In / Spectre – 11 – The Fundamentals are Sound

This is not a 12 Angry Men scenario, and it was never meant to be. By that I mean Kotoko’s goal from the start wasn’t to gradually chip away at Rikka’s influence in the forum. It was all about introducing enough elements of plausible fiction so that when she dropped her fourth solution—Nanase Karin isn’t even dead—the forum posters would take those previously posited elements and form their own theories about what happened.

Rikka meanwhile only intervened in the forum to reject Kotoko’s three conclusions, rather than those elements. To try to do more would expose her own motives to the forum. When she kills herself, she chooses the futures with the least dissenters, while Kotoko is all about creating more and more possible futures in which the Steel Lady is not real.

Kotoko’s fourth solution smartly utilizes elements of the previous three the forum have already been acclimated to and are comfortable holding in their individual minds. Nanase Karin was never killed by that steel beam; the faceless corpse was that of “A-san”, a woman of the same age and figure whom Karin befriended.

She convinced this A-san to help her escape the public eye by taking her place, but eventually murdered her by knocking her out and then dropping the precariously-positioned steel beams onto her face. After that, Karin took A-san’s identity and started a new life…but it wasn’t enough. She wanted to make certain the public believed she was dead, so she created the Steel Lady Nanase urban legend.

In order to quickly cement and spread that legend, Kotoko posits that Karin created the very Steel Lady Nanase Wiki on which everyone is chatting, and that she is currently among them. This is a stunning move that traps Rikka without ever revealing her true identity. The idea of Karin herself being the admin is seductive enough, because it draws upon the affection for Karin among many of the posters.

Finally, Kotoko explains how Detective Terada happened upon Karin, scouting out the scene of Steel Lady’s next appearance, quite by chance. When his detective instincts recognized her through her new appearance (her prodigious bust size being a dead giveaway), he is thrown off balance just enough to give Karin the opening she needs to kill him. None of this is airtight, but it doesn’t need to be, because much of the forum speculation is now on cruise control, as Kotoko planned.

Even though she continues to kill herself, Rikka finds herself less and less able to grasp the future she wants, in which the forum believes Steel Lady Nanase is a real ghost and not an artifice of her namesake. She seems to toss her blade away in disgust and resignation. Meanwhile, while she’s been choosing whatever futures had the fewest dissenters, Kurou has always gone for the same one over and over: the one in which he defeats Steel Lady.

As the “votes” start streaming in in MP Kotoko’s favor, Steel Lady becomes more erratic and uncoordinated, until Kurou is able to snatch her steel beam out of her hands and slam it into her face. Born from lies, she’s now poised to be destroyed by lies.

The truth, as Kotoko said, never had any place here. I can’t see what aces Rikka might have up her sleeves could undo Kotoko’s masterpiece of logical fiction, since it’s no longer about two dueling fictions, but the numerous fictions that exist in the imaginations of the forum. And by so carefully and artfully preparing this committee over the last few episodes, In/Spectre makes the final checkmate that much more satisfying. In short, it delivered the goods.

Check out another In/Spectre Episode 11 Review by Crow’s World of Anime.

In / Spectre – 10 – Bogged Down in Committee

If Kotoko’s logical fiction were a car, this week she suddenly pops a J-turn. One could say her first solution was simply a means of putting feelers out. If the forum is already convinced that Steel Lady Nanase is a real ghost, she turns into the skid with her second solution.

Jealous and spiteful of her success, Nanase Haruka’s father fell down the flight of stairs all by his lonesome, and intentionally left a note behind implicating his daughter, whose career was then ruined. Haruka let the falling steel beam kill her. When she met her father in the afterlife, he revealed the truth to her.

Wracked by his betrayal, Haruka’s soul couldn’t move on, but returned to the world of the living as the evil ghost Steel Lady Nanase. Having solved the mystery of her father’s death and created a logical reason for the existence of the ghost, Kotoko takes the next natural step and creates a reason for her to disappear.

To do so, she beseeches the forum to focus their prayers on delivering her from evil so her soul can move on in peace. This solution is so different it catches Rikka off guard. Kurou returns from his latest death having chosen a favorable future, and Nanase is visibly weaker, enabling him to get the upper hand.

