Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 13 – The Bug

Both the wills of individuals and the collective will of humanity can usually be likened to a swarm of bugs around a light; moving chaotically without coordination. But a majority of the bugs that comprise Nagi’s will are aligned towards a a confrontation with the serial killer, for which she is diligently preparing but may still be woefully overmatched.

That certainly seems to be Sasaki’s opinion on the matter, as the bug within him can’t simply let her be, lest she end up hurt or killed simply for following her own will and sense of justice. If anyone is going to protect her, he figures it should be the one who deprived her of her father, the person who would otherwise be responsible.

Sasaki’s supicions are confirmed: Kisugi has set a trap for Nagi, whom she suspected would show up in superhero guise (Nagi’s jumpsuit is indeed totally badass): have her tranquilized via sniper rifle, then proceed to explore her delicious fear.

Sasaki delivers a killing blow before he notices it isn’t Kisugi, but Pigeon, who stabs him right back as revenge for killing Kuroda (her own bug she couldn’t ignore). But Pigeon distracts Sasaki from Kisugi, who puts her arm through his chest.

Just like that, the backup both Sasaski and I believed would be crucial to Nagi’s survival has been taken off the board in gruesome fashion, a sentiment reinforced when Sasaki tosses his corpse out the window, then leaps out herself and lands on her feet far too close to Nagi for comfort.

But true to her name, Nagi keeps calm and carries on. She starts to flee Kisugi, first on foot then on bike, but the Kisugi’s personal flirtation with evolution has made her as fast in heels as Nagi can pedal, and it isn’t long before she’s caught her up.

Yet still, there’s something about the deliberate manner in which Nagi flees—constantly looking back to make sure she’s being followed—that suggests the chase is unfolding precisely how Nagi planned. Even when Kisugi loses her temper and starts dunking Nagi’s head in a pond and kicking the shit out of her, there isn’t a trace of panic on Nagi’s face.

Kisugi finally visualizes Nagi’s weakness—someone she loves dying before her, like her father—while her actions confirm to Nagi that she’s someone who preys on those perceived to be fearless. Kisugi is right that no one is truly fearless, which means there’s no one she can’t feed off of.

But Nagi’s fear in that moment is less that she’s about to be killed or worse, but more worry that the intricate plan she’s set up might fail. That she will fail to become the superhero she thought she could be. But it doesn’t fail, because Kisugi is part of the circuit of the pond, while Nagi in her thick insulated suit isn’t…and has a weapon that shoots electrical arcs.

Thus Nagi does the equivalent of drop a giant plugged-in toaster into the bathtub, zapping Kisugi with thousands of volts and doing significant damage to a body already taxed to the brink by all of her DIY “evolution.” When Nagi puts her in an arm hold, the arm pops off, and Kisugi flees.

It’s then when an ally far more powerful than Sasaki appears, only to voice their surprise Nagi didn’t need them after all. The situation was always under control, though Nagi could rightly say she relied on some luck in everything going perfectly.

Now Kisugi is the hunted, and full of fear. Turns out she’s a fear ghoul, and definitely an enemy of humanity, which means Boogiepop has popped up to finish her off. But they give credit to Nagi for defeating Kisugi and making the kill so easy.

Nagi manages to be with Sasaki before he dies, and his last words are of relief that she’s still alive, and that “the bug” within him isn’t so bad. Boogiepop then determines it would be best if the blame for the serial murders were placed on Sasaki, due to the complications of the culprit being a doctor of Kisugi’s caliber.

More than that, the bug in Sasaki would be fine doing whatever Nagi wanted, including piling the blame on him. Nagi, meanwhile, still feels like she messed everything up in the case. But she learned a lot from it too, and that wisdom gained will serve her as she keeps fighting. Not to mention “Boogiepop”, as they introduce themselves to Nagi, will be there to help when needed.

Back on the ruined world, which we learn isn’t the Earth of Nagi or Touka but some kind of “distorted world”, Boogiepop wrap up their story to Echoes, as the two contemplate the causality starting with Kuroda saving Nagi, all the way to Echoes and Manticore showing up on Earth.

Echoes muses that Nagi continues to fight because she’s “carrying on the feelings of those she encounters.” That’s one way you could describe an investigator, or a superhero, or both, which is what Nagi is. As Echoes takes his leave, Boogiepop commits themselves to leaving the distorted world and returning to Earth.

Because even if Boogiepop doesn’t know precisely how or why they pop up, they understand intrinsically that it is right for them to do so; that it’s beneficial to humanity and thus necessary to continue. Even Boogiepop has a bug.

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Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 12 – Those For Whom The World Is Not Ready

One day, Nagi’s father Seiichi is approached by a girl who can tell he’s going to die soon. He already knows this. He only set out to be an author whose works people would read, but for reasons he could never explain, his writing ended up doing much more.

It inspired and emboldened an entire underclass of those with “abilities” who were shunned by the rest of the world. But people were reading, so he kept writing, even when it might attract the wrong attention. Even if it put him in the crosshairs of those who wanted to keep those people down. And yes, even if it deprived Kirima Nagi of a father.

So, the girl says, if Seiichi dies, the movement dies with him, a failure. To this he rebuts: what is failure? Not to get all Star Warsy, but Yoda would say it’s the greatest teacher. Seiichi is comfortable dying because he did everything he could with the time he had, and trusts that those who come after him will learn from it, carry on, and improve bit by bit.

