Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul – Trials Make Love Stronger

I finished the first season of Made in Abyss three years and a week ago, commenting that while I ached to know what would happen next, a long rest was in order, so that I might recover from the emotional wounds throughout that first run, culminating in the shockingly brutal story of Mitty and Nanachi.

Turns out no amount of time would heal those wounds to the extent they wouldn’t be re-opened and—very soul freshly re-crushed—upon watching the continuation of the Abyss story. That’s because the deeper Riko, Reg, and Nanachi descend, the more acute and devastating the horrors they encounter.

This is the third of three Made in Abyss films; the first two were a retelling of the first season, while the third is a direct sequel As such, spoilers throughout.

Case in point: upon arriving at one of her mother’s favorite spots in all of the Abyss, the Garden of Flowers of Fortitude, they encounter one of Bondrewd’s delvers, the Umbra Hands, harvesting tissue from other delvers who have been infected by a parasite that not only feeds off you while you’re still alive, but feeds itself to you in order to keep you alive. Lovely!

Few anime do soaring vistas like Abyss, and there’s something just so otherworldly and dread-inducing about the sight of the Fifth Layer’s Sea of Corpses, along with Idofront, Bondrewd the Novel’s domain. But as cold and unyielding and inhospitable as the spinning ghost city seems on the outside, within resides one of the sweetest, warmest, most human souls they’ve yet encountered: an adorable little girl named Prushka.

Prushka is Bondrewd’s daughter (voiced by Minase Inori), who is initially suspicious of outsiders coming to help her dad when she thinks she should be enough. But once she meets Riko, Reg, and Nanachi, they open for her a whole new world of questions and information about the Surface (she was born in the Abyss).

It’s so strange to see Prushka acting so lovey-dovey with Bondrewd, perpetrator of countless acts of sickening biological crimes, especially since he and his Umbra Hands resemble evil robots. And yet that evil robot still has a strange gravitational pull Nanachi finds hard to resist. Nanachi can’t forgive Bondrewd, but something still draws them toward him. Nanachi was something of a child figure to him, after all, so Nanachi sees Prushka as a younger self.

Bondrewd has bad news for Riko: while she may have her mother’s White Whistle, only the person for whom the whistle was made can use it to activate the altar that will take her down to the Sixth Layer. He offers them accommodations to “think things over”, but there isn’t any doubt his intentions for them are about as far from harmless as they’re all far from the Surface.

Despite her cozy room, soon Riko wakes up alone, and upon exploring, finds that she’s trapped in a small area with the only exit being a stair Prushka warned will cause “strains of ascension” if climbed. When Riko attempts to climb them anyway, she loses all sense of touch and balance, grinds her baby molars away and falls down the stairs, gaining cuts here and there. But she hallucinates far worse: as the very concepts of what and where are gradually eaten away by white light.

Ultimately, the reason Bondrewd does anything all comes down to curiosity and the aspiration to reach the bottom of the Abyss and learn its infinite secrets, same as Riko. It’s just a matter of scope and scale. Riko has managed to retain her humanity throughout her descent. But while has the affable dad voice and general form of a man, there is simply nothing left of Bondrewd’s humanity.

After Nanachi offers to stay with him and help him continue his research in exchange for Riko and Reg’s safety, Bondrewd tells them that, uh, unfortunately, he’s already tossed Reg to his Umbra Hands, who restrain him, slice off his right arm (along with Incinerator) and start collecting his bodily fluids. That’s when Riko, who was helped up to the upper level by Prushka, intervenes, and Prushka learns the truth about her father for the first time.

With Bondrewd showing his true horrific colors loudly and proudly, Nanachi, the most experienced with how he operates, comes up with a plan to take him out. This involves luring him into a nest of giant seven-tailed scorpions, trying to infect him with parasite larvae, and finally Reg crushing his body with a giant boulder.

Naturally, Bondrewd praises both Reg and Nanachi every time they toss a new tactic at him, saying things like “wonderful” and “I’m surprised.” After all, Nanachi is one of the creations of which of which he is most proud, one who unlike Mitty and the others was able to receive the “Blessing” of the Abyss rather than fall victim to the Curse. You’d could mistake it for fatherly pride if, again, Bondrewd had a shred of humanity. But his willingness to offer love and pain and suffering in equal measure disqualifies him as both from being either a parent or a human.

