Fate / Zero – 22

For an episode preceded by such disturbing spectacle as a broken man murdering his best friend and making Rin an orphan, and followed by the casual malice of a born-again nihilist discarding his hostage before setting a foreboding trap, this episode has the most charming, heartwarming opening: an exhausted Waver finally arrives back home just before daybreak.

We know it’s not really his home, and he hypnotized its occupants into thinking he’s their grandson. But when his “grandpa” beckons for him to join him on the roof for a truly spectacular sunrise, something else dawned on me: Waver is Me. He’s the most normal, decent, well-adjusted participant in a war stocked with utter weirdos on all sides.

He seeks only simple glory and acknowledgement; the underdog raised high; his doubters and haters silenced. Sure, hypnotizing the couple was wrong, but how can I judge when even after the hypnosis wears off, the grandpa is not only forgiving, but wants Waver to stay. He’s a better grandson than they ever had.

On to the weirdos. While I more easily related to him early as a young kid having fun before all hell broke loose, and continue to recognize the emotions in his heart, support his goals (as laid out by Iri) and feel for his many losses, I simply haven’t lived a life as intense as Kiritsugu, so while I’m rooting for him, I’m on the outside looking in with Kiritsugu.

And Kiritsugu is alone again. It’s not ideal, but he’s not going to slow down or stop, even though he’s gone forty hours without sleep. He says “alone again” because, like Natalia, Maiya has left him. He doesn’t seem to count Saber as a person he can work with or trust, let alone a person at all; instead, she’s a tool to win the war, and he treats her as coldly as ever as she makes her report.

Kiritsugu probably also feels alone because Iri has been taken by the enemy, and he no doubt fears he won’t see her alive again. But a defiant Iri makes use of her captivity by Kirei to get in a number of barbs that cut the priest to the quick. Notably, that Kiritsugu isn’t an “empty man” like him; he seeks nothing less than the salvation of the world through the elimination of all violence and conflict.

Unsurprisingly, Kirei hears nothing but the naive utterings of a child in these words, but Iri does manage to give him something he didn’t have before he kidnapped her: Kiritsugu’s dream, which he will now proceed to destroy, along with the Holy Grail itself, which he can think of no use for. And since he gets all he needs out of Iri, he snaps her neck, seemingly killing her.

That I’m a bit fuzzy on how this whole Einzbern homonculus system works—and thus unclear whether Iri is dead dead or even ever alive—is irrelevant; it’s still absolutely gutting to see such a gentle, loving person treated with such contempt. Kirei is one hell of a villain, and his frustration and resentment for lacking something fundamental Kiritsugu seems to possess is palpable; he’s an almost pitiable wretch.

After that unpleasantness, what sure feels like the final day of the War transitions into the final night, and Waver awakes to find Rider in no particular hurry. Mage signals in the sky indicate that someone wishes to challenge them—Kirei arrranges for Archer to fight Rider while Berserker will keep Saber company—and Rider summons a horse, the backup to his chariot.

Waver has no intention of going along. As Rider said, only the strong remain, and Waver doesn’t consider himself strong. He’s Just A Guy, after all, the Everyman of Fate/Zero, with no business in the final battles. He even expends all of his Command Seals at once so he can say with certitude he is no longer Rider’s Master.

And yet Rider still picks him up by the scruff and dumps him in front of him on his horse. He wants Waver to accompany him as he has on all of their great battles thus far, not because he’s his Master, but because they’re friends and equals.

Having gone from gut-punch to heartwarm, the episode closes with a bit of a mindblower, as Iri, apparently not quite dead (or…whatever) after all, goes Beyond the Infinite.

In a surreal, bizarre and thoroughly unsettling sequence that calls to mind Akira, Evangelion, and Dalí, Iri sees hundreds of naked doll bodies piled up before her, one of which cracks a way-too-wide evil grin; then she has a touching scene with her daughter Ilya before an oozing black darkness encroaches upon them, and dozens of tiny arms grab at her and pull her down into the goo.

When she emerges, she realizes what’s happening: she’s in the Holy Grail. What exactly that means, and whether and how she can aid her beloved from there, remains to be seen. But I have to say I’m digging the extra metaphysical layer the show has revealed.

