Darling in the FranXX – 06

Dawn rises on the day of a battle that will decide whether everyone gets to see another sunrise. A massive horned cubic klaxosaur trundles over the horizon with a retinue of foot soldiers, throwing some serious Ramiel vibes—bizarre, mysterious, merciless. Ichigo tries to wash away her troubles with a refreshing bath; Gorou continues to worry about Hiro.

Gorou tries to get Ichigo to talk to Hiro, and Ichigo uses the opportunity to try to confess her feelings, but Zero Two appears, and says what she isn’t feeling instead—that she thinks of Hiro as a sibling—and is devastated when he says he feels the same. Ichinose Kana is killing it so far, even if it’s extremely hard to forget she’s not Hanazawa Kana.

With things needed to be said left unsaid, Zero Hour approaches, and the two Squads and Strelitzia take their positions. The effects of Ichigo’s unrequited love on her performance and Hiro’s ability to survive his third sortie with Two aren’t the only concerns: Squad 13 wants to prove to 26 they’re not just a bunch of in-the-way misfits.

The sheer scale of the boss before them, and the dramatic staging and lighting really lend this battle a sense of occasion and urgency; it’s all or nothing; either these ten comparatively tiny FranXX stop the enemy, or both Plantations will be destroyed.

The only mark against these stakes (which often applied to the populace in Eva as well) is that we never really see any of the people the parasites are protecting, aside from their two adult handlers and Dr. FranXX himself. That’s a small mark, and it’s easily forgiven in light of the pandemonium that ensues.

The contrast between the coordination and discipline of the five identical gray Squad 26 FranXX (also female in form) and those of Squad 13 (or lack thereof) is more stark than Arya, as Ichigo can barely keep her squad hanging in there when some lesser Klax get get through the front lines.

Zero Two observes this contrast, and the dire state of the 13th, and thinks she and Hiro should join the battle sooner rather than later before there isn’t a 13th left. Hiro asks Two why she fights the Klax; she opines it may be because “she’s a monster.”

Two asks him the same, and he says its because his only purpose in life is to protect Papa and the adults. They sortie, against orders, and mop up the Klax harassing the 13th with ease…but Hiro immediately starts to have trouble staying in sync, and the blue veins on his chest start to spread to his entire body and face.

Ichigo lays down the law, ordering Strelitzia to fall back, as she’ll be providing the coup-de-grace. That’s after the 26th, even with their perfectly coordinated tactics, utterly fail to destroy the giant “Gutenberg-class” Klaxosaur. Instead, it shapeshifts from a cube to a humanoid form.

Their leader 090 is almost crushed, but is saved in the nick of time by Argentea, and Zorome and Miku instantly earn his respect. The 13th gets their shit together and Ichigo orders everyone to create an opening for Strelitzia. Hiro uses everything he has left to help Two deliver the killing blow, and with an Eva-esque cross flare, they cause an explosion within the boss.

…But everything Hiro had wasn’t enough. The Gutenberg shifts again into a massive battering ram, and in another nod to Shinji’s first mission in Eva 01, that ram begins repeatedly smashing into Strelitzia. Hiro loses consciousness and Strelitzia shuts down.

Things look bad from Delphinium’s POV; indeed, when Ichigo fears she’s lost Hiro (without telling him what she actually has to say, to boot), Delph shuts down too, and Gorou can’t console Ichigo.

Hiro enters a dream-state, where he assumes he’s dead. Naomi chastises him for giving up. He says he didn’t give up, he just gave all he had. Unlike with Naomi, he still thinks Zero Two can carry on fighting without him. He’s content to go out being as useful as he could be, without regrets.

But that’s not quite right; and he’s not quite being truthful. Zero Two gave him a place to belong and a purpose again; he can’t simply lie down and die while she’s still in the cockpit suffering, slowly reverting to her baser Klaxosaur side.

Zero Two is on the verge of completely Losing It when Hiro hugs her from behind and tells her she should never have to fight—or be—alone again. The blue growth disappears. What is that stuff? I’d like to think it represents the lingering fear and doubt he carried; the belief that he was expendable to Zero Two when the opposite was the case.

