AICO – 02

Aiko’s new “friends” dump a lot of info on her in an episode that gets us up to speed, introduces some other players, and sets the stakes, which are far-ranging. To sum it up, Aiko’s natural body was all but destroyed in a car accident, so researchers decided to put her brain in an artificial body they made when she was born.

However, the surgery that allows her to be standing there today caused the Burst: an overpowered proliferation of “malignant matter” that threatens Japan and the world. She’s also apparently the key to stopping it. Oh, and her mom and brother are still in ground zero.

It’s obviously a lot to absorb for poor Aiko, whose world has just been flipped upside down. She’s a lot like Neo during his sprawling introduction to the Real World, though she doesn’t throw up, she RUNS…nowhere in particular, just away from all this scary shit.

While running, she ends up falling through a roof, right into the lunch a redheaded Diver named Kaede is about to tuck into. Kaede’s colleague Kazuki assists Aiko when he learns she just wants to get away, but Kaede and the others corner her and bring her back to Kanzaki, Dr. Korose & Co.

Kurose decides to hire the 4-person Diver team to infiltrate Ground Zero in order to retrieve Aiko’s real body. Kanzaki will be their guide, they’ll be paid handsomely even if survival can’t be guaranteed, and whatever 2-person team from the quartet fares better by a certain leg in the mission, will get a bonus and be the ones to accompany Kanzaki to the final leg.

Now that the situation and the plan for dealing with it have been established, it looks like it’s time to impliment it, but the team hits a snag: a SWAT team busts into the hideout and snatches up Aiko and Yuya.

In two episodes, Aiko has been plucked from school by one party, given an infodump, freaked out and run away, picked up again, and then kidnapped by another party. I’m not seeing a whole lot of agency for the titular character, nor are there any indications she’ll be gaining any of it anytime soon.

That could be problematic going forward, as we’re dealing with a Netflix “Original”-style series that has been intricately formulated to check a lot of boxes and satisfy multiple audiences, but in doing so lacks any kind of basic originality.

AICO is (and will probably remain) watchable because’s it’s well-made competently executed, and isn’t gratingly gratuitous (likeDevilman Crybaby). But I like to think I’ve watched enough anime to make the determination that there’s no potential for AICO to be anything other than popcorn entertainment.


Darling in the FranXX – 10

Zorome was an abrasive bully to Hiro early on, but we later saw that it was as much due to disappointment in the kid all the others put their trust in (and who gave them all their nicknames) than any kind of malice. Zorome may just be the most immature of the parasites, and certainly one of the most naive, as he’s driven by the dream of becoming an adult and living in their city.

In truth, Zorome and the other parasites are nothing but game pieces for those adults, and utterly at the mercy of their whims. The bigwigs at APE decide it’s time for the rapidly progressing Squad 13 to lead (or is it lure?) Zero Two to the Great Crevasse, or as they put it, their “next stage.” But first, they’ll draw from history and award their soldiers for their valor.

As the squad will be presented their medals at Plantation Parliament, that means they’ll be allowed access to the inner city, a first for children (not counting when Zero Two and Hiro’s glimpse). Everyone is excited, but no one more than the wide-eyed Zorome, who believes he’s been allowed a sneak peek at the place where he hopes to end up one day.

Well, everyone but Zero Two, who is quiet, grave, and lost in thought the entire episode, perhaps sensing APE’s plans for her, Darling, and the squad. On their way back out of the city on foot, we see that Ichigo still feels a bit awkward being around Gorou since he announced his feelings for her. Gorou tells her not to let it bother her, as he doesn’t expect anything from her in return, and she says okay, but you can’t help but wonder.

Zorome, not wanting to leave the city so soon, gets himself left behind, and he eventually gets lost. Zero Two once called the city “dead”, and we find out why: there are almost no people walking the streets. Zorome spots one, who is startled by his presence, but when he falls and knocks himself out, the adult takes him to her apartment and treats him.

This adult, a woman, removes her hood to reveal she’s fairly advanced in age, to Zorome’s amazement. As they have tea in her sitting room, Zorome learns a great deal about life for adults in the city, from her “partnership” to a man in something like a stasis chamber (their partnership a dim vestige of the relationships pairs of people used to have). Adults have no taste, they rarely if ever talk, and they get their happiness and other emotions in “doses.”

In short, it is hardly any kind of life at all. While it was hinted at that they’re a very strange squad with their nicknames and emotional connections to one another, Zorome’s extended visit confirms it: while they may spend their days getting into weird positions inside mechas and fighting giant monsters, their off-duty lives are far more on par with those of our contemporary world than those of the adults in the city they protect.

It’s also hinted that this particular woman may be related to Zorome in some way (since they have similar hued eyes). From the way he feels around her, it would seem there’s an unconscious maternal bond in play, but since neither party probably grasps what a “mother” is (at least by our standards), the feeling doesn’t go far.

