Sonny Boy – 01 (First Impressions) – Rules are Rules

Welcome to RABUJOI’s belated reviews of Sonny Boy! I will try to catch up before the end of the cour, but no promises—Braverade

More than anything else, this episode is full of uncertainty. Why is this school suddenly in a black void? Why do only some students have superpowers? Who did this, if anyone? What exactly is happening, and how is it happening? Will it stop, and when? Nothing is certain…hey, kinda like the times we live in. But enough about reality, let’s step into the land of surreality.

The void is intentionally creepy, both in its impenetrable darkness and its haunting stillness. I’ve always been drawn to voids in fiction, because they typically have a way of simplifying the universe down to…the contents within the void that are not the void.

While one egg-headed student is asking these questions, everyone else is going full Lord of the Flies (or at least that’s the vibe I’m getting; I only skimmed the book but I watched the Simpsons episode that references it). The approaches to coping with their new abnormal are as diverse as the personalities of the 36 students.

The three-person StuCo doesn’t have time to ponder the big questions; they were the authorities before the void, and if they don’t claim some degree of power and control everything will soon devolve into pure chaos. The little guy Hoshi may already have some answers, but he’s also shrewd enough to capitalize on the asset that is the class’s popular, if oafish, baseball star in Cap.

It isn’t long before the order that is established (through social media, natch) is challenged by some of the power-havers, who are already well on their way to drunk on that power, like Asakaze. He’s not about that with great power axiom; for him, if he has a power, he should be able to use it to his heart’s content.

If he’s drunk on his trippy glass-shattering power, Cap delivers the hangover in the form of a PENALTY, which asserts itself as a frighteningly sudden big black X on the faces of those who receive them. They are then forced to do something—in his case, long division of pi all night.

Hovering around the periphery of all this political push-and-pull are two outcasts in Nagara and Nozomi. Nagara would rather stay out of sight and out of mind; Nozomi would rather do what she wants when she wants to. She doesn’t have the power of the others but they share a distaste of authority.

When she politely declines the smartphone Cap offers her, then takes it and smashes it on the gym floor, she’s not immune to the PENALTY: a hundred laps around the school that leave her flat on her back on the homeroom floor—Nagara’s usual position as he apparently yearns to be one with said floor.

After a very unsettling shot of the school apparently very slowly sinking into the inky void, we get a flashback of sorts to just before the school went into the void.  Nagara finds Nozomi tearing up some workbook she got from the faculty office, and invites him to join her. Not eager to do anything with anyone, he turns to leave, saying he has stuff to do.

But he’s pressed by Nozomi about whether he actually wants to go somewhere and do something else other than where he is and what he’s doing. All the while, storm clouds obscure the blue skies. When Nozomi puts her hands on Nagara as he’s trying to leave, a lightning bolt flashes and just like that, the school is in the void.

Whether Nagara caused this on accident or not (and whether Nozomi was the catalyst for him doing it, making them partners in crime, like Flowers of Evil), it’s certainly not something in his control, nor was it ever. The StuCo is suddenly ambushed by power-havers who twist the school into either an Escherian nightmare…or a Katamari.

They declare that they’re in charge now, but Hoshi is unimpressed. Cap PENALTYs Asakaze’s two associates, but as he hasn’t broken one of the agreed-upon school rules, the PENALTY “power” doesn’t work on him.

Still, Cap uses brute force by hitting Asakaze with a baseball bat. Since that breaks the rules, it’s Hoshi who PENALTYs Cap into stripping naked and hopping around. Hoshi then drops another hint that he knows a lot more than everyone else, including the egghead (who is probably not on the right track trying to apply things like physics to this predicament).

When Asakaze won’t stand down, Hoshi demonstrates his apparent power: showing everyone a future where no one ever escapes the school and eventually become desiccated corpses seated beside each other. It’s the most overtly spooky and unnerving sequence in an episode full of weird shit.

Once again on their own wavelength, Nozomi takes Nagara by the hand, avoids all of the StuCo versus Supes drama, and seeks out that bright spot in the void she saw before. It turns out to be the same white feather she plucked from Nagara’s face in the episode’s opening moments.

She then decides to put her life in the hands of fate by performing an experiment to see what happens when you leap from the physical school into that endless black nightmare. In a show with 36 characters, I wasn’t 100% sure this wasn’t the end for Nozomi just as soon as we met her.

Instead, Nagara grabs her arm just in time. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter, as the rusty railing breaks, sending them plummeting down the void until, suddenly, it’s not a void anymore. Their bodies and the piece of railing must’ve “popped” the void, revealing that the school is sinking into an unknown ocean, just off the coast of an unknown island with both lush green jungle and a slim, jagged alpine mountain peak, like the Matterhorn stretched vertically.

It’s probably simplistic to say this episode was a trip, but it was a welcome and thrilling one. Even at its most quiet and mundane, primal dread emanated from every nook and cranny. Nagara is somewhat of a nullity so far, but Nozomi, the StuCo, and the bristling supes are all fun to watch. I’m eagerly awaiting the next episode; whether it delivers answers or more questions, I know it’ll be another weird trip presented with a strikingly austere beauty.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

NIGHT HEAD 2041 – 05 – Girl Out of Time

The Kirihara brothers escape with the FSA and Masayuki Miki, who wants to go right back to rescue her boy. But Naoya believes it was Miki’s friend Futami Shouko who guided them to meet Miki.

