Darling in the FranXX – 15 – Two Jian Become One, and a Much Bigger World Reveals Itself

When the Battle of Gran Crevasse begins, Hiro has no pistil, partner, or FranXX…a bird with one wing and one eye, unable to fight without his one and only partner. A Jian.

While his friends head out into by far the biggest and most dangerous battle they’ve ever fought, one that will surely determine the future of mankind—a battle from which they may not return—Hiro is merely a spectator in Plantation 13’s CIC, with Hachi, Nana, and Dr. FranXX.

Thankfully, he won’t remain one.

Oh, look: the Nines swap the “gender roles” in the cockpit. It figures that they do things quite a bit differently. Zero Two is of their ilk, but also pretty much her own animal; when we check in on her she’s already devoured all of her disposable Stamens, and is operating Strelizia alone in Beast Mode.

While she and the Nines aren’t having any trouble destroying scores of Klaxosaurs, their foe’s numbers are being replenished as quickly as they can dispatch them, meaning no progress is being made, even when Squad 13 joins the fray with their own unique brand of combat.

Plantation 26 is obliterated, and when a mountain-sized “Super Lehmann-class” Klaxosaur emerges from beneath the ground, Plantation 13 is also pierced and thousands of smaller Klaxosaurs infiltrate the city within.

Hachi and Nana’s foreboding was more than justified: this episode of DFX raises the scale of the threat and stakes to dizzyingly huge, TTGL-esque levels. In doing so, the show reaches a high watermark; everything has been building up to this, and the execution is equal parts breathless and flawless.

At one point, Hiro has seen enough. He’s tired of standing by, and curses himself for having suddenly stopped asking questions and challenging the limited world he’s been spoon-fed his entire life.

Thanks to Zero Two, he managed to find the memories the adults tried to steal from him, and now that he remembers the inquisitive brat he once was, he intends to get back to discovering the true boundaries of the world with immediate effect.

To that end, he pilots a wimpy training mech into the warzone—and nearly gets himself killed. Ichigo, who has tried at all costs to keep him and Zero Two apart, both for his safety and due to her wanting him to come love him as he loves her…but that’s simply not going to happen.

So Ichigo concedes defeat. Goro gives up his spot so Hiro can pilot Delphinium to Strelizia’s location. You can’t help but feel for Ichigo: she can finally pilot a FranXX with the one she loves, only so he can get to the one he loves. But even Ichigo has to admit they can’t save the day without Strelizia at full chat. For that, it needs two pilots working as one.

Ichigo delivers Hiro to Zero Two, but not before she gives Strelizia a couple of frustration slaps to help dull the sting a small bit. Once inside, Hiro finds Zero Two unresponsive, but grabs hold of her over-sized horns and enters her thoughts.

There, he finds the little red girl and comforts her. There, Hiro learns how long Zero Two fought to keep her memories; how she fought the world without him. We learn she got the term “darling” from him, referring to the picture book she ate in order to never forget.

Her horns shatter, and the human Zero Two returns. She tells Hiro to stay away, but he won’t. She may have called him fodder, and he may have called her a monster, but it doesn’t matter anymore, because there’s a world out there to explore, far beyond what the adults might like or allow…and he’s ready to fight by her side for that world once again.

Hiro kisses Zero Two, Strelizia returns to its humanoid form, only red and souped-up, and the two confess to each other emphatically over open comms for all of Squad 13 to hear. Ichigo is “happy” for them.

Oh, and the New Strelizia borne from their mutual confessed love not only tears through the Super Lehmann, but opens a hole to the blue sky, literally piercing the old boundaries of the world that simply aren’t adequate anymore.

But just when the immediate threat is eliminated, a newer, stranger, and most importantly even bigger threat emerges in the form of a gargantuan Klaxosaur(?) arm and hand that rise up and smashes the majority of Plantation 13 to dust.

The two Jian have finally joined to become one, and their world has never looked bigger…but now the question arises: how much longer do they have to explore it?

P.S. Miku and Zorome discover a Klaxosaur core containing a golden mass with a vaguely human form that might be a pilot, covered in some kind of protective coating. Something to keep an eye on…

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Fate/Extra Last Encore – 10 (Fin) – Hakuno Picks a Third Way

FELE’s last episode for a while elaborates on the plan devised by Rin and Rani to bring a Master to the Sixth Floor, and they relay those plans to Hakuno on the roof of a high school down on what I assume to be the level where he started.

Waking up in the ladder with Saber, Hakuno explores his code casting powers, which apparently contain all of the weapons and skills of the masters who died before him. That combination of abilities adds credence to Saber’s insistence that he is himself and no one else, and must proceed as such.

When they reach the Sixth floor, it is a white wasteland piled with long-unused lances. Suddenly, Rin appears in her Lancer garb and attacks Saber, and a giant Rani sneaks up on Hakuno. Then Rin and Rani fight each other, more Rins show up, more Ranis show up, and Hakuno and Saber basically get a very efficient course in what’s been happening for about a millennium.

