Attack on Titan – 45 – Her Next Duty

The bad news? Rob Reiss transforms into an utterly massive Titan, far larger even than the Colossal. The good news? He’s no immediate threat to anyone in particular, just the structural integrity of the cavern and the chapel above it.

While neither of those two things survives the episode, everybody who set out to rescue Eren and Historia does. All the damage he causes allows Levi & Co. to escape Kenny’s trap and access the chamber where Eren and Historia are.

Even while free, Eren is lost. He was fully prepared to be eaten by Historia (and we later learn Historia momentarily considered transforming him and eating him so as not to be hated by her Dad). Between his antics and the sins of his father, Eren initially just sobs about being so worthless. His friends aren’t enthused. They risked their necks to get to him; the least he can do is not want to die, rendering their efforts in vain.

So Eren bucks up a bit, and bites down on a vial labeled “Armor.” The result of ingesting the serum within allows the Eren Titan to use the same Titan Hardening ability as the Armored Titan, building an avant-garde yet sturdy cage around his friends in order to save them from the growing Rob-Titan, which Levi dubs the “Big-Ass Titan.” It’s accurate!

Once they free Eren from his still fully-hardened Titan (sorry if that sounds a bit dirty), Levi & Co. take him and Historia and ge tthe hell out of there. As Armin and Moblit got the injured but stable Hange to safety earlier, the Scouts suffer no fatalities.

But there is that tricky matter of the Big-Ass Titan, which is a sight to behold; like something out of a Miyazaki film (Nausicaä, to be precise), yet like those Giant Warriors, not quite complete, and so it crawls awkwardly on its belly. Still, it’s so damn huge even in its current state it will reach the wall by dawn—and likely incinerate it.

When the initial plan to let Eren feed himself to Rob is shot down (there’s no guarantee Rob will return to being a human even if he eats Eren), the plan becomes “Stop the Big-Ass Titan at all costs.” Since Eren now has the Hardening Ability, there’s now a decent shot of repairing Wall Maria, but no repairs can take place until Rob is dealt with.

However, we do learn that Rob’s story about Eren’s father was naturally biased; in reality, Dr. Yaeger was trying to save humanity by destroying the line of the First King and the Reiss reliance on brainwashing. There’s also fresh mentions of the secrets in Eren’s basement, so there’s that.

Levi adds to Historia’s burdens by informing her that Erwin has insisted that once the latest battle is over, she will have to take up the mantle of Queen in order to give the regiment coup legitimacy and appease the public. Both Connie and Jean rightly pipe up that that shit ain’t fair, Historia has only just turned the page and gained as sense of individuality, only to be thrust into yet another duty.

I’ve really enjoyed Tori’s rise to prominence since her true identity was revealed; she’s basically a co-protagonist alongside Eren, and watching her decide her course in life in a world where such a thing’s a great luxury, has been a delight.  She’s grateful for their defense, but she agrees without complaint…but with one request: If she’s to be queen, she’s going to give it all she’s got in the battle that proceeds her coronation.

That means donning the uniform of the Scout Regiment, strapping on her ODM gear, and taking her place beside her comrades—her friends—her true family—to whom she owes not only her life, but her sense of self. Rob isn’t her dad anymore; he’s the enemy. It’s time to go to work.

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Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai – 13 (Fin) – On Second Thought…Screw Duty!

Tada-kun never fell in love…until he did. And just his luck, it’s someone who is not only from very far away, but whose hand is promised to another. Against as a monumental, implacable an obstacle as Teresa’s stated duty to her country, he feels lost, defeated; like nothing matters anymore—even feelings that got him on a plane.

As Alec basically lets Teresa cry it out one more night (and cries right beside her, owing to her own unrequited love) Kaoru emerges from the sidelines to encourage Tada not to give in to despair or give up on saying what he came there to say to Teresa. While messing around, Kaoru accidentally lets the royal invite Rachel slipped in Tada’s bag.

That’s all the stimulus Tada needs to spring into action, retrieving the damp envelope at all costs. He’s regained the will and the imperative to see and speak with Teresa one last time…even if he’s being a bother.

Turns out Tada is far more of a bother to Charles and Alec than Teresa, but while Alec is quick to call for Tada to leave, Charles, who puts Teresa’s happiness before his own, lets her and Tada have some more time together. Nothing he says or does can change the fact Teresa simply doesn’t love him.

It sucks, but it’s not at all unexpected when two people are arranged, basically at birth, to marry one another. Love can certainly develop in such a scenario, but in my personal view it’s definitely putting the cart before the horse, and such arrangements aren’t a match for organically developing love such as Teresa and Tada’s.

When Tada finally confesses he’s loved Teresa since they met, she accuses him of being unfair. She left Japan so she could lock away all of her feelings deep inside for all time, but all it took was him following her to her home and saying a few words to break that lock.  There’s no “last day of crying” for Teresa, as long as she’s not in a situation where she can live with the one she loves.

