Astra Lost in Space – 12 (Fin) – Lost No Longer

We’re blessed with a double-length Astra finale, which really gives the show time and space to breathe and finish telling the story it’s apparent it always wanted to tell, and more importantly treated a loyal audience to a proper sendoff of the characters we’ve gradually come to love—and who have grown to love one another—one by one.

The first half, itself the length of a normal episode, is devoted to the return trip home. With Charce’s suicide plan foiled and Kanata down an arm but otherwise fine, the work of restocking the ship for the journey back to Astra. Kanata has to rest while the others work outside, but Aries quells his loneliness and FOMO by keeping him company.

Once they’re off Planet Galem, there’s ample time for the crew to assemble and hear Charce’s story of the history of their world—the real history, corroborating and continuing the story begun by Polina. Turns out the plan to relocate humanity’s population was so fraught with conflict, half of that population was killed in bitter wars for land on the new planet before the migration even took place.

The survivors of the conflict vowed never to let anything like that occur again, and so abolished nations and religions on Astra. Furthermore, the first generation to move and live there was the last to know about the true history of Earth; an alternate history of WWIII was fabricated, and the very timeline of humanity turned back 100 years.

All this time, the crew thought they were living in the year 2063, when it has actually been 2163; over one hundred years since the migration was successfully completed. It also means Polina wasn’t asleep for twelve years, but one hundred and twelve—yet doesn’t look a day over 29!

The crew decides that the world can’t go on living with a false history, but understands that telling the world the wrong way could be disastrous, not just to them but to the world.

Ulgar suggests they contact a trustworthy police lieutenant, and an detailed message is sent to him through Aries’ mom, including photos and videos of the still very much alive crew of Camp B5 and the log Aries has been making throughout the show (a nice touch).

By the time the Astra reaches orbit of Planet Astra, Lt. Grace is already at work arresting the King of Vixia, as well as his successor for his role in Princess Seira’s murder. Nothing a cop likes more than a bonanza of hard evidence. Very satisfying to watch these jerk-ass crooks made to pay for their heinous crimes.

The kids are met by an armed fleet in orbit, but after a few tense moments, contact is made and they identify themselves as friendly escorts, reporting that their originals have been apprehended and they are free to land. This is one of those instances where the extra length really counts, as we get to savor the crew’s arrival home and their ship’s final landing.

Once they arrive, and they get to tell their story to every media outlet on the planet, the crew become instant celebrities. Kanata and Charce tell the higher authorities about the need to spread the truth, something the higher-ups ultimately go with.

That bitter pill of truth is washed down without excessive unrest due in no small part to the charm of the crew, including the humanizing memoir about their five-month odyssey written by Kanata…not to mention the modelling chops of Quitterie and King Charce.

The length of the episode not only means it gets to take its time with a happy ending, but jumps seven years into the future, when the bulk of the crew is now 24. Everyone has changed their look a bit, but remain themselves and more importantly, remain good friends with one another, as you’d expect from what they went through. Yunhua sings a song inspired by those experiences, which essentially plays the series out.

Quitterie is married to Zack, while Funi is in high school and looks just like Quitterie (and has Polina as a teacher). Ulgar is now a serious journalist, while Kanata has achieved his goal of becoming a captain in seven years. His new ship is his old ship; buying the over 100-year-old Astra with funds earned from his book and fame.

With his past and present trusty mates Zack and Charce, they take off to chart the exit points of the wormholes and beyond, but they’ll be back. After all, Charce has kingly duties to get back to; Zack has a wife to get back to, and Kanata has to get back to Aries so they can marry and have a daughter they can name Seira.

And there you have it: Kanata no Astra, not just an epic survival story of a group of extraordinary kids, but herald to a bold new truth for humanity. One could say almost too much befell these kids; that they’re too special. But to that I say…what do you expect? They are, after all, the clones of people rich and powerful and ambitious enough to, well, clone themselves.

They were always destined for greatness, but it wasn’t going to be given to them; they were literally left for dead. But their originals made one critical blunder, forgetting about the presence of one last ship in old Earth’s orbit, the chariot of their downfall and their clones’ salvation. In the end, the clones surpassed their originals to become entirely different people—better people.

People who, rather than lying and cheating and stealing their way through life, scratched and tore and screamed to break the bonds of their origins, united together in love and fellowship, and changed the goddamned world. Hell of a story if you ask me.

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Fire Force – 10 – Promises, Promises

With Arthur back, Hibana hanging around feeding Shinra, and Tamaki joining the 8th, the company has never seemed livelier, as noted by both Captain Oubi and Lt. Hinawa. Shinra and Tamaki join those to for a meeting of all eight company Captains before the Emperor of Tokyo.

This is made out to be such a big deal that there hasn’t even been such a meeting the whole time Oubi has been a captain, but like Rail Zeppelin’s Mystic Eyes auction in another show, the actual event itself is pretty underwhelming.

