Violet Evergarden – 07

Much to the envy of superfan Erica, Violet is sent to pastoral Roswell (in Genetrix, not New Mexico) to assist the famous playwright Oscar Webster with his newest work.

As is so often the case with great talents, he also has his problems: he lives all alone, his house is a mess, and he day-drinks too much (Violet helpfully points out it’s “not good for him”…I think he’s aware Vi). When Oscar first sees the blonde Violet, he narrates in his head how she isn’t the blonde he wished he could see again, whose name he can’t utter.

Violet deems Oscar a “handful”, but if anyone can handle him, it’s her. In the day before she begins taking dictation, she cleans the place and even tries her hand a cooking Carbonara. Her difficulty with cracking eggs and the resulting single mass of pasta she presents to Oscar engendered belly laughs from your author.

But again, before going to bed Violet must keep the booze away from Oscar, hiding all of his various bottles that she might get a good day’s work out of him. His status as a handful thus established, we move on to the why, which makes for the show’s most emotionally devastating and sorrowful stories yet—aside from Violet’s own tale of woe.

The why of Oscar’s solitude and drunkenness is revealed quite by chance. Oscar and Violet reach a rapport as he dictates his play—his first for children—and even Violet can empathize with its protagonist, Violet finds a frilly parasol that evokes in Oscar memories of a girl with a gap in her teeth.

With heavy implication that girl passed away, Oscar knocks the parasol out of Vi’s hand in anger and orders her to leave. Violet manages to calm him, correctly guessing there’s something deep in his heart he’s trying to hide. The truth is, Oscar hasn’t been able to write for some time, but thought the best way to do so would be to complete the tale he once told his late beloved daughter, Olivia.

Oscar’s wife, Olivia’s daughter, passed away all too early of an illness, leaving him to raise her. While he was sure she missed her mother, she never let on, as if being strong for both of them.

Then, quite tragically, she took ill as well, and rather than keep her in the hospital to pass, Oscar took her to their vacation home he still occupies, so she could die with a smile on her face. She does so as they sit by the lake; a lake Olivia promised to walk across, using her parasol to keep her aloft.

Oscar’s story is well and powerfully told (it’s akin to the opening scene in Up), and accompanied by composer Evan Call’s familiar ‘tragic’ theme; a theme that never fails to make me suddenly realize how gosh-darn dusty it is in the room in which I’m watching the show. I was glad this was the halfway point so I could grab a few kleenex.

That night, Oscar decides to finish the play after all, giving it the happy ending he and Olivia couldn’t have, in which the protagonist Olive will return home and reunite with her father. They complete it outside on the terrace, and Oscar asks Violet to go stand by the lake with the parasol to help him better visualize the ending.

While this scene is beautifully, breathtakingly staged—it’s one of the best-looking scenes of the series—it failed for me where the pre-intermission montage of Olivia fully succeeded: in not going too far. Call’s score gets a bit too bombastic, and when combined with the Bullet Time of Violet’s “walking on water”, the scene strays uncomfortably close to maudlin.

Still, the idea of Oscar dealing with his grief through finishing the play inspired by his daughter, and having Violet be the muse he needed to draw out the pages, still rang clear and true. The execution simply needed more moderation.

The episode closes with two instances of someone saying something to Violet that sets her off: first, when she and Oscar part, he thanks her for helping Olivia “keep the promise she made.” Violet lies sleeplessly in her berth, thinking of all the lives she took in the past, and all the promises they couldn’t keep because of her.

Claudia once told her she was “on fire”, and she took him literally; now she finally understands that she is on fire, and has not been able to forgive herself.

The second instance occurs when she returns to Leiden to encounter Lady Evergarden at the pier. The Lady can tell how much Violet has grown since their first tense interaction, and believes “now the late Gilbert’s soul can rest in peace.”

This is the first time Violet has been told the Major is dead, and when Claudia confirms it and gives her the details (they never found his body, only his dog tag), she immediately reverts to believing he’s alive and well.

The odds aren’t good, however. That hardly matters to Violet, who, like Oscar with Olivia, tied all her hopes to Gilbert. Coming to terms with the fact she may never see him again will not be easy, especially when the circumstances of his disappearance aren’t so clear cut.

For now, Violet simply runs, not knowing what to do. It’s appropriate then, that this episode has no title.

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Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 10

This week, the girls find a train, a radio signal, and a furry companion. As usual, they are absolutely dwarfed just by the vertical scale of the train, to say nothing of its length. Judging by the number of “robot corpses” strewn across its interior, it seems the design had to accommodate robots far bigger than humans.

After Yuuri experiences the boredom of waiting for the train to reach the destination, she and Chito do what I do when possible—head to the front. Yuuri points out that they’re going faster than usual because they’re moving on a moving train. It starts a fun discussion about the rotation of the earth and relative speed.

