The Genius Prince’s Guide – 12 (Fin) – Exception to the Rule(r)

With Soljest marching on Marden at Delunio’s behest, Wein is facing his toughest challenge yet. Of course, there was never much doubt this season would end with another brilliant victory. It just takes a bit for it to come together. King Soljest simply wants a good fight, so Wein gives him one in the form of ambushes from small groups of Natran cavalry.

He plans for the battle to unfold in such a way that the earliest reports back to Delunio will arrive stating that the Natran army has been routed, which exactly what he needs Sirgis to hear when he needs him to hear it for his crazy negotiations to have actual teeth.

It’s a complicated gambit, but basically he gets Sirgis to believe it’s possible the yellow dye used in the clothes popular with his people is actually poison, and that he’ll unleash 800,000 Natran refugees into Delunio at the worst possible time, throwing the kingdom into chaos and allowing Soljest to swoop in.

It’s not clear whether Wein is aware that Sirgis’ true goal isn’t necessarily to regain lost Delunian territory within Marden—that’s just icing—but that he wants to become a Holy Elite. But if even half of what Wein tells Sirgis comes to pass, he can kiss a future where Delunio is the shining beacon of the continent goodbye.

The coup-de-grace of Wein’s diabolical bluff is that he has the “antidote” to the poison yellow dye, but will only offer it if Sirgis attacks Soljests’ army from the rear. By overwhelming Sirgis with a bevy of undesirable and downright nightmarish scenarios, he gets him to turn against Soljest.

King Gruyere, being an exceedingly experienced head of state, knows Sirgis’ betrayal was a possibility, and isn’t the slightest bit worried when his army is suddenly caught in a Natran-Delunian pincer. In fact, he was bored when his army was slowly pushing the Natrans back and threatening to take the Mardenian fortress.

What ultimately dooms Gruyere is his desire to blast through the Delunian lines, let the Natran forces merge with them and get embroiled in chaos, then circle around an eliminate both. His underlings’ first instinct is to beat a hasty retreat now that they’ve lost the advantage, but Gruyere needs to feed that Beast Within.

That proves to be his downfall when he finds himself distracted by Wein standing atop a high cliff. Wein’s top general and soldier then charge Soljest, but even they are merely a distraction for the much quicker and more nimble Ninym, who manages to gravely wound him.

Notably, however, Ninym doesn’t kill the good king, and he ends up convalescing at Castle Natra, during which time he slims down to a far more normal size. It’s here where he and Wein spar once more, with Gruyere threatening to let himself die in Wein’s custody rather than let him have his way, thus plunging Natra into all-out war against Levetian religion.

Wein is only saved thanks to Gruyere’s insatiable curiosity about the beast within Wein, saying he’ll go along with three-party talks if he tells him what that beast desires. We don’t hear Wein’s answer, but we already know it: just as it was in the beginning, he wishes to drag Natra out of debt enough so he can sell it off and live the slow life (no doubt with Ninym by his side).

The opportunity to see if Wein will get what he wants is enough to entice Gruyere to surrender. However, it’s not a perfect victory for Wein. While he avoided all-out war, by wounding and capturing the Holy Elite Gruyere, the influx of Levetian pilgrims has plummeted and the Mardenian-Natran economic bubble has burst.

While that means Marden won’t be a threat for independence anytime soon, it also means that Wein won’t be in a position to sell his kingdom anytime soon. Instead, it’s back to work negotiating, planning, and strategizing … with Ninym by his side.

What this show lacked in technical execution of battles (or any animation involving large groups) it made up for it with its thoroughly likeable core of characters and wonderfully cerebral plots. Whether we’ll get to see more of that in a second season, I don’t know…but I wouldn’t hate it!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Genius Prince’s Guide – 11 – Rare Beast

After scoring some impressive political and economic wins last week, it’s time for Prince Wein to take his medicine, as he encounters conflicts and the potential for treachery as a result of Delunio’s (correct) accusations that Imperial goods are being distributed to the West through Natra and Marden.

Sirgis, Prime Minister of Delunio, demands an explanation, and when Zenovia doesn’t give him one, he demands it of Wein. And while Wein bails Zeno out and scores some points for the ensuing verbal sparring, the meeting ends with Sirgis promising they’ll rue the day.

With uppity kingdoms like Delunio seemingly itching for a fight, Wein decides to forge an alliance with Soljest’s King Gruyere. The military and economic benefits for both sides are clear, but Wein finds himself up against the most formidable leader he’s yet encountered, one who makes a huge meal of being carted around on a palanquin even as he speaks coridal words.

Speaking of meals, Gruyere insists that all important affairs of state must be discussed over one, and this is when we meet Gruyere’s adorable daughter, Princess Tolcheila. While both the OP and her unique twisted smile suggest she’s up to something, all she really does is cheerfully describe each delectable course of the meal.

