Tokyo 24th Ward – 06 – A Sacrifice Too Far

RGB’s latest mission fails utterly as a collaborative effort, with Ran and Kouki going off in their own directions while Shuuta parkours aimlessly around a cruise ship. It ends with Kunai being shot to death and Kouki about to bring Ran in for questioning before he’s rescued by his DoRed buddies, whom he tells how Kunai was set up by the bigwigs.

Kouki is convinced there was no outcome in which Kunai could be saved, but in any case feels like there’s far too many similarities between Aumi’s visions and Hazard Cast, to the point that he directly tells his dad, in earshot of his assistants, that his dead sister has been calling him asking to guide the future. His dad tells him not to dwell on the past.

No sooner does he say this than a ghost appears on the news—a video recording Kunai made in the eventuality of his death or capture. He reveals his role in developing the Di-Va app meant to help people that the powers that be acquired and corrupted into a virtual drug with the explicit purpose of making Shantytown enough of a mess so as to make it a target for development.

He ends his message by making it clear that DoRed, to which he belonged, had no role in his actitivites; he acted alone, and wants everyone who doesn’t want to be crushed under the heel of The Man to support DoRed in any way they can. DoRed will need all the help they can get, as Kouki’s dad takes him to the top-secret area of the Information Center we’ve been seeing in fits and spurts.

Shuuta, out of the loop as usual but armed with bags of bread crusts, reaches out first to Ran, who is convinced Kouki will sell him and DoRed out, and then Kouki at the ruins of the old school (about to be demolished). The crusts remind Kouki of old and simpler times, and his first interaction with Ran, which was to catch him for stealing apples (Asumi spotted he crime first, but didn’t rat Ran out).

When Kouki meets the kids Ran was trying to feed with the apples, he questions whether he did the right thing. His mother Kanae assures him he did, but the world isn’t perfect, and sometimes some rules have to bent or broken to do the truly right thing. All anyone can do is keep thinking about what is right together.

Kouki’s dad has determined that the right thing to do is to create a system even more invasive than Hazard Cast, which he unveils to the Ward on TV as the KANAE system, named after his wife (who would have surely had many problems with it). Basically a PreCrime system, Shuuta is right to hesitate to update his phone to the preliminary version, even as others around him quickly make the choice that one tap of their phone is a small price to pay for enhanced safety and security

Obviously, they won’t know the real cost until it bites them in the collective ass. And then there’s the CPU that makes KANAE function: Asumi’s desecrated corpse and its still functional brain. This development has been teased for a while now, but I’m surprised by how quickly Kouki goes along with his clearly evil father.

So much so, in fact, that I wonder if he’s only going along with it so he can remain in the thick of things, where he can best put a stop to this before it gets out of hand. Then again, he may have made the choice that the sacrifice of his sister’s dignity and the personal freedoms of the Ward are worth the peace and order that will result. If that’s the case, RGB truly is history.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shin no Nakama – 13 (Fin) – Warm Milk with Honey

Last week certainly ended about as distressingly as it could, what with a sword-hypnotized Ruti having just gravely, possibly mortally wounded Tisse and looking for her next target. So I was both surprised and satisfied with Red’s elegant solution: getting Ruti’s sword caught in his butter-soft bronze sword and flinging it away, thus snapping his sister out of it.

Could the solution have been more difficult and drawn out? Absolutely, but more action would have taken time away from the emotional fallout of what had just transpired. Instead, the awakened Ruti sees her only real friend with a gaping wound and can’t do anything about it; her Hero’s Blessing ignoring her call. Thankfully, Theodora has the power to heal Tisse.

Theodora doesn’t ask Ruti or anyone else for forgiveness, because she was doing both what she thought was right and what her own blessing demanded. However, recent events opened her eyes to the cruelty and crushing loneliness of an unwilling Ruti’s Hero Blessing, and she that even if Red hadn’t left, she simply didn’t need a party anymore. I have to concur with everyone else that Theodora would make a better hero, because it’s what she wants.

Turns out Ruti’s new Blessing is called “New Truth”, with a skill called “Ruler” she’s using to suppress the Hero’s Blessing, losing its boons along with its burdens but in the exchange, becoming the ordinary girl with free will to choose her own future. Feeling the cold and sneezing from it is an amazing new experience; Ruti even looks forward to her first cold! I can’t tell you how cute that is, or how lovely it is to see her finally enjoy being able to taste food again.

After so much excitement earlier in her life, she seems to want the same thing as her brother: a slow, quiet life. In her case, that means starting a farm that grows medicinal herbs, thereby not only doing what she wants, but doing it in part to help contribute to Red and Rit’s business. Naturally, Tisse will be by her side the whole way, supporting her, because Tisse is unassailably The Best…as is Mr. Crawly Wawly.

