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

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.

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Blacksmith 11, Railgun 12

The Sacred Blacksmith 11 clears up what happened to Luke that time when Lisa was killed by Valbanill. It happens because Cecily interferes with Empire affairs.

This isn't Copenhagen, Cecily.

She gets off on the wrong foot by going after Siegfried, who is the “Man in Black,” though no one believes her. Dragged into the meeting for reasons I can’t fanthom (why wasn’t she in jail?) she overreacts again as everyone says nasty things about Luke and the current Lisa. And Luke isn’t much help. Then she gets thrown out. What took them so long?

We get some intrigue, Siegfried snickering and acting smug, and a heart-to-heart with Lisa, whereupon Cecily pulls a thought out from under her chestplate and realizes what no one else had been able to figure out: who really created Lisa. So she barges into the meeting and, as the music swells, tells them. It’s not badly done, and though Luke is off the hook for Lisa he reacts badly to the information. After all, he’s used to being tortured by guilt.

I’ve said it before, Cecily is at her best when she has her gumption up, and she gets a long monologue full of it here. It’s fun to watch her figuratively slap Luke around for a change. No action scenes this time, unless you count the monsters who attack the city at the end while Siegfried snickers some more. Snickering bad guys are a bore.

Railgun 12 brings us to the end of the story arc with lots of violent light shows and things blowing up, all because of a giant fetus. It doesn’t quite work. The more personal stuff underneath it comes off better.

Don’t get me wrong; I like things blowing up and violent light shows, but after their first attempt at killing the fetus the damn thing just grew, and we all know that means nothing much is going to stop it until they find a way at the very end. All the explosions until then are just for show. The real drama should come from Kihara figuring out a way to stop it and sending otherwise-useless Uiharu off with the antidote on a little chip (which she holds in her hand the entire way to the broadcast truck rather than securing in a pocket).

But this part works. Part of the theme to this arc was the fact that people with no special powers felt like second-class citizens in this city. The giant fetus is actually an amalgamation of these fears. But here Uiharu gets to be useful. She helps save the city.

The theme appears in the battle, too, when Misaka hears from within the fetus the cries of despair from the powerless victims, but it’s a cheesy moment, almost as bad as the fact the battle is happening inconveniently close to an experimental nuclear power station, not to mention that Misaka’s final death blow has to be explained by Kihara as it’s happening. What’s worse is that Misaka feels contrite and feels she might be partly responsible for the angst of the powerless. This is nonsense. Misaka never gives a hoot for what someone else’s power level is. She befriended powerless Saten and Uiharu. There are probably lots of powerful people in that city you could place some blame on, but not her.

Well, a lot of things got blowed up, and Saten recovers. Next week everyone wears bikinis. Maybe I’ll skip it.

Finishing Up Episode Tens: Blacksmith, Sasameki

The Sacred Blacksmith 10 sorta kinda explains most of the mysteries left in this show, but I admit I’m still confused. We learn why the old crazy knight keeps referring to Elsa when Elsa’s right there, well, no it actually doesn’t. What we get are a lot of exposition scenes about destinies and the true desire of demon swords, and then everyone behaves differently. Elsa the demon sword doesn’t cook Lisa with electricity, as we had feared, even though swords are supposed to obey their masters’ will. He still talks about avenging Elsa, only to have Elsa kill him, at his request. Perhaps the thing he loathed was himself all along. I dunno.

Aria’s comment above might be a clue. Perhaps, since she and Elsa are swords that can take on human form, they have a perspective above that of a simple demon sword. Or they are incomplete. In other words, they are incapable of acting like a regular demon sword, or they possess the free will to act contrary to their destiny.

And I am getting to hate the word destiny in shows like this, and I suspect Aria is sick of it, too. If someone says your destiny is to perpetuate a circle of hate, which is Valbanill’s goal, wouldn’t your first reaction be to say “Screw that! I am my own person, or sword/person, whatever. I refuse this destiny!” I have a feeling the story might wind up with just that answer.

Then we have a couple of bombshells at the end. By now, thanks to Elsa and the knight’s actions, we know their target wasn’t Luke, but cute little Lisa. Because she’s really a demon who carries Valbanill’s blood. What’s more, Luke created her by killing the original Lisa, or something like that. At any rate, he holds himself responsible and loathes himself. I’m not completely buying this. I suspect Lisa would have died anyway, but we’ll see. It’s a nice contrast to the crazy knight and his daughter/helper/sword Elsa, perhaps created under the same circumstances.

Anyway, thinking about it, I’m pretty sure the climactic moments will come out of people not interested in fulfilling sick, twisted destinies.

The big mystery of Sasameki Koto 10 is what the hell is going on in Kazama’s head, anyway? For the past couple eps she’s been full of wistful looks that suggest that she’s worried about Murasame and Aoi being together, but I can’t read her motivations in this episode at all.

