Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 05 – The Machine City

As last week marked the end of the Space Hotel Sunrise operation, it was anyone’s guess where and when Vivy would end up next time. This week begins with one hell of a hook: an apparently human man and an AI woman getting hitch in a gorgeous derelict cathedral on a lush green island. We pull out from that timeline and are presented with what must be that same island, only it has been developed into a futuristic floating city.

Five years, one month, and nine days have passed since the Sunrise incident. Estella was lauded for her heroics as the quintessential benevolent AI. Vivy is more popular than ever, headed ever closer to that main stage. Suddenly Matsumoto arrives in his floating cube form. The first step of Vivy’s newest op is to save the life of AI researcher Dr. Saeki Tatsuya from pursuing Toak agents. Due to his position, Saeki recognizes Vivy as the Diva AI.

Once Toak is dealt with and Saeki is safe, they pull over by the water where an island looms on the horizon. That island is the Metal Float, the world’s first unmanned offshore plant built and run by AIs and only AIs. Immediately I thought of the Machine City Zero One from The Matrix, as well as the reclusive advanced nation of Esthar from FFVIII.

Dr. Saeki puts it simply: That island’s overkill for this era. Matsumoto confirms its present advanced state has come about twenty years earlier than the “official history”. Vivy, Matsumoto, and Saeki are in agreement that the island must be shut down if the future annihilation of humans by AI is to be avoided. He takes them to his home where his AI wife Grace is waiting, and shows them a storage device that contains a program that will shut Metal Float down.

Matsumoto informs Vivy that Dr. Saeki’s wife Grace is one of the Sisters (though insists it’s a coincidence they keep running into them on their ops) and that they are the first human-AI couple to marry, and as such are celebrities. It’s a certainty that if they are to succeed in this operation and shut the island down, it will likely doom their marriage.

Nevertheless, they press on, taking a boat to the island where they are met by a WALL-E-like robot whose designation is soon shortened to “M”, and welcomes Vivy, who is registered as an “Inspection Team Researcher”, and Matsumoto her assistant.

Vivy can’t contain how awed she is by what AIs have been able to create on this island without any human involvement. Even Matsumoto admits it would be hard for any AI to deny that seeing such a place makes them feel something. Indeed, that very something may be what pushes future AI to turn on humanity. The Metal Float is truly a world all their own; a Utopia and crowning achievement of AI. And she’s there to shut it all down.

Even so, there are already facilities pre-built for the express purpose of accommodating future human visitors—Vivy and Matsumoto being the first visitors of any kind—and M and his compatriots throw a surprise party to welcome them, singing a song sung by Vivy (i.e. Diva) herself.

The affable visit is suddenly interrupted when M’s eyes start flashing red as he reports armed targets approaching the island. Toak has sent craft by both air and sea to capture the secrets Metal Float possesses.

Matsumoto tells Vivy to attach Saeki’s storage device to M so he can force-connect to the CPU. Meanwhile M and his compatriots spring into action, repurposing themselves as kamikaze missiles to destroy the approaching Toak craft.

Vivy dives into the ocean to rescue one of the Toak agents, who turns out to be Kakitani…again. She saved him when they first met, and Elizabeth saved him from dying on the Sunrise. At some point you’d expect this guy to come around and rethink his stance on AI. Meanwhile, in the heart of the island, another Sister seems primed to wake up. As expected, this operation is about to take some unexpected turns.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 04 – Be Our Guest

In a cryptic and haunting Blade Runner-esque cold open, Estella holds a bird in her hand beside a second caged bird, and when she smiles, another AI lying on a medical bed smiles as well. Researchers’ voices report they’ve “failed”.

The second AI ends up in a junkyard, surrounded by other discarded AIs in various states of disrepair. A light shines on her once-beautiful, now-ruined face: four armed men have come for her, to give her a new mission.

Vivy decides to lie to Yuzuka about knowing her sister, insisting she’s mistaken. Before Yuzuka can argue, the entire ship shakes. Estella informs all hands that a malfunction of unknown origin has occurred, and all guests are to head to the main hall as a staging area for evacuation.

The crash of the Sunrise is beginning, but Matsumoto is confused; it’s far too early. Events have diverged too far from history. Then Vivy and Yuzuka meet Estella in a corridor, and immediately after Vivy notices she’s not wearing a staff bracelet, Estella attacks her.

