Hitsugi no Chaika – 10

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“Fortress in the Sky”—no ambiguity in that title. It’s what we were promised, and it’s what we got, and then some. Things start out as previous episodes have: new town, buying fuel; but it’s quickly apparent that this won’t be the usual get-in-get-out smash-and-grab operation. The fortress, and the Triumvirate of Evil running it, pose the greatest threat yet to Chaika’s quest, as well as to her life and those of her retinue.

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First of all, though, the fortress: It’s pretty cool-looking, and definitely calls to mind a few of its brethren from other fantasy anime or video games, while fitting snugly into the world of Chaika, and in that world, it’s also a big deal. It’s enough to put a serious drain on magical fuel, thoroughly wilting what looked like a once-proud and prosperous city in its massive shadow.

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Then there’s the fact all the city’s young women are rounded up by the Duke’s army, building him up as some kind of old, fat, mustache-twirling pervert adding to his sky harem. But we never see that Duke, and it turns out he doesn’t even exist. Well, he might have, but his son Ricardo murdered him a while ago, along with his mother, brother and sister.

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Ricardo’s a sadistic piece of work, who is held back from dissecting a captured Akari by his wizard adviser Grad Lancia, who keeps the fortress floating. Grad’s a piece of work too, employing invasive mind manipulation magic on Akari, and, we’re pretty sure, all the other girls too, who now wear armor and fight as their army.

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The third member of this happy family of villains is Layla, who successfully plays innocent until Chaika is in her clutches, and then Grad sics the re-educated Akari on her own brother, a real “oh, shit” moment in the episode. Did we mention Fredrica, the only one who can fly the others out of there, was run through with a longsword and tossed into a pit?

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Yeah, there’s a lot going on here, and none of it good for our heroes. And hey, the show even manages to fit the Gillette Corps into this puzzle somewhat organically: Vivi and Zita had infiltrated the fortress before Tooru & Co. to gather intelligence, but their mission is quickly countermanded by the decision of the six allied nations to attack Duke Gavarni’s fortress.

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What’s better than a flying fortress? That’s right: TWO flying fortresses. I thought, for a brief time, that this would be good for Tooru & Co: in the midst of the chaos of the battling fortresses, they’ can snatch the remains and be on their way. But several factors conspire to make that easy route all but impossible.

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Chaika and Akari’s mind are in the enemy’s hands. Fredrica’s fate is unknown. And most importantly, these three villains are no pushovers, and they’re actually glad the other Fortress is headed their way, which can’t be good. Everything is going the bad guys’ way. How long can they keep it up?

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