Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 02 – Nothing is Eternal

One of Lord El-Melloi II’s basic lessons in his class is “nothing is eternal; everything changes,” and he should know, having once been the master of a heroic spirit of whose vast empire nearly nothing remains. And it is a former student, Mary Lil Fargo (subfamily of the Aminuspheres) who summons him to her mansion, which is the site of her father Ernest’s murder and dismemberment.

The seven parts of the body that were separated and arranged throughout the house indicate the same kind of planetary magic the Fargo family specializes in, but the arrangement is all wrong. Of the four people in the mansion when Ernest died, all have a motive to kill him, be it revenge for abuse (Claire the maid), jealousy over his research (Fernando Li), money to pay debts (his nephew Alec), and of course, his heir, Mary herself.

While this seems at first like a classic whodunit with El-Melloi picking the least likely suspect as the culprit, the murder mystery takes an entirely different and unexpected turn: no one murdered Ernest; he murdered and dismembered himself, all in the service of setting up an experimental spell that would grant him immortality.

El-Melloi confirms this when a hidden section of the rotunda’s floor reveals the part of a human associated with the planet Earth: the soul, not of the body. Once revealed, it contacts the other seven parts and reconstructs Ernest, but it is far from perfect, being his first and only attempt: he’s a grotesque monster, seeking Mary’s life force to complete his immortality.

El-Melloi doesn’t do anything to protect Mary, but he doesn’t have to: his apprentice Gray is on the job. After an incantation, her lantern-dwelling sidekick Add transforms into a mighty scythe, and its power blows her up to then ever-present hood off her head, revealing she bears an uncanny resemblance to Saber, AKA Artoria Pendragon.

While the reasons for this have yet to be revealed, knowing a little more about Gray certainly makes things more interesting. It also explains why she’s such a skilled fighter, such that El-Melloi only needs to step back with Mary and let her do her thing.

Once she dispatches the demented undead Ernest (creepily reciting words that rhyme with “Gray” in the process), she smiles in self-satisfaction before realizing her hood is down, and promptly pulls it back up. El-Melloi—Waver—apparently can’t look at a face that brings up such terrible memories of the Holy Grail War.

Before parting, El-Melloi deduces that Mary is a talented enough mage to know what her father was up to…and that it wouldn’t work and result in his death. El-Melloi won’t be able to prove it, but still wants to know why she did nothing to stop him.

Mary’s answer is rooted in the lessons she learned from El-Melloi himself: nothing is eternal. Letting her father go through with a doomed, incomplete immortality experiment was her way of relaying that lesson to him. Mages shouldn’t seek immortality, except in the indirect way they pass on their knowledge to the next generation.

If Ernest had succeeded, he’d have rendered that generation—made Mary, and her future and that of her children—redundant. Not only that, if I’m interpreting Mary holding hands with Claire at the end, letting Ernest essentially kill himself freed the maid from his abuse.

As first cases go (not counting episode 00) this wasn’t too bad at all; it introduced El-Melloi’s investigative process, showed off his knowledge of magecraft and deductive facilities, had an interesting twist, and of course, revealed Gray’s “Silver Saber” mode. A good week’s work. On to the next case!

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Fire Force – 02 – About All Any of Them Can Do

With the Rookie Fire Soldier Games coming up, Captain Oubi has high hopes for young Shinra. But he’s not the only rookie assigned to Company 8. That’s right, it’s the Rival/Friend His Own Age Who Is More Like Him Than Not, Arthur Boyle, the self-proclaimed “Knight King.”

Maki and Iris are enjoying the nice day on the roof when the two prepare to go at it, but Lt. Hinawa puts an end to both Maki’s idle fire manipulation (technically against regs, but he’s a stickler) and the attempted duel. Instead, he rearranges the fight so Shinra and Arthur have to go up against their senpai Maki.

While both third-gens are unconcerned about taking on a second-gen, Maki’s military training, experience, wonderful muscles, and most important, her ability to manipulate the flames of others means both guys end up taking quick losses.

Maki may be a little self conscious about her “ogre gorilla” alter-persona, but there’s no doubting her toughness despite not being the latest generation of pyrokineticist. If Shinra’s a devil and Arthur a knight, she’s a witch—and a very accomplished one, at that.

Taken down a few pegs, Shinra and Arthur shift their battle to see who can eat the ramen Oubi treated them to faster…which is not the point of eating delish ramen. There’s also a mention of how much gear a non-user like the captain has to wear (and Hinawa has to maintain) for the job, while Arthur’s Excalibur and Shinra’ feet and Type 7 ax are sufficient for them. Speaking of which, the alarm sounds and the now five-person Company 8 answers the call.

The scene is eerily quiet but the Infernal is inside, the father of a girl who already lost her mother to “infernalization,” and dreads being next as a matter of genes (though it could just be a coincidence). When Shinra and Arthur take out their weapons in public, they are scolded by Oubi. The Infernal they’re about to fight was a human, with family. It’s not a glorious battle, but a solemn funeral. If the rookies think otherwise, they can leave the 8.

Oubi is proven right when they enter the house and find the girl’s infernalized father just sitting quietly at the table, the shrine of his wife nearby. Shinra wonders why they should attack an Infernal that isn’t doing anything, but Arthur corrects him: the person sitting there is in tremendous pain, and they must put him out of his misery.

As Iris says the prayer, all it takes is a single quick strike form behind with Arthur’s plasma sword to send the father to rest. A quick and dignified end, but no consolation for his daughter as she never saw it.

Before they went in, a cloud of flames above the house formed into a smirk, and after they defeat the Infernal, the house inexplicably comes tumbling down; fortunately Oubi is tough and isn’t injured, but he and Hinawa immediately suspect a third party that’s messing with their duties. Indeed there is someone outside among the crowd, who leaves smoke letters in the sky reading “Joker.” Huh.

