Jujutsu Kaisen – 21 – Naisupitchi!

Guy with the sword with a hand for the grip—who I’ll just call “Guy”—is retreating from the academy through an underground tunnel when a severely injured Hanami smashes through the walls. Guy is ready to put Hanami out of his misery when Mahito appears, telling him that as a human he shouldn’t act alone.

Back on the beach, Hanami and Mahito rejoin Jougo and Getou (and … er … Zoidberg? is still swimming in the ocean). Getou explains to Jougo how Mahito was able to get past the academy barrier maintained by a sorcerer named Tengen: by placing a charm made of Mahito’s Cursed Energy on the finger of Sukuna they collected.

Suffice it to say, thanks to the successful raid on Jujutsu High, their plan is right on track, with Getou setting October 31 and Shibuya as the day and the place they want to unleash the “bomb” that is Sukuna. Meanwhile, the higher-ups of Tokyo and Kyoto meet and agree to keep the theft of the special-grade objects a secret among them, still unsure what the enemy is about to achieve.

We then shift to the infirmary where Yuuji and Nobara are visiting Megumi and eating pizza. This is a momentous occasion, because it’s the first time since Yuuji came “back from the dead” that the three friends have been able to simply kick back! So of course “Big Bro Aoi” has to muscle his way in, leading to him chasing Yuuji around the academy campus.

That brings us to the question: What of the Exchange Event? Rather than be cancelled, everyone agrees it should continue, though with the group event of the first day over, most expect the second day to take its typical form: individual battles. However, when the form of competition is drawn from a box, it’s baseball, so we get a baseball game!

I love baseball, particularly the unique style Japan brings to the game, so I was fine with this! Maki, as you’d expect, can both pitch and hit at an elite level, while Nobara can man the hot corner and beat out a grounder. Kamo Noritoshi (who really should be wearing a helmet) uses the opportunity to speak to Yuuji, who until a few hours ago he was trying to murder.

When Nori hears that the reason Yuuji became a sorcerer, he’s surprised to find it largely matches what his own ostracized mother said to him before they parted ways: save a lot of people so they’ll help you in turn, or even just be with you at your end. After a Nobara hit (off a Mechamaru pitching machine) and a perfect sacrifice bunt from Megumi, Maki socks one out of the park, only for the flying Momo to catch it—which is allowed because they’re short on players.

Maki gets her revenge when Aoi steps to the plate, beaning him as he’s telling Yuuji how he hopes he’ll pitch to him someday, which…there’s just no way to say that without it sounding like something else entirely. (Everyone casually saying “Nice Pitch!” when Maki plunks Aoi is *chefs kiss*.) When Yuuji comes to the plate, the two principals discuss the Yuuji conundrum. The strict interpretation of their laws says he shouldn’t exist, and Gojou’s selfishness kept him alive at the cost of many lives.

At the same time, there’s no denying that Yuuji’s being alive has saved lives that would have otherwise been lost. They tentatively agree to simply continue watching him as they weigh the pros and cons. After all, if they kill him for good they can’t undo it…again…I presume! It’s fitting that Yuuji is the one to hit the homer that puts Tokyo up 2-0, which ends up being the final score thanks to Maki’s lights-out pitching.

The show proved that it can animate baseball (or at least baseball-ish) action just as impressively as it does its battle scenes, while the on-screen graphics were full of great jokes, like the fact that Mei totally stole the ripe mango Kasumi was saving from the fridge…and that despite being able to actually say the word “rice”, Inumaki prefers bread for breakfast.

If there’s one mild complaint I have about Jujutsu Kaisen, it’s that the main trio have been apart more than they haven’t. The preview indicates Yuuji, Nobara and Megumi will be working next case together, which is just what I was hoping for as this second cour starts to wind down.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Oregairu 3 – 09 – The Secret Ingredient

One morning over coffee Hikki is so honest and upfront with Komachi, she’s a little creeped out. It’s just not like him…only now, it kinda is. Bottom line: things happened. A lot of things. Komachi asks for details, and he promises to tell her everything “when it’s all over”. Until then, their celebration will be small and family-only, to avoid awkwardness.

Hikki’s awkwardness with Yui only lasts as long as she allows it, which is not long at all! She scolds Hikki for communicating through LINE messages rather than just talking. Her breaking the ice helps make Hikki more comfortable for when he takes her aside, by the swings, to ask her what her wish is.

Before that though, Hikki simply revels in being able to pleasantly chat with Yui like this, saying “nothing of importance” and pretending everything is normal…but considers simply going on doing that to be betraying himself. So he asks her something important, and Yui takes advantage of the request to basically stall, asking for a number of little things while she thinks about the main thing.

We’re already well aware of what Yui wants: she wants it all—And frankly, she deserves it! She wants Hikki, romantically. She wants to remain best friends with Yukino. And she wants the three of them to continue to be together. All of those things at once aren’t possible, and yet one cannot separate one part of that wish from the others and still have it be her wish…any more than you can pull the sugar and flour out of a baked cake.

Throughout the episode, Touyama Nao’s voice acting is phenomenal in its bittersweetness, and Yui’s face game is truly god-level. The next morning, at the shoe lockers, Hikki is confronted by Yumiko, who is direct in her intentions: Yui is a friend mine, so don’t be half-assed about this” or I’ll be royally pissed. Hikki is heartened by the gesture; Yumiko really is a good person!