They could be his enemy or just a passerby, but they are still capable of adopting and surpassing what he began. No one should be so arrogant to think they are the beginning or ending of anything. And the girl Seiichi is speaking to? A young Minahoshi Suiko, the future Imaginator.

Shortly after their exchange, Seiichi is assassinated by the same Towa operative who killed Scarecrow: Sasaki. Seiichi begs him not to kill Nagi too, and he doesn’t…but Nagi still walks in on her father in a pool of blood, his last words to her asking what she thinks “normal” is.

Fast forward to middle school Nagi’s time. Pigeon gives Sasaki his next mission: find the person committing all the grisly murders and eliminate them if necessary. Pige thinks he’ll have an easy go of it, being a “murderer” himself.

Sasaki conducts his own investigation, only to find he’s being carefully observed by Kirima Nagi, daughter of the man he killed a few years ago. Mind you, Nagi doesn’t know he killed him, and can see how he would blend into the background with his salaryman appearance. But she can tell he has an knack for investigations, and suggests they join forces…all while Kisugi watches from a distance.

Nagi and Sasaki manage to snag a friend of one of the victims, who assures them the victim had no lingering grudges or enemies. But she also mentions that her friend was fearless, in particular compared to herself. Sasaki likens the description to Nagi, but she says even she’s sacred of some things; this victim apparently wasn’t.

Nagi recalls her talk with Kisugi, and asks “why does fear exist?”, the same thing someone told the victim’s friend before she met Nagi and Sasaki. Nagi connects the dots, and promptly drops Sasaki as both a partner and a suspect—he doesn’t kill of his own accord, only for his job. He’s not the dyed-in-the-wool killer Nagi is looking for.

Now, I imagine, she suspects Kisugi most of all, which is exactly what Kisugi wants, and why she left her that clue: so she’d to come to her. After all, Kisugi believes Nagi’s fear will be better than any she’s ever tasted.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 09 – The Emperor’s Soliloquy

The “film” the female Kishinami Hakuno shows her male counterpart is of her own quest with Saber as her Servant, and a more noble, loyal and true servant, no one could possibly have.

Like the current Hakuno, the female Hakuno learns that she’s neither wizard nor Master, but a “recreation of the data of someone who once existed”; an “NPC”. But Saber tells her that’s of no consequence, either to her value as an individual or her role as prospective victor of the Grail War.

It is in She-Hakuno’s moment of deepest despair and crisis of identity that Saber reveals her True Name: Nero Claudius, fifth emperor of the Roman Empire and one history condemns as a raving despot and dictator. Naturally, Nero herself has a more nuanced life story to tell, and that story is told through what appears to be the work of Ueda Hajime, a frequent collaborator with Shinbo Akiyuki who also animated all Monogatari EDs.

Saber makes no attempt to sugar-coat her tale or excuse the life she led, only to lay it all out to provide Hakuno with context in which to consider her sage advice. Nero loved strangers and commoners more than the royal family to which she belonged. She’s proud of bringing the Great Fire of Rome under control, but as her reign went on she became seen as a moody, unstable dictator.

The Senate could not depose her as long as she had the loyalty of the common people, but when push came to shove no one came to her aid when she was brought down, and she died alone, in despair, with the love of no one. Both in its flamboyantly unconventional presentation, themes of adoration and fall from grace, and truly epic scope, Saber’s story parallels that of the vampire later known as Oshino Shinobu in Monogatari.

And now that we finally have the whole picture of who Saber is, and was, we can appreciate just how much weight there is behind her words of encouragement, for both past and present Kishinami Hakunos. She is at peace with her demise, and will set her life ablaze for the sake of those who wish to believe she is beautiful. In other words, who will love her.

Whatever love she had in her lifetime—of family or people—was either nonexistent or fleeting, so it stands to reason she’s not picky about where she gets her love now. Both Hakunos may deem themselves pale imitations unworthy of having a Servant as excellent and wise and kind as Saber.

They are utterly mistaken for thinking that way. Saber doesn’t care from whom she gets her love. In fact, she would prefer if those people did not “mind every little thing” about themselves.

Call it the extension of her affinity in life for those deemed “less than” in the society in which she lived. Commoners. Bastards, cripples, and broken things. And yes, even NPCs who have been killing and hating for a millenium.

Saber’s been dead three millenia, but doesn’t let it get her down for a second. To her, Hakuno isn’t beholden to the person or people he was before. As far as she’s concerned, he’s is a new person, who deserves a fresh start without prejudice. But he has to take it.

Reinvigorated and healed thanks to the ministrations of Rani (or, at least, her ghost), Hakuno and Saber head back out. Saber faces off against Berserker once more.

After copying and countering his martial arts moves with Royal Privilege, she unleashes her Noble Phantasm: Kingdom of Heaven and Hell,  the Golden Theater of the Deranged, and Veil of Petals, ending Berseker without any difficulty. It’s a short but gorgeous battle.

That leaves Hakuno to deal with Julius, who no longer has any backup. Julius tries his usual spiel denigrating Hakuno for not being alive or having a wish or any business fighting him. This time, the words don’t hurt Hakuno. Saber has opened his eyes. Julius isn’t talking about him; those were other people, and he’s not interested in hearing about their pasts.

After a trippy zero-gravity battle in which the two Dead Faces fight in midair as their surroundings rotate and reorganize around them, Hakuno delivers a decisive blow. Yet even in his dying breath, Julius assures him that he’ll end up like him eventually.

