Tokyo Ghoul:re – 08 – Live Like a Rose

It’s always more complicated than “good” and “evil” in Tokyo Ghoul; there are plenty sympathetic ghouls and detestable doves, and everything in between. Somewhere on that spectrum lies Kanae, a ghoul who became the ward and attendant of Tsukiyama Shuu.

Shuu taught Kanae to live proudly “like a rose” and never cry alone. But with Shuu withering away, Kanae is worried about being left alone (again). Enter Hori Chie, who may have just the thing to save her friend Shuu’s life.

Meanwhile, not all is ducky at Aogiri Tree, as Ayato’s request to retrieve Hinami from Cochlea is denied by Tatara. Tatara decides they’ll simply have to replace her with someone else, but that doesn’t sit well with Ayato, who has an emotional bond with Hinami and feels responsible for her being caught. Haise tells Hinami that he can’t be Kaneki Ken…but is he sure he has a choice in the matter?

Back at Casa de Tsukiyama, Chie hands Kanae an envelope that contains something that will help Shuu, then goes on her way. She’s very nearly apprehended by CCG for suspected aiding of ghouls, but demonstrates her talent for elusiveness, as well as her stalwart vow to have as much fun in life as she can before dying.

At CCG, Shirazu receives his new quinque derived from Nutcracker…and he can’t handle it. He still has nightmares about how she said all she wanted was to be beautiful. Quinx hooks up with the elite S1 Squad to take care of a group called “Rose.” S1 is led by Special Class Investigator Ui Koori and his pink-haired partner Ihei Hairu.

That creepy-ass dude Kijira Shiki is also there, looking more like the bad guy in some Lerche anime. Saiko, who didn’t have breakfast and is flagging fast, insists that she, Shirazu, and Kuroiwa stop at a bakery for sustenance; one of the bakers there knows Kuroiwa from way back.

S1 corners a squad from Rose, and we see Hairu in action; Urie may think her an “airhead”, but she knows what she’s doing when it comes to fighting ghouls. However, only one of the three is captured; one returns to base to have her injuries treated, and she’s visited by Kanae.

Later, Kanae shows Shuu the item Chie provided: a photo of Sasaki Haise. Seemingly able to discern that there’s something (or rather someone) verrry familiar about the guy, Shuu, demonstrating admirable restraint and calm, asks Kanae to be shown more of this Sasaki Haise guy.

It’s just not right that Shuu should stay in such a state; I’d love to see the guy return to his former vitality. At any rate, whether you’re a ghoul, a dove, or one of the people in between just trying to survive and thrive, the work is never done.

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Tokyo Ghoul:re – 07 – Congratulations and Recollections

The sheer number of players big and small in the Tokyo Ghoul universe can make darting from one group to another a daunting task, especially for one not versed in the manga upon which :re is based. Still, the sight of all those myriad faces, most of them familiar, lend the world a lived-in, oddly comforting atmosphere.

Then there’s the new faces, our Quinx Squad, who come out of the great Auction Raid not only none the worse for wear (relatively), but having distinguished themselves to a man (and in Saiko’s case, to a woman). The raid ends abruptly—which I was hoping for. Sasaki takes Hinami into custody (after Arima allows it), and Rabbit and the other members of Aogiri Tree retreat.

Most of the surviving CCG investigators are promoted in a ceremony, with Tooru jumping from 3rd to 1st class for his conspicuous valor (no doubt irking Urie, who probably wishes he outranked his Quinxmate) Their leader Sasaki becomes a Senior Investigator at a very young age.

As the Doves celebrate their victory, Akira visits her father’s grave, eager new members join a “cursed” squad, Tooru is coached in knifesmanship by Juuzou, and a familiar green-haired lady leaves something in the Quinx Squad’s house’s mailbox.

The celebrations continue when Sasaki invites Akira and Arima over for a dinner party, preparing a sumptuous feast for them and his squad, and giving everyone gifts to commemorate their promotions (or in Arima’s case, just ’cause). After so much peril, blood, and death, I liked the return to the warm and cozy home life of the squad.

