To Your Eternity – 09 – Gugunrise Kingdom

Fushi has rescued, reunited and made up with Gugu, and for the first time he uses his powers…strictly for fun. For the sheer thrill of scaring the shit out of random townsfolk or thrill-seeking teenagers. Gugu has no intention of going back to the house of a man who put a still in his body without his consent, and Fushi doesn’t care either way s long as he’s with Gugu.

As time passes, the penniless Gugu grows hungrier and weaker. Fushi, obviously, needs no sustenance other than stimulation. But his stimulation thus far has prepared him for this eventuality, as he is able to create the pear-like fruit March fed him, along with dango and fish, thus saving Gugu from starvation.

When Meer, who obviously knows Gugu’s scent at this point, shows up at his tent, Fushi calls the sickeningly cute and good boy Joaan, the name the boy gave to his wolf-dog. Fushi describes to Gugu how “his first person” stopped moving and “became empty”, so he “became” him. Gugu hypothesizes that both physical and emotional pain affect his bizarre friend.

He posits that if he were to die and Fushi became upset, he would become him. Gugu thinks this is seriously cool…because, well, it is. But for him specifically, it would mean even if he died, Fushi would still think of him. Gugu describes a life where he had three square meals a day, a soft bed, twin older siblings to play with, a mother and father to care for him, and an older brother to look up to.

Gugu is describing his early childhood, when, for at least a few beautiful, fleeting years, he thought he was part of just such a family and living that kind of life, where a lot of people were thinking of him. As he grew older, he began to realize he and his brother were merely the children of servants to that family. When those servants moved on to a new job, they didn’t take Gugu or his brother with them.

Gugu asks Fushi, the only one who came for him and the only one he can call family, to become him if he dies, then passes out and stops moving. For a second there, I thought that was well and truly the end of Gugu—perhaps succumbing to the nasty side effects of having a still in your gut. Fushi even seems to contemplate absorbing Gugu’s form for a hot second.

For a certainty, To Your Eternity wanted you to think Gugu had died. Then Rean pokes her head into the tent, having finally found the two runaways, and Gugu springs back to life, blushing. Turns out Fushi wasn’t the only one thinking about him or the only one who came for him. Rean tries to drag Gugu out of his ragged tent and back to the Booze Man’s house, but Gugu doesn’t wanna.

Of course, Rean’s motivations aren’t 100%honorable. She says she, Pioran and Booze Man love Gugu, but really they need to bring someone back who knows what they’re doing in the kitchen. But you know what? As someone who likes to cook for my friends and family, I’m fine with part of the reason people love me is that I cook them good food. It makes me happy when they like my food!

Rean is also unconcerned with Gugu’s appearance, and insists that he show her what he really looks like. Gugu doesn’t acquiesce to this, which means Rean doesn’t get a real look at him. It may be because of this she can reveal her own horrible disfigurement and declare with a straight face that if he casts his gaze upon it he’ll see that his own wound isn’t that bad.

The thing is, Rean’s horrible wound is nothing more but a tiny, fading scratch on her arm no more than three inches long.

It is a rare show indeed that makes me laugh and cry with such intensity, but this might just have been the funniest episode of To Your Eternity yet. Of course, tragedy and comedy have gone hand-in-hand since the dawn of storytelling itself, it’s just gratifying to see it so effortlessly pulled off here. Just like Fushi, the stronger and more diverse the viewer’s stimulation, the more is learned.

Rean goes on to tell a story that, for her, is a tragic tale of a girl who was never given agency or independence; a girl assigned a role and personality for which no expense was spared to maintain, despite the fact she had zero say in it. It is an obvious mirror image of Gugu’s sob story, told from the POV of the child of the employer, not the employee.

Even so, I do not doubt that from Rean’s perspective, she has suffered, because just like Gugu but through very different (and cushier) circumstances, she was denied the chance to be the best her she could be, which is the one she wanted to be. The grass is always greener, etc.

When Rean tells Gugu how she got her wound—saying that someone pushed her from behind out of malice—Gugu is crestfallen, as this girl misinterpreted him rescuing her from a runaway log as having assaulted her to get back at her family—simply because she never saw the log.

But just as Rean doesn’t care how it looks that someone as rtich and privileged as her is complaining that her life is too comfortable, she also doesn’t gcare whether Gugu is a monster or a human. To her, he’s just Gugu, a weird little boy she’s taken a liking to, so he should come out of the tent and enjoy the wind with her. And if he wants to cover his face, she brought him a pot with eye-holes to wear.

With Fushi having run off to find Gugu’s original mask, he and Rean agree to go looking for him. Their search takes them into town, where Rean is promptly snatched up by a goon hired by her family to retrieve her. Gugu, who later states he doesn’t care about his “circumstances” anymore, commits to simply being himself.

That happens to be someone who will barrel into someone twice his size, catch the falling Rean, and lead her by the hand to safety. As he does, Rean smiles, not just because Gugu is being Gugu, but because she’s living precisely the dream she hoped to live after running away from home. I am seriously loving this tender story of young love, which reminds me of Moonrise Kingdom, itself likely inspired by rom-com anime.

Fushi ends up finding them after retrieving Gugu’s old mask (it’s nice when you can transform into a wolf-dog, complete with a wolf-dog’s sense of smell) and locates Gugu and Rean, who is now wearing the pot to hide her identity from those sent to find her. It isn’t long before they come across a maid who is most definitely not fooled by Rean’s disguise.

It’s here where Gugu and Rean rely on Fushi to cover their retreat, which he does non-lethally by assuming the form of March and writhing on the ground before the maid, who sees the little girl’s arrow wound and has no choice but to tend to her before going after Rean.

While searching for Gugu’s mask, Fushi’s creator paid him a brief visit, warning him to keep his guard up. As the maid carries March!Fushi, he’s suddenly snatched up by a tentacle of the “unspeakable” enemy he was warned about. His creator even narrates that this was bound to happen, as Fushi has failed to gain any sophisticated tactical skills since his last scrape with the enemy, and thus the enemy was always going to strike first.

Even so, something happens that neither the enemy nor indeed the creator might have foreseen: Gugu coming to his rescue. I’m not sure what he can possibly do when he’s just a small human boy and even Fushi seems helpless before the enemy’s power. Indeed, as we’re reaching the halfway point of the 20-episode series, Gugu’s days are surely numbered. But even if resistance is futile, I’m glad he’s there for his friend and brother.

Higehiro – 10 – A Warm Place

While Yoshida does his level best to hide it, Mishima and Hashimoto can tell he’s devastated by Sayu’s imminent departure, and how he’s mitigating it by trying to bury himself in his work. While he has many reasons to worry about the welcome Sayu will received from her mother upon returning to Hokkaido, her big brother Issa isn’t one of them.

Issa meets with Yoshida after work to bow in apology for the rude things he said the other day, while also asking him earnestly to continue taking care of Sayu in the time they have left together. He reveals how Sayu was their mother’s last best chance to keep their womanizing dad around, refusing to get an abortion. Alas, the asshole left them anyway.

Sayu’s mom wasn’t equipped to love a girl who was the symbol of her failure to keep the man she loved in her life, and so Sayu received no parental love whatsoever, something Issa believes every child needs. Honestly, it’s a wonder Sayu isn’t a lot more scarred.

