Vinland Saga S2 – 11 – Head of the Line

“Norsemen won’t follow a weakling”, says King Canute’s Gunnar as he and a worried-sick Estrid watch her brother sparring with Wurf, the head of his royal guard and a much larger, stronger man. Estrid is just shocked to see Canute even handling a sword, he used to fear touching them. And while Canute ends up using Wurf’s crush on Estrid to distract and beat him, impressing his subjects, Estrid can tell her brother is in pain.

The late King Harald’s body is barely cold when Canute assumes the throne and gets to the work of keeping the kingdom financially solvent; no mean feat when he insists (probably with good reason) on keeping a native Danish force under his direct command in England, at the cost of all of the English taxes. Raising the Danes’ taxes will only foment unrest and resentment, so Canute has a different plan in mind: requisitioning lands from wealthy owners.

Right on cue, one of the men singularly equipped to benefit the very least from Canute’s imminent policy, Ketil, arrives in Jelling, three days after Harald died. Ketil, who didn’t even know the old king was that ill, is suddenly in the position of having to win favor with the new one. His elder son Thorgil, one of the king’s guards, will ask for an audience on Ketil’s behalf. As for Olmar? He’s in town acting like a pathetic gangster, bumping into a simple merchant and soiling his cloths.

Ketil arrives to de-escalate the situation, and the young merchant’s father also appears…and it’s Leif Erikson. The lad’s name is Thorfinn, AKA “Bug Eyes”, and we can surmise pretty easily that he was the product of Leif’s search for Thors’ son. Rather than abandon him, Leif ended up more or less adopting him. When Ketil mentions one of his people has the same name, hair, and eyes, Leif suspects that Ketil’s slave may be the Thorfinn he’s been looking for for years.

Ketil gets an audience with Canute almost immediately, which should be a red flag to him. The meet initially goes well, with Canute accepting Ketil’s fine gifts (the bounty of his vast farms) and assuring him of the necessity of strong farmers to keep the kingdom strong. Then Olmar stands (which you’re not supposed to do before the king) and starts to unsheath his sword (which you’re definitely not supposed to do before the king) and asks if he can join his brother in the royal guard.

Canute humors Olmar, and brings him before a freshly roasted pig to show his prowess with the blade. Olmar makes a lot of martial noises that startle the folks outside, leading to perhaps the funniest goddamn jump cut in Vinland’s history, as he is barely able to pierce the pig’s skin, let alone its bones. Even so, Canute says he’ll consider adding Olmar to his ranks. But it’s a bad look overall for the Ketil family.

Not that it matters. As soon as Canute learns that Ketil is a wealthy landowner, Ketil was doomed to be the first victim of the king’s requisition plan. Call it bad luck. Canute also identifies Olmar’s usefulness, not as anything resembling a warrior (he’s “all pride, no skill, as Wurf says), but as someone who can be easily manipulated into facilitating the land takeover. I’d feel bad for Ketil…if he wasn’t a damn slaveowner.

How will the impending takeover affect Ketil’s plans to free Thorfinn and Einar? I imagine all bets will be off, to say nothing of Arnheid’s freedom (or even safety). That said, it’s possible that Lief, or Canute, or both of them may soon find themselves in the presence of the real Thorfinn once more. They may not recognize the man he’s become.

The Fire Hunter – 10 (Fin) – Shining Child of the Stars

Fire Hunter employed a few more Postcard Memories this week, starting with Hinako’s terrible fever that turns out to be some kind of demonic-esque possession or awakening into an acrobatic, feral form. These images represent this show’s great potential and it’s great folly: while beautiful, these images are just that: stills that lack, well, animation.

The technical execution of an occasionally meandering and opaque but nearly always engrossing story was never anything more than adequate at best, and more often than not, disappointingly mediocre. As such, this show has been merely okay, when it could have been good or great.

God bless Hayami Saori’s Kira, who acts as audience surrogate after Hinako is being prepped to be taken somewhere for “observation” by desperately trying to find out just what the hell is going on. Both her mother and her father carry secrets beyond count.

Kira has been dwelling on a not-so-blissful island of ignorance, and she’s rightfully sick of it. But rather than give her any answers, her mother Hibana knocks her out cold with a whiff of the same narcotic Mr. O says his wife uses to treat her nervous breakdowns.

Koushi has a similar “WTF” reaction to all of the craziness suddenly going on at Casa de Okibe. No sooner does Kira pass out than Hinako escapes from her room and starts bouncing off walls like a monkey (or Yoda), while sporting odd yellow eyes with orange irises. She breaks out of the house into the night rain, and Kanata follows her.

Meanwhile, after leaving a goodbye note for Kaho and Kun, Touko heads to the divine palace with Akira to deliver an appeal to the gods on muku paper. The two encounter Hibari, who shows them a glimpse of a council of gods whose only “power” seems to be arguing about whether and how the Lady Goddess will be able to bail them out of the mess they’re in.

