Magia Record – 17 – Back Into the Lions Den

In a usual cour, there’d be time and space for a cooling off episode, but with only eight episodes to work with, this lean, mean second season of Magia Record has no time to waste. And you know what? That’s just fine with me!

Not only did the entire first season feel more like an introduction and explanation of this world and its expansive cast, but it just makes sense to the flow of the story that once Iroha got caught up on what’s going on, she’d make a beeline for Nemu and not spend half the episode tidying up Mikazuki Villa with Yachiyo and Kuroe.

It also totally tracks that Iroha is almost fanatically eager to do her part in this story. Last week’s dreamy rescue mission got the ball rolling, but this week is where Iroha reasserting herself as the protagonist of this story really picks up momentum. Yachiyo is certainly weary of Iroha jumping right back into the dangerous realm of Magius, while Kuroe is a follow-not-lead sort.

So it’s really quite exhilarating to see Iroha take the initiative, get her friends aligned and on board; she’s both the glue bringing everyone back together and the lodestar guiding everyone to what’s good and right while Kuroe guides them through the fanciful book-filled caverns below Hotel Faint Hope. Unfortunately, in order to get those two through the portal, Yachiyo had to stay behind to keep the Amane sisters at bay.

Fortunately, it’s not long that due either to fate or coincidence—hell, why not both?!—Iroha encounters the ena, who is on her way out after deciding to defect from Magius. She has a very weak and vulnerable Kaede in tow, whose Doppel looks ready to pop out and kill everyone.

Again, alacrity demands that this reunion eschews the usual pleasantries; after all, all four girls are in a hurry with good reason: Nemu says she’s dying, while Kaede looks close to death, or a fate worse than it. But with the portal Iroha and Kuroe used closed, the four decide to team up for now.

What I’m glad there is time for is to check in with the Puella O.G. (including yours truly), who appear to have arrived in Kamihama City judging from the Alina Gray posters and Magius recruitment flyers. Besides it always being great to see these girls, it’s even more gratifying to know that there’s an actual reason for their inclusion here.

They’ve essentially crossed the dimensional barrier to find their beloved Mami, whom we know to be in way too deep with Magius. I like how their fish-out-of-water status is accentuated by the fact their colors are so much more muted than those of “native” magical girls like Iroha & Co. I can’t wait for if and when Madoka and Iroha meet and join forces.

But while on the way to the main exit (Rena and Kaede) and Nemu (Iroha and Kuroe), Iroha follows Little Kyuubey to another inconvenient truth about Magius: they’re farming witches. Knowing full well how fuzzy the line between magical girl and doppel, and goppel and witch, Iroha demonstrates why she’s the beating moral heart of the show, as she declares her distaste for this whole enterprise and questions what could possibly justify it.

Mind you, Iroha is not infallible in her role, and in fact her strong sense of what is right and what just seems wrong clashes with the real-world realities and wholesale suffering not only of less fortunate magical girls who lacked both the strength to defeat Kamihama witches and the support network to make up for their weaknesses. Iroha’s no Yachiyo (no one is) but she’s no slouch in terms of power or friends. Her moral certitude comes from a place of privilege.

But its that certitude and that privilege that make Iroha so well suited to leading the charge. When the girls are attacked by some kind of Uwasa sentry, Kuroe ends up cornered and her soul gem blackened, and almost takes the easy way out by using her doppel for perhaps the last time.

But Iroha won’t let her; instead, she clears Kuroe’s gem, and then the two Connect and their combined power obliterates the sentry. Magius is an organization that is hoping magical girls like Kuroe give up. Iroha’s selflessness and refusal to sacrifice anyone is anathema to them, because it’s explicit proof that their way isn’t the only way.

A new crisis emerges right on the heels of the defeated sentry, as Kaede has hit her limit. Her doppel emerges and goes berserk, and in another positively virtuoso battle sequences, Iroha, Kuroe, and Rena fight together to tame their gentle friend—turned chaotic monster.

As is usually the case with anime like this, stills just don’t due the battle animation the slightest bit of justice. Suffice it to say that in terms of artistry, grace, eclecticism and pure uninhibited style, there are few series out there that can match Magia Record. The benefits of putting 12-13 episodes worth of budget into 8 are on full display here.

Another estranged member of Team Mikazuki Villa, Momoko, arrives with Mitama shortly after the other thee girls manage to neutralize Doppel!Kaede. Mitama seals Kaede a big glass sphere, then wheels it into a gallery absolutely filled with similar spheres: an isolation ward for troubled doppels.

The other girls are not okay with this situation any more than what Magius is doing with witches. But Mitama is unmoved by their outrage, reminding them with almost Kyuubey-esque haughtiness that she warned them not to overuse their doppels.

She also reports that Kaede the other afflicted girls likely won’t wake up—let alone return to normal—until Magius’ “plan has succeeded”—an objective Iroha, Yachiyo, and now Rena and probably Momoko are committed to thwarting.

Again, Iroha serves a focusing and uniting role, corralling and calming the hotter heads and offering a possible Other Way. Even after all that has happened since returning to Faint Hope, her mission is the same: meet with Nemu, find out what’s going on, and find a way to save her.

Iroha has already demonstrated what can be accomplished by bringing the “family” together in a single, clear effort. Why can’t it be so with this? After all, unlike Touka, Nemu remembers Iroha, and the bond they shared. He’s hoping Big Sis gets to meet with her soon.

 

Vlad Love – 03 – Quite Unconcerned by Crosses

The zoo fiasco forgotten (like all things from episode to episode), Mitsugu and Mai catch a vampire flick at the movies…and Mai is so inspired she can’t help but bite the head of the man sitting in front of her. I like the idea of Mitsugu and Mai just going out and the former having to deal with the unpredictability (and volatility) of the latter. My Girlfriend’s a Vamp! kinda stuff.

This episode features a brand-new OP which may not slap quite as hard as the first, but is beautiful in its own right, both in visuals and music.

