NieR: Automata Ver 1.1a – 03 – This Cannot Continue

Lily brings 2B and 9S to their ad hoc base, and does not get into why she shoots so many intent looks in 2B’s direction. Could Lily have known a former version of this 2B? Did she know 2A, since she recognized her as “Number Two”? We also meet Jackass, who really wants to take the YoRHa androids apart to “collect data”, but is content to drive them to their recon site.

The truck ride, and really all establishing shots in NieR succeed in creating a vast sense of both scale and desolation, especially when we see the half-buried ruins of our familiar civilization (Saturday is apparently post-apocalypse day for me—not that I’m complaining). The grandeur is enhanced with the score, with themes perfectly suited to the base, desert, and the orbiting YoRHa base.

When they encounter Machine Lifeforms wearing tribal masks and markings, 2B and 9S get to work trashing them. But when 9S hacks the biggest bot, he gets a lot more than he bargained for. These MLs are among those that have absorbed knowledge from the library of humanity of yore, and he ends up in the middle of a Mesopotamian-style  ritual.

With this group of bots defeated, 2B, 9S and Jackass trudge on into the ruined city, where all communications to YoRHa HQ are being jammed by an unknown power source. They keep exploring, and locate a group of android corpses, including the missing YoRHa liaison. That the corpses aren’t totally destroyed but in various states of dismantlement bodes ill for our two androids.

2B and 9S fall though quicksand and into a yawning undergeround complex. They come upon a circle of yellow-eyed, non-hostile MLs both reciting and emulating various human emotions and activities, including copulation and childrearing. All of this makes 9S particularly uneasy, since this is not the way the enemy should be acting. But then things get even weirder when one comment from a red-eyed ML—“this cannot continue”—sends the yellows into a frenzy.

The MLs climb columns made of the fossilized bodies of their dead, and huddle together in to the super-brain thingy teased last week. The mass opens and out pours an approximation of an android that quickly grows skin and stands up, part Terminator, part Sephiroth. 2B and 9S’ first instinct is to kill it ASAP, even though he is not immediately hostile to them.

While they successfully break his energy shield and impale him with their blades, a second, unharmed ML android emerges from the lifeless body, good as new, and this one is a lot more aggressive. 9S is just able to grab 2B and leap out of the way of the android’s devastating main weapon. The resulting cave-in apparently crushes the android, but as we saw that’s not going to be enough to do it in.

We learn from Commander White up in space that she didn’t send 2B and 9S to assist the resistance, but to use the resistance as a shield and decoy in order to facilitate their real mission, which has now borne fruit. Not only do they know what became of the liaison, but they’ve uncovered a potentially game-changing development in their once-primitive foe.

NieR: Automata Ver 1.1a – 02 – Blood and Lilies

In episode two, perspective shifts from the YoRHa in their pristine orbital headquarters to a battered but still operational Machine Lifeform (ML). Curiously, despite having apparently been created by “Aliens”, they have a very similar bootup and heads-up display as the humans’ androids.

This single ML unit starts to walk, creating a sense of scale and grandeur to the ruined landscape. Upon returning to a base, it finds a book, and in that book, a bookmark with the image of a white lily. Scenes of ML are interspersed with a childlike narrator telling the story of the MLs with colored paper compositions.

This particular ML develops an “emotional matrix”, deemed a critical error, and its red eyes turn yellow, denoting neutrality. It ;earns how to garden, and devotes its existence to growing flowers, gathering “followers” in the form of other yellow-eyed MLs.

The comparisons to WALL-E are obvious from the serene, gorgeous empty vistas ML inhabits to the way the storytelling takes place without dialogue (narration segments aside). But hey, if you’re going to borrow, borrow from the best.

Not far from ML’s growing garden is an embedded group of human resistance fighters led by…Lily. I immediately wondered if, like the stiff redheaded twin maintenance units assigned to the unit, she was an android in disguise. Regardless, she’s bitter about the “Council of Humanity” on the Moon ignoring all requests for badly-needed reinforcements.

Every encounter with the red-eyed MLs means at least one of her unit will be injured or killed, with no one to replace them. They’re ambushed when trying to gather resources to keep fighting, and have to abandon those resources when the MLs send in kamikaze units.

Little does Lily know that up in orbit, she’s about to get a helping hand, in the form of 2B and 9S. When 2B wakes up she tells 9S she finds the sound of his voice comforting, only to cooly head to the control room without him.

They may have just come back from a brutal battle that claimed 9S’s memories, but Commander White sends them back down to perform recon on the resistance unit. They had an android embedded with the unit, but there’s been a breakdown in communication.

2B and 9S can’t come soon enough, as a huge mass of red-eyed MLs trample and destroy the yellow-eyed peaceful bots and their garden on their march to kill the humans. Lily demonstrates that she’s a capable leader despite her youth, quick and decisive and maximizing the limited resources she has.

When they mine a bridge and lure the red-eyed bots across, the detonators fail to work. It’s here where Lily’s underlings spot the yellow-eyed ML we know and have grown fond of. He stands in front of the hundreds of red-eyes, seemingly to try to talk them out of further fighting.

But before he can turn any red eyes to yellow, the entire bridge is lit up by missiles from 2B and 9S’ flying mechas. 2B makes a characteristically stylish entrance, and Lily not only knows her as “Number Two” but is very shocked to see her, or indeed any Council reinforcements. That said, Lily’s bloody shoulder seems to confirm she’s a flesh-and-blood human, not a “tin man”.

As for our yellow-eyed friend, he didn’t die in vain, nor is he alone. Hundreds if not thousands of his kind are soaking up knowledge from the library of the civilization they toppled, and seem to be combining their amassed knowledge and brains into a single mega-brain.

While I’m not sure what this is quite about, from a visual standpoint I can at least guess that yellow eyes and books are, at least now, less of a threat than red eyes, kamikaze bots, and slaughter. The narrator also describes the yellow-eyed bot anomalies as “treasures”. Were they meant to evolve in this way, or was it just random happenstance?