From there we flashback to Miki’s friendship with Shouko back in 2014, when she saw with her own eyes what Miki could do. Shouko compulsively wrote strange symbols in a notebook which literally jump off the page and send Miki into a kind of hallucinatory trance spanning time and space.

But according to Miki of the present, one day she was just…gone. Of course, we know she’s still alive, kinda, in the future, and either the willing or unwilling guinea pig in a lab’s desperate attempt to do…something. Correct the timeline to make 2041 less of an anti-fiction hellscape? Perhaps.

Miki also mentions how when she was 26 she received a package from Shouko, postmarked before she disappeared. In it she found the notebook and some instructions, which Miki followed, spending a single night in a small shrine but emerging the next morning to find three months had passed.

We also flash back to when the Kirihara brothers were first brought to the lab where they’d spend the next few years. While they awaken in what could be described as a gilded cage, Naoto still tries to escape with Naoya, only to be stopped by a barrier that only seems to affect psychics.

Back in the present, one of the FSA members bristles at Kimi’s story about seeing the future and skipping time, continually calling it a bunch of lies. How he can say this after what he’s seen psychics strains credulity a bit; it’s as if he’s only there in the room to complain and dispute Kimi’s testimony.

Meanwhile, while the SWE lost a number of people, HQ is back up and running, and they consider it a net win since it resulted in the awakening of both Reika and Michio and the progression of Yuuya’s powers. Takuya ended up psyching himself into a coma, but he soon recovers.

Kimie gets to work as a guide for Yuuya and his powers, as both she and the SWE boss believe he could be the most powerful of all of them if he’s able to control that power. All we know from the boss is that they’ll “use that  power to achieve their goal”, which I presume means rooting out all psychics who aren’t SWE soldiers. Kimie calls it “protecting the order of the world.”

Back at the old factory, the FSA’s leader Kazama has a proposition for the Kirihara brothers, and Naoto in particular: they’re going to execute an offensive operation on the FSA, and they need Naoto’s power to help. When Naoto refuses, they pull a gun on Naoya and threaten to kill him if Naoto doesn’t obey. Emily, the voice of reason and temperance in the FSA, definitely didn’t want it to come to this, but Kazama and his commandoes are the ones with the guns.

Takuya and Yuuya are chilling in their cold, sterile apartment when visions of the past start flowing through Yuuya, including a scene of their mom and dad being taken by…er…someone.

Between the SWE crew not doing much this week and the FSA immediately and disappointingly showing their true colors, it was overall a pretty listless downer of an episode. My favorite part was the inter-dimensional joyride Shouko sent Miki on with her symbols, but that was all too brief, and that part of the story still carries more questions than answers.

NIGHT HEAD 2041 – 04 – The Kids Are Not All Right

NIGHT HEAD 2041 is all about making connections between people on very different ends of the struggle for freedom of thought and creativity, which is really the struggle for humanity itself. One of those is that the mother of Masayuki—the boy who can take over minds who went full John Wick last week—was high school friends with Futami Shouko, the time traveling girl the Kuroki brothers saw at the Miracle Mick raid. I’m not sure why this connection exists—or why Shouko ties her hair…with her hair—but it’s still intriguing.

 

Meanwhile, the Kirihara brothers were rescued by the Free Speech Alliance, who are pretty much the opposite of the SWE, fighting for the very things the SWE are trying to stamp out on orders of a government that does not care about the hypocrisy of employing psychics. Members of the FSA admit that nobody really has very clear memories of the disasters propaganda touts as the reason for this thought crackdown.

In case you thought the governemnt had some good points, we along with the Kiriharas are shown how those who commit thought crime—including young children—are put on display like zoo animals and re-educated. These are bad, but faceless people. We only know who work for them: SWE and the Kuroki brothers.

When Masayuki goes berserk, escapes from custody and goes on a bloody killing spree through the halls of SWE HQ, all because he fears the cops hurt his mom, I’m kinda on Team Nobody. Both Masayuki’s mom and Naoya are a bit too naïve to think the kid can come back to anything resembling a normal life after all the people he killed.

At the same time, only SWE scrubs get killed, and I can’t feel too much sympathy for them, since we know “I was just following orders” is no defense for committing atrocities. That the SWE officers with names who we do know shoot their mind-controlled colleagues without hesitation shows how much this system has fucked with their humanity.

Hell, that the system pushed a little kid to the brink it did means this simply isn’t a system that can last long before it crumbles. But despite working for what can be charitably described as an Enemy of Humanity in the SWE, Yuuya still leaps out and saves Masayuki from Takuya’s psychokinesis , while Reika’s own power awakens just in time to save Yuuya from a giant deadly falling corporate sculpture.

This is a great symbol for the system: overly burdened with zero tolerance laws and brutal punishment; hanging by a thin, fraying cable. The Free Speech Alliance doesn’t actually do anything yet, and it’s not exactly clear what they will do. But between them and the rampant “law-breaking” going on even in normal high school club rooms, that cable is going to snap someday.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 16 – It’s About Family

It’s About Family—It’s a line that became a meme when the late Carrie Fisher used it to describe her journey in the Star Wars saga, and often used mockingly or in jest. I decided to use it here without cynicism, because it fits quite well. Family isn’t just about blood, but shared time and experiences, and being changed by that proximity.