After the movie the couple bump into Watabe Maki (Hayami Saori), president of the Cinema Club at Mitsugu’s school, who is curious about Mitsugu’s new, very pretty and photogenic (and out-of-her-league) companion. Mitsugu says she’s a relative, and when pressed, Mai simply states they’re “connected by blood”—which is true!

Maki takes them to a good restaurant for dinner, where Mai consumes a generous amount of garlic gyoza. Rather than kill her, the garlic seems to have an intoxicating effect, and the restaurant is demolished. The papers cover the incident as some kind of “mass hallucination”, which seems to be a recurring theme…along with the frankly lame fourth-wall breaking when Maki can hear Mitsugu’s thoughts or points out when she’s spewing exposition.

Mai’s unforeseen reaction to garlic leads Mitsugu and Dr. Chihiro to undertake a more thorough investigation of how Mai fits into common vampire knowledge. She drinks blood, and can sprout fangs and wings out of her head, but UV light doesn’t bother her, garlic turns her into a boisterous drunk, and crosses don’t affect her in the least.

While testing the UV bit, Mitsugu runs into another classmate, the Type-B (i.e. eccentric) Konno Kaoru, prez of the Cosplay Club. She mistakes Mai’s get-up for Invisible (Wo)man cosplay, and invites her and Mitsugu to the Cosplay Club so they can get their ‘cos on. Mai nails all the classics, from maid to bunny and magical girls. Mitsugu is more niche, pulling off a researcher from a 1970s sci-fi movie with aplomb.

Kaoru invites the pair to an Akiba Halloween party, the location of which is established with the show’s signature live-action drone footage of the city. Mai’s vamp-girl costume proves too hot to handle, causing a near-riot amongst the horny guys in the audience and forcing the karate club to lay down the law while keeping their school’s Disciplinary Officer Jinko at bay.

Mitsugu seems to sense when she and Mai should start heading home, but before that can happen the commotion knocks out the lights at the venue. Mai emerges from the darkness then transforms into a swarm of bats, making one hell of an exit from the party that is once again written off as a mass hallucination.

To quote Homer Simpson, each episode of Vlad Love has been little more than “a bunch of stuff that happened”. That doesn’t mean that stuff doesn’t look great and a ton of fun to boot, but there’s just no depth to the stuff, and everything resets from episode to episode, so nothing really means anything. Their movie date aside, Mai and Mitsugu aren’t really progressing as a couple so much as treading water.

The episode is also stuffed with overindulgent moments like the whole minute of needlessly describing in great detail the British bomber inexplicably flying in the air over the gyozu restaurant. Stuff like that engenders far more ¯\_(ツ)_/¯’s than LOL’s.

DanMachi III – 07 – A Beast’s Dream

I respect Bell’s moxie, but I was hoping for something a bit more clever than trying to go toe-to-toe in a melee fight against an opponent two full levels higher than him. Sure, Dix is in a weakened state due to the curse, but that won’t last. At least we get some clarity via his ranting: he’s been able to calm his raging Daedalus blood—and nullify the urge to keep building Knossos—by killing Xenos.

It’s the specific fact they cry and scream like humans that makes it work. So yeah, Dix has been suffering a horrible curse for which not even the bloodshed in the dungeon could lift his entire life. It’s not surprising he’d take whatever form of release that came along; moral implications be damned. But still, he’s one sadistic bastard!

Meanwhile, outside Knossos, the Ganesha Familia have almost finished capturing the Xenos when they are ambushed by a giant minotaur. Everyone is either killed or injured, including Aisha and Asfi. Ryuu manages not to die by dumb luck, as the minotaur hears a wolf howling and departs before finishing her. So much for Bell getting some help from these three!

He’s on his own when Dix shows him the chained Wiene, then rips the stone off her head. Wiene undergoes a horrifying (and no doubt excruciating) transformation into a full adult vouivre, screaming and lashing out mindlessly.

Bell attempts to reach the Wiene he knows by refusing to fight her and letting her grab his shoulder (after swatting him back a couple times). She remembers the first time she accidentally cut him, and actually manages to say his name and weep tears of despair. But it doesn’t last long, and soon Wiene is back to going berserk.

Dix is super pissed that Bell almost succeeded in proving him wrong about Xenos just being monsters by any other name, and they continue their one-on-one battle, but despite being pretty beaten down (both physically and emotionally) he seems to find his second wind, even breaking the blade of Dix’s spear. Then Lyd breaks free of Dix’s curse and fights beside Bell, allowing him to land his Bell Punch square in Dix’s chest.

Unfortunately, regardless of Dix’s status, the damage is done, and he opens a door to allow the berserk Wiene direct access to the surface, where she’s sure to be “dealt with” by adventurers. Bell races after her, stopping only to be healed by Fels’ kick-ass magic. Gros joins Lyd and Rei in going after Bell to help him, even if he can’t admit he can probably trust the Little Rookie at this point.

Wiene emerges first on Daedalus Street, which just happens to be where Welf led Hestia Familia on a hunch. She was immediately vilified by citizens on the surface when she was a cute little kid; I can’t imagine her new form will do her any favors.

Bell follows shortly thereafter, but Wiene is stabbed by a spear thrown by Loki Familia, who are perched on a roof, ready to swoop down and eliminate the threat. Bell then does something that could condemn him, his goddess, and his Familia forever: he shields Wiene from the Lokis, a half-defiant, half-mad look on his face.

This pits him against Ais and every other member of the Lokis who have just been ordered to dispose of the vouivre. It’s an extremely volatile situation where there just isn’t time to explain what needs to be explained, and even if there was, orders are orders. One just hopes Bell won’t have to fight his friend, and cooler heads in Lyd, Rei, and Gros can arrive in time to restrain Wiene and bail Bell out. But I gotta say, things are not looking good for Argonaut-kun!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Assault Lily: Bouquet – 03 – Always Look Your Best

Riri is elated that Yuyu is officially her new Schutzengel, but Yuyu has no intention of going easy on her Schild, delivering no shortage of tough love in the training facility and continuing to be cold and aloof.

