Great Pretender – 23 (Fin) – How the Sausage is Made

In its penultimate episode Great Pretender pulled the wool over our eyes as well as those of con artists’ hapless targets. The finale opens with Liu, Chen, Suzaku, Ishigami, and a couple henchmen adjusting to their new reality: stranded on a deserted island with water and emergency rations.

There’s an absurd surrealism to seeing Liu, typically perched in his gaudy Shanghai tower, sitting on the beach looking defeated, or Suzaku lighting up a smoke in her ruined red throne, no longer surrounded by her lacquered and gilded office. They were well and truly conned like they’ve never been conned before.

The question is, how? After that quick check-in, we rewind back to the morning of the job. Before waking up, Makoto dreams of the time she gave her mom a wizard figurine, and she hoped it meant she’d see Seiji soon. Abby visits Makoto unannounced, urging him to hurry up and forgive himself, noting she was saved by doing the same.

From there, we follow Makoto as he clandestinely puts a sleeping drug in coffee he serves to Suzaku and Ishigami, while Laurent drugs the champagne he serves to Liu and Chen. This way, the targets are asleep while they are transported to the island where they’ll eventually be marooned.

We learn that while only Eddie Cassano is involved in this game as a favor to Laurent (they’re apparently on good terms now), the similarly reformed James Coleman and Sam Ibrahim also tagged along. Another character from a previous arc who plays a role is Shougo, who provides the air transport to the island.

On that island, Oz has led the construction down to the minute detail of a replica of Suzaku’s Tokyo HQ office. He had Makoto order the real thing re-painted recently so that the smell of fresh paint could be explained, while Suzaku herself is too woozy from her “nap” that she shrugs off the presence of cat sculptures Cynthia included because she thought they were cute, but weren’t in the real office.

The gun battle from which Liu, Chen, Suzaki and Ishigami escape was really just the “police” and Cassano’s “henchmen” firing their guns into the air, making enough noise to cover their escape down the elevator. As for Makoto’s “slashing?” The sword was real, but Oz only cut deep enough to break the blood bag inside Makoto’s jacket.

Fast-forward to the immediate aftermath of the successful completion of the job, the con artists party on what turns out to be Cassano’s boat. Makoto feels good about getting one over on Laurent (as well as following Abby’s advice to forgive himself), while Laurent tosses Dorothy’s ring into the ocean, satisfied she was properly avenged.

In the epilogue, Oz visits his wife’s grave, and we learn she knew what happened to him all along, but never told Makoto. Oz dedicates himself to finding homes for all of the rescued refugees, though Cynthia takes one of the older ones under her wing, giving him the choice of what to do with his life.

Abby reaches the top of a rock in Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon and sends a bird-flipping selfie to Makoto; I really liked how their relationship progressed, how they remain in touch even though they’ve parted ways as con artists. Laurent, meanwhile, is still in the game, and picks the newly inaugurated U.S. President as his next target. Four Seasons, anyone?

Finally, in a feel-good surprise ending, it’s revealed Dorothy is still alive after all, having apparently washed up in Taiwan with amnesia (she could be faking it, but then why did she never reunite with Laurent?). One of her adoptive parents presents her with a ring he found in the stomach of a fish—her old good luck ring, which Laurent tossed into the sea.

And that about does it. What a ride this was! Every arc of Great Pretender had its strong points and a distinct atmosphere owing to their varying settings and types of cons. It’s a show that seemingly got better and better, and this longer final arc brought everything together quite nicely, with its usual stylish cheekiness. I’d highly recommend GP, especially as a gateway show for entering the world of anime.

Attack on Titan – 63 – Bread and Circuses

Mister “Kruger” (*cough*-Eren-*cough*) has developed enough of a rapport with young Falco that he’s comfortable asking him to deliver mail to his family from outside the Internment Zone.

Meanwhile, Commander Magath welcomes Willy, head of the Tybur family—and thus the head of Marley’s military. He recognizes that Marley needs a new hero, in the image of Helos of a hundred years ago, and intends to make the IZ the site of a speech he’ll deliver that will change Marley’s course.

As preparations for his speech commence, planning for the invasion of Paradis continues, with the Marleyan commander dismissing Braun’s dilligent and nuanced intelligence of the island to be a waste of time. Braun, Pieck, and Porco (who is briefly freaked out by Pieck’s tendency to crawl like her Titan) watch as their young successors train.

It’s a big day for Falco, who beats Gabi in a full-kit footrace. Gabi has a blind spot when it comes to Falco’s crush on her and desire to save her from the curse of being the next Armored Titan, so when he comes right out and tells her he “cares about her”, she’s utterly confused and angry rather than touched.

Gabi is the kind of wide-eyed dreamer who believes if the Tyburs bring people from all over the world to the IZ, they’ll be able to see that the present generations of Eldians are nothing like their demonic forebears, and aren’t anyone to fear (or systematically eradicate).

Unfortunately, Gabi is ignorant not just to the true attitudes of other nations, but also the fact that most Marleyans will never accept Eldians as equals or even real humans. Tybur’s seminal speech could praise her people or it could condemn them.

When Falco visits Mr. Kruger at the hospital, he now has a baseball and glove. After he leaves, an old man sits beside Kruger and introduces himself as “Dr. Yeager”. He warns Kruger not to get Falco, a promising Eldian, into trouble, and talk of lifelong regrets come up, including “that day” when his son (Grisha?) took his sister outside the walls.