We get a quick peek at all the captains we’ve seen before, but nothing that’s discussed in the meeting couldn’t have been said in a phone conference or email thread. Basically, the emperor wants all the companies working together to find and stop the Evangelist.

What of Shinra? One thing Hoshimiya wasn’t lying about is that Shinra’s flames are what’s called an Adolla Burst, an extremely pure form of flame identical to the ones that power the Amaterasu power plant, as well as those that created the world in which they live (how flames create things, I do not know).

In any case, the captain of the 3rd Company wants to “secure” Shinra (i.e. make him a test subject) since the Evangelist is likely after Adolla Bursts like his. Oubi manages to assure everyone the 8th will continue to keep him safe, though right after saying that he leaves Shinra on his own.

The Joker shows up, but not for a fight. He tells Shinra that his brother Shou is not only still alive, but is the commander of the “white-clad” Knights of the Ashen Flame, who serve the Evangelist. After acting sullen and awkward for most of the day back at the station, he finally tells the rest of his company mates after a family meal.

Even if I’m not super-excited about Shinra having to go up against the brother he once thought to be dead (this kinda angle is done to death), what I did like about this episode is that it re-established the 8th as one big family, and I liked the warm quiet scenes where they’re all just working or eating.

I’m also glad Shinra didn’t keep the news about Shou secret, due in large part to the sense of family and trust he feels from everyone…even Arthur.  As for how Tamaki suddenly ended up naked but for a pink apron when she and Maki tried (and failed) to start dinner…I’ve got nothin’.

Vinland Saga – 10 – Dawn in the Age of Twilight

Vinland Saga has become an exercise in guarded patience, centered around the question of how long Thorfinn going to pursue revenge, and when he’s going to wake up and live his own damn life. Maybe that’s what he thinks he’s doing, and his father, both in life and in his dreams, is just wrong that there’s a better path than the one he’s on.

Maybe Thorfinn is simply caught in the inertia of the events surrounding him, and would simply rather put effort in what he sees as a sure thing—one day cutting Askeladd’s throat—than the uncertainty of returning to a life of peace with his mother and sister. After all, Thors tried to live that life, and failed when his past caught up to him.

Whether consciously or not, Thorfinn is drawing nearer to ending up just like his old man: strong and distinguished, but in too deep to ever get out. But he’s still young, and as many lives as he’s taken, it probably doesn’t come close to the number his father took. There is still plenty of time to turn his life around into something worthwhile.

His dreams start as an idyllic life that never was with his family in the endless, rolling, fertile hills that look a lot like England (or possibly Vinland). They end with the skies darkening, his village attacked, and his father run through with arrows. Will Thorfinn ever take that dream to mean stop wasting your life chasing revenge and return to his family?

Maybe, maybe not. As Vinland Saga reaches its midpoint, I’ve found Thorfinn’s quest for revenge misguided and increasingly not that interesting. I’d like to know whether it’s going to reach a point where he either finally manages to kill Askeladd and moves on to something else, or walks away from that quest entirely.

But the cloud of uncertainty persists without any regard for my wishes, and in the meantime, the Danish war with England seems to be winding down. Askeladd’s men have been mopping up lesser villages as the main army has headed north to rest. Canute has failed to do anything with his 4,000 men in London, preferring to pray to Jesus in his tent.

Askeladd’s men are so restless, the smallest insults between them become pointless fights to the death. Having awakened from his beautiful, terrible dream before dawn, Thorfinn stays above the encampment, among Roman ruins, where Askeladd finds him.


It’s there where Askeladd attempts small talk but is rebuked by Thorfinn, asserting “they’re not friends” and that he hasn’t given up his goal of slitting his throat. Askeladd likes Thorfinn’s look, but still isn’t scared. He knows time isn’t on his side, and that his would-be killer will continue to grow stronger as he grows older and weaker.

But by that same token, if the Christians are to be believed, Judgment Day and the end of everyone and everything on earth, could be upon them in as few as twenty years (an event Thorfinn likens to Ragnarok). Considering the Romans were a far more advanced society than the Saxons who defeated them (not to mention the Vikings on the cusp of defeating the Saxons), it certainly seems like humans have had their time in the sun, and now live in an age of twilight.

And yet, the sun still rises just as it always has, bathing the land in light and possibility. With the dawn comes a rider from London, who reports that Canutes forces were routed by the English led by Thorkell, who’d grown impatient waiting on the bridge and is marching his men north to meet the main Danish army.

The war is not over as long as Thorkell is with the English, while Askeladd sees the potential for great riches if he and his men rescue Prince Canute. Not wanting to share the glory or spoils of such a victory, he kills the messenger, and will make do with what he has. He fires his men up, and Thorfinn seems poised to continue following him.