Hikki also runs into Yukino and Iroha while he’s walking with Yui (a fact Iroha is quick to point out), and some extremely cordial chit-chat about how they’re doing ensues. Yukino labors to find the words for their situation, which is neither peachy nor dire, but waves off any attempts for Hikki to help; later Iroha tells him he’s free to do so whenever he wants as far as she’s concerned.

After that almost painfully diplomatic exchange, Yui takes Hikki aside and invites him to her house on Saturday…to make a cake for Komachi, like they’d planned earlier. Yui informs him her mom will be joining them to offer pointers.

Hikki expects the ensuing visit to be awkward, and it kinda is, especially when Yui’s mom isn’t around when he first arrives, and he and Yui simply sit close together while she looks over recipes. Then Yui’s mom pops up like a shinobi, the trio is off to the grocery store and from there, Hikki is in Yuigahama Heaven.

For one lovely evening the awkwardness generally melts away and Hikki and Yui go about making cute little fruit tarts with and without chocolate, one of which he feeds him by having him say “ahh”. When her mom brings up the absolutely crucial “secret ingredient” and asks Hikki to guess what it is, instead of saying the obvious “love” he says “devotion”…which is very on point for Hikki.

As Yui walks Hikki home, they both agree that making things together was and is a lot of fun. Hikki gives Yui the gift of cookies to repay her for those she made him (another Hikki trait: never taking a gift without offering renumeration) He again wishes he could continue living his days granting all of Yui’s wishes one by one, but dismisses that as “impossible fantasy”.

Speaking of awkward, with all the Hikki-and-Yui quality time this week, the shift to the seniors’ farewell ceremony, including emotional speeches from Iroha and Meguri-senpai, felt a little out of place, as if it was tacked on to the end of the episode because there was extra time left.

That said, Iroha uses the opportunity to tell Hikki she has a little job for him to “throw his back into” with his usual vim and vigor. Her impending request and some scenes from the preview suggest that despite Yukino’s insistence on it not being necessary, Hikki will be lending a hand with the prom after all.

Deca-Dence – 02 – A Bug’s Second Life

Well now…that was weird. Deca-Dence completely changes gears in its second episode, all but putting Natsume’s story on hold to answer some of the most pressing questions of the opening outing. Why is Kaburagi so good at fighting? He was once a high-ranking Gear. Why is he collecting “chips” from random humans in the shadows? It’s the true nature of the new job given to him after falling from the system’s good graces.

What was the deal with that crazy Yellow Submarine-like city at the end of the last episode? Well, uh…that’s actually Kaburagi’s reality. His human form is only an avatar, and Deca-Dence is a huge and elaborate entertainment facility run by the all-powerful Solid Quake Corporation.

The Gears are all like him: robot-like beings liking in the corporations “Chimney Town” when not playing Deca-Dence. Only the Tankers are all real human beings—the last of their species.

That’s…a lot, but what’s so incredible is how organically all this new information fits into what we’ve seen thus far, and how everything that seemed a little “off” about last week is logically explained here. And in an extended flashback to seven years ago, we see Kaburagi and his elite ranker team. They all sport odd skin and hair color because they’re not really human, just avatars.

Kaburagi is in the Top-5 Gears in all of Deca-Dence, but he can feel he’s reached his peak and bracing for the down-slope. On the other hand, his young and eager comrade Mikey is slowly rising in the ranks, with much the same stats as Kaburagi in his prime. When not playing, Kaburagi is ingesting Oxyone like all the other people in Chimney Town, or getting stimulation in the form of “beam” sessions.

While Kaburagi sees a bright future for Mikey, Mikey himself is impatient, and feels something is missing, namely the ability to release his limiter, a risky maneuver that will give him enhanced strength and speed in the game.

Now that Mikey knows what it’s liked to be a ranker, he no longer wants to feel like he’s “replaceable” (even though he kinda unwittingly is replacing Kaburagi). After quite a bit of begging Kaburagi relents and shows Mikey how to do it.

However, Mikey gets caught as a cheater and labeled a “bug” by Hugin, the stoic, matter-of-fact system administrator. Mikey gets scrapped and the entire ranker team disbanded. While all of Kaburagi’s other teammates were sent into confinement for refusing their next assignment, Kaburagi decides not to go against the system today so he can live to possibly fight it another day.

The nature of Kaburagi’s new job? He’s demoted to armor repairer with the Tankers, but that’s just his day job. By night he’ll be a “recovery agent”, collecting the chips from humans deemed by the Hugin to be “bugs” that could harm the system.

Now that (mostly) all has been explained, we return to Natsume incessantly begging Kaburagi to train her to fight. Having already lost a dad and an arm to combat, she isn’t fazed in the slightest by the gory aftermath of the Gadoll battle. No doubt Kaburagi compares her to Mikey, who also begged to be more significant and paid the price for it.

Even when Natsume halfheartedly tries to blackmail him with a photo she took with Pipe, Kaburagi won’t budge on helping her. However, one night she spots him sneaking around in the shadows and catches him removing a chip from someone. Of course, not knowing his story, as far as she knows he’s just robbing him because he’s hard up for cash.

Natsume gets Kaburagi to promise not to rob anyone else, and stop talking about it being “over” for him. Little does she know he’s telling the truth, as he’s been intentionally refraining from ingesting oxyone or rebooting, which will eventually lead to shutdown—a slow suicide, if you will.