While I pondered whether Eren just met his grandfather (later carried away by orderlies when he starts screaming uncontrollably), day turns to night and we’re at a fancy banquet honoring Tybur and his upcoming speech. Falco, Gabi, Udo and Zofia are put to work as waiters, underscoring their status as second class citizens no matter how hard they fight.

Things get tense when Udo overhears foreign guests lobbing slurs at them, but thankfully when he spills wine on a woman, she happens to be from Hizuru, “a country in the Orient” which may well be more tolerant of Eldians. She lies about spilling the wine on herself, sparing Udo harsh punishment.

The next day, Gabi wakes up to find the IZ has been turned into a busy, colorful festival town, and joins her mates and senpais for a day of sampling every kind of food they can. It’s a rare montage of pure fun and joy, which almost surely means it’s probably the last fun they’ll be having for a while.

That night, minutes before Tybur gives his speech, Falco asks Braun to follow him somewhere. He takes him down into a secluded basement where Mr. Kruger is waiting…only his name, as expected, isn’t Kruger. He greets Braun for the first time in four years, and Braun immediately recognizes him as Eren Yeager.

After episodes that give the “bad guys” of previous seasons more depth and illustrating how much the world sucks no matter where you live, we’re finally approaching something resembling the Attack on Titan with which we’re most familiar: Eren and Braun in the same room.

That said, who knows what Eren wants, how he lost his leg, why he’s posing as a wounded Eldian veteran, or what he intends to get out of Braun. Regardless, I remain intrigued.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Talentless Nana – 13 (Fin) – Friendship Is Tragic

Poor, poor Nana. She’s been so traumatized by her parents’ murder and by the idea drilled into her hear that it was All Her Fault, she’s never been able to trust anyone long enough to become friends. It never occurred to her that anyone would want to be her friend unless something was in it for them, and in any case she never felt she deserved one.

But Inukai Michiru is different. She may be in the dark about Nana’s murders, but one thing she’s sure of is that Nana didn’t kill her parents. The reason for her odd behavior of late wasn’t because she suspected Nana, but because she was wracking her brain for a way to convince Nana her parents deaths weren’t her fault.

When Nana realizes this, she’s overcome by a feeling she’s never experienced before: pure, real friendship. The next day there’s an outdoor market from the supply ship, and Nana is compelled to buy Michiru a gift. Kyouya notices Nana is acting like she has a crush, and she absolutely does have an incurable girl-crush on sweet, kind Michiru.

Nana ends up giving Michiru a cute dog pen, while Michiru gives her a frilly pillow so she’ll sleep better. The two haven’t been closer, and at no point during the day does Inner Nana come out to reveal she’s still just messing around with Michiru to keep her guard down. No, she’s straight up fallen for Michiru!

Like Kyouya, Jin notices Nana’s lack of usual focus and sharpness, but considers it a repaid debt for rescuing his kitty friend to warn Nana about Michiru being lured out to a secret meeting. Sure enough, Nana is confronted and slashed across the face by the real murder both Nana and Kyouya have been looking for.

While running to Michiru’s rescue, Nana gets an almost too-perfectly-timed call from her mentor and handler, Tsuruoka, whose very voice seems to flip a switch in Nana’s head and return her to Unfeeling Cynical Killer Mode. She’ll let the students keep killing and weakening each other…including Michiru.

However, despite Tsuruoka’s call that seems designed to get her back on track, Nana still all but abandons her mission by sacrificing herself to save Michiru from the killer, who we learn is the Astral Projector, Tsurumigawa Rentarou. She rescues Michiru just as Michiru is saying Nana will come save her!

Still, Tsurumigawa can’t ignore his instinct about Nana hiding a dark and tortured soul beneath her cute and bubbly exterior. And while he’s right about that, the bottom line is that Nana isn’t going to let him kill Michiru. She says some heartbreakingly awful things to Michiru about them not being friends to get her to flee.

Then we learn what Nana said to Kyouya before racing to save Michiru. She tells him Tsurumigawa is the killer, and tells him to look for his real body and stop him while she saves Michiru. In a cute moment, Kyouya tries to protest Nana taking the dangerous job, but both sides of the job are dangerous in this case!

Kyouya finds Tsurumigawa in the bathroom and chokes him until his projection dissipates…but the damage is done: Nana has been “butchered”, and more to the point, doesn’t really mind dying here and now in this manner, considering the things she’s done. So of course Michiru returns to her side and starts working her healing magic.

While being healed, Nana is too weak to speak and protest that Michiru is using up what’s left of her life to save someone who doesn’t deserve salvation or mercy. She’s right back to hating and devaluing herself. It’s a state Tsuruoka cultivated in order to facilitate her development into a tiny pink murder machine, and Michiru almost broke her out of it.

Wait, what is this “almost”? The death of Michiru hits Nana hard. Perhaps her sacrifice wasn’t in vain if Nana changes her ways and stops blindly following Tsuruoka and the Committee, who, if we’re honest, sure look like they were the ones who orchestrated the death of her parents, then blamed it on her as part of her hitgirl conditioning.

Michiru wasn’t just Nana’s first friend, she was her only friend, someone who loved her unconditionally and would probably go on loving her even if she knew of the horrors Nana committed. Assuming there’s a second season of Talentless Nana, Michiru will be sorely missed, but maybe her loss will help Nana escape the box in which others placed her and forge her own path.

