Made in Abyss – S2 12 (Fin) – The Cradle Falls

As tends to be the case with momentous episodes of Abyss, I’m still a bit overwhelmed with emotion, but I’ll do my best here. As a resurrected, better-than-ever Faputa and a game Juroimoh prepare to battle the invading beasts, we’re taken back to simpler, more innocent times, when Faputa first found Gaburoon.

Buried and covered in flowers, Faputa brought bits of scrap to him to enable to repair himself, while he tought her language, specifically that of her mother Irumyuui. What looked like an upside-down person turns out to be the symbol for haku, or that which matters most to someone. We watch, this time from Faputa’s perspective, as she encounters Riko, Reg, and Nanachi.

Gabu teases Faputa for resorting to subtler, more indirect methods that only served to confuse our lead kids—call it a measure of the shyness she inherited from her mother. Back in the present, while Faputa presses the battle, a transformed Majikaja serves as an escape vehicle for Riko, Reg, and Nanachi, as well as Moogie, Pakkoyan, Maaa, and other Hollows.

Maji takes them to Wazukyan, from which Vueko has already escaped and who is near death. In his usual friendly way he warns Riko that there is nothing ahead for her but despair, but she tells him as he crumbles to dust that things won’t necessarily go the way he’s foreseen.

As Riko is reunited with another page from her mother’s journal, the freed Vueko ascends a staircase while thinking about the one solid decision she made in her life: the choice to become Irumyuui’s mother. Unfortunately, she forgets the Sixth Layer’s curse is loss of humanity.

A quick-thinking Pakkoyan sacrifices herself to keep Vueko from being killed, but she is still transformed into a non-verbal hollow. Nanachi takes Vueko and brings her aboard Majikaja with the others.

Reg shocks Faputa by joining him in battle—this time on the same side—and apologizing for challenging her. Riko blows Prushka once more (causing her to pass out with a bloody nose), and Riko goes into Overdrive, allowing him to dispatch one of the two turbinid dragons who pose the greatest threat to Riko and the others.

This also gives Faputa time to go to Moogie and the other surviving hollows with the goal of consuming them and their value so she can do what she came here to do: put her long-suffering mother to rest. Just as they had no problem giving parts of themselves to resurrect Faputa, they have no problem becoming the nourishment Faputa needs.

After sending the black-turned-white goo throughout the structure of IruBuru, causing it to crack and shatter, Faputa is drained of energy an no longer able to fight. A piece of falling rubble wallops her and she begins to fall. She thinks of Vueko, the one person she has no memory of. She also thinks that the end is near; that she’ll die when she reaches the bottom. But she doesn’t; Reg snatches her with his extend-o-arm.

The rubble does a number on Majikaja’s body, and when he can no longer move, his true, semi-gaseous form emerges and briefly possesses Faputa. When he too passes, Faputa is able to come face to face with Vueko, her spiritual grandmother, and while Vueko can no longer talk, Faputa can hear her lucid thoughts.

Vueko tells her the kind of girl Irumyuui was, how Faputa is similar and how she’s different, before passing away peacefully, full of nothing but love and gratitude for the little girl that changed her forever. Faputa sheds tears for Vueko, despite her not “belonging” to her, and Riko, Reg, and Nanachi gather around to offer comfort.

The village borne from Irumyuui is now a pile of rubble, and Faputa’s mother is finally free. Following the customs she learned from Gabu, Faputa gives Vueko a proper burial, then sets up some companions with some smooth rocks so she won’t be lonely. After this, Faputa seems unsure what to do next, freed from “value” and now having been given the choice to live her life as she sees fit.

Reg suggests she join them. While he still can’t remember her or the details of their promise, he still wants to know her now, and go on an adventure with her. Faputa isn’t at all opposed to this, but does not agree right then and there. That’s to be expected of someone who has only very recently discovered such a thing as free will beyond an now-fulfilled genetic duty.

What I’ve described so far are the myriad events that unfolded in this double-length season two finale, but there’s no substitute for experiencing this episode and all of its nuances for yourself. It was one of the finest episodes of anime I’ve had the privilege to watch, and like Vueko with Irumyuui, I’ll never forget it.

There is sure to be another film or a third season that will continue Riko, Reg, and Nanachi’s journey still deeper into the Abyss, into darkness warm and cold, cursed by love and longing. This sequel had large shoes to fill and filled them ably. So too will the next sequel.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

 

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 02 – Giving Herself Away

Menou isn’t expecting Tokitou Akari to walk out onto the balcony when she lands there, bringing them face to face. That said, the depth and quality of her training as an executioner is demonstrated admirably in their ensuing encounter. Menou first gets Akari to confirm she’s a Lost One by asking for her her class number. Then she immediately makes it plain that she’s on Menou’s side, trying to get her out of danger.