Kaburagi always assumed that Natsume was another bug—maybe even the next on the list provided by Hugin. But when he scans her face, he finds no data among the current population of Tankers, and a deeper search reveals that she was listed as deceased way back when her dad died and she lost her arm.

That means she’s not only a bug in the system, but one that’s outside it’s control due to the lack of a chip. If the system won’t recognize her, or believes she’s of no value, then he’ll recognize her. He finally ingests the oxyone, crediting her with saving him from an early demise, agrees to train her, and shows her around the swanky Gears’ base.

The more I learn about this weird whimsical world, the more I like it, and the more invested I am in watching how Kaburagi and Natsume manage to resist a cruel system that considers her an anomaly to be eradicated. Deca-Dence has exhibited a willingness to take big bold risks in each of its first two episodes, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 01 – The Price

When we last saw Kirito and Alice, Eugeo had just died, Administrator was defeated but not killed, and Kirito had lost his right arm and his fluctlight fried by some kind of power surge. This exemplary episode is all about the aftermath of those events, both immediately following them and some months later.

Aside from Rintarou Okabe or Natsuki Subaru, I can’t think of a protagonist in recent anime memory who has suffered as much or fallen quite as low as Kirigaya Kazuto. He was being kept alive in Underworld, devoid of memories, but after saving that world from a tyrant, he lost even more. In the present, autumn is falling on Underworld, and Kirito is a mute, emotionless husk under Alice’s care—with frequent visits from her sister Selka.

Alice is no slouch in the loss department either. She may have regained a sister and, incidentally, her freedom from the Axiom Church and Order of Integrity Knights, but she lost Eugeo, one of the best friends whom she’d forgotten, while the other of those friends in Kirito is the aforementioned husk. It’s ultimately Alice’s episode, and it’s an unyielding portrait of anguish.

Alice scratches out a meager wage felling trees with her sword skills, incomparable to anyone else in the village. The villagers need her help to make progress, but suck their teeth behind her back and even mess with the minimally-responsive Kirito and the Blue Rose Sword he inherited from Eugeo. It doesn’t matter that Alice, Kirito, and Eugeo saved them from Administrator’s evil plans; they just don’t like them.

Knowing Kirito wouldn’t be safe anywhere near the Cathedral, she tried to return to Rulid Village, but her own father shunned her, so she settled in a cabin on the town’s outskirts with Kirito and her loyal (and adorable) dragon Amayori. It would be a happy life—were it not for Kirito’s condition and the still-looming Dark Territory situation.

The tranquil, picturesque surroundings call to mind Kirito and Asuna’s cabin, once the site of so much joy. But while Alice and Selka try to make the best of things, there’s no escaping the fact this is an extremely dismal situation, with no immediate sign that things will get any better.

Quite the contrary: with Administrator off in some other dimension, the world of men has never been more vulnerable to incursions of orcs and goblins from the Dark Territory. Bercouli musters his fellow Integrity Knights and starts re-training lower-ranked forces Admin had banished, but the time of the titular War of Underworld is just over the silver mountain horizons in the background of those gorgeous vistas.

Eldrie is on a mission to confirm the various tunnels into their lands have been blasted to slow the enemy’s advance, but his dragon senses his younger sibling Amayori and thus Alice. Eldrie begs her to rejoin the knights and join the fight. Alice doesn’t tell him she won’t, but that she can’t. Even if she didn’t have to care for Kirito, she can no longer wield her sword. Eldrie reluctantly accepts this and the two part ways cordially.

As Alice turns in with Kirito, sharing his bed to keep him warm or just so she can have human contact, her remaining eye fills with tears as she asks Kirito just what the hell she should do. After all these months with no progress, I imagine she’s starting to lose hope he’ll ever recover, and in the meantime has been coping, enduring, and operating on inertia.

When Kirito suddenly moves as if reacting to something, there’s a sudden glimmer of hope that’s just as quickly snatched away—he’s only reacting reflexively, as Amayori does. You see, fires are blazing in the direction of the town and there are sounds of fighting—no doubt a Dark Territory raid. So yeah, no hope, just more awful shit to deal with.

As all this is happening in Underworld, we have no idea what is transpiring in the real world with Asuna on the Ocean Turtle. While I’m no sucker for punishment, I do appreciate the bleak depths to which our heroes have fallen, because it will make it that much more compelling if and when they manage to claw themselves out. That’s why we must watch.

Happy Sugar Life – 12 (Fin) – Nothing But Fun

That’s what Matsuzaka Satou sought for her and for Koube Shio: a world without bitterness or pain; i.e. a world quite the opposite of the one they’d inhabited to that point. Their love for, acceptance of and devotion to one another is the fuel that keeps them moving toward that goal—that, and Auntie’s trash bag full of cash.

All that’s left is to go to the airport, let Auntie do her work, be rid of the old sad bitter world forever, and when they step off the airplane they’ll be in a happy sugar world, where they’ll never have to suffer or despair again, and where they’ll have each other.

That was the plan, at least. Ironically, it’s Satou’s love that makes her take off her ring, so it won’t be sullied by the work of dressing Shouko’s corpse (if she is, in fact, 100% dead when we see her). Forgetting that ring, that symbol of their love, and going back for it at the worst possible time, proves to be Satou’s undoing.