But it’s not over. Kotoko has simply created another crack in the portrait of the Steel Lady; it remains to be seen if she can shatter it. The forum pokes a fresh hole in Kotoko’s latest solution Steel Lady Nanase wouldn’t need to wreak so much havoc if her only goal was to expose her father’s betrayal.

Rikka kills herself. Having pursuaded a few more but not enough, Kotoko pivots to her third solution, involving Haruka’s older, far less famous sister, Hatsumi.

Kotoko presents the idea that Hatsumi was also jealous of Haruka, so when she found the note their father left incriminating Haruka, Hatsumi mailed it to the media. This action had a much more devastating reaction than she anticipated, throwing Haruka into a pit of despair that led to her suicide-by-steal beams.

Only Hatsumi wasn’t convinced Haruka committed suicide, and said as much to the police. In fact, Hatsumi didn’t even believe the faceless body was truly Haruka, but a body double, and her sister was still out there, somewhere, waiting for the right time to exact revenge on her big sis.

Hatsumi became beset by obsession and paranoia, to the point someone depraved who knew and was infatuated with her sought the means to make Hatsumi believe Haruka was truly dead, setting her at ease. He achieved this by creating the spectre of Steel Lady Nanase. Once he murdered someone in her name, this individual might have gone on to seek a closer relationship to the object of his obsession.

Kotoko closes this third solution by calling for the forum to aid in the search for the degenerate before anyone else is harmed. The people take to this story like ducks to bits of bread…until Rikka herself inserts herself into the forum and questions the motives of Kotoko’s would-be creeper, and questions why Hatsumi wouldn’t think Steel Lady Nanase wasn’t her sister’s ghost trying to kill her.

Since we knew from the preview for this episode that only the second and third solutions would be presented, this episode has the disadvantage of being neither the beginning or end of Kotoko’s duel with Rikka. Yet it was still engaging thanks to Kotoko’s boundless charisma.

Rikka’s hold on the forum seems stronger than ever, while Kurou finds himself miles from the future in which Steel Lady disappears. But Kotoko still has a fourth ace of her sleeve. We’ll see if the last solution can sway the forum for good.

Check out another In/Spectre Episode 10 Review by Crow’s World of Anime.

In / Spectre – 09 – There is No Truth Here

Parliament is in session, and Leader of the Opposition Iwanaga Kotoko confidently casts her first net of logical fiction, hoping to snare enough votes to neutralize Steel Lady Nanase. A string of believable lies issues forth from her brain and fingers into the forums, creating a non-supernatural solution to the murder of Detective Terada. This early in the game she knows she doesn’t have to convince everyone, just enough to start creating reasonable doubt. It’s as much a murder case as a committee for a bill.

Her solution to Terada’s unusual, uncontested murder is surprisingly elegant and plausable, capitalizing on Terada’s general exceptionalism both as a detective and as a judo practitioner. She also makes good use of the site where his body was found (an abandoned gas station on a sleepy road). She spins the yarn of a the unghostly killer rigging a weight on a pendulum and luring Terada to the spot where it would smash into his face at great speed and kill him without resistance.

Since the episode can hardly just show Kotoko tapping away on her laptop in the back seat of a car the whole time, the online committee is visualized as her standing alone in cyberspace, surrounded by the screens of other users on the forum, poking holes into Kotoko’s solution. Kotoko expected this—any underdog would—and rather than trying to make everyone happy by plugging all of those holes, she settles for reducing the belief in the ghost story by increasing the specificity of the “real” killer’s description.

When that description starts sounding an awful lot like Saki, the policewoman turns around to shoot an angry look at Kotoko. She explains that it’s not her intention to frame an innocent policewoman at all, but to create an alternate killer that both fits the facts of the case and has motive (in the case of Kotoko’s fiction, romantic obsession). After all, neither her solution nor the legend of Steel Lady Nanase are true; they are dueling fictions. Since Rikka’s got a huge head start, Kotoko has to use every rhetorical weapon at her disposal to create lasting doubts.

And therein lies the challenge of this committee: even when Kotoko starts to sway the flow of the forum in her direction, the flow changes back to believing in the ghost all too quickly. That’s because Rikka is killing herself, visualizing and choosing the future threads that favor her ghost story. In the meantime, Kurou duelling with Nanase isn’t just to serve as a gauge for the effect of Kotoko’s lies (her power fluctuates in real time), but a way for Kurou to die and see the futures that favor those lies.