If the end is coming for all, Askeladd will be satisfied with “going out with a bang.” But as we know, the world wouldn’t end in twenty years, meaning final blazes of glory are woefully premature, especially for someone like Thorfinn, who still has a mother and sister to protect, and a family and home of his own to build. With so many dawns he has yet to watch rise above the horizon, it would be a shame to descend into night now.

Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 11 – Going Once, Going Twice…

With its insistence on crafting the most intricate Swiss watch of a final mystery for Lord El-Melloi II to step in and steadily unravel, Case Files fell victim to its own self-indulgence this week, delivering what another possible owner of Kairi’s big rig truck would call “all hat and no cattle”.

That is to say, this episode is nothing but setup for a final reveal that seems to implicate Caules after El-Melloi reveals both the elements of the case Adashino had omitted so her deduction would stand up; the beginning of the presentation of El-Melloi’s conclusions, without following through.

In a show that has featured no small amount of pleasing spectacles, the whole damn point of the train, the Mystic Eyes auction, carries with it all the urgency and excitement of a rapidly deflating balloon. The auction room is nothing but an ornate but stodgy courtroom, where the bidding is arbitrarily paused not once but twice: once so El-Melloi can secure funding from Melvin; another so El-Melloi can state his case.

The murders in the past, as well as that of Trisha, were committed so the mastermind could collect the Mystic Eyes of the victims and use them at will. El-Melloi states that only one person could do everything the mastermind did and possess the all-important motive.

The credits roll just as Adashino moves to restrain Caules and the eyes in Trisha’s severed head, but there’s simply no time to revel in that revelation. After all, aside from caring for the injured El-Melloi, Caules hasn’t had much to do, and has been rather innocuously hiding in plain sight.

I’m glad El-Melloi knows who the culprit is, but this episode just confirmed that it wasn’t Karabo; it didn’t explain why it is Caules (if that’s who it ends up being). Thus the episode ends in an unsatisfying ellipsis, as the full measure of Lord El-Melloi’s conclusions will have to wait until next week.

Astra Lost in Space – 11 – Right Hand Man

In the biggest twist yet in a show packed with ’em, Charce turns out to be the clone of the king, raised to be a replacement body, not an individual person. When clones were banned, his mission changed: accompany the Space Camp and ensure they all die.

And yet, even having heard all this, Kanata isn’t ready to give up on Charce. He insists that if he really didn’t love and care about them, he wouldn’t have hesitated with the wormhole generator. But Charce has an exploration for that too: Aries Spring is the clone of the king’s only daughter, Princess Seira.

Seira was staunchly against being cloned, but her father did it anyway, cementing the king as a violating dickwad concerned only with everlasting life. She spirited her baby clone away with her surrogate mother, Emma, naming her the reverse of her name before parting.

A year before Space Camp, Seira and Charce were enjoying nature when a shadowy figure rushed out of the woods and shoved Seira off a cliff; an assassination made to look like an accident. The king threw Charce in jail where he rotted until a week before camp, when he was assigned his new mission: to die, and take the other illegal clones with him.

It’s fair to say Charce had the most fucked up childhood of the crew, and what makes him even more pitiable is that he believes his life has been wonderful, as long as he’s had a purpose; as long as he served his king. Kanata gives him a much needed punch; he can talk about his true purpose all day; he knows when someone is forcing or faking happiness, and Charce hasn’t been faking it.

But Charce’s mind seems made up; he produces a second wormhole generator from the right arm of his suit—a wormhole meant only for him. This isn’t about fulfilling a mission anymore, but punishing himself for betraying the only friends he had in the world (other than Seira).

Kanata stops the suicide attempt with another one of his athletic feats, jumping over the dang wormhole and shielding Charce from it. But he misjudged the distance, and Charce can’t turn off the wormhole soon enough. It swallows Kanata’s right arm, transporting it back to Earth orbit.

The moment Kanata’s arm disappears, the most pressing question is whether he’ll survive the injury. Quitterie doubtlessly saves a lot of his precious blood with her quick thinking and first aid, but he needs a hospital, and they’re still far from Astra. Charce regrets what happened, and Kanata tells him he’ll pay for it by being his second-in-command when he gets a ship. But right now, in Kanata’s present state, it sounds an awful lot like a death flag.

Fire Force – 09 – Decisive Battle

“Second Sun” was my other choice to name this review, though I went with “Decisive Battle” in homage to the best battle theme in anime history. And this was a decisive battle, in that it dispensed with the enthusiastic but ultimately one-note villain of Lt. Rekka as quickly and efficiently as he was revealed.

My other reason for recalling Eva’s battle theme is that both the music and the visuals took on a decidedly Eva-esque flavor, while Rekka’s rants were full of “Evangelists.” Of course, with all the crosses and creative expliosions flying around, comparisons have been in-Eva-table from the start. Sure enough, one of Fire Force’s storyboarders did key animation on Eva.

