86 – 21 – Good Knight

As expected, 86 gets right down to it with continuing the pursuit of Morpho. Shin seems to have gotten the hint that it’s to be a team effort, but then in the first five minutes he loses Anju, Theo, Kurena and Raiden in short order. They got him as far as they could take him; the rest is up to him.

Frederica, who had been riding with Raiden, transfers to Fido, whom Shin then orders to hide with Frederica confined in the cargo hold. He wants her, at least, to survive to try to do something about Kiriya, especially should Shin fail.

As Shin and Kiri/Morpho stare each other down, there’s a distinct epic “final showdown” atmosphere to the proceedings, which is all too appropriate considering how close we are to season’s end. It’s not as if this isn’t going to be resolved one way or another within these last episodes.

Taking out all of Shin’s comrades in such short order raises the stakes to a ridiculous degree; now most of the pieces are off the board. Shin is still flashing his gallows smirk, but isn’t in any hurry to commit suicide, and shows off his full complement of talents and skills as he draws ever nearer to Morpho.

Raiden, who we last saw with quite a bit of shrapnel in his arm, manages to gather himself enough to save Shin from what could have been a fatal attack, but it’s ultimately Frederica breaking free from Fido and contacting Kiriya directly that truly gives Shin the opening he needs.

It also gives Frederica the opportunity she’s always desired to try to bring her trusty knight back from the darkness. Alas, all that is left for him is the battlefield, even as his princess stands right there before him. Killing his fellow Nouzen Shinei remains a top priority, but when Frederica puts a gun to her own head, he’s suddenly very distracted from that priority.

Not for long, mind you, but long enough for Shin to reach Kiriya’s cockpit and put his very last round through his head. This final boss battle is 86 combat at its very best, with visuals at moments approaching the lyrical or profound. Fancy words aside, it’s very awesome looking, and accompanied by some top-notch SFX and that always excellent Sawano Hiroyuki score.

In the end, Kiri’s demise is immediately preceded by Frederica looking upon him, Shin, and Rei together in royal Giadian military attire, before Kiri joins Rei walking into the light, leaving Frederica and Shin. Seconds after Kiri dies, Morpho self-destructs, seemingly enveloping both Shin and Frederica and leaving us to wonder who, if anyone, will still be breathing next week. Until then, I need to catch my breath.

86 – 20 – Still Here

The airing of 86 has slowed to a crawl, and first episode since December 4 is primarily a slow and brooding resting episode. Still, with three episodes left to wrap up the story (or at least the story so far; the source material is ongoing) it can afford reflective episodes like this…but probably just this one more.

After a quick check-in with that Giad officer whose name I can’t recall, Raiden confronts Shin about his reckless behavior in the past battle, and a lot of familiar beats are repeated: Shin doesn’t seem to care if he goes back “home”; the others are worried about him and want to support him.

There’s even a moment of levity when Frederica is a bit too on-the-nose in her assessment of Shin’s present feelings towards Kurena, which is like a little sister and not a real woman. This invokes the ire of Anju, who would prefer if Frederica left things unsaid in that arena, but the humor of the exchange breaks through her, Kurena and Theo realizing that they’ve been relying on Shin all this time while he, the Reaper, fully expected them to leave him someday in death, like all the other Eighty-Six before them.

The group’s Reginleifs are looking particularly ratty at the moment, and everyone has problems that require replacement parts, repairs, or both. But they only need to hold together long enough to catch up to Morpho, which Shin estimates to happen before any of their rigs kick the bucket.

They pause their pursuit to admire the sun setting over a vast grassy plain that looks like the sea, which everyone in the group admits they’ve never actually seen before. Frederica wants to see the sea, and swim in it, with everyone there. Kurena and Anju second the idea, but Shin, set apart from the others as usual, doesn’t say anything.

That night while the others rest in an abandoned warehouse, Frederica hears Shin verbalize the fact that he feels like he should have died before reaching Giad, and still feels dead ever since. Because he feels dead, he hasn’t had anything he wants to do or anywhere he wants to go, like the others. He could smile an nod, but he can’t fake his disinterest.

Frederica calls Shin out as much warmer and softer than he lets on, while admitting that she herself doesn’t feel like she has much use as an empress in a republic, but felt she should at least stay alive long enough to deal with her knight Kiri. After that, who knows…but she’s convinced Shin is scared to move forward because he tried to see the future “for what it is”.

Kuno Misaki continues to do excellent work as the precocious and surprisingly wise and astute Frederica. I was also appreciative to see the five Eighty-Six get one more break before resuming their pursuit of Morpho. Unfortunately for them, Morpho learns that he’s being pursued, which means the element of surprise is out.

Either next week or the week after that, the showdown with Kiri will continue. Will Shin once again get “lost” in the ensuing confrontation, or will his comrades be able to keep him alive and himself?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

86 – 19 – No-Face and the Pale Rider

In a thrilling opening sequence, Nordlicht is parachuted en masse from the Nachzehrer’s hold as Lt. Col. Wenzel distracts the Legion. We hear a yelp and the last we see of the aircraft it is taking heavy fire. But Wenzel’s job was to get her troops in position to take out Morpho, and she did that job.