Despite it being another extremely talky episode of perhaps the talkiest show of the season, this is honestly all very fascinating and exhilarating to me. Your mileage may vary, but watching Kotoko do her thing is freaking awesome. Not only that, her first solution not holding up long was already folded into her calculations. She has three additional doubt-creating amendments to her proposed bill, so she’s feeling very confident about a legislative upset.

In / Spectre – 08 – The Curious Case of Sakuragawa Rikka

No sooner is Kuro’s mysterious cousin retroactively introduced as his “one true love” is the frail yet hauntingly beautiful Rikka revealed to be not only a fellow mermaid/kudan flesh-eater like Kurou (explaining why she’s his type), but the very mastermind behind the Steel Lady Nanase monster of imagination. Karin’s older sister was a red herring, while Karin herself was only a loose template upon which Rikka crafted a powerful urban legend.

Surprisingly—and yet not—Kotoko knew this all along, but coyly kept it from any part of the audience who didn’t suspect Rikka as soon as she was mentioned, not to mention from Saki. Kurou also knew it, which is the main reason he arrived to take the Steel Lady on (not exclusively because Kotoko summoned him).

As for how she knew, Kotoko recognized Rikka’s style in the illustration of Steel Lady Nanase that adorns the website, and which is key to creating a strong and consistent image grafted to existing rumors about the idol Karin’s ghost.

Once a goblin cat informs her that the Steel Lady has reappeared, Kotoko, Kurou, and Saki head to her location. There, Kurou will fight her, all night and dying several times in the process if necessary, as Kotoko works her logically fictitious magic in the car. Kotoko remarks that she’d rather not see her boyfriend die over and over, but this is the best way to keep Nanase from hurting anyone else.

As for why Rikka is doing this, Kotoko believes it’s so she can refine and expand her inherited kudan abilities. As Kurou mentioned, reading the future is an imperfect art, but Rikka is attempting to make her ability as perfect as possible, and is apparently obsessed enough in that venture to overlook the occasional murder.

Kotoko closes the episode with a wonderful analogy, likening her impending duel with Rikka as the start of a committee to discuss a proposed bill in parliament. It’s a deliciously wonky yet apt analogy. Rikka has a powerful, seemingly insurmountable majority with her captivating Steel Lady story and its accompanying imagery.

But here’s where things differ from government: among the “voters”—the tens of thousands who visit the site and contribute to the forums—there are no coalitions, nor alliances. Not only that, the masses aren’t explicitly aware they’re voting for anything; they’re simply going to believe the most compelling story. If Kotoko can convince them Steel Lady Nanase isn’t real, she can steel the votes and the majority, and sap her of her power.

In / Spectre – 07 – Turning Truths Into Lies

The sudden murder of Detective Terada in the middle of the night has made things way more difficult for Kotoko, Kurou, and Saki. Whereas before they had to deal with a moderately nasty spectre spreading fear and havoc within a relatively small sphere, now they must contend with a nationally known monster who has truly gone viral, only increasing the strength of its existence.

In her hotel room, which she bitterly resents is separate from the one in which her boyfriend resides, Kotoko taps away at her laptop, gathering as much information—as much truth—about the rapidly expanding fantasy of Steel Lady Nanase as possible. Time is of the essence; if they wait just one day, her legend will be too powerful to overcome no matter how convincing the logical fiction.

I’ll be honest: not a heck of a lot actually happens this week. The three leads basically sit in a hotel room and discuss things until Kotoko lands on some possible solutions to the problem. The thing is, In/Spectre is able to draw us into its world so subtly yet completely, even an actionless episode such as this feels consequential.

That’s due in no small part to the show’s hauntingly beautiful soundtrack. It’s a shame the anime’s composer isn’t listed anywhere obvious, because this wouldn’t be half the show it is without the music, which I find casts a kind of wondrous spell on me during otherwise interminable exchanges of exposition.