There’s also talk among the gods of a “new vessel” for the goddess, and I obviously couldn’t help but think that Touko was primed to serve such a role. Still, Hibari senses ill intent on Akira’s part and conjures many paper ninjas to attack her. She manages to defeat some of them with her blood, but they keep coming and she only has so much blood.

Touko looks ready to help Akira with Haijuu’s sickle, but she’s spared having to draw it when Kun comes to the rescue with his bug familiars, a perk of his Spider upbringing even if the Spiders abandoned him. Furious, Hibari throws Touko and Temari into the canal, where they’re very nearly drowned until they’re fished out. Their savior is Hinako, whose eyes are back to normal, and who thanks Touko for returning Kanata to her. Touko realizes it’s Koushi’s sister.

Touko and Temari then encounter a ferocious baboon fire fiend (or corrupted guardian deity). When Touko sees it’s carrying the limp body of the treefolk boy she met under the tree, something happens to her. Her eyes turn gold, her pupils become slits, and she draws her inherited hunter’s sickle and slashes the fiend in two without hesitation. As its golden blood splatters her face, we see her fiercest, most determined glare yet.

The narrator declares Touko “past the point of no return”, and far above her in the sky is a speck of light: the Millennial Comet / Flickering Flame. As Hinako and Touko have suddenly transformed or awakened and Koushi heads out in serch of his sister and answers, the narrator leaves us with the question of whether that speck of light is a portent of doom, or a sign of hope for a world in dire need of saving.

After the credits roll is when I first learned there would be no eleventh or twelfth episodes. This came as a total surprise since MAL had not indicated the length of the series. That said, this felt like a season finale for sure, where things are about to escalate and get a lot stranger.

I liked how the Comet in the gorgeous ED evolved from a traditional shooting star to the man-made spacecraft, and finally, showed the Child of the Stars herself sitting upon it. In a preview for a second season, we see Touko has joined that ethereal child upon the Comet, looking down on Japan from orbit.

Despite Fire Hunter’s gaping technical shortcomings, this was an arresting and enticing enough teaser image that despite knowing full well the production values won’t be any better (tough at least they can hardly get worse) I will no doubt be picking this back up upon its return.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

NieR: Automata Ver 1.1a – 08 – Sea Breeze

When they return to the Resistance base, 2B and 9S ask Lily if she’s ever seen A2, whom Commander White has ordered them to pursue, investigate and ultimately eliminate. Since A2 saved her life, Lily lies and say she never heard of her, but I imagine 2B doesn’t believe her.

The YoRHa duo asks the quiet twin redheads Devola and Popola, who sugges they ask Jackass. However, Jackass is currently scouting in the Flooded City. That gives us yet another gorgeous, haunting establishing shot, along with some scenes of 2B and 9S dwarfed by their surroundings as they run and leap about the ruins.

When 9S starts thinking and asking questions about 2A, like why she’s still fighting MLs if she’s a deserter, 2B tells him curiosity could get them destroyed, so best not to think too much. Then 9S suggests they take a break, and he removes his boots, socks, and even visor to play in the water. 2B grudgingly follows him (though wisely doesn’t try to pull off those thigh-high boots). It’s nice to see their eyes for once.

Since Jackass’ signature is hidden for some reason, 2B and 9S split up to cover more ground. 2B is the one to find Jackass, who is absolutely rocking a bright red bikini as she fishes for mackerel, whose oil can prove fatal to androids (but she wants it for research). Like Lily, Jackass claims not to know 2A (though she may be telling the truth)

When 2B fails to contact 9S due to jamming, we switch to 9S’s POV. Turns out he split of from 2B so he could contact Operator 6O, upload some photos for her hobby, and also hack into the Bunker’s monitoring systems. He eavesdrops on Commander White having an uncomfortable chat with Command about sacrificing someone (the Resistance, 2B, and 9S, possibly both). Then Command notices a security breach and 9S is cut off.

But it isn’t command that jams his signal from 2B and Jackass, it’s 9S entering a weird room full of handmade drawings and paintings of him and 2B, including when they were wading in the water just moments ago. Unless previous versions of themselves did this same thing, someone here is not only watching them but is also a very fast painter. Very weird and intriguing.

9S catches glimpses of long silver locks, and so assumes it’s 2A, but the fact that Eve can’t sense his elder brother indicates that that long hair actually belongs to Adam, who is lures 9S down a dark, creepy hall before knocking him out. While this probably doesn’t bode well, I am glad the Adam/Eve and 2B/9S’s stories are finally connecting.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

P.S. The post-ED puppet shows continue to make me LOL every week. It’s always nice to see that an otherwise quite serious show has a sense of humor. Also, we got a little bit of the Bunker theme again, which might be my favorite piece from Taro Yoko. It really does feel like you’re floating around a space station overlooking a ruined planet.

