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.

Hamefura – 12 (Fin) – Doom Averted!

Hamefura borrows the dark, bleak tone of Re:Zero, swapping its usual pansexual harem desert gorging party and fake-snake R&D for a look back at “Sirius Dieke’s” inky-black past. Turns out he’s not really Sirius, but his half-brother, the illegitimate son of Marquess Dieke and a maid. Sirius’ mother the Marchioness devises a dastardly plan where they sacrifice the maid to acquire dark magic, then transfer the dying Sirius’ memories into the healthy bastard son’s mind. YIKES!

Turns out “Sirius”, whose name is really Raphael, was misled by the bad guy who performed the procedure. The real Sirius’ memories were false, as was the Raphael’s mom’s dying wish for him to avenge her. What she really wanted was for him to live a happy life, which hadn’t been going so well until Catarina shows up, promises to be by his side and refuses to leave it until he feels better.

Raphael fights the shadows until they dissipate—no Maria light magic necessary. He then decides to join the Department of Magic and make a new life with his birth name and identity, while Marchioness Dieke and her accomplices are arrested for their crimes. Catarina has managed to avoid Fortune Lover’s worst ending and certain doom for all…but she’s still not convinced she can rest easy!

Her final trial is the graduation party, which is where Game Maria eventually chooses the guy she loves and wants to spend her life with. This also leads to Game Catarina either being killed or exiled. Catarina prepares for both eventualities, while completely ignoring the obvious: neither of those things is going to happen, because thanks to her efforts, Maria doesn’t love any guy, only her. All the others echo their undying love and desire to spend the rest of their lives with Catarina.

Cat realizes she’s reached the rare “Friendship Ending”, though it’s clear the romantic competition for the one and only spot by her side will go on; she’s seemingly just determined to remain oblivious to it! In any case, she’s arrived in territory far outside the bounds of the original game’s script.

That means we’ll be getting a second season of Hamefura in 2021! Whether there it will introduce still more love interests and/or new sources of potential doom, who can say. All I know is I’ll be delighted to spend more time with this charmingly obtuse young woman with a heart of pure gold!

Hamefura – 11 – Waking Bakarina

That was a goddamn tearjerker.—Steve Zissou

That was…that was outstanding. This episode left me speechless, so I’ll simply type what I want to shout from the mountaintops.

It’s not everyday a protagonist in an isekai anime ends up right back in the “original” world where they started, but after falling victim to Sirius Dieke’s dark magic, that’s where Catarina ends up. She’s initially disoriented—calling her mom okaa-sama—but after dealing with her many morning cowlicks (wondering where, and then who Anne is) she’s off to school…with a cucumber instead of the classic toast?!

There, she finally reunites with her best friend Acchan, but it’s played out as just any other day. They talk about Fortune Lover—she’s currently on the Alan route—and read manga during a break from classes. This world is like a pair of old shoes, fitting so smoothly and comfortably that it’s as if she’s wearing no shoes at all (like when she had a romantic scene with Alan in a tree).

But back in the world of Fortune Lover, Catarina has been asleep for over two days. She cannot be revived, and one of the best docs in the land is clueless. All he knows is that if she never wakes up, her body will eventually weaken until she dies. The news hits her pansexual harem like a ton of bricks.

One by one, we see the women and men who love Catarina wallow in abject despair, suddenly lost and facing incalculable hurt. Talking as if giving a eulogy at her memorial, each of them describes what she means to them and why they can’t live without her.

She brought Color to Gerald’s world, and light to Keith’s. She helped Mary learn to love herself and fall in love with her in turn. She relieved Alan’s stress about being the lesser twin. She alone understood Nicol felt blessed to have such a special sister. She alone told Sophia, and helped her to believe, that she was indeed beautiful.

