Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 16 – It’s About Family

It’s About Family—It’s a line that became a meme when the late Carrie Fisher used it to describe her journey in the Star Wars saga, and often used mockingly or in jest. I decided to use it here without cynicism, because it fits quite well. Family isn’t just about blood, but shared time and experiences, and being changed by that proximity.

After six singularities and change, Fujimaru and Mash are the brother/sister-esque duo (see also: Valerian and Laureline) responsible for saving the human race, aided by Big Bro Romani and Big Sis da Vinci. Servant “cousins” from far and wide have joined their fight, each with their own unique bond with Ritsuka. As for Gilgamesh? Well, he’s everyone’s Daddy, naturally.

This ragtag fam is up against another kind of family entirely: neither of blood nor circumstance, but mud—the primordial kind. Kingu was the proud firstborn of Mother Tiamat, but as he finds himself stabbed through the heart by a chaotic, impudent younger sibling, he probably longs for the days he was an only child.

The Lahmu who stabs him ends up extracting the Holy Grail, which was Kingu’s heart all along. It uses the Grail’s power to instantly evolve and gain wings with which to fly back to Mother, deliver the grail, and seal humanity’s doom. It’s all Ishtar can do to keep up with it with Maana, and Quetzelcoatl summons her Pterodactyls to join the chase. Neither make much progress slowing the Lahmu down.

Kingu, despite missing his grail-heart, attempts to flee his traitorous, sadistic sibings, who relish hunting him down and laughing at his inferiority and obsolescence. They eventually corner him in the woods, but just as one of them is about to kill him, it is killed instead by one of its own.

Siduri, as it happens, was part of the group chasing him, and decided the time was right to make her move. While she kills the other Lahmu, she suffers a mortal wound herself. Before she turns to dust, she thanks Kingu—referring to him as  Enkidu—for all the good times they had together and with Gilgamesh, and begs him to seek a life of happiness.

Gilgamesh and Siduri were a family Enkidu forgot when Mother used his body as the basis for Kingu. With the grail gone and Siduri managing to resist Tiamat’s authority, the memories come rushing back, and even though he doesn’t consider himself Enkidu, tears stream from his cheeks, mourning the twisting of his once happy family in Uruk.

Thanks to some persistence and teamwork, Kuku and Ishtar manage to ground the flying Lahmu, only for it to vanish without a trace. In its place, the long-awaited DARK USHIWAKAMARU emerges from the sea with one goal: to kill them all for abandoning her to wallow in hell. To his credit, Ritsuka doesn’t waver, and delivers the order to defeat the black sheep of the family.

Kuku jumps at the chance to cross swords with Dark Ushi, but can’t quite take her on alone. When Ishtar fires her last bullet before running out of magical energy, Kuku tag-teams with Mash, in one of the better-animated and most exciting lightning fast hand-to-hand battles in a show packed with ’em. I wouldn’t be surprised if F/GO took a week off in order to make sure scenes like this were done right…and they were.

With so much time passing between Good Ushiwaka’s fall and now, and all the buildup in between and speculation about when she’d return, it was going to be tough to give her the sendoff she deserved. Don’t get me wrong, it’s super-terrifying when she starts laughing maniacally (Hayami Saori’s performance turns wonderfully dark too) and suddenly multiplies into an army of dark Ushiwakas.

Mostly it’s just good to see her again, even if not under the best circumstances. But she’s gone almost as soon as she arrives, as Ishtar uses Ritsuka to recharge her energy stores and blasts all of the Ushiwakas into oblivion.

While I was pretty sure she wouldn’t be coming back around to the good side, I’m a little miffed she didn’t get the same sendoff as, say, Siduri or Merlin…or Ana. Instead, she dies gloating that her mission to act as a diversion was a success. While Ritsuka’s party was fighting her, the flying Lahmu arrived and delivered the grail to Tiamat, a huge setback.

Look at that, a cheeky Star Wars reference from the King of Heroes. Having both analyzed the primordial mud and invented a holo-imager, Papa Gil reports his findings to the team, and it’s not good: the parts of the sea now blackened by Tiamat contain her authority, and sea levels are rising. They threaten to flood humanity’s one and only bastion of civilization, and the forces of Uruk will only hold out another hour or so against the Lahmu.