…That is, until it’s revealed that the damaged “Morpho” in the middle of town isn’t the Morpho, but a decoy. Rather than repaired, the active core was transferred to a spare Morpho still out of range of Shin & Co. As a result, they’re left as sitting ducks as the Real Morpho, the core of which is Kiri’s mad murderous head, fires its main railgun into the town.

All of the allied observers are wiped out, but Nordlicht manage to survive the blast. Back at the command center, the generals, who aren’t yet aware Shin and the others lived, recommend they fall back and regroup now that Nordlicht failed. Ernst says to do so would be amoral and cowardly. He adds that the people of Giad elected him to uphold a higher set of ideals, which means not abandoning the soldiers they sent in to save them.

While Ernst has Shin & Co’s back, there’s obviously something else going on with him. As Shin races to Morpho’s position, Kiri spots the headless reaper emblem and identifies Shin as a surviving member of the Nouzen Clan. Kiri wants nothing more than to destroy everything and everyone Shin knows and cares about, but his Legion superior “No-Face” orders him to stand down. When he won’t, the railgun is remotely deactivated.

It seems the Legion brass doesn’t want Shin dead…and part of me also suspects that “No-Face” is really Ernst Zimmerman. Why he’d send his nation and all other surviving nations to the brink like he is may be explained by his desire to uphold ideals humanity has abandoned. Meanwhile, on his way back to his designated district, Kiri spots a red flag and is reminded of the robe of the young Empress he once protected.

Nordlicht regroups at an abandoned forward base, remaining deep in Legion territory and preparing to pierce even deeper to finish Morpho off. Shin’s briefing is interrupted by weird sounds emanating from one of Fido’s cargo containers. Turns out Frederica stowed away to serve as the unit’s “hostage”, ensuring they upheld their duty to come back alive.

Raiden agrees to take her back to safety, and tells Frederica that there was no reason to put herself in danger; they don’t want to die and are planning not to. But as Shin told his superior during the briefing, retreating now to die tomorrow is pointless. Morpho is on the run, and pissed off by its pragmatic boss to boot. The only way everyone goes home—or even has a home—is to finish what they’ve started.

86 – 18 – A Bat Into Hell

There was no new episode of 86 last week, nor will a new episode air next week. Instead, this eighteenth episode whets our appetite for the final desperate struggle of an alliance of human nations to defeat the apocalyptic Legion the Empire of Giad created. It starts out pretty subdued, with a pair of conversations, once again underscoring the unfortunate production issues apparently plaguing the show just as it nears the home stretch.

Ernst wants the commander’s promise he’s not sending the Eighty-Six to their potential deaths simply because he said they were too dangerous to keep around to begin with. In this particular case, it’s more that they have no one better for a mission that must succeed, or everyone dies. We also learn that Wenzel, who lost someone dear in the war (a spouse, perhaps), isn’t ready to give up on the kids living normal lives after surviving this.

Part of surviving means having the best equipment available, and both Wenzel and her boss know the slow military helicopters won’t get the job done. Instead, she requests and is granted access to an old prototype ground-effect vehicle or ekranoplan, one of the strangest and most nerdy of aerospace inventions.

I believe this is the first time I’ve seen one of these contraptions depicted in anime (if anyone knows of another, shout it out in the comments), but the long, foreboding journey through darkness into its hangar feels like Wenzel and the Nordlicht are descending into a dungeon to wake a dragon that may either help or kill them. It’s also named after a Giadian legend of yore: Nachzehrer, a vampire that drags its shadow along the ground.

Ekranoplan or no ekranoplan, Frederica wants to know what the plan is for getting out of enemy territory if and when they destroy Morpho. Everyone loos around until Shin says getting home alive is secondary to destroying the target and saving human civilization as they know it.

That’s not enough for Frederica, who refuses to return to the rear lines and has a “tantrum” in her room. Shin visits her, and is not particularly sympathetic, saying he’s not her knight, and even expressing doubt she wants him to kill her old one. Frederica hits back that she simply doesn’t want Shin going down the same path as Kiri. She doesn’t want to lose another brother.

But Frederica doesn’t convince Shin not to go, and probably never would have succeeded. He and the other four Eighty-Six might only be doing this for their own pride and because they known nothing else but being bloody swords on the battlefield, but in this case there is literally no alternative; the enemy isn’t someone that can be surrendered to or asked for quarter.

Ernst, donning his army uniform and taking command of the operation, gives the Eighty-Six a pep talk, telling them no one in Giad wants them to die, and that their most important mission is to come back alive. It’s at this point I was almost ready to say “Hey, he’s not such a bad guy after all”…but then the lighting changes, his smile vanishes, and he adds that if they don’t come back alive, he’lls “destroy this world.” So yeah…still evil.

Regardless, Ernst gives a stirring speech to rally the troops as the clock counts down to zero. The always-on point Sawano Hiroyuki score swells, the diversionary forces successfully clear a path,  Wenzel hits the throttle, and the bat-shaped Nachzehrer blasts out of its hanger like, well, a bat out of hell.

Only they’re actually heading into hell. Regal Lily’s “Alchemila” hits different when the sounds of weaponry the diversionary units holding their ground and being massacred mixed in. This heartens the Eighty-Six, as the soldiers of their adopted nation aren’t turning tail and fleeing like the drunk and arrogant San Magnolians almost certainly would. They’re not giving up, so they can’t let them down.