Auntie ties Taiyou up in between “abusing” him—rape is heavily implied)—she didn’t gag him, perhaps because she liked hearing him squeal. That preference is also her undoing (if she cared about self-preservation, of course), as he’s able to get a call to Asahi telling him where he is.

Asahi arrives just as Taiyou escapes—and happens to bump into Satou and Shio in the lobby. They should never have come back for a stupid ring.

Satou and Shio head upstairs to find Taiyou, but they get away from him as well (he’s tied up) as Auntie, who assumes Satou is well on her way to freedom (and damn well should be) ignites the fire on the twelfth floor that will engulf Shouko and supposedly, any evidence tying her to Satou.

Asahi hurries to Room 1205 and finds Shouko there, dead and surrounded by flames, inflaming his rage even more. When he, Satou and Shio cross paths again, he lets her have it with his bat, injuring her leg, but Shio steps between them to prevent further violence.

Shio, exercising her own agency, tells her brother she’s done with her family, and all she wants or needs is Satou, and he’s just going to have to deal. Asahi tells her that their mother only abandoned her because she was in over her head and didn’t want to become their monster father (whom she poisoned to death).

But it doesn’t really matter why she did it anymore; Shio has moved on and isn’t coming back. She’s going to live for herself now, as Asahi should learn to do, rather than defining his life as finding and protecting her. Just then, the flames cut their chat short, and Satou and Shio make a run for the roof…where they are trapped.

Shio tells Satou that it would be alright if they die together by jumping, because they’ll surely be reborn together in that new world they’ve been hoping to reach (but again, couldn’t thanks to one dumb ring).

That potential New Happy Sugar Life flashes before them as they fall, but Satou makes one small change to Shio’s plan: she doesn’t let Shio die, shielding her from the impact of the ground with her larger body.

Shio survives, but Satou does not. She and Shouko are mentioned in the same news report, but as casualties of the fire, not murderer and victim.

Rather, Auntie is suspected, and gladly surrenders herself, having done everything she could for the sake of her niece’s love. Satou’s teacher is arrested in front of his family, Taiyou continues to obsess over his angel in his room.

As for Shio, she’s in hospital, and Asahi comes to visit her, promising to fill the void left by their parents, by society, and finally, by the loss of Satou. But Shio smiles in a very Satou-esque way; there is no void, not from her perspective.

Shio believes Satou sacrificed herself and became a part of her—which is kind of true, in an emotional sense—and as such Shio feels she’ll never be alone again. She still doesn’t need Asahi. She gained more than she lost, and she’s resolved to live her best life for herself and Satou. How exactly she’ll be supporting herself, a minor with no money or job, is left unspecified.

HSL is the story of deeply damaged people and the different ways the consequences of that damage unfold in their lives. There’s a solid causality to everything that, while hardly absolving most anyone of their numerous crimes or obsessions, at least explains them satisfactorily, and makes them subjects of pity rather than simple loathing.

People can grow up to be decent people even if there’s abuse or trauma in their lives, and without traditional families, or no families at all. But that’s an ideal; it doesn’t always happen. It usually doesn’t happen. And when it does (see Taiyou) it doesn’t always mean someone will “turn out” “alright.”

But even in the darkest places, some small amount of light can emerge, some small amount of happiness can be found, and a sweet but twisted love can take root between kindred damaged souls, filling their jars and giving them reason to keep living.

Darling in the FranXX – 22 – Nothing Remains Stagnant

The aftermath of the huge battle between the Klaxosaurs and VIRM is even more bleak than that following the destruction of Plantation 13. Squad 13 are just trying to scrape by with their year of rations remaining, hoping to grow crops to one day restock their food supply.

The goal to survive, not fight, hasn’t changed, but nearly everything else has. Everyone is worn out and hungry. A pregnant Kokoro can barely keep down the tiny ration food she’s eating. Zero Two is in a vegetative state, and worryingly, cuts are starting to appear on her arms out of nowhere.

Zero Two kept her promise and went to where Hiro was, but despite sitting right beside him, Zero Two is currently too far away for him to keep his.

The Klaxosaurs don’t offer any help; they’re busy fighting the VIRM, and the dead bodies of both entities falling to the ground, narrowly missing their meager crops. Adults like “New Nana” don’t help, absent explicit orders from “Papa” (who let’s face it, is never “coming home”.)

Finally, Kokoro collapses and upon examination learns she is pregnant. All Nana says that means is that she can’t pilot a FranXX as long as she remains with child. She gives her the option to abort the fetus or not, but carrying the child to term isn’t mentioned.

It seems clear at this point that Mitsuru remembers something of his role in Kokoro’s current situation; how else to explain how helpless he feels in wanting to help her. He reaches out to Hiro, but Hiro has is own problems, and feels just as helpless over his inability to help the one he loves.

The episode continues to pile on, as Squad 13 wakes up to find their crops are not long for this world, apparently due to nutrient deficiency in the soil as a result of magma energy mining. The world itself seems to be rejecting their existence.

Two Adults who look to contribute a crucial role in helping the children survive and create a future are Hachi and Nana. After what he heard from and saw with Dr. Franxx, Hachi isn’t your typical adult human automaton, and follows the late doctor’s posthumous e-mail, retrieving Nana and discovering that all of the rejected parasites are in cryo-sleep.