Whatever the answers are, and even if they’re never revealed, I remain thoroughly intrigued, and the setting lends the show a welcome splash of color and life from last week’s largely monotone, industrial battles. The post-ED omake featuring a cloth puppet 2B and 9S answering fan mail provides humor and whimsy.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

NieR: Automata Ver 1.1a – 01 (First Impressions) – Glory…to Mankind

Nier:Automata Ver 1.1a is an anime adaptation of a video game sequel to a spin-off of another video game series dating back to 2003, but for me it might as well be anime-original. With this adaptation, A-1 Pictures gives us a polished sci-fi action flick set in a bleak and gritty world decimated by alien invasion. The aliens use “machine lifeforms” (retro-looking robots) to fight sleeker (read: sexier) androids developed by humanity.

Our protagonist is YoRHa B-Gata H-Kei 2-gou B-gata, AKA 2B, which is super easy name to remember. Sporting a silver bob, eye mask, dark maid/knight outfit, katana, and slick-as-shit mecha, 2B is voiced by Ishikawa Yui, channeling Mikasa with an appropriately stiff, mechanical vocal performance. I also thought of early Vivy.

2B has the baroque look of a late-stage Final Fantasy character, which contrasts nicely with the more bare-bolts industrial setting. At times I wondered if Yuuri and Chito from Girls’ Last Tour might come running through the mist. She’s supported by a float “Pod” companion that keeps her informed about her surroundings and conditions.

2B has a mission, and despite being the only one of her squad to make it to the factory where her Goliath-type target is located, she is determined to carry out the mission or die (or rather be destroyed) trying. She’s aided by a far more “human”-acting intelligence android, 9S, voiced by Hanae Natsuki as if he were an affable high school character.

9S hasn’t spoken to anyone in a while, and is happy to be teamed up with someone, being a typically solo unit. 2B is less enthused, especially with 9S’ loquaciousness (she tells him not to call her “miss” and cuts his exposition short). But he also saves the “brute-force-first” 2B’s ass. As for the Goliath, it appears as a massive oil platform-on-tracks, with a face resembling the boss from StarFox.

This Goliath is a tough customer, but 9S has it handled: diving into its computer brain in a trippy hacking sequence that’s a nice change of pace from the external twisted metal and rust, and smoke. His hacking ends up being incomplete and he’s ejected from his mecha and seriously maimed, and Goliath is able to reboot and regain part of its autonomy.

9S urges a suddenly very human-like 2B not to worry about him and complete the mission. She runs up the appendages of the Goliath and punctures its core with her katana. The good guys have seemingly prevailed and defeated the big level boss. But then it wakes back up, and four other Goliaths awaken and rise, surrounding them.

It looks like it’s going to be Game Over, Man for both 2B and 9S, so after she thanks him for saving her, the two take out their Black Boxes. When these boxes touch, they self-destruct in a massive explosion that consumes all of the Goliaths. Even with 9S by her side, this was always going to be a suicide mission as soon as 2B arrived without any of her fellow squad units.

But while that’s the end of her body, her mind, memories, and data are all transferred back up to the massive orbital human stronghold called the Bunker, and she wakes up in a new android body. It’s the first time we see her eyes, and because of that the sight of them really packs a punch.

When she reunites with a revived 9S, he confirms that the mission was complete, but that he must have only had time to transfer her data back to the Bunker. The 9S before him has no memories of their joint mission down on the surface. When this new 9S dutifully utters their motto—Glory to Mankind—2B clenches a fist and repeats the words …but grudgingly.

We don’t see a single human being or alien in this episode, only their tools. If we never see either, I probably won’t mind. Their absence contributes to quite a compelling atmosphere of loneliness, isolation, and even a tinge of resentment and brooding in the androids. They were built and programmed to say that motto and fight and sacrifice their bodies and minds, and while emotions are forbidden, they are also definitely there.

2B wonders if her unending cycle of life and death is a curse or punishment from the gods who created her. None of this is groundbreaking stuff, but it is admirably executed, and looks and sounds awesome (Aimer sings the OP and the score is boss), which is why I’ll be continuing to watch.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Lycoris Recoil – 13 (Fin) – Deciding for Themselves

Chisato ends up alone with Majima at the top of the Enkuboku for a final round. Majima makes things even more interesting by activating a 60-minute timer on a bomb that will presumably bring the tower down. Why Chisato doesn’t just repeatedly shoot Majima right next to his ears is unclear, but the duel that ensues is pretty evenly matched.

Meanwhile, the power goes out on the whole tower to ensure no hackers, friend or foe, will be able to interfere with Majima and Chiato’s fight. The elevator still has aux power, so Fuki heads down with a seriously injured Sakura while Takina asks her to let her climb back up to help Chisato. Fuki decides that she and Takina should get to decide what they want to do for once.

After pulling off a particularly tricky acrobatic move on Majima, Chisato suddenly finds her artificial heart starting to give out. Majima, who may be a jerk, has no interest in fighting her in this state, so he shoots open a vending machine, offers her a juice and the two have a short break. Chisato want him to stop the clock, but he won’t.

Whither Mr. Yoshi? Helped along by Himegama, he continues his retreat, but is confronted by Mika, who actually doesn’t have a bum leg. Himagama charges him, but he wallops her with his cane, then riddles her with non-lethal bullets. Left unprotected, Mika has come for Yoshi’s briefcase, to tell him it’s time to let the kids make their own choices, then kills the man he clearly never really stopped loving.

After engaging it some philosophical sparring regarding who is the hero, who is the villain, and what constitutes a properly-lived life (Majima is resolved to restore “balance”, Chisato is fine with the status quo) their fight resumes. Chisato is feeling better but still far from 100%, and the clock is still ticking.

Eventually one of Majima’s many bullets grazes Chisato, and she goes down. Majima steps on her and prepares to shoot her, but just then Takina appears, and Chisato uses the moment of distraction to pull Majima head-over-heels.

