Re:Creators – 17

After another week off for another special following a calm-before-the-storm episode, Re:Creators has been giving the impression that it’s not keen on ever ending, even though it must five episodes from now. The supposed “final” Chamber Festival battle has been built up and hyped for so long, its beginning was always going to be hard-pressed to live up to it.

In a distinct case of “be careful what you wish for,” this episode finally initiates that beginning, and is almost all action, with physical, magical, and verbal ammunition filling every nook and cranny of the screen. Selesia and Kanoya fight an arrogant-as-ever Altair, who deflects all their attacks with her infinite arrays of sabres.

As they dual the boss, Yuuya faces off against his old buddy Hakua Shou, which made me wonder when Selesia’s partner would come out of the woodwork and present her with the unexpected scenario of having to fight him. Even Magane shows up to scare Souta, suggesting all of their best-laid plans are far from certain to end this conflict.

Indeed, Altair kinda does what I did with these battles, which is shrug. She seems all too aware of the artiface that has been building around her, and the perfect nature of the military weapons being deployed against her screams Meteora. Even when Selesia uses a powerful “infinite gate” imprisonment protocol, Altair simply slips out of it and comes at Selesia from behind, as Magane did with Souta.

But if all of this is just foreplay, and Altair isn’t falling to (or for) it…why should we care? Sure, the crowds seem entertained, but to me it feels like various groups of combatants sniping at one another with increasingly insipid slogans, Altair being the most guilty of this. For all the evidence this battle has begun, there’s still the feeling that some stalling going on.

That’s why I appreciated the final scene, in which Blitz just kinda casually walks into the stadium’s locker room where Suruga is alone smoking, fully prepared to kill her before moving on to his other enemies. Suruga may be “his god” but he can’t stand that fact, because she’s the one who decided to kill off his daughter to make her story “more interesting.”

For a moment, I thought Suruga was not only expecting Blitz, but okay with him killing her. Hearing her talk about the pain and sleepless nights and despair she endured before she gained success isn’t quite enough to make Blitz stand down, but Suruga’s status as his creator is, as a strike team blasts into the room, accompanied by…Blitz’s very not-dead daughter, Erina. Has Team Meteora poached another ally from Altair?

Made in Abyss – 06

After a tense moment when Reg’s arms are thrown away by Ozen, she eventually has the gondola lowered for them. Even this relatively short ascent causes deep discomfort to Riko, who has to hurl. She doesn’t make a great impression with Ozen, who chides the kids for going where they’re not allowed, then handing them off to her apprentice Marulk, claiming she has “other matters to attend to.”

Ozen may be a cool, even cruel customer—repeatedly telling Riko how she thought about abandoning her as a baby years ago, and how she probably should have—but hey, she doesn’t kill Riko or Reg, so she can’t be that bad!

Also, Marulk is downright lovely person, proof that even someone who has spent virtually all her life so far from the surface in near-solitude, can not only be reasonably well-adjusted, but friendly and affable as well. I guess it’s ’cause she’s still a kid. It’s too late for Ozen.

The question of whether Marulk is a boy or girl is left unanswered, though Marulk and Reg express identical bashfulness when Riko once again demonstrates no modesty whatsoever after bathing.

No matter: Marulk is genuinely happy to have Riko and Reg in her care, and enjoys talking with them. She also notes the difference between relics that are sent up to Orth and more complex “grade-4 relics” that stay there. These egg-shaped relics remind me of the Precursor Orbs you had to collect in Jak & Dakster.

After a meal, Marulk even suggests Riko and Reg stay at the camp a while longer to cave raid for relics of their own finding. Riko initially excited by the offer, but turns it down, as she’s not sure whether she should be in a hurry to go see her mom, so she has to be in a hurry. I felt bad for poor kind, meek Marulk, for whom Riko and Reg are the only children her age she’s seen or may ever see.

When Riko has to go pee late in the night, she can’t find the bathroom, but does encounter something else: some kind of strange creature that may or may not be threatening, but also seemed a bit clumsy. While a part we saw resembled a face, it also looked like a headless torso with a spine sticking out. I immediately thought of Reg, and wondered whether this was another android…in a less advanced state of completion.