While Shinra is quite different MC from Shinji, his hot/cold, love-hate relationship with Tamaki echoes that Shinji and Asuka. Tamaki’s Lucky Lechery ability means Shinra always has a soft body to land on when Rekka blasts him back. Rekka’s flames also conveniently burn most of her clothes off, while Shinra’s jumpsuit is unaffected.

Still, having been unable to fight Rekka herself, Tamaki offers Shinra support as she urges him to do what she couldn’t. Shinra rises to the occasion, exploiting his superior mobility in the warehouse and delivering an unpredictable parkour-style offense to Rekka’s more conventional two-feet-on-the-ground strategy. The battlemation is, as ever, bright, bold, and beautiful.

The times when Rekka knocks Shinra back, he makes sure to rant more about what his cult is trying to do: make the Earth a second sun. It’s your typical “villain wants to burn the world down to make a new one” position, and Rekka goes all out despite the fact that his friend Karim has always had his back, and today is no exception.

The only difference is, instead of backing him up, Karim freezes him out, converting his overheated flames into an ice prison. Karim kept him alive, hoping to get more info about who he works for out of him, but a fire sniper (clever concept) shoots a round straight through the frozen Rekka’s chest, killing him, then starts firing at Karim, Shinra, Tamaki, and the kids.

Karim has Shinra put up a smokescreen and locate the snipers, then freezes Tamaki’s twin fire tails as they point out the sniper’s location, causing them to wig out and retreat lest they get exposed. Their main objective of eliminating Rekka as a source of information was a success, but Karim vows to assits the 8th’s investigation of the Evangelist in any way he can.

In an after-credits sequence, we find Shinra has returned to the 8th, with his inter-company training suspended after the Rekka incident. He’s glad to be home with his fam, but finds that two people are out of place. Arthur “got lost” during the incident, and they can’t find him (to be continued).  Tamaki, suspended from the 1st for her role in the incident, is now on the 8th with Shinra, no doubt to be a source of both glee and woe—hopefully more of the former.

Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 10 – Deduction, Not Delusion

In a clever narrative device that could have probably sustained an entire episode within the unconscious El-Melloi II’s mind, past merges with present as Waver is back in Lord Kayneth’s class at the Clock Tower, only the Lord is asking him about things going on now, like his desire to participate in the next HGW, and Hephaestion’s rejection of him as a worthy subject.

Meanwhile, left behind by the Rail Zeppelin, Gray waits out the blizzard with Hephaestion, who warms to her a bit after she determines the two are alike; both “living incarnations of a distant ideal,” both “counterfeit”, yet still unique and autonomous due to their own personal ideals, without which Gray could not have fought Hephaestion.

Since she deems them to be alike, Hephaestion understands Gray’s desire to stay by El-Melloi’s side to the bitter end, but warns her that loyalty and glory can be contradictory; if the time comes when Gray has to choose, and chooses glory, both she and the Lord could be destroyed.

Luvia and Kairi’s investigation continues with an interview with Mary Lil Fargo, though frankly they feel almost distractingly distant from the more pressing matters aboard Rail Zeppelin. Still, Mary was friends with Trisha, and last met with her a month ago.

Mary tells them that Trisha was trying to connect the serial murder case seven years ago, the investigation of that case by Lord Aminusphere and someone known as the “man with no heart,” and the Lord’s abandoning of Olga-Marie. Luvia knows of that heartless man, and that he has a younger sister-in-law aboard the train: Adashino.

Gray gets back to Rail Zeppelin in pretty much the most bodacious way possible, another reminder that however serious and stodgy this show can get, it doesn’t forget to include fun little moments of levity like Gray using Add as a snowboard, even pulling a couple tricks before landing into the caboose before Caules and a very amused Melvin.

Miss Adashino brings an end to the lighthearted fun by gathering everyone to the dining car to deliver her deductions, since Mr. Master Detective is still asleep. She reveals that Policies was looking into a serial beheading case seven years ago, but so was the Holy Church, and their investigator was…Karabo.

She also has Olga-Marie present Trisha’s head, which Trisha herself made sure would fall into the dimensional pocket she created after foreseeing her future murder with her Mystic Eyes. When Olga found the head, it had been frozen in time, and thus Trisha had one more breath with which to say one word: “Karabo.”

Adashino believes Karabo possesses eyes that can not only see the past, but make past visions the truth, and that his Mystic Eyes enabled him to bring a killing slash made through the air in the past into the present, just as Trisha’s head inhabited that space. While this is all conjecture, Adashino believes it’s enough to warrant certain measures be taken against Karabo.

Then an awake and recovered Lord El-Melloi II is wheeled in by Gray, and he immediately calls Adashino’s conclusions into question.

For one thing, Adashino never mentioned Karabo’s motive, and he’s of the mind that there can be no crime without motive. After all, what with Mages and their ability to manipulate individuals, motives aren’t always directly tied to the actual perpetrators of said crimes.