Vinland Saga S2 – 10 – Getting Ahead in the World

We open with a couple of bare-chested swole lads chopping wood and shoving trunks. Three years of hard work have honed Thorfinn and Einar’s muscles, and the result of all that labor is that they have turned a forest into a wheat field. What felt impossible by design when a newly-enslaved Einar arrived has become reality. And yet, at brink of gaining their freedom, and both men seem…tentative.

As much as being a slave sucks, it steered a bloodthirsty hate-filled warrior Thorfinn was from a certain early grave and into a transformational brotherhood of two with Einar. Just still being alive is a gift; will freedom lead him back down darker roads? Einar’s reticence is simpler: he can hardly be over the moon about winning his freedom when Arnheid will remain slave. Even if he and Thorfinn could afford to buy her, Ketil wouldn’t sell.

What Ketil does offer is to give Thorfinn and Einar their freedom once they’re done sowing their latest crop. But first he and his son are headed to Jelling to see King Harald, who has taken ill. Also returning to Denmark is our boy King Canute, who day by day is carrying himself not just more like king, but more like the king.

When he spots childrenin town playing a ball game, he remembers how his brother Harald used to play with him, and trusted him to get up even when he fell. His brother was a strong, kind young man, the kind of person who would, and did, make a good king. The pleasant dream is interrupted when the kids’ ball rolls towards Canute’s feet. But he doesn’t see a ball. he sees the severed head of his slain father Sweyn.

Canute’s demeanor is solemn as he greets Harald, who is barely able to speak and lift his hand. Their sister Estrid is also there, trying to stay in good spirits. With what little strength he has left and with his court as witnesses, Harald offers the crown of Denmark to Canute without conditions. Canute refuses it, urging his brother to rest up and get better.

But King Harald won’t get better. He’s been poisoned. Canute is the one who had him poisoned. We learn this from Sweyn’s head, which only we and Canute can see. Sweyn mocks Canute’s show of sympathy, modesty, and above all innocence when yet more royal blood of his family stains his hands. Sweyn promises his son that with the dual crowns of England and Denmark on his head, he stands to endure twice the weight and torment.

That night in the room prepared for him, which overlooks the spot where he and Harald used to play, King Canute reclines in his chair, the head of his dead father his one and only true confidant. A serving woman knocks with refreshment, but Canute, who has poisoned all of his political rivals, is not about to accept a drink from uncertain source or purpose.

Sweyn’s head says he is a curse, and if he’s appearing in the afternoon, it’s getting worse. The head is the manifestation of Canute’s amassed trauma and guilt, always there to remind him how he comes to wear one crown and is poised to wear another.

Canute wants to build a peaceful utopia, and he may be right that such a wish is impossible with two kings hanging around. But ambition and ruthlessness have crept into his once gentle heart. If he keeps down this path, he’ll surely end up in that godforsaken place Thorfinn narrowly escaped…or worse.

The Fire Hunter – 09 – The Demonstration

Hinako is ecstatic that Kanata is back, and even though Yuoshichi’s wife hates animals, he agrees that the hound can stay, which she says makes three strays Yuoshichi has brought in. He and Koushi then meet with Roroku and Akira, who reports that the Spiders are on the move and can use the old fire.

Akira also requests that a new collection truck be sent to the villages to replace the one destroyed by the dragon. Hibari, spymaster of the Divine Wind Clan, visits Koushi in secret and adds to Akira’s warning: the Spiders will assault the Capital in nine days. He also makes clear he won’t allow anyone to hunt the Flickering Flame, AKA the Millennial Comet.

The next day, Koushi and Yuoshichi meet with other bigwigs and engineers who have made the construction of the Lightning Cannon of yore possible. Koushi had it modified from an anti-aircraft style weapon to one that can effectively deal with forces on the ground. They perform a test outside of city limits, and the destructive result is quite compelling.

Koushi also learns that Yuoshichi has had Roroku bury skyfire charges in and around the Divine Palace, in hopes of accelerating the fight between the gods and Spiders. He then meets with Akira and Roroku and takes them to the archive to see the book, which was last accessed by Akira’s brother of all people.

That night, Akira returns to Shouzou’s house where he’s steadily recovering. She invites Touko up to the roof to look at the stars, and also inform her that a collection truck is being prepared that she should board in order to return to her village.

She adds that the Divine Clans killed her brother for trying to warn everyone about the Flickering Flame too soon for their taste, and she now needs Touko’s muku paper to make a direct appeal to the divine palace. Akira doesn’t care who becomes “lord of the fire hunters”, but Touko wants her to assume that title.