It’s interesting to hear Menou speak lies as easily as breathing this week, now that we’ve already seen her do this to the poor doomed Mitsuki last week. Akari agrees to escape with Menou, because she’s currently a prisoner in a fancy cage, so why wouldn’t she? But when Menou tries to kill Akari, the girl’s Pure Concept reverses time itself, nullifying the death she just suffered.

Menou has to once again improvise, asking Momo to distract the guards while she gets Akari out of the castle. From Akari’s perspective, Menou is playing the role of the valient knight saving her from her doom, right down to the mid-air princess carry. Akari can’t help but blush being in Menou’s sure grip. That night while Akari sleeps, Menou makes her report to Orwell, who tells her to bring her to the cathedral in Garm where there’s a ceremonial execution room that should do the trick.

The next morning Menou is all smiles with Akari, basically following her target’s lead by embracing their chemistry together and strengthening the illusion that they she has Akari’s best interests at heart, rather than preparing to deliver her to her elimination. I can’t underscore how tense and unusual this dynamic is. On one level I hate what Menou has to be, and that she believes Akari must die. On the other hand, maybe Akari does have to die to protect the rest of this world.

Momo’s fixation on her big sister figure/eternal crush was a bit one-dimensional last week, but here we see her jealousy over Akari’s sudden closeness to Menou combined with her genuine fear that Menou could be in over her head. Probably few people know Menou as well as Momo, and it could be she knows Menou has a nice and decent side that could prove a Lost One Executioner’s undoing. She forcefully insists she’s accompanying Menou and Akari on the train, albeit keeping out of sight.

Menou actually pretty much proves Momo’s concerns are legitimate by letting her have her way; a harder and less understanding superior would refuse Momo’s request and likely discipline her for insubordination. Menou and Akari’s arrival at the station is an opportunity for Menou to deliver some world-building exposition, as the trains run on ether, and magecraft is less magic and more a technology. When a lost little girl trips, Akari heals her, again making it clear Menou has to execute and ordinary, good person.

As charming as Akari is, with her references to an epic adventure together with shoujo-ai romantic undertones (it’s clear from the start Akari has a thing for Menou, and who wouldn’t when you’ve only seen the heroic and kind side of her?), by the end of this outing Menou is still committed to delivering Akari to her death.

Not just because it’s her duty, but because she truly believes that if left unchecked even someone as sweet as Akari could bring about the apocalypse. That’s not to say she won’t develop stronger misgivings about what she’s doing.

As for that “ceremonial room” (which is goddamn creepy hearing it discusses so causally), if it doesn’t work and Akari still can’t be killed, what then? In the absence of the means to kill her and any sign of her becoming a threat, Menou will only grow closer to Akari—and perhaps farther from the certainty of her organization’s cause.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 01 (First Impressions) – Pure, Just, and Strong

As isekai anime go, this one starts out pretty ordinary: after a stinger involving someone’s dream about being in a class where everyone likes them and they have one “best friend of all”, a boy, Mitsuki, is suddenly summoned into the court of a king, but when judged to be lacking, Mitsuki is promptly tossed out of the castle, where he meets the lovely priestess Menou.

Menou offers a roof under Mitsuki’s head and food and money if he’s willing to work for it. Menou informs him that he’s not the first “lost one” from Japan; in fact, this world has been so influenced by summoned Japanese, the culture there in full force. That said, this world still has its own strict social ladder in which the Faust, or members of the church like Menou, sit even higher than kings and lords.

Mitsuki laments he has no powers, saying the wizard back at the castle said they were “null”, but when Menou gets him to summon his powers, they learn that he actually has the power to nullify anyting, as in making it cease to exist. Once the kid realizes what this means, he immediately start to show signs that suggest he might well abuse that power if left unchecked…

…And so Menou checks him, plunging a dagger straight through his skull. Turns out her true duty is as an executioner of Lost Ones, neutralizing their threat to her world and its balance of power. This wasn’t Mitsuki’s story. It was never supposed to be. It’s Menou’s.

Mind you, Menou doesn’t enjoy doing this, it’s simply her duty, and considering how much chaos carnage a Nullify power could have caused, it’s a damned important duty at that. It’s just great to see the typical isekai (and typical dull MC) formula subverted so promptly and completely.

Menou understands all too well how important her role is, as she is the sole survivor of a calamity that resulted from a Lost One—another high school student from Japan—accidentally turning an entire town into snow (or something white and powdery).

Menou is saved when Flare, the priestess who will become her master, kills the girl. When the girl comes back as a giant snow monster, Flare’s old master Orwell takes care of it. I loved the haunting bleakness of the scene, with the snow (or whatever) serving as a stark contrast to the usual flame-themed dark flashbacks.

Back in the present, Menou meets with her aide Momo, who unlike Menou treats this whole business like a fun game, perhaps her way of coping with the things that must be done to uphold balance and peace (not agreeing with that philosophy per se, jut acknowledging it’s there).