After six singularities and change, Fujimaru and Mash are the brother/sister-esque duo (see also: Valerian and Laureline) responsible for saving the human race, aided by Big Bro Romani and Big Sis da Vinci. Servant “cousins” from far and wide have joined their fight, each with their own unique bond with Ritsuka. As for Gilgamesh? Well, he’s everyone’s Daddy, naturally.

This ragtag fam is up against another kind of family entirely: neither of blood nor circumstance, but mud—the primordial kind. Kingu was the proud firstborn of Mother Tiamat, but as he finds himself stabbed through the heart by a chaotic, impudent younger sibling, he probably longs for the days he was an only child.

The Lahmu who stabs him ends up extracting the Holy Grail, which was Kingu’s heart all along. It uses the Grail’s power to instantly evolve and gain wings with which to fly back to Mother, deliver the grail, and seal humanity’s doom. It’s all Ishtar can do to keep up with it with Maana, and Quetzelcoatl summons her Pterodactyls to join the chase. Neither make much progress slowing the Lahmu down.

Kingu, despite missing his grail-heart, attempts to flee his traitorous, sadistic sibings, who relish hunting him down and laughing at his inferiority and obsolescence. They eventually corner him in the woods, but just as one of them is about to kill him, it is killed instead by one of its own.

Siduri, as it happens, was part of the group chasing him, and decided the time was right to make her move. While she kills the other Lahmu, she suffers a mortal wound herself. Before she turns to dust, she thanks Kingu—referring to him as  Enkidu—for all the good times they had together and with Gilgamesh, and begs him to seek a life of happiness.

Gilgamesh and Siduri were a family Enkidu forgot when Mother used his body as the basis for Kingu. With the grail gone and Siduri managing to resist Tiamat’s authority, the memories come rushing back, and even though he doesn’t consider himself Enkidu, tears stream from his cheeks, mourning the twisting of his once happy family in Uruk.

Thanks to some persistence and teamwork, Kuku and Ishtar manage to ground the flying Lahmu, only for it to vanish without a trace. In its place, the long-awaited DARK USHIWAKAMARU emerges from the sea with one goal: to kill them all for abandoning her to wallow in hell. To his credit, Ritsuka doesn’t waver, and delivers the order to defeat the black sheep of the family.

Kuku jumps at the chance to cross swords with Dark Ushi, but can’t quite take her on alone. When Ishtar fires her last bullet before running out of magical energy, Kuku tag-teams with Mash, in one of the better-animated and most exciting lightning fast hand-to-hand battles in a show packed with ’em. I wouldn’t be surprised if F/GO took a week off in order to make sure scenes like this were done right…and they were.

With so much time passing between Good Ushiwaka’s fall and now, and all the buildup in between and speculation about when she’d return, it was going to be tough to give her the sendoff she deserved. Don’t get me wrong, it’s super-terrifying when she starts laughing maniacally (Hayami Saori’s performance turns wonderfully dark too) and suddenly multiplies into an army of dark Ushiwakas.

Mostly it’s just good to see her again, even if not under the best circumstances. But she’s gone almost as soon as she arrives, as Ishtar uses Ritsuka to recharge her energy stores and blasts all of the Ushiwakas into oblivion.

While I was pretty sure she wouldn’t be coming back around to the good side, I’m a little miffed she didn’t get the same sendoff as, say, Siduri or Merlin…or Ana. Instead, she dies gloating that her mission to act as a diversion was a success. While Ritsuka’s party was fighting her, the flying Lahmu arrived and delivered the grail to Tiamat, a huge setback.

Look at that, a cheeky Star Wars reference from the King of Heroes. Having both analyzed the primordial mud and invented a holo-imager, Papa Gil reports his findings to the team, and it’s not good: the parts of the sea now blackened by Tiamat contain her authority, and sea levels are rising. They threaten to flood humanity’s one and only bastion of civilization, and the forces of Uruk will only hold out another hour or so against the Lahmu.

With Game Over so close, the team’s only play is to head to the Spirit Origin signature in the Persion Gulf that is sporting magical energy of over seven Holy Grails. Ritsuka, Mash, Ishtar, and Kuku will have to be enough, barring the return of Ereshkigal…or a change of alliance by Kingu. Mother Tiamat is waiting in the middle of the gulf, butterfly eyes and all. Which family will win out?

P.S. Driving that family theme home, as well as adding to the special nature of this episode, is a new ending sequence featuring beautifully-rendered snapshots of Enkidu, Siduri, and Gilgamesh during happier days in Uruk, set to a soulful new song by milet, who has one hell of a voice.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 15 – Careful What You Wish For

Thanks to Ana’s immortality-nullifying Harpe, Gorgon/Tiamat is defeated in the episode’s first five minutes, which should have been the herald of good news, were this the final or penultimate episode. Of course, with a whole half-cour remaining in F/GO: ADF-B, the humanity and it’s heroes climb out of one hole only to find themselves at the very bottom of an even larger one.

Depsite Ana’s sacrifice, Gorgon did not possess the grail required to collapse the seventh Singularity and end the war. Kingu still has the grail, and was planning on killing Gorgon all along in order to awaken the real Tiamat, which Merlin calls an “Evil of Humanity” before vanishing after a massive “spacetime quake.” That’s right, Ritsuka, Mash & Co. will have to fight the true boss without Ana or Merlin. Bummer.