I’m still not convinced the title won’t go to Touko herself, especially if she accompanies Akira like she wants. In any case, even with grave and possibly existential danger descending upon the Capital, Touko isn’t ready to go home quite yet.

NieR: Automata Ver 1.1a – 07 – Missions Don’t Need Hairpins

“Emotions are prohibited”, and yet Operator 6O contacts 2B to tell her she’d look good with a lunar tear (a kind of lily) in her hair. Why would YoRHa androids care about aesthetics aside from their practical or tactical use? Maybe, I guess, because enough time has passed and these androids have lived and been regenerated enough that they do have emotions, and it’s a fool’s errand to deny or suppress them.

2B has shown time and time again that she not only has emotions, but is willing to let them guide her actions rather than her strict YoRHa programming and independent from Bunker directives. It’s why when Pascal reports that Little Sister is missing after looking for parts for her Big Sister, 2B agrees to a sidequest to find her. It’s not like they have anything else going on.

Pascal gives 2B and 9S a lift to the Forest Kingdom with his new flight attachments, and the androids learn that he can change out his body parts as needed. That leads to a talk about how much can be changed before Pascal is no longer Pascal. He believes that as long as the heart of someone, be they human, Machine Lifeform, or android, remains, they are still themselves.

Within the Forest Kingdom there’s a sprawling ruined castle of brick and stone, calling to mind not just Castle in the Sky but the classic video game Ico. The visuals and soundtrack combine for another another triumph of location establishment and atmosphere setting. But while the kingdom is supposed to be guarded by a fierce ML fighting force, nearly all are destroyed, and by someone who knew what they were doing.

Various record chips held by the castle’s defeated occupants contain not just a dispassionate record of events 256 and 128 years ago, but a history of their kingdom, from when their first king declared their kingdom, to when he died and was succeeded by a new “Little King”. There’s also a record of four hours ago, when the intruder is revealed to be a female android.

As they’re walking on a bridge high above a long drop,  the stone beneath 9S’ feet crumbles, but Pascal saves him. 9S is shocked by this since he’s been badmouthing Pascal and all MLs the whole time, and even afterwards he still can’t fully trust him. But they eventually find the Little Sister, who has fallen in love with one of the castle guards and wishes to be married.

With one sidequest complete, the sister’s new fiancé gives the androids another: save the Little King, who is under threat from the intruder. They reach the throne room and find the King—the Machine Lifeform version of a babe in riveted metal swaddling clothes—but they are too late to save it, as it is run clean through by the blade of the female android intruder.

The Pod identifies this android as the ex-soldier A2, currently classified a deserter and a fugitive (and I’m guessing she’s the “Number Two” from last week’s exploration of Lily’s past). After crossing blades and having hers shattered by 2B (the upgraded model must have an advantage), 9S asks A2 why she betrayed Command. A2 responds that Command was the ones doing the betraying.

Judging from what went down last week, I’m not skeptical in the least about A2’s assertion. She runs off before 2B and 9S can question her further, but I hope we get to see her again. I’m also eager to see what Adam does when he feels he and Eve have amassed enough knowledge…and clothing.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vinland Saga S2 – 09 – Climb of Atonement

It was all a dream. So thinks a clean-shaven Thorfinn, lounging in a grassy meadow when a lamb wakes him. Uemura Yuuto voices this carefree version of him in a way we’ve never heard Thorfinn speak, or if we have, it was so long ago he might as well have been a different person. In reality, Einar is just finishing up a fight with the retainers that he wins, because he won’t stop getting back up and his opponents are tired of fighting.

Thorfinn’s dream turns quickly when his father Thors appears and says he smells blood. Thorfinn looks down to find the dagger Thors gave him for protection thrust into the neck of a young Einar, who transforms into the older Einar he knows. As corpses sprout out of the ground to grab the father and son, it is only the son who falls through the resulting fissure. Before he falls, Thors repeats the philosophy he held to until his death: nobody has any enemies, so there is no worth in hurting others.

Thorfinn’s drop is long and painful as he continually smacks against the sharp stone walls. It takes most of his fingernails, but he manages gain a grip just before falling off an edge into what looks like the nether-regions of hell. MAPPA really goes all out with the nightmare fuel here. Askeladd is there, and he’s still himself. This is not Valhalla. Instead, it’s where fallen warriors really go: to fight a pointless, everlasting battle…and laugh.

As Thorfinn’s grip begins to fail, a column of ghouls reach him and start to grab his feet. Askeladd tells him to stop kicking them and listen to their complaints, for they are all the people he has killed. Thorfinn starts to shed tears and apologizes to them. When ghouls down below start firing arrows, Askeladd jumps down and fights them, then tells Thorfinn to start climbing, taking those he killed with him. That is his true battle.