Momo is also infatuated with Menou, an attempt to add some levity to a very dark and bloody business. When the king’s guards come to the church, Menou deals with them quickly and efficiently, while Momo takes care of the one who got away.

Momo determined that the second Lost One the king summoned after the boy Menou already killed is a “guest” of the castle. The king, being of the Noblesse class below the Faust, is hoping this Japanese girl could be used as a weapon to being the Faust down. The episode ends with Menou descending on the girl on the castle balcony.

Menou is immediately a complex and thus fascinating character to watch: ever since she was rescued from that disaster she’s been trained for nothing but what she’s doing, and even parrots Flare’s slogan that a priestess must always be pure, just, and strong. There’s a bitterness in the way Menou says it.

You could say she really is all three of those things, and that the potential threat of the Lost Ones justifies her cold vigilance and laser focus on duty. But to see her master Flare and her aide Momo seem to revel in their bloody deeds in the past and present, while she gives the boy she executed a proper burial, there’s definitely a kernel of moral conflict that this second Lost One will likely help to sprout.

Her Way of Life borrows a lot from its isekai predecessors, but I’ve always been one to say if you can tweak the formula enough that it’s fresh and execute it well, you’ve probably got me as a viewer. Menou’s complexity, concise world-building, the dark comedy of the would-be MC boy’s fate, and combat scenes that pack a punch all conspire to make this one a sure keeper.

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent – 04 – With Great Magic Power…

Both Johan and the Royal Magi Assembly director are bound by duty to report Sei’s handiwork to the king, but the only other person powerful enough to properly appraise her power—and determine whether she is the true saint—is the Grand Magus, who is currently in a “deep slumber”.

Meanwhile Sei continues to whip up potent potions at a rate so prestigious Johan has to eventually kick her out of the lab so she doesn’t use up their entire supply of herbs. Sei is working harder than ever, just like she did in her old office job, but the key difference is working hard here is making her happy, and it’s also helping the kind (and handsome) knights like Ser Wolff out a bunch.

She’s so satisfied with her work, in fact, that even when King Siegfried Salutania himself casually approaches her in the library, both to apologize for his son Prince Kyle’s rudeness and to offer her a reward for her services, Sei turns down all material offers. The work, and the good it does, is its own reward.

When the knights again return from a tough battle in Groshe Forest, she finds that Ser Wolff has lost a hand in battle, and as efficacious as her potions are, they aren’t enough to heal him or the many other maimed knights in the infirmary. Worse still, because the commoner Wolff can no longer serve as a knight, he’s lost the right to live in the palace and must return to his hometown, his dream shattered.

Sei, who had just been studying more powerful healing magic, knows that if she succeeds in restoring Sei’s hand she’ll likely no longer be able to pretend she’s an “ordinary person”, and her extraordinary powers will give her even more responsibilities and attention. But whether Wolff was the friend to her he is or just a stranger, she knows full well she wouldn’t be able to do nothing. So, in a powerful scene full of awe and wonder, she takes his arm and gives him his hand back.

When she realizes there’s more work to be done in the infirmary, Sei pulls up her sleeve and gets to work, not stopping until every knight is made whole again. This culminates in using an area-healing spell on the less-injured knights, which drains her energy considerably. Johan and Hawke arrive not to scold her for working too hard or exposing her saintly power, but to praise her for her good works and offer a shoulder to lean on.

Even though part of me, like Sei, fears her peaceful life is about to become more hectic and complicated. That’s especially once the Grand Magus wakes up and appraises her, setting up a confrontation between her and the other Saint, Aira Misono.

I doubt I could pretend any more than she could that I wasn’t the immensely powerful Saint I clearly was. She didn’t ask for the power, or to be summoned, or to be initially passed up for Aira by the prince. But now it’s no longer about what she might’ve wanted, but how she can help the most people. She’s ready to say goodbye to the illusory quiet life where no one expected anything of her, and not look back.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 12 (Fin) – Sending Odin to Bed Without Supper

Looking our live Big Board, Assault Lily narrowly beats Sigrdrifa as the higher-rated of the two Top Cute Girls Doing Military Stuff shows I watched this Winter. Both shows had their flaws, and while combining the best bits of both into one show would result in a superior product, I won’t pretend either was groundbreaking or life-changing.

That said, Siggy has always been more interesting and consistent than Lily with its character work, and it also happens to deliver a more satisfying and beautifully animated finale. Our four Valkyries have never been closer or more comfortable in their own skins and cockpits, and once their sights were set on victory, their dad Odin never had a chance.

Odin’s heel turn was sudden, but actually made sense when you consider he was declaring war on a world that had forgotten him and everyone he ever loved. Odin gets the second Ragnarök he wanted, but he ends up on the losing side. Claudia may remember the words to the song of Valhalla, but she doesn’t sing it for him, or for the past.

She sings it for her friends and for herself, and this week we hear a new arrangement of the song with full orchestration that makes for some absolutely kick-ass final boss music, in addition to Claudy’s singing ending the interference and revealing the location of the Pillar’s core. She destroys Odin’s illusory ideal of the attentive daughter who will stay by his side forever.