While it’s nice to be reminded that Sayu’s brother is a legit good guy, if what he’s said is true, Sayu’s mom may simply be incapable of loving Sayu—or if she does love her on a fundamental/biological level, has never been able to express it. Why would that change when she returns home?

Later, Sayu presents Yoshida with a parting gift: a hand-written and illustrated cookbook with all of his favorite dishes she’s made for him over time. I couldn’t help but let out a loud awwwwwww that a roommate must’ve thought was me reacting to a cute puppy video. It’s such a cute, warm gift, and filled with love.

Sayu’s next parting gift is to share with Yoshida the view Asami shared with her, along with the wisdom she imparted about how even the tiniest stares have pasts and futures. Asami accepted Sayu and became her first real girl friend, just as Yoshida took her in with only the best intentions when everyone before had the worst.

Sayu doesn’t see Yoshida as simply “some guy who shared his apartment with her” for a while. That she met him when she did may well have saved her life, and she’ll never forget that, looking back fondly on the time she stopped running away, settled down, and found a way back.

Sayu admits that she’s tried to leave a few times while Yoshida wasn’t home, but has been unable to do so. Ultimately, he means enough to her not to want to leave without saying a proper goodbye. Because in all honesty, she kinda wants to stay with him forever. But she can’t settle her past unless she goes home.

Ichinose Kana does some really lovely voice work here, and has indeed done much of the heavy lifting in a show that doesn’t have the best production values. She even moves Yoshida to tears, because a part of him doesn’t want her to leave, both because he fears what might go down in Hokkaido, and because he’s become so accustomed to her living with him. He’d no doubt say she saved him just as he saved her.

Back at work, the ever-practical Mishima, independent of her individual crusade to win Yoshida’s heart, says if it’s so unbearable to say goodbye to and part with Sayu, then mabe he shouldn’t, and should instead follow her to Hokkaido. Sure, it would mean leaving his job, but both Mishima and Hashimoto doubt he considers his job or whatever project he’s working on to be anywhere near as important to him as Sayu.

In fact, it pisses Hashimoto off to no end that Yoshida tries—badly—to pretend otherwise, like when Asami calls him saying Sayu has disappeared and isn’t answering her phone. It takes Hashimoto telling Airi that Yoshida are feeling sick and going home early, and Mishima taking over Yoshida’s work for the day, to get him out of there.

While giving him a ride, Hashimoto expresses to Yoshida how it pisses him off that his best friend knows what to care about the most, but pretending he doesn’t. As his best friend, Hashimoto knows what Yoshida won’t admit: wanting what’s best for Sayu, or wanting whatever will make her happy, and his own fear of being apart from her aren’t mutually exclusive.

Sayu is fine (don’t scare me like that, show!); her phone simply died while she was waiting outside Yoshida’s office to surprise him and see where he worked; he and Hashimoto must’ve just missed crossing paths with her. Airi and Asami are there with her, and Yoshida acts like a worried dad when he sees her. This marks the first time Hashimoto lays eyes on Sayu, and seeing her makes him immediately understand why Yoshida is scared of losing her.

That night, the very last night together in Yoshida’s apartment, Sayu asks if she can climb into bed with him. Not for anything weird, but just for some warmth and human contact between two people who have come to mean much more to each other than they’d initially expected.

Sayu asks if she’d have grown up into a “normal girl” if Yoshida had been her dad. Yoshida should’ve answered by saying there’s nothing abnormal about her, she’s a lovely person who has admirably hung in there under abnormal and suboptimal circumstances. Okay, maybe that’s a little too wonky for the mood of that scene.

But whether he had decided earlier that evening, or right there in that bed, Yoshida tells Sayu he’ll come to Hokkaido with her, to keep an eye on her and see her mom with her. Sayu can’t contain her elation upon hearing those words. There’s nothing wrong with going back home to settle your past, but there’s nothing saying you have to do it alone…particularly if you’re someone who’s experienced enough loneliness for a lifetime.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

86 – 09 – No Signal

“If you find yourself alone, riding in green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled…for you are in Elysium, and you are already dead!”—Maximus

This week, Spearhead, whose living members now consist only of Kurena, Raiden, Theo, Anju, and Shin, ride out into a vast, dark, and bleak battlefield, where the five of them must face hundreds if not thousands of Legion, because they were never even meant to make it thisfar in their military “careers”.

Of course, Shin has something else in mind: he’s singularly invested in finding his brother and putting him out of his misery. He orders Raiden to take over the unit and find cover in the nearby forest, but his four comrades aren’t about to leave him. Instead, they do what they can to give Shin a clear shot at Shourei.

As it turns out, Lena has a surprise in store for all of them: she managed to get access to the republic mortars, while also being able to swap vision in one of her eyes with Raiden so she can target more precisely. In that split second, Raiden—and only Raiden—catches a glimpse of their “pig princess” Handler.

When Lena prepares to launch a massive mortar attack on Shourei Legion’s position—which is also where Shin is, dodging and grappling—the others are apprehensive: doe she mean to kill Shin too? Far from it; instead, she’s giving Shin the opening he needs.

The impacting mortars are represented in Shourei’s mind by the young Lena slapping him into something resembling coherence, and acceptance that Shin no longer needs his brother to look after him. Instead, his brother needs to know that he’ll be at rest.

The opening is created, and Shin takes his shot, saying goodbye to his brother and then sobbing his eyes out both in grief over his brother’s loss and relief that he’s no longer a technological abomination who wasn’t allowed to die naturally.

From here we shift to Lena’s little control room, and she heeds Raiden’s call to shut off the link for now, as Shin wouldn’t want anyone hearing him cry. She then turns to a sullen-looking Annette sitting in the corner with laptops. We go back a bit to before the battle, when Lena visits Annette despite Annette saying she didn’t want to see her again.

Lena tells Annette that her old neighbor Shin is none other than Undertaker of the Spearhead unit, that she speaks to him every day, and that this is now Annette’s third chance to save him, the first two times having run away. While at first apathetic, knowing it’s Shin forces Annette’s hand. She calls Lena “the devil” for pulling such a stunt, but Lena simply says “that’s right; I am…and so are you.” Better to be devils who care.

With what was supposed to be the battle that should have wiped out Spearhead once and for all ending in unlikely victory thanks in large part to Annette’s hacking, Shin and the others give their heartfelt thanks to Lena, as well as tease her for having turned into a “bad girl” by breaking the rules to save them.

But after that, the group continues their advance without further input from Lena. In fact, all she can say as they head closer and closer to a foreboding “UNKNOWN” area is “please don’t leave me!” It occurs to her that while she made little drawings of them, her only connection to them is the Para-RAID, and soon the distance between them will grow too great to maintain that connection.

Lena bolts out of her control room and runs out of the headquarters, out into the streets, and just keeps running, all while Kurena, Raiden, Anju, Theo, and Shin describe their surroundings, mentioning a “cathedral” the same time we see the one in Lena’s capital, and describing flowers that fall when you touch them carpeting the ground.

As they approach at the barrier of District 86 and the limits of the Republic’s control area, Lena’s desperate dash to maintain reception ends with her losing a heel and ending up collapsed on a lonely cobblestone bridge, suddenly, heartbreakingly alone. Her Para-RAID blinks out, and back at HQ the signals of the five remaining members of Spearhead are lost.