The real Tiamat doesn’t awaken immediately (though we do catch her seemingly yawning), but from the epicenter of the quake, an impossible force of 100 million beasts emerge, and thousands of them are already attacking Uruk by the time the heroes get back there. These creatures are apparently the species that will serve as the “New Humanity,” and they’re effectively fearsome, offputting, and implacable.

Those attacking the city suddenly withdraw without explanation, enabling Ritsuka’s party to meet with Gilgamesh. He has no orders for his people but to either fight and die in Uruk now or flee north, and perhaps live a bit longer.

When Ritsuka notices Siduri is missing and hears what happened, he demands to be given leave to rescue her in Eridu, where she was taken by the demented monsters Romani names lahmu. What seemed like an opportunity to raise some spirits in Gilgamesh’s court by rescuing his beloved scribe turns sour almost immediately…this episode is merciless in the crap it throws at the heroes.

Siduri has already been transformed into a lahmu, who are totally indescriminate in their torture, mind-manipulation, maiming and killing of “old” humans. Kingu stops this chaos, disgusted by the behavior of his “siblings” but determined to lead them and whip them into shape. For his trouble, he’s stabbed in the back by a lahmu, who sadistically tells him he’s “boring”.

Allies and villains are dropping like flies, replaced by ever more unreasonably monstrous foes. How Ritsuka is going to be able to salvage this situation short two servants is beyond me. And, as always since her capture, Ushiwakamaru remains an unseen, heartbreaking threat

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 19 – Femme Fatale

In the last episode, Alice warned Kirito to give her the unvarnished truth; anything less and she’d strike him down. That’s fine with him. He wants her to know the truth, because once she does, they won’t be enemies anymore.

Alice remarks that, like Kirito, Bercouli and other knights were worried that the forces of the Dark Territory were growing too large to deal with, but their concerns were dismissed by Chudelkin, in a classic “I don’t pay you lunkheads to think!” kind of response.

To hear her real surname, the name of her village, and the name of her sister Selka, brings Alice right to the cusp of remembering. She cannot deny that the pontifex has deceived the knights, so it’s well within her to have been the one to steal Alice’s memories of her human life and lie about it.

The moment Alice rejects the Pontifex’s authority, a System Alert appears in her right eye, which threatens to burst, just like Eugeo’s when he attacked Lord Raios the rapist. Of course, as we’ve seen, Alice is tough as cold-rolled steel, and with help from Kirito, manages to overcome the pain of the eye.

She’s done being Administrator’s puppet. All she asks is that before she regains Alice’s memories, Kirito promises to take her to Rulid to see her sister. He promises, and just like that, the forced foes are are finally allies, and she is committed to the same goal as him: raising a human army to fight the Dark forces.

If only it were so simple. When Eugeo comes to from his deep-freeze, he’s in a dream, in the house where he grew up. His mother is on the bed, but it’s not really his mother, it’s Administrator, telling him he’s the one who killed his own father and brothers so that his mother would love only him.

Eugeo wakes up from the disturbing dream in Administrator’s bedchamber atop the Cathedral, and it’s clear what route the main boss will be taking in neutralizing him as a threat: by exploiting and amplifying his deep-seated longing for the total and unconditional love of someone, anyone.

First of all, I have to note the love with which Administrator is rendered throughout this sequence: she’s ethereally gorgeous, and combined with the delicate, aloof, and haunting voice of Sakamoto Maaya, she cuts quite the bewitching profile. Administrator can also claim to know Eugeo better than he knows himself, and backs this up by telling him all about his life and where it has never gone right: in the love department.

He may love his mother, but she loved their brothers and her husband too. He may love Alice, but she also loves Kirito (and Administrator jacks up the jealousy by showing him a memory of the two kissing as kids). Tiese is the closest thing to someone giving him all their love, but Administrator insists she’ll forget him, as everyone else has. And there’s nothing Eugeo fears in that moment more than not being loved or remembered.

Administrator proceeds to lay the seduction on treacle-thick, slowly disrobing and drawing the entranced Eugeo towards her, until he’s on top of her on the bed. She offers all of her love, and unimaginable pleasure, in exchange for Eugeo offering everything he has in return. In other words, a simple monetary transaction. Due to her otherworldly charms, Eugeo is in no mental condition to refuse her, and repeats after her the words “System Call: Remove Core Protection.”

Regarding this development, it’s a good thing Kirito has managed to bring Alice back to his side, because it sure looks like Administrator has manipulated Eugeo into joining hers. That probably means that order to get to her, they’ll have to through him first. Just as Alice is breaking the Pontifex’s hold over her, she’s fitting shackles on Eugeo, and trading one integrity knight for another—and one trained Aincrad style, to boot.

Qualidea Code – 11

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Kasumi and Asuha’s mom isn’t shy about her goal: to wipe out each and every Unknown she can. In addition to being angry they kept her children captive and used them as tools for so long, she also believes there’s no reasoning with a creature so alien.

And yet, as we learn later this week as the Unknown wind down their operations on Earth, Johannes isn’t quite right about the second thing. Not only is an Unknown able to feel how a human feels, she’s also able to love, in her way. And she in turn is loved back by a human.

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Aoi, who continues to be a tense wild card just waiting to go off and undermine the plans to eradicate the Unknown, seems to understand this. It’s not just that she lacks perspective due to an emotional attachment to Yunami and Asanagi…it’s that they’re worth being worried about. She can sense that the two are different from Johannes’ black-and-white, no-quarter viewpoint.