Just when El-Melloi voices his doubts about Adashino’s surety that Karabo’s Mystic Eyes can project elements of the recorded past into the present, Rail Zeppelin’s ethereal deputy manager comes, on schedule, to extract Karabo’s eyes. Karabo is restrained, but El-Melloi still isn’t convinced of his guilt.

Indeed, Karabo only just remembered he was even involved with the serial murder case seven years ago. His Mystic Eyes could see the past, but at the cost of his memories. But if he can get them back, he believes he can determine the truth of things. To get them back, he’ll need to win them in auction. Melvin offers to help them place a bid, but El-Melloi would rather not get involved with him.

Instead, he vows to solve the case on his own.

Astra Lost in Space – 10 – Snowball’s Charce in Hell

Polina knows something’s up when the blue planet on the screen isn’t Earth, and that none of the kids know what “Earth” even is, because their home planet is Astra. Kanata jokes that Polina might be an alien, but he and the crew decide it best to compare histories.

That’s when they learn where their two histories diverged: in Polina’s, 1962 was the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis; in the crew’s, that crisis precipitated World War III, which resulted in half of humanity perishing. When it was over, countries and weapons were abolished, and a united planet rebuilt.

That brings us back to Polina’s history: there never was a World War III, but a little while before embarking on the journey that would strand her on Icriss, astronomers detected a 300-kilometer asteroid on a collision course with earth. That necessitated humanity packing up and migrating to a new world.

When Polina was on her mission aboard the Ark VI, they were still looking for planets, but six years before the present—and five years after she went into hibernation—the asteroid must have struck. By then, humanity had managed to successfully migrate…to Astra. The next generation, of which the Astra’s crew is composed, were told a vague alternate history and raised not to dwell on the past.

How, you ask, did they manage to move so many people? Why, with miniature artificial wormholes (duh), the very phenomenon that sucked up the crew in McPa and dropped them in orbit of an icy planet…a planet that turned out to be Earth itself, having gone into an ice age after the asteroid impact.

Now that they know the basic how of their predicament, Aries suggests the crew not dwell on the why, lest it bring down morale at a crucial time. Life returns to normal for the duration of the trip to the final planet, Galem. When they land on the planet to resupply one last time, Polina is duly impressed by the efficiency and know-how the crew demonstrates—this is not their first planet rodeo, after all.

Kanata and Aries reflect on everything that’s happened and how they’ve become stronger people during this whole adventure, no matter what the goal of the enemy was. Kanata also asks if he can walk Aries home to reunite with her mom; Aries accepts the offer. Maybe there’s hope for this couple after all, eh?

But while off on his own on Galem’s surface, a wormhole appears and starts chasing Kanata, who ends up finding refuge in a cave where Aries is gathering supplies. Later, Kanata confides in us, the audience, by stating he knows who the enemy is now, that the enemy doesn’t know he knows, and that he intends to make the first move before they can kill them all.

Kanata meets secretly with Charce and Zack and informs them that Ulgar is the enemy, and outlines the plan to entrap and capture him, with Charce serving as the bait. But when the plan of action is executed, Charce is alone with Ulgar, Ulgar pulls his gun but it misfires, and the wormhole is activated, it’s not Ulgar who Kanata takes down…it’s Charce.

Charce is the one who controls the wormholes. Charce is the one whose mission was, and is, to kill all the others….along with himself. It’s a thrilling, brilliant set piece of misdirection, and some impressive cunning on Kanata’s part.

The entire crew except Charce was in on the plan, and they are there when Charce is captured. A tearful Aries wants him to tell them that they’re, that she’s mistaken; earlier in the ep Kanata meets with Aries in her quarters, but he wasn’t there to confess. He wanted to know, in detail only Aries’ photographic memory could provide, who was sucked into the wormhole last. It was Charce, ensuring everyone else went in before him.

While his mission was to transport himself and everyone else from McPa to space to die, he didn’t count on everyone getting their helmets on in time to survive the transition, nor the pure dumb luck of the Astra, formerly the Ark XII, being in orbit so close to where they materialized.

As for who he really is, well, Charce is a clone too, but has always known he’s a clone…and not a clone of just anyone, but of Noah Vix, king of the Vixia Royal Quarter. Of course there could only be one king. One wonders if his friend Seira was a factor in his agreeing to complete this mission, and also make me wonder if, considering their resemblance, arieS is Seira’s clone.

Not only that, but what will happen now that his mission has failed, and the clones are returning to Astra? Not that things were ever not interesting on this show, but things are really starting to more interesting. And to think I initially thought this was a show that would kill its characters off one-by-one on a weekly basis…

Fire Force – 08 – The Starry-Eyed Villain

In the haze of dawn, a mysterious man in a Fire Force cloak promises the “Evangelist” over the phone about continuing his work infernalizing subjects. Captain Hibana’s reasearch indicates an insect is the catalyst for the artificial type. When the alarm sounds and the First is mobilized, Shinra and Arthur witness the infernalization in action, and chase the just-out-of-view culprit down the alley.