None of the tactics against him end up working, because the Umbra Hand who escorted Prushka simply takes the mask off of the crushed Bondrewd and places it on his head, thus transforming into a new, untouched Bondrewd. Turns out all of his Umbra Hands are him—and his immortality is tied to a relic called Zoaholic. The fight ends for now, and Bondrewd returns home with Prushka.

If Zoaholic didn’t make Bondrewd insane, the act of splitting his soul and essence into multiple bodies still removed what was left of his empathy or humanity, which is why he ends up having Prushka cruelly vivisected just like all of the other orphan children before her. He’s satisfied her experiences with Reg, Riko, and Nanachi helped “perfect” her, and this is the natural next step. She is never told this would happen, and never asked if it’s okay.

Her body is marked with “X’s” to signify the parts that will be cut away and discarded (most of it) until all that is left is a mass of “fleshy curse repellant” to be placed within a suitcase-sized cartridge. It is in this way that Bondrewd staves off the curse; using the pain and suffering of still technically-living children as his strength.

It’s truly skin-crawling, horrible, horrible stuff, and even though I had a reasonable suspicion that Prushka was doomed to a Mitty-like fate, I was still not ready to see even a little of that fate carried out, nor would I ever be. No one would!

By the Riko, Reg, and Nanachi return to Idofront to rescue her they’re way too late, while the sight of the “processing” room brings back Nanachi’s memories of assisting with said processing. When Bondrewd arrives, Riko and Nanachi they buy time for Reg, who hooks himself up to Idofront’s power supply and ends up rebooting in Berserk Mode.

Bondrewd tells Riko that his own White Whistle is the result of sacrificing his own body and soul, and that all White Whistles are made in this way—with a willing human sacrifice, not carved stone.

It’s then when Berserk-Reg arrives and fights on the same level as Bondrewd, ultimately blasting a huge sphere-shaped chunk out of Idofront. He lands in a pit of Mittys—material for Bondrewd’s cartridges, and we’re reminded of all those lights on the wall representing their lives are labeled: he remembers the name of every child, their unique qualities, and how cute they were. Shudder…

As Bondrewd and Reg are locked in an epic battle, we hear Prushka’s disembodied voice as she recounts her life with Bondrewd, starting as a failed subject. He decided to raise her as his daughter, gave her Meinya as a pet, and gave her a fun and happy childhood, ultimately culminating in her helplessly watching as pieces of her are removed one by one on the operating table.

We hear Prushka because she’s now a cartridge that Bondrewd is currently using in his fight, and ends up being his last cartridge. Even after what he did to her, she still wants to help her dad achieve his dreams—even if it means helping him fight against Reg, Riko, and Nanachi.

Thus aided by Bondrewd, Reg can’t defeat him with one arm, which is why he was buying time for Riko to retrieve his other arm. Even disconnected from his body, she’s able to aim it at Bondrewd and fire it, blasting him to pieces.

As this is happening, Prushka pleads with everyone not to fight, because they’re all going to have adventures together. An image of that dream appears in the climax of the battle, and is pretty much the most heartbreaking goddamn thing I’ve ever seen.

Then Bondrewd falls to the ground, finally beaten, and Nanachi stand over him. True to form, Bondrewd isn’t bitter about losing; on the contrary: he’s never been happier to find someone with stronger aspirations, will, and love defeat him. It means they, not him, are worthy of exploring the greater depths of the Abyss, and all the curses and blessings therein.

Riko holds the spent cartridge of what’s left of Prushka, simply red liquid that spills everywhere, and very understandably begins to bawl in absolute despair. But then she notices an object lying in the puddle of liquid: a White Whistle. Turns out Prushka’s soul willingly became the sacrifice necessary for Riko. Now her dream of going on adventures together can be realized.