Meanwhile, Oubi completes his duties by doing what he can to comfort the surviving daughter in her time of greatest despair. He posits that because his parents protected her so thoroughly from the flames, she’ll be safe form now on, even if they’re gone. The fire soldiers didn’t fight a battle this week; the Infernals did, for the sake of their daughter, and they won, because she’s still alive.

Neither Shinra nor Arthur can sleep that night (obviously they were assigned the same bunk bed), realizing that the academy could not prepare them for the most terrifying part of being a fire soldier: getting accustomed to what they do. But as much as they snipe and sneer at nip at each other, they’ve perhaps started to realize that they’d rather have one another by their side than not, to help deal with those solemn times.

Astra Lost in Space – 02 – Not Here to Make Space Friends

The Astra lands on the planet Valvrave Vilavurs, a lush planet teeming with flora, fauna, and water to stock up for the twenty-day journey to the next stepping stone in space. Kanata distributes tasks to the crew, but encounters immediate resistance from Quitterie, who doesn’t seem interested in doing anything dangerous. As if being lost in space wasn’t already dangerous…

After encountering a giant dragon-like flying beast with a turtle-like head (hence the name “tur-gon”), most of the crew heads into the forest to forage amongst all manner of alien critter and trampoline tree, while Ulgar and Yunhua, the quietest of the group so far, fill the Astra’s water tanks from a nearby stream.

What had been a jolly good time turns into a nightmare when the singularity reappears, with space staring at them from the other end. This time, however, everyone manages to get away, thanks in part to Aries’ photographic memory…and because the sphere may well have “given up”, if it’s capable of that kind of thought.

Back on the ship, Quitterie reiterates her desire to make friends with precisely no one, then makes it that much harder on herself by telling her sister Funicia she’s not really even her sister, then running off, requiring everyone to head back out to look for her. Zack, her childhood friend, explains that she’s always found it hard dealing with people or making friends since she was basically raised by dutiful servants.

Funi, who was later adopted by Quitterie’s absentee doctor mother (and not welcomed by Quitterie) gets separated and ends up on a trampoline tree as it stretches up vertically towards the setting sun (neat tree, that). This puts her in prime position to be snatched up and eaten by a tur-gon.

To stop that from happening, Kanata takes action when no one else will, finding the tree closest to the cliff and using his decathlete skills to run and jump from tree to tree until he’s close to Funi. Unfortunately, a tur-gon grabs her, but he uses Luca’s javelin to injure it, and it drops Funi harmlessly back to the treetop.

Kanata manages to reach her, but loses his footing and falls backwards over the edge. Like Funi when she was captured, or Aries and Kanata’s troubles in open space last week, this show loves almost killing off members of its large cast, and since I’m still new to this show, it hasn’t yet been clear that it won’t actually follow through and do it for real at some point.

But not this time, as Quitterie makes herself useful and launches a series of parachute plants (also neat, those), one of which catches Kanata, who gently drifts down to solid ground. Quitterie thanks Kanata and apologizes for her behavior thus far, and Kanata’s quick-thinking and heroism cements his role as the consensus captain, with Charce as his second-in-command.

With Kanata now in a place of leadership, his hard work finally paying off, and Quitterie finally being honest about actually wanting friends and family, not to mention everyone having more than their share of delicious tur-gon meat, the crew is sitting pretty after the first completed leg of their 5,000 light year-plus interstellar odyssey.

But Zack informs Kanata of a disturbing discovery he’s made: the communications system was sabotaged…recently. That means it was either done just before they boarded the ship…or there’s a traitor in their midst. Absent any evidence, I suspect Ulgar the most, since he’s so quiet and standoffish, but I’m not sleeping on it being Yunhua, or Charce, or heck, even Zack himself, trying to cast away suspicion on himself by reporting it.

One thing’s for (mostly) sure…it’s not Kanata or Aries. But who ever it is (if it indeed is one of them), the mystery adds a measure of looming peril to what has otherwise been an bloodless quest. The crew has been extremely lucky to survive their trials so far. That luck can’t hold out forever.

Vinland Saga – 03 – It’ll Pull You In

Askeladd immediately shows both Floki and us what kind of dudes we’re dealing with, as he manages to double the bounty for Thors’ head from five to ten pounds of gold. Floki is a very shrewd man with good instincts, but he also has a solid right-hand-man in Bjorn, who spears a Jomsviking who was hiding behind a tapestry and passes it off as an innocent accident.

As for Thors, he doesn’t leave at the break of dawn, but is seen off by the whole village. Before they leave, all five of the young men he’s bringing along have designs on asking Ylva for her hand in marriage upon their return and presenting her with spoils of war; all Ylva wants is a little more shuteye.

When a young lass who likes Ari (one of the guys who tried to propose to Ylva) is cruelly rebuffed, Leif assures her none of the five greenhorn lads will come to any harm; Thors will see to it they’re dumped off in Norway before they see any battle, and Leif promises he’ll ship them back to Iceland, disappointed, but with their organs still very much internal.

Seemingly the only member of the village not seeing them off is Thorfinn, who is nowhere to be found and presumed by both Thors and Ylva to still be off skulking, angry about being scolded. We get a little more comedy when the five guys line up on one side of the boat, while Thors is on the other side all on his own with one hell of a huge oar. Leif bangs out the pace on the drum, and the ships are off.

It isn’t until they’re already out in the open sea that Thorfinn reveals he stowed away. While peeing over the side (he really needed to pee) he suddenly notices where he is, and his smile is so wide and bright, Thors can’t help but smile back, despite the fact his son just ruined his plans to try to keep him safe.

He later paints Finn’s back door red for his insolence (pretty tame discipline from a viking in the 11th century), as the gears turn in Askeladd’s head. He chats with Bjorn about the bounty deal not seeming quite right; he’s quite sure Floki reached out to them independently and his superior didn’t order Thors’ execution.

Askeladd also believes Floki is afraid of incurring a great loss of his own men, and so hired someone else. This tells Askeladd that this Thors fellow shouldn’t be a pushover, even if Floki says he’s “not a warrior” anymore.

