Banana Fish – 11 – Ashilles Heel

Turns out leading a gang is like riding a bike: you never really forget how to do it. Ash slides right back into his simpler life, and Eiji sees, for the first time, Ash the Leader, and how all his subordinates hang on his every word and breath.

They’re also impressed that Eiji isn’t scared of waking Ash up from a two-hour nap. But once Ash is up, he sends them all off on an intelligence-gathering mission, leaving him and Eiji alone to enjoy a simple meal of takeout together.

It’s there that Eiji sees yet another side of Ash, as for the first time ever in their friendship they can just relax. He also learns that Ash has cucurbitophobia (fear of pumpkins) and teases him for it, eliciting a very boyish pout.

That night we see the contrast between the two young men: Eiji sleeping soundly and Ash waking up from nightmares that will probably never go away. Ash lets himself be vulnerable with Eiji and cries into his lap; it’s how they both end up falling asleep.

Ash gets up at dawn, letting Eiji sleep in, and sets to work on his laptop. Having spent his jade earring buying guns from “The Fly” yesterday, Ash hacks into Golzine’s stocks, using the spyware he implanted on Dino’s computer while Dino was having fun with him.

So not only is Dino’s favorite mansion in ruins, but so are his finances, and those of the mafia organization he’s a part of. He’ll have to answer to the dons now, which means his life is a lot more complicated and fraught with danger. From what we know of Dino, no one deserves it more…though Arthur is trying to make a case for himself.

Ash uses his influx of cash to buy an $8 million condo right next to a building owned by the Corsican organization, showing he’s still a fan of bold moves. He has Max pretend to be his dad to cosign on the purchase. But Max is worried that for all Ash has accomplished since gaining his freedom, he still has one potentially crippling weakness: Eiji.

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Happy Sugar Life – 09 – Eliminating All Risks

In exchange for the change to see and be purified by Shio, Taiyo follows through with Satou’s instructions, giving Asahi Shio’s sock and telling a tale about it being found at a station some distance away. A cordial exchange quickly devolves into nastiness when Asahi smells some kind of trickery afoot, and then triggers Taiyo into a rage by calling him a “dirty adult”; pretty much the worst insult you can throw his way.

Still, Asahi regrets how things ended, and decides to take Taiyos advice and travel afar for more clues. The night before he leaves he meets Shouko in the park once more. Shouko thinks everything about Asahi is amazing, and while he’s not manly or her type at all, a part of her is jealous of Shio for having such a gallant prince willing to move forward no matter how much it may hurt or how scared he is. She bids him farewell with an exchange of contact info, and a kiss.

Satou is at the station to make sure Asahi is on his way, then returns home to 1208 to spend the whole day with Shio. It just happens to be the “anniversary” of the day she first kidnapped her. Satou celebrates by buying a bunch of fancy sweets which the two share together, and when Shio brings up the future, and securing said future together with the bonds of marriage, Satou is ready with two rings.

Both she and Shio are happy beyond words; giddy, even. And in a moment of particularly intense giddiness, Shio pounces on Satou as she’s exiting the front door…

…Where Shouko is waiting there with her cameraphone, and snaps a picture of Shio with Satou. It’s a devastating needle scratch but also a welcome glass of cold ice water on Satou’s frankly impossible (and ridiculously amoral) fantasy dream world. Her Happy Sugar Life is a sham; a mere house of cards that falls all too easily once a sliver of reality peeks in.

And yet, as evil as Satou’s actions are, Shouko comes with at least a veneer of non-judgment, acceptance, and love of and for Satou, no matter what she’s become, what she’s done. No matter how far she’s sunk into the muck, Shouko wants to pull her out and back into the light—the real light. But Shouko is doomed the moment Satou saw her on the balcony; before she even snapped that picture.

In a thoroughly unpleasant, sickeningly brutal scene, Satou grabs Shouko from behind as she’s leaving, sticks a knife in her throat, and suffocates her with her hand as she bleeds out. Another risk eliminated. She used soft power on Asahi, but had to go hard with Shouko, who kept persisting and interfering.