Unfortunately, a great deal of the Unknown still seem committed to attacking humans, and Johannes isn’t in the mood to carefully pick her targets. She launches a huge attack with her big cannon, but when it proves insufficient and she’s taken out of action with an injury, it provides an opportunity for the kids to keep doing what they do best: fight for themselves.

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Of course, for our six peeps, fighting for themselves means fighting for those they love: Rindo and Hime, Asuha and Kasumi…and Canaria and Ichiya. Whatever other issues are at hand, they don’t want to lose each other, so they have to fight and they have to win. That means infiltrating enemy HQ and closing the dimensional gate that allowed the Unknown in to begin with.

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Aoi remains the third, or rather seventh wheel, following everyone but constantly looking conflicted, and with, as I mentioned, good reason. The ones she wants to protect are the adults who cared for them so kindly all those years, making them more parents than her actual parents (which are probably gone).

As Rindo and Hime encounter what seems to be Yunami’s true form, and the others meet Asanagi, who was human all along, it will be interesting to see how the final showdown will turn out. Will there be a need for fighting? Will the Unknown, led by Yunami, peacefully return to where they came from? Are there more twists in store that will test everyone’s priorities? The endgame approaches.

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Qualidea Code – 10

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The truths of the real world our heads and subheads are now awakened to roll in like relentless waves this week, and it’s a lot for them to take in.

All this time, they’ve been captives of the Unknown, who altered their perception of the world so they would see adult humans as Unknown, and thus fight them. In a way, it’s worse than The Matrix, because they’re not just batteries, they’re weapons the Unknown are using to wipe out whats left of their families.

Suddenly having your world upside down is both frightening and un-mooring, and can mess with one’s sense of identity. The kids hold close to what they know to be true beyond any doubt, and reinforced through the years they were cared for by the Unknown: the bonds of friendship and love they all share.

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Kasumi and Asuha’s ambitious (and morally flexible) mother Johannes is in charge of the humans, having climbed a ladder constructed off those who once opposed her, be they dead or now under her heel.

She’s a handful, and while parts of Kasumi and Asuha are glad to reunite with their mother, this has all happened very fast, and an adjustment period will be necessary to process it all, especially the fact that they no longer need to fight, which is what defined them to this point.

Ichiya is also particularly un-moored, because his idea of who he was – a hero who was “all we need(ed)” and the only one who could protect Canaria – has blown up in his face with the knowledge that it was all an illusion. He was nothing but a clown; a puppet being manipulated along with all the other kids.

It’s really good to see Canaria back in the show. Her cheerful demeanor are welcome in such a harsh new world, but Ichiya just can’t function without her. We saw that, and we see just how much these two mean to each other in a lovely scene that nearly turns into a kiss before Ichiya panics and sends Cana flying in the opposite end of the room.

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Johannes seems singularly obsessed with three things (in no particular order): grabbing and holding power, protecting her kids, and utterly eliminating the Unknown down to the last one, with extreme prejudice.

Kasumi and Asuha have grown up to the point they don’t really need their mother, or anyone other than each other and their comrades to protect them and give them purpose. The Unknown may have stolen them from their human parents, but the crucial years of development they were separated aren’t coming back.

Not only that, but the Unknown, represented by Asanagi and Yunami, aren’t portrayed as evil this week, but rather as two people stuck in a system who only wants what’s best for the children they’ve come to love. Were they misguided in their actions? Surely.

But they’re not the monsters Johannes makes them out to be, and the kids’ opinions of them are at best conflicted, and in the case of Aoi, totally sympathetic.

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Surely the kids can figure out a way to come between their warring parents and the Unknown and come to some kind of negotiated peace or coexistence. That would seem to be the point here. The Adults, led by Johannes, are bent on revenge, and won’t stop attacking. It’s up to their offspring to create a world that moves past this conflict.

When the Unknowns attack Johannes’ fleet, its an indication Asanagi and Yunami didn’t get the final say—perhaps their are other Unknowns in higher positions that think about the humans how Johannes thinks about them.

Another point I want to make: we’ve learned just enough about the Unknown to make them far more interesting and nuanced. They have a face and emotions and dreams and desires just like humans. If they think and feel and act so alike, appearances aside, perhaps they’re not so “unknown” after all.

For the time being, Ichiya and Canara, Kasumi and Asuha, and Hime and Hotaru all decide to keep fighting beside one another, the ones they know for sure they can count on, whatever issues they may have with one another. Keeping things simple by fighting the enemy, staying alive, and having each others backs is the best way to stay centered in increasingly uncertain times.

Which is why Aoi’s isolation and anxiety worries me.

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P.S. I somehow forgot to publish the draft of last week’s episode review, so this week you get two. You’re welcome. :*

Qualidea Code – 09

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Kasumi is taking all of this weird stuff going on very slowly and carefully. He keeps Asuha out of it for the time being, so he can try to dig up some info on what it is that’s happening to him. He manages to find a ruined building that still has power, but it’s paper books that give him answers, and images, that suggests something very strange going on.

Asuha, with no one else to turn to, turns to Ichiya, who is still angsting over the loss of Cana, but still agrees to help lead the defense during the latest Unknown raid, since he believes he’s the only one who can give proper direction to said defence (making me wonder why they put Aoi in charge in the first place).