They realize the lands and waters are littered not just with weapons, but corpses of endless Rin and Rani copies. But there is one place where there are no corpses, and Hakuno determines that’s where they should go.

While pondering what the heck is up with all the Rin copies, the “real” Rin arrives, but like her “soldier” versions, she’s only a digital copy, and a fragile one at that. She’s just able to lead them to the central dome when she starts to disperse, a process she tells them actually hurts quite a bit.

Within the halls of the dome, recorded video of Rin and Rani is projected on cross-shaped supports. They once fought as rival Masters on this floor, but Moon Cell deemed their fight a draw just before the Holy Grail War was suspended, leaving them in a horrifying limbo of fighting and killing each others’ endless digital copies as the “originals” lay dormant.

It’s a stalemate, but it’s also a bug in the system that’s gotten way out of control, so they both sent avatars of themselves to guide Hakuno here, so he could end the cycle and choose a winner and a loser, something Moon Cell couldn’t do.

However, Hakuno doesn’t choose to kill either Rin or Rani. Instead, he tries to revive both of them. Only Rin survives, while Rani passes on due to the “peculiar” nature of her digital body. But she’s grateful for the attempt, and Rin is grateful he succeeded in bringing her back. Once Rani is laid to rest, she commits herself to continuing to aid Hakuno until the end.

“Fate Spin-off By Shaft” was met with mixed and polarizing emotions, but I for one enjoyed it immensely. It took the parts of Fates I’d seen before and liked and placed them in a gorgeously-rendered distant and unsettling future where a tiny glimmer of hope still remains thanks to a walking talking manifestation of death itself and his trusty, adorable, formidable Roman Emperor of a Servant. I’m looking forward to Part Two.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 09 – The Emperor’s Soliloquy

The “film” the female Kishinami Hakuno shows her male counterpart is of her own quest with Saber as her Servant, and a more noble, loyal and true servant, no one could possibly have.

Like the current Hakuno, the female Hakuno learns that she’s neither wizard nor Master, but a “recreation of the data of someone who once existed”; an “NPC”. But Saber tells her that’s of no consequence, either to her value as an individual or her role as prospective victor of the Grail War.

It is in She-Hakuno’s moment of deepest despair and crisis of identity that Saber reveals her True Name: Nero Claudius, fifth emperor of the Roman Empire and one history condemns as a raving despot and dictator. Naturally, Nero herself has a more nuanced life story to tell, and that story is told through what appears to be the work of Ueda Hajime, a frequent collaborator with Shinbo Akiyuki who also animated all Monogatari EDs.

Saber makes no attempt to sugar-coat her tale or excuse the life she led, only to lay it all out to provide Hakuno with context in which to consider her sage advice. Nero loved strangers and commoners more than the royal family to which she belonged. She’s proud of bringing the Great Fire of Rome under control, but as her reign went on she became seen as a moody, unstable dictator.

The Senate could not depose her as long as she had the loyalty of the common people, but when push came to shove no one came to her aid when she was brought down, and she died alone, in despair, with the love of no one. Both in its flamboyantly unconventional presentation, themes of adoration and fall from grace, and truly epic scope, Saber’s story parallels that of the vampire later known as Oshino Shinobu in Monogatari.

And now that we finally have the whole picture of who Saber is, and was, we can appreciate just how much weight there is behind her words of encouragement, for both past and present Kishinami Hakunos. She is at peace with her demise, and will set her life ablaze for the sake of those who wish to believe she is beautiful. In other words, who will love her.

Whatever love she had in her lifetime—of family or people—was either nonexistent or fleeting, so it stands to reason she’s not picky about where she gets her love now. Both Hakunos may deem themselves pale imitations unworthy of having a Servant as excellent and wise and kind as Saber.

They are utterly mistaken for thinking that way. Saber doesn’t care from whom she gets her love. In fact, she would prefer if those people did not “mind every little thing” about themselves.

Call it the extension of her affinity in life for those deemed “less than” in the society in which she lived. Commoners. Bastards, cripples, and broken things. And yes, even NPCs who have been killing and hating for a millenium.

Saber’s been dead three millenia, but doesn’t let it get her down for a second. To her, Hakuno isn’t beholden to the person or people he was before. As far as she’s concerned, he’s is a new person, who deserves a fresh start without prejudice. But he has to take it.

Reinvigorated and healed thanks to the ministrations of Rani (or, at least, her ghost), Hakuno and Saber head back out. Saber faces off against Berserker once more.

After copying and countering his martial arts moves with Royal Privilege, she unleashes her Noble Phantasm: Kingdom of Heaven and Hell,  the Golden Theater of the Deranged, and Veil of Petals, ending Berseker without any difficulty. It’s a short but gorgeous battle.

That leaves Hakuno to deal with Julius, who no longer has any backup. Julius tries his usual spiel denigrating Hakuno for not being alive or having a wish or any business fighting him. This time, the words don’t hurt Hakuno. Saber has opened his eyes. Julius isn’t talking about him; those were other people, and he’s not interested in hearing about their pasts.