Hakuno doesn’t worry about those words; he’s recommitted to being the best Master he can be for the best Servant one could ask for, who is waiting for him at the ladder to the sixth level.

Rani and Rin seem poised to remain behind having accomplished their shared goal of getting a “decent Master” to the sixth level. But citing the increased difficulty at that level, Rin changes her mind and follows the pair after all, while Rani vanishes in a cloud of digital code.

Thinking back on this episode, I’m astounded at how much it achieved in 25 scant minutes. It felt like a feature film, without ever feeling overstuffed, while cementing my undying love for this version of Saber, whose story was so vividly and painfully told. My head is still spinning. That was truly awesome.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 08

The fourth level was apparently so uneventful the series skips it altogether, and we end up on the very rainy and somber fifth level, which takes the form of a enormous jumbled mass of skyscrapers. While the ladder to Level Six is in sight (and just an ordinary physical ladder) and there’s no Floor Master, there is a “homicidal maniac” lurking the floor; Julius Harwey, whom Rin remarks was defeated by Saber and her former master.

All of the hope Hakuno seemed to carry with him from the third floor seems to have faded away, and the more Saber discusses her former master (who was a girl), the harder Hakuno is on himself.

Saber, in another one of her warm, caring monologues, tells Hakuno not to worry about doing anything other than what he’s capable of.

True genius, Saber believes, lies not in one’s talents, but by their ability to bear the cruel truth that not everyone is equal; that everyone has their roles and weaknesses. Basically, she wants Hakuno to buck up and keep doing his best.

But once Julius shows up (with either a Berserker or Assassin Servant), Hakuno and Saber are quickly separated, and Saber needs an emergency save by Lancer-Rin. Saber leaves the Servant to Rin so she can return to Hakuno’s side.

Hakuno, meanwhile, is goaded into summoning his Dead Face, but learns that Julius is also a Dead Face…”unable to save anything or save anyone,” beings whose purposes were torn away long ago.

While taking what would be a fatal blow to the midsection were he actually a living human named Kishitani Hakuno, Hakuno enters a dreamlike state where he’s told exactly what he is: an amalgamation of the massive number of  dead, defeated, and failed souls bearing grudges…a mass of hatred brought about by SE.RA.PH.’s long decline.

He is told he ascends “only to kill”, and was born “only to die.” If Hakuno were to take these words at face value and do as Saber recommended, dying would seem to be the only thing he is capable of doing, so he should do that, no?

Regaining consciousness just as Saber and Rin arrive, the battle is lost almost as soon as it resumes, as Julius reveals his Servant kills with a single blow, and Saber received that blow. Hakuno crawls towards the apparently defeated Saber (Julius and the Servant only flee when a giant arm breaks up the battle that was). He’s sure that she’d have been able to win had he been a real Master…even if there aren’t any of those left.

He descends into darkness, accepting everything he was told in his dream about being born from hatred. He allows himself to think for a moment that he might have been Saber’s former Master reincarnated before dismissing it as folly. But he hears Saber’s encouraging voice once more, asking if he really wants to simply give up at this point.

A door appears, and Hakuno walks through it, into a classroom with projector running. Seated beside it is a girl wearing the same uniform as him, who asks him (in Ishikawa Yui’s voice) to take a seat…because “it’s starting.” Very intriguing.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 21

Alessand goes through a lot of emotions as he stalks and kills Mugaro. There’s some excitement and satisfaction he’s proven his “worth” to the Onyx Soldiers, but also a crushing guilt and self-hatred. He is truly a fallen knight. He failed the test.

He also fails to get out undetected; Favaro spots him fleeing the scene of the crime, but rather than give chase, he takes Mugaro to Rita, who tries despretely in vain to save his life as everyone around watches, including Nina, who had been previously so distracted by her own woes.

It wouldn’t be much of a drama if Rita could’ve so easily saved Mugaro, so he dies, and the group is scattered and lost as a result. After grieving, Jeanne returns to the Land of the Gods with Sofiel and purpose.

Azazel—at times a father, brother, and friend to Mugaro—also storms off, after his hunch about one of Kaisar’s subordinates being responsible is proven true by Favaro.

And naturally, Alessand doesn’t get what he bargained for. He has the blood of a holy child on his hands, but when the Onyx commander shows what being an Onyx soldier really means—becoming host to a life-sucking stone that leads to an agonizing half-life—he immediately balks. I must say, Alessand has gone from harmless buffoon to loathsome wretch in shockingly short order.

Up in the LotG, Gabriel rejoices at the return of Sofiel and Jeanne, but also pained by the news of the loss of El. Never mind; the time for mourning is over, as far as Jeanne is concerned. Sofiel transforms her into a holy warrior, and they prepare to return to the surface world in force to exact their revenge.

Azazel has less luck, at least initially, with his superior Lucifer, and Azzy has to take a book to the face, but he eventually convinces him that Jeanne is indeed moving against Charioce, and there will never be a better time to strike. Whether any kind of coordination is in the cards, we’ll have to see.

And then we have Nina. Ever since Mugaro’s death, her demeanor has been muted, and she admits to feeling numb; like Titus Andronicus, she hath not another tear to shed. She cleans and cleans until, while cleaning Bacchus’ wagon, she finds Mugaro’s dress, and the tears begin to pour, as she recalls raw anguish similar to when her dear father died.