The next morning, while drying Reg’s sheets (she hid in his bed and wet it), Reg and Marulk are present when Ozen drops the hammer on Riko: Lyza is dead; her journey ends there; she found her White Whistle at a grave on the Fourth Layer. Ozen seems to take a kind of sick joy in telling Riko this, but to her credit Riko doesn’t get upset like she did with Nat back in Orth.

Instead, she and the other two follow Ozen to her “chamber”, a foreboding place where we see books, what looks like a second Ozen body, and most perplexing, a very smooth, white, somewhat iridescent cube, which reminded me of the monolith in 2001. The episode ends there, with what exactly this chamber and cube are left unanswered until next week.

My educated guess (which probably isn’t anything special) is that Ozen has been researching and developing robots like Reg, and possibly using that same technology to make her “immovable”, i.e. give her superhuman strength.

I’m far less certain whether I should believe her when she says Lyza’s dead, but then again I realize Riko’s been operating on some pretty large assumptions with paltry evidence to back them up. You know, as kids do. Yet even a bit of Riko probably knew there was a possibility her mother isn’t waiting for her much much further below ground. But like her, I’d want to see for myself nonetheless.

Fate / Zero – 05

This episode just wouldn’t quit. It shouldn’t work as well as it does: piling character after character into what was, at least on the battlefield, a one-on-one duel between Saber and Caster, but because of the build-up in the previous episodes, each and every time someone new takes the stage, it adds a new glorious layer to the conflict.

And even if this battle only turns out to be a big tease, now six of the seven Servants have met one another, and have at least a cursory idea of what to expect form each other. We also learn that if there’s one Servant who’s going to keep a kind of noble order and balance in this War, it’s Rider.

When Lancer declines out of obligation to his Master and Saber is insulted by Rider’s offer to make them his retainers, the Master who originally meant to command Rider appears, at least in voice-form; Archibald is tickled that Velvet would actually become a combatant in the Holy Grail War, and intends to teach him a lesson.

\Rider isn’t having that. Whoever this Archie guy is, he won’t let him torment his Master (that’s his job), who is at least by his side. He calls out Archibald for hiding like a coward, and calls out any other Servants who were drawn to Saber and Lancer’s excellent duel (though if he found it so excellent, why not let it unfold rather than interrupt?)

And so two more Servants appear in quick succession: first Gilgamesh / Archer, then Berserker (true identity unknown). Gil, as is his wont, deems all other kings in his presence to be pretenders (and he has a point, he is the first of them, historically speaking). But Matou decides that now is the time to test Berserker—as well as his own tolerance as a Master.

Archer takes Matou’s bait and exposes his Noble Phantasm for all the other Servants and Masters to see, but ends up with nothing to show for it, since Berserker is not only crazy, but an extremely tough customer, turning every blade Gil sends his way into his own NP. Ultimately Tokiomi has to spend a Command Seal to reign Gil in.

I love how powerful, frightening, and unpredictable Berserker is depicted; he’s a very cool design that seems to shudder in and out of solidity, as if he’s just barely being kept together.

But what I loved even more was Gil’s attempt to save face by basically saying “You’re all beneath me; kill each other off until there’s one left and then come at me.” He’s an arrogant prick as always, but he’s surprisingly likable in this version—perhaps because he was thrown off his game so effortlessly by Berserker.

With Archer gone, Berserker turns his attention (such as it is) to Saber, whose injured hand quickly puts her at a disadvantage, forcing Lancer to save her from a potentially vicious blow. He doesn’t do it because they’re friends, or allies, but because she’s his opponent. If Berserker wants to fight her, he’ll have to get past Lancer first.

That’s Lancer’s will, but unfortunately for him, Archie has Command Seals, and uses one to override that will, ordering him to team up with Berserker to eliminate Saber.  In the ensuing one-on-one (after Lancer apologizes to Saber), Kiritsugu and Maiya have their weapons trained on Archie and Assassin, respectively.

Their careful work is ruined, however, by Rider (again), jumping between Saber and Lancer and driving Berserker into the ground, forcing him to retreat, then telling Archie to order Lancer’s retreat as well. Rider has decided that no one is going to die tonight, and nobody challenges him.