Wein is utterly defeated by this meal, ending up eating far too much and saying far too little to the king. As Ninym rubs his back (another lovely little moment that speaks to this couple’s bond) Wein resolves to strike up a talk with King Gruyere. But the next day, every attempt to interact with Gruyere results in him being brushed off or outright ignored and avoided.

It’s enough for both Wein and Ninym to suspect treachery in the form of an assassination…but then why is Gruyere delaying? They’re about to set a contingency plan into action when Gruyere welcomes them to his private veranda to have the very talk Wein wants, not only expressing his belief that all people, including flahms, should be treated equal, but agreeing to an alliance with Natra.

It feels all too easy because it’s not true. As soon as Wein returns to Natra, he learns that the Mardenian borders are being attacked by Delunio, who are staking a claim to lands they loaned to the crown Marden in perpetuity. Whether that’s an excuse or a genuine desire, Delunio has an alliance with Soljest, and so Soljest has delcared war on Natra.

It’s an unusual place for Wein to be—on the wrong side of a doublecross. He remains a genius who had always suspected something like this would happen, but also shows that he often follows his passions, and the charming King Gruyere’s genuine-sounding entreaties snagged him hook, line, and sinker.

It’s a lessoned learned for a prince who may be brilliant, but doesn’t have half the experience playing the game of an operator like Gruyere. And we learn that Gruyere isn’t doing this just because he’s evil, but because Wein is a worthy opponent, a “rare beast” Gruyere is looking forward to devouring. Even if he loses, he’ll still be glad to have tried to go up against the Genius Prince.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 17 – Voler Trop Près du Soleil

With her fully operational Alteration Engine, Chloé is able to give Naenia a physical form…so she can choke the bitch out for what she did to her beloved Jean-Jacques. As she says, she’s a terribly jealous woman, to the point she’ll change the rules of space and time just so she can get her hands around a solid neck of the non-corporeal devil dwelling on her shoulder for so long.

Naturally, this backfires, when Chloé, in her desperate desire to uncover who Naenia truly is, ends up awakening Naenia’s memories of who she is: the first vampire of the crimson moon, Queen Faustina. The tables are suddenly turned, as Chloé is overpowered, the Beast tamed, her Engine stalled, and her castle and the lands around it shattering into shards floating in a purple void.

In the midst of this chaos, Vanitas falls, and Noé leaps after him, something Jeanne didn’t do when Chloé leapt off the cliff. Naenia’s voice tells him he’ll “never reach” Vanitas and that there’s no hope, but Noé does his best to ignore it, and ends up beside Vanitas once more. They’re soon joined by Roland, who comes out of nowhere with other Chasseurs to protect the unwitting townsfolk.

Speaking of Jeanne, the final act of the episode centers exclusively on her journey from vampire whose loving parents were beheaded as traitors to her conversion into a Bourreau—an unthinking, unfeeling tool. The only problem is, when sent to kill Chloé those thought sand feelings all flood back. When she fails, she’s sent into a long slumber until “the war ends and all can live in peace”.

Jeanne laments that all she can do now is her duty as a bourreau, finishing what she couldn’t finish by offing Chloé. But awakening her from her forced stoic trance is Vanitas, who stands before her and says it’s not too late, either to save Chloé or herself. By restoring Faustina’s body Chloé rent the very fabric of the world. Now it falls to others to try to piece that world back together.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 16 – Mettre Fin au Cauchemar

Vanitas no Karte always knows the right time for a moment of goofy levity, such as when Vanitas & Co. discover the same soldiers the beast already slew, leading him to conclude they’re in a looping closed world created by a curse-bearer. Jeanne uses her gauntlet to launch herself into the air and towards Chateau d’Apchier to fight the beast, as is her duty. She wasn’t counting on Vanitas hitching a ride!

As he’s walking in a corridor with Jean-Jacques, Noé suddenly doesn’t feel so swell…turns out his food was drugged. Likely expecting more visitors, J-J wants him to sleep things off until things die down. But first he wants him to drink his blood, so that in case anything happens to him, at least one person will remember not the legends, but the truth of who he and Chloé were.

Noé thus travels down memory lane through J-J’s eyes, as he flees his home and abusive father, gets lost in the woods, and encounters the Silver Witch, only to find that they’re two peas in a pod: vampires who have done nothing wrong but have still been scorned and abandoned. The two become fast friends, and J-J devotes himself to her entirely.

The townsfolk of Gévaudan don’t give up the hunt for the “Beast”, and  Chasseurs and Bourreaus soon come to force the issue. Knowing that Chloé isn’t responsible for the deaths but not knowing who is, J-J decides the only way to protect her is by becoming the Beast. Like Chloé, the scarred and world-weary J-J was all too easy a target for Naenia’s manipulation.