As the credits roll, we return to Japan, where aside from Pin-senpai graduating, is more-or-less the status quo…with one very important development: Charles broke off his engagement to Teresa, rightfully acknowledging that it wouldn’t be fair for either of them to follow through with something that was not their choice.

In a bit of a surprise, Teresa not only seems happy to be free of her engagement to Charles, but took it further by “running after” Tada back to Japan, either delaying or outright cancelling her succession to the throne.

Tada is shocked that she would all but abdicate for him, but once they’re in each others arms, the whys, wherefores, and consequences melt away, and it’s just the two of them, Teresa, and Tada, no longer having never fallen in love. Is it a bit too neat and tidy of an ending? You bet…but who cares!

Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai – 12 (Not Fin) – It’s Not You, it’s the Royal We

First, I have to applaud TKnS for shedding its comfortable Japanese high school milieu for something completely different that expands the story’s boundaries a whole hemisphere’s width and lends it a sense of occasion.

Second, I applaud Mitsuyoshi for getting over his aviophobia to make the trip to Larsenburg, for he feared something far more than flying: not knowing why Teresa left, and not telling her how he truly felt about her. (Kaoru also cheers his friend on, but keeps his distance)

Larsenberg is gorgeous, as one would expect of a fictitious Germanic-sounding miniature kingdom. You can’t help but notice how different it is from the Japan he left, right down to the fact it’s now wintertime.

Mitsuyoshi arrives at the address his gramps stipulated as the place where he’d find Reiko, AKA Rachel, but has trouble gaining access, because it’s a goddamn palace, complete with a Royal Guard that won’t answer his questions…or speak at all.

Meanwhile, Teresa, Alec, and Charles are busy with the duties of a royal couple and their bodyguard…only with a little bit of palace drama mixed in. Alec reveals her lifelong love for Charles when Teresa walks into find her hugging his recently-worn jacket.

Teresa also picks up on Alec’s tell, a grabbing of the arm that signifies lying. Alec denies and denies, not because she doesn’t believe Teresa knows about her feelings (she does), but because she knows nothing good could come of her expressing her feelings for Charles; he’s supposed to marry Teresa, not her.

Before Teresa and Alec can continue their discussion, Mitsuyoshi pops in. He had the good fortune of being spotted outside the palace by Rachel, who invites him in and tells him how she used to work at his gramps’ cafe when she was in college, before moving to Larsenburg to serve the royal family.

Rachel and Charles present Mitsuyoshi to a very shocked Teresa. He apologizes for surprising her, but she knows she’s the one who needs to apologize and properly tell him what the dealio is. Their reunion came far later in the episode than I expected, and it’s almost painfully brief and cordial.

In a sumptuous gilded drawing room the two sit across from one another, Mitsuyoshi expresses his relief that she’s okay and relays Teresa the others’ regards. Then Teresa comes out with it: she’s the future queen of Larsenburg, and thus there is, in her mind, “no way she can live the life she wants”, i.e. either as an ordinary woman in Japan, or as queen, but getting to choose her man.

In the latter case, Teresa drops a second bombshell on Mitsuyoshi: her lifelong betrothal to none other than Charles. We never see if or how he reacts to this verbally after his initial pained look; we only see the aftermath, with neither Alec nor Charles able to approach a sobbing Teresa in her darkened chambers, while Kaoru finaly reveals he followed Mitsuyoshi here, only to watch his friend crying for the first time.

And it’s about here when I was wondering “Wait, really? You’re going to end it like this, show?” But the show didn’t. MAL misled me into thinking this was the last episode, but there’s one more. Thus, there’s hope everyone can walk away with some kind of closure!

Violet Evergarden – 13 (Fin) – “I Love You” Means Never Having to Take Orders Again

Violet Evergarden protects Dietfried from bullets at the cost of one metal arm, then prevents the bridge from blowing up at the cost of another (with a crucial assist and catch from Benedict). In doing so, she averts the escalation of an isolated anti-peace flare-up and preserves peace for the continent.

In light of all this, Dietfried rightly starts to seriously rethink how he’s always thought about Violet—the tool he gave his brother which then outlived his brother—and how his blaming of her was only a means of distracting him from the fact he blamed himself more.

With peace secured, Violet secures new arms and returns to ghostwriting work immediately, but as the first Leiden Air Show since the war began looms, she faces her most difficult assignment yet: writing a letter not for anyone else, but by herself, containing her feelings; the whims of her heart.

Cattleya encourages her to write something before the deadline, but Violet gets writer’s block. She recalls that night in the Major’s tent when he told her she neither needs nor should want nothing but his orders; that she should feel free to live free, because she’s not a toll, she’s human, with emotions just like his.