After her good long cathartic cry, Favaro visits her in the wagon, but has no certain answers to her questions. When Nina gets up and shows her face, Favaro is surprised to see it’s no longer soaked with tears; instead, she wears a face of stern determination; of focus.

Like Azazel, like Jeanne, she’s done crying. And if Charioce will continue to hurt and kill her friends, she’ll take it upon herself to stop him, no matter what it takes. Not long thereafter, Jeanne speaks to the people from on high: rise up against the mad king who killed her only child and intends to kill many more.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 20

The Demon assassin is eager to fight a dragon, as I assumed he’d killed one or two in his checkered past. However, his true beef is with the fact that Nina is a mongrel and a pathetic abomination for having a human parent. Nina transforms into the Red Dragon, but the assassin transforms into a bigger one. A much, much bigger one.

The resulting fight is one of the cooler, more impressive battle sequences—after all, two dragons are better than one—but Nina is completely outclassed and the assassin’s attacks quickly transform her back into human form.

Naked and beaten up, the Onyx Commander looms over her and tells her the order to kill her came from His Majesty himself, twisting the proverbial knife before killing her with a real one.

Favaro and Kaisar have heard enough, and spring into action, breaking free from their captors—but they’re pretty outmatched themselves, so it’s fortunate the cavalry arrives in a timely fashion, in the form of El, Sofiel, Azazel and Jeanne. The lads are…humbled by the sight of the surpassingly ethereal, angelic Sofiel, but she’s not here to dilly-dally.

Summoning a giant avatar to match the assassin dragon’s scale, she launches a devastating ice-based attack that turns the dragon into a solid chunk that shatters under its own weight. And to think: she is of those who have found themselves flummoxed and beaten back by Charioce.

With the dragon eliminated and the Onyx Soldiers tied up with magical binds, all that’s left is to finish saving Nina, who appears down for the count not due to any physical exertion, but because she’s suffering from a broken heart.

Kaisar leaves the Onyx Commander and his men alive, but the Commander makes sure he knows there’s nothing he or his friends can do to stop Charioce, so there’s no point in continuing to oppose him, aside, I supposed, from a death wish. Alessand also takes note of the fact that El is the “holy child.”

Back at base (which is surprisingly still intact and safe after all that) Sofiel insists that it’s time to go: Her, Jeanne…and El. But El is reluctant; he believes he was born for a greater purpose that can only be served on the surface world. Bacchus, for once given some dramatic meat, tells him he’s being foolish; that all he his at the moment is a child, a gift from his father to his mother. It’s enough to convince him to go with them.

Meanwhile, Nina whips herself into a rage and tosses aside the necklace Charioce gave her, trying and likely failing to get over the guy who not only rejected her, but tried to kill her. She neither needs nor wants these feelings, but unless Rita has a spell or potion for it, they’re not going anywhere. El stops by to say goodbye, and can tell Nina isn’t alright, even though she puts her usual cheerful face on in front of him.

The next morning, the Onyx Commander informs Charioce, who is headed to Eidos to finish opening the rift, that the dragon has been eliminated; Charioce, like Nina, may well be hiding his true feelings on the matter from the world. Ready to set off back to the Land of the Gods, Sofiel admits to Bacchus that she left without permission, and furthermore, can why he stayed on this world: there’s never a dull moment, after all.

After El says his final goodbyes to Azazel, he walks back through the caves alone, and is confronted by Alessand, who stabs him in the chest, making his holy blood pour onto the ground and surround his black ocarina. Alessand, who was humiliated and judged as worthless by the Onyx Commander, still wishes to prove the man wrong.

So Al chose to make himself worth something by eliminating a potential weapon of the Gods. Whether he’ll get any acknowledgment—or even get out of the caves with his life—remain to be seen.

Fate / Zero – 19

In Part 2 of How Kiritsugu Got So Messed Up, young Kiritsugu finds himself in a gender-swapped version of The Professional. Natalia is Leon, the ‘cleaner’ with a heart of gold who suddenly isn’t alone, and Kiritsugu is Matilda, the trauma-stricken, anger-filled youth searching for purpose.

After saving him, Natalia takes Kiri under her wing, gradually teaching him the basics. Before long he’s accompanying her on jobs, and if there’s one complaint I have with this episode (and it’s not a biggie), it’s that there’s really no transition between Kiri’s ‘kid’ and ‘adult’ voices.

What Nat continually drives into Kiri (whatever voice he has) is that her line of work, one’s own survival is the most important consideration. If you’re dead, it’s all for nothing. As a result of her training and care, Kiri becomes a highly capable and reliable apprentice. (She also eventually powders some of his ribs into 66 bullets).

The moment a Dead Apostle named Odd Vorzak appears in the tray of Natalia’s fax machine, I had the ominous feeling that it would be her last job, but while the destination was basically known, I still greatly enjoyed the journey. As a big job in which Kiritsugu plays a crucial role, flying to NYC ahead of Natalia and utilizing his bullets, there’s an auspicious tone to the proceedings.

While there are few things worse than getting the back of your seat kicked on a plane, what Natalia does to Vorzak is most definitely one of them. It’s a great scheme, transporting Kiri’s bullet into Vorzak’s back, and it’s executed perfectly. But it’s also all too easy, and I couldn’t help but think there would have been better, and more importantly safer ways to eliminate him.