After doing some digging, Matsumoto discovers the culprits behind “Estella’s” manipulation and the impending crash of the Sunrise: the anti-AI terrorist group Toak, led by an operative from fifteen years ago.

Vivy and Yuzuka escape the evil “Estella” double and soon find the beheaded LeClerc. Vivy removes her ruined arm and attaches LeClerc’s functioning one, then asks Matsumoto to prepare the anti-personnel combat program he tried to forcefully upload before. Yuzuka on the verge of wigging out, so Vivy gently presses their foreheads together and calmly promises her she’ll get her safely back to Earth without fail.

Upon receiving the combat program, Vivy’s entire aura shifts. She’s still Vivy, just considerably more badass. Ditching her glasses and putting her jacket back on, she heads out into a corridor and the Toak agents are absolutely no match for her superior speed and strength as she dodges bullets and delivers vicious blows.

Vivy revives the real Estella in her office, and when Vivy says the terrorists have control of the Sunrise and are bringing her down, Estella realizes only one person besides herself could make that possible: her younger twin sister, Elizabeth. They were created to determine if copying over one AI’s accumulated experience data to another AI would produce a perfect clone of the original. This puts the cold open into context.

Meanwhile in the control room, Elizabeth sets the drop trajectory to crash the Sunrise, just as her Toak “master” recognizes Vivy on a security monitor; turns out he’s Kakitani, the operative whose life she saved fifteen years ago. As Matsumoto would probably put it, her “unnecessary calculation” resulted in Kakitani coming up with this new scheme.

But Beth has some unnecessary calculations of her own, sedating Kakitani and warning the other Toak agents to take him and hurry to the evacuation ship. She wasn’t prepared to let her master sacrifice himself.

She leaves them, ditches her blonde wig, and changes into more comfortable threads for her confrontation with Estella and Vivy. Beth cops to convincing LeClerc that Estella killed the previous owner, giving her all the systems access she needed. Vivy uses her combat skills to protect Estella, and Matsumoto infects Beth with a reformatting virus that affects her motor skills.

Unlike Estella, the free bird who had a mission, Beth had nothing until Kakitani brought her in. She considers herself Master’s “lifekeeper”, defining him as the only member of “humankind” it became her mission to protect. There’s no doubt she got the short shrift, but Vivy and Matsumoto simply don’t have time for the sisters to hash it out, so Vivy headbutts Beth, knocking her out.

In the control room, Estella discovers that the die is cast: Sunrise’s mass won’t allow it to pull out of its descent. Even worse, it’s headed not for the ocean, but a coastal city. To fulfill her lifekeeper mission, Estella decides to systematically separate the Sunrise into its constituent modules, so the smaller pieces will burn up in the atmosphere.

It’s an operation that can only be performed by her, in the control room, so she’ll be going down with the ship. When Vivy tells her they’re sisters too, Estella reminds her, they’re AIs. They live for their missions, not one another.

With another gentle meeting of foreheads—possibly exchanging data—Estella urges Vivy to board one of the departing evac ships. Shortly after, Beth joins her in the control room, her Toak conditioning purged, and the sisters meet in person for the first time.

Vivy reunites with Yuzuka aboard an evac ship, and Estella’s warm and calming voice comes over the PA, apologizing to the guests for all of the inconvenience they’ve suffered, but assuring them that they’ll be alright. She then opens the ships’ observation windows and directs their attention to the sun rising over the Earth.

As Beth begins to sing a sad and beautiful song about the stars with her sister by her side, the evac ships are on course for the airports on the surface, and the human guests aren’t just remaining calm, they’re smiling as they behold Earth’s majesty—and smiling guests was always Estella’s greatest wish.

As the several dozen decoupled components Space Hotel Sunrise burn up in the atmosphere shortly after the song concludes, Matsumoto declares their Singularity Project mission accomplished, and shuts down until their next mission in the future.

Vivy confesses to Yuzuka, that she was lying before about not being Diva; not she did know Momoka, she was her only human friend, who gave her her name and the bear. Vivy gives Yuzuka the bear for safekeeping, and the two await their return to humankind’s proper place: Dear Old Earth. So ends another fine chapter in Vivy’s epic time-traversing odyssey to save humankind.