Even stick-in-the-mud Prince Urie, who manages to be both insufferable and sympathetic, chips in, while the higher-ranked investigators seem happy for the respite; there’s no other motive for Sasaki inviting them except perhaps to show them  how much his ragtag squad has gelled.

Then Sasaki opens the package addressed to him. It contains Kaneki Ken’s mask, as well as a novel by Takatsuki Sen (who also happened to be the deliverer of the package). If this is an effort by her to help Sasaki remember more about Ken, it seems to work in a very specific and poignant way.

As Shirazu visits his injured, unconscious sister in the hospital (something Urie also happens to see) Sasaki ends up in a cafe being served coffee by Touka at the Cafe :re, and thinking how familiar the coffee, the waitress, and the other patrons of the cafe feel.

Then walks past Anteiku in its prime, with Yoshimura looking on before walking in. Sasaki looks again, and the cafe is gone, replaced by a cleared lot and orange cone barriers. He must have been seeing through Ken’s eyes.

Tokyo Ghoul:re – 06 – Filling the Void

The Quinx Squad remains split into thirds as the raid enters its final stages—and you get the sense that they’d do better as a single unit. Thankfully, Urie is not all alone when he decides it’s time to unleash his “Frame 4” power…because it doesn’t go all too well for him!

Once Big Madam can gauge his power, she realizes he’s punching way above his weight, and takes him out with a barrage of blows. Tooru is there to comfort Urie in his defeat (when “ME! ME! ME!” becomes “O Woe is Me!”), while Juuzou has backup and no qualms about bringing down his former “Mama”.

Meanwhile, Shirazu and Saiko are fighting Nutcracker with Hayashimura…only Saiko…isn’t really doing anything; simply asking what she should do. Shirazu knows what I’ve come to suspect (and which was kind of obvious): Saiko has the highest latent ability among the Quinx Squad members not named Sasaki Haise.

Saiko is also motivated by a desire to help Haise, and her burst of violence, while off-camera, puts the Nutcracker on her ass. Shirazu finishes her off, but not before Nut says something very “human” about always wanting to be pretty.

As Shirazu and Saiko defeat Nutcracker, Juuzou and the XIIIth take out Madam, leaving Owl and Haise as the one remaining main event of the raid.

Haise is scared of giving in too much to the Kaneki Ken within him lest he lose himself, but Owl takes advantage of his hesitation by utterly laying waste to him, while one of his associates broadcasts Haise’s screams of pain over the P.A. system, leading Saiko to race to where he is.

Saving Haise from an early grave is none other than Fueguchi Hinami, who states that Haise is too valuable for Owl to simply eliminate on a whim. Owl doesn’t like that, but Hinami can hold her own against him, at least long enough for Haise to get his shit together and summon enough of Kaneki’s power to fight back against Owl himself.

The process whereby Haise does this is by realizing that while he fears Kaneki—and rightly so—there’s a part of Kaneki within him that is still a child, and similarly terrified. It’s not about competing with the guy; it’s about relating to him. He shouldn’t fear the void, he should embrace it, and Ken. If he doesn’t, he and his squad are toast.

I’ll be honest, the raid lost a bit of steam from the first episode to the second, and between Big Madam’s wildly variable mouth size and the huge number of seemingly mortal wounds that turn out not to be not that bad, the decline in my enthusiasm has continued into the third. The fourth will surely mark the end the raid (one can hope). We’ll see where Haise and the Quinx Squad stands then.

Darling in the FranXX – 16 – How The Mood Has Changed

The Gran Crevasse is now under human control, but at the cost of about 40% of their parasites. Plantation 13 has been devastated, and Mistilteinn is without reliable sources of clean water, food, and electricity. Squad 13 has been ordered to stand by, and they’ve stood by for a month with nary a word from Nana or Hachi and only weekly deliveries of rations.