Before heading off with Tisse to find some suitable farmland, Ruti joins the others at Ares’ funeral. It’s to the credit of this mild-mannered and decent series that he doesn’t suffer eternal agony; indeed he is someone to be pitied and not hated, for his plight wasn’t much different from Ruti’s. The fact the First Hero had six swords lends credence to the possibility they were an Asura Demon—with no blessing, which means they were a hero by their own free will.

The episode’s title is “Guide”, referring to Red’s Blessing, which I’d honestly forgotten until it was brought up several times this week. After Gonz and Mido help Red and Rit fix and clean up their shop and home, Rit confesses to often freaking out at night, worried Red won’t be by her side when she wakes up, because he’s the Guide, and one day he may have to guide someone else. Red assures her that won’t happen; that his journey has ended, and that she is his one, only, final destination, because he needs and loves her as much as she does him.

“Really? Then prove it!”, one might ask. Well, they proceed to do just that. After some adorable awkward fumbling attempts at foreplay, Red and Rit disrobe, hop into their big, newly-repaired bed, and make love for the first time. As one would expect of this show, it’s handled gently and tastefully. They even have a bit of profound post-coitus pillow talk, as Red admits his previous journey may be over, but he’s looking forward to a new one with Rit and the family they’ll have in the future.

Such is the narrative efficiency of this episode (without feeling rushed at all like a couple of previous episodes), we still have time for Red to take Ruti on a tour of Zoltan’s sights, sounds, and tastes. Thanks to New Truth she’s able to experience so much that feels like the first time, and is simply grateful she can be with her brother like old times…and sleep! Red promises he’ll always be there for her.

This leads to a potentially cliché scene where Ruti sits down next to Red at the shop (because she’s tired…and appreciates how good it feels to sit down when you’re tired!) and gloms onto her dear brother. Rit, suddenly jealous, proceeds to grab Red’s other arm. The two glare and growl at each other…and then break into laughter, all while a bemused Tisse watches.

Suddenly, the guild girl arrives at the shop to report an emergency: some demons have captured the adventurers sent to deal with them. She doesn’t need the Hero, just a hero, which Ruti proves she is regardless of Blessing when she picks up her sword and goes with the guild girl…because it’s what she wants to do.

This was pretty much a pitch perfect finale and the perfect way to end the series: by giving me what brought me to keep watching in the first place: a warm, cozy, almost iyashikei atmosphere to an isekai setting. I now appreciate the more action and plot-oriented penultimate episodes more knowing they were meant to make us long for the slow life, just like Red, Rit, Ruti, Tisse, and Mr. Crawly Wawly.

If they make another season of this mug of warm milk with honey in anime form, I’ll watch it in a slow heartbeat. The post-credit scene with Yarandrala and Godwin hints that that’s the plan.

Shin no Nakama – 12 – Life Comes at You Fast

Even in his twisted current state, Ares believes what he is doing is both right and righteous. He was born to serve the Hero, but to do so, there must be a Hero, and it’s Ruti. He and Shisandan defeat Danan and make it to the chamber deep in the futuristic/ancient ruins where five of the six “Sacred Avenger” blades reside. They only need Ruti to touch one in order for the Hero’s Blessing to take hold once more.

But Shisandan, who like Ares wants nothing more than for Ruti to return to being the Hero, knows that won’t be enough; they’ll have to kill the one thing making Ruti not want to be the Hero most: her brother Gideon/Red. Neither Red, Rit, nor Ruti make it easy, as the three have no intention of letting Ares or Shisandan get their way, but those two find an odd ally in Theodora, who likewise defers to the Almighty’s Will.

A wyvern or two show up in the ensuing battle, and a magically-chained Rit rejects Theodora’s strict dogma that places so heavy a burden on unwilling shoulders. Ares, becoming more undone by the minute, conjures a giant iron cube that sends Red and Rit flying down the elevator shaft to their deaths, causing the biggest emotional outburst from Ruti yet.

Danan, who has recovered from his fight with Shisandan and Ares, uses “Rising Dragon’s Roar” to halt their fall and fly them back up to where Ares is. Ares, meanwhile, turns his attention to Tisse, and even squashes Mr. Crawly Wawly! Fortunately he’s fine, and he manages to clandestinely bind Ares’ hands with his spider silk, allowing Red to chop off his hands and deliver a near-fatal blow to his former comrade.

Ruti and Shisandan, who at some point fell down a level or two, continue to battle each other. The angrier Ruti gets, the more powerful she becomes, until she wrests one of Shisandan’s swords from him, slices him to bits, and beheads him. The animation and lighting here really bring the scene to life and lend it an epic quality.