In the alley they encounter their lieutenant, Karim Flam, along with Hoshimiya Rekka and Tamaki. Shinra keeps quiet about any accusations. Instead, he and Arthur break into Flam’s quarters to search for clues, and find an insect. When he arrives, he explains he planted it there to test them; confirming his suspicion they were there to investigate someone in the First creating artificial infernals.

That person turns out to be Hoshimiya Rekka, which would be a great shock if I knew who the heck he was or cared. Apparently, Tamaki is extremely devoted to him; so much so that she lures children to meet with him, with him claiming he has a prayer to “protect” them from becoming Infernals. When she wants to witness this prayer, he hugs her so hard she passes out.

Rekka kills the woman who was with the kids, then injects an insect into one of the kids, and instead of becoming an Infernal, the bug and resulting flames are absorbed, which seems to be the result he wanted, in service of creating a “pilot light” for this mysterious Evangelist. Tamaki comes to, and is beaten to a pulp by Rekka, as she’s unable to raise up against a guy she respected and admired for so long.

Still, she’s able to send her pink cat-flames into the sky as a signal for someone, anyone to come and save her and the other kids. Shinra spots the signal, divebombs Rekka, and smashes his face through the ground with his foot in front of Tamaki, who is grateful but also an emotional wreck.

While I admire the show’s penchant for getting on with the plot without dilly-dally, revealing Rekka as the evil, unhinged bad guy feels over-rushed to the point of shrug-ness. I also found it annoying that Tamaki, a powerful and accomplished fire solider in her own right, was so thoroughly damsel-ized in order to give the big hero boy Shinra a chance to shine.

Vinland Saga – 09 – London Bridge is NOT Falling Down

Turns out that huge warrior leading the defence of London from its famous bridge is not even an Englishman, but a Norse giant named Thorkell. King Sweyn’s armies will make little progress until he’s out of the picture, so Askeladd sends Thorfinn to work out some of his frustration. Thorfinn makes him promise for yet another duel in exchange for Thorkell’s head.

Floki and the Jomsvikings beseech Thorkell to abandon his contract with the English and re-join the Danish army, and he’ll be paid double. But like Askeladd’s right hand man Bjorn, it’s not about themoney. Unlike Bjorn, who likes easy wins, Thorkell doesn’t want to fight the English; they’re too weak. He’d much rather fight the tougher Vikings.

As the Vikings continue their siege of the Thames, Thorkell makes any ship or soldier who comes too close regret it, sending a hail of arrows from his archers, or just heaving a massive boulder or tree trunk into the Viking ships, sinking them. He’s a bit superhuman, but heck, so are a lot of Vikings, chief(tan) among them the late Thors and his giant oar.

When Thorfinn leaps onto the bridge to face Thorkell, it’s immediately apparent the latter has a huge advantage in size and strength, and isn’t that much slower. One wonders if it would have been better for Askeladd to send Bjorn instead—preferably on his berserker mushrooms. Then again, I’m sure Askeladd values Bjorn far more than Thorfinn.

Thorfinn hangs in there about as long as you’d expect, considering the moment Thorkell gets a grip on any one of his arms or legs, it’s basically game over. Thorkell blocks Thorfinn’s dagger with his hand, then slams him back and forth against the bridge like a ragdoll.

To Thorkell’s surprise and delight, Thorfinn hasn’t lost any of his will to fight, and when Kell’s guard is down Finn claims two of the fingers from his stabbed hand before plunging into the Thames. Thorkell lets him go, hoping for another fun fight in the future.

It is clear King Sweyn bit off more than he could chew, and isn’t going to get the quick victory he wanted, so he redirects the bulk of his armies to Wessex in the west, where they’ll hopefully have more luck. He leaves the continued siege of London, and just 4,000 men, to his son Prince Canute, despite protests from Ragnar, whom the king blames for making the lad “faint of heart.”

Whether Canute succeeds in London will probably determine whether he succeeds to the throne, but as we haven’t heard a word from him, who knows how that’ll go. Perhaps at some point he’ll get some lines and we can see what kind of person and warrior he is beyond what others say about him.

As for Thorfinn, he’s washed down the river westward and meets back up with Askeladd’s crew, now headed to Wessex. After popping his dislocated shoulder back in, he joins the march, remembering the words of the “madman” Thorkell talking about how fun fighting is. But it’s not fun for Thorfinn. It never was, and probably never will be.

Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 09 – Straighten Yourself Out

Gray and Caules are consulting with Olga-Marie about Hephaestion when the path of Rail Zeppelin is suddenly altered, turning into the infamous “Child of Einnashe,” or Forest of Dead Apostles, and stopping dead in the middle of a horrendous blizzard.

Some enterprising mages are quickly stabbed by the predatory trees. With El-Melloi still unconscious and most of the passengers locking themselves in their rooms, it falls on Gray and her allies to figure out how to get the train back on track.