After a trippy zero-gravity battle in which the two Dead Faces fight in midair as their surroundings rotate and reorganize around them, Hakuno delivers a decisive blow. Yet even in his dying breath, Julius assures him that he’ll end up like him eventually.

Hakuno doesn’t worry about those words; he’s recommitted to being the best Master he can be for the best Servant one could ask for, who is waiting for him at the ladder to the sixth level.

Rani and Rin seem poised to remain behind having accomplished their shared goal of getting a “decent Master” to the sixth level. But citing the increased difficulty at that level, Rin changes her mind and follows the pair after all, while Rani vanishes in a cloud of digital code.

Thinking back on this episode, I’m astounded at how much it achieved in 25 scant minutes. It felt like a feature film, without ever feeling overstuffed, while cementing my undying love for this version of Saber, whose story was so vividly and painfully told. My head is still spinning. That was truly awesome.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 08

The fourth level was apparently so uneventful the series skips it altogether, and we end up on the very rainy and somber fifth level, which takes the form of a enormous jumbled mass of skyscrapers. While the ladder to Level Six is in sight (and just an ordinary physical ladder) and there’s no Floor Master, there is a “homicidal maniac” lurking the floor; Julius Harwey, whom Rin remarks was defeated by Saber and her former master.

All of the hope Hakuno seemed to carry with him from the third floor seems to have faded away, and the more Saber discusses her former master (who was a girl), the harder Hakuno is on himself.

Saber, in another one of her warm, caring monologues, tells Hakuno not to worry about doing anything other than what he’s capable of.

True genius, Saber believes, lies not in one’s talents, but by their ability to bear the cruel truth that not everyone is equal; that everyone has their roles and weaknesses. Basically, she wants Hakuno to buck up and keep doing his best.

But once Julius shows up (with either a Berserker or Assassin Servant), Hakuno and Saber are quickly separated, and Saber needs an emergency save by Lancer-Rin. Saber leaves the Servant to Rin so she can return to Hakuno’s side.

Hakuno, meanwhile, is goaded into summoning his Dead Face, but learns that Julius is also a Dead Face…”unable to save anything or save anyone,” beings whose purposes were torn away long ago.

While taking what would be a fatal blow to the midsection were he actually a living human named Kishitani Hakuno, Hakuno enters a dreamlike state where he’s told exactly what he is: an amalgamation of the massive number of  dead, defeated, and failed souls bearing grudges…a mass of hatred brought about by SE.RA.PH.’s long decline.

He is told he ascends “only to kill”, and was born “only to die.” If Hakuno were to take these words at face value and do as Saber recommended, dying would seem to be the only thing he is capable of doing, so he should do that, no?

Regaining consciousness just as Saber and Rin arrive, the battle is lost almost as soon as it resumes, as Julius reveals his Servant kills with a single blow, and Saber received that blow. Hakuno crawls towards the apparently defeated Saber (Julius and the Servant only flee when a giant arm breaks up the battle that was). He’s sure that she’d have been able to win had he been a real Master…even if there aren’t any of those left.

He descends into darkness, accepting everything he was told in his dream about being born from hatred. He allows himself to think for a moment that he might have been Saber’s former Master reincarnated before dismissing it as folly. But he hears Saber’s encouraging voice once more, asking if he really wants to simply give up at this point.

A door appears, and Hakuno walks through it, into a classroom with projector running. Seated beside it is a girl wearing the same uniform as him, who asks him (in Ishikawa Yui’s voice) to take a seat…because “it’s starting.” Very intriguing.

Citrus – 09

It’s a given that Matsuri would lose the Battle of Yuzu, and that she’d lose for one simple reason: it’s not a battle, or at least it’s not supposed to be. Life isn’t a video game and it isn’t zero-sum.

While that can be unsatisfying and frustrating for someone so seemingly adept at “playing the game”, it reveals that Matsuri’s “game” is actually very limited, specialized, even stunted, and that there’s a lot more for her to learn, much like Mei and Yuzu.

For now, however, Mei simply concedes the first round, with a longer game plan that’s a lot clearer than I thought, but with no guarantee of success. Matsuri tells her to buzz off or she’ll leak the photo of them kissing, and just to twist the knife, orders Mei to go on a date with one of Matsuri’s old creepy “texting buddies.”

Mei knows how much Yuzu is looking forward to the Christmas party—she can hear Yuzu gushing to Mama from the hallway, but Mei tells her she must decline…”extra council work that can’t wait.” When Yuzu tries to persuade her to reconsider, Mei tells Yuzu to be with Matsuri, stating “that girl needs you.”

The next day after school, Mama Harumin almost inadvertently gets Yuzu to discovr Mei isn’t working with the school council when she suggests Yuzu help out with the council if she wants to party with Mei later. Unfortunately, Matsuri intercepts Yuzu on the way to the office, and insists they go on their date together. Heeding Mei’s words last night and goes along.