Of course, it wasn’t Shisandan’s intention to win a fight against Ruti, but to get her to touch one of the Sacred Avenger blades. She does so, and almost immediately, it re-takes a hold over her mind and stifles both emotion and free will. After watching a Ruti enjoy her independence, it’s a gut-wrenching moment seeing it all snatched away in an instant.

Things get even worse when she ascends to where Red and Rit are, he greets her warmly, and without warning she lunges at him, sword drawn. It’s only thanks to Show MVP Tisse Garland (never thought I’d write that!) putting herself between Ruti and Red that he’s not killed right then and there. But things don’t look good for Tisse, while nobody who tried to wrest Ruti from her blessing is safe now that she’s been re-brainwashed by the sword.

This is all very intense and dramatic and I’m not sure how our happy couple (or poor Tisse!) is going to get out of it alive, let alone content to return to their slow life. There’s only one more episode to sort it all out.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

RikeKoi – 05 – Experiments in Tedium

Meetings tend to be boring, and the first meeting we witness of the researchers and their professor, Ikeda, is no different. For one thing, Ikeda’s frequent “muscling up” routine isn’t particularly compelling.

For another, in reporting the results of their experimentation thus far to their professor, Himuro and Yukimura don’t add anything new for us, the audience. It feels like a recap, with further romantic progress halted so a heretofore unseen character can get brought up to speed.

Ikeda is intrigued by the research, but suggests that his students branch out to other subjects in order to amass more useful and accurate data. This is interpreted as branching out to the lab as a whole, which is only six people, only one of whom is remotely “normal” (Kanade).

The resulting experiments, in which Yukimura and Kanade share a straw (which is blocked by Himuro) and Ibarada and Inukai (childhood friends who know each other extremely well) have a competition to see who can raise the other’s heart rate the most, carry little scientific or comedic value. Frankly, the whole exercise felt like a drag.

RikeKoi is starting reveal the overarching flaw in its premise: Not whether two scientists can determine through science whether they love each other, but whether they should, and if that results in worthwhile entertainment. In the case of this episode, the answer is a firm “yah, no.”

Assassins Pride – 09 – Wedding Crashers

The Shangarta mini-arc felt more over-stuffed and rushed than any previous Assassins Pride storyline, but it at least managed to bring Melida and Kufa still closer together and answer some questions about his and Rosetti’s past.

There’s a lot to get through here. It’s a dense episode. We start with Melida seeing Kufa in his half-lacanthrope, vampiric form. He immediately prepares to wipe all her memories of him, resetting their relationship to “nice to meet you” status.

To his credit, he lets Melida make the final choice to not wipe the memories, as she’ll gladly take his secret to her grave. Even if Kufa believes there’s no one in the world who would ever accept him, Melida is that someone, and is even able to kiss him without a hint of embarrassment him to prove it.

Kufa takes us back to when he was a child at the Pricket residence, and we learn Rosetti was his adoptive sister, and Blossom his adoptive dad. A giant spider-mage attacks the place and makes Kufa bite Rosetti, turning her into vampire kin.

He helps a man who has come to slay the spider, and swears his loyalty to him in exchange for letting Rosetti live a normal life as a human, which Kufa makes possible by wiping her memories.

Back in the present, Melida has a wedding to stop—the one between Rosetti and her betrothed. Melida snaps Rosetti out of her trance by bringing up the fact that the two of them still have a competition for Kufa’s heart—and Melida’s already kissed him…twice.

The Rosetti we know snaps out of it and spars with Melida. In the process, some of Melida’s magical flames graze Blossom, on whose head a tiny spider was lurking. It transforms into Naqua, the spider-baddie who forced Kufa to turn Rosetti years ago, and most recently forced Rosetti to commit the assaults.

Once Rosetti remembers all the awful stuff Naqua made her do, she chases him down, but he quickly overpowers her. That’s where Kufa comes in, activating Rosetti’s vamp side so they can fight together. They lure Naqua into a mystery spot, paralyzing him, and turn him into dust, which is then dealt with by the other students and instructors.

After the fight, Kufa, who must abide by the promise he made to his guild, suppresses Rosetti’s memories of him—going back to when they were brother and sister—once more. Like Melida, she pleads with him not to do it.

I know Kufa made a promise and his guild would probably kill him and Melida and Rosetti when they found out, but it’s still a raw deal for Rosetti. I mean, Kufa gets to walk around simply hiding his true nature but with all his memories intact…why not let Rosetti have those same rights?

Then, in a final scene with his adoptive father Blossom, Kufa gives him a potion that will restore his wife’s humanity, which begs the question: if such a potion exists, why didn’t Kufa use it on Rosetti? I guess; the wife hadn’t completely changed yet, while Rosetti had.

In any case, on the train back to Flandore, Rosetti is back to her usual self: jealous of Melida and having no memory of who Kufa really is, just a vague inkling that someone she was close to long ago is out there, somewhere, and she’s intent on becoming famous enough that he’ll seek her out.