Gilbert proves it rather cruelly by making her as upset as he is, but at the time Violet still knows nothing of what she’s feeling, and realizing that, he decides to table the discussion until after the battle…a “later” that never comes due to his death at Intens.

As if the universe were conspiring to lend Violet inspiration to write a letter to Gilbert, Dietfried arrives at the doll office to introduce her to his mother, who wished to meet and speak with her. The mother’s memory is somewhat hazy, but watching Violet’s reactions to her words (and her description of Violet’s “Gilbert-Eye” pendant) snaps her into lucidity.

Gilbert’s mother tells Violet things only she can say: that it wasn’t your fault; that it’s not your cross to bear; that her other son hasn’t given up on him any more than the two of them. But rather than wait for her son to come through the front door, she takes comfort in knowing he’ll live forever in her heart. Remembering him the rest of her life may hurt, but hey…love hurts.

For all the damage Gilbert felt he did by allowing her to act as a weapon for so long from such a young age, the very fact he saw her as a human and not a tool is what ultimately put Violet in the position she’s in now: with the means to grab the life she’s always been owed, and live in happiness yearning for neither orders nor death.

Vi shocks Dietfried one more time before departing by telling him she’s done with orders. Thus he sees, for the first time, not only a real human, but someone kindred to him in the pain of his loss.

Upon returning from the Bougainvillea House, Violet writes the letter that will join tens of thousands of others and be rained down upon the city by the airplanes, like her weapons of war reborn as weapons of peace and the transmission of peoples’ feelings.

We, as the audience, are the ones who “catch” and read that letter, in which she states that while she didn’t understand anything about how he felt when he tried to tell her, by ghostwriting she’s gradually developed the tools to sense how people feel, and thus how he felt.

Finally, she speaks of how she feels. She continues to believe he’s alive, whether that’s somewhere out in the world or in her heart and those of his mother and brother, and that she finally understands what the words “I love you” mean “a little better.”

So She’ll continue her work living, writing, transmitting the contents of others’ hearts through paper and ink, and in doing so continue to learn about her own emotions. Since a “new project” has already been greenlit, we’ll be witnesses to the continuation of her journey, and that of her colleagues at the Auto Memoir Doll Service.

Violet Evergarden – 12 – The Train Has Left The Station

As Violet flies south from her mission, her intended destination is not home, but the town of Distery. That’s where Cattleya, Benedict, and a group of peace envoys will travel north to Gardarick via the completed transcontinental railroad. The military puts Gilbert’s brother Captain Dietfried Bougainvillea in charge of security for the mission. The troops Violet encountered up north were only the tip of an Anti-Peace spear that is not as decimated as the south believes.

This means that at some point Violet and Dietfried, her harshest critic despite knowing very little of who she’s become, will cross paths. Before that happens, he interacts with Cattleya and [], who bristle at his harsh words for Violet, who like everyone is doing her best…and her best means letters that “slip right into people’s hearts”. Diets can’t believe it.

Violet and her pilot are among the first to notice the first stages of the Anti-Peace faction’s plan, involving fires along the railroad. Their next stage involves infiltrating the envoy train with troops. When Violet spots the train halted in Distery, she has the pilot drop her off.

Vi reports what she saw to Dietfried and requests orders, rejecting the notion that doing so means she’s still just a military tool that needs orders to follow. She’s doing what she wants, and what she knows she can do: avoiding war and protecting her friends.

Once the Anti-Peacers execute their plan to separate the front and backs of the train (a nice microcosm of their larger goal to keep the continent divided), Violet is a half-step ahead…fortunately for Dietfried, who must rely on her in the absence of his troops. He heads for the engine to regain control, and orders her to protect the civilians. Atop the moving train, she encounters the very same unit that she encountered in the forest.

Their commanding officer bears the physical and emotional scars of the fall of Intense, the battle where Violet lost Gilbert. He wants the fort back, and while his monologue to Violet is tinged with the thirst for vengeance and the burning of the world, he argues his side’s case well. He and his comrades have been abandoned. Everything was taken from them. Under those circumstances, you can’t blame them for wanting to burn everything down.

Violet resolves not to kill ever again, no matter what, in doing so making her battle atop the railcar that much trickier. Between the need to refrain from fatal blows, keep fallen opponents from falling off the train, and her attachment to the green pendant Gilbert gave her, there’s simply too many variables working against her.

She’s eventually subdued by the general’s superior numbers. But before he can behead her, his saber is shot away by Dietfried, who proceeds to dispatch the bulk of the troops and their general, using deadly force Violet wouldn’t.

Upon saving her, Diets is furious that she attempted to stop the troops without killing. “What’s the use of a battle doll that won’t kill?”, he fumes, blaming that kind of foolish thinking for his little brother’s demise. No doubt he gifted Gilbert Violet so that someone (something in his mind) would always be by his side to protect Gilbert in his stead.