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Kasumi decides to use this battle to “jailbreak” Ichiya, in a very strange (from Ichiya’s perspective) way: he kills an adult trying to force Ichiya to retreat, then when Ichiya confronts him on a rooftop, Kasumi fires at him and not the humanoid Unknown in front of him. Indeed, Kasumi seems capable of communicating with the ‘enemy’.

At the same time, Asuha is outnumbered and starts to feel like things are going to get very bad, but the Unknown only target her Code, and once it’s shattered, see can see that the Unknown standing before her is actually…a person.

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All that’s left is for Kasumi to get Ichiya into a position where an Unknown can shatter his code, thus completing the “jailbreak.” This uncommonly affectionate Unknown turns out to be Canaria, whom I figured was going to return sooner or later.

I don’t mind her resurrection, because the details of her death were so strange I was never 100% convinced she was dead anyway. Her death also turned Ichiya into an even more insufferable wretch, so knowing she’s alive will certainly improve his character, since he’s going to do everything he can to make sure this time he’ll protect her.

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And just like that, all six main characters are now aware that the world they’ve seen and lived in as long as they can remember is not, indeed, real, or at least not the only world that exists. The “red” world they can now see, however, is hardly welcoming.

Is it merely the truth they’re seeing: a wrecked post-apocalyptic world the way it really is? Does the ED, which heavily features our characters wearing ordinary present-day school uniforms and doing ordinary present-day school stuff, represent still another reality, or the reality before everything went all “red” and ruined?

Qualidea Code ups the weird in a big way by bringing everyone in on the big secret. It really sells it with awesome sound design and an atmospheric Iwasaki score. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

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Musaigen no Phantom World – 05

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This week focuses on MPW’s member of the team who isn’t really a member yet, the aloof, distant Minase Koito. We learn she gained her powers at a young age, and at the cost of never being close to friends or family ever again. A chimera-like beast who loves preying on animals is the phantom that first awakened her powers, and she wants payback. Only she has two problems: she can’t take the phantom on alone, and Haruhiko won’t leave her alone.

It starts with one of Haruhiko’s friends saying something mean about Koito with Koito right behind him. Haruhiko means to apologize, but ends up caught up in the fight with the phantom. Koito saves Haruhiko from the brunt of its attack, but gets a face full of voice-nullifying gas, and without her voice, Koito can’t do squat.

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The episode is basically a progression of Koito realizing again and again that the phantom is too much for her to take on alone, as Haruhiko, Mai, Reina, and newcomer Kumamakura Kurumi (the girl who was observing the group from afar last week). Turns out Kurumi’s teddy bear Albrecht can balloon into a huge golem who fights for her

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Koito doesn’t take kindly to having her personal affairs intruded upon by meddlers like Haruhiko and Mai, but Haruhiko, feeling responsible for her voice getting damaged, can’t help but stay near her side as she tries in vain to take out the phantom. Mai, meanwhile, is very obviously miffed by Haruhiko’s sudden obsession with Koito, a classic childhood friend reaction.

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Koito’s voice heals enough for her to go at the phantom one more time, but it isn’t long before it breaks out the gas and she finds herself in a tough spot. But thanks to Ruru, Haruhiko was able to locate her. He summons Marchosias to distract the phantom while Kurumi uses Albrecht to pummel him into submission.

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From there, it becomes a group affair, with Reina healing Koito, Mai employing her elemental magic, and Haruhiko sketch-sealing the phantom. Himeno-sensei then notes that the phantom isn’t the same one that awakened Koito’s powers years ago after all; Koito was chasing after the wrong phantom.

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After Haruhiko & Co. went the extra mile for her sake without claiming the quarry she meant to claim, Koito can’t help but ask Himeno for Haruhiko’s address so she can wait outside his place as he waited outside hers, in order to apologize and thank him for his help. Which for someone as introverted as Koito, is real progress.

This episode got repetitive at times – Koito faces off against the phantom; loses; gets bailed out; then protests the others’ interference – but it was a decent enough fleshing out of the heretofore least fleshed-out member of the team…aside from Kurumi, who seems to exist in the show for “cuteness (as opposed to comic) relief.”

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Aldnoah.Zero – 24 (Fin)

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I knew every Orbital Knight wouldn’t immediately heed Asseylum’s out-of-the-blue call for an end to hostilities, but that didn’t matter: as long as some of them stopped to see which was the wind was blowing, it was going to be a huge blow to Slaine’s power base, drawing things that much closer to an endgame.

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Neither Lemrina and Harklight want Slaine to give up, but neither of them have the benefit of his experience, all of which runs through his head in the corridor, where he has a clear view of the death and destruction taking place in his name. From there, he decides to evacuate Lemrina and order Harklight and the rest to surrender while he blows the Moonbase up.

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Harklight isn’t going down quietly, however, and neither are his Stygis comrades. They end up changing Slaine’s mind, at least insofar as he’d rather go out dueling Inaho one last time then dying in that control room. And so their final battle begins.

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When Inaho engages Slaine and asks him (via radio channel…SEE, Gundam G? Mecha pilots CAN communicate with each other once in a while), Slaine assumes Inaho wants to fight him as much as he wants to fight Inaho. But Inaho’s “different objective” isn’t that.

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Asseylum had her big badass announcement that turned the tide of the battle, so even though we know this has to be about Inaho and Slaine at this point, it’s a bit disappointing that all she can do here is clasp her fingers together, watch, and wait, hoping the boys don’t succeed in destroying each other.