Some attendants come by to pick Zorome up and take him back to where he belongs, just as the woman is about to explain why Zorome’s dream to one day become an adult, live in the city, and see the woman again is all “out of the question.”

One of those attendants scolds Zorome for “waisting their time” by going where he not only didn’t belong, but would never belong because he’s “infected.” That certainly seems to imply Zorome and the other parasites won’t make it to adulthood, even if they aren’t KIA.

Zorome goes back to his “ordinary” life as a parasite in Squad 13, trading barbs with Miku (though him expressing why he didn’t mind her as a partner to the woman was one of his best and most mature moments; really good to hear him put that kinda thing into words). He eventually forgets all about the woman, which…whether that’s a factor of how slight an impression adults are meant to make, or something in his food, who knows.

But even if he didn’t grasp the full crushing reality of life in the “Eternal City”, which very much resembles the one in Fate/Extra Last Encore in appearance and stagnation, his dreams seemed doomed to be unfulfilled. Zero Two, inspecting her fangs in the mirror Hiro gave her, knows the score, which is why not once did she flash a genuine smile this week.

We’re closing in on the halfway point of FranXX, the world beyond the plantations remains mostly a mystery (though it may well simply be a wasteland infested with Klaxosaurs) but we gained a lot of insight into the inner world the parasites were long forbidden from seeing.

Everyone’s visit was carefully choreographed, and even Zorome’s had limited impact since he was so overwhelmed by the sheer differentness of everything. But it’s pretty clear there’s not really much that’s good about that world. Being a parasite in Squad 13 may be the closest thing to normal life a human being can count on.

What with APE wanting so badly for Squad 13 to take Zero Two to the Great Crevasse, I’m also wondering if she’ll end up like the Fearless Demon Leader himself, Kamina—a major character who left the stage shockingly early in the narrative, but the loss of whom got Simon’s true journey started.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 07

The fourth level’s part two starts with a flashback—I think—to an Alice wondering where Hakuno went, and in the process of absorbing various objects around her to replenish resources, transforms into a grotesque monster that forces the Masters to flee to lower floors, and killing and eating those that don’t. None of this seems to be anything Alice the Master intended.

Back in the “present”—whatever that even is—Hakuno, Saber, and Rin make their way back to the castle. The phenomenon that sent them back was only a “respawn”, not a time loop; and all parties involved retain their memories of the first attempt.

Rin (flashing an epic Shaft head-tilt) continues to drop hints to Hakuno about Dead Face without coming right out and saying that’s what he is, DFs being humans “rebooted by their grudges”, and Hakuno not knowing what beyond hatred propels him upward.

When Hakuno starts daydreaming of hanging out with Alice, reading to her and playing tag, Amari is also there in some form. When he comes back to reality, he, Saber and Rin face the monster they’re assuming is the Floor Master’s Servant.

Rin puts up a barrier, but the monster sends a hail of scissors at it, shattering it and her. Hakuno manages to spend another command seal, but before the monster is destroyed and the “game” reset, he ends up back in the dream.

There, Hakuno meets Alice in her true form, covered in bandages, lying in a bed, hooked up to all manner of IVs…and dead. The living, walking, talking Alice Hakuno has been interacting with is no more than a dream that dead Alice is watching, and is herself dreaming in Alice’s place, even able to take Amari’s form.

Back at the starting point, after Hakuno washes up and Rin apparently had a bath, they set out once more with Saber, for what Rin hopes will be the third and final time. As they walk through the forest, Hakuno ponders what and where he is: a man with no past and a place where the past has piled up to the point of near-madness.

Hakuno feels of a piece with the place because the hatred that drives him is essentially an obsession with the past; an inability to let something go. Saber tells Hakuno a story of a Master she once had “much like him”, with neither memories nor a wish, aiming to ascend only out of a desire to live on. At Angelica Cage, the highest level, the Master was defeated by “Twice Pieceman.”

Saber’s point, I believe, is that there are no guarantees. If you get to Angelica Cage, you have to beat Twice. If you beat Twice, Moon Cell has to decide to grant your wish. She wants to know if Hakuno will still ascend despite all that uncertainty.

In the dream (and a repeat of last week’s cold open), Hakuno has already won the third round, as Alice conceded the fight by not showing up. He leaves her with the promise he’ll be back once he’s won the Grail. And it certainly seems to be the case that he did return even after failing to win it.

Once back with Saber and Rin, Hakuno acknowledges that he’s no one special; just a fake who made it this far in someone else’s place. But even as a fake, he wants his feelings to be true. His time with Alice in his dreams have spurred him to want to ascend not just with hatred, but with hope.

In the present, however, the Servant still needs to be dealt with, and between Rin seemingly unleashing her trump card—transforming into Lancer, complete with Gae Bolg—and Saber’s coup-de-grace, it feels as much like putting a wretched creature (or ghost, as it were) out of its misery as defeating the floor boss.