But Shouko’s death wasn’t in vain. The photo of Shio with Satou reaches Asahi. Will he be prudent enough to report Shio’s kidnapping to trained authorities and let them deal with Satou, or will he try to go after her alone? How will Satou deal with Shouko’s body, and will her murder spark a purge of more “risks”?

Most importantly, how will Shio respond to this once the initial shock wears off? Perhaps Shio herself could end up dealing the decisive blow to Satou’s delusional,  impossible world of sugar and happiness. The foundations of that world are as rotten as her aunt’s apartment; they’re sinking ever deeper into the earth made soft by spilled blood.

Banana Fish – 10 – Wounded Tiger

The youngest Lee brother sat out last week’s unpleasantness, but returns to Ash to tend to his wounds and also decides to lend him a hand in escaping from Dino’s mansion. Dino is away for the night demonstrating Banana Fish on a woman who is forced to kill her husband, a presidential candidate. Meanwhile Ash’s gang has joined forces with Shorter’s Chinese crew, led by Sing, and after gathering some intel, they hit the mansion the same night Dino is out.

Ash makes use of the key Lee slipped him by doing a bit of gymnastics, then frees Max and Ibe, head to the armory full of military-grade weapons. From there, Ash becomes the “devil himself”, mowing through Dino’s men on one side of the house while his allies burst in and take care of business from the other. Lee leaves Ash with one more gift: injecting Abe Dawson with a paralytic.

That means, after meeting up with his men, Ash tells them to all get the hell out before Dino’s cavalry arrives, then heads down to the lab, where Abe had been busy extracting Shorter’s brain. Dawson begs for his life, but Ash responds by emptying a mag into him, then burns Shorter’s body so he can pass over in peace.

That gesture leads to a misunderstanding with Sing, Shorter’s subordinate, who heard that Ash killed Shorter (but doesn’t know why). He picks the wrong time to demand vengeance against Ash, who makes quick work of Sing, but lets him run away.

Sing ends up running right into Lee, who takes him away in a helicopter and spots Ash in his red Italian sports car heading back into Manhattan. It was an ugly one, and came at a high cost, but it was good to see a win for Ash, even if it just meant getting his freedom back.

Happy Sugar Life – 06 – Losing the Moon

Shouko, who is consistently the most normal of characters in this show full of loons, encounters Asahi, and she isn’t one to just keep walking. At her heart she’s a “good girl”, even as she once made a habit of staying out late at night to fool around with men.

She’s also good enough friends with Satou that she knows when she’s hiding something. She’s just not ready to believe Taiyo’s accusations. Meanwhile, Satou tries to hem in Taiyo from further interference by offering to let him meet Shio, while the masochistic teacher is dedicated to finding proof Satou murdered her aunt.

Satou’s far-too-together demeanor at work continuies to elicit suspicion in Shoko, who walks the same shopping district she and Satou used to hang out looking for guys. Only this time, she goes to the park to find Asahi sleeping under a bench, and gives him more food. She has no ulterior motives, she has no hidden neurosis; she’s just helping someone in need.

She wants to know how Asahi got into this state, and he tells her the story of how his mother and Shio escaped the house where her drunk husband was beating her. Asahi stayed behind so “the devil” wouldn’t go looking for his mom and Chio.

Staying meant enduring beatings and KGB-style fingernail torture, but Asahi it was worth it; he’d take the abuse so Mom and Chio could be safe and free. He had his moments of despair, but ultimately endured until his father drank himself to death.

The unbridled joy of discovering this fact is quickly marred when Asahi goes to his mom’s house to find Chio has been kidnapped. His Mom, who from the look of the place was not coping well with living and caring for her kid on her own (even though the alternative would’ve obviously been worse; at least she’s not being beaten) simply tells Asahi it was “too late.”

Shouko scores a day out with Satou, their first time hanging out as friends in a good long time. They have a lot of fun, but Shouko has a mission in mind: she wants to know the truth. Satou is initially totally unwilling to tell her, since it’s something she doesn’t want a good girl like Shouko getting mixed up in.

Shouko forces the issue by telling Satou that she wants nothing else but to know what she’s involved in, because she loves her friend more than anyone else. These words seem to move Satou, and she invites Shouko to come to her house to learn what secret she’s been hiding with a non-existent boyfriend.