One night, J-J ends up badly wounded, including from his own father, who joined the hunt for the Beast. Naenia lures Chloé out of the castle to save J-J, but the two end up cornered by Jeanne, who seems ready to do her duty here as she does in the present. That is, until she gets a good look at her big sister, her eyes fill with tears, and she hesitates.

The thing is, at this point Chloé wants death, and is happy that Jeanne will be the one to deliver it. When it’s clear Jeann won’t do it, Chloé leaps of the cliff with J-J in her arms, only to be caught by Naenia, who promises vengeance in exchange for Chloé ‘s true name. Now we’re up to speed!

Vanitas, on the other hand, isn’t, but as Jeanne fights the Beast, he finaly reunites with Noé. When he learns that Chloé became a curse-bearer willingly for vengeance, Vanitas deems Chloé unsuitable for treatment—no point saving someone who doesn’t want to be saved, right? But Noé insists, and Vanitas agrees to treat them—provided Noé can inspire his help.

Vanitas reaches the library and finally meets Chloé, telling her he’s there to save her and demanding his book back. In the funniest gag of the episode (and indeed the season so far), Chloé pleads genuine ignorance. She liked the shiny jewel on the book, but when she couldn’t rip it off she just tossed the book…somewhere among the literal mountains of books. Yes, in this arc the titular Vanitas no Karte is naught but a MacGuffin…which rules!

As for what exactly Chloé is doing with her newly operational, keyboard-controlled Alteration Engine, Naenia claims she’s going to use it to wipe Gévaudan and its environs from the face of the earth, a potentially fatal bit of tampering with the World Formula Vanitas cannot allow.

But Chloé, it would seem, had other plans that even Naenia didn’t know about. To whit: Chloé uses a command “Perpetuate Existence” to give Naenia a physical body, which is to say, imprison her within one. Is Chloé officially showing her colors as someone who doesn’t want the world thrown into chaos, but rather wants to end Naenia’s reign of chaos? I am very intrigued to see where this goes.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 15 – Onze Pour Toujours

Noé is outraged to find Naenia, who killed his beloved Louis, lingering so close to Chloé, to the point he lashes out and makes a mess of supper. But having been on this earth for so much shorter a time than Chloé, he can’t hope to understand why she not only doesn’t mind Naenia’s company, but gave up her true name willingly. For the crimes of crass insolence (and wasting food, something Chloé adorably can not abide), Noé is smacked across the room.

He comes to in the kitchen, where he apologizes and introduces himself to Jean-Jacques. J-J lives such a sheltered existence as Chloé’s attendant, he’s never once even shaken hands with anyone…until Noé. Noé makes clear to J-J that Naenia is his enemy, not Chloé, but all that matters to J-J is that ever since Naenia arrived, Chloé no longer cries every day. He won’t let anyone do anything the Naenia that might make Chloé weep again.

From there we launch headlong into Chloé’s history, which began around 1550, making Chloé well over three hundred years old. When she suddenly became a vampire, her father, Lord d’Apchier, gathered mages and alchemists the world over to study the World Formula and restore his daughter’s humanity. They failed, and her father passed away, but his wish to gain the power of God became a legacy that future d’Apchier generations continued to carry.

All the while, Chloé lingered within the walls of the d’Apchier castle, forever eleven. At one point, she met a young(er) Ruthven, who became her first and only friend. Back then, he was on the side of neither vampires nor humans, but sought to end the struggle between them and forge a lasting peace. I gotta tell you, I liked this younger, more naïve Ruthven to the one who has basically brainwashed Noé to kill Vanitas on command!

It’s also thanks to Ruthven that Chloé met lil’ Jeanne, the closest thing to a true little sister she ever had. By wandering off into the forest Jeanne motivated Chloé to finally leave the castle walls and explore the world outside. Jeanne led her to a bed of blue roses that grew even in the snow and frost. But while these new experiences were powerful and tempting, Chloé could not abandon her family or its long-standing mission to complete the Alteration Engine.

One year/decade, Ruthven returned a changed man, consumed by darkness. He lost and eye, and had become disillusioned by the prospect of peace between humans and vampires. Driven by unchecked ambition, he drank some of Chloé’s blood and attempted to use his power to compel her to obey him, such that he could command the power and knowledge of House d’Apchier. He failed and retreated in shame, but the damage was done: Chloé lost her first friend.

She continued her work on the engine for many years, often returning to the flowerbed Jeane had shown her, slowly becoming consumed by lonelieness. Then Naenia arrived, promising not only companionship, but the opportunity for her wish to be granted. All it would cost is her true name, and the Alteration Engine could be completed. Chloé started to experience nightmares that may or may not have been actual waking events of violence. She even dreamt of slaying her beloved Jeanne.

But when we return to the present, apparently all of that torment was worth it to her, as she activates the Alteration Engine situated in the middle of her gigantic library. Perhaps the Book of Vanitas was the last missing piece to unlocking her success and achieving the wish Naenia had granted.