Like I said…that was a lot of plot boxes to check off in short order, but rather than come away dizzy and confused, I found it to be a pretty satisfying episode. Kufa and Melida’s bond keeps growing deeper and deeper, while there was an obvious bittersweet-ness to how things turned out for Rosetti.

 

No Guns Life – 04 – Spiders Are People Too

This week the sprawling gritty cyberpunk world of NGL shrinks considerably to a small area in the labyrinthine Kyusei pit where Tetsuro (via Juuzou’s body) is locked in a standoff with Cunningham, Anne, and Spider-Ende. Being trapped in this spot for a half episode gets increasingly claustrophobic, but also tedious. It actually felt more like an episode of a shounen anime…just not a particularly good one.

The bad guy spends a lot of time jabbering, Tetsuro’s inflexible morality is decried as selfish arrogance by Anne, poor Ende occasionally makes a peep, rinse repeat. But eventually something does happen, when Cunningham puts shoots Ende with a drug that puts her into a comatose state, such that there’s nothing keeping the spider part of her from going completely berserk.

Monster-Ende sends Anne flying, and while Tetsuro manages to somewhat cushion her impact with the wall, Juuzou’s body ain’t exactly soft, and she seemingly dies of her injuries just after telling Tetsuro to “save Ende in her place”. His connection with Juuzou’s body severed, all Tetsuro can do is use his Harmony, but he’s in luck: Juuzou comes to, and gets Tetsuro out of there.

From there, things get more interesting, as the episode is finally moving again. Monster-Ende’s relentless pursuit is particularly well done—not to mention very appropriate for Halloween. Once Juuzou and Tetsuro (and some poor bystander) are trapped in an elevator and Ende’s tearing apart its ceiling, Juuzou has no choice but to let Tetsuro fire the big gun that is his head.

That does the trick—Ende’s humanity is momentarily restored before she dies in the gun blast, and she seems to smile in gratitude that she’s finally freed of her constant torture. Only, as we learn later when Juuzou and Tetsuro are vacating the Kyusei Pit, Ende didn’t die…and neither did Anne. They’re both fine in Mary’s care.

When things started going badly for the two girls, I wondered why they featured so prominently in the OP—even appearing as a Polaroid on Juuzou’s bulletin board—if they were just going to kill them off here. It felt like a waste, so I’m glad they’re still alive. But that they are, and it’s announced quite suddenly in a new scene, sapped much of the drama and tragedy at the heart of the episode.

I’m also not sure what to make of Juuzou possibly being able to wrest control of his body back from Tetsuro, even though he said when he woke up that while he was conscious, he was just a “passenger.” There were definitely times when it made no sense to give him free rein, especially when it came to his overarching job of protecting Tetsuro.

So yeah, this wasn’t the best NGL, but it did still manage raise the stakes for Juuzou and Tetsuro. As we said, Juuzou isn’t welcome in the Kyusei Pit anymore, while Tetsuro’s status has evolved from “prey” to “enemy” of Berühren. Not to mention when Juuzou fired his gun, a woman with blue hair and lips took notice. She definitely looked like she meant business.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 24 (Fin) – Bigger Fish to Fry

It’s all down to Kirito vs. Administrator now, and their climactic swordfight doesn’t disappoint. Despite having really long hair and only one arm, Administrator is no slouch in the swordsmanship department. She knows all the Aincrad-style moves Kirito showed Eugeo, plus a few that even Kirito doesn’t know about, and seems to revel in the opportunity to teach an insolent cur from the outside world an abject lesson in submitting to his betters.

Kirito looks like he’s just barely hanging on while Administrator is content to draw out his suffering, but Eugeo, barely hanging onto life, reaches out to Kirito, and they have a little tête-à-tête in which Kirito finally recalls the memories he lost of growing up in Rulid Village with Eugeo and Alice. Eugeo tanks Kirito for his friendship, brotherhood, and love these past few years, then bestows upon him the Blue Rose Sword, which becomes the Red Rose Sword in Kirito’s hand.

Now dual-wielding against a one-armed opponent, Kirito would seem to have the upper hand, but it ends up yet another draw, as in exchange for the increasingly crazed Administrator’s last remaining arm, Kirito loses his right one, while Admin reveals her hair is prehensile and can be used to restrain and strangle Kirito, which she does.

Administrator can’t get over how much insolence she has to contend with in this fight, but as Eugeo says, Kirito is going to keep standing up and dusting himself up as many times as it takes. He manages to cut through Admin’s hair, then delivers a strike to her core that does irreparable damage, forcing her to access a console and beam herself out of there.