The Promised Neverland – 16 – Too Good To Be True

Last week’s cliffhanger wasn’t all that dire for the kids: Minerva’s phone call is merely a recording apologizing for not being able to meet them in person, revealing he once worked for the farms before revolting, and providing the password for the pen to display map to the human side of the world. The creepy messages and journal were from a previous batch of escapees, only one of whom remained before they chose to make a run for the border.

What our kids don’t know is what ever happened to that lonely last escapee. All they know is they can use the shelter as the headquarters for their plan, which still involves returning to the farm, freeing Phil and the others, then freeing all of the other children in the other farms. Far from not pragmatic, this plan seems far too difficult and doomed to failure, considering how few grown kids there are to pull it off.

Still, it’s clear Emma isn’t going to the human side without fulfilling her promise to Norman to free everyone, so they set to work making the shelter a sustainable place, including growing crops, hunting birds (and later gathering slimy fish) for food, and teaching the younger kids marksmanship.

As they settle into a happy and all-too obvious false sense of security, we check in on their former “Mother”, Isabella, who is in jail for allowing the escape. When the demons come, she’s pretty certain they’re there to execute her. Back at the shelter, a peaceful evening is shattered by an explosion blowing one of the hatches clean off, knocking out the power.

A human strike team then infiltrates the facility, where all the kids escape using the hidden passage behind the piano. Don’s one of the last into that passage, and Gilda gives him a huge hug of relief when he arrives. Ray changes their plan on the fly: with the shelter no longer safe, they have to get out of there and seek refuge in the forest…again.

Unfortunately, the enemy forces seem to have a good grasp of the shelter’s layout, since they trap them at every turn. The kids are saved by the fact that these guys are supposed to deliver the merch back to the farm, not harm it in any way. It makes me wonder why they’re not using tranq darts, honestly.

Emma and Ray cover the others as they head to the forest, but again the soldiers are waiting for them. It looks like Game Over, but for the giant wild forest demon bursting out of the trees to kill the soldiers one by one; the muzzle flashes from their guns makes them easy decoys while the kids scatter. But even if they’re all safe for now, they won’t be for long. In the end, shelter might as well have been a mirage!

We learn the farm demons were prepared for this operation to fail, and rather than execute Isabella at once, they’ll leave the matter in her hands as a means of redeeming herself for her failure. If she can successfully retrieve every escaped child, she’ll be granted her freedom and more.

Isabella seems eager to take on the job, claiming that her children “betrayed” her…but that’s just a bit disingenuous considering she was secretly raising them for slaughter. In any case, Mama’s back…and this time, it’s personal.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Crow’s review here.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 12 – The True Battle Of The Wave

Glass dismisses three of the four heroes as nothing but “servants”, and her appraisal isn’t off-base, as their best meteor attacks fail to put a scratch on her, and all three go down with one strike, no doubt wounding their egos as well as their bodies.

That leaves Naofumi, Raphtalia, and Filo to deal with her, and while she’s somewhat impressed by his stout defense (as befits the Shield Hero), nothing offensive he can throw at her is any more effective than his beaten fellow heroes.

She breaks out of the Shield Prison immediately. Filo’s kicks are fast but still can’t touch her. Poor Raph’s swordsmanship isn’t even “worth mentioning.” She even calmly basks in the enveloping flames of Naofumi’s Rage Shield like it’s a sauna; “too cold” to burn her. This Glass lady is tough, and if the first Wave seemed to easy, it’s clear the difficulty level has risen exponentially.

That brings us to Naofumi’s final trump card, the Iron Maiden, so effective against the soul eater. Turns out it’s just as useless on Glass as Shield Prison. Glass’ withering criticism of her opponents’ attacks almost grows tiresome—we get it, Naofumi can’t beat you at his present level—but just as she’s ready to take him out, a countdown starts on his HUD, which indicates the Wave “period” is about to end.

Rather than give Glass the last word, Naofumi has Raph cast Fast Light, and the two of them jump on Filo who gets them the hell out of there. She doesn’t chase, and her attacks aren’t effective at long range, so she calls it a draw, this time. But when the next Wave arrives, she promises to kill them unless they grow stronger. Much stronger.

The second Wave disperses, and Naofumi is quickly summoned back to King Melromarc’s court for some backhanded thanks and demand that he explain how he gained so much power—more than “befits a Shield Hero.” Naofumi, no longer having any more shit from this royal family, tells the king he’ll talk…if he bows down and grovels.