In a rather abrupt transition, Luvia and Kairi visit the “Zombie Cooking” studio of Jean-Mario Supinerra. They ask him about the crimes involving beheadings, and he assumed from his Scotland Yard contact that such a case had been resolved. Trisha also contacted him about it just before she died in the same manner, suggesting she had some pecognition about her fate.

Melvin Weins, who had been following Rail Zeppelin by helicopter ever since meeting with Reines, joins Gray, scaring the crap out of her with his unorthodox, bloody entrance. Soon Karabo and Yvette arrive with the conductor, who asks them to assist in getting the train moving again, lest they be forced to cancel the auction.

Caules agrees to stay with El-Melloi, and Melvin plays his violin to tune the magical circuits of everyone, buffing them for the upcoming mission; judging by Yvette’s reaction, the tuning also happens to feel really, really good.

The eclectic, hastily-built party (a really cool combo, by the way) sets out into the bitter cold. Yvette locates the main Leylines and Karabo marks them for activation. Add warns Gray of trouble approaching, and hangs back, once again encountering Hephaestion, a Servant whose true name she knows but whose role—and Master—she doesn’t.

As Yvette, Karabo, and Melvin battle the forest’s defenses and finish activating the leylines, Gray and Heph spar, with the latter not at all interested in dialogue and the former hesitant, but not altogether unwilling to use force.

When the train starts back up, Olga-Marie happens to land on a dimensional pocket with an imaginary attribute; a signature spell of the Fellows family to which the late Trisha belonged. When Olga unlocks the pocket, Trisha’s head falls out, to Olga’s shock and dismay. Adashino enters the room, pleased the head of the victim has been found.

Even when the train released from the forests and ready to continue on its proper course, Gray isn’t about to let Heph get away, so she rescinds her first restraint, transforming her scythe into a giant hammer. Will they get left behind, or will the battle again be interrupted, whether by an awakened El-Melloi or someone else? Even standing still, with its titular character out cold, Rail Zeppelin continues to crackle with intrigue.

Astra Lost in Space – 09 – Beyond Vicarious

Before announcing Zack’s findings to Quitterie, Funi, and the rest of the crew, Kanata dreams about a training session with his father, who was also an athlete but was denied by injuries the opportunity to attain greatness. Kanata knew his father was trying to realize his own dream through Kanata; attempting to live vicariously through his healthy young son.

But knowing what he knows now, Kanata now realizes why his father was so intent on training him to become virtually the same person he wanted to be: because when it comes to DNA, they are the same person. That’s right: It isn’t just Quitterie and Funi who are clones of their mother; everyone on the ship is a clone of their parents.

Needless to say, this explains quite a bit: Why most of them had distant or loveless parents who drove them to follow in their footsteps, but also, more importantly, why they’re titularly lost in space: cloning is a felony, and a new law mandating the collection of everyone’s DNA would expose their clones—and thus, their crime.

If the theory sounds thin aboard the Astra, it’s confirmed by the parents themselves back home, as they all commiserate about how their dreams of extending their lives was thwarted. They bicker quite a bit more than their younger clones and don’t seem to have any remorse in sending them off to their deaths to save themselves.

Back on the Astra, everyone is in shock, and for some like Quitterie, it turns to despair. As for Aries, she learns she was almost certainly adopted by her loving mother, as they don’t look alike and, well, her adoptive mother actually loved her. Kanata, good captain that he is, tells them to lift their heads, and revises their mission: not just to get home, but get home and put their rotten folks in prison for what they’ve done.

After that, everyone gradually processes the news that they’re a clone in their own ways. On the whole, once calmed down from the initial horribleness, the overarching emotion is that of relief: that there was a reason they ended up in space, or that their parents were the way they were.

Charce left his family long ago so he wasn’t that messed up by the news. Luca is proud of who and what she is, and is determined to move forward as an individual beholden to nobody. Yunhua is happy she can now step out of the shadows and do what she loves. Aries loves her mother and knows her mother loves her, regardless of what person she was cloned from.

Finally, even Quitterie and Funi find comfort in the knowledge that nature and nurture essentially play a 50/50 role in determining a person. Quitterie, Funi, and their mother are three different people with distinct personalities based on their experiences, not just their DNA. The two of them are good people; their mom’s a goddamn monster.

And that’s what truly underscores the nefariousness, the straight-up evil of their parents for marooning them in space. Cloning yourself is one thing; to deny those clones their individuality and even their humanity by discarding them like used tissues is quite another, and the ultimate in delusion. Did they think they made clones so perfect, their experiences wouldn’t make them different people? If that’s the case they’re as stupid as they are evil.

In any case, kudos for the crew members to get over the pain of their asshole parents’ deep, profound betrayal, and their ability to come together as the new and loving family they are. Case in point: Quitterie and Zack announce their wedding plans to an ecstatic crew that’s also a bit flabbergasted in the wake of Zack’s talent for hiding his true emotions behind a granite facade.

