Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 10 – How It Started / How It’s Going

After spending two weeks in the Meiji era with the exception of the final act of last week, when Yuugiri led Franchouchou in one of their best performances yet—and oh yeah, Saga is apparently an extremely long-lived person—we find ourselves a mere year in the past, before the EFS fiasco.

The idols are riding high on their success in the snow at Arpino, but that was only a crowd of five hundred people. But Koutarou, no less high on success, decides that Franchouchou have proven themselves legendary enough to fill the same stadium where Ai died. Her feelings about performing there aside, Ai knows right from the get-go it will be nigh impossible for them to scale up so much so fast.

Despite that, the girls put their faith in their manager and in their own considerable abilities, and even pros like Ai and Junko are swept up in the boundless optimism. Then, as we know, it all goes completely and utterly to shit. Because Koutarou didn’t bother to pre-sell any tickets, the amount of concert-goers who show up manage to fit what would be the soccer field’s penalty area.

While we’ve already been told this tale of woe before in super-abbreviated form, there’s something to be said for watching the disaster unfold in real time. Not even Saki can fight through the sheer dread of playing before a mostly empty venue, while their top fans decide not to call for an encore after the girls shamble off the stage, as it would be just too cruel.

You can really feel the pain of being on that stage in that stadium. They would never have been able to put on their best performance there. Koutarou really screwed the pooch on this one, and he initially reacts to the disaster by going on a weeks-long bender.

During these dark times, Franchouchou are splintered, then exchanged some recriminations, before Yamada Tae comes in and shocks everyone by not only buying her own dried squid with Koutarou’s cash, but doing her own makeup. Just by being Tae, she shows the others that they’ve been relying on Koutarou on everything for too long, and if they have to do non-idolly work to get out of their immense debt, then so be it.

That brings us up to speed. Fast forward nearly a year, and Koutarou announces to the girls that they will once again be performing at EFS for their revenge show. This time, they’re in a far better position to command a larger crowd: there’s the audience of Saki’s radio show, Lily’s inroads with the younger kids, Yamada’s legion of fans, Maimai’s high school, and the fact Iron Frill considers them rivals.

It almost feels like history repeating, but Koutarou is determined to properly promote the concert (and hopefully allowing pre-sales of tickets, for gosh sakes), and gives the others a pep talk worthy of Gurren Lagann. Unfortunately, there’s a huge potential snag in this plan: the reporter Ookuba knows he’s somehow revived seven dead girls and is profiting off their performances. When he learns of the revenge show he’s determiend to stop it.

Frankly, this feels like a little bit of eleventh-hour antagonism for its own sake, and I’m more than a little disappointed that Ookuba is taking such a hard stance rather than letting the idols whose unlives he’s trying to upheave have their say in the matter. By going straight to Koutarou he’s stripping them of their agency. Considering how much they’ve achieved, they’ve earned the right to decide to perform, not for Koutarou, but for each other and for Saga.

That brings us back to the bar where Old Man Saga works. Years ago, Koutarou was “gloomy and half-crazed”—instead of full-crazed like he is now—and thus bought into Saga’s claims that he was an immortal being who can revive the dead and has been fighting a curse that’s been at work in Saga for thousands of years.

Turns out everything that Koutarou has done with Franchouchou has been to prevent Saga’s prophesy—of a cataclysm that will make everyone forget Saga—from coming true. It’s why he flew to close to the sun with EFS the first time, but it’s also why he’s determined to make EFS II a success that no one will ever forget, weaving their past failure into the narrative.

But as the idols prepare for their show tomorrow, Saga is pelted with increasingly harsh rains, and the wind eventually knocks out power throughout the prefecture, just as Ookoba is about to publish his exposé.

But, of course, there are larger problems than whether he saved a copy; a building that looks like Koutarou’s run-down mansion seems to sink into the saturated earth, presumably with our zombie idols inside. While I’m sure they’re safe—they’re zombies—Saga is another question entirely. Are we past the point of singing and dancing  being able to save Saga, or will we simply not see them at their most legendary until the shit has truly hit the fan?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 09 – The Legend Continues

As those who share Kiichi’s views grow in number, he still finds time for tea with Yuugiri, who whips up a medicine for his ailing grandfather. Kiichi and Itou pose with Yuugiri for a photograph, which for me meant that somewhere in the present day there’s a very old black-and-white photo of the Legendary Courtesan out there—assuming it survived the war.

However, those who have joined Kiichi don’t necessarily want a new Saga for all; they want their old Saga back, and as many of them are veterans of the war lost eight years ago, they’re willing to take up arms and spill blood to do it, which is far beyond the peaceful return of Saga of which the idealistic Kiichi dreams.

Itou, in between ripping down Kiichi’s flyers and passing messengers disguised as vagrants, gives his friend one final warning to give up his crusade now that it is poised to become a violent one beyond his control. But Kiichi isn’t quite ready to give up on Saga, either for himself or the comrades he’s gathered.

Unfortunately, those comrades armed themselves and planned an armed rebellion behind Kiichi’s back. On the snowy night when they spring into action, Itou meets them in a quiet street…and cuts them all down on orders from the government.

By the time Kiichi catches up to his comrades, Itou has already slaughtered them all. It turns out he was watching out for spies all along, and while he knew Kiichi didn’t mean for things to turn out this way, he’s crossed a line he can’t un-cross, and now it’s Itou’s duty to kill him.

Yuugiri doesn’t let him, whipping a katana out of her shamisen to meet his, saving Kiichi’s life. When the local police approach with whistles blaring, Itou flees one way while Yuugiri and Kiichi go another. All the while, Kiichi’s gramps is having some kind of attack and collapses before he can reach the medicine.

After losing the fuzz, Kiichi starts to sob and whine, and Yuugiri slaps him, telling him he’s come this far for Saga’s sake and can’t give up now. As we saw in a previous scene, she’s already written to some of her many powerful friends who have sworn to protect Kiichi until things cool down. Kiichi doesn’t want to leave the Saga he loves, but he listens to the legendary savior whom he loves.

By the time Itou finds a casually smoking Yuugiri, Kiichi is long gone. Yuugiri forewarns that she was trained by someone called the “Sheathed Kichiemon”, whom Itou knows as “The Demon of Hibiya,” and thus knows he can’t go easy on her. In the ensuing one-slash duel, Yuugiri bests Itou, killing him, but is shocked that he let himself be killed.