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Sidonia no Kishi 2 – 03

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Kobayashi’s coup went off without a hitch, and she immediately changes Sidonia’s course, both literally and figuratively, in a chilling scene that makes it obvious there was no love lost between her and the not-so-Immortals. And yet this doesn’t mark any kind of sea change in the day-to-day operations of the ship, nor do higher-ranking officers like Yutaha have any problem with the new change of leadership. After all, Kobayashi’s bosses never were in the spotlight; it’s hard to mourn their loss. Or maybe Yutaha is simply being pragmatic.

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Either way, big changes in how Sidonia wages war are being implemented, from upgrading the armor of the Type-18 frames, to impregnating Placental Hoshijiro with a human seed, making her Tsugumi’s mommy. I really like the creep-factor this kind of sci-fi body mod/body horror stuff lends to Sidonia’s “world,” one already full of oddities.

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At the same time, this episode doesn’t forget about the sheer majesty of simply floating outside Sidonia. The careful camera placement and motion really sell the idea of how vast space is, and how the terror of that vastness can cause people like Kobayashi to take extreme steps to preserve their tiny civilization.  

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Where Sidonia continues to flail and fail is at comedy, particularly anything involving Nagate seeing naked ladies. All of the careful physics go out the window as they resort to cartoon violence, smashing a heavy metal door into Nagate, who hits the wall hard, and then has the door smash down on him, a sequence that would surely have put him in the hospital.

Like a previous instance in the first season where his face swelled up after getting beaten for a similar transgression, seeing his CG face get bent up here breaks the uncanny valley in a bad way. But most of all, this attempt at lightweight comedy comes off as ham-fisted and obvious, nothing like the expert precision of other areas of the show.

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This is more like it: giving us a glimpse into Yutaha’s spartan quarters gives us a glimpse into her character off-bridge: she dresses down, builds scale models, and tries to keep up with the news. Sure, emergency maneuvers would send most of the contents of her room flying along with her, but those are rare enough.

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While checking the logs of who’s gone to see Tsumugi, Yuhata discovers Nagate and Izana have been occasional visitors. I was expecting some kind of confrontation, but instead Yuhata is merely curious, and the others even invite her to lock hands with them, as they had come to do with Tsugumi (or rather Tsugumi’s balloon “sock puppet” avatar). Tsugumi continues to nicely toe the line between cute and creepy.

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When her sharp eyes spot a 500-core Gauna force heading their way, Kunato requests to intercept it with Tsugumi. Yuhata wants to see how she works in a formation, and so denies the request, but she’s overruled by Kobayashi, who is eager to see the full extent of the chimera’s powers. Perhaps because Kunato wasn’t among those who locked hands (a pilot superstition I’d expect him to shun), things go very wrong when he flies Tsugumi into a Gauna placenta trap. This, after Kunato guaranteed defeating the force would be a cakewalk.

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Two more of Sidonia’s strengths are its thrilling launch sequences and visceral pilot POV shots, both of which contribute to an adrenaline-laced sci-fi spectacle to end the ep. With Tsugumi neutralized, it’s up to the conventional Guardes to avert disaster on the very first leg of Kobayashi’s very possibly ill-conceived new course.

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To that end, all the Guardians that launch—96 in all—lock hands into a ring formation and blast away with authority, which is another Sidonia strength: immensely enticing cliffhangers. The strengths definitely outweighed the weaknesses this week, as they usually do with Sidonia, while building great anticipation for next week’s big battle.

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Sidonia no Kishi 2 – 02

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There’s been some super sketchy stuff going down behind that big KUNATO logo, especially now that Ochiai is in the mix. We see the fruit of his labor in full display this week in the Human-Gauna hybrid “Chimera”, Tsugumi Shiraui.

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The newest enemy Gauna with its “Onion Placenta” is proof the Gauna are not standing still when it comes to developing new weapons with which to attack Sidonia, so it makes sense that the humans should innovate or die. Competing factions among the humans clash over the best way to do this.

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At least here, the ends justify the means, as Tsugumi is able to destroy the enemy Gauna, finishing it off by blasting straight through it. Yuhata and the Guardians are more confused than anything, but it’s Nagate who decides Tsugumi isn’t their enemy, allowing her to do her work unfettered.

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There was probably a better way to sell Tsugumi to the crew than a King Kong-style unveiling, but Kunato has never struck me as being very good at P.R., and the fact he’s now a host for Ochiai made him even worse. Tsugumi is uncommonly courteous and friendly, but when she gets excited upon spotting Nagate in the crowd, her sheer mass shakes the entire assembly hall, scaring the masses and turning them against her.