So, round two goes to Matsuri as well, and that’s a win, right? I mean, she’s on a date with Yuzu and Yuzu alone, while Mei is sleeping with some creep! Well, it’s not that simple. When Matsuri expresses her distaste for the frequency with with Yuzu talks about Mei, she loses her cool and reveals the her plan, trying in vain to convince Yuzu that Mei is a slutty little liar.

In hindsight, Matsuri should probably be ashamed of herself for thinking Yuzu would react by shunning Mei and running into her open arms. Then again, at this point in her emotional development, winning, and beating Mei, and anyone else between her and Yuzu, is more important than how Yuzu feels.

Round Three is ALL MEI. Yuzu may not have seen what Matsuri was doing before, but she’s sure woke to it now, and excoriates Matsuri for trying to hurt Mei, the person who “looked at her the most”, even urging her to pay more attention to Matsuri.

“Relationships aren’t games,” Yuzu yells in the full restaurant, not giving AF who hears. “Don’t sum them up with cheap words like winning and losing!” Dayum Yuzu, coming through in the clutch.

Turns out Mei didn’t have to sleep with anyone; and Yuzu manages to find her at the meeting point. She runs to Mei and hugs her, in tears over what Mei went through, or more precisely, what she let Matsuri put her through.

The three share the train ride back. Matsuri is still thinking in terms of winning and losing, (and let’s be honest, Mei DID win here) but at least tries to correct herself from that kind of talk.

The reason Mei won is that she and Matsuri are so similar, seeking love everywhere while hating those around them, closing their hearts, and refusing to accept anything. It left Mei empty, as empty as Matsuri must have been feeling.

But she didn’t count on a “meddlesome person” like Yuzu entering her life and giving her unconditional love even when she didn’t ask for it, filling a bit of that emptiness.

Matsuri is rightly impressed by Mei’s recklessness, but Mei trusted Yuzu enough to believe that as soon as she got wise to Matsuri’s games, she’d come running to her side, and that’s just what happened. Matsuri leaves the two, but before she does, whispers in Yuzu’s ear that Mei really likes her, before loudly, jokingly suggesting a threesome in the future. Frankly, Matsuri got off pretty easy here.

That night, Mei insists on having a slice of the cake Yuzu worked so hard to make for Christmas. Yuzu calls her stubborn, but Mei replies that’s who I am. Just as Matsuri had to learn that relationships aren’t only about winning and losing, Mei has to learn to be more open and honest to Yuzu.

And the truth is this: Yuzu makes her heart race, just like Mei makes hers. But there’s things inside Mei that will please her, and things that will terrify her. Bottom line, if she’s still adamant about some kind of romance, Mei is game, but Yuzu will have to take and accept all of her, including the warts, and be content that she isn’t going to change, any more than Yuzu should.

Overlord II – 05

Following his thorough intimidation of the Lizardmen, Lord Ains and his guardians travel to his newly-built forest stronghold. He learns it comes with a super-creepy throne made partially from human bones, and decides he’ll finally dole out Shalltear’s punishment by sitting on her.

Shalltear turning the intended pain into naughty pleasure, combined with Albedo’s violently jealous outburst in the next room, are both examples of OverLord silliness at its best. Things get even sillier when Ains uses a spell to see inside one of the village’s huts, only to catch Zaryusu and Crusch doing the nasty.

The Lizardmen elders and warriors, including Zaryusu, make their one last desperate stand against Cocytus, and are (figuratively) disarmed by his polite and respectful demeanor before being disarmed (literally), halved, and riddled with icy projectiles.

The comedy shifts from the silly to black, as Cocytus calmly, quietly explains how not a single one of his opponents’ magical or physical attacks will have the slightest effect on him; they’re simply too low a level to put a dent in his Guardian-class defenses.

That doesn’t stop Zaryusu & Co. from charging forward, even if it’s right into their grisly deaths. Zaryusu is the last to be killed, but Cocytus promises he’ll remember his name and that of his brothers as the names of warriors.

Back at base, Cocytus is praised for his victory by Lord Ains, and suggests the bodies of the dead Lizardmen be used for undead research. Cocytus makes a counter-proposal: raise Zaryusu, who had been such a valiant fighter, from the dead.

Something like that is well within Ains’ mighty means, but he wishes to make it a transaction, and so asks Crusch to spy on the other Lizardmen in exchange for the resurrection of her lover. (Her momentary assumption he wanted her body enrages both Albedo and Shalltear.)

Crusch agrees, and Zaryusu is brought back to life, and yet even here OverLord doesn’t shy away from having a bit of a laugh; Zaryusu’s speech is all high-pitched and messed-up, like he didn’t quite come back 100% right (rest will apparently restore his former gravitas).

But Ains got what he wanted: the allegiance of the Lizardmen tribes, and a mole who will alert him if that allegiance ever wavers, secured by a “spell” (in reality just a lie) that will kill Zaryusu if Crusch ever betrays him. All in all, some shrewd maneuvering by His Skullfaceiness.

Overlord II – 04

The Lizardmen are allowed to bask in their victory over an army of the undead for an evening, while back at Nazarick the Great One Ains Ooal Gown is debriefing Cocytus before his other guardians.