No doubt if Itou failed to kill Kiichi, he was as good as dead anyway; he simply let Yuugiri take care of him for him. And with the snow ceasing and the clouds opening up to reveal a majestic full moon, Yuugiri accepts her fate. The next morning, Gramps wakes up and finds a letter from Yuugiri amongst the medicine.

In it, she says by the time he reads it she’ll likely be dead; beheaded by the military in a unilateral execution for killing Itou, a government official. Interspersed with her beautifully lit and solemn execution scene, she tells Gramps that if he’s truly “Saga” (as in, the human embodiment of Saga) as claimed, he’ll guide the new Saga Kiichi creates.

The following spring, May 1883, Saga re-gains independence from Nagasaki thanks to a peaceful appeal from supporters in the prefecture, and by August, unilateral execution was banned, and just nine days after that, Kiichi’s dream officially came true, as the first Saga prefectural assembly is held. Yuugiri’s death, and that of Kiichi’s comrades, weren’t in vain.

With that, we find ourselves back in the present, as Yuugiri takes center stage in a bopping swing-style concert, resplendent in period-inspired garb as her fellow idols support her. This particular concert hits different now that we’ve seen everything Yuugiri’s been through to come to this part of her (after)life.

In a very cheeky epilogue, she has some very nice whiskey in a very classy bar tended by a man who looks and sounds like a younger version of Kiichi’s gramps. He is aware that Yuugiri was alive in the Meiji era, and the black-and-white photo of her with Kiichi and Itou is behind the bar, so this guy must really be the immortal Saga.

Not only did this two-parter give the legendary Yuugiri the epic backstory he deserved, in which she was revealed a hero, martyr, and unsung founding mother to the new Saga—it also expands the mythos of the show by introducing an undying character who has been on the margins of this whole story all along, and may well be behind the necromancy that brought Yuugiri and the other idols back. In any case, I’m eager to see where this goes!

Crow and Irina talk episode 9 here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fruits Basket – 58 – Forgiven for Existing

Kyou’s a real big jerk in this episode, not letting poor Tooru get a word in edgewise, and even then rejecting those words and running off, ignoring her feelings entirely. Then again, it was about time we heard Kyou’s full backstory, including how he met Kyouko quite by chance one day, as she noticed how his hair matched hers.

In this meeting of orange-haired Kyous, Kyou finally met someone who didn’t curse his existence; an intermittent surrogate mom of sorts, who treated him the way his real parents should have treated him, instead of blaming a mere child for everything wrong with their lives. For a boy thus psychologically tortured, Kyouko was a ray of light and hope—as was her daughter, whom Kyou only ever saw once, watching her from behind.

When Tooru went missing that day, Kyou made “a man’s promise” to Kyouko that he’d find and protect her. But while he searched all night and into the day, it was ultimately Yuki who found her and brought her home, all while wearing the blue cap he claimed from Kyou when the wind blew it his way.

Kyou was never going to accept a hat touched by someone he deemed his  mortal enemy and nemesis; a “bad guy” title he bestowed upon Yuki because a bad guy was needed. Kyouko urged him not to live his life that way, and even when Kyou pushed her aside, she assured him she’d hold him to his promise he made “another day.”

Lonely because he felt betrayed and ashamed because he couldn’t help, Kyou stopped seeing Kyouko, until one day by chance they were at the same crosswalk. When an out of control car careened towards her, he was ready to pull her towards him to save her, but if he did that, he’d transform, so he “let her die” to protect himself.

Despite hating himself so much, and wishing he could go away and disappear, he always saves himself in the end by running away. Even now, after all he and Tooru have been through, he can’t look at her face, so afraid he is that she loves the wretch who let her mother die. If that mother’s last words were what he thought they were: “I’ll never forgive you”, how could he ever forgive himself?

With his ray of light and hope extinguished, and wracked with the guilt of having done nothing to stop it, Kyou shut down. Shisho took him to the mountains and tried to get him to “keep living”. He began to refocus on Yuki as the bad guy who stole all of his hope, and Akito egged him on by promising to acknowledge him as an official member of the Zodiac and cease calling him a monster if he “defeated” Yuki by high school graduation.

This gave Yuki another reason to hate and compete with Yuki, so he followed him to Shigure’s house…only to come across the last person he expected to see: the late Kyouko’s daughter and treasure, Tooru.

Despite growing closer to Tooru since then, Kyou can’t forgive himself, and doesn’t want her to forgive him either. He’s the real bad guy, not Yuki, and he feels he doesn’t deserve hope, or love, or forgiveness. Finally given a chance to speak as the two are pelted by the rain, Tooru declares that if her mother really said she’d never forgive Kyou, then she’ll just have to “rebel against mom”.

She asks if there’s any way Kyou can accept that she loves him, and he in turns says he’s “disappointed in her”, even after saying he wouldn’t when nothing but a sheet separated them. Kyou then runs off, not letting her say anymore, and Yuki, who had been observing from a respectful distance, chases after him.

That leaves Tooru alone and vulnerable to attack from a dirty and clearly unhinged Akito, who approaches Tooru bearing a knife clearly intent on doing away with the one she’s deemed the bad guy. And while this is by far the most overt threat on Tooru’s life in all these fifty-eight weeks of Fruits Basket, something tells this non-reader that Tooru won’t be joining her mom quite yet…

To Your Eternity – 06 – A Grand Objective

Note: This episode was originally mislabeled as episode 5. It is episode 6.

The original March may be deceased, but she lives on in Fushi, in the same way parents live on in their children…only different, because it’s Fushi, who can take on the physical form of his found mama. Thankfully, it’s not just her climbing ability he’s inherited, but a measure of her profound humanity.

There’s no doubt that March taught him generosity and gratitude, which he pays forward when he reunites with a stranded and hungry Pioran quite by chance. Pioran is her usual sardonic self, but isn’t beneath trying to take a literal bite out of Fushi in his boy form, causing him to switch to his defensive wolf form.

Eventually he becomes March again, climbs a tree, tosses Pioran some fruit, then says “Thank you” in a way that sounds like “This is what you say.” Pioran, in turn, starts to teach him more words, as well as how to write his name, as well as her own, March’s, and Parona’s.

