Fate / Zero – 05

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fate / Zero – 04

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

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

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

“Did I leave the oven on?”

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

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

NOT THE BANGS

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

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

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

YOU GUYS I BROUGHT BEER

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

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

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

Fate / Zero – 03

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Akiba’s Trip The Animation – 03

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Well, I wasn’t expecting that – an episode of Akiba’s Trip outscoring a KonoSuba. Where this week’s Kono felt listless and scraping the barrel, Akiba’s Trip had a manic energy to it (along with an idol group called Manias) as it ditched the bugged ones story for a straight-up exploration of various kinds of obsessions, which can all to easily be taken up to 11 in a place like Akiba.

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It starts, innocently enough, with Tamotsu catching a moment of an idol concert Nikawa is watching, and like a diamond arrow, sends him into the soaring space of fandom. His obsession with the idol (who just comically phones it in) in all possible media frustrates Mayo, whose patrol plans with Tamotsu are completely overrun by his various idol-worshipping activities. That, in turn, leads Mayo to stress eat over at Carl’s Jr. (tacky product placement FTL).

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At some point, Tamotsu’s obsession shifts from merely consuming idoltry to really getting down into the nitty-gritty of audio, maxing out his GonzoCard many times over with impulsive purchases of increasingly dubious equipment, only to literally bowl his roommates over with his very expensive realization that it’s better just to hear the idol in person.

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Then things shift to the girls, who get swept up by a famous former-idol, now super/hyper/mega-whatever producer who calls the trio MANIAS and books them for numerous photo shoots in increasingly revealing outfits and increasingly lecherous photographers.

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Eventually, things get so bad Arisa is being casually asked to lie in bed and take off her top, but when Mayo and Nikawa hold her back, the producer and photographer reveal their true selves as Bugged Ones. Just like that, the episode snaps back into what the show is about, having itself gotten swept up in the stories of its characters getting obsessed with things.

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Arisa and Mayo fight the Bugged Ones, and Tamotsu joins in since he started taking every possible part-time or temp job he can to pay his debts, the constant cycle of odd jobs becoming its own obsession. Being the producer’s part-time janitor pays off, as he’s able to save his sister.

The recovered famous producer then quickly hooks up the trio for a little idol concert event that looks the business (and is sung by the three lead seiyuu, performing as “Headphones”, their group from Sore ga Seiyuu). 

They only perform in front of a handful of people, but that’s fine with Mayo, who seems to like the attention she gets from Tamotsu, who ends up with a new idol group to, well, idolize. Will all of this be forgotten next week? Probably. Was it still not just fun, but a shitload of fun? Absolutely.

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Akiba’s Trip The Animation – 02

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This week Tomatsu gets oriented in his new role as Mayo’s underling, and his new, more powerful form as an elite hazoku. He comes up with the name “Electric Mayonnaise & Friends”, the first friend being Arisa, who is game for some bugged one-hunting.

Their target this week is a disgruntled replica gun and military supply store manager-turned-hazoku, who reminded me of Orange from the old run-and-gun game Gunstar Heroes. He has ammo that can tear clothes away, which turns out to be just as bad for Tamotsu and Mayo as the bad guys, since they’re the same basic entities (albeit with opposing ideals).

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The fact that a defeated Hazoku doesn’t return to being a normal human, but simply evaporates, is revealed to Tamotsu after Orange is brought down, creating new, fresh stakes for him. Arisa isn’t a Hazoku, just really really strong; I wonder if there’s more to her than meets the eye (even though she reveals quite a bit throughout the episode).

Akiba’s Trip continues to be inoffensively competent and reasonably fun. But KonoSuba is a tough act to follow, exposing this show’s lack of narrative depth. That being said, the characters have distinct (if broad) personalities and good chemistry, so I find myself looking forward to the next leg in Akiba’s Trip.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 32

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I lauded McGillis’ decision to take to the battlefield to personally end the “mayhem” stewing between Arbrau and the SAU, but I did not expect the enemies he was fighting to be the Earth Branch of Tekkadan, but that’s exactly what went down thanks to the scheming of Galan Rossa and Radice.