Despite all that, the group has never been closer. The squad went through the wringer and came out with bonds stronger than ever. The decision to collectively forgive and embrace Zero Two has also led to her pitching in and working diligently to do her part to help everyone out in the tougher times where their every domestic need is no longer taken care of.

The lack of sorties means Goro is a bit restless, while when Michiru asks Kokoro to cut his hair (during which time he works through his angst rather nicely), Kokoro gives him a kiss, and is wordlessly rebuffed.

There are also signs that the parasites might not be long for this world. Ikuno suffers from headaches and fever, and while bathing, Zero Two discovers white hairs among Miku’s red locks. Still, Hiro is having fun, and would love to live the way they’re living forever; sentiments Zero Two shares.

The two also spearhead a different kind of operation: one that will ensure the squad’s survival even if the food rations end. The squad catches their own fish, prepare them, and eat them on their own, a huge step towards independence for the once-coddled parasites.

While they’re engaging in this operation, Ichigo comments about how the mood of the squad has changed, how she likes the change, and how she admits she initially misjudged Zero Two as being fundamentally “different” from the rest of them; and now believes that not to be true.

In another case of the parasites perhaps not being quite as well as they could be, Zorome calls Futoshi out on his recent habit of not eating, or throwing up what he does eat. Zorome tears up while pleading with his comrade to eat if he wants to survive.

The squad may sometimes butt up against each other in these lean and trying times when they’re not sure when their next meal or drink will come, but Hiro maintains that this is all a good thing for them. He feels like this is “where they truly belong”, because there should be, and is, more to their lives than piloting FranXX and fighting Klaxosaurs.

Later that night, while drawing beautiful illustrations drawn from her memory of the picture book she had—her first “pretty thing”, Zero Two admits to having learned that being human is about more than looking human, and that Hiro’s humanity was the kind she truly wanted.

Their bliss is short-lived, as expected; Zero Two senses…something off in the distance—someone who looks for all the world like some kind of humanoid Klaxosaur pilot, like her, no doubt come to sour what had been such a pleasant and tranquil mood.

Tokyo Ghoul:re – 05 – Damn You and Your Sexy Body!

The battle continues on numerous fronts—almost too many, to be honest—but this scattered episode manages to linger long enough on the important ones. Kanae learns how fast Tooru heals and aims to relieve him of his limbs, but is thwarted by Haise, backed by Shiazu, Urie, and Saiko. The Quinx squad fares much better than other squads, and one particularly unlucky one must square off against the certifiable Owl.

Another squad bites off more than they can chew in trying to take out Nutcracker, and get their, er…nuts cracked. Naki is certain he’s done for courtesy of Akira, but gets bailed out by Rabbit, who decides to break off from his stalemated duel with Juuzou.

The Quinx manage to do a number on Kanae, but their quarry is retrieved by Matsumae. When Washu orders Quinx to engage Nutcracker, Haise requests Tooru be evacuated out of the shit, and Washi recommends Urie for this purpose—much, initially, to Urie’s annoyance. He’s trying to “distinguish” himself as an investigator, and being relegated to escort duty is hella lame for the self-involved, triangle-eyed brat.

One doomed member of the unlucky squad recognizes Owl as former investigator Takizawa, whose lectures she once attended. Recalling that she talked in class, he impales her with his hand. Meanwhile, Urie does exactly what Washu thought he would do and goes looking for a way to earn some glory by finding a hidden passageway beneath the auction stage.

Juuzou is already down there, and along with Urie and Tooru, start hacking away at the masked auction attendees, whose whereabouts had previously been unknown. Urie is happy he can unleash his full power with someone of Juuzou’s caliber fighting beside him, while Tooru is just trying to contribute in any way he can.

Throughout the battles and dialogue, Yamada Yutaka’s electronic score pulses along, providing a stylish rhythm for the bloody chaos. While the animation is a little iffy, I have zero complaints about TG:re’s soundtrack.