If nothing else, now that we know a lot more about Chloé, I can empathize with her centuries of solitude and suffering, and desire to restore what all those years had undone. Even if he can get his book back, how will Vanitas “save” someone who chose to be condemned for the sake of her family’s legacy?

P.S. As Vanitas, Jeanne, Dante, and Johann make their way to rescue Noé, Dante confesses that he was given a mission by the “Marquis Machina” (a kind of steampunk Dr. Robotnik) to investigate whether the Alteration Engine really existed. Machina’s real name is Sir Francis Varney, who takes his name from an 1840s serial fiction called Varney the Vampire, which influenced Bram Stoker’s Dracula and was the first work to depict vampires with sharp teeth.

Vanitas no Carte – 14 – Nu au Coin du Feu

Jeanne’s complex relationship with Vanitas gains a new layer as she rescues him from dying of exposure, finds a cabin, and orders him to disrobe. The two sit by the fire together, naked under a blanket. While she’s most often disgusted by his usual arrogance and terseness, she can’t help but find this vulnerable side of him refreshing…even cute.

On the surface, nothing she does for Vanitas is with romantic or amorous intent—even feeding him water with her mouth—she’s just helping to save someone who helped her. But it’s impossible to ignore their history together thus far—all their scenes here are sexy as hell. Vanitas even tells her that they want different things: he wants to save the Beast and she’s been ordered to execute it.

That makes them foes in this enterprise, and she’d be better off letting him die. Of course, Jeanne isn’t going to do that. Instead, she tells Vanitas why she feels responsible not just for getting Vanita’s wounded by a poisoned blade, but for the whole Beast of Gevaudan affair. When she was a little girl, she met the vampire Chloé d’Apchier while left in the care of the Marquis d’Aphcier. Chloé was like a big sister and Jeanne loved her, but that no longer matters: she’s killed scores of people, and must now answer for it.

The reason Jeanne is here is that she failed the first time, but Ruthven gave her a second (and probably last) chance to do it. The next morning, when Jeanne is far more flustered than the fully-recovered Vanitas by the previous evening’s activities, she finds him speaking with Johan, and eventually Dante shows up as well. After threatening both Dhams to tell him everything about this Beast situation, he bids the four of them make haste to the castle to retrieve Noé.

Vanitas is right to worry—Noé wakes up in an unfamiliar bed with the tiny vampire lying on top of him sucking his blood. Despite Chloé being tiny, Noé is so weakened from the battle that he can barely move, leaving him completely at her mercy. If she wants another taste of his blood (and the memories it reveals—though that’s not touched upon here), there’s nothing stopping her…

Except for her attendant, Jean-Jacques, who scolds her for sucking someone’s blood without their consent while also expressing deep loathing for the owner of the other neck she bit. That said, JJ presents Noé with a safe-and-sound Murr and his freshly cleaned and mended clothes. When Noé meets Chloé and JJ in the banquet hall, they’re accompanied by a troupe of musical automatons…along with Naenia.

It addition to being its usual sexy self, this episode of Vanitas added texture to what had initially been labeled a simple mission of kill-or-save the Beast. Chloé is an intriguing potential antagonist, but despite her apparent alliance to Naenia doesn’t come off as pure evil; she was kind to Jeanne, after all.

Instead, as is typical of ancient vampires, she seems to float over everything and everyone, seeking nothing but entertainment and satisfaction out of this scenario…a balm for the ennui of the centuries.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 13 – La Bataille D’Argent

I did not watch the Episode 12.5 recap of the first twelve episodes, instead catching up by reading my write-up of Episode 12…only to find it full of typos and grammatical errors! I do apologize for that; it’s all fixed up now.

It’s now Winter where I live, and freezing more often than not, so it’s only appropriate for Gévaudan to be cold as well when Vanitas and Noé arrive—with Dante and Johann tagging along. As is his wont, Noé gets separated from the others in the deep Silver Woods. Then, quite suddenly, the forest becomes a winter wonderland.

When Vanitas and the others spot vintage dragoons hunting the great beast (well, trying to anyway)he deduces that time has somehow rewound to the 18th century, when the King sent his best soldiers in to take care of the storied wolf. Unfortunately for those soldiers, they’re in the way of the Chasseur and Garnet Paladin Astolfo Granatum, who unlike Roland seems to be a bit of a sadist, and doesn’t consder it his job to protect humans, only hunt vampires like Noé. He’s not bad, either, as Noé isn’t fast enough to avoid getting cut.

Their duel is interrupted by the great wolf itself, and it’s not long before Jeanne shows up out of nowhere to battle the beast. Vanitas wants to save the Curse-Bearer who is in the form of the wolf. If Jeanne kills it, that won’t be possible. The thing is, Jeanne doesn’t care. She’s a bourreau, and considers it her job to destroy curse-bearers and eliminate the threat they pose—nothing more or less.