The last person in this sequence is Sophia, who suddenly hears the voice and senses the presence of…someone else. As we learned a few weeks back, Sophia and Acchan share a strange connection that bridges their two worlds. In a window reflection, Acchan assures Sophia that she’ll bring Catarina back, but she needs a little help. Sophia has to return to Catarina’s bedside.

As Sophia springs into action, everyone else similarly breaks out of their respective sorrow spirals, standing tall and vowing to stay by Catarina’s side until she wakes up. It’s almost as if Acchan’s guarantee to Sophia spread to everyone else, and they realized that sitting around crying won’t solve anything; they have to be there for the one they all love.

As dusk descends on the “real” world, Catarina meets Acchan in their classroom, where the latter tells her that while she’s immeasurably happy to have been able to spend a little more time with Catarina, this place is no longer her world, and there are many people who love her waiting for her to return.

As a parting gift, Acchan tells Catarina where Sophia is being held, then flashes a bittersweet smile as she says goodbye to her precious best friend for the last time. The tears…I had them.

Catarina finally wakes up in her bed, surrounded by her harem, and promptly lets them know where Maria is. When they ask how she knows, she credits both her dream and intuition, leading everyone to flash a skeptical look. Still, they’re no doubt enthralled their Bakarina hath returned to them. Now life is worth living again!

The group treks to the Dieke family-built storeroom, locate the secret door, and find Maria safe and sound, and release her. It’s a shame we weren’t privy to Maria’s thoughts about how Catarina changed her life, but after all she had no idea Catarina was unconscious to begin with, so her omission ultimately made sense.

That just leaves dealing with Sirius, who is painted as far more of a tortured, misguided tragic figure than a mustache-twirling villain this week. He feels obliged to heed his mother’s dying wish to avenge her no matter the cost, and he’s resigned to putting his humanity up as collateral.

Even so, he remembers Catarina telling him how “gentle” his tea tasted, and how they were the same words someone else said (I’m guessing his mother). That’s when Catarina and the others arrive in his candle-filled lair. Her aim is not to fight or punish him, but to save him from certain doom—the same way saving everyone else staved off hers.

Peeps, this Hamefura shit is for real.

Senryuu Shoujo – 12 (Fin) – The Day They Met

During a rooftop lunch together on a beautiful day, Nanako asks Eiji if he remembers the day they met, and the final episode proceeds to re-tell that reliably adorable story. It was indeed their mutual love of senryuu poetry that brought them together, as they meet, and are the only two young people, at a poetry workshop around Christmas.

When Eiji comes in late with a head of steam, everyone is content to take him at face value—as a thug. Nanako, on the other hand, claps when he quickly comes up with a senryuu asking Santa to stop his dad from smoking so much. They exchange pleasantries outside, but Eiji warns Nanako not to get too close lest people speak ill of her.

But Nanako isn’t interested in what others think of Eiji, she feels she’s connected with him on a major level, and can’t stop thinking about him. They don’t see each other at a workshop again, but begin exchanging senryuu on a public bulletin board, essentially becoming senryuu pen pals. Nanako arranges for them to meet up when the cherry blossoms bloom in Nishi Park—truly a poetic setting for their next rendezvous.

When she sees no reply on the board on the day they’re to meet up, Nanako asks around, but no one knows what has become of Eiji. She starts running in a tearful panic, worried she let the one person she connected to most slip through her fingers. But she had no reason to fret: Eiji shows up under the same cherry blossom she envisioned for their meeting.

Back in the present, as Eiji lazes in the sun and Nanako sits beside him, she simply casts a big, beaming smile at him, and the two of them couldn’t look more content, regardless of whatever relationship boxes Amane thinks they still need to check off. It’s a pleasant, cozy end to a feel-good series about two very different people with the same very specific hobby.

Senryuu Shoujo – 11 – Peonies in the Sky, I Can Go Twice as High

It’s summer festival time, and both Nanako and Amane are resplendent in their yukata; the proverbial garden peonies while standing, tree peonies while sitting, and lilies while walking. Eiji looks pretty good too!

