Tales of Zestiria the X – 20

zest201

Both Alisha’s enemy Bartlow and her “supporter” Lunarre wrongly believe she’ll take the bait of her suffering Maltran, but they’re both wrong. Maltron knows if Alisha does as she taught, she won’t come for her.

zest202

Instead Alisha and her people infiltrate the palace. It’s not at all certain that Alisha’s order that no one is to die is carried out in the process, as both her men and many of the palace guards are injured and shot with arrows, and it’s asking a lot to think none of them will succumb to their injuries.

In any case, Alisha gets an audience with her father at last, but he’s consumed by malevolence. Baltrow enters the room alone and attempts to take out Alisha by himself…which makes no sense. Why did he go in alone, without any backup?

What would be his killing blow to Alisha is blocked by the king in what I gather is one last act of sacrifice to make up for, charitably, over a season and a half of complete inaction.

Then, before the young, athletic Alisha or her knights can stop him, the slow old Baltrow runs outside and jumps off the balcony, spiting Alisha by not being taken alive. Um, why did everyone just stand around and let him do that?

zest203

With the internal power struggle thus hastily ended and Alisha now the de facto ruler of Hyland, she turns to the next existential crisis: that giant tornado. There’s a dragon inside, and Sorey believes he’ll be the first shepherd to purify it, erasing the myth that such a feat is impossible.

zest204

He manages to get the job done, thanks not only to Mikleo and Rose, but his other squire Alisha joining in to help share the burden of the dragon’s malevolence, as Lailah, Edna, and Dezel handle the small fry.

zest205

And once the dragon is purified and the sun shines over Ladylake once more, our heroes get to enjoy the victory for all of ten seconds before Symmone appears, telling them her master will cover the entire earth in malevolence and end the world, and they don’t have what it takes to stop them.

Well, I asked for more action to masked the seemingly increasing blandness characters, and I got it. But with so much significance placed on Baltrow over the last few months, and the immediate introduction of an even bigger threat, then an even bigger one after that, it all felt rather anti-climatic.

And once more, a preview in which 2D Rose and Alisha bicker over whose late master was strongest was more far more engaging than anything either of them said in the actual episode.

I’m quickly doubting whether my master adequately trained me or if I have enough squires to help bear the burden of Zestiria. Because the eye candy isn’t nearly enough to keep me interested.

16rating_6

Advertisements

Tales of Zestiria the X – 19

zest191

Zestiria can still effortlessly deliver vista after gorgeous vista, but the excitement and urgency came up a bit short this week, and reminded me that it’s rarely been able to satisfying depth beneath its shiny surface. It also has a tendency to be clunky in its pacing, as demonstrated in this Alisha-focused episode filled with perfunctory talking scenes.

zest192

Giant tornadoes are threatening Ladylake…until they aren’t, as they’ve all dissipated so far. Alisha is waiting for the Big One, all while being branded a criminal by the sniveling Lord Baltrow, who is the worst kind of dull wallpaper paste villain. Unable to catch Alisha, he tries to bait her by putting her mentor Maltran on display to starve to death or be picked at by birds. Swell.

zest194

After Zaveid decides to randomly show up to save Alisha and her knights from a giant mud hellion, then leaves to go find and shoot a dragon (see ya Zaveid) Alisha sits by a pond, seemingly for hours, wondering what to do. Lunarre is another random visitor, basically asking her to change up her methods, since, like Ned Stark, her unswerving dedication to high-minded nobility and honor may well get her killed.

zest195

That is, if she didn’t have a Shepherd for a friend. She managed to contact Sorey last week, but he and the others take their sweet time starting off for Ladylake. I know their contact was cut off, but surely her saying “Ladylake is in dire straits” tipped him off that maybe he should hurry to Ladylake, which he, Rose, and the seraphim finally do at the end of the episode.

zest196

I can’t help but think some of the overarching stiffness and vanilla-ness of the show could be pepped up a bit with the kind of light humor in the previews. But those are fourth wall-breaking affairs, and Zestiria isn’t meant to be a comedy.