Odin is lonely and miserable in this post-mythology era, and it’s no coincidence he’s taken the form of a small child. Letting his grief pour into the human world and wreak destruction is pure petulance; a divine temper tantrum from a petulant kid in desperate need of a time-out.

In one of the best-animated scenes of the series, Azuzu is the first to crash into his god cave. He’s able to overpower her and knock her gun out of her hand, but it was never the plan for him to shoot him, only to distract him until “her hero” Miyako arrived to cleave the Pillar’s core in two with her katana. This is after Miko had already splashed Thor with her Ultra Hero Cannon. She was busy this week!

With the core—sorry, the Vandrande destroyed, the Pillar disappears, giving the Takayama command crew an unmarred view of Fujiyama for the first time in a long while. Moe and Kurumi tow Sono (who awesomely jettisoned her floats to destroy a Dark Valkyrie), Azuzu gives Miko a lift in her Wing, and Claudia joins them in a loose formation as they head home victorious.

The battle wasn’t without cost, as the Shield Squadron sacrificed themselves to ensure Miko could take out Thor. The four Valks pay their respects after the eager younger Shield Squadron successors vow to carry on their legacy for being loud, somewhat inappropriate bros. Moe and Kurumi are subjected to Satomi’s toenail clipping (it’s been a while!) and then get an official tour from their four Valkyrie senpais.

The six young women then take flight once more, dedicated to taking out the last secondary and tertiary Pillars that still threaten humanity, but armed with the knowledge that they’ve prevailed over the worst of it. All’s well that ends well in a well-executed, action-packed, and thoroughly satisfying finale.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 11 – Once More Unto the Breach

A haunting dream in a field with Odin transitions to Claudia waking in the morning with a gorgeous smash cut of her outstretched arm. Her eyes are full of tears, and then the camera jumps to each of the other Valkyries: Miko doing her morning dojo routine, Azu not being a morning person, and Sono watering her sunflowers as the sun that nourishes them rises like a beacon of hope for the day.

All this pure and lovely imagery is somewhat marred by some blatantly shameless fan service of the girls disrobing and changing into their flight outfits, but the mood is salvaged when the quartet proudly marches onto the tarmac, high-five their mechanics, jump into their cockpits and take flight for a parade sortie.

Like the Valkyries, the rookies, the old farts, Satomi and his CIC staff haven’t won anything yet, but they are intent on starting off the day as confident in victory as possible. For one thing, they trust in the cute genius that is Komagome Azuzu. For another, humanity is putting everything they’ve got left into this battle. This is their second shot at the Fuji Pillar, but there won’t be a third.

Odin is similarly smug in his woody god cave, sitting on his Yggdrasil La-Z-Boy while watching the battle unfold on his waterfall TV. Visiting Claudy again in a waking dream, he offers her and her alone a chance to come over to his side. She answers this offer by thrusting her katana into his throat, and he laments his beloved daughter’s foolishness.

Part of Azuzu’s strategy is to keep humanity’s most powerful weapon—the four of them—out of the fighting for as long as possible, saving them for when things get serious. Everything goes according to plan, with the rookies and fogies reaching beyond Point C before the Valkyries relieve them.

Despite the progress, and the fact his secondary pillars are being engaged all over Japan in a coordinated attack, Odin is unconcerned. He still has his wing of Zombie Valkyries and Thor and his hammer. The first hammer attack misses the base, but they can’t let it get off too many more if they want to come out of this alive.

Azuzu has been able to predict all of Odin’s moves thus far, which only inflates her ego further. Miko trusts “her Azu” from head to toe. Sono is embracing her tough side. Claudia has embraced the other three as her sisters and Tateyama as her home, and you can bet your ass she’ll fight with her last breath to protect those people and that place she’s come to love.

And while Sigrdrifa has broken our hearts a couple of times during its run, I highly doubt it will be so cruel as to withhold a victory for humanity. Especially in his gaudy new getup, Odin is a villain specially engineered to be brought low by the heroes and done in by his own smug arrogance.

Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 10 – Don’t Be a Memory Just Yet

Odin makes it official via hacked video feed at an international summit: he’s provided humanity with weapons to use, a motive to fight, and now enemies to fight. Now it’s up to them to resist their destruction. As far as he’s concerned, Ragnarök isn’t over—it’s still nigh.

Miko notes that Sono has seemingly become stronger following the loss of Yayoi, and also proposes they carry on with Tateyama’s summer festival in spite of the ongoing crisis. After all, if not now, when? Claudia accompanies Satomi on various PR gigs to shore up support for the next battle.

As for Azuzu, she’s extra-burdened by the weight on her shoulders, believing she’s the only one around her “smart” enough to comprehend that if they lose the next battle, it’s curtains for humanity. When Miko wakes her up and presents a yukata for the festival, Azu is furious: how can you think of festivals now?