Even so, I’m not convinced Satou is capable of trusting Shouko with all of the dark things she’s done that even she herself has compartmentalized. Then again, I find it hard to believe Satou would do anything to Shouko in the presence of Shio—which calls to mind how exactly Shio’s kidnapping went down. More concerning is the fact the masochistic teacher is tailing Satou. I can’t see any of this ending well.

Youjo Senki – 12 (Fin)

The Gist: Topping all but the second episode, this week’s Tanya outing owns some lengthy, thoughtful and horrifying dialog. Despite what high command may think, the war will not be over and that is strictly because humans are too animalistic — too emotional — to follow the rational path and surrender.

The Republic rises in Africa, joined by survivors from the Kingdom and Alliance. The Kingdom mobilizes at home, and we see weapons of war rolling along the rail tracks in the Russian federation and in America as well. (Even Anson’s daughter has volunteered for service, yellow magic eyes and all!)

It all threatens to swallow Tanya and her fragile battalion. But Tanya is having none of it. In a fiery speech to her recently deployed African troops, she vows that the battlefield is no place for God. That her soldiers will put him out of work and that she will slice him into pieces personally and feed him to the pigs.

Back at home, among the frustration and angst of high command, the leadership has come to believe in her. She IS a monster in the body of a little girl and, no matter what, nothing will stop her from her goals.

Dun dun duuunnnnnn!

The Verdict: I have tremendous respect for this show ending on a largely talky episode, and in a so very Tanya-talky way. From her cold, calm, and horrifying explanation to high command on why they are wrong, to her frothing mad rant to her soldiers, it’s all very off putting and terrifying.

I do wish Serebryakova got a bit more screen time, and I do wish I had a sense of where any of this was going, or that it had gotten to this point 2-3 episodes earlier, but, if a second season will come our way, I think it will deserve your watching.

At it’s lowest, Tanya is a combat procedural with an unusual aesthetic. At it’s height, it transcends nihilism and delves right into an antagonistic relationship with God, and man’s own nature. Good stuff, that.

Youjo Senki – 11

The Gist: In a lovely bit of symmetry, Colonel Anson tears through Tanya’s forces, followed by a suicide self-destruct gambit when Tanya finally over powers him. Fortunately, the ever loyal Serebryakova is there to save the day and Anson is out of God’s game for good.

It’s a genuinely exciting fight, with vibrant colors, and remarkably effective use of space considering much of it is 3D models rendered over clouds. It’s also full of lovely details, like the Kingdom Mages, who ride steampunk brooms, reinforcements arriving ‘in 600 seconds,’ and Anson’s use of outlawed weapons.

On the emotional front, the battle reasserts an ongoing question in Youjo Senki: “Despite her name and actions, is Tanya truly any more evil than anyone else?” Given Anson’s shallow thirst for revenge, his use of illegal weapons, and the Kingdom troops’ indifference to the war, the answer seems to be ‘not much?’ for the time being…

Following the battle, we get a happy ending of sorts. All 11 of Tanya’s troops have survived, the Republic surrenders, and celebration awaits. At least, until Tanya realizes the Empire is walking into a trap that will cost them the war in the longer term…

The Verdict: despite a general familiarity with World War 1, I’m actually unclear on exactly what Tanya has realized (too late). However, the narrative implication that she now sees the Empire as doomed and, therefore, herself as well, are quite clear. Her faith in the one, logical institution she believes in is shaken and only Serebryakova knows it. What this means for next week, I have no idea?

That said, I see no coherent way for Youjo Senki to resolve itself in a single half and hour. Likewise, the first season has been sluggish enough that I don’t think it warrants a second season. Will it get one anyway? I have no idea.

Will I watch it if it does? …Maybe.

Youjo Senki – 10

The Gist: Team Tanya successfully wipes out the Republic’s forward command, which allows the Empire’s plan to unfold without a hitch. A massive explosion is set off under the Republic’s southern position, Empire tanks surge through the scattered survivors, and the Republic’s main force is encircled.

From inside their submarine escape vessel, Team Tanya has every right to pre-celebrate victory. However, little do they know, Colonel Anson and a boat full of Kingdom Mages is about to run into them, putting their lives, and indeed the success of the entire plan in question.