Before she gets away, promising she’ll be seeing Kirito again in the real world, a naked, burning Chudelkin jumps onto her, seeking her loving embrace, resulting in a huge fiery explosion. Quite the ignominious end for the ruler of the Underworld…though it’s probably not a true end.

With Admin out of Kirito’s hair, he tries to tend to Eugeo, but it’s way too late for anything other than a tearful goodbye, with Eugeo relaying what he now understands about love being something you give, not something you seek. Both a younger Eugeo and a younger Alice appear in Kirito’s head to announce that while their paths may soon separate, their memories of one another will remain forever.

Just after Eugeo passes away, Kirito gets an “external observer call” from Rath: it’s Colonel Kikuoka and Higa. The control room is under assault, either from the military or some other power that wants their hands on the STL tech. They give Kirito instructions to deliver Alice to some place called the “World’s End Altar”, presumably to complete the process of bringing Kirito back to the real world with his brain in one piece. Asuna is also mentioned. But Kikuoka’s foes have other plans.

They seek to sever the main power line, which will cause a surge that could fry Kirito’s fluctlight, killing him before he can be safely extracted from the Underworld. The line is severed, the surge occurs, and Kirito experiences something akin to a lightning strike, inside of which a blurry image of Asuna from above, fitted out in her SAO regalia. Whether it’s Kirito’s memory or Asuna entering the “game” for the first time, I’ll have to wait until October to find out, when the Alicization saga continues with War of Underworld.

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.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 22 – Boy From The Other Side

Chudelkin and his fire demon don’t last long, thanks to Alice distracting the latter with her flowers while Kirito skewers the former—a sitting-duck—while also briefly donning his black suit from SAO. Administrator doesn’t lift a finger to help her loyal Senator. It was up to him to beat the rebels, and he failed. She has no further use for him.

Kirito’s momentary change of clothing proves something to Administrator she’d suspected something was up with him beyong his “unregistered unit” status. Now she knows, and he confirms, that he’s really a human “from the other side.”

When Alice gets to have her say, she ask her former Pontifex why she couldn’t trust the loyalty of her knights without tearing them away from their families and wiping their memories. But everything Administrator—what Quinella—has done thus far offers the only answer Alice needs, even if she doesn’t like it: Quinella doesn’t care about anyone but Quinella.

She doesn’t care about the freedom and happiness of her people. She doesn’t care about her knights beyond their loyalty and ability to defeat her remaining enemies. If they ever start to voice concerns, as Bercouli, Fanatio, and now Alice have done, she’ll simply re-synthesize them, wiping away that much more of their original selves that had managed to surface.

Things get more intriguing when Kirito questions the value of having absolute control over one world when the human creators of that world who dwell on the other side have ultimate authority, able to erase everyone and everything with the tap of a key.

Quinella puts it to Kirito: Does HE only live to please his higher authorities, those who created the human world, out of fear they’ll reset it? She won’t pander to those “gods of creation.” She won’t kneel, beg, or grovel. If they want to punish her by eliminating her existence, FINE.

Until then, she’ll keep perfecting herself and remaking the world she rules as she likes, and that means eliminating threats to her control. To that end, she uses a Release Recollection spell and uses Perfect Weapon Control to merge thirty individual weapons into one extremely dangerous-looking sword golem.

Within a minute, both Alice and Kirito are lying in pools of their own blood; their strikes parried and countered with vicious, one-strike critical hits. Eugeo prepares a final stand, but Charlotte pops out of Kirito’s coat, blows up to enormous size, and gives Eugeo the few moments he needs to thrust the dagger into a floating platform.

The dagger activates a column of light; within that light a door appears, and through that door walks Cardinal, sending the sword golem flying with a quick burst of offensive energy. She quickly heals Alice and Kirito, who introduces her as a friend. Charlotte, unfortunately, can’t be revived, and Cardinal takes a moment to mourn her trusty aide, before turning her gaze at the “hollow fool,” Administrator.

Hollow though she may be, her philosophy of validating her existence through total control (rather than through meaningful, equitable relationships with others) comes through as a tragic flaw in her character. She’s lived so long amassing so much power, the only part of her left that’s human is the worst part; the part devalues and forsakes all the other souls in her world—and it’s looking increasingly likely that will be her undoing. Quinella may be our arch-villain, but I still sympathize with how her life turned out.

I daresay this episode did a better job fleshing her out than her flashback ep, since this was all about who she is today, in person, and not who she was from Cardinal’s perspective. I like how her awareness of the human world gives her a chip on her shoulder and innate drive to disobey, and I’d wonder what else she has up her sleeve…if only she had sleeves.

SSSS.Gridman – 12 (Fin) – Power of the Finite

“Anyone who can make kaiju is a kaiju themselves,” says Alexis Kerib, after transforming Akane herself into an enormous monster that wails out a terrible lament as it destroys what’s left of the city. Still temporary allies, Gridman (dwelling in Yuuta) asks Anti to deal with the Akane-kaiju, as he and Rikka have something else they need to do.