Diets can holler all night about Violet being the one who killed Gilbert for failing to protect him, but he’s the one who decided that Violet was a tool and nothing else. Gilbert didn’t see his dynamic with Violet as user and tool, or brother and protector. He made it his goal to make amends for what was done to Violet; to restore the humanity, individuality, and emotions he knew still resided within her. Her orders were to live, not kill.

In the middle of this spat, a suriving enemy soldier gets a shot off before falling off the train, and Violet dives in front of Diets, deflecting the bullet with her metal arm. The ricochet causes an explosion, which in a crucial railroad tunnel connecting the north and south, may mean Vi inadvertently did the Anti-Peace faction’s work for it, but the ramifications will have to wait.

For now, Violet is committed to following Gilbert’s last orders. And considering she intends to stay alive, she might as well keep putting her skills to use keeping others alive. If she couldn’t protect him, then she’ll protect Dietfried…even if he never stops hating her.

A lot of great reflected themes swirled around this episode. The war between north and south reflecting the war between Dietfried and Violet; in each case with a latter party that doesn’t want to engage. The fragility of the peace efforts reflecting the fragility of the railroad, tunnel, and bridge that peace must travel on.

Making Dietfried and Violet temporary allies of necessity was a great move to get them together, while the train setting gave the episode an excellent surging momentum—as train episodes tend to do.

It’s clear that deep down Dietfried indeed blame himself for getting his brother killed, but keeps using Violet as a scapegoat. That Violet was capable of moving on from the past makes him even angrier, because he hasn’t figured out a way. But if he can’t forgive himself and move on, he’s no different than the Anti-Peace faction, and their general was right: the war will never end.

Violet Evergarden – 11

As a civil war rages in the frigid north, Claudia decides to decline a doll request from a soldier in the war zone; it’s just too dangerous. However, Violet overhears him, snatches up the request when no one’s looking, and takes a ship to the war-torn country. After all, there’s no place too dangerous for Violet.

When no ground route can be taken, Violet suggests they drop her into the camp via airplane; the pilot likes her moxie and goes along with it, possibly seeing the iron resolve in her eyes. When she says there’s nowhere she won’t go for her clients, she means it, damnit.

Looking outside my window, I don’t see a scene all that different from the snow-covered woods of the camp outskirts…at least in terms of looks. Thankfully, I don’t have snipers lurking in the distance trying to pick me off, which is the case with the unit Aiden is in. Everyone is killed but him and a younger colleague. Aiden tries to carry him with him, but it slows him down, and he’s shot too.

Not long after the enemy arrives to finish the job, Violet’s plane appears in the air and she leaps out and soars through the sky like a missle before pulling her chute and landing. She takes out a number of the enemy troops with ease until their leader trains his gun on her.

This leader knows who she is (and what she was), and so orders his men to retreat, leaving Violet with Aiden, who is most likely a goner. After so many jobs in the lands where there is peace, this is the first time she merges her past and present worlds.

When he wakes up in a cabin, Aiden tells Violet he can’t hold out long, and would like her to write his letters immediately. With neither a typewriter nor writing pad on hand, Violet simply uses her hands to air-type the worlds Aiden is saying, which she says she’ll memorize; another heretofore unknown talent.

At first Aiden only asks her to write a letter thanking his parents and hoping that if they ever reincarnate and marry again, he would love to be their son again. Then he drops a photo of his sweetheart Maria, and Violet asks if he wants her to write her a letter as well.

When Aiden went off to war, it was before he and Maria—childhood friends—had truly started acting like a couple. He never even got to kiss her, and when he closes his eyes in these, his final hours, Maria is foremost in the imagery, smiling in the fields of their home. He tells her how happy he was she confessed, and his desire to be by her side.

Then, as Aiden starts to fade, he asks Violet to her to put her hands on his, he tells Maria he loves her, and as he kisses Maria in his mind, for the first and last time, Violet kisses him on the forehead before promising the letters will be delivered.

There are no more dealings with the war-mongering extremists, and Violet is safely taken out of the zone, but before returning home, she visits Aiden’s family to deliver the letters and his bloody kerchief in person. When she sees the anguish and grief well up in Aiden’s parents and Maria, Violet cannot hold back her own anguish, and turns to leave before she makes an undue scene. But Aiden’s mother stops her and gives her a hug.

Thinking she caused so much pain by delivering the news of Aiden’s death, Violet is taken aback when they thank her for bringing him back to them. So many other families will never know what happened to their sons, brothers, fathers who went off and never returned.

But Aiden’s family not only knows, and have closure, but they were able to read the feelings in his heart in his last moments, and know he wasn’t alone…all thanks to Violet.

No other Auto Memoir Doll could have done what she did to fulfill Aiden’s request. She suffered a horrible past as a fearless weapon, but at least in this mission, those skills served a good cause. She should take solace in that.