Takaki and Aston have been so thoroughly, well, brainwashed by the charismatic veteran Galan that they’ll fight their own ally without hesitation – though it’s unclear how well they know McGillis and his relationship to Orga and Mika.

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It’s a relief, then, that all of the delaying is done away with and the Barbatos arrives in the middle of the battle just in time to save McGillis from Takaki and Aston. And man does McGillis, and all that he represents, almost get killed in a nameless skirmish spearheaded by a nameless mercenary, all for the benefit of his political and military rival, Rustal. Mind you, Mika isn’t helping an old friend, or even a guy who gives him cool chocolate: he’s simply obeying Orga’s orders not to let him die.

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As for Aston, he steps in front of Takaki and takes the brunt of an attack from McGillis that kills him, and all of Takaki’s hopes and dreams and innocence seem to die with him. That last thing is surprising considering how much Takaki has gone through, but up until Aston dies with a grateful smile on his face, Takaki was determined to go home to Fuka with Aston, not leave him behind. This may have been a pointless battle, but it might just cost Takaki the most.

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As for Hush, he gets to tag along with Mika, as Mika is willing to give him a shot, but let’s just say Hush doesn’t do so great in his mobile suit debut. Indeed, he’s quickly disarmed, loses his cool, and very nearly cries for his mommy before Mika has to bail him out (the second big bailout Mika executes this week).

Hush’s comrade later tells him he’s still got the self-awareness of his weaknesses to be a good pilot, but yeah, that doesn’t change the fact that he’s a very very weak asset to Tekkadan right now, and can’t be trusted with anyone but Mika, someone who can take care of himself.

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Okay, maybe Mika isn’t the only one who can take care of himself and his own affairs when it comes to mobile suit battle. When Eugene and Akihiro arrive at Tekkadan Earth HQ, corner Radice and learn of His and Mossa’s treachery, and furthermore learn that Aston has been lost as a result, he goes the fuck after Mossa, and doesn’t stop until the guy has to self-destruct himself to keep form being halved by Akihiro’s giant vice-grips.

Their battle is the most emotionally and physically intense of the episode, illustrating both how badass Akihiro is and how fiercely he defends (and avenges) his fellow ex-human debris. Though like Aston, Akihiro has never really come to grips with the “ex-” part; he always puts others before his own well-being, and almost gets blown up by it, moments before Laffter can arrive to warn him. Laffter doesn’t want to lost Akihiro because of his own paltry sense of self-worth.

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I enjoyed the little scene between McGillis and Mika near the episode’s end; both because these two are always fun to watch interact directly with each other (especially now that they’re on the same side), but that it almost shows that for all their differences, these are two guys utterly ruthless in their own ways, going after very specific goals only they believe they can achieve.

He’s almost an Orga surrogate here, without the shared past. Both McGillis and Mika seek a better tomorrow, and for now, their interests are aligned, with no sense of that changing anytime soon. And just as McGillis has Mika, his rival Rustal has Julieta, who seems to be the only one who sheds any tears for Galan Mossa, but is told not to do so by Rustal, as it wouldn’t be what Mossa wanted.

But as much as Mossa—who seemed to be a good friend of Rustal’s; perhaps even a blood relative—tried to erase his identity and that of his entire operation, he couldn’t erase one eccentric pilot’s regard for him, nor her grief over his loss.

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As for Takaki, the loss he experienced is more than evident both in the cockpit, at Earth Branch HQ, and back at home. His gaze has changed, from his easygoing glint to more of a Mikazuki stare. He decides to take care of “Earth branch problems” in the injured Chad’s stead, doing what Mika casually offered to do and putting three bullets in Radice for his treachery.

The once kind and gentle Takaki has crossed over into new territory, and both the blood of Aston and the lies of Radice and Mossa crafted this new, darker, more tortured Takaki, who no longer seems comfortable in Fuka’s presence.