Urie’s hubris gets the best of him, as he ends up falling victim to Big Madam’s predation, and when Tooru catches up to him, she’s in the process of gulping him down like a snake swallowing a rat…so not exactly distinguishing himself!

Finally, the rest of Quinx squad never makes it to Nutcracker; instead, Haise is ordered by Washu to fight Owl one-on-one, no doubt to test the limits of his abilities. Unfortunately, Saiko does absolutely nothing with her giant hammer, and is escorted away by Shirazu.

Even if we assume Haise can handle Owl or at least fight him to a draw, there’s still a lot of players left on the board for next week: Big Madam, Nutcracker, and Rabbit chief among them.

Darling in the FranXX – 15 – Two Jian Become One, and a Much Bigger World Reveals Itself

When the Battle of Gran Crevasse begins, Hiro has no pistil, partner, or FranXX…a bird with one wing and one eye, unable to fight without his one and only partner. A Jian.

While his friends head out into by far the biggest and most dangerous battle they’ve ever fought, one that will surely determine the future of mankind—a battle from which they may not return—Hiro is merely a spectator in Plantation 13’s CIC, with Hachi, Nana, and Dr. FranXX.

Thankfully, he won’t remain one.

Oh, look: the Nines swap the “gender roles” in the cockpit. It figures that they do things quite a bit differently. Zero Two is of their ilk, but also pretty much her own animal; when we check in on her she’s already devoured all of her disposable Stamens, and is operating Strelizia alone in Beast Mode.

While she and the Nines aren’t having any trouble destroying scores of Klaxosaurs, their foe’s numbers are being replenished as quickly as they can dispatch them, meaning no progress is being made, even when Squad 13 joins the fray with their own unique brand of combat.

Plantation 26 is obliterated, and when a mountain-sized “Super Lehmann-class” Klaxosaur emerges from beneath the ground, Plantation 13 is also pierced and thousands of smaller Klaxosaurs infiltrate the city within.

Hachi and Nana’s foreboding was more than justified: this episode of DFX raises the scale of the threat and stakes to dizzyingly huge, TTGL-esque levels. In doing so, the show reaches a high watermark; everything has been building up to this, and the execution is equal parts breathless and flawless.

At one point, Hiro has seen enough. He’s tired of standing by, and curses himself for having suddenly stopped asking questions and challenging the limited world he’s been spoon-fed his entire life.

Thanks to Zero Two, he managed to find the memories the adults tried to steal from him, and now that he remembers the inquisitive brat he once was, he intends to get back to discovering the true boundaries of the world with immediate effect.

To that end, he pilots a wimpy training mech into the warzone—and nearly gets himself killed. Ichigo, who has tried at all costs to keep him and Zero Two apart, both for his safety and due to her wanting him to come love him as he loves her…but that’s simply not going to happen.

So Ichigo concedes defeat. Goro gives up his spot so Hiro can pilot Delphinium to Strelizia’s location. You can’t help but feel for Ichigo: she can finally pilot a FranXX with the one she loves, only so he can get to the one he loves. But even Ichigo has to admit they can’t save the day without Strelizia at full chat. For that, it needs two pilots working as one.

Ichigo delivers Hiro to Zero Two, but not before she gives Strelizia a couple of frustration slaps to help dull the sting a small bit. Once inside, Hiro finds Zero Two unresponsive, but grabs hold of her over-sized horns and enters her thoughts.

There, he finds the little red girl and comforts her. There, Hiro learns how long Zero Two fought to keep her memories; how she fought the world without him. We learn she got the term “darling” from him, referring to the picture book she ate in order to never forget.

Her horns shatter, and the human Zero Two returns. She tells Hiro to stay away, but he won’t. She may have called him fodder, and he may have called her a monster, but it doesn’t matter anymore, because there’s a world out there to explore, far beyond what the adults might like or allow…and he’s ready to fight by her side for that world once again.