Through the lengthy scene in the hotel room, Saki observes that her ex has developed a nice rapport with Kotoko, depsite his protestations that the last thing he wanted was to go out with her, along with the fact that Kotoko is nowhere near his type. As for who is his type, Saki introduces the woman who was 100% Kurou’s type: his older cousin Rikka, a frail woman who nevertheless had a profound impact on the lad. We’ll see next week how she figures into this tale.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 17 – Fresh Start

The gang approaches Tiamat, and Ishtar puts everything into her largest attack, which Ritsuka supports with a Command Seal: Angalta Kigalse. Tiamat is defeated in the first five minutes, but I didn’t believe for a second she was gone for good. Why? Because there are four episodes left.

Ishtar only destroyed a tiny part of Tiamat; her mammoth body proper rises up, and with it the sea levels. It’s not regular seawater either, but a poisonous red-black substance that means death for anything living. All the gang can do is withdraw to Uruk.

Gilgamesh just manages to save the city by deploying the Fang of Napishtim, which is a one-time thing, like Ishtar’s all-or-nothing attack. He’s glad Ritsuka and Mash are alive, but is open to ideas. Romani doesn’t have any good news for them: Tiamat literally has no weaknesses and can not die as long as there are humans alive on earth.

Oh yeah, and there are only 500 humans left. Things have only managed to get more and more dire, but humanity hasn’t lost as long as there’s even one of them alive, and as long as Gilgamesh and Uruk survive, humanity will be able to endure.

Enter Ereshkigal, who very informally reports to Gilgamesh that a huge number of souls have suddenly been dumped into her lap; far more than the natural balance of things would allow. That’s when it dawns on Ritsuka and Gil at the same time: in order to defeat goddess of life Tiamat, she must be dragged down into the underworld, where there is no life to sustain her.

Ereshkigal has certainly never attempted anything of the sort, but having held a grudge against Uruk for many years, just so happens to have prepared to open a gate to the underworld underneath the city. Thanks to her initiative, the time to prepare such a gate is reduced from ten years to three days.

The problem is, Tiamat is only two days away at her current speed, which means they have to somehow hold her off for twenty-four hours before Ereshkigal’s gate is ready. That’s a tall order, considering even the most powerful entity among them, Quetzalcoatl, doesn’t think anything can be done to even scratch Tiamat.

That’s when Gil turns to Ishtar, assuming she’s been holding back her ace in the hole this whole time. The Bull of Heaven, Gugalanna, will surely be sufficient in keeping Tiamat at bay for the necessary duration. Only one problem: Ishtar doesn’t have Gugalanna; she lost it and has no idea where it is. Following that disappointment, Gil proposes everyone relax and try to get some sleep—it could be the last time they ever have a chance to do so.

In / Spectre – 06 – Conquering the Imagination, Grasping the Future

Practically speaking, most of this episode takes place in Saki’s apartment, and ends with Kurou biking Kotoko to the hotel for the night. None of the characters actually do anything, because this isn’t the kind of show where there’s always loads of action.

Instead, the three spend the whole time discussing the Nanase Haruko accidental death case, the online legend that bred the monster of imagination, and the proper steps needed to defeat that legend. The Steel Lady is not something Kurou can kill physically as long as hundreds if not thousands of people believe in her in her increasingly dangerous form.

 

That said, Kotoko knows their odds of coming up with a better “rational fiction” to blunt the Steel Lady’s power aren’t great, so she intends to cross every “T” and dot every I-Beam. After coaxing the official police position that Nanase’s death was a possible suicide, Kotoko confirms their suspicions by interviewing an unrelated third-party eyewitness to her death…who happens to be a ghost.

The means by which Kotoko summons the ghost—a “goddess’ dance” seems tailored not just to impress the former contruction worker, or annoy Saki, but because she definitely has a genuine joie de vivre about her life and her duties…and why not? Losing and eye and a leg feels totally worth it if in return you have an information network beyond the bounds of mankind or science.

With both the police conclusions and the eyewitness concluding an emotionally distraught Nanase did nothing to move out of the way of the falling beams, Kotoko has a full picture of the past, but that’s the easy part. She’s going to have to come up with a story that narrows down all the possible futures to come into a single one: one in which no one cares about Steel Lady Nanase anymore.