Franxx’ last orders for Hachi and Nana were to become the surviving children’s new adults, and to take care of them until they can take care of themselves.

While chasing a “sleepwalking” Zero Two, Hiro witnesses wounds spontaneously appearing. He finally discovers the reason after reading her last illustrated page of her storybook, in which the prince is “left alone” when the princess has to go far away. Zero Two’s mind is still one with Strelizia Apath, which is out in space fighting against the VIRM. Its wounds become her body’s wounds.

At around the same time, Goro and Hachi learn that Mistleteinn still has soil with enough nutrients to grow viable crops, allowing them to survive after their rations run out.

Hiro and Goro’s opposing positions on how to proceed clash when Hiro announces to the others that he’s going to space (specifically, Mars orbit) to where Strelizia is fighting. Keeping his promise to Zero Two is the only reason he’s alive.

Goro is pissed by Hiro’s selfishness, but also the timing of his announcement, just when he’s found a glimmer of hope for the rest of them. But there’s no convincing either of them that the other is right. Hiro will go to space, and the others can’t stop him.

Meanwhile, Nana, who had been convinced she no longer served a purpose, finds a new one in comforting a crying injured parasite.

After saying goodbye to Zero Two, Hiro prepares to launch, using the Klaxosaur ship left to them by the princess, along with the choice to “fight or accept your ruin.” Well, turns out nobody wants to accept their ruin, because every Squad 13 and Nine member who is able decides to join Hiro on his interplanetary odyssey, committed to making sure it isn’t a one-way trip.

They’ll go to Mars, help/save Strelizia, come back, and build their future—because while nothing is ever stagnant, they deserve a little stability after how hard they’ve worked, fought, and suffered.

Kujira no Kora wa Sajou ni Utau – 03

The docile, frightened, and mostly defenseless denizens of Falaina are absolutely no match for the surprise attack by the efficient, emotionless raiding parties of Skylos, who use their thymia to kill with rifles, spears, swords and maces. Chakuro tries to run away carrying Sami, but he trips, and the way her body falls indicates that she’s already dead.

Ouni manages to get released from his cell, and proves more than capable of killing a good number of the enemy…but one man simply won’t be enough. Back in the fields, soldiers advance on Chakuro, but in his combined grief and rage he manages to hold them off with his Thymia until Lykos arrives.

Lykos, or rather Lykos “#32” as she’s called by an oddly giddy and sadistic pink-haired associate who holds a high rank among the enemy, was originally sent to exterminate Falaina. It would appear she failed, and regained emotions.

Now her brother, Commander Orka, is content to leave her on Falaina as a human experiment, to see how long she lasts among the “sinners.” The enemy withdraws, but after torturing two of their soldiers, Ouni learns they’ll be back in just a week’s time. Lykos, it would seem, has picked Chakuro and Falaina over her brother and home country.

It doesn’t look like pacifism and negotiation are in the cards, nor does there seem to be a “misunderstanding.” The people of Falaina are in a war with their very existence in the balance, period. While it isn’t great to see Ouni shed so much blood on his own, I see few alternatives.

As for Chakuro, after a gorgeous but immensely sad funeral service for the dozens lost, including Sami, he simply wishes he could die right then and there. He doesn’t want to be in this world anymore.

Who can blame him? I’m not even sure I want to be here. While the heroic arc obviously requires some initial hardship to be overcome, it was not fun watching men, women, and children callously mowed down. There also seemed to be a lot of the enemy soldiers simply…standing around for long pauses while their victims try to process what’s happening.

Other than Ouni, Lykos, and maaaybe Chakuro (if he can learn to control his power) this entire community looks utterly unequipped for the conflict ahead. Hopefully a few steadfast defenders will be able to curb further slaughter.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 46

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Once Shino’s suit blows up, there’s not enough time for Mika to take over the task of destroying Rustal’s bridge (nor is he assured to succeed). Besides, Mika is still busy with a very pesky Julieta. When Shino dies, we see a switch go off in Mika’s head: no more messing around with this relative amateur: Get out of my way.

After that, Julieta is lucky to escape with her life and limbs. But even when her suit is impaled, she still grabs on to Mika. Every moment he must fight her is a victory for her, especially considering she’s merely a human pilot, albeit a talented one; she hasn’t sold her soul to any technological devils. Julieta may be on the wrong side, but I still admire the hell out of her.

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Gaelio, who is tired to no end of McGillis’ bullshit, is determined to kill his former friend and commmander, a man who once inspired him. And to his credit, he seems to be doing quite well in his duel, even mocking McGillis for being so arrogant about piloting a suit with the soul of G-horn’s founder. And to the duel’s credit, it’s another brutal, beam-weapon-less smash-fest.

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In a crucial moment, the hand Almiria stabbed fails Macky, and Gaelio almost gets him, if it weren’t for somebody Gaelio sees his past self in: Isurugi. Someone hypnotised by the BS and whose head is filled with dreams that will never coalesce, but which will end only in his ruin.

Gaelio isn’t wrong about what happens: Isurugi’s last-ditch defense of his commander claims his life. But Isurugi wasn’t from a great family; he was colonist and a commoner, and being with McGillis allowed him to dream big, so big that he didn’t even need to be around to see those dreams fulfilled, as long as he was useful to McGillis.