It also carries on the Monogatari tradition of lots of discussion punctuated by short, intense bursts of decisive action. On to the fifth level.


AICO – 01 (First Impressions)

Implacable organic masses don’t tend to be the most compelling villains…but we’ll see

Thanks in no small part to streaming services like Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix, there’s just too damn much television to watch. And if Netflix has anything to say about it, there’s going to be too much anime as well. A.I.C.O.: Incarnation is a Bones-produced original anime tailor-made for Netflix-style binge watching.

That’s quite evident from this first episode, which unloads an awful lot (and jumps around multiple genres) but doesn’t settle on any one thing, yet moves around at a good enough clip to entice you to watch more, provided you don’t get immediately irritated by the number of cliches that unfold.

A Bridal Carry? That was quick.

Mind you, many conventional network-airing anime give you this same kind of kind of thrown-into-the-deep-end, action-packed pilot, but it’s very much intentional here. There’s bits and pieces of characters and story in AICO’s first outing, but not quite enough to be satisfied with just … one … episode. You really want to watch on.

“You aren’t…a stoic Gary Stu by any chance?”

But it’s fairly late, and I typically like to space things out for the sake of my eyes and sanity, so I’ll be watching one episode at a time, unless I can’t resist to watch more for some reason. In that regard, I think I’ll be safe; thus far the presentation of AICO is such that I’d probably benefit from a slight respite between episodes, even if it goes against the Netflix credo of simply sitting in the same place until an entire season is done.


Oh, sorry, I haven’t said much about what AICO is about, just how I felt about watching it. Suffice it to say, there’s a huge threat to humanity in the form of some kind of formless ambulatory mass of gore called “matter” that consumes everything in its path. It’s believed their only hope against this scourge is Tachibana Aiko, who at first appears to be an ordinary high school girl gradually regaining the ability to stand and walk after some unspecified injury.

The reality, however, is that Aiko no longer possesses a natural body; hers is an extremely realistic, intricate, and above all tough artificial body, in which any bruises, blows or cuts are quickly healed. A rake to her face with a knife shatters the knife. This all comes as a shock to Aiko, who already has her plate full as the lone member of her family to survive some kind of calamity likely caused by the Matter.

As I said, the show moves relatively well, even if it moves a bit too much in one sitting; it’s decent-looking enough and the music is adequately atmospheric. Perhaps I’ll take another look or two soon…just not all at once, as prescribed.


Violet Evergarden – 10

Anne is of the age where she still plays with dolls, and is both troubled and intrigued when a life-size one arrives. Of course, Anne equates Auto Memoir Dolls with the ones she plays with, so for the duration of Violet’s seven-day contract, Anne believes she is not only a doll, but bad news as well.

The reason she is deemed “bad news” is simple. Anne may be young, but she knows all is not well with her ill, oft-bedridden mother. Now that Violet has arrived, all of the time Anne wants to spend with her mom is being taken by Violet, who ghostwrites letters of and for which the content and recipients remain frustrating mysteries to Anne.

When she witnesses her mother collapse once more while working with Violet, Anne has had enough, and confronts her mother with the truth of which she’s already aware; that her mom’s time grows short, and that she wants to spend what is left of it together.

Anne runs off, but Violet catches up, and impresses upon her the futility of Anne blaming herself or believing she can do anything about it. As Violet puts it, just as nothing can make her arms have soft skin like Anne’s, nothing can be done about her mother’s illness.

What follows this emotionally harrowing seven-day encounter is nothing less than the full realization of Violet Evergarden’s talent and skill, made possible by her own ability to step out of the role of the “toy” and be her own “player”, borrowing the terms Anne used when she still thought Violet was an actual doll.

All along, the letters Anne’s mom wrote weren’t for some distant people who didn’t even have the decency to pay her a visit in her final days; they were always only for Anne. Holding back tears for the duration of her contract, Violet wrote letters to Anne from her mother, to be delivered once a year for the next fifty years.

In a masterful montage of those years spanning from her tenth to twentieth birthdays, we see the insecure, clingy, doll-clutching Anne grow into a fine young woman, fall in love, get married, and have a kid.

Each year, her mom is right there, Violet having provided her with the means to live on through the letters, reminding her beloved daughter that no matter how far away she might be, loved ones will always watch over you.

It’s as moving a story as any Violet Evergarden has shared, and my favorite so far. Now that she’s emerged from the shadows of her past, we can now see just how exceptional an Auto Memoir Doll Violet really is.


Overlord II – 10

This week Sebas must deal with the fallout of his individual actions which drew undue attention to him and by extension Nazarick. However, as expected, Lord Ainz is understanding, and also convinced of Sebas’ absolute loyalty when he orders the Butler to kill Tuare and Cocytus has to step in to stop him.

