Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 16 – It’s About Family

It’s About Family—It’s a line that became a meme when the late Carrie Fisher used it to describe her journey in the Star Wars saga, and often used mockingly or in jest. I decided to use it here without cynicism, because it fits quite well. Family isn’t just about blood, but shared time and experiences, and being changed by that proximity.

After six singularities and change, Fujimaru and Mash are the brother/sister-esque duo (see also: Valerian and Laureline) responsible for saving the human race, aided by Big Bro Romani and Big Sis da Vinci. Servant “cousins” from far and wide have joined their fight, each with their own unique bond with Ritsuka. As for Gilgamesh? Well, he’s everyone’s Daddy, naturally.

This ragtag fam is up against another kind of family entirely: neither of blood nor circumstance, but mud—the primordial kind. Kingu was the proud firstborn of Mother Tiamat, but as he finds himself stabbed through the heart by a chaotic, impudent younger sibling, he probably longs for the days he was an only child.

The Lahmu who stabs him ends up extracting the Holy Grail, which was Kingu’s heart all along. It uses the Grail’s power to instantly evolve and gain wings with which to fly back to Mother, deliver the grail, and seal humanity’s doom. It’s all Ishtar can do to keep up with it with Maana, and Quetzelcoatl summons her Pterodactyls to join the chase. Neither make much progress slowing the Lahmu down.

Kingu, despite missing his grail-heart, attempts to flee his traitorous, sadistic sibings, who relish hunting him down and laughing at his inferiority and obsolescence. They eventually corner him in the woods, but just as one of them is about to kill him, it is killed instead by one of its own.

Siduri, as it happens, was part of the group chasing him, and decided the time was right to make her move. While she kills the other Lahmu, she suffers a mortal wound herself. Before she turns to dust, she thanks Kingu—referring to him as  Enkidu—for all the good times they had together and with Gilgamesh, and begs him to seek a life of happiness.

Gilgamesh and Siduri were a family Enkidu forgot when Mother used his body as the basis for Kingu. With the grail gone and Siduri managing to resist Tiamat’s authority, the memories come rushing back, and even though he doesn’t consider himself Enkidu, tears stream from his cheeks, mourning the twisting of his once happy family in Uruk.

Thanks to some persistence and teamwork, Kuku and Ishtar manage to ground the flying Lahmu, only for it to vanish without a trace. In its place, the long-awaited DARK USHIWAKAMARU emerges from the sea with one goal: to kill them all for abandoning her to wallow in hell. To his credit, Ritsuka doesn’t waver, and delivers the order to defeat the black sheep of the family.

Kuku jumps at the chance to cross swords with Dark Ushi, but can’t quite take her on alone. When Ishtar fires her last bullet before running out of magical energy, Kuku tag-teams with Mash, in one of the better-animated and most exciting lightning fast hand-to-hand battles in a show packed with ’em. I wouldn’t be surprised if F/GO took a week off in order to make sure scenes like this were done right…and they were.

With so much time passing between Good Ushiwaka’s fall and now, and all the buildup in between and speculation about when she’d return, it was going to be tough to give her the sendoff she deserved. Don’t get me wrong, it’s super-terrifying when she starts laughing maniacally (Hayami Saori’s performance turns wonderfully dark too) and suddenly multiplies into an army of dark Ushiwakas.

Mostly it’s just good to see her again, even if not under the best circumstances. But she’s gone almost as soon as she arrives, as Ishtar uses Ritsuka to recharge her energy stores and blasts all of the Ushiwakas into oblivion.

While I was pretty sure she wouldn’t be coming back around to the good side, I’m a little miffed she didn’t get the same sendoff as, say, Siduri or Merlin…or Ana. Instead, she dies gloating that her mission to act as a diversion was a success. While Ritsuka’s party was fighting her, the flying Lahmu arrived and delivered the grail to Tiamat, a huge setback.

Look at that, a cheeky Star Wars reference from the King of Heroes. Having both analyzed the primordial mud and invented a holo-imager, Papa Gil reports his findings to the team, and it’s not good: the parts of the sea now blackened by Tiamat contain her authority, and sea levels are rising. They threaten to flood humanity’s one and only bastion of civilization, and the forces of Uruk will only hold out another hour or so against the Lahmu.

With Game Over so close, the team’s only play is to head to the Spirit Origin signature in the Persion Gulf that is sporting magical energy of over seven Holy Grails. Ritsuka, Mash, Ishtar, and Kuku will have to be enough, barring the return of Ereshkigal…or a change of alliance by Kingu. Mother Tiamat is waiting in the middle of the gulf, butterfly eyes and all. Which family will win out?