Hiro kisses Zero Two, Strelizia returns to its humanoid form, only red and souped-up, and the two confess to each other emphatically over open comms for all of Squad 13 to hear. Ichigo is “happy” for them.

Oh, and the New Strelizia borne from their mutual confessed love not only tears through the Super Lehmann, but opens a hole to the blue sky, literally piercing the old boundaries of the world that simply aren’t adequate anymore.

But just when the immediate threat is eliminated, a newer, stranger, and most importantly even bigger threat emerges in the form of a gargantuan Klaxosaur(?) arm and hand that rise up and smashes the majority of Plantation 13 to dust.

The two Jian have finally joined to become one, and their world has never looked bigger…but now the question arises: how much longer do they have to explore it?

P.S. Miku and Zorome discover a Klaxosaur core containing a golden mass with a vaguely human form that might be a pilot, covered in some kind of protective coating. Something to keep an eye on…

Violet Evergarden – 13 (Fin) – “I Love You” Means Never Having to Take Orders Again

Violet Evergarden protects Dietfried from bullets at the cost of one metal arm, then prevents the bridge from blowing up at the cost of another (with a crucial assist and catch from Benedict). In doing so, she averts the escalation of an isolated anti-peace flare-up and preserves peace for the continent.

In light of all this, Dietfried rightly starts to seriously rethink how he’s always thought about Violet—the tool he gave his brother which then outlived his brother—and how his blaming of her was only a means of distracting him from the fact he blamed himself more.

With peace secured, Violet secures new arms and returns to ghostwriting work immediately, but as the first Leiden Air Show since the war began looms, she faces her most difficult assignment yet: writing a letter not for anyone else, but by herself, containing her feelings; the whims of her heart.

Cattleya encourages her to write something before the deadline, but Violet gets writer’s block. She recalls that night in the Major’s tent when he told her she neither needs nor should want nothing but his orders; that she should feel free to live free, because she’s not a toll, she’s human, with emotions just like his.

Gilbert proves it rather cruelly by making her as upset as he is, but at the time Violet still knows nothing of what she’s feeling, and realizing that, he decides to table the discussion until after the battle…a “later” that never comes due to his death at Intens.

As if the universe were conspiring to lend Violet inspiration to write a letter to Gilbert, Dietfried arrives at the doll office to introduce her to his mother, who wished to meet and speak with her. The mother’s memory is somewhat hazy, but watching Violet’s reactions to her words (and her description of Violet’s “Gilbert-Eye” pendant) snaps her into lucidity.

Gilbert’s mother tells Violet things only she can say: that it wasn’t your fault; that it’s not your cross to bear; that her other son hasn’t given up on him any more than the two of them. But rather than wait for her son to come through the front door, she takes comfort in knowing he’ll live forever in her heart. Remembering him the rest of her life may hurt, but hey…love hurts.

For all the damage Gilbert felt he did by allowing her to act as a weapon for so long from such a young age, the very fact he saw her as a human and not a tool is what ultimately put Violet in the position she’s in now: with the means to grab the life she’s always been owed, and live in happiness yearning for neither orders nor death.

Vi shocks Dietfried one more time before departing by telling him she’s done with orders. Thus he sees, for the first time, not only a real human, but someone kindred to him in the pain of his loss.

Upon returning from the Bougainvillea House, Violet writes the letter that will join tens of thousands of others and be rained down upon the city by the airplanes, like her weapons of war reborn as weapons of peace and the transmission of peoples’ feelings.

We, as the audience, are the ones who “catch” and read that letter, in which she states that while she didn’t understand anything about how he felt when he tried to tell her, by ghostwriting she’s gradually developed the tools to sense how people feel, and thus how he felt.

Finally, she speaks of how she feels. She continues to believe he’s alive, whether that’s somewhere out in the world or in her heart and those of his mother and brother, and that she finally understands what the words “I love you” mean “a little better.”