With that, Riko gains the means to make her Last Dive, along with Reg (who learned a great deal about what his relic body can do) and Nanachi (who found a degree of closure in her vendetta with Bondrewd). Bondrewd, oddly enough, is still alive (after a fashion), but no longer a threat to them, and indeed is happy to see them off as they enter the “elevator” that will take them to the Sixth Layer, that much closer to Riko’s Mom, whatever’s become of her.

Quite appropriately, the end credits pull double duty as an illustration of that elevator descending ever deeper  into the Abyss, accompanied by an achingly gorgeous song that is a collab between MYTH & ROID and Kevin Penkin. Penkin, of course, also contributed the score and outdoes himself in the task; his music has been and continues to be a vital piece of what makes Abyss so unique an special.

It doesn’t look like I’ll be able to end this in less than 1500 words, but whatever; this was basically four episodes of the anime comprising a Fifth Layer arc, enshrining Bondrewd the Novel as one of anime’s all-time most monstrous and compelling villains, exploring the ways ambition can mutate “love” into a heartlessly destructive force.

It also ably reinforced Abyss’ uncanny ability to tear its viewers’ hearts and souls to bloody shreds before painstakingly sewing them back together with delicate threads of hope. And with a second season in the early stages of production, the story of Riko, Reg, and Nanachi is far from over.

Made in Abyss – 05

Riko and Reg’s first hours in the Forest of Temptation go easily enough—even the giant leaves point them in the right direction. But we knew the silkfang wasn’t going to be the only man-eating beast they encountered, and sure enough, rushing in the direction of what they think is a man yelling “help me” turns out to be the luring call of a corpse-weeper, who snatches up Riko with the intent to feed her to her young.

Reg’s extending arm’s aim is true, but other weepers knock it off course. In addition to being torn apart and eaten, ascending worsens the Curse and puts extra strain on Riko, who vomits in midair before passing out.

Even though I knew there was no way she’d buy it here, my heart was still in the pit of my stomach. When Reg’s arm doesn’t work and he’s swarmed by weepers, he changes tactics, firing his hand cannon at the weeper nest and obliterating all the weepers, including the one carrying Riko.

He then catches her in mid-air with his arm, gathers her into his arms, and soft-lands on an itty-bitty column of rock. Whew, that was close. but it’s also telling. Things are not going to get easier from this point on! It’s a dangerous place. Here, all humans (or robots that look like humans) are prey.

Riko is tough-as-nails, and doesn’t even mind that Reg took her top off (to check her for injuries) when she was out; because she knows full well that like any other ordinary human Red Whistle (or even above), she’d be silkfang, or weeper food, or simply a dark red spot on some rock face, without Reg’s help.

She calls his beam weapon “Incinerator” (even though he’s still weary of accidentally hitting her with it), and makes a meal of the meat from the weepers he killed. While the weepers eat the flesh of men, Riko doesn’t consider it any different than the times cave raiders brought Abyss meat to the orphanage. It’s just the Circle of Life, baby.

Another realistic detail about their quest for which I’m thankful so far is that Riko keeps losing things: first her seemingly useless (but probably not) Star Compass, and most recently her book of field notes, which she did not memorize. In both cases, they can’t risk trying to search for or retrieve such things; they can only press on.

And press on they do, to the bottom edge of the Second Layer, the Inverted Forest. I’ve been looking forward to them reaching this place ever since we got a glimpse of it in the OP (and since Sigy described it on the map). It does not disappoint, as it is not only a stranger and more fantastical landscape; it’s also darker, colder, more foreboding and treacherous. The waterfalls going up are also a nice touch.

Just as Riko is losing things, Reg’s foolproof extending arm is getting more and more flummoxed; first by the weepers, and here with the intermittent strong winds. They also run afoul of a colony of ape-like Inbyos, who are not interested in interlopers in their territory. So Reg has to get used to his arm’s more limited effectiveness while getting himself and Riko away from violent primates.

But even here, there is some small relief: the same reason it’s dark and cold is the reason most of the fauna is relatively peaceful, while the effects of the Curse are diminished (or at least more bearable) around the Seeker Camp, which they eventually arrive at.

When they don’t see a lookout and no gondola descends, Reg does what he does, using his arm to ascend to the camp. But something else unexpected happens: his arms don’t grasp any rock or wood: they are grabbed and held by the person Habo warned them of; the one who helped Lyza carry baby Riko back to the surface; who notes the “brat” is still alive.