I have no doubt that Saber would have gladly fought Berserker and Lancer at once, bad hand and all. But she’s clearly grateful to Rider for his intervention this time. The primary reason for that is Irisviel: if Saber falls here, she’ll be on her own, surrounded by enemies. Rider also decides to stay out of Saber and Lancer’s fight from now own; he’ll face whoever prevails.

That’s fine with Saber; she can’t fight anyone else at 100% until she defeats Lancer and lifts the curse on her hand. It’s just as well that Berserker withdrew when he did, as a longer confrontation might have killed Matou, who vomits blood and worms in a dark alley, but remains as committed as ever to protecting Sakura by winning the war.

What of Uryuu and Caster, the only Servant who wasn’t on the field? Bluebeard observed everything from a crystal ball, and has taken a particular—and worrying—interest in Saber.

Sagrada Reset – 19

This week, in the “Boy, Girl and —” arc finale, Souma Sumire comes to Kei’s place, makes chicken curry, telling him about how Urachi grew up while she cooks. Urachi is basically Kei’s opposite: he wants all abilities to be wiped out, because he believes they’ll hurt, rather than help, the weak in the world (though we’re just talking about one small town here).

Then Souma takes a shower, because, as Kei presumes, she knows she’s going to cry. She tells Kei that Souma Sumire died so that when she was ultimately brought back by Kei’s efforts, she wouldn’t really be Souma Sumire anymore, which allowed her to pass Sakuin’s lie detection.

This “artifact”, as she calls herself, still intends to hinder Urachi, and so did everything possible to give Kei a chance to thwart his plans—except tell him everything before she set her plan into motion.

The fault for this lies in the Souma of two years ago who no longer exists, and though “Souma II” admits she and her are pretty much the same, it was that first Souma who acted “foolishly”, letting Kei get stolen away by Haruki, then forcing all of the “hard parts” onto her replacement. She can’t forgive her, but like her, Kei’s happiness comes first.

Kei expresses his gratitude to both Past Souma and Souma II, and as they eat the curry, he notes how the flavor is “oddly nostalgic.” Souma used her ability to draw from his mother’s know-how, but just as she’s not 100% the Souma Sumire she used to be, something made with “a mother’s love” cannot be 100% replicated.

Kei commits to beating Urachi, which he intends to do by claiming all of the abilities in Sakurada, as the MacGuffin promised to do. The miracles they’ll create will be happy, not a danger or nuisance as Urachi so strongly believes.

Kei made sure to warn Haruki that Oka Eri may pay her a visit, and to let him know if she takes her Reset ability (again). Sure enough, Urachi arrives with Oka, and instead of having Oka take her Reset right there, he uses his own ability on her, “rewinding” her to two-plus-years ago, before she met Asai Kei (and when she had really long hair.)

He leaves the sleeping Haruki with Oka, telling her to take her Reset once she wakes up in the hospital.

Oka Eri wants to beat Senpai, but a part of her still admires, looks up to, and loves Kei, and so when she heard his voice message in her head, telling her he’s been “backed into a corner”, and asks if when the time comes she won’t take Haruki’s reset…it puts Oka in a moral bind.

Just as Souma got around Urachi’s lie detector through rather desperate measures, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kei has to make similar sacrifices in order to succeed in his mission.

The stakes couldn’t be higher: his relationship to Haruki and the abilities of the town hang in the balance, and Urachi, preparing to wake up his “petrified” mother after 20 years, is playing for keeps.

Fate / Zero – 04

“You can’t see it, but trust me…it’s there.”

Here it is: the first Grail War battle in which neither side is trying to lose, and what do you know, it’s between Saber and Lancer. It feels like there’s been a lot of buildup to this, but I was still caught off guard by just how well-executed it was.

I didn’t even mind the frequent cuts away from the combatants to their various observers, because the weight of their interests and stakes in this fight felt just as significant as the thrill of the fight.

“Did I leave the oven on?”

Lancer, AKA Diarmuid of the Love Spot (best name, or bestest?), is a formidable opponent, able to surprise Saber and Iri on more than one occasion with his surprise tactics based on insufficient intelligence on his abilities.

But these aren’t two people who don’t like each other fighting to the death, it’s two people who through their interaction in battle only gain more and more Capital-R Respect for one another. They’re knights, but they’re also warriors who love a good opponent and they’re having a blast.