Sure enough, while taking care of the bees in Vorzak’s luggage in the hold, all hell breaks loose in the cabin, as Vorzak was carrying more bees in his body. All 300 crew and passengers are quickly turned into vicious ghouls. By some miracle, Natalia is able to reach the cockpit, but it’s a long, tense trip to New York with those ghouls at the doo, and you can feel it.

Kiritsugu keeps Natalia company over the radio, in a beautiful scene that lessons the tension but still feels like it captures the specific emotions of the situation perfectly. As they talk, Natalia gets more an more sentimental, wondering if “playing at a family” is what caused her to screw up so badly, while Kiritsugu subtly talks of her in the past tense, sailing out into open water on one of the small, efficient little boats he loves to use.

There’s a wonderful ambiguity to what Natalia’s particular thoughts are about the conversation she’s having with Kiritsugu, and if and when she realizes that he’s preparing to destroy the plane before it lands. After all, she trained him, and always knew he had way too much potential in her line of work, not to mention her edict that her apprentice think of his survival first and foremost.

Whatever she feels or knows, the reveal of the missile launcher just as the dawn arrives, with a flock of seagulls circling Kiritsugu as if he were the center of a storm—it’s all wonderfully staged and directed. And before pulling the trigger Kiritsugu makes sure Natalia knows: he was glad to have her as a mother.

As is usually the case with Kiritsugu, I can totally understand why he does what he does, even if it’s absolutely horrible: that plane could not be allowed to land just because Natalia is dear to him. The other 300 people on the plane weren’t people anymore, and if they get out into the city, many many more people would’ve died. Kiritsugu couldn’t allow that, so he does what he couldn’t do when Shirley turned into a vampire: nothing more or less than What Has To Be Done.

There’s such a dark, bleak symmetry to Kiritsugu killing his real father and adoptive mother as bookends to his transformation into the Emiya Kiritsugu currently fighting the Holy Grail War. Natalia was such a great character who came out of nowhere, it was sad to see her go so soon, but we were dealing with flashbacks after all, and I had no reasonable expectation she would survive them.

The break in the present-day story was abrupt (especially since I haven’t watched episode 17 yet), but it was well worth the detour to learn more about the key protagonist of the story. It also demonstrated that whatever the timeline or setting, Fate/Zero knows how to tell a damned compelling story.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 19

Fancy Royal Ball Caper, anyone? Nina and Al’s big arrival is briefly interrupted by a flashback to Rita going over the plan to snatch Charioce’s bracelet. Everyone plays a role, including El, if the Onyx Soldiers get involved (with Azazel watching his back).

Nina realizes that as the ‘getaway vehicle’ her role is crucial to success (just as she trips on the palace steps). She’s been able to transform at will, but Favaro (paired up with Dias and tasked with actually swiping the bracelet) doesn’t think she’ll be able to when the time comes.

That’s not Favaro not having faith in his student; it’s Favaro knowing how Nina feels about Charioce, and how the King isn’t going to give up that bracelet easily. Al doesn’t have to pretend Nina is his fiancee or sister for long, as Nina ditches him the moment Charioce enters.

This is the Charioce who allowed the Onyx Commander to proceed with the plan to assassinate Nina, so with that in mind I couldn’t help but feel, like Favaro, that there was simply no way Nina would transform into a dragon, and thus no way he mission would succeed.

Nina is, however, able to ask the king to dance and draw him to her, and they become the center of attention as they cut a mean rug all over the ballroom. The CGI extras are a bit stiff, but the dancing animation is as crisp and smooth as it was during their first dance at the festival, and just as adorable. It’s almost enough to make you forget that this love story can only end in tragedy and despair.

On a secluded balcony, Nina waits for Charioce to come out and tell her “everything”, as he promised to do the next time they met. But instead, he dumps her like she’s never been dumped before, without even a hint of empathy or compassion. Just “we’re done, don’t come back, go before I have the guards seize you.”

Being subjected to exactly the opposite treatment from him she expected, Nina is a wreck, but Favaro emerges from the shadows to scold “Mr. King” for hurting his student, and demands he give up the bracelet. When Charioce says it can’t be removed as long as he lives, Favaro says he can fix that, but Nina comes between them, not able to betray the man she loves as he was able to betray her.

The guards arrive, but Favaro tosses some smoke bombs, which are also the signal that the plan has failed. Everyone evacuates without any trouble, but Al tries to go off on his own, only to be intercepted by Azazel and El; the three later encounter Jeanne and Sofiel in the streets.

Nina, Favaro and Kaisar end up at the waterfront, where they are quickly surrounded by Onyx Soldiers. Then the burly assassin arrives, prepared to kill the dragon. The look in Nina’s eyes suggests he’s welcome to try.

This was a fun and often thrilling episode, but its impact was somewhat lessoned by the certainty that the caper would ultimately fail. It’s too early for the good guys to possess the means to rob the bad guy of his power. But (please) let there be no (or very little) remaining doubt: Charioce has made his choice: to let Onyx run free. He is the bad guy, however much Nina may love him.

Fate / Zero – 12

“Why do I always sit on my smokes?”

After the Rumble in the Marble, most Servants take a step back and assess the situation. Kiritsugu sits in a dark hotel room and pores over intel as he chats with Maiya on the phone…and that’s about it, really.

“I like the way your tent your fingers. Why don’t you work for me?”

Reports and conversation are the name of the game again, but instead of interacting with Saber and Rider, Archer is stuck with Kirei, trying to connect the dots as part of his larger plan to make him one of his men. Kirei delivers his report on the motivations of the other Masters to Archer, who points out that the one that seems to interest Kirei the most is Matou Kiriya, who also seems to be enduring the most pain and suffering.