P.S. Driving that family theme home, as well as adding to the special nature of this episode, is a new ending sequence featuring beautifully-rendered snapshots of Enkidu, Siduri, and Gilgamesh during happier days in Uruk, set to a soulful new song by milet, who has one hell of a voice.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 15 – Careful What You Wish For

Thanks to Ana’s immortality-nullifying Harpe, Gorgon/Tiamat is defeated in the episode’s first five minutes, which should have been the herald of good news, were this the final or penultimate episode. Of course, with a whole half-cour remaining in F/GO: ADF-B, the humanity and it’s heroes climb out of one hole only to find themselves at the very bottom of an even larger one.

Depsite Ana’s sacrifice, Gorgon did not possess the grail required to collapse the seventh Singularity and end the war. Kingu still has the grail, and was planning on killing Gorgon all along in order to awaken the real Tiamat, which Merlin calls an “Evil of Humanity” before vanishing after a massive “spacetime quake.” That’s right, Ritsuka, Mash & Co. will have to fight the true boss without Ana or Merlin. Bummer.

The real Tiamat doesn’t awaken immediately (though we do catch her seemingly yawning), but from the epicenter of the quake, an impossible force of 100 million beasts emerge, and thousands of them are already attacking Uruk by the time the heroes get back there. These creatures are apparently the species that will serve as the “New Humanity,” and they’re effectively fearsome, offputting, and implacable.

Those attacking the city suddenly withdraw without explanation, enabling Ritsuka’s party to meet with Gilgamesh. He has no orders for his people but to either fight and die in Uruk now or flee north, and perhaps live a bit longer.

When Ritsuka notices Siduri is missing and hears what happened, he demands to be given leave to rescue her in Eridu, where she was taken by the demented monsters Romani names lahmu. What seemed like an opportunity to raise some spirits in Gilgamesh’s court by rescuing his beloved scribe turns sour almost immediately…this episode is merciless in the crap it throws at the heroes.

Siduri has already been transformed into a lahmu, who are totally indescriminate in their torture, mind-manipulation, maiming and killing of “old” humans. Kingu stops this chaos, disgusted by the behavior of his “siblings” but determined to lead them and whip them into shape. For his trouble, he’s stabbed in the back by a lahmu, who sadistically tells him he’s “boring”.

Allies and villains are dropping like flies, replaced by ever more unreasonably monstrous foes. How Ritsuka is going to be able to salvage this situation short two servants is beyond me. And, as always since her capture, Ushiwakamaru remains an unseen, heartbreaking threat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 08 – Sacrifice on Both Sides

Alice just continues to be the biggest badass in SAOA, as it should be, since her name’s in the title. Fresh off of obliterating a sizable chunk of the enemy’s forces, Alice comes down to earth exhausted, but there’s no rest for the weary as she gets right back up.

When the chief of the Ogres emerges from the carnage, Alice learns that she’s the primary target of Emperor Vecta before sending him to the grasslands to where he wants his people to return.

Meanwhile, Eldrie comes before her consumed with shame and self-pity for not being able to live up to the standards of her disciple, but she’s just happy he’s still alive.

After a brief war council, Alice proposes and Bercouli agrees to split up their forces. Being the “Goddess of Light” the Dark Emperor seeks, she’ll gain the attention of a sizable chunk of his remaining forces, evening the odds for the Human Empire. She’s essentially bait.

On the other side, a discouraged Dee Eye Ell gets her second wind when Vecta offers her the lives of the 3,000 orcs in order to provide the energy necessary for a large-scale counterattack.

Like the Ogre Chief who simply wanted his people to return home, the orcs are painted in a sympathetic light, and the show is unblinking in their suffering as they give up their lives for a larger cause than themselves.

Alice doesn’t see the attack coming until it’s too late, but Eldrie is there to divert and absorb it with his Recollection, resulting in severe injuries that ultimately claim his life. While Alice is beside herself and orders/begs him not to die and leave her, promising to do anything for him, Eldrie couldn’t ask for a happier death, in the arms of the mentor he protected, valued and loved above all else.

Thanks to Eldrie, Alice can fight on, decimating the Dark Mages to the point Dee Eye Ell just starts sacrificing her own underlings in order to stay alive. Dee dreams of becoming Empress, meaning at some point she’d have to betray Vecta.