As night falls, Thors warns Ari not to stare at the moon in the sea, lest it “pull him in,” a common nautical hazard. As Thorfinn dozes contently in his lap, Thors tells Ari more about his first child, the woman Ari says he’s in love with.

It was a difficult birth for Helga, the daughter of the leader of the Jomsvikings, but Thors was about to head out on another mission, and was annoyed he got a daughter instead of a son. He’s about to leave when Helga asks him to name her.

He says he’s “busy”, but Helga insists—the first time he ever saw her truly angry. So he named her Ylva, after his mother. And that, he tells Ari, was the first time he started to feel afraid of battle…which makes sense, as dying in battle meant abandoning his newborn child and wife to an uncertain future.

The next day they arrive at the Faroe Islands—the usual rest stop between Iceland and Scandinavia. They row into a cove that leads to a trading village, but the high walls immediately spell foreboding, and Leif notes that there are fewer structures in the village itself.

By the time they start rowing out of the cove, it’s to late—Askeladd’s men start dumping huge piles of debris onto their ships, blocking their only exit. Then another drum can be heard: the drum of Askeladd’s two ships rowing towards them.

Ari and the other men bristle and claim to be ready for battle, but Thors knows better; the boys will be no match for these hardened foes. So he takes a deep, “I’m getting too old for this shit” breath, pulls out his sword, and hands his dagger to Thorfinn, warning him only to use it in time of absolute need.

Before Askeladd’s men know it, Thors has leapt onto one of their ships. He takes out the first man with one punch, two others with two more, and then three with three; six skilled men downed without even drawing his sword. It’s then that Bjorn and Askeladd know: they’re going to have to work their asses off to earn every ounce of that gold.

Each of the first three Vinland Sagas have been very different affairs—from an introduction to Thors and Thorfinn and live in Iceland, to the arrival of a new old threat, to the swashbuckling adventure that begins in this episode. But all three of kicked all kinds of ass in their own way.

Like Thors himself, it doesn’t glamorize violence or killing, and Ari and his four hotshot friends are presented as the naive fools they are. As for Thorfinn, he may not have pissed himself while hiding in that barrel, but yeah…he’s now somewhere that’s absolutely no place for a six-year-old. I just can’t see how this ends well for anyone…but nor dare I look away.

Vinland Saga – 02 – Nobody Has Enemies, but Everybody Loves War

As the English launch an ambush on their Danish occupiers during their Saturday bath (note to self: switch up bath days for this very reason) in Northumbria—slaughtering men, women and children indiscriminately—the children in Thors’ village, Thorfinn inluded, participate in mock battles using blunted wooden swords and spears.

It’s a simple but effective juxtaposition of the ideation of war as a grand, noble, and honorable venture, and all it really boils down to: people ending the lives of other people, often without even the slightest hint of grandeur, honor, or nobility.

Thors ended many lives as a warrior, but those days would seem to be over, as he now takes smithing classes not to make weapons, but to make cooking pots. But his old comrades, the elite Jomvikings, have other ideas. A warship captained by Floki land at the village, their mere presence a transparent threat.

It’s revealed Thors essentially deserted when he jumped into the ocean and cast away his sword. The Jomsvikings don’t take kindly to desertion, but they’re giving Thors one chance to repent because he is a skilled warrior. Floki gives him an offer he dare not refuse, because now that they know of his village, it’s the villagers—and his family—who will suffer if he does.

As Floki makes the announcement that Thors has agreed to join their campaign and will need volunteers to crew his warship, the entire village erupts into celebration: finally, a war! But the only one who has actually seen war—Thors—is the very picture of gloom.

As they drag the village warship out of mothballs and prep her for the voyage to Jomsberg, Thorfinn gets a bit overzealous during the mock battles, injuring a couple of kids four to five years older than him, breaking one of their arms with his wooden sword.

When he gets home he tosses that sword aside, because he wants—he thinks he needs—a real weapon. Snooping around the storage room, he soon finds a stately chest, full of Thors’ old regalia and weapons (minus the sword he tossed).

When Thorfinn takes a dagger in his hand, unsheathes it, and holds it up to the light to admire, his father’s huge hand closes upon it, as powerful and concise an image as Vinland Saga has conjured thus far. Thors isn’t the kind of dad to rage or even raise his voice to his kids, so when he asks his son who he plans to kill with these weapons, it carries even more weight.

Thorfinn, all naivete and bluster, says he plans to kill “the enemy,” but Thors asks him who that is, knowing he has no idea. In his many brutal bloody battles, Thors gradually learned that fighting and killing is ultimately pointless, which is why he cast it aside. But his son has already been influenced by his peers and by the presence of the Jomsvikings.

Thorfinn also thinks his father is being hypocritical, as he’s heading out to war. Never does it occur to him that he shouldn’t be thinking about fighting in any battles anyway simply because…he’s six damn years old.

As Helga stoically cleans the dagger wound on his hand, Thors tells her to take care of Thorfinn. The next morning, Leif, who is joining Thors, tells him the conditions are right to begin the voyage, and Thors takes one last look at his sleeping son before departing.

Meanwhile, on one of the Faroe Islands, Floki is meeting with someone named Askeladd, who has been contracted by the Jomsvikings to kill Thors, in exchange for five pounds of gold. Thors is sailing into a trap, to his death, and there’s no guarantee the village will be left alone if and when he’s taken out.

The question is, is he as reluctant and morose about having to mobilize simply because he thought he was done with this shit…or because he knows it’s a trap, has no choice but to sail into it, and can no longer guarantee his family’s safety?

Vinland Saga – 01 (First Impressions) – Hard Times in a Hard Land

Fresh off the heels of Attack on Titan’s third season, Wit Studio brings us something just as harsh and bleak and serious, but with its roots in real history; specifically, Vikings. We’re immediately thrust into a melee aboard a longship in the middle of a huge naval battle, as the stoic warrior Thors is rudely awakened from a pleasant daydream of greener pastures and his wife Helga by an attacking foe.

