Summertime Render – 02 – Taking a Step Back

At night I’m driving in your car
Pretending that we’ll leave this town
We’re watching all the street lights fade
And now you’re just a stranger’s dream
I took your picture from the frame
And now you’re nothing like you seem
Your shadow fell like last night’s rain…
—”Shadow”, Chromatics

After he is brutally murdered by an evil copy of his adoptive sister Mio, Shin ends up back on the boat to Hitogashima, in the warm embrace of the bespectacled woman’s bosom. Back on July 22nd. The day repeats itself much the way it did before, with Mio ending up in the ocean. This time, Shin notices that her brakes were cut—likely intentionally.

After the funeral and dinner unfold much as they did the first time, Shin switches things up by staking out the front of the Kofune household. He witnesses Mio’s copy killing the cop Totsumura, then getting a glimpse of the shadowy alien/whatever that then assumes Totsumura’s form.

Thus the Totsumura we saw in the diner last week wasn’t Totsumura at all. Unfortunately, Mio spots Shin hiding, then kills him in gruesome fashion. But now we know: Mio’s copy tried to kill her by cutting her brakes, and these evil copies have plans.

…But yet again, Shin doesn’t die, and even observes his dead self before his Return by Death-style resurrection repeats. In the in-between space/time between loops, Shin both hears the voice and feels the embrace of his sister Ushio, urging him to protect Mio.

Back on the dock on July 22nd, Shin follows Ushio’s edict, putting himself between Mio and the sea to prevent her from falling ino the drink. Like Subaru, he is trying to take a long view of the situation and understand as much as he can while also trying to change enough to prevent further tragedy from befalling his family.

Meanwhile, the bespectacled lady is recording a message for someone we know not whom while inverted on a tree branch so she can maximize blood flow to her brain. Both of these odd practices and her dark suit reminded me of Agent Cooper from Twin Peaks, and indeed, the talk of “shadows” led me to go back and watch the closing minutes of the second episode of Twin Peaks’  third season, when Chromatics performs “Shadow.”

It occurs to me there’s a distinct Twin Peaks-y vibe to Summertime Render, in that an isolated, seemingly idyllic community is suddenly beset by an unspeakable, inscrutable evil force that can take the form of its inhabitants, like Ushio and Mio. Perhaps this lady was sent here to investigate.

Unfortunately, in the first loop she is killed by said evil copy of Mio. But with each loop Shin learns more and takes measures to keep both Mio and himself safe. He deletes most of the data on his phone and hooks it up to an external battery in order to record the copy of Mio outside the house without actually being outside the house, then makes sure Mio is safe by barging in on her while she’s bathing.

Smacking him with the shower wand seems to be adequate punishment, since Mio doesn’t hold a grudge against Shin the next morning when he comes in to present her with footage of her own shadow. Knowing that an evil copy of her is roaming around, and that she and Ushio both saw a copy of Ushio, it’s pretty easy to deduce that Ushio’s copy may well have murdered Ushio.

At least for the moment, Ushio seems dead for good, as Shin can only reset back to the day he arrived on the island, which was well after she died. Can he, Mio, and Dahlia Cooper collaborate to neutralize the shadow threat? Perhaps, but I imagine it will take a few more loops—and unfortunate murders—to pull that off.

Summertime Render – 01 (First Impressions) – Beware the Shadows

After a suitably creepy dream that seems to set the tone, Summertime Render then suddenly seems to stumble, with Ajiro Shinpei waking up with his face all up in a woman’s chest. Soon after arriving on his home island for the first time in over two years, his little sister Mio flashes her shimapan as she flips into the water. So what are we doing here?

It was later in the episode that I realized—and even appreciated—the earlier moments of levity. That’s because much of the rest of the episode is simply dripping with grief, regret, sadness, and longing. Shinpei’s other sister Ushio is dead, and he’s here for the funeral. She died successfully saving a little girl from drowning. Her sudden loss casts a heavy pall over the entire island.

One of Shinpei’s friends, whose father is the island’s doctor, assures him that an actual full autopsy wasn’t performed, but that his dad was brought in to examine strangulation marks on Ushio’s neck. While her death was ruled an accident, those marks loom large. But not as large as seeing Mio—seemingly a different Mio—ominously standing outside her own home.

Inside, after a dinner of curry Shinpei made—which he said he’d make for Ushio again before leaving but never got to (he also leaves a serving at her empty place at the table) and the call from his friend, Mio embraces him and starts to bawl her eyes out, though promising they’re the last tears she’ll shed, not wanting to worry Ushio.

The next day, Shinpei, Mio, and their dad Alan start the process of moving forward and getting through their grief by keeping as busy as possible at the family diner. But a drunk customer makes a strange comment about a large-chested lady looking for Shinpei, while the island’s sole cop informally reports that the girl Ushio saved and her entire family have vanished from the island.

Mio is so upset by this she runs out of the diner, and Shinpei follows. When he finds her sitting against a wall covered in shadow, she tells him that she and Ushio saw a double of Ushio, just as the little girl Ushio saved saw a double of herself. A passing old hunter tells the kids the old story about a “shadow sickness” on the island that causes people to see their shadows.