Still, it’s troubling that the biggest rise I got was from the preview, not from anything in the episode that preceded it. Alisha’s daring stealth raid on Ladylake looks like it might be interesting, but this week was a bit too leisurely getting her there.

16rating_7

Tales of Zestiria the X – 18

zest181

This week Sorey & Co. finally make it to Pendrago, but not before Sorey meets with Emperor Doran of Rolance, who is sympathetic to Sorey’s cause because he’s been informed of the existence of malevolence, just as have all of his predecessors, by storytellers like Mayvin. Sorey even learns about Velvet Crowe, some of whose exploits we saw in the first season.

zest182

While chatting with the emperor, who has decided to accompany Sorey to the capital should there be any problems with access, Rose is wondering what to do next. She’s done so much in the name of justice and righteousness, and yet she’s never seen the malevolence that is the true cause of the world’s ills, nor has she ever seen her “guardian angel” Dezel. She wants to rectify that.

To do so, Dezel tells her she must become the shepherd’s squire, as Alisha has done. Lailah goes over the pros and cons while everyone is en route to Pendrago, and while Sorey seems reluctant to tie his life to Rose’s (if she fails and he dies, she dies too), Rose is pretty adamant, and there’s never any doubt she’ll be Sorey’s squire.

zest183

When she finally does, it’s pretty abrupt, and in the middle of the city’s main church where the malevolence is intense and focused around a dead dragon. It’s a nice transition from what Rose sees before her transformation to after, when she can not only see the malevolence oozing from the dragon, but Dezel and all of Sorey’s seraphim pals.

zest184

When trying to purify the dragon on his own fails, Sorey pairs up with Rose, who takes on some of the malevolence flowing into him, and after some spirited synchronized yelling, and some tactical support from the seraphim, the blue flames overcome the red, the dragon is purified. The rains cease, the clouds part, and the sun returns to Pendrago. Not too tricky a mission, when all’s said and done.

Of course, the next crisis is just around the corner in a tornado-filled Ladylake, as Alisha reports to Sorey using her squire-telepathy skills. Rose is ready for her next mission as his squire, so they seem poised to head out immediately, having proven beyond doubt to the doubters that the shepherd’s power is not only real, but vital.

16rating_7

Tales of Zestiria the X – 17

zest171

Before Rose can “kill him”, Prince Konan turns into a hellion and grapples with Rose until the very castle towers around them crumble and fall, sending them into the lake below. Sorey grabs hold of Rose and the two end up washing ashore, none the worse for wear, at least physically.

zest172

Rose’s mental state is another issue entirely. Upon getting up from the beach, she wanders around listlessly, as if she’s no longer sure what to do next or what her purpose is. She tries to go out into the lake to “finish” Konan, but everyone, even Dezel, bids her not to go; that her work is, indeed finished. Hellion or not, Konan is gone, as is the object of hatred that has fueled her ever since Brad was killed.

zest173

As they continue on the long journey to Pendrago, Rose sulks in a wagon, periodically conversing with Sorey, who doesn’t leave her side, nor will he abandon their friendship, even though he now knows she’s an assassin. Sorey takes the hard line of all killing is bad, no matter how noble the cause.

It’s a position it’s not hard to see him having, considering the human emotions that drive them to fight and kill each other is directly responsible for the malevolence that is causing global calamity. When Rose asks if the ‘work’ she’s done killing people “who need to be killed” to help the greater good—the little guy—was all for naught; Sorey can’t answer in the negative. She’s strong, but she’s been directing and expending her energy the wrong way.

zest174

There are some nice moments this week between Rose and Sorey, I mostly enjoyed the road-trip flavor of the episode, and riding through a wraith-filled forest made for some decent action.