Riri also gets to watch the Alfheim legion work. The nine-lily team who work together to bring down a low-level Huge—basically the opposite of Yuyu’s go-it-alone strategy.

While bathing with Kaede an Fumi, Riri is approached by Alfheim members, who offer some explanation for why Yuyu is the way she is: in a battle two years ago her own Schutzengel was killed. She still haunts Yuyu, noting that she’s “scared” both for and of Riri, and thus quick to turn her away.

Eventually Riri manages to focus her Magie and parry her attack. Right afterward the pair are on duty, and Yuyu makes sure to fix Riri’s tussled hair and uniform: an Assault Lily must look her best on the battlefield.

When the Huge arrives, it is a Restored, a Huge that survived previous attacks and returned to its base for repairs. Its shell is lined with the broken CHARMs of dead Lilies, and Yuyu decides that Riri will sit this one out. She says it’s because she’ll be in the way, but really it’s to avoid a repeat of what happened with her Schutzengel.

You see, Yuyu’s “Rare Skill” is Lunatic Trancer, so called because it transforms her into a white-haired berserk killing machine who will fight friend or foe until her Magie is spent. Seeing the CHARMs of fallen Lilies triggers the skill, and Yuyu goes on an unfocused rampage.

Due to the threat she poses, none of the other on-duty freelance Lilies can lend aid, but once Riri learns the rest of Yuyu’s story—that she was initially suspected of harming her own Schutzengel while in Trancer mode—she decides that she’ll be the one to break her out of it.

Riri rushes in to meet Yuyu, but when they cross CHARMs a first and then a a second time, Riri holds firm, and their Magie touches through the blades. Yuyu dismisses herself as a despicable monster consumed by hatred, but Riri tells her she doesn’t care, she’s still her sister, and gives her a hug that pulls her out of her trance.

Together they finish off the Restored, which will be restored no more. Afterward, Yuyu takes Riri to the cemetery where her Schutzengel Kawazoe Misuzu is buried. Later, in the dark of her dorm, Yuyu remembers clearly when she came out of a trance to find she’d run Misuzu through with her blade, but even then her big sister urged her to forgive herself and move forward.

Her roommate Matsuri Hata comes in, turns on the lights, mentions that she heard Yuyu sortied, and says “good work”, Yuyu thanks her, which is apparently enough of a rarity for Hata to note that she can’t recall the last time Yuyu was so nice. Clearly, the Schutzengel is working out swimmingly so far for both her and Riri.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul – Trials Make Love Stronger

I finished the first season of Made in Abyss three years and a week ago, commenting that while I ached to know what would happen next, a long rest was in order, so that I might recover from the emotional wounds throughout that first run, culminating in the shockingly brutal story of Mitty and Nanachi.

Turns out no amount of time would heal those wounds to the extent they wouldn’t be re-opened and—very soul freshly re-crushed—upon watching the continuation of the Abyss story. That’s because the deeper Riko, Reg, and Nanachi descend, the more acute and devastating the horrors they encounter.

This is the third of three Made in Abyss films; the first two were a retelling of the first season, while the third is a direct sequel As such, spoilers throughout.

Case in point: upon arriving at one of her mother’s favorite spots in all of the Abyss, the Garden of Flowers of Fortitude, they encounter one of Bondrewd’s delvers, the Umbra Hands, harvesting tissue from other delvers who have been infected by a parasite that not only feeds off you while you’re still alive, but feeds itself to you in order to keep you alive. Lovely!

Few anime do soaring vistas like Abyss, and there’s something just so otherworldly and dread-inducing about the sight of the Fifth Layer’s Sea of Corpses, along with Idofront, Bondrewd the Novel’s domain. But as cold and unyielding and inhospitable as the spinning ghost city seems on the outside, within resides one of the sweetest, warmest, most human souls they’ve yet encountered: an adorable little girl named Prushka.

Prushka is Bondrewd’s daughter (voiced by Minase Inori), who is initially suspicious of outsiders coming to help her dad when she thinks she should be enough. But once she meets Riko, Reg, and Nanachi, they open for her a whole new world of questions and information about the Surface (she was born in the Abyss).

It’s so strange to see Prushka acting so lovey-dovey with Bondrewd, perpetrator of countless acts of sickening biological crimes, especially since he and his Umbra Hands resemble evil robots. And yet that evil robot still has a strange gravitational pull Nanachi finds hard to resist. Nanachi can’t forgive Bondrewd, but something still draws them toward him. Nanachi was something of a child figure to him, after all, so Nanachi sees Prushka as a younger self.

Bondrewd has bad news for Riko: while she may have her mother’s White Whistle, only the person for whom the whistle was made can use it to activate the altar that will take her down to the Sixth Layer. He offers them accommodations to “think things over”, but there isn’t any doubt his intentions for them are about as far from harmless as they’re all far from the Surface.

Despite her cozy room, soon Riko wakes up alone, and upon exploring, finds that she’s trapped in a small area with the only exit being a stair Prushka warned will cause “strains of ascension” if climbed. When Riko attempts to climb them anyway, she loses all sense of touch and balance, grinds her baby molars away and falls down the stairs, gaining cuts here and there. But she hallucinates far worse: as the very concepts of what and where are gradually eaten away by white light.

Ultimately, the reason Bondrewd does anything all comes down to curiosity and the aspiration to reach the bottom of the Abyss and learn its infinite secrets, same as Riko. It’s just a matter of scope and scale. Riko has managed to retain her humanity throughout her descent. But while has the affable dad voice and general form of a man, there is simply nothing left of Bondrewd’s humanity.