Back in the old days, people with this affliction would be cleansed at the island’s shrine, so Shinpei and Mio head there, and Mio spots someone she thinks is the little girl Ushio saved in the woods. Instead, they find the large-chested woman gravely wounded by a gunshot. Before she can tell Shinpei who did it, she’s shot through the head…by Mio’s shadow, who then headshots Mio and then Shinpei.

Cut to black, then some static, and suddenly Shinpei is back on the boat, with his face in the woman’s chest. So we have Groundhog Day with murderous doppelgangers on a sleepy island cloaked in dark old legends and mysteries. I’m in. From the depths of grief and loss to a violent bloodbath, Rendering escalates quickly and ends with an exclamation point of a reset button. However many times that button gets pressed, I’ll be here to watch what unfolds.

Shin no Nakama – 12 – Life Comes at You Fast

Even in his twisted current state, Ares believes what he is doing is both right and righteous. He was born to serve the Hero, but to do so, there must be a Hero, and it’s Ruti. He and Shisandan defeat Danan and make it to the chamber deep in the futuristic/ancient ruins where five of the six “Sacred Avenger” blades reside. They only need Ruti to touch one in order for the Hero’s Blessing to take hold once more.

But Shisandan, who like Ares wants nothing more than for Ruti to return to being the Hero, knows that won’t be enough; they’ll have to kill the one thing making Ruti not want to be the Hero most: her brother Gideon/Red. Neither Red, Rit, nor Ruti make it easy, as the three have no intention of letting Ares or Shisandan get their way, but those two find an odd ally in Theodora, who likewise defers to the Almighty’s Will.

A wyvern or two show up in the ensuing battle, and a magically-chained Rit rejects Theodora’s strict dogma that places so heavy a burden on unwilling shoulders. Ares, becoming more undone by the minute, conjures a giant iron cube that sends Red and Rit flying down the elevator shaft to their deaths, causing the biggest emotional outburst from Ruti yet.

Danan, who has recovered from his fight with Shisandan and Ares, uses “Rising Dragon’s Roar” to halt their fall and fly them back up to where Ares is. Ares, meanwhile, turns his attention to Tisse, and even squashes Mr. Crawly Wawly! Fortunately he’s fine, and he manages to clandestinely bind Ares’ hands with his spider silk, allowing Red to chop off his hands and deliver a near-fatal blow to his former comrade.

Ruti and Shisandan, who at some point fell down a level or two, continue to battle each other. The angrier Ruti gets, the more powerful she becomes, until she wrests one of Shisandan’s swords from him, slices him to bits, and beheads him. The animation and lighting here really bring the scene to life and lend it an epic quality.

Of course, it wasn’t Shisandan’s intention to win a fight against Ruti, but to get her to touch one of the Sacred Avenger blades. She does so, and almost immediately, it re-takes a hold over her mind and stifles both emotion and free will. After watching a Ruti enjoy her independence, it’s a gut-wrenching moment seeing it all snatched away in an instant.

Things get even worse when she ascends to where Red and Rit are, he greets her warmly, and without warning she lunges at him, sword drawn. It’s only thanks to Show MVP Tisse Garland (never thought I’d write that!) putting herself between Ruti and Red that he’s not killed right then and there. But things don’t look good for Tisse, while nobody who tried to wrest Ruti from her blessing is safe now that she’s been re-brainwashed by the sword.

This is all very intense and dramatic and I’m not sure how our happy couple (or poor Tisse!) is going to get out of it alive, let alone content to return to their slow life. There’s only one more episode to sort it all out.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shin no Nakama – 11 – Our Own to Live

Tisse’s first act as savior and protector of Ruti is to go to those who care about her—Red and Rit—and let them know what’s going on: how a contract demon met with Ruti, gave her a drug that weakens her Hero’s Blessing, and broke Godwin out of jail to make her more of it.

Meanwhile Ares, Theodora, and Albert have returned to Zoltan, presumably to retrieve their wayward hero. Ares and Albert make themselves invisible (which is something you’d think Red could detect) as Red chats with a one-handed Danan. It doesn’t take long for Red to make clear that a.) he left the party of his own free will, and b.) he’s now found where he truly belongs.

Ares ends up tangled up with a second Danan, this one with both hands, who seems a bit too sharp to be the real Danan. It’s also pretty clear Danan wouldn’t lead Ares right into Red and Rit’s unattended apothecary so he can wreck up the place. He even ruins their big bed! All while “Danan” kinda looks on and scoffs. He’s clearly got plans for Ares.

Red and Rit are out, because they decided together that they can’t continue their quiet life while Ruti is in turmoil, and if Shisandan is still alive and assuming the form of Danan and others, they can’t stand by and do nothing. Red rushes ahead to the ancient elven ruins where Godwin is being held, and lures Ruti stright to him by threatening to harm the alchemist.