This was a hard-hitting and very satisfying episode that swiftly and efficiently wrapped up the Earth Branch arc. I won’t lie that bringing in Mika, Akihiro & Co. definitely raised my interest level, but I also won’t deny that despite the fact either Takaki or Aston (or both) were doomed here, I was still fully emotionally invested in their fates. Not a bad feat for a miniature war with no name.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 31

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Even Takaki can feel it: something’s not right. Something hasn’t been right since Chad was injured, Radice took over, and Galan was brought on. But that “something” is impossible for him to grasp, at least to the point it alters the course he and the other Earth Branchers of Tekkadan, which is precisely the course Galan wants them on: the path to ruin.

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As such, Takaki finds himself very nearly back to where this all began: human tools of CGS; cannon fodder for endless, pointless battles between Arbrau and the SAU. And it’s all in service of weakening McGillis’ position and reputation. As he stares in his coffee, McGillis knows exactly what’s going on, as he’s probably been expecting concerted resistance to his reform movement. It’s strange to see him on his heels, almost forced to make a move.

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I’m not yet sure if McGillis is being played here, but Takaki and Aston are being played like fiddles. Galan treats them decently, but behind their backs calls them dogs he’s helpfully trained for Rastal. He tells Takaki again and again that this is it; the last battle; just one more push and he can go back home to his normal happy life with Fuka and Aston. Only they’re just words, and in reality there is no end to the war in sight.

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That’s just how Galan, Radice, and Rustal want it. It’s another case of the adults getting one over on the kids; manipulating their emotions to keep them pliable. Galan even goes out of his way to save Takaki’s life, not just to keep up the charade but to build more trust; trust Galan has every intention of betraying when the time is right.

It’s an episode that establishes a terrible situation for Earth Branch, and makes me question the wisdom of splitting Tekkadan’s forces across two planets in the first place. Mika, Kudelia, Eugene & Co. are on their way, and may be able to provide some relief but Galan won’t make it easy for them to interfere in his plans. Will it be too little, too late to save Takaki?

Meanwhile, McGillis takes the stage in his mobile suit, determined after a matter of weeks to nip this sprawling yet low-boil conflict in the bud. A rematch with the masked Gaelio seems imminent.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 30

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Note Orga tucking his tie to keep it clean – nice little detail
With so much opportunity for prosperity and stability on the horizon, Orga’s not one to go soft: When he’s late for dinner, he doesn’t ask Atra to heat it up, preferring to “deal with whatever’s in front” of him, be it food, work, or trouble.

Mika, always one to both notice and speak up about things no one else does, notices Orga is looking a little skinny, and drops some of his weird nut things on top of Orga, who isn’t a fan of the taste. But by episode’s end, Mika’s coat lint-garnished snacks are the least troublesome thing he must deal with.

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Julieta and Iok report their failure back to Rastal, who already has plans to open a front against McGillis on Earth, using some “bearded gentleman” Iok isn’t comfortable with but Julieta seems to be fine with, as long as he serves her master ably.

Julieta also meets with Mask Gaelio, who seems to be trying to warn her about trusting someone, even a superior, too closely. After all, all he and Carta ever were to McGillis were loyal and admiring, and he repaid them by screwing them royally. His only mistake was not making sure Gaelio was dead.

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McGillis’ enemies are joining forces out of a shared desire to see him fall, and McGillis’ enemies are now Tekkadan and Admoss Co.’s enemies. They reaped the benefits in last week’s battle, but Tekkadan’s Earth Branch represents its soft, vulnerable underbelly, and Radice has already given up on the ragtag Tekkadan Earth crew he deems “uneducated animals”.

Mere minutes before a commencement address, Makanai’s office is bombed, and Radice is in on it. Chad is injured along with Makanai, leaving Radice in charge of Tekkadan Earth, and he wastes no time showing his contempt for his underlings in keeping them in the dark.