Made in Abyss – 10

Riko and Reg’s first impressions of the Fourth Layer are that it’s very damp, humid, and majestic. the “Goblets” that give the Layer its name are filled with something that smells “vinegary”, which leads me to think it’s another kind of digestive juice you don’t want to be wading around in too long.

While looking for a place to camp (the first place they found had an odd presence shadowing them), they encounter an orbed-piercer – a predator that can kill them a heck of a lot quicker than gut juice. It’s a fearsome thing to behold – a growling yet unreadable red face with five holes, surrounded by shaggy white fur and poisonous barbs that can cut through steel.

Scary looks and pointy bits aren’t the only things in its arsenal – the piercer is also a lot smarter than the beasts they’ve encountered thus far, as Ozen warned them they would get. It’s quick, crafty, and thinks a step ahead.

Reg can’t get away from it, and in a matter of moments, three absolute disasters occur: they lose the Blaze Reap, their best weapon against tougher beasts (Reg dare not use his Incinerator); their umbrella shield is easily shattered, and one of the barbs pierces Riko’s left hand.

Reg has to deal with that quickly before the poison spreads and kills Riko, so he does something else that threatens her life: he escapes by ascending. In the fourth layer, humans start bleeding profusely out of every orifice, and that’s what happens to poor Riko.

As if that wasn’t grim enough, Riko’s hand swells to three times its size, and before passing out, she tells him the only thing for it is to cut her hand off. Reg breaks the bone first and then fights back tears as he works away at the arm with his knife, but the blood attracts a cloud of bugs that interrupt his work.

Both Riko and Reg are saved when “presence” they felt before makes its appearance – a rabbit-like creature offering help.

After following the creature’s instructions and giving a very purple Riko the kiss of life (without a moment’s hesitation, or bashfulness), she starts breathing again, thank the gods. Their new friend then leads them to her very cool and comfy-looking home in a place where the Curse of the Abyss has no effect, and introduces herself as Nanachi, what the upworlders would call a “Hollow.”

Made in Abyss continues to plumb new depths of acute peril and danger, not treating Riko or Reg—who are only little kids after all—with any more mercy than their surroundings.

I knew things would never be the same the moment Riko’s hand was pierced, and the entire ordeal to stabilize her was simply gutting, as we weren’t spared the most grisly details (haring Reg breaking and cutting Riko’s wrist was bad, but so was watching more blood bubble out of her eye after he wiped it dry).

Here’s hoping this Hollow person Nanachi can work some kind of magic to save Riko’s hand, even if, as she said, it will never be the same. That seems to be the enduring theme of Abyss – the further down they go, the quicker it is to be slaughtered, and the more things will never be the same.

Made in Abyss – 09

Riko and Reg descend the four thousand meters of the Great Fault (over ten Empire State Buildings, for those keeping count) using the “weakling’s way”, as Ozen suggested: the network of tunnels within the fault’s walls.

They quickly learn why when they inadvertently scare some flat, fluffy Neritantans out onto the edge, where a few quickly become lunch for the flying Madokajacks.

The Neritantans are ridiculously adorable, but this isn’t a place where you can be sentimental about such things if those animals are the only thing you can use to distract the predators that make no distinction between them and you.

Riko and Reg find the ancient ruins of a ship embedded in the fault wall, which raises so many questions, chief among them how it got there. In any case, it’s super cool. But just as the Madokajacks were distracted by the Neritantans, Riko is distracted by the prospect of finding cool relics.

She doesn’t realize until it’s too late that she’s strayed right into a Madokajack nest. Ozen warned Reg not to use Incinerator recklessly, but he’s confident Riko will be safe for the two hours he’s out if he uses it, so he does…and it continues to be a fantastic, if terrifying, sight to see.

What Reg didn’t know is that the strange distant sound he’d been hearing was a Crimson Splitjaw, who he grazed with the beam from Incinerator. He and Riko have to book it fast before he passes out, and they seem to receive som karmic justic when their only avenue of escape is blocked by tightly-packed, Neritantans.

If I didn’t know better, I thought I saw the thirst for vengeance in their beady little eyes. But the roar of the Splitjaw spooks them and they disperse. In a place of relative safety, Reg warns Riko to stay where she is and then passes out. Now who seriously thought Riko was just going to sit around?

No, She’s Got This, and wraps Reg’s extendo-arms around her and drags him behind her…straight into the digestive chamber of a Amakagame, yet another wonderfully bizarre beast of the Abyss. But this is Riko we’re talking about. Does she panic? No, she breaks out her knife and stabs the shit out of the Amakagame until she’s pierced its skin and escaped.

At first, I thought the legions of Neritantans that amassed around her were there to celebrate her vanquishing of the monster that claimed so many of their own—an “okay, we’re even now, you’re not so bad” kinda moment.