With Game Over so close, the team’s only play is to head to the Spirit Origin signature in the Persion Gulf that is sporting magical energy of over seven Holy Grails. Ritsuka, Mash, Ishtar, and Kuku will have to be enough, barring the return of Ereshkigal…or a change of alliance by Kingu. Mother Tiamat is waiting in the middle of the gulf, butterfly eyes and all. Which family will win out?

P.S. Driving that family theme home, as well as adding to the special nature of this episode, is a new ending sequence featuring beautifully-rendered snapshots of Enkidu, Siduri, and Gilgamesh during happier days in Uruk, set to a soulful new song by milet, who has one hell of a voice.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 15 – Careful What You Wish For

Thanks to Ana’s immortality-nullifying Harpe, Gorgon/Tiamat is defeated in the episode’s first five minutes, which should have been the herald of good news, were this the final or penultimate episode. Of course, with a whole half-cour remaining in F/GO: ADF-B, the humanity and it’s heroes climb out of one hole only to find themselves at the very bottom of an even larger one.

Depsite Ana’s sacrifice, Gorgon did not possess the grail required to collapse the seventh Singularity and end the war. Kingu still has the grail, and was planning on killing Gorgon all along in order to awaken the real Tiamat, which Merlin calls an “Evil of Humanity” before vanishing after a massive “spacetime quake.” That’s right, Ritsuka, Mash & Co. will have to fight the true boss without Ana or Merlin. Bummer.

The real Tiamat doesn’t awaken immediately (though we do catch her seemingly yawning), but from the epicenter of the quake, an impossible force of 100 million beasts emerge, and thousands of them are already attacking Uruk by the time the heroes get back there. These creatures are apparently the species that will serve as the “New Humanity,” and they’re effectively fearsome, offputting, and implacable.

Those attacking the city suddenly withdraw without explanation, enabling Ritsuka’s party to meet with Gilgamesh. He has no orders for his people but to either fight and die in Uruk now or flee north, and perhaps live a bit longer.

When Ritsuka notices Siduri is missing and hears what happened, he demands to be given leave to rescue her in Eridu, where she was taken by the demented monsters Romani names lahmu. What seemed like an opportunity to raise some spirits in Gilgamesh’s court by rescuing his beloved scribe turns sour almost immediately…this episode is merciless in the crap it throws at the heroes.

Siduri has already been transformed into a lahmu, who are totally indescriminate in their torture, mind-manipulation, maiming and killing of “old” humans. Kingu stops this chaos, disgusted by the behavior of his “siblings” but determined to lead them and whip them into shape. For his trouble, he’s stabbed in the back by a lahmu, who sadistically tells him he’s “boring”.

Allies and villains are dropping like flies, replaced by ever more unreasonably monstrous foes. How Ritsuka is going to be able to salvage this situation short two servants is beyond me. And, as always since her capture, Ushiwakamaru remains an unseen, heartbreaking threat

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 03 – When Their Journey is Over

It’s clear Golem has been made more human by having Somali around. Heck, he only got her near the very end of his millenium-long life, meaning he’s already been bestowed the limited mortality of a human. He’s been good at keeping her safe and her true identity hidden, but he still has a long way to go when it comes to maintaining her emotional welfare.

This is evidenced by the sudden speed and urgency of their journey, which leads to the gorgeous, fantastical Anthole City. Golem learns the meager loot he carries fetches only a modest price. To keep Somali fed and to gather the supplies needed to continue the journey, he needs more money.

He finds a source when Kokilila, the owner of a cafe, needs a waiter. Golem institutes a strict agreement with Somali: she’s to stay within the cafe, under his supervision, at all times while he’s working. Even with Kokilila’s son Kikila as a fluffy playmate, she gradually grows bored and restless (as does Kikila).

However, for Golem the need to make as much money as possible overrides Somali’s need for recreation stimulation. He knows it’s not ideal for her to be cooped up in the cafe all day, but as he doesn’t trust anyone else to watch her and isn’t certain others will be okay at all with the fact she’s a human, there’s no choice.

Even when Golem isn’t working, his tendency to count his earnings is not lost on Somali either, and absent any explanation for her dad’s haste, she begins to believe he wants to end their journey and part ways with her as soon as possible. Sure, it might well trouble her more to learn he’ll be dead in less than two years, but at least she’d know it wasn’t because he didn’t want her around.