If there’s a commonality to these little talks it’s that it reveals both that Chito is very bright and just doesn’t have all the words needed to describe the scientific principles she understands, and Yuuri, while perhaps less bright, nonetheless comes to some perceptive conclusions of her own, despite having even less vocabulary than Chito.

At the end of the line they alight from the train and continue through another vast expanse of infrastructure. For a moment, Yuuri picks up something on the radio: what sounded like a sad song.

They look for a way to ascend to where the waves will be stronger, and happen to stop right on an ascending platform…only it either needs maintenance or wasn’t meant to convey humans and kettenkrads, because it moves extremely fast and stops on a dime.

That leads to a great bit of physical comedy as the girls and rig keep moving even when the platform stops; naturally, Yuuri lands on her feet. They’re met at the top by an eerily red sunset and a much clearer and more consistent transmission of the song, which is indeed sad, albeit very beautiful and moving in general, especially combined with the sad sunset.

I especially liked when the graininess of the radio feed gave way to a clear, crisp performance of the song. I just wished they could’ve tuned the radio to something more upbeat; they could’ve used some cheer after that last song.

When they come upon a massive hole—with another massive hole in the level above—Yuuri wonders if it was caused by the battle all the broken weaponry around them was used for. Chito surmises the hole predates the weapons, and that the hole was more recently merely a venue for a later battle. In any case, the image of a tank being repurposed as a fountain by nature and gravity is a sight to behold, especially when Yuuri literally soaks her head.

In what looks like a rocket tube, Yuuri finds a strange creature that neither she nor Chito can quite place, and so settle on “cat.” While they don’t mention it themselves, it very much also resembles those tall white idols they’ve encountered here and there. When the animal makes noise, the radio seems to translate it, even though the animal only seems to be repeating the girls with slight variation.

While the end of the train line and the sunset provided suitable ending points for the first and second vignettes, the third looks poised to continue, as the “cat” follows the girls, who decide to keep it with them for now. As Chito puts it, they’re always throwing things away or using them up, it’s nice to add something for a change.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 09

In a change of pace both neat and foreboding, Girls’ Last Tour ditches its usual cute OP in favor of giving us a couple more minutes of “Life.” Chito and Yuuri enter another vast, city-sized facility, and while they assume they’re the only ones Alive for miles around, the facility is still “alive” with a lowecase “a” due to the lights, fans, pumps, and other various machines still working, even after the civilization that built them fell.

They also find a fellow “living thing” in a single, solitary fish, the last fish in a facility that probably churned them out in the billions in its prime. That single fish is kept alive by the one maintenance robot still functioning, much like the robot in Castle in the Sky, many of its not-so-lucky robot colleagues were not so lucky. Last tank, last fish, last maintenance robot voiced by Kamiya Hiroshi (I think?), and two of the last girls…it’s like a last convention, complete with pool facilities.

Free spirit Yuuri is all too comfortable skinny dipping, but Chito keeps her skivvies on in the presence of the robot, even though his “empathy” is just sophisticated software. But being in the presence of such complex electronic and mechanical systems that still function have Chito and Yuuri constantly wondering what “life” really is. That’s driven home by an effective fast-paced montage of all of the various patterns of sound that emulate the functions of organic life forms.

The fact that evolution bred from rebirth and change is required for life is also explored, with the only other robot at the facility being responsible for constructing or deconstructing parts of the facility as its programming dictates. When that includes the aquarium where the last fish lives, Yuuri spearheads an effort to stop the giant ‘bot.

While there was an early running joke of Yuuri constantly saying they should just eat the damn fish, she gradually develops empathy for it, to the point she’s pulling some Mission Impossible-type shit to strap explosives to the giant robot, bringing it down.

In doing so, Yuuri may have saved the fish and its attendant for now, but without the giant robot the facility will no longer change or evolve. The last robot will cease functioning, the last fish will die, and one by one the last functioning systems in the facility will shut down, in time. And since everything is the last of its kind, that will be all she wrote; no more “life.”

It’s a stirringly bittersweet close, as Yuuri and Chito themselves serve as “mutations” in a system that looked poised to self-destruct anyway (when the giant robot destroyed the fish’s home) before continuing their tour. They mostly agree that “life” means something that has an end…which this episode does with a classic credit roll with a haunting new piece of music.

Kiseijuu: Sei no Kakuritsu – 02

They may lack emotion, but they still know to pretend to be a Good Samaritan to get some alone time with dinner
They may lack emotion, but they still know to pretend to be a Good Samaritan to get some alone time with dinner

Humans think they’re real hot shit, don’t they? Even a quiet, mild-mannered, normal kid like Izumi Shinichi is utterly convinced the inviolability of human life is absolute, and that the grisly murders of people by “things” like his right hand must be opposed and the things responsible stopped. But his hand, which names itself “Migi”, doesn’t see a problem: his brethren are eating; that’s all.