Once Vanitas and Noé reunite, Vanitas can tell that Noé was holding back in his fight with Astolfo for whatever reason. Vanitas in turn employs his inimitable gift for shit-talking by getting Astolfo extremely pissed off, and thus not at his sharpest. You have all the skills and talent in the world, but if you’re off-balance emotionally you won’t be able to fully summon those gifts.

Jeanne continues to battle the wolf, calling her “Chloé” and trying to get a dialogue going. When that fails, she re-commits to destroying the wolf. When she’s stopped by Noé, she warns the lad that if he gets in her way she’ll kill him too. That’s when Charlatan’s Naenia, who felt left out, shows up and creates an illusory world around everyone.

Some, like Astolfo, are unable to fight against the illusions and madly lashes out at Jeanne. But others, like Vanitas, can keep their heads, and he comes between Astolfo and Jeanne, paying back the favor when she saved him earlier. Sick of Naenia’s games, he whips out his titular Karte, only for someone to snap its chain, separating the book from its owner.

When the diamond dust settles, some dude with unkempt dark hair picks up the book, with Vanitas nowhere in sight. The man walks over to the silver-haired woman with azure eyes we caught a glimpse of back in episode 12; the Chloé Jeanne spoke of. Clearly she’s the Woods Witch referred to several times earlier in the episode, and if taking the Karte from Vanitas was the plan all along, then it went off without a hitch!

It’s a hell of a stirring start, introducing a new wintry woodsy setting, new characters, and big new stakes. All the while, the killer directive programmed into Noé looms over everything. Also, while I fully expected the OP and ED to not live up to their Part 1 predecessors, I’m please to report they both slap just as much! Vanitas no Karte hasn’t skipped a beat.

Vanitas no Carte – 12 (Fin) – The Beast Lives

Vanitas and Jeanne end their bloody makeout session, neaten their clothes, and return to the streets, and when Vanitas asks why she was permitted to spend the day with him, it becomes immediately apparent that Jeanne was unknowingly serving to distract him while Ruthven helped himself to a Caffè Noé. Specifically, he keeps Noé alive so that one day, he can give him a command and he’ll obey it without question…even the command to slay Vanitas.

Roland may have lived his entire life believing that vampires were an enemy to be eliminated, but his encounter with Noé changed his mind about that, and we find him digging into books in a cozy little church library. His comrade Olivier warns him against digging too deep into forbidden topics, but then Roland warns Olivier that there isn’t really anyone who can stop him from discovering the truth. He can’t believe in things he knows not to be true.

Speaking of which, once Vanitas returns to the hotel to find Noé right where he left him, the two are visited by Dante with news: The Beast Lives. Specifically, the Beast of Gévaudan, a wolf-like abomination that slaughtered women and children in the Gévaudan region in the 18th century. It’s believed to be a curse-bearing vampire, so Vanitas is just the man to hunt the beast down.

While Vanitas and Dante chat, Noé is distracted by Vanita’s ridiculously sweet-smelling blood. Combined with his fatigue and hunger, he begins to ask if he could have but a small taste. Vanitas responds deadly seriously by promising Noé that if he ever tries to drink his blood (and therefore see the memories from his past), he’ll kill him. Daaaaamn.

This creates a friction between the two that lasts through the night until the next day, when the two head out to board the non-Mugem Train to Gévaudan. Noé apologizes, Vanitas half-jokingly offers to let him lap up any blood he spills (he can only read memories from blood straight out of the taps) and the two share an easy laugh. They thus make up just in time for a train ride that Noé is super excited about, the way a kid—or me—would be about such a train! Trains are awesome.

After the credits, we get a lovely but ominous birds-eye view of a snowy landscape not too dissimilar from the countless wintry vistas we were treated to in Golden Kamuy. Only here there be not bears nor naked Russians: but Charlatan’s apparent Boss: an ethereally beautiful lass with silver hair and piercing azure eyes poetically declaring how she’ll “make my song of vengeance echo across the land”. My guess? She’s the Beast!

While there were some nice tense scenes between Noé and Ruthven and Noé and Vanitas, and their little fight and make-up sequence was a subtle, quiet little marvel of character work, but I’m not gonna lie: not a lot actually happened this week. It was but table-setting for a feast that won’t take place until Winter 2022. But the dishes and silverware look great…just in time for a giant wolf to smash it all!

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 21 (Fin) – A Small Story About Us

This week is essentially a nice, breezy extended epilogue, full of goodbyes and see-ya-laters. After waking up back in Babylon, Ritsuka and Mash are received by Quetzalcoatl and Jaguar Warrior, who took part in ensuring the two returned safe and sound. They exchange proper goodbyes, and Big Sis Kuku makes sure to give Ritsu a big ol’ hug before vanishing into the either.