With a gut-wrenching cry of determination, Thorfinn stretches and reaches upward, and suddenly finds himself propelled all the way back to Ketil’s farm, under a cloudy but open sky. He’s awake, and Einar is alive. As he lends a hand taking Einar back to their barn, Thorfinn once again weeps, telling Einar he’s renouncing violence from now on. Even waking up a slave on a ravaged farm with punishment on the way for the brawl is preferable to that nightmare land he experienced.

Only, thanks to Pater, there is no punishment for Thorfinn or Einar. He found a button from one of the retainer’s coats on the ravaged farm, and decides that the face-saving story will be that wild boars ruined it. The retainer submits to his master’s wishes, and Sverkel oversees Thorfinn and Einar re-hoeing the land his son gave them. Like his father, Thorfinn has turned a page in his life. That punch was his last, his warring days done; he is reborn a new, better man. No longer a taker, but a maker.

The Fire Hunter – 08 – A Good Boy Comes Home

Koushi takes Touko to the tree beneath which the capital’s Treefolk dwell. When the rusted door won’t open, Kanata senses one of the Treefolk, a young child, who beckons for them to follow when Touko requests medicine.

Unfortunately, these Treefolk don’t make medicines, nor can they even go out into the forest. Calling themselves failed experiments, they live out their cursed lives under this tree, possibly hoping a couple kids come by so they can deliver an infodump about the relationship of gods, humans, and beasts.

We learn more about Tayurahime, the Lady Goddess, and Tokohanahime, her sister and the first Fire Hunter, and how the flame fiends were an effort to pass the flame that made both gods and humans combust on to wild animals.

On their way out of the tree they’re attacked by a spy familiar, but Akira arrives out of nowhere with Temari to keep them at bay. When two more spies appear, a god arrives to stop the fighting and tell Akira, Touko, and Koushi to beat it.

After that, Koushi takes Touko and Akira to his home, where Touko says goodbye to Kanata. Koushi tells Touko to hang on to the sickle, as she may find more use for it than he will. Suddenly separated from Kanata, and with quest suddenly complete, Touko can’t hold back her tears, and Akira carries her home, where Kaho gathers her in a hug.

But between the fact you can’t spell Toukohanahime without “Touko” and the fact she still has a fire hunter’s sickle tells me Touko’s role is far from complete. The Flickering Flame is up there in orbit, a massive and sinister-looking weapon that might just have a mind or will all its own. And if it can be mastered, humans will no longer have to fear the forest…or something?

Honestly, I’m still a little uncertain what the heck is going on, and the animation ranges from barely animation to no animation at all, but the shot of the satellite made me intrigued for how this is all going to play out, so I shall press on.

NieR: Automata Ver 1.1a – 06 – Do Androids Dream of Electric Lambs to the Slaughter?

Lily keeps shooting looks 2B’s way, and this week we learn why. She once met an android that shared 2B’s face: No. 2, an previous-generation model. 2 was a lot more animated in their speech, and she led an early YoRHa squad that, like the resistance, had been hung out to dry by Command. Back then, Lily’s resistance squad was led by Rose, who decided to join forces with No. 2 for a mission that neither of their groups could accomplish alone.

While there was initial distrust on both sides, Rose’s decision to cooperate rather than fight paid off and the “family” thus grew. There’s both an 86 and Iron-Blooded Orphans vibe to this group of misfit fighters who got the short end of the stick. Their familial chemistry and rapport with one another felt lived-in and genuine; everyone supporting one another and staying in good spirits to distract from their unfair plight.

One day, Lily was not looking well at all, and her eyes suddenly turned red: a sign her data has been overwritten by a logic virus. This is actually the first time I realized that Lily and the other members of the resistance were also androids (unless they aren’t, it’s not made crystal clear). But Lily definitely is, and even though Rose’s first instinct is to kill her before the virus spreads, No.2 deflects that bullet, and eventually everyone helps hold Lily down so No. 21 can purge the virus.

But saving Lily delayed the combined unit’s plan to infiltrate the target server facility, which is overrun by hundreds of thousands of enemies when they arrive. The Bunker will not provide backup, but the mission must be executed no matter what, so one by one Lily’s comrades sacrifice themselves so she can get to the server. She does, but at the cost of her entire family, including her big-sister figure Rose.

In the present Lily is far calmer, more composed and confident, but she remains haunted not by dreams—as 2B says, androids don’t dream—but memories of the things that happened, and regret about what could have happened to possibly save some of the people she cared for. In lieu of dreams or souls, androids are who they are due to their accumulated memories and experiences.