“I mean, this isn’t how I would drive, but this is fine too, I guess…”

Pain doesn’t seem to be an issue for Iri, while Saber doesn’t seem to be feeling the lasting effects from her throughout putting-down she endured at the hands of Rider and Archer. But Saber does find it odd that Iri has her drive and perform every other task that requires the use of her hands. When she asks Iri about it, she reveals she’s become extremely physically weak as a result of shutting down her sense of touch (a homonculus ability, apparently).

While she believes she can recover a bit of strength by sitting in the right kind of magical circle, the bottom line is that she’ll be relying on Saber more and more as this War progresses. Saber, obviously, is up to it. I must say I underestimated her mental toughness. That circle is drawn in a storeroom on a Japanese mansion that looks very much like the place where Emiya and Saber live and practice in UBW.

“Feel that sting? That’s pride, fuckin’ with you!”

From there it’s back to Archer gradually wrapping Kirei around his finger, Emporer Palpatine-style. He gets Kirei to pretty much admit that he is actually capable of joy, and even if he’s previously considered such feelings to be a sin, Gilgamesh isn’t a fan of this newfangled puritanical philosophy that generated people like Kirei and Saber. Joy is joy, and leads to happiness.

So Archer gets Kirei to ‘find his bliss’, and Command Seals suddenly reappear on his hand. Archer believes it’s proof the Holy Grail isn’t done with him; indeed it’s almost as if the Holy Grail rejected his previous role as Toosaka’s ally and spy and reinstates him as a full Master. Archer also suggests Kirei go out and steal a new Servant, and not-so-subtly picks up the Archer piece from the chessboard to indicate who he should pick.

While there were some nice character beats, you can really only portray two people sitting around talking for so long from so many angles before it gets a bit tedious. In other words, another cool-down episode on the heels of a solid 10. That leaves one episode left in the first cour.

Fate / Zero – 11

Iris detects the massive mana of Rider heading towards the castle, and Saber suits up for a battle…only for Rider to show up in his t-shirt and pants with a giant barrel of wine. He’s not there to fight, he’s there to drink and talk. A Holy Grail “dialogue”, as he puts it.

Saber has no objection, and drinks from the barrel with Rider. Soon, Archer also arrives, on Rider’s invitation, and after rejecting Rider’s “swill” opens a portal to his treasury to draw out…a golden jug and three golden cups.

This would be absurd if it wasn’t also frikking brilliant, for Iskandar and Gilgamesh share one thing in common: they are hedonistic tyrants of yore.

Gilgamesh is such a tyrant he considers all treasures in the world to be his, since they all sprang from his treasury—a treasury so vast he isn’t even aware of all it contained.

Iskandar wants to be reincarnated as a flesh-and-blood man to take up his world conquest anew. Saber…wants to save Britain, in part by erasing all of the perceived mistakes she made in life as king. She wants a redo.

Archer laughs in her face at the fact she harbors regret for the deeds in her life, and Rider can’t help but agree. As far as they’re concerned, it’s the duty of the nation and its people to serve and sacrifice for their ruler, not the other way ’round as Saber would have it.

By insisting upon being a “slave to what’s right”, Saber might be able to save Britain, but she can never lead it, and so Rider ceases to see Saber as a real king.

Kingship, to him, has always been a wondrous gift, and throughout his rule he lived and fought as grandly and greedily as possible, living life to the extremes of both good and bad, that he might inspire men to fight and die for him. When Assassins surround them (a test by Kirei and Tokiomi), Rider transports everyone into a Reality Marble.

There, in the vast desert sands, Iskandar’s endless armies march, and when he mounts his trusty horse and orders them to advance, the Assassins are quickly routed. Saber, Iri and Waver can only sit and watch in stunned awe, while Archer does his best to look unimpressed. It’s the biggest spectacle since the port battle, and it is well and truly momentous.

When the battle is over and everyone’s back in the courtyard, Rider takes one more drink, then takes his leave, which is just as well, as I don’t think anyone’s ideals could have been shat on as thoroughly and mercilessly as Saber’s (If I didn’t know better, I’d say Rider was a cruel drunk). Archer remains to mock Saber, urging her to go ahead and continue believing in her ‘backwards’ philosophy so he can laugh at her some more.

Their words cut as deeply as any blade, as Saber remembers one of her Knights of the Round Table stepping down because he didn’t think Arthur understood his people…and Rider and Archer’s words only served to reinforce her growing crisis of confidence.

But while it doesn’t end well for Saber, like at all, it was fantastic to see three Servant Kings simply sitting in a courtyard, drinking wine, and shooting the breeze…and for Rider to show that he can back up all his big talk, and then some.

Fate / Zero – 09

“Go fírinneach, mo chroí, ní féidir liom diabhal a thabhairt.”

I’m far more familiar with Gilgamesh, Alexander, and King Arthur than, say, Diarmuid Ua Duibhne. Heck, I can barely pronounce it. So it’s good to see a few glimpses of his life before he became a heroic spirit, in which his king’s daughter Grainne was betrothed to a the leader of his order, Fionn, but fell for him due to his love spot. Suffice it to say it didn’t work out so swell. Interestingly enough, the one dreaming of Lancer’s life is Kayneth.

“Oh BTW I DIDN’T sign the prenup.”