The two make a good traveling team, and Fushi learns more and more, so by the time they arrive at a port town and board a boat to Pioran’s homeland, he’s able to communicate in a more-or-less conversational manner, a far cry from crudely mimicking sounds out of context. The youthful vigor of the late March as well as the seasoned wisdom of Pioran have quickly made Fushi more human than ever.

So it’s terrifying when he’s ambushed one night in the woods by mysterious tree golem-like monster who literally steals Fushi’s boy form, along with most if not all memory of the boy’s life. The narrator arrives and tells Fushi the score: the tree monster is the enemy, and if he wants the boy back, he’ll have to fight…and win.

Fushi transforms into the wolf, but the monster steals the wolf. He transforms into the giant bear, but the monster steals that too. In terms of corporeal forms, he’s down to just March, who while tiny and relatively weak, is quick and agile enough to dodge the monster’s bear form, enter its hollow chest, and grab the core that enables the golem to move.

This is a simply breathtaking action scene, marred only by the low light, which isn’t even that big a deal since it leds a great gloomy atmosphere to Fushi’s building panic at losing his forms. Like the drawings in the boy’s hut (which are updated in the card between the A and B parts), they are Fushi’s family, and he’s clearly distressed about losing them.

Fortunately, his March form is enough to grab the core, give it a good squeeze, and the wolf, boy, and bear flow back into him. He smiles in relief, and the mysterious cloaked narrator introduces himself as Fushi’s creator. He created him with a grand objective in mind: preserve the world before “the coming end”. The tree monster was their enemy, unable to take a true animal form and bent on impeding their objective.

That said, the Creator can tell Fushi can’t quite understand these concepts, and so parts ways with him until later, when he’s lived a little more in the world, and gained a few more forms. Pioran takes him to her hometown and the house of her lover, who is apparently a scholar who might be able to make heads or tails of Fushi. The house is also home to a boy wearing a distinctive mask that hides his face. Pioran rather rudely introduces Fushi as an “immortal freak.”

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Fruits Basket – 57 – Caught Up In a Fantasy

“I wonder how much time and effort it’ll take for you kids to find your answers…” Those are the words Kyouko said to a young Kyou. The answer? A fuckin’ lot. Only Kyou seems to be retreating into the answer forced upon him at birth. As Akito was born to be loved, he was born to be loathed and despised, his existence only causing pain.

Even if he didn’t believe those words, as far as he’s concerned they were proven true when his mother walked in front of a train, and then Kyouko died. In his dream, in his dark room in this mercilessly dark episode, he dreams of a third death at his feet, with his hands drenched in blood: that of Tooru. He believes his mother and Kyouko came to him for a reason: to tell him to know his place.

It’s ironic, then, that neither he, nor the other Zodiac members, would even be in this dreadful mess were it not for someone NOT knowing their place. Whether she genuinely loved Akito’s father Akira or was simply trying to get in on that sweet, sweet Souma fortune and prestige, I cannot say, because I have no reason to trust her. But Souma Ren was but a humble servant when she decided to approach Akira, saying she alone could see his pain and loneliness, and offered to take it all away.

Even if it was a cynical scheme at the beginning, Ren was profoundly attached and obsessed with Akira, so maybe she always was. And maybe Akira’s attendants would have found a suitable mate for him to produce a successor before he died…but maybe not. Instead, Ren overstepped her assigned bounds and stepped into that role, bearing the next family head. But it was she who demanded Akito be raised as a man…and a precocious young Shigure seemed to know what that was really all about.

Ayame, Hatori, and Kureno didn’t understand, but Shigure did, even then: Akito was always going to be someone to be pitied, for Ren was imposing upon her a life she never asked for, costing her access to a life where she might not have become a Machiavellian monster.

In the present, Ren thinks that she has a sympathetic ear (and possibly another lay) in Shigure, but he’s only there to fuck with her, as usual. He says he only looks at Ren “that way” because it lets him fantasize about whether Akito would look like her if she’d lived as a girl.

Meanwhile, Akito is sulking in her room, holding the box containing Akira’s remains, remembering her mother (who was never really a mother) challenging her to prove that nobody can break her little dream and rub it in her face. But the dream is dying; Akito can feel it. Bonds are breaking by the day. She’s interrupted by Ren storming in with a dagger, ready to use it unless Akito hands her beloved Akira over.

Akito, in a particularly nihilistic mood, tosses the box high into the air, and for a moment I thought there’d be a horrible cloud of ash. But the box is empty. It always was empty. The chief attendant prepared it as a charm when Akito was being consumed by grief after her father’s death.

As a bereft Ren stares into the empty box, Akito says she’s always been “Other”, and this has all been broken from the beginning. There will be no rubbing in the face of a victory, but she does seem poised to kill Ren with her own knife…until another bond breaks just then.

This time it happens to Hiro, who is playing with his siter Hinata and was probably finally swayed from Akito’s pull due to her. The first thing he does is hold her tight, and then his mom comes in and hugs him. Hiro is full of conflicting emotions, and his mom understands that “saying goodbye feels lonely” by nature. But ultiamtely, it’s a good thing. Hopefully Kisa can follow and these poor kids can start having ordinary lives!

As for Akito…I can pity her without forgiving the things she’s done. It’s not just a matter of her sticking to the “fantasy” that she was a god born to be loved by all forevermore. It’s that she herself was always fifty-fifty about whether Akira’s soul was in that box. No one ever gave her any other life to live than the one she had, and didn’t even know or think she had the ability to change any of it.

Kureno draws her in to comfort her, saying she can start learning the things she doesn’t know or understand. She can change, and escape the choking, crushing bonds of the Souma clan, and he’ll be right there beside her. But Akito believes they’re already past the point of “change”.

She blames Kureno for this, by staying with her out of “kindness”, while half-saving and half-rejecting her. She wishes he could have left her back when his curse was first broken. But it’s too late, and she demands he take responsibility with his life, stabbing him in the back. As Kureno collapses, there’s a devastating smash cut to Arisa looking at a dead bird in the rain.

With that, we return to Shigures, where Tooru and Kyou are just finishing up a meal. Kyou prepares to leave, but Tooru doesn’t simply let him go without a word. She stops him at the door and says there’s something she has to talk to him about. Judging from his face and the dream he had about Tooru, I doubt Kyou’s in the most perceptive mood. It’s going to take a little more time and effort for these kids to find their answers…

Fruits Basket – 56 – “Eventually” Isn’t Good Enough

With Rin safe at Kazuma’s, she and Tooru finally get to reunite, and while Rin insists otherwise, Haru, Yuki, and Kazuma all agree they’re good friends. No one tells Tooru that Rin was being held at the cat’s place, which is where Kyou is destined to end up if the curse isn’t broken.