Then I remembered she smells like the fruit they love, and they swarm ravenously at her, the cute fluffy-looking animals suddenly a little more threatening. They cause Riko to fall down another steep tunnel, but far from a shortcut, it dumps her at the bottom of hexagonal basalt cave, and the only way out requires an ascent of several hundred feet.

It’s rough going, as Riko experiences headaches, dizziness, nausea, and the kicker: extremely realistic visual and auditory hallucinations. I mean, she might as well be on the holodeck, because she’s in a full-fledged dreamworld.

She knows what (and who) she’s looking at isn’t real…until her mother appears and they ascend all the way back up to Orth in the same gondola at the Seeker Camp. There, the entire city has come out to celebrate their return to the surface. What snaps her out of it? The fact that Reg isn’t there. He’s her totem, and he saves her butt again, without even being awake.

However, at nearly two hours, it’s really time he does wake up, and none too soon, either, as the Splitjaw that was after them before has found them again. Riko decides it’s time for Blaze Reap, but even as she wielded it and faced down the Splitjaw’s charge, it just didn’t look like she’d be able to do much damage.

Fortunately, Reg does, and uses his superior strength and speed to land a critical blow on the Splitjaw’s jaw, with the axe’s power causing multiple explosions that disable the beast once and for all.

With both kids awake and safe, Reg apologizes for going out so long, but Riko is actually appreciative: she learned by doing that taking this journey all by her self really would have been impossible, while Reg is certain it’d be impossible for him too if he didn’t have Riko with him.

Next up, the Fourth Layer: The Goblet of Giants.

Made in Abyss – 08

“If they die now, it just means they didn’t have what it takes to go any further.” Harsh they may be, truer words were never spoken. Despite her ice-cold demeanor and gloomy, threatening affectation, I have no doubt Ozen would be immensely disappointed if Riko and Reg died during their ten-day survival test.

Now obviously they’re not going to die—and she probably knows that. There may be a lot of bugs when they use fire and a grumpy hippo-like beast who doesn’t want them near his water, but Riko and Reg make a great team, and they have, after all, lived and survived off the land up until now.

Thus Ozen would be worried, even if she was capable of being worried about the two kids passing the test. Ozen takes us back to when Lyza introduced her to a frail-looking young man named Torka whom she married. In a classic Ozen move, she fast-forwards to after Torka has passed away from the effects of the Abyss, and Ozen has to deliver a stillborn Riko.

But as much of a ‘hassle’ as it was, Ozen remained faithful to her dear apprentice, who had progressed so far only to go through so much pain and anguish, and assures the suddenly-alive baby Riko of her “strong sense of duty” which continues to the present now that Lyza’s daughter has descended to her lair.

The product of her duty returns, dirty and exhausted but very much alive after ten days. Reg points out it feels like more, and when Ozen invites them to sup with her, she tells them of how being in the Abyss warps one’s sense of time (among other parts of the brain), such that while Riko has lived ten years since coming up to the surface, to Lyza down in the netherworld it may have felt like a scant ten months; possibly even less.

Needless to say, this is very heartening to Riko, but Ozen warns her and Reg to avoid the three White Whistles besides Lyza who are lurking in the lower layers as they speak, and when she says one of them isn’t “kind like I am”, you know she’s not joking: she, and everything we’ve seen of her, is still kinder than The Sovereign of Dawn, Bondrewd the Novel. 

I love the idea of White Whistles being their own tiny, elite tribe of eccentrics, and to think they get more eccentric (and less human) than Ozen is…a little unsettling. She’s also still not sure what to make of the note Riko thought was written by Lyza.

After giving Riko her mother’s pickaxe, Blaze Reap, she sits her and Reg down and begins to tell them all of the things they’ll need to know as they continue their descent. These are secrets usually kept between White Whistles exclusively, but as Riko is the spawn of one and is headed to their realm, it only makes sense. It’s a sobering experience for Reg to hear of all the strange things on the lower layers, and Ozen doesn’t mince words.

But Ozen isn’t trying to discourage them; only to prepare them as much as one can be prepared. When it comes time to say goodbye, Ozen isn’t present, so Marulk and the raiders see off Riko and Reg. Marulk is particularly sad to see them go, and her tears not only cause Riko and Reg to tear up, but me as well!

Ozen recalls one final pivotal exchange she had with Lyza after they returned to the surface. Lyza, whose face is finally fully revealed, has not only taken on an apprentice (Jiruo, AKA Leader), but has made the decision to make another descent in order to allow Riko to decide for herself what kind of life she’ll lead. She asks Ozen to tell Riko about all of the miracles that had to occur so she could live; Ozen agrees.