After their party celebrating their escape from Icriss, the discovery of Polina, and congratulating the soon-to-be newlyweds, Zack activates the Astra’s long-range telescope, which he repaired using parts from the Ark VI, and for the first time in three months, the crew lays eyes on their home planet: a planet of blue oceans, white clouds, and green land.

But here’s the thing, and it’s not revealed until Polina notices the landmasses are all wrong: the crew’s home planet isn’t Earth. It is Polina’s home, but none of the crew have ever heard of “Earth,” and look at her like she’s either crazy or still suffering the effects of her long slumber. In any case, their home planet is called Astra, which means Polina didn’t just lose twelve years, but perhaps her entire universe.


Vinland Saga – 08 – Bound by Past and Pride

Thankfully there are no goofy-looking generals or ships overladen with treasure falling down waterfalls without damage this week, as Askeladd’s crew returns home to the Jutland peninsula and settle down for the winter. When they arrive, there are boys eager to join the crew to replace those who died in battle, and girls eager to give Askeladd a warm welcome—and get some pretty jewelry in return.

These lands are owned by the feudal Lord Gorm, who micromanages every quarter-piece of silver it will cost for Askeladd and his men to live, eat, and drink on those lands. Askeladd is rolling in dough, so that’s not a problem. He also meets Gorm’s slave Hordaland, named after her homeland in Norway. Gorm blames her noble upbringing for her ineptness as a servant, but Askeladd thinks he’s just not using her the right way.

Oh yeah, there’s also that tiny little matter of the duel between Askeladd and Thorfinn; the time has finally come. Now that he’s older and harder, a couple women actually take notice of Thorfinn’s mild cuteness, though he once again needs a good barber…and probably a bath too.

Like last time, Askeladd treats the start of the duel rather casually, but Thorfinn immediately demonstrates that if he lets his guard down too much. He’s killed many people and gotten a lot of training and battle experience since their last duel, and it’s on full display in his less erratic, more deliberate and thoughtful fighting style.

However, in those same years Finn has gotten older and better, Askeladd is still as good as he’s ever been at using not just whoever but whatever he has to win, and he also happens to know exactly how to push Thorfinn’s buttons.

He pretends not to remember Thors’ name or whether he actually killed him, with a condescending and disrespectful tone that causes Finn to quickly lose his temper and make an ill-advised charge that Askeladd is all too ready for.

Since no one said anything about a fight to the death, and surely Askeladd has no interest in taking the life of one of his best scouts, he simply knocks him out after neutralizing him with a stunning move. Thorfinn may have become a better warrior, but he’s still no match for his captain.

That night at a huge feast, one of those eager boys sidles up to Askeladd seeking a job, and asks his possibly future captain why he risks keeping someone like Thorfinn around when he could easily kill him in his sleep? Askeladd is categorical: Finn would never do that. He is a warrior, like his father, and would never accept victory devoid of honor.

Askeladd can sleep soundly because Finn is held back by the twin binds of past and pride. He also can’t help but laugh as he watches Lord Gorm, a slave to money, beating Hordaland, not just a literal slave but a slave to her past and pride, being a former noble who had no say in her present situation.

As Thorfinn sulks aboard his father’s ship, Thors comes to him in a vision, and upon placing his hand on his son’s head, Finn turns back into a boy and bursts into tears. Thors knows nothing he can say can stop his son from seeking revenge, but reminds him again that no one has any enemies, and the most honorable warrior has no need for a sword.

When Hordaland surprises Thorfinn with some dinner, we finally get to hear how she feels about her situation, rather than just assume from how she acts around Lord Gorm. She believes, rightly so, that she and Finn aren’t that different: both are where they are because they have nowhere else to be. In her case, she believes even if she ran away and kept running, she’d just end up someplace just like Gorm’s lands.

As the snow starts to pick up, Finn tells her about Vinland, and in doing so attempts to give her some hope that it does matter whether or not you run and/or fight (Horda would never kill, and probably doesn’t want to start, but she can still run if she chooses to). True to Thors’ words of wisdom, both Finn and Horda have no real enemies—only their own self-imposed binds.

In the August of the next year (1013), King Sweyn’s armies mount a huge invasion of England, burning, pillaging, and raping their way all the way to London…where their momentum is suddenly halted by a stout defense, including someone who looks like Askeladd’s wilder English brother. Sweyn also gives his son Prince Canute a chance at valor, who along with his other son Harald, are candidates for succeeding him.

While it’s exciting to see an early London come into the picture and other big-world developments, what made this episode was the duel (and how it was won) and its more intimate moments: those between Askeladd and Gorm, Askeladd and the wannabe fighter, and between Thorfinn and Hordaland. Vinland Saga has some shiny toys to toss around, but those smaller human interactions pack a far meatier emotional punch.