Tooru is paying her mom a visit at the graveyard with Uo and Hana, and Yuki offers to go too, but Kyou says he won’t be going and shuffles off. Shigure then pays Rin a visit and tells her Ren doesn’t know how to break the curse and was only using her.

He does this because he wants Rin to know the curse is going to break eventually anyway, citing the fact all of the Zodiac members are alive at the same time means they’re all in attendance for the final banquet. Tooru, whom Shigure didn’t know had arrived, overhears.

She asks Shigure what “eventually” means, becaue if it’s years or decades, it’s not good enough for her. It has to happen by next spring, or she’ll lose Kyou forever. Shigure then lets slip to Rin what Kureno already told Tooru: that the Rooster isn’t “one of them” anymore, and little by little, “tiny changes and catalysts” will build up and cause the curse to collapse altogether.

But he admits, at the present rate things are going, Kyou will probably still be locked up, and none of the other Zodiacs will do anything about it, because “that’s the Cat’s role.” Going Full Villain, Shigure twists the knife in Tooru, telling her that the Cat is the “other” creature for the others to exclude; that as monstrous as all of them are, they can say “at least I’m not him.”

This causes Tooru to shout out Shigure’s name, as he’s simply said too much, and she runs off, distraught. She doesn’t want him to say that she’s Kyou’ ticket out of the curse, because that would mean putting someone before her beloved mother. She’s already worried that she’s the last person carrying Kyouko in her memory, and if she were to fall for Kyou, even that would vanish.

When Kyou happens to run into her, a tearful Tooru exclaims that she “doesn’t know what to do”, to which he replies she should do nothing, and think carefully before acting. Until then, he says as he puts his hand on her head, it’s okay to keep crying. Tooru can’t help but cry, knowing already who she’ll let go of when the time comes—and it won’t be Kyou.

Kyou visits Kyouko’s grave separately, and encounters her father, who has a habit of calling Tooru Kyouko. It’s not that he’s getting old, but because he wanted to try to find a way to keep Kyouko alive for Tooru, and for himself. Gramps also tells Kyou that Tooru gets her overly polite way of speaking from her father. It was an affectation she adopted after her dad died and Kyouko fell into despair.

Once again, awful relatives come into play, and little Tooru overheard them saying she looks nothing like Katsuya and would offer “little comfort” for Kyouko. While they likely thought she was too small to understand, she understood them, and it became a complex.

Meanwhile, Tooru visits Rin at Kazuma’s while Kagura hides from her, unable to face the person she knows Kyou loves and yet won’t get together, causing Kagura to continue to waver. Kazuma just hopes Tooru loves Kyou for who he truly is, not out of pity or compassion, as the former cat’s companion merely feld bad for the poor wretch.

But Tooru makes clear: what she’s feeling is too “cruel and greedy” to be merely pity. A part of her is not only willing to set aside her mother, but ”
trick” Rin and the others into thinking she wants anything other than Kyou, who is the person most precious to her. Kagura runs into the room and slaps her, saying that such a confession is pointless if she doesn’t tell him!

As Kyou contemplates a younger Tooru deciding to become as close to her father as possible in order to save her mother, he recalls Kyouko asking him to check in on her periodically when she was working late. He encounters Tooru hanging laundry outside, and asks what her father looked like. While at first she says she talks politely like he did, she eventually admits that in spite of all the love he gave her when alive, she came considered him a bad guy for dying and almost taking mom away with him.

Like her grandfather calling her Kyouko, Tooru wanted to keep her mom alive. Watching her hide her loneliness and foolishly torture herself for such a reason tugged at Kyou’s heart, such that when she says she’s awful, he embraces her through the sheet. When she once again apologizes, he says it’s fine; she can say whatever she needs to and he won’t be disappointed. These are the words she needed to hear, and she draws closer to him, causing him to transform.

Later, Tooru decides to show Kyou a photo of her father, which she kept behind the photo of her mother. She’s about to take Kagura’s advice and confess to him, but looks down at the picture and sees that her mother has vanished, leaving only an empty sky. For a moment, Kyouko appears in spectral form behind Kyou, and Tooru reconsiders.

Then Kyou remembers something: Kyouko lying face down in the street in a pool of her life’s blood, bitterly saying “I’ll never forgive you.” This causes Kyou to suddenly freeze up, and Tooru is so concerned she drops her precious photo of her mom, causing the glass to shatter.

Had she simply not looked at the photo and confessed to Kyou, I really felt the confession might’ve broken the curse for him. But after he recalls that bloody Kyouko, it’s not only clear he’s not yet ready to accept that confession, but that he might believe he deserves the Cat’s fate due to whatever went down back then, thus tightening the bonds of the curse.

To Your Eternity – 05 – A Family

Parona frees March, Fushi, and the old lady Pioran, but before they escape the prison, she wants to cut off a chunk of “Oniguma-sama” as proof to Ninnanah he was defeated. She even has a wolf toy ready to placate March, along with the justification that it will save the lives of many girls.

But March, who had just washed the great bear’s wounds and watched him die, won’t allow it. So Parona reconsiders. She’ll convince the villagers some other way—one that doesn’t require another life.

Parona proves as bad a wagon driver as she is an archer, but thanks to her asking March what she wants to do when she becomes a grown-up, it offers March a chance to set a death flag or three. Right on time, the casually relentless Hayase and her Yamone warriors close in on their fleet donkeys.

Hayase assures them she’ll spare their lives if they give up the dog, but Fushi is family, so that ain’t gonna happen. Parona gives a valiant effort to fight them off, but she has to be saved from an arrow by March, who declares “I can do something too” before saving her beloved husband.

Immediately after March is shot, Fushi leaps towards Hayase, transforming in mid-air from wolf to giant bear, wounds and all, and rakes her across the face. Then we take a look back at how Parona and March met. Parona watched from a distance as March played with her fingers in the dirt, imagining them as her kids.

When March approached her wondering why she was always alone, Parona presented her with a doll she made, and March returns the favor with a “thank you meal” that, while inedible, Parona still “eats” and voices how delicious it is. March suggests they become a family; her new doll can be their kid, she’ll be Mommy, and Parona will be Daddy.