Losing  Spearhead is just one of many burdens Lena will have to bear if she’s truly serious about helping all Eighty Six—not just the ones with which she cultivated a quasi-friendship. Her resolute insistence on Doing What’s Right despite being a devil demands she keep doing what she can—as long as she is able—to end the unjust suffering of the oppressed.

To Your Eternity – 08 – Gugu Unmasked

“Skip Intro” is a well-established and often useful feature to our world of streaming entertainment, but I make it a point to watch every second of To Your Eternity’s OP every week. I can’t not, and not just because “PINK BLOOD” fuckin’ whips. Every time I watch I go through the heartbreak of losing both the arctic boy and March as well as Parona’s trauma all over again. The OP continues to grow more powerful as Fushi progresses on his journey and we meet more of the faces it presents.

Two of those faces are of Gugu (or rather his distinctive mask) and Rean, and the latter (voiced by Iwami Manaka, the voice of Honda Tooru) suddenly decides she’s going to live and work at Booze Man’s place from now on. Gugu isn’t sure what to think about this, because while it will be nice to see more of Rean, the fact she likes Fushi and not him will make things uncomfortable, if not painful.

Then again, pain promotes growth. When Gugu asks “what else” Fushi can do besides transform, he creates a spear. Gugu cuts him with a knife, and after healing, Fushi creates a duplicate knife. When Gugu burns him with a torch, Fushi can only create the stick, not the flame…at least not yet. In reaction to all this “experimentation”, Fushi produces a Marchface, indicating he doesn’t like this.

When Rean shows up bright and early, Fushi still hasn’t come in for work; we later see he’s assumed his wolf form and is sleeping away the day. Gugu asks Booze Man for something Rean can use on her wound, and the coot unexpectedly uncorks part of Gugu’s face and bumps out a strange liquid. When Gugu learns the Booze Man gave him a “new organ” where liquor is stored and ferments (hence his distended belly), Gugu is furious, and runs off.

As usual, the old people are only thinking about themselves. Booze Man wants the valuable booze inside Gugu back, while Pioran is worried about who will cook their meals. Rean is loath to go looking for Gugu since she’s not yet an established part of the “family”, while Fushi outright refuses, still sore over how Gugu treated him in the kitchen, and rightfully scared of the forest besides. He volunteers to cook, but ends up simply boiling a daikon with no salt.

Still, no one comes to look for Gugu, who returns to the tattered tent he and his brother once shared. He gets his job tilling the land back from a kindly father who even invites him to join his family. Unfortunately his kindness and empathy weren’t inherited by his sons, who know about the rumors around town that Gugu is a monster.

Gugu agrees with Chan that he can’t be in a family if the members can’t love one another, and removes his mask to determine if they’ll be able to love what they see. It goes about as well as you’d expect. Later that night while sulking outside, some older kids steal his mask and throw it in the stream, but after realizing the mask doesn’t actually do anything, he throws it right back in, walking through town the next day. Let the people gawk in horror…the faces they make are funnier than his!

Fushi’s attempts to cook, clean, mind the shop, and work the fields all end in failure, but when he asks Pioran (by name!) to teach him those things, she soundly refuses, not moved by the March-inspired dirt balls he offers as tribute. For one thing, she’s got better things to do with her time—sitting around drinking her lover’s excellent booze, for example. For another, she doesn’t want to spoil him, and the best teacher he could ask for isn’t her. It’s Gugu.

Gugu settles back into a routine and puts on a little muscle working in the field, but Chan visits his tent and splashes water on him, telling him not to come back, saying it’s because his dad is such a good man that he doesn’t want Gugu causing trouble with his freakishness. Without work, Gugu runs short on funds, but remembers he has the ring Rean gave him.

It’s clear from the look of the merchant that it is indeed worth enough to ensure Gugu never has to sell produce again, but Gugu can’t see what a monster like him would do with that kind of wealth. So when he discovers his drunk, emaciated brother lying in an alley, he gives the ring to him. Even in his current state he’s better off with the ring than a monster. But while he gives Shin the ring, he doesn’t acknowledge him as his brother. He doesn’t have a brother anymore.

Of course, that’s just not true…he has Fushi! Fushi needs Gugu, and as we see when Gugu is scooped up in the night by bandits prepared to sell him to people a taste for freaks and the cash to spend on them, it becomes apparent Gugu needs Fushi as well.

Fushi bowls into the bandit carrying Gugu in his wolf form, and when the guy and his partner stand their ground, he transforms into the Bear, who, let’s be honest, no one other than Hayase would ever think about fucking with!

With that, the Monster Brothers Gugu and Fushi are reunited. Gugu resented Fushi for being admired by Rean, while Fushi resented Gugu for cutting and burning him willy-nilly, but they’re able to get past that, because that’s what brothers do—well, good ones, anyway…

Higehiro – 09 – The Things She Carried

Like Sayu, I was dreading the day someone from her family finally found her and forced her to come home…but that isn’t what happens. It turns out Issa is just as decent and kind a person as Yoshida, and doesn’t jump to conclusions even when Yoshida and Sayu greet him at the door in their PJs.

Instead, he’s the latest in a long line of refreshingly reasonable, level-headed human beings that populate Higehiro and make it feel more real. He’s not simply doing their mother’s bidding; he wanted to be the one who found Sayu, because he loves her and is worried about her.

Issa is greatly relieved Sayu managed to find a good soul who took her in without asking for anything inappropriate, and takes both of them at their word when they say nothing’s happened. As a high-achieving corporate type, I imagine Issa trusts his instincts when it comes to reading people.

But that’s not all: Issa can also tell, even if Sayu can’t, that she’s taken some important steps forward as a person. He notes how she’s more able to speak her mind, as she explains why she needs a few more days to think about things. He’s proud and caring n a way only a big brother can be, and grants her one more week.

I have to say, I never imagined in a million years that Issa would be such a good guy, especially considering the uncomfortable way the series has handled the bastard who took her in for sex and ended up her co-worker. But it’s not the show’s fault I automatically expect the worst…it’s because men, and especially anime men, are so often just that…the worst.

Of course, women are the worst too, as we learn when Sayu invites Asami over and sits her and Yoshida down to finally tell them about everything that’s happened that led her to run away. In effect, she’s unloading all of the burdens she’s carried before two friends who are all too happy to help share that load. Her first step in getting ready to go back is telling the people important to her about where she came from.

Sayu and her mother never got along. Her mother put all of her hopes and aspirations into her firstborn son Issa, and never had a kind word for Sayu. Because she never received love, Sayu didn’t bother putting any effort into anything, be it academics or socializing. She was alone, emanated a “stay away” aura, and came to prefer it that way.

But along came another outcast in Yuuko, for whom Sayu’s repelling aura had the opposite effect. Yuuko always told Sayu she was pretty and cool—as pretty and cool as Yuuko claimed not to be—and the two became fast, close friends. But Sayu’s looks and unimpeachable “goodness” kept the other girls from bullying her directly when she turned down a guy one of them liked, so they started bullying Yuuko instead.

Yuuko always said Sayu looked best when she was smiling and happy. But as the bullying intensified and Sayu dug in her heels, determined to stand beside Yuuko and fight for her, she stopped smiling and laughing, and was always depressed, because she felt responsible for her friend’s suffering and felt powerless to stop it.

