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Finales: Darker than Black, Seitokai no Ichizon, Sacred Blacksmith

December 27, 2009 4 comments

I was hoping for something epic in at least one of these final episodes, and Darker came close, but …

Poking around the intertubes to see who had a better understanding of what the hell happened in the Darker than Black finale I found most people are just as bewildered as I am. That’s sort of a relief, I’m not as stupid as I thought. I thought that all would be come clear, but it left me scratching my head, and cursing because the story and the world are definitely not done yet.

All this time I thought Izanami and Izanagi were Yin and Shion, or vice-versa, but then we get this:

Huh? Wha?

TWO Yins! And they want Hei to kill her, or them. Well, that’s what he had come to do, anyway …

And Shion has created an alternate earth, apparently, and Suou is now in it, along her entire family, and July (and Misuzu and Babo–nice touch). Kirihara runs around, moments too late for everything. She wasn’t well used in this sequel. And the CIA has taken over Tokyo, for no other reason, we’re told, than that they’re Americans and tend to do this sort of thing.

Of course the core of the show is Suou. She makes it to the gate, meets Shion, who dies at the hands of Izanami/agi, and July, who is showing more emotion now, who also dies. And then she pretty much dies, too, at least that’s how it felt. There’s a heart-wrenching scene where we see her memories and watch them burn away, for she is losing them. This is as close to a death scene as you can get with no death. For the heart of the series to end up like that, even if she’s now a happy schoolgirl on Shion’s world who thinks now and then that she’s missing part of her life, is tragic to watch.

But that’s one of the reasons DtB is so effective. It’s not afraid of doing just about anything to the characters, as everything is part of a bigger story. Suou’s has been subsumed. Hope to see you again, Suou, as soon as they come up with the next series or OVA.

Seitokai no Ichizon doesn’t have a confusing ending because there’s no story to end. But the characters are fully aware that this is the last episode, such is the type of show this is, so they do try to give us a wrap-up (After they deal with Mafuyu’s confession by making it anticlimatical). They all try to think about what they’re going to do when they grow up …

Then, in this the final episode, they introduce a new character, Nakameguro. Here the series goes from silly to touching, as we learn how grateful Ken is for the girls. It’s better than some of the show’s attempts at sentimentality, but it still lets the air out of the episode. Thankfully, they end silly, and totally aware of it.

It was a silly show, and I will miss it.

The Sacred Blacksmith has a satisfactory ending, though the show as a whole wasn’t particularly notable for anything. Just your run-of-the-mill fantasy anime, old Europe division. When the last episode ended all sorts of monsters are running amok in the city, but we start with a quiet moment where Luke and Lisa talk things out, though we know what each side is going to say. Luke is sorry he burdened Lisa with the old Lisa’s baggage. As for our Lisa:

Then we get on to the fight. Nice to see the city militia, useless in most monster fights, put up a good effort this time. But things drag because we all know what the big scene will be: the fight between Luke and Siegfried, the most annoying snickering talky villain I can remember. I should have expected Cecily to show up at just the right time when Luke is injured.

I'll miss Cecily's gumption.

And the climax is exciting enough, with Cecily using the katana Luke forges for her (while Siegfried waits. At least he can be polite). Meanwhile we see the flaws in the show stand out, Cecily’s fight with Siegfried’s guard which is there only to get Aria out of the action so she can’t be used in the real fight, and to kill time, and the long speeches by Siegfried, who could have killed them all if he’d have just stopped smirking and get to it …

No, nothing notable about this show. Darker than Black’s ending packed a bigger punch, confusing as it was. But I congratulate it for keeping me interested enough not to drop it, in spite of its banal story and lack of depth.

Darker 11, Letter Bee 11, Fairy Tail 10

December 20, 2009 Leave a comment

Darker than Black 11 contains more shocks for Suou and more power moves from the various parties, and I’m still not sure what to make of it. But it has become apparent that all the organizations trying to track down Dr. Pavlichenko, Shion and/or Suou are pretty much background in order to give us fighting and chasing scenes, while the heart of the story is Suou herself, and maybe Hei … No, not Hei. He’s the backbone to the plot, not the heart, the one who is trying to interfere with the Izanami/Inazagi prophecy, or maybe because he just wants to see Yin again, for whatever reason. Taking Suou with him allows her to go on her own voyage of discovery, and that’s the important thing in this show.