This act of disrespect leads the king to call in his guards, but Naofumi is quite right when he says he can take them all out and walk out the front door without any difficulty, and the guards waver. When the king says he’ll punish Naofumi’s “slaves” in his stead, that really rankles him, and he promises him if anything happens to his underlings on account of more dirty tricks, the king will “wish he had never been born,” then stalks out unopposed, like a boss.

Princess Melty later hears of the “hostile” exchange between her daddy and Naofumi, and tells her father that their country will be put at risk until they reconcile. Her older sister Malty intervenes and tries to make a stink of matters, but Melty shuts her down almost immediately, and with good reason: she’s the one who was trusted with the title of crown princess.

Naofumi shakes off his unpleasant experience at the palace and gets re-outfitted by Elhart, who fills the wagon back up and throws in some gifts for good measure: a new sword for Raphtalia, along with a bladeless mana sword, a shield scanner thingy for Naofumi, and gloves that will increase Filo’s strength.

Naofumi is looking forward to being nowhere near the royal city, royal family, or the other hero jerks. Unfortunately, the peace doesn’t last long, as Melty and her retinue track his party down and urges him to return and make peace with her father. Naofumi is as stubborn as the king, and his strong passes ignite Melty’s secret weapon: the Entitled Person’s Tantrum.

But as she protests his obstinance, Naofumi senses something’s UP—set-up to be precise. Of what kind, he soon finds out: one of the knights who escorted Melty rushes at her, sword drawn, and Naofumi draws her back and shields her…with his shield.

Obviously, these knights are in Malty’s pocket (I doubt the king is awful enough to off his own heir). Honestly, it kinda just makes her look foolish and pathetic—why try to assassinate her sister in front of the Shield Hero, who could easily protect her? In any case, if Melty doesn’t re-join the party next week (or whenever the next episode airs), I’ll be shocked.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 11 – This Wasn’t In The Game…Because This Isn’t One

With his wagon bursting with medicines, spare weapons, and other supplies, Naofumi and his suddenly larger party teleport to the site of the second Wave, teleporting us from the safe, familiar capital to another chaotic and brutal magenta-skied war zone.

The rapid transition and immediate dive into the battle is effective, and now that they have more numbers, Naofumi’s team can more quickly and effectively evacuate and defend the village closest to the Wave. Naofumi, Raph and Filo handle the tougher baddies while the others handle the small fry.

Once the village is cleared out, the underlings stay behind with the ex-adventurer Granny who Naofumi once saved, enabling the core trio to join the other three heroes, two of which are already locked in a heated battle aboard a flying pirate ship with a kraken attached to its keel. And immediately, there’s a problem: nobody’s working together.

When Naofumi arrives, Kawasumi is on the ground, while Motoyasu and Amaki are bickering over whether to defeat the Skull Captain or Kraken bosses. Naofumi attempts to bring order to the chaotic situation, and determines that the bosses themselves aren’t the proper targets; their shadows are.

Once Raph and Amaki have stabbed those shadows, numerous soul eaters emerge and combine to form one big nasty one that’s immune to the Shield, Bow and Sword Heroes’ fire-based attacks. Naofumi orders Filo to use wind and speed magic to attack the boss, but between her and Raph, there simply isn’t enough damage being done.

They’ll be there all day and there’s no telling how much destruction will occur in that time, so Naofumi reluctantly whips out his Rage Shield, knowing full well how hard it is to control. Raphtalia offers her moral support, and Naofumi ends up back in that “in-between space,” where this time he’s confronted by the enraged soul of the zombie dragon he defeated.

Once he has his Dragon Zombie Shield, Naofumi begins to press his attack on the soul eater, all while the other heroes and their parties are standing around twiddling their thumbs. Raphtalia reprimands them, basically shaming them into finally finally assisting Naofumi—and in a support role, no less.

With help from Raphtalia, Naofumi doesn’t allow himself to be consumed by the dragon’s hatred, and regains his composure, rebuking Malty’s comparison of him to nothing but a wild beast. He summons Iron Maiden, a titanic prison of spikes that closes in on the boss and crushes it.

The other heroes can only look on in awe at Naofumi’s power, as they don’t have anything like what he just demonstrated. Motoyasu backs down from his sore loserdom when Filo transforms into the cute little girl he loves so much, but the Waves are curiously not going away.