She’s the one they call The Unmovable Sovereign: Ozen. Will she be a source of hope or despair for our adventurers?

 

Made in Abyss – 04

Remember Snape going on about ‘bottling fame’ or ‘brewing’ glory? I kept coming back to how Made in Abyss seems able to effortlessly bottle…AWE. It’s masterful in unveiling Riko and Reg’s new surroundings. 

First we get a tight shot of Riko waking up…in a mad web of protective Reg arm cable! Then we pull waaaay back to a superwide shot of the First Layer: The Edge of the Abyss. It’s like pure, uncut, Bottled Awe.

After Riko’s terrible-looking but delicious fish stew (good to see them not relying on packed food), they face their first foe: a giant silkfang from whose nest they narrowly escape from, thanks to Reg’s ridiculously handy arms, which are also making their climb much easier. Let’s call it a Level 1 fiend…and they didn’t defeat it, they just got away.

They’re also trying to keep from getting caught by Leader or any search parties who may be pursuing them. After receiving hand-drawn copies of Lyza’s Abyss notes, with a red note indicating he’s coming for them at dawn, Riko concludes escaping Leader is the “final lesson” they must overcome to prove they have what it takes.

The next massive swig of primo Bottled Awe comes in the form of a Castle in the Sky-style reveal of the abandoned ancient windmills and endless greenery of Layer Two: The Forest of Temptation. It’s like watching an awesome game where the deeper you descend, the crazier things start to look and feel.

But eventually one of their “pursuers” catches up, only to not be trying to catch them at all. The Black Whistle Habo came when Sigy and Nat told him to help Riko get to the Seeker Camp and Second Layer, and in exchange he could see Reg, a genuine treasure of the Netherworld, in the rubbery flesh.

When Riko politely declines his offer, citing Leader’s final lesson, he takes her and Reg into his arms, perhaps to embrace the girl he’s known her whole life, and watched, and known that the day would come when she’d run off after, and like, her mother. He also warns her about the White Whistle “Ozen the Immovable” at the Seeker Camp.

After some more descending, we can take one more swig of dramatically unveiling vistas as they arrive at the Abyss’ Second Layer – The Forest of Temptation (not to be confused with the Forest of Illusion, though the vibe is similar).

Gazing at the environs sprawling out before him, Reg can’t help but wonder if he and Riko actually “escaped” their pursuers, or if they’ve come to a place where other things will pursue them. For this is no longer the territory of man, it’s The Abyss proper, from which all things sprang, and where all things eventually return. I’m drunk on awe now.

Kuromukuro – 22

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With Kurobe Lab captured, its remaining staff brainwashed, and the Pivot Stone in Efidolg hands, the enemy halts its advance, allowing the good guys a measure of uneasy peace this week. Zell pays a visit to the Shirahane household to tell the story of how he met and befriended their husband and father Takehito.

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From the moment Zell jumps out of the shadows when Takehito tries to cut himself (to lure the “ogre” to his trap after many other baits failed), their entire interaction is pure gold. I love how unafraid Takehito is of Zell, and how Zell, while a little weirded out by this guy just runs with it, inviting him to his cave for some tasty boil-in-a-bag, showing him where he came from, and warning him of the Efidolg threat.

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Yukina’s father parted ways with Zell but got caught in a sudden snowstorm that claimed his life. Koharu would’ve just been a baby when this happened, but Yukina regrets calling her dad a liar, when he was right about everything. The “ogres” (or “oni”) that are a part of Japanese legend were actually ancient aliens.

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That night, as Yukishi says a prayer for Takehito, Muetta…wanders off, but not back to the Efidolg. She actually has no idea where she belongs anymore, only that it isn’t here. She can’t get the childhood memory of her homeworld out of her head, and the fact that memory may be fake doesn’t make it feel any less real or powerful.

Ken and Yukina go out to look for her, but the activated Pivot Stone lowers the temperature of the vicinity significantly, causing premature snow. Yukina trips and falls into a snowdrift, but Koharu’s ferret finds her, runs back to Muetta, then leads her Lassie-style to Yukina.