NOT THE BANGS

What also made the fight so engrossing was my complete lack of an idea how it would go. Early on, Saber is pushed back on her heels, so to speak, made to discard her armor only to play straight into Lancer’s Gáe Buidhe-and-Gáe Dearg dual-wielding hands.

But while he draws blood and seems to have the edge in the battle, even he knows one cannot simply underestimate a Saber-class Servant, especially one who has yet to really dig into her own bag of tricks.

(One thing I did not realize until this episode is how and why Saber’s sword is invisible: she conceals it with wind magic because it bears her true name. That…actually makes a lot of sense.)

YOU GUYS I BROUGHT BEER

But what truly makes the battle special is that it isn’t the only thing going on. Aside from Matou and Uryuu, virtually everyone is carefully watching this fight, from Toosaka through Kirei via Assassin (who still, for the moment, believe Iri is Saber’s Master) and Kiritsugu and Maiya, to Velvet and Rider.

Iskandar is increasingly worried he’ll lose the chance to have a good fight against the other heroes if he lets Lancer kill Saber too soon, so he crashes the party in grand fashion, landing between them in his chariot in a cloud of lightning. Quite the entrance, and one that promises a more complex and nuanced outcome than simply one Servant beating another.

And this is because these are three epic heroes we’re dealing with—not mindless obedient robots—whose actions are driven almost as much by their histories and charisma as by their Masters’ orders.

Classroom of the Elite – 05

Ayanokouji is a very well-studied observer of human behavior. He doubtless knows every one of the quotes that provide the titles for each episode; this one being “Hell is other people”, from Sartre’s “No Exit”.

Ayano observes that other people are indeed hell for his potential star witness Sakura Airi: he notices that while Kushida is able to easily invade people’s personal space, Sakura resists her, nullifying whatever power Kushida has over the vast majority of people.

(Naturally, Horitika is also immune to her charms, while Ayano knows her true identity, so throw in Sakura and Kushida is far from invincible.)

Luck is on Ayano’s side, however, as a trip to the electronics store with Sakura and Kushida ends up providing him the opportunity to show Sakura that not all other people are Hell; or at least that she can trust him.

Because Ayano is simply being Ayano (at least the one we know) and nothing else, Sakura’s intuition doesn’t see deception, while her reticence around Kushida suggests it does detect hers.

All of this is to say that Sakura takes Ayano’s advice to “do what she wants” and agrees to testify in the Sudo case; it shows that despite her (quite sensible) hiding of her secret—a sexy modelling side-gig—Sakura has a strong sense of justice, like Ayano, and her gut is telling her to listen to it, even if it means going through Hell (i.e., other people).

COURTROOM of the Elite  takes over in short order, and has all the makings of a show trial, with the Class C victims and their partially self-inflicted injuries given all the benefit of the doubt because, well, Sudo doesn’t have a scratch on him, and is a short-tempered asshole to boot.

If a summary “guilty” verdict is to be avoided, someone has to come to Sudo’s defense. But because Horikita’s brother the President (her kryptonite) is attending the trial, she freezes, completely losing all composure and confidence, and Ayano has to pinch her in her side in order to restore her to coherence.

It works, and she immediately begins the work of wearing down the credibility of three guys who weren’t looking for a fight all ending up injured. When they simply rebut with the correct assertion that Sudo often defies common sense, she whips out her Sakura Card.

We’ve only just met Sakura Airi, and yet there I was, so proud of her, and hopeful that I’d be as strong and brave in the situation in which she chose to be, exposing her revealing photos in order to establish why she was using her camera, before providing another photo of the fight itself, proving she was there…but not proving who instigated the fight.

Sakura Airi’s boss witnessing got Team Sudo past Level 1, but it doesn’t look like she’ll play a further role in helping to ease the burden of proof where who started it is concerned. But her good work also gave the defense a way out: Class C’s homeroom teacher offers a compromise, which is really more of a plea-out: only a two-week suspension for Sudo and one-week for his students.