Now that Red is no longer ignorant to her situation, Ruti is prepared for her brother to hate her, and demand she return to her duties as Hero. Naturally, Red doesn’t do this; if he did anything like that, he’d be a real hypocrite! On the contrary, he’s been studying ways to lesson her Blessing’s effects for years, for a time when she wants to go on her own journey. It seems that time has come. As far as Red’s concerned, just as his and Rit’s lives are theirs to live as they please, so too is Ruti’s.

Ares…doesn’t believe this, and when he arrives at the ruins and tries to order Ruti around, Red can’t hold his tongue. This makes the already unstable Ares go a bit nuts, casting a spell that slams Red into a stone wall hard. Ruti responds by stabbing Ares with her sword, but missing his vitals, assuring him that if he hurt or tries to seriously hurt Red, she’ll slay him and not bring him back.

In a show full of complex personalities and motivations, Ares is probably the least interesting character—even moreso than Theodora and Danan, since at least they have honor. This guy is just a pathetic brat, and now it seems Shisandan (in the guise of the adventurer Bui) wants to make a new party with him to search the ruins for a relic of the First Hero.

Bui is certain Ruti will return to being the hero if Ares gives this relic to her, which makes me think it’s the kind of relic that messes with  free will. In any case, I hope Ruti doesn’t regret not finishing Ares off when she had the chance…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

TenSura – 44 – Game Recognize Game

This episode focused on three battles between Rimuru’s various subordinates and those of Clayman and/or Milim. It also doesn’t have a single moment of Rimuru blabbering in it, which might just make it the best episode of TenSura Season 2 Part 2 by default!

Interestingly enough, we start with a member of Team Slime getting their butt kicked; specifically Suphia. The buttkicker is one Father Middray, while his student Hermes gets soundly defeated by Gabiru (whose adorable syncophants are never far away).

This first battle is all about mutual respect and admiration, as Middray reveals that he and the other priests of the Dragon Faithful are just another kind of Dragonewt just like Gabiru. When things go south one of the other battles, they actually join forces to provide aid to the vulnerable.

While Middray and Gabiru are content not to kill each other, Albis is under no such constraints when it comes to Yamza or his underlings. She upgrades to her second form, turns the weakers ones into stone with purple lightning, and then they shatter in the air or on the ground.

Yamza reveals his biden card—a doohickey on his arm that lets him clone himself—but Albis just turns the doohickey to stone and shatters it. Defeated, Yamza surrenders, but Clayman pulls the strings and makes him eat a glowing orb that turns him into a lesser form of the previously deeated uber-boss Charybdis.

Just when it looks like Albis is in real trouble, Benimaru drops in, slices Charybdis with one slash, then quickly disposes of it with a massive flare. He then rushes to the strongest person he senses—Father Middray—only for Gabiru and Suphia to hold him back and tell him they were about to join forces.

Of the three battles, this one is the most interesting, probably because it isn’t a battle at all, just a bunch of cool people basking in their coolness. There may be no one cooler than Middray; ironic considering how red hot his head was last week. Oh sure, these guys could get serious, throw hands, and cause quite a bit of destruction and distress in their wakes, but…they just don’t see the point. To quote T-Pain: I like that!

That leaves us the third and briefest battle, the one between Phobio/Geld and Tear/Footman. Not surprisingly, the Harlequins are no slouches, and also arrogant as all get out. They declare that it wasn’t in their orders to kill them, even though they totally could, so they withdraw for now, basically taking the draw.

Both Phobio and Geld are upset, but they’re not that mad, especially when as far as Benimaru is concerned, the operation was a success. Geld kept Phobio safe and revealed Clayman’s hand. They may be flat on their backs in the forest having been on the wrong end of a butt-kicking, but they’ll live to fight—and fight a little better—another day.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Wonder Egg Priority – 13 (Fin) – Deus Eggs Machina

Instead of being represented by an angel and  a devil perched on her shoulders, Neiru works through her indecision by giving voices to her bunny slippers. She determines it’s time to be “selfish”. She encounters Ai, and they have a listless conversation about the weather before going their separate ways.

Ai returns home to find Neiru’s pet rat Adam by her door, and a text from Neiru asking her to take care of him. That’s all Ai gets; she calls and the phone rings and rings, but Neiru never answers. In a way, Ai is a good part of the audience of Wonder Egg Priority who waited three months for some kind of definitive conclusion.

Unfortunately, this is not really that. Oh, it takes a turn or two in new directions, but very few loose ends are tied up. Indeed, the first half of this special is a recap. Like Ai listening to those droning tones on the phone, we never should have expected answers would be forthcoming. Instead, we get more questions; fresh avenues for contemplation.

After the frankly obnoxious recap (the second, as the first was a necessary evil when the pandemic and time constrained production could not keep up with cruelly unrealistic deadlines), we learn that Ai and the others actually did bring their dead people back to life, only now they have no connections to them. Koito treats Ai coldly and even joins in bullying her.

Worse, when Ai calls Neiru’s office and meets her on the ground floor, Neiru tells her she won’t be her friend and walks away. Ai is so frustrated she tosses her phone, shattering the screen, and even buys a pack of cigarettes…though one sniff of one and she reconsiders actually smoking one.