2B leaves Lily with a comforting rhetorical question: what if someone from her family were still alive out there, somewhere? And sure enough, a long-haired woman with the same beauty mark as No. 2 and 2B is revealed to be still out there fighting the good fight. Will Lily and her savior No. 2 unite, and what will happen when 2 and 2B meet? Whatever happens, I hope they can all be allies. Nothing can happen in this world without them.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Attack on Titan – 88 (The Final Season E29-31) – A World of Sinners

This is it. Well…almost. This hour-long special comprises part one of Part 3 of The Final Season. The final final finale is expected to air this Fall, and then Attack on Titan will end. And would that it would end like this special began: with Eren waking up from a long dream. Mikasa asks why there are tears in his eyes, but he doesn’t know. He can’t remember.

As Eren walked through the city, he watches a poor boy getting beaten in an alley for stealing, but he doesn’t stop to help. How can he pretend to be righteous when he knows, and is resigned to the fact, that he will soon level this entire city and everyone in it with the Rumbling? He later apologizes to the kid with tears in his eyes, for what he believes can’t be stopped.

After that, we return to the present, in the midst of the Rumbling, and it’s a rough, rough watch. Just unblinking carnage among the rich and poor, men, women, and children, one of whom is the boy Eren met earlier and his brother. Like so many millions, they end up crushed under the foot of a Colossal Titan.

The Rumbling has begun, and there’s nothing the Scout Regiment can do about that, but they’re still determined to do what they can. While on Azumabito’s ship, Annie thanks Armin for talking with her while she was frozen, and he all but confesses he did it not for strategic purposes, but because he loved her.

Annie doesn’t believe she deserves such deference after all she’s done, but Armin has long ago stopped pretending he’s any “better” a person than she. The world beyond the walls wasn’t what he or Eren thought it would be (something Annie already knew), and that reality made monsters of all of them.

But as Falco and Gabi are told by Pieck that the Rumbling has begun and all their family must be dead by now, Armin tells Annie he still hopes there’s something out there, far beyond the walls, to give them hope for the future.

But again, for now, Armin and Mikasa and their meager fighting force are simply going to do what they can. That night at the port when the flying boat is being prepared for flight, Mikasa notices Annie and Armin’s thing and gets flustered herself.

She’s also resolute about bringing Eren, who has gone “far away” in more ways than one, “back”, with the unspoken “or die trying”, but is also accepting that Annie has fought enough, so she’ll fight so she can spend the time she has left more peacefully.

That said, Armin is going on this mission from which he may not return, and Annie is deciding to stay on the ship with Azumabito, Gabi, and Falco. Yelena confirms that Eren’s likely next target is Fort Salta, where the Marleyan airship fleet will no doubt be mobilized for a final assault.

Yelena also maintains that Zeke’s Eldian euthanization plan would have been preferable to the global massacre currently taking place…and Hange can’t disagree anymore. After Reiner and Annie share a heartfelt hug of farewell and apology, Armin shoots Annie one last wave look of acknowledgement before the ship steams off. He wants Annie to stay Annie.

Predictably, the launch of the flying boat does not go off without a hitch. Floch, who had stowed away on the ship, appears to shoot holes in the plane’s fuel tank, delaying the launch enough for the Rumbling to arrive. Knowing someone has to try to slow them down to give the welders time to repair the tank, Hange assigns herself what she knows will be a one-way mission.

She’s her typical happy-go-lucky and somewhat unhinged Hange Zoe self right to the last, naming Armin her successor as Scout Regiment Commander, and then flying off on her ODM gear for one last sweeping view of the port city, before blushing at the beauty of the Colossals before her.

Hange puts up a hell of a fight and brings a number of Colossals down (they’re very stupid, so they don’t dodge her attacks or even step over one another), but she is eventually enveloped in flames and falls to her death. But by the time she does, the flying boat is safely in the air, and hope of stopping the Rumbling is still alive. Hange, unfortunately, is not, and joins Erwin and a number of other fallen comrades under the blue skies of the hereafter.

The second half of the special is entitled “Sinners” as everyone from the main players of this story to their parents and parents’ parents, reflect on the lives they’ve led and how they may have contributed to the situation they’re in now, and how to make things better in the future, if they can.

Armin wastes no time asserting authority as commander in laying out their plan of attack once they get to Fort Salta and encounter Eren. Killing him will only be a last resort if dialogue won’t work. But just as they’re discussing such dialogue, Eren brings them all to the Path and declares in no uncertain terms that the Rumbling will not stop under any circumstances.

This begs the question: if he doesn’t want the Rumbling to stop, why are they all still able to use their Titan powers? He tells them he’s given them the freedom to choose. They can either sit back and watch him complete the purge of all non-Eldians from the world, or try to stop him. It’s not exactly an invitation, but Eren is well aware Armin and the others will choose the latter.

Back on the boat, Annie learns that Falco has been dreaming memories of Zeke. He still has a connection to Zeke and the Beast Titan, ergo if Annie so chooses, she can use her Female Titan power to manifest those abilities. Annie had just heard Azumabito saying she may not be able to turn back time or ever forgive herself, but she can still do what she can. Was that talk, and this opportunity, enough to bring Annie back into the fight?