When Ainz asks Sebas how it benefits him to have Tuare come to Nazarick with them, Sebas says she can cook. This leads to bickering between Sebas and Demiurge about what kind of cooking is “worthy” of Nazarick, which reminds Ainz of the bickering his fellow players once engage in; a pleasant memory.

Tuare, for her part, is ready to follow Sebas wherever he leads, and wouldn’t mind even if he had to kill her for real, giving him her first happy kiss; possibly his as well.

Over at the palace, Princess Renner is getting ready to unleash Blue Rose on Eight Fingers, but knows she’ll need more men, so she invites Marquis Raeven to her chambers for a chat.

Her brother, the Second Prince, also tags along, and is a lot less antagonistic, especially when he learns just how much his sister knows about the complex political tapestry draped across the kingdom; not to mention when she shows her “real” side, which Raeven likes, but decidedly not if it means betrothing his five-year-old-son to her.

Renner intends to bear children with Climb, but her official, noble-born husband will make those children legitimate. Or something. It’s all…a little arcane? Bottom line, Renner has the troops she needs to bring Eight Fingers down, and she intends to add Gazef Stronoff to those numbers. It should be quite a raid.

Meanwhile, Lord Ainz ordered everyone from Nazarick back to Nazarick, but first orders Sebas and Solution to take care of a grain purchase for Demiurge’s sheep. Why neither Demiurge nor Sebas on his own could accomplish this errand, or why Tuare is left so exposed and vulnerable, is not explained. All we know is Tuare has been re-kidnapped by Eight Fingers, and Sebas intends to rescue her.

I’m certain such a rescue mission, for which Sebas orders Albedo to arrange assistance, will be entertaining, but it seems rather artificially created crisis borne out of abject stupidity on the part of all involved parties. It makes me wonder if the kidnapping truly was set up, perhaps so Ainz could further observe just how far Sebas’ attachment to one lowly human really goes.


Darling in the FranXX – 09

Poor Goro. The girl he’s coming to understand that he has feelings for has only ever had eyes for Hiro, whom Goro also likes and values as a person. Yet Goro is better at reading Ichigo’s often wildly shifting moods, and since becoming partners his affection for her has only increased.

Meanwhile, he must stand back and watch Ichigo stand back and watch Hiro get along so well with Zero Two. Ichigo and Goro are the “losers” in this love triangle, as neither has the attention of the person they want. But only Goro has a constant reminder of that staring him in the face: the hair clip Ichigo wears is identical to one he was going to give her; Hiro simply gave her one first.

Since he’s very new to all these feelings, now that he knows them he knows how long they’ve lasted, but he can’t resent or hate Hiro, even though Hiro is oblivious to Ichigo’s feelings. But the time for being silent about his feelings is over. Whether it’s uncomfortable for Hiro or not, Goro tells Hiro that he loves Ichigo just as Ichigo loves Hiro.

While it’s been established since they were youngins at the parasite “orphanage” that Goro and Ichigo are stronger as a duo, Goro’s one flaw as a Stamen is that he’ll always put Ichigo first and himself second, rather than treat the two of them as having equal value. In this regard, he loves Ichigo more than he loves himself, so when a Klaxosaur swallows up Delphinium, Goro hits the ejection button…for Ichigo alone.

The parasites are ordered back to base to regroup, and Nana and Hachi make it clear that the priority moving forward is protecting the Plantation from the Klax, even if it means leaving Goro to die. He did, after all, dig his own grave by ejecting his Pistil; he cannot pilot Delph without her.

When Ichigo wakes up from ejection blackout, she’s furious with everyone; from her squad mates for turning tail to Goro for being so stupid and selfish. She wants to know why he did this, but it’s blindingly obvious to Miku. She gives Ichigo a piece of her mind, saying how Goro has always looked out for her and tempered the volatility in her persona that has always threatened to compromise her leadership (Zorome sheepishly slinks away during their exchange).

The parasites have their orders, which do not prioritize saving Goro, but Ichigo is allowed to contact Goro, who is slowly running out of power and air, stuck in a relatively harmless part of the Klaxosaur but unable to move Delphinium. Ichigo’s exchange is more of a scolding, for Goro never leaning on her a little and taking everything on himself.

When Zero Two mentions a way for a parasite to enter the area of the Klax where Goro is trapped, Goro’s punishment for his “selfishlessness” is for the very person he aimed to save—Ichigo—to go right back in there to save him. It’s a quick and thrilling sequence as Argentea gives a boost to Strelitzia—carrying Ichigo in her palm—and then tosses her down the gullet of the Klaxosaur.

As she passes through the hazardous layers of fuel, Goro reminices on how he first met, befriended, and fell for Ichigo—when she decided to stand and fight bullies beside him. They’ve always worked better together…ejecting her went against that.