This time Suou and her pals go to the aquarium where she meets her father. He fills in the details about who created her. Various groups track them there somehow, and they need to escape.

Heroic father maneuver.

What I like is that Pavlichenko is happy to see her. This cryptic, behind-the-scenes manipulator shows her fatherly love. He even saves her from some Contractor-created death spear but is fatally wounded in the process. Before he dies (from a leg wound??) he provides a moment of reassurance by telling her, as Hei did the previous week, that he thinks of her as Suou, his Suou, a real person. Whether this will give Suou a sense of closure is anyone’s guess. But it’s one less thing she needs to do: she found her father and made peace with him.

The star is a nice touch.

The rest of the episode is a dark comedy of errors, as Section 3 swoops in, followed by the CIA, each chasing their own tails. Kirihara is given nothing useful to do again, except get taken away by the blonde woman. Each group seems to know less about what’s going on than the last.

I thought EVERYONE had figured that out by now.

Hei goes to find Yin only to find her gone, and is about to get skewered by Hazuki when the scene cuts. I mean, apart from Suou I really don’t care too much what happens to any one of these people anymore. It’s simply background noise. I do kind of want to know what’s going on with Yin, but that’s about it. I never thought the DtB sequel would make Hei so inconsequential.

Letter Bee 11 goes back to single-episode story format, as Lag goes off on his new job delivering letters. But the letter, sent by a starving artist to his mother is full of lies about his enormous success. Pure-hearted Lag has some qualms about delivering it.

At this point we can see the end a mile away. Alcott’s mother won’t mind at all because she sees through the lies. The important thing is that he wrote. So if anything is going to make this episode interesting it will be the journey there, to the town called “Breath Mint Gelato.” Heh.

And it’s not bad, with monsters and rickety suspension bridges, but it’s not enough to make up for the banality of the story line, even when Lag has to make a decision about what a Bee’s true purpose is. I hope they go back to larger story arcs soon. The show works better that way.

Fairy Tail 11 starts well, fizzles out later, then sets up the next story arc. They should have kept up with the opening bit: Natsu vs. Erza!

Fight! Fight!

But a guild official stops the fight and hauls Erza away on trumped-up damage charges. And the show comes to a screeching halt. Then when the show has picked up some steam again it’s all made moot when we learn it’s a show trial, and she is released. The rest is all exposition. Turning completely away from the rest of the ep, Natsu goes off on his own plot tangent by stealing one of the superdangerous S-Rank missions. He’s not qualified and will surely get himself killed, so naturally he asks Lucy along.

Really, this episode was a mess. It changed direction every few minutes and lost any momentum it had built in doing so. I’ll chalk it up as an in-between episode and hope it gets back on track next week.

Darker 10, Fairy Tail 9, 11Eyes 9

December 15, 2009 Leave a comment

Darker than Black continues with the conundrums, but things begin to settle into place. First, we get an idea of what Suou really is. Second, Kirihara is back in the action, though I can’t quite imagine her incredible luck of getting involved. I mean, stopping for coffee and just happening to spot Suou and July hiding behind the vending machine …

Holy coinkidink, Batman!

This is so improbable in a show this smart that I have to think it was set up by one character or organization or another (There is another coinkidink moment when Mao recognizes a woman because of his taste for women’s ankles). I kept waiting for an answer, but it looks like what it is, sadly. Never mind. It gets Kirihara in the game, something I’ve been waiting for since the start. She tussles with Hei, and confronts Suou’s mother, who gives us the story of the girl’s actual death years ago. This works wonders for Suou’s self-esteem and sense of identity, as you can imagine, and it also helps the plot along, though where it’s going is still a matter of conjecture: The kidnapped Yuoko tells Hei about the Mikata Documents prophecy we heard last week. Alas, Hei breaks a cardinal rule of the series. Hei! If you’re done with a prisoner, let them go, or a rival will finish them off! Poor Yuoko. Meanwhile Dr. Pavlichenko and Shion are still around, mainly undetected, calming muttering things that don’t make much sense, yet. And there are those blonde girls, and the moon coming out …

The important thing through all the confusion is Suou, and her continuing confusion over what she really is. A contractor? Sort of. A copy? Yes. Or is she an organic life form that everyone refers to as Suou? All we really know is that whatever this show has in store for us, it’s going to involve her. So while everyone else runs around talking cryptically or killing each other, I’m keeping my eye on her for answers, even if she has less of a clue than any of us.