Turns out that mega-soul eater wasn’t the final boss for this particular Wave. Instead, it’s another maiden—a raven-haired on with two fans who introduces herself as Glass. She was watching the four heroes and only deems Naofumi to be worthy of going against her.

This was not only a return to the high-stakes, high-intensity atmosphere of a Wave (accompanied all the excellent Kevin Penkin music), but some decent development in the relationship betweeen the heroes. For the first time, they’re all fighting in the same place, and it’s clear they’ll need each other to defeat some of the tougher foes the Waves throw their way.

Overlord II – 05

Following his thorough intimidation of the Lizardmen, Lord Ains and his guardians travel to his newly-built forest stronghold. He learns it comes with a super-creepy throne made partially from human bones, and decides he’ll finally dole out Shalltear’s punishment by sitting on her.

Shalltear turning the intended pain into naughty pleasure, combined with Albedo’s violently jealous outburst in the next room, are both examples of OverLord silliness at its best. Things get even sillier when Ains uses a spell to see inside one of the village’s huts, only to catch Zaryusu and Crusch doing the nasty.

The Lizardmen elders and warriors, including Zaryusu, make their one last desperate stand against Cocytus, and are (figuratively) disarmed by his polite and respectful demeanor before being disarmed (literally), halved, and riddled with icy projectiles.

The comedy shifts from the silly to black, as Cocytus calmly, quietly explains how not a single one of his opponents’ magical or physical attacks will have the slightest effect on him; they’re simply too low a level to put a dent in his Guardian-class defenses.

That doesn’t stop Zaryusu & Co. from charging forward, even if it’s right into their grisly deaths. Zaryusu is the last to be killed, but Cocytus promises he’ll remember his name and that of his brothers as the names of warriors.

Back at base, Cocytus is praised for his victory by Lord Ains, and suggests the bodies of the dead Lizardmen be used for undead research. Cocytus makes a counter-proposal: raise Zaryusu, who had been such a valiant fighter, from the dead.

Something like that is well within Ains’ mighty means, but he wishes to make it a transaction, and so asks Crusch to spy on the other Lizardmen in exchange for the resurrection of her lover. (Her momentary assumption he wanted her body enrages both Albedo and Shalltear.)

Crusch agrees, and Zaryusu is brought back to life, and yet even here OverLord doesn’t shy away from having a bit of a laugh; Zaryusu’s speech is all high-pitched and messed-up, like he didn’t quite come back 100% right (rest will apparently restore his former gravitas).

But Ains got what he wanted: the allegiance of the Lizardmen tribes, and a mole who will alert him if that allegiance ever wavers, secured by a “spell” (in reality just a lie) that will kill Zaryusu if Crusch ever betrays him. All in all, some shrewd maneuvering by His Skullfaceiness.

Overlord II – 04

The Lizardmen are allowed to bask in their victory over an army of the undead for an evening, while back at Nazarick the Great One Ains Ooal Gown is debriefing Cocytus before his other guardians.

Momonga got what he wanted: Cocytus forms an original thought—that he doesn’t want to exterminate the Lizardmen. But when he can’t come up with a good reason to spare them, Demiurge comes through with an alternative plan: they’ll make the Lizardmen an experiment in rule without fear.

Everything is going according to Ains’ plans, and his guardians think that’s only natural, but privately, Momonga is excited at the prospect of his guardians learning independent thought and gaining experience through defeat…not that he likes defeat.

That much is clear the next day when he shows up with an enormous magically-armored undead army, catching the still celebratory Lizardmen unawares.

Ains himself shows up, and makes quite an entrance, freezing an entire lake, using Gargantua to throw a huge cube of rock into the middle of it, then having his grunts form an undead staircase.

Ains climbs to the top of the rock with his retinue of guardians, proud as you please, and when Zaryusu and his brother meet them in the lake, Demiurge has them prostrate themselves.

Zaryusu knows he and his people are at the mercy of Ains and his forces, and that they don’t have a hope of victory against such power. However, he also presumes the Great One does not intend to utterly exterminate his people, but wants a proper battle to make things interesting.

If that requires a few sacrificial lambs, with him among them, Zaryusu can live with that, even if it distresses the woman he loves. He asks that she put up with his selfishness this once and hold out hope he’ll come back from the battle in one piece. She seems willing to go along with this…IF he impregnates her first. Love: it’s all about give-and-take.