So She’ll continue her work living, writing, transmitting the contents of others’ hearts through paper and ink, and in doing so continue to learn about her own emotions. Since a “new project” has already been greenlit, we’ll be witnesses to the continuation of her journey, and that of her colleagues at the Auto Memoir Doll Service.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 10 (Fin) – Hakuno Picks a Third Way

FELE’s last episode for a while elaborates on the plan devised by Rin and Rani to bring a Master to the Sixth Floor, and they relay those plans to Hakuno on the roof of a high school down on what I assume to be the level where he started.

Waking up in the ladder with Saber, Hakuno explores his code casting powers, which apparently contain all of the weapons and skills of the masters who died before him. That combination of abilities adds credence to Saber’s insistence that he is himself and no one else, and must proceed as such.

When they reach the Sixth floor, it is a white wasteland piled with long-unused lances. Suddenly, Rin appears in her Lancer garb and attacks Saber, and a giant Rani sneaks up on Hakuno. Then Rin and Rani fight each other, more Rins show up, more Ranis show up, and Hakuno and Saber basically get a very efficient course in what’s been happening for about a millennium.

They realize the lands and waters are littered not just with weapons, but corpses of endless Rin and Rani copies. But there is one place where there are no corpses, and Hakuno determines that’s where they should go.

While pondering what the heck is up with all the Rin copies, the “real” Rin arrives, but like her “soldier” versions, she’s only a digital copy, and a fragile one at that. She’s just able to lead them to the central dome when she starts to disperse, a process she tells them actually hurts quite a bit.

Within the halls of the dome, recorded video of Rin and Rani is projected on cross-shaped supports. They once fought as rival Masters on this floor, but Moon Cell deemed their fight a draw just before the Holy Grail War was suspended, leaving them in a horrifying limbo of fighting and killing each others’ endless digital copies as the “originals” lay dormant.

It’s a stalemate, but it’s also a bug in the system that’s gotten way out of control, so they both sent avatars of themselves to guide Hakuno here, so he could end the cycle and choose a winner and a loser, something Moon Cell couldn’t do.

However, Hakuno doesn’t choose to kill either Rin or Rani. Instead, he tries to revive both of them. Only Rin survives, while Rani passes on due to the “peculiar” nature of her digital body. But she’s grateful for the attempt, and Rin is grateful he succeeded in bringing her back. Once Rani is laid to rest, she commits herself to continuing to aid Hakuno until the end.

“Fate Spin-off By Shaft” was met with mixed and polarizing emotions, but I for one enjoyed it immensely. It took the parts of Fates I’d seen before and liked and placed them in a gorgeously-rendered distant and unsettling future where a tiny glimmer of hope still remains thanks to a walking talking manifestation of death itself and his trusty, adorable, formidable Roman Emperor of a Servant. I’m looking forward to Part Two.

Violet Evergarden – 12 – The Train Has Left The Station

As Violet flies south from her mission, her intended destination is not home, but the town of Distery. That’s where Cattleya, Benedict, and a group of peace envoys will travel north to Gardarick via the completed transcontinental railroad. The military puts Gilbert’s brother Captain Dietfried Bougainvillea in charge of security for the mission. The troops Violet encountered up north were only the tip of an Anti-Peace spear that is not as decimated as the south believes.

This means that at some point Violet and Dietfried, her harshest critic despite knowing very little of who she’s become, will cross paths. Before that happens, he interacts with Cattleya and [], who bristle at his harsh words for Violet, who like everyone is doing her best…and her best means letters that “slip right into people’s hearts”. Diets can’t believe it.

Violet and her pilot are among the first to notice the first stages of the Anti-Peace faction’s plan, involving fires along the railroad. Their next stage involves infiltrating the envoy train with troops. When Violet spots the train halted in Distery, she has the pilot drop her off.

Vi reports what she saw to Dietfried and requests orders, rejecting the notion that doing so means she’s still just a military tool that needs orders to follow. She’s doing what she wants, and what she knows she can do: avoiding war and protecting her friends.