Yuuko, however, felt differently. When Sayu told her she’d support her and fight for her against the bullying, it hurt Yuuko more than anything, as she believed she was ruining Sayu’s happiness by deigning to become friends with her in the first place.

So one day, Sayu found Yuuko standing on the wrong side of the balcony, waiting for her. Yuuko told her what happened was her fault, but it would be better if she were no longer in her life. Before leaping to her death, Yuuko asked Sayu to keep smiling, obviously in no mental state to realize how hard that would be if she killed herself.

Witnessing her first and only friend commit suicide for her sake would have been plenty of trauma for any teenager or adult to bear, but that wassn’t the end of Sayu’s suffering. As the Ogiwara household became besieged with press and stories and rumors of the true cause of Yuuko’s death, her mother did all the exact wrong things, only exacerbating Sayu’s despair.

Rather than support her daughter and help her grief, she blamed her for their predicament, and even went so far as to ask, seriously, if Sayu really did kill Yuuko. That despicable question is the last straw for Sayu, and you really can’t blame her for not wanting to spend one more second inside that house with that despicable woman. Instead, it’s Issa who offers Sayu a shoulder to cry on as she prepares to run away on foot.

Demonstrating he was just as empathetic and kind back then as he is in the present, he actually helps his sister get the distance and time she needs, giving her $3000 for a decent hotel and food for two weeks, if she promises to call him if she ever gets into trouble. If there’s a right way to run away, this was it: acknowledging and respecting what Sayu needed, but building checks into the arrangement.

But even with those measures in place, Issa would still need Sayu to actualy call him if she got in trouble, and she never does that. As she burns through her cash, she continues to be crushed by isolation and self-loathing, with no one there to help pull her out of her downward spiral. Issa’s mistake wasn’t getting Sayu away from their mom, it was sending Sayu away all by herself when she was in no condition to be entirely alone.

The episode includes a scene we previously saw only a flash of, in which Sayu masturbates and looks down at her hand afterwards. As this happens before she first sleeps with a man, I’m not sure why such a graphic scene was included, except to underscore that there was really not much for Sayu to do during this time but sleep, eat, and pleasure herself, and none of it was helping.

When Issa calls Sayu to check on her, her battery dies, and she tosses her phone out, believing in that moment that his kindness was merely pity she didn’t want or deserve. She wanders the streets, bumps into a man, and when she explains her situation he offers her a place to stay. He eventually asks for sex in return, and Sayu gives in, though doesn’t even remember the name of her first. She then went from guy to guy, trading sex for shelter, until ending up on Yoshida’s doorstep. The rest, we know.

The first to speak after her tale of woe is Asami, who gives Sayu the affection she needs and tells her just how hard she hung in there all this time. Having gotten all of this out, Sayu breaks down, having a much-needed cathartic cry. Once she’s calmed down and in bed, Asami asks Yoshida on the balcony what he’s going to do about her.

Yoshida says it’s up to Sayu’s family to figure this out and it’s not his place to interfere. Asami points out that’s not what she asked, idiot, and again asks: what does he want to do? He may say he’s a stranger, but he’s not; he and Asami are as much family to Sayu as Issa, and certainly more than Sayu’s mom.

What they want matters too, especially if it aligns with what Sayu herself wants. But first those things must be said, just as the things Sayu carried needed to be said to fully understand where she’s been, and determine what she should do. It’s not just Sayu who needs to think about things in the week she has left.

86 – 08 – We Weren’t Ready

A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.—Kay, Men In Black

The Alba are right: the Eighty Six aren’t human. They’re better than that. The humans who populate the serene Republic of San Magnolia blindly accept the government’s policy of ethnic cleansing as the cost of peace, order, and harmony. Lena, like the Eighty Six, knows there’s a wrong, but isn’t prepared to do more wrong to right it.

It’s why when Lena discovers the orders basically sentencing what’s left of Spearhead to their almost certain deaths, she wants to rescind them. Annette pulls her out of the records room for some tea and biscuits, but when Lena once again says it’s wrong not to try to do anything, all of the simmering resentment within Annette finally comes to a caustic boil.

Annette isn’t merely “pretending” to be a bad person; she’s fully embraced the role, heart and soul. She doesn’t need an excuse to do nothing; her inaction has already caused the death of her former neighbor and friend (who it’s pretty clear from the suspenders was none other than Nouzen Shinei) while her research is built upon the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of Eighty Six.

Like the vast majority of people would in such a situation, Annette chose not to fight a force that could not be beaten, but to join them. Even though her father committed suicide after the suffering he caused developing the Para-Raid, Annette carried on his work. She might’ve scared herself when she first called her friend a “filthy colored” like her classmates did, but that fear soon dissipated into acceptance.

After everything she’s been through and done in the name of not being able to do anything else, Annette doesn’t want to hear one more idealistic word out of Lena’s mouth. After all, the Para-Raid that enables Lena to speak to Shin and the other members of Spearhead was the product of involuntary human experimentation and state-sanctioned suffering. So is her comfy bed, her crisp uniform, her tasty coffee and sweets. It’s all tainted by evil.

Annette tells Lena she hates her and never wants to see her again. I mean, we already new full well Annette wouldn’t join any potential crusade against injustice Lena might concoct, but this really twists the knife, as Lena doesn’t even have a pretend friend in the capital in which to confide.

When she confronts her uncle before the statue of San Magnolia, he tells her the orders sending Spearhead to their deaths cant be recinded because it is the will of the republic that evry Eighty Six not only die, but be forgotten and erased from having ever existed. The only way San Magnolia will avoid becoming a pariah state after the war is if the atrocities they committed against the Eighty Six never come to light.

When Lena begs her uncle to remember the spirit of Saint Magnolia, he tells her their republic was never anything other than a country full of fools and villains who executed Magnolia for their wealth and greed. She says that’s just his despair talking, but he doesn’t consider his despair any different from her hope.

If Lena werent already having one of the worst days of her life, Shin also bids her farewell, fully accepting his suicide mission. Lena deduces he’s going after his brother, but Shin doens’t want her to hear his last words. Instead, he warns her that once the Shepherd is destroyed, the Legion is temporarily thrown into chaos, .

He urges her to head for the Eastern border, where she won’t hear the Legion’s voices and go mad. He and the others will buy her some time. With that, he signs off, for what seems like the last time. Now all Lena has is her tears.

With Lena left very much at rock bottom, we return to Spearhead, now only five strong: Kurena, Anju, Theo, Raiden, and Shin. They clean up their barracks, polish up their Juggernauts, have a final meal, and then set off on their deep recon mission with their heads held high.

As we’ve learned, they’re not just doing this because the alternative is summary execution. They’re doing it for their fallen comrades, and because just because they were always called pigs doesn’t mean they’ll become them. There’s a biting sense of inescapable dread and crushing unfairness to their scenes. More than anything, they feel like five kids who shouldn’t have to be anywhere near a battlefield.

Post-credits, we get one more taste of despair in the absence of anything else, in the form of the complete flashback of Shourei choking Shinei. He had been barely keeping it together before that point, crushed by his powerlessness to do anything about the loss of his parents. In a moment of weakness, he let himself blame Shinei for everything, and nearly killing him until someone pulls them apart.

A roboticized, Legionized Shourei narrates this final scene, lamenting that he couldn’t protect Shinei before. But this time, as Shin and his four companions approach him and his Legion unit, Shourei says he’ll protect his brother forever. All he has to do is come to him…which is what he’s doing.