Overlord II – 03

In order to build great things, one must construct a solid foundation. The first two episodes accomplished that. At first, I wondered why all of a sudden we were so immersed in the lives and politics of a bunch of Lizardmen. Then, when I got to know a few of them, I became emotionally invested in their fate, even rooting for their victory against the armies of Cocytus, even though Cocytus is a servant of our ostensible protagonist, Momonga.

What was made clear this week is that not only was it well worth all the table-setting, which I enjoyed far more than I ‘endured’; but that Momonga and his court were given heightened mystique by being pushed into the background, such that every time we cut to them (which wasn’t often, or for a very long duration), it felt like an occasion.

Things start out small, with Zaryusu earning Zenberu’s trust and an alliance after fighting him one-on-one. Crusch heals both, and after returning to Zaryusu’s brother Green Claw, the five assembled tribal leaders have a strategy meeting.

The enemy outnumbers them over three to one. Zenberu is confident every lizard can take out three zombies or skeletons each, but they have to plan carefully to avoid being routed. Zaryusu forms an elite squad with Crusch, Zenberu, and his trusty hydra Rororo, to face the enemy commander when they show themselves.

Cocytus orders his army to advance, and Ains Ooal Gown seems slightly disappointed that things aren’t going the way he hoped, and that’s all we see of him. From here on in, it’s all battle, which means it’s all payoff for the careful preparation of the previous two episodes.

The Lizardmen send out their forces to meet the undead army, while their magical units efficiently keep the foes at bay. Cocytus confides in Demiurge for advice on how to proceed (that is, how to salvage what is starting to resemble a defeat on the field); Demiurge muses that their great lord meant to give Cocytus a weak army and a wide berth in hopes it would promote his awareness.

Cocytus is ready to take his medicine, but first sees how his reserves will fare, led by the Elder Lich Iguva, who launches huge fireballs in Zaryusu’s direction, helpfully revealing to the elite unit the position of the enemy leader.

Zaryusu decides upon a direct frontal assault, using Rororo’s bulk to shield himself, Crusch, and Zenberu. Once close enough, Zenberu starts carving up the reserves while Zaryusu faces off against Iguva, who is a formidable opponent from any range. It’s too bad none of the Lizardmen had Holy magic!

For a moment, Iguva has Zaryusu caught trapped in a Scare spell, but Crusch comes through in the clutch and breaks him out with Lion Heart, in addition to healing Zaryusu’s wounds. Good to see Crusch can hold her own on the battlefield, and indeed plays a vital role keeping Zaryusu up and running.

Iguva is full of hubris until the end, when he wrongfully assumes Zaryusu foolishly unleashed the full power of his Icy Burst against him (as a lich he’s immune to ice). However, the ice was only meant to provide cover for Zaryusu’s attack from above, stabbing Iguva through the eye.

After a struggle, Iguva is vanquished, and the Lizardmen are victorious, in what was a hard-hitting, heart-pounding, perfectly-paced battle. From his base, Cocytus congratulates the Lizardmen; it was a very close victory, but a win’s a win.

Not only that, the battle forced the Lizardmen to give up their tribal squabbles, come together, and sacrifice for the sake of their race’s survival. I would think they would continue in peace the unity that was forged by the threat of annihilation, while Zaryusu and Crusch, having come out of the battle in one piece, are poised to marry.

Overall, this episode was as satisfying, complete victory; a sure-handed execution of an intricately-constructed, multi-layered story in which the lines of heroes and villains are blurred. I’m eager to see what Lord Ains has planned next—and for whom.

Overlord II – 02

Overlord II takes a deep dive into the tribal Lizardmen (and women) corner of Yggdrasil, this week, and in doing so demonstrates that even with non-human characters, the show excels at straightforward yet immersive world-building.

The Green Claw tribe has been given eight days to prepare a “desperate and futile defense” against certain doom, and considering fourth-tier magic was used to deliver the message, the tribe’s head priestess fears the worst.

Zaryusu Shasha, while a traveler and no longer a member of any tribe, is nevertheless sent by his brother and tribal chief to speak with the other four tribes about forming an alliance against their mutual enemy, believing that enemy is depending on their remaining disunited.

We get a cursory look into the Tomb of Nazarick where the confident penguin Assistant Butler Eclair enthusiastically prepares for the day he’ll rule Nazarick—by keeping it thoroughly and obsessively clean.