Fast-forward back to the wagon, and March is fading fast. Parona finds another “thank-you meal” with which March was going to surprise her. March asks Parona to become a mommy in her place, then asks if Fushi is near, and as he causes a rampage in the city, Parona says that he is. Then March draws her last breath.

Between this and Fruits Basket’s tearjerker earlier today, I’ve gone through half a big box of tissues crying my eyes out. But Parona wears a smile as she approaches Fushi and tells him to stop; there’s no longer any need to fight.  He returns to human form, while Parona finds Hayase lying in a pile of rubble, wounded but alive. She picks up a nearby broken blade, telling March “Let’s go home together.”

In the space between life and death, March envisions returning to her village with Parona and leaping into the arms of her elated parents. She dreams of growing into a beautiful young woman with lots of stuffed “kids” made by Parona. But then March notices this isn’t really happening, and that she’s not really there, or anywhere. She doesn’t want to be nowhere, not when there was so much more she wanted to do.

She sees Parona with the blade, seemingly pointed at Hayase, but Parona, who is unwilling to live in a reality where she outlived March, turns the blade on her throat and prepares to plunge it in, thus “going home together” with her little wife. She can’t hear the spectral March pleading for her to stop…but Fushi does hear her, and stays Parona’s hand, all the while pouting like March. He takes her by the arm and transforms into Oniguma, and the two ride back to Ninnanah.

Once there, Parona approaches March’s parents and presents them with the “letter” containing only March’s handprint, which Parona translates as “March is doing great.” That, along with Parona’s demeanor tells the parents all they need to know. But rather than shun her like her parents did when she dared to live, March’s mother embraces Parona, thanking her for everything she did—and tried to do—for their March.

As the watch announces the Yanome are coming, Parona tells a suddenly far more expressive Fushi to flee before the enemy arrives. After all, life is never merely given, it must be won. He transforms into a wolf and departs.

Using an arrow that’s served her well for more than half a year and a heavy bow borrowed from a watchman, Parona takes aim at Hayase as she aims at Fushi, and her arrow goes right through Hayase’s hand. Even so, Hayase merely smiles, and Parona admits she missed her intended target, which was no doubt meant to be fatal.

As for Fushi, as the narrator says: “In meeting its mother and parting with her, its humanity increased.” Not only that, he can now take March’s form, and does so in order to grab one of the fruits his mommy once so generously fed him. So ends the most moving episode of To Your Eternity yet, in my books surpassing even the sublime first episode.

If I’m honest, I always knew March would be a goner and probably end up another one of Fushi’s forms. And yet the show kept serving up hope she might have a future, right up to her act of self-sacrifice. Parona may not have to live with the loss of March and her sister, but she’ll keep living all the same. It’s what her wife would have wanted.

Full Dive – 01 (First Impressions) – Reality Bytes

Just as Tyrell Corporation’s replicants were billed as “more human than human”, Kiwame Quest was meant to be a full-dive VR RPG “more like real life than real life”—stimulating all five senses and capable of near-infinite routes. The problem is, video games are supposed to be like video games: a relaxing escape from the troubles of real life. So KQ was panned and receded into obscurity.

Our dull MC Yuuki Hiro’s life sucks. Something traumatic happened two years ago that everyone around him can’t help but keep bringing up and dancing around; he’s entering his final year of high school and still not sure what he’s going to do. He “lends” cash to two delinquents, so he’s a key short when it’s time to purchase Finalizing Quest 22 (the show’s FF equivalent).

Certain he won’t find FQ22 for sale at a lower price, he rolls the dice at the unassuming and deserted Kisaragi game store. The newest FQ on display is last year’s, and when he asks the gorgeous clerk Kisaragi Reona (Taketatsu Ayana) if they have 22 in stock, she goes on a passionate and unsolicited rant about how people just keep buying FQ out of habit despite diminishing returns.

Reona has something else in store for the low, low price of 10,000 yen: Kiwame Quest, which Hiro has never heard of. Dismissing FQ as “innocent”, she calls KQ “a super hardcore full-dive RPG for adults”, and since she logs in regularly, she’ll be there to teach him what he needs to know “attentively and patiently”. Hiro reluctantly agrees to the transaction and heads home.

Hiro’s home, by the way, seems to have been lit by Zack Snyder. After learning KQ is a decade old but not being able to reach Reona on her phone, and after the obligatory walking in on his sister in her underwear, Hiro settles into his room, switches on his VR gaming system, and dives in.

He’s initially underwhelmed by the opening spiel, telling him to begin the quest to defeat the Demon Lord by leaving the city and heading to Flora Castle. But once he coalesces in the game world, he is soon legitimately impressed by the realism, and the fact he can feel the metal of a window handle and the wind blowing in.

He soon meets Alicia, an NPC who is anything but. She’s his character’s childhood friend, and Martin is her “nice young man” big brother. They’ve come to invite Hiro to join them for apple picking. When he tells them ihis intent to leave the city and asks where Flora Castle is, they react like his head’s on backwards.

Apparently there’s no entering or leaving the city walls due to the heightened threat of goblin attacks. When Hiro waves that threat away, assuming it’s a low-level battle, Martin is convinced Hiro is mad and tries to beat him back into coherence. It’s here it’s confirmed that a punch to the face is every bit as painful as the real thing.

Thoroughly pissed off and out of patience by a game that’s not going the way these games usually go, Hiro lashes out at Martin, shoving him to the ground. When he doesn’t move, Hiro leans in to find the knife Martin was using to cut an apple went straight through his mouth and out the back of his throat, killing him.

Alicia freaks, and Hiro, still not sure how the hell things got to this particular place, decides the only thing to do for now is to run. A crazed Alicia chases him like the Terminator, but he eventually loses her in a downtown alley. It’s there where Reona finally joins him, but in a neat bit of camerawork it’s revealed she’s a tiny fairy, who is there to be his guide.

She also points out that the little tag around his neck is etched with a title to denote his game progress so far. Hiro is unable to tell her what has happened before she reads his tag and learns for herself: “Best Friend Killer.” Hiro’s been diving less than ten minutes, but it’s already Game Over, Man.