Momonga got what he wanted: Cocytus forms an original thought—that he doesn’t want to exterminate the Lizardmen. But when he can’t come up with a good reason to spare them, Demiurge comes through with an alternative plan: they’ll make the Lizardmen an experiment in rule without fear.

Everything is going according to Ains’ plans, and his guardians think that’s only natural, but privately, Momonga is excited at the prospect of his guardians learning independent thought and gaining experience through defeat…not that he likes defeat.

That much is clear the next day when he shows up with an enormous magically-armored undead army, catching the still celebratory Lizardmen unawares.

Ains himself shows up, and makes quite an entrance, freezing an entire lake, using Gargantua to throw a huge cube of rock into the middle of it, then having his grunts form an undead staircase.

Ains climbs to the top of the rock with his retinue of guardians, proud as you please, and when Zaryusu and his brother meet them in the lake, Demiurge has them prostrate themselves.

Zaryusu knows he and his people are at the mercy of Ains and his forces, and that they don’t have a hope of victory against such power. However, he also presumes the Great One does not intend to utterly exterminate his people, but wants a proper battle to make things interesting.

If that requires a few sacrificial lambs, with him among them, Zaryusu can live with that, even if it distresses the woman he loves. He asks that she put up with his selfishness this once and hold out hope he’ll come back from the battle in one piece. She seems willing to go along with this…IF he impregnates her first. Love: it’s all about give-and-take.

Overlord II – 03

In order to build great things, one must construct a solid foundation. The first two episodes accomplished that. At first, I wondered why all of a sudden we were so immersed in the lives and politics of a bunch of Lizardmen. Then, when I got to know a few of them, I became emotionally invested in their fate, even rooting for their victory against the armies of Cocytus, even though Cocytus is a servant of our ostensible protagonist, Momonga.

What was made clear this week is that not only was it well worth all the table-setting, which I enjoyed far more than I ‘endured’; but that Momonga and his court were given heightened mystique by being pushed into the background, such that every time we cut to them (which wasn’t often, or for a very long duration), it felt like an occasion.

Things start out small, with Zaryusu earning Zenberu’s trust and an alliance after fighting him one-on-one. Crusch heals both, and after returning to Zaryusu’s brother Green Claw, the five assembled tribal leaders have a strategy meeting.

The enemy outnumbers them over three to one. Zenberu is confident every lizard can take out three zombies or skeletons each, but they have to plan carefully to avoid being routed. Zaryusu forms an elite squad with Crusch, Zenberu, and his trusty hydra Rororo, to face the enemy commander when they show themselves.

Cocytus orders his army to advance, and Ains Ooal Gown seems slightly disappointed that things aren’t going the way he hoped, and that’s all we see of him. From here on in, it’s all battle, which means it’s all payoff for the careful preparation of the previous two episodes.

The Lizardmen send out their forces to meet the undead army, while their magical units efficiently keep the foes at bay. Cocytus confides in Demiurge for advice on how to proceed (that is, how to salvage what is starting to resemble a defeat on the field); Demiurge muses that their great lord meant to give Cocytus a weak army and a wide berth in hopes it would promote his awareness.

Cocytus is ready to take his medicine, but first sees how his reserves will fare, led by the Elder Lich Iguva, who launches huge fireballs in Zaryusu’s direction, helpfully revealing to the elite unit the position of the enemy leader.

Zaryusu decides upon a direct frontal assault, using Rororo’s bulk to shield himself, Crusch, and Zenberu. Once close enough, Zenberu starts carving up the reserves while Zaryusu faces off against Iguva, who is a formidable opponent from any range. It’s too bad none of the Lizardmen had Holy magic!

For a moment, Iguva has Zaryusu caught trapped in a Scare spell, but Crusch comes through in the clutch and breaks him out with Lion Heart, in addition to healing Zaryusu’s wounds. Good to see Crusch can hold her own on the battlefield, and indeed plays a vital role keeping Zaryusu up and running.

Iguva is full of hubris until the end, when he wrongfully assumes Zaryusu foolishly unleashed the full power of his Icy Burst against him (as a lich he’s immune to ice). However, the ice was only meant to provide cover for Zaryusu’s attack from above, stabbing Iguva through the eye.

After a struggle, Iguva is vanquished, and the Lizardmen are victorious, in what was a hard-hitting, heart-pounding, perfectly-paced battle. From his base, Cocytus congratulates the Lizardmen; it was a very close victory, but a win’s a win.

Not only that, the battle forced the Lizardmen to give up their tribal squabbles, come together, and sacrifice for the sake of their race’s survival. I would think they would continue in peace the unity that was forged by the threat of annihilation, while Zaryusu and Crusch, having come out of the battle in one piece, are poised to marry.

Overall, this episode was as satisfying, complete victory; a sure-handed execution of an intricately-constructed, multi-layered story in which the lines of heroes and villains are blurred. I’m eager to see what Lord Ains has planned next—and for whom.