But Alice intends to skip over her entirely and go after Vecta directly. She knows at some point she must reach the World’s End Altar, she just has more immediate matters to attend to—not to mention a full head of steam after losing Eldrie.

Attack on Titan – 54 – His First Lie

This week the Beast, Armored, and Colossal Titans were so sure time was up for the humans, they neglected to detect the diversions that led to their own demise. Beast Titan is having so much fun tweaking his pitch delivery to kill Erwin and his desperate cavalry charge, he fails to see why they keep shooting nothing but green smoke at him.

That green smoke hides the fact that all of his Titans to one side have been felled by Levi, who then comes for him. Bertholdt and Reiner warned Zeke about the one human he had to worry about, but by the time he’s finally face-to-face with that human, the Beast Titan is toast. Levi carves him up like a Christmas goose.

Levi’s victory is snatched away by the “crawling” Titan, who grabs Zeke’s body before Levi can find anyone to turn into a Titan so he can eat Zeke and gain the Beast Titan’s powers. Levi gives chase, still committed to keeping the promise he made to Erwin. The only survivor of the cavalry charge is still alive, but not sure why. Will he be the one Levi gives the serum to, or will there be someone else near death who needs it more than this guy?

Inside the walls, Armin finally has a plan, to the relief of Mikasa and Jean. He’ll wake Eren up to fight Bertholdt, while Mikasa, Jean, Conny and Sasha will deal with Reiner. His plan revolves around the fact that the Colossal doesn’t do well in a battle of attrition, since the amount of steam he can produce is finite, making him thinner and thinner.

Reiner may be alive, but he’s signifcantly weakened, and still isn’t aware of the Thunder Spears, one of which takes out a knee and halts his advance. They need to get his mouth open, but while Conny’s spear finds its target, Sasha misses and is ijured. Armin wakes Eren up, but Eren ends up falling off the wall; Bertholdt is convinced he’s concussed and in no condition to fight, and that Armin is rushing him in a last-gasp suicide attack that will fail.

When telling Eren his plan, Armin reminds him he’s never lied to him, and that they’re going to see the sea together someday. However, this was actually the first and only time Armin was lying; in order to defeat Bertholdt, he had to stay in front of his face—and the tremendous heat from his steam attack—as long as possible, incinerating him in the process.

Back at the Armored battle, Hange swoops in to complete the destruction of his jaw, enabling Mikasa to land on his tongue and fire her thunder spear down his throat, forcibly ejecting the very weak and vulnerable Reiner.

With Armin killed, Bertholdt looks down and notices Eren’s Titan has fully hardened. Just then, Eren swoops in from behind, cuts the Titan’s nape open, and rips Bertholdt out sans arms and legs. The Colossal Titan darkens and falls. With all three main foes defeated, it should be a great victory for the Scouts and humanity.

But there are so few left to savor that victory, and Armin was an irreplaceable friend and tactical asset. I honestly can’t believe they offed one of the three main characters, but his life ended triumphantly the same way Eren first met him years ago: not losing by never running.

Tokyo Ghoul:re – 07 – Congratulations and Recollections

The sheer number of players big and small in the Tokyo Ghoul universe can make darting from one group to another a daunting task, especially for one not versed in the manga upon which :re is based. Still, the sight of all those myriad faces, most of them familiar, lend the world a lived-in, oddly comforting atmosphere.

Then there’s the new faces, our Quinx Squad, who come out of the great Auction Raid not only none the worse for wear (relatively), but having distinguished themselves to a man (and in Saiko’s case, to a woman). The raid ends abruptly—which I was hoping for. Sasaki takes Hinami into custody (after Arima allows it), and Rabbit and the other members of Aogiri Tree retreat.

Most of the surviving CCG investigators are promoted in a ceremony, with Tooru jumping from 3rd to 1st class for his conspicuous valor (no doubt irking Urie, who probably wishes he outranked his Quinxmate) Their leader Sasaki becomes a Senior Investigator at a very young age.

As the Doves celebrate their victory, Akira visits her father’s grave, eager new members join a “cursed” squad, Tooru is coached in knifesmanship by Juuzou, and a familiar green-haired lady leaves something in the Quinx Squad’s house’s mailbox.

The celebrations continue when Sasaki invites Akira and Arima over for a dinner party, preparing a sumptuous feast for them and his squad, and giving everyone gifts to commemorate their promotions (or in Arima’s case, just ’cause). After so much peril, blood, and death, I liked the return to the warm and cozy home life of the squad.