It definitely a plus that Shinichi's love interest is Hana-Kana
It definitely a plus that Shinichi’s love interest is Hana-Kana

At least you know where evil and hatred stand, but there is no evil or hatred in the parasites; they’re merely carrying out their natural biological process. Humans just happen to be on the wrong end of the fork. Now they know how cows, pigs, and a multitude of other animals feel. But still, Shinichi thinks it’s different.

"YOU WON'T LIKE ME WHEN I'M ANGRY", or "MEIN FUHRER, I CAN WALK!"? How about both
“YOU WON’T LIKE ME WHEN I’M ANGRY”, or “MEIN FUHRER, I CAN WALK!”? How about both

And, of course, it is different. Humanity’s belief in its own primacy may well be just a matter of chemistry and biology itself, but like Shinichi, we are humans and so seeing so many of us turned into mincemeat, no matter how flawed they might be, its unsettling and just plain not okay. Especially when the next victim could be someone you care about.

Don't cross me, Shinichi. Don't ever cross me.
Don’t cross me, Shinichi. Don’t ever cross me.

For Shinichi, that someone is Murano Satomi (Hanazawa Kana), and she happens to like him to. After Migi sinks a half-court shot on the court, she formally forgives him and asks him out for pancakes. I’m really enjoying their fumbling yet tender courtship, and of the high school milieu in general; even in the midst of such grisly murders; it speaks to how mass media and the internet have desensitized us as a society to the horrors in the world.

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The sounds Migi makes when morphing are best described as…skin-crawling

But Shinichi’s interactions with Murano underscore to him and us just how much he stands to lose if he leaves the mincemeat murderers be. That all threatens to become moot when a full-body parasite encounters and corners him, then invites Migi to “transfer” to his body and share his host, which will enable them to live longer. Again, Shinichi comes just an inch away from dying. He may not look it, but he’s livin’ on the edge.

"Hop on, there's room for two!"
“Hop on, there’s room for two!”

And that right there is the first sign that these things have a semblance of community, even if they lack empathy for other life. Because they value their own lives, and joining forces will lengthen their lives, logic dictates that they should join forces; there’s no need for emotional input. Migi declines and instead kills his brethren, explaining he didn’t know the transfer would be successful, and stating once more: “I value my own life.”

Migi NOT saving Shinichi's life, only saving his own life...and Shinichi's too
Migi NOT saving Shinichi’s life, only saving his own life…and Shinichi’s too

While one could argue that a little of Shinichi’s empathy is seeping into Migi and a kind of rudimentary emotional bond is forming, we also can’t rule out that Migi will only continue to protect Shinichi as long as it serves his purposes. The enemy remains within as well as without, and as I said, it’s an enemy with no hatred or fear. Or anything. The parasites can’t very well be the “demons” Shinichi labels them without those things.

So pleasant...how long can it last
So pleasant…how long can it last

It’s really humans, or at least a lot of them, (or even everyone, at moments) who are the closest thing to demons, says Migi. Shinichi’s Adorable Pancake Date with Murano takes a dark turn when the encounter youths trying to hit a cat they buried in the sand with rocks. I couldn’t help but think Shinichi was thinking “Ya see? It’s little shits like you give our species a bad name!” before scaring them off and rescuing the cat in front of the animal-loving Murano.

Just go get eaten, punks!
Just go get eaten, punks!

Here’s the thing: the parasites aren’t punishing people for misdeeds; their targets are random. This isn’t karma, it’s merely nature. Even so, Shinichi wants to use Migi’s power to protect as much life as he can. He isn’t someone who can just stand by when he might have the power to do something. Migi is dubious; no doubt because of the risks involved.

For all the gross twisting and meshing of body parts, the show can still pull off something sweet like Shinichi and Murano holding hands for the first time with aplomb
For all the gross twisting and meshing of body parts, the show can still pull off something sweet like Shinichi and Murano holding hands for the first time with aplomb

Both after the basketball shot and after this incident with the rock throwers, Murano is warm and affectionate, but she also seems to need Shinichi to say he really is Shinichi. And to a casual observer, it would appear like he’s under the influence of some kind of love potion. She’s not used to him being so…capable, though it’s not as if she doesn’t like this new side of him.

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“I’m going to switch to your left hand, if you don’t mind. That okay?”

Two episodes in and I’ve now seen the show consistently excel at delivering both skin-crawling body horror (with philosophical subtext) and charming, realistic, but probably doomed romance. For all the gross stuff it does with body parts. The soundtrack also continues to distinguish itself, in that it always seems to bring the right music for the situation. I even heard a bit of Vangelis inspiration in there. It’s as quirky and eclectic as the rest of the show.

No...HUMAN BEING...makes love like this.
No…HUMAN BEING…would make love like this.

The final scene where to full-body parasites—a man and a woman—stand naked in the moonlight, about to perform a human mating ritual. It will be completely devoid of love (or any emotion at all), but they’re probably doing it in an effort to better emulate human behavior. In other words, if Shinichi wants to put a stop to them, he’d better hustle!

9_mag