From there, Ritsuka and Mash return to the Chaldean Embassy, where Ishtar and Merlin are waiting for them. Ishtar reports that Ereshkigal is resting in the underworld, which will take a half century to repair after the destruction Beast caused. (Sadly, there’s no update on Ushiwakamaru’s fate). After bickering with Romani a bit and giving Ritsuka a flower memento, Merlin returns to his Tower of Avalon.

Gilgamesh and Ishtar are the last two servants to bid the Chaldeans farewell before the Rayshift home. Gil marks the occasion by gifting them a Holy Grail (though since the kids are underage they can’t drink the wheat ale within, so Gil chugs it). Ishtar vows to remain in this land until the end of the first Uruk dynasty, and Ritsuka and Mash are transported away. Thus concludes the Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia.

As we learn after the credits, Babylonia was only the seventh singularity in need of repairing to save humanity, not the final one. That, as Romani announces to a just-returned Ritsuka and Mash, is The Grand Temple of Time – Soloman. It would seem a Master and his Servant’s work is never finished.

And there you have it! It’s been a long journey since Episode 0 aired last August; certainly our own world has changed immensely since then. Grand Order was a fun and often exhilarating escape to a world where the small story of two people traveling between the pages of history, keeping those pages stitched together and ensuring humanity’s survival…with a little help from their friends. This ending made me again wish the previous six singularity arcs had been adapted to anime, but…c’est la vie.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 20 – Flowers in the Underworld

If you’re going to have a final boss to the final singularity in your narrative universe, go big or go home. F/GO goes monumental, and everyone has a role to play. First in the order of battle against Beast Tiamat is Assassin, who helpfully slashes both its eyes and delivers various other blows. Tiamat responds by unleashing a brood of Divine Spirit-class lahmu.

As Tiamat begins to climb back up to the living world, the quicker and dealier than ever lahmu prove too much for Ritsuka and the Servants, who are riddled with cuts and bruises and are starting to tire. That’s when they’re bailed out by the arrival of Gilgamesh, this time in his Servant form. He doesn’t spare the treasury in unleashing a gold-steel rain upon the lahmu, while Tiamat is forced back down to the ground.

Tiamat’s bonkers response to this setback is to create a Nega-Genesis, an attempt to restart the very universe. A huge bubble forms around the beast, poised to rewrite life itself and negate every Servant in Ritsuka’s stable. Ereshkigal is able to stop this process by using her impressive Noble Phantasm Kur Ki Gal Irkalla, but even this is naught but a time-buying measure.

While Beast is temporarily sealed away, the only person who can enter the Nega-Genesis, Ritsuka, but deliver the killing blow. Gilgamesh provides the blade, while Mash and Merlin will use their Noble Phantasms Lord Camelot and Garden of Avalon simultaneously, creating a path for Ritsuka.

There’s a palpable vulnerability to the prospect of Ritsuka heading to perhaps the most dangerous spot in the universe without his trusty aid—but the two trust in one another to take care of business on their different sides of the battlefield.

Ereshkigal’s gambit turns out to be a sacrifice, as she used up all of her authority to give Ritsuka and the others maximum time to prepare a final assault. She disappears in a distraught Ishtar’s arms, smiling at the sight of so many gorgeous flowers in her underworld (the product of Garden of Avalon).

A victory against Tiamat wasn’t going to be without cost, but it’s surely gutting that Ereshkigal is part of that cost. Ueda Kana does moving work voicing both Servants in the scene, and indeed throughout the two Servants’ interactions. So alike and yet so different.

Her sacrifice isn’t in vain, however; after some effort and a last minute assist by Assassin (who can be in the Nega-Genesis because he’s technically dead…?) keeping the last of the lahmu off his back, Ritsuka is able to reach Tiamat’s head and plunge the dagger in.

The Nega-Genesis begins to collapse, and Gilgamesh breaks out Ea and delivers the coup-de-grace—the good ol’ Enuma Elish, delivered with such unrepentant ferocity I was momentarily worried my speakers would blow out.

In the midst of all the external sturm und drang Ritsuka finds himself in a tranquil oasis where Tiamat’s true form of a horned woman stands alone in a white, soundless void. She quietly laments how her children made a ladder of her and gone far away, and asks if her love for them was mistaken. Ritsuka assures her that all her children love her, which is why she has to get going.

I honestly felt sympathy for Tiamat, so soft and lonesome were her words. A lot of that is down to the stark minimalism of the scene and Yuuki Aoi’s deep yet restrained performance. After she is destroyed by Gilgamesh’s Phantasm, the underworld that was their last battlefield begins to crumble.

Merlin quickly shoots Ritsuka and Mash, hand-in-hand, back up to the surface on a stream of flowers. A stunning victory has been achieved by their hands and those of their friends. Humanity will go on. Hopefully there’s some time to celebrate—and mourn—before the duo heads on home.