She lashes out at Miko and runs off because she’s scared, and Miko knows it, so she runs around trying to locate her. Sono hides Azu, but maks it known that pretty much everyone agrees with Miko that this isn’t just an appropriate time to celebrate and make memories, but the only time. After the next battle, memories may be all remains of them.

After a brief chat with Claudia, who is as happy and at home in Takeyama as ever, Miko realizes where Azu has gone: the same vantage point where she used to gaze out at the sea when she first arrived. Azu is scared, and apologizes for being weak; Miko tells her she’s scared too, and tells her not to confuse being a crybaby with being weak.

The two lean closer, acknowledging that they may die very soon, but Miko assures her that if one of them dies, both of them will, leading to the most haunting lines of the series: “I’ll wake you in heaven for breakfast.” Now that they’ve made up, they join Claudy and Sono for the festival.

It’s a big success, as they and the townsfolk have a ton of fun doing standard festival stuff. Miko has Azu cram into her Hero Wing to apply the finishing touch: a fireworks display during the casting of water lanterns, meant to console the living as much as guide the dead.

Claudia takes it all in, as it confirms her feeling of home in this place where she one felt so out of place, and adds her song to Miko and Azu’s display, tearing up in the process. When Satomi and the head mechanic see her cry, that settles it: they, and everyone beneath them will do everything they can to protect those tears. The calm has now come and gone, and now it’s time for the decisive storm.

Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 09 – Don’t Be a Baby

In the opening moments of this episode, Sonoka gingerly approaches her Hero Wing as if it were a vicious wild animal about to strike, and finally collapses into a quivering heap from fear and anxiety. My breath was short just watching her, because I knew she really really shouldn’t get in that cockpit. Thankfully she doesn’t, and the guys take off in their modern fighters to join the battle, telling her they’ve got this.

The battle itself isn’t going well, as whatever Miko blows up, whether it’s the Tertiary Pillars or the Secondary’s core, regenerate almost immediately, rendering all their hard work moot. It’s like they’re caught in a time loop. And in Odin’s extradimensional “temple”, Claudia fights of the golems, one of their escorts is seriously injured, and Azusu realizes something and…freezes.

That injured soldier ends up sacrificing himself to buy the others time to flee, and Claudy has to slap Azusu to snap her out of her brain feedback loop. All that matters is that Azusu gets back to Tateyama with the knowledge she’s learned. Back at the base, the Pillars are approaching, but the pregnant civilian woman has already gone into labor.

The doctors tending her won’t abandon her, but try to think of a way to move her out of harm’s way. Sono witnesses these “ordinary heroes” and remembers her big sis Yayoi telling her to look in her charm if things get to be “too much”. Inside the charm, Sono finds a handwritten note with the words Yayoi said to her many times: “Don’t be a baby, idiot!”

Tough love to be sure, but Sono is able to laugh at the words, and recovers her nerve. I’m no psychiatrist, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t how PTSD works—there’s no cure for it in reality, though it can be successfully treated, managed, and minimized—but it works enough for Sono to confidently and heroically stride back into the hangar, hop into her Hero Wing, and join the battle.

Miko is elated to find Sono by her side (better late than never) since she’s almost out of ammo. Sono’s fully loaded, and helps plow the road so Miko can make the most of her remaining ordinance. The thousands of spinning gears around them have been a clue for how to defeat the Pillar all along: they are a clockwork that enable it to turn back time and repair itself.

Once some of the gears are jammed with Tertiary Pillars and Miko splashes the Secondary’s core, the whole intricate Rube Goldberg machine falls apart. The Pillar is destroyed, leaving a big ‘ol tree, and the 909th have their first victory in a long time, and it feels so good.

Claudy, Azuzu, and the surviving escorts make it out of Odinville and Claudy successfully closes the portal; Azuzu saves her from being pulled back in by one of the golems. The four Valkyries reunite to join the celebration of the new birth, which brings light to an otherwise dark and death-filled time.

Their celebrations don’t last long, as Azuzu presents imagery of the murals they found in Odin’s temple, which suggest that while they’ve seemingly been fighting to prevent Ragnarök, the fact Norse mythology doesn’t exist anymore suggests Ragnarök already happened. That means Odin has been lying to them at best. The episode ends with him in the temple, insisting “we have not yet fallen.”

Following a recap, this episode offered a welcome glimmer of hope for our four air maidens and their cause, but their patron god has yet to reveal his true intentions for them. I also can’t help but feel like things were resolved too neatly and easily, particularly Sono recovering from her PTSD enough to fly again…just from reading a note.

Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 08 – Valhalla’s Gate

We open with Miyako, Satomi, the Shield Squadron, and the maintenance crew breaking through a barrier to reach a secret stash of equipment with which to continue the fight. Twelve hours earlier at Shimofusa Base, Satomi tells the Valkyries about this stash, located under Mt. Nokogiri in case of dire need.