The Day I Became a God – 12 (Fin) – The Easy Way Out

Up to this point, The Day I Became a God had told a compelling and reasonably plausible sci-fi tale about a child who was given a new lease on life (i.e. “became a god”) thanks to bleeding-edge technology, only to have that tech stripped away when the ramifications of its wider use were considered too constructive.

That decision was made by the highest world powers who had to that point played no role in the narrative, and play no role afterwards. Thanks to Suzuki Hiroto’s hacking, Youta is able to find the Hina who is no longer a god and even gain entry to her care facility.

Youta put the consequences of his fraud out of his mind because he held out hope one more miracle would occur: Hina would not only remember him and their happy summer together with his friends and family, but make the decision to return home with him.

Rather than accept the new normal and move forward, Youta insisted on getting everything back to the way it was—on moving backward. And while I certainly sympathized with, and may even have acted as he did in his position, in the end he was wrong, and misguided. Just being in that facility under false pretenses marked him as a criminal.

Throughout the sanitarium part of the series, Shiba had been painted as Youta’s adversary; his rival for the deciding of Hina’s future. It was even implied Shiba had a personal stake in remaining in the here-and-now Hina’s care, which is considerable and not to be undertaken lightly. This week she confronts him about his fraud, but rather than expel him immediately from the facility and turn him over to the police, she gives him One More Day.

The show had me until then, then lost me as soon as that decision was made. I understand this is a fictional show that makes choices out of dramatic license, but for someone who claims to be so committed to Hina’s health and safety, Shiba’s “small kindness” to Youta is as baffling as it is reckless.

Sure, we may know Youta means no harm, but have neither the training or experience to know the extent of how much he may harm her nonetheless. Shiba does, and rather than immediately remove a potential agent of further harm, she lets him not only linger, but take Hina away.

Youta is depicted as being at his lowest point as he’s roughly escorted out of the facility to a waiting car. That should be it, but Shiba takes Hina out into the freezing cold to allow for an extended goodbye, during which it dawns on Youta why Hina kept discarding the card with the drawing of him. The real him was already there, unlike the others, so his card wasn’t needed.

With the real Youta now about to be “missing” Hina verbally protests, repeating how she “loves Yoha[sic]”, jumping out of Shiba’s arms, steadying herself, then walking barefoot into his waiting arms. Finally, Youta has evidence that her memories aren’t gone. She remembers him and his family and friends.

The Hina he knew is still “in there”, merely in a more frail body with a smaller vocabulary, and we can deduce that she wants him to remain in her life.

And hey, that’s great! It really is! But Hina remembering Youta, and even declaring she loves him, doesn’t mean he can immediately take her back home like nothing happened! Shiba was preparing to take Hina to a better facility overseas, implying that the current facility—clearly no slouch itself—wasn’t quite up to spec in terms of being the best place for Hina’s continued care and development.

Youta’s house may be a loving home, but I have to question whether Youta and his parents truly have Hina’s best interests at heart. None of them have caregiver training for special needs children. Worse, Youta returns home immediately, and it’s clear his house hasn’t been modified for Hina’s needs.

If there were plans for Shiba to take Hina abroad, why would she simply give up guardianship and custody to someone she knew was a high school student pretending to be a pediatric researcher? At the very least, Shiba would move into Youta’s house to help with Hina. I’m sorry, but none of these events make any logical sense if you push past the emotional manipulation and think about any of it for one second.

Instead, things carry on as if Hina had simply been kidnapped and returned safe and sound. Youta figures out that the things she did as “Odin”—playing basketball, eating ramen, making a film, etc.—were things the pre-chip Hina wanted to do but couldn’t due to her Logos Syndrome. But then why did pre-chip Hina want to revitalize a restaurant…or get Youta laid by a mahjongg otaku??

Youta decides that Hina always was a god, and even remains one, and credits her with helping him decide his path in life: he’ll go to college to become the foremost researcher on her condition. Wonderful sentiments, but the fact of the matter is he is woefully ill-equipped to help her now.

While he’s plugging away at the books (pre-med is no joke), Hina will need 24-hour care. Assuming he’ll leave that to his parents, will they get the training they need? Again, the fact Shiba simply vanishes without a trace is maddening.

Sora finally finishes her movie, which turns out to be a reflection of Youta and Hina’s arc: a guy rescuing a girl the world needed sacrifice in order to save it. The film sidesteps what effect the actual end of the world would have on their happiness; I guess they’d just enjoy their lives together until the oxygen ran out, because that’s better than being apart and the world going on?

The film is followed by the making-of segments, during which Hina sits down and gets real about her time on the earth with Youta & company. She likens the memories she’s made with them to be a chest full of dazzling jewels she’ll treasure for all of her days—even if “the world should end.”

You’d be forgiven for tearing up during this scene, as with other touching scenes designed to invoke tears. Youta and the others were tearing up. Heck, I teared up too! But once the tears dried, I was simply frustrated to the point of indignation.

This was a show that had all the resources to deliver a realistic ending, in which the acceptance of the loss and change in Youta’s life would spur his own growth and change, bolstering the change God-Hina had already caused. The previous two episodes paved the way for that kind of ending. It would have been difficult, and sad, but it would have felt genuine.