All I can say to any of this is damn…this is some good shit, but it is also incredibly heavy and upsetting. I can only hope that we’ll get some glimmer of light at some point before the end…but that’s hardly a sure thing.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

To Your Eternity – 07 – What’s Lost is Lost

Note: This episode was originally mislabeled as episode 6. It is episode 7. Apologies for the mix-up!

To Your Eternity simply knows how to spin a damned good yarn, no matter the characters or setting. This week shifts the focus to Gugu: a cheerful, energetic, enterprising young lad who lives in a tent with his brother down by the river. The two save up money to one day live in a big mansion they can see in the distance.

While working at a produce stall in the town market, Gugu notices a cute young lady wandering around, looking for something…or someone. That evening an adorable powder-puff of a doglet approaches him and he offers half his dinner to the little guy.

For his generosity, the dog approaches him the next day at the market, and just happens to be who the wealthy girl was looking for. She rewards him with a ring she got as a gift from her father which she says he can sell and never work at a produce stall again.

Gugu clearly appreciates her taking his hand in hers and looking right at him with her stunning amethyst eyes more than any trinket. When he trots home on cloud nine with the ring and a bag full of coins from selling produce, he finds his brother has gone off with all of their money to “pursue his fate”—one of which he clearly didn’t consider Gugu a part.

Crestfallen and suddenly alone, Gugu continues on, but as he watches a primitive train loaded with logs pass, he contemplates—just for a moment—jumping in front of that train in order to “change”. He immediately dispels that thought as madness, but just then one of the logs flies off, and misses hitting him by an inch.

When the train driver runs off to get help, he asks Gugu to watch the log, but the shrub holding it in place gives way and it starts to roll down the hill, where the girl in the green dress happens to be picking flowers by the riverbed. Somewhat incredibly, she hears neither the log nor Gugus yells of warning.

He manages to shove her out of harm’s way, though she takes a tumble and loses consciousness. The log comes right down on his head, smashing it…but miraculously, he doesn’t die. He just changed…just as he wanted to, only not like this!

The spirited old coot who asked Gugu for seeds at the market discovers him some time later, and takes him to his home—ironically, the giant mansion Gugu and his brother envied so. Gugu wakes up on a slaughtering table, with a variety of masks and a helmet staring back at him.

He looks in the mirror and sees that he’s become disfigured. He has a pot belly now, and his nose and face are ruined and grotesque. But the old man, a brewer, says he can still eat, and is incredibly lucky, so he should keep on living. He offers the expressive helmet to Gugu, who slips it on and becomes “a kind of monster” that isn’t him.

Three months later, Fushi and Pioran arrive at the Brewer’s house, and we are where last episode left off. Despite the episode only spending half of its time on his backstory, at this point I was already fully emotionally invested in Gugu as a character, and eager to see how he’d help Fushi change and evolve…until inevitably dying and having his form copied by said Fushi.

But before the pain , some joy, as Gugu revels in meeting a new brother figure, even though he seems to possess the intelligence of a baby and his clothes stick to him in a very odd fashion. Gugu teaches Fushi the ropes as he goes through his busy yet oddly fulfilling routine of hard work leading to a warm and cozy family dinner.

Amusingly, both “Booze Man” and Pioran are eager to profit on Fushi’s uncanniness, but Gugu won’t let them sell or exploit him, and they seem to respect the kid’s wishes, likely glad he’s found a friend.

Then something happens that was always inevitable, but comes as a shock to Gugu: the return of the girl in green, for whom he gladly sacrificed his face to save, even though she hasn’t the slightest clue she was saved by the same boy who found her dog, or that that same boy is manning this shop.

Blushing through his helmet the whole time, Gugu recommends some non-alcoholic provisions that could help the girl with the wound she’s still nursing from three months ago. When the girl blushes in return and asks for his name, he tells her, before she says “not you, him”, referring to the tall, light, and handsome Fushi she proceeds to flirt with. Her name, incidentally, is Rean.

Poor Gugu can’t ever seem catch a break! He also never gives up, but just keeps on grinding. Even if he feels he can never show his face to a girl like Rean, he’ll at least try to make the rest of him attractive, so he starts anm intensive fitness regimen.

Fushi joins in, because he doesn’t sleep and has nothing else to do, and the Brewer laughs his old man laugh, glad that once more Gugu is shaking off heartbreak and pain, and should grow into a good man. Fushi picks up on the old man’s laugh and mimics it, until the two of them and Pioran are all laughing together.

In an arc that’s almost certain to end in tragedy like its predecessors, I will surely take the joy with which this episode ended while I can. March and Parona are still my Mommy and Daddy, respectively, but this new arc will do just fine. It felt like wrapping oneself in a new blanket with a slightly different smell and feel than the old one you were used to. One gets used to the change, just as all of us must.

Higehiro – 08 – Such Sticky Sweet Sorrow

In hindsight, it was already over for Sayu the moment Issa showed up at her workplace. A man of her brother’s means and drive surely wouldn’t rest until his little sister had been found. Even though Sayu knows this this, and understands this is probably It for her months-long excursion, she’s understandably shaken by the close call, and freezes up. Rather than take immediate action to soften the inevitable blow, Sayu retreats to her happy place: buying snacks for her and Yoshida, who will be at the office late.

But more to the point, Sayu once again places someone or something—in this case Yoshida’s work and her obligation to handle the chores—before herself, even though well within her rights to insist upon being the priority. Her brother finding her also affects Yoshida quite a bit, and in more ways than one—psychologically, legally, etc.—yet Sayu keeps quiet. She doesn’t bother Yoshida.

Thankfully, just as her brother and his employee are about to spot her, Sayu rings into Yuzuha, who, after hearing that Sayu doesnt want to be found, helps hide her. We learn she does this as much to help Sayu out as she does to take the temperature of Sayu and offer some unsolicited but very much needed advice; even some tough love.

In yet another example of how Sayu’s youth has not gone the way most kids her age have, Yuzuha learns Sayu can’t sing with her, because she doesn’t know any songs, because she never had any friends with whom to go to karaoke. Yuzuha surely sympathizes with Sayu, but she’s also more concerned with giving her a thorough reality check than sparing her feelings.

As such, she sits down next to Sayu and asks her, if her pursuers are already here, and she has so little time left, what is she doing shopping? I don’t think Yuzuha is right when she says Sayu “doesn’t get it”, but she is right that Sayu isn’t taking this as seriously as she should. Not just that people are looking for her, but that she and Yoshida seem to have become co-dependent.

One can argue as a practical matter whether Yuzuha the character has really spent enough time with the two of them to make that determination so confidently, but that doesn’t really matter to me, because as much or as little as Yuzuha is assuming, she’s absolutely correct that Yoshida and Sayu have become far too comfortable with their arrangement.

I gave Yuzuha grief in an earlier episode for essentially reading both Yoshida and Airi the riot act for the way they’re going about their lives, but while her little stalking incident is still a mark against her, I for one am glad Yuzuha is here as the voice of reason. Sure, she has a massive conflict of interest in being literally in love with Yoshida (which is its own can of worms), but Yuzuha is no kid.

At this point I trust her more than anyone else to see the forest for the trees. That’s why she can love Yoshida, see the way he looks at Sayu when he arrives, and stay behind in the karaoke room to cry her eyes out, while still being very much in the right about how tremendously unprepared either Yoshida or Sayu are for what isn’t coming down the pike—but has already freaking arrived!