The two hit the glass, which cracks and then shatters (in reality, glass in a tower like this would be several inches thick, like that in the CN Tower, but whatever); the two begin to fall. We don’t see what becomes of Majima, which means he’s clearly not dead, while Takina ensnares Chisato with her restraining wire.

The phone countdown hits zero, and the “punishment explosion” turns out to be a massive fireworks display, which was likely meant to cap off the Enkuboku opening anyway. Majima, while likely not dead, is at least out of their hair for the time being, and both Takina and Chisato are alive.

In the first of two epilogues, Sakura has made a full recovery and is back to her exuberant, poop parfait-lovin’ self, Fuki is still meekly deferent to Mika, and life at LycoReco has returned to normal,  except that Chisato has not been around, while Takina is out on a job.

That job turns out to be traveling to Miyako to find Chisato, but the mission is first portrayed as her tracking down and eliminating a target. The two end up trading gunfire in the forest and then shooting each other with restraining wire, and when they realize they’re…each other, they hop into each other with joy (while also scolding each other for coming at each other so hot).

Takina explains to Chisato how a regular café patron happened to capture Chisato in the background of a photo of her and her boyfriend, and so even with no internet or cameras, they were able to find her. Takina also notes that she’s glad Chisato is alive and well.

Chisato actually slipped out of the hospital and traveled to Miyako not sure about the nature of the operation she underwent. Turns out Mr. Yoshi was lying; the heart wasn’t in his chest, but in the briefcase. Now that it’s in Chisato’s chest, she’s going to live a long, healthy life.

The scenes at the seaside café and then on the beach are some of the most richly-colored and beautiful of the series, and really lend a lovely gravitas to what these two have been through…and what they mean to each other. When asked what she should do with the extra life she’s been given, Takina proposes she do something she’s always wanted to.

That brings us to the bonus epilogue: LycoReco Hawaii! No doubt thanks to Kurumi’s skills, the whole gang is able to travel to the states and set up a café truck by the ocean. Everyone seems to be doing their part and having fun, and we also learn their side hustle of helping people out is still going on as well, only now in adorable Hawaiian garb.

It’s a cute and satisfying all’s-well-that-ends-well ending. Sure, there are still a lot of guns still in Tokyo, and a heavily-bandaged Majima out there egging people. The moral quandary that is Lycoris and the DA is still hanging out there too.

But Chisato and Takina are where they want to be, doing what they want to do. They who were tools for the adults are now free to live their lives how they see fit. For that reason alone, I can walk away from this show with a smile.

Lycoris Recoil – 12 – Spider Lily Shuffle

Takina’s heroic arrival means Chisato’s finally able to maneuver herself into position to fire her gun near both of Majima’s ears, incapacitating him long enough for her to blast him with her concussive rounds and for Takina to shoot him with binding rounds.

He still gets in a couple of kicks, however, so as the girls recover by lying on the ground for a bit, Chisato asks why Takina there, Takina says she quit, and Chisato says she’s a big ol’ dummy. Takina won’t disagree, but between the DA and Chisato, there was no choice.

Chisato proceeds to find Mr. Yoshi, who expresses immediate disappointment when he learns she didn’t kill Majima. When Chisato tells him that she’s already plenty happy helping people, he says he “didn’t wind up the spring of a dying doll” for that. He can’t stress enough that Chisato can only fulfill her purpose by taking lives.

Takina, who is listening in the hall, has heard enough. If Chisato won’t shoot this guy, she will. Especially when they learn he’s had the advanced artificial heart put in his chest, making it so that he must die for Chisato to live. While that’s perfectly okay for Takina, it’s not at all okay for Chisato, who stops Takina from killing him.

Yoshi’s sidekick drops in and kicks Takina out of the tower and almost to her death, creating yet anoher cruel game for Chisato: kill his sidekick before she kills Takina. When Takina is holding on to a beam for dear life and Yoshi starts shooting at her hands, Chisato begs him to stop. When he won’t she finally pulls the trigger and sends a real bullet into his chest.

Fortunately for her, it goes straight through him and misses his vitals. Takina survives her bout with Yoshi’s sidekick (albeit with a half-bloodied face to show for it), and unloads a clip at the two as they retreat. Chisato tells her to stop and holds her as she says even if they killed Yoshi to save her, she wouldn’t be Chisato anymore. The time comes for farewells for everyone, but she’s not gone yet.

As Mizuki and Kurumi arrive in a helicopter to pick them up, Chisato and Takina learn about the next crisis: now that they’ve been outed to the public, the director has decided to eliminate all of the Lycoris (with the male version, LilyBell). Mizuki flies them to Enkuboku, while Kurumi gives them a USB dongle to put in the Enkuboku servers. Fuki and Sakura go floor to floor gathering up the wounded Lycoris, with Erika having their six, filling in for Takina.

When the three bite off more than they can chew with two of Majima’s bigger thugs, Chisato and Takina come to their haughty colleagues’ rescue once more, and then they proceed to the server room, where Sakura points out how Fuki and Chisato’s arguing sounds a lot like flirting.

Once the USB is in the server, Kurumi, AKA Walnut, proves she was and is the world’s best hacker, creating a new cover-up for the Lycoris (announced to the city as an immersive crisis adventure simulation…though that doesn’t explain the guns dispersed among the public) and leading the cops straight to Robota’s hideout.

With the Lycoris given fresh cover and Chisato dodging LilyBell’s bullets, the director orders them to retreat. Lilybell’s 1st glares at Chisato on his way out, and Takina isn’t sure whether she should be unsurprised or jealous. Probably both. Takina and Erika get another nice little moment, as Takina shows how a little Chisato has rubbed off on her by ribbing Erika for being “awful” for taking her placed at the DA.

It looks like all’s well that ends well, until Kusunoki is informed that the cleaners responsible for retrieving Majima have gone silent. The elevator doors are about to close when Chisato spots her bookbag and runs out to get it. Majima then sprays a clip into the elevator (all bullets absorbed by an airbag thanks to quick thinking from Fuki). But the elevator doors close on the Takina, Fuki, and the others, leaving Chisato all alone with Majima for a final round.

