Classroom of the Elite – 08

This week begins with a production of Icarus in an unfamiliar venue—did the school have such a sumptuous theater?—and an ultimatum from Chabashira-sensei to Ayanokouji: try, actually make an effort to get into Class A…or be expelled. Someone outside the school wants him gone, but Chabashira is willing to let Ayano stay around—but only if he plays ball and makes it worth her while.

We then learn the entire school is not at school at all, but aboard a gargantuan luxury cruise ship. The luxury part comes naturally to the higher-ranked classes, but Sudo and his crew stick out like sore thumbs, while still others (Ichinose and Hoshinomiya-sensei) avail themselves of the fanservice spa facilities.

The only two people neither having a good time nor trying to have a good time are—you guessed it—Ayano and Horikita. They’re weary. This whole cruise has been free and there’s been no explanation for its existence…so what’s the catch?

While the two are sitting at a bar alone together, pondering that question, Ryuuen shows up and calls Horikita out for the camera prank that saved Sudo. Ryuuen is overly familiar and grabby, and returns Horikita’s disgust with a promise she’ll be seeing a lot of him.

They are interrupted by a very ill-tempered classmate of Ryuuen’s who is apparently sick and tire of “how he does things.” She’s flung aside by Ryuuen’s bodyguard Albert, but doesn’t give Ayanokouji anything when he asks what’s up, so all he and Horikita know is that there is tension within Class C.

Some use the cruise as an excuse to try to nab a romantic partner: Ike with Kushida (he chokes and settles for first-name terms), Sudo with Horikita (never gonna happen), and Sakura with Ayanokouji (she hesitates and is interrupted by Kushida).

Because Sakura can sense Kushida is hiding something behind her public image, she skitters off, and before long, Ayano also tires of her friendly girl act and starts to take his leave.

Kushida then changes tone for the first time since the first time, but doesn’t threaten Ayano, just gets him to acknowledge he’s weary around her, while she’s…well, she just doesn’t like being left alone so soon after showing up.

The episode’s title, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” from Dante’s Inferno, provides some early insight into what we and the students are in for. Those are the words inscribed on the gates of Hell, and Hell, albeit in the form of a gorgeous island, seems to be their destination (though none of these kids are anywhere near the middle of their lives).

Once they spot that island, the faculty announces a week-long survival test will take place on the island. I imagine then, that we’re in for some Lord of the Flies kid self-rule adventures next week, with all of the different character and class dynamics touched on this week and in weeks prior will come into play in an all-new, less academic setting. I look forward to it.

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Fate / Zero – 19

In Part 2 of How Kiritsugu Got So Messed Up, young Kiritsugu finds himself in a gender-swapped version of The Professional. Natalia is Leon, the ‘cleaner’ with a heart of gold who suddenly isn’t alone, and Kiritsugu is Matilda, the trauma-stricken, anger-filled youth searching for purpose.

After saving him, Natalia takes Kiri under her wing, gradually teaching him the basics. Before long he’s accompanying her on jobs, and if there’s one complaint I have with this episode (and it’s not a biggie), it’s that there’s really no transition between Kiri’s ‘kid’ and ‘adult’ voices.

What Nat continually drives into Kiri (whatever voice he has) is that her line of work, one’s own survival is the most important consideration. If you’re dead, it’s all for nothing. As a result of her training and care, Kiri becomes a highly capable and reliable apprentice. (She also eventually powders some of his ribs into 66 bullets).

The moment a Dead Apostle named Odd Vorzak appears in the tray of Natalia’s fax machine, I had the ominous feeling that it would be her last job, but while the destination was basically known, I still greatly enjoyed the journey. As a big job in which Kiritsugu plays a crucial role, flying to NYC ahead of Natalia and utilizing his bullets, there’s an auspicious tone to the proceedings.

While there are few things worse than getting the back of your seat kicked on a plane, what Natalia does to Vorzak is most definitely one of them. It’s a great scheme, transporting Kiri’s bullet into Vorzak’s back, and it’s executed perfectly. But it’s also all too easy, and I couldn’t help but think there would have been better, and more importantly safer ways to eliminate him.

Sure enough, while taking care of the bees in Vorzak’s luggage in the hold, all hell breaks loose in the cabin, as Vorzak was carrying more bees in his body. All 300 crew and passengers are quickly turned into vicious ghouls. By some miracle, Natalia is able to reach the cockpit, but it’s a long, tense trip to New York with those ghouls at the doo, and you can feel it.

Kiritsugu keeps Natalia company over the radio, in a beautiful scene that lessons the tension but still feels like it captures the specific emotions of the situation perfectly. As they talk, Natalia gets more an more sentimental, wondering if “playing at a family” is what caused her to screw up so badly, while Kiritsugu subtly talks of her in the past tense, sailing out into open water on one of the small, efficient little boats he loves to use.

There’s a wonderful ambiguity to what Natalia’s particular thoughts are about the conversation she’s having with Kiritsugu, and if and when she realizes that he’s preparing to destroy the plane before it lands. After all, she trained him, and always knew he had way too much potential in her line of work, not to mention her edict that her apprentice think of his survival first and foremost.

Whatever she feels or knows, the reveal of the missile launcher just as the dawn arrives, with a flock of seagulls circling Kiritsugu as if he were the center of a storm—it’s all wonderfully staged and directed. And before pulling the trigger Kiritsugu makes sure Natalia knows: he was glad to have her as a mother.

As is usually the case with Kiritsugu, I can totally understand why he does what he does, even if it’s absolutely horrible: that plane could not be allowed to land just because Natalia is dear to him. The other 300 people on the plane weren’t people anymore, and if they get out into the city, many many more people would’ve died. Kiritsugu couldn’t allow that, so he does what he couldn’t do when Shirley turned into a vampire: nothing more or less than What Has To Be Done.

There’s such a dark, bleak symmetry to Kiritsugu killing his real father and adoptive mother as bookends to his transformation into the Emiya Kiritsugu currently fighting the Holy Grail War. Natalia was such a great character who came out of nowhere, it was sad to see her go so soon, but we were dealing with flashbacks after all, and I had no reasonable expectation she would survive them.

The break in the present-day story was abrupt (especially since I haven’t watched episode 17 yet), but it was well worth the detour to learn more about the key protagonist of the story. It also demonstrated that whatever the timeline or setting, Fate/Zero knows how to tell a damned compelling story.