Ernst’s under-his-breath threat aside (does the blue light hint that he’s somehow secretly controlling the Legion?) this battle really is for all the marbles. As the voices of the damned fill Shin’s head and a smirk grows on his face, will he be able to keep his and lead Raiden, Anju, Kurena, Theo, and Giad to victory?

Unfortunately we’ll have to wait at least two weeks to find out. But I’m not bitter over the lack of an episode last week or next. I’m just happy we got this one, and all things considered, it ruled pretty damn hard.

86 – 17 – A Certain Apocalyptic Railgun

The episode begins at San Magnolia’s darkest and most desperate hour. While most of the military forces are presumably turning tail along with the civilians, Lena is standing her ground and commanding what forces she can bring to bear against an overwhelmingly superior Legion force.

While the usual blue lights of her sterile remote command station have been replaced by red flames and burning embers, Lena does not shrink from her duty. There’s an explosion quite close to her position, but scene ends without irrefutable proof she comes out of this either alive, dead…or turned into a Legion.

Meanwhlie, four large Federacy bases were attacked in sequence, resulting in the loss of 20,000 troops, or over a quarter of their forces. The culprit is an ultra-long-range (over 400km) train-mounted railgun code-named Morpho (presumably after the butterfly genus). Shin & Co. are lucky; their base takes an indirect hit.

Morpho is damaged by a concerted attack by three nations whose names don’t rhyme with Man Sagnolia, and it’s believed that repairs will take eight weeks. That’s how long humanity has to take Morpho out, because once it’s back online it can use the continental high speed rail system to hit any capital it wants.

Ergo, in eight weeks, It’s All Over. Giad, Roa Gracia, and Wald all commit to doing whatever it takes to destroy Morpho before that happens. But with the losses they’ve sustained and the multiple battle fronts they must maintain, and untouched Legion factories working at full capacity, eight or eighty weeks might not make any difference.

Additionally, even the combined air forces of the three nations simply don’t have the firepower or range to do anything about Morpho, which means the only possible way to take it out is with a ground assault…over 100km into Legion territory.

Suddenly backed into a wall, Giad no longer has the luxury of keeping the Eighty-Six out of the fighting (if they wanted out; they of course don’t). I doubt any of the five of them are the slightest bit surprised it’s come to this. Could Giad have had more options now had they taken Shin’s warnings about the Legion seriously?

Perhaps, but the sheer scale and scope of their utter hosedness means any positive benefit probably wouldn’t have been enough. The Eighty-Six remark how Giad has a well-trained military, who are holding together in spite of the dire situation—unlike San Magnolia, which they imagine would fold like a bad poker hand).

But Giad has no one in their military as good at doing This Kind of Thing as the Eighty-Six and Lt. Shinei Nouzen. When brought before the general and told to point out where the Legion currently are on a map, Shin obeys, officially confirming his psychic powers. Lt. Col. Wenzel goes to bat for Shin and his comrades, yelling on his behalf about how unfair this is.

But the general, and indeed the entire Federacy’s hands are tied. In this situation, the Eighty-Six are all they’ve got. Were they to send their own forces into such a mission, not only would it definitely be suicide, but it would undermine what little morale remains in the military. They can’t afford that kind of storm of resentment that could lead to widespread mutiny and chaos, even in a force as disciplined as Giad’s.

On the ride back to base, Wenzel tells Shin that it’s not too late to back out of this, and even if he does participate and emerge victorious, he should quit the military immediately after. Shin doesn’t want to hear it. The one thing he and no other Eighty-Six wants is anyone’s pity, especially if that pity and vanity is being used to dictate how they should live their lives.

If Shin and the others are monsters, they’d rather remain monsters than become something else, for as young as they are, it’s too late to be anything else. They learned that well enough during their “honeymoon” period in the Giad capital, trying to live “normal” lives.

With the voices of all the Eighty-Six he mercy-killed as well as the Major always in his head, Shin will never, ever let someone fight or die in his place, they way the Republic did with him and his friends. Oh, and did I mention lil’ Lena has been sending Shin searing hate mail with her cutesy kid stationary for killing her brother? Yeah…that’s happening too.

Not surprisingly, Raiden, Anju, Theo and Kurena feel the same way as Shin: If they run, they’ll be no different from the white pigs. While the rest of Nordlicht squadron skulks out of the ready room after the briefing, the five Eighty-Six basically shrug it off as Just Another Job, and then laugh and joke on their way to dinner.

This newest development is simply nothing new for them. They’ve been sent on suicide missions their whole lives. Nothing to be done here but wait for zero hour, strap into their Juggernauts, and get to work. Only this time, at least, it’s for the sake of a country that might just be worth saving.

That same day, September 2, we see the aftermath of the Legion assault on the capital of San Magnolia, which is a smoking, crumbling ruin devoid of life, as well as one big obvious metaphor for the cost of hubris. The final gut-wrenching shot is one we’ve seen dozens of times throughout 86’s run: that of Lena’s bedchamber.

The glass box containing the little drawings of the Eighty-Six lost under her command remains on the windowsill, but that’s not necessarily a sure sign that she’s dead somewhere in the city. More concerning is the fact Shin had a brief encounter with her in his visions.