It’s little moments like that, and all of the angst and depression and panic that sets in as Ai realizes the people closest to her have suddenly drifted away, that reminds me of the best this show could offer. Those painstakingly rendered quiet moments that really brought Ai, the others, and their world to vivid life. Ai decides to vent her frustrations into the mic, singing the ending theme (badly) at karaoke with Rika and Momo

Rika doesn’t like how Neiru just up and left, and suggests they return to the Accas to investigate. Momo doesn’t want to go. She, quite justifiably, doesn’t want to be hurt (anymore than she already has, of course). Rika calls her a coward, but Ai tells her how sad she’d be if Momo got hurt. Rika then says she’d just go and save her all over again.

It, and the scene of the three on the train, exemplifies the highs and lows of friendships. Sometimes we get on each others’ nerves, or have fundamental disagreements, but the bonds endure. Then Ai gets a call from Neiru’s secretary admitting that the cold, dismissive Neiru she encountered earlier wasn’t really Neiru, but Neiru’s sister Aira.

They are invited to Neiru’s house, which was once Kotobuki’s before she died…and becomes Kotobuki’s again when she is revived. Or, to be more precise, she and the other girls’ dead people aren’t the same people because they came from alternate timelines.

That whole can of worms has always been a hard pill of magical realism to swallow, and the more detail given to it, the more it starts to fall apart, so it’s to WEP’s credit they mostly wave their hands and say “it’s fine, just go with it.” Ditto Ai and Rika watching the last dream Neiru recorded, and essentially learning that Neiru…was never human, but an AI???

Rika, always quick to anger and saying things she might not mean, says she’s not willing to “risk her life for a machine.” But what is a sophisticated AI but an infinitely less complex version of the Real McCoy? We are just machines; machines we’ll probably never be able to perfectly replicate no matter how many shows and movies explore the possibility.

When Neiru does finally call Ai, Ai decides to be the one not to answer. She throws her phone over the balcony of her apartment building, then cries into her loving mother’s lap. Not all friendships are forever, and even when turning the page is in one’s best interest, it’s often far more difficult and painful than simply ripping a band-aid off of a hairy arm.

Time passes, and Ai not only leaves Neiru, but drifts away from Momo and Rika as well; sadly we don’t get to see them again. Ai changes schools, since Koito isn’t her Koito anymore, and seems to be adjusting and adapting just fine.

But then one day she walks past a familiar storefront with capsule dispensers, and suddenly all the memories of her friends and of Neiru rush into the foreground of her mind, and she decides to do what Rika wanted to do back at Karaoke: return to the Accas and get cracking. Not all friendships are forever, but not all friendships that end necessarily stay over forever.

Wonder Egg Priority – 12 (Fin?) – Over Easy

Aragorn: Frodo’s fate is no longer in our hands.
Gimli: Then it has all been in vain. The fellowship has failed.
Aragorn: Not if we hold true to each other.

With Momoe and Rika seemingly completing their quests only to be met by fear and rage, respectively, Rika wants recriminations and revenge for Mannen, while Momoe simply wishes she never got involved with this business. Only Neiru and Ai remain beside each other while the other two seem lost.

Ai’s final egg is…herself. Or rather, as Acca puts it, an Ai from a parallel world who was also bullied for her eye but didn’t have a Koito, so she took her own life. Ai doesn’t judge—hell, she knows how Ai must feel, being herself and all—and doesn’t treat this other Ai any different than the other girls she’s saved from Wonder Killers.

When the Seenos chase the Ais up to the rooftop pool where the other Ai drowned, a horrifically repulsive Wonder Killer rises out of the chloronated water, and of course, it’s Sawaki-sensei, with tentacles of paint that eats away like acid on contact. Calling himself Ai’s “first love”, Sawaki says Ai was simply one more woman who was easy to fool because he’s handsome.

But Ai doesn’t see Sawaki in this monster; only the manifestation of her doubts and suspicions. She asserts the real Sawaki is “much nicer,” but the monster only says he had her completely fooled like all the rest. WEP has ensured that we can’t easily dismiss our own doubts and suspicions about Sawaki, who lest we forget, named a portrait of Ai…[Shudders] “Latent Heat”.

Ai won’t give up the fight, but between defending her doppelganger and the fact the battlefield is a pool, it isn’t long before both Ais plunge into the deep end. Much like the first episode of WEP, as we plunge deeper into dreams within dreams, the same feeling of not quite knowing what’s going on, but definitely wanting to know where the rabbit hole goes.

Our Ai, identified by her triangle hairpin (as opposed to the other Ai’s X) is pulled out of the pool by Koito in a version of the school blanketed by night. She kicks off her soggy shoes and socks and runs with Koito through the school as Sawaki Wonder Killer continues to taunt her.

On the same rooftop where Koito jumped to her death Sawaki is there, in his regular human form, but as the embodiment of the temptation of death. He tells her that her pure love for him betrays an innocence impossible for adults. Adult love is “dirty” and full of self-interest, which is why she should die before she grows up.