While he regrets never having the opportunity to tell Ichigo how he really feels, he takes solace in the fact that he’ll at least take the Klax out with him by self-destructing Delphinium.

He comes oh-so-close to turning the dial when Ichigo bursts in to the rescue, flashing the same peace sign she did when they first teamed up years ago.

She takes her position, Delphinium wakes up, and they blast out of the Klax, leaving the remaining fuel behind to detonate and destroy the Klaxosaur in an epic explosion.

Delphinium lies inoperative and powerless, but the Klaxosaur is gone, and Ichigo and Goro are alive. While swimming to his rescue Ichigo lost the hair clip Hiro gave her, but Goro has always carried the clip he meant to give her, and finally gets to here.

Goro takes the opportunity to confess his love, but asks for nothing else in return. Ichigo’s flustered reaction is priceless, as is her thanking Goro for being her partner and willingness to let their hug last a little longer.

She could learn a thing or two from this moment, as Goro was able to say something he needed to say to the person he needed to say it to, and will no longer worry about living with regret for not doing so, or saying “I should’ve done that back then.”

Ichigo also has something to say to Ichigo, who thanks to Goro at least has a cursory knowledge of what that might be, even if he remains frustratingly dense about it. I’ll be pulling for Ichigo, as always. And please, Trigger: don’t kill her off immediately after she confesses. That would be lame.


Violet Evergarden – 09

A tool cares nothing for itself. It doesn’t even consider itself a “self”. It only has purpose in the hands of its master. No master, no purpose. Violet was only able to get as far as she did as an Auto Memoir Doll because she thought the Major was out there somewhere, they would one day reunite so she could be issued fresh orders.

Despite Gilbert’s attempts to appeal to her humanity, Violet had been so conditioned for carrying out orders and nothing else that even when she loses one arm to a bullet and another to a grenade, she’s still compelled to try to dress his wounds with her teeth, until he has to all but order her to stop.

But now there are no more orders to look forward to, and Violet is lost in her past. She revisits the ruin of the castle where he fell, perhaps harboring a glimmer of hope everyone was wrong, and Gilbert was there after all. It doesn’t take long for that hope to be crushed, which is just about when Claudia and Benedict arrive to pick her up.

Claudia explains his need to withhold the truth from her when she was admitted to the hospital; she was more concerned with Gilbert than herself, but Gilbert demonstrated to Claudia on the eve of battle that he never saw Violet as a tool or weapon, but an ordinary girl he’d taken it upon himself to care for.

Gilbert had hope of his own: that one day Violet could be an ordinary girl with a purpose and emotions and dreams all her own. And even if he wasn’t around to meet that girl, he entrusted Claudia to care for her in his stead. Claudia perhaps understood more than Gilbert did just how difficult a transition from weapon to person would be.

Still, he doesn’t regret how he’s handled things. Cattleya thinks him heartless to tell Violet she’s “burning in the flames of what she’s done”, but it’s true, and it’s not something unique to Violet. Everyone has lost people, and parts of themselves. There’s nothing for it but to accept those flames, and they’ll gradually subside.

Upon returning to Leiden, everyone is worried about Violet, but also keep their distance out of respect. She sits in her dark room, alone with her flames, her grief and regret. She dreams of returning to the steps where she last saw Gilbert, but he’s not very nice.

Dream Gilbert essentially repeats the words his brother said to Violet at the port—words that appeal to her guilt over being able to write letters that connect people with the same hands that took the lives of so many others. She cries. She makes a mess. She puts those hands around her throat and contemplates joining the major.

Then there’s a knock at her door and she receives a letter; her first. Before reading it, she helps deliver some letters an errant delivery boy abandoned, and seems to enjoy ensuring the thoughts and hearts and souls of those who wrote them find their way to where they belong.

The letter addressed to her was written by Iris and Erica, figuring writing Doll-to-Doll was the best way to maintain that respectful distance while making sure Violet knew they were worried about her and are hoping and waiting for her to return. Additionally, Spencer requested her by name to ghostwrite an apology/thank you letter for his sister Luculia.

In this way, Violet gets back to work, the embers still glowing but the flames perhaps gradually subsiding. Spencer’s hope was to express gratitude for the one who got her back on her feet, all the while unaware that he’s helping Violet to do the same.

On her way back to the office, she spots a newspaper article featuring Princess Charlotte and her new husband meeting with children, as well as an advertisement for Oscar Webster’s newest play about Olivia. It’s a little on the nose, but it’s important that she she be reminded of what she’s done since her military career ended.

That’s because when she rushes to Claudia’s office to ask him if it’s really, truly all right for her to live on, he tells her that while the things she did back then can’t be undone, neither can the things she’s doing and will continue to do as an Auto Memoir Doll. Not only is it all right to live on…it’s essential. Both the show and this episode share her name. They are hers, and so is her life. Time to start living it.