Made in Abyss – 07

Just as Habo is telling Nat and Siggy about the badass White Whistles (who kinda remind me of the Espada) and wondering if he should have gone against Riko’s wishes and accompanied her and Reg after all, Riko and Reg face their toughest challenge yet: An Ozen the Immovable as their enemy.

But while both kids get beaten within an inch of their lives, it isn’t physical punishment that cuts the deepest—it’s Ozen’s utterly curel and tactless presentation of the giant white cube, which turns out not to be merely a vessel that repels curses. Ozen reveals to Riko that she was stillborn, and upon being placed in the vessel, she was brought back to life.

Ozen further explains that she put some of the meat she uses for dinner in the vessel, and it came back to life as well: that weird, threatening-looking but also bumbling and pitiable thing that made Riko wet the bed. The final twist of the knife? Before long, the thing turned back into lifeless meat, and Ozen wonders when Riko’s time will come to turn back into a corpse.

This is harsh, merciless stuff, but Ozen is just getting started. When she threatens to hurt Riko, Reg intervenes with his arms and ties her up, but she frees herself effortlessly, noting how the arm cables are made of extremely tough stuff. She then proceeds to try to pound Reg into dust, and when Riko tries to stop the madness, a light flick of Ozen’s finger sends her flying across the room, knocked out and bloodied.

Goddamn was this shit hard to watch. Reg tries to break out his Incinerator, but while trying to narrow the focus his beam so he doesn’t blow up the whole camp, the bitch grabs his still-charging cannon and points it at the out-cold Riko.

Where it not for a last-second kick of his own arm out of harm’s way, Riko would be gone. Fortunately, she’s not, and the hole his arm blasts in the ceiling doesn’t cause any serious structural damage. But using his cannon makes him pass out, and when Riko comes to, she sees Reg bruised and bloodied, the result of Ozen continuing to beat his unconscious body.

And yet, after three-quarters of an episode of the most heinous, villainous, evil-ass conduct one could imagine, the other shoe drops: Ozen was TESTING Reg’s strength, as well as Riko’s resolve. And let me tell you, she got me, just as she got them.

I never thought for a moment that she wasn’t simply being the evil monster the build-up to her appearance portended. Marulk ‘saved’ Reg and Riko by calling Ozen’s band of cave-raiders to her in…something Ozen both thanks her apprentice for and promises to string her(?) up for.

Frankly, I didn’t know what she was thinking. It’s another way she’s “immovable”…as in unable to be “moved” by anything … except, perhaps, by the prospect of learning more about the Abyss. Riko on her own would never, ever have gotten this far, let alone any further, without becoming, as Ozen says, “poor meals, little seedbeds, or a stain on the ground or some wall.”

And yet while her approach underscores how far from her humanity Ozen has strayed, it also makes perfect practical sense: the Abyss is fundamentally not a place for little kids. Beasts far tougher, crueler, and more cunning await them in the lower layers.

And as flashbacks prove, Ozen isn’t as emotionally “unmovable” as she appears, as she recalls the first day a Red-Whistled Lyza asked to become her apprentice. In virtually no time, Lyza had earned her Black Whistle, and credits her quick success to Ozen, who may have an “irredeemable” personality, but is still the “best mentor ever.”

Does Ozen truly “despise” Riko? Could it be because she sees Riko as Riko saw that meat? Is she, dare I say…scared of what Riko is and might become as she draws nearer to the bottom? With Ozen, deep questions abound.

One thing’s for certain: as much as she has changed (her armor and the 120 or so implants in her body make her cut quite the menacing figure), there’s still some humanity in there; the humanity that lets Riko know the grave she found was empty; Lyza could well still alive and waiting for her daughter.

In the meantime Reg might might might just be tough enough to protect Riko as she continues her descent, but Ozen isn’t willing to send them on their way yet, she needs to gather more ‘data’. She takes the kids out to the far edge of the layer, far from camp or anyone else, and tells them to survive with the supplies they have for ten days.

Furthermore, Reg is forbidden from using his cannon, as the hours she’s determined he shuts down for would likely be fatal to Riko…unless, of course, he manages to bring down whatever threatens them. It’s the toughest of tough love, but in a world where kids are regularly punished by being strung up naked, I guess it’s par for the course.

Made in Abyss – 06

After a tense moment when Reg’s arms are thrown away by Ozen, she eventually has the gondola lowered for them. Even this relatively short ascent causes deep discomfort to Riko, who has to hurl. She doesn’t make a great impression with Ozen, who chides the kids for going where they’re not allowed, then handing them off to her apprentice Marulk, claiming she has “other matters to attend to.”

Ozen may be a cool, even cruel customer—repeatedly telling Riko how she thought about abandoning her as a baby years ago, and how she probably should have—but hey, she doesn’t kill Riko or Reg, so she can’t be that bad!