With that gone, he gets his second wind, and he and Zero Two finish off the Gutenberg in grand, madcap fashion, with a nice assist from his fellow parasites in the 13th. His doubts and fears are gone now, because he’s found another reason to pilot a FranXX: to be Two’s wings.

And it’s wings we see spreading over the airborne Gutenberg before crushing it and releasing a titanic cloud of blue blood. Mission Accomplished. Casualties: Surprisingly, Zero.

As we watch him and Zero emerge from the cockpit to come together and celebrate with the other parasites from both squads, Hiro recounts the tale of the “Jian”, a bird with one wing, necessitating a male and female pair to lean on one another to achieve flight. That’s the case with Hiro and Zero Two, so he resolves to keep leaning on her that they might fly as high and far as they want.

Halfway into its first half, FranXX delivers a rousing powerhouse resolution to the “Can Hiro Cut It” arc. Now that we know he can, and that he won’t be dying from creepy blue growths anytime soon, we can move on to other matters, like if or when Ichigo will ever tell Hiro how she feels (if she still feels that way after the battle; I’m guessing yeah) and the identity of those new parasites we got a glimpse of in the ep’s final moments.

Whatever comes next, a solid foundation has been laid.

Kizumonogatari III: Reiketsu-hen

Araragi Koyomi has beaten Dramaturgy, Episode, and Guillotinecutter with relative ease, and secured his master Kiss-Shot’s four extremities.
This third movie isn’t about that mission; that’s over now. It’s about everything that comes after, and how we get to Kiss-Shot being at full power to the greatly diminished state in which we were introduced to her in 2009’s Bakemonogatari.

Kiss-Shot promised Koyomi she’d make him a human if he got her arms and legs back, and while Oshino was meant to be Koyomi’s fourth opponent—he in possession of Kiss-Shot’s heart—he is satisfied that the balance has been restored. He not only surrenders the heart, but forgives Koyomi’s 5 million in debt before taking off.

So, will Kiss-Shot keep up her end of the bargain she struck with Koyomi? She’s certainly happy to be in her 26-year-old form; giddy, even. They meet on the roof of the cram school and talk simply like two old chums.

Kiss-Shot tells Koyomi about her first servant, whom she lost to suicide (she tells him more about this during Onimonogatari), and pulls Kokoro-watari, a memento from that time, out of her body.

After watching Kiss-Shot frolick on the roof, Koyomi realizes he’s a bit hungry, so volunteers to pick up some snacks at the local 7-Eleven while Kiss-Shot ‘prepares’ to restore his humanity.

Upon his return, he discovers the nature of that preparation: Kiss-Shot graphically devouring Guillotinecutter, then wondering where Koyomi’s “mobile snack”, i.e. Hanekawa is.

It’s a devastating revelation to Koyomi that yeah, when Kiss-Shot is talking about food she’s talking about humans. She feeds on humans, and he not only saved her life, but restored her to full power. As he rages in the gym equipment room, blaming himself for Guillotinecutter’s death, Hanekawa pays him a visit.

As far as Koyomi’s concerned, he doesn’t deserve to get his humanity back after everything he’s done. He doesn’t even deserve to live, and certainly doesn’t want to live to the point where he sees Tsubasa as food. He’s already disgusted with the fact that the three hunters he defeated were on the side of justice.

Tsubasa, not surprisingly, has his back when he doesn’t have his own. She’s made her selfishness known to Koyomi, and she wants to see him next term, so he can’t die. Besides, throwing away all he’s accomplished thus far would just be running away. Even if he eats her, she’s fine with it, because she wouldn’t call someone a friend unless she’s willing to die for them, no matter the reason.

No, pointing the blame on and killing himself isn’t the right path for Koyomi. Not when he’s the only one who has a chance against a Full Power Kiss-Shot. Knowing he has to go up against her, Koyomi asks, for the first time ever, if he can touch Tsubasa’s boobs, in order to “build up his tolerance” for Kiss-Shot’s own substantial bust.