Even in the midst of all this careful analysis and preparation, I’m glad Kotoko still finds time to be a brat to Saki or to flirt with Kurou, as when she invites him to share her double bed at the hotel. Even so, she is clear-eyed about not knowing whether Kurou will be in her future, making it that much more important to make the best use of the time they have.

As for Kurou, it’s fascinating to hear him describe the abilities of the kudan, specifically that they don’t look into the future so much as pull all the branches of possibility into a single bundle. Kurou can use those powers to a degree, but not without dying.

While the mermaid flesh he ate means he’ll come back to life, his kudan powers are limited by the brief amount of time he has to look forward (the further into the future, the more branches, the less accurate he is) before resurrecting. For now, he’s confident he’ll be able to grasp the future he and Kotoko need, at least with regards to solving this case. Getting back with Saki is a future he can neither see nor reach.

Kotoko just hopes the Nanase saga won’t be complicated by an actual murder in the night while they sleep, but unfortunately that’s exactly what happens, only making their task even more difficult. Worse still, the victim is Detective Terada, Saki’s colleague, who wrongly assumed Nanase was a normal person in cosplay.

We also catch a glimpse of the mastermind behind the site and the Steel Lady legend. Is it Nanase’s older sister? Nanase herself? I can’t wait to see how this case is resolved, in large part because it was set up so smartly and carefully.

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

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 14 – Heads Up!

It seems silly to call this a “calm before the storm” episode when it actually featured quite a bit of spectacle and excitement, but it’s clear the real decisive battle is yet to come, and this entry was to set it all up and give that battle the weight and finality it’s due.

As such, it starts with a war council composed of Gilgamesh, Ritsuka, Mash, and their assembled allies. Gil is short on men, but has enough for a last diversionary stand at the Northern Wall, giving Ritsuka and Mash sufficient cover to head to the Blood Fort in the Cedar Forest.

The day before the battle begins, Ritsuka and Mash say goodbye to Uruk as it is for perhaps the final time, reveling in how many new people they were able to interact with this time around, further reminding them why humanity is worth saving. While en route Merlin speaks to Ritsuka about the “beautiful history” humans make, and he wants a happy ending.

Ana, who also didn’t accompany the party to the Underworld, spent her time helping a blind, ailing old woman with her flower stall. That woman couldn’t see, but could feel the warmth within Ana, and urged her to remove her hood and keep her head up so she could be seen as the most beautiful young woman in Uruk.

If it wasn’t clear before, it’s made explicit here: Ana is a younger, more caring version of Gorgon, before her heart was twisted into an evil abomination. She carries all the guilt of her older self, but could prove to be the X-factor in the battle to defeat her and save humanity.

The day of the battle arrives, and Kingu joins the forces of Demonic Beasts, meeting Quetzalcoatl in single combat. Here Kuku shows just how powerful a goddess she is, not just by overpowering Kingu, dodging his chains, and staying on offense even when one catches her wrist.

No, I’m talking about the means by which the city block-sized Axe of Marduk will be sent to the Blood Fort: Kuku grabs it out of the sky, spins it like a propeller, and THROWS it to Merlin. This “mounmental axe throw” is one of the most badass things we’ve seen a Servant do in this series, right up there with when Ushiwakamaru shows out in her doomed battle with Gorgon.

The plan was simply for Quetzalcoatl to pass the axe off to Merlin so he could drop it on the fort, but Merlin’s staff “slips” and he simply alters the trajectory of her far more powerful throw. As a result, the fort is trashed and Gorgon’s divinity drops, increasing her vulnerability. Kuku loses some too as a result of breaking the edict of the alliance, but not all, since it was inadvertent.

Once inside, Mash is mortified almost unto paralysis by the sights they see of humans trapped in glowing orbs in various states of transformation to Demonic Beasts. She must be steadied by Ritsuka, but his hand also trembles. When they summon Gorgon, she’s in a charitable mood—likely due to the weakening caused by the partial destruction of her temple. If Ritsuka joins her cause to end humanity, he can be her Master.