Back in the present, with her duty now done, Riko and Reg set out for deeper depths approaching the terrifying sheer pale walls of the Great Fault and the Third Layer. While it seemed strange and alien at first, the longer we spent in the Inverted Forest, the more comfortable, even cozy it felt.

The edge of the Fault couldn’t be any less hospitable. It will be exciting to see what other wondrous sights they’ll see in this newest setting—and what fresh devilry with which they’ll have to contend.

Shoukoku no Altair – 04

Mahmut’s first posting as a newly-demoted Binbashi is his home village of Tughril, rebuilt since its destruction twelve years ago in the last war. Mahmut still carries emotional scars and has nightmares of that night, but he’ll no doubt have to overcome or refocus those fears if he wants another shot at Pasha.

Using the Pyramis crystal at the water shrine, we and Mahmut quickly find ourselves deep in the intricate spy world of Turkyie. Barbaros, an old man who once carried the flag for Halil Pasha, now kulak of the village, serves as go-between between Mahmut and Zaganos’ spy in the area.

That spy turns out to be Suleyman Kara Kanat, who along with Mahmut are the last survivors of the previous Tughril village. Like Mahmut, he cursed himself for not being in the position to save his village, but for a different reason: while Mahmut was just a wee kid of five, Suleyman was off eating, drinking and cavorting in far-off Florence.

Consumed by despair and self-hatred and pity, Suleyman ended up raised up by one Zaganos Pasha, who would later visit him the first day of his promotion and offer him a job in his new spy network, one to rival the splendid information system that was the real power of Florence. Given purpose and a goal again, Suleyman gladly entered Zaganos’ service.

Meanwhile, after a scene of Minister Louis drawing up some dastardly scheme, his Rod Orm assassins arrive in the village and attempt to knock off Barbaros, who turns out to be as spry as Yoda and gives them a fight.

Mahmut and Suleyman join the fight, but Mahmut makes a couple of potentially fatal mistakes when he underestimates the assassins’ ability to adapt to his tactics and use some of them against him, as well as misjudge their weaponry.

After a literal cold shower (to get the eagle-luring blood off his clothes), he puts his trust in Suleyman and Barbaros, and the three re-confront the female assassin and run her out of town, destroying her mask in the process.

When called upon, Altair can execute action competently, albeit at a slower pace than most shows in the genre muster. That said, it’s good to see Mahmut’s usual tricks countered, suggesting a worthy foe. This is all a valuable learning experience for the next stop on his spy-world itinerary: Phoenicia.

Shoukoku no Altair – 03

We left Tintin Mahmut in dire straits last week, but still with an ace in the hole: his trusty eagle Snowy Iskender. As Zaganos, outnumbered 10-1, considers using poison to pull out a victory, the female Imperial officer stopping Shahra from cutting any more tent ropes, and Mahmut straight getting his ass kicked by the male officer, it’s all up to the bird.

I must say, this show’s clever (if sometimes credulity-straining) use of Iskender and the eagles to lend Mahmut a hand in times of great need add a sheen of destiny to his story, as if nature itself would prefer he succeed in his endeavors.

Or rather birds, plural: scores of them descend on the hostage tent and pull it away; conveniently dropping it on top of the Imperial soldiers standing by for orders to burn it. Instead, they are the ones who burn, in a nice bit of irony.

Iskender him(her?)self comes to Mahmut’s aid against the big guy, who after all has only one eye and thus has a depth perception shortfall that results in a rather creative death: Mahmut and the eagle work together to wrap a chain around the guy’s face and throat, and Mahmut snaps his neck.

Thus Mahmut’s would-be tormentor is dunzo, and so is the Imperial plot to take Hisar. Ibrahim Vali opens the gates to Zaganos and his forces, and Mahmut makes the call to release all of the Araba, despite their rebellion. For that, and for all their roles in the brief Hisar rebellion, Mahmut, Ibrahim, and Zaganos are all brought before the Divan of the other 11 Pashas to testify and be judged.

To Ibrahim and Mahmut’s shock and delight, the former is not executed, but restored as Vali of Hisar. Zaganos is reinstated as Pasha. But Mahmut, as I figured considering the outcome of the other two verdicts, isn’t so lucky. He is stripped of his rank of Pasha, and demoted to Binbashi under Halil Pasha. He couldn’t have ended up under a nicer commander, but it’s still a huge step backwards for Mahmut, for whom duty is life.

Having tasted the sweet top only makes the demotion all the more bitter, but Mahmut does not contest or even disagree with the Divan’s judgment. There were always risks Mahmut exposed himself to by becoming the youngest Pasha, and that included letting emotional detachments make him forget that the role of Pasha is far more than going off alone to save one’s friend.

It’s just as bitter to think that by accomplishing so many great and noble deeds in Hisar, thwarting those who threatened peace while saving thousands of innocent people, in this case, was the wrong move, at least in his position. Being a Pasha must mean being more detached, more aloof from personal concerns, while far more attuned to the greater needs of the state as a whole.