But Amane soon detects a problem: she’s definitely a third wheel, even if Eiji’s the kid of dude who spends entire days catching bugs like a five-year-old (he makes Takumi in Ao-chan look like Gene Simmons).

Even so, sometimes he’ll surprise you, like when he tenderly slips a glow ring he won on Nanako’s dainty finger. It’s like he’s already proposing! When Amane and Eiji go to the bathroom, Nanako stays behind and gets snatched up by three classmates who saved a spot for the fireworks.

The thing is, Nanako’s one wish on this night was to see the firworks alone with Eiji. Eiji knows this, so when the two are separated and fireworks time draws near, he starts searching for her.

While doing so, he leaves Amane and the bulky “Famistation” she won behind, but fortunately she runs into Eiji’s family and thus isn’t alone. Eiji manages to find Nanako thanks to the glow ring, and takes her hand just as she’s tearing up from having to watch the fireworks without him.

It’s a very well-orchestrated, powerful moment when the two lovebirds finally reunite at just the right time. I’ve maybe witnessed dozens of this kind of scene before, but it gets me every time when executed well, and it couldn’t happen to a nicer pair of kids here.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 23 – No Puppet, You’re The Puppet

This is a thrilling powerhouse of an episode, but it starts out a little slow, with over seven minutes of this:

Admin: [Describes in detail horrible things she’s done]
Cardinal: How dare you!
Admin: [Chortles]

Mind you, there are far worse things than listening to Sakamoto Maaya describe her evil plan and chortle. She gives Admin an extra dimension of imperious ethereal swagger.

Once the two pontifexes are done talking, Cardinal decides the only thing she can do is surrender: offer her life—and the guarantee she won’t resist and take potentially half of Admin’s life—in exchange for the three “youngsters.”

Admin agrees, though doesn’t exactly hide the fact that she still plans to sacrifice fully half of Underworld’s humans (40,000 of them) to complete the final version of her sword golem with which she’ll defeat the enemies of the Dark Territory, as well as the real world.

Then she has fun taking several hundred dark lightning potshots at Cardinal. She’s been waiting 200 years to get rid of her, and is clearly savoring the moment. Cardinal warns the others not to interfere—they’re not powerful enough to make a difference anyway—and instead puts all her hope in Admin’s assurances they won’t be harmed.

Something awakens in Eugeo, and suddenly he realizes what he was always meant to do, now that he’s in the time and place to do it. He asks Cardinal to use her remaining power to transform him into a sword, just as Admin turned hundreds of humans into parts of the golem.

The process isn’t exactly quick, and Admin attempts to disrupt it, but Alice is able to block her attacks just long enough for the transformation to complete, and Eugeo becomes a self-moving sword.

The sword wastes no time destroying the sword golem by hitting its weak spot, blowing it to pieces in a tremendous explosion. But Admin is #NotImpressed, and relishes the opportunity to put this “brat” in his place with her superior weapon authority.

Ultimately, Eugeo simply doesn’t have enough to take a suddenly very serious Admin down, and while he does relieve her of her left arm, it comes at the cost of being split in two. The split sword revert back into human form, and Eugeo lies lifeless in a pool of blood.

Admin then describes Eugeo’s mistakes that led to his defeat, then turns to Kirito, expressing her hope they’ll meet again in the real world after she kills him here (she’s apparently unaware he’s only alive here; he’s still in a coma out there).

Having lost Cardinal and Eugeo in quick succession, Kirito is feeling defeated and unable to do anything, but like Yuuki and others in Kirito’s past, Alice steps between him and his death, willing to sacrifice herself so he can live on and complete the mission.

This time, Kirito steps back in front of his protector, parries Admin’s strike, and pushes her back. Alice, totally out of gas, passes out, leaving it a duel between the one-armed Admin and Kirito, for the very soul of the Underworld.

