on the enemy side. A nice touch is the key to Dalian that Huey mistakes for the key to the manor – perhaps he didn’t yet know his mystical calling?


Rating: 3.5

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Another episode of Sasuke’s inner conflict between the aesthete and the warrior. He resolves himself to be a full-on warrior from henceforth (didn’t he do that last week too?) only to fall off the wagon at a crucial time. The strengths from the first episode: eminently watchable characters, addictive fancy-pants dialogue, a curiously satisfying pace, anachronistic soundtrack, and a whole lot of novel ideas about the self.

Sasuke has a relatively nice life – one could even say luxurious for the time frame. He has the favor of his lord, a sublime wife of ideal disposition for her time and place, a cute young daughter, a decent crib, and a smart wardrobe. His scenes with his wife – exchanging apologies to each other before getting it on – only to be interrupted by news of a rebellion – are resplendent in their austerity. Despite everything he has though, he remains deeply conflicted. His humbling meeting with a tea master – someone, to his mind, far better at this than he – reveals that it isn’t just his warrior side he doubts, but his aesthete side as well.

His true love of the way of tea clouds his judgment as a warrior. His bluff of all bluffs – threatening to kill his wife (the rebel’s sister) unless his brother-in-law surrenders – is a desperate attempt to show those around him he’s a serious warrior. But when he corners another escaping rebel, he is bribed into sparing him by, what else, another legendarily exquisite piece of ceramic. Had there been other witnesses, Sasuke surely would have taken the rebel’s head…eventually. But to possess the mettle of a warrior, one must do things of one’s own accord, without outside influences bending him either way.

Thus Sasuke falls of the wagon and we, the audience, still question his credibility as a warrior. But that’s why we love him. Better luck next week. Rating: 4