That attempt goes bust, however, when Tsubasa is more than willing to let him fondle her boobs and even take her maidenhood if he likes, but he chickens out and instead gives her a weak shoulder massage.

Hitagi may end up being Koyomi’s beloved, but there can be no doubt who his best friend is after watching these movies. Because all this takes place before he even meets Hitagi, Tsubasa is free to be the one and only girl, and thus one hell of a best one.

Alright, no more fooling around, it’s time to fight his master Kiss-Shot, who makes one hell of a fiery, explosive entrance in the stadium, the venue of their duel. Kiss-Shot know realizes she was insensitive in being so casual about how she took her meal. With that in mind, she asks him to return to her side, but of course he can’t, because she ate someone.

Koyomi saved her life, and won back her limbs, because she was weak. Once she was no longer weak, and Koyomi saw what she was capable of, he essentially woke up from the spell he had been under. At an impasse, they begin to go at it.

Because they’re both immortal, quick-healing vampires, it’s an absolutely bonkers fight, with heads and limbs flying all over the place, oftentimes sprouting back up before the old parts faded away. But as bloody and brutal as it is, the fight is a stalemate, with neither party able to inflict lasting damage on the other.

Once again unable to stay away when her friend is in need, Tsubasa tells Koyomi something isn’t right, and it’s something everyone but Koyomi would have realize by now: Kiss-Shot wants to be killed; it’s the only way for Koyomi to get his humanity back.

When Kiss-Shot tries to lash out at the interfering Tsubasa, Koyomi (or rather, his head and some neckbones) latch on to Kiss-Shot’s neck, and he starts sucking her blood, a lot of it, until fully half of it is gone, leaving her shriveled and powerless.

But he doesn’t want Kiss-Shot to die.

Instead, he wants everyone to get what they want; everyone to be satisfied. So he calls out to Oshino, whom he knows is watching, and hires him (for five million) to come up with a solution. Unfortunately, no amount of money will change the fact that it’s impossible for everyone to be satisfied.

So instead, Oshino, true to his nature of attaining balance everywhere he can, proposes a way for everyone to be dissatisfied in equal measure. Kiss-Shot can live on as pseudo-vampire mimicking a human, robbed of all her power and dependent on Koyomi to survive.

Koyomi, meanwhile, will become a pseudo-human mimicking a vampire; and both will continue to live, and the risk to humanity will be greatly reduced, but not completely eliminated. Koyomi won’t let Kiss-Shot die, so he takes the deal.

Fast-forward to August and the beginning of a new term for Koyomi and Tsubasa. He still heals quickly for a human, but not nearly as quickly as he was. He also views the world differently now that he can walk in the sun again, something Tsubasa thinks is very positive.

Koyomi pays a visit to Oshino at the cram school to give what’s left of Kiss-Shot some of his blood. On the roof, Oshino characterizes the situation thusly:

What you remember of a vampire eating someone…is like the disillusionment of watching a cute cat devour a live mouse.

And here you are, having chosen to keep your own little vampire like a pet.

You’ve dulled its fangs, pulled out its claws, crushed its throat and neutered it, right?

You, who was once treated as a pet, are getting back at your former master by treating her as one…not a moving tale, is it?

Well, it was, and is, most definitely a moving tale, but I prefer Koyomi’s more poetic way of characterizing it:

We, who hurt each other so terribly, will sit here licking each others wounds. We damaged goods will seek the other out in comfort.

If you are to die tomorrow, I’m fine with my life ending then as well.

But if you want to live for me for one more day, I’ll go on living with you today as well.

And thus begins a tale of kindred bound by their scars.

Soaked in red and written in black, a story of blood.

One of which I’ll never speak.

Our very own, precious as it is, story of scars.

And I have no intention of reciting it to anyone.

It’s not just a beautiful way to end this fantastically epic prequel trilogy, but an artfully powerfully-stated mission statement for all of the stories in the Monogatari Series that follow chronologically. It’s inspired me to re-watch Nekomonogatari (Kuro) and then Bakemonogatari from the beginning, with a new appreciation for where Koyomi has been, andthanks to the recently completed Owarimonogatari—where he’s going.