But as Ai stands at the edge of the roof holding hands with Koito, she remembers the words of her mom, who said ‘You only live once. Enjoy it.” The Ai who took her life expresses her regret, but our Ai smashes through the barrier between the light and dark rooftops and embraces her double.

The Sawaki Wonder Killer’s final gambit is to tell Ai how her own mother betrayed her by loving the same man she did, and “tried to put her own desires first.” But our Ai recalls to the other Ai how her mom never blamed her once when she stopped going to school, worrying about her where she couldn’t see, so she couldn’t know.

The Sawaki monster is barking up the wrong tree, because our Ai has already given her mom her blessing with the real Sawaki-sensei. When she was at her lowest, her mom supported her without judgment. Now that it’s her turn to support her mom, there’s no choice. Ai summons her multicolor pen mace and blasts the Sawaki monster into oblivion.

As Ai later tells Neiru on another rooftop, she thought she wanted to hear the truth from Koito, but maybe she didn’t need to, and she thinks she’s grateful she never did. Once the Sawaki monster is defeated, Koito is revealed and quickly vanishes, and a third AI created by Frill appears: one named Kirara Rodriguez Matured XVIII Evening Star SS Plum.

No doubt Kirara is there to kill Leon and stoke fear, rage, or something else in Ai, but Ai doesn’t rise to her provocations. As Rika is banished from the Accas’ domain as a cause lost to Frill, the other Ai basically takes a bullet for our Ai, as Kirara takes her blue eye.

Ai wakes up in her house, with both eyes intact, knowing the other Ai protected her. Unlike Momoe and Rika, she got out of her dream before Frill’s creation could cause any serious psychological damage. But before she parted with the other Ai, our Ai resolved to become a warrior of Eros, fighting Thanatos, the temptation of death.

It’s a hopeful, if somewhat confusing finish to what was for me, by far, the most visually and thematically ambitious and emotionally immersive series of Winter 2021. Rika and Momoe are in rough shape, but Ai seems to be stronger than ever, and Neiru seems…fine? Even more encouraging is that this is not the end; the story will be concluded in a special that’s scheduled to air June 30. It’s too early yet to declare the fellowship failed.

However it ends, Wonder Egg Priority was a deeply visceral, powerful, unforgettable ride that would have restored my faith in anime had I lost that faith in the first place. I’ll surely be revisiting this series somewhere down the road, and most definitely checking out whatever else director  Wakabayashi Shin and writer/creator Nojima Shinji make in the future.

Toaru Kagaku no Railgun T – 25 (Fin) – Another Lovely Day in Academy City

Last week ended with Mikoto firing and Doppelganger seemingly fading into white, but the Railgun missed on purpose. Mikoto wanted to give Doppel a chance to stop fighting, shed all the slime mold, and live a normal life as she is. But ultimately Doppel doesn’t want to go on living.

Her threats were just a smokescreen for her true objective. She never actually gained a soul, which makes her continued existence a torment. By destroying herself she’ll end that torment, and by destroying the dataship and killing Kuriba, she’ll prevent another her from being created.

The dataship crashes and much of Doppel’s body blasted away, but Mikoto doesn’t kill her, and Kuriba survives. The chief doesn’t believe Doppel has no soul and even pulls a gun on Kuriba, resulting in her accidentally getting shot in the gut. The chief flees, but Misaki tracks him down and “rewinds” his memories so he’ll start over from “behind square one”.

Thanks to Shirai arriving at the scene, Kuriba is poised to make a full recovery, while Doppel was allowed to die with dignity. The next day is bright and sunny and Mikoto enjoys a nice coffee al fresco with Kuroko, who can’t help but ask for a kiss in return for her help. Kuroko, in turn, is teased by Misaki, and when Saten and Uiharu show up, they are in awe of the “Queen” and Hokaze Junko.

We cut to a parting scene with the Scavengers, who learn that due to their client’s bankruptcy they won’t be paid for their work. Leader once again proves her title is well-earned by fighting to get her team’s levels increased as consolation for the cash falling through, while it’s ambiguously revealed when Naru strips him down that Seike is a boy, or the “blue” ranger of their group.

More season housekeeping ensues, including the triumphant return of a fully-recovered Kongou Mitsuko (how I’ve missed her) finally getting to (accidentally) meet Mikoto’s “sister”, whom she nicknames “Ii-chan” (after “1”0032). We also see Misaki with Mitori and Dolly, and they agree to take things slow in terms of loosening their dear friend’s training wheels of normal life.

As Kuriba convalesces in hospital, she has a dream with Doppel, who notes that her creator has always been unable to separate her research and objectives from the rest of her life. To that end, she offers Kuriba a list of issues with her present cyborg designs that she should iron out. When she wakes up, Kuriba thought at first it was her guilt causing the dreams, but admits the possibility of a part of Doppel (beyond the organs used to save her) lives on in Kuriba.

Mikoto then departs the hospital with her schoolbag behind shoulder, and back out into the lovely sunny day in Academy City. Kuroko, Saten and Uiharu are waiting up for her, eager to go someplace good to eat. Mikoto doesn’t care where, as long as they’re together.