It starts out with Kazama, Tomoe, Miyako and Kiyori off on a fun outing at the beach, where Tomoe’s driving leads to some engine trouble.

That pretty much kills the trip, so they decide to return early. Meanwhile, Murasame’s guilt over last episode has her doing penance by helping Aoi put together her fanzine for the big convention the next day. All the while she’s planning on sneaking out at the first possible opportunity to join the girls on the beach. So I’m figuring she’ll do that, breaking Aoi’s heart again, only to find none of them there. Happily, I’m wrong. The folding and printing takes on worst-case-scenario extremes as they have one glitch after another, followed by a scene of wild disasters, and time grows short.

To the tune of a Strauss waltz.

Murasame can be as scheming and manipulating as anyone else in this show, but she can’t bear to leave poor Aoi now. And so they make it to the con, Murasame’s decency intact, but her hopes for seeing Kazama dashed, or so she thinks.

Here’s where Kazama becomes more of a mystery. By an amazing coinkidink all the girls wind up at the con, and Kazama finds Murasame at their table.

Seeing Murasame and Aoi together, dozing off, there’s no shock in Kazama. She’s pleased. And there’s that cryptic line. Maybe she’s trying to encourage them to have a relationship, but in that case why would she say what she did? Is she trying to lead Murasame on? If so, she’s more cunning than I had thought. Even the other girls have no clue what’s going on inside her head. All we get is Murasame’s look of delirium afterwards. Whatever the motive was for saying it, the line certainly had an effect. Next week: the pool!

Nines: Blacksmith, Letter Bee, 11Eyes

Not one, but two painful flashbacks in Sacred Blacksmith 9. But the ep starts cute, with Cecily forced out in girl-clothing to see Luke, while Luke wonders what gift he should give “her.” Some nice misdirection here when we learn that the gift is actually for Lisa Oakwood, the girl he couldn’t protect, who died three years ago. Sooner or later we had to learn a little about what gave Luke such a happy personality.

Lisa Oakwood's brave but futile battle.

Luke should cut himself a little slack. Lisa was headstrong, there was no way she wasn’t going into that nasty cave, and she was the one training to be a knight, not him. And no way could he just leave her alone. Yet he blames himself. Well, his father died in the fight, too. That’s a hefty burden.

While Luke unloads this story to Cecily (who reminds him of Lisa), our Lisa treats a damaged sword brought by a girl named Elsa, who has a dark story of her own, however much of it is true, anyway. We know things aren’t right with her when she makes a move to strangle Lisa from behind. But we get the sense that she is indeed, troubled by something.

Or maybe it’s guilt, because she leaves and reports to some deranged knight that Vanbanill (who, BTW, was the one who killed Lisa Oakwood) is there. There’s a confrontation and it looks like our Lisa is going to get toasted by electricity. A lot of name games going on. The deranged knight says Elsa is dead when she’s right in front of him. So is that an assumed name? And are we to suppose that Lisa is actually Vanbanill in some other form? And why does Cecily look like a cross between Lisa and Lisa? Or is it in fact Lisa was a cross between Cecily and Lisa? … My head hurts.

Letter Bee 9 left me scratching my head, too, but that’s because I’m no longer sure where the story is heading. Lag doubles back to talk to Sylvette once more, and thanks to the stones on Gauche’s old gun, and Lag’s weird powers, they get an extended flashback on what Gauche was up to, but we basically learn nothing we didn’t already know or guess. Gauche was determined to work as hard as he could on Sylvette’s behalf, taking on too many missions, until just about all the other bees are worried about him.

And we also learn how much Gauche had cared for Lag. But, again, we don’t learn a thing about what happened to him. Did he use his heart up? Everything points to that, but it can’t be that simple. It doesn’t matter to Lag and Sylvette, as they react to the flashbacks as we expect they would.

So you know that we haven’t heard the last of Gauche’s story, but the ep ends with Lag being accepted as a Bee. Congrats! But if he’s delivering letters all the time now, what will happen with Gauche’s story? Well, there’s only four episodes left, so they’ll work something out, I hope.

In 11Eyes 9 the superbly named Superbia (I’m reminded of Eddie Izzard’s line “There should have been an Emperor Fabulous.”) says, “I’ve broken the bonds between you,” boy howdy, does she! The ep hops around from one confrontation or battle to another. We got Takahisa, grieving for Saeko in his own inimitable way:

Understatement.