Just as a train from the city being controlled by the Eldians (including Reiner and Annie’s folks) approaches Fort Salta, they see all the airships, their means of escape, have been launched in a last-ditch effort to stop the Rumbling. The fort’s commander vows to break away from the cycle of hate that caused this crisis should they somehow manage to survive.

The airship bombing run does not go well. The airships’ altitude is too high for accurate targeting, and the Beast Titan sprouts from Eren’s spine to lob lighting balls at the ships until they’ve all been blown out of the sky. All hope seems lost for the soldiers and refugees at the fort, united in their desire to survive. But then the flying boat peeks out of the clouds, running on fumes, just in time to drop the Scout Regiment right on top of Eren.

Armin, Mikasa, Jean, Connie, and Levi leap from the plane, joined by Reiner and Pieck, who transform into the Armored and Cart. The people at the fort can see what’s going on, and Reiner’s family revels in the fact he’s still alive. How long, however, remains to be seen.

As Armin prepares to get up close and personal with his former best friend, he has one more question for him: How is this freedom to him? Those colossal ribs look like nothing so much as a cage in which Eren is restrained, pulled and dragged along by what he feels to be his final fate.

But even after all the sins he’s committed and plans to commit, Armin and especially Mikasa are not ready to give up on him. They’ve sinned too, after all, as has every single living soul in the world. The time for judging one another is over. This is a fight for survival and the future, and if they lose, it’s the end of everything. Who will prevail? We’ll find out in the Fall.

Vinland Saga S2 – 08 – Way Down In the Hole

Thorfinn awakes screaming from his most frightening dream yet, where he watches a younger version of himself move in on an even younger Einar and his family. When he tries to stop himself, he falls into a deep, dark hole. When he tries to climb out, he is grabbed by the limbs of the dead. He doesn’t remember it all when he wakes, but enough to feel like he’s forgotten something important.

As Einar and Thorfinn’s wheat continues to grow, the retainers resent it. They know Ketil gave orders to let slaves farm, but to the retainers, that’s going too far. After all, they’re farmers; if slaves are allowed to farm, what’s next? No slavery? These are prideful, small-minded men who would rather take out their frustration on those below them than question how they might be leading better lives.

The latest nightmare continues to drive Thorfinn’s feeling that he still isn’t sure how to live life at all. Einar heard Thorfinn say the name Askeladd in his sleep, and Thorfinn tells him it’s the name of the man who killed his father, and whom he joined in battle in hopes of revenge that never came. He admits he no longer hates Askeladd, but in the absence of hate, he feels empty, because hate is all he had and all that drove him.

Sverkel, quickly becoming one of my favorite Vinland characters, overhears some of this discussion, and punctuates it with a hearty “get back to work!” He has another job for them after thatching the roof: net fishing on the beach. His first throw nets a whole bunch of fish, and he proceeds to teach Thorfinn the proper way, telling him if he’s empty, he should fill that emptiness with whatever he can. After all, it’s easier to be reborn when you’re empty.

Thorfinn asks Einar if he believes men can really change—if he, Thorfinn, can close the book on his decade-plus of being a warrior and become someone else’ someone good. Einar tells Thorfinn to simply look at his reflection in the water. He already has changed. Had the two of them met before, Thorfinn might’ve killed him. But no one who sees him now would think he was ever a warrior.

But the window between when Thorfinn is told the words he needs to hear from someone he trusts that it is indeed possible to put the past behind and start anew, and when he is able to actually act upon that, is vanishingly small. For when Einar and Thorfinn return to their crop to find every plant has been uprooted. Einar can tell the wheat was ruined by people who knew what they were doing: the retainers.

Thorfinn talks Einar down from going to kill them, and they go to Pater instead, who promises an investigation. But then they cross paths with those same retainers laughing and joking around. As expected, they play dumb about the ruined crop, instead saying if it were ruined that would be fine, since wheat grown by slaves would be “too putrid” to eat.

That’s the final straw for Einar, who charges one of the retainers with his fist. Thorfinn slips in front of him and throws the first punch instead, perhaps in hope that if he did it and not Einar, Einar might be spared the punishment of certain death. Instead, Einar keeps brawling. Thorfinn is smacked with a shovel, loses focus, and then falls down the crevice from his dream. Maybe Thorfinn can still change…but not today.

The Fire Hunter – 07 – Lamp Child

This episode stands out as the first one where Touko and Koushi finally meet, but that doesn’t happen instantly. Kira and Touko part ways when the latter says the dog Kanata knows where to go, but when Koushi returns from his excursion with Roroku, Kira tells him about the girl and hound…and also that while she loves her dad, she’s not ecstatic about him treating Koushi like a piece of property.