Admin would say he and Eugeo were only puppets for Cardinal, and Kirito continues to serve as a puppet for the good of the masses she sees only as resources, in reality Admin has herself long been a puppet of her own greed and lust for power.

Those traits define her and drive her totally, and they will destroy her, once they butt up against the amassed love and resolve of her foes. The hours of her reign appear to be numbered, but she’s not going down without (another) hell of a fight.

Dororo – 07 – Spiders Are People Too

In the wake of the loss of Mio and the orphans, Hyakkimaru isn’t really in the mood to talk, even though he has his voice back. In an effort to get him to cheer up, Dororo tries to tickle him, no no avail. Instead, they encounter yet another monster.

This time it’s a frightening spider woman, who is busy sucking the life out of a man she hypnotized into thinking it’s a much more pleasurable experience. Notably, the man is not dead, and once Hyakkimaru frees him, the spider woman runs off, and we later see she’s transforming into human form.

This form allows her to grab the immediate attention of the first man to come across her passed out in a bed of flowers. His name is Yajirou, and he offers his home and his food to nurse her back to health. She has no human name, so Yajirou names her Ohagi.

She’s not particularly friendly, but his human food is good, and he’s not like other humans, not even harming a cockroach in his house. He values all life, big or small. In the night, while hungry for a human snack, Ohagi decides to have more rice instead.

As Hyakkimaru and Dororo spend the next two days searching in vain for the monster they believe is kidnapping villagers in a valley quarry where life is harsh, Yajirou is worried that Ohagi is getting paler and weaker, and offers to smuggle out of the town, whose lord is very stingy about letting people leave; he’d rather they work themselves to death at the quarry, making him money. It’s another sign that war or not, life is particularly tough for the little guy in this time.

Ohagi takes Yajirou up on his offer, but they come afoul of Hyakkimaru and Dororo. To their surprise, Yajirou confesses to being the “kidnapper”—the people who are missing he helped smuggle out of the town for their own sakes. Ohagi, meanwhile, doesn’t kill if she doesn’t have to, preferring to suck just enough life out of people to allow them to revive. But the village guard shows up, ready to arrest Yajirou.

Ohagi attacks them and slips away from Hyakkimaru, for whom it’s become a habit to tear off his fake arms and attack red form in his vision. But Ohagi isn’t always red; an indication she’s not always evil or demonic, just perhaps more often than most. More importantly, she’s not trying to kill anyone, just survive, and Yajirou wants to help her.

While I thought Ohagi would eventually betray Yajirou (like the scorpion and the frog—due to her nature), my expectations were nicely subverted, as it seems theirs will be a more symbiotic relationship.

The guard catches up with them and puts two arrows in Yajirou just after Ohagi agrees to go with her and be her regular “prey.” Yajirou strikes out in anger, and Hyakkimaru once again intervenes as Ohagi takes her true spider monster form. But once again, it’s not as simple as Hyakkimaru defeating the demon and regaining a new part of himself.

Thanks to Hyakkimaru’s hearing, he can hear both Yajirou’s pleas not to kill her, and he stays his blade, allowing the two to escape without further incident. Provided Ohagi has a willing source of life force in the person of Yajirou, Hyakkimaru can be confident she doesn’t pose a threat. For once, Hyakkimaru and Dororo aren’t walking away from a complete bloodbath; there’s hope for this couple.

While we’ve had a human serving as the instrument for a demon blade, we haven’t yet had demon who wasn’t just pure evil all or all about killing. We here at RABUJOI are all extremely pro-spider. They do humans far more good than harm as devourers of house pests, and aren’t really interested in hurting us unless threatened.

Thus it’s only fitting that the first demon to have a more nuanced, dimensional character takes the form of our scary-looking but generally beneficial eight-legged friends. The final scene—in which an initially-spooked Dororo spares a spider leading to Hyakkimaru’s first laugh—was pitch-perfect. Even better than having a diversity of foes is when some of them turn out not to be foes at all.