The remainder of the episode sets to work painstakingly validating Yuzuha’s concerns. I can’t blame her taking a rain check considering her feelings for Yoshida, but it really would have been better if Yuzuha had joined them for dinner. At least then, she might’ve been able to steer Sayu towards telling Yoshida that she’s close to being found.

Instead, Sayu says nothing to Yoshida about her brother, choosing to ignore her fate. The two see a poster for the Summer Festival, and in one of the more awkward transitions of the show, the episode cuts from one night to the next night, with Sayu resplendent in her pink yukata,gold obi, and geta. 

Then they go on a date that would be adorable, except for the fact that it’s an indulgence neither of them can really afford at the moment. I can’t really blame Yoshida—he’s in the dark about Sayu’s brother and wants Sayu to have another “normal high school girl” experience.

At the same time, I can’t really blame Sayu for not suddenly turning to Yoshida and saying the jig is up. After all, she hasn’t been to a summer festival since she was a little girl, wasn’t allowed to eat cotton candy even once, and has never been as close to fireworks as she and Yoshida end up being.

The temptation to forget about her imminent doom for just one night proves too strong to resist, but like a yukata rental, the quickly-melting cotton candy, and the fleeting light from the fire fireworks, the trappings of normalcy in which she seeks refuge are all too temporary.

Their interactions throughout are charged with romantic tension. When he sheepishly compliments her yukata, she asks, just under her breath so he can’t quite hear, if it’s prettier than Gotou-san’s. She feeds him some of her cotton candy. When a kid bumps into her, of course Yoshida takes her hand to keep her from falling, and she decides they should keep holding hands throughout so they won’t get lost.

Yoshida knows that were it not for Sayu, he’d have never gone to the festival. Images of his past life without her flash by in his head; it’s a place he’s not ready to return to. When he exits those thoughts, Sayu is no longer holding his hand, and he calls out for her. She’s right behind him, and teases him for thinking she’d disappeared, but we cut to his five-o’clock shadow as he asks, also just under his breath, if she’s really going home.

Even after the fireworks are over, Sayu keeps looking up at the sky. She recalls how she gave all the other guys an alias, but when she met him, her real name just came out. The moment arrives that has arrived in so many romantic anime where there’s either a confession and/or kiss or a failed/thwarted attempt at either.

Instead of either, Yoshida wisely gives Sayu a nice, platonic head pat. Sayu looks disappointed, but quickly smiles. She knows, even if she wasn’t a teenager, Yoshida is sure would have taken her in…and just as sure they wouldn’t have had sex.

Of course, while she knows this, and Yuzuha and Airi and Asami know this, the person to which that very crucial distinction matters most does not know this, at least not yet. That means when Yoshida comes to the door in his pajamas and Sayu is standing behind her in hers, Issa has absolutely no way of knowing Yoshida wasn’t sleeping with his sister.

Even so, Ogiwara Issa’s entire character as we know him thus far is that he’s polite but determined to find her, and now he has. His brief smirk seems more out of relief to have succeeded than a reaction to just how screwed Yoshida is. But that smirk soon straightens into a more serious face as he announcesnot proposes—what’s going to happen. He’s taking Sayu home.

Yoshida may have something to say about that, and Issa may be open to hearing him out, but because this is there first interaction, depending on the level of assumptions Issa is willing to level against him, I can’t imagine anything Yoshida says will move him. I guess we’ll find out eventually, but with next week’s episode entitled “Past”, we may have to wait longer than we should.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

86 – 07 – Nobody Comes Back

86’s structure returns to more of a mix of the processors’ and Lena’s perspectives rather than being split evenly, starting with the unit launching fireworks on the anniversary of the Republic’s Great Revolution. Some are playing with sparklers, Anju is finally crying, and Kurena watches Shin off by himself talking to Lena.

Lena is the one who sent them the “special ammunition”, emptying her wallet to bribe the quartermaster. It’s a small gesture, but she can do it, so she does, and it also highlights her increasing disillusionment with the shallow material world she lives in. If it can soothe the hearts of those soldiers for just a few moments, it’s worth all the money she has.

The superb juxtaposition of the fantasy world she inhabits with the realities of how it’s maintained continues as Lena walks alone in a bustling plaza. Celebrating Alba citizens are stuffing their faces with fine food and wine and couples are whispering sweet nothings, and little kids are crying about something as little as tripping and falling (something Lena herself does in front of subordinates earlier, so nervous she was about the fireworks).

All the while, Lena is on her Para-RAID, listening to Kuren describe in unsparing detail all of the horrors processor see every day.  Compared to watching their friends lose limbs, get their faces shredded, their bodies burned, their guts ripped open, and screaming in pain as they die, the voices of the long dead are nothing.

Because Lena is a kind and virtuous person, she never stops requesting reinforcements from the surrounding units, even “overstepping herself” in the eyes of her Uncle Jerome to complain directly to him about the lack of progress in her request. He assures her “the resupply and Processor replacement plans for the Eastern Theater are a settled matter.”

She takes that to mean resupply reinforcements are on their way to Spearhead, and Jerome pointedly doesn’t dispel that misconception. Despite what she takes as good news, she obeys the letter of her uncle’s order to attend the Revolution gala in an “appropriate dress”—which for Lena, can only be mourning black.

When the time she usually contacts Shin passes, he ends up calling her, which may just be a first, and she’s clearly thankful to be called away from the boring festivities. She heads out into the courtyard to watch the city’s fireworks display, marred by light pollution, almost letting slip that she wishes she could watch the fireworks she sent with Shin, modifying her hope that all of them can watch them together when the war is over.

Lena knows Shin once watched fireworks with his brother, and Shin is happy Lena remembered her brother when he was still his brother, something he can’t do anymore. Shin also reports Anju was finally able to cry, making the fireworks a unique opportunity for 86 to have a memorial gun salute. When asked if she’ll remember them all, Lena says she will, but before that, she won’t let anyone else die.

Rewinding a bit to the morning Shin received the delivery of fireworks, Anju and Kurena, the last two girls left in Spearhead, discuss whether they should “tell” Lena a secret they still carry, now that it’s clear she’s a good person. Anju warns that Shin and Raiden probably aren’t telling her because she’s a good person they don’t want to hurt more than they need to.

We also learn Anju has words scarred into her back, and while she grew her hair out to hide them, Daiya thought she did it because her hair was so pretty. Now that it’s just her and Kurena, and Daiya is gone, she sees no reason to hide it anymore. As for Kurena, she knows when they die “their Reaper” Shin will make sure they’re properly sent off. What she fears most is when he’s the only one of them left…who will carry his heart?

Two days after the fireworks and Lena’s vow not to let anyone else to die, Spearhead attacks the forward base knowing full well it’s a trap, and are then assaulted by a new ultra-long range Legion artillery cannon. Within seconds, four more soldiers are killed. Hopefully they died instantly, because Shin obeys Lena’s retreat order, knowing if they stay they could be wiped out entirely.

When they manage to shake off their Legion pursuers, Lena launches into a diatribe about reinforcements and how it simply “doesn’t make sense” that a unit as important as Spearhead hasn’t received any in all the time she’s been their Handler. That’s when Shin asks the others if it’s okay to “tell her”, and they all agree. She’s earned enough trust to learn yet another horrible truth.