Even stick-in-the-mud Prince Urie, who manages to be both insufferable and sympathetic, chips in, while the higher-ranked investigators seem happy for the respite; there’s no other motive for Sasaki inviting them except perhaps to show them  how much his ragtag squad has gelled.

Then Sasaki opens the package addressed to him. It contains Kaneki Ken’s mask, as well as a novel by Takatsuki Sen (who also happened to be the deliverer of the package). If this is an effort by her to help Sasaki remember more about Ken, it seems to work in a very specific and poignant way.

As Shirazu visits his injured, unconscious sister in the hospital (something Urie also happens to see) Sasaki ends up in a cafe being served coffee by Touka at the Cafe :re, and thinking how familiar the coffee, the waitress, and the other patrons of the cafe feel.

Then walks past Anteiku in its prime, with Yoshimura looking on before walking in. Sasaki looks again, and the cafe is gone, replaced by a cleared lot and orange cone barriers. He must have been seeing through Ken’s eyes.

Tokyo Ghoul:re – 06 – Filling the Void

The Quinx Squad remains split into thirds as the raid enters its final stages—and you get the sense that they’d do better as a single unit. Thankfully, Urie is not all alone when he decides it’s time to unleash his “Frame 4” power…because it doesn’t go all too well for him!

Once Big Madam can gauge his power, she realizes he’s punching way above his weight, and takes him out with a barrage of blows. Tooru is there to comfort Urie in his defeat (when “ME! ME! ME!” becomes “O Woe is Me!”), while Juuzou has backup and no qualms about bringing down his former “Mama”.

Meanwhile, Shirazu and Saiko are fighting Nutcracker with Hayashimura…only Saiko…isn’t really doing anything; simply asking what she should do. Shirazu knows what I’ve come to suspect (and which was kind of obvious): Saiko has the highest latent ability among the Quinx Squad members not named Sasaki Haise.

Saiko is also motivated by a desire to help Haise, and her burst of violence, while off-camera, puts the Nutcracker on her ass. Shirazu finishes her off, but not before Nut says something very “human” about always wanting to be pretty.

As Shirazu and Saiko defeat Nutcracker, Juuzou and the XIIIth take out Madam, leaving Owl and Haise as the one remaining main event of the raid.

Haise is scared of giving in too much to the Kaneki Ken within him lest he lose himself, but Owl takes advantage of his hesitation by utterly laying waste to him, while one of his associates broadcasts Haise’s screams of pain over the P.A. system, leading Saiko to race to where he is.

Saving Haise from an early grave is none other than Fueguchi Hinami, who states that Haise is too valuable for Owl to simply eliminate on a whim. Owl doesn’t like that, but Hinami can hold her own against him, at least long enough for Haise to get his shit together and summon enough of Kaneki’s power to fight back against Owl himself.

The process whereby Haise does this is by realizing that while he fears Kaneki—and rightly so—there’s a part of Kaneki within him that is still a child, and similarly terrified. It’s not about competing with the guy; it’s about relating to him. He shouldn’t fear the void, he should embrace it, and Ken. If he doesn’t, he and his squad are toast.

I’ll be honest, the raid lost a bit of steam from the first episode to the second, and between Big Madam’s wildly variable mouth size and the huge number of seemingly mortal wounds that turn out not to be not that bad, the decline in my enthusiasm has continued into the third. The fourth will surely mark the end the raid (one can hope). We’ll see where Haise and the Quinx Squad stands then.

Macross Delta – 22

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Well, with a big battle coming up and the show deciding to check in once more on Cassim, it was pretty clear from the cold open that this was going to be the swan song for, to date, the most three-dimensional Windermeran on the show.

But first, a note about the shot that establishes the Chaos fleet the last two episodes: could it have killed them to zoom in a little more and let us get a nice look at that fleet? It’s a nitpick that expresses my desire for a big space/aerial battle after a string of episodes that were more about developing characters. And we got one.

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After a quick chat between two of the simpler characters in Macross, Mikumo (who lives to sing) and Hayate (who lives to fly), everyone salutes Captain Johnson and the Elysion enters a fold gate. All of a sudden, we’re back in the shit, as Chaos teams up with the liberated Vordorian military to strike against Randall.

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But that turns out to be only a means of diverting and splitting Lloyd’s forces, as Delta and Walkure’s true desination is Windermere itself, by way of a fold gate opened on Alfheim. The only way to open that gate is for Walkure to give the protoculture structure everything they have.

At first, Freyja doesn’t do that, because she’s still scared Hayate and/or Mirage will go nuts. But after a quick slap by Mikumo, combined with the urgings of Hayate and Mirage, Freyja is back in the game.

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Turns out she was right to worry: the song does make Hayate go berserk, just when locked in a dogfight with Cassim (who is fighting like this is his last battle, because it is). Just as Hayate and Mirage helped snap Freyja out of her funk, Mirage and Freyja snap Hayate out of his Var before irreparable damage is done, and the battle resumes.

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By the time Hayate has his senses back, the platoon has bought Walkure adequate time, the gate opens, and they fly through, emerging in Windermere’s atmo. Two Aerial Knights: one of the twins and Cassim, follow, and take out Walkure’s shuttle.

Remembering vividly what happened to Flay in Gundam SEED I naturally worried about the idols’ transport getting hit, but they all survive the attack, with Arad and Mirage catching Kaname and Freyja out of the sky.

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All that’s left is for Hayate to stay alive long enough for Cassim to burn (or freeze) out, which is what happens. Interestingly, no other Windermerean defense is around, allowing Hayate and Mirage to land their planes so they, along with Freyja, can pay respect to their fallen adversary and acquaintance.

Cassim’s time may be up, but Hayate, Freyja, and Mirage’s Windermerean adventure has just begun. Freyja is finally home. There’s still quite a bit left to do, and Lloyd probably isn’t going to roll over and let them destroy his life’s work. We’ll see whose wind prevails.

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Macross Delta – 04

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First some quick observations on our Windermeran boy prince songster: he’s the key to his people’s plans for galactic domination, he’s a pawn of his big brother Keith, he likely has misgivings about hurting people with his song, and the song hurts him; indeed, he may be running out of time, necessatating an acceleration of those plans.

On the other side of the galaxy, fellow Windermeran Freyja Wion and her friend Hayate are at a party welcoming them to Walkure and Delta Platoon, respectively, but neither are (yet) carrying the weight of his little highness, they’re kicking back and relaxing with their new family. Mikumo solitary, solemn audience with the stars is a stark contrast to the frivolity of the party; and in lighting and mood, a lot more like the prince’s milieu.

But the lighthearted fun, for both for our star idol and pilot and the show, has to hit a snag at some point: we need to start seeing some stakes and some danger if I’m going to become dramatically invested and take the show seriously (that is, as seriously as one can take a show in which a berserker syndrome is cured with song). This week provides that necessary snag.

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Mind you, there’s still a Nostalgia Corner, for those watching Delta because of all the Macross that came before. Not only does Freyja name-drop several musical personalities and groups from previous shows, they’re on her playlist and formed her inspiration.

Mind you, this mirrors the real life cyclical inspiration of the idols who got their start with Macross: no doubt Freyja’s Suzuki Minori was inspired by Ranka’s Nakajima Megumi, and so on.

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But however inspired Freyja is by her forebears, Mikumo informs her in no uncertain terms that if she can’t deliver the goods in her debut, she’s fired.

This time it’s not a highly controlled simulation: Planet Randor has requested a “Waccine” to preemptively inoculate its population from the Var. Freyja inadvertently plays up her clumsy nervousness as a virtue in her debut, and the adoring crowds eat it up.

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Freyja also gets better as the show goes on, able to mostly keep pace with Mikumo, even if her fold receptors don’t activate at first, which was the whole point of recruiting her.

Things then take a turn for the perilous when a formation of Var-infected Spacy planes arrives and attacks Walkure/Delta. I was a little confused whether the Var was being caused by the Windy Prince’s song, but it sure looked like a connection between the two was implied.

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When shit hits the fan, the Walkure members scatter for safety, and the adrenaline of the first episode returns as they feel terribly exposed to the firepower and brawn of bogeys.

Of course, that’s where Delta comes in, and Hayate has Freyja’s back, keeping her alive until Mikumo regroups with a Var-eradicating solo Freyja turns into a duet, finally activating her fold receptors and avoiding summary termination.

Turns out harrying Walkure/Delta was only an elaborate diversion by the Aerial Knights of Windermere, as Chancellor Brehm announces a formal declaration of war against the New Unifed Government, while Delta confirms that Planet Vordor has been invaded.

First the Var, now a war with Windermere, a people who are short-lived (~30 years max) but powerful. The fact the newest member of Walkure is from the same planet should make things interesting. A quarter-cour in, things are finally starting to spice up.

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