That’s a Hard Pass for Ritsuka, and Ana steps forward, hood removed, and raises her head in preparation to unleash the Divinity she’s held back all this time. Turns out she has a pair of Mystic Eyes she’ll use to offset Gorgon’s, making things a little easier for our heroes. But there’s a lot of episodes left, so this fight is probably not going to be a butter cakewalk. Not to mention the yet-to-be-determined fate of Ushiwakamaru.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 13 – Don’t Get it Twisted

Putting on a tough front, Ereshkigal pummels Mash and Ritsuka with stone projectiles, but Gilgamesh, despite being dead, can still launch attacks from his Divine Treasury under his Royal Authority. His assist enables Ritsuka to start a dialogue of reconciliation; of asking Ereshkigal straight-up if she’ll leave the Alliance and join their fight to protect Uruk.

Ereshkigal is initially stubborn and won’t put her duties aside. Ishtar provides some griping for psychological effect. All Ereshkigal claims to want is “commendation” for all of the hard work she’s done in the Underworld while her other half flew freely through the heavens.

Ritsuka tells her he can’t praise her for work she clearly hates doing but does anyway out of divine obligation. Instead, he spends a Command Seal so Mash can activate Camelot, tearing down Ereshkigal’s hostile front (expressed through Gulganna) while protecting her pride and dignity as a goddess.

The scary skeleton monster disappears, leaving only a chastened, yet also relieved Ereshkigal in human form. She exhibits far more dere than tsun in this state, as Ritsuka takes her hand with both of his and welcomes her to their side if she’s willing. Ereshkigal is surprised he knew it was her coming to visit him during those chats, which is why he knew deep down she wasn’t an evil goddess like Gorgon.

The old cloaked dude severs Ereshkigal’s connection to the Alliance, but she holds back on becoming an official servant of Ritsuka. Before that, she wants to be of help to Ritsuka of her own free will rather than by contract, when he and the others are in a bind.

Until then, as Gilgamesh ascends back to the living world, his soul freed and returned to him by Ereshkigal, Ritsuka, Mash, and Ishtar trudge back to the surface to meet him back at his ziggurat in Uruk. Siduri is over the moon to have her king back, but Gilgamesh reports that while in the Underworld he failed to find Enkidu’s body, which means while his soul was destroyed, Kingu may be the present occupant of that body.

Before dying, the real Enkidu assured Gilgamesh that he’d “encounter more valuable treasures than me” in time. Perhaps those treasures have revealed themselves as Ritsuka and his growing alliance of servants and goddesses, all dedicated to saving Uruk and the human world, even if it ultimately means the end of the age of gods.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 12 – The Same Layer of Scroll

Happy New Year, and Happy New Fate/Grand Order. There was always something odd about Ishtar occasionally changing Dresspheres while chatting with Ritsuka. Now we learn the official reason: She’s two goddesses in one. Her opposite half Ereshkigal is the true third goddess of the Alliance, along with Gorgon and Quetzal.

When Siduri reports a spate of weakness-related deaths in Uruk, Gilgamesh’s chief among them, it’s clear it’s Ereshkigal’s handiwork. In order to rescue Gilgamesh’s soul and return it to his un-interred body, they must travel to the Underworld of Kur. To do so, Ishtar opens a huge hole in the ground.

I appreciate how this isn’t treated as some kind of inter-dimensional journey, but something far more grounded; after all, in the age of Gilgamesh the heavens, earth, and underworld were all physically linked. I also enjoyed the lighter tone to ease us back into the show. there were some dark times in the previous eleven episodes and there are sure to be more ahead, so it’s nice to see the show let it’s hair down when it’s appropriate.

Ritsuka and Mash grow impressed with Ishtar’s knowledge of Kur, inadvertently forcing her to reveal she’s been there before, when in a moment of hubris she believed she could conquer the realm, only to be handed perhaps the most humiliating defeat of her existence (hence not bringing it up before).

To reach Ereshkigal’s palace to defeat her, they’ll need to pass through Seven Gates that ask logical questions to ascertain the worthiness of the infiltrating soul. Ueda Kana (also Ishtar/Rin’s voice) puts on a clinic as the voice of those gates, asking Ritsuka deadly seriously who is more beautiful, Ishtar or Ereshkigal? Tough spot for Ritsuka.

Once they’re through six Gates (just as they’re currently through six of seven Singularities), Ishtar has been through a lot, and is now so tiny she can ride Fou, and does. That’s when the party encounters Gilgamesh, who reveals that he actually did die of overwork, but as he considers Kur his “own backyard”, wasn’t in a huge hurry to leave—not without using the opportunity to pay Ereshkigal a visit.