Radice is having a drink with the “bearded gentleman” when the bomb goes off, and this is only the beginning, as rumors start to swirl everywhere that the SAU is responsible for the incident, and Gjallarhorn is brought in to arbitrate.

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It’s a chaotic situation and the last thing Orga, Chad, and Takaki wanted. Takaki, the ostensible leader of Tekkadan Earth with Radice having turned against them (still unbeknownst to them), must way everyone’s selfish desire to avenge Chad with Chad’s actual orders to keep things under control. It’s a lot for the gentle-hearted Takaki to take on, and just when he was hoping he could give Fuka a better life on Earth.

He at least has Aston on his side, who may share the others’ thirst to avenge Chad but considers his duty to his superior more important. What ticks Takaki off is that in interpreting his duty to him, Aston goes straight to fighting or dying for him.

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Tekkadan was supposed to be moving past such desperate measures, but McGillis’ and their foes are determined to keep them dragged down in the mire. On a hunch, Orga rushes the delivery of weapons and new mobile suits to Earth, and sends Eugene and Akihiro to make sure they get there.

Mika and Kudelia also tag along for the journey, and with such big names it looks like Earth is going to play a bigger role than I thought…once they get there. It’s a three-week trip, and a lot can happen on the ground in that time.

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Like Orga, Takaki isn’t fully aware of the depths of Radice’s betrayal when he shakes the hand of Arbrau Defense Force’s new commander, the hulking “bearded gentleman” Galan Mossa. But he’s certainly uneasy about the future, and his future self narrating admits this was the time a trap began closing around Tekkadan; one that they could not escape from without more fighting and dying. It’s a cold dinner, but all they can do is deal with it.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 29

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When Kudelia didn’t play ball with Allium, he sent the Dawn Horizon Corps after Tekkadan, but quickly lost control when Sandoval decided to use the job as an opportunity to put the upstart Tekkadan in its place.

Throw in rival Gjallarhorn forces and you have a chaotic, compelling mix of goals and motivations. It’s a big knot that came together last week, and by the end of this episode, that knot is mostly undone and replaced by other, tighter knots.

First things first: Nab Sandoval, and Tekkadan wins. Orga tells Mika to win it for them, and he does, capturing the pirate leader before Julieta can (Julieta is pissed, but not manically so, at least for now).

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For their victory, Barristan awards them the biggest half-metal mine in Chryse – giving Tekkadan the well-earned opportunity to supplement or even eliminate their mercenary activities with self-sustaining revenue stream…once it’s up and running of course. More victories, more rewards…more problems.

After the fine battle where he was essentially only part of the pit crew, Hush decides he deserves not just to confront Eugene and Shino, but ask them to ask Orga for a mobile suit. Mika says he will, after Hush tells him why: to become stronger than him. That’s fine with Mika; he’s not in a competition to be the strongest, he just is the strongest.

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Later, we see Allium desperately trying to pick up the pieces, continually reminding us of that cockroach Todo, only somehow less capable. Nobliss doesn’t answer his calls, and when Orga and Mika have come to ask for compensation for his treachery, a call to Gjallarhorn is of no avail.

Here we see a combination of the dual hats Orga must wear. He has to be the politician in the tie, making sure all his connections are in order before he steps in Allium’s office. Naze knows this side will be tough for him.

But in using Mika as his unblinking attack dog when diplomacy fails, Orga shows he must still cultivate and bring out the brawler/gangster side, backing words with steel. All Allium had in the end were words: far too many and not convincing enough to save him.

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It’s no accident that this unpleasant if necessary scene is juxtaposed with a far more peaceful moment between Kudelia and Atra at the Sakura Farm, tossing out potential death flags in committing to an endgame that is, as we saw with Orga and Mika, still quite a ways (and many more battles) off.

Kudelia is out of immediate, constant danger of the kind she was in last season, but she is still struggling with exactly how to end the deadly “chain reaction” of creating Mikas and Tekkadans to achieve her desired gains. Like Mika with the other types of seeds, she’s going to have to trying multiple methods, with no guarantee of success despite the conviction of her promise.