Still, the show is officially being coy about her fate, and I for one am holding out hope that she and her sciencey frenemy are still breathing out there somewhere…and maybe, just maybe she and Shin will finally meet in person someday, when all this Legion unpleasantness is over.

86 – 16 – A Child’s Right to Dream

Hours before Giad’s command structure realizes the full extent of the Legion assault not just on the Federacy, but on the three other major powers, and fully mobilizes its forces, Shinei snatches Raiden’s pillow. It’s time to go to work. He gave Giad all the warnings he could to make their situation more tenable, but now it’s up to Nordlicht squadron to shore up the front lines.

Giad’s woefully inadequate defenses fold like a cheap plug suit before the sheer volume of Legion hardware brought to bear against them. The fleeting beauty of their glittering forms rising over the horizon gives way to carnage, fire, twisted metal, and blood. In other words, where Shin, Raiden, Kurena and Anju feel most at home…as awful as that is.

Despite being outnumbered hundreds-to-one, the four of them do what they do best and lay waste to the Legion, who don’t really have any tactics beyond “run straight at the enemy and kill”. They’re mechanized zombies, after all. Back at base, Frederica wishes she could be with Shin and the others, then wishes even more when she detects Shin…starting to lose it.

Shin wears an unsettling smirk in his eerily-lit cockpit as he goes totally bonkers berserk against any and all Legion in his path. He resembles more a ravenous beast killing for sport, not an elite soldier carrying out his duty. This is exactly what happened to Frederica’s knight, Kiri: he went too far, in his case trying to protect her, and completely lost himself.

Fortunately, apocalypse is postponed, as the Giad lines behind Nordlicht get their shit together, and the Legion withdraw. Immediately upon Shin’s return to base, Frederica is knocking on his cockpit, demanding he come out so she can berate him for being so foolish, then cry into his chest. This battle was a little too much for this child who carries such a heavy weight.

Meanwhile, in San Magnolia, three days earlier, apocalypse is looking a little more imminent, as military HQ is still an utterly ineffectual bacchanalian. Only Lena knows and cares about their impending doom, and prepares to mobilize all Processors, even pull them into the forbidden 85 Districts. General Karlstahl tries to stop her, saying if the Eighty-Six won’t fight the Legion for the Republic, and if they enter the districts, it will only hasten the rebellion that’s been a longg time coming.

Lena convinces Karlstahl to let her have her way, as he tells her the time has finally come for her childish, naïve dreams to shatter against hard, cold reality. He also intends to do what he wants, taking up a rifle and resolving to have her back until that shattering time comes. Lena, AKA Bloody Regina, rouses all Eighty-Six troops at once and orders them to battle. Like her Spearhead friends she’s convinced are dead, she’s going to go out fighting—for herself, and for them.

Roll credits and that sad, beautiful ending theme, and 86isn’t done torturing its characters, or us. Frederica reports to Shin & Co. that her Kiri, whom she can sense just as Shin could sense Kiriya, attacked the republic and entered the 85 Districts. As for his present whereabouts, that’s quickly answered when we see a flash of him saying he’ll kill Shin, and then the room where they’re in filling with a terrible light…perhaps the light of that dream-shattering reality Karlstahl mentioned.

86 – 15 – Tines Falling from a Comb

Shinei’s cordial, by-the-book adjutant is giving him a  report in the hallway of their base when a half-dressed Frederica half-sleepwalks right into Shin and calls him “Kiri”, short for Kiriya, her knight who she believes became a Legion because of her. Once she’s fully awake she’s mortified; a proper lady should never find herself in such a situation.

Of course, when we later learn she’s running around the barracks doing all the odd jobs the soldiers have no time to do, it tracks that she’d be exhausted. Meanwhile, the old Spearhead gang is back, but aside from some momentary cheeriness from Kurena, it’s a particularly dour affair. Frederica chalks it up to them getting worn down by their roles as lackeys of the army.

The start of the episode was the least interesting, with their unit commander Colonel Wenzel trying to make the strategic case for putting the 86 to “proper” use in her new prototype Reginsleifs. She seemingly gets her wish on the eve of a forecasted large-scale Legion attack that Shin knows is far, far larger than the conscientious federacy’s analysts predict.

After the briefing, Shin returns to his quarters to find Frederica there. He prepares coffee as she criticizes how empty his quarters are, comparing them unfavorably to those of Eugene, which she cleaned out after he died. Shin tells her she could have spared herself some pain by never getting to know Eugene, but Frederica doesn’t roll like that.

Some of Misaki Kuno’s best voice work is done as Frederica regales Shinei with the story of the siege that ended the empire, and Kiri’s fall as well. Even so, to her it’s always better to meet, know, love, and remember. If freeing Kiri of the Legion means losing Shinei or anyone else, she won’t have it.

Those connections are what make life living for most people, but Shinei has been living without a single thought about his future for so long, he’s never properly grasped that…until perhaps he met Lena and now Frederica. Just as the Shinei’s resemblance to Kiriya was a catalyst for her getting close to him, Frederica is like a subsitute Lena for Shinei right now, trying to keep him aware of the things in life other than war.