It’s not a one-sided thing to him, in which Macky takes and the world makes. McGillis gave hope to the hopeless, and they gave him their lives.

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IBO has always had exciting battles, but it’s often the aftermaths of those battles that I’m more invested in, and that’s the case here. The “final battle” wasn’t final and wasn’t a battle so much as a rout, in which McGillis’ shorthanded fleet poked the bear and got mauled.

But Tekkadan isn’t just a military organization like G-horn, they’re a family, and to see Shino and others buy it not for final victory, but just so the rest of the family can live to fight another day (which they were hoping not to do) is particularly despairing.

There’s a great moment when Derma is wishing he had died alongside his friend, rather than losing an arm and becoming less useful as a weapon. Akihiro puts his hand on his head and simply thanks him for surviving. Aki doesn’t care about his adoptive brother’s future effectiveness as a weapon. He cares about being able to talk to him.

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Shaking off the loss of his most loyal lieutenant, it’s full-speed ahead to Mars for McGillis, who has the awkward task of having to call Orga and Eugene to his ship to talk about what happens next, even though the battle they just fought was supposed to be the final one.

At this particular juncture, McGillis believes, or at least gives the impression that he believes, Tekkadan will weather these setbacks and terrible odds as they always have, better than the group’s actual leaders. Orga likely never considered that whatever loses they sustained in the battle with Rustal would only be the beginning; that all those losses gave them was time.

The significance McGillis places on “flying over Mars” and fighting on “home ground” in the next leg of the battle couldn’t feel more hollow, because there wasn’t supposed to be a next leg.

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I loved the scene where Akihiro comforted Derma, but I loved the scene with a recovering Julieta and Gaelio even more. The second he appears, the playful adversity picks right back up, with her wondering what took him so long to visit her after she woke up.

In some Gundams, no doubt this would be a scene in which the injured pilot double down and decides that, like Gaelio, there’s no price she won’t pay, nothing she wouldn’t give up, to become stronger; strong enough to beat Mika. Julieta doesn’t go there.

Having faced off against the terrifying, inhuman might of Mikazuki, she’s decided that’s not her path. Even if she didn’t see the malice in Mika’s real face, his Barbatos’ “expression” mirrored his own. Julieta will become stronger as a human, as herself. No shortcuts.

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Having come back from that deeply unpleasant meeting with McGillis, Orga inspects a room full of body bags filled with comrades for whom he promised a warm place to live and make money without bloodshed. Yamagi, still reeling from the loss of Shino, expresses his resentment for what he sees as cowardly whining by Orga.

When Eugene tracks Yamagi down, he thanks him for tellking Orga what he couldn’t say. Then he tells Yamagi about a time Shino pondered whether Yamagi liked him, and expressed his gratitude that their family is full of so many different types of guys, including a guy who’d love someone like him.

Yamagi knows Shino wouldn’t want him to worry about having not died with him, but to live on, fight on, and make him proud. Just as Isurugi gave his life for a dream he’ll never see, so did Shino, and both went out perfectly fine with that arrangement. No one cursed their lot in life, because they were the lives they chose.

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We end with another excellent Orga-and-Mika scene, in which Orga admits all the lies and big talk he told everyone about money and status and one last battle. Mika, true to his Mika-ness, tells him if there’s someone to blame, it’s him. Orga only “lied” because Mika couldn’t wipe everyone out. His failure to do so only steels him to want to correct that failure in the battles to come.

Orga seems to get it, finally: he’s never had to bear the entire weight of the decisions that have led to their current situation, because they were never his and his alone. They were also Mika’s, and Eugene’s, and Akihiro’s, and everyone else’s, because Orga isn’t a dictator. The things they’ve done are things everyone more or less agreed to or went along with.

On the one hand, most of Tekkadan can’t easily walk away, like Zack could (but likely won’t). But the responsibility lies with everyone. Orga’s most important job is to not have doubts, and as Macky sends Tekkadan and what’s left of his fleet into a Martian trap, a absolute lack of doubt is vital to just keep going.

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Kuromukuro – 23

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I must say I didn’t expect Yukina, Ken, and Muetta to go to school what with everything that’s going on, but it’s not as if there’s that much more for them to do. The Efidolg are being really really nice in not trying to kill anyone else or attempting to secure either the Kuromukuro or Muetta’s glongur, but the Earthlings don’t really have a plan for how to proceed quite yet. As such, we get a calm-bef0re-the-storm episode, and a fair amount of fanservice, starting with Muetta in Yukina’s spare uni.

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In this calm, both Ken and Muetta try to figure out what they’re going to do with themselves if and when Earth survives the Efidolg onslaught. Again, the timing for a career counseling session seems a bit odd, but I appreciated the practicality of a samurai figuring out something else to do with his life – though I’m pretty sure he could make good money in the modern world demonstrating his fighting skills for education, entertainment, or both.

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As for Muetta, she is even more a fish out of water than Ken, since she’s not sure who or what she is anymore, whereas at least he had his ideals and an object of devotion in Yukihime. Just as the other teacher gives Ken some sage (if somewhat obvious) advice about the future, Marina also flexes her counseling skills by telling Muetta not to despair in her new situation, but to take life by the horns, as all humans do.