Once the Anti-Peacers execute their plan to separate the front and backs of the train (a nice microcosm of their larger goal to keep the continent divided), Violet is a half-step ahead…fortunately for Dietfried, who must rely on her in the absence of his troops. He heads for the engine to regain control, and orders her to protect the civilians. Atop the moving train, she encounters the very same unit that she encountered in the forest.

Their commanding officer bears the physical and emotional scars of the fall of Intense, the battle where Violet lost Gilbert. He wants the fort back, and while his monologue to Violet is tinged with the thirst for vengeance and the burning of the world, he argues his side’s case well. He and his comrades have been abandoned. Everything was taken from them. Under those circumstances, you can’t blame them for wanting to burn everything down.

Violet resolves not to kill ever again, no matter what, in doing so making her battle atop the railcar that much trickier. Between the need to refrain from fatal blows, keep fallen opponents from falling off the train, and her attachment to the green pendant Gilbert gave her, there’s simply too many variables working against her.

She’s eventually subdued by the general’s superior numbers. But before he can behead her, his saber is shot away by Dietfried, who proceeds to dispatch the bulk of the troops and their general, using deadly force Violet wouldn’t.

Upon saving her, Diets is furious that she attempted to stop the troops without killing. “What’s the use of a battle doll that won’t kill?”, he fumes, blaming that kind of foolish thinking for his little brother’s demise. No doubt he gifted Gilbert Violet so that someone (something in his mind) would always be by his side to protect Gilbert in his stead.

Diets can holler all night about Violet being the one who killed Gilbert for failing to protect him, but he’s the one who decided that Violet was a tool and nothing else. Gilbert didn’t see his dynamic with Violet as user and tool, or brother and protector. He made it his goal to make amends for what was done to Violet; to restore the humanity, individuality, and emotions he knew still resided within her. Her orders were to live, not kill.

In the middle of this spat, a suriving enemy soldier gets a shot off before falling off the train, and Violet dives in front of Diets, deflecting the bullet with her metal arm. The ricochet causes an explosion, which in a crucial railroad tunnel connecting the north and south, may mean Vi inadvertently did the Anti-Peace faction’s work for it, but the ramifications will have to wait.

For now, Violet is committed to following Gilbert’s last orders. And considering she intends to stay alive, she might as well keep putting her skills to use keeping others alive. If she couldn’t protect him, then she’ll protect Dietfried…even if he never stops hating her.

A lot of great reflected themes swirled around this episode. The war between north and south reflecting the war between Dietfried and Violet; in each case with a latter party that doesn’t want to engage. The fragility of the peace efforts reflecting the fragility of the railroad, tunnel, and bridge that peace must travel on.

Making Dietfried and Violet temporary allies of necessity was a great move to get them together, while the train setting gave the episode an excellent surging momentum—as train episodes tend to do.

It’s clear that deep down Dietfried indeed blame himself for getting his brother killed, but keeps using Violet as a scapegoat. That Violet was capable of moving on from the past makes him even angrier, because he hasn’t figured out a way. But if he can’t forgive himself and move on, he’s no different than the Anti-Peace faction, and their general was right: the war will never end.

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.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 24 (Fin)

Cartaphilus and Chise are both what one could call “suffering junkies”, but where they differ is the former’s willingness to make everyone around him suffer as much as possible. Chise really just causes trouble for people; there’s no malice.

She tries to take Carty down, but let’s face it, she’s not that experienced in magical combat, and Ashen Eye intervenes. That’s when the cavalry arrives in the form of Elias, Ariel, and Ruth. Ashen Eye is dispersed and Chise manages to pin Carty, but her attempted sleep spell fails (he’s immune) and he stabs her through the midsection.

Though relieved of several organs, bones and much of her blood, Chise then smiles, because this was part of the plan. She and Elias were “bound” together, so that when Carty contacts Chise by stabbing her, he opens himself up to an attack from Elias, who surrounds both Carty and Chise in thorns and removes Carty’s eye (the one he got from Chise).