Instead, the show took the easy way out and gave Youta everything he wanted in a painfully artificial happy ending that shredded all previous nuance or appeals to realism. There are no apparent consequences for the fraud he committed, nor for removing Hina from a highly-controlled care facility and dropping her into the chaos of his family and friends.

Youta claims to now know the path he wants to walk, but reached that epiphany only after being unjustly rewarded for his missteps and ignorance. He learned that if he was stubborn and passionate enough, all obstacles would fold and he’d get his way…and they did. Finally, the less said about any romantic undertones to his bond with Hina, the better. I wish this ending didn’t leave such a bitter taste in my mouth, but here we are.

Great Pretender – 22 – PRETENCEPTION

The preparations for the 100-billion-yen swindle are complete; all that’s left is to execute. Everyone on the team who isn’t Laurent or Makoto are wise to assume that one of them—if not both of them—are going to pull something unexpected that could throw the whole job in to chaos. Laurent has his vendetta against Liu, while Makoto may have found a new mom in Suzaku.

The thing we the audience need to watch out for is what twists the episode is going to throw our way, and the clues that precede those twists. Those don’t just include Chekhov’s Poison Ring and Chair Sword, but the very tight framing as everyone travels to the meeting…or the fact the hallway smells like fresh paint.

As these things tend to go, the meeting, while initially extremely tense, goes quite well. Suzaku doesn’t shake Liu’s hand, her survivalist instincts sensing the ring, while Liu seems to sense the concealed sword. Unfortunately, those instincts don’t serve either of them when they both realize something must have been lost in translation, because they’ve both brought 100 billion with them…

That’s when the fake SWAT unit bursts in—Laurent and Makoto’s co-conspirators in disguise—and confiscate both the check and the briefcase of cash (or stock certificates, it would seem). Suzaku and Liu are at the mercy of their interpreters who have suddenly clammed up. Suzaku smells something rotten: the timing of the police arriving is too perfect.

It would seem our crew have the baddies right where they want them, but then Laurent seemingly takes his revenge by sticking Liu with the poison ring. Liu panics, but notably does not die; either he was simply freaked out about being pricked or it contained some other drug that made him wig out.

When “Officer” Kudou tries to arrest Suzaku, Makoto whips out the sword and stops him, and orders the check and briefcase returned to the desk. Then an entirely new group of guys with automatic weapons (real ones, in their case) bust in, led by none other than American gangster Eddie Cassano.

Makoto apparently made a side deal with Cassano, with the sole purpose of finally getting one over on Laurent. He rants about everyone working together to avenge Dorothy while his mom rots in her grave, then points the sword at his dad and starts to stab him with it. Laurent tries to stop him, urging Edamame to stop “screwing up.”

Then something else unexpected happens, that shouldn’t have been unexpected: after Laurent disarms Makoto with a kick, Oz grabs the sword out of mid-air and slashes his son across the chest, creating a fountain of blood that makes Suzaku freak out. Did she just witness the demise of her beloved new surrogate son? Hard to tell; we’ve already been taught by the show not to accept any “death” at face value.

And all this is before things get truly weird. After Makoto is slashed, Cassano’s men open fire. Ishigami gets Suzaku the heck out of there, while Chen grabs Liu (who is okay after all). They wait in the hall for an elevator that never comes, and there’s curiously no cell reception. Then the sounds of the shootout abruptly end, and they carefully peek back inside the meeting room.

There, Suzaku spots a lever located where the windows were, and when she pulls it, the entire room begins to descend like one big elevator. Once it reaches the bottom, two large metal doors open on their own to reveal…the sea. The entire multi-story building was just an artifice, and soon crumbles into a pile of debris. The camera pulls back to reveal Suzaku and Liu’s crews are stranded on a small remote island.

W, T, and—I can’t stress this enough—F? This is the weirdest, wackiest development yet. Was Makoto’s ranting just an act, and his death faked via a fake sword and blood pack in his suit? Where did he, and Laurent, and Cassano, and Cynhia, and Abby, and everyone else who was in that room go? And why bring back Eddie at all?

Those are only a couple of the several dozen questions I have; I’m just glad the particulars of the job-within-the-job weren’t explained before it was pulled off. I’m sure the final episode will at least partially explain what the hell just happened and how, but one thing I’m confident of is that the job was a success for our con artists.

Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 12 (Fin) – Sending Odin to Bed Without Supper

Looking our live Big Board, Assault Lily narrowly beats Sigrdrifa as the higher-rated of the two Top Cute Girls Doing Military Stuff shows I watched this Winter. Both shows had their flaws, and while combining the best bits of both into one show would result in a superior product, I won’t pretend either was groundbreaking or life-changing.

That said, Siggy has always been more interesting and consistent than Lily with its character work, and it also happens to deliver a more satisfying and beautifully animated finale. Our four Valkyries have never been closer or more comfortable in their own skins and cockpits, and once their sights were set on victory, their dad Odin never had a chance.

Odin’s heel turn was sudden, but actually made sense when you consider he was declaring war on a world that had forgotten him and everyone he ever loved. Odin gets the second Ragnarök he wanted, but he ends up on the losing side. Claudia may remember the words to the song of Valhalla, but she doesn’t sing it for him, or for the past.