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Once again proving she’s not evil, Muetta strips down and warms the freezing Yukina up with her own body heat, causing Yukina to wake up very confused, but then very grateful for saving her life (and I’ll just say Ken really dropped the ball leaving Yukina behind without making sure she got back home safely.) When Muetta breaks down into tears at her frustration of not knowing where to go or what to do, Yukina gives her the only thing she can: a comforting hug and her belief that everything will be fine.

Like everyone else in this episode (who hasn’t been brainwashed), all Muetta and Yukina can really do is keep on surviving. Muetta notes that the premature Winter is the effect of the Pivot Stone, which will soon open a “star path” for the main Efidolg invasion force—if it isn’t open already. I simply don’t see how anyone survives if that force reaches Earth, so if anyone has an idea how to stop it and send the Efidolgs packing, now’s the time.

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Kuromukuro – 21

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Kuromukuro continues to blast through barriers it once held back from, building the diligent, detailed preparation of its first half. The care it took building its world, its technology, its characters and their roles relationships is all paying off.

There’s something irresistibly striking and engrossing about having witnessed the building of such a beautiful, intricate work, and then, in its 21st episode, it pins its ears back and smashes it all to bits without mercy.

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Ken saved Yukina, sure, but he was only able to thanks to Muetta. But that doesn’t change the fact that she’s The Enemy, and when they land, she’s treated as such despite Ken’s protestations. Then the “Ogre” Zell shows up, and Ken rushes at him reflexively, just as a fiery samurai who’s come face to face with his nemesis would be expected to.

But Zell does something wonderfully subversive: he presupposes that Ken is simply mistaken about him being the enemy, dismissing over four centuries of hatred and mistrust in a matter of words. In reality, Zell is also the reason Ken was able to save Yukina…not to mention the primary reason all his organs are still internal.

Zell isn’t done dispensing wisdom. He finally presents himself to the UN forces, and also solves the mystery of Muetta: she isn’t the original Yukihime, but a clone based on her genetic code, implanted with false memories a different personality…and the voice of Toyosaki Aki. This revelation seems to do a number of Muetta, and Yukina can’t help but feel for the “poor woman.”

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Unfortunately, these truths are the least of everyone’s problems. The most would be floating high above them, descending fast. The Lab and the surrounding town do their best to prepare and make a stand, but there can be no preparation, or victory, for what is coming, and arrives earlier than expected.

Efidolg mechas rain down from the heavens while the mothership looms menacingly. The three GAUS piloted by Tom, Shenmei, and Sebastian take a few foes out, but once the elite pilots show up in their fancier suits, the window on how long they can hold out significantly narrows.

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Ken, Yukina, Zell, and the Kuromukuro are occupied with Yorba, and Muetta is in custody, so her glongur stands by uselessly until knocked into the ocean by a raging Mirasa.

Then the mothership lands, dwarfing, then destroying the massive yet elegant arched bridge across the river, then literally driving stakes taller than mountains into the earth to form a perimeter shield that traps most if not all the evacuees in.

In every way, all hell is breaking loose, and it’s all the earthlings can do to keep from getting killed by the rubble of their own destroyed structures, to say nothing of surviving wave after wave of enemy mechas. The chaos and mounting hopelessness is palpable, and pulls you in.

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When Shenmei’s GAUS-3’s arm is ripped off, it lands on the Humvee that was transporting Muetta, flipping it upside down and trapping her in. Sophie, who witnessed the collision, rushes to free Muetta, and the gang composed of Yukina’s uncle, sister, and classmates stops to assist her.

Hopefully the altruism of these earthlings is not lost on her, for if there’s going to be any kind of counterattack or rather resistance to what’s shaping up to be a very successful Efidolg invasion, they’re going to need Muetta.

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That’s doubly true considering once the cactus-like personnel-sized mechas are sent in, firing tiny implants that go in the ears of earthlings and causes instant brainwashing and submission to the Efidolg. They are literally poaching all the talent.

Poor Rita saves her console-mate Beth from getting nabbed by a mecha, but she falls under their spell, as do countless other UN staff, soldiers, and townsfolk. Talk about complete and total domination.