3-gatsu no Lion – 24

A new tournament bracket has been released, and Nikaidou is furious that he and Rei are in different groups…as if Rei had anything to do with the seeding. The only thing for it is for the two to win their respective groups and face each other in the finals.

Nikaidou then launches into a torrent of trash-talk, calling Rei arrogant and pompous, and their loudness almost gets them kicked out of the watching room where the other pros are watching Souya and Kumakura. The two are still kids, after all…they need to argue with shoji, not words.

A couple other younger pros start talking about Shimada’s mental and physical state after losing to Souya, and Gotou, who hears a bit too much of it, is having none of it, sticking up for the absent Shimada by saying unproven young whelps who may never get within a mile of a title match shouldn’t be running their mouths about those who have “been in the ring.”

Rei is glad Shimada is being defended, but laments that the defense is coming from the same person who has caused, intentionally and unintentionally, his sister to suffer. It gets to the whole idea of “chaos” in this segment, in which both humans and shogi are full of contradictions and paradoxes; all mysteries that will never be solved, but we must simply live with.

In a move that surprises all spectators young and old, Kumakura responds to Souya’s seemingly innocuous move made to force a reaction out of his opponent…suddenly resigns, giving Souya another successful title defense. It’s only after everyone plays through that Rei and the other see what Kumakura saw: that Souya had beaten him, seeing many many moves ahead to Kuma’s doom.

Meanwhile, Kyouko is performing all of the duties of your classic wife figure for Gotou, and we learn why: his actual wife is in a coma in the hospital.

Rei may only see a villain and a scoundrel (or at best, an uneasy ally against those who would drag Shimada thorough the mud), but Kyouko’s been around him a lot more time, and while she may be blinded by infatuation, she also sees a role to play in Gotou’s wife’s absence…especially if her prognosis is such that soon Gotou will be a widower.

It’s not pretty to see him getting along with, even sharing the bed with, another woman poised to “attack” him while his wife still draws breath, but who ever said humanity was pretty? Not to mention, without Gotou, Kyouko always seems lost and alone, and Rei can’t be the one to fill the hole in her heart.

But Gotou made a good point to Rei that echos his own thoughts about chaos: seeing everything in good and bad or black and white is a recipe for a poor understanding the world. Life isn’t Go! If I had to choose between the two games, it’s more like Shoji.

As for the man who gives his name to this segment, Kumakura: he’s lost again, but takes the defeat with a cool calmness that makes many of his peers swoon. Of course, that is a public calmness; below the surface boils a man who has been shattered into pieces having to collect them all and re-construct himself in time for the next title challenge.

It’s a thankless, cruel task, but it’s the only way he knows how to live. Not to mention, kicking the shit out of a wall is always a quick way to release pent-up frustration!

This episode had solid slice of life and some good internal stuff with Rei…but after only catching a brief glimpse last week, I definitely missed the Kawamotos.

I realize the show is probably following the source’s chapters and the sisters and their grandpa are just one part of Rei’s life, but they’re an important (not to mention adorable!) one, and I hope we get to spend more quality time with them soon.

Tsuki ga Kirei – 08

Simplicity can contain multitudes. By that, I mean sometimes there’s a lot to be found in a pure, unembellished tale of first love of the kind blooming between Koutarou and Akane. With Chinatsu out of the way (an unpleasant but necessary step), all that stands between the two is their gossiping peers at school, eager to know all there is to know.

But there isn’t that much to know. Akane doesn’t even give a straight answer to the question “Why Azumi?” She may not be able to put it in words, but that doesn’t bother her; she doesn’t care why she likes him, she just…does. And he likes her, which is why they now actively do all they can to see as much of each other as possible, during which time they’ll explore more about the ‘why’.

During their private lunch in the library, Kotarou gets a text asking him to attend a hayashi practice, and Akane pounces on the opportunity to see her boyfriend perform, which he does. Just as Akane seemed to run harder, Kotarou dances harder, impressing the hell out of his girlfriend.

Kotarou also gets nods of approval from his hayashi peers, one of whom suggests the couple attend Hikawa Shrine’s Summer festival, famous for its hanging wind chime fortunes. Akane arrives at their meeting spot for the date in full yukata. Kotarou is loving the look; Akane is loving how he’s loving it.

A near-perfect festival date ensues, with no one getting lost or bumping into unwanted secondary characters. Akane also cuts her foot on her sandal, but Kotarou tenderly bandages it when she can’t bend over in the yukata. They don’t let anything spoil their enjoyment of the night and of each other.

Akane ducks away for a bit, but only once she hears Kotarou’s most recent birthday has already passed, and decides to get him a little present: the same beanbag stress toy she has. The only remaining ‘drama’ is her trying to finding the right time and place to present it to him.

Once she does, she feels much better, and Kotarou is grateful, and decides the time has come for him to call his girlfriend by her first name, and she, in turn, calls him by his. And with no one around to suddenly stop them, they finally connect for real on their first kiss, finishing what they started last week and hadn’t been able to stop thinking about.