After Nanachi offers to stay with him and help him continue his research in exchange for Riko and Reg’s safety, Bondrewd tells them that, uh, unfortunately, he’s already tossed Reg to his Umbra Hands, who restrain him, slice off his right arm (along with Incinerator) and start collecting his bodily fluids. That’s when Riko, who was helped up to the upper level by Prushka, intervenes, and Prushka learns the truth about her father for the first time.

With Bondrewd showing his true horrific colors loudly and proudly, Nanachi, the most experienced with how he operates, comes up with a plan to take him out. This involves luring him into a nest of giant seven-tailed scorpions, trying to infect him with parasite larvae, and finally Reg crushing his body with a giant boulder.

Naturally, Bondrewd praises both Reg and Nanachi every time they toss a new tactic at him, saying things like “wonderful” and “I’m surprised.” After all, Nanachi is one of the creations of which of which he is most proud, one who unlike Mitty and the others was able to receive the “Blessing” of the Abyss rather than fall victim to the Curse. You’d could mistake it for fatherly pride if, again, Bondrewd had a shred of humanity. But his willingness to offer love and pain and suffering in equal measure disqualifies him as both from being either a parent or a human.

None of the tactics against him end up working, because the Umbra Hand who escorted Prushka simply takes the mask off of the crushed Bondrewd and places it on his head, thus transforming into a new, untouched Bondrewd. Turns out all of his Umbra Hands are him—and his immortality is tied to a relic called Zoaholic. The fight ends for now, and Bondrewd returns home with Prushka.

If Zoaholic didn’t make Bondrewd insane, the act of splitting his soul and essence into multiple bodies still removed what was left of his empathy or humanity, which is why he ends up having Prushka cruelly vivisected just like all of the other orphan children before her. He’s satisfied her experiences with Reg, Riko, and Nanachi helped “perfect” her, and this is the natural next step. She is never told this would happen, and never asked if it’s okay.

Her body is marked with “X’s” to signify the parts that will be cut away and discarded (most of it) until all that is left is a mass of “fleshy curse repellant” to be placed within a suitcase-sized cartridge. It is in this way that Bondrewd staves off the curse; using the pain and suffering of still technically-living children as his strength.

It’s truly skin-crawling, horrible, horrible stuff, and even though I had a reasonable suspicion that Prushka was doomed to a Mitty-like fate, I was still not ready to see even a little of that fate carried out, nor would I ever be. No one would!

By the Riko, Reg, and Nanachi return to Idofront to rescue her they’re way too late, while the sight of the “processing” room brings back Nanachi’s memories of assisting with said processing. When Bondrewd arrives, Riko and Nanachi they buy time for Reg, who hooks himself up to Idofront’s power supply and ends up rebooting in Berserk Mode.

Bondrewd tells Riko that his own White Whistle is the result of sacrificing his own body and soul, and that all White Whistles are made in this way—with a willing human sacrifice, not carved stone.

It’s then when Berserk-Reg arrives and fights on the same level as Bondrewd, ultimately blasting a huge sphere-shaped chunk out of Idofront. He lands in a pit of Mittys—material for Bondrewd’s cartridges, and we’re reminded of all those lights on the wall representing their lives are labeled: he remembers the name of every child, their unique qualities, and how cute they were. Shudder…

As Bondrewd and Reg are locked in an epic battle, we hear Prushka’s disembodied voice as she recounts her life with Bondrewd, starting as a failed subject. He decided to raise her as his daughter, gave her Meinya as a pet, and gave her a fun and happy childhood, ultimately culminating in her helplessly watching as pieces of her are removed one by one on the operating table.

We hear Prushka because she’s now a cartridge that Bondrewd is currently using in his fight, and ends up being his last cartridge. Even after what he did to her, she still wants to help her dad achieve his dreams—even if it means helping him fight against Reg, Riko, and Nanachi.

Thus aided by Bondrewd, Reg can’t defeat him with one arm, which is why he was buying time for Riko to retrieve his other arm. Even disconnected from his body, she’s able to aim it at Bondrewd and fire it, blasting him to pieces.

As this is happening, Prushka pleads with everyone not to fight, because they’re all going to have adventures together. An image of that dream appears in the climax of the battle, and is pretty much the most heartbreaking goddamn thing I’ve ever seen.

Then Bondrewd falls to the ground, finally beaten, and Nanachi stand over him. True to form, Bondrewd isn’t bitter about losing; on the contrary: he’s never been happier to find someone with stronger aspirations, will, and love defeat him. It means they, not him, are worthy of exploring the greater depths of the Abyss, and all the curses and blessings therein.

Riko holds the spent cartridge of what’s left of Prushka, simply red liquid that spills everywhere, and very understandably begins to bawl in absolute despair. But then she notices an object lying in the puddle of liquid: a White Whistle. Turns out Prushka’s soul willingly became the sacrifice necessary for Riko. Now her dream of going on adventures together can be realized.

With that, Riko gains the means to make her Last Dive, along with Reg (who learned a great deal about what his relic body can do) and Nanachi (who found a degree of closure in her vendetta with Bondrewd). Bondrewd, oddly enough, is still alive (after a fashion), but no longer a threat to them, and indeed is happy to see them off as they enter the “elevator” that will take them to the Sixth Layer, that much closer to Riko’s Mom, whatever’s become of her.

Quite appropriately, the end credits pull double duty as an illustration of that elevator descending ever deeper  into the Abyss, accompanied by an achingly gorgeous song that is a collab between MYTH & ROID and Kevin Penkin. Penkin, of course, also contributed the score and outdoes himself in the task; his music has been and continues to be a vital piece of what makes Abyss so unique an special.

It doesn’t look like I’ll be able to end this in less than 1500 words, but whatever; this was basically four episodes of the anime comprising a Fifth Layer arc, enshrining Bondrewd the Novel as one of anime’s all-time most monstrous and compelling villains, exploring the ways ambition can mutate “love” into a heartlessly destructive force.