However I also feel like Sorey and his Seraphim have been repeating themselves of late, and I also had a pretty good bead on Rose’s background and her motivations up to this point, making the flashbacks of her meeting Brad and joining the Windriders feel necessary.

I’m also unsure exactly how Rose’s severe crisis of purpose and identity is going to be resolved. Maybe arriving in Pendrago will bear some answers.

16rating_7

Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie: Rebellion

mmm31

I’ve always been more a fan of continuations than re-tellings or re-imaginings, so among the three Madoka movies, this was the one that I anticipated the most. I only skimmed through the first two, which were only recaps of a show I finished watching over four years ago, but which remains burned in my brain as one of my all-time favorites. Heck, Sayaka is my avatar.

mmm32

I also recently dropped Sailor Moon Crystal, because a straightforward magical girl tale just never appealed to me as much as a subversion or deconstruction of same, which Madoka is. With Rebellion, the recaps are over, and I finally get to see what happened after Madoka sacrificed her very existence in order to save Homura and her friends. And I have to say, I liked what I saw.

mmm33

After Madoka, Sayaka, Mami, and Kyouko dispatch a “nightmare,” Rebellion begins as if a reset button had been pressed. Madoka awakes and goes through the same morning motions as she does in the first episode of the tv show. Then a twin-braided, bespectacled, friendly and cheerful Akemi Homura transfers in, befriends Madoka and the others, and soon joins them in their periodic nightmare battles.

mmm34

Even when their classmate Shizuki turns into a nightmare, they’re able to change her back into a normal human without any harm done. This is an ideal world in which everything is too good to be true. Ironically, it’s a world I, as someone who wants these girls to simply be able to enjoy such a life without further hardship, don’t have that big a problem with! Everyone’s alive; everyone’s friends; everyone is working together; and there seem to be no consequences to being magical girls.

mmm35

Homura goes through enough of this that she eventually begins to suspect something is very wrong, as memories of past worlds she inhabited begin to surface. In this way, the movie starts with the “Happily Ever After.” But Homura’s returning memories, vague as they are, become a splinter in her mind she cannot ignore, so both the Happy and the Ever After eventually fade for her.

mmm36

Homura takes Sakura with her to the town where Sakura says she used to live, yet doesn’t remember much about it. Yet no matter how many times hey take the bus or even walk, they can’t seem to leave Mitakihara City; as if there’s nothing beyond it. In a movie full of memorable sequences, this entire surreal journey to nowhere is particularly goosebump-inducing, with sound and image in perfect strange harmony.

mmm37

This leads Homura to believe this is a false city where she and the others are being imprisoned. She suspects Bebe, Mami’s familiar whom we’ve never seen before, of being a witch, but Mami, having no idea what’s going on, intervenes and threatens punishment if Homura hurts Bebe. But Homura isn’t about to let the mastermind behind this plot go.

mmm38

That can only mean one thing: Mami and Homura square off with lots and lots of guns and acrobatics in what I’d describe as one of the best one-on-one battle sequences in the Madoka franchise. It wasn’t just the speed and complexity of the battle that excited, but all the twists and turns it took, from Homura threatening to shoot herself in the head, causing Mami to drop her guard so she can shoot her in the leg, only for her target to be a decoy Mami set up. All because these two girls couldn’t talk it out and let tempers flare.

mmm39

Sayaka flies in frees Homura from Mami’s custody, while a Bebe in human form comes to explain things to Mami. When they’re alone, Sayaka asks Homura why things can’t just stay the way they are if everyone’s happy. But her knowledge that something isn’t right is proof that while this is the “real” Sayaka, she’s more than just a magical girl now.

mmm310

Later that night, Madoka finds Homura drifting in a canal boat (another gorgeous, lyrical sequence), and they discuss what’s eating her: that being the thought that nothing here is real and there was another time when she lost Madoka and tried desperately to bring her back. Madoka assures her those were all just bad dreams; they’re together here and now, that’s all that matters.