Frederica tells Shinei like Lena did to start thinking about his future; even if it’s just his next leave, that’s a start. As for Raiden, he’s a bit irked that Shinei unilaterally revealed to the military that he can hear the voices of the Legion, something they all agreed to keep secret lest it make things unpleasant for all of them.

Raiden and Shinei don’t feel like friends here, because they’re really more like brothers. Strained brothers, due to Shinei being his usual mostly opaque self and Raiden actually starting to think about a future himself. He’s worried for Shinei like a brother too, not due to the coming Legion threat, but becaue the Giadians are “no saints”.

The credits end with the first Lena sighting in what seems like forever. Whether this harkens a Lena-centric (or even half-Lena) episode next week obviously remains to be seen, but it’s clear the calm before the next coming storm is just about over.

86 – 14 – Northern Lights

We rejoin Shin as he’s in the midst of officer training where he’s paired with Eugene. Two of their comrades almost crash into him, so he jumps and backflips out of the way. It’s cool as hell, and it did save the mech, but the drill sergeant still gives him a zero score. It hardly matters; Shin, like the other former Eighty-Six, are shoo-ins for the next officer class.

Lt. Colonel Grethe Wenzel, commander of the 1028th Test Unit, Nordlicht (Northern Lights) squadron, introduces herself by taking them to the now silent battlefield where they were found. It had been under Legion control, but Giad won it back, and built a memorial to the fallen, including a wall of granite engraved with all 575 of the names they found in the toolbox.

Shin and the others must feel odd, seeing the wreckage of their machines of war encased in a jeweled glass and iron gazebo. They loosen up a little more when Frederica presents a resurrected and better-than-ever Fido, who immediately demonstrates that he is indeed the original Fido by recognizing Shin and running around him like a four-ton excited metal puppy.

The third and final “gift” presented to Shin is his pistol—the scythe of the proverbial grim reaper. Ernst can’t very much keep it out of Shin’s hands now that he’s officially an officer in the Giadian military. That the gun is presented by Frederica, who announces she’s officially Nordlicht’s “mascot” (an old Giadian tradition) and will be accompanying them on their tour.

Time passes, and as elite battle-hardened veterans of the war with the Legion, there is absolutely no shortage of work for Shin and the others. So much so that Nordlict has to be split up in order to answer all the calls for their tactical assistance. Eugene just happens to be in a unit that calls for their help, and he is a second or two from being obliterated by a Legion tank when Shin swoops in aboard his new state-of-the-art rig and mows the Legion down.

Despite singlehandedly saving dozens if not hundreds of soldiers, they still regard him with disdain and even suspicion, as with all his superiors dying he’s now the commander of an entire battalion. Despite others warning him to stay away, Eugene has lunch with Shin and Frederica, so he can toss all manner of death flags out.

This sequence could have come off as cliché, but I cared enough about Eugene and his adorable sister that when there’s a smash cut from him saying goodbye to Shin to that same hand holding the locket lying bloodied, it hits hard, in true unblinking 86 fashion. Then we learn that arm isn’t even attached to Eugene anymore.

The last two weeks were hardly all about Shin and Eugene bonding as comrades, and yet his arrival and sudden departure from Shin’s life echoes what has happened 575 times already. The grim repetition of war rears its ugly head, and Shin is already sending off Number 576.

When another soldier uses “86” as a racial slur, his commanding officer scolds him, apologizes to Shin, and tells him he still has a chance to leave the military and “live a happier life.” Giad, after all, doesn’t force children to fight.

Shin waves off the offer as if it was never given. Never mind that with the war going as badly as it is, Giad needs Shin more than he needs them. Shin has his own reasons for staying on the battlefield. Among them may be an utter visceral inability to not inhabit the battlefield as long as it exists.

Even so, there’s a distinct Hello darkness my old friend look to Shin as he hesitates for a moment after Frederica asks if he’s “okay”. It’s not that he’s lying about being “okay”. It’s that he’s never really known “okay.”

Tsukimichi: Moonlit Fantasy – 12 (Fin) – Becoming Less Terrible

After being deposited in the middle of a strange wasteland he eventually learns is a battlefield, Makoto is battling two tough cookies in Sofia Bulga (Sawashiro Miyuki!) and Mitsurugi AKA Lancer (Saitou Souma).  An excellent balance of aggressive offense and iron defense, Makoto is initially caught off guard, and were it not for his Dwarven clothes and accessories, he might’ve died right there and then.

However, for much of the start of the “battle” Makoto is holding back…like, a lot. And what a battle it becomes, as Tsukimichi clearly saved some of its animation budget for this exciting and dynamic showdown. It doesn’t really mattet who Sofia and Lancer are. The point is they are two of the many reasons Makoto needs to pull his head out of the sand and learn more about this world, and the people in it who can cause harm to his people.

But like I said, Makoto eventually lets loose, destroying one Dwarven ring afrer another and unleashing a massive flare of mana that literally changes the landscape while giving him the time he needs to escape his persistent pursuers. Even lying half-dead (and in Sofia’s case, naked to boot) in the middle of a suddenly picturesque lake Makoto’s magic created, the two are still determined to kill him next time they meet him. While I look forward to the attempt, I doubt they’ll ever catch our boy that off-guard and unprepared again.