It also ably reinforced Abyss’ uncanny ability to tear its viewers’ hearts and souls to bloody shreds before painstakingly sewing them back together with delicate threads of hope. And with a second season in the early stages of production, the story of Riko, Reg, and Nanachi is far from over.

No Guns Life – 16 – Free Will Ain’t Free

While Juuzou destroyed Victor’s first fake body, he has a smaller spare extended backed in a suitcase. Nevertheless, Avi Cobo has Mary at gunpoint, and demands to know where Victor’s real body is, shooting her in the foot to show he means business. Even if the backup had an open shot, Avi has electroreceptors like those of a shark that allow him to dodge most attacks.

Emphasis on most, as Juuzou comes in unwilling to stand by and let one innocent young woman suffer any further harm. He starts the sequence to release his Gun Slave Unit limiters, enabling him to create a smokescreen and fabricate new arms. While Backup Victor sacrifices its arm to create a field that confuses Avi’s receptors and gets Mary out of danger, Juuzou gives Avi the mother of all forehead flicks, rendering him unconscious.

While Olivier and EMS arrive, Juuzou delays the grunts to allow Mary to talk to Victor properly. Like last week, way too much time is spent in a static location as exposition is delivered. Much of it we already know or have grasped from events thus far, but what we didn’t know was why Victor killed the man who took them in: he threatened to sell Mary’s body if Victor left for the military.

While Victor is still determined to destroy all of the Extendeds his hands created, Mary remains adamant that Extended components can be used for good, in the way Victor originally intended.

While recovering from the bullet to her foot, Mary ponders whether to take Lefty apart in order to determine just how the machine with the intelligence (and quite a few behavioral characteristics) of a dog functions. Lefty is not cooperative, understandably opposed to its own dissection.

Meanwhile, Wachowski pays a visit to Tetsuro’s quarters/cell, and we learn he had an engineer fix Tetsuro’s components so he can speak with his own voice, an apparent gesture of good faith. However, Wachowski’s plans for Tetsuro are anything but peaceful. The Gun Slave Unit Seven is a big thorn in Spitzbergen’s side, but only a GSU can defeat a GSU, and in his current state, Juuzou is no match for Seven.

Wachowski wants Tetsuro to use Harmony to unleash Juuzou’s full GSU potential, which is only possible when the original host surrenders all free will and humanity and becomes a mere tool of destruction. If Tetsuro agrees to do this, everyone he cares about will be safe. If he refuses, they won’t be safe. Pretty raw deal either way, I’d say.

Toaru Kagaku no Railgun T – 11 – Team Lightning Round

Berserk Mikoto is no longer in control of her body, while her mind is being invaded and manipulated by Kozaku Mitori, using the Exterior ability Kihara Gensei is sharing with her in exchange for protection. Mitori convinces a very confused Mikoto to attack the Windowless Building, but a lightning blast dozens of times stronger than her normal Railgun doesn’t even scratch it. Gensei estimates Mikoto is only about 2% on her way to Level 6.

Mikoto is thus well and truly not in control of her fate. After an entire season of running around trying to fix things, it’s up to external parties to save her—and, incidentally, Academy City itself. Misaki serves as coordinator. She may have lost Exterior but she still has Mental Out, and uses it to convince Antiskill to evacuate the festival civilians and not interfere, lest needless casualties mount.

Thanks to overhearing Xochitl and Ruiko, Touma is now involved as well, and Misaki helpfully uploads all of the information he needs to be brought up to speed. Even so, all she can tell him is that his Imagine Breaker might cancel Mikoto’s Berserk Mode. The problem is, there’s so much electricity and debris surrounding Mikoto, Touma can’t get close enough to touch her and test that theory.

That’s when Sogiita Gunha, our third Level 5 of the episode, makes his reappearance, saving Touma from being pummeled by a giant ball of amassed stone and metal debris by giving it the ol’ Amazing Punch. Since Misaki never gave him a headdump Gunha’s a little slow on the uptake, but Touma’s Imagine Breaker intrigues him, and he’s clearly excited to punch stuff, especially if it’s for a good cause. His ultimate offense and Touma’s ultimate defense makes for an inspired pairing.

Thanks to support from Uiharu and Ruiko, Kuroko manages to pinpoint Kozaku Mitori’s location. Since Mitori is at least Level 4 it’s an even match on paper, but I wouldn’t bet against Kuroko any day. I actually like how Misaki gave her a headdump but didn’t restore all of her memories, perhaps assuming they’d be a distraction. Nevertheless, Kuroko is energized by the fact Mikoto trusted her with Mama’s safety. She’s practically shining in this episode.

Once Gunha learns that Touma needs to get close…too close to Mikoto in order to attempt to dispel her Berserk, he uses his Punches to clear a path and then tosses Touma like a baseball straight at Mikoto. Touma finds and opening and touches her shoulder, but it only exposes a few square inches of her normal skin, and only for a second before the electrified skin closes up. Gunha then catches Touma in a Princess Hold, which is frikking adorable, but it’s clear they’ll have to keep this up quite a bit to put a dent in Mikoto’s stout defense.

We end with Misaki, who networked with all of the allies we saw this week to get them on the same page, stealthily stalking Gensei. Since Kuroko is taking Mitori on, Gensei would seem to be all on his own, but I don’t believe for a second he doesn’t know he’s being followed, and has more traps in place for when Misaki eventually confronts him.

Hopefully by then others will have made progress with their jobs and can back her up. However things unfold, this is one hell of a start to the final skirmish that will takes us to Railgun T’s halfway point. I’m thoroughly invested in every one of the little mini-battles going on at once. How often can you say that about a show?

Toaru Kagaku no Railgun T – 10 – Goodbye, Dolly

When Misaki and Mikoto hit a major traffic jam, Misaki summons the power of the “Exterior” to brainwash every driver in their path to pull aside, thus clearing a path. It’s clearly a significant effort for Misaki, pushing Mental Out to its limits. From there, we learn about how her ability was developed at the same facility as Prototype, perhaps the first Mikoto clone. Her nickname, “Dolly” is a reference to the first successfully cloned sheep.

