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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dororo – 18 – Demon Shark, Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo

(Source of this post’s title here. You’re welcome ;)

This week is a clash of numerous parties with conflicting interests, first among them Crazy Shark Boy, whose shark brother Jiroumaru eats the other shark and becomes a demon with legs. Dororo seems totally hosed until Hyakkimaru arrives in the nick of time to save him.

This demon Jiroumaru is a nasty customer, but no where near the toughest Hyakki has had to deal with, and so he’s able to dispatch him without much trouble.

I love his reunion with Dororo, pinching his cheek and touching foreheads as a sign he’s glad he’s okay. Dororo’s many morphing facial expressiosn and tsundere reaction (“took you long enough!”) are all priceless. Hyakki also gains back his left leg.

With the dynamic duo back together, the next item of business is catching up with Itachi and his crew before they find and steal Hibukuro’s treasure. But they run into a snag: the entrance to the cave containing said treasure is booby trapped.

If this weren’t enough going on, a small Daigo flotilla suddenly arrives at the cove with Tahoumaru, Mutsu and Hyougou ready to wreck up the place. Dororo and Itachi put their heads together (literally), but Hyakkimaru suggests they use explosives to divert the Daigo samurai.

Itachi and what’s left of his men escape as Hyakkimaru battles Tahoumaru and Hyougou (at close range) and Mutsu (long range) at once; and before he knows it his right arm blade has been snapped off. Itachi becomes a pincushion for arrows shielding Dororo behind some Buddha statues, which Dororo accidentally topples onto advancing samurai.

If anyone held out any hope Hyakki and Tahou could work out their differences, well…hope no longer. It ain’t happening as long as the latter consider’s the former’s mere existence a threat to the people of Daigo.

Crazy Shark Boy comes back into play when he stands atop a cliff with a pile of grenades, setting them off in a final suicide blaze of glory to destroy those who killed his beautiful sharks.

The blast injures Hyougou gravely, and Tahou, Mutsu, and the Daigo samurai withdraw, while Dororo and Itachi fall into the very cavern where Hibukuro’s treasure is located. Itachi gets the glimpse he wanted, then dies with a smile on his face.

With all immediate threats either eliminated or temporarily withdrawn, Hyakki finds Dororo in the cavern, but Dororo doesn’t yet know what to do with the gold his father entrusted to him. That’s not surprising; he’s still a kid, and a kid who has never seen so much money. So he takes only as much as he can comfortably carry (for spending money), and continue his adventures with Hyakkimaru until he does.

The two arrived at that god-forsaken cove separately, but leave it together once more; a family of two, surviving the myriad dangers wrought by the greed and treachery of Itachi, the holier-than-thou hypocrisy and military precision of Tahoumaru & Co., and the pure insanity of Crazy Shark Boy (RIP). Meanwhile, Hyakki’s restored parts grow more numerous, no doubt the fortunes of Daigo will continue to fall.

Dororo – 09 – Not Letting The War Win

Dororo has never not known war, and it has taken everything from him but his life. But even that is threatened when he suddenly collapses with an apparent fever. Hyakkimaru has to carry him to find help, and eventually comes upon a kind priestess who takes them into the temple for Dororo to recover.

After a couple of lighthearted episodes—one in which the ghoul-of-the-week turns out to be not so bad, and one in which a boy and his big sis survive—the “party is over” this week, as we’re told the heart-wrenching tale of how Dororo became an orphan, and why he clings so close to Hyakkimaru and fears being left behind.

On two occasions, Dororo spots red spider lilies, which he hates, because they remind him of when his mama died in a field of them.

Dororo’s father Hibukuro was a big, strong leader of a band of brigands who unusually only targeted samurai, seeking retribution on those who destroyed their village. His mother Ojiya was his strong, kind wife. But it doesn’t take long to see that an age as cruel as the one in which they live wouldn’t allow such an arrangement to last for long.

Hibukuro is good at killing and good at bringing men to his side, but when his band gets strong enough, his right-hand man Itachi suggests they make a deal with a lord. It’s the smart, pragmatic move; one that has the best chance of ensuring the survival of his family. But neither of Dororo’s parents are willing to turn to the lords ever again…and young Dororo follows their lead.