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Shenmei’s GAUS is destroyed, forcing her to bail out with a super-cool inflatable escape pod, but such a feature doesn’t seem to be equipped on Sebastian’s GAUS. Either that, or he simply didn’t have time to eject when tackling Mirasa to the ground and blowing the two of them up when she tried to go after the bus carrying Muetta, Sophie and the other civvies.

Seb dies an Apparent Honorable Heroic Death, sacrificing himself to save them, but Sophie is crushed (emotionally, not literally). Ken, Yukina, and Zell grab Tom and retreat, completing an utter defeat I knew was coming but simply wasn’t prepared for how far it would go, so fast. So many of Kuromukuro’s safety nets are gone now.

The lab is toast, most of its staff dead or “turned”, the remaining heroes scattered with little more than their wits, and the Efidolg are now in possession of the final pivot stones. Assuming this is fairly close to Rock Bottom for our heroes’ fortunes, I simply thank goodness there’s five episodes left; this is a hole out of which it’s going to take some time to dig. And I can’t wait to see if, when, and how they pull it off.

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Kuromukuro – 20

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Now this is the kind of episode that fully delivers on the promise of Kuromukuro from the start. No more teasing: Yukina is finally stuck aboard an alien mothership, and while before we were only given bits of dialogue from the bigwigs sitting on their thrones on the bridge, here we get a grand tour of the massive vessel, with Yukina as our guide.

Lighting, sound, and visual design get top marks here, creating a suitably alien and oppressive but still wondrous atmosphere. Yukina also benefits, at least initially, from the ship (and its various automated crewmen) believing she’s Muetta. I say initially because it isn’t long before Mirasa finds Yukina and tries to kill her, laughing maniacally the whole time.

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A little less exciting, but still important, is Sophie’s continued chat with Zell, who reveals he’s third world that was conquered and dominated by the Efidolg. He doesn’t want what happened to his world (nothing good) to happen to Earth, and he’d also like some retribution along the way.

At the same time, Major Graham discovers the director’s “mutiny” and acts to restrain her, but as she says, she’s “already won”, because Ken is up in orbit, trying to save her daughter. All anyone down there can do, from Graham and Hiromi to Yukina’s sister, uncle, and friends…is wait.

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Yukina manages to find a hiding place where Mirasa can’t see her, then digs into the ship’s records to try to figure out a way off, to no avail. She also finds what looks either like a clone or artificial “Yukihime head,” disturbingly enough. I appreciate her determination to help herself out, sticking true to what she said to herself in the beginning of the episode: “I can’t have him protect me all the time.”

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When she finally finds some clothes and a weapon, she remembers the gruelling training she went through, and it serves her well, at least in terms of the stamina she no doubt developed, as well as her sword skills, which keep her alive against a Mirasa who may well be compromised from the stress of “Muetta” returning to announce her treachery.

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Little does Mirasa know, until the last possible moment, that Muetta arrived on the ship separately. She reports to her superiors, but can’t keep up the fiction that nothing’s amiss when the ship’s sensors detect Ken roaming the corridors looking for Yukina.

Muetta is immediately treated and attacked as a traitor, which is probably what she expected all along. I for one am glad she doesn’t try to turn Ken and/or Yukina over in exchange for essentially keeping her job and having her past mistakes forgiven. Then again, she’s never actually given the choice to betray Ken, because bringing him here in the first place is all the bigwigs need to condemn her.

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Eventually, Ken finds Yukina, steps in on her fight with Mirasa, and along with Muetta they hurry back to the hangar to make their getaway. Yukina allows herself to cry and embrace Kennosuke with relief and heartfelt gratitude, and her continued thanks makes Ken blush. Sure you were only “fulfilling a promise.” Right.

The Efidolg try to snatch both the Kuromukuro and Muetta’s glongur, but fail when the Ogre flies up into orbit to snatch them out of the enemy tractor beam, allowing them to return to earth. All’s well that ends well…except for the little matter of the Efidolg ship preparing to descend to the Earth’s surface. No rest for the weary…or recently-half-naked.

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