Overlord II – 09

While Sebas, Brain and Climb agree to take on the brothel together, they take different entrances, with Sebas going right in the front door, tearing through any hapless resistance, and delivering swift justice to the fat bastard whose name isn’t worth remembering. Epsilon might not care what pitiful humans do to other pitiful humans, but Sebas definitely has a soft spot for the weak and helpless.

Meanwhile, it isn’t long before Brain and Climb split up, and Climb happens to end up in the very room where Succulent (one of the Six Arms) and Cocco Doll (human slavery extraordinaire) happen to emerge from a secret entrance. Climb figures out Succulent’s trick, combining swordsmanship, invisibility, and illusion to show his opponent a fake arm, a fake sword, and even fake clones of himself.

Succulent’s just a half-step ahead of Climb, and delivers what should be a fatal wound, but like his encounter with Sebas’ killing strike, Climb summons the power of his love and devotion to Princess Renner to stand up and hold out just long enough until Brain arrives. Brain has the boy heal himself while he takes care of Sucky with one strike, showing just how far ahead of Climb he is in pure swordsmanship.

With that, Sebas appears and the three celebrate the apprehension of Succulent and Cocco and the taking down of a truly awful brothel. It’s all in a day’s work for Sebas, but he still has to come home to learn Solution has tattled on him; Lord Ains is waiting for him (though no doubt Ains will be proud of what Sebas did). Back at the palace, Climb gives a full report to a worried-sick Renner.

Brain celebrates by having drinks and a meal with his new best bud Gazef, telling him that despite Climb’s obvious lack of talent, he might just exceed his own pure will to live and fight, judging both from his scrapes with Sebas and Succulent.

As for Renner, after she sees Climb off, she summons a maid she suspects “made fun” of Climb with the intent to kill her and anyone else who would do such a thing, revealing a heretofore unseen sinister side. I kinda like how she’s not some pure naive princess, but has her own dark side…it makes me worry a lot less about the five remaining Six Arms we meet. If they want a knock-down, drag-0ut fight, Renner is most definitely game.


Fate/Extra Last Encore – 06

The third level, the “Nameless Forest” is a totally different animal than the ones that came before, both in design and purpose. First of all, it’s way trippier, as Shinbo creates a lush and textured wonderland inspired by the aesthetic of the illusory worlds witches created in Madoka.

These bizarre, whimsical surroundings make for a great backdrop as Hakuno, Saber and Rin attempt to find the Floor Master. According to Rin, the third level is the land of dreams where “ghosts” gather, ghosts being souls transferred into information by Moon Cell.

Rin also kinda answers my question from last week, in that Death Face is “something different” from the other ghosts,embodying a “different concept of death.” She also calls it a thousand-year-old legend, apparently unaware that Hakuno is that legend (or feigning ignorance for some reason).

Things get increasingly weird in terms of time and space, with Saber almost instinctively taking Hakuno’s hand to ensure they won’t become separated. Even so, with all off the multi-colored drawers, tanks containing thousands of playing cards, and most concerning, a preponderance of mushrooms, Hakuno eventually finds himself somewhere other than Saber’s side.

That place is in the presence of the Floor Master whom Hakuno says goodbye to in the episode’s cold open; we see his victory and ascent to the fourth level so we know it happens (or happened in the past); it’s a question of how.

This Master is a ghost named Alice, and this wonderland is where she’s been ever since a war that killed everyone else, and after her life of illness was ended by excruciating pain caused by adults in a hospital.

Alice wants nothing more than to have someone like Hakuno to play with forever and ever. Quite suddenly, Hakuno “snaps out of it” and is once again in Saber and Rin’s presence. A vision.

Rin and Hakuno each have one more vision while in the midst of the mushrooms – both involving Amari Misao, their “classmate” in “high school.”

If ghosts are reproductions of people’s states at the moment of death, Amari’s regrets come through strong and clear; both her insufficient strength (which Rin can sense) and when she tried to seek the week to defeat her enemies, only to find there was no one weaker than her.

Having returned from their visions, Hakuno and Rin find signs of a battle, and Saber goes after a shambling, scissors-shooting construction of various objects as if it were like any other opponent. She manages to slash it in two, but the moment she does she and the other two are instantly transported all the way back to where they started, next to the ladder that brought them there. Even time has seemingly reverted.

Rin surmises this is the work of the Noble Phantasm known as “Nursery Rhyme”, which is being used to ensure they keep repeating the same day forever. With such a power, in such a place, being wielded with such a character as the Alice we met, it’s pretty obvious we’re dealing with Caster. Swords and bullets aren’t going to do the trick this time.