Zaryusu rides his trusty giant hydra to the lands of the Red Eye Tribe, where he is shocked to find their acting chief and head priestess, Crusch Lulu, is an albino lizard. He is immediately smitten with her, which catches her off guard, but they are able to find common cause with relative ease.

I feel like we spend a great deal of time in that hut with Zaryusu and Crusch, but it also feels like time well spent, as we’re able to learn a great deal about the conditions that led to her leadership.

In a dire food shortage the former chief resorted to cannibalism, which Crusch and the tribe endured for a time, but eventually there was an insurrection, and she was their leader.

Her description of the trials she and her people have endured are vivid and well-told, and Zaryusu, while initially a bit forward, treats her with the respect she’s due. I was legitimately please to hear she’s all for an alliance.

I also appreciated the very human behavior assigned to these anthropomorphic lizards; I never forgot they weren’t human but I could still easily sympathize and empathize with both of them, and there was a good portion of casual humor mixed in to keep the proceedings from getting too stodgy.

Crusch (wearing a bush to protect her pale skin from the sun) accompanies Zaryusu to the next tribe, the war-loving Dragon Tusk. Their leader, Zenberu, knows why they’re there, but Zaryusu will have to prove he is strong before they ally themselves with Green Claw and Red Eye.

Meanwhile, Cocytus prepares for battle, I’m assuming it will be against the Lizardmen tribes (I may well end up being wrong, of course). If true, the show puts us in an interesting position of rooting for the underdogs and caring about their plight, all while feeling a kind of kinship to Momonga and his cohorts.

The lines of hero and villain are blurred, despite the fact one side is fighting for survival, while Cocytus merely seeks to distinguish himself in glorious battle. I’m eager to see where this is all headed.

Fate / Zero – 06

“I may be an ancient king…but I don’t think you should be driving like this!”

And now I’ve come to it: the Fate/Zero equivalent of a meh episode. It had to happen sometime, so better early on than not; also, after last week’s multivector face-off and just-as-rapid standdown, it’s hard for the immediate aftermath episode to not feel a bit…anticlimactic.

And while I’ve enjoyed the moments of levity Zero has managed to weave into the action and drama, Iri’s crazy drive along a twisty mountain road kinda fell flat for me. I totally get the joy she feels from being ‘let out of the birdcage’, so to speak, and perhaps it was the animation, but the drive felt way too reckless for no reason.

“We can’t exchange insurance info if you’re all the way over there!”

It’s a good thing Caster seems to be standing in the middle of a straight and not on the other side of a blind turn; otherwise Iri would have hit him (and what a shame that would have been); instead, they get out and have a deeply unpleasant exchange with him.

Since taking out that kid after letting him think he was home free with his dark tentacles, Caster has not endeared himself to me, and his ranting about Saber being Jeanne d’Arc reincarnate does him no favors. I’m totally with Saber that I dislike opponents who you can’t reason with because they lack reason.

Thats…not…good…

In addition to being illogical and maddening to deal with, Caster is also a despicable monster, like his Master Uryuu, crucifying kids while still alive. They’ve abducted fifteen from a couple of towns, which just seems like a lot, though to be honest I’m not sure how much time they’ve had to do it.

In any case, Caster insists they must sacrifice all the children they have as soon as possible, then go out and get more, which, sure, fantastic. Even Uryuu is like, ‘I guess we’re just different kinds of serial killers.’

“Why do I have two Masters…and why are they so lame?”

Archie sits in his hotel room, scolding a brooding Lancer, until his companion Sola-Ui, who despite Archie’s Command Seals, is the Mana behind the Master. She’s not afraid to speak her mind to Archie about his hiding in the shadows, but Lancer then scolds her for badmouthing his Master. Even though technically, the two of them are more like Co-Masters.

In any case, Archie belives (rightly) that Saber will try to attempt a rematch with Lancer before fighting anyone else, to undo her cursed wound. So he’s laid a trap, filling an entire floor of the hotel with magical booby traps, and is very excited to see how everything works out.

“Look, that building had all kinds of code violations anyway.”

And then Kiritsugu just burns the whole mother down. I’ll admit, it’s a fine fake-out, and yet another stealthily bad-ass move from Kiritsugu, who approaches his work in a very deliberate, disciplined, military fashion.

I also appreciated that he’s aware that he has disrupted and possibly ruined more than a few lives by blowing up the building, but he’s going to defeat the other mages by any means necessary—but not by killing innocent people.

