86 – 05 – Ghosts In the Machines

This week we learn the details of how Shin’s brother saved Lena’s life when the helicopter she and her father were on crashed. Despite having everything taken from him by the Alba, Shourei was still a proud soldier of the Republic, and saving Lena—and giving her chocolate to eat—was his solemn duty.

Lena had seen and heard from her father how her people had done horrible things to the 86, so when Shourei’s stomach grumbled, she split the chocolate with him. It’s just that by the end of this episode, I wonder if it wouldn’t have been easier for Lena if that approaching Legion had killed her, though even then, it wasn’t a sure thing she’d remain dead.

The morning after reliving the most traumatic experience of her life, Lena is once again approached by Annette, who once again has a tasty dessert for her to try, and shifts the talk to party dresses for the upcoming Revolution Festival. Even Annette’s “memorial” to all her past suitors on the wall remind Lena of the actual memorial she just visited, as well as Shin’s undertaker role.

Even Shin tells Lena to go have fun; she’s not expected to spend all her time with Handler duties. As she talks to Shin, she encounters two other soldiers flirting on the stairs and gets a little flustered herself, but any thoughts of kicking back and partying are dashed when Shin announces out of the blue that the Legion are coming—despite there not being any warnings on Lena’s end.

Shin also makes the unprecedented request that Lena switch off her Para-Raid for the coming battle, as there are a lot of “Black Sheep” approaching. Lena resolutely refuses to disconnect, and Shin makes it clear that he warned her. As Shin and the others engage, Lena starts to hear strange voices among the static: the sounds of peoples’ last moments…including Kaie’s “I don’t want to die.”

The voices keep repeating and echoing in Lena’s head, and immediately it becomes clear why so many other Handlers went mad; even in her bedroom with the Para-Raid deactivated, merely reaching for it causes all the voices to rush back into her head. But while no previous Handler ever called back after hearing the voices, Lena still calls Shin back. She had to; she needs answers to what the hell just happened.

Shin is happy to provide the answers, but they’re all horrific downers. He can always engage the Legion before Lena even gets an alert because he can always hear the voices of ghosts of those who have died, but are still there.

Despite the Republic’s official stance that the war will end in two years when the Legion’s AI will shut down, Shin knows better: the Legion have been taking the brains of fallen 86 and copying them to replace the function of the AI due to shut down, thus extending their operating time—and thus the war—indefinitely.

This means the Republic, whose Alba citizens are so keen to hold swanky parties and get drunk and bang, believe they have the war in the bag when in reality, their defeat is almost assured. Not only will the Legion not shut down, but they’ve been building up their numbers, all while the 86 have dwindled to a smattering of children. Soon, Shin says, all of them will be dead.

When that happens, will the Alba fight in their place? Shin doesn’t think it likely. Even if they did, they’d be outmatched, since some of the brains recovered by the Legion were undamaged enough to create “Shepherds”—ghost commanders who make their Legion units significantly more powerful and adaptive.

Lena says if all that is the case, they simply need to wipe out the Legion before the 86 are wiped out, and before Shin’s service time expires. She wants the two of them to win and survive. But as Shin reveals a huge scar around his neck and recalls his brother choking him and saying “It’s your fault!”, it doesn’t seem Shin is interested in surviving. It’s also looking like his brother’s brain is one of those Shepherds.

Lena’s struggle to bring justice and dignity to the 86 seemed quaint and woefully insufficient before we learned the Republic are actually massive underdogs in this war, which won’t end when they expect it. With all this new information, it almost seems like Lena attending that party with Annette and getting blackout drunk would be equally as productive as anything else she could do.

Maybe that’s why Annette warned Lena not to get too close to the 86: because she too knows the truth (or a measure of it), and that there’s nothing left for them to do but enjoy life while the living’s good.

Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 02

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It’s nice to see how well Stella and Ikki are already getting along even before their first day of school; it’s a testament to the equity and fairness with which they each treat each other. They’re both on first-name terms without any reservations, and Stella makes a habit of bringing up things like the possibility of indirect kisses as a big deal, but never once denies that she doesn’t mind such things, when sharing Ikki’s sports drink. She also insists on running the full 20km a day that he runs, which speaks to her competitiveness.

But this, like Asterisk War is still a harem, which means there will be plenty of competition for Ikki’s attention. The first to glom onto him is Kusakabe Kagami, who means to run the school newspaper and saw him fight. Whether you’re a boy or a girl, people dig ability, and it’s clear Ikki has skills, even if there’s no surefire way to evaluate it. Still, the way the six school reps will be chosen works in his favor: rather than assess people by their stats, everyone will be fighting for those spots.

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Kagami essentially fades into the background, however, when a petite silver-haired girl everyone calls “Lorelei” beckons to Ikki. As we gleaned from the cold open, she’s his little sister Shizuku, and the only member of his family who she believes really loves him. Because of that, on top of her sheltered, upper-crust upbringing, to her, that means she needs to show Ikki enough love to make up for all the family members who show none.

To Shizuku, that means French-kissing him in front of Stella and half the school. Now, this is some standard brocon incest ikkiness? On the surface, sure, but it’s nicely mitigated by two factors: Shizuku’s aforementioned strange upbringing, and the fact no one else, including Ikki, is okay with his sister Frenching him.

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Then a catfight breaks out between Shizuku and Stella, who draw their devices, but they get in trouble with the director and must clean all 27 of the school’s girls’ restrooms, which they do while exchanging insults about one another’s breast size and body type.

It’s petty, but it’s conflict born out of mutual misunderstanding. Shizuku doesn’t yet know the full extent of Stella’s bond with Ikki, and Stella doesn’t yet know why Shizuku is acting so possessive.

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That changes quick when Shizuku mentions that the rest of the Kurogane family has always treated Ikki like he didn’t exist, and she hates them for it. Stella, concerned and eager to learn more about her roommate (and master, a promise she hasn’t forgotten), wastes no time asking Ikki about it, and he’s very open about it: due to his lack of verifiable talent, he was shunned as the family’s black sheep. The ostracization was so bad, he once ran away from home into the brutal cold.

He was saved from death by his grandfather Ryouma—a samurai so famous even Stella knows the name—who told him to harness his frustration with being called the weakest or the worst; make that weakness a strength, and never give up or stop working to prove everyone wrong. Ikki then started to train alone—something Stella also did when she was younger. Thus Stella’s understanding of Ikki deepens, as does her affection.

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Those affections lead her to make a move on Ikki for the second week in a row, entirely on a whim while cooking. Her excuse is that a good servant must fulfill a master’s wishes before he even asks, but really, she liked what she saw and felt last week, and wants more. Ikki is understandably a bit on-edge about the whole thing—Stella is a knockout in her pink bikini (her concession to modesty and not letting things get too far too fast)—but lets Stella do what she wants to do, and tells her what she wants to hear.

A nice detail: when the newspaper girl Kagami put Ikki’s arm against her chest, Stella noticed, and so brings it up here, because it looked like Ikki liked it…and Stella wants Ikki to like when she does it. I loved the honesty and equity of this romantic encounter: both Stella and Ikki are getting something they want out of it…right up until Stella loses her top, which she didn’t want to happen. Scream; Slap; Womp-Womp.

Lastly, we come to the show’s ED, with all the girls in Ikki’s prospective harem lounging around nude in a bed of roses with their weapons, to the welcome eclectic tunes of ALI PROJECT.

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