Thors easily defeats his opponent, then carves through dozens more in a very businesslike fasion before anyone lays a finger on him—or in this case, an arrow to his shoulder. Still, he pulls a warrior into the freezing sea with him to even the odds, kills him, and eventually comes ashore, none the worse for wear. The battle is an impressive display of mixed 2D and 3D animation, particularly the sudden storm of hail.

Fifteen years later, in the harsh colds of Iceland, Thors lives with his wife Helga, his daughter Ylva, and his young son Thorfinn, who longs to go on adventures like another village member, the gregarious Leif Erikson (who discovered North America, which he called Vinland, half a millennium before Columbus).

Donning a headpiece and smoking a pipe from the natives he met, Erikson evokes both awe and skepticism from the kids, but Thorfinn is mostly among the former. He doesn’t like Iceland, and would rather be anywhere. I can’t blame him; while an achingly gorgeous land, surviving there is a constant battle, and the spirit of a warrior like his dad Thors is paramount in such an exercise.

As Thors talks with Leif long into the night about the worsening winters in Greenland and Iceland, and how his family’s battles are only going to get tougher, Thorfinn dreams of captaining a grand longship on a westward journey.

Unfortunately they run into the legendary Jormungand, who proceeds to squeeze Thorfinn until he awakes. Turns out Jormungand was Ylva, sharing his warm bed (a “hot” commodity in such a cold land). Vinland Saga wastes no time showing that while life is hard, this family has endured by sticking together.

Ylva, it seems, would still prefer if they bought a slave, since her mother has grown weaker, something to which her dad seems morally opposed. But when she falls off the roof they’re clearing of snow (a scary moment), she lands on something strange, and after some digging, she finds a runaway slave.

Meanwhile, Thorfinn, probably not doing his fair share of chores considering he’s just hanging around Leif, wants to start adventuring at once, not waiting until he grows into a man. Leif warns him of the dangers of the sea, particularly so far north, and how he was once the only survivor out of a crew of seven whose ship was crushed by ice floes.

When Thorfinn asks why they all live in such a hard place, Leif doesn’t sugarcoat it: their forbears once lived in Norway, but when a king rose there and demanded the people choose fealty or exile, they left. Thorfinn is angered and doesn’t believe Leif, seeing this fleeing of his ancestors as cowardly.

The slave gains consciousness after Thors warms him by the fire gives him a kind of primitive CPR, and is awake long enough to tell him he doesn’t want to go back to Halfdan’s household. We soon learn why when Halfdan suddenly shows up at the village, causing a standoff. Still, the chain-obsessed Halfdan is looking for a slave, not a fight, so even when one of his own men tries to attack a villager, he flays the skin from his face himself. Talk about lawful evil…

Upon entering Thors’ house, he demands they return the slave to him. Thors offers to buy the slave instead, for more than Halfdan paid for him—over four times more, when the negotiations conclude. The whole time, Ylva can’t believe her dad is making such a deal, which isn’t a good one in any century.

Sure enough, the slave dies soon after the deal is struck, leaving Thors’ family short eight goats. But I know why Thors did it. The slave had already suffered enough, and Thors wasn’t going to be the one to return him to his earthly torments. Better to die peacefully, which is what he did. It was a bad deal, but it was the right thing to do.

That night, as the family watches the Northern Lights from a dramatic promontory (it really is a shockingly gorgeous land), presumably after burying the slave, Thorfinn asks his dad if Leif was telling the truth about their people running away. Thors quietly confirms that “that’s what they say.” To which Thorfinn asks, if one wanted to run away from here, where would they go?

The answer, it seems, will likely drive Thorfinn from this sleepy, cold, and often cruel village, no doubt after whoever is smirking in a longship attacks his village…at least that seems to be the likeliest sequence of events. Not being well-versed in Norse history (and never having read the manga), his journey will be new to me.

While a mostly quiet and understated beginning, Vinland Saga built a strong foundation for the coming twenty-three episodes (the following two of which I will review soon) by showing us Thorfinn’s roots, and why his wanderlust is so strong. I can assure you if Leif Erickson regailed us with tales of his travels every night, I’d probably want to head out too.

Fire Force – 01 – (First Impressions) – Exorcising Fire Demons

The premise of Fire Force is as bizarre as it is frightening: in its timeline, the “Solar Era”, spontaneous human combustion is not only a great hazard to Tokyo, but the beings that emerge from the flames, “Infernals,” are demons who must be defeated in order to put the souls of the victims at rest.

That’s the job of Special Fire Force Company 8, of which young newcomer and third-generation pyrokineticist Kusakabe Shinra is its newest member. He just happens to be a witness to the latest emergence of an Infernal, which Company 8 is dispatched to the train station to tackle.

In this way, Shinra gets a first-row view of how the Fire Force gets things done, and it’s as much a battle with a demon as it is a religous ritual; there’s even a sister, Iris, on staff to deliver the proper prayers at the proper time. While Shinra doesn’t participate in the battle, which is another success for Company 8, his quick thinking (and literally flaming feet) manage to rescue Iris from suffering a freak accident at the hands of a falling lamp.

From there, Shinra is taken back to Co.8’s HQ, a somewhat run-down but still very cool-looking cathedral (all of the architecture and mechanical design is very quirky and cool-looking, for that matter). He already met Iris by sweeping her off her feet like a princess, but soon meets Captain Oubi, Lt. Hinawa, and the first-class fire soldier Oze Maki.

Still, while his job is ostensibly to purify fire demons, Shinra clearly has some demons of his own, something he largely gives away every time he gets nervous and his mouth tightens up into a sinister-looking crooked grin. Those demons revolve around some kind of tragedy in his past where he was blamed for his mother and little brother’s death and subsequently ostracized by most other adults in his family and among their friends.