Finally, major kudos to Kamiya Hiroshi, Horie Yui, and Sakamoto Maaya; all three elevated these movies that much more with their layered, engaging performances.

Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 08

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar is a little counter-intuitive. You’d think that its penchant for building slow, careful, gradual atmosphere meant it would need all twelve (or more) episodes to properly tell its story. And yet, despite taking things slow and easy and letting its characters breathe and exist in the world it created, this eighth episode could have been the finale, with four episodes to spare.

This was the culmination of nearly everything the seven episodes had cultivated, including my emotional investment. It achieved a tremendous amount without abandoning or compromising the style it’s stuck with all along. In fact, in the end it actually doubled down on the long quiet, contemplative, emotion-rich scene of rest.

I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a show so patient and diligent and deliberate that at the same time was able to move so fleetly and efficiently. It kind of had its cake and ate it too.

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Things start simply: a pre-game huddle in which Mary–the priest who let her party die who joined the party that let their priest die–adds her hand to the pile and promises to protect everyone. Then everyone gets into position, waits for the right time, and the most ambitious and dangerous battle yet fought commences.

The breathless, bloody action is set to upbeat (rather than desperate) music, reflecting everyone’s positive attitude and determination entering the fight. No longer is there any doubt that they will have each other’s backs. The goblins are initially surprised by their ambush, but quickly regroup and exhibit that they’re just as capable of learning about their enemy and adapting to their tactics.

At times, things get a little dicey, but just when you think one party member is in trouble, another one bails them out. When Yume and Moguzo get wounded, Mary quickly heals them, and it’s not a waste of magic because without numbers, they can’t afford the pace of the battle to wane due to injuries.

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After infiltrating the goblin stronghold and clearing the lower levels of all enemies, they reach the top, where the leader is sitting, apparently bleeding out and close to death. It’s here, so close to victory, where the party lets its guard down, just as it did when they took down their very first goblin but didn’t cut deep enough. Despite being indoors, they neglected the fact the roof was open, and a goblin snipers puts an arrow in Mary’s back.

Dear God, not again raced through my head as I held my breath, and as the others tended to Mary, Haruhiro (who Mary is now calling “Haru”, like me, or “Hal”, depending on your translator!), goes after the sniper, who happens to have his old dagger. After a vicious struggle, he uses that dagger to deliver the killing blow, Yume slides down the roof to meet him, and the battle is over.

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I was a little worried for a second that Mary died, but part of me assumed this time she had enough magic to heal herself, and so she did. After that battle, Haru and the others acquire their badges and finally become volunteer soliders. Their first stop after this achievement is the grave of their former leader, Manato, not just to show him that they did it, but to give him his own badge as well.

During this extended scene, which I liked very much, Haru thinks a lot about what to say. He notes how he and the others didn’t actually know Manato that long; how he didn’t get to see all the sides of him, how he may have well hid many of his flaws in that time. Haru wished he could have gotten to know Manato better, as did the others, but they can take solace in the fact they were still able to become a good party without him, channeling the pain of his loss to motivate their steady improvement.

As Haru talks about how far they’ve come Ranta says something nasty out of turn and gets admonished by Yume, Shihoru cries, and Mary keeps a respectful distance, though grows closer and closer as the scene continues. It also begins to snow, covering the scenery in white, indicating this is the end of one chapter and the beginning of a fresh new one.

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After the ceremony, Haru walks Mary home (I was wrong last week about her moving in with the party right away). They lament that magic can heal wounds, but not mend clothes or hearts or erase the pain of loss. As they enter the town, he admits he knows about three friends she lost, but she’s okay with him knowing, just as he’s okay with her having a name for him–Haru–that only she uses.

Their last exchange here is infused with a fair share of romantic undertones, but more than anything its just nice to see how far these two have come since Mary first arrived on the scene. Haru has become a good leader of a good party, and Mary has found new friends and a new purpose.