With that, Railgun T (as in “T”hird…I can’t believe I never realized that before) comes to a pleasant and satisfying end. Well, satisfying in that everything was resolved nicely, but to be honest I’d much rather watch a fourth Railgun than a fourth Index or second Accelerator. I’m among those who watched the first Railgun prior to watching the first Index, and while Index is regarded as the flagship series, Railgun has been and always will be my number one.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 61 – A Hymn of Twisted Metal

Sakura is flying around late at night…has she become a delinquent? No, she was just converting four new Clow Cards while using Mirror as her decoy in case anyone checks on her in her room. Mirror wants to tell her something, but Touya peeks in, and she has to return to her card form.

Kero-chan believes Touya is totally on to them but Sakura doesn’t see it. Why would her big bro teases her about everything—from her stomping to her tardiness to the way she eats—yet not tease her about dressing up in frilly dresses and collecting magical cards?

While escorting her to school Touya asks Sakura if he’s gotten a gift for dad yet. He needs a new wallet, but Sakura can’t afford one on her allowance, so Touya and her will pick one out and buy it together. I loved it when Sakura run down a list in her head of people for whom to give gifts…and leaves Syaoran out!

As we know, Touya knows pretty much everything about the magical goings on with Sakura, Yukito, and Tomoeda town in general. He’s pretty much onto Ruby Moon/Nakuru too! It’s just that he’s usually a passive observer and nothing more. I wonder how long he can keep that up when Yukito is growing more and more fatigued.

Sakura has homeroom duties with Syaoran, which I’m sure he sees as yet another glorious opportunity to tell her how he feels, only to be interrupted yet again, this time by Yamazaki’s inane rambling. I daresay this bit has the potential to grow stale, as one can only imagine so many iterations of Syaoran trying and utterly failing to say three simple words.

However, each instance seems to add more dimension. This time, Sakura has Syaoran translate the characters Meiling wrote in her letter, which mean “my dear friend”. Syaoran also tells Sakura that you give people “close to you” Christmas presents in Hong Kong as well, and Sakura tells him she’ll be sure to give him one. Dawww…

Speaking of confessing, Touya has said “I…you…” several times to Yukito without ever getting his intended words out. This week he comes closer than ever, telling the snow rabbit “I know the truth” before Nakuru pops out of the scenery and pounces on him anew.

After listening to Eriol practice a hymn of gratitude on the piano, Sakura prepares to meet her brother, but she and Syaoran sense Clow’s presence. She decides to go with Syaoran, and summons Mirror to go with her brother.

Once Sakura and Syaoran arrive at the location of the presence, they’re confronted by a detached metal railing with a mind of its own, full of sharp, jagged points. It’s one of Eriol’s nastier conjurings, seeing as how the animate twisted metal is a veritable hive of tetanys.

The pair hack at the metal to no avail; it simply reattaches and comes at them again and again. That’s until Sakura summons Mist, which causes the metal to corrode into harmless dust. The aftermath of their battle would appear to be a good time for Syaoran to say what he needs to say, but Sakura, having realized something, has to suddenly go!

As for Mirror!Sakura, she seems happy for the opportunity to hang out with Touya. Even though he immediately notices she’s not really his sister, he’s still kind to her and they have fun shopping and having coffee. Tange Sakura does a lovely job modulating differentiating between Sakura Prime and the quieter, gentler Mirror!Sakura’s voices.

Touya even thanks Mirror for helping Sakura, and offers her a humble gift for Christmas: hair ribbons for her normal form, which he knows has longer hair. Mirror accepts them, bursting with joy and gratitude.

When Sakura suddenly left Syaoran, it was out of a sense of duty to express her gratitude to her cards for helping her whenever she’s in tough spots. She decided to have Eriol teach her the hymn so she could play it (or at least one side of it) and record it for them to listen to.

Mirror, the only card who can communicate verbally with Sakura, warmly accepts the gift, and reveals that what she had wanted to say to her all along was thanks in return for changing them into Sakura Cards and taking care of them. Sakura’s cards love her—and who can blame them??

In the most heartwarming part of the episode, upon returning to card form, Sakura notices green ribbons in Mirror’s hair—the very ribbons Touya gave her. I have no idea how that worked, practically speaking, but it was hella sweet nonetheless!

Toaru Kagaku no Railgun T – 24 – Taking It Up a Notch

Once Doppelganger creates a giant concrete kaiju, my first question was “Why doesn’t Mikoto just do the same thing with metal?” She then smirks and proceeds to do just that, answering another question in the process: “What if Mikoto went pretty much ALL out?” Seeing the Railgun’s sheepish grin at the prospect of having to up her game a couple of notches, and then doing so, ranks right up there among her best and most badass moments.

Misaka Mikoto isn’t someone who isn’t sure about herself or her abilities; on the contrary, it’s almost scary how quickly she can power up to the point her colossal electro-iron-sand puppet is railgunning huge holes in Doppel’s rubble puppet (ruppet?). It’s just too bad the kaiju battle is a feint. Doppel’s true target is the stealth dataship, which she locates thanks in part to all the iron sand Mikoto sends into the atmosphere taking out all of the gas tanks Doppel tries to toss at the populated part of the city.