He doesn’t have time to contemplate how he’ll wrestle with those demons for long; the alarm sounds and within minutes he’s prepped and deployed with the rest of the company aboard the armored firetruck “Matchbox” to a factory fire caused by the manager’s wife combusting.

Another firsthand look at a scene of fire and destruction triggers his worst memories of the end of his mom, brother, and home, as he insists within his thoughts that someone else was present who was the primary culprit; it wasn’t a matter of his powers going out of control but someone causing them to.

We’ll see how that pans out, but his Captain and Maki work to keep him in the here and now, focused on the not inconsiderable task before them: the Infernal is one tough cookie.

Ultimately Shinra has to put aside the fact he couldn’t keep his promise to protect his family like a hero, but he decides to make a new promise never to let that happen again, and to protect anyone else affected by the Infernals. He delivers a devastating kick to the core of the Infernal, dispersing it, and Iris says the prayer. Mission Complete.

Outside, Shinra and the rest of the Fire Force gets its due congratulations, thanks, and adulation of the assembled crowd of citizens, not just for stopping the blaze but saving the soul of the manager’s wife. And for the first time since before his mother died, Shinra finally smiles a genuine smile, not the forced smirk with which he is so often cursed at the wrong times.

Fire Force, in a couple words, is pretty damn good. Stylish, fast-paced, and uncomplicated in its presentation of its protagonist, his motivations and goals, and the introduction of his new family and life among Company 8, which is definitely not your typical fire department. It’s a fun and imaginative setting that still feels grounded in reality and modern life.

The vaunted David Production studio provides a feast for the eyes, blending the reds and oranges of the flames with the ever-glowing blue of the fire soldiers as well as the eerie green aurora above Tokyo’s skies. The orchestral score also delivers the appropriate sense of occasion, peril, and excitement, particularly during the boss fight. I’m looking forward to this one.

Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 01 – Not Even Close to a Hero

First of all, I wouldn’t bother watching EM2CF unless you’ve at least seen Fate/Zero in its entirety; aside from the fact that series is a masterpiece (and is available on Netflix, at least in the U.S.) you won’t have any context to who this Waver Velvet kid is unless you do. It would be like watching Avengers:Endgame without watching any previous MCU films.

Though to me that immediately hamstrings this sequel/spin-off: it has some huge shoes to fill, and from the outset it doesn’t seem interested in even bothering to do so. This is not a Holy Grail War arc, but a totally different, smaller-scale story about how one combatant in the fourth war has managed to honor his heroic spirit’s wish that he go on surviving.

Even with a good working knowledge of Velvet and his role the fourth Holy Grail war, this first episode of a series focused on him makes a lot of jumps backwards and forwards through time—probably more than should be necessary.

That being said, the story moves along well, from one final parting shot of Fuyuki Bridge ten years ago, to hanging upside down in the Archisorte Mansion seven years ago. There, he regails Lord El-Melloi’s blood niece and (sister-by-succession) Reines with an adventure he had while visiting the ancient ruins of Babylon some months after the war.

After being captured by a fellow ex-Clock Tower student Barzan, Waver meets another former classmate in Melvin. They break out of their cell and blow up the archaeological site believed to be where Iskandar is buried, which Barzan has been using as a workshop for illicit magecraft.

Once they’re both free, Waver asks Melvin to forgive him for being unable to pay back the money he borrowed to travel to Japan for the Holy Grail war he then went on to lose. But Melvin was impressed both by the fact Waver even did survive, and with his display of no-nonsense practical magecraft to get them out of a tough spot, so he decides to lend him more money; this time to buy the late Lord El-Melloi’s class.

Three years later, Waver has steadily managed the class, and now finds himself before Reines, who simply wants to know why he did so. Waver simply feels responsible for El-Melloi’s death, and thus feels carrying on the class is his duty. Reines, still too young to be a proper lord, decides to make Waver’s role in El-Melloi’s legacy official by naming him Lord El-Melloi until she comes of age.

In accepting the title, Waver agrees to help the nearly insolvent El-Melloi family repay their debts (through those titular Case Files) and try to restore the family’s heirloom magical crest that was heavily damaged in the war, and without which the family will surely fall. All he asks in return is to have “the second” added to his title, so that he need not bear the exact same title as his mentor; something he feels he doesn’t deserve.

And that’s how Waver Velvet became Lord El-Melloi II seven years ago. Flash forward to the present, and an older, more stately former-Mr. Waver meets his apprentice Gray (introduced in the preview episode) in the hallway, then sits down with a similarly older Reines and Melvin to discuss…the next case.

While this episode had no shortage of F/Z references, if the show keeps doing that it’s going to feel like a crutch. I for one think this show can stand on its own as a supernatural mystery-of-the-week kind of deal. It’s all about managing expectations, something Waver certainly knows a lot about, having always operated on shoestring resources and third-rate magic.

Astra Lost in Space – 01 (First Impressions) – The Final Frontier: Getting Along

ALiS immediately sets the mood and grabs our attention by throwing us into the inky nothingness of space to float with poor Aries Spring (Minase Inori). She has no idea how she got there, but is understandably terrified, until she spots someone approaching her with an open hand.

Now that we know how bad things are going to get for Aries, the narrative rewinds back to the day Aries sets of for the five-day “Planet Camp.” Shortly after arriving at the spaceport, her bag is stolen, but the very fit and valorous Hoshijuma Kanata gets it back…only to be arrested by cop-bots.

No matter, Aries and Kanata eventually join their six fellow high school students (plus one little sister with an alter-ego in the form of a hand puppet) at the gate and before you know it, they’re on a 9-hour FTL journey to Planet McPa.

The meetup at the gate and the trip paint the characters in broad strokes, but the bottom line is they’re all very different personalities—pretty typical for a Lerche show. Within a couple minutes of setting foot on McPa, those clashing personalities are immediately tested by a weird floating orb, which I’ll just call a singularity. One by one, it sucks up the students who can’t outrun it.