I imagine the party is in store for a time of rest after gaining their badges. I also wonder if the show will ever address everyone’s past lives or the mechanism that brought them to Grimgar; not that any of that is necessary. This was Hai’s best episode, considering the careful work needed to make this such a powerful, cathartic arc conclusion.

I don’t see how it will be topped with only four left (unless a second season is forthcoming), butthat’s okay; the show could have ended right here and I would have been content. This show has already far exceeded my expectations going in; everything that’s to follow is a bonus I’ll graciously accept.

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Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 08

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On her way to her father’s former martial arts school, Ayase recounts to Ikki and Stella the story of how he came to end up “mortified” and comatose. His school fell to the whims of Kurashiki Kuraudo. This wasn’t the first school the pointy-toothed punk brought down with his raw brutality.

The last words her father said before he passed out were “I’m Sorry,” but these past two years it’s been Ayase who was sorry she didn’t step in and fight on her father’s behalf, even if it meant she’d have been the one to end up that way. After all, his school is all about pride and protecting.

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Aside from that additional insight into the plight of the Ayatsuji Itto-ryuu School, this episode wastes no time at the pool or in the showers, or even with fighting the front-line grunts in Karaudo’s operation.

Flanked by two tough, lovely young ladies, Ikki marches right into the dojo, challenges Karaudo to a duel for control of the school on Ayase’s behalf, and drops the IDs of the guys whose asses he just beat. We didn’t see that fight, but we didn’t need to. The fight that matters is this one.

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Not needing any further proof he’s worthy of fighting him, Karaudo stands up and summons his sword, Orochimaru (which is the name of a Naruto arch-villain and happens to resemble Renji’s zanpakuto Zabimaru in Bleach, BTW).  It’s a sick-looking blade that can take any form, but more important is just how daggone quick Karaudo is.

While he boasts about how great his sword is, laughs a lot, and bares his silly pointy teeth, Karaudo at least avoids threatening Ayase or Stella, or spewing any other kind of assholish trash talk. This is all about the fight.

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Ikki quickly determines Karaudo’s true weapon against the Last Samurai wasn’t just due to his strength or brutality or swordsmanship, but the ridiculously fast reflexes he was simply born with.

He calls the characteristic (not technique) “Marginal Counter”, and it’s the thing he’s exploited in order to successfully bring down school after school, as if to say “all your technique and practice, all your philosophy and discipline, is nothing compared to my raw talent.” He’s the rare bad guy on shows like this that’s actually justified in his arrogance.

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But while he’s a tough customer, he’s not flawless, and while he probably didn’t expect going into the fight that a stiff like Ikki would survive long enough to discover his weakness (lack of stamina), he expected even less that Ikki would be having as much fun as he did. The two fighters actually reach a kind of understanding with each other in the fight, making a connection through the mutual fun they’re having that would have been impossible with words or other actions.

At the same time, Stella starts to realize that maybe it wasn’t Karaudo alone who brought Ayase’s father’s school down, but the burden Kaito bore as the leader of the school. At his point in his life, he just didn’t have the glint in his eye or the smirk on his face to defeat Karaudo. But Ikki’s a different story.

But once Ikki has dodged and blocked and parried enough of his attacks and gotten him good and winded, Ikki breaks out Ten-i-muho, the finishing move Kaito once tried on him years ago. Karaudo is wounded, admits defeat, and relinquishes the school, but he’s already looking ahead to Seven Stars, where he now knows he can’t let a battle with Ikki go on too long.

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Ayase, meanwhile, who felt so helpless when her father went down, and felt so ashamed when Ikki used Ten-i-Muho so flawlessly, is rebuked by Ikki, who tells her the only reason he was able to use it was because she herself had mastered it so well. He merely stole her skill. She’s a true Ayatsuji Ikki-ryuu successor, and always was, and it’s her duty and honor to re-open the school.