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They very nearly do, too, exhausting their ammo, snapping all of their swords, and finally just pummeling each other like rock-’em-sock-’em robots. But Inaho, even without relying on his magic eye, is the better tactician, and he manages to neutralize Slaine as a threat and serve as an ablative shield for their mutual re-entry into the atmo.

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Once back on good old Earth, Slaine again gets the wrong idea, thinking he’s in a reversal of last season’s finale and that Inaho is going to put a bullet in his head. Inaho might want to do that, considering everything Slaine’s put him and Earth and Seylum through, but I knew he wouldn’t.

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That brings us to the epilogue, in which Empress Asseylum activates the first Terran Aldnoah Drive as a gesture of goodwill, and EYEPATCH INAHO visits Slaine, who is believed dead by the public, but remains alive in a creepy lucite prison cell.

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Not that the creepy cell is helping, but he’s not in a great place emotionally, and not eating his meals. He’s still waiting for Inaho to finish him, to exact justice upon him for all of his sins. But while Inaho has been many things throughout the run of this show—Mary Stu; know-it-all; humblebragger; cyborg; savior of mankind—but he’s no executioner, and he entrusts Slaine’s fate to the one most equipped to properly judge him: Seylum.

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Slaine taught Asseylum a lot of things about Earth (some of them, like why the sky is blue, weren’t accurate, but still). But it’s Asseylum who teaches Slaine something about Vers that he may not have picked up on while hanging out with all those Orbital Knights: pages can be turned, people can be forgiven, and lives can be redeemed in time.

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Aldnoah.Zero – 23

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With the Moonbase Chase and Princess Shuffle completed successfully, Asseylum is now in the hands of Count Cruhteo the Younger, and it’s confirmed that those are far better hands to be in than Slaine’s.

And hey, Cruhteo doesn’t seem to have an ulterior motive here: he’s simply loyal to the Emperor of Vers, who ordered him to retrieve his granddaughter. He even helps Asseylum hold firm in refusing to return even after Slaine tries to trick her with an offer to negotiate. Slaine isn’t negotiating anymore. If he says he is, you run.

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As I’d hoped, Mazuurek comes into play as Asseylum’s other ally. Between him and Cruhteo Jr., I can happily report the quality of Martian Counts has improved greatly in the home stretch. Here’s hoping there are other Orbital Knights who will take after them and do the right thing: abandon that little tyrant Troyard for the rightful princess.

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Slaine, obviously thinking he’s come too far to turn back or show weakness, is keen to launch an all-out assault on Earth, a repeat of the Shock-and-Awe campaign the O.K.’s started with, which, you may remember, ultimately didn’t work. Not that that matters to someone who seems to have developed a personal vendetta against Earth.

As he fiddles with Asseylum’s necklace in the chamber where Asseylum had once been in a coma, Lemrina pays him a visit to express how sorry she feels for both of them. I think she’s pretty much done with this palace intrigue bullshit, especially if she senses she may not be on the losing side.

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Somehow, Inko is able to retrieve Inaho, something that happens off camera that I wish we could have witnessed. While sitting with the Captain and Doctor, Inko learns Inaho has given over part of his brain to the AI in his eye, taxing his cranial nerves, which must lead her to wonder if she’s slowly losing the guy she likes.

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Asseylum is surprised but happy to learn that Mazuurek has come to her side, in part, to pay a debt he owes Inaho. Like Cruhteo, his true colors are proven pure: paying his debts are more important to him than grabbing power. While resting aboard his landing castle, Asseylum wonders what became of the gentle, peace-loving Slaine she once knew. Eddelrittuo tearfully corrects her, saying Slaine hasn’t changed at all, insofar as he’s always cared for her, even at the risk of his position or love.

Perhaps Eddelrittuo is right, or perhaps it’s only wishful thinking. My take is that a part of Slaine may still care for Asseylum, but she woke up too late, and as long as she doesn’t feel the same way about her, he will never be at peace.

In an echo of one of the more beautiful scenes of this cour, Inaho wakes up to the sound of his relieved big sister, sitting by his side. When Inaho resolves to get right back to work immediately, Yuki knows she can’t stop him, and not just because he outranks her. Instead, they wish each other good luck and agree to have dinner when he gets back, though Inaho remarks that to promise such a thing could be construed as a death flag.

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Inko tries to stop him too, showing her concern without going so far as to confess or anything, but as Calm knows, no one is going to stop Inaho from going out there and fighting. This leads to an oddly meta exchange:

Inko: Do you think you’re some hotshot ace? That you’re special?
Inaho: I’ve never thought that about myself.

Inaho is joking here, right? He’s just super deadpan about it.

When Asseylum is finally able to contact her grandfather, she sees that he’s too far gone mentally to be fit to rule, knows what her next step must be, and takes it.

Her gramps is also upset that his son died in Heaven’s Fall, but revenge is no reason to subjugate another planet, even if he was of sound mind.

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As the UEF musters for a Final Showdown, Slaine prepares to address his fellow Orbital Knights with a motivational speech. Unfortunately for him, Cruhteo II has more clever techs, because Asseylum is able to override that speech and broadcast on all channels.

She’s got some big news for everyone: First of all, she declares her succession to Empress of the Vers Empire. Then she confirms her betrothal to Baby Cruhteo. Finally, she expresses her, and by extension, the royal family’s, desire for peace with Earth.