Dolly ‘s handlers have been unable to make progress with her ever since her friend “Mi-chan” (heavily implied to have been Kozaku Mitori) went away. The white coats (who distressingly see both Dolly and Misaki as merely test samples to be used and disposed of as needed) conscript Misaki to be Dolly’s new lab-issued friend.

Misaki uses Mental Out to brainwash Dolly into believing she’s Mi-chan. Misaki was just as haughty back then, so she’s initialy feels his whole enterprise to be a hassle…until she becomes fast friends with Dolly. Like the girl who was cloned to create her, Dolly is far more athletic than Misaki, as evidenced by her far superior garbage can aim.

At the same time, Misaki tries to impress upon Dolly the importance of growing into a refined lady—a losing battle she picks up with Mikoto, to a degree. Without even intending to go along with the white coats, Misaki ends up restoring Dolly’s “inner peace”, allowing research on her to continue without emotional anomalies.

More than that, Misaki forms a real emotional bond with Dolly, blushing when Dolly suddenly hugs her—and pointedly smells out the deception. The two are simply playing around until Dolly suddenly collapses, her clone body shutting down.

It’s then, when she reaches her hand out for a distraught Misaki, that Dolly asks her her name. It dawns on Misaki that Dolly knew she wasn’t Mi-chan, but kept the fiction going because she was happy to have a new friend, and grateful to Misaki for being one. Dolly’s death is a gut punch.

The white coats are then frustrated when Misaki is the one in emotional turmoil, as if it never occurred to them she’d have these things called feelings. Call it professional detachment from one’s scientific subjects…but Misaki is human, for chrissakes! Showing no deference to them, Misaki uses her Mental Out on all of them and learns the truth: once they’re done tinkering with her, she’ll meet the same fate as Dolly.

The Exterior project continues, with part of Misaki’s brain removed and cultivated into a huge brain, which serves as a booster for her powers—and which is what she used to part traffic back in the present. It’s also the “DNA Computer” the urban legends site mentioned. By the time she and Mikoto arrive at Exterior, Kihara Gensei’s forces have already infiltrated, forcing Misaki’s associate Keitz to flee to the roof with 10032.

But Misaki is too late: Kihara tunes the giant brain to his own brainwaves, bypassing the need for length registration and enabling him to use Mental Out. He uses it to freeze Keitz, takes his phone, and uses it to trash talk Misaki, revealing that it was he who instructed Kiyama Harumi on how to use Level Upper.

He then removes all of the protection placed on MISAKA 10032, something First Order immediately notices while playing cards with Accelerator in a hospital room. Then Kihara injects a kind of mental virus into 10032, which is instantaneously transmitted to all other Sisters in the network, knocking them all out.

Mikoto arrives on the rooftop just in time for Kihara to trigger her dormant esper powers. She’s revealed to be his main target all along, as he hopes she’ll be the first to achieve a stable Level 6. Several floors below, Misaki no longer has access to Exterior, while Touma manages to track down Saten as she’s exiting the factory with Xochitl.

The main pair of powerful lasses, then, will need some outside help if they’re going to have a chance of escaping Kihara’s clutches. Mikoto looks completely out of control—half-Akira, half-Little Prince—or worse, under Kihara’s control. Will spirited, virtuous youth win out over the greed and contempt of an old man with a Gorbachev birthmark? We shall see…

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 12 (Fin) – Hanging In There

Berserk Golem is terrifying to behold, but at least initially, his attacks aren’t very coordinated. That gives Yabashira a chance to intervene before Golem makes Somali witness something she shouldn’t. He’s tossed aside, and Golem targets Rosa, only for the freed Somali to come between them.

She has enough trust in her dad that he won’t hurt her with his outstretched hand, but pat her on the head. He may have lost a lot of resources when he went into overload, but the love he has for her wasn’t among them, and it serves as a fail-safe switch, and he passes out after acknowledging his daughter.

We part ways with Rosa off-camera, though I’d hope she learned a lesson and will do some serious soul-searching about her attitude towards humans after the one she was ready to dissect saved her life. Golem comes to in a forest, with Somali sleeping by his side.

The pair continue their journey with Shizuno and Yabashira, but after assessing his damage, it’s not looking good for Golem. His left arm is gone for good, as is nearly a third of his skin and much of his internal fluids. He’s at 76%, max, and it’s all downhill from there…though he notably can’t set an exact date of final shutdown.

The quartet arrives in a new town full of horned dog people celebrating their harvest. Never mind that there may be more human hunters here who would recognize Somali’s smell; the show clearly cedes that the time of external threats to Somali are done, as long as she keeps her hood down. I’m skeptical!

Of course, the main issue is that while on their way to town, Golem noticed that his senses are becoming duller and it’s getting increasingly hard to move. Add to that the potential for him to lose control like he did in the cave, and he considers his continued proximity to Somali a liability. So at the town festival, while Somali is distracted by performers, he gives her the slip.

Shizuno fills Yabashira and Somali in on why Golem left, and why he couldn’t persuade him otherwise; he made his choice. But Somali is hardly satisfied with such an adult conclusion, and chases after her dad, leaving town and finding him in the nearby woods, staring at a pond. When he spots her, Golem orders her to stay away, but she won’t obey, and demands to know why they can’t be together like he promised.

When he denies it’s because of anything she said or did or because he doesn’t like her anymore (Somali is just a little kid, this is where her mind would go first) and tells her he’s worried about being a danger to her, she again rejects his reasoning. She’ll be too lonely without him, and she knows he’ll be lonely too. She gets him to admit the emotions within him (despite that not jiving with his “natural order”)—and even sheds the equivalent of a golem tear.

With that, Golem reverses his decision to run away, and instead vows to stay by Somali’s side as long as he can, enduring whatever hardships might arise. The two of them acquire some nifty new threads and continue their travels with the Shizuno and Yabashira.