After a very trippy visual sequence, everyone finds themselves floating in space, near a planet that doesn’t quite look like McPa. You couldn’t ask for a more nightmarish scenario, especially considering these are just kids with zero experience in space. Fortunately, there’s a spaceship in orbit, just within the range of their thruster suits.

They head to the ship, open the thankfully unlocked hatch, and climb aboard. There’s a grand sense of adventure afoot, and the music really helps to sell it. That’s when they realize there are only eight of them—poor Aries is still out there, drifting further and further away.

With insufficient fuel for a two-way trip in their suits, Kanata decides to use a tether to reach Aries, and we return to the end of the cold open, with Kanata reaching out to take Aries’ hand…only his rope is just too short. Disaster! Whatever to do? Kanata decides to go for broke and detach himself from the tether so he can grab an eternally grateful Aries.

But while they’re safe for the moment, there’s another problem: on the way back Kanata runs out of fuel, but his trajectory is five degrees off, meaning he and Aries will fly right past the ship. It’s time for the others, putting aside their initial differences to create a human chain outside of the airlock that snags Aries and Kanata and pulls them aboard.

That’s when they learn of several more problems—there are always more problems in space than in…not space, after all. They’re 5,012 light years, or more than three months, away from home, with only enough water for 20 days and only enough food for three.

With the aid of Zack Walker, he of the 200 IQ and spaceship license, he manages to calculate a route that will enable them to resupply at planets within twenty days of one another…but there’s only one possible route. Even so, the fact that there’s a remotely feasible plan bolsters everyone’s spirits.

With hope in their hearts (and probably very little food in their stomachs) Kanata is chosen as their captain, and they all take their places as the ship’s FTL activates, and they head off, through hardships, to the stars, on a very simple mission: Get Home Safe.

The last act seems to blow by extremely fast as solutions present themselves almost too easily, and while many members of the cast showed different sides, the jury is still out on others, but over all this was a strong start to a good old-fashioned space adventure. No convoluted factional conflicts or supernatural chosen ones…just nine kids probably in over their heads, but who have no choice but to grow up and do the best they can.

Attack on Titan – 59 (S3 Fin) – Finally, A Beach Episode

After hearing testimony from the surviving scouts and the opinions of the brass, Queen Historia decides to make the truth public. It’s feared doing so will sow chaos, but as Pyxis puts with his usual elegant bluntness, if they’re going to keep lying or hiding the truth, then why even bother ousting the last king?

Once the people are told what they really are and what was done to them, there is indeed a measure of heightened chaos, but public reaction runs the gamut from belief to disbelief, resignation to outrage, relief to rage. That’s a as good a sign as any that they made the right choice. The massive lie was another prison, but Eren & Co. found the key, and Historia used it to thrust open the gates. People are now free to leave…or stay.

Of course, after the trauma of the battle that claimed Commander Erwin Smith and most of the scout “fodder,” that group’s sole survivor in Floch can’t escape the prison, even with the open door right in front of him. He can’t see the door.

Floch is chained down by the belief that Armin was the wrong person to revive, and it was a decision born of emotion by Eren and Levi. He tells this to Armin’s face, and stands his ground when Eren gets in his face, because he believes has nothing left to lose. He already lost it all, and believes winning is no longer possible

The conviction of his words shakes Armin to the core; he can’t help but agree with Floch that he shouldn’t have been the one saved; that he has no idea how to turn things around. Armin is about to walk right back into the prison when Eren tries to encourage him that it’s too early to say, at least until they finally see what’s beyond the wall.

Since they were kids, Eren and Armin believed freedom was beyond the wall. But now that Eren has been beyond it, though his father’s memories and those of Kruger before him, of which he is now privy, but is being very careful about revealing what he knows to anyone else. In trying to comfort Armin, Eren only ends up bumming himself out when he dredges up the horrible scene of Faye torn to shreds by Marley dogs.

At the award ceremony, a fully decked-out Queen Historia presents the nine surviving scouts with medals of valor. Eren will do anything, including casting his life aside, to prevent a repeat of Faye’s fate. Anything except sacrificing Historia. And yet, upon taking her hand and kissing it, he pauses, leading Historia to wonder what is amiss.

Eren is remembering the day Grisha stormed into the Reiss chapel, before defeating Freida and eating her. He wears a subtler version of the same crazed, horror-filled face his father wore. Is there really hope beyond the walls, or only despair, and can freedom even be achieved without hurting Historia, or is Eren as much of a slave to this “cycle” as all who came before him?

Following that ceremony and Eren’s look of horror, a year passes. Wall Maria is purged of all Titans. Refugees return to their homes and begin to rebuild. And the Scout Regiment rides again, beyond Maria, into the great frontier. A year older yet somehow much cooler-looking Eren, Mikasa and Armin are among them.

After finding a particularly unfortunate Titan whom Eren identifies as a “fellow patriot” sent to Paradis transformed, and left to crawl along the earth at an infinitesimal pace, he and the scouts simply leave it behind and continue pushing forward, through valleys and sands that were once only illustrations in Eren and Armin’s book.

And then, just like that, they arrive at the edge of the island of Paradis and lay eyes on the sea for the very first time. It is one of the most epic moments of the entire series, and it’s sold quite well. Everyone is in a giddy sort of shock about it, like it doesn’t quite feel real. They taste the water, splash around, have fun. And why not? It’s a gorgeous day and they’re at the beach!  The kind of day dreams are made of.

As Armin dredges up a distinctive shell (notably empty), the breakers cause Mikasa, standing beside him, to stumble, but she manages to regain her balance. After a beat, Mikasa’s face shifts from surprise to sheepishness, before flashing perhaps her first genuine smile in six years; a smile which Armin returns. Honestly, her sequence of expressions was almost as momentous as the initial sight of the ocean.