Inaho helped get her here, but she had to take the stand, and she did, even if it dooms Slaine. Now we’ll see who among the Orbital Knights will recognize her authority.

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Though I consider myself a strong Seylum+Inaho shipper, I’m not perturbed by the fact that Asseylum—the real Asseylum, not her sister in disguise—must ultimately sacrifice any possible romantic future with Inaho for the good of the empire.

It just makes sense: she’s going to have a hard enough time garnering the support of the Orbital Knights with a real, non-adopted Count by her side; asking them to accept a Terran would be too much, so that’s that. But hey, if Inaho survives, maybe he’ll get smart and pursue Inko. She’s an ace too, you know!

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Aldnoah.Zero – 22

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The Deucalion launches into the Satellite Belt with its space loadout and catapult module, and with it launches the best chance of Inaho saving his princess.

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Before that, Captain Magbaredge is briefed on the particulars of the battle, in which, no surprise, the Deucalion will be used as little more than bait to split the Vers defenses. Darzana doesn’t like it, and neither does the crew, but they carry that plan out…with one slight adjustment.

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Asseylum, Lemrina, and Eddelrittuo locked in the observation room is about what you’d expect: Lemrina blaming Asseylum for waking up and ruining everything, and Asseylum picking up the fact her sister must care for Slaine quite a bit to have gone this far for and with him.

What angers Lemrina more than Slaine loving her sister more than her is the fact that Asseylum won’t return that love. She tells Lemrina her heart belongs to the world and people of Vers—or so she’s always been raised to believe. We’ll see, won’t we?

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Meanwhile, Lord Troyard meets with the newly-arrived Count Klancain Cruhteo. It’s a meeting replete with mutual etiquette and flattery, but in between sips of tea, it’s clear Klancain is sizing him up. It’s obviously suspicious that Slaine speaks of starting a new kingdom, but the princess he claims wishes for a “dream” is nowhere in sight.

Slaine, on the other hand, seems hopeful he can bring Cruhteo to his side, which he believes will cause a domino effect with the other “loyalists”, consolidating his position. Cruhteo doesn’t strike me as that pliable, and despite his successful coup against Asseylum, Slaine doesn’t strike me as that capable.

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As for the slight adjustment to the Deuc’s mission: Inaho consults with Darzana, who apparently approves his plan to sneak into the moon base and rescue Asseylum. He and Inko spot a friendly transport dropping off a covert ops squad Inaho suspects are tasked with assassinating the princess.

This discovery betrays a surprisingly shrewed, if unethical, competence on the part of the heretofore appallingly dunder-headed UE military brass. It’s clear they were never going for a tactical victory with this attack; the idea was for a loud and shouty battle to obscure the death team that would take out Slaine’s Aldnoah source.

If Magbaredge sent Inaho and Inko off to save Asseylum, she’d be ruining the brass’ plans; but it can’t be called insubordination, because she was never officially informed of their true plans. Even so, her trust in Inaho is formidable. There’s also something sad about poor Inko having to literally (and figuratively) “let go” of Inaho so he can go save another woman. But hey, she volunteered.

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Another miscalculation by Slaine is sticking the princesses with the most inept bodyguards imaginable. Sure, they’re up against hardened special ops infiltrators, but shouldn’t that be exactly the kind of foe they should be able to hang with? Instead, like rats in a maze, they dart all over the moon base and get headed off time and again.

In the middle of this chace, Lemrina stops and tells Asseylum and Eddelrittuo to continue on without her. It’s not because she doesn’t want to slow them down, but because she has nowhere to go, which is also really sad and lonely. A/Z is not being particularly charitable towards anyone with unrequited feelings this week.

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We also get—at last—the much-anticipated square-off between Inaho and Slaine, and…it’s pretty underwhelming. I guess that’s par for the course; neither are what I’d call brawlers (I think I’d rather have Rayet on my side in a hand-to-hand fight), and the zero-g conditions contribute to a stalemate after a brief exchange of gunfire. That, and the ever-wily Inaho hits some steam pipes, the steam of which covers his escape.

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By that point, Inaho has really used his Google Glass implant way too much, to the extent that just moments after finally reuniting with his beloved Seylum, he passes out. That’s when something strange and unexpected happens: the implant takes over his brain and voice; a totally artificial “backup program” for Inaho the human being. Whoa.

For a second I wondered if this Inaho was an android—it would explain a great many things—but the AI puts that matter to rest at once with these deeply romantic words:

Even though this boy is aware that Princess Asseylum is a separate individual, he misidentifies her as a part of himself. He therefore placed maximum priority on her safety and has acted to protect her.

What a novel way to confess. The AI also tells Asseylum and Eddelrittuo where to go to get picked up by Inko, and Asseylum tells it to thank him when he wakes up, and confesses that she also thinks of Inaho as a part of herself. As if there was any doubt.

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With the last standing assassin cornering Asseylum and Eddelrittuo, combined with Inaho’s breakdown, those who are loved by the one they love didn’t have it any easier than the losers.

When Eddelrittuo valiantly stepped in front of her princess, I feared the worst, but the assassin is taken out by none other than Count Cruhteo…who may either be our new best friend, or a cure that’s worse than the disease if he intends to exploit the the princess just as Slaine did.

He’s quite the wild card, but the glass-half-full part of me wants to think his intentions are honorable, but I do wonder what will become of Inaho, unconscious behind enemy lines, along with Mazuurek, who was a no-show this week.

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