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Peace is a lot tougher not just when you’re surrounded by resentful rivals (two of whom Tekkadan ends in Terra Liberionis and the Dawn Horizon Corps) but possessed of all-too-tantalizing weapons.

At the end of the day, the nabbed Sandoval and won the mine thanks to Mika in his Barbatos. I’m not sure if Barristan knew about the more immediate treasures in the mine—a Gundam frame and “something bigger”—but it’s looking more likely like Hush may get his shot.

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Finally, Orga, along with Mika and Merribit, are invited (not summoned) to Gjallarhorn’s Mars HQ, Ares, and to the same office where Coral once plotted their and Kudelia’s demise. That didn’t go well, because Coral was corrupt and unprepared.  McGillis won’t make the same mistake of underestimating Tekkadan’s desire to survive and thrive and the upside of remaining close allies.

Orga and Mika are understanably suspicious—this guy wears more than one mask—but in this place and time it seems only appropriate to continue working with him. They want a less corrupt Gjallarhorn too, and McGillis offers advantages he says will outweigh whatever problems come from gaining the same enemies he has, which include Rustal, Iok, Julieta…and Gaelio.

I really liked this scene, because it shows McGillis dispensing with Gjallarhorn superiority, looking a potential ally level in the face, and offering an earnest hand of friendship and cooperation without strings (that we know of). Perhaps it’s because McGillis, like Orga, Mika, and Tekkadan, is not only an orphan, but an upstart rising high. Upstart orphans gotta stick together in a world trying to keep them down.

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Kuromukuro – 19

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Now that’s more like it. The last episode kinda dragged on, building to the surprise abduction of Yukina. But this episode takes full advantage of the severity of that cliffhanger: the Kuromukuro is grounded, Earth is more vulnerable than ever, and everyone is on edge, but powerless to do anything in the immediate present. After all, Yukina is in space.

Their only consolation, and hope, as it happens, is the fact they retrieved the wounded Muetta, whom Dr. Hausen determines has identical DNA to Yukina and Hiromi. They’re definitely related, though Muetta is very old.

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Hiromi is in full-on Mom Panic Mode, Sophie is given mandatory leave by the commander, and Ken is disgraced by how useless he feels. Sophie doesn’t have any sympathy for him moping in the canteen, but that’s for the best, as shortly after she’s alone, she’s contacted by the Ogre, who promises an encounter soon.

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Dr. Hausen is the only one truly happy this week, as he gets to study an Efidolg—or, at least, a human who’s had their memories altered and their body populated by advanced nanomachines. He determines that Ken’s blood is the best way to counteract the effect of Mirasa’s weapon, and after a quick transfusion, Muetta is awake and as feisty and combative as ever.

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The Ogre rudely invades Sophie’s apartment, but properly apologizes, and explains that she was the only person he felt safe contacting. His comment about cosplay culture making it easier to move around modern Japan was pretty amusing, but the fact he’s finally here, with Sophie, ready and willing to explain all (or at least some) is very exciting.

He, or I should say, Zell, is absolutely an enemy of the Efidolg, but not yet an ally of the earthlings. Here’s hoping that will change, becaue the earthlings need all the help they can get.

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Ken knows he can’t do squat about Yukina without the Kuromukuro, and so breaks into Muetta’s cell to try to bargain with her. She agrees to co-pilot it with him, with the story that she stole it and captured him. It’s really the only play they have, and it gets them both what they want: Muetta, freedom from this place, and Ken, a chance to save Yukina.

What I’m glad about is that Ken needs help, and lots of it. He may be a samurai, but he can’t whisk Yukihime out of a high-security international installation on his own. The other civilian lab employees clear a path for them, ending with Hiromi herself giving Ken her blessing (and making him swear he’ll bring her Yukina back).