Majima’s plan to turn the public against the government failed, and he’s lost Robota, the only means of attempting to do so again. So this is clearly just him wanting to either kill or be killed by his finest and most interesting opponent. As for Chisato, she seems resigned to her fate, and unless there’s a third fake heart out there somewhere, Takina may have to be too.

But when that elevator descends to the ground floor, dollars to donuts Takina’s going right back up to the top to be back beside Chisato, as long as she possibly can, until the farewell.

Lycoris Recoil – 11 – Dance in the Dark

Kusunoki is barely two minutes into breifing the Lycoris for the Enkuboku operation when Takina interrupts her after spotting Chisato’s name on one of the rosters. She realizes something’s up and leaves the bus to go find her. Chisato and Mika are being led by Robota exactly where Majima wants them to go.

Mizuki and Kurumi are at the airport lounge, and part ways “forever” without much fanfare, only for Kurumi to deplane from her luxurious first-class seat (Mizuki got stuck in economy) when her turbo-hacking reveals there’s a second artificial heart out there.

Takina arrives at LycoReco to find it abandoned and Chisato and Mika’s phones left behind. Then she gets a call from Kurumi about the second heart: it’s an improvement on the one Chisato has, which suggests she could live a full life with it.

The person in possession of this second heart? Yoshimatsu Shinji, naturally, who Kurumi shows Takina has been taken captive by Majima at the old tower where he and Chisato first crossed paths. Takina, who had been in the middle of the operation with Fuki & Co., excuses herself, even if it means she’s done with the DA. Fuki even lets her go, knowing that’s the best move. But before she leaves, Erika gets to have a nice moment, hugging Takina and thanking her for saving her.

Takina’s reason for abandoning her DA duty is simple: she can’t save Chisato from the Enkuboku. She’s in the wrong tower. So she runs with everything she’s got to the other one. Majima, meanwhile, is able to get back on the airwaves thanks to Robota, who uses Radiata’s heavy defenses against itself with thousands of simultaneous hacking attacks.

This enables Majima to officially expose the Lycoris by showing video footage of them walking around the tower with guns near pools of blood. When he tells those who found the guns he left for them to find to watch out for Lycrois, there’s a confrontation that results in both Lycoris and civilian getting shot. Kusunoki’s failure is quickly becoming a bloody fiasco.

Chisato arrives at the old tower, goes inside, rides the elevator up as high as it will go, then heads outside for a bit of acrobatics. She not only has to maintain her own balance to keep from falling to her death, she also has to make sure the thugs she shoots don’t fall to theirs.

Because Chisato doesn’t kill anyone she encounters, it makes sense that she’d act and talk so casually, even playfully while dispatching them non-lethally. She’s not just making her way to Mr. Yoshi, she’s having fun while doing it. Then the fun suddenly stops when Majima drops the shutters and leaves Chisato without her most powerful attribute: her sight.

The two empty multiple clips at each other, but Chisato’s dodging ability isn’t too hampered, while Majima’s supernatural hearing enables him to dodge her wild shots and sneak up on her from behind multiple times. As the two twist and tussle in the dark, it’s clear the fun is back: two realtively evenly-matched opponents are going at it.

Then , just when it looks like Majima is about to get the upper hand, Takina literally smashes through the metal shutters and comes between him and Chisato, packing live ammo. Right now, the DA being exposed and the potential destruction of the new tower doesn’t matter. Takina’s there to save Chisato and Yoshimatsu make it out of there alive, which means Majima is simply in the way.

RWBY: Ice Queendom – 01-03 (First Impressions) – Uncut Gems

01 – Dust to Dust

Based on a popular web comic I haven’t had the pleasure of ever seeing (probably true of a lot of viewers), the charmingly vowel-less RWBY blast out of the gate with not one or two but three episodes, giving us over an hour for the titular quartet to be introduced separately, meet, clash, and learn to get along. It’s not groundbreaking stuff but it’s well-executed and excels at details.

Our cheerful, bright silver-eyed co-protagonist is Ruby Rose, who is both proud and jealous of her big sister Yang getting into the illustrious Beacon Academy, where talented youngsters who have mastered Aura and awakened their Semblances are trained into Hunters and Huntresses to fight their worlds great scourge, the Grimm. (Hope you like proper nouns because there’s lots.)

While Ruby and Yang live modestly with their pops, aristocrat and heiress Weiss Schnee longs for the same thing they do: to become a Huntress. The only problem is she has to prove to her father she can do it by defeating a Grimm in her ultra-rich family’s great hall.

This is our first taste of RWBY’s battle action, and…it’s great. No notes. Creative, lyrical, fluid, bombastic, badass, awesome…it’s all of those things, and without too much reliance on CGI. While her first round with the Grimm gives her an eye wound that leads to a scar, Weiss gets her second wind and shows her father once and for all she’s Beacon material.

Our fourth co-protagonist is a Faunus (demihuman) and part of White Fang, a group she leaves when it becomes to radicalized and bent towards exacting revenge against full humans rather than building bridges. Her One Last Job with White Fang is another excellent demonstration of RWBY’s awesome production values and ability to stir up excitement for a fight.

Perhaps the most fun sequence is when some thieves try to steal aura in a store that happens to be open late (note to store owner: have a security guy on duty). Ruby almost misses the robbery due to her blasting metal on her headphones, but when she becomes aware of their presence, she wastes no time showing off her powers, not to mention her penchant for cool poses and beautiful rose petal-filled physical fluorishes.

The thing is, while Ruby has talent, she’s not trained and lacks authority and experience. She’s able to keep up with the thieves right up until they escape in their airship, which is when Professor Glynda Goodwitch from Beacon Academy, a full-fledged Huntress, steps in.