This seal the ending as an ellipsis rather than a period, and opens the door for a possible sequel. But that aside, I was pretty certain the show wouldn’t kill off Golem in the last episode, despite some of the “death is not the end” flags during the town festival.

Instead, it galvanized its hopeful outlook with a hopeful ending, in which there’s still time for Golem to find a way to repair himself, and in the meantime, Somali’s formative years can continue to be filled with happy and fun memories with her dad, as long as they can.

No Guns Life – 08 – The Justice in Personal Motives

As she rides a taxi to the memorial with Tetsuro to help Juuzou, Olivier recalls when her MP father first told her he’d be assigned to Norse Scott, a job he said “someone had to do.” Olivier didn’t like how her dad was an MP at all, and dedicated herself to rising to the ranks in order to fire him.

Turns out she didn’t reach those heights in time; Gondry murdered her dad along with sixteen others, and all she got out of it was a bouquet and a can of very bad-smelling food. But Gondry was just a puppet, utilized by Armed, while Juuzou is another person he has to erase in order to preserve the progress he believes he’s made with Extended-Anti-Extended relations.

To that end, he crushes the last of Juuzou’s medicinal cigarettes, which results in Juuzou going berserk and revealing heretofore unseen arsenal of weapons and directives. Once he’s in battle formation, the protocol governing his operation awaits “authorization” from an operator called “Hands.”

Ironically, he remained utterly harmless until Armed attacked him, after which the berserk Juuzou mops the floor with him. Olivier eventually arrives, having heard Armed blab about his grand corrupt plan and his inherent egotism; but manages to wake Juuzou up by lighting up one of the cigs Tetsuro brought and blowing the smoke into his mouth—in other words, kissing him.

The awakened Juuzou regains his senses, and resists the urge to kill Armed, even though it’s what his client Olivier wants in the moment. Instead, he’s to face a court, while Juuzou is carried off by Tetsuro. But as he rides in a paddy wagon with Olivier, he asks what court would try him?

Olivier and Juuzou have stepped into something probably better left alone, now that they’ve come to the point where there will be no true justice, since powers far above her authority have already tacitally (if not directly) approved Armed’s actions.

Additionally, since Armed has info that could harm those powers that be, he is killed by Pepper—using Harmony to operate a Gun Slave Unit whose name we learn is Seven—by blasting a huge hole in the wagon. It’s just one thing after another…

Darling in the FranXX – 12 – Time is Running Out and Zero Two Drops the Pretense

Squad 13 returns to Garden, to the place where they were made, even if it isn’t where they came from—a question Kokoro ponders while doubting the adults’ answers. In narration, Hiro says it doesn’t matter where, as long as he can live life to the fullest. But his increasingly distant (and feral) partner Zero Two feels the opposite: where she came from—what she is—means everything.

Hiro the rest of the squad are only tagalongs. The reason they’re at Garden is for Zero Two, or “Iota”, as the leader of the elite “Nines” calls her. He’s surprised she’s been able to integrate so well into a squad of humans, and is rudely explicit about how inhuman she is, gaining the ire of Ichigo. Ultimately the adults’ patience with Zero Two’s sullen bit runs out and they have to tranq her.

The rest of the squad tours the Garden, even though they were forbidden from doing so, and the memories come flowing in. Hiro, for one, vageuly remembers a red girl with white hair and horns. They see children getting parasite injections far earlier than they did.

With the increase in klaxosaur activity, it would seem humanity no longer has time for experiments in disobedience or individuality; they’re basically growing bodies to put into cockpits as fast as they can. Squad 13 is a relic; an indulgence they can no longer afford…even though it could be argued they bear elements of humanity crucial for its long-term survival.

As humanity hopes continuing to refine their children into increasingly efficient parasites will help extend the time they’re on the planet, Zero Two insists her time is quickly running out. Every time she sorties with Hiro she tries to kill as many Klaxosaurs as possible, as viciously as possible, hoping it will help her become human.

Because Hiro believes everything in this show is about him, he assumes Zero Two feels like she can’t truly belong in the squad, or in his heart, unless she becomes completely human, shedding everything that made her part klaxosaur. Since Gorou and Futoshi’s feelings helped him understand his own, he thinks confessing his love for Two will both appease and please her.

Imagine my combination of delight and despair upon witnessing Hiro completely strike out after confessing to the person who always insisted on calling him her “Darling”, not to mention kissing him and staying by his side. Hiro drops the Darling and calls Hiro “fodder.” She only cares about him if she can use him to kill klaxosaurs.

Since partnering with Hiro, we learn Two’s level of “saurification” has been steadily rising, which explains why she’s been acting so feral lately. (Ichigo hears this, because the adults apparently have an open-door policy.)

When she learns what is becoming of Zero Two, which she adds to the knowledge given to her by the leader of the Nines, Ichigo moves to have another conversation with her squadmate, only to find her smashing mirrors to bits for daring to reflect her face. Ichigo freezes in terror and closes her eyes, ready for the worst, but Two just walks past her.

Despite her clear and worsening imbalance, the adults continue to let Zero Two sortie with Hiro, and Two continues to believe she can become human if she kills enough klaxosaurs. Whether someone told her such a theory was true, or she simply decided for herself it was true, the evidence just doesn’t bear out that outcome.

If anything, killing klaxosaurs only seems to increase her bloodlust for combat. When Hiro tries to hold her back, she eventually overloads and starts to choke Hiro, while more and more images of the red girl with horns flash through his head. This totally berserk Two wants to meet her darling from “back then.” I imagine we’re in for some crucial flashbacks at the start of the second half.

Macross Delta – 20

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I was wondering how Delta would follow up an episode that was 9/10ths an advertisement for other Macross series (some worse but most better than Delta), and 1/10th nice character work between Mirage and Hayate, which for me saved it from a 6 (not recommended).