Darling in the FranXX – 08

In another episode not about the FranXX but the flawed and confused boys and girls who pilot them, the effects of everyone in a squad hitting puberty at once comes to a head (no pun intended) when the latest Klaxosaur attack uses blue goo to eat away at the pistils’ suits, causing the stamens to ogle their partially naked bodies.

The girls are hurt, mortified, and furious, especially the fact the boys kept their condition a secret as long as they did (even if it was in the middle of battle). Led by the fiery Miku, a tape line divides the dorm in two: the girls on one side, the boys on the other, and n’er the twain shall meet.

Led by the fiery Zorome, the boys don’t take this perceived shabby treatment lightly, and proceed to take advantage of every loophole Miku and the girls didn’t think of, from flaunting their own half-naked bodies after taking a dip in the lake, to claiming the dining hall (and all the food in it) for themselves.

Meanwhile, those not so enthusiastic about the gender war, like Kokoro and Michiru, actually find common ground in their love of the greenhouse as a place of tranquil solitude (and where Kokoro hopes to read her baby book). The one neutral party is Zero Two, who the girls eventually confront to take a side. Perhaps charmed that they came to her, she agrees to join them.

However, as usual Two goes her own path in how to best antagonize the boys, using the other girls as bait by getting the boys to accidentally barge in on them in the bath, then stealing everyone’s clothes.

Hiro gets wise, but he’s absolutely no match against Two in a foot chase that leads them to the roof, where she releases the basket of clothes into the wind. Hiro can’t help but laugh at the situation, which Zero Two agrees is a lot of fun, while hoping Hiro can think of her as a little more “human” for taking part in the war.

Despite being ordered by Dr. FranXX only to observe and report, Nana and Hachi tell both sides to knock it the ef off; after all, they need their parasites in a position to sortie at any given moment, and that just isn’t possible with all the consternation floating around.

Zero Two tells the girls they’d better stop half-assing things and say what they want to say to who they want to say it, because it’s very likely none of them will be alive much longer, considering their occupations. Both girls and boys alike start to feel bad for the other side (which is good, because they’re thinking of how the other side feels and bears rather than just themselves).

The one holdout is Miku, who runs away and hides in an off-limits dorm. There, she discovers among a vase of dead lilacs, a photo of the previous Squad 13, all of whom must’ve been wiped out. When the others join forces to find her, Miku is a wreck, but the photo and empty dorm room are a powerful, sobering message: if you don’t get to know each other, they have no chance of surviving.

With that, the two sides formally make up, with Miku rather adorably revising her stance, telling Zorome he can ogle “a little bit” as long as he doesn’t go so far. Apologies and handshakes are exchanged, and the squad recombines…but not before cleaning up the empty dorm where there predecessors lived and placing a vase of fresh lilacs by the window, a flower signifying friendship, fond memories, and youth, all of which were on full display this week.

I actually enjoyed these two past episodes in which the battle with the Klaxosaurs was either absent or pushed to the side; I’d much rather watch the members of Squad 13 continue to learn more about one another, become friends, and perhaps more…which is likely Dr. FranXX’s intention with the test squad, after all. That they’re all starting to realize they are boys and girls at once was certainly no coincidence.


Fate/Extra Last Encore – 05

Last week Rani painted a morose picture: there are only a few thousand humans still alive on Earth, a dire scenario the species hasn’t seen since the last ice age. Combined with the dreadful state of SE.RA.PH, mankind is staring at the edge of oblivion.

It’s a much bigger crisis than I had comprehended at the time (due partially to spotty translation); almost too big a crisis for our MC, who still isn’t sure how many times he’s died and been brought back (though it’s been a lot). All I know is, he may be humanity’s last hope.

It certainly isn’t Dan Blackmore, a knight who fought and was defeated by Hakuno 999 years ago. He lost not due to lack of willpower or clarity of duty, but simply because he had more regrets and thus less resolve, than his opponent.

But now that Dan’s back, he’s not going to let anything get in the way of his winning—in lieu of the Holy Grail or ascending, continued victories are their own reward, and has been for nearly a millennium.

Once Hakuno is over the initial shock of learning what year it really is and how long things have been left to rot, he, Saber and Rani talk Dan, Archer, and strategy.

First, since he was already defeated and died, Dan is no longer a true Master (why Hakuno, who has also died a lot, is a true Master is a head-scratcher for your humble author). As for his servant, Archer’s true name is Robin Hood, an expert in guerrilla warfare, who has two noble phantasms but cannot use both simultaneously.

One allows him to attack undetected; the other, Yew Bow, is more of a coup-de-grace, and is only effective after the first phantasm has been used to shoot the target with a poison arrow. The Yew Bow detonates the poison in the target’s blood, killing them from the inside out.

For the battle, Saber takes on Robin by herself, dodging a number of invisible arrows until one finally gets her, thus exposing her to the poison Robin will use to blow her up. But her part of the plan is simply to keep Robin busy, partly by asking why he still serves a man who is no longer a Master, to which his reply is both concise and logical: Would you tell a knight who’s been brought back to life and fought 999 years to simply give it up?