But that plea requires that Sudo plead guilty, and we’re at least operating under the assumption that as awful and destructive as he is, he didn’t start the fight. So the offer is rejected. Instead, Horikita doesn’t hold back in her harsh and completely accurate assessment of Sudo’s attitude problems, and posits that Class C aimed to exploit those problems by setting him up.

Her brother, perhaps more impressed than he’d admit by his sister’s performance thus far (after a shaky start he probably thought was par for the course), will allow another day’s time for each party to prove their innocence or the other party’s guilt. He then raises the stakes, as one does in courtroom dramas: if they fail, expulsion is on the table.

This was a dense, thrilling outing of Elite Classroom that made me an immediate fan of Sakura, and a continued fan of Ayanokouji, Kushida, and Horikita. That Sakura won Sudo’s defense team more time makes me confident that they’ll find a way to clear his name and show up Horikita’s brother.

Fate / Zero – 03

“Oh sorry, did YOU want wine?” | “What channel is He-Man on?”
As Tokiomi apologizes to his Servant Archer (AKA Gilgamesh) and begs him to be patient as the plan unfolds, Waiver celebrates the death of Assassin, but his Servant Rider (AKA Iskandar) doesn’t really care, and is far more concerned with acquiring B-2 Stealth Bombers and other weaponry with which to defeat…Bill Clinton.

I enjoyed the contrast between these two Servant-Master pairs, with Tokiomi exercising the utmost deference to Archer, who abides by his wishes while Rider is more of a constant nuisance to Waiver, who can’t even get him to enter spirit mode. I can’t blame Rider; Waiver may have shown guts in stealing the relic with which to summon him, but he hasn’t done anything to inspire confidence since then.

They’ve already won the Holy Fashion War.
Rider’s not caring about Assassin’s death is just as well, since Assassin isn’t actually dead; he can take the form of many different people. What is dead are Kirei’s chances of winning the War, so he withdraws and is granted asylum in the Church by the observer, his dad Risei, and plans to use his Assassins to spy on all of the remaining Servants for Tokiomi.

Meanwhile, with Saber summoned and ready to go, she accompanies Irisviel to Fuyuki City, her love’s hometown, and the first place she’s ever left Einzbern Castle to visit. While Iri sightsees, Saber is her knight and bodyguard, wearing a stylish, practical black suit that contrasts nicely with Iri’s snow-white garb. They make a stunning pair…even though Iri isn’t Saber’s real Master.

“I sense my man kissing someone…”
That guy, Kiritsugu, arrived in Fuyuki a bit earlier, and enters a hotel room to find his assistant Maiya and a cache of weapons with which he’ll fight the War. When his thoughts turn to his frail daughter and he momentarily despairs, Maiya re-centers him by taking him in her arms and kissing him.

Whatever history those two have, I doubt it’s a threat to the union Kiritsugu and Irisviel, an unexpected pairing, but both a necessary and intriguing one. Their love for and trust for one another is above reproach. Irisviel, meanwhile, enjoys a walk on the beach with her night in black tailored suit, until Saber detects trouble nearby.

“Okay…let’s see what you got.”
The women head to the harbor, where the Servant Lancer is waiting for them, but with no Master in sight. Far from being concerned by a potential attacker in the night, it would seem Irisviel was acting as a faux Master of Saber in order to accomplish what came to pass: luring out the last Servant unaccounted for.

As for who commands Lancy, I’m not ruling out Archibald, who has been curiously absent despite Waiver having stolen his relic for Rider. And as for who will win this duel, I suspect neither party will end up dying, since we’re only three episodes in. A draw, perhaps? Either way, I can’t wait to see it.

Zero continues to excel where often UBW fell down, managing to make virtually every patch of dialogue (or monologue) compelling, integrating just enough comedy to avoid being too stodgy or serious, and most important, making every participant either eminently rootable, deliciously loathable, or a lovely synthesis of the two.

Aho Girl – 06

Aho Girl was just ‘okay’ this week, as it relied more heavily on boobs-and-dick-style comedy as the gang goes on a beach/hot spring vacation. Fuuki tries a bit too hard to get A-kun to look at her boobs, and is punished by Yoshiko by being buried in the sand and given a sand schlong.