AICO – 11 – More Technobabble Leads to the Home Stretch

When Yura/Kanzaki finds Aico, she’s already willing to forgive all the lies he’s told to that point, because she exists in part because of those many lies. She’s also as ready as ever to sacrifice herself to save her mother, brother, and the “real” Aiko, even though that Aiko has already offered to do the same. For his part, Kanzaki is hesitant in the moment to let Aico go through with it, even though, as she says, that’s how the Burst will end.

In that moment of hesitation, Dr. Isazu hooks himself up to some kind of interface we’ve never seen before which allows him to connect to and manipulate the same Matter as his unconscious daughter.

Isazu uses the human-form Matter to restrain Aico and Kanzaki and a rather lengthy argument with the latter ensues, densely packed with a whole mess of technobabble about networks and cell assemblers. Suffice it to say, Isazu wants his daughter back, and is willing to sacrifice both Aikos to do so; Burst be damned.

Isazu gets increasingly frustrated with Kanzaki’s apparently boundless, “god-like” genius, but is unable to kill him, because Kazuki swoops in just in time to free Kanzaki and Aico from their bonds. A torrid chase ensues, and the real Aiko succeeds in suppressing the purple Matter with her Red long enough for the trio to get to shelter…only it’s not the shelter, but some kind of storeroom.

There, Kanzaki gathers materials for a makeshift explosion to blast their way out of their dead end and continue to Primary Point, but Kazuki doesn’t want Aico to go…because he’s fallen in love with her, plus when the matter attacked his arm he saw her memories. Aico tells him she’s flattered by his confession, but if he truly loves her as he says, he’ll let her save her family, which she can only do by reuniting Aiko’s body and brain.

Back outside the area, the JSDF is poised to start their bombardment of the entire facility, but they’re foiled at the last second when Nanbara lifts the blockade on the Area and sends in wave after wave of civilian Divers. The generals must hold their fire, and Nanbara is summarily fired by her superior, though her assistant Hori remains on the job for the time being, likely by design.

Nanbara gave up everything to save the Matter that will keep her country at the forefront of science from being annihilated by that same country’s military.

Now we’ll see if her sacrifice, and those of Shinoyama and many others, will be validated, as Kanzaki finally gets Aico to Primary Point, where the Burst and Aico’s existence began. The other Divers are holding their own, led by Sagami and Shiraishi and now convinced that what they’re doing has a crucial and noble purpose.

After many trials, lies, revealed secrets, and yes, one very lame confession, Aico has reached her destination, and it’s where she herself has chosen to come. Now let’s see if she and Kanzaki can end the Burst, save her family, wake Yuzuha up, and maybe, just maybe, save Aiko as well.

AICO – 10 – Explanations Give Way to Emotions

While “AICO” is off communing with “Aiko”, Sagami decides that his team will help Yura carry out the mission by helping him return AICO’s artificial brain with the Matter. In doing so, he basically concedes that AICO is an artificial being and thus expendable, or at least her sacrifice is instrumental in ending the Burst.

Kazuki isn’t okay with that. Artificial brain or not, he’s fallen for AICO, which Kazuki says is “based on a misunderstanding.” But just because Yura created AICO doesn’t make him the arbiter of who and what can and should be preserved.

While looking for AICO, Yura ends up engulfed by a Human-form Matter, which turns out to be controlled by Yuzuha. She recreates the mountains they once visited to beg him to help her find her body.

All this time, she’s been reaching out to the humans—not AICO—in order to make a human connection. Her body is at the hospital with her father, but she has no scientific data or even anecdotal information for Yura to use to be able to science a way to save her. It’s a very unfortunate situation all ’round.

Meanwhile, AICO makes contact with her real-brained counterpart in the purple/pink Matter. Aiko heard Isazu’s address, and knows an attack from the military is imminent. To that end, she asks AICO to find her family and get them out of harm’s way ASAP.