While Koushi left the city and went into danger with a roving hunter Yuoshichi doesn’t trust, Koushi explains that the experience lent him crucial information for his research and the entire operation, including the fact that Spiders don’t combust before natural flame, and that Roroku can help them bury bottled lightning around the palace and factory in preparation for the battle to come.

Back at Shouzou’s family’s house, Kaho continues to stay by his side, and delcares to Touko and Akira that she’s decided to marry him. Ever since she was sent away by her village she’s thought only of death, but not that everyone, even Touko, have stepped up to help keep her alive, she believes it’s her turn to protect someone: in this case, Shouzou. Also…the Spider kid Kun might be able to warg into bugs?

When Akira declines to take Kanata on a hunting trip, Touko decides to have the hound lead her back to his master’s house in hopes of finding his family there. They only get as far as the front door when a strange ghostly figure appears in the street. That figure is distracted and then neutralized via skyfire by Koushi, and he and Touko run through the rain from what he calls a spy of the gods.

When they find a resting spot, Koushi tells Touko how Kira told him about her and Kanata, and introduces himself as the son of the hunter who saved her. Touko prostrates herself and sheds tears of apology, but neither is needed; for Koushi, this is welcome news. He feared his dad abandoned him and his mom and sister, so it’s comforting to learn he died saving someone’s life.

When Kanata catches the scent of something, Touko spots who she thinks is one of the Treefolk who live in the Forbidden Quarter. Koushi promises to take her there, if she tells him everything she knows about the Spiders’ fire. Little do they know that a spy of the gods is still tailing them. But hey, at least Touko and Koushi have finally crossed paths. With her objective completed, what’s next for the Lamp Girl?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

NieR: Automata Ver 1.1a – 05 – It Takes a Village

Lily sends 2B and 9S on a delivery mission that takes them through a derelict shopping center. The extreme wide shots that dwarf the two androids, the merging of nature and the man-made, and that terrific Okabe Keiichi score all conspire to set the mood exquisitely as always. After showing his cruel side when he extinguished the ML “family”, 9S seems back to his chipper self.

He dreams of a day when the fighting’s over, the mall can reopen, and they can spend the day shopping for T-shirts. 2B says she has all the clothing she needs, and that “emotions are prohibited”; ironic considering she’s clearly had her share of emotional reactions in the past four episodes. She’s someone wrestling with the contradiction between her programming and directives, and the things she’s been feeling.

If last week’s amusement park demonstrated that the MLs emulating humans without proper context results in a state indistinguishable from madness and psychopathy, this week’s ML village demonstrates that a more tempered and realistic form of humanity mimicry can be replicated by the androids’ enemy. Led by the green-eyed gentle giant Pascal, a large population of MLs live in harmony completely severed from the ML network.

In a scene that is half-Laputa, half-Ewok Village, all shapes and sizes of MLs have their specific functions in the village, but rather than working like a well-oiled machine, their movements and behaviors are thoroughly human. They also have familial connections such as big and little sister (with the big sister being smaller). 9S is simply astonished that Pascal is able to converse with them so eloquently.

2B and 9S are given freedom to explore the village, and when they find a ladder that plunges far below ground into the darkness, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Thankfully, there are no flayed androids, but there is a very strange large head that is neither android nor ML. When 9S hacks it, a number of strange images of fellow androids flash by before his connection is severed.

Pascal joins the two and notes that this giant head is the one who inspired him to stop fighting (something he’s apparently done for thousands of years), and is now an object of worship. 9S gathered enough data to identify it as a creation of humanity of yore, perhaps also as a weapon, but like Pascal it seems to have found a new reason for its (now sedentary) existence. The vivid palette of Pascal’s memories is a neat contrast to the subdued earthy tones of the village.

The more 9S observes this seemingly perfect society, the more he resents them as “selfish” for deciding to suddenly stop fighting a war both they and the androids were designed to fight. It’s clear that like 2B, there’s a part of 9S that wants the fighting to stop, and a part of him that believes its the only reason he exists. For her part, 2B asks her assistant bot to properly map this place so that she and 9S can return someday, to buy those T-shirts. The clouds part, and 9S’ mood brightens when she says this.

When the two return to the village to say their goodbyes, they see a group of ML “kids” bickering and getting violent over a music box one of them found, so like humans, the ML village isn’t without its problems.

What was the deal with the images 9S saw when he was hacking the head? Was the visual glitching he experienced—during which time the very environment around him and 2B changed—related to that hacking session? As an anime-only NieRer, I’ll have to wait to find out.

As for Adam and his brother Eve, the two highly evolved MLs are evolving steadly, going from wearing tighty-whities in the cold open to full-on pants and gauntlets in the parting shot. They don’t just look dangerous, they look just like YoRHa androids. Coincidence…or design?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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