Predictably, Itachi betrays them by making a deal with the samurai, who end up filling Hibukuro’s legs with arrows. Itachi takes the band for himself, leaving the wounded Hibukuro and his family to scavenge fields of the dead for scraps of food. Itachi and his treahery represented a natural element to this world, and Hibukuro and Ojiya simply lacked the pragmatism that would have enabled them to survive.

If he hadn’t betrayed them, Hibukuro’s stubbornness would have doomed him again anyway…and it does, when they happen upon another village the samurai are preparing to burn. One of them recognizes Hibukuro’s signature pole sword and seeks revenge for his fallen friends.

Hibukuro has an epic death by bear-hugging and impaling the man who impaled him, but the end result is that Ojiya and Dororo are now all on their own. You can see the moment Ojiya knows they’re somehow even more screwed than they were a minute ago, and their margin of survival henceforth is that much smaller.

It’s something of a miracle the samurai let Ojiya and Dororo go free, and we know from Dororo telling Mio that Ojiya never sold her body for money or food. But when she hears that samurai are handing out free soup, she gets in line, something she and her husband might not have done before things got so dire.

She’s even willing to cut in line, hold out her hands, and have the scalding soup poured in her hands (she has no bowl) so that Dororo can eat. And Itachi is there, in his fancy clothes, comfy with the lord, basically telling her “I told you so.” Dororo throws a rock at him—perhaps for the first time—but Itachi catches it easily.

When we see the mother and child walking slowly through a field of those damned red spider lilies (the show’s profound artistry on full display this week as usual), I knew that was going to be the end of Ojiya’s tether. She collapses from starvation, can’t get back up, and the life drains from her eyes as Dororo begs her not to, promising he won’t tell her he’s hungry anymore. It’s a brutal gut punch.

Time and time again, right until the moment of her death, Dororo’s mother told him not to let the war beat him, even though it claimed her and his father. When he recovers from his fever, we learn he had told the priestess this entire story. Thanks to her ministrations, he can keep going, keep fighting against the war that’s taken almost everything.

But as he continues his journey with Hyakkimaru, Dororo realizes when he smells his freshly-cleaned clothes that those clothes had to have been removed at some point. And the priestess told Hyakkimaru how difficult it must be to travel with “such a young girl.” That’s when I learned for the first time (I never watched the original show): Dororo is a girl.

The hints were there: her button-cute appearance, girlish eyelashes, and the fact she was voiced by a girl and not a boy. And surely it’s smart to dress as a guy and not a girl when you’re all alone in a cruel, merciless world like this. Now Hyakkimaru knows the truth, and I’m eager to see how that’ll change their dynamic as he continues to develop his voice.

Unfortunately, the days they still have to travel the lands together in search of ghouls and fortune may soon be interrupted by more huge developments: one of Daigo’s spies has informed him of a midwife who put a limbless infant in the river, and young warrior with prosthetic arms. Tahoumaru overhears as well. Soon, Hyakkimaru, the instrument of Daigo’s mounting misfortunes (due to the demons losing his parts one by one) will be the crosshairs of his father and younger brother.

And while Dororo is a capable fighter and thief, she’s far from invincible, as we’ve learned from the times Hyakkimaru has had to rescue her, including the first time he did. Like Hibukuro, the day may come when he’ll have to choose whether to fight those who have forsaken him, or focus on protecting Dororo. More limbs and senses, more problems…

Banana Fish – 02 – Nothing But Trouble

Ash seems like a do-things-for/by-himself kinda guy, so he goes after Skip and Eiji’s kidnappers all on his own…which is not smart. He’s captured immediately, unable to make a move lest the captors (Arthur and Marvin) kill either of their hostages.

While Ash may not possess the strongest strategic mind, he is able to outsmart Marvin, whom he convinces he’ll roll in the hay with but takes the guy down and steps over him. When he, Skip, and Eiji hit a dead end, Eiji reveals his hidden talent: he’s a pole-vaulter. LOL WUT.

He gets over what looks like a 14′-15′ wall, which is pretty good (the all-time record is 20′) but with no padding, Eiji is injured and eventually passes out in the street from blood loss. When he comes to, he gets word to the cops of Ash and Skip’s location, but Ash’s buddy Shorter and his friends make it there first.