That was all so confusing that I was also confused by the conclusion of Fairy Tail 9, but then, so are most of the characters. Lost and starving, our gang reach a deserted village, a landlocked Mary Celeste, as well as a forest full of magic mushrooms. A perfect opportunity for them to act stupid.

The village is actually over a magic seal gone awry, or something, and soon it opens and we get the action scenes. They’re exciting enough, but since we don’t know what’s going on, and suspect that fighting these things won’t take care of the problem, I didn’t have the same connection that I’ve had with earlier battles. On the other hand, they’re motivated to defeat the monsters, because they’re so hungry they’ll eat anything.

An appropriate outfit to transform into, Erza.

And in the end, we still don’t know what’s going on, and Makarov, who probably saved their bacon, isn’t saying. And they’re still hungry. And I’m still confused. And the ep title was “Natsu Eats a Village,” something that DID NOT HAPPEN. I was looking forward to that … I’ll just leave it to Happy:

11Eyes 10 is two-thirds exposition and one-third bloody fighting. It’s getting so I wonder if anyone is going to survive this thing. Mainly we learn about Liselotte, the nasty witch who kept trying to destroy the world on behalf of her dead lover Verard, the guy Kakeru got his eye from.

There are ways of telling if she's a witch ...

The team is dispirited and split up. Kakeru, who doesn’t have the same despair over the world that Verado did, tries to bring them back together, apologizing to Kukuri, comforting Misuzu, though it’s too late. For one thing, Yuka is still a basket case and Kukuri decides to vanish–literally.

But what I don’t get is if the Black Knights are working for good, and our heroes are also good, why don’t they work together at this point? Surely Kakeru, Misuzu or Shiori, the three smarter characters on the home team, could figure this out. Well, maybe they would have, but Yukiko rather spoils things by going off on her own to attack the remaining Knights (Sayonara Yukiko), and then there’s our favorite lovable murderous nut, Yuka.

Yuka, listen to me, put the fragment down. Just put it d--No! Don't throw it over there!

So now all hell’s broken loose and the death count will certainly increase. I must say I liked the twists this time around, at least when they got around to battling rather than receiving Shiroi’s infodumps. But the buildup to these moments has been a long and often dull and annoying one. The final episodes had better be good.

Categories: Darker than Black

More Nines: Darker, Bantorra, Sasameki

December 11, 2009 Leave a comment

I combined these three shows last week and was delighted. This time around there’s a drop, but not a big one.

I praise shows with complexity, but sometimes they baffle me. Such as with Darker than Black and its enormous roster of characters, some of them new, and others we met in the previous series, such as …

Hey! Look who's back! Make sense of the plot for me, Gai? Er, never mind ...

I can’t say I ever cared much for Gai Kurasawa. As comic relief he wasn’t much use. His assistant Kiko was a little better. This time around, however, I was relieved to see them, since I had completely lost track of what each covert organization was planning and why, or even who worked for whom. At least here was something I could recognize. Why did Hei separate from Suou and July and kidnap Kuoko? Argh. What is this future-predicting Contractor and why was Kirihara so interested? I forget, or maybe I was never told. Okay, it all centers around Yin, who’s still locked away somewhere. But at times it’s impossible to figure out what that means to everyone. The only clue we get is the prophecy that if Yin and (presumably) Shion meet, it’s big trouble for the world. Maybe.

At least Gai and Kiko could lead Suou and her buddies into something simpler: finding Suou’s mom. They do it in their usual haphazard way, and its Suou and a meeting with a blonde woman (and who the hell was she?) that clues them in. And when the mother arrives, we get the big shock.