Once again Azu is both frustrated and smitten with Miko’s determination to keep fighting despite the increasingly desperate odds. As for poor Sono, her last sortie and the loss of her Big Sis has rendered her too traumatized and distraught to get out of bed, let alone climb into a cockpit.

Satomi takes Azu aside to have her listen to a recording of General Okita’s last moments, during which Odin refers to such odd terms as “Valhalla” and “Asgard”. Azu isn’t familiar, but their resident Norther European Valkyrie and Odin’s favorite just might. Claudy, meanwhile, visits Lizbet, who recovers quickly, something she attributes to the blessing of Odin enduring even if his body was destroyed in the attack.

The bottom falls out of Lizbet’s heart when she hears Lily is dead, but tells Claudy that Yayoi’s last message to her was that Odin is hiding something and Claudy holds the key. Sure enough, when Azu asks her about it, Claudy recites something Odin once said about “Valhalla’s Gate” always being open to her. Sure enough, such a gate appears right there in the corridor.

The question now is should they move forward with trying to retake Takeyama with the Nokogiri stash, or go through the gate and explore Valhalla. The answer is, Why Not Both? Miko, backed up by her devoted Shield Squadron, volunteers to take Takeyama back on their own, while Azu and three escorts will accompany Claudy through the gate.

Just as they walk through it and it closes behind them, Sono appears, on her feet for the first time. At the sight of Miko she bolts but Miko chases her down. Sono is worried that every time she sees someone off it’s bad luck, but Miko takes hold of her and tells her not to think such things, and that there are ways for Valkyries to help even if they can’t fly.

As Claudy and Azu explore a grand, ornate and otherworldly corridor and Miko and the Shields prepare to sortie, Sono aids the civilian evac by helping out at the outdoor canteen. There, she’s approached by the two young pilots (lower-class Valkyries I imagine) from last week, who thank her profusely for, well, their lives, which they’re certain they wouldn’t have if not for her heroics. They vow to become “strong like her”, even though Sono breaks down after they leave, asserting she’s “not strong at all”.

Despite pushing back against the praise and gratitude of those pilots, hopefully it nevertheless helps nudge Sono closer to again stepping into a cockpit. It’s probably not a great idea at this point, but it may be necessary very soon, judging from what happens to her comrades. First, Claudy touches some rotating runes and starts to sing, then a nasty-looking golem appears, poised to attack.

As for Miko, she and her Shield take out a number of tertiary Pillars on their way to Takeyama, but there are simply Too Many Of Them, and they eventually clump together and coalesce into a secondary Pillar that totally envelops Miko’s Hero Wing. She’d flying through an otherwordly plane consisting of giant gears and strange eddies.

When the Gjallarhorn sounds, indicating the Pillars are heading towards Shimofusa, Sono urges the evacuees to remain calm, but one civilian woman collapses, having suddenly gone into labor. While the others have uphill battles with uncertain outcomes, Sono will have to do her best to help deliver the woman’s child. In other words, everyone is officially too busy to grief.

Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 07 – Ragnarok Salt in the Wound

Programming Note: Our other Cute Girls Battling Things show, Assault Lily: Bouquet, took the week off, so its episode 07 will air next week.—Hannah

Warlords of Sigrdrifa is not fucking around with the drama.

As soon as we open on the battle in progress both within and without the Primary Pillar, it’s clear everyone is in over their heads, and this battle was far more desperate and last-ditch than I initially imagined. You can see the weight of all those kids’ lives on Satomi’s shoulders, while General Okita adopts a Shinji Gendo/Oigakkosan pose.

There are two things inside the Pillar their forces didn’t expect and aren’t quite equipped to deal with: the seemingly undead fallen Valkyries like Jinguugi and Sakura piloting black Hero Wings who are just as skilled as they were when alive but are now the damn enemy, and the gigantic Thor guy against whom bullets are useless and the Hero Cannon only makes him mad.

Amidst all the ensuing chaos, second-string pilots Kurumi and Moe (call ’em the Biggs and Wedge of this episode) end up drifting into the Pillar, where they have no business being. Not that it’s any safer outside, with Thor’s bellow calling every Secondary in Japan to Fuji. Okita orders a full retreat and evacuation, but Sonoka wants to help Kurumi and Moe like Claudia and the European Valkyries.

Yayoi tells her that’s the prerogative of a Named and she should obey the order to flee. Sono suspects Yayoi is going to leave her behind like she did before, but in doing so she almost proves why she shouldn’t even be in a cockpit in her present state, as she’s hit bad by one of the black Hero Wings, losing both one of her landing pontoons and consciousness.

Just as Okita tries to ask Odin about Thor (who says it’s “too soon” to answer), Thor fires up his mighty hammer Mjolnir, which fires a massive green beam of destruction that takes out most of the air base and command center, and any unfortunate souls who were in the line of fire.

Sonoka wakes up in a field hospital bed surrounded by her three comrades and Yayoi. Satomi also arrives with the three-girl operations team; they were able to evacuate before the beam destroyed Fuji’s control tower. Okita’s final order was for them to regroup at an auxiliary site. As for Odin, he’s “missing”…but something tells me while the humans consider this a total defeat, for him, everything went according to plan.

Then Yayoi asks for privacy with Sonoka, and tells her that there are still comrades left behind in the Pillar, and she’s going back in to rescue them. I fail to see how Satomi sanctioned such a clearly suicidal operation considering how few viable forces remain, but Yayoi is a Named, which apparently gives her free reign to sortie at her pleasure.

After kinda-sorta making up with Sonoka, she takes her locket containing the photo of their old unit, then gives Sono her Safe Flying Charm to hold on to, and promises to return, even if she’s shot down. Claudia, Azu and Miku join the rest of the remaining forces in rendering formal honors to send off Yayoi and her escort, who toast to good luck with a shot of Satomi’s good booze.

Then Yayoi heads into the hornet’s nest, and at that point I thought we wouldn’t learn their fate until next week at the earliest. Instead, we learn immediately: Yayoi doesn’t make it back, and neither do her escorts. Instead it’s just Lizbet who limps home in her barely-functioning Hero Wing. She gives Sono the locket back, saying it’s all she could bring back.

So four went in, and only one came back…another defeat. Strategically it could be a wash with one Named going in and one coming out, but Lizbet’s eye one bit; she may not be the same pilot anymore. So humans face an even more uphill battle, and there seems to be no end to Sonoka’s despair and suffering. She wasn’t in the right mind to fly earlier, she certainly isn’t now, but there may not be a choice. Whatever their next move, every last Valkyrie will be needed.

After that gut-wrenching ending and the solemn end credits, we’re treated to the usual goofy upbeat preview music and the return of the nearly-naked manly men. Talk about tonal whiplash! That aside, this was a wonderfully tense and dramatic outing that didn’t let any of the characters off easy. Will Yayoi end up keeping her promise of returning even if she’s shot down? Can the humans scrounge together some kind of win from these ruins? Whither Odin? Stay tuned…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 06 – The Dead Are Coming

The Takeyama Four + Amatsuka Yayoi arrive at Iruma Air Base, the staging area for what is to be the decisive battle against the Fuji Primary Pillar. They are joined by Valkyries and elite Named from around the world, including Claudia’s former comrades Lizbet and Leyli. Lizbet pouts over the fact Claudy has found both peace and friends at her new posting, but that’s probably because she misses Claudy.

Among the Named present for the battle are the “Dancing Goddess” and the “Maid from Hell”. These are unassailably good nicknames for ace pilots, but the show is all too cognizant of the fact they’re all teenage girls and that is, regardless of their willingness to fight for the sake of humanity, bad and wrong. None of the adults seem comfortable or happy about having to rely on them.

Nevertheless, rely for them they must, and on Odin as well. At the end of this episode, I was left wondering Whose side is Odin even on? I’m left with the theory that He is only on His own side, and as much as he lauds his “daughters”, it’s clear they are disposable tools with which to execute his will—with varying degrees of success. They die; he keeps smirking.

I liked how it is established that Major General Okita has a unique and singular duty beyond simply bossing everyone below him around: it’s his job to rally the troops, be the Valkyries or their manly escort pilots. He gets the job done with a rousing speech with lots of call and response from those troops, but Odin just can’t let him get the last word in, taking over the stage at the end and infecting the occasion with his creepy inscrutability. It makes Yayoi click her tongue, and I can’t blame her.

Odin bestow his “blessing” all he wants, the fact is that blessing meant jack shit when it came to so many young Valkyries who are no longer around to fight his latest battle for him, like Jinguuji AKA Sakura, Yayoi and Sonoka’s former squad-mate. We also learn that in the same battle in which Jinguuji was KIA, Yayoi sabotaged Sonoka’s Hero Wing so she couldn’t fly.

This info helps us further understand the rift between Sono and Yayoi. It’s about more than just Yayoi screwing up on the field of battle two years ago. It was about her not even letting Sono take that field, despite her prodigal status.

Sonoka probably blames herself as much as Yayoi for the death of Sakura, but Yayoi was trying to answer the question of “How young is just too goddamn young to fight and die for the sake humanity?” She deemed Sonoka to be too young. She probably was. It was a question that needed to be explored. It still is!

The huge decisive battle I knew was coming only takes up the last seven or so minutes of the episode, but the establishment of the emotional stakes and character work that went into the previous seventeen minutes was well worth it. Watching cute girls in vintage planes kick some Pillar ass is fun, but is much more satisfying for having the stakes laid out in advance.

The Dancing Goddess is able to blast a hole in the dormant Pillar with a ten-ton bomb from her hulking Lancaster, which enables the other Valkyries to fly into the Pillar to find and destory its core. But instead they find themselves in a TARDIS-like trans-dimensional situation where there’s a lot more space within the Pillar that there should be.