In the ensuing fray between Dino’s guys and Ash’s, Marvin puts two bullets in lil’ Skip, and just like that, the kid I thought would be a mildy-annoying recurring sidekick is gone. A couple minutes later, at the end of a chase, so is Marvin—but not by Ash’s hands. He’s framed for murder by Dino’s many minions.

He’s wrapped in a neat-little murder package, what with the overwhelming motive of wanting to kill Marvin. A dirty cop owned by Dino happens to preside over the jurisdiction where Ash was arrested, and sees fit to play videos of porn involving Ash as a child (definitely not NYPD protocol), filling in the blanks of his past quite devastatingly concisely.

Ash knows he can plead innocence all he likes, but the bottom line is Dino has too many people in his pocket. Ash is refreshingly self-aware in his ineptness at staying on top of the game (even if he spent time there due to sheer will and charisma). Also, he fully admits even if he was framed and someone else killed Marvin, that person merely kept him from doing something he’d planned to do one day anyway.

Eiji is deployed by the cops in an attempt to get Ash to blab about Dino & Co., but Ash isn’t having it. He may hate his “dad’s” guts, but he still has his personal integrity to consider. Yet he doesn’t blame Eiji for being the transparent pawn he is; instead, he’s still goddamned impressed Eiji was able to vault himself over that huge wall!

Things continue to not go particularly swell at all for young Ash, as Dino gets a judge he’s friendly with to make Ash’s process as undue as possible, transferring him to a state prison where plenty of Dino’s men are waiting to kill him. (On the subject of men- unless I’m being grossly unobservant, I have yet to a single female character in these two episodes. I’m wondering if we’ll ever see one…)

The cops prepare to reach out to Max Lobo, the convict Eiji’s boss was planning to interview, who’s in the same slammer. I’m sure Ash would like to think he can take care of himself, but particularly in prison I hope he avails himself of any and all assistance offered him. In any case, dude’s an elite-level trouble magnet.

Tokyo Ghoul:re – 12 – Say My Name

Eto, AKA The One-Eyed Owl, decides to join the fray on the rooftop, siccing Kanae on Sasaki, and the two combine to beat him up enough to send him into his head, where a young Kaneki Ken waits for him. I wonder if that was the whole point: for Eto to re-awaken the Ken in the Sasaki; to rid the Doves of one of their most durable weapons.

The Sasaki inside his mind comes to think of all the sweet dreams he’s had as a corrupting agent; deluding him into thinking “it’s okay to want.” He discards those dreams, and returns to reality with all of Ken’s power, but while seeming to remain Sasaki Haise. He dispatches Kanae, then attacks Shuu as an enemy, forcing Eto to intervene personally, her various puppets bested.

Back in the building, Shirazu summons previously unsummoned powers in order to create an opening for Urie to kill Noro, but in the process, Shirazu is mortally wounded and slowly dies in front of Urie, Mitsuki and Saiko, without doubt the toughest blow the young Quinx Squad has ever had to face.

Saiko can’t stop sobbing, but the loss might hurt Urie most of all…not to mention someone has to make sure Shirazu’s poor little sister is taken care of. Back on the rooftop, Sasaki fights Eto to a draw and forces her to retreat in pieces, leading her to confess her love for Kaneki Ken, who is honored, using her other name, Takatsuki-sensei. This is surely not the last we’ve seen of Eto.

The Sasaki Haise who emerges from the battle turns back into the model CCG investigator once his superior Ui arrives, claiming Shuu for himself while ceding Kanae to him. Sasaki throws Shuu off the building, but Kanae jumps off right behind him, revealing her true identity as Karen and confessing her love for Shuu before saving him from falling to his death at the cost of her own life.

The hardened Sasaki who meets back up with his Quinx Squad, now one man shorter, has no mercy for a crying Urie, blaming him for not being strong enough to keep Shirazu safe. With the loss of Shirazu and Sasaki’s transformative rooftop battle, the fun times are most certainly over. On the bright side, Shuu is still, somehow, alive, and is picked up by Tooka and Chie.