What about Aiko herself? She believes her “time is up”, and that there’s no longer any time to save her family and herself; and given a choice between the two, there is no choice. She resolves to suppress the Matter as much as she can to facilitate the task she gives AICO.

More interestingly, while existing as the Matter, she felt like she began to lose herself, but has been able to hold onto herself due entirely to her Dream Contact with AICO. Her artificial duplicate has lived her life in her stead, and she’s been able to watch and feel everything she’s felt, the good and bad, thus keeping her human.

AICO doesn’t like the idea of leaving Aiko behind, but ultimately she accedes to her wishes and hurries to where her mother and little brother are being held in stasis.

The resulting emotional reunion is an austere yet surprisingly powerful scene the show successfully earned. Artificial or not, AICO is pretty much Aiko, and rescuing her family has always been a higher priority han rescuing herself.

As the Divers deal with the increasingly dormant Matter, Aiko manages to free Yura from a panicked Yuzuha’s grasp, and Yura races to the cocoon, just as AICO takes her leave of her family. From the look of her, she seems particularly resolved to doing something that will probably result in her own sacrifice.

After all, while Aiko’s need for AICO to act in her place to save her family is all well and good, nothing about those wishes addresses the issue of the Matter itself. Will Aiko or AICO have to die to end it, or is there still a way to reunite them, which could also reunite Yuzuha with her body?

AICO – 09 – Bogged Down in Matter…and Exposition

In a key early scene that informs the torrent of revelations to come in the on-the-nosely-titled “Truth”, Aiko weeps for the loss of Shinomiya, something for which Shiraishi is very grateful, despite the fact she doesn’t blame Aiko for the loss.

We also learn that Kanzaki essentially leaves the remaining Divers no choice but to press on, questioning whether they took the risk to their lives seriously when they signed up for a mission they knew they might not return from.

Sagami curses Kanzaki’s cleverness, but the kid has a point: they signed up for this. That they were lied to about the details doesn’t change the fact that taking the job meant being prepared to die from the start.

From there, “Truth” unfolds pretty much like the previous episodes, with the team storming through the next zone to get to the next gate…only this is the final gate before Primary Point, and they no longer have a Beetle to protect them from the big stuff.

Thankfully, and somewhat surprisingly, however, a “benevalent” purplish version of the Matter protects Aiko & Co. from the malignant red Matter int he nick of time, in the process sending Kanzaki and Aiko flying like Renton and Eureka.

But once the group enters the facility where Aiko’s still-incomplete operation took place—and where the Burst began—the end of their journey also marks the end of the episode’s momentum. For the balance of the episode, revelation after revelation is made, thanks to Dr. Isazu remotely  talking to Aiko and the others from the facility’s P.A. system.

Much of what he says, we already know: that Kanzaki is really Yura, for instance. Some of the news is, well, new: the “Aiko” we’ve followed all this time wasn’t the one with the real brain after all, but AICO, the elaborate artificial brain occupying the carbon nanostructure-repaired real body of the real Aiko—both built by Yura.

Yura intends to merge the fake Aiko’s brain and body to end the burst, which will also destroy the near-as-makes-no-difference sentient life form he created. No other possible solution is brought up; Isazu simply informs Aiko that the SDF will soon pummel the facility she’s in, so she’d better find cover.

Because so much information is dumped on us, some of which repeats what’s already been revealed to us, things get really stagnant in the latter chunk of the episode. Switching from the facility to the hospital where Isazu is to the hacker’s house where Kurase and Nanbara are only feels like a naked attempt to break the infodump up among different settings, and it doesn’t really work.

The slog is somewhat interrupted when the red Matter arrives, and rather than stick with Kanzaki/Yura or the Divers, Aiko runs off on her own, gets cornered, as is once again saved by the purplish Matter, in which an inviting, brightly-lit opening is formed. When Gummi goes in, Aiko follows, and before she knows it she’s face-to-face with “the other Aiko”, the one Isazu says is the real deal.