The plans to attend Magic Academy and for Shiki to accompany him are still on, as he finds himself back in the Demiplane—and with Tomoe and Mio sleeping beside him in various stages of undress. After what happened (Shiki thinks it could have been the goddess trying to force Makoto to fight), the ladies want to go with him, but he insists they stay put. They’re his trump cards. When “the time for violence” comes, he promises he’ll call on them.

In other wrap-up news, Tomoe created a new fragment of herself, who Makoto names Komoe. She also enrolled the forest ogres into taming training for the Demiplane Ranking. the Illusory City is open for business, and Makoto’s general store in Tsige is booming on its very first day thanks to Tomoe, Mio, and Beren’s excellent marketing skills.

The night after the store’s grand opening the Demiplane has a huge celebration for both the opening and the Young Master’s goodbye. It should be clear to everyone by now that a second season is already in the works, as in addition to the typical finale recap/summing-up moments, there are a number of peeks at who and what that second season might involve.

After an extremely uneven penultimate episode, this one returned to that specific balance of serious and comedic that kept me into the show to that point. That is to say, the ship is righted, and I’m looking forward to more of Makoto & Co. down the road!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Violet Evergarden – 01 (First Impressions)

Violet’s life was once simple to the point of elemental. Rather than earth, fire, water, and air, she had the Battlefield, the Mission, the Orders, and, most importantly, the one who provided the last two on the first, the Commanding Officer; Major Gilbert.

When she comes to in a hospital, her face and arms bandaged, unable to hold a pen, Major Gilbert is the first person she calls for. She believes she’s in sufficiently good working order to begin the next Mission. She wants Orders as soon as possible. She wants to return to the Battlefield. She wants Gilbert.

She doesn’t get any of that. Instead, there’s this guy Colonel Hoggins. Violet’s new orders are simply to come with him. He takes her to a mansion, and there lives the Evergarden family to whom Gilbert has entrusted her until she comes of age.

In this civilized civilian capital untouched by war, Violet must feel utterly out of place. You don’t go stashing a military asset in a civilian setting, now do you? That would be improper. And Violet has always seen herself as such an asset. It’s why she stands at attention and salutes Mrs. Evergarden.

When Violet cannot grasp a lovely-looking cup of tea, it’s a highly symbolic gesture that becomes far more explicit when she reveals her adamantine hand. The metal on that hand is unlike anything else in that mansion, and so it doesn’t look like it belongs. Violet senses this.

When Hoggins starts to go, she protests. She must have orders at once. She must contact Gilbert. She must restore those elements that made up her world as long as she could remember. But again, Hoggins is unaccommodating. The war is over, he tells her, and to her that means she no longer has a purpose, and should be disposed of.

Colonel Hoggins, realizing Violet won’t adjust to life in peacetime so easily, decides to take her with him to the new postwar business he started: a civilian post office that also ghostwrites letters for the many members of the populace that can’t write (presumably due to the ravages of the war).

Because Hoggins, once the a leader of a force dedicated to destroying the enemy and nothing else, found a new niche in the war their blood and toil created, so can Violet. It’s just a matter of re-configuring the nature of those elements which she requires to live.

The “Battlefield” is now the port city of Leiden. In Gilbert’s stead, Hoggins is now her Commanding Officer (he prefers “Boss”). He’ll issue her Missions and Orders.

Those orders will consist not only of work—sorting and delivering mail—but also to learn that she needn’t work all day and night; that she must take breaks, eat, sleep, and all the other things civilians take for granted every goddamn day.

She seems to gradually get the hang of things, but there’s still a “fire” within her Hoggins hopes she’ll one day recognize. Not a literal fire, of course, but the fire of the trauma she suffered. She may regard herself as a weapon and tool and much of the rest of the army might’ve thought the same, but there’s also a human girl in there, and it’s time for her to live and be free.

Live and be free were Gilbert’s last orders, so Violet has no qualms about carrying them out. One day, she listens to one of the “Auto Memoir Dolls” writing a letter for a man who wants to urge his childhood friend not to marry another man.

As the words flow out of the “Doll” (really a beautiful, perceptive woman), memories of Violet’s former Battlefield surface. They’re brutal, and cruel, and dark. She’s every bit as brutal, taking out every enemy soldier that comes near her with grim efficiency and with no regard for her personal safety. We also see Gilbert, who seems to silently curse having to send her out to fight and kill.

The Doll’s closing words in the man’s letter are “I love you”, which are the last words Violet heard from Gilbert, who most likely died in that alley.

Violet didn’t understand those words, any more than a rifle would, but after witnessing the Doll use those words with such surety and conviction, she wants to learn what they mean. As such, she asks Gilbert if she can join the Auto Memoir Dolls in order to learn more about love and other emotions. Gilbert agrees, and Violet’s new Mission begins.

My first impressions of Violet Evergarden are…Wow. Dayum. This is how shit is done. KyoAni really balled out, delivering a wonderfully structured, quietly thrilling portrait of this broken vet. The war between nations may be over, now a new, more difficult war begins: to survive and find purpose in peacetime; to learn what an individual is and to learn what love is.

Ishikawa Yui (AKA Mikasa Ackerman) also delivers a compelling perfomance as, well, someone very similar to Mikasa in terms of loyalty to the person she loves most (though Vi doesn’t know what love is yet) to her general badassery.