Needless to say, this felt less like an ending and more like a mid-season wrap-up, because Tokyo Ghoul re: will be back in the Fall. I’ll be sure to tune back in.

Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai – 05 – A Good Meal, a Nice Bath, and an Unexpected Guest

The first minutes of this episode of Tada-kun are, in a word, heartbreaking. A grown Mitsuyoshi and Yui pray at their parents’ grave with their gramps, and we’re taken back to the rainy day their dad suddenly has to hop on a flight, and their mom drives him to the airport.

As they pull away, his dad pokes his head out the window and snaps a picture of his kids. Mitsuyoshi is sullen. Yui is cheerful. It turns out to be the last picture their dad took; he and their mom were killed in an accident, and would never return.

Back in the present, Kaoru blasts into the Tadas’ cafe to announce the “Tenth Annual Ijuuin Kaoru Show” is on, and it’s live. This year, all are welcome, from Hajime, Hinako and Yamashita Dog, to newcomers Teresa and Alec. Kaoru asks them all to sit back while he utilizes his not inconsiderable culinary skillz to prepare all their favorite dishes.

When Mitsuyoshi and Teresa are tasked with putting some food away in the fridge in the upstairs apartment, she’s drawn to that last photo Mitsuyoshi’s dad took, and when he explains the context, she remembers when she fell in the drink and was saved by Alec around the same time Mitsu and Yui lost their folks. She considers both times when they decided they had to try to become stronger; in her case for Alec’s sake; in his case for Yui’s.

The exchange is interrupted when Kaoru announces he’s completed everyone’s dishes and it’s time to dig in. Everyone agrees Kaoru (who comes from a restaurant family) is damn good at cooking, even if, in Alec’s case, she doesn’t outwardly say it. Instead, she merely polishes of every last bit of her katsu bowl and asks for seconds.

The Kaoru Show continues after dinner with a trip to a bathhouse he’s rented out for the evening (he’s a young man of means, after all), and the two genders split off to their respective sides of the bath. Since they’re in the bath, there is talk of boob size on both sides, as well as Yui thinking out loud that Teresa would be a great girlfriend for her big brother. Alec says Teresa already has one, only to dismiss it as a “joke.”

Over on the boys’ side, Yamashita pines for an “older girl” presumed to be Hinako, while Hajime overheats and slips on a bowl, nearly cracking his skull. When the two groups reunite, Hinako is right there by Hajime’s side to help him, for which he’s grateful, even if he told his friends in the bath that his getting romantically involved with her would never happen (likely because he’s still mostly convinced Hinako and HINA are different people).

After the bathhouse, the Tenth Annual Ijuuin Kaoru Show comes to a close, and we learn about it’s raison d’etre: ten years ago, when Mitsuyoshi lost his folks, Kaoru, who was his classmate but never got along with him before, took pity on Mitsuyoshi, and made cheering him up at any cost his life’s work from that point on.

In other words, or more accurately in Alec’s words, Kaoru is a “pest”, but “has some good points too”, one of them being he can always be relied on to cheer you up when you’re feeling low. He’s never failed to do so with Mitsuyoshi (and Yui!) for a decade and counting.

After everyone goes their seperate ways and the credits roll, we move on to an entirely new development: the arrival of Teresa’s apparent fiancee/suitor/betrothed, Charles, who not only can stop Alec’s attacks with one hand, but confirms that Teresa is not only a princess of “Larsenberg” (maybe not Luxembourg?), but its future queen.

That makes things a bit more complicated for her and Mitsuyoshi, now doesn’t it?

Violet Evergarden – 13 (Fin) – “I Love You” Means Never Having to Take Orders Again

Violet Evergarden protects Dietfried from bullets at the cost of one metal arm, then prevents the bridge from blowing up at the cost of another (with a crucial assist and catch from Benedict). In doing so, she averts the escalation of an isolated anti-peace flare-up and preserves peace for the continent.

In light of all this, Dietfried rightly starts to seriously rethink how he’s always thought about Violet—the tool he gave his brother which then outlived his brother—and how his blaming of her was only a means of distracting him from the fact he blamed himself more.

With peace secured, Violet secures new arms and returns to ghostwriting work immediately, but as the first Leiden Air Show since the war began looms, she faces her most difficult assignment yet: writing a letter not for anyone else, but by herself, containing her feelings; the whims of her heart.