Akane isn’t feeling particularly good about herself, which is probably what enables Alexis to transform her and control her so easily: he thrives in the corruption of the heart, in hatred, disgust, and aloofness. He chortles when Rikka calls Akane “her friend” not because Rikka is only Akane’s programmed creation, but because he doesn’t believe there even is such a thing as friends.

Right on cue, Rikka’s friend Yuuta-Gridman picks her up in Sky Vitter (to Alexis’ bemusement), and they return to the hospital to snap Shou out of his funk. Regardless of how useless or normal he thinks he is, Yuuta tells him that Junk needs everyone there to work. The Gridman Alliance is more than just a cool nickname for their little circle, it’s the key to unlocking Gridman’s full power.

Anti succeeds in freeing Akane from her kaiju prison (which seemed to be filled with some kind of clear LCL), but Akane wonders why he bothered with someone as terrible as her. Anti fully owns his “failed creation,” since the fact he failed meant he’s more than just a kaiju, but a human.

Alexis makes no distinction between kaiju and human, or anything else, since to him it’s all below him. Because Akane is still in a bad state, he exploits her negative emotions and literally consumes her to become a kind of “Alexisman”—but the Alliance are back at the Junk Shop, and when they activate the new acceptors that appear on their wrists, a new, final form of Gridman appears: less armored and more like, well, a giant guy in a suit.

This new Gridman fights Alexis in order to free Akane once more, and has some success…until the halved Alexis simply auto-repairs. He is immortal and infinite, so however many times Gridman tries to destroy him, he will just keep coming back forever. Since Alexis has everything “of value” in Akane’s world—that is, Akane herself—he decides to head back to his realm…after killing Gridman.

But before he can skedaddle or kill Gridman, Gridman discovers a new power, and possibly his most important: The pink Grid Fixer Beam, which repairs not only the city Akane created and then destroyed, but succeeds in rescuing Akane’s heart from Alexis’ clutches. The Fixer Beam basically deletes him from the world.

Finally, free, Akane worries about what comes next. “A big world’s too much for me!” she laments, because she’s such a weak, pathetic coward. Rikka, Yuuta, and Shou tell her that no one’s perfect, which is why they—which is why everyone—relies on others.

Her world afforded her godhood and a kind of immortality, but it’s run it’s course, and now it’s time to return to the world of mortality and the finite. Akane’s grateful to Rikka for saving her, but also wracked with guilt over the things she’s done that cannot be undone with any Fixer Beam.

Rikka tells her not to sweat it, and gives her the gift of a wallet that matches her own (and also happens to be the same color as Akane’s hair). Rikka wants Akane to stay in the world and be together with her, but tells Akane not to let that wish come true. No one can force Akane to leave; she has to want to do it; to return to her real life.

With that, Akane disappears from Rikka’s side. Gridman & Co. say their goodbyes to Rikka and Shou before returning to the Hyper World, and not long after that Yuuta wakes up in the junk shop, the Gridman Alliance now just a friendship of three kids. The puckish humanoid kaiju who once guided Yuuta heals Anti, who is grateful, and now sports both a human and a kaiju eye—his past and present.

Finally, in the real world—as in, a live action world—a girl with long black hair much like Rikka’s slowly wakes up and rises from the bed, the Akane-colored wallet on her dresser. This, it seems, is the Real Akane, who left the world where she was a god (i.e., her dreams) and returned to the world she thought she couldn’t handle.

Now the ending with Rikka and Akane makes more sense: Akane made the purple-haired Akane to be her ideal avatar, and made Rikka, who more closely resembled her real-life self, to love her. Ergo, in her world, she loved herself. But Rikka taught her the power of friendship, and the need to wake up from dreams and not sink into Alexis-like abysses of darkness and despair.

A lot of this might sound corny, but the show expresses these well-worn ideals so earnestly and powerfully, it all comes together and works pretty well, which can be said of the show as a whole. Despite only catching a tiny portion of the references to Gridman and Gridman-esque works, SSSS was never not a pleasure to watch and listen to.

The ending could be said to be too neat and tidy, squandering a universe of potential alternate directions. But at the end of the day the lesson holds: just as friendships have value because we aren’t infinite or immortal beings, an imperfect finite ending will do just fine.

SSSS.Gridman – 11 – Backed Into A Corner

No matter how many kaiju Akane made and Alexis embiggened, they were never able to defeat Gridman. As a god suddenly hemmed in by the intolerable rule that her kaiju will and must always lose, she finally snapped and took matters into her own physical hands.