Meanwhile Hakuno learns more from Rani (in her awesome futuristic motorcycle and sidecar) about Moon Cell’s quandary: while it can manage the “exterior” of humans, it could not understand their “core”—their reactions and emotions—even when it invited them to SE.RA.PH. for observation. So it simply discards those emotions to the bottom floor.

By that same token, there is no physical or observable “world of the dead” on Earth, but SE.RA.PH. made it quantifiable, such that the hatred (and presumably other emotions) of the dead still roam around as “ghosts,” which is exactly what happened to Dan Blackmore. One could also say he respawned.

Hakuno and Rani’s chat is cut short by their arrival at the clock tower, but as soon as they emerge from the forest, Rani is shot and she and Hakuno knocked off the bike. Hakuno finds cover, but Rani is out in the open, obviously bate to take.

Many “ghosts” start to surround Rani, urging Hakuno to forget about her and continue up the tower to defeat Blackmore, but he rejects their certainty and chooses to save her instead, donning the Death Face to gain exceptional speed that avoids the gunshots. Rani is unable to move, but still able to fight.

Deeper in the forest, Robin deems the time is right to use Yew Bow on Saber, only to have it fail spectacularly. Saber, you see, picked up on the fact the detonator targets the impurities—the poison—in the target’s blood. Her answer to that is to simply bleed out, and once Robin detonates it, divert the blood-blast with her sword.

It works like a charm, and Robin isn’t ready when she charges him and runs him through. How can she survive bleeding out? Well, aside from being Saber and thus very tough, she apparently has up to three extra lives provided her body remains intact. Losing her blood now and again isn’t that big a deal…especially if it helps secure a path to victory for her Master.

That leaves Dan on his own against Hakuno, who does not fall for the trap of Dan being at the top of the clock tower just because the bells ring every time he takes a shot. Dan is in fact in the tower of the citadel, firing at the bells, while the clock tower is lined with explosives.

No matter; once atop the clock tower, Hakuno, in Death Face mode, shoots Dan before he can shoot him, and Dan dies with a distinct sense of relief he can finally be with his wife again. Upon his death, the elevator appears immediately, leaving Hakuno no time to get Rani.

But as Saber says, Rani never intended to ascend at all. She was always content to tend to the dead and watch one last “star” ascend, which Hakuno and Saber do thanks to her assistance. 50 years of “rebellion” against Blackmore were enough.

Oh, and Rin’s still hanging out on the elevator as they start their ascent to the third stratum—though Hakuno and Saber aren’t sure why.


Violet Evergarden – 08

There are no fancy clients or letters written this week, as learning of Gilbert’s death pulls Violet back into her dark past. Though it’s never explained exactly how the girl who Gilbert would come to call Violet was molded into such an efficient killing machine, but one thing is certain: absolutely no care was taken into how her emotional development would suffer from her military duties; at least not until Gilbert took custody of her.

Violet was too valuable an asset for the military to keep on the sidelines, so Gilbert was ordered to put her on the front lines of the war, where she distinguished herself as a fearless weapon. But as he watched her slaughter the enemy without any kind of expression on her face, many a pained look came from the major.

He really didn’t want to contribute any further to this child’s torment, but he had little choice, not being the particularly rebellious type. And so he watches the girl everyone considers nothing but a weapon continue to tear her soul apart as he watches with pity and regret.

When Violet treks (in her memoir doll dress no less) to the Bouganvillea mansion and finds Gilbert’s grave beneath a tree, it may be starting to sink in for her that she’ll never see the major again, but as it’s something she’s never before contemplated—any more than she knew what concepts like “beautiful” or “gratitude” meant before meeting him—she just seems utterly lost without the man whose green eyes match the brooch she had him buy for her, calling those eyes “beautiful from the first time they met.”

Gilbert’s and Violet’s relationship was always an utterly tragic one, with the war dictating how Gilbert had to use her, and Violet never properly growing up or mastering human skills of interaction or self-relfection while Gilbert drew breath.

But thanks to him, she at least had a chance to gradually learn; her exploits with the doll company are proof of that. He was always right about her: she was more than a weapon, she was a human being, and it wasn’t too late for her.

Unfortunately, we learn what causes the wound that leads to Gilbert’s demise, and it’s just a cherry on top of the shit life sundae Violet has been handed. Enemy stragglers shoot him in the eye, using the light of the very flare he sent up to alert ground forces to invade the fortress.

It was the last goddamn battle he and Violet had to fight, and thus the war snatched him away from her when she needed him the most—with peace on the horizon. Will she ever recover from that loss? I would hope so, but she’ll need help from those around her, and she’ll have to want to be helped, as opposed to simply wanting to join the major in death.