Because that’s what she gleans from his behavior, when Golem finally allows her to join Kikila on a simple errand, Somali grasps onto the city legend about yozame flowers and their ability to grant a wish. That leads the two kids (and fast friends finally sprung from their cafe prison by their guardians) to the city’s majestic but perilous subterranean caverns.

Of course, the moment Somali left Golem’s supervision, a knot formed in my stomach. This early in the show I’m still not sure how far it will stray to the dark side and present situations in which Somali is in true peril (like, say, Abyss, which was merciless to its young characters). We get a slightly clearer picture here, as Somali’s innocent plucking of a flower awakens an toothed eyeball mushroom monster.

She is rescued from said monster not by Golem or Kikila—who let us just say truly failed in his mission to keep her safe—but by a big, gruff, crossbow-wielding wolf-man who may be able to tell she’s a human from her smell. He could even be a member of the clan that originally put her in chains before she got separated and found by Golem.

In any case, Somali is now in serious danger. I just hope Kikila can keep the wolf at bay until Golem can find them.

Astra Lost in Space – 02 – Not Here to Make Space Friends

The Astra lands on the planet Valvrave Vilavurs, a lush planet teeming with flora, fauna, and water to stock up for the twenty-day journey to the next stepping stone in space. Kanata distributes tasks to the crew, but encounters immediate resistance from Quitterie, who doesn’t seem interested in doing anything dangerous. As if being lost in space wasn’t already dangerous…

After encountering a giant dragon-like flying beast with a turtle-like head (hence the name “tur-gon”), most of the crew heads into the forest to forage amongst all manner of alien critter and trampoline tree, while Ulgar and Yunhua, the quietest of the group so far, fill the Astra’s water tanks from a nearby stream.

What had been a jolly good time turns into a nightmare when the singularity reappears, with space staring at them from the other end. This time, however, everyone manages to get away, thanks in part to Aries’ photographic memory…and because the sphere may well have “given up”, if it’s capable of that kind of thought.

Back on the ship, Quitterie reiterates her desire to make friends with precisely no one, then makes it that much harder on herself by telling her sister Funicia she’s not really even her sister, then running off, requiring everyone to head back out to look for her. Zack, her childhood friend, explains that she’s always found it hard dealing with people or making friends since she was basically raised by dutiful servants.

Funi, who was later adopted by Quitterie’s absentee doctor mother (and not welcomed by Quitterie) gets separated and ends up on a trampoline tree as it stretches up vertically towards the setting sun (neat tree, that). This puts her in prime position to be snatched up and eaten by a tur-gon.

To stop that from happening, Kanata takes action when no one else will, finding the tree closest to the cliff and using his decathlete skills to run and jump from tree to tree until he’s close to Funi. Unfortunately, a tur-gon grabs her, but he uses Luca’s javelin to injure it, and it drops Funi harmlessly back to the treetop.

Kanata manages to reach her, but loses his footing and falls backwards over the edge. Like Funi when she was captured, or Aries and Kanata’s troubles in open space last week, this show loves almost killing off members of its large cast, and since I’m still new to this show, it hasn’t yet been clear that it won’t actually follow through and do it for real at some point.

But not this time, as Quitterie makes herself useful and launches a series of parachute plants (also neat, those), one of which catches Kanata, who gently drifts down to solid ground. Quitterie thanks Kanata and apologizes for her behavior thus far, and Kanata’s quick-thinking and heroism cements his role as the consensus captain, with Charce as his second-in-command.

With Kanata now in a place of leadership, his hard work finally paying off, and Quitterie finally being honest about actually wanting friends and family, not to mention everyone having more than their share of delicious tur-gon meat, the crew is sitting pretty after the first completed leg of their 5,000 light year-plus interstellar odyssey.

But Zack informs Kanata of a disturbing discovery he’s made: the communications system was sabotaged…recently. That means it was either done just before they boarded the ship…or there’s a traitor in their midst. Absent any evidence, I suspect Ulgar the most, since he’s so quiet and standoffish, but I’m not sleeping on it being Yunhua, or Charce, or heck, even Zack himself, trying to cast away suspicion on himself by reporting it.

One thing’s for (mostly) sure…it’s not Kanata or Aries. But who ever it is (if it indeed is one of them), the mystery adds a measure of looming peril to what has otherwise been an bloodless quest. The crew has been extremely lucky to survive their trials so far. That luck can’t hold out forever.