Turns out this episode was a lot more like the last 1/10th of last week, only with a lot more action, which pleased me. For once, though, the action doesn’t predominantly serve the plot; the status of the war remains unchanged.

Instead, all the action is character-driven, not a bad way to go for a show whose characters have too often felt like little more than props (or shadows of aforementioned better shows). Forget the war, we’ve got more basic problems: Freyja can’t sing, Hayate can’t fly, and Mikumo is God-knows-where.

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Everyone is full of doubt and uncertainty, even in Windermere, where Heinz is definitely spooked by the fact his song was overpowered by Mikumo’s. His brother Keith (who has had very little to do since losing an eye) seems to want to know more about Heinz’s specific medical problems, all while wondering what the heck is going on with Lloyd, who he thought he used to know well.

Lloyds reassurances to Heinz that his voice is peerless, and to Keith that all will be well, aren’t received with enthusiasm by either Windermere. Cassim is also still walking around looking lost; the only ones who aren’t are content to blindly follow the most powerful authority.

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Things can’t stay this way for the main players on both sides of the war, so it falls to the second tier of the cast to bring about some kind of change. Makino and Reina start prodding the medical frigate’s security for weaknesses, and when Kaname catches them, they convince her to join their cause, even if it’s against the rules, because they love Mikumo.

Hayate and Freyja actually manage to sit at a table together, but only to exchange unilateral life-altering/ruining decisions. Hayate wants to quit flying so Freyja can keep singing; Freyja wants to quit singing so Hayate can keep flying. Their affection for one another precludes doing anything that might hurt one another.

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Enter Mirage, who does a far better job than Lloyd to, well, not so much reassure them as knock some sense into them with harsh words. She considers both their offers unacceptable; Hayate has to fly and Freyja has to sing; that’s what they were frikkin’ born to do.

And she’s not even going to give them the choice to give up on their dreams, because she loves them too much. There; she finally said it, only two both of them and not simply Hayate. Better than nothing, I guess. Mirage (and Seto Asami) do great work here.

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While Mirage puts her heart on her sleeve to help the comrades—the friends—she loves, Kaname, Makino and Reina potentially put their careers, freedom, and lives on the line for their comrade Mikumo. Reina’s hacking isn’t pefect, but Kaname doesn’t give up when the other two are arrested, running through corridors and belting out song until she reaches Mikumo, who despite being in a stasis tank, sings along.

And that’s it for episode 20. With six episodes left, the sing-and-fly formula of earlier episodes has been immensely disrupted, and we’re left wondering what will become of the singers of Walkure, the pilots of Delta, and the overdressed tools of Windermere.

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Macross Delta – 19

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After making me care about the “bad guys” a bit last week, Delta continued to impress by suddenly having Freyja and Mikumo kinda go off the rails, resulting in the destruction of the Protoculture ruins—and thus a pillar of the Starwind Sector—on a large scale, and sending Hayate into superhuman berserk mode, from which he still hasn’t recovered when we check in this week. Mikumo has been secured aboard a medical frigate.

While both waiting outside the door to Hayate’s hospital room, Freyja and Mirage encounter the dude in the keffiyeh who was so dispassionately reporting on the status of the ruins and Protoculture structures back in Windermere. In a time of great doubt and apprehension, he’s arrived to complete an undisclosed business transaction with Chaos.

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But…he goes into an incredibly long-winded and detailed bout of exposition that not only serves as a shout-out to all previous Macross series (of which I’ve only watched Frontier, back when it aired), but connects the events of all of those Macrosses to explain what’s happening with the Wind Singer, Walkure, Freyja, and Mikumo.

Long story short: the Var is a product of fold bacteria left behind by the Vajra, and there are people with immunity to the Var and fold receptors who generate powerful bio-fold waves when they sing while their lives are on the line.

Berger Stone surmises that the Protoculture inserted some code related to music in the he DNA of all humanoids, and that music is more than just culture shock, but a mind-controlling weapon.

He also brings up rumors of the mysterious “Lady M” who finances Chaos to be developing an “ultimate weapon” utilizing music, which sounds a hell of a lot like Mikumo, considering the flashes of her past we’ve seen.

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I’m glad to be caught up on exactly what’s going on, but I can’t help but wonder if there could have been a more organic way to convey all this information. When you think about it, why is Berger Stone telling them all this to begin with? Frankly, the only reason I can think of is that the plot requires that he do so.

Sure, it’s a vehicle for a bunch of lovely nostalgia, but this is where my limited exposure to the Macross universe is exposed, since most of the shout outs failed to resonate simply because I haven’t watched everything. Thus, much of Berger’s story feels more like a quick cram session of everything that led up to the current situation.

It’s more than a little awkward and rushed, not to mention static. With a few excellently-executed exceptions, there’s usually something unsatisfying about watching people stand around and listen to a guy talk while watching what amounts to a fancy PowerPoint presentation behind him…for almost an entire episode.

And while Berger is talking to Walkure and Delta, Lloyd is telling Keith basically the same story. So everyone on the show is simply standing around chilling. That lack of immediacy after so much action and upheaval was a bit deflating. It felt retconny. felt…recappy.

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What earns this episode a 7 as opposed to a 6, then, is the very end, when it’s Mirage, not Freyja, who musters up the courage to go see Hayate. Since there’s every indication he’s out cold, Mirage is able to be honest with herself, if only briefly.

Admitting you don’t understand anything is the first step to rectifying that, and Mirage does so, while also admitting she likes having Hayate around and wants him to wake up and be with her again. Seto Asami does good work in Mirage’s small but significant scene. Naturally, it’s left up to interpretation how long Hayate was conscious and listening to her, but it’s not as if she confessed her love or anything.

That being said, it’s important that Mirage visited him and was there when he woke up, not Freyja, as Freyja’s fear her music is a weapon that can change and potentially hurt Hayate leads her to keep her distance. Mirage is just Hayate’s flying buddy; she has no such misplaced guilt to contend with.

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