Kayneth…is in a bad way. His beloved fiancee Sola-Ui informs him that he’ll never use magic again, which means his time as Master of Lancer has ended. She wants to take over the “burden” of commanding Lancer so she can win the Holy Grail War for Kayneth and use it to grant the miracle of restoring him to the way he was.

Sola is threatening enough looming over the restrained Kayneth in a dark, dank, and not particularly sterile-looking makeshift hospital room. But when Kayneth bristles at her proposal, soon she’s breaking one of his fingers and threatening to amputate his command seal-bearing hand. Yikes.

“I won’t be passed around like a bottle of…Jameson?”

Dare I say, I kinda don’t hate this Sola-Ui? You’ve gotta respect her raw ambition. She was perhaps initially content to let Kayneth command Lancer while she simply provided the mana for his physical form. Now she wants Lancer…all of him. But she has to appeal to his indomitable sense of honor, and get him to overcome, or at least ignore, the regret he feels for how things went down in his life.

She does this by swearing to him that she is only seeking Lancer’s services, and the Holy Grail, for Kayneth’s sake. He grudgingly agrees, but something tells me he’s not entirely convinced she can be trusted. All I know is, Kayneth continues to have just the worst luck. I mean, sure, he’s an arrogant dick, and Sola-Ui is, shall we say, ethically flexible…but when people like Uryuu and Caster are skulking around, it tends to put things in perspective.

“Look, Kiritsugu loves ILYA very much. The rest of the kids in the world? Ehh…”

Kiritsugu is trying to win the War as quickly and efficiently as possible. That apparently means not wasting any time talking to his Servant or being anywhere near her, and it certainly means not stopping to save a few, or even a few dozen, children’s lives. The game is already stacked against him and he knows it.

No matter how much Saber may talk about the sacred rules of the Holy Grail War which are being stamped on, she’s not dealing with a knight. It’s not his job to serve any lord or abide by a code of chivalry, it’s to win and save the world…all of the world. And at the end of the day, Iri feels the same way. Even so, I could never imagine a Servant-Master relationship as dysfunctional as this one, to the point I worry it might come back to bite both in the future.

I must say I wasn’t expecting Rider to get his pants so soon, but this show is full of surprises. Rider also gets along smoothly and splendidly with Waver’s hypnotized fake grandparents. Even better, Waver impresses Rider by flexing his alchemical muscles in locating Caster’s lair, a neat little glimpse of the more science-y side of magic Waver is clearly more comfortable with.

Unfortunately, there is nothing comfortable or pleasant in the slightest about Waver and Rider’s trip to Caster’s underground base. Rider quickly ratchets down his jolliness at the first sight of the piles of maimed and bloody child corpses, and his warnings for Waver not to look go unheeded, resulting in Waver losing his lunch and probably a good deal of faith in humanity along with it.

“Tá mé ag suí i rud éigin fliuch.”

Waver and Rider also meet some of Kirei’s Assassins, something that was apparently not planned, because Kirei is very upset about Assassin not only being exposed as being still around (if not in the game) and having numerous separate forms.

Upon reporting this, Tokiomi tells Kirei to continue to stay calm, keep a low profile, and keep his Assassins’ eyes on Waver and Rider; no good can come of letting his emotions get the best of him. But I saw the beast that was unleashed when Iri and Maiya challenged him. This guy looks like a volcano waiting to burst, and Archer’s words about Tokiomi being a bore are still ringing in his head.

Everyone who fixed this War so the Toosakas would win are operating under the assumption that Kotomine Kirei can be trusted to play his part without any problems. But what if there was a problem with him? I’ll tell you what: it would make for more great drama. No one should have it easy in this war.

Fate / Zero – 08

Maiya has orders to escort Iri away from the castle, but the orders aren’t so precise that Iri can’t countermand them when she senses Kotomine Kirei approaching. She doesn’t want that guy anywhere near her Kiritsugu, and Maiya feels the same way, so the decide they’ll do what they can to keep him away.

Neither of them are any match for Kirei’s considerable mage-executing skills, so all they can do take up as much of his time as they can. The bravery, grit, and selflessness the women exhibit without Saber by their side is something to behold. There’s no doubt Kirei is a fearsome, superior foe, but it doesn’t matter: he’s not getting to Kiritsugu, period.

Meanwhile, a bullet from Kirei’s pistol gets through Kayneth’s quicksilver defense, but he chalks it up to a fluke and a moment of poor focus to the disgust of fighting such an awful mage, and redoubles his defenses…which is exactly what Kiritsugu wants.

Saber and Lancer are having no luck, as there’s no end to Caster’s minions as long as he’s holding his noble phantasm, an old grimoire. Rather than keep hacking away, Saber clears a path with an Air Strike, through which Lancer dashes and slashes the book with Gae Dearg, and just like that Caster is defenseless and must withdraw.

Saber and Lancer’s ‘knightmance’ proceeds apace when Lancer senses his Master is in danger, Saber senses it’s because of her Master, and gives Lancer leave to tend to Kayneth, in accordance with the ideals of nobility and chivalry, while she rushes to help Iri and Maiya.

The next time Kiritsugu fires his pistol into Kayneth’s heightened magical defense, it scrambles the opponent’s magical circuits, causing him to cough up a good deal of blood and pass out. Kiritsugu remembers his mentor(?) explaining the bullets which contained his own ribs in powdered form; but he was only given 66 of them, and we see him use two on Kayneth.