Does this mean Isazu’s daughter is controlling the red Matter? What are the two Aikos going to discuss? Is there any way to end the Burst and save Japan from destruction without destroying the artificial body that apparently started it all?

AICO – 08 – Finally, a Casualty…but Yura Lives

The nano-structured cat is out of the bag, and Aiko and Yuuya have some serious explaining to do to convince the Divers, whose emotions upon learning Aiko is artificially-bodied range from disbelief to anger. Yuuya deflects it from Aiko by saying it was his call to keep them in the dark, and then reveals that the mission is far larger and grander than the Divers thought, and if Yuuya’s mission is successful, the Burst itself will end.

It’s still a lot to take in, but thanks to Shinoyama and Shiraishi backing Yuuya up, Sagami agrees to keep going as per the terms of their contract, with the caveat that should he find out Yuuya is lying about anything else, he won’t hesitate to personally kill Yuuya and Aiko to protect his team from undue danger.

It’s the “undue danger” part I’ve always been a bit fuzzy with. AICO‘s overarching antagonist—the Matter—is so diverse in form and behavior and so overpowered that it’s been an exercise in suspended belief to watch the Diver team weave through and neutralize it so efficiently.

I get that they’re good at their jobs, but this week alone we have a gigantic human-form Matter that’s literally stories in height, and Sagami & Co. firing what amounts to pea-shooters at it. There’s a distinct disconnect between the scale and ability of the foe and the Divers’ ability to survive at all in the Area, let alone get as far as they’ve gotten.

Mind you, things have only seemed too easy up to this point. In this episode, the team finally suffers two major casualties, just when it was starting to feel absurd that they hadn’t yet suffered any. What gives the loss of the Beetle, the nearly indestructible mothership around which the whole mission revolves, extra weight is just how damn fast it happens.

A Matter tentacle burrows through the armor, and within the space of a few seconds, things go from just fine to the heavy laser is overloading and the whole damn tank exploding, with Aiko, Yuuya, and Shiraishi getting out at the very last moment. And they’re not outside long before the Matter starts coming after them.

This results in the next major casualty, and the first human one: Shinoyama, who sacrifices himself to allow not only Aiko and Yuuya, but his lover Shiraishi to live and keep going. It’s a tough loss because the team was already very light on people who believed in Yuuya’s vision of the mission, and his loss only aids the skeptics’ belief they’re way in over their heads (which again, I don’t know how they haven’t known this for days, but fine).

What of Aiko? Well while she’s certainly hamstrung by the fact that she feels pain after any attack on the Matter, and the larger the Matter, the more intense the pain. But when the Matter keeps coming and Shiraishi and Yuuya are occupied, Aiko picks up a gun and a grenade launcher and starts firing. It’s a welcome badass moment for a character who’d been squirming in pain for most of the episode.

While this episode distinguished itself with some of the series’ best battle action and upped the stakes with heavy losses in equipment and manpower, it also saved a nifty little revelation for last: Kanzaki Yuuya is an artificial body like Aiko, with the brain of none other than Toshihide Yura. It explains why he’s fine in the Area without a suit, and why he knows so much about Aiko, is so protective of her, and also sometimes treats her like an object.

While this was wasn’t the biggest surprise in the world—no doubt many saw this coming many episodes ago—I for one was too distracted by other things to ponder who/what Yuuya was. But now it’s official: Yuuya is Yura, which means the Burst was his fault. This is a quest to correct his mistakes, and he’s not turning back.

That’s up to Sagami, who is ready to kill Yuuya and Aiko as promised but holds his fire when Yuuya turns around to reveal he’s actually shedding tears for Shinoyama. Mind you, Sagami and the Divers don’t know who he really is (at least not yet), but Isazu does, and he wants his hands on that tech to save Yuzuha, whose brain waves continue to react in sync with Matter activity.