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I enjoyed Muetta’s reaction to the deliciousness of omelette rice (and the speed with which she consumed it), her description of the sustenance she’s used to (“square”), and her general bemusement with English loan words and earth technology (like “movies”). Ken is equally amusing as unreliable translator – the blind leading the blind.

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Most importantly, Ken has made peace with the fact that Muetta is not Yukihime, but her own person…and he wants her to fight with them. He expresses this wish during a shoot for a movie, the script for which Carlos has been working on since the attack and by all accounts seems completely absurd and incomprehensible.

I’ve gone on record as not being the biggest fan of Carlos or his desire to be remembered, but the shoot is fine harmless fun, even if it’s mostly a chance to see various characters in different outfits.

This was a quiet, somewhat rambling episode, but it wasn’t entirely pointless, and is likely the last episode of its kind. With only three left, Kuromukuro needs to get down to the business of thwarting the Efidolg threat.

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Kuromukuro – 22

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With Kurobe Lab captured, its remaining staff brainwashed, and the Pivot Stone in Efidolg hands, the enemy halts its advance, allowing the good guys a measure of uneasy peace this week. Zell pays a visit to the Shirahane household to tell the story of how he met and befriended their husband and father Takehito.

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From the moment Zell jumps out of the shadows when Takehito tries to cut himself (to lure the “ogre” to his trap after many other baits failed), their entire interaction is pure gold. I love how unafraid Takehito is of Zell, and how Zell, while a little weirded out by this guy just runs with it, inviting him to his cave for some tasty boil-in-a-bag, showing him where he came from, and warning him of the Efidolg threat.

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Yukina’s father parted ways with Zell but got caught in a sudden snowstorm that claimed his life. Koharu would’ve just been a baby when this happened, but Yukina regrets calling her dad a liar, when he was right about everything. The “ogres” (or “oni”) that are a part of Japanese legend were actually ancient aliens.

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That night, as Yukishi says a prayer for Takehito, Muetta…wanders off, but not back to the Efidolg. She actually has no idea where she belongs anymore, only that it isn’t here. She can’t get the childhood memory of her homeworld out of her head, and the fact that memory may be fake doesn’t make it feel any less real or powerful.

Ken and Yukina go out to look for her, but the activated Pivot Stone lowers the temperature of the vicinity significantly, causing premature snow. Yukina trips and falls into a snowdrift, but Koharu’s ferret finds her, runs back to Muetta, then leads her Lassie-style to Yukina.

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Once again proving she’s not evil, Muetta strips down and warms the freezing Yukina up with her own body heat, causing Yukina to wake up very confused, but then very grateful for saving her life (and I’ll just say Ken really dropped the ball leaving Yukina behind without making sure she got back home safely.) When Muetta breaks down into tears at her frustration of not knowing where to go or what to do, Yukina gives her the only thing she can: a comforting hug and her belief that everything will be fine.

Like everyone else in this episode (who hasn’t been brainwashed), all Muetta and Yukina can really do is keep on surviving. Muetta notes that the premature Winter is the effect of the Pivot Stone, which will soon open a “star path” for the main Efidolg invasion force—if it isn’t open already. I simply don’t see how anyone survives if that force reaches Earth, so if anyone has an idea how to stop it and send the Efidolgs packing, now’s the time.

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91 Days – 12 (Fin)

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With Avilio’s grand revenge plan all but complete (but for Nero), this final episode is not a lot more than an extended epilogue in which the remainder of the Vanettis are wiped out, Avilio is captured by Nero, and the two kind of dance around each other until Nero finally does what he needs to do.

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I’ll be honest: I’ve never been fully emotionally invested in any of the characters, even Avilio, and was never all that big a fan of Nero, so watching all of the underlings, whom I often couldn’t tell apart from each other, was a bit of a bore. Not to mention the tommy guns in this show were way too reliable (not a serious criticism, just sayin’).

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I’ve also expected for a while now that Avilio would eventually end up succeeding but feeling utterly unfulfilled, in the same way Vincent was when he killed the Lagusas seven years ago, so the campfire confrontation isn’t all that impactful. These are two people who have been set up from the start to be unhappy and alone, and they’ve done too much to each other for there to be any outcome but one or both of them ending up dead.

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The bottom line: any and all hope this show had was wiped out back when Avilio killed Corteo, believing that last shedding of his humanity would be worth it, but it wasn’t. Avilio and Nero have a pleasant final road trip to the seaside, but only Nero gets back in the car and drives away, and we have no reason to believe he’ll be alive long with the new Don Strega and the long arm of the Galassias after him.

As their two pairs of footsteps are washed away by the waves, the lesson of 91 Days is clear: if you’re going to kill a family in a mafia coup, make sure you get all that family’s members. Nero can blame Avilio all he likes, but it was his nervousness/mercy that kept Angelo alive, leading to a life spent—wasted—planning only revenge.

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91 Days – 03

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Things went down much faster than expecting in last week’s outing, with Avilio taking out Vanno, only to have a gun pulled on him by Nero. Turns out Nero is willing to hear him out – if they can locate Serpente’s body.

We also meet Don Orco (or should I say Orca?), who is reeeeally particular about the butter content of his lasagna, as is Fango. Where they disagree is on the nature of the response to the apparent death of Serpente. Fango wants a war; Orco wants to make the Galassias happy.