Kujira no Kora wa Sajou ni Utau – 03

The docile, frightened, and mostly defenseless denizens of Falaina are absolutely no match for the surprise attack by the efficient, emotionless raiding parties of Skylos, who use their thymia to kill with rifles, spears, swords and maces. Chakuro tries to run away carrying Sami, but he trips, and the way her body falls indicates that she’s already dead.

Ouni manages to get released from his cell, and proves more than capable of killing a good number of the enemy…but one man simply won’t be enough. Back in the fields, soldiers advance on Chakuro, but in his combined grief and rage he manages to hold them off with his Thymia until Lykos arrives.

Lykos, or rather Lykos “#32” as she’s called by an oddly giddy and sadistic pink-haired associate who holds a high rank among the enemy, was originally sent to exterminate Falaina. It would appear she failed, and regained emotions.

Now her brother, Commander Orka, is content to leave her on Falaina as a human experiment, to see how long she lasts among the “sinners.” The enemy withdraws, but after torturing two of their soldiers, Ouni learns they’ll be back in just a week’s time. Lykos, it would seem, has picked Chakuro and Falaina over her brother and home country.

It doesn’t look like pacifism and negotiation are in the cards, nor does there seem to be a “misunderstanding.” The people of Falaina are in a war with their very existence in the balance, period. While it isn’t great to see Ouni shed so much blood on his own, I see few alternatives.

As for Chakuro, after a gorgeous but immensely sad funeral service for the dozens lost, including Sami, he simply wishes he could die right then and there. He doesn’t want to be in this world anymore.

Who can blame him? I’m not even sure I want to be here. While the heroic arc obviously requires some initial hardship to be overcome, it was not fun watching men, women, and children callously mowed down. There also seemed to be a lot of the enemy soldiers simply…standing around for long pauses while their victims try to process what’s happening.

Other than Ouni, Lykos, and maaaybe Chakuro (if he can learn to control his power) this entire community looks utterly unequipped for the conflict ahead. Hopefully a few steadfast defenders will be able to curb further slaughter.

Kujira no Kora wa Sajou ni Utau – 02

What I thought was the start of some kind of grand adventure involving Chakuro, Ouni, and Lykos turned out to be more of a quick stop. Lykos (which isn’t her real name) shows them the creatures called “Nous” that suck all emotion out of humans, leaving them “heartless.” Chakuro and Ouni only get a brief taste of the experience, but I imagine neither of them wanted to get a longer one, as intriguing an experience as it might’ve been.

They’re brought back to Falaina, where Ouni is thrown in jail, Lykos returns to the custody of the elders, and Chakuro is freed after “cooling his head”—just in time for the extraordinary periodic phenomenon involving swarms of glowing star locusts. Chakuro breaks Lykos out of confinement so she can see the event with him, and jealous vibes immediately emanate from Sami.

Having been away from…whatever it was she was doing on that other island, Lykos is definitely starting to show more emotion, and when she remembers the time her father gave her a piggyback ride (out of practicality, not love or any other emotion) she can’t help but cry. Chakuro thinks it’s normal, and it proves she has a heart. And anyone’s heart would be stirred by the light show they get.

But that night, Lykos almost told Chakuro something very important, and the next day, really really wants to tell that something to the council of Elders. She best she gets is Suou…but by then, any warning she might’ve given is too late: another island sidles up to Falaina and an attack is launched by its highly-prepared and more technologically advanced occupants.

Those we see are wearing clown makeup (not a great first impression), and Chakuro and Sami stare up at their airship in Miyazakian awe…right until they open fire, Sami jumps in front of Chakuro, and gets riddled with bullets. I was not expecting that! Poor Sami!

It’s a bold, dark new turn for what had been an pleasant Utopian slice-of-life. That’s not quite right: the introduction of Lykos and her lethal magic last week marked the beginning of the end of the “good times”, while the locust swarm was the punctuation mark for the Mud Whale as a place of peace and contentment, and even that peace may have been artificially maintained, as the elders likely knew something like this was possible and/or coming, and have kept all of the Marked in the dark.

It would seem our protagonist and his society are viewed as “sinners” in the outside world, perhaps because they still possess the emotions the Nous feed on and make no effort to purge them. Thus ends Chakuro’s official archive of the Mud Whale, and the beginning of his personal diary.