It all happens to the tune of a rendition of “Summer Festival”, which I last heard in Re:Life. The camera keeps a tasteful distance, underscoring how the two must feel like they’re in their own little world. The next time her friends at school ask, Akane can tell them being with Kotarou makes her feel safe.

The parting shot of what the two wrote on their chime wishes—they both wrote the same thing: to be together forever—is a little mushy, but who cares! I daresay these kids are gonna be alright, and there’s a quiet thrill in watching them steadily improve at this thing called courtship.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 08

The things that went down last week and at the beginning of this week can’t be undone; there’s no convenient return to the status quo where everyone scatters but remains free.

Instead, Kaisar crosses the line into straight-up treason by interfering with and raising a sword to King Charioce, in an attempt to stop him from fighting Azazel.

Azazel doesn’t want Kaisar’s help and is through listening to his prattle, so Kaisar ends up having to fight both Azazel and Charioce at once, in another nicely-animated little setpiece.

He bests both of them, thanks to a well-placed fist and his metal arm…but while the fight is over, there will be consequences for all involved.

Mugaro, who came to try to help Azazel and the demons, ends up captured by Sofiel, who goes ahead and captures Bacchus and Hamsa while she’s at it. Azazel pleads with Nina to transform into a dragon already, but Nina is confused, overwhelmed, and most importantly, her heart is not racing.

Since that’s only way she’s ever been able to transform, and because she’s never willingly transformed, she can’t become a dragon, so she’s arrested along with Azazel and Kaisar.

All the townsfolk who know and love Nina know she’d never be capable of treason against the king, but when they defend her too forcefully, they’re threatened with charges of treason, and everyone clams up. Not Nina herself, however. In shackles, on her knees, and without leave to speak, Nina lets Charioce have it with both barrels, with the general thesis of her rant being that he’s an evil bully of a king.

In a show full of characters with overly florid language, it’s nice to hear Nina speak plainly but forcefully about how much Charioce sucks. If she recognizes him as her date during the festival, she doesn’t let on, and Charioce doesn’t reveal himself to her. He orders her and Kaisar be sent to the prison tower, where they’ll stay “indefinitely”, and more importantly, be unable to further interfere with his plans.

Those plans involve finishing off the gods, who he’ll allow scored a win by capturing Mugaro, but still thinks they’re being overconfident, and likes his odds of destroying them, after which Jeanne d’Arc will finally stop praying.

The name Jeanne gave her child Mugaro is “El”, and that’s what Gabriel calls him (her?) while trying to make a deal: if he lends his power in helping them put the humans back in their place, he’ll be able to see his mother again.

As for Bacchus and Hamsa, they’re being held in some kind of strange void, also likely indefinitely. Hamsa tries everything to free them, but Bacchus isn’t sorry for protecting Mugaro, which he did because he merely “felt like it”, and isn’t okay with them using him.

Nina and Kaisar’s imprisonment (the bickering ferrymen was a nice detail) also offers them the opportunity to meet a couple of very interesting people with cells adjacent to their own. Nina discovers Jeanne d’Arc, while Kaisar spots a grizzled, bearded Favaro Leone, who finally makes his entrance in Virgin Soul.

By the end of the episode, we have Mugaro, Bacchus, Hamsa, Nina, and Kaisar all in custody or imprisoned; only Rita is free. It’s a refreshing, stakes-raising development after many earlier close calls. I’m not sure how everyone is going to get out of their cages, or what role Favaro will play, but I’m certainly eager to find out.

Tsuki ga Kirei – 07

It ain’t just the game of thrones—in the game of love, you win or you die…romantically speaking. It’s take no prisoners; shit or get off the pot; even moreso when you’re young and just figuring this stuff out.

With the Dome City amusement park as the setting for this outstanding episode, Akane, Kotarou, Chinatsu and Hira all learn harsh lessons about the game they’re all playing, the risks and rewards of being passive or active, and how being on the winning side can be fleeting. It’s a side that must be defended.

I honestly can’t stop snickering at Kotarou’s face while on the roller coaster. That is the face of someone very unhappy he didn’t decline Chinatsu’s suggestion they sit together. He might as well be shouting over the roar of the coaster ‘I’VE MADE A HUGE MISTAKE!’

Because he’s next to Chinatsu, Akane is next to Hira, and because she doesn’t handle coasters so hot, it’s Hira, not Chinatsu, who serves as her support during and after the ride. It doesn’t help Kotarou that the majority of the rest of the group is shipping Akane and Hira (except Roman, who we learn has had his suspicions about Kotarou and Akane before Kotarou confirms it).

Kotarou and Akane simply start out the trip all wrong, due to their general passivity in a scenario that requires activity. Akane ends up with Hira a lot of the time, but did nothing to prevent it; Kotarou ends up with a super-aggressive Chinatsu, who understands she’s got to hustle to have any chance over Akane…and may even be moving so fast and forcefully because she already knows she has no chance.

In either case, after Kotarou sees Akane with Hira, Akane sees Kotarou with Chinatsu, and after some time passes, Kotarou sees Akane with Hira AGAIN, Kotarou has finally had it; he’s groaned his last ineffectual groan. Time for some muthafuckin’ ACTION!