The baddies get away, but Glynda wasn’t there for them, she was there to bring Ruby before Beacon’s headmaster, Ozpin. The good cop to Glynda’s bad, he offers Ruby tea and cookies and, oh yeah, the offer for her to skip two grades and enroll at Beacon beside her sister with immediate effect. I guess Ozpin needs Huntresses and feels Ruby, while rough, is ready to be polished.

That night, having run from White Fang, Blake gets an acceptance letter from Beacon on her tablet, setting her on her own path rather than following the one she was born into. That’s how Ruby, Yang, Blake and Weiss all end up on the same airship bound for their Beacon Academy initiation ceremony.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

02 – A Union of Colors

The first episode ably introduced our four main heroines, and the second expands the cast with four of their classmates and puts all eight into their first battle together. But first, Yang tries to heed their dad’s advice and wean Ruby off her a bit by encouraging her to make friends. Ruby and Yang first introduce themselves to Blake, who would rather read her book, and then Weiss and Blake clash over Schnee’s alleged corruption and the evilness of Faunus.

We also meet the unconfident Jaune Arc, who makes fast friends with the statuesque, famous Pyrrha Nikos, while Lie Ren and Nora Valkyrie seem to have been close friends all along. It’s trial by fire as Beacon literally puts the new students on catapults and launches them into the sky. The first person they meet is their partner, and two pairs will make a team of four for their entire four-year stay at Beacon.

The mission is simple: make their way through the forest to a temple where they’ll retrieve a chess piece. Naturally, the forest is full of Grimm. Also naturally, Ruby and Weiss end up encountering each other first, while Yang first runs into Blake.

Weiss doesn’t take Ruby seriously at first because she both seems and is younger and seems like a show-off. That said, when they start to encounter more dangerous Grimm, they have no choice but to work together. Yang and Blake don’t clash quite as much, but the former is more chipper and gung-ho while the latter more stoic and serious.

Ruby, Weiss, Blake and Yang end up working together to bring the aerial Grimm boss down—and with quite a bit of style, I might add. Jaune, Nora, Pyrrha and Ren also distinguish themselves while forming their team. Back at Beacon, the two quartets officially become RWBY, both pronounced and led by Ruby, and JNPR, pronounced “juniper” and led by Jaune.

03 – Bridges and Nightmares

With the two groups formed and enrolled, the third and final introductory episode starts throwing conflicts both internal and external at the groups. While the quartet has fun redecorating their dorm, when it comes time to class all of Ruby’s energy washes away.

Weiss is the first to volunteer to defeat a Grimm in class, and it rubs her the wrong way when Ruby, her “leader”, is cheering her on. When she skulks away and Ruby chases after her, both are found by teachers, who give both of them a pep talk. Ozpin assures Ruby that her being chosen as the leader was no accident, and that she’ll learn to grow into the role and inspire her teammates.

Even if we know Weiss doesn’t get everything she wants like the other professor presumed (she’s a middle child after all), she should worry less about who is leader and more about being the best teammate she can be, as it could make the difference between victory and defeat; life and death.

Starting with the welcoming ceremony and touched on here and there are the presence of two creepy things: weird branch-like marks on the backs of both Weiss and Jaune, and shadow-like doppelgangers of the two sneaking around, who only they can see.

Shortly after losing a battle with another dude and being shown his Aura by Pyrrha, Jaune’s condition gets worse, while after making an effort to be a good teammate to Ruby, Weiss’ marks also spread.

Jaune is the first to succumb, as one morning his teammates are unable to wake him. Shion Zaiden is brought in, since she specializes in hunting Nightmares—Grimm that take over the mind of their hosts and trap them in their dreams. She sets up an elaborate system to send the other members of JNPR into his mind to rescue him and draw the Nightmare out.

It works like a jiffy—indeed, he’s saved and the Grimm captured almost too quickly and easily. It was nice to see how well JNPR has gelled compared to the more dysfunctional RWBY. That said, I’m glad the focus wasn’t taken off of the main group of RWBY, as focus returns to them in the second half of the episode.

Jaune’s infection-by-Nightmare is foreshadowing for Weiss’, as like Jaune she’s going through some emotional conflict. While RWBY goes into town for an annual festival, it’s interrupted by news of a Faunus castaway on the run. Weiss and Blake get into it over human-Faunus relations and the nature of White Fang.

While trying to chase the castaway, Weiss bumps into Penny, a very robotic-seeming girl who is the cast’s newest member. But when Blake can’t handle Weiss’ prejudice anymore she runs off, and eventually the castaway finds her without the black bow that covers her cat ears and knows he’s with his brethren.

The thing is, Weiss isn’t a 100% racist monster, she’s just never contemplated the possibility someone like Blake could have once been in White Fang. Yang is there to see Weiss finally break down and cry over her frustration with how things have been going, but it’s a cathartic cry, not one of hopelessness.

When the same criminals who robbed the aura store in the first episode try to pull off a heist at the docks, it ends up being Penny who shuts it all down all by her lonesome, once again indicating she’s not human either. But when RWBY reunites, Weiss tells Blake she’s ready to look past her prejudices and see Blake for who she is, a classmate, a teammate, and hopefully one day soon, a friend.

But as had been heavily telegraphed, Weiss was eventually going to fall into the same briar patch as Jaune did, the product of being infected by a Nightmare. This leads to some creepy but also eerily beautiful final moments of the episode as she’s trapped in those brambles.

The big question for the fourth episode is, will Weiss allow Ruby, Blake and Yang into her mind as easily as Jaune let his teammates in, and will she prove harder to rescue from her dreams?

There’s an adage that three episodes are enough to know whether you want to continue with an anime. Honestly, it’s takes me everywhere between one and twelve, but one thing I can say for sure is that I’ll be sticking with RWBY. 

More often than not it looks and sounds fantastic, the character dynamics and conflicts sufficiently compelling, its world is elaborate and whimsical, and the Grimm are a multifaceted, credible threat. Finally, with a cliffhanger like this I await the fourth episode with great anticipation.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

 

Fabiniku – 07 – A God This Delicious

When Tachibana ends up a captive of the squid worshippers, such is the Premier’s vanity that she commits herself entirely to a beauty contest between her and Tachibana regardless of the fact the winner will be sacrificed to a giant squid. Even so, she loses to Tachibana.