Following the credits, we flash back to Serebryakova being an un-wakeable weirdo sleeper on the submarine for some humor. Will the improved Anson finally match Tanya’s output? Will her team of 10 stand a chance against a full regiment of broom-riding mages? Beyond this battle, what’s Youjo Senki’s end game? Only a few episodes remaining to see…

The Verdict: Like the battles it features, this week’s episode landed a string of successes, with the caveat that things may go off the rails, structurally, by the end. The flow of battle and strategy was easy to understand and visually interesting, and we got a broader emotional range from Tanya and crew while on the submarine.

However, there’s an over arching haphazardness of editing throughout Youjo Senki. On one hand, it tries to cram a lot in per-episode but what it crams in isn’t always relevant or impactful. The Empire’s board meeting between government officials and the military didn’t really add to any tension over the success of the plan for example. Anson’s scene on the Kingdom ship reduced the surprise impact of his arrival at the end of the episode for another. There are plenty of other short moments in hallways and at tables where characters repeat information we already know too.

Combined, these little delays and wheelspin shave time off of other moments, not always for the better. In some ways, the opening attack from Team Tanya didn’t even feel like a scene in it’s own right, since it was so brief and the potential failure was so brief as to add no tension (It would have been far stronger to end on that in the previous episode, and leave us guessing what Tanya will do if her target was wrong to begin with).

Youjo Senki – 09

The Empire devises a plot lure out the Republic’s main-force, crush it, and end the stalemate in the Rhine. This involves railway logistics and a lot of leg work (flying work?) on Tanya’s troops’ part to deceive the Republican troops, and it looks like there are casualties amongst her unnamed ranks.

However, the big push is that Tanya and eleven of her troops will be riding V1 rockets behind enemy lines to launch a surprise attack against the Republic’s three possible command centers. If her team takes them out, which is likely, the war with the republic will be over in an instant.

Ultimately, this episode is yet another strategy and battle presentation, with an emphasis on setting up more battle for next week. We get a cameo from Tanya’s classmate and Doctor Schugel, and Serebryakova gets a little character development via Tanya’s lieutenants (who see her as bizarrely unflappable and charming amidst what should be horrifying, and what horrifies them) and there’s even a bizarrely lengthy joke after the credits, regarding one of Tanya’s men being removed from active service because he ate a rotten potato.

Unfortunately, the result falls in with Youjo Senki’s more mediocre offerings. It’s not bad, just a straight forward war and internal workings of an army storytelling. Without a focus on Tanja’s inner workings, or giving her agency over the intrigues of the day, or without learning more about God, that makes for a purely watchable experience.

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Youjo Senki – 08

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The Gist: Colonel Sue Anson wakes up in a Kingdom hospital, months after last week’s battle. He’s seen God and has orders to kill Tanya, and his eyes glow yellow with the power to do it. Despite this scene being tucked after the ending credits, and lasting barely 30 seconds, this is the primary purpose of the episode.

The 20 minutes of content leading up to this shows Tanya’s Battalion in the Rhine valley, where they must retake a city that’s being overrun by freedom fighters. The battle is fierce, as the resistance is backed by air-dropped mages of the Republic (the robot horse guys) and the tight quarters of city fighting play against Team Tanya’s advantages in mobility and ranged firepower. Also, because civilian casualties are guaranteed, it plays against her soldiers’ emotional stability.

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This is especially rough on a gung-ho second lieutenant who’s been trying to win Tanya’s approval. Specifically, after the battle is won and after hauling wounded bodies for hours, he’s ordered to eliminate the Republican mages providing cover for evacuating Civilians, in prep for a lethal saturation of artillery fire.

It’s not entirely clear if he’s more upset with Tanya’s logical explanation that the survivors will simply take up arms against him and the Empire, or if the truth of her words is too hard to bear (he can see a young man in the crowd glowering at him, as if telegraphing a thirst for revenge) or if he isn’t upset at Tanya at all but the war itself. Whatever the reason, however broken it makes him, it is strongly implied that he opens fire at Tonya’s command.