Cattleya encourages her to write something before the deadline, but Violet gets writer’s block. She recalls that night in the Major’s tent when he told her she neither needs nor should want nothing but his orders; that she should feel free to live free, because she’s not a toll, she’s human, with emotions just like his.

Gilbert proves it rather cruelly by making her as upset as he is, but at the time Violet still knows nothing of what she’s feeling, and realizing that, he decides to table the discussion until after the battle…a “later” that never comes due to his death at Intens.

As if the universe were conspiring to lend Violet inspiration to write a letter to Gilbert, Dietfried arrives at the doll office to introduce her to his mother, who wished to meet and speak with her. The mother’s memory is somewhat hazy, but watching Violet’s reactions to her words (and her description of Violet’s “Gilbert-Eye” pendant) snaps her into lucidity.

Gilbert’s mother tells Violet things only she can say: that it wasn’t your fault; that it’s not your cross to bear; that her other son hasn’t given up on him any more than the two of them. But rather than wait for her son to come through the front door, she takes comfort in knowing he’ll live forever in her heart. Remembering him the rest of her life may hurt, but hey…love hurts.

For all the damage Gilbert felt he did by allowing her to act as a weapon for so long from such a young age, the very fact he saw her as a human and not a tool is what ultimately put Violet in the position she’s in now: with the means to grab the life she’s always been owed, and live in happiness yearning for neither orders nor death.

Vi shocks Dietfried one more time before departing by telling him she’s done with orders. Thus he sees, for the first time, not only a real human, but someone kindred to him in the pain of his loss.

Upon returning from the Bougainvillea House, Violet writes the letter that will join tens of thousands of others and be rained down upon the city by the airplanes, like her weapons of war reborn as weapons of peace and the transmission of peoples’ feelings.

We, as the audience, are the ones who “catch” and read that letter, in which she states that while she didn’t understand anything about how he felt when he tried to tell her, by ghostwriting she’s gradually developed the tools to sense how people feel, and thus how he felt.

Finally, she speaks of how she feels. She continues to believe he’s alive, whether that’s somewhere out in the world or in her heart and those of his mother and brother, and that she finally understands what the words “I love you” mean “a little better.”

So She’ll continue her work living, writing, transmitting the contents of others’ hearts through paper and ink, and in doing so continue to learn about her own emotions. Since a “new project” has already been greenlit, we’ll be witnesses to the continuation of her journey, and that of her colleagues at the Auto Memoir Doll Service.

Violet Evergarden – 12 – The Train Has Left The Station

As Violet flies south from her mission, her intended destination is not home, but the town of Distery. That’s where Cattleya, Benedict, and a group of peace envoys will travel north to Gardarick via the completed transcontinental railroad. The military puts Gilbert’s brother Captain Dietfried Bougainvillea in charge of security for the mission. The troops Violet encountered up north were only the tip of an Anti-Peace spear that is not as decimated as the south believes.

This means that at some point Violet and Dietfried, her harshest critic despite knowing very little of who she’s become, will cross paths. Before that happens, he interacts with Cattleya and [], who bristle at his harsh words for Violet, who like everyone is doing her best…and her best means letters that “slip right into people’s hearts”. Diets can’t believe it.

Violet and her pilot are among the first to notice the first stages of the Anti-Peace faction’s plan, involving fires along the railroad. Their next stage involves infiltrating the envoy train with troops. When Violet spots the train halted in Distery, she has the pilot drop her off.

Vi reports what she saw to Dietfried and requests orders, rejecting the notion that doing so means she’s still just a military tool that needs orders to follow. She’s doing what she wants, and what she knows she can do: avoiding war and protecting her friends.

Once the Anti-Peacers execute their plan to separate the front and backs of the train (a nice microcosm of their larger goal to keep the continent divided), Violet is a half-step ahead…fortunately for Dietfried, who must rely on her in the absence of his troops. He heads for the engine to regain control, and orders her to protect the civilians. Atop the moving train, she encounters the very same unit that she encountered in the forest.