mmm311

Homura is convinced this Madoka is the real one too, but she wants to test one last thing: whether she herself is even a magical girl. She does this by tossing away her soul gem and traveling past the maximum distance she can be from it (a tried and true method from the original show). When nothing happens, she knows things aren’t right in the world. Then that world starts to deteriorate around her, and the reality descends upon her that she is a witch, and this false city is a construct of her own making.

mmm312

The world around her starts to deteriorate, as the reality descends upon her that she is a witch, and this is false city is a construct of her own making. Then Kyuubey shows up and starts talking. More precisely, Homura is a magical girl on the cusp of becoming a witch, due to the despair of losing Madoka and being the only one who remembers her. The Incubators placed her in an isolated space as an experiment to lure the godlike Madoka, the “The Law of Cycles”, whom they hoped to control in order to maximize the energy they can harvest from magical girls becoming witches.

mmm313

When Madoka came to where Homura was, she lost the memory of her duty and powers as the Law of Cycles, and became trapped in the false city along with her two assistants, Sayaka and Bebe. While this sounds a little convoluted on paper, in practice it’s perfectly consistent with vulnerability of the damaged Homura the TV show (and previous movie) ended with, and the cold opportunism of the Incubators.

It also makes sense that Homura would choose to complete her witch transformation at the cost of her own soul, in order to keep the Incubators from screwing with Madoka anymore. Because it’s not a self-preserving move, it’s a move they don’t see coming. But the other magical girls arrive and go against her wishes, freeing her from the false city and find her real body in a desolate wasteland.

mmm314

It’s a move that restores Madoka’s memories and powers as Law of Cycles back, but at a price: Madoka is once again exposed to the Incubator’s meddling, not to mention the still-alive Homura’s own desires. When she descends upon Homura to clear her soul gem of despair, Homura grabs her and releases the contents of the gem, which isn’t despair, but love, the ‘most powerful of emotions’ and the one Kyuubey is least equipped to understand. This is Homura following through on her promise never to let Madoka go, having been given an opportunity she didn’t ask for, but did hope for.

mmm315

Things get more and more out of hand from there, with Homura suppressing Madoka’s godlike powers and transforming into a kind of Anti-Law of Cycles, calling herself a “demon” in contrast to Madoka’s angel-like form. With her new powers, she rewrites the laws of the universe just as Madoka once had, only this time both of them are alive and well in a real world, not a mere illusion caused by the experimentation of the Incubators.

mmm316

In this new world, Madoka is the transfer student rather than Homura, and sports a yellow ribbon rather than red, which Homura sports instead. Homura still has all her memories of what went on in the previous universes, and it shows on her universe-weary, glasses-less face. Her love for Madoka is a twisted, possessive love now, borne from pressing countless reset buttons and literally going to hell and back.

mmm317

So, all’s well that ends well, right? Well…no. This is Madoka we’re talking about. Homura merely suppressed Madoka’s Law of Cycle powers, and her memory of them. The powers are still there, and even while she’s showing Madoka around the school, a momentary recollection has her suddenly about to transform back into that godlike being.

Homura has to embrace her tightly to stop the transformation, but a time will probably come when she can’t, and the angel and demon will become enemies with opposing goals. In other words, all’s well that ends well for the time being, if you happen to be on Homura’s side. This is very much in keeping with the franchises refusal to hand out happy or even easy endings, preferring qualified, ambiguous, or just plain strange ones. After all that’s happened, consequences and compromises were inevitable. The show doesn’t rule out future problems…nor future rewrites of the universe.

mmm318

The post-credits sequence is strange indeed, but again, nothing new for this franchise. Sitting high above the city she in effect controls, apparently content with the way things are (again, for now), and fully equipped and prepared to defend the way things are, whether it’s keeping Madoka from rising back to godhood or keeping Kyuubey neutralized.

If Homura has to be “evil” in order to share the real world with the one she loves by suppressing her true nature, so be it.

9_mag