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The Verdict: Youjo Senki captures the horrors of war and the process of dehumanizing soldiers to the point that they act more as tools than thinking humans better than previous outings. However, minus Anson waking up, this was still a ‘war is bad’ episode, it still overly reliant on the ‘ain’t it cool’ factors of the show’s technology and Tanya’s badass war fighting skills. Again, without God or a greater view of the conflict from inside Tanya’s head, the tragedy of carnage isn’t especially compelling.

As for Anson waking up, it finally sets a narrative destination in motion, which is good. However, Anson was never developed enough to be a compelling opponent for Tanya in the first place. Sure, losing his country and being a dad give him the basis for conflict in dealing with Tanya, but we don’t see how his mind works, let alone have there been scenes dedicated to emotional conflict for him fighting Tanya.

This leads me to suspect a fairly straightforward combat focus to their conflict in the future. While that may be visually stimulating, it would be a letdown. Youjo Senki, at its best, can do better than that.

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Youjo Senki – 07

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The Gist: Tanya’s Battalion is the leading edge of a surprise naval invasion against the Alliance (alt-Finland). They paradrop on top of what was thought to be the perfect fortress and quickly obliterate all the coastal guns, paving the way for a quick defeat. They engage Colonel Sue Anson along the way and quickly kill him and all his men.

Outside of that event, we learn that Anson has sent his family away to the United States, that his daughter gave him a submachine gun that has his initials on it, and that’s about it.

Roll Credits?

tanyabAnson finally gets the POINT (but I don’t?)

The Verdict: If he’s dead, and that seems like a safe assumption, I’m not sure why Youjo Senki spent so much time with Anson? After all the build up, he presents no challenge for Tanya to defeat, and beyond having a daughter who is now in America, his only lasting impact on the narrative seems to be that Tanya kept his gun? (And his initials appear to be used heavily in the Youjo Senki branding)

There was a glimmer of possibility, when Anson began to pray, that something unexpected would happen, but there was no payoff. Worse, we haven’t see the rest of the world react to Tanya enough to get a sense that Anson is praying because Tanya prays before she slaughters. We certainly haven’t seen enough of Anson to know if this was a change brought on by an outside factor, or if he prayed normally anyway.

What I’m getting at is, battle aside, what was the point of all of this? So the Empire has de facto won against the Alliance, which moves the war along, but who cares? We know the Republic will fall in the Spring, followed by the Kingdom, but that’s just alt-history fantasy stuff that doesn’t carry any tension because no characters or sympathetic evidence has been presented to give us a reason to care. (In fact, from the Empire POV it appears these other powers were the aggressor in the first place)

For a show that’s halfway over, setting up long-game goals seems in order (developing characters, revealing another layer of mystery, or establishing a worthy opponent). Instead, mostly action sequences. Shrug?

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Youjo Senki – 06.5

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It’s recap week and there were no clever mechanisms or twists added to the material. At least it was presented in linear (non-eposidic) order, which makes more sense as a way to bring the audience in.

Less good, the way it was clipped and mashed into a single episode strips the Tanya/God conflict down in favor of maximum action and story-per-frame. Tanya’s inner motivations and emotional conflict with God is, really, the only reason to watch this show.

Curiously, I found ‘episode zero,’ which is a super deformed websclusive superior. There’s basically no animation at all, and 99% of it’s 120 seconds of bobbing along is empty chatter about not liking German food, but the end really nails Tanya’s character. God is with her every moment, keeping her alive and pushing her forward and she loves it. She loves it so much she will kill him for it.

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Youjo Senki – 06

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The Gist: Tanya’s Battalion is deployed to break the Alliance (alt-Finnland) and they arrive just in time to route a large multi-national mage force backed by Bombers. While it is more challenging than their first battle, Team Tanya cleans house without a single casualty.

Meanwhile, while searching for POWs to interrogate, Tanya gets another taste of God. This time she gets a shot in — a brutally quick one into the corpse of a pilot — but it’s barely enough to pause God’s presentation. God’s message is pretty simple: Tanya has a target painted on her back and the whole world is out for her heretical blood.

tanya6_4Soldier Dad is totally screwed… but not till next week

Elsewhere, the Alliance senior council tells each other they are on the brink of collapse, a Republic General hears a report, a Kingdom Colonel tries to get intel on Tanya but gets his observation post blown up in the process, and Anson (the guy with the scar who lead the failed attack on Tanya in episode 2) gets promoted and sent to defend the rear lines… which is where Tanya is being sent next.