And even that doesn’t kill Kayneth, only gravely wound him. Lancer arrives to rescue him and withdraw, and tells Kiritsugu that he’s only alive because of his Servant Saber’s devotion to the right-and-proper precepts of nobility; because she is the King of Knights. I’m sure Kiritsugu’s glad Lancer didn’t kill him, but less pleased Saber let Lancer get away so easily.

What’s so great about this situation is that everyone has a reasonable position here and nobody is outright right-or-wrong. In a way, Saber went rogue, but again…Lancer would have Kiritsugu him if not for her.

As he beats Maiya to a pulp and chokes then stabs Iri (who he thinks is a homonculus), Kirei can’t fathom why not one but two people challenged him, of their own accord for Kiritsugu’s sake. Kirei has been operating under the assumption that Kiritsugu is, like him, friendless, alone, and understood by no one. But he’s wrong…and I kind of pity him for being so.

One could say Kiritsugu using Iri as a kind of “decoy master” smacks of cowardice, but that position doesn’t take Iri’s (and Maiya’s) feelings into consideration. They do protect him of their own accord, as we witnessed here, and they will continue to do so.

Kiritsugu seems to know this, because when Saber finally comes and touches the injured Iri, she is immediately healed by the scabbard Avalon implanted within her according to her husband’s wishes—something only he and she knew about. Kiritsugu is not alone, because there are those who don’t want him to be.

Fate / Zero – 07

“I KNEW all those cereal box tops would pay off!”

After a slight stumble last week, Fate/Zero immediately regained its footing as I thought it would. It starts out strong, with some more delightful comic relief courtesy of Rider and Waiver, who were absent last week. The fact that Iskandar’s main motivating factor at this point is his Master buying him pants works in a way Iri’s terrifying joyride just…didn’t.

Meanwhile, the War for the Holy Grail is on hold until all participants hunt down Caster and his Master…who are a couple of disastrous bastards. Risei promises whoever kills him will get a rad new tattoo a Bonus Command Seal. That would bring Tokiomi and Kayneth back up to three, and give the others four.

“Maiya, would you tell Iri to tell Saber that I’m NOT talking to her?”

Not surprisingly, the Magehunter-by-trade Kiritsugu is planning to break the truce by going after any Masters who are occupied with finding Caster. At the same time, he’s under no illusions anyone else will abide by Jisei’s rule change, and his cynicism and pragmatism are later validated…and then some.

This is key, because despite making the right calls once Caster arrives with a brace of child hostages, Saber urges her Master to let her defeat Caster. Kiritsugu stubbornly refuses to respond to Saber in any way, continuing his planning talk with Iri as if Saber weren’t even there.

I’m not sure if a Servant’s like or dislike of their Master makes them better or worse at fighting, but Kiritsugu is operating under the assumption a Servant’s personal emotions play next to no role. Either that, or there’s a very good reason he’s not speaking to her that just hasn’t been revealed yet.

“If this is about my cousin Sephiroth, I told him he can’t ask you for money anymore.”

What is revealed on the balcony after that tense meeting inside, is a side of Kiritsugu we haven’t seen since the scene in the first episode when his daughter was born. It’s a side he has no problem showing his wife. He’s afraid; afraid of losing those he loves most, and afraid of Kotomine Kirei in particular.

He wants to take Iri and Ilya, run away, and never return to this nasty business. But Iri won’t let him, because if she does, she knows the regret he’ll feel from running will be the end of him anyway. If death is to come for them all, one way or another, better to face it together as a family, no?

“Can’t a lady fight someone wielding a SWORD for once?!”

When Caster starts popping kids’ heads, Saber finally gets the order to deal with him. But Caster isn’t alone; he may not have Uryuu with him (thank God) but he does have a legion of tentacle demons that restore themselves as fast as a still-depleted Saber can cut them down.

Sometimes I worry that Saber has too often been depicted as a pushover, but it’s more of a “Worf-in-TNG” situation: if he’s getting schooled, you know the foe is tough. Besides, even with her injured hand, Saber kicks plenty of eldritch ass before finally becoming surrounded, overwhelmed, and bound by their tentacles.

“Sooo….while you’re here, d’you mind fixing my hand?”

And that’s when Lancer arrives, and the two warriors who respect the hell out of each other go back-to-back to fight off Caster’s legion together. Lancer assures Saber that this doesn’t mean they’re suddenly allies, just that this is the most efficient way of carrying out the order to defeat Caster. This pairing-up was a definite fist-pumper; I look forward to seeing how the two of them take on Caster.

“I tellya, this T-1000 pays for itself!”

As for Lancer’s Master Archibald, he obviously didn’t die in the bombing of his hotel; he surrounded himself in a quicksilver ball he manipulates with magic. After his so-so introduction and the dull hotel-scenes leading up to the blast, Kayneth is in top badass form himself this week, casually reciting orders to his ball and ruthlessly pursuing Kiritsugu, aiming to punish him for his cowardly failed attempt on his life.

At moments, Kiritsugu looks as outmatched as Saber often has early in battles. I mean, bringing a gun to a magic fight…seriously? But Kiritsugu is nothing if not crafty, resourceful, and sneaky as hell, and when he uses magic, you can bet there’s an important reason for it.

He’s not a guy who shows off, preferring the shadows. He turns the tables with time magic, then aims a special-looking pistol at Kayneth with a look that suggests its bullets might pierce the quicksilver shield. So much for a truce…