Full Dive is helped by its offbeat approach to VR game immersion, and by its crisp and highly expressive character designs and smooth animation. It is hurt more than anything else by its absolute flat-line of a protagonist. Granted, some of his reactions are fun and he’s supposed to be dull. Still, I want to watch the next episode, if nothing else to see whether he’ll start over or continue on from his bloody, disastrous start.

Wonder Egg Priority – 12 (Fin?) – Over Easy

Aragorn: Frodo’s fate is no longer in our hands.
Gimli: Then it has all been in vain. The fellowship has failed.
Aragorn: Not if we hold true to each other.

With Momoe and Rika seemingly completing their quests only to be met by fear and rage, respectively, Rika wants recriminations and revenge for Mannen, while Momoe simply wishes she never got involved with this business. Only Neiru and Ai remain beside each other while the other two seem lost.

Ai’s final egg is…herself. Or rather, as Acca puts it, an Ai from a parallel world who was also bullied for her eye but didn’t have a Koito, so she took her own life. Ai doesn’t judge—hell, she knows how Ai must feel, being herself and all—and doesn’t treat this other Ai any different than the other girls she’s saved from Wonder Killers.

When the Seenos chase the Ais up to the rooftop pool where the other Ai drowned, a horrifically repulsive Wonder Killer rises out of the chloronated water, and of course, it’s Sawaki-sensei, with tentacles of paint that eats away like acid on contact. Calling himself Ai’s “first love”, Sawaki says Ai was simply one more woman who was easy to fool because he’s handsome.

But Ai doesn’t see Sawaki in this monster; only the manifestation of her doubts and suspicions. She asserts the real Sawaki is “much nicer,” but the monster only says he had her completely fooled like all the rest. WEP has ensured that we can’t easily dismiss our own doubts and suspicions about Sawaki, who lest we forget, named a portrait of Ai…[Shudders] “Latent Heat”.

Ai won’t give up the fight, but between defending her doppelganger and the fact the battlefield is a pool, it isn’t long before both Ais plunge into the deep end. Much like the first episode of WEP, as we plunge deeper into dreams within dreams, the same feeling of not quite knowing what’s going on, but definitely wanting to know where the rabbit hole goes.

Our Ai, identified by her triangle hairpin (as opposed to the other Ai’s X) is pulled out of the pool by Koito in a version of the school blanketed by night. She kicks off her soggy shoes and socks and runs with Koito through the school as Sawaki Wonder Killer continues to taunt her.

On the same rooftop where Koito jumped to her death Sawaki is there, in his regular human form, but as the embodiment of the temptation of death. He tells her that her pure love for him betrays an innocence impossible for adults. Adult love is “dirty” and full of self-interest, which is why she should die before she grows up.

But as Ai stands at the edge of the roof holding hands with Koito, she remembers the words of her mom, who said ‘You only live once. Enjoy it.” The Ai who took her life expresses her regret, but our Ai smashes through the barrier between the light and dark rooftops and embraces her double.

The Sawaki Wonder Killer’s final gambit is to tell Ai how her own mother betrayed her by loving the same man she did, and “tried to put her own desires first.” But our Ai recalls to the other Ai how her mom never blamed her once when she stopped going to school, worrying about her where she couldn’t see, so she couldn’t know.

The Sawaki monster is barking up the wrong tree, because our Ai has already given her mom her blessing with the real Sawaki-sensei. When she was at her lowest, her mom supported her without judgment. Now that it’s her turn to support her mom, there’s no choice. Ai summons her multicolor pen mace and blasts the Sawaki monster into oblivion.

As Ai later tells Neiru on another rooftop, she thought she wanted to hear the truth from Koito, but maybe she didn’t need to, and she thinks she’s grateful she never did. Once the Sawaki monster is defeated, Koito is revealed and quickly vanishes, and a third AI created by Frill appears: one named Kirara Rodriguez Matured XVIII Evening Star SS Plum.

No doubt Kirara is there to kill Leon and stoke fear, rage, or something else in Ai, but Ai doesn’t rise to her provocations. As Rika is banished from the Accas’ domain as a cause lost to Frill, the other Ai basically takes a bullet for our Ai, as Kirara takes her blue eye.

Ai wakes up in her house, with both eyes intact, knowing the other Ai protected her. Unlike Momoe and Rika, she got out of her dream before Frill’s creation could cause any serious psychological damage. But before she parted with the other Ai, our Ai resolved to become a warrior of Eros, fighting Thanatos, the temptation of death.

It’s a hopeful, if somewhat confusing finish to what was for me, by far, the most visually and thematically ambitious and emotionally immersive series of Winter 2021. Rika and Momoe are in rough shape, but Ai seems to be stronger than ever, and Neiru seems…fine? Even more encouraging is that this is not the end; the story will be concluded in a special that’s scheduled to air June 30. It’s too early yet to declare the fellowship failed.

However it ends, Wonder Egg Priority was a deeply visceral, powerful, unforgettable ride that would have restored my faith in anime had I lost that faith in the first place. I’ll surely be revisiting this series somewhere down the road, and most definitely checking out whatever else director  Wakabayashi Shin and writer/creator Nojima Shinji make in the future.

Wonder Egg Priority – 11 – Deviled

Rika helps enough Egg Girls to free Chiaki, only for her to pass through her hands and vanish right after resurrecting. Rika then meets Dot, who like Hyphen is beholden to Frill. She brutally murders Mannen and destroys Rika’s weapon, causing her to cower in abject horror.

One night (or rather when the underground Wonder Egg compound is in night mode) Ai stops by Acca and Ura-Acca’s house. She finds an office filled with clippings of teenage suicides, as well as what looks like a family portrait: the two Accas in the human form, a woman…and a child whose face is concealed by black marker.

Ura-Acca, who had been waiting for Ai, proceeds to tell her a long and sorrowful tale of hubris and tragedy—to help her better understand her and the other girls’ true roles in their not-so-little game of Wonder Egg.

Some years ago when they had human form, Acca and Ura-Acca shared a living space and cloistered research facility. Constantly under surveillance, they decided to create something all their own together, “just for fun”. That something was an artificial girl of 14 who named herself Frill.

In addition to having the traits that “a father would want his daughter to have”, she also had character flaws built into her heuristic programming, as “being uncontrollable is the essence of femininity.”

The Accas and Frill became a happy family of three, and moments often happened when they forgot she was an AI. At a tech symposium, the Accas met Hoshina Azusa, whom both befriended and eventually developed feelings. Azusa ended up choosing Acca over Ura-Acca. They married and she became pregnant with a girl.

If the Accas are Dr. Frankenstein, Frill soon became their “Monster”. She didn’t take Azusa’s interloping well, hinting that she hated her for basically stealing Acca away. She also wanted a friend, and wanted to make one herself; they ended up letting her make two: Dot and Hyphen. Then one night while Azusa was in the bath, Frill switched on a hair dryer and threw it into the tub, killing Azusa.

An unspeakably bereft Acca threw Frill down the steps beats, her, and locks her in a cellar. While she exhibited no remorse for the murder, she still pleaded not to be left in the dark. But while Azusa died, her infant daughter Himari survived, and ended up “saving” Acca and Ura-Acca from the utter depths of despair as a new family unit was forged.

One day, a now middle school-aged Himari has a strange conversation with “uncle” Ura-Acca, promising to marry him  when she was old enough; a consolation for her mother choosing Acca. That night, they found Himari dead in the tub. It looked like she’d slit her wrists, but there was no suicide note.

Remembering how she popped her lips the way Frill often did, Ura-Acca goes down to the cellar to find Frill is not only still active, but surrounded by surveillance technology and whatnot.

Ura-Acca accuses her of using Dot and Hyphen to kill Himari, Frill simply replies “I’m not a monster. I’m Frill,” and asks him if he wants to know how the girl who loved her “uncle” so much died. Enraged, Ura-Acca takes her away and seemingly destroys her by burning her in a fire.

Ura-Acca concludes by telling AI that the “temptation of death” will cause more girls to “die when they don’t have to” unless it’s stopped…all because of their “mistake.” Dot and Hyphen have apparently already closed Momoe’s heart with fear and caused Rika to build walls of hatred—they both appear on monitors in a set up not unlike Frill’s—but the Ura-Acca decided to at least tell Ai the truth about everything.

Nearly smashing a Wonder Egg on the ground in anger and frustration, Ai decides against it, but clearly isn’t happy with the information she’s received. Heck, we never even found out what, if anything, Sawaki-sensei told her about Koito’s death! That egg may contain the last girl Ai needs to protect to free Koito. But if Dot and Hyphen come for her, and murder her animal friend, what will Ai do then? What can she do?

This episode pulled back the curtain on the pair of mysterious mannequins who seemingly gave up their human bodies after enduring too much tragedy while within them. No one should have to suffer what they suffered. The thing is, everything happened was their fault—the brutal consequences of playing God and rejecting their creation—and involving Ai and the others only compounded their offense.

Between the hubris they exhibited in committing the monstrously irresponsible act of creating a life for fun—who became twisted by jealousy and slipped completely out of their control—and the fact that they then deceived and used four teenage girls as tools to try to fix their mistake, I still can’t summon much sympathy for them. I just hope there’s some way Ai, maybe with Neiru’s help, can save Momoe and Rika from their respective fresh hells.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Wonder Egg Priority – 10 – Fried

The cold open is so idyllic and beautiful that’s it’s obvious it’s only Momoe’s dream, but it’s an instructive one, for it shows us Momoe as she sees herself and as she wants to be seen: a lovely girl, going on a regular date with a boy who likes her as a girl.

Momoe wakes up to the sound of the end credits of what was likely a romantic movie she was watching before nodding off, the flowery soundtrack of which accompanied her lovely dream, and then gets ready for the real thing.

This week, under questioning the Accas come clean about not only being affiliated with Plati, but having founded the Japan chapter. Neiru shows Ai and Rika what they looked like before they abandoned their physical bodies and placed their minds in mannequins.

But in an inspired interruption of what was shaping up to be an exposition-heavy Q-and-A, something more important comes up: Momoe reports that went on a date…with a boy. Reminding us that the garden where the Accas are always seated at their board isn’t outside but underground, Ai, Neiru and Rika hurry head up to meet with Momoe and engage in some Girl Talk.

Describing the boy as her “follower” (presumably on social media), he asked her out a week ago, but when she arrived for their date in a dress, he was horrified…because he thought he was asking out a boy. That’s been the story of Momoe’s adolescent existence: a round peg being hammered into a square hole by a society that refuses to see and know her the way she sees and knows herself.

She tells her crocodile friend Panic, who is of unknown gender, that it must be nice not to be judged by appearance. Panic obviously doesn’t respond with words, but by curling up in Momoe’s arm like a dog, simply being there with Momoe. No judgment, no projection…only love.

Perhaps emboldened by Momoe’s courage in putting her true self out there, Ai pays a visit to Sawaki-sensei, who confirms that he’ll be leaving school soon to pursue his career as a professional artist. He gives her a postcard for his first solo exhibition, titled “Latent Heat”, and tells her that it was a portrait he painted at school that got him noticed. Ai, of course, assumes it was a portrait of Koito. She has a statue, Sawaki has a painting.

Momoe’s next Egg Girl, Kurita Kaoru, immediately establishes himself as unlike anyone she’s ever encountered, as he isn’t a girl, but a trans boy. Kaoru instantly sees through the “Momotaro” façade, and sees a tall, cool girl—totally his type. Unlike Haruka, Kaoru isn’t a girl who loves her. Unlike her recent date, he doesn’t misgender her, and she does him the same courtesy without thinking. He even wears a jacket of light blue, pink, and white.

Momoe is more popular with the girls, who see in her the perfect man. Kaoru’s kendo club advisor—whom he once trusted and sought advice from—saw and desired him as a girl. The advisor raped Kaoru, who then became pregnant. It was as if both he and the world were denying Kaoru his true self. He took his own life, unable to live in that world.

Having heard this story and met the advisor in his grotesque Wonder Killer form, Momoe is unspeakably enraged, and prepares to stab the shit out of him. The Killer shoves her back, declaring he’ll “kill any man who makes passes at his Kaoru,” whom he’s encased in a heart-shaped glass case.

He prepares to crush Momoe, but as she summons all of her strength to lift him off of her and toss him aside, she forcefully corrects him by saying “I’m a girl!”, ripping her boyish clothes to reveal her sports bra, then launching a decisive attack on the Wonder Killer, shattering the case and catching Kaoru out of the air.

In the few moments they have after the battle is over, Kaoru covers Momoe with his jacket, thanks her and says that next time he’s reborn he’ll be the one to protect her. Momoe is flattered, but points out that not all girls want to be protected; a fair point. Kaoru then calls Momoe a lovely girl and asks if she likes younger men. Kaoru then leans in to kiss her before vanishing in a puff of smoke, turning Momoe beet red.

Kaoru turns out to be the final egg Momoe needed to protect in order to “clear the game”, and after a countdown, a curtain falls to reveal Haruka, no longer a statue. When she runs towards Momoe’s open arms, she passes right through her and fades away. Momoe says “it’s really over!”, but above her a part of the ceiling lets out a slow drip-drip-drip of water, suggesting it might not quite be over.

The Accas report that Momoe “won’t be coming anymore”, as she’s more or less cleared the game. This news compels Ai to take her leave from Rika and Neiru in order to take care of something. She comes home, bathes, pins her hair back to reveal her blue eye, and wears a dress and heels, then takes the train to the gallery where Sawaki-sensei’s exhibition is being held.

She finds the painting that launched his fledgling art career…and it’s not Koito, it’s her, heterochromia and all. Only it isn’t exactly her, and as Sawaki approaches he asks her if it resembles someone else: her mother. That’s because it’s a portrait of Ai “grown up” into a “wonderful, adult woman” like her mother; “kind, strong, and beautiful.”

Because Ai is the daughter of that woman—the woman he admits he’s in love with—he says she should have more faith in herself. Then Ai asks Sawaki something she’s wanted to ask him since Koito died: Why did she die?

We don’t get the answer, and who knows if Sawaki will be forthcoming, elusive, or abstract in his response. We also don’t know if any potential answer will satisfy Ai—for all we know, Koito took her life after being rejected by Sawaki. All we know is, like Momoe’s attempt to go on a date with a boy as a girl, she’s all the more stronger for actually asking. And Sawaki is still creepy and inscrutable as fuck.

As for Momoe, her hard-won physical and moral triumphs are all too fleeting, as the dripping water precedes the arrival of a strange entity with Haruka’s body, a Wonder Killer-like head, and a giant scythe. The Accas lament that their plans to create “warriors of Eros” to confront “Thanatos” may end up going off-course with Momoe’s recent experience of “the overwhelming fear of death.”

The Haruka-bodied entity tells Momoe she’s like to let her go out of respect for how she risked her life for friendship, but that someone named “Frill” would get mad if she found out. Unfurling her head to reveal butterfly wings, the entity proceeds to gruesomely murder Panic right before Momoe’s eyes, then takes a chunk of meat from Panic’s body, eats it, and stuffs some in Momoe’s mouth.

Back in the real world, Momoe can’t dispatch the horror of tasting Panic’s meat out of her mind, and vomits into the sink during dinner with her mom. She cowers at the foot of her bed, trembling in a blanket, unable to sleep. As expected, the Accas only ever offered a bitterly sore deal, with victory only bringing more trauma and suffering.

Attack on Titan – 68 – No Peace In Our Time

The Scout Regiment is back home on Paradis, and Armin is reminiscing on better times on a torch-lit cell, all the while with the shell he found that day on the beach in his hand. He looks back to three years ago, to when there was still a possibility things could come to a peaceful or diplomatic solution.

Thanks to Eren lifting Marleyan scout ships out of the water and dropping them on dry land, the Scout Regiment as led by Hange and Levi manage to secure the entire Marleyan crew as captives. But they have help from within: Yelena, who along with her pro-Eldian compatriots, turn on their Marleyan crewmates and accepts Hange’s somewhat kind if somewhat manic offer of a cup of tea.

Yelena and Onyankopon describe to Hange and Levi Marley’s extensive advantage in military technology. When asked why Marley hasn’t used that tech to invade Paradise, Yelena’s answer is twofold: the hordes of Pure Titans around the island meant to keep the Eldians within the walls also do a good job keeping would-be invaders away.

Secondly, after the Colossal and Female Titans were captured by Paradis, Marley’s weakness was exploited by a number of nations ganging up on them. As we know, the fresh invasion of Paradis couldn’t happen until their war with the other nations was won. Yelena and her people, who aren’t foreign secret agents embedded in Marley but a group called the “Anti-Marleyan Volunteers” are tasked with freeing the Eldian people, are led by Zeke Yeager.

Hange relays Zeke’s plan to save all Eldians by bringing about the Rumbling, which requires both the Founding Titan and a Titan of Royal Blood. When some higher-ups bristle, Eren confirms that Zeke at least isn’t lying about the Founding Titan and Royals, as he himself experienced with Dina Fritz. He hadn’t brought it up until now because he wished to protect Queen Historia.

The Scouts capture more Marleyan Scout ships as the plan is considered, but Eren doesn’t want anything to do with a peaceful resolution. As far as he’s concerned, everyone across the sea who believe they’re scary monsters who can turn into Titans are absolutely right, and should be scared.

But three years later, with Liberio in ruins and Sasha dead, Armin wonders if they could have taken a different path to get what they wanted. Jean and Connie are joined at Sasha’s grave by Niccolo, the captured Marleyan who used to love cooking for Sasha as much as she loved eating his cooking. Sasha’s parents visit the grave, and Niccolo tells them the small but meaningful way he knew and cared for their daughter, and he shakes her father’s hand.

It’s Armin’s wish writ small—an Eldian and a Marley joining hands and joining in their mutual grief. But it’s too small against the most dangerous “Titan” of them all: that generational leviathan of shared, irreconcilable hatred and distrust. It’s why once Yelena’s haul of stolen Titan serum is secured, Pyxis has the volunteers detained, while Levi stuffs Zeke in the forest, on a tight leash.

Meanwhile, in the cell she shares with Falco, Gabi chews her nails to the quick, cursing Eren Yeager with every breath, a vessel for that long-stewing hatred mixed with her own personal losses at Paradis’ hands.

Armin then says that no longer what he and Mikasa and Sasha and everyone else did or didn’t do, Eren was going to have his way; the worst was going to happen regardless. With that in mind, he believes they had no choice, no more than Reiner, Bertholdt, or Annie had a choice that day years ago. The person he’s talking to? Annie, still frozen in crystal.

As Mikasa leans against a gravestone, she repeats the words she’s lived by: “Fight or die. Win and live.” Those words are echoed by an Eren just as fully committed to war and vengeance as Gabi…just as lost: “The only way to win is to fight.”

Rating: 4/5 Stars