Animation is, in a word, majestic. There’s a very vivid sense of the ugly pall of war being lifted over this alternate world, and yet the episode never banged us over the head with exposition. The flashbacks to the battle are effective in their brevity and intensity.

And the score, composed by American Evan Call, was the perfect aural accompaniment to Violet’s story. I don’t award 10s to first episodes lightly, but in the case of this episode, there is no other choice. Bravo.

Yuri Kuma Arashi – 05

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When Lulu decided to join Ginko on her grand journey to the other side of the wall, it seemed like the most noble thing in the world. And indeed, the episode opens with Ginko waking Kureha up with a gentle lick to the face…and Kureha shockingly licks back.

But we’re only seeing what Ginko wants to see. In reality, progress is slower than frozen honey: far from thinking of them as anything resembling friends or lovers, Kureha sees them as nothing but intruders and pests.

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Of course, this isn’t just because GInko and Lulu are bears. Kureha doesn’t want any friends anymore, ever. Sumiko was The One, The Only, friend she ever needed or will need. To befriend anyone else is to dishonor her memory and “give up on love”; not to mention it would be super-scary.

So when her teacher tells her to face reality—that Sumiko is gone, and must be replaced by new friends in order for Kureha to fit in—Kureha outright refuses, and in doing so may well be sealing her fate. But Kureha doesn’t seem to care anymore.

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This week we delve a little deeper into Ginko’s past with Kureha and her mom; the photo already shows us that a young Ginko in bear form was adopted by the two at some point. We learn how that happened, in one of the series’ most striking images—a flashback eleven years to  snow-covered battlefield littered with dead bear soldiers, and Ginko close to joining them.

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Suddenly, the warm hands of a five-year-old Kureha are upon her, telling her they’re friends and she loves her—and that’s pretty much it. From that point on, Ginko has loved her back with everything she’s got, and no matter what happened between that day and the present one, it wasn’t enough to destroy that love, or Ginko’s determination.

However, through the loss of her mom and Sumiko, Kureha has forgotten that fateful encounter. It’s up to Ginko to try to get her to remember, but she can’t just out and say it, or she and Lulu will lose their human forms.

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And all Kureha wants to remember is Sumiko. Making friends will only create memories that will cause her memories of Sumiko to fade with time. When her classmate Harishima Kaoru tearfully apologizes on behalf of the rest of the class for excluding her, and begs her forgiveness, she has none to give. Kureha’s a stick-to-it kind of gal; if the class is going to start something, they’d sure as hell finish it.

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Back home, Ginko and Lulu continue to flail about Kureha’s house against her desire for them to be there. Revealing aprons and a smorgasbord don’t interest her in the least.

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Yet Ginko continues to see and hear what she wants to, at least until the fantasy fades away and she sees and hears what really is: Kureha wants nothing to do with her, and if an approach exists that will make her remember, Ginko and Lulu haven’t cracked it yet.

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While the bears pull out all the stops for Kureha in vain, Kaoru and the class does the same in helping her replant the garden in preparation for her birthday. And where the bears fail, Kureha’s class get her to lower her defenses a little by killing her with kindness.

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Then the pretty, laid-back flutes and harps are replaced by a harsher electronic theme as Kaoru and the class reveals it’s all an act. Of course it is. And Kureha’s instincts were correct. They’re still fully committed to making her invisible by naming her the Number One Evil. Kureha’s teacher may have been willing to exercise some patience with her, but her peers aren’t so understanding.

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Ginko and Lulu catch on to all of this, and go to Yuri Court to argue their case. The defense attorney is all for them protecting the girl they love, but the prosecutor believes they’re only using Kureha as an excuse to eat girl after invisible girl. When Life Sexy asks Ginko what her true goal is, she confesses: she wants Kureha, all to herself.

It’s something Lulu must have suspected, but that doesn’t make it hurt less to hear it out loud. Ginko also brings up a “serious crime” (killing Kureha’s mother, perhaps, which is why she has that star pendant?”) from which there’s no going back. Life Sexy approves their Yuri, and off they go.

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Ginko and Lulu confront and threaten Kaoru late at night at the garden, believing they’re in control. But that, too, proves a fantasy, as at the end of the day, the surge of passion that overcomes a charging bear at its seemingly terrified prey will make that bear blind to the trap set before it. Ginko gets snapped up in that trap, and Kaoru bears a predatory grin of her own.

In obviously immense pain (and immense trouble), Ginko calls out, not for Lulu, who’s right there, but for Kureha, who last time we checked wanted nothing to do with her. With that brutal SNAP of the trap, her grand mission is in tatters. Sure, it’s a cliffhanger, but one I’m fully invested in.

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Stella Women’s Academy, High School Division Class C3 – 04

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Yura is having fun in the C3 Club, but her technical skill is limited, so Sonora decides to train her at a shrine. Sonora gives her a Scorpion vs. 61 and her first lesson is to hit a 5-yen piece from a distance. Yura sees a white fox while climbing thr shrine’s stepes, and the coin becomes a warrior Sonora mentioned died young and was enshrined there. When they call it a day, Yura leaves the gun behind. When she goes back for it after dark, the young warrior confronts her, calling himself Choujirou.