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Tsugumi is huge and extremely creepy-looking. But in good sci-fi, one can never judge a book by its cover when it comes to aliens who look or act differently from us. Nagate, being the decent sort of chap he is, is willing to keep an open mind, and even visits her at the Kunato lab, convinced she could use some human company, as she is half-human.

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She greets them with a more human-sized but still very alien appendage, and Tsugumi is overcome by glee when Nagate allows her to “touch” him, which she takes as carte blanche to lift both him and Izana up with numerous tentacles and grope them both thoroughly.

But again, it’s not scary, despite the awesome destructive power she’s capable of, because she’s so gosh-darned earnest and adorable. Not sure about the goofy music that announces this is a comedic scene, but whatever.

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As for those factions I mentioned earlier, Kobayashi makes a decisive move against the ruling Immortal Ship Assembly, sending Ochiai’s clone to murder them all, including her would-be replacement, after they vote to impeach her from the captaincy.

While the good old-fashioned acquisition of power is probably a motivating factor, Kobayashi was also diametrically opposed to their defensive posture and refusal to entertain innovations such as Tsugumi. With her and other Chimeras, she’ll be able to take the fight to the Gauna, and presumably start winning the hearts and minds.

Even if she doesn’t manage to achieve the latter (Nagate, for instance doesn’t like how Tsugumi is being forced to fight and kill right out of the proverbial womb) it’s Kobayashi’s ship now, and those who oppose her will do so at their peril.

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Sidonia no Kishi 2 – 01 (First Impressions)

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I was pretty dejected when Sidonia’s second season didn’t air in October as I initially believed, but I’ve been waiting patiently like a good anime blogger for six more months and two seasons. Now the wait is over…and boy, was it worth it.

Sidonia no Kishi: Daikyuu Wakusei Seneki (Battle for Planet Nine) the best premiere of the spring – a rich, soaring, booming, squirming sci-fi masterpiece that lays out a fresh batch of challenges and conflicts for the spacefaring remainder of mankind, already hanging on a string last season.

The cold open mirrors the first season’s, in which a space battle turns out to be a simulation run by Nagate, only this time he’s a decorated veteran putting up a high score for the fresh crop of Guardian recruits to aspire to, even if he doesn’t have any inspiring words to say to them.

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We then cut back to whatever it was Kunato was up to with that big door in the first season finale. Even if it means the end of his family, he opens it and steps inside, and his loyal sister Mozoku follows him. This secret forbidden nook of Sidonia turns out to be Ochiai’s lab, and they’re not alone in there. In quick succession, Mozoku loses a digit, then her head, and Norio’s body is taken over by parasites as a strange, not-quite-human figure looks on. Talk about setting the tone!

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Not too much later, a girl who looks like a white-haired Shizuka in Mozoku’s clothes fumbles with her dinner, apparently still getting used to her body (if they switched heads, her high collar hides the signs). She calls Norio “Ochiai”, and “Norio”, really Ochiai, corrects her. A tentacle slithers in “Mozoku”‘s eye. Just like that, it’s the end of the Kunato siblings as we knew them.

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The transformed pair then visit the lab to inspect Placental Shizuka as representatives of Kunato Corp. As he puts Numi under full-body paralysis with one prick to her cheek, “Norio” also hits her with a dose of anti-human vitriol (calling them naught nothing but filthy insects, far inferior to Gauna, etc.) before giving her a parasite. Things are moving very quickly.

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Meanwhile, we see why Nagate was so distracted at the simulator, and why he isn’t eating much or acknowledging Izana much: he’s having semi-sexy, semi-horrifying dreams about Placental Shizuka, whom he hasn’t seen in some time. When he crosses paths with Norio on an escalator, Norio insists he forget about Shizuka, who is dead, and stop worrying about the placenta that shares her appearance.

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Yuhata steals Nagate from Izana on a day they’re to go on a trip to the shrine, but only to tell him what Norio did: to give up on Placental Shizuka. Possibly out of pity for having to order her friend to do this, she lends him a rocket pack so he can meet up with Izana at the top of the stairs, surprising and delighting her in the process. It’s a great little glimmer of light and hope in an episode steeped in darkness and dread.