Jinguuji and a village trader (who develops a thing for him) soon find and free the Premier, and they discuss strategy over her first hot meal in days (she’s been through some shit). The Premier agrees to work with Jinguuji to kill the Giant Squid God and save Tachibana.

Alas, any admiration or affection she might’ve been developing for Jinguuji is dashed when he uses her as literal floating bait for the squid, whom we learn is very particular about the girls he eats. After a whole day, the squid finally takes the bait at dusk. All the while, Jinguuji has noticed his strength has been sapped of late.

As Tachibana is carried in a cage litter for the seaside sacrifice, she curses the fact she and Jinguuji chose now to have another big fight. She remembers the first one, when she (or rather he at the time) fell behind in his studies and got mad at Jinguuji for not being an easy tutor.

The “useless eggplant” moniker was born, and the two friends didn’t speak for days. However, present-day Tachibana isn’t about to die before she can make up with Jinguuji, so she busts out of the cage and manages to wrest loose her tiara, thus instantly charming the men holding her captive.

This plan backfires when the wives and lovers of those men threaten to kill Tachibana before the squid can. Jinguuji tries in vain to pull the giant squid out of the water with his diminished strength, but regains that strength and then some when he hears Tachibana give an honest and heartfelt rant to the villagers about not judging people by appearances and taking responsibility for themselves.

Jinguuji rips the giant squid out of the water and impales its head on the statue of itself where Tachibana is clinging to dear life. Wounded but still alive, the squid notices Tachibana and attempts to eat her, and the Premier, soaked in black ink, almost helps by pulling Tachibana in.

But then Jinguuji tosses her his trusty Damascus steel kitchen knife, and the Premier, who you thought could sink no lower, pulls what in Demon Slayer parlance could be called a “Sleeping Zenitsu”, which is to say that for a brief moment she does something incredibly impressive and cool—in this case lopping off the squid’s tentacles and rescuing Tachibana in style.

The timing couldn’t be better, because up until this point the Premier had been little more than a walking joke and punching bag. Here, she plays a crucial role in ensuring Tachibana is safe…and goes a step further by grilling the village’s god and having a feast. Her actions are so audacious, the villagers agree to give up their power struggle make her their new leader.

Naturally the Premier isn’t interested, and as she runs from the villagers, Jinguuji and Tachibana make up. It’s not surprising that Tachibana even forgot she was mad at him, considering how much happened to her over the course of a day.

The episode ends with them basically exchanging vows: Jinguuji is to never take his eyes off Tachibana, while Tachibana is to never leave him again. Unfortunately, the Demon Lords generals have now learned that Jinguuji’s power is diminished when he and Tachibana are separated. Their vows will be more important than ever as they draw closer to the capital.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Love of Kill – 01 (First Impressions) – With a Song in Her Heart

Bounty Hunter Chateau Dankworth (Oonishi Saori) comes afoul of a killer more skilled than she: Song Ryang-ha (Shimono Hiro). He overpowers her, but it’s not her life he wants to steal; it’s her heart. So he lets her go in exchange for her name and number.

While Chateau’s options were limited that night, she quickly comes to regret the one she chose. Song proceeds to constantly text, call, and even send her a video of a target of hers he caught first, and is willing to offer her in a trade.

They meet at a juice bar Song digs, but as you’d expect, Chateau wants to get down to cold, logical business, not juice. Her gambit involves surprising and then stunning him with a taser, but he’s to quick, and almost seems to predict her movements. It’s gotta be frustrating for a skilled killer like Chateau to more than meet her match.

Song’s terms for giving her her target are nothing monetary. Rather, he wants to go on a date with her for Christmas Eve. Chateau, who distrusts anything free but can’t pass up the opportunity to cross a name off her list, goes along with it, showing up an hour late doing the bare minimum needed for their encounter to be interpreted as a “date”.

Song takes thing to a fancy hotel room with a gorgeous city view, complete with dinner and a 1982-vintage wine. Chateau wisely remains at a remove, wondering out loud how Song plans to “use her” and why she’d be “of interest” to him. To Song’s credit, he doesn’t try anything truly vile, and when Chateau wants to leave, they check out.

Before parting ways at the station, Song does get in a quick farewell hug to “confirm” something: her “scent” doesn’t bother him, while everyone else smells “putrid”. We end with a cryptic voiceover portending a “final stop” in their romance “ending in tears”, then a flashback to a young Chateau in the back of a car, presumably her parent murdered in the driver’s seat.

Love of Kill had me feeling a lot of things. Contempt for Song, mostly, and sympathy for Chateau, who couldn’t escape his clutches if she tried. I love stoic, logical characters like Chateau; even though she doesn’t really say or do much, she exudes a wonderfully cool detached aura, which makes Song’s stalking that much more upsetting.

The thing is, as someone rather desensitized to antiheroes (Soprano, White, Draper, and Dexter to name a few), I didn’t despise Song, and even kinda sorta came to understand why he decided to pursue Chateau with such gusto. If everyone in the world “smelled” terrible to you and made you sick, what would you do if you suddenly found someone who didn’t?

So far I can’t really see Chateau falling for this guy, but at the very least they seem to be kindred spirits: killers keeping themselves at an expansive remove from the rest of humanity. Regardless, I definitely want to see where this goes.

Scarlet Nexus – 01 (First Impressions) – Sisters and Brothers Fightin’ the Others

From Sunrise comes a new Railgun-esque sci-fi action show centered around a group of young, elite psionic soldiers pooling their various abilities to defeat the invading Others, who are straight out of Madoka. Yuito is our young rich boy rookie with something to prove, Nagi is his designated horny best mate, Hanabi is his cute childhood friend, while Kasane and Naomi Randall are two sisters who are a lot better at their jobs out of the gate than the guys.