Serebryakov and the rest of Team Tanya get screen time, and they all feel a little more believable as soldiers, leaders, and individual people for it. However, God’s visit is the most interesting aspect of the episode. My take on it is that God is not only trying to force Tanya to repent and/or spread God’s word but also share God’s own feeling of being ‘against the whole world.’

I could be reading too much into it, but I get the feeling God’s goal is less to do with Tanya’s humanity and humility, and more to do with shaping a counterpart. Perhaps making a literal devil to co-administer the world with…

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The Verdict: As with last week, your enjoyment of this week’s episode hinges on how much you care about Tanya kicking ass on the battle field verses how much unnecessary, content repeating, conversations amongst the various central and high commands of 5 nations you are willing to sit through.

Also like last week, we get one good visit from God that really highlights how much more interesting that concept is than loli-murder-machine and logistical conversations amongst military commanders…

While I’m looking forward to Tanya’s reunion with Alliance Colonel Sue Anson next week, and I’m digging the weirdly vindictive plot God is throwing at her, this episode can not escape the fact that those two points were it’s only two interesting points, and Anson’s 60 second scene only sets up potential for the next episode.

tanya6_2The scale, depth of field, and bomb dropping action was the best of any war machine we’ve seen rendered so far…

We’ve seen Tanya blow stuff up before. (though seeing Tanya take a bomber down with a hand grenade was pretty bad ass) We’ve seen that the Empire would already have crumbled without her participation.

We didn’t really need to see the Alliance senior council to confirm that they are also holding on by a thread — that they are relying on the Kingdom and Republic for support — because we see that on the battlefield, as evident by the uniforms and tech of those other nations.

We certainly don’t need to a Republican General all the way back in alt-Paris getting a report about the battle and the Alliance’s senior council’s status right after seeing those things. Unfortunately, that’s what we got.

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Youjo Senki – 05

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The Gist: After only 20 recruits pass Tanya’s initial test (a test to see through the illusion of a fake officer telling them they’ve failed) HQ gives Tanya a free month to train her soldiers anyway she wants. Training is brutal, starting with being shelled with live munitions for 36 hours, followed by a 48 hour march across the wastes.

All her men can do is shout in frustration… which causes an avalanche. But the tortures backfire on Tanya, who’s impossible odds were set to break men’s wills and prevent her forces from being deployed into battle. Seeing her ‘bring a man back to life’ and calmly take all hardship with purpose only hardens her men’s resolve and fear of failure.

As the episode neared the credits, Tanya’s first regiment finds itself in the south eastern edge of the empire, facing 600,000 soldiers invading from a new threat, the Dakian empire…

screen-shot-2017-02-03-at-12-20-43-pmTanya’s team lands in the enemy’s HQ camp, bewildered that communications are not encrypted and no air defense is in place…

Suffice it to say, the Dakians are completely out of their league. No air defense. No contemporary tactics. Just countless corpses and burning factories — in their capitol city no less. Tanya’s force will certainly fight harder foes in the future, and may risk over confidence, but, for now, they can breath a sigh of relief.

The Verdict: This week brought us a few moments of levity but was mostly focused on the fighting of war, and the prowess of Tanya at war, which is not all that interesting. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it when Lieutenant Serebryakov she grabs a shovel at the first sign of ‘training’, reinforces it with magic, and digs a fox hole to hide in. Her quote “I’ve been thinking your idea of what constitutes a threat is a little…” was a nice touch too.

But really, the only meat to the episode was watching soldiers normalize around the world view of their ruthless leader. They agree with Tanya’s assessment that Dakian’s efforts aren’t really war, they buy into the death and glory of graduating boot camp, they celebrate above the burning wreck of Dakian’s capitol. I could see this story moving ahead, to the next world war, with Tanya holding Furer-like power, and the likely horrifying consequences to follow…

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