Also, Marulk is downright lovely person, proof that even someone who has spent virtually all her life so far from the surface in near-solitude, can not only be reasonably well-adjusted, but friendly and affable as well. I guess it’s ’cause she’s still a kid. It’s too late for Ozen.

The question of whether Marulk is a boy or girl is left unanswered, though Marulk and Reg express identical bashfulness when Riko once again demonstrates no modesty whatsoever after bathing.

No matter: Marulk is genuinely happy to have Riko and Reg in her care, and enjoys talking with them. She also notes the difference between relics that are sent up to Orth and more complex “grade-4 relics” that stay there. These egg-shaped relics remind me of the Precursor Orbs you had to collect in Jak & Dakster.

After a meal, Marulk even suggests Riko and Reg stay at the camp a while longer to cave raid for relics of their own finding. Riko initially excited by the offer, but turns it down, as she’s not sure whether she should be in a hurry to go see her mom, so she has to be in a hurry. I felt bad for poor kind, meek Marulk, for whom Riko and Reg are the only children her age she’s seen or may ever see.

When Riko has to go pee late in the night, she can’t find the bathroom, but does encounter something else: some kind of strange creature that may or may not be threatening, but also seemed a bit clumsy. While a part we saw resembled a face, it also looked like a headless torso with a spine sticking out. I immediately thought of Reg, and wondered whether this was another android…in a less advanced state of completion.

The next morning, while drying Reg’s sheets (she hid in his bed and wet it), Reg and Marulk are present when Ozen drops the hammer on Riko: Lyza is dead; her journey ends there; she found her White Whistle at a grave on the Fourth Layer. Ozen seems to take a kind of sick joy in telling Riko this, but to her credit Riko doesn’t get upset like she did with Nat back in Orth.

Instead, she and the other two follow Ozen to her “chamber”, a foreboding place where we see books, what looks like a second Ozen body, and most perplexing, a very smooth, white, somewhat iridescent cube, which reminded me of the monolith in 2001. The episode ends there, with what exactly this chamber and cube are left unanswered until next week.

My educated guess (which probably isn’t anything special) is that Ozen has been researching and developing robots like Reg, and possibly using that same technology to make her “immovable”, i.e. give her superhuman strength.

I’m far less certain whether I should believe her when she says Lyza’s dead, but then again I realize Riko’s been operating on some pretty large assumptions with paltry evidence to back them up. You know, as kids do. Yet even a bit of Riko probably knew there was a possibility her mother isn’t waiting for her much much further below ground. But like her, I’d want to see for myself nonetheless.

Attack on Titan – 28

Conny’s village is full of questions. If the Titans attacked, why is there no blood? If the villagers evacuated, why did they leave all their horses? And what’s with the emaciated Titan on top of Conny’s house? Why did he hear it say “Welcome home?” There are all intriguing mysteries on top of the ones we already have, but the squad has to keep moving, and Conny has to forget about what may or may not have happened to his family and continue his duty.

Krista and Ymir, like Conny, must feel pretty vulnerable without their battle gear, but they’ll simply have to trust that the soldiers around them will keep them safe. Instead of fighting, Krista & Co. will be called upon to bear witness and send reports. Krista is fine with staying, and feels bad that she’s made Ymir join the scouts, but Ymir insists she’s here “for herself and nothing else.” Another Titan in hiding, perhaps?

This is often a creepy show, what with all the bizarre-looking naked humanoids running around eating people, but Titan manages to up that creep-factor not with Titans, but with a lack of them, or anything at all. Two units travel in the pitch black darkness, not knowing what could be just out of range of their light. Turns out, it’s another unit also looking for the gap in Wall Rose…but neither unit actually found one. What exactly is going on here?

Eren & Co. finally reach Ehrmich District, and Levi makes sure Pastor Nick gets a good long look at the faces of the masses of people and families being displaced due to the wall falling. It seems to work, at least a little, as after being harangued again by Hange, he finally gives up one name: Krista Lenz—who he and his order were instructed to monitor, and who may “know the truths which even we cannot perceive.”

Hange believes that Eren may be able to repair the wall breaches…with hardened Titan skin, of the same type that didn’t evaporate after Annie returned to human form. Sasha also re-joins her comrades.

Krista, Ymir, & Co. end up spending the night in an abandoned castle none of them knew about until the moon came out. To their misfortune, a hoard of Titans besieges them, the first instance of Titan night-fighting. It may well have something to do with the fact this is the same group that hangs around the Beast Titan…maybe he trained them?

In any case, Ymir looks shiftier than ever, but she and Krista can only sit back with the other rookies and hope the pros get the job done. Meanwhile, Hange mentions an abandoned castle which I assume is the same one here, and heads there with Eren & Co.

%d bloggers like this: