Mahoutsukai no Yome – 23

Whether he feels bad about trying to sacrifice Stella or not (I would guess not), Elias can’t accept Chise leaving him. He wants her back, and wanders aimlessly in search of her. When he kills part of the forest he’s in, Spriggan springs into action and takes him down.

Titania and Oberon show up, willing not just to help him find Chise, but to invite them both to the land of the faeries (always with the ulterior motives). Elias declines that particular offer, but Titania still helps him find Chise.

Titania’s powers reach far and wide, and practically everyone Chise has encountered and/or befriended on her various adventures notices those powers. As for Chise herself, she now finds herself watching a young Joseph’s memories.

Joseph was the son of a witch and gravedigger and much hated by the villagefolk for those qualities. But when he finds Cartaphilus half-buried in the woods, he takes him home out of pity, and resolves to heal his extensive injuries using the skills he no doubt learned from his mom.

Only Cartaphilus never gets better, no matter what treatments Joe tries. He doesn’t get worse either, which means the conditions that would allow Joseph to leave the town he hates so much never materialize. Joe snaps, and decides that drastic measures are the only answer: he “becomes one” with Cartaphilus.

The newly merged individual travels (presumably) to London, collecting body parts from innocents to replace the ones that no longer work, and learns from a mage that the ancient curse he has cannot be lifted.

With that, Chise comes out of it, and Cartaphilus almost immediately tries to rip her arm off, hoping it’s the final piece to the puzzle of ending his suffering. It doesn’t look good for Chise until Titania, Elias, Spriggan, and Ruth arrive in the nick of time to save her.

Renfred and Alice arrive as Cartaphilus unleashes his grotesque menagerie, and a big battle occurs in the small space. Still, Chise is laser-focused on Cartaphilus, and when he creates a portal to escape, she follows him, but not before shooting an angry look at Elias.

Elias and Ruth follow her, and they end up in a foggy London alley with Chise, just as a fleeing Cartaphilus bumps into Mariel, who just happens to be in that very same alley. Mariel, hoping to help in some way, transforms herself into a bull for Chise to ride.

They find Cartaphilus sitting on the same fountain we’ve always seen during the second-cour credits. Can Chise end his suffering, while also saving herself?


Violet Evergarden – 10

Anne is of the age where she still plays with dolls, and is both troubled and intrigued when a life-size one arrives. Of course, Anne equates Auto Memoir Dolls with the ones she plays with, so for the duration of Violet’s seven-day contract, Anne believes she is not only a doll, but bad news as well.

The reason she is deemed “bad news” is simple. Anne may be young, but she knows all is not well with her ill, oft-bedridden mother. Now that Violet has arrived, all of the time Anne wants to spend with her mom is being taken by Violet, who ghostwrites letters of and for which the content and recipients remain frustrating mysteries to Anne.

When she witnesses her mother collapse once more while working with Violet, Anne has had enough, and confronts her mother with the truth of which she’s already aware; that her mom’s time grows short, and that she wants to spend what is left of it together.

Anne runs off, but Violet catches up, and impresses upon her the futility of Anne blaming herself or believing she can do anything about it. As Violet puts it, just as nothing can make her arms have soft skin like Anne’s, nothing can be done about her mother’s illness.

What follows this emotionally harrowing seven-day encounter is nothing less than the full realization of Violet Evergarden’s talent and skill, made possible by her own ability to step out of the role of the “toy” and be her own “player”, borrowing the terms Anne used when she still thought Violet was an actual doll.

All along, the letters Anne’s mom wrote weren’t for some distant people who didn’t even have the decency to pay her a visit in her final days; they were always only for Anne. Holding back tears for the duration of her contract, Violet wrote letters to Anne from her mother, to be delivered once a year for the next fifty years.

In a masterful montage of those years spanning from her tenth to twentieth birthdays, we see the insecure, clingy, doll-clutching Anne grow into a fine young woman, fall in love, get married, and have a kid.

Each year, her mom is right there, Violet having provided her with the means to live on through the letters, reminding her beloved daughter that no matter how far away she might be, loved ones will always watch over you.

It’s as moving a story as any Violet Evergarden has shared, and my favorite so far. Now that she’s emerged from the shadows of her past, we can now see just how exceptional an Auto Memoir Doll Violet really is.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 22

Chise makes the only deal she believes she can make, not just to save Stella, but her own life as well. That deal puts her in the lion’s den, and Joseph, the lion, makes it clear he still hates her, even if he’ll honor the deal.

The process starts with the two swapping eyeballs—a particularly icky sequence—and when his body doesn’t reject it, he prepares to remove her cursed left arm.

While Chise was awake for the eye-swap, Joe locks her in her memories for the next phase—childhood memories she thought lost forever, in which she and her dad and brother were together and she was a normal, well-adjusted girl.

After painfully bittersweet images of their nearly perfect family life flash by—among them her dad fighting off some kind of demon or faerie—a form of Joseph appears that isn’t so much Joseph, but the piece of him that has now made itself at home in her body—his eye.

One night, the perfect family situation dies. Chise’s father gets out of bed with his infant son, walks out the front door, says goodbye to Chise, and never returns. One could explain his course of action as cutting his losses—perhaps having had enough of living with two Sleigh Beggys—and perhaps he simply did what he felt he had to in order to protect his non-Beggy son.

Whatever the reason, it’s a huge betrayal, and Chise’s mom cannot make up for her husband’s absence. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t try: she works any and all jobs she can to scrape by, but because so many monsters are attracted to her no one else can see, she cannot hold those jobs for long, and she slowly drowns in debt.

Like Chise, her mother had a frail body, and when keeping up with everything simply became too much for it, her mind snapped as well. In a moment of weakness, she listened to the voice that told her it would be easier if Chise weren’t around.

She chokes Chise awake, telling her the words Chise never forgot: “I shouldn’t have given birth to you,”, but in this context she isn’t talking of Chise’s inadequacy as a daughter, but the fact that she exists at all. Her mother knows that her curse is her daughter’s curse. It’s more an act of misguided mercy and desperation than malice.

That’s why her mother snaps out of it before she kills Chise, and overwhelmed by shame for what she tried to do, throws herself out the window. After that day, Chise forgot everything that came before, and it was the genesis of her belief she was worth so little even her mother regretted having her.

But that villainous mother, devoid of the context of her torment or the lengths she went to to keep their family of two together, was nothing but a creation in Chise’s mind. Her real mother didn’t really wish her dead; on the contrary, she decided she’d rather die than live on knowing she even made the attempt.

Chise breaks free of this vision of her mother as the real one, and says goodbye before letting her go entirely in a dreamy field of flowers. She even goes so far as to thank this false artiface of her mother, as she was the reason Chise ultimately ended up meeting so many wonderful people, among whom she still counts Elias, despite what he did to Stella.

With her “dark mother” gone, replaced by the whole picture of how things went so damn wrong with her family, Chise is left with the portion of Joseph’s curse of eternal life embedded in his left eye. That curse promises to be a blessing to Chise for as long as she wants to live—meaning that the moment she wishes to die, it will be a curse.

Joseph is not the first to have hosted this curse, and won’t be the last, but all of them have said the same thing to it throughout the centuries and millenia—”Help me.” Chise, waking up on the operating table, grabs Joseph by the throat and tells him she’s going to do things his way, diving into his past to find out how he became is the person he is—to make sense of his truth. Even if he hates her.


Mahoutsukai no Yome – 21

In an episode that opens with Chise sharing a bed with Elias, these two splitting up would have been at the absolute bottom of things I expected to happen. But with her condition deteriorating and the meeting with the witches ending up almost completely fruitless, Elias decides to take Chise’s life out of her own hands, for what he believes to be her own sake…as well as his own happiness. Before they part ways, Mariel reminds Elias that only life can pay for life.

Elias has always been called “half-assed” or a “monster” but Chise was the first and only one who would “look at just me.” Well, thanks to his actions this week, she may never look at him that way, or any other way, ever again.

Just as she relays her suspicions Elias and Ruth are up to something behind her back and asks for Ariel to back her up, Elias knocks Chise out. She guides herself out of the dream with an image of Nevin, telling her that whatever others have planned for her, all she can do is be clear on what she needs to do.

With that, Chise breaks out of the dream by stabbing herself in the leg and does what must be done: stop Elias and/or Ruth from sacrificing anyone to save her. When she finds Elias has brought Stella into the house to be the sacrifice, Chise is, understandably, furious.

Even worse is when Elias tries to explain himself: not liking how Chise looked at Stella (i.e. their friendship), and not being able to stand it, and stating as long as Chise can continue to live he’ll be happy. After urging Stella to run away, she punches Elias in the face and storms out.

Of course, what Chise didn’t know is that Stella had already been possessed by Joseph, AKA Cartiphilus, who only pretended to be Stella in distress. But it doesn’t matter; Stella or Cartiphilus-possessing-Stella, Elias sought to transfer Chise’s curse to them. That makes Elias no different in Chise’s eyes anymore. He is a monster after all.

But here’s the thing: human beings are perfectly capable of becoming monsters, or doing monstrous things, if they feel there are no other options. If anything, Elias taking the steps he did were simultaneously appallingly naive and contemptuous of Chise’s wishes, and just plain wrong, but incredibly human nonetheless.

Chise isn’t the kind of human to put her life or welfare before anyone else’s. Cartiphilus knows this, and also knows how angry Chise is by Elia’s betrayal. So he offers her Stella’s life and a spell that will save her own, in exchange for her cooperation. And Chise accepts without hesitation, teleporting away with Carty and leaving her necklace behind.


Darling in the FranXX – 08

In another episode not about the FranXX but the flawed and confused boys and girls who pilot them, the effects of everyone in a squad hitting puberty at once comes to a head (no pun intended) when the latest Klaxosaur attack uses blue goo to eat away at the pistils’ suits, causing the stamens to ogle their partially naked bodies.

The girls are hurt, mortified, and furious, especially the fact the boys kept their condition a secret as long as they did (even if it was in the middle of battle). Led by the fiery Miku, a tape line divides the dorm in two: the girls on one side, the boys on the other, and n’er the twain shall meet.

Led by the fiery Zorome, the boys don’t take this perceived shabby treatment lightly, and proceed to take advantage of every loophole Miku and the girls didn’t think of, from flaunting their own half-naked bodies after taking a dip in the lake, to claiming the dining hall (and all the food in it) for themselves.

Meanwhile, those not so enthusiastic about the gender war, like Kokoro and Michiru, actually find common ground in their love of the greenhouse as a place of tranquil solitude (and where Kokoro hopes to read her baby book). The one neutral party is Zero Two, who the girls eventually confront to take a side. Perhaps charmed that they came to her, she agrees to join them.

However, as usual Two goes her own path in how to best antagonize the boys, using the other girls as bait by getting the boys to accidentally barge in on them in the bath, then stealing everyone’s clothes.

Hiro gets wise, but he’s absolutely no match against Two in a foot chase that leads them to the roof, where she releases the basket of clothes into the wind. Hiro can’t help but laugh at the situation, which Zero Two agrees is a lot of fun, while hoping Hiro can think of her as a little more “human” for taking part in the war.

Despite being ordered by Dr. FranXX only to observe and report, Nana and Hachi tell both sides to knock it the ef off; after all, they need their parasites in a position to sortie at any given moment, and that just isn’t possible with all the consternation floating around.

Zero Two tells the girls they’d better stop half-assing things and say what they want to say to who they want to say it, because it’s very likely none of them will be alive much longer, considering their occupations. Both girls and boys alike start to feel bad for the other side (which is good, because they’re thinking of how the other side feels and bears rather than just themselves).

The one holdout is Miku, who runs away and hides in an off-limits dorm. There, she discovers among a vase of dead lilacs, a photo of the previous Squad 13, all of whom must’ve been wiped out. When the others join forces to find her, Miku is a wreck, but the photo and empty dorm room are a powerful, sobering message: if you don’t get to know each other, they have no chance of surviving.

With that, the two sides formally make up, with Miku rather adorably revising her stance, telling Zorome he can ogle “a little bit” as long as he doesn’t go so far. Apologies and handshakes are exchanged, and the squad recombines…but not before cleaning up the empty dorm where there predecessors lived and placing a vase of fresh lilacs by the window, a flower signifying friendship, fond memories, and youth, all of which were on full display this week.

I actually enjoyed these two past episodes in which the battle with the Klaxosaurs was either absent or pushed to the side; I’d much rather watch the members of Squad 13 continue to learn more about one another, become friends, and perhaps more…which is likely Dr. FranXX’s intention with the test squad, after all. That they’re all starting to realize they are boys and girls at once was certainly no coincidence.


Kokkoku – 08

Sagawa completes his merging with a Specter while able to maintain his own will. I just wish his various “experiments” he performs had a bit more bite. Now he’s essentially just a Hulk-like OP monster man, and he doesn’t even seem to take much if any joy out of his success. As he says, he’s a cautious man and always has been, but in this case a cautious villain is a dull villain.

Killing off his remaining followers didn’t really do much for me, since I never knew them anyway. It’s Sagawa’s apparent disinterest in quickly dispatching the Yukawas, Majima and Sako that confuses me.

More than once they butt right up against him, and he doesn’t put a lot of effort into taking them out, giving them ample chances to escape him, and even leaving Tubasa with them.

At this point in the story it feels like things have stalled, which shouldn’t be the case considering how the villain has powered up and become even more lethal. But it feels stalled because Sugawa is such a drab, boring dude who has slowed to a crawl right before the finish line.

It’s even more concerning that this is the eighth of what I presume to be 11-13 episodes. If things are this slow now, and the only remaining baddies remain as dull as they are, how in the heck are they going to fill the time?

Perhaps the family drama that results if Gramps really is expelled from Stasis, and Takafumi continues to oppose the rest of the family’s desire to be rid of Stasis, will inject some energy into the proceedings. All I know is the increased focus on the bad guys this week didn’t do the show any favors.


Mahoutsukai no Yome – 20

The no-longer-captive dragon escapes its binds and tears up the auction house, giving Chise and Elias a thrilling ride into the London night sky. Once again, Chise puts another life before her own—in this case the dragon’s—and ends up paying for it like never before.

The cost of her sacrifice this time is a dragon’s curse, which infects her left arm, now huge, gray, and scaly. Shannon is able to stabilize Chise, but the curse will quickly tear through that Sleigh Beggy body (already weakened by two additional curses that Chise can think of), killing her.

This time, there’s nothing that can be done. Chise can choose to live on the Fae Side where she won’t have to hide the curse, and she seriously ponders it. Back when she didn’t want to live, Elias saved her. Now that she wants to live, death has her in its grip.

Unable to help her himself, the mage Elias invites a witch, Mariel, to his home for “alternative treatment.” Mariel, who wants to get her hands on dragon blood, considers Chise the next best thing, and urges her to join her coven. If she does, the witches might be able to help her.

That’s a big might, but with Chise, among other things, not wanting to die by Spring and Stella wanting to throw a birthday party for her next year, even Elias agrees their only course is to join the witch’s gathering.

It would seem Cartiphilus orchestrated this whole thing, reasonably certain that Chise would try to help the dragon at the cost of her own health in the scenario that unfolded. He used her own good nature in order to slap her with a curse that has the opposite effect as his. To what end? Is he trying to die?


Darling in the FranXX – 06

Dawn rises on the day of a battle that will decide whether everyone gets to see another sunrise. A massive horned cubic klaxosaur trundles over the horizon with a retinue of foot soldiers, throwing some serious Ramiel vibes—bizarre, mysterious, merciless. Ichigo tries to wash away her troubles with a refreshing bath; Gorou continues to worry about Hiro.

Gorou tries to get Ichigo to talk to Hiro, and Ichigo uses the opportunity to try to confess her feelings, but Zero Two appears, and says what she isn’t feeling instead—that she thinks of Hiro as a sibling—and is devastated when he says he feels the same. Ichinose Kana is killing it so far, even if it’s extremely hard to forget she’s not Hanazawa Kana.

With things needed to be said left unsaid, Zero Hour approaches, and the two Squads and Strelitzia take their positions. The effects of Ichigo’s unrequited love on her performance and Hiro’s ability to survive his third sortie with Two aren’t the only concerns: Squad 13 wants to prove to 26 they’re not just a bunch of in-the-way misfits.

The sheer scale of the boss before them, and the dramatic staging and lighting really lend this battle a sense of occasion and urgency; it’s all or nothing; either these ten comparatively tiny FranXX stop the enemy, or both Plantations will be destroyed.

The only mark against these stakes (which often applied to the populace in Eva as well) is that we never really see any of the people the parasites are protecting, aside from their two adult handlers and Dr. FranXX himself. That’s a small mark, and it’s easily forgiven in light of the pandemonium that ensues.

The contrast between the coordination and discipline of the five identical gray Squad 26 FranXX (also female in form) and those of Squad 13 (or lack thereof) is more stark than Arya, as Ichigo can barely keep her squad hanging in there when some lesser Klax get get through the front lines.

Zero Two observes this contrast, and the dire state of the 13th, and thinks she and Hiro should join the battle sooner rather than later before there isn’t a 13th left. Hiro asks Two why she fights the Klax; she opines it may be because “she’s a monster.”

Two asks him the same, and he says its because his only purpose in life is to protect Papa and the adults. They sortie, against orders, and mop up the Klax harassing the 13th with ease…but Hiro immediately starts to have trouble staying in sync, and the blue veins on his chest start to spread to his entire body and face.

Ichigo lays down the law, ordering Strelitzia to fall back, as she’ll be providing the coup-de-grace. That’s after the 26th, even with their perfectly coordinated tactics, utterly fail to destroy the giant “Gutenberg-class” Klaxosaur. Instead, it shapeshifts from a cube to a humanoid form.

Their leader 090 is almost crushed, but is saved in the nick of time by Argentea, and Zorome and Miku instantly earn his respect. The 13th gets their shit together and Ichigo orders everyone to create an opening for Strelitzia. Hiro uses everything he has left to help Two deliver the killing blow, and with an Eva-esque cross flare, they cause an explosion within the boss.

…But everything Hiro had wasn’t enough. The Gutenberg shifts again into a massive battering ram, and in another nod to Shinji’s first mission in Eva 01, that ram begins repeatedly smashing into Strelitzia. Hiro loses consciousness and Strelitzia shuts down.

Things look bad from Delphinium’s POV; indeed, when Ichigo fears she’s lost Hiro (without telling him what she actually has to say, to boot), Delph shuts down too, and Gorou can’t console Ichigo.

Hiro enters a dream-state, where he assumes he’s dead. Naomi chastises him for giving up. He says he didn’t give up, he just gave all he had. Unlike with Naomi, he still thinks Zero Two can carry on fighting without him. He’s content to go out being as useful as he could be, without regrets.

But that’s not quite right; and he’s not quite being truthful. Zero Two gave him a place to belong and a purpose again; he can’t simply lie down and die while she’s still in the cockpit suffering, slowly reverting to her baser Klaxosaur side.

Zero Two is on the verge of completely Losing It when Hiro hugs her from behind and tells her she should never have to fight—or be—alone again. The blue growth disappears. What is that stuff? I’d like to think it represents the lingering fear and doubt he carried; the belief that he was expendable to Zero Two when the opposite was the case.

With that gone, he gets his second wind, and he and Zero Two finish off the Gutenberg in grand, madcap fashion, with a nice assist from his fellow parasites in the 13th. His doubts and fears are gone now, because he’s found another reason to pilot a FranXX: to be Two’s wings.

And it’s wings we see spreading over the airborne Gutenberg before crushing it and releasing a titanic cloud of blue blood. Mission Accomplished. Casualties: Surprisingly, Zero.

As we watch him and Zero emerge from the cockpit to come together and celebrate with the other parasites from both squads, Hiro recounts the tale of the “Jian”, a bird with one wing, necessitating a male and female pair to lean on one another to achieve flight. That’s the case with Hiro and Zero Two, so he resolves to keep leaning on her that they might fly as high and far as they want.

Halfway into its first half, FranXX delivers a rousing powerhouse resolution to the “Can Hiro Cut It” arc. Now that we know he can, and that he won’t be dying from creepy blue growths anytime soon, we can move on to other matters, like if or when Ichigo will ever tell Hiro how she feels (if she still feels that way after the battle; I’m guessing yeah) and the identity of those new parasites we got a glimpse of in the ep’s final moments.

Whatever comes next, a solid foundation has been laid.


Violet Evergarden – 02

The second episode of Violet Evergarden begins with a flashback to four years ago, when Gilbert first “met” Violet. I use quotes, because his brother suddenly presents him with Violet like she’s a new weapon for him to try out, rather than a human being to meet.

As we know, Gilbert would come to think a lot more of Violet than merely as a trusty tool, be it a comrade in arms, a sister, or even a lover. But witnessing the simple moment they met serves to underscore what was lost when they were suddenly separated at the end of the war.

I imagine Violet and Gilbert were quite inseparable for all of the four years that followed, but now they’re apart, and Violet is trying to make the best of it. More importantly, she wants to learn what the last three words he said to her meant.

For her, that means learning the secrets of the women who write letters that properly express the feelings and intentions of their clients. But there’s a problem: Violet may be able to express love—for Gilbert, mostly—but since she doesn’t understand love, she doesn’t know she’s doing it.

As such, despite her speed and precision at the typewriter, she has a rough go of perceiving or transcribing the clients’ wishes. She’s always lived by cold hard facts and logic. The nuances of words and the concept of tact are as foreign to her as her metal arms are to her new co-workers Cattleya, Erica, and Iris.

When a customer is so angry he prepares to walk out without paying, Violet restrains him with ease, showing she can be an asset to the business (in addition to accurately typing addresses and records). But she’s not going to learn about love by simply doing the grunt-work.

Unfortunate circumstances lead her to writing a “love letter” from an interested woman who doesn’t want to come off as too easy to her admirer, and it goes about as well as you suspect. I actually really felt for the poor customer who had the bad luck to entrust Violet with such a coorespondence.

But I also felt bad for Violet, who has no idea (not yet at least) why her letter was so horrible. We can only hope she’ll apply that military discipline and sticktoitness to learning the finer points of interpersonal communication…and tact. I felt worse still when she thought she saw the back of Major Gilbert’s head, and her crestfallen face when it turned out to be a stranger.

The fellow Auto Memoir Doll who gets the most exposure this week is Erica, who was struggling to write letters that satisfied her customers before Violet showed up. In Violet’s blunders she sees her own shortcomings in this very tricky business, albeit different shortcomings.

She later learns from Violet (in a gorgeous end-of-the-rain scene where the sun starts to pour on their faces) why Violet is so adamant on persisting with the job even though she’s not well-suited for it: to learn what “I love you” meant.

Erica often walks past a store window with an early typewriter, whose inventor built for his blind wife so she could keep writing novels. It was a tool build out of love. The wife’s novels inspired Erica to try her hand at writing, and she intends to stick it out just as Violet does.

Erica (and Iris for that matter) are well aware not everyone can be Cattleya, who is the company’s popular (and money-making) celebrity. She likes Claudia Hodgins (so named because his parents wanted a daughter), but he can’t treat her to dinner because he spent his month’s pay to retrieve the brooch Gilbert gave to Violet, which was later stolen and placed on the black market.

Once Cattleya dolls Violet up a little to give her a look better befitting her regimental aura, Hodgins presents the brooch to Violet as a surprise, and her reaction shows every one present there’s a lot more to Violet than she’s revealed to them thus far.

When Cattleya asks Hodgins about the “Gilbert” Violet mentioned, he tells her, gravely swirling his drink (creating patterns of undulating light on the bar) and as Violet, in her quarters holds her brooch up to the light: Gilbert is from the rich and famous Bougainvillea family.

But still unbeknownst to Violet, he’s Never Coming Back, in one of the more effective episode title drops I’ve ever had the privilege to see. Violet bites the brooch, no doubt believing she’s now a little closer to meeting Gilbert again. In reality, that brooch is all that’s left of him.

It’s a truth Hodgins is in no apparent hurry to reveal to her, and who can blame him? The way she is now, Violet would either not believe him, and possibly undertake a desperate, futile quest to find him, or believe him, and lose all will to live one moment longer without her Major.


Violet Evergarden – 01 (First Impressions)

Violet’s life was once simple to the point of elemental. Rather than earth, fire, water, and air, she had the Battlefield, the Mission, the Orders, and, most importantly, the one who provided the last two on the first, the Commanding Officer; Major Gilbert.

When she comes to in a hospital, her face and arms bandaged, unable to hold a pen, Major Gilbert is the first person she calls for. She believes she’s in sufficiently good working order to begin the next Mission. She wants Orders as soon as possible. She wants to return to the Battlefield. She wants Gilbert.

She doesn’t get any of that. Instead, there’s this guy Colonel Hoggins. Violet’s new orders are simply to come with him. He takes her to a mansion, and there lives the Evergarden family to whom Gilbert has entrusted her until she comes of age.

In this civilized civilian capital untouched by war, Violet must feel utterly out of place. You don’t go stashing a military asset in a civilian setting, now do you? That would be improper. And Violet has always seen herself as such an asset. It’s why she stands at attention and salutes Mrs. Evergarden.

When Violet cannot grasp a lovely-looking cup of tea, it’s a highly symbolic gesture that becomes far more explicit when she reveals her adamantine hand. The metal on that hand is unlike anything else in that mansion, and so it doesn’t look like it belongs. Violet senses this.

When Hoggins starts to go, she protests. She must have orders at once. She must contact Gilbert. She must restore those elements that made up her world as long as she could remember. But again, Hoggins is unaccommodating. The war is over, he tells her, and to her that means she no longer has a purpose, and should be disposed of.

Colonel Hoggins, realizing Violet won’t adjust to life in peacetime so easily, decides to take her with him to the new postwar business he started: a civilian post office that also ghostwrites letters for the many members of the populace that can’t write (presumably due to the ravages of the war).

Because Hoggins, once the a leader of a force dedicated to destroying the enemy and nothing else, found a new niche in the war their blood and toil created, so can Violet. It’s just a matter of re-configuring the nature of those elements which she requires to live.

The “Battlefield” is now the port city of Leiden. In Gilbert’s stead, Hoggins is now her Commanding Officer (he prefers “Boss”). He’ll issue her Missions and Orders.

Those orders will consist not only of work—sorting and delivering mail—but also to learn that she needn’t work all day and night; that she must take breaks, eat, sleep, and all the other things civilians take for granted every goddamn day.

She seems to gradually get the hang of things, but there’s still a “fire” within her Hoggins hopes she’ll one day recognize. Not a literal fire, of course, but the fire of the trauma she suffered. She may regard herself as a weapon and tool and much of the rest of the army might’ve thought the same, but there’s also a human girl in there, and it’s time for her to live and be free.

Live and be free were Gilbert’s last orders, so Violet has no qualms about carrying them out. One day, she listens to one of the “Auto Memoir Dolls” writing a letter for a man who wants to urge his childhood friend not to marry another man.

As the words flow out of the “Doll” (really a beautiful, perceptive woman), memories of Violet’s former Battlefield surface. They’re brutal, and cruel, and dark. She’s every bit as brutal, taking out every enemy soldier that comes near her with grim efficiency and with no regard for her personal safety. We also see Gilbert, who seems to silently curse having to send her out to fight and kill.

The Doll’s closing words in the man’s letter are “I love you”, which are the last words Violet heard from Gilbert, who most likely died in that alley.

Violet didn’t understand those words, any more than a rifle would, but after witnessing the Doll use those words with such surety and conviction, she wants to learn what they mean. As such, she asks Gilbert if she can join the Auto Memoir Dolls in order to learn more about love and other emotions. Gilbert agrees, and Violet’s new Mission begins.

My first impressions of Violet Evergarden are…Wow. Dayum. This is how shit is done. KyoAni really balled out, delivering a wonderfully structured, quietly thrilling portrait of this broken vet. The war between nations may be over, now a new, more difficult war begins: to survive and find purpose in peacetime; to learn what an individual is and to learn what love is.

Ishikawa Yui (AKA Mikasa Ackerman) also delivers a compelling perfomance as, well, someone very similar to Mikasa in terms of loyalty to the person she loves most (though Vi doesn’t know what love is yet) to her general badassery.

Animation is, in a word, majestic. There’s a very vivid sense of the ugly pall of war being lifted over this alternate world, and yet the episode never banged us over the head with exposition. The flashbacks to the battle are effective in their brevity and intensity.

And the score, composed by American Evan Call, was the perfect aural accompaniment to Violet’s story. I don’t award 10s to first episodes lightly, but in the case of this episode, there is no other choice. Bravo.


Houseki no Kuni – 09

In the winter days and weeks since the loss of Antarcticite, Phosphophyllite has been busy. As the snow and ice starts to melt, heralding the start of spring, we get a very cool slow-build reveal of the individual Phos has become: serious, dutiful, efficient; calm, cool, and deadly. Sounds kinda like Antarc, doesn’t it?

The time jump to Spring wasn’t a surprise, so much as the intense change in Phos, and I have to say, I like it. Even Kurosawa Tomoyo’s lower, sterner voice emulates Mariya Ise’s Antarc’s tone and cadence. There remains a measure of the old Phos’ spunk and rawness (Kongou catches Phos at the end of a successful Lunarian battle) but overall, Phos has become a polished and capable member of the group—and the only one with a alloy membrane that can take any form.

Phos kind of had to, after Antarc was lost; but more than necessity, it is how Phos honors Antarc’s memory; no more slacking off or complaining. Phos also keeps a small shard of Antarc’s remains, and has vivid hallucinations of Antarc resurrecting from the wooden bowl, only to shatter and force Phos to relive Antarc’s final moments. It’s a full-blown case of Gem-PTSD, and Phos can’t forgive herself…or sleep. She also cries gold tears, which is both sad and very cool.

When the other Gems wake up (and are issued Summer uniforms), they’re initially shocked at the change in Phos, then scared of Phos’ alloy membrane, then fascinated to the point of surrounding and demanding that Phos perform a variety of tricks, or be poked and prodded every which way. Phos creates a nifty galloy decoy to thrown them off, but they’re pretty relentless.

Before all of the events that made Phos the way they are took place, Phos was often derided as being dead weight and a source of stress and extra work for everyone. Now Phos has never been more popular (in a good way rather than bad). The thing is, it’s the old Phos who would have loved such adulation; New Phos doesn’t quite know how to deal.

I imagine part of that is Phos long-term isolation, which aligns Phos more closely with someone like Cinnabar. Phos briefly forgets who Cinnabar is, but when the two meet during a patrol, Cinnabar is as cold and aloof as ever, clearly trying not to dignify the changes Phos has gone through with a reaction.

While Phos can now perform all manner of dazzling parlour tricks (but no longer has any intention of performing them for amusement) Phos doesn’t seem to mind demonstrating to Amethyst twins how much has been learned during the solo training and learning from Antarc and Kongou.

Phos is truly a force to be reckoned with, and has absolutely no trouble throttling another Lunarian attack, to the twins’ amazement and elation. But not every Gem is impressed. Bort cannot believe this is the same Phos who used to cause so much trouble and contribute so little, to the point of suspicion. I imagine a test of Pho’s combat abilities is in the offing.


Houseki no Kuni – 08

I raise my hands in defeat! I mean my hands are probably rising up right now out of the sea in defeat.

Antarcticite isn’t willing to immediately accept that Phos’ arms are lost, but instead braves the frozen depths (and the colliding ice boulders therein) in search of them, to no avail. Upon reporting to Kongou, Antarcticite takes full responsibility, citing inexperience in working in a pair, but Kongou blames his own lack of caution.

He has Antarc and Phos travel to the Chord Shore, where all Gems are “born”, to find material for new arms. There, they witness something akin to such a birth, albeit far less advanced and complete. The reddish crystals simply fall into the snow, lifeless and inert.

The beach is littered with gold and platinum deposits—deemed worthless by Antarc for their high weight and malleability. Still, there’s nothing else around, so Phos is fitted with temporary gold arms in the absence of more suitable material. The results are initially…not promising:

Um… I’m kind of getting engulfed. Wouldn’t you say I’m being engulfed?

Worse still, the clouds part and Lunarians appear both over the Chord Shore and surround headquarters, keeping Kongou from racing to the Gems’ aid.

In an all-but-no-win scenario, Antarcticite shows true grit and valor, using the saw as a snowboard and taking out as many Lunarians as possible before they unveil yet another new tactic: fishing tackle and hooks that entangle Antarc. Only a burst of nearly self-shattering strength severs the connection, but the Lunarians still don’t disperse.

Antarc manages to yank their stolen hand free and cause the Lunarians to disperse, but not without nearly shattering as well. Though extremely fragile, Antarc attempts to break Phos out of the gold prison, but another Lunarian arrow reduces Antarc to a cloud of crystal shards. Before being carried off, Antarc orders Phos to remain silent, buying Phos time.

Phos…doesn’t remain silent, instead managing to find a way to control the new gold “arms”—a term that doesn’t really do the new shapeshifting appendage(s) justice—and attempt a desperate counterattack to retrieve Antarc’s fragments.

Phos pushes the absolute limit the gold’s ability, acting both as a means of propelling their body into the sky, absorbing or blocking projectiles, and grabbing and throwing Antarc’s sword. Also pushed to new dizzying highs – the increasingly intricate CGI, put to good use. The shimmering, “gooey” liquid gold presents a stunning contrast to the brittle frozen backdrop.

It’s a valiant effort, but ultimately futile, as the Lunarians retreat too quickly for Phos’ attacks to reach them. Phos ends up badly cracked and plummeting to the ground, but is caught by Kongou, who arrived too late to save Antarc. Still, were it not for Antarc, Phos would be gone too.

Phos acknowledges that sacrifice while lamenting Antarc’s loss, and is likely now possessed of a new iron determination to master their new golden “inclusions”, to prevent (or at least make it more difficult) for the Lunarians to capture another beloved comrade and friend.

As the end credits roll over a somber view of Antarcticite’s now-abandoned quarters (with a lovely new song sung by Phos’ seiyu), I’m devastated by Antarc’s sudden loss, despite not knowing they existed just two episodes ago. Antarc made a huge impact on the world of Houseki no Kuni, performed momentous deeds and fought for Phos till the bitter end, and in this writer’s opinion, left us far too soon.


Made in Abyss – 08

“If they die now, it just means they didn’t have what it takes to go any further.” Harsh they may be, truer words were never spoken. Despite her ice-cold demeanor and gloomy, threatening affectation, I have no doubt Ozen would be immensely disappointed if Riko and Reg died during their ten-day survival test.

Now obviously they’re not going to die—and she probably knows that. There may be a lot of bugs when they use fire and a grumpy hippo-like beast who doesn’t want them near his water, but Riko and Reg make a great team, and they have, after all, lived and survived off the land up until now.

Thus Ozen would be worried, even if she was capable of being worried about the two kids passing the test. Ozen takes us back to when Lyza introduced her to a frail-looking young man named Torka whom she married. In a classic Ozen move, she fast-forwards to after Torka has passed away from the effects of the Abyss, and Ozen has to deliver a stillborn Riko.

But as much of a ‘hassle’ as it was, Ozen remained faithful to her dear apprentice, who had progressed so far only to go through so much pain and anguish, and assures the suddenly-alive baby Riko of her “strong sense of duty” which continues to the present now that Lyza’s daughter has descended to her lair.

The product of her duty returns, dirty and exhausted but very much alive after ten days. Reg points out it feels like more, and when Ozen invites them to sup with her, she tells them of how being in the Abyss warps one’s sense of time (among other parts of the brain), such that while Riko has lived ten years since coming up to the surface, to Lyza down in the netherworld it may have felt like a scant ten months; possibly even less.

Needless to say, this is very heartening to Riko, but Ozen warns her and Reg to avoid the three White Whistles besides Lyza who are lurking in the lower layers as they speak, and when she says one of them isn’t “kind like I am”, you know she’s not joking: she, and everything we’ve seen of her, is still kinder than The Sovereign of Dawn, Bondrewd the Novel. 

I love the idea of White Whistles being their own tiny, elite tribe of eccentrics, and to think they get more eccentric (and less human) than Ozen is…a little unsettling. She’s also still not sure what to make of the note Riko thought was written by Lyza.

After giving Riko her mother’s pickaxe, Blaze Reap, she sits her and Reg down and begins to tell them all of the things they’ll need to know as they continue their descent. These are secrets usually kept between White Whistles exclusively, but as Riko is the spawn of one and is headed to their realm, it only makes sense. It’s a sobering experience for Reg to hear of all the strange things on the lower layers, and Ozen doesn’t mince words.

But Ozen isn’t trying to discourage them; only to prepare them as much as one can be prepared. When it comes time to say goodbye, Ozen isn’t present, so Marulk and the raiders see off Riko and Reg. Marulk is particularly sad to see them go, and her tears not only cause Riko and Reg to tear up, but me as well!

Ozen recalls one final pivotal exchange she had with Lyza after they returned to the surface. Lyza, whose face is finally fully revealed, has not only taken on an apprentice (Jiruo, AKA Leader), but has made the decision to make another descent in order to allow Riko to decide for herself what kind of life she’ll lead. She asks Ozen to tell Riko about all of the miracles that had to occur so she could live; Ozen agrees.

Back in the present, with her duty now done, Riko and Reg set out for deeper depths approaching the terrifying sheer pale walls of the Great Fault and the Third Layer. While it seemed strange and alien at first, the longer we spent in the Inverted Forest, the more comfortable, even cozy it felt.

The edge of the Fault couldn’t be any less hospitable. It will be exciting to see what other wondrous sights they’ll see in this newest setting—and what fresh devilry with which they’ll have to contend.