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With an assist from Colteo, Avilio locates Cerotto, the guy who sold Serpente’s body to the prohibition official, and locates the place where the body is being stashed. Unfortunately, Fango spots Nero by pure chance (I know tinted windows weren’t around back then, but what about curtains?) and is led to the same place.

Avilio wears Serpente’s suit and a burlap sack on his head to fool Fango into giving up his Vanetti hostage, but like the hit on Fango, it goes sour. Fortunately, Avilio and Nero make it out unscathed; unfortunately, a war between the families is all but inevitable…which is just fine with Fango.

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After this latest ordeal, perhaps still stung by grief over losing his friend Vanno, Nero softens towards Avilio once more, even turning his back on him. When Nero’s brother insists he get the hell out of dodge until things blow over, Avilio volunteers to be his driver.

You can kinda tell Nero still isn’t anywhere near 100% sold on Avilio, but if he still suspects him of some kind of treachery, better to keep him close than let him operate out of sight. Avilio, meanwhile, has had nearly everything fall into his lap so far. Is the universe compensating for his past suffering?

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We indeed see the grief Nero feels for his fallen friend when he falls to his knees at the funeral. Avilio is sent back to the car, but he still turns back to get a good look at what he has wrought. At this point, he must be content not to give the game away until he’s wiped out the Vanettis entirely. Long game stuff.

Of course, with a call coming in to a hitman ordering him to go after Nero and Avilio, we can expect things to get even tougher for our antihero after his initial small victories.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 23

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Commander Carta Issue is ready to accept the consequences for her latest humiliating failure at the hands of Tekkadan, but Lord Iznario says she’s being given one last shot to redeem her pride honor. It’s thanks to an unlikely benefactor: McGillis himself, whom Carta can’t help but blush before when they meet on the stairs.

Carta may believe herself a worthless, humiliating failure, but she forgets that when she and McGillis were kids, she always treated him as an equal, despite everyone around them saying they weren’t because of Gill’s low parentage. All that mattered to Carta was that McGillis was a Fareed, and he should always stand proud and strong.

Now McGillis is simply asking her to do the same, and she will. But who knows the true reasons he wants her to fight Tekkadan once more, and how that coming battle fits into his grand plan to reform Gjallarhorn.

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As the Edmonton Express proceeds unabated, Merribit is increasingly concerned that the orphans of Tekkadan, including Orga, have gone mad in their thirst for revenge, and that it can’t possibly end well. But those same kids she wants to keep out of the fight tell her to back off. They’re fighting for Biscuit, and they will not be denied.

If only Gaelio could fight for his dead friend Ein. We see the toll Ein’s transformation into essentially a half-Gundam takes on Gaelio. Just as the Tekkadan kids are being metaphorically hardened into killers (which Merribit hates), Ein has been literally weaponized. He no longer has the luxury of choice, nor does he want it; he is still “alive” to avenge Crank and his other fallen comrades.

I never thought I’d be comparing Gaelio and Merribit, but here we are: both are appalled and scared of the sudden turn things have taken, but I don’t think either will be able to resist the force of the currents they’re caught up in.

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Even more unsettling is that Carta is, on some level, being thrown to the wolves by McGillis, with Gaelio and Ein sure to follow. Carta doesn’t realize the extent to which killing Biscuit radicalized Tekkadan.

She also quite wrongly assumes their patience and willingness to have a good old-fashioned 3-on-3 duel to decide whether they may pass or whether they hand over Makanai and Kudelia. Mika, in particular, isn’t having it. Why should they? Chivalry in this situation doesn’t do them a damn bit of good.

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Carta magnanimously gives Tekkadan 30 minutes to prepare, but Mika doesn’t need one. He rushes Carta and curb-stomps her two McGillis lookalikes. He doesn’t just disable their suits, he kills them, and then starts mercilessly whaling on an overwhelmed Carta. Even Lafter gets a little squemish at the sight of the carnage.

She rants about how this can’t be and who she is, but Mika doesn’t care about any of that, and neither do the kids who are watching (and won’t let Merribit send them away). Carta and Gjallarhorn are the enemy, and they’re in the way, so they’ll get crushed.

For a few moments, Mika is the bully, the antagonist in this fight, and Carta is like a lamb in the snow I’m feeling sorry for, even though she shouldn’t have expected anything else. It was a little hard to watch.

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A weeping, utterly defeated Carta is only spared from death at the last minute by Gaelio, but her injuries draw comparisons to Ein’s when he was last defeated. Could Carta end up the brain of another Gundam, like him? I don’t know, but Gaelio doesn’t have the heart to tell her he isn’t McGillis. McGillis, presumably, has moved on to other steps in his big plan.

The train makes it to the gleaming city of Edmonton, on time and ready to deposit their passenger right smack-dab in the parliament when the time comes for elections. Orga calls the city “the enemy’s grounds.” Mika listens, as he pops a snack in his mouth, unsurprisingly none the worse for emotional wear after his 3-on-1 beatdown.

But he used to just follow orders; take out those who he’s ordered to take out, because orders were orders. Now he’s finally seeing those he takes out not just as targets, but as enemies; those who stand in the way of Tekkadan getting to a place where they belong. If anything, this realization only makes Mika a more potent weapon.

As for Merribit, she seems to have taken on the thankless mantle of Tekkadan’s conscience, thinking about a future beyond the next battle’s outcome, like Biscuit did before. But is that future the “Final Lie” of the episode’s title?

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