Mothers and the secrets they know was a theme running through this ep. Hazuki is confronted with the news that her mother is dying, and she says she doesn’t care, but of course she does. Suou’s mother tells her a terrible fact. And even Gai interprets one of Kiko’s lines as from his mother, and realizes Kiko knows his true identity. As for the rest of the show, I blame myself for not paying attention, and the show for being both convoluted and fascinating at the same time.

I thought we had left the Zatoh/Enlike story behind last ep, but The Book of Bantorra 9 continues with it. Alas, it feels more like an afterthought than a climax. Enlike, having taken Zatoh’s body, is admitted to Bantorra and given free reign there. This doesn’t sit well with some of the other Librarians, and they have a point, because Enlike (actually Zatoh) killed one of them, is still conflicted, and old man Ganbanzel wants him to return to being a monster.

The power of persuasion.

And, Enlike, like any sane person, has doubts about Meseta. Why is such a woman running the library, anyway?

Insert comment about library directors here.

But when Enlike caves in and agrees, the big scene is sort of an anticlimax. Enlike goes through indecision, thanks to things Noloty has said to him (You can almost see a little angel and devil perched on his shoulders, whispering advice), then blasts Ganbazel. Not terribly exciting in terms of Enlike. But this seemed to be the old man’s plan from the beginning. Apparently he had a death wish, and is killed by fire from above, just as Meseta had nearly killed him the same way years ago. In the end, maybe he leaves and maybe Noloty talks him into staying. That’s left up in the air. All we get in the end is that Meseta is, if not a monster, a monstrous human being.

Sasameki Koto 9 devotes much time to Aoi, who’s fallen for Murasame. She proposes that they write a lesbian fanzine together, with Murasame and Kazama arguing about it behind her back with their own sign language. Funny scene.

Aoi takes it as a yes and starts to write her part of it. This takes up much of the episode, as we see her get happier and happier, and we await the blow that follows.

Murasame had never agreed to it, had completely forgotten about it. It’s a sad moment. The show had gone to great lengths to show how excited Aoi was, even having a scene with her parents discussing it. We’ve all had moments when someone we had put our hopes on lets us down, and the episode does nothing to mask her grief and disappointment. Sadder yet, what Aoi truly needs is not a companion, necessarily, but friends. And if she could tone down her contempt at Tomoe and Miyako’s relationship, she could have a whole handful of them. Happily, when Murasame realizes just how much she has hurt Aoi, she tries to make amends.

I love how this show can go from silly to touching. And the touching moments feel sincere, not forced into the story because the creators felt they had to have one. Sasameki Koto actually works for it.

Three Very Good Episode 8’s: Darker, Bantorra, Sasameki

December 3, 2009 Leave a comment

Darker than Black has its overriding storyline, as convoluted as it is, with more attempts to capture or recruit (usually both) Suou, or Hei, while governments and secret organizations move chess pieces around and Kirihara dithers with no information, and there’s the whole mystery of Yin. Then there’s the more personal level of story arc, with Suou trying to be human and Hei sort of helping her while he sorts himself out.

Good to see Hei has his appetite back.

But each episode has its own set of themes and images. Often they’re based on Suou’s actions and memories, but they bleed over into other characters as well. In ep8 there are a lot of swimming pools, and the memories they bring back. Suou remembers playing with Tanya and friends splashing each other at a pool and enjoying the summer sun. Though it’s interesting that the pools they remember are indoors, where it doesn’t matter what season it is. One of the head bad guys is glad that psychopath Ilya has been killed because Ilya killed his niece. We see her floating in a swimming pool while he talks about never enjoying he summer sun again.

Meanwhile Suou talks to her captor Tanya, who can no longer understand her own memories. The climax comes at another swimming pool, an outdoor one, where Suou almost gets through to Tanya by splashing water on her. Then plot kicks in again, Suou back where she started, wondering when or why she should shoot, i.e., become a Contractor and lose her humanity.

It works well, too. The series is more sophisticated in its storytelling than most, little bits of plot leading this way and that, and usually a fight scene (plus a surprise at the end of this one), and it all flows naturally. An episode is usually over before I realize it. Plus, you can enjoy each episode for the images they decide to use.

NOW I get it! I had been thoroughly confused by the last episode of Bantorra, and thought myself a damn fool for not following what was going on. Episode 8 put it all together and did it splendidly. The current action all takes place on a cliff where an overmatched Noloty is about to take on Zatoh …

More guts than brains.

… But most of the scenes take place in the past, where we learn the true backstory. Looking back on it it all seems rather silly. Enlike and Zatoh aren’t the same person in different times. Zatoh killed Enlike and “ate” his book, condemning him to a life in some body organ of Zatoh’s …

Kidney? Liver? Spleen?

But with the aid of the people he killed, also trapped in there, Enlike finds ways to fight back until he takes over Zatoh’s body again, the way it was when we first met him. Never mind the whole weirdness of the idea, I mean, why is Enlike in human form when the others were all mud creatures, faces in the wall, or in the case of innocent Qumulo, simply her book? And why does the defeated Zatoh appear in human form down there? Why was he so easily subdued by the mud creatures? Well, it doesn’t matter. The whole thing had me going. The mystery’s unraveling moments were timed perfectly with the turns of the battle, constantly leaving me surprised and energized. Well done! And it demonstrates why patience in a good series will be rewarded.

That’s two very good eps tonight already. Sasameki Koto 8 has a lot to live up to. Let’s see how it does …

Aw, Murasame, the episode wasn't THAT bad!

In fact, it wasn’t bad at all. Rather, it was another solid episode of this series, meaning it’s better than most everything else running now. The two shows I talked about above might be better … might be.

Some class members confront (in a friendly, just-curious way) Tomoe and Miyako about their relationship.

Out.

Causing Aoi to freak out over the pervy stuff (Tomoe doesn’t help by suddenly kissing her—Cue the Chaste Women’s Chorus!), but it turns out she likes yuri and views lesbianism as a pure, clandestine thing. But the core of the episode is a terrible event, the worst thing that could happen: Murasame …

It was a fall down the stairs, that old chestnut of high school anime intrigue, with Murasame landing on top of Aoi and Kazama discovering them. Totally innocent, and Kazama isn’t stupid enough to take it the wrong way, yet she still cried, and Murasame isn’t sure why. Kazama later says it’s because it made Murasame look like a boy, but I’m not buying that for a second, especially when there’s yet another heartfelt, silent moment later, as they say goodbye. My guess is Kazama doesn’t know what’s going on in her head, but she’s an adolescent, nothing unusual about that. To spice things up even more, Aoi loves the yuri books that are secretly written by Kazama’s brother, and now has a crush on Murasame and might even be stalking her. Appearances, covers, secrets, genders, all tossed in the air and mixed about, it’s a wonder Akemiya didn’t appear, though we had plenty of him last ep. As usual the humor mixes in slapstick and gentle irony, which enhances all the earnest longing without making them any less poignant.

A VERY good night of anime viewing!

Cross Game 33, Darker than Black 7, Kampfer 8

November 29, 2009 Leave a comment

A hell of a lot happens in Cross Game 33. We get a little bit of everything, more Akane shock moments:

Seiji, the second time he sees Akane! Just like the first ...

Questions about Aoba’s cooking skills, and a game! Which they lose 1-0. Where to begin?

To start, the home team isn’t any good at all unless Kou and Azuma are playing. This is a serious weakness, and frankly any sports fan from any sport knows that one or two players alone isn’t enough to win big games, except maybe basketball. And they are down to one when Azuma gets appendicitis after eating Aoba’s attempt at a neopolitan.

You have to wonder about the show’s motives here. The last thing Aoba wants to do is incapacitate the team’s star hitter before a big game, but the show suggests she did just that. It wasn’t food poisoning, she didn’t hurt him, but in the greater mind of the series we have to make this connection that Aoba was responsible. And that makes me wonder why this connection is made …

Meanwhile Akane is drawn into the world of the two families. She begins to discover the reason for her fame, but not before she manages to say something about Aoba …

Yet another innocent bombshell launched by Akane.

She begins to see the passion that her new friends have for baseball. She doesn’t understand it, but she admires Kou on the mound as a “coiled spring”, and begins to draw him. Cross Game, 33 episodes in, is so rich in backstory that my little posts cannot cover all the things happening. We’ve seen everyone interact so much that each new moment has resonance.