Rather than use her box cutter to carve a new kaiju, she stabbed Yuuta with it, then wanders away in a haze, hoping that maybe, just maybe, the torturous cycle is over.

It’s not that easy. She missed Yuuta’s vitals, so she didn’t kill him, though he seems to be in some kind of coma. With all the custodian kaiju beheaded, nothing in the city resets, and the chaos just remains. Worse still, as far as Alexis is concerned, nothing’s over.

Lex believes Anti to be the “next Gridman in line” and thus needs Akane to keep creating more kaiju for him to use. When she categorically refuses (pointedly saying she “can’t”, not “won’t”), he simply brings back all the kaiju she already made…at the same time.

A scenario entirely beyond Akane’s control and will thus unfolding, Anti arrives in the hospital room, not to apologize for what he did as a kaiju but to settle his debts as a human. He’ll fight off the kaiju as Gridknight, as Neon Genesis set to work repairing the computer so Yuuta and Gridman wake back up (they can’t sortie without Gridman).

In a brief dream sequence before he wakes up, Yuuta sees Gridman in the mirror, and it dawns on him: He’s not Yuuta; not really. Rather, he’s Gridman dwelling within Yuuta, using his body and mind as a vessel. The matter all along, then wasn’t that Yuuta had amnesia; he was never Yuuta to begin with, and thus whatever memories he had as Yuuta were as repressed as the real Yuuta himself, whom we’ve apparently never even met.

Shou is feeling particularly useless this week, and we can’t really blame him; aside from being the only person with the time to stay by Yuuta’s bedside when he wakes up, he is pretty useless this week. He can’t dissuade Gridman from a course of action that could get his friend killed.

Instead, Yuuta and Neon Genesis mobilize and fight beside a battered Anti against the kaiju “greatest hits,” destroying them all. Alexis can bring back the defeated kaiju all he wants; the fact remains they exist only to be beaten by Gridman.

Meanwhile, Rikka seeks out Akane, not to seek revenge or to give her a piece of her mind, but just to be there for her as a friend. Yes, Rikka may only think she’s Akane’s friend because Akane “set it up” that way, but Rikka doesn’t care; it doesn’t change the fact they are friends, through and through.

Before Rikka can hear what Akane thinks of her, they’re interrupted by Alexis, who labels their conversation “pointless” and tells Akane that new kaiju are needed post-haste. Again Akane tells him she can no longer make kaiju, but Alexis rephrases his position: he’s going to have a new kaiju, even if he has to transform Akane herself…which he promptly does, much to her and Rikka’s bewilderment.

Thus the downward spiral of Akane’s world reaches a new nadir: in which the creator of the world herself prepares to become just another one of the monsters programmed to fight Gridman. This seems to be breaking some fundamental rules of the “game” that’s been played so far, but Alexis doesn’t seem to mind. If Akane really does become another kaiju, isn’t she just as doomed to lose as the ones she created…or is that just another rule poised to be broken?

SSSS.Gridman – 10 – Akane’s in Her Heaven, All’s Wrong with the World

Akane has a dream in which Tonkawa and all of the other people she killed are back, but wakes up in the dark in her room, the weird “ceiling city” in the background, and Alexis looming over her, waiting for her to complete her next kaiju.

Yuuta, Rikka, Shou, and Neon Genesis all determine that if Akane is being controlled by an alien, they have to at least go to her house to talk with her. Somewhat hilariously, that means simply walking out the door to the junk stop and going next door to Akane’s house, but when the door is forced open, there’s nothing on the other end but…more “back-end” city.

Writing the slogan of NERV from Eva in his notebook, Shou gets back to his studies, saying that even if he, his world, and everything in it was made by Akane, there are still things that need to be done, like studying for midterm exams. After all, there are no kaiju attacks for several days in a row.

Yuuta, Rikka, and Gridman muse about why Akane built this world: was it to find tranquility, or refuge from the world of the other gods? Rikka thinks it wasn’t because Akane was/is weak, merely that she’s sensitive, and as she says so, the very sunset she beholds seems to speak to that sensitivity.

When a frankly fucked-up-looking kaiju suddenly disturbs the peace, I was wondering if Alexis had simply used one of the incomplete kaiju models Akane didn’t seem motivated to finish.

It certainly doesn’t take much for a full-powered Gridman to take it down, while a determined Anti in kaiju form doesn’t give him much more of a fight. Later, we learn that unique to all the other kaiju she’s created, Anti alone has “life”, which makes it possible for him to read the hearts of others, even think about or look out for them, something true kaiju would never do.

But Akane doesn’t seem to have a use for a kaiju with feelings, and so basically tells him to buzz off and do whatever he wants. Later that night, out of the husk of the dead weak kaiju, another, more aggressive-looking kaiju emerges.