Shin, Raiden, Theo, Anju, and Kurena all take turns telling Lena that nothing she does will change a single thing, ever. They’re going to get wiped out, because they’re supposed to get wiped out. The “replacements” Jerome told her about are the Processors that come after them, but they won’t come until every last one of them is dead. Nobody ever leaves the 86th District. The five-years thing is a lie…of course it is.

The higher-ups are able to determine which Eighty-Six are smart by how long they survive, and place them in increasingly dangerous positions until finally they arrive at the Spearhead. They’re not in an elite squad because they’re the best at fighting the Legion. They’re there to be killed off so no strong strategic or tactical Eighty-Six minds will ever be able to lead a rebellion against the Alba.

Now that she knows replacements won’t come until all of them are dead, Lena doesn’t want to believe it, but she believes them anyway. When she asks why they don’t simply run, or let the Legion through, it’s for many reasons. First, to honor those lost before them. Second: just as not all 86 are good, not all Alba are scum.

An Alba woman raised Raiden. Shin was raised by an Alba priest who refused to give up his land and was sent to the camps. Theo’s captain was an Alba. They knew some of the good Alba, while Kurena and Anju knew the very worst. They mention how Kaie was abused by other 86 for her skin color, while many of them have Alba blood.

Raiden says just because some of the Alba are scum who treat them like scum, doing the same doesn’t make them better. Even if they have no choice but to face the gallows, they can at least choose how they’ll climb up there. So they’ll keep surviving as long as they can. With increasingly advanced Legion—controlled by Shin’s brother’s brain—slowly advancing, that may not be long at all.

Now that Lena knows all of these things, simple gestures of kindness or little acts of resistance against her apathetic, hedonistic society probably won’t suffice anymore. All her hopes were riding on reinforcements that she now knows aren’t coming. And if Shin and the others are right, slaughtering their best frontline shoulders will eventually lead to the Legion invading the Alba districts.

So really, Lena can see the gallows in the distance as well. The difference is, she may still be do something other than merely decide how to climb up to them. With the help from what’s left of Spearhead, there’s a slight chance she can change all their fates.

Higehiro – 07 – What Then?

It’s telegraphed from the beginning of the episode: someone who knows Sayu (or is working for them) has found her. There’s no other reason a suspicious black car would keep showing up at the konbini where she works, and Sayu is right to be weary. After all, she’s committed to working towards a future for herself, but hasn’t had enough time to figure out what that might be. Simply going home now would solve nothing.

This week marks the return of Mishima, whom I castigated for literally stalking Yoshida the last time we saw her, but the more I think about it, the more she’s the most realistic of the bunch. She invites herself to lunch with Gotou to express her frustration with her supervisor’s boss: if she’s in love with Yoshida, why is she just sitting around when Sayu could “take” Yoshida from them any day?

Gotou says she simply doesn’t see the point of artificially forcing anything with her and Yoshida. If it happens, it happens, but she’s not going to pretend she can control the feelings of others. Mishima says flat out that Gotou is simply scared to stick her neck out, while she’s far more scared of losing what she could’ve had because she didn’t do anything.

Neither Mishima nor Gotou are presented as the person with the “correct” philosophy…and that’s okay! Anybody who says they have all the answers is trying to sell you something. But Mishima is determined to try her way, and so asks, nay, demands Yoshida’s contact info. Yoshida is taken aback, because he doesn’t consider himself “attractive enough” to be worth giving his contact info for no special reason.

At this Mishima snaps at him for deciding everything by his standards, including his own appeal. She says he has a bad habit of doing what he wants to do while convincing himself its for the sake of others. Then she confesses her love for him (“a little”) and texts him a request to go out for a movie when Sayu isn’t making something special for dinner. He texts back a sheepish “sure”, which lifts Mishima’s spirits.

The next day when Yoshida is off work, he’s just kind of sitting around while Sayu cleans around him. He offers to help, and she pushes him into his bed, tripping in the process and landing on him. Their resulting position is lovingly drawn and lit the way a romantic scene would, and Sayu lingers there before Yoshida asks her to take the wet rag off his shoulder.

After this awkward scene that appears to play right into Mishima’s worst fear —that Sayu has the inside track on winning Yoshida’s heart—Sayu decides to go through a box of stuff in his closet (with his okay…but it’s still hella random!) and finds his high school yearbook, along with a photo of him and his gorgeous senpai girlfriend.

I for one am willing to give both parties the benefit of the doubt regarding the bed incident, but then Yoshida starts talking about how that girlfriend called him “clingy” and that she didn’t want somebody who cared about him so much. Again his standards come through, as he tells Sayu it’s only natural to care about someone, to want them to smile and be happy, and to be the one who makes that happen. Sayu mutters “what about me?”, but Yoshida doesn’t hear (naturally).

Back at work at the konbini, Sayu ends up sharing a shift with her former attempted rapist, which is never something you want. When the mysterious guy in the black Lexus comes in and reveals he’s Sayu’s big brother (and clearly loaded), Yaguchi tells Sayu to hide in the break room and then covers for her.

While I appreciate the show’s dedication to showing the good and bad in people, I really didn’t need this guy performing a remotely redemptive act, and it frankly sours the whole scene, especially when Sayu thanks him. Now, if he actually owned up to what he actually did and earnestly apologized, maybe I’d feel a bit different…but probably not!

As for Ogiwara Kazuto, well…it’s interesting that this President and CEO of Ogiwara Foods is Sayu’s brother and not a parent. I’d also guess he’s about Yoshida’s age. The look on Sayu’s face when she realizes who he was was, and then upon realizing that she may not get to decide when she goes home, is heartbreaking. I’m hoping Kazuto is reasonable and doesn’t just drag her into the car, but Sayu ran far, far away from these people, so all bets are off.

86 – 06 – Just a Question of When

Now that the ghostly, ghastly sci-fi horror elements of 86 have been introduced, we look back to worse times when Shin found the headless  corpse of his brother in a once-grand bombed-out city (shades of Osgilliath) four years ago.

Then we look back to better times four months ago, when the ranks of Spearhead were a lot larger and livelier. Anju and Daiya began a kind of tender courtship while Shin lets it all soak in, perhaps knowing full well that it isn’t a matter of if things will go to shit, but when, and for whom.

In the present day it’s a hot July day, and everyone is baking in their metal coffins. They engage in a battle in which they are at a distinct disadvantage without mortar support, which the Republic hasn’t and won’t ever provide. The lighter mood caused by reminiscing about four months ago is shattered when Rikka gets into trouble and Daiya tries to rescue her.

Rikka’s mech is wrecked, and a Legion mech approaches her, she shoots herself in the head, her final words hoping Shin will “take care of things” from there. Daiya is surrounded by horrifying suicide bomber bots, and his last word is Anju who must quickly get over the shock of his loss and continue the battle.

Later, Shin ensures for Daiya what Rikka ensured with her self-inflicted headshot: that neither of them will join the ranks of the undead Legion. He gives Lena the opportunity to shut off the Para-Raid, but she considers it her duty to hear the shot being fired.