Later, Yoshiko gets to talking about A-kun’s tiny weewee when they used to bathe together as little kids, but when Fuuki tells her he’s probably not that way anymore due to puberty, it only makes Yoshiko want to peek at A-kun even more. She gets a mace-like weapon to the face for her trouble.

The strangest skit involves A-kun on his own with Yoshiko’s dog while she’s away, and he finds that not only can the dog understand what he’s saying, he also loves his favorite movie. Yoshiko accuses A-kun of “having an affair” with a dog, but he won’t forget how much more pleasant communicating with the dog was than with Yoshiko.

Things are wrapped up with a festival in which the Neighborhood Association attempts to stop Yoshiko from ruining their Bon Dance. However, her sexy Brazilian Carnival get-up lowers their guards, and before they know it, they’re her backup dancers.

Tsurezure Children – 06

Now that just about everyone’s introduced, the show can use more of a shorthand with its established couples and expand on their personalities around one another. And while Ryouko x Akagi haven’t been my favorite, it’s only because it’s one of the innumerable different kinds of relationships—where one is always teasing the other because they love the other person—isn’t my cup of tea personally. But I am glad it’s represented here. And Ryouko is cute.

Meanwhile, Chiaki and Kana continue to have issues with intimacy, which may have been made worse by Kana’s mom walking in on them not once but twice. Chiaki tries to kiss Kana with her eyes closed through a skit, but she opens her eyes and spooks Chiaki. She later gets on board, but they still come a few millimeters short of a kiss.

But hey, at least they both know what their relationship is, even if they’re unable to easily act on it. Yamane is still convinced Kurihara is way out of his league and not actually trying to date him. When he accidentally learns he’s double-booked a movie date with her and his fellow “loser” friend, he lies, worried he’ll offend him. This is the most manic segment of the episode, and manages to pack a lot of verbal and physical humor into a couple of minutes.

Finally, perhaps the least interesting (but still common) scenario of a girl (Hosogawa) almost immediately falling for her “prince” (Kotori) but the guy turning her down, declaring himself “everyone’s prince.” So Hosogawa makes like a cat and falls out of a tree, forcing Kotori to catch her. But he’s still not going to date her…or anyone else. Do not play a drinking game in which you take a shot every time Kotori strikes a pose…you will not survive!

Fate / Zero – 02

“OMG I LOVE MAPS!”

This first normal-length episode Fate/Zero leaves out a few faces so it can spend more time with others, starting with the first meeting between Waiver Velvet and his Servant, Iskandar (AKA Alexander).

The contrast in personalities is wonderful, as Iskander immediately pooh-poohs Waiver’s “small” goal to get people to treat him fairly and take him seriously despite not being from a grand old family.

Alexander, meanwhile, wants to re-conquer the world as soon as possible. That means winning the Holy Grail War first, so at least he’s motivated. He also enjoys reading atlases, as I do.

Illyasviel von Einzbern : Good Anime Kid

We return to The North, where Kiritsugu is enjoying his last hours with his young daughter Illyasviel, hunting for Chestnut buds. Saber watches from inside and can’t help but think she must’ve offended her Master in some way for his demeanor to be so different than it is with Ilya.

Iri, however, chalks it up to Kiritsugu and Arturia “never being able to see eye-to-eye”…because…she’s shorter than him? Both he and Iri expected a male King Arthur, after all; for the King of Kings to appear as young woman was a shock. But perhaps that’ll wear off and they’ll establish a rapport, in time.

You got KRAKEN’D

Meanwhile, in an episode where Sakura’s tormentor Zoukan is mercifully absent, we meet a new contender for Worst Guy in Zero: Uryuu Ryuunosuke, a serial killer who “prefers little boys and girls”, and has been using their blood to paint magical circles.

His grisly rituals end up ‘accidentally’ summoning Caster, who calls himself “bluebeard” after pretending to free one of Uryuu’s captives, only to jump him in the genkan with eldritch tentacles, teaching his new Master a lesson about the ‘dynamism’ of terror; Uryuu blushes with glee at his new Servant. Wonderful.

“There’s no such thing as TOO much hair gel.”

The last Master featured in this episode is Kirei, who I thought would be a little more discrete in his alliance with Toosaka Tokiomi, but wastes absolutely no time sending his Servant Assassin on an extremely ill-advised mission to eliminate Tokiomi.