She sings it for her friends and for herself, and this week we hear a new arrangement of the song with full orchestration that makes for some absolutely kick-ass final boss music, in addition to Claudy’s singing ending the interference and revealing the location of the Pillar’s core. She destroys Odin’s illusory ideal of the attentive daughter who will stay by his side forever.

Odin is lonely and miserable in this post-mythology era, and it’s no coincidence he’s taken the form of a small child. Letting his grief pour into the human world and wreak destruction is pure petulance; a divine temper tantrum from a petulant kid in desperate need of a time-out.

In one of the best-animated scenes of the series, Azuzu is the first to crash into his god cave. He’s able to overpower her and knock her gun out of her hand, but it was never the plan for him to shoot him, only to distract him until “her hero” Miyako arrived to cleave the Pillar’s core in two with her katana. This is after Miko had already splashed Thor with her Ultra Hero Cannon. She was busy this week!

With the core—sorry, the Vandrande destroyed, the Pillar disappears, giving the Takayama command crew an unmarred view of Fujiyama for the first time in a long while. Moe and Kurumi tow Sono (who awesomely jettisoned her floats to destroy a Dark Valkyrie), Azuzu gives Miko a lift in her Wing, and Claudia joins them in a loose formation as they head home victorious.

The battle wasn’t without cost, as the Shield Squadron sacrificed themselves to ensure Miko could take out Thor. The four Valks pay their respects after the eager younger Shield Squadron successors vow to carry on their legacy for being loud, somewhat inappropriate bros. Moe and Kurumi are subjected to Satomi’s toenail clipping (it’s been a while!) and then get an official tour from their four Valkyrie senpais.

The six young women then take flight once more, dedicated to taking out the last secondary and tertiary Pillars that still threaten humanity, but armed with the knowledge that they’ve prevailed over the worst of it. All’s well that ends well in a well-executed, action-packed, and thoroughly satisfying finale.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Assault Lily: Bouquet – 12 (Fin) – Wrapped Up in You

Whatever Yuyu’s tortured emotional state prior to retrieving her late Schutzengel’s CHARM from Moyu’s lab, it’s all cleared up by the time she joins Riri in the battle against the mega-Huge. She uses Lunatic Trancer in a focused, controlled way, beating back the Huge’s sword-like appendages and helping Riri buy time for the other Lilies.

Riri crosses swords with Yuyu, and her Charisma skill seemingly binds with Misuzu’s within the Dainsleif to neutralize not only Yuyu’s Lunatic Tracer, but the damping field keeping everyone from using Magie. That allows the rest of the Hitotsuyanagi Legion to execute the Neunwelt Tactic. Not only do Yuyu and Riri’s seven legion-mates pass the Magie sphere amongst themselves, but pass it to each and every Lily in the Yurigaoka student body

Riri and Yuyu gladly accept that sphere and add their own Magie to it, resulting in a coup-de-grace that bisects the Huge and utterly destroys it. There are no Lily casualties, and there’s an unintended result to the collateral damage from the Huge explosion: the baths are now al fresco. The Lilies’ post-battle bath is also the first in which Yuyu joins Riri, much to the chagrin of Kaede.

But there’s one more battle to be fought: the ultra-class Huge lurking in the currently dormant nest. Moyu and the director determine that Riri and her highly advanced Charisma ability is the only one who can destroy the boss, but allow her to make the choice. Obviously, Riri accepts the mission, and Yuyu will accompany and protect her. The two are airdropped via V-22 Osprey into what looks like a hurricane’s eye, their descent slowed by a charming parasol.

I figured there’d be a little more mind wrestling among Yuyu, Misuzu, and Riri, but in a surprising twist we neither see nor hear Misuzu this week, and Yuyu is simply fine now, thanks to Riri. They descend down to the ocean floor and together they thrust Misuzu’s Dainsleif into the Huge.

This injects it with “bug” code courtesy of Moyu, and the Huge is obliterated without a fight. Riri pulls on Yuyu’s tie, which generates a spherical floatation device. Riri briefly loses consciousness and meets Yuri in a dream, who says a proper goodbye and promises she’ll get her and Yuyu home safe.

Riri wakes up to find she and Yuyu are inside the bubble in their skivvies. They wash up on the shore, and Kaede bursts the bubble and is mortified by the “lascivious” scene. Their Legion, along with Alfhiem and many other Lilies welcome the conquering heroines home. A photo of the scantily clad couple makes it in the paper, along with the news that Moyu and Gropi finally became Schutzengel and Schild—which is staged like a wedding.

Then everyone gathers under the old tree for a well-deserved nap. This finale wasn’t all that concerned with delving back into Yuyu’s complex relationship with Misuzu or the larger ramifications of synthetic Lilies or even the role of Lilies in a post-Huge era. Instead, it gave us one last slick battle, a final boss fight that’s more of a formality, and a return to the carefree life of leisure and fellowship the Lilies enjoyed when not dealing with crises. It’s a perfectly serviceable ending.

Merry Christmas from All of Us at RABUJOI

We at RABUJOI know you have a lot of options about where to go for anime recaps and reviews, but if you’re reading this, it’s probably because you’ve chosen us, so we thank you. We’ll never lose sight of that, and we are hoping that you and yours have a happy and healthy holiday season.