Their commanding officer bears the physical and emotional scars of the fall of Intense, the battle where Violet lost Gilbert. He wants the fort back, and while his monologue to Violet is tinged with the thirst for vengeance and the burning of the world, he argues his side’s case well. He and his comrades have been abandoned. Everything was taken from them. Under those circumstances, you can’t blame them for wanting to burn everything down.

Violet resolves not to kill ever again, no matter what, in doing so making her battle atop the railcar that much trickier. Between the need to refrain from fatal blows, keep fallen opponents from falling off the train, and her attachment to the green pendant Gilbert gave her, there’s simply too many variables working against her.

She’s eventually subdued by the general’s superior numbers. But before he can behead her, his saber is shot away by Dietfried, who proceeds to dispatch the bulk of the troops and their general, using deadly force Violet wouldn’t.

Upon saving her, Diets is furious that she attempted to stop the troops without killing. “What’s the use of a battle doll that won’t kill?”, he fumes, blaming that kind of foolish thinking for his little brother’s demise. No doubt he gifted Gilbert Violet so that someone (something in his mind) would always be by his side to protect Gilbert in his stead.

Diets can holler all night about Violet being the one who killed Gilbert for failing to protect him, but he’s the one who decided that Violet was a tool and nothing else. Gilbert didn’t see his dynamic with Violet as user and tool, or brother and protector. He made it his goal to make amends for what was done to Violet; to restore the humanity, individuality, and emotions he knew still resided within her. Her orders were to live, not kill.

In the middle of this spat, a suriving enemy soldier gets a shot off before falling off the train, and Violet dives in front of Diets, deflecting the bullet with her metal arm. The ricochet causes an explosion, which in a crucial railroad tunnel connecting the north and south, may mean Vi inadvertently did the Anti-Peace faction’s work for it, but the ramifications will have to wait.

For now, Violet is committed to following Gilbert’s last orders. And considering she intends to stay alive, she might as well keep putting her skills to use keeping others alive. If she couldn’t protect him, then she’ll protect Dietfried…even if he never stops hating her.

A lot of great reflected themes swirled around this episode. The war between north and south reflecting the war between Dietfried and Violet; in each case with a latter party that doesn’t want to engage. The fragility of the peace efforts reflecting the fragility of the railroad, tunnel, and bridge that peace must travel on.

Making Dietfried and Violet temporary allies of necessity was a great move to get them together, while the train setting gave the episode an excellent surging momentum—as train episodes tend to do.

It’s clear that deep down Dietfried indeed blame himself for getting his brother killed, but keeps using Violet as a scapegoat. That Violet was capable of moving on from the past makes him even angrier, because he hasn’t figured out a way. But if he can’t forgive himself and move on, he’s no different than the Anti-Peace faction, and their general was right: the war will never end.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 24 (Fin)

Cartaphilus and Chise are both what one could call “suffering junkies”, but where they differ is the former’s willingness to make everyone around him suffer as much as possible. Chise really just causes trouble for people; there’s no malice.

She tries to take Carty down, but let’s face it, she’s not that experienced in magical combat, and Ashen Eye intervenes. That’s when the cavalry arrives in the form of Elias, Ariel, and Ruth. Ashen Eye is dispersed and Chise manages to pin Carty, but her attempted sleep spell fails (he’s immune) and he stabs her through the midsection.

Though relieved of several organs, bones and much of her blood, Chise then smiles, because this was part of the plan. She and Elias were “bound” together, so that when Carty contacts Chise by stabbing her, he opens himself up to an attack from Elias, who surrounds both Carty and Chise in thorns and removes Carty’s eye (the one he got from Chise).

Chise then puts Carty to sleep with a pretty lullaby before passing out herself from her injuries. While unconscious, she’s visited by Carty’s curse, who tells her both he and the dragon are fighting it out in her body. It will keep her alive, but one day she’ll die. So, not that much different from anyone else.

She awakens back in her bed at home, and after hugging Elias, makes him explain why he used Stella for such a nefarious purpose.

That spurs an argument between the two, but they eventually hammer out an agreement. From now on, when he’s not with her, she won’t put herself in danger, will back down if about to get hurt, and will talk to someone before she takes action.