Yukiko tries to chase him down. Superbia reveals herself as Misao …

Master exorcist who’s so much stronger than Misuzu that she winds up utterly defeated and humiliated without even receiving a blow. Yuka has become little more than a vegetable that pours tea while chaos spins around her, Yukiko is forced to kill Takahisa, and finally:

Well, they had been hinting at this for a while, so it’s not a big surprise. It’s rather big news to the group, however, as you may expect. They are now depleted, and completely confused and demoralized. What’s more the bad (or good) guys can now attack even when it’s not red night conditions, so civilians feel the damage caused. Nobody’s safe anymore. Though little of the tragedy is getting through to me. Takahisa was an annoying character, and Saeko died last episode. Well, it was about time they raised the stakes, since this show has only three eps left.

Cross Game 34, Blacksmith 8, Trapeze 7

Cross Game 34 takes place around New Year’s, the off-season, but the boys (and one girl) have little else on their mind but baseball. Three of them go to a shrine to pray for the team.

Azuma goes home but returns early because of boredom. Aoba plays around in the batting cage. Azuma tries to talk her into trying out for the All-Japan Women’s team. It’s here where the seriousness begins. Aoba is trying to live Wakaba’s dream of the big tournament, even if it means she can’t play. But is that the best thing? Why shouldn’t she go where they’ll let her on the field? Aoba dismisses Azuma’s opinion, but …

Aoba, conflicted.

Of course, Cross Game just slips this scene into an episode otherwise full of lovely little vignettes. A potential boyfriend for little Momiji takes down a pickpocket, Kou helps Akane with her deliveries (to Aoba’s delight), Junpei helps the Tsukishima family cook (the boys working their way into the girls’ hearts), Senda bikes around wondering where everyone is, Asami climbs a mountain to view the New Year sunrise. We see the families gather together to spend the holidays, or drink like fish. Rarely does a show move so slowly and yet work so well. So do the characters: Akane wants Kou to see a drawing she made, but not until summer. Huh? Akane hadn’t been around for long, but even she has adapted to the show’s slow rhythms.

Romantic snow.

The Sacred Blacksmith 8 starts with the moral dilemma we got at the end of last week’s ep, then ramps it up further by suggesting that Charlotte and her three guards join the “Militant Nation,” in return for all the Empire’s secrets. This doesn’t make their decision any easier to make. It’s little Lisa who comes up with the solution, and Cecily vows to make the girls understand—by beating them up.

She could have said this before she beat them up ...

I understand the logic behind it. But some of the wording is questionable, at least in the translation. Cecily argues (after the beatdown) that it’s okay to live disgustingly as long as you’re all happy together. Really? Disgustingly?

But it works, and what I thought would be an extended story arc suddenly ends with Charlotte and Co. leaving, after giving up their demon swords to the Empire. Well, good luck to them, now pretty much powerless and alone … Though we get a bit at the end where Charlotte says a guy named Siegfried was the one who armed them and told them to get Aria. They were nothing more than pawns. I’m disappointed. There was a lot they could do in this situation: play with the politics, pit one force against another, and I suppose we’ll never know why the Empire rejected Charlotte. Or maybe the image above is correct, and they will all meet again.

In Trapeze 7 Yakuza boss Seiji has a fear of edges and sharp objects, and feuds with another gang over the deed to some property his girlfriend wants, while we get a little tour of past episodes. Seiji himself appeared in ep1 and we flash back to that scene (which is weird as hell, because it means Irabu, in the room with them, was treating two patients in the room at the same time. Which one was he there for, or is he omnipresent?), also, BANDOOO! shows up, we see the party Irabu threw last episode, also Mayumi’s favorite book, and Irabu mentions both Cell Phone Kid and Erection Man. Totally unprofessional, I’m sure, but that’s the way Irabu rolls. In fact, Trapeze 7 sets new levels for Irabu hardly doing anything and letting the patients cure themselves. Seiji isn’t even really cured; he simply decides to deal with it. What helps Seiji the most is the discovery that the rival boss has his own obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Dueling disorders.

Ironically, the rival can’t be with out his sharp sword. I guess Irabu is some use here, as he’s the one who makes the discovery. But I can’t help but feel that he’s treating the whole episode as a patient recruitment drive.

The physician in question.

And it does make Seiji realize that Yakuza members like himself can get fucked up over their pasts and the codes they must follow, but again, he comes to this conclusion himself. Oh, well, I’ve complained about this before. If Irabu changed and became more responsible I doubt the show would be as much fun. This episode is fun as hell, and the closing music still makes me want to disco-dance.

Yumeiro 7, Blacksmith 7

Yumerio Patisserie 7 gives us the conclusion of the thrilling two-parter. Can our heroes redo Ringo’s cake in time?

Oh.