It’s a big picture position, and Mahmut simply wasn’t ready yet. But he’s learned his lesson, and is eager to see more places, meet more people, and be reinstated as Pasha as quickly as possible…but not so quickly that he doesn’t do it properly.

Judging from the scheming of both Minister Louis and Lelederik, and the fact Louis is aware of Zaganos’ spy network (which Z gave Mahmut the means to contact) and is taking them out one by one, Mahmut can’t get back in the Pasha’s seat soon enough.

Shoukoku no Altair – 02

This week’s Altair begins with more of Mahmut’s backstory; specifically, when he was still in school and excelled at everything but convincing others to follow him—and inspiring loyalty is a key trait in a pasha. What inspired him to work harder to adopt that ability was a friend of his, the older Ibrahim, who vowed to become Vali of his hometown of Hisar.

Fast-forward to the present day, and Hisar is in rebellion, with Ibrahim at the center. Zaganos Pasha immediately sets off with a punitive force, but Mahmut breaks out his usual indignation with the situation, clearly having not learned how to properly engage with the impatient Zaganos.

Thus, he gets nowhere, and must follow Zaganos to Hisar to find out what’s going on. Shahra decides to tag along, because she belives she could be useful; I know of no other reason she has besides seeming to like Mahmut (who doesn’t return her interest, even for a moment).

Elsewhere in Hisar, the families of all thousand soldiers in the castle’s garrison are the hostages of an alliance between the Araba and the Empire. The deal is, Ibrahim’s and his mens’ loved ones will be seen safely to the Turkish capital if they hand over control of the city.

That would be bad news to Turkyie, as Hisar is a buffer between them and the Empire. Unfortunately, between the Imperial representatives, the Araban leader, and the local (female) lord who has brought a large force of her own to bear near Hisar, all the new characters create a bit of a haze and no one really stands out. They’re all just kind of around. But with the tent soaked in oil, there are certainly human stakes to consider.

When Shahrah gets a little dance party going outside that tent, it lures out one of the Imperials. Mahmut, Good Guy that he is, tries to tell the Arabans—happy to be gaining a new city and nation—that they’re all pawns in a larger game of geopolitical chess being played by Minister Louis, whom if I’m not mistaken was roundly beaten by Mahmut in his little fake arrow scheme.

Nevertheless, Mahmut is right in the thick of things, having to cross swords with an opponent of unknown ability (that turns out to be pretty formidable) out of loyalty to his friend Ibrahim. The Imperial tells him it’s no worth it, as Ibrahim had already failed in his role as Vali by letting personal emotions supersede his duty.

He accuses Mahmut as failing for the same reason, but vows not to take his life until the Imperial army is within Hisar’s walls and he can claim victory. And that’s where we leave things: with Mahmut in some very deep water; but with a few pieces (like his at-large golden eagle) to work with, he’s certainly still in the game.

Shoukoku no Altair – 01 (First Impressions)

Take away the exotic setting and lush costumes, and Shoukoku no Altair is the very common story of an overachieving young man determined to move forward, be useful, and protect his country, after enduring tragedy earlier in life in which he wasn’t able to save his family.

Fortunately, Altair does have an exotic setting, lush costumes, and a very decent soundtrack to boot. And so we have ourselves a show that isn’t all that original in storytelling but is able to just sail by on competent, often stylish execution.

Newly-appointed Pasha Tughril Mahmut is the youngest Pasha ever, but never comes off as arrogant or petulant, even when a comrade accuses him of having a “tantrum.” Rather, I liken him to Tintin: young, courageous, resourceful, cunning…and yes, a bit dull. He has a strong sense of justice and is always ready to shut naysayers down…but has no idea what to do with women.

One of his mentors, Pasha Halil, sees a great future for Mahmut, so when the Balt-Rheim Empire accuses their homeland Turkyie of assassinating their prime minister, Halil chooses to be the sacrifice they demand.

War claimed many lives twelve years ago, as we see in a heart-wrenching, well-directed flashback in which a young Mahmut struggles in vain to save a woman I presume is his mother. From that point on, he swore always to do whatever he could, never standing still.

So Mahmut does what Tintin would do: investigate the incident and find the real truth, which is that the arrows used to kill the minister were of Balt-Rhein design. He joins up with with Halil, who believes the Empire as a whole does not want war, just an isolated element.

Thanks in part to a clever use of mutton stew and the local eagles, the pashas weather an attempted ambush, capture the conspirator’s men, and bring them and the false arrows before the Emperor himself.

War is staved off—for now, but the minister who conspired to start it was not tried or even named for his role, meaning this is only the beginning of Pasha Mahmut’s duty. With only THE REFLECTION left to air on my Summer list and my interest in Apocrypha fading fast, Altair is just interesting enough for another look or two.