I loved his ‘shrug, don’t worry about it’ when Assassin asked Kirei if he’s sure he wants to do this. Assassin shows off some moves in taking out and dodging various magical security devices, but before he gets near the house, he’s run through by a number of weapons belonging to none other than Gilgamesh, Tokiomi’s Servant, for whom Assassin was never anything other than a bug, squashed and left to die face down on the ground.

I had nothing against Assassin, but his quick exit was an unexpected surprise, to the point I wonder if he’s actually gone. As for Caster, he’s a sadistic dick but I still like him better than Uryuu, who looks to be another wild card. They’re both pretty grating, though.

Koi to Uso – 06

Whoa, hold on, what are Yukari and Ririna doing, making out in bed? Oh, it’s just Ririna’s first sexy dream about Yukari. Little did she—or I—know that by episode’s end that dream would become shockingly close to reality.

This is due to a combination of factors, including a genuine growing affection for one another as they get to know each other better, the scientific process by which they were chosen to marry one another, and oh yeah, a ruthless alternate-universe Japanese government that is NOT FUCKING AROUND when it comes to population growth.

Yes, this episode checks in momentarily with Misaki and Nisaka, and new characters are introduced in Ririna’s new friend Arisa and Yukari’s middle-school classmate Igarashi, but thankfully the focus is on the two people that aggressive government program determined should get hitched, get it on, and have at least 2 children.

To that end, everyone who recently got their notices are instructed to leave school early and report to…a hotel…uh-oh. The strangeness of the situation is definitely felt by our surrogates, Yukari and Ririna. He sees aa classmate with his “pre-Yukari way-out-of-his-league” future wife, and turns inward to wonder if people look at him and Ririna like he’s looking at them.

Then that very thing happens. Ririna arrives sporting a new hairstyle and the gift of a creepy figuring that Yukari loses his shit over. He has a gift for her two, and his classmate and future wife marvel at how well this system seems to pick people who clearly like each other.

Both Yukari and Ririna bristle at that, but as the afternoon progresses, The State systematically runs roughshod over whatever doubts and reservations the two may have. Indeed, Ririna, having only recently researched French kissing, is particularly uncomfortable with all the sex talk going on by the Ministry’s presenter, a True Believer in the Yukari System if ever there was one.

Condoms are passed out. The now-healthy birthrate is mentioned to tout the success of the system. Sex is healthily discussed in terms of its physiological and mental benefits, in addition to just feeling good. It’s gotta be a lot to take in for a bunch of 16-year-olds, and that is no accident on the part of the Ministry.

After concluding the lecture with a very informative porno that leaves Ririna shaking and Yukari desperate to keep Misaki out of his head, all of the husband-wife pairs are assigned hotel rooms and ordered to spend the night together. A random Ministry guy hinting (in jest) that they’ll be “watched” and an overheard rumor about consequences for “not banging” only hikes up the pressure.

Before they know it, Yukari and Ririna are alone in a tastefully lit, comfortable room, staring down a big bed. There are no chairs, as Ririna helpfully points out. Yukari is LOSING IT. He’s stuck in his head, and at least finally realizes it, but when he tries to think of what he can do for Ririna, what he comes up with mirrors the beginning of her dream in which they make out: he pins her to the bed. As she awaits the next move, the episode mercilessly (or mercifully) fades to black…

The Yukari Law was born out of necessity. Japan’s birthrate hovered around 1.46 births per woman in 2015. That’s just not good enough to make up for the people aging and dying. There’s no telling what the economic, social, and cultural consequences will be, but you can bet they’ll be bad. Robots aren’t the answer. People study and work too much to get by or get ahead. Family often takes a backseat to success. A lot of younger people just don’t want it.

These are the harsh realities that face the Japan here, in our world. And while it’s doubtful anything as comprehensively invasive as Yukari will ever be implemented, Koi to Uso still serves as a kind of thought experiment in which a relatively simple fix is applied: get people to make more babies. Simple in concept, but ridiculously complex and problem-fraught in execution.

Its exploration of that what-if scenario, with a focus on four youths going against the grain, is as unsettling as it is riveting.