That said, if his physical body is dead, he won’t be of any more help than Tiny Ishtar. The other Heroic Spirits stayed behind because they’d be equally powerless. It’s Ereshkigal’s underworld, everyone else is just being dead in it. Only the still-living Ritsuka and Mash will be a match for the mid-level goddess, who gets things rolling by appearing in a form that wouldn’t be out of place on a death metal album cover.

I really dig the JRPG concept of having two normally overpowered members in Ishtar and Gilgamesh amounting to nothing to the strength of your party in Kur. They’re little more than observers, their powers locked away, able to only offer verbal and emotional support. After being sidelined for many of the tougher recent battles, Ritsuka and Mash are going to have to help their own cause.

P.S. New OP and ED. Both look fantastic, but really stand out with their songs. For the OP, a more urgent remix of the UNISON SQUARE GARDEN theme of the first half. The ED features the ridiculously talented milet, whose Vinland Saga ED theme never failed to give me the feels every time I heard it!

Cautious Hero – 12 (Fin) – Who Cautions the Cautious?

Determined not to let him die alone, Rista opens a gate in the final area of the Demon Lord’s palace. It’s against Divine regulations, but she doesn’t have time to trudge through a dungeon. When she, Mash, and Eruru arrive, Seiya is already trapping the Demon Lord in the Gate of Valhalla.

The only problem is, time and time again the gate fails to close. The episode plays with our emotions as just when we think everything is over (Rista and Seiya even return to their antagonistic repartee), a more monstrous version of the Demon Lord spills out and fights on.

Rista manages to unlock all of her divine healing power—another instance of breaking the rules—but suceeds in fully healing Seiya, only for the Demon Lord to burst out of the gate once more. Seiya is prepared right to the end, summoning a second, bigger Gate of Valhalla to swallow both the Demon Lord and the smaller Gate.

The gambit succeeds, but this Gate can talk (and laugh), and insists upon collecting its payment immediately: Seiya’s life. Rista’s healing can only slow down his deterioration, until all she can do is let herself be drawn into Seiya’s resigned arms and say goodbye. Before he disincorporates, Seiya recognizes Rista for who she once was—Tiana—and his last expression is a smile of relief he was able to save her this time.

Rista leaves the knighted Mash and Eruru under Queen Roselie’s care and returns to the Divine Realm. She’s momentarily haunted by a ghost of Seiya—a low blow for the show, to be sure!—but more than anything you truly feel his absence and a sense of emptiness and emanating from Rista and her house.

The other gods and goddesses try to cheer her up in their own goofy ways, but they can’t change the fact that in saving the S-Class world Gaeabrande, she lost her hero, someone whom she loved implicitly. Aria also has the unhappy duty of bringing Rista before Ishtar, who announces her punishment for violating regulations.

At first, the punishment seems almost too cruel: she must liberate the SS-Class world Ixphoria, the world where her human self died, and where the Demon Lord took over and transformed into a Demonic Realm. Furthermore, her healing powers will be locked away, preventing her from offering any support for her hero. If she fails, she’ll be stripped of her godhood forever.

Just when we (and Aria for that matter) think Ishtar is needlessly piling on poor Rista, Ishtar reports that Seiya’s Double Gate of Valhalla ended up swallowing not only the Demon Lord, but the Chain Destruction effect that would have prevented him from returning to his own world upon dying. She then hands Rista a letter with the name and stats of her new hero.

She’ll be reunited with Ryuuguuin Seiya, albeit with a thousandth of the power he once had. She’ll have to somehow support him without the use of her divine powers, and he’ll more than likely have no memory of his previous lives with her. He’ll also be just a ridiculously cautious.

Cautious Hero took a very bold turn towards the serious and dramatic in its final two episodes, but it was an incredibly effective turn that felt both earned and necessary. All of the previous clashing of hero and goddess was suddenly placed in proper context, while the emotional stakes shot through the roof.

I was glad for a happy compromise of ending. Ristarte and Seiya will be reunited, but face a far greater challenge than Gaeabrande. If a second season is produced, I’d definitely want to see how they manage, and who will help them.