Within that Pillar, the Valkyries find a graveyard of all those who died fighting the Pillar in the past. Back at the base, Odin ominously declares “The dead are coming.” Again I ask: Whose side is he on??? Because within the Pillar is his son (at least according to the mythology), Thor, a giant mecha-like final boss to be defeated.

But that’s not all…among the “dead” Odin warned about is Jinguuji, whose plane comes alongside Yayoi’s. Yayoi is thoroughly spooked. Sonoka is thoroughly spooked. Everyone is in uncharted territory. Just what the hell is going on in this Pillar, and why is Odin being such a creepy mysterious nonchalant jerk about everything? Warlords of Sigrdrifa has my full attention.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 05 – Black Cod

After the Tateyama crew are introduced to Valkyrie Amatsuka “Big Sis” Yayoi and her Shield Squadron, they all bathe together (in an extremely indulgent but lavishly animated scene of fanservice) with the exception of Sonoka, who seems to have bad blood with Yayoi.

Amatsuka is typically assigned to where the fighting is heaviest, and this time that’s the Fuji Primary Pillar, due to be attacked shortly after it enters its dormant state. Tateyama is the stage for the decisive battle for Japan, and this week is the calm before the storm.

Claudia and Azu visit Odin, who is a picture of confidence as he beats Azu in a Street Fighter II-like video game featuring pilots from the show. He admits that Claudia was also transferred here in preparation for the big Primary Pillar fight, since she’s a Named, and Japan lost theirs (Ortlinde). He also tells Azu that while her mind is a “gem”, she’s “mediocre” as a Valkyrie. I wouldn’t be surprised if Azu remains a Valk nevertheless due to Miko.

The next day, the five Valkyries have a meal at a popular spot; the last big meal they’ll have before the coming battle. Miko intends to mend fences between Yayoi and Sonoka, but it doesn’t go well. Yayoi also teases Azu by pretending to claim Miko as a wife. As for Claudia, she blindly orders a black cod, but is able to resolutely power through the gigantic fatty fish, impressing Yayoi.

Sonoka seeks refuge in the commander’s office, and we see that on his desk is the previous Tateyama squadron, composed of her, Yayoi, Ortlinde, and a redhead I can’t place. Obviously something went down, and Sonoka blames Yayoi for it. As for the commander, like the other adults he simply wallows in despair for having to deploy such young kids to fight the Pillars.

Later that night, everyone assembles in the control tower to see if the Primary Pillar goes dormant, which it does right on time. That said, as soon as they attack it, it will wake up and start fighting back. They’ll have a slight window of surprise when it will be defenseless, so they’ll have to hit it with all they’ve got. I for one can’t help but be worried about any one of the Valkyries—the death flag-wreathed Miko in particular.

Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 04 – Seeing the Sea…and a Whole Lot More

The Pillars seem to have a new trick up their sleeve: attacking in a group of four, each time one of them is splashed by the Valkyries, it is almost immediately revived by the other three. All the while, a terrible high-pitched whine is emitted from the Pillars, distracting Azu enough to get hit and have to make an emergency landing, where the Pillars’ signal eventually knocks her out.

But thanks to some rest, a tasty meal provided by the grateful civilians of Tateyama, and some video footage from three kids, Azu is able to determine that the high-pitched signal is what the Pillars use to communicate their need to regenerate when destroyed. If the Pillars can make that signal, then they can disrupt it.

The problem is, they won’t have the element of surprise if they just fly in, because the Pillars are strategically positioned so that one is far from the others, as well as widening their effective search range. The three-man support wing devises a solution for the Valkyries: taking a detour to base by sea. And because they’ll be at sea, everyone will have to dress accordingly. That’s right, folks: it’s a swimsuit episode.

Last week Sigrdrifa successfully engendered genuine and profound drama pathos when Miko and Claudy performed their Valkyrial duty to help a soldier pass on. This week it switches gears entirely, declining to build on that drama and instead dispensing with both peril and seriousness in favor of a gonzo fanservice bonanza.

Mind you: this isn’t only about putting our main quartet of ace pilots in skimpy swimsuits—there’s ample beefcake (and buttcheek-slapping) to go along with the bikinis (or in Sono’s case, a standard-issue school one-piece). The Valks’ support crew consider it an honor to guid their idols through an Abyss-like vertical labyrinth, even locking their bodies together to form a bridge.

By the time the four emerge from a swimming pool and Claudy sneezes, the Pillars are on their tail, but fortunately they’re able to run to their Hero Wings and take to the skies, thanks in part to well-timed backup by a fifth Valkyrie, whom we’re sure to be introduced to next week. Was this a shameless expedition in conspicuous exhibition? Hell yeah it was. Was it also a ton of fun as long as you kept your brain switched off? Also yes.

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