DanMachi – 03

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I don’t think there’s a relationship this Spring as good or as balanced as Hestia and Bell. Part of that greatness lies in its simplicity: both were alone and no one believed in them, until they found each other. Now that they’re together, they can do great things. But first Hestia had to break Bell out of his insistence he protect her, even at the cost of his own life. Her line after finally succeeding in this says it all:

I didn’t want to just watch, or you to just take care of me, or just to have you save me.

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First, the giant silverback stalking Hestia has to be dealt with. It looks like Bell is going to be bailed out by Ais, but in a clever bit of misdirection she’s actually slaying a different beast on the other side of town. Bell is saved by Hestia running the other way around and putting herself right back in harms way, which initially angers Bell.

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He grabs Hestia in his arms (which makes her very happy!) and they find a hiding spot, where Hestia is finally a able to present the “Hestia Knife” to him, promising him he’ll now have the strength to defeat the monster. All he has to do is keep his chin up, believe in himself, believe in her, and believe in them.

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I just wanted to pause and voice my appreciation for the producers’ restraint in building a beautiful yet not overly ecchi rapport between these two. They really come off more as soulmates than a goddess and her child, and they really do make each other better.

I’m also glad Bell has the good sense to listen to Hestia and not the voice inside his head demanding he be her sacrificial knight when that’s neither what she wants nor what’s best for him or her. Dying for her, after all, would only leave her alone again, going back on his promise.

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Having physically and emotionally charged Bell up and literally lent him her strength, Bell blasts out of his hiding spot like a bat out of hell, and suddenly the silverback seems slower and more plodding against his lightning-quick moves. Bell dodges its blows, smashes its chain and armor, and places a critical, surgical strike on its heart.

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The huge THUD and kicked-up cloud of dust is an immensely satisfying moment, as is the cheering of the crowd and Hestia’s warm embrace after a brief pause. But then Hestia goes down. I didn’t see this as being as bad as it looked (or as Bell thought it might be), considering she had stayed up to make his knife and expended a lot of energy. Up in the rooftops, Freya smirks, as Bell apparently passed her test, and she looks forward to their next meeting.

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Sure enough, Hestia just needs a lot of rest after a couple of very intense days. Bell dutifully guards the inn room lent to them courtesy of Syr and the landlady. Syr apologizes, as her lost wallet (which apparently wasn’t intentional) got Bell into this whole mess. She also works up the courage to tell him she fell in love with him for sure after his heroic display.

When Hestia wakes up, she gives Bell the quote above, and tells him she wants to help him in any way she can, and always will, because she loves him. Her words move him (and me, almost!) to tears, happy as he is to have someone in his life so devoted to him and only him. Also, two confessions in one day and an admiring look from Ais: Not a bad day’s work for Mr. Cranel!

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DanMachi – 02

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The increasingly symbiotic patron/servant arrangement between Bell and Hestia reminded me of Chaika in DanMachi’s first outing, but it’s second is all about its similarities to SAO—and not just because Bell has the same seiyu as Kirito, but the whole rpg-like setting, where experience and equipment matter, as do relationships. And it’s relationships that DanMachi excels at in the early going.

The dialogue is very leading at times, but it’s also heartfelt, moving, and quite solid in general, starting with Hestia’s little speech to Bell about her commitment to supporting him no matter what, so he needn’t be so rash. It’s not just their official arrangement she’s concerned about, but Bell himself: she doesn’t want to be left alone, and neither does he. This is an important break from SAO, where it took time for Kirito to trust, work with, and love others.

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There’s even a hearty helping of SAO-style arbitrary fanservice! Yes, despite her slight build, Hestia is quite well-endowed. I knew a girl like that in high school, and though I had to tip my hat, I also worried for her back.

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It’s also nice to see the show follow up on things like Bell running out on his bill, but being forgiven by the landlady thanks to the silver-haired Syr, who’s taken a liking to the white-haired rookie. Bell has a nice face and a kind heart, and he’s a classic underdog with hidden value, so it makes sense that he’d attract more than just Hestia, even if he’s as inexperienced with girls as he is in the dungeon.

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I have to applaud this episode not just for bringing the heart and the world-building and that comedy, but for delivering so much in one episode without overwhelming me. Just as Hestia tells Bell not to leave her alone, she leaves him alone to attend a Banquet of the Gods. Unfortunately, Nanami didn’t get a cameo. ;)

But the banquet does a very efficient and entertaining job of laying out the various gods in play here on DanMachi, from the fiery, plucky Loki (the Norse trickster god) to the floating-above-the-fray Freya (Norse goddess of love). Heck, even Ganesha is here, throwing an arena extravaganza.

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Ah, so that’s why she has such big boobs…so she has rhetorical ammo against those of lesser endowment who would mock her stature!

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While they spend the middle section of the episode apart, Bell is foremost on Hestia’s mind. She attended the banquet in hopes of bumping into Hephaistos (god of blacksmiths and other craftsmen and artisans), and prostrates herself and begs for Bell’s sake for her to make him a weapon to match his potential. Hephaistos is initially dubious, but sees Hestia’s devotion to her child and agrees, as long as she helps her make the knife, and promises to eventually pay for it.

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In a nice bit of misdirection Freya is initially portrayed as a neutral if not benevolent goddess, but shows her true colors in seeking out the new up-and-coming talent in Bell, whom Hestia hasn’t been able to keep under wraps. Here’s hoping Freya isn’t just a female Nobuyuki Sugou, and there’s some nuance to her impending villainy.

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As for Ais Wallenwhatsit (as Hestia amusingly refers to her), we only get the slightest glimpse of her, catching a glimpse of Bell in the crowd outside. Ais looks to be the Asuka to Bell’s Kirito (while Hestia is definitely a Suguha…and Syr a Lisbeth), but with the added twist that her goddess also seems interested in him, and perhaps not in a wholesome or honorable way—Freya is the god of sex, war, and death after all, and Ais is beholden to her.

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But meanwhile, Bell fights hard to protect Hesita, while Hestia works hard to support him, in a very sweet, equitable, believable relationship. Bell would probably see Hestia as his little sister were it not for the fact she’s a goddess, while Hestia seems to have more romantic feelings for Bell, in an inexperienced goddess-courting-a-mortal kinda way.

She insists they go out on a date for the Monsterphilia festival, and Bell can hardly refuse. Frankly, he’d be a fool to do so, even though he’s trying to get Syr’s wallet back to her. I wonder if Syr “forgot” it on purpose so her co-workers could put Bell on her trail?

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But the date goes sour when a beast (controlled by Freya) escapes the arena and goes after Hestia, forcing Bell into another fight he’s not ready for; he has to shake off his fear, and his regular weapon shatters against the beast’s hide. I have to say, the sudden shift in mood is very well done, thanks in part to a nifty chase scene and some truly kickass battle music that reminded me of GARO’s boss fights.

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What’s also great about Bell is that he’s not a fool. He knows he’ll win if he survives, as the landlady said, but he won’t abandon Hestia. That said, he also knows he probably can’t win this fight as he is now, but after getting Hestia to a safe place (though behind bars is a bit harsh), he decides he’ll at least buy her as much time as he can.

Little does he know as he runs from Hestia and towards the danger, that the blade Hestia made with Hephaistos; the one that can probably defeat Freya’s beast, is strapped to her back. She needs to keep reminding him that they’re in this together.

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Black Bullet – 01

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I was pleased with how polished and efficient this first episode of Black Bullet was. It offered a little bit of everything: a glimpse of the hellish past that was to the fragile peace of the present, some nice world-building, a hint of comedy, some romantic undertones, and last but not least, a decent helping of action; though not enough to break the budget in the first week. If I were to pick two words to describe it, it would be “competent” and “enticing”—two words with which I’d also describe myself.

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While I noted some exchanges of dialogue were a little transparently expository, at least the information itself was clearly and confidently laid out. One episode in and I had no trouble understanding the core conflict and the systems and weapons in place to fight the enemy, Gastrea. In this regard, I was reminded of the opening episode of Bleach, a similarly self-assured outing that quickly established its house rules and offered up an enticing mélange of action, drama, comedy, and creepy monsters (mind you, one that had no business being sustained for 366 episodes).

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Let’s talk characters: Satomi Rentarou (Kaji Yuki), orphaned by the war a decade ago and apparently adopted by the wealthy Tendo family, fights the Gastrea. Tendo Kisara (Horie Yui) is his adoptive sister not related by blood that Rentarou has feelings for (and runs the agency he works for), while his partner is the pint-sized, pink-haired Aihara Enju (Hidaka Rina), an obligatory human-Gastrea hybrid who represent humanity’s last best hope, along with Varanium, a black metal the Gastrea dislike. While Enju calls Rentarou her “fiancee” and is always messing with him, they’re more of a big-bro-lil-sis pair.

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There’s also a villain in a funny suit with a funny mask who is immune to Rentarou’s attacks and says he’ll destroy the world. That made me wonder if he was some kind of human-Gastrea hybrid before I learned the “cursed children” are only girls. Still, he’s bad news, as is the Gastrea presently at large. Between the overarching conflict with the Gastrea, Rentarou’s potential romantic ventures, his seemingly-abandoned goals to find his family, and the fate of “cursed children” like Enju toeing the line between human and monster, there’s a lot of material to work with. I like what I’ve seen, and definitely look forward to what’s in store.

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