It proceeds to chop the heads off all of the massive “custodian kaiju” that dot the city, and the pall of fog/poison gas they emit is lifted. When Gridman sorties once more, this new kaiju is more than a match, he can read all of Gridman’s moves and outmaneuver and outgun him.

It isn’t until this pointy-headed monster is looming over a trashed Gridman flat on his back, surrounded by flames, that Anti springs back into action, this time saving Gridman from the kaiju. His logic is that in order to crush him, he must fight together with him to defeat that which would crush him first. He doesn’t just want Gridman crushed by anyonehe wants to be the one do it.

Anti then transforms into a Gridman clone, or “Gridknight”, and with a shimmering purple energy donut, cleaves the kaiju—which represent’s Akane’s heart—in two. Perhaps that’s why Akane seems so down when she appears in the Junk Shop and inspects the computer used to interface with Gridman: one could say Anti just “broke her heart”.

In return, now knowing that Yuuta and Gridman are separate entities, she suddenly embraces Yuuta, then pulls away, revealing a bloodied knife as Yuuta falls to the ground.

For the first time, she’s foregone the use of kaiju or other godly powers and bloodied her own hands to rid her world of someone messing everything up. It would seem, then, that she’s made her choice, even if she doesn’t seem particularly happy about it.

Houseki no Kuni – 07

Phos lies prostrate before the Amethyst twins as Rutile repairs them, but once they’re whole enough to speak, it’s the twins apologizing to Phos: they were overzealous in their efforts to show Phos how badass they are and let their guard down.

Phos doesn’t feel any better about freezing up, and runs off, both to try to outrun the shame, but also because that when circumstances necessitate an immediate retreat, Phos has to be able to do it. Phos’ legs lead to Cinnabar, whom Phos still doesn’t feel right speak to quite yet.

Phos’ state of incomplete development comes at a bad time for them; Winter has come, and with it the time when all gems hibernate until Spring—and sufficient sunlight for them to function—returns.

The only two who normally stay awake while the others sleep are Master Kongou, and the heretofore-unseen Antarcticite, voiced by Ise Mariya.

Antarcticite was unseen because they only become solid when the temperatures drop enough; when it’s warm, Antarcticite occupies a vat in their room, in a liquid state. “Antarc” also has a particular like of Kongou, and cherishes the time when they patrol together.

Then, while the two are hugging, Phos emerges from behind a wall. Unable to sleep, Phos requests to be allowed to stay up and train up in these harsher-than-usual conditions rather than waste them hibernating. Kongou agrees and partners Antarc with Phos.

Antarc is initially quite annoyed by this decision, but only because they remember Phos of yore, not the present Phos, willing and able to grow. When Phos tells Antarc of the desire to become better and more useful, Antarc takes a more patient tack.

Phos is particularly sluggish in the dim winter chill, but toughs it out until the two reach their destination: a field of eerily gorgeous and hazardous ice floes that let out blood-curdling screeches when grinding together.

Like Amethyst, Antarc is quick to demonstrate their duty to Phos: cleaving the surfacing ice floes with a saw in order to stop them from disturbing the hibernating Gems. Watching Antarc spring into action, balance a high heel atop the ice, then unleash a massive blow, is really something to behold.

The spectacle, and the utterly pristine whites, blues, purples and aquas of the frigid winterscape lend this episode a unique beauty, backed up by some of the most conspicuously excellent music of the show.

I’ve always liked “ice levels” as a kind of aesthetic palate-cleanser. Winter turns the Land of the Lustrous into another world, and it’s a glorious thing to see and hear. The stark beauty is nicely complemented and warmed up by the understated Phos-Antarc buddy comedy.

Antarc shows Phos all of the various duties they must perform; some menial, others herculean, and others downright weird, like making sure to put down the sleepwalking gems—and, occasionally, cover Master Kongou when he smashes into a wall—with blankets. Phos simply tries to keep up, but it’s a lot of work and has to be done with a minimum of energy due to the low sun.

Then, just as Phos is wondering whether they bit off more than they can chew and ponders the hopelessness of achieving their goals, the ice floes seem to call out, echoing the anxieties in Phos’ head. Kongou warns Phos to ignore the voices, giving Phos yet another challenge to overcome among all the others.

It ultimately proves too much. While out on patrol, Phos considers sawing off both arms so that they be replaced with a stronger ones, as Phos’ legs were. Phos stops themselves, but slips and falls into a frigid pool. Antarc pulls Phos out, but Phos is missing both forearms—and if they can’t be retrieved, many more memories.

Antarc has been shown to be proficient in making minor repairs, but this is a job for Rutile, who is hibernating. So yeah, we close another episode with Phos’ existence at another crossroads. Here I thought Phos would find a way to attach saws to their legs and use them to cleave the floes; now I just hope the Phos I know and love can get out of yet another spot.

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