Eren, who gesturally speaking is apparently still in that “phase” Levi mentioned to Hange, points dramatically to the horizon, to Marley, and tells his friends for the first time that he was wrong: freedom didn’t lie beyond the sea, enemies did.

But as for whether killing all of their enemies will free them once and for all…that remains a question to hopefully be answered in the fourth—and most likely final—season of Shingeki no Kyojin, to air in 2020. Until then, we are all of us trapped in a new prison…of waiting.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 25 (Fin) – Beginning Anew?

With the arrival of a Glass, a bad-ass virtual force of nature during the previous wave, one could have expected the battle to intensify exponentially. Well, one would be wrong; all Naofumi needed to do was level up thirty-three times to not only survive Glass’s attacks (and her combo with Therese) but deliver considerable damage with his Soul Eater Shield (with no Maka Albarn in sight).

In rough shape but refusing to surrender, Glass activates a Tunnel of Moving Pictures® that we see way too often in anime as a cheap way to remind us of Everything That’s Happened™. It also offers Naofumi a glimpse of Glass’s (and L’Arc and Therese’s) devastated world. He ponders whether he wants to save this world as much as Glass wants to save hers, and if he’s willing to kill her for that cause.

Ultimately Naofumi decides to fight on for this world, if for no other reason than it contains Raphtalia, Filo, and Melty. They have been loyal and true friends and servants. But L’Arc tosses Glass a potion that restores the SP the Soul Eater took away, and seems ready for another round…that is, until she suddenly gets sloshed.

Throughout this battle, the meek green-haired mage who is a member of the Bow Hero’s party and mostly says “HOEEE!” like Cardcaptor Sakura, is quietly distinguishing herself as a key contributor.

First, she rowed Melty over to the dead shark thingy so she could join the party. Then, acting on a light bulb from the queen, she uses her wind magic to shoot some great casks of that weird wine that seems to get everyone drunk immediately (but has no effect on Naofumi).

I can’t help but applaud this audacious, completely-out-of-left field way to conclude the battle, as time runs out, the waves recede, and L’Arc, Therese, and Glass bid goodbye until the next one.

With the Wave gone, Naofumi’s party, done with leveling up for now, still has to wait for a storm to pass for them to sail back to Melromarc. They spend the time on various leisure activities, during which Raphtalia blushes and beams at Naofumi roughly 96% of the time, to no avail…

More intriguingly, the green-haired mage, who finally gets a name—Lecia—joins Naofumi’s party after she’s thrown out of Itsuki’s for the same reason Jar Jar was banished: shesa bein’ clumsy.

But Lecia whines a lot and has a very low opinion of herself, she’s the victim of a false accusation, just as Naofumi was (in her case, destruction of an accessory, though that was probably just an excuse to get rid of her). That automatically makes her a spiritual ally of Naofumi, so he goes a bit further and makes her a literal one.

For the remainder of the episode, Naofumi strings Raphtalia along across land and sea to surprise her with the reward bestowed upon him by Queen Mirelia for his leal service to her kingdom: lordship over the lands of Seyaette, including her rebuilding home village, which is to become the Shield Hero’s official headquarters and training facility.

All the other decent sorts with whom Naofumi has crossed paths made it a point to move there and help his cause. He tasks Raphtalia with revitalizing the fishing industry. Raphtalia is obviously very happy and grateful for all this, but none of that matters compared to having Naofumi by her side. He makes her promise never to leave her or Filo, even when the last Wave is beaten back. She doesn’t like how all this looks like him prepping for the time when he’ll be gone—an eventuality she can’t accept.

While Naofumi doesn’t 100% promise her he’ll never leave or die—I mean, he can’t really do that; it’s out of his control for the moment—he gets a flash back to his own world, as he walks past his old, useless self, and reassures her that he won’t leave her side. There’s still so much to do:  get the village up and running, recruit and train new party members like Lecia, continue to level up for the coming threats, even trying to uncover the mystery of why the heroes of different worlds are competing.

Basically, Iwatani Naofumi isn’t going to dwell on the the what-ifs of after the Waves end, because he’s just getting started. In other words, there’s more than enough to fill another season, which is likely forthcoming but not yet officially confirmed. In this viewer’s opinion, I hope it’s confirmed soon, and in a year or so we get to watch more of Naofumi, Raphtalia, Filo, Melty, Lecia, heck, even Bitch and Trash—and just as importantly, get to hear more excellent Kevin Penkinage.

Dororo – 24 (Fin) – Proof of Existence, Proof of Humanity

In the end, the brothers Hyakkimaru and Tahoumaru only had to endure one last thing: the missteps of their parents. When Hyakkimaru was born, Daigo decided to sacrifice him to the demons. Nui would have Tahoumaru later, but she never stopped loving her firstborn, and that ate at her second in its own way. Even Mutsu and Hyougou couldn’t replace the love of a mother that he always lacked.

As they continue their swordfight in the castle, Tahoumaru goes on about how the likes of Hyakkimaru doesn’t belong within the walls, and that unlike the post where Mutsu and Hyougou marked their heights over the years, there’s nothing there to prove his existence. This is ironic, as the castle itself is burning and crumbling around them, and all of that physical proof Tahoumaru values so along with it.

But even though Tahoumaru still has his human eyes, Hyakkimaru can still see the void in his brother’s heart; the same sense of lacking something as himself. They are no different, and despite their crazed fighting and bizarre modifications, they are both humans who have simply forgotten themselves, lashing out to fill those voids.

As Nui and Jukai enter the castle to try to stop the fighting, Hyakkimaru ends things on his own, not by killing Tahoumaru, but by sparing him. The demon eyes in his head still burn even after Tahoumaru accepts defeat, but he rips them out and offers them to their rightful owner. Hyakkimaru’s false eyes are ejected and his human eyes restored.

As a mass of demonic crystal surges with anger, the castle starts to come down, but both Nui and Jukai arrive in time to save him from being crushed by burning debris. He plunges his swords into the crystal mass, apparently exorcising the residual evil energy, but that also completes the destruction of the temple literally kept up by the power of those now-forsaken demons.