Things even get a bit Evangelion-esque when Doppel pulls out another party trick: the ability to spontaneously generate enormous masses of matter in a similar manner to slime molds and zombie ant parasites. She uses a gigantic clone of herself to grab hold of the airship and render it visible. At this point the real Kuriba Ryouko pleads with her mechanical double for just “two more months”, whereupon she’ll be able to eradicate her own soul and allow Doppel to take over her body fully.

The thing is, Doppel is no longer interested in Kuriba’s body, or in simply existing as an individual anymore. Kuriba falls off the airship, but the Scavengers chip in to locate and pluck her out of the air; Leader’s thank you to Mikoto for her earlier assistance. She uses her ability to serve as spotter for Mikoto as Doppel attacks her with more slime mold-esque clones.

Bottom line: Doppel wants revenge against humanity, beyond simply destroying her creator. By the way, she’s ready to do that and level the city thanks to rigging twenty huge fuel tanks in strategic locations. Having been taught emotions by the researchers, she can’t help but feel envy and hatred to humans.

Mikoto’s answer to this threat is to fire her Railgun directly at Doppel’s core body, but Leader ominously warns Mikoto—albeit too late—that there’s a problem with her line of fire. Doppel is consumed by the light from the railgun blast…but that’s as far as the episode takes us.

With a preview full of Railgun’s friends and frenemies, I imagine Doppel is either destroyed or otherwise neutralized—but we’ll see what cost is incurred as a result. Until then, this will go down in the annals of all-time best-looking duels, and as always it’s an absolute delight to watch Mikoto do her stuff.

Toaru Kagaku no Railgun T – 23 – Koncrete Kaiju

Leader is Leader of Scavenger for a reason: not only is she smart as a whip and good at thinking on her feet, she’s also pragmatic. When the Railgun arrives, she knows there’s no use fighting her or getting on her bad side. Leader has a mission that needs accomplishing, so she tells Mikoto she’s an  undercover member of Judgment tasked with retrieving the doppelganger.

It’s fun to watch Leader navigate a virtual minefield with her subterfuge, not knowing how the Railgun will respond to what she says. Luckily for her, she can relate to Seike as a fellow “civilian” aiding Judgment since she does that for Kuroko and Uiharu all the time. Leader also lucks out when she learns Mikoto is big Gekota fan…but is less enamored of Leader’s praise for fellow Level 5 Shokuhou Misaki.

Leader is ultimately successful in getting Mikoto to help her, and it’s a good thing she does, because the doppelganger is far, far beyond the talents of the members of Scavenger alone. She also gets to watch firsthand just how much of a badass the third-ranked Railgun is against such a foe. The doppel, for her part, wants to “level up” some more before properly fighting her.

Leader has Mikoto lure the doppel to a district of abandoned warehouses. It makes sense to Mikoto because that area will result in the fewest casualties, but she asks Leader to evacuate the district of all Skill Out members. Leader wants the doppel in that district because that’s where Scavenger’s contract says to make the exchange with the lab coats. Yakumaru performs a lovely bit of theater convincing a bunch of punks to be chivalrous for a change, helping her warn others to evacuate.

As Mikoto pokes, prods, and analyzes the doppel while air-boarding on a scrap of metal, Leader makes contact with the researchers, and when they quibble about the details, Leader loses her patience. She and her comrades have almost died five times over trying to capture this subject, and their client’s van isn’t going anywhere (thanks to Seike) until their Joan Hancock is on the bottom line of that contract.

But while Leader and crew escapes with the signed contract, their reputation on the mend, Mikoto’s left holding the doppel bag, her sparking hands having become decidedly fuller as the doppel grows to the size of a kaiju.  It’s also the case that Leader feels kinda bad about deceiving the kind and well-meaning Railgun, but she’s not loyal to Judgment; she’s loyal to the Dark Side, and to her organization.

Toaru Kagaku no Railgun T – 22 – A Run of Bad Luck

When Scavenger is hired to recover Kuriba Ryouko’s doppelganger, they’re upbeat confident they can get the job done, despite having suffered a humiliating defeat in the Accelerator spin-off that I ended up skipping. In fact, Naru (the one with pink hair) sees this “small” job as a stepping stone to regaining credibility among the Dark Side organizations.

The real Ryouko tells Mikoto and Misaki about the dangers of an “untethered soul” of the kind residing within her doppel. It can possess and control any material it pleases and even spread across all of Academy City if left unchecked. She also started the Dream Poker fad as a kind of crowdsourcing for a solution to dealing with the doppel’s soul.

When Ryouko leaves, there’s a bit of tension, as she urges Mikoto not to get involved, but she soon wonders if turning away the Railgun was the right move. In fact, she immediately regrets that when the doppel confronts her, easily chases her down, and promises to erase her existence; clearly the doppel wants to be the only Kuriba Ryouko left standing.

Ryouko is able to use a stun grenade-like device to break Ryouko’s hold and create a smokescreen that allows her to flee. Ryouko would have surely given chase immediately provided she knew which way to go, but she is confronted by Scavenger, who keep her occupied for the rest of the episode.