Monday OP: “Underground River” from Made in Abyss

This piece of music (by series composer Kevin Penkin) is played at the start of the first episode of Made in Abyss in lieu of the standard OP, during an otherwise soundless montage of Riko and Nat heading home to Orth with Reg on Nat’s back.

“Underground River” and the montage that accompanies it, were all I needed to see and hear become absolutely hooked on Made in Abyss, albeit five weeks later than most others.

It perfectly encapsulates the show’s spirit of youthful adventure, as well as the excitement and bittersweet yearning that go hand in hand upon striking out into the big world, from the home you’ve always known.

(The vocals also remind me of Sohn.)

So far I think MIA is hands-down the best series of the Summer, excelling equally in story, characters, animation, and yes, music. I only wish this piece was the weekly OP (though the actual one isn’t bad either).

Fate / Zero – 01 (First Impressions)

“Your Dad and I are just going to slowly orbit you for a while. You don’t mind, right?”

I have watched the UBW anime, but not the original Fate/stay night. I intend to watch and assess stay night’s prequel Fate/Zero on its own merits, forgetting/disregarding wherever possible what transpired before or after, since. That being said, having watched UBW I’m not a complete novice to the Fate franchise, so I know the basics of the Holy Grail War and its Servants.

Zero takes all of the limited information I know and recontextualizes it and expands my understanding of its players, all of them operating ten years before the events of night. Things obviously feel familiar to UBW for the most part, but they are still, in fact, quite different. Dare I say, more significant…and more emotionally resonant?

“Hey Rin! Here’s hoping the next time we meet I don’t have white hair and a face full of bugs!”

I’ll admit I was a little lost in the woods as I watched flashback after flashback to the present day of Zero, in which Irisviel von Einzbern and Emiya Kiritsugu’s newborn child Illyasviel, or Kotomine Kirei’s father Risei and Toosaka Tokiomi informing Kirei that he’s to ensure Tokiomi’s victory.

But as I carefully watched and took a few notes, the complex network of characters and relationships—both good and deeply troubled—gradually took shape. Rin, Sakura, and Illyasviel are all players I’ve known and seen, but this is the story of how their older relatives assembled and summoned their Servants to fight the Fourth Holy Grail War.

I thus found myself gaining lots of insights into the kind of families and personalities those familiar faces came from. For instance, I had no idea Shirou and Illyasviel have the same dad…or that Sakura and Rin are biological sisters.

“What is this bullshit…A5? I wanted LEGAL.”

Watching this epic introduction jump from one party to another as they begin to circle one another and size each other up is, in a word, thrilling (I say that despite the mundane-ness of the image above). And without exception, I found myself invested in everyone for very different reasons, even though I know they’ll all be at each others’ throats and most of them will have to lose and/or die.

Kirei and Kiritsugu may think each other the most underhanded, dangerous men alive (in a masterful dual-monologue in which the two shit on each other for what seemed like five solid minutes), but I never felt the compulsion to take a side, because both men have their reasons. I also never felt like the show was trying to make me take a side.

The exception to that is, of course, the clearly demented Matou Zouken, who needs go fuck off immediately to hell with Sugou Nobuyuki and/or some similar assholes. It’s good to see Kariya sacrifice his freedom, health, and maybe life to keep poor Sakura out of the fighting. I also appreciated the layered characters of both Rins’ dad Tokiomi and apparent wild card Waiver Velvet.

“I like what you’ve done with the lighting in this place.”

This episode is long and talky, but it’s length well spent and talks that kept me interested. Call it a crash course in Fate, only with a little bit of prior knowledge, and far more comfortable and entertaining than a crash course has any right to be. This is setting the stage done right.

Speaking of that stage: once all the talking and sizing up ceases in this first episode, it’s time to start summoning some Servants, and the inter-cut scenes between Saber, Archer, Berserker, and Rider’s awakenings form a compound momentousness (just as Assassin’s intro was stealthy and low-key, as befits an assassin).

In short, I was pleased with this opening. The fact that nobody so much as laid a finger on anybody for nearly an hour only reinforces my confidence in this show’s narrative chops. Timelines and venues may jump around, but it’s just people talking-talking-talking in rooms, to one another, to themselves, about each other…then summoning some Servants. It just…worked.

Captions by sesameacrylic