He calls out to Akane, then tells Hira he’s in a relationship with her, which she backs up. He then takes her by the hand and they walk off, just in time for Chinatsu to spot them together. As her tears start to fall on the souvenir photo of her and Kotarou on the coaster, I can’t help but feel for her. She got off to a good start, but ends up running out of steam.

After a great series of reactions from the group after Roman confirms Kotarou and Akane are going out (which NO one else saw coming), the happy new couple finally has their precious time alone. What had felt like such a delicate bond strengthens with each activity they do together.

I appreciate how they mirrored my own glee over the whole situation with lots of beaming and giddy laughter, neither of them able to contain their elation at being able to hang out together.

After eating together for the first time, going on various rides and to a haunted house, the two close in closer and closer for a couple selfie, and their bubbly contentment only intensifies when they see how much like a couple they look in the photo.

Meanwhile, Chinatsu returns to the group, her eyes raw from crying, and her girl-friends get the bad news that Kotarou chose Akane over her. Chinatsu might’ve stolen Akane for the coaster and gotten temporarily “lost” with him, Akane ends up stealing him back, though mostly thanks to Kotarou taking action.

No matter; it’s the action Akane wanted to be taken. She’ll be the proactive one next time. As the fireworks explode across the night sky, Kotarou takes her hands in his and leans in for a kiss, and Akane leans in right back.

A nosy little shrimp interrupts them (where are your damn parents, kid?), but they get so goshdarned close to kissing, I’m going to go ahead and call it a kiss, even if it isn’t officially their first kiss. Neither of them bailed out; it was a matter of being surprised by an outside stimulus. Close enough, I say!

Chinatsu…she was never that close, because Kotarou simply isn’t interested in her the way he is in Akane, just as Akane isn’t into Hira that way. At the end of the night, Akane and Kotarou are exactly where they should be, where they want to be.

hen Chinatsu texts Akane that she couldn’t confess, Akane says “Sorry” to herself. I’ve no doubt she feels bad about Chinatsu getting hurt. Chinatsu was the one who chose to keep going even though she knew Akane was with Kotarou, but Akane could have been more forceful in discouraging her.

But at the end of the day, when made to choose between her happiness and Chinatsu’s, there is no choice. It’s shitty not being the one chosen, but that’s life. Akane and Kotarou won the game today. They deserved to savor their victory. Here’s hoping the wins keep coming. They must be vigilant.

P.S. Attention, Show: You have extinguished your allotment of near-kisses. Next kiss better not be interrupted. You have been warned!

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 07

While watching the first half of this Baha Soul, I felt like the calm before the storm achieved last week didn’t need the supplemental calm we got here. Just get on with the parade and let things unravel.

Don’t get me wrong, Nina is adorable as always, especially post-first-date, it’s ironic to think the fact she dressed Mugaro as a girl means Sofiel can’t tell he’s the kid she’s looking for, despite staring straight at him.

It’s also laudable for Kaisar to warn his king not to attend the parade, because unpleasant doings sure to transpire. But we know Charioce isn’t going to miss a parade celebrating his great day of victory—when Cocytus fell and with it the fear of demons—for fear of demons.

But when the parade finally starts, the tension keeps building until that first concussive blast, followed by several more. It’s a terror bombing the king was almost daring the demons to pull off, and being surrounded and unable to retreat is no sweat off his back.

It’s a nice touch that in a carefully-planned battle in which she was meant to be the pièce de résistance for the resistance, Nina doesn’t have a clue what’s going on. She’s suddenly scooped up by Azazel, who proceeds, in hilarious fashion, to alternated between staring deeply and intensely into Nina’s eyes and hugging her.

But the blushing never comes. Nina’s heart doesn’t race for Azazel anymore, not necessarily because of anything he did, but because of what her mystery date did: make her once general discomfort with pretty men much more specific. She doesn’t know why she’s not transforming even after almost being kissed by Azazel, but she also seems relieved. I know I would be.

I can’t fault for Nina not cooperating with Azazel – she wants her dragon form under control, not weaponized, and certainly doesn’t want to hurt people. At best, she’s annoyed by the kind, shrugging off missing him in the parade (incidentally, if they’d locked eyes while he passed I wonder if she’d see her date and if her heart would’ve raced accordingly. Alas).

But, Nina not playing ball with Azazel means the demons are dealt another defeat, picked off one by one by Charioce’s forces. Many start to think they were betrayed by Azazel, until he swoops in to fight beside them. But when they asked what the hell happened with the red dragon, he has no answer.

Post-credits, the big tank demon and sultry demon are taken out by a flurry of arrows and the fist of one of those giant golem/mecha guys (that don’t seem like a good idea in a crowded city), respectively. Azazel is also in big trouble, and Nina still isn’t yet caught up on what’s even happening.

Finally, the preview was handled by Gabriel and Sofiel, who haughtily boast of the fact they’re beautiful gods.