With that, Ikki calls it “Case Closed,” he and Stella hold hands (I loved her line before about Ikki being the “right guy to chase”) until an eavesdropping Alice and Shizuku reveal themselves, sore that they were barely in this “Sword Eater” arc at all. But that was for the best, as it gave Ikki, Stella, and Ayase’s story room to breathe. Speaking of breathing, Ayase’s father eventually wakes up, so happy ending all ’round.

Combined with the cementing of Karaudo’s role as worthy (if uncomplicated) villain, this wasn’t a bad episode of RKC at all.

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Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 07

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Ayatsuji Ayase is lost. To her, reaching and winning the Seven Stars Battle has become everything. In order to beat Ikki, she must cast away her pride, which she deems useless as it has not garnered any positive results. So in a stunning trick, she throws herself off the roof, forcing Ikki to use Itto Shura to save her. Because their battle is in just ten hours, Ikki won’t be able to use his trump card against her.

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Ikki stumbles home and wakes up in the nurse’s office, where we learn why Ayase’s sudden but inevitable betrayal isn’t totally unjustified or evil, but simply misguided. When Karaudo fought her legendary father, he took his ability to hold a sword and left him bedridden for the last two years, while he took everything the Ayatsujis for everything they were worth.

Alone, broke, and harboring that “worthless pride”, Ayatsuji is no longer a swordswoman so much as a wounded, desperate beast who has been backed into a corner. It doesn’t excuse her actions, but it does make them understandable. But Ikki won’t let her reach the point of no return. He’ll face her in the selection match, Shura or no Shura.

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Ayase is incredibly confident, but there’s the sense that her hardscrabble “evil” armor is as delicate as an eggshell, just waiting to be cracked so a redemption omelette can be made. But her battle with Ikki is nothing short of thrilling and brutal. She certainly has the weapon of a villain, as her Hizume ignoble art is able to recreated every previous sword slash on the field of battle, as well as open small wounds on Ikki wider for maximum blood loss and pain.

And while this Ayase character is extremely different from the one we met last week, that’s just because she hadn’t born her wounded, desperate, relentless side. She makes it clear she harbors no particular ill will toward Ikki, but he’s an obstacle she must cut down.

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The color commentary clashes with the serious tone of the battle, but there’s no levity in the reactions of Alice, Shizuku, or Stella. Stella in particular looks troubled that her lover is getting so torn up, but there’s also the sense she knows something the others don’t; a plan of Ikki’s she hopes goes smoothly. That plan is revealed in the turning point of the battle, when Ayase’s coup-de-grace is barely blocked by Ikki’s “irregular guarding” technique.

Ikki tells Ayase she’s not fighting like the girl he sparred with. She’s ignoring his instructions and even what she already knew. Her mind is so consumed with convincing herself and everyone else that she’s a revenge-seeking dark angel of evil, she can’t actually fight properly. Her conflicted mind is at odds with her pure soul, where the love and pride of her father and his sword school endures.

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Before the battle, Ikki reported Ayase’s foul play, which was enough to disqualify Ayase and hand victory to Ikki without stepping foot in the arena. But Ikki doesn’t want that, because he wants to prove to himself and to Ayase that Ayase isn’t completely lost, and that there’s another way to get what she wants.

He cracks her evil armor by forcing her into submission, using the Fourth Secret Sword, Shinkiro to create an illusion of himself that she cuts, then drains her energy so she can no longer fight. His latest lesson to his pupil is that if those with nothing lose the pride in their swords, their swords will disappear. No sword, no win. She concedes defeat.

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But that’s not the end. She may feel the damage she did to her friendship is too severe to repair, but she clearly doesn’t know Ikki well enough. He offers not only forgiveness to someone who lost her way but was able to come back, but offers to help her get back what she lost, without sacrificing friends or pride.

Free of her evil villain act, when Ayase sees the callouses on Ikki’s hand, she sees her father’s hand reaching out. She asks Ikki for help, and Ikki is glad to offer it. Ideals that don’t produce results aren’t meaningless, as results ill-gained by casting them away will crumble to dust, leaving nothing.

Things might have gone far worse had Ayase not reached out to her swordsman brethren last week, but she did, and it made all the difference in the world.

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