This is because Hiromi’s superiors told her to give up on Yukina. They proposed using Muetta to pilot Kuromukuro, with Dr. Hausen minutes from administering some dread medication that would likely not give her a choice in the matter.

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Don’t get me wrong: I’m not about to place Yukihime in the “Good Guys” column just yet, but I’ll pencil her in for now. The bottom line is she had few choices to get back to where she belonged other than going along with Ken’s plan, and once they’re up in orbit, Ken is at the mercy of her “people.”

But what makes be believe Yukihime might not bretray him immediately is the recording of…herself she sees once they fire up the Kuromukuro, which she’s amazed powers up so quickly even though it’s her first time. Only it isn’t: she recognizes herself in the recording. There’s an opening here, however small, for her to start entertaining the idea that Ken is right about her.

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That brings us to poor, poor Yukina. The only moment sadder than seeing her sister and mother despair at her abduction is seeing her look down on earth and call for Kennosuke…after asking for some clothes, of course. The Efidolg brought her there not as a hostage, but because they thought she was Muetta.

Mirasa quickly took it upon herself to try to finish what she started, but it seems Yukina was able to escape her stasis chamber in time. Despite her call for her samurai buddy, something tells me she ‘s not simply going to wander the ship, catching her death of cold, waiting for Ken to rescue her. She’s going to have to help herself out, and stay alive and free until help arrives.

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 22

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With the White Whale(s) defeated, Subaru redirects his allied force towards the Witch’s Cult, which no one will be taking lightly despite the huge advantage they seem to have. This requires Subie more-or-less make up with Julius, who has arrived to help.

Subie still maintains he hates “Juli’s” guts, but the two still exchange apologies and words of gratitude. While Puck assures an exhausted Lia that she and the manor will be safe, Subie uses his stench to lure the cult members, who appear right on cue.

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It’s the return of Smug Subie, as he’s holding all the right cards this time, and it’s the cult and Betelgeuse who don’t have a clue what’s coming. Mimi and Hetaro swoop in and demolish Betel’s base with their shouts, then Old Man Wil bisects Betelguese from behind.

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It’s almost too easy, leading me to wonder when the other shoe will drop. Sure enough, in the midst of celebration and preparation to go after the ex-sin archbishop’s “Fingers”, Unseen Hands quite suddenly appear out of the woods and quickly kill five anonymous members of Subie’s allied force, then an arm drags Subie into the trees.

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There, he meets someone of indeterminate gender but the same exact manic way of speaking and biting their nails raw as Betelgeuse. Their only problem is they dawdle far too long before killing Subie, and Mimi, Hetaro, and Wil are able to arrive in time to kill them and save Subie.

Now that they know the remaining 99 or so cult members could all be Sin Archbishops, Subie laments putting everyone in such grave danger. Wilheim won’t hear of it: he asks Subie to keep fighting as long as he’s still standing. Not to become stronger, but simply to be strong. This guy speaks from experience, so Subie takes the simple but powerful words to heart.

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With that, the hunt for the remaining fingers, and the evacuation of the village and manor in Margrave Mathers’ lands continues. Just as Subie is heeding Felix’s suggestion that he should finish making up with Julis, he sees a blue petal float past his eye, and everything freezes.

He and his ground dragon are left alone in the blue, icy stillness, with a blue flower-clutching Ram before him. What fresh hell is this?

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 21

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Even getting as far as Subaru did in forming an alliance to fight the White Whale felt like a victory to me, but the fact remained, the actual battle was far from over after some hard fighting last week. Subaru hadn’t gotten an arc victory since saving Rem eons ago. The victory we got this week was a little safe, but it was what I wanted, when I wanted it, so it’s all good.

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I enjoyed Krusch going all in on another Subaru Crazy Plan, then using him, the “weakest among them”, to rally her depleted troops. Subie’s plan is indeed quite crazy, as it involves Rem firing him up to the “lead” whale that’s controlling the other two, and using the Witch’s curse to lure it where he wanted it – underneath the colossal tree Krusch agrees to fell.