Also, if you’re fortunate(?) enough to be together with family for Christmas dinner, be sure to bring up horror stories about how one of your fellow trainees stole a potato!—Hannah, Zane, & Preston

Adachi & Shimamura – 12 (Fin) – Having a Wuvly Time

When Adachi learns Hino and Nagafugi not only spent the night together, but bathed together before school, she decides she can’t fall behind; she must be bold and decisive in asking Shimamura for the same opportunity.

Shima, ever bemused and practical, notes that her family’s bathtub is tiny, but Adachi still gets a win: Shima lets her stay for the whole weekend. Adachi can barely restrain her pure joy over this development. She over-packs to a ridiculous degree and ends up arriving way earlier than expected.

While at Shimamura’s, Adachi naturally feels closer to her friend, as she hoped to become. She gets to sit between Shima’s legs again, only instead of Adachi running away, Shima’s little sister (also named Sakura) takes her sister away for a rare bath together.

The first day Adachi says “nothing happens” with Shima, but at the same time, doing nothing with the one you cherish is pretty nice in and of itself! Shima also surprises her one day with matching hairclips, which make Adachi so happy she almost blurts out “I love you!”—until twisting it into “You look wuvly!”

Honestly, even if Adachi said those three words to Shimamura, it probably wouldn’t change things dramatically. She has Shima now, and while it may be a fight to keep her, we know from Shima’s perspective that she likes having Adachi around, later likening her to a cherry blossom she can look upon even when it’s not Spring and the trees aren’t in bloom.

Adachi gets to fall asleep on Shima’s arm, they go to school together for the first time, and Adachi’s prayers for them to sit together aren’t answered, they remain about the same distance from each other in the classroom, so that’s a wash.

As with IWGP, A&S takes a “Life Goes On” approach with its ending. Adachi doesn’t ever confess to Shimamura, and they never end up kissing. They’re still not even on a first-name basis. But forget those standard signposts; this show had a more nuanced, delicate touch. It was a pleasant, cozy portrait of two people who take great comfort in one another and are happier around each other than not, whether they’re doing something or nothing at all.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 13 – Fate Pushes Back

Thanks to the support of Sonozaki Oryou and other adults, most of Hinamizawa and parts of neighboring towns have come out in support of Keiichi’s efforts to save Satoko. The crowd is so large, Ooishi lumbers over to tell them they have to disperse. They don’t have a permit to demonstrate, and the CWS isn’t subject to mob rule.

The same laws meant to protect Satoko seem destined to torpedo Keiichi’s last gasp efforts, as any group dispersed now will surely be smaller next time around. Fortunately those in the highest positions of power have Keiichi & Co.’s backs, including Mion and Shion’s uncle, prefectural assemblyman, and another Sonozaki who’s a powerful lawyer.

The coup-de-grace that ends the CWS siege is Oryou herself, who pays a personal visit to the prefectural mayor along with her daughter to request the crowd’s demands be met. The mayor wouldn’t dream of going against Oryou, and so Keiichi and his friends are allowed inside. There, the cowardly director sends his assistant to confront Teppei. Ooishi gives him a ride to his house.

Later that evening, Keiichi gets a call from Satoko, who is safe and sound—if ominously framed throughout the call. She says learning about the extent to which Keiichi and others did for her sake, she stopped thinking it was best to keep enduring the pain, and cried out for help. When Teppei threatened her, he was arrested and detained. Satoko is now free from his clutches.

The next night is the Watanagashi festival, and the reunited group of friends decides to engage in a far more enjoyable battle than the one they just won: determine who can have the most fun! Festival food eating, target shooting and goldfish scooping ensue in a subsequent montage.

When Rika takes the stage for her sacred dance, Satoko pulls Keiichi aside. In a secluded spot, she asks if it’s okay if she calls him “nii-nii” from now on, making him officially her new big brother. He agrees, and she leads him to her house to give him an additional gift. It was at this point, with these two walking around the dark, that I started to worry about the curse.

Sure enough, the moment Keiichi switches on a lamp in Satoko’s house, Teppei comes at him from behind with a baseball bat. How the hell he escaped from jail isn’t explained, just that Keiichi suddenly snaps, wrests the bat from Teppei, and beats him to a bloody pulp. The uncle’s blood and brains splatter all over the room, Keiichi, and Satoko, and Keiichi then passes out from his own head wound.

The next morning, Keiichi is visited by Detective Kumagai, Ooishi’s colleague. He asks what happened last night at Satoko’s, but due to his head injury Keiichi simply can’t remember. Days pass, and no one comes to visit him except for Rena. He later learns there’s a reason for that: everyone else—including Satoko—are dead.

Rena tells him it’s a good thing he left the festival early, because Ooishi ran into the crowd and started firing his gun wildly, killing Mion, Shion, Rika and Satoko. I would guess that Satoko returned to the festival after running out of her house.

It’s an instance of Keiichi and everyone doing absolutely everything right on their way to a good ending, only for cruel fate to yank everyone back into not just a bad ending, but one of the worst possible. I honestly don’t know how Keiichi could have avoided disaster here. The curse appears to be more powerful than even a whole town united in its desire to protect a young girl whose parents supported the dam.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Akudama Drive – 12 (Fin) – Good Trouble

You could sense this was going to be a particularly intense finale when it starts with Swindler, Courier, and the kids surviving a violent Shinkansen derailing. Brother thinks it’s all over, but Sister still believes in her big sis. Swindler may have a badly broken leg, but she’s not ready to give up.