Thankfully, Chise doesn’t find herself in danger for the rest of the finale. After checking in on a slumbering Carty (who Ashen Eye now finds boring) she takes the train to London, visits Angelica and Stella, and receives gifts from both.

Those gifts are wedding rings (which will alert their wearers when the other is in trouble), a wedding dress and veil. Chise completes her look with penny loafers for some reason (no white pumps?) but I kinda like that choice, and in any case she looks absolutely gorgeous in the sylvan glade where she awaits the arrival of Elias.

There, they both promise to share each others paths, Elias sweeps her off her feet and gives her a skull-nuzzle, and she kisses and embraces him, now married (ceremonially, if not legally under the laws of the United Kingdom). But just because she’s his bride doesn’t mean she won’t continue her mage apprenticeship.

Overall, a pleasant, if tidy, end to a series for which there were great expectations. I would say there were many times when those expectations were exceeded or met, but there were also times that could be narratively meandering or tonally muddled. Inconsistency aside, it was a fun, sometimes intense, and almost always enchanting ride.

Now…Who’s up for a Chise/Shirayuki crossover?

Violet Evergarden – 11

As a civil war rages in the frigid north, Claudia decides to decline a doll request from a soldier in the war zone; it’s just too dangerous. However, Violet overhears him, snatches up the request when no one’s looking, and takes a ship to the war-torn country. After all, there’s no place too dangerous for Violet.

When no ground route can be taken, Violet suggests they drop her into the camp via airplane; the pilot likes her moxie and goes along with it, possibly seeing the iron resolve in her eyes. When she says there’s nowhere she won’t go for her clients, she means it, damnit.

Looking outside my window, I don’t see a scene all that different from the snow-covered woods of the camp outskirts…at least in terms of looks. Thankfully, I don’t have snipers lurking in the distance trying to pick me off, which is the case with the unit Aiden is in. Everyone is killed but him and a younger colleague. Aiden tries to carry him with him, but it slows him down, and he’s shot too.

Not long after the enemy arrives to finish the job, Violet’s plane appears in the air and she leaps out and soars through the sky like a missle before pulling her chute and landing. She takes out a number of the enemy troops with ease until their leader trains his gun on her.

This leader knows who she is (and what she was), and so orders his men to retreat, leaving Violet with Aiden, who is most likely a goner. After so many jobs in the lands where there is peace, this is the first time she merges her past and present worlds.

When he wakes up in a cabin, Aiden tells Violet he can’t hold out long, and would like her to write his letters immediately. With neither a typewriter nor writing pad on hand, Violet simply uses her hands to air-type the worlds Aiden is saying, which she says she’ll memorize; another heretofore unknown talent.

At first Aiden only asks her to write a letter thanking his parents and hoping that if they ever reincarnate and marry again, he would love to be their son again. Then he drops a photo of his sweetheart Maria, and Violet asks if he wants her to write her a letter as well.

When Aiden went off to war, it was before he and Maria—childhood friends—had truly started acting like a couple. He never even got to kiss her, and when he closes his eyes in these, his final hours, Maria is foremost in the imagery, smiling in the fields of their home. He tells her how happy he was she confessed, and his desire to be by her side.

Then, as Aiden starts to fade, he asks Violet to her to put her hands on his, he tells Maria he loves her, and as he kisses Maria in his mind, for the first and last time, Violet kisses him on the forehead before promising the letters will be delivered.

There are no more dealings with the war-mongering extremists, and Violet is safely taken out of the zone, but before returning home, she visits Aiden’s family to deliver the letters and his bloody kerchief in person. When she sees the anguish and grief well up in Aiden’s parents and Maria, Violet cannot hold back her own anguish, and turns to leave before she makes an undue scene. But Aiden’s mother stops her and gives her a hug.

Thinking she caused so much pain by delivering the news of Aiden’s death, Violet is taken aback when they thank her for bringing him back to them. So many other families will never know what happened to their sons, brothers, fathers who went off and never returned.

But Aiden’s family not only knows, and have closure, but they were able to read the feelings in his heart in his last moments, and know he wasn’t alone…all thanks to Violet.

No other Auto Memoir Doll could have done what she did to fulfill Aiden’s request. She suffered a horrible past as a fearless weapon, but at least in this mission, those skills served a good cause. She should take solace in that.