Chise then puts Carty to sleep with a pretty lullaby before passing out herself from her injuries. While unconscious, she’s visited by Carty’s curse, who tells her both he and the dragon are fighting it out in her body. It will keep her alive, but one day she’ll die. So, not that much different from anyone else.

She awakens back in her bed at home, and after hugging Elias, makes him explain why he used Stella for such a nefarious purpose.

That spurs an argument between the two, but they eventually hammer out an agreement. From now on, when he’s not with her, she won’t put herself in danger, will back down if about to get hurt, and will talk to someone before she takes action.

Thankfully, Chise doesn’t find herself in danger for the rest of the finale. After checking in on a slumbering Carty (who Ashen Eye now finds boring) she takes the train to London, visits Angelica and Stella, and receives gifts from both.

Those gifts are wedding rings (which will alert their wearers when the other is in trouble), a wedding dress and veil. Chise completes her look with penny loafers for some reason (no white pumps?) but I kinda like that choice, and in any case she looks absolutely gorgeous in the sylvan glade where she awaits the arrival of Elias.

There, they both promise to share each others paths, Elias sweeps her off her feet and gives her a skull-nuzzle, and she kisses and embraces him, now married (ceremonially, if not legally under the laws of the United Kingdom). But just because she’s his bride doesn’t mean she won’t continue her mage apprenticeship.

Overall, a pleasant, if tidy, end to a series for which there were great expectations. I would say there were many times when those expectations were exceeded or met, but there were also times that could be narratively meandering or tonally muddled. Inconsistency aside, it was a fun, sometimes intense, and almost always enchanting ride.

Now…Who’s up for a Chise/Shirayuki crossover?

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.

Violet Evergarden – 08

There are no fancy clients or letters written this week, as learning of Gilbert’s death pulls Violet back into her dark past. Though it’s never explained exactly how the girl who Gilbert would come to call Violet was molded into such an efficient killing machine, but one thing is certain: absolutely no care was taken into how her emotional development would suffer from her military duties; at least not until Gilbert took custody of her.

Violet was too valuable an asset for the military to keep on the sidelines, so Gilbert was ordered to put her on the front lines of the war, where she distinguished herself as a fearless weapon. But as he watched her slaughter the enemy without any kind of expression on her face, many a pained look came from the major.

He really didn’t want to contribute any further to this child’s torment, but he had little choice, not being the particularly rebellious type. And so he watches the girl everyone considers nothing but a weapon continue to tear her soul apart as he watches with pity and regret.

When Violet treks (in her memoir doll dress no less) to the Bouganvillea mansion and finds Gilbert’s grave beneath a tree, it may be starting to sink in for her that she’ll never see the major again, but as it’s something she’s never before contemplated—any more than she knew what concepts like “beautiful” or “gratitude” meant before meeting him—she just seems utterly lost without the man whose green eyes match the brooch she had him buy for her, calling those eyes “beautiful from the first time they met.”

Gilbert’s and Violet’s relationship was always an utterly tragic one, with the war dictating how Gilbert had to use her, and Violet never properly growing up or mastering human skills of interaction or self-relfection while Gilbert drew breath.

But thanks to him, she at least had a chance to gradually learn; her exploits with the doll company are proof of that. He was always right about her: she was more than a weapon, she was a human being, and it wasn’t too late for her.

Unfortunately, we learn what causes the wound that leads to Gilbert’s demise, and it’s just a cherry on top of the shit life sundae Violet has been handed. Enemy stragglers shoot him in the eye, using the light of the very flare he sent up to alert ground forces to invade the fortress.

It was the last goddamn battle he and Violet had to fight, and thus the war snatched him away from her when she needed him the most—with peace on the horizon. Will she ever recover from that loss? I would hope so, but she’ll need help from those around her, and she’ll have to want to be helped, as opposed to simply wanting to join the major in death.