Jukai, Nui and Tahoumaru do not escape, but perish in the flames, while Dororo finds Hyakkimaru and the two climb up the well Nui used to gain access. Hyakkimaru sees Dororo with his own eyes for the first time and calls him—calls her—pretty, which really throws Dororo off. Biwamaru, who helped get them out of the well, stands with the two as they watch Daigo’s castle and surrounding lands burn in a purifying fire.

Once the flames recede and the smoke clears, Dororo is back in the village of survivors and invalids led by a few able-bodied individuals, including those he suggested start to live life without depending on samurai, using money instead of swords to maintain that life.

When they ask where that money will come from, Dororo says he’s got it covered. Dororo has decided, then, what to do with that fortune: use it to realize a community that runs itself, without fealty to some stern-faced lord.

As for the lord, Daigo is not quite ready to give up his quest to restore his lands to prosperity, no matter how many people, including Hyakkimaru again, he has to sacrifice to the demons in a new pact. That is, until Hyakkimaru takes a sword and instead of plunging it into Daigo’s back, pierces his helmet instead.

The helmet is a powerful symbol of Daigo’s status as something other than a mere human, so its destruction is a symbol of Hyakkimaru’s hope his father will live on as a human, something he too plans on doing. In the end, Daigo laments ever making the pact, as he now realizes he might have achieved prosperity simply by raising Hyakkimaru and letting him succeed him.

Bittersweetly, it’s not Happily Ever After for the duo of Dororo and Hyakkimaru. The two go their separate ways; Dororo to lead a new community in keeping with the legacy of her rebellious parents, and Hyakkimaru to learn how to walk the path of humanity after a lifetime of survival-and-revenge mode. With his new eyes, heart, and purpose in life, he has truly been reborn, and until he finds his way, it’s not safe for Dororo to be beside him.

However, the ending suggests that one day the two are reunited, as the young “boy” Dororo runs across a pier with a hopeful smile, he transforms into Dororo the older and more beautiful woman. At the end of the pier is a slightly older-looking Hyakkimaru, in all his human glory, welcoming her with a warm smile. It’s a shame a passing look is all we get, rather than an after-credits scene of the two conversing—but then again, perhaps their reunion is meant more symbolically, as something to which they both aspire.

In any case, both souls, once having lost and suffered so much, seem to be in a much better place, and have stepped out of the darkness and doubt and embraced their respective selves. While I wish we’d seen more of Dororo-as-a-leader, considering where we started, this was a logical and satisfying enough place to end.

Attack on Titan – 58 – The…Attack Titan

The entire flashback with Grisha being rescued by the Owl, Eren Kruger, is being retold by Eren as Armin writes it down and Mikasa listens in an adjacent cell. Eren is able to provide this information from many years ago thanks to his coordinate status.

Among the things he learns is that once given the powers of a Titan, a subject of Ymir will only live 13 years, something Mikasa dismisses out of hand, as she’s probably committed to making sure her beloved Eren lives to at least 100.

Kruger doesn’t have any comfort or solace to give to Grisha, because he was never given any himself. He’s only been able to survive as an Eldian spy within Marley by actually acting the way a Marleyan would; injecting his countrymen and casting them over the wall one after the other. By the same token, he deems Grisha so suited to save Eldia because he has already set that path into motion by leaving the gates of the ghetto with his sister.

Leave it to Titan to break up all that dourness with a couple moments of levity, such as when Eren seems to pose when he repeats what Eren Kruger called his Titan: the Attack Titan. This is funny on several levels, as Levi waves it off as latent chuunibyou on the teenage Eren’s part, while the older Hange is ignorant about such things. More than that, though, Eren finally gets to say the title line—a title that in English perhaps never should have had that confusing “on” in it…

There’s also the suggestion that for the duration of their imprisonment, Mikasa only ate the bare minimum to stay alive, and thus was literally wasting away without Eren by her side. But their sentences are commuted and they’re free to go, seeing as how they’re heroes of humanity and all.

“Free to go” is relative, however. They’re out of the stockade and back in uniform, but they are ordered to attend an audience with none other than Queen Historia, who feels a connection to Ymir’s letter similar to Eren’s with the books and photo they found in the Basement.

While the words of the letter seem to be not much more than the “love letter” they appear to be, it’s clear Ymir sent it in its form in order to deliver far more and different information to Tory; she’s just not sure what to do with it, or even whom to tell. She’s just glad to see Eren, Mikasa and Armin, and embarrassed when they all bow before her.

At the hearing, Hange delivers the report full of revelations provided by Eren and recorded by Armin, all about the reality that their kingdom within the walls being but a tiny sliver of the real world, and that the vast majority of that world is dedicated to their destruction.

As he listens to the testimony with everyone else, the new memories provided by Grisha continue to swirl in his head. He notes that the Titan into which Dina Fritz transformed was the same Titan who ate his mother and Hannes. When he met that Titan later and touched it, a similar surge of information suddenly flowed into him.

Now he knows why, and he almost blurts it out, but thankfully Hange can sense why he ends up holding his tongue, and chalks it up to his chuuni phase to the assembled bigwigs. What Eren now knows is that it’s possible for him to gain the vaunted powers of the Founding Titan—the main mission Kruger gave Grisha when he sent him to the walls—by touching Historia while she is a Titan.

He’s loath to bring this up because he doesn’t want to see Historia suffer any more than she already has. But what if, like Grisha and Kruger and so many other subjects of Ymir before them, he’ll have to sacrifice something important in order to gain that which will restore Eldia.

Or perhaps not; perhaps Eren is supposed to break that cycle. After all, another part of Kruger’s mission to Grisha was for him to fall in love with someone in the walls, raise a family, and love them. Now there are people Eren loves, and perhaps there are lines he won’t cross, even for the sake of saving the world.