The timing worked out extraordinarily, almost lazily well, and it seems like an unspeakable crime to bring down a tree that must be millenia old, but their options were limited.

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From there, Wilhelm, who is not dead and escapes from the whale that swallowed him, delivers the coups-de-grace to the whale. In the process, we see that Wil challenged Theresia to a duel shortly after she was named Master, and he won the duel, making him demonstrably the better sword.

I still maintain that Theresia would have prefered the man she love live a long life not dedicated to facing and fighting the whale that killed her (and very likely getting himself killed in the process). But Wil needed this for closure, and to make up for failing to protect her.

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Both Wil and Krusch express their deep gratitude and desire to continue working together. Subie even half-jokingly suggests Krusch as his #3 Girl, though Krusch only admits to the occasional tug of the heartstrings. She also vows to always be friendly and show favor to him, no matter what happens in the selection fight to come. Krusch is great.

Speaking of great, Rem is too injured to move and immediately join Subie on his next mission to destroy the cult, but he reiterates all the ways she’s already saved him, and how she can let herself rely on him now and again. He also promises she can remain by his side when they return to one another, and share a farewell Eskimo kiss.

I like how this episode contained the climax and end of the battle as well as all the celebration and rest needed. Next week, one of only four episodes left (that I know of) will thus be able to focus on Subie’s goal to eliminate the cult and its threat to Emilia…who I also hope we’ll see at some point.

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91 Days – 07

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Clearly, Angelo’s anger over what happened to his family is so great and unyielding, he’s committed to enacting his revenge through an obscenely intricate long game. It’s not enough to kill everyone involved in his family’s murder; he wants to cause them the maximum amount of pain before he kills them. Such a considerate young man!

By assisting Fango’s coup over Don Orco, Avilio has kept Nero alive. Now he must turn to Nero’s next threat: his own brother Frate, being used as a puppet by Rolando Galassia. He also wrangles Fio into the negotiations, and eventually she plays a significant role in Avilio’s plan. Rather than Galassia’s puppets, the Vanettis have become Avilio’s  (Vincent excluded; who knows where he is this week).

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Avilio seems pretty sure there’s no chance for reconciliation between Nero and Frate, especially with Galassia breathing down Frate’s neck (and giving him all the booze and drugs he needs to become an increasingly unstable puppet). He lets Nero give it a try anyway, and lets the brothers become more frustrated by their diametrically opposed goals.

At the same time, Avilio convinces Volpe to help him attack Frate and Fernando while the former is travelling to mass, making it sound like Volpe will be doing Nero a favor. Hmm…maybe don’t have such a regular Sunday schedule if you’re planning to be the boss of a crime family?

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Volpe only manages to wound Fernando and scare Frate, but Avilio kills him and makes it look like he acted alone. Galassia tries to use his wife Fio to get Nero in a room with him, but Nero stays away.

Avilio comes instead as a messenger, but the messege is for Fio, not Fernando, and she puts two bullets in her husband, apparently sick and tired of his role in tearing her family apart. She doesn’t know that both she and Fernando were only pawns of the Great Avilio.

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In another bit of Venetti manipulation, Avilio leads Nero to Frate, reveals the gun Frate was hiding under a magazine, then leaves the two to hash it out—but only after he takes all the bullets out of Frate’s gun, apparently unbeknownst to either brother.

We end with two more of the biggest obstacles to keeping Nero alive dead, by Nero and Fio’s own hands. Through his machinations, Avilio saw to it the Vanetti family suffered its first blood casualty, but likely not the last. Then he tells Nero he’ll be his brother from now on. Honestly Avilio’s master plan continues to baffle, and the effortlessness with which he gets his way this week makes everyone else in the episode feel like helpless pawns.

It’s pretty ridiculous, but I still enjoyed this gritty, unrelenting episode. As characters drop left and right, 91 Days is starting to feel more and more like a Shakespearean tragedy set in the days of prohibition.

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