She produces the 500-yen coin that started her run of “bad luck” (putting it quite mildly) and places it on Courier’s chest. It’s payment for one last job: ensure the kids get to Shikoku safely. Through their prickly, foul-mouthed repartee, Courier too can sense that Swindler is cashing out.

After wishing the kids godspeed, Swindler limps out into the open and almost immediately spotted and surrounded by police drones. But she finally gets her own official Akudama intro sequence (this show’s version of the magical girl transition) as she pulls off one last Swindle.

At first, it seems like nothing other than stalling the Executioners—whose mundane banter in the midst of such carnage only heightens their monstrousness. She pretends to be an ordinary civilian caught in the crossfire, but she’s quickly identified as Swindler, and is stabbed through the chest by one of the Executioners.

That woman Executioner thinks it’s creepy that the Akudama wears a bright smile even in death, but Swindler has every reason to smile: not only did she succeed in buying crucial moments for Courier and the kids, but also sparked something even the Executioners won’t be able to contend with.

Oh, they certainly put on a show of force in surrounding Courier’s bike with seemingly every Executioner, drone, and airship in the city. A feisty Executioner is even able to lunge at Courier, but Brother comes between them an ensures the wound isn’t deep enough to kill Courier yet.

That’s key, because they still need Courier to help them out of this mess. Of course, Courier isn’t enough, especially in his battered state and woefully outnumbered and outgunned. That is, until, the fruits of Swindler’s Last Swindle are borne. Her execution, ruthlessly carried out while pleading she was just an ordinary person? That was caught on video.

The girl whose parents were killed last week steps between the Executioners and Courier and the kids, and even shoots one of them with a gun she found. She’s not alone. Soon the Executioners and their arrogant Boss are surrounded by a far larger force of ordinary citizens rising up against the violence. Even Bunny & Shark’s message is retooled: the Executioners are the Akudama now.

The resurgence of public unrest keeps the Executioners busy enough that Courier is able to charge up his bike railgun and not only bring down the Police station and its looming tower, but uses the tower wreckage as a goddamn ramp to escape with the kids.

He follows the train tracks towards Shikoku until his bike warns him it’s running low on juice, and in any case there are three Executioner airships still in pursuit. Courier stops near a windswept tree, the kids alight from the bike and continue on foot while he’ll go back and stop the airships…at any cost.

Akudama Drive has never had a problem with absolutely bonkers action sequences, but as expected the finale takes them to entirely new heights, reaching Synthwave Music Video levels of serene awesomeness. Courier dances on his bike to dodge enemy fire as long as he possibly can, but is eventually swallowed up by a railgun beam and seemingly vaporized, all while Brother and Sister run away as fast as their little legs can carry them.

BUT…it turns out Courier isn’t quite dead yet after being turned into a black-on-white sketch—usually a death sentence for most characters, but Courier and the Akudama aren’t “most”! He uses his metal arm to replace one of the two prongs on the bike’s railgun that melted away, focusing the beam enough to land a direct hit on the third and final airship pursuing the kids, and destroying it.

With nothing and no one else chasing Brother and Sister, Courier slumps over wearing a smile of relief and satisfaction as the morning sun washes over him. He just managed accomplished his final delivery mission. Before parting with the kids, he gave them the 500-yen coin Swindler gave him, making his last job technically gratis.

Aside from a parting shot showing the wreckage of the police tower, the remainder of the episode is given over to Brother and Sister continuing on to Shikoku as the end credits roll. They reach a tunnel through which there is nothing but light, and walk through it while holding hands, vanishing into the blinding white.

What Shikoku is like and what becomes of them is left ambiguous; suffice it to saw they are safe and free. So is Kansai, it would seem, with the fall of the murderous Executioners. Swindler’s heroic death made her a martyr, and caused the spark that lit the match that brought about the downfall of the region’s old, unjust order—what the late John Lewis called “good trouble.”

Hey, I never thought I’d be quoting a civil rights icon in a show about goofy Danganronpa-style archetype criminals on the run, but here we are! In its finale Akudama’s lyrical action sequences, heart-wrenching character moments and operatic soundtrack all combined to elevate a previously goofily over-the-top series to an epic cinematic experience. And like any great movie or series, I’m holding myself back from immediately watching it all over again.

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 12 (Fin) – Traipsing in Place

Iska can’t protect Sisbell from Masked Lord and the Empire’s Object, but thankfully he gets an assist from his fellow members of Unit N07. He buys time by hacking at Object until Nene can launch a rocket barrage that disables the mecha dragon, all while Sisbell wonders why these supposed enemies are protecting her from their own superweapon.

Meanwhile, Jihn is able to keep up with Masked Lord, despite the fact the guy has backup mages and the ability to teleport weapons and himself. After a brief knife fight, Masked Lord decides to limit his attacks to fire-based, which are nullified when Mismis activates her Astral Crest. Jhin blasts Mask’s Mask off, and he withdraws for now, having not looked particularly powerful.

Since Object is a final boss of sorts, it stands to reason it has multiple stages; in its second, it has a quick-recharging mega-cannon that causes a great deal of collateral destruction. Sisbell finally contributes to the battle by using her time magic to conjure a sandstorm from the past, which Iska uses as cover to shatter Object’s core. However, that just unlocks it’s third and final form, in which it sucks Sisbell into its core and starts babbling in the ancient Astral language.

This third stage proves too much even for Iska, which provides the perfect opportunity for Alice to show up. They once again put aside their individual rivalry to fight side-by-side, and with a bunch of acrobatics and ice magic they manage to destroy the final form and free Sisbell.

It’s all pretty by-the-numbers, really. Masked Lord is basically nerfed in his fight with Jhin, while Iska and Alice don’t do anything that different from their previous team-ups. Also, the fact their main opponent was a mostly mindless giant monster meant their victory doesn’t really move the needle where their peace process is concerned.

All it does is take one of the Empire’s weapons off the board…and the Eight Great Apostles aren’t even that miffed about it! Alice and Sisbell have their obligatory fight over Iska, with Alice in the uncomfortable position of pretending she doesn’t know Iska while protesting Sisbell’s familiarity with him. Iska rejoins his unit, who helped make sure the civilians were safe off-camera.

Then there are a whole lot of scenes of things the show didn’t have time to cover in depth: Mask’s plans for Kissing to enter the election, the Queen bringing Elletear before her and asking if she’s the real Elletear (?), Risya and Nameless tipping their hats to Iska’s skill. Perhaps most relevant to Iska and Alice’s hopes for peace is the meeting of Salinger and the Emperor, but neither character was that well developed, so who knows what that fruit if any that team-up will bear.

Actually, we do know: no fruit at all, because this is the end of the season! It ends with one more scene of our two heroes sharing a bench in the neutral city, promising each other not to let anyone else know they know each other and looking forward to their next meeting, where they’re tentatively planning to finally have their decisive fight, but probably won’t.

The show ends with an ellipsis and a bunch of question marks rather than any full stops, leaving me similarly noncommittal to engaging with a second season. Better shows have done more with just twelve episodes, and looked much better doing so. If I could use Sisbell’s ability and go back in time, I’d probably just skip this.

Great Pretender – 21 – Language Barrier

After learning how his last princess-trafficking job went south and cost Laurent the love of his life, we return to Cynthia’s island, probably not long after Makoto returned to Japan. There, Laurent informs Kim, Cynthia and Abby of the next job—perhaps their most dangerous yet—and introduces them to Oz the Wizard.

Naturally, no one elects to back out, and we watch what unfolds after Cynthia, Abby, and Oz are shot off Suzaku’s boat. All three were wearing bulletproof vests with squibs, and were retrieved from the sea by Kim apparently a diving expert even in her old age.

Why not simply tell Makoto about the whole plan? Easy; because he’s Makoto. They all know him from their previous jobs. The less he knows, the less chance of him accidentally messing up the job. And even then, he can be unpredictable.

Laurent heads to Shanghai to reunite with his old boss, Liu. Liu is happy his old Mahjongg opponent is back, while Chen believes the fortune teller was spot-on about an interpreter falling into their lap after the loss of Oz. Oz, meanwhile, visits Makoto, alive and well, and tries to explain that he abandoned him and his mom for their own safety. Makoto isn’t convinced.

While alone in his hotel room, Laurent is fiddling with Dorothy’s good luck ring when he’s suddenly visited by her ghost. This is the one job in which Laurent has the most personal stakes. Its success determines whether Dorothy is properly avenged. It’s akin to Worf & Co. trying to get Jadzia Dax into Sto-vo-Kor.

Makoto plays his role well, and as was the case with his father, the role he’s playing and the person truly he is have started to blur. Makoto seems to harbor legitimate affection for Suzaku, and as a son who lost her mother connecting with a mother who lost her son, there’s good reason for that.

The logic and legitimacy of their bond makes the con that much more convincing, but ultimately the entire job leans on the inability of Suzaku and Ishigami to understand Chinese, and the inability of Liu and Chen to understand Japanese.

In their remote video meeting, Makoto and Laurent are the interpreters, and they invent a fictional dialogue their bosses can only assume is an accurate interpretation of their adversaries’ words. As such, both bosses believe the other is about to pay them ¥100 billion in cash.

This is right on the edge of what either side can afford (especially Suzaku’s side), and if Laurent’s crew ends up handling that ¥200 billion, it won’t just be their biggest score ever and a worthy victory for Dorothy’s memory, but ruin both Suzaku and Liu’s organizations.

What definitely seems to not be part of Laurent’s plan is the fact that both Liu and Suzaku intend to murder each other when they meet in person. Ishigami had a sword concealed in Suzaku’s chair, while Chen has a ring that can inject poison into whomever’s hand is shaken.

Laurent probably included the potential for treachery on both sides in his calculations, considering both Suzaku and Liu have no qualms about selling kids (As Sloan once said to Dr. Bashir: “These are not nice people we’re dealing with here.”). If everyone plays their roles as expected, the job will succeed where it failed last time.

But will Makoto play the proper role? At the onsen in Japan where the rest of the crew is lying low, Abby worries he’ll go off-script as he has in the past—only this time it might cost him his life. One key question is whether Makoto is merely pretending to care about Suzaku or has come to truly care about her? She did gift him an adorable kitty tie (continuing this arc’s synergy with the end credits), after all.

Unlike his father, Suzaku is there for him, and has always been upfront about who she is. Meanwhile, Oz once told his son to “always be lawful”, “contribute to the world”, and “be a respectable person” while doing none of those things. We also see him making a mysterious phone call from his moonlit apartment. So we’ll see!

Rating: 4/5 Stars