He tells her her the world in which she sees “delusions” is a real realm that is resonating with his own. He transports her to a medieval battlefield on the day and moment he is to be killed by an arrow. A real vz 61 in hand, he asks her to intervene on his behalf. After discussing her ordeal with Sonora (who tells her the gun’s name is Choujirou)Yura returns to the shrine with Rento, and both are returned to the world. Rento watches Yura shoot the arrow down, and in the real world, the airsoft pellet lodges in the hole of the coin. Back in the clubroom, her friends tell her Choujirou died an old man.

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We’ve seen the shy new girl trying to find a place where she belongs, watched her participation in the club stir up passion, and watched her battle a rival club. None of those things are all that different from what Miho experiences in Girls und Panzer. But this was the episode that separated the women from the girls (und Panzer). This week, the ancient surroundings have a powerful effect on Yura, and there she not only discovers “her idea of airsoft”, but also manages to change history itself.

One could dismiss the awesome, fantastical elements of this episode as just that: Yura’s delusions but only at first. That all goes out the window when Rento goes side with Yura and sees the same scene as Yura – and is so freaked out she doesn’t speak of it to anyone! And when Yachiyou tells her Choujirou died an old man, that seals the deal: shooting down that arrow saved Choujirou’s life and ended his need to “fight forevermore”. And thus all of Yura’s past “delusions” so far in the series, and going forward gain deeper significance. The ramifications are positively spine-tingling, and elevate C3-bu to a whole other level.

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Rating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • Yura receives her gun, and it’s a beaut. She also almost whips it out on a train…not a good idea considering what a realistic replica it is!
  • Sonora’s whole lesson at the shrine is a succession of awesome lines…”You fail because you seek success” and such.
  • Looking back, the tone of the battle and Yura’s mood in the moment all determine the nature of the “delusions” that form around her. Very Suzumiya Haruhi-ish.
  • The moment the gun in the battle scene suddenly changes from plastic to metal – and becomes much heavier in Yura’s hands – is one of our favorite moments of the episode. Shit’s literally gettin’ real.
  • We’re eager to see how Rento processed what she saw, and whether she’ll ever bring it up to Yura or the others. Then again, other club members near Yura may eventually see what she’s capable of anyway.
  • The series could always downplay this “power” of Yura’s but we hope it doesn’t drop it altogether in favor of more battles with rival clubs. That would be a huge shame.
  • These developments mean Yura can now visit any shrine with a restless spirit and help them out…as long as marksmanship is required, of course!

OreShura – 13 (Fin)

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At the OreDere contest, Chiwa goes first, and delivers a heartfelt confession to Eita. Next is Himeko, who has stage fright and clings to Eita in the back of the crowd; the cameras eventually fall on her as she confesses. Ai is disqualified, leaving Masuzu, who arrives on stage disinterested and depressed. Eita works to snap her out of it, joining her on the stage, confessing to and kissing her in front of everyone. None of the girls win. The next morning Masuzu jumps into bed with Eita and tells him she loveshim. Eita tries his aunt’s advice to get the other three girls to hate him, but he fails with all three, and remains on the battlefield route.

A horrible girl like you could only have a horrible guy like me by your side.

You know what? Credit where credit’s due, OreShura didn’t screw the pooch on the ending. Eita chose a route, going for his ugly, beautiful, fake girlfriend and making his commitment to her real. This despite extremely moving cases made by Chiwa and Hime, but particularly Chiwa. She, and to a lesser extent Ai, have been sitting back and waiting so long for Eita to notice them, and…then Masuzu showed up. Theirs wasn’t a real courtship at first, but it became one. Years of being treated as a “jewel” have scarred her, but Eita is committed to making her happy, and positive they’re the only ones for one another.

You might say, “wasn’t this the most predictable ending the show could have come up with?” Well, yeah – we said that in our review of episode one:

Our suspicion is that one or the other or both will lose perspective as the fake relationship becomes more real.

But it was also the most logical, sensible, and satisfying way to end things. A harem was unsustainable and unfair to all participants. And while Eita isn’t able to make Hime, Ai, or Chiwa hate him, none of them can claim ignorance about Eita’s sincerity any longer, and that’s proven when all three girls tell him they had a rough night after the contest. That’s because the lying stopped, Eita made a definite choice and stood by it. The choice isn’t easy for either him or us, as part of us remained sympathetic to Chiwa’s case, but ultimately, we think he made the right one – anything was preferable to perpetuating the harem.


Rating: 8 (Great)

Stray Observations:

  • There’s a great ambiguity to Masuzu’s bed scene with Eita: proof that she’s not entirely sure what’s going on yet, but she’s willing to trust in Eita. As she says, acting lovey-dovey makes her feel like she’s “rotting”, but as long as she’s rotting with him, it’s not so bad. Don’t know whether to say “Baww” or “Yikes” to that, but we wish them the best of luck.
  • Hime remained true to character by being too afraid to take the stage. We appreciated that decision.
  • Ditto Ai, who takes Eita’s random papercut blood to mean he signed the marriage contract. Faced with sad or humiliating reality, Ai retreats into lies, e.g. and commits to them (e.g. “texting Michel”)
  • Chiwa’s stolen kiss on tiptoe…to borrow a quote from this week’s Chihayafuru: SWOOOON. Don’t give up the fight, Chihuahua!
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