Down another two soldiers, Spearhead now has only sixteen soldiers left, and those lost will not be replaced before the next battle. Both the grieving Anju and the others try to hide how much this sucks with protective smiles and cheerfulness. Shin collects two more metal shards to remember Daiya and Rikka, then recalls how his brother hasn’t forgiven him for getting him and their parents killed. His search for his brother’s head continues.

Unlike past episodes that better mixed up Lena and Shin’s experiences, we’re back to one section being all Spearhead and the other being all Lena. It’s Lena’s birthday when Daiya and Rikka die, and Annette makes her a cake and gives her a present. She also casually talks about how 86 are dissected like lab animals if there’s a problem with the Para-Raid, while of  course Republic soldiers are treated far more humanely.

There’s been a tension building for some time between these two between idle chatter about Annette’s suitors and cake ingredients. It doesn’t seem the thoroughly jaded and complacent Annette will ever come around to Lena’s increased empathy for the 86.

Lena’s isolation is further reinforced in her briefing with her uncle. She suggests the Republic deploy the mortars in order to protect the lives of the 86. He responds by again warning her not to “side with the 86”, and that under no circumstances would Republic soldiers ore resources be spent to aid them. As Handler she’s merely responsible for making sure they follow their orders.

But Lena has obviously started to do far more than that. Unlike her uncle and Annette, whom I’m sure believe are “doing all they can”, her threshold for what “what she can” entails continues to expand. She has a corkboard with hand-drawn sketches of the remaining Spearhead soldiers on her desk, while by the window is a crystal case containing those who have been lost.

After signing off with everyone else, Lena is kept on the line by Shin, who voices concern for her because sounds on edge. He suggests she eat some sweets and use the evening to take a break from all these troubles. To Lena, he sounds just like his brother, who gave her chocolate when things were bad. She remarks on how important she regards her memories of him, while also letting slip how important she considers her time talking with with Shin.

When she realizes how that sounds, she turns red as a beet, a color that intensifies when she unwraps the fortune chocolate to reveal a heart. Of course, as she’s an Alba and a Republic Handler while he’s an 86 Processor and it’s a very bad idea to fall in love with him, I won’t go so far as to say nothing good can come of it.

One day, he’ll be the only member of Spearhead left, and then he’ll die. But Shinei Nouzen still won’t die alone, and he won’t be forgotten. It’s not nearly enough, but we can be assured, when that time comes, Lena will do everything she possibly can, even if it makes her a pariah in her world. There’s no going back.

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.

86 – 04 – Your Names.

After Theo lays into Lena for her hypocrisy, Raiden asks that she cut the connection for now. While Theo went too far, no one is in the mood for another “friendly chat” with her. Theo ends up regretting his rant for “tainting” Kaie’s death, making him no different from the white pigs.

After Anju, Kurena and Rekka grab Theo and mend his jacket button, he heads to the hangar to ask Shin what the “Fox commander” would have said to the Handler, a white pig who thinks she’s a saint for getting all buddy-buddy with them. As he secures a scrap of Kaie’s Juggernaut, Shin simply says the commander wouldn’t have said that.

While Theo’s comrades help him to process his grief and rage, all Lena’s “best friend” Annette has for her is pudding and platitudes. I’m not here to say Annette is a coward or a monster—it’s not that simple—but she is an unapologetic cog in a monstrous machine, believes there’s “nothing she can do” to change that, and strongly suggests Lena give up on the 86, and join her at the lab.

It also seems like her patience with Lena’s idealism is wearing thin. Even if she’s not a true believer and sees the injustice in their world, she resents Lena’s continued insistence the worlds can and should be bridged. “There’s pudding here, and not there” is as chillingly banal a defense of slavery ethnic cleansing as I’ve ever heard.

Not satisfied to eat away her pain, the evening light from the windows of HQ  calls to Lena’s mind a memory of riding with her father in a helicopter over the 86 concentration camps. She doesn’t remember much of what happened afterwards, but we can see the chopper was shot down and he tried to protect her from an attacking Legion mecha.

Lena tells her uncle about that memory, and how it allowed her to hold the ideals that the Republic threw away (as she says this, we see the statue of the gorgeous Wagnerian Valkyrie representing those ideals, while the fountain below is fouled with empty bottles and trash. 86’s visuals are rarely subtle, but they are damned effective!

Her uncle dispenses with the pudding analogies and tells Lena straight up that her father was a kind man and a good father, but at the end of the day he was doing nothing more than watching and talking about making it a better place. All he ended up achieving was getting himself killed and planting a potentially equally fatal seed of idealism in Lena. Her uncle probably wishes his niece wasn’t so intent on making those ideals real, as her father was, because the whole point of ideals are that they are unattainable, and trying to achieve the impossible is “foolish and cowardly.”

Still, she refuses to step down as Spearhead’s Handler. Her talks with Annette and her uncle leave her as frustrated as ever, and as she overhears another propaganda report on the public monitor, she hears Theo’s truer words over the reporter’s, reaches a breaking point, and initializes synchronization with Undertaker.

Lena runs to the War Casualties Cemetery, where not a single one of the 86 who have fallen has a grave. She begins by apologizing to Undertaker, then asking if she can learn the names of the members of Spearhead. Shin assures her that what Theo said wasn’t what they all thought, and they realize she didn’t create this world and can’t fix it on her own, so she doesn’t have to blame herself for “not doing the impossible”.

He continues by asserting that callsigns are used and Processor files locked so that Handlers won’t get too attached to them, or become overwhelmed by all the inevitable loss. But Lena doesn’t care; she doesn’t want to be a coward anymore. She asks again for their names, and writes them down as Shin gives them to her.

Then she hears him carving into the scrap of metal for Kaie, and he explains his duty of ensuring those who have been lost are remembered through the ritual, which is partly how he got the name “Undertaker”. He tells her Kaie was the 561st person for whom he’s carved a name, meaning he’s faced each and every one of the people who died beside him. Lena laments having never faced the deaths that occurred under her watch—only felt vaguely bad about them.

Lena then asks for Shin to broadcast her to everyone in the unit so she can apologize to them for not treating them as humans and not even realizing it. She learns from Theo that the previous Laughing Fox was an Alba like her. He was one of them, but as long as she’s inside the walls, they’ll never accept her as one of theirs. Raiden adds that while they’re sorry for thinking she was a “wannabie saint” and “hypocrite pig”, he still doesn’t think she’s cut out to be a Handler.

In a private chat with Shin later, Lena gets his name: Shinei Nouzen, and asks him if he knew a Shourei Nouzen, AKA Dullahan. Shin’s memories of Shourei (with his face scratched out) flood his head, leading him to crack an exceedingly rare smile as he tells her he was his brother.

Throughout all of this, we see the past structure of the series begin to break down, with far more cuts back and forth between Lena and Shin’s worlds. Now that she knows the real names of her unit, she’s rejected the cold complicity of her so-called best friend and jaded uncle.

They told her to extricate herself from this mess, but she decided to dive in deeper, and the more frequent cuts between the worlds is a sign of that fresh devotion to living a more honest life and not giving up on the ideals everyone else has. This episode lacked any battle action and was essentially a simple sequence of discussions.

Despite that, I was never once bored by the visuals that accompanied those talks, which more often than not were arresting both in the reality of the images presented and the interplay between them and the subject matter. I said last week Lena would have to do more to reconcile her ideals and actions, and she took the first steps here. A hard road lies ahead, but as her father’s daughter she’s determined to walk it. She’s had enough of pudding.