I’ll give this to the members of Scavenger: they seem an organizaed and competent team under usual circumstances; unfortunately for them there is nothing usual about the doppel. Leader is able to locate the doppel with the Predator skill, while Seike (who is apparently a boy) is able to manipulate friction; between him and the doppel it’s an all-barefoot fight.

Rounding out the group is Yakumaru (an expert in various chemical and explosive agents) and Naru (who can manipulate paper). The four are able to not only stop the doppel in her tracks but restrain her as well. When Leader noticed a second Ryouko flee the area, she sends Seike after her, wrongly assuming the doppel is under control.

The doppel grabs Leader and twists and breaks her wrist. This leads Naru to enter her next-stage “rabbit mecha” form (in which she’d be buck naked but for a few scraps of paper) to separate the two.

The doppel is damaged (which wasn’t part of the job) but unfazed, and uses the power of the soul within her to basically steal Naru’s paper, ripping off an arm of her rabbit mecha and grafting it onto her damaged area.

After their meeting with Real!Ryouko, Misaki shows Mikoto the girl’s memories, and Mikoto learns that she was both researcher and subject in being cut in half as part of her lifelong effort to save her mother, who took a turn for the worse after donating a lung to Ryouko.

With a better understanding of Ryouko’s intentions and motivations, she ends up tracking Ryouko down again, which is fortunate for Ryouko, as Seike tracks her down first and roughs her up a little, just because he can. Enter Mikoto, whom Seike initially doesn’t recognize as the Railgun due to her a sorta-disguise.

It doesn’t take long for him to learn who he’s dealing with, and before sending Ryouko off to safety, Mikoto officially offers to help her with her problem, and Ryouko accepts, thus righting the wrong of their first meeting.

Now armed with part of Naru’s mecha, doppel prepares to crush Yakumaru’s head, but Naru is able to regain control of enough of her paper to stop Ryouko in her tracks, enabling Yakumaru to toss an explodey device that allows Scavenger to flee and regroup, battered but alive.

After making quick work of Seike, Mikoto proceeds to confront Leader, Naru, and Yakumaru. Considering this group already had an ill-fated encounter with the Accelerator, Leader was sure the chances of them coming afoul of another top-ranked esper to be infinitesimal.

Alas, now they have to deal with the Railgun. My advice to them is to surrender peacefully and avoid the same unpleasantness Seike endured. Perhaps they’ll end up joining forces to restrain the doppel…or perhaps the doppel, like Mikoto, is simply out of Scavenger’s league.

Toaru Kagaku no Railgun T – 21 – 21 Artificial Grams

For two people who claim not to be anything like friends, Mikoto and Misaki sure are hanging out a lot this season. I guess it’s more a matter of circumstances continuing to bring them together, as they do here when Misaki learns the inventor of Dream Poker is a very interesting person named Kuriba Ryouko.

Initially carved up like a spiral ham and augmented with cybernetics to create two separate bodies, Ryouko was a test subject to gauge the limits of cyborg technology. But when all of her organic parts were back together, the “Ryouko” with the machine parts had  retained a soul. Misaki wants Mikoto to break into the facility where Machine Ryouko resides and verify the experiment.

While Misaki’s talk with Mikoto is very expository, the scene is given room to breath by being bookended by the clever manner in which Misaki gets Mikoto’s attention (brainwashing a random girl) and the fact Mitori and Dolly aren’t far away observing Misaki’s movements. So happy to see Dolly out in the world.

Misaki and Mikoto are never not fun to watch bounce off each other and try to deflect their chemistry with the facade of pure practical necessity. That is, Misaki needs a “muscle-head” for the op lest her brainwashing not work on cyborgs. Misaki also makes it a square deal: if Mikoto helps her out here, she’ll use her skills to help get the Sisters something closer to a normal life.

After assuring Kuroko she’s not going out to cheat on her, Mikoto heads into the night to the facility, where she’s just in time to watch MechaRyouko explosively escape, taking out a chunk of the building and all of the lab data in the process.

In the facility, MechaRyouko had just had an epiphany, in which she recognized the mug her mom gave her, but suddenly couldn’t remember anyone or anything prior to arriving in Academy City—or afterwards. Clearly distressed by the fact she thinks she’s the real Kuriba Ryouko, it’s no wonder she sought freedom. And she’s a tough customer, having no problem beating up some thugs before securing a hideout and some cool backless black top that exposes her tattooed back.

Mikoto and Misaki (disguised as the third brainwashed person in the episode) pay the real Ryouko a visit and report her cyborg counterpart’s escape. Ryouko informs them in no uncertain terms that this could spell big, big trouble. Whether that means the cyborg will seek to destroy her and claim the mantle of One and Only Ryouko, to a whole host of other threats.

As the episode ends, we’re quickly introduced to a new underground org that has been tasked with retrieving the cyborg (after they recently failed in a mission involving Accelerator, which is probably more Index III stuff I vaguely remember). This group is called Scavenger, and it looks like next week will focus on their retrieval mission.

%d bloggers like this: