Kuromukuro – 23

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I must say I didn’t expect Yukina, Ken, and Muetta to go to school what with everything that’s going on, but it’s not as if there’s that much more for them to do. The Efidolg are being really really nice in not trying to kill anyone else or attempting to secure either the Kuromukuro or Muetta’s glongur, but the Earthlings don’t really have a plan for how to proceed quite yet. As such, we get a calm-bef0re-the-storm episode, and a fair amount of fanservice, starting with Muetta in Yukina’s spare uni.

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In this calm, both Ken and Muetta try to figure out what they’re going to do with themselves if and when Earth survives the Efidolg onslaught. Again, the timing for a career counseling session seems a bit odd, but I appreciated the practicality of a samurai figuring out something else to do with his life – though I’m pretty sure he could make good money in the modern world demonstrating his fighting skills for education, entertainment, or both.

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As for Muetta, she is even more a fish out of water than Ken, since she’s not sure who or what she is anymore, whereas at least he had his ideals and an object of devotion in Yukihime. Just as the other teacher gives Ken some sage (if somewhat obvious) advice about the future, Marina also flexes her counseling skills by telling Muetta not to despair in her new situation, but to take life by the horns, as all humans do.

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I enjoyed Muetta’s reaction to the deliciousness of omelette rice (and the speed with which she consumed it), her description of the sustenance she’s used to (“square”), and her general bemusement with English loan words and earth technology (like “movies”). Ken is equally amusing as unreliable translator – the blind leading the blind.

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Most importantly, Ken has made peace with the fact that Muetta is not Yukihime, but her own person…and he wants her to fight with them. He expresses this wish during a shoot for a movie, the script for which Carlos has been working on since the attack and by all accounts seems completely absurd and incomprehensible.

I’ve gone on record as not being the biggest fan of Carlos or his desire to be remembered, but the shoot is fine harmless fun, even if it’s mostly a chance to see various characters in different outfits.

This was a quiet, somewhat rambling episode, but it wasn’t entirely pointless, and is likely the last episode of its kind. With only three left, Kuromukuro needs to get down to the business of thwarting the Efidolg threat.

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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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Big Order – 03

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Apologies to fans of this show and its source manga: this write-up is a bit harsh. -Ed.

Feelings—especially on anime—can be fickle, changing from week to week, and Big Order’s dominating spell wore off fast. It’s fitting that it shares its initials—B.O.—with body odor, because this show smells bad, in a way that makes me feel icky and want to keep my distance.

Perhaps foremost among its sundry problems is its ridiculous free-wheeling nature. Eiji wants to save his sister, and Rin wants to kill Eiji, but beyond that, the show is all over the place, with the attention span of a child and the petty sadism of a teenager burning bugs with a magnifying glass.

Rin is imprisoned, but in her panties, in a refrigerated padded room. Why? The Prime Minister opens negotiations by executing the family members of the Group of Ten, to “test” whether they’re actually under Eiji’s domain.

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The heads that are sliced off are real, but when Eiji shoots the Group of Ten, he stops the bullets from killing them while keeping up the fiction he’s someone to be feared. But to what end?

How in God’s name is Kyushu supposed to conquer the world, especially when the crack team of soldiers who accompany Eiji and Rin haven’t the slightest loyalty to him and turn tail at the slightest hint of danger? Why a giant CGI rock monster?

These are not good questions, and it is not a good show that raises them. I don’t care about the answers, because the show doesn’t seem to care either. It just seems to want to shock, only doesn’t have the firepower or gravitas to come close to doing so.

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The casual violence (often accompanied by goofy upbeat jazzy music) seems like an ill-conceived attempt to be “edgy”, but it just comes off as silly and idiotic, which can also be said for Iyo, a seemingly capable miko-type character who melts into a puddle and becomes freaking pregnant when Eiji touches her bunny-ear ribbon. Just…what? 

I don’t want to find out how Eiji deals with the huge-nippled Order controlling the rock monster. It will probably involve breaking out his lame-looking CGI mummy dude, yelling “ORDER!” and poof, putting yet another woman under his thrall.

If it’s all the same to you, I’m going to spare myself any more of BO’s dopey, trying-too-hard faux-edginess. Like I said – its spell wore off quickly.

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Big Order – 02

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Well, that was an…err…interesting sequence of events. If the plot of Big Order continues to be as erratic and silly as this week, watching a lot more of it is going to be a tall order. We start with Eiji successfully achieivng “domain” over Rin by making it impossible for her to kill him, which is the only damn thing she wanted to do by wishing to be immortal.

One could ask why she didn’t simply wish the person who destroyed the world would die, full stop—but I guess she wanted to do it personally, and now it’s backfired on her big-time. By the way, I’ve gotta wonder if the directors told Mikami Shiori to scream in such a way as it sounds like equal parts pain and pleasure…because that’s what came through.

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While Rin can’t kill Eiji, she still wants to, desperately, and so after they’re both taken prisoner by one of her comrades who can stop time (which, like Eiji and Rin’s powers, seems way too powerful a power), and she busts him out, they take the most dangerous route out of the bowels of the government office, so that she can try several different methods of killing him indirectly.

Her numerous failed attempts to cheat are one of the highlights of the episode, as it’s servicable black comedy to see Rin try and try again to get Eiji killed, only to get killed herself in almost every way imaginable, then restore herself. I gotta hand it to the creator: having an immortal sidekick who wants to kill the MC but can’t is a pretty delicious premise.

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Unfortunately, the episode quickly gets glommed up with all kinds of other shit, and the Eiji & Rin show I was enjoying is pushed to the sides in favor of a larger scheme by Rin’s superiors, the Group of Ten.

Under their orders, time-stopping guy Fran has Sena in stasis, holding back her six-month shelf life. In exchange, they’re prepared to finish what Eiji started, naming him their puppet king, declaring their jurisdiction (Kyushu) an independent nation, and declaring war on the rest of the world.

After introducing all ten people with graphics and their plan with lots of explanations and maps, my head was spinning a bit, wanting it all to just stahp for a second and let me regroup.

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But like Eiji, the Group of Ten’s plan would not wait, and he sees no other option but to put the Ten under his domain, sticking them with his tendrils (including in a naughty place for one of the female members) and officially making them his.

Their fates would now seem to be tied together, though considering how Rin acted after he domain’d her, and the knowing smirk from his new chief of staff Hiiragi, I’m inclinded to doubt Eiji’s reign will be a long and smooth one.

‘Smooth’ is not a word I’d use to describe this episode. More like crude, rude, and chaotic. The snowballing plot is mildly goofy, there were too many character intros packed in, Eiji’s not particularly likable, his interactions with women leave a bad aftertaste, and the CGI monster-packed action is often too abstract. We’ll see if any of this improves next week when Eiji’s rule begins in earnest.

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Big Order – 01 (First Impressions)

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From the artist behind Mirai Nikki comes a story about people called Orders who can turn their wishes into powers thanks to the mysterious, annoying Daisy. Ten years ago, Hoshimiya Eiji believes she made his wish to become a TV antihero come true, leading to the near-destruction of the world, the death of his parents, and the hospitalization of his brocon sister.

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One day a ridiculously out-of-the-entire-school’s-league cutie transfers to his class and follows him home, claiming she lives above him and broke her key. When he opens his door, she shocks him, then reveals her true face: she’s an assassin sent to get rid of him. Or wait, she’s there for revenge for her dead parents.

In any case, the initially pure and innocent cutie who turns out to be sadistic and homicidal is nothing new, and I’m not sure at this point what if anything Rin adds to the conversation. I will say that I did not expect Eiji to inadvertently kill her with her own blade via the more focused use of his power, visualized by a glowing medallion on his hand.

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Rin steps out of Yuno’s shadow a bit by later revealing she can’t be killed; she’s an Order to, who gained the ability to instantly regenerate from even serious wounds. She shows more cold cruelty by stabbing Eiji’s sister Sena in the back, using her as bait to draw Eiji to her and her assembled army dudes.

(Rin is part of some military/paramilitary cadre of Orders, who all look like a bunch of weirdos. She’s a second lieutenant, so pretty low on the food chain).

After Eiji’s initial rage at seeing Sena maimed subsides, Daisy visits him and makes a slight mod to his powers, reducing their range considerably so he won’t lose control like ten years ago (why ten years had to pass for any of this to come down on him isn’t clear).

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Eiji is done being Mr. Nice Guy. His wish, which had remained a secret the whole episode, is revealed as “world domination.” As such, his powers give him dominion over anywhere he goes, and over anyone or anything in that vicinity. Unfortunately for Rin and her troops, that includes physics, which means bullets fired at Eiji do not reach him.

Now that the beast has been awakened, he gets his ‘tentacles of domination’ into Rin (in a fairly suggestive cut to black), I suspect he’ll have dominion over her as well.

I mean, this show is awfully on-the-nose and trying too hard to be edgy at times, but is better-looking and has more interesting (and far fewer!) characters than Mayoiga, plus I enjoyed Mirai Nikki well enough…so I believe I’ll give this late starter a try. At the very least I’m interested to see if Eiji joins Rin’s little org…or simply turns them into his peons.

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GATE – 23

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The last couple of weeks of foot-shuffling was almost worth the wait: this was an adrenaline-pumping powerhouse packed with some proper SDF domination over the Special Region’s painfully outmatched military, and I daresay it’s the best presentation of pure righteous spectacle since the showdown with the Fire Dragon, which feels like ages ago.

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What added to the satisfaction of what was really just a rescue op for the civilians and doves was the intense preparation and precision involved. The SDF officers men have trained for all of this, and now they finally get to show their stuff.

This is less about who’s going to win (obviously, it’s the JSDF in a rout on every single front), and more about the deep pride the SDF shows in everything they do, no matter how pathetic the foe, they exercise the utmost professionalism and efficiency in their work.

The comprehensiveness and abruptness of the SDF’s assault throws Zolzal off balance, but Tyuule is always right behind him to say—in not so many words as to tip him off as to her true goal—he’s dug his grave and now he has to lie in it. She makes sure he understands no matter what happens, he can’t leave this place, or the Empire will fall.

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Itami & Co. are in transit, and miss the big show, but the other forces get the job done, quickly routing the army beseiging the Jade Palace and rescuing the civvies, doves, and Rose Knights without any trouble.

Their swift and forceful efforts have left Zolzal looking weak and kept the possibility of peace alive, all before Zolzal even knows where to send his men (also sending the royal palace guards, leaving himself mighty exposed should Tyuule get stabby).

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However, as Tyuule remarks after Zolzal’s underlings give a very sobering report on their defeat, they still have a significant trump card, and that’s Princess Pina. Bozes knows she’s being imprisoned there, and races off to try to rescue her single-handedly, a highly questionable course of action that exposes Bozes’ lack of experience in this kind of thing.

Luckily for her, Beefeater followed her, and when Bozes’ horse takes an arrow, Beefeater carries her on hers as they flee the charging army. They’re spotted by one of the SDF unit commanders (who is sticking around until the officially sanctioned end of the operation, just in case), who take out all of their pursuers and bring them aboard their helicopters.

Now everyone is safe but Pina, who doesn’t seem to have been sexually assaulted by anyone, but is still not used to being imprisoned, and is starting to panic over the fact she may have been left in that cell to die. Of course, she’s still very much alive for the moment, as Itami, the only man who can save her approaches the capital.

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Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 03

Poor Miranda! She never had a chance, and more than Coco
Poor Miranda! She never had a chance, any more than Coco did

Cross Ange is a dark, gritty, brutal, sometimes just-plain-wrong mecha series done right. As First Troop battles a battleship-sized DRAGON and its twenty-odd underlings, Miranda is simply told to keep back and stay alive, an order she cannot follow. Just when you thought, “well, maybe they’ll have Miranda resent Ange for Coco’s death later”, she dies too, just as she’s told not to!

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But just so you know, the show isn’t content just with killing off rookie redshirts, as the highly capable, experienced bad-ass Captain Zola also meets her end in the fiasco of a battle where Ange first tries to desert, then freaks out and flies around, then slams into Zola’s Paramail, preventing her from landing the killing blow on the DRAGON. For her trouble, Ange gets to await rescue as the blood from Zola’s empty eye socket drips all over her cockpit. Frankly, I’m surprised more pilots didn’t lose their lives out there: those DRAGONS are exceedingly efficient at tearing people to pieces.

Everyone hates you. You are the worst.
Everyone hates you. You are the worst.

Even if it’s not all due not entirely to Ange, her selfish actions contributed greatly. She’s also gone and made even greater enemies of Zola’s three lovers: Hilda, Roselie and Chris. And Jill even sent her official petitions to several nations: all were rejected, as no one has ever heard of the Misurugi Empire or a Princess Angelise. She hasn’t just been plucked from her world: that world doesn’t even exist anymore.

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Nice touch that Norma get their full names back when they die

Once healed up and out of her Gaultier Leeloo bandages, Jill has her lug the tombstones of the dead to their final resting places – the duty of the person responsible for their deaths. It’s here she learns her cushy mana-filled world is built atop the bones of the Norma, all fighting to protect a civilization that spits on them. When she learns fallen Norma get their names back, she starts to wish for death, to escape the hell and return to a place of peace, even if it is the afterlife – because she’ll at least once again be Angelise Ikaruga Misurugi.

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Villkiss – Ange’s (old) new ride

With her first paramail trashed, Jill bestows Vilkiss on Ange – while awesome-looking, it’s hard to control and has seen better days; the perfect ride for someone with a death wish. But the Vilk is no lemon; and in giving it to Ange Jill seems to be challenging the voracity of her wish.

Salia is the new First Troop Captain…for better or worse, as she’s extremely rigid and by-the-book leader, probably a better lieutenant than captain. When they find the DRAGON and it’s revealed it’s basically acting as a decoy for a sea-to-air attack, Salia kind of just freezes. She’s only saved from the fates of Coco & Co because Ange lures it away — not because she particularly cares about Salia (or anything), but because she’s trying to die.

Vilkiss, Resplendent in Assault Mode
Vilkiss, Resplendent in Assault Mode

That is, until that DRAGON grabs her paramail and stares her down, and she remembers the dying words of her mother: “Live on.” Her ring, which was returned to her, glows, and when blood from her head drips upon it, there’s a reaction that’s both surprising and utterly un-surprising considering Ange’s natural course from now on. She’s not going to die there, because she realizes she doesn’t want to die.

Ange's not ready to die yet after all
Ange’s not ready to die yet after all

To that end, she does what it takes to live on — wasting the dragon in a heated blaze of gun and sword attacks and ending the battle on an exclamation point, bailing out the tactically deficient Salia in the first sortie under her command. By the end, Ange is flushed with excitement, just as Zola said she’d get when she hit her back. Ange is still ashamed to feel this way, but she can’t deny she does.

I have Nothing. I am Nothing. I will live. Kill and live. That is all.
I have Nothing. I am Nothing. I will live. Kill and live. That is all.

She hasn’t been a knowing Norma long, and having not grown up as one doesn’t harbor the same deep scars, but she’s very quickly starting to understand what kind of living Norma must cling to. Even if it involves killing and a whole host of other nasty stuff, they have to take what they can get and find peace and solace however they can.

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So Angelise cuts her long flowing locks and tosses them into the wind, to join her name, her past; everything else she’s ever had or been. She decides she will live on, as Ange, at any cost; not die as quickly or easily as her mother or young comrades. Then she takes the pudding Coco gave her out of the dustbin and dutifully chokes it down. It tastes disgusting, but it will nourish her soul. When in Hell, you savor every compromised comfort you can get your hands on.

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