In Darker than Black 7 Hei and his little friends are trying to get out of Hokkaido. July gets abducted and Suou rushes off to rescue him, and we have the contrast of how a Contractor operates and what their values are as opposed of behaving like a human being. Hei has written July off as being just a doll, therefore expendable. Suou again decides to act like a human.

Suou refuses to treat July as an object and nearly gets herself killed for her trouble. But it works, sort of. July is never going to be a fully human being, but he manages to guide Suou to where he’s being held, and then guides Hei, to save both of them.

In short, because of Suou, he reaches out as a human being, and Suou, an unsure contractor, responds, as does Hei. Though Suou’s bloodthirsty attack on the woman who abducted July was chilling; the contractor in her got loose for a moment. In contrast to this we have Ilya, a nasty serial killer who, when he became a contractor, had to stop killing irrationally. Even he enjoys the irony of this. And the various government organizations pulling the strings don’t give a damn who lives or dies, really, except for Kirihara, and nobody’s telling her anything.

Shizuku invites Natsuru on a date in Kampfer 8.

Or rather, forces him into it. Natsuru is no dummy; he knows Shizuku is up to something, even though she denies it. She prods him into doing things people do on a date, coming on to him the entire time, while he continues to look for motives. The beautiful thing is that they really are on a date. Shizuku knows that nothing will stir up trouble within the Kampfer girls more than that.

Once again Shizuku is master of the situation. Natsuru can only flounder and react. The other girls act according to their own weird passions. And I’m still waiting for something to happen …

Darker than Black 6, Seitokai no Ichizon 7, Letter Bee 7

November 23, 2009 Leave a comment

Last night I started to watch Darker than Black episode 7, only to get confused. Wait, wasn’t there an ambush going on? What happened to the thingamabob everyone is after … Then I realized I hadn’t seen ep 6 … Well, that’s taken care of now. Quite an interesting episode. First there’s chasing down the thingamabob. Then we learn what the thingamabob really is! I’ll spare my hoorays for when we actually see Yin as more than just a ghostly thing.

The sad thing is Hei can't see her ...

Oh, and Hei has lost his contractor powers … But the true surprises are on a more personal level. All this time Suou is trying to work out this compassion and love thing, and can’t understand why it makes people act funny. She kills Norio’s contractor mom, because it’s what she’s supposed to do, but is quite taken aback when Norio is upset about it.

All right, she didn’t know it was his mom, but she isn’t quite ready to accept the fact that her actions have consequences for people she did not want to hurt. She’s also supposed to destroy the thingamabob/Yin, and would have if Hei, of all people, had not interfered. Hei is changing; Suou tries to figure it out. I can’t figure it out, myself. Hei telling Suou not to shoot anymore (“It doesn’t become you”) made me take a step back. And it looks like he’s going to stop drinking. It’s as if losing his powers is making him more human again, and part of that is making sure others don’t become less so.

Seitokai no Ichizon 7 presents us with a dilemma. The student council goes on a field trip to Tokyo. The possibilities having fun are enormous, yet they are the student council, after all, so once they get there, they don’t do much except hang around the hotel room.

They tell ghost stories, they change into new characters and put weird words at the end of their names. And most of it is funny, though bewildering for me.

... as so many things in this show are.

In short, the characters do all the same things they always do, except somewhere else. This is the intended irony, of course, but for me it feels like wasted potential.

Letter Bee 7 finally brings us to the exam stage, and happily it’s a practicum. But first they clear up one point of contention:

You tell 'em, Niche, whatever you said!

Lag, Niche and Steak must deliver a letter and battle a Gaichuu along the way. Their rival is obviously clueless about fighting them, so there’s not much tension here. He is instantly freaked out by the giant centipede (Well, I would be too), but the fun starts when Lag and Co. show up to save the day.

There’s a bit of shenanigans from the rival which is quickly exposed. It’s not much for an episode and seems too pat, until Lag discovers that Gauche, the man he looks up to, has quit the profession. That should sidetrack him nicely for a while.