Character designs are crisp, clean, consistent, and pleasant to look at. A true strength of the series is an easy chemistry among the various introduced characters, a slick wardrobe in which everyone wears something different but they’re united in their black, gray an red palette, and the brain-eating CGI Others are the right kind of unsettlingly uncanny. The OP and ED whip.

Demerits include generic personalities and nothing much in the way of originality in its premise or execution. It’s a very solidly by-the-numbers. affair. After going the whole episode without, the ending resorts to narration by Yuito, portending some kind of grand conspiracy on the horizon. My guess is that the Others are being made or drawn to Earth by bad guys.

86 – 06 – Just a Question of When

Now that the ghostly, ghastly sci-fi horror elements of 86 have been introduced, we look back to worse times when Shin found the headless  corpse of his brother in a once-grand bombed-out city (shades of Osgilliath) four years ago.

Then we look back to better times four months ago, when the ranks of Spearhead were a lot larger and livelier. Anju and Daiya began a kind of tender courtship while Shin lets it all soak in, perhaps knowing full well that it isn’t a matter of if things will go to shit, but when, and for whom.

In the present day it’s a hot July day, and everyone is baking in their metal coffins. They engage in a battle in which they are at a distinct disadvantage without mortar support, which the Republic hasn’t and won’t ever provide. The lighter mood caused by reminiscing about four months ago is shattered when Rikka gets into trouble and Daiya tries to rescue her.

Rikka’s mech is wrecked, and a Legion mech approaches her, she shoots herself in the head, her final words hoping Shin will “take care of things” from there. Daiya is surrounded by horrifying suicide bomber bots, and his last word is Anju who must quickly get over the shock of his loss and continue the battle.

Later, Shin ensures for Daiya what Rikka ensured with her self-inflicted headshot: that neither of them will join the ranks of the undead Legion. He gives Lena the opportunity to shut off the Para-Raid, but she considers it her duty to hear the shot being fired.

Down another two soldiers, Spearhead now has only sixteen soldiers left, and those lost will not be replaced before the next battle. Both the grieving Anju and the others try to hide how much this sucks with protective smiles and cheerfulness. Shin collects two more metal shards to remember Daiya and Rikka, then recalls how his brother hasn’t forgiven him for getting him and their parents killed. His search for his brother’s head continues.

Unlike past episodes that better mixed up Lena and Shin’s experiences, we’re back to one section being all Spearhead and the other being all Lena. It’s Lena’s birthday when Daiya and Rikka die, and Annette makes her a cake and gives her a present. She also casually talks about how 86 are dissected like lab animals if there’s a problem with the Para-Raid, while of  course Republic soldiers are treated far more humanely.

There’s been a tension building for some time between these two between idle chatter about Annette’s suitors and cake ingredients. It doesn’t seem the thoroughly jaded and complacent Annette will ever come around to Lena’s increased empathy for the 86.

Lena’s isolation is further reinforced in her briefing with her uncle. She suggests the Republic deploy the mortars in order to protect the lives of the 86. He responds by again warning her not to “side with the 86”, and that under no circumstances would Republic soldiers ore resources be spent to aid them. As Handler she’s merely responsible for making sure they follow their orders.

But Lena has obviously started to do far more than that. Unlike her uncle and Annette, whom I’m sure believe are “doing all they can”, her threshold for what “what she can” entails continues to expand. She has a corkboard with hand-drawn sketches of the remaining Spearhead soldiers on her desk, while by the window is a crystal case containing those who have been lost.

After signing off with everyone else, Lena is kept on the line by Shin, who voices concern for her because sounds on edge. He suggests she eat some sweets and use the evening to take a break from all these troubles. To Lena, he sounds just like his brother, who gave her chocolate when things were bad. She remarks on how important she regards her memories of him, while also letting slip how important she considers her time talking with with Shin.

When she realizes how that sounds, she turns red as a beet, a color that intensifies when she unwraps the fortune chocolate to reveal a heart. Of course, as she’s an Alba and a Republic Handler while he’s an 86 Processor and it’s a very bad idea to fall in love with him, I won’t go so far as to say nothing good can come of it.

One day, he’ll be the only member of Spearhead left, and then he’ll die. But Shinei Nouzen still won’t die alone, and he won’t be forgotten. It’s not nearly enough, but we can be assured, when that time comes, Lena will do everything she possibly can, even if it makes her a pariah in her world. There’s no going back.

SSSS.Dynazenon – 07 – Mending Dyna-Fences

Out from under the Nihonbashi Bridge comes a pair of newcomers, a cheerful woman and a serious man with silver hair she calls Knight. She says Kaiju appearing in a world “weakens the barrier”, and tells Knight to do his best. He transforms into Gridknight, forces the Eugenicists to withdraw their Kaiju, and for good measure gives Dynazenon a kick for putting on such a pathetic display of ineptitude.

Next time we see the mysterious pair, they’re back on their little boat. Koyomi broke off from the others when he spots Inamoto’s husband among the wreckage and gets him some help, all while Chise is trying to find him. You can cut the moroseness between Yomogi and Yume with a knife, but Gauma still tries to dispel it with some dinner, to no avail.

Knight and his chipper companion then introduce themselves to the Dyna-pilots as the Gridknight Alliance, voicing their intention to collaborate since they have the same mission: protect the world from Kaiju. Gauma dismisses them for suddenly showing up (just like he did). The pilots stay out late in case the Kaiju reppears.

Gauma tells Koyomi someone told him it’s best to “live honestly with one’s feelings” when he hears he saved a man he hates. The person who told Gauma was the woman he’s looking for, whom he also mentions was at “total beauty.” Koyomi and Gauma not even aware Chise is nearby.

With enough time for their lengthy silences in between words to fully play out, Yume and Yomogi finally get around to “making up”. Yomogi asks about Yume’s ankh puzzle, which Kano wouldn’t let her have, but was also in her cold, dead hand. Then Yume opens up about how she and Kano were once close, but drifted apart, and how she can’t stop wondering what her sister’s smile meant the last time she saw her.