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That glimmer doesn’t last long, as the Gauna alert sounds and Battle Stations are ordered. The third-person shot of XO Yuhata entering the CIC as it comes to life with Gauna threat information, is audiovisual perfection.

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So is the battle that commences, though that’s nothing new where Sidonia is concerned. Using a combination of wide, slightly shaky shots and in-cockpit POV shots, all supplemented with maps, schematics, and other digital information, all of which reveals that this latest Gauna is unlike any they’ve fought before.

In addition to being heavily armed, it has dozens of layers of placenta, like an onion, and it looks like the Guardians are simply going to run out of ammo and/or fuel long before they reach the true body. This force Nagate to move dangerously closer in with his all-new, powerful but untested frame to try to take the Gauna out. Ren, who’s been through some stuff with Izana, stays by his side.

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Sidonia also excels at stepping ever so close to the brink of total disaster and destruction, before being pulled back by some last-minute miracle. Usually it’s Nagate who pulls these off, making him the shining new hero, but this time, he can’t do a thing. In fact, when another Gauna appears on radar (or whatever they use) and heads toward Nagate and Ren at 10x the speed of their guardians, it appeared like the Gauna had Sidonia, and humanity, in check.

But then the second Gauna blows the Onion Gauna to kingdom come with one shot. Everyone gawks at this strange Guardian-sized Gauna, which is being piloted by Norio. Look out, Nagate: the guy who always considered you his nemesis is now faster and stronger than you…and he’s not even really Norio anymore.

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As for the reveal that the “Gauna Guardian” he’s piloting has Shizuka’s voice and talks to him like a beloved master, well, this fake Norio also went and stole Nagate’s fake woman, who introduces herself as Shiraui Tsumugi. The shot of the delicate yet frightening-looking Tsumugi floating in space even bears a striking resemblance to the bone/satellite match cut of 2001, lending it a powerful, mythic aura. Move over…everything else: Sidonia is back, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

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Space Dandy – 03

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This episode exhibited that sometimes there’s a definite method to the madness; that the chaos is very carefully constructed. Therefore, while a multitude of stuff flies past the screen in the course of an episode, a small, innocuous detail from the beginning could pay dividends in the end. There’s a great cat’s cradle of cause-and-effect that propels Dandy, QT and Meow on their adventures, who all end up partial contributors.

Let’s unravel that cradle:

  1. Dandy is having no luck with the alien hunting, getting desperate enough to try to pass Meow off in disguise.
  2. With no money, QT has to stretch pennies to feed the other two, purchasing 365 packages of space food that’s 10,000 years past its sell-by date.
  3. With no money or edible food, Dandy must whip out his Boobies card (also an effective distraction for Meow) It has enough stamps for a free meal, But it too expires in less than three hours.
  4. With no money, edible food, or time to waste, Dandy hits the “Warp” button. Then he gets impatient, and hits it way too many times (waiting for computers to do something can be a torturous ordeal; good to see this won’t change in th distant future.)
  5. Let’s not forget Meow’s role: last week, they spent all their money chasing the Phantom Ramen, with no alien to show for it.

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All of that leads to their adventure: crash-landing on an inhospitable planet littered with skeletons. There are two life-forms there: a swarm of vicious, disgusting-looking monsters, and a blonde hottie named Mamitas, who has also crash-landed. In a classic don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover scenario, the hottie turns out to be the more dangerous, all-devouring Deathgerian; so dangerous, in fact, that the second his men identify her, Dr. Gel turns turns his fleet around. (Her photo in his monster catalog, kneeling in a meadow, is priceless.)

Both the “ugly aliens are evil” and “the pretty lady is evil” are well-established conventions, but both so well executed here that we remained in the dark right up until Dr. Gel entered orbit, even though Mamitas just got finished saying “I’ll eat anything.” Her metamorphosis into a mammoth monster covered in boobs evoked shades of Cronenberg’s “body horror” oeuvre, both aesthetically and in the subtext of Dandy’s somewhat jejune view of women. It’s also just an awesome design in its own right, as is Dandy’s FLCL-inspired mecha “Hawaii Yankee.”

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Back to cause and effect: the fact Deathgerian wants to eat everything becomes it’s downfall, as she swallows a few boxes of the spoiled space food QT bought and gets sick. The monster turns out to be unique enough for Scarlett’s “OK” stamp and a reward of 99,000 Woolongs. All’s well that ends well…except for poor Meow.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)