But wait! That’s the mean girl from the group that stole Ichigo’s design. Don’t listen to her! And of course, since this is a children’s show, the true answer is yes. What’s important is that there should be some fun along the way. You could predict most of the scenes before they happened. Start with the cake redesign, check, the desperate drive to the school while protecting the cake, check, the middle-school girl flagging down a total stranger for a ride, che… huh? The better-late-than-never arrival, check, the cake revealed, check … What puts ep7 over the top is this:

Fairy overacting!

I appreciate that the show added something beyond what would have been a nice but predictable ending. There were other touches, such as Ringo befriending the other birthday girl (who, after all, is an innocent victim of the great cake war), and the fact that the rival cake was delicious as well, but watching the fairies overact, Ichigo trying to cover, and her teammates snickering at the whole thing had ME snickering at the whole thing. Well done.

I really should have seen the end of Sacred Blacksmith 7 coming. Why didn’t I? I was distracted by Cecily’s maid, Fio.

I’m not a maid-person, but Fio is astonishing. Apart from Luke she is the most capable character in the entire show. She not only runs the household, she is a better fighter than Cecily and can apparently take over any time she wishes. She doesn’t care who it is.

Fio speaking to royalty.

Okay, good as Fio is, she’s not the only reason I didn’t see it coming. I was rather rooting for the best case scenario, partly because after their pleasant time in this little burg Charlotte and her guards all agree that they really don’t want to leave. Oh, they have a mission, to reunite with the Emperor for the sake of Charlotte’s deceased mother, but Charlotte bonds with Cecily’s mother, and suddenly things aren’t so clear anymore. The scenes leading up to this are appealing (and to darken things up a little we have a couple scenes were Luke and Aria have some not so appealing experiences of a foreshadowing nature). By the end I was then convinced that Charlotte had only two options: stay or go? But instead:

Worst-case scenario.

No matter what happens they’re screwed. No one in the show that matters (nor anyone in the audience) believe Charlotte’s a phony, but the city will be forced to act against Charlotte, and no way Cecily’s going to turn against them. Not bad at all. But there’s an easy answer. Just send Fio to the Emperor to duke it out. She can handle anyone.

Blacksmith 6, Railgun 7, Sasameki 6

After an uneventful ep5, Sacred Blacksmith 6 tosses us right into a fight with no explanation. Just three girls going after Cecily, or rather, her sword Aria.

Another clip for the Cecily Cambell highlight reel ...

Be fair, she bravely fights back and gets some good shots in, it’s three against one, and they all have demon swords. So does Princess Charlotte, their boss, who has come to forcibly take Luke away to the empire. This sudden glut in demon swords is gonna drive the price down … What’s most bizarre here is after you-know-who saves the day we get the whole backstory of Charlotte’s quest for the throne, and all is forgiven …

Yeah, you know, Cecily has a point. Those knights were even talking of killing her, but instead they are all going to live at Cecily’s place until this gets sorted out. They go from being enemies to freeloaders. We even get some overeating scenes and “who’s gonna pay the tab?” gags. It’s rare to find a show where the enemies go from threatening to goofy so quickly.

Railgun 7 showed some improvement this week. The enemy, though a wuss, was actually dangerous.

And you can understand his motives: Judgement is never there when you need them. The show took great pains to show how hard Kuroko and Uiharo were investigating, yet it took Judgement forever to figure out that the targets for all the bombings were their own members. Who’s running that outfit? And in the end it was non-members Misaka and especially Touma who save the day, though Misaka got all the credit.

Any Railgun episode improves when Touma’s in it. He can match Misaka’s power, which makes her mad, and he couldn’t care less, which makes her even madder. This show also takes a moment to look at Saten’s powerlessness, and how she feels about it. I have a feeling we’ll be looking at that more closely in future episodes.

The moments never end in Sasameki Koto 6. I thought last week’s episode ep 4 (Whoops! I skipped an episode!) leaned too far over into the laughs side, but this ep brings back the fine balance. The long pauses, longing looks and delicate music (especially when the Chaste Women’s Chorus is singing) are undercut by comedy at just the right moments, or the comedy fits right in so we get that delicious irony that I love in this show. The library girl Chizuku wants to make up with Kazama after hurting her in ep1, but Kazama says she’s over the whole thing. Only Murasame can spot the lie. But the ep is about Murasame, who is forced into clumsiness lessons by Tomoe to make her cuter …

But Murasame cannot be what she isn’t, and what she isn’t is Kazama’s type of girl. There’s a touching and quietly comic scene when Kazama spends the night at Murasame’s place. Kazama talks about Chizuku, while Murasame, in the bed right next to her, can only listen to her as a friend, and quietly fume because that’s all she is.

So close, yet ...

The Kazama/Murasame dynamic propel this series, of course. I’m wondering if that will be enough. Tomoe and Miyako are official sidekicks now, and we don’t see enough of Akemi or especially Kiyomi. But it’s only twelve episodes, so we’ll see. What? The series is half over already?