Yomogi tears up at the story as superbly delivered by Wakamiya Shion, and tells Yume there’s a lot they don’t know yet, from whether it was suicide to what that parting smile meant. That’s exactly why she shouldn’t give up the investigation, and he’ll stay by her side. When she says Kano was a stranger to him, he responds “if she was a part of you, she’s not some stranger.”

Yume can’t help but giggle at Yomogi’s red, raw eyes and nose, but she also thanks him sincerely, for being by her side, and for shedding tears for her sister.

The next morning, the Kaiju Mujina and Onija were working on all night returns, floating along the surface of the bay like a psychedelic Trojan Horse. With Yomogi, Yume, and Koyomi feeling better after talking things through, Dynazenon has more of a spring in its step in the ensuing battle…if only its ankle weren’t damaged from the previous scrap.

No worries, as Gridknight rejoins the fight and his companion uses the “Fixer Beam” (deployed with a baton, calling to mind Cardcaptor Sakura) to repair Dynazenon so it can fight at 100%. Dyna and Knight put aside their initial hostility and deliver a tag-team beatdown on the Kaiju.

At the end of the battle, Mujina and Onija aren’t discouraged; far from it. Instead, they’re excited for the next battle, when they’ll be able to build on what they learned and perform even better. The Dynas learn Gridknight and Second’s names, and Gauma learns that Second is not to be touched…ever.

After hanging up on Inamoto thanking him for saving her hubby (to whom she vows to be closer than ever after his brush with death), Koyomi rejoins Chise on a bench, where she has a lollipop with his name on it. When he just crunches that bad boy in one defiant bite, Chise smiles and follows suit, glad her senpai is beside her again.

As for Yomogi and Yume, they’re not only talking together, but staning a little closer together on the rooftop, planning their next meeting in the investigation. None of these people are fully “healed” yet, but the difference between how they looked, sounded, and interacted in the depths of last week’s episode and at the end of this one was like night and day.

For all the miracles that take place in their world every day now, getting over their problems isn’t going to happen overnight. But as with the Eugenicists, there’s been an, incremental improvement in attitude and understanding that keeps me optimistic.

86 – 05 – Ghosts In the Machines

This week we learn the details of how Shin’s brother saved Lena’s life when the helicopter she and her father were on crashed. Despite having everything taken from him by the Alba, Shourei was still a proud soldier of the Republic, and saving Lena—and giving her chocolate to eat—was his solemn duty.

Lena had seen and heard from her father how her people had done horrible things to the 86, so when Shourei’s stomach grumbled, she split the chocolate with him. It’s just that by the end of this episode, I wonder if it wouldn’t have been easier for Lena if that approaching Legion had killed her, though even then, it wasn’t a sure thing she’d remain dead.

The morning after reliving the most traumatic experience of her life, Lena is once again approached by Annette, who once again has a tasty dessert for her to try, and shifts the talk to party dresses for the upcoming Revolution Festival. Even Annette’s “memorial” to all her past suitors on the wall remind Lena of the actual memorial she just visited, as well as Shin’s undertaker role.

Even Shin tells Lena to go have fun; she’s not expected to spend all her time with Handler duties. As she talks to Shin, she encounters two other soldiers flirting on the stairs and gets a little flustered herself, but any thoughts of kicking back and partying are dashed when Shin announces out of the blue that the Legion are coming—despite there not being any warnings on Lena’s end.

Shin also makes the unprecedented request that Lena switch off her Para-Raid for the coming battle, as there are a lot of “Black Sheep” approaching. Lena resolutely refuses to disconnect, and Shin makes it clear that he warned her. As Shin and the others engage, Lena starts to hear strange voices among the static: the sounds of peoples’ last moments…including Kaie’s “I don’t want to die.”

The voices keep repeating and echoing in Lena’s head, and immediately it becomes clear why so many other Handlers went mad; even in her bedroom with the Para-Raid deactivated, merely reaching for it causes all the voices to rush back into her head. But while no previous Handler ever called back after hearing the voices, Lena still calls Shin back. She had to; she needs answers to what the hell just happened.

Shin is happy to provide the answers, but they’re all horrific downers. He can always engage the Legion before Lena even gets an alert because he can always hear the voices of ghosts of those who have died, but are still there.

Despite the Republic’s official stance that the war will end in two years when the Legion’s AI will shut down, Shin knows better: the Legion have been taking the brains of fallen 86 and copying them to replace the function of the AI due to shut down, thus extending their operating time—and thus the war—indefinitely.

This means the Republic, whose Alba citizens are so keen to hold swanky parties and get drunk and bang, believe they have the war in the bag when in reality, their defeat is almost assured. Not only will the Legion not shut down, but they’ve been building up their numbers, all while the 86 have dwindled to a smattering of children. Soon, Shin says, all of them will be dead.

When that happens, will the Alba fight in their place? Shin doesn’t think it likely. Even if they did, they’d be outmatched, since some of the brains recovered by the Legion were undamaged enough to create “Shepherds”—ghost commanders who make their Legion units significantly more powerful and adaptive.

Lena says if all that is the case, they simply need to wipe out the Legion before the 86 are wiped out, and before Shin’s service time expires. She wants the two of them to win and survive. But as Shin reveals a huge scar around his neck and recalls his brother choking him and saying “It’s your fault!”, it doesn’t seem Shin is interested in surviving. It’s also looking like his brother’s brain is one of those Shepherds.

Lena’s struggle to bring justice and dignity to the 86 seemed quaint and woefully insufficient before we learned the Republic are actually massive underdogs in this war, which won’t end when they expect it. With all this new information, it almost seems like Lena attending that party with Annette and getting blackout drunk would be equally as productive as anything else she could do.

Maybe that’s why Annette warned Lena not to get too close to the 86: because she too knows the truth (or a measure of it), and that there’s nothing left for them to do but enjoy life while the living’s good.

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