Kirei manages to briefly corner Maiya in an adjacent structure, but Kiritsugu bails her out with a well-timed smoke bomb. As for Archie, Sola-Ui and Lancer…I’m sure they’re just fine.

“Hey God Boy—run out and get me some more libations!”

Later, Kirei’s Assassins inform him, Risei and Tokiomi of Caster and his Master’s horrific crimes, which threaten the secrecy of the War. As observer, Risei stands ready to exercise his power to make minor rule changes; in this case, ordering all Masters to take out Caster ASAP. He’s a rogue element, and clearly Saber and Iri (and I) aren’t the only ones who’d rather he went away as soon as possible.

After a long day of morally ambiguous activity, Kirei encounters Archer getting drunk (or attempting/failing to do so) on a couch, who not only voices his disappointment in his Master, but also tries to pry out of Kirei what he’s getting out of this; what he desires. If Kirei doesn’t know, Gil figures he should use his Assassins to determine what motivates the others, so he might gain insight into his own motives.

So while Kiritsugu and Maiya’s special ops exploits were pretty cool and I dug the potential realignment of the War to focus on taking out the most irredeemably loathsome Master-Servant pair, I wasn’t as enamored with Lancer’s Co-Masters (indeed, I kinda just feel sorry for him), Saber and Iri only showed up for two minutes, and Waiver, Rider, Kariya and Berserker took the week off—and at least two of them were missed. So yeah, a 7 seems about right.

Kimi no Na wa. (Your Name.)

Simply diving into a review immediately after watching a film as devastatingly gorgeous and emotionally affecting as Kimi no Na wa is probably not a great idea, but this is an anime review blog, so here goes.

Kimi no Na wa isn’t just a charming body-swap rom-com, or a time-travelling odyssey, or a disaster prevention caper, or a tale of impossibly cruel temporal and physical distance between two soul mates, or a reflection on the fragility and impermanence of everything from memories to cities, or a tissue-depleting tearjerker.

It’s all of those things and more. And it’s also one of, if not the best, movies I’ve ever seen, anime or otherwise.

After a cryptic prologue, Kimi no Na wa starts out modestly: Miyamizu Mitsuha, Shinto shrine maiden and daughter of a mayor, has grown restless in her small town world, so one night, shouts out tot he night that she wants to be reborn as a boy in Tokyo.

This, mind you, happens after an odd incident in which Mitsuha essentially lost a day, during which all her family and friends say she was acting very strange and non-Mitsuha-y…like a different person.

That’s because she was. She and a boy from Tokyo, Tachibana Taki, randomly swap bodies every so often when they’re dreaming. As such, they end up in the middle of their couldn’t-be-any-different lives; the only similarity being that both of them yearn for more.

Despite just meeting these characters, watching Mitsuha and Taki stumble through each other’s lives is immensely fun. And because this is a Shinkai film, that enjoyment is augmented by the master director’s preternatural visual sumptuousness and realism. Every frame of Mitsuha’s town and the grand vastness of Tokyo is so full of detail I found myself wanting to linger in all of them.

As the body-swapping continues, the two decide to lay down “ground rules” when in one another’s bodies—albeit rules both either bend or break with impunity—and make intricate reports in one another’s phone diaries detailing their activities during the swaps.

Interestingly, Mitsuha makes more progress with Taki’s restaurant co-worker crush Okudera than Taki (she like’s Taki’s “feminine side”), while the more assertive Taki proves more popular with boys and girls when Taki’s in her body.

Taki happens to be in Mitsuha’s body when her grandmother and sister Yotsuha make the long, epic trek from their home to the resting place of the “body” of their Shinto shrine’s god, an otherworldly place in more ways than one, to make an offering of kuchikamisake (sake made from saliva-fermented rice).

While the three admire the sunset, Mitsuha’s granny takes a good look at her and asks if he, Taki, is dreaming. Just then he wakes up back in his own body to learn Mitsuha has arranged a date with him and Okudera—one she genuinely wanted to attend.

Okudera seems to notice the change in Taki from the one Mitsuha inhabited; she can tell his mind is elsewhere, and even presumes he’s come to like someone else. Taki tries to call that someone else on his phone, but he gets an automated message.

Then, just like that, the body-swapping stops.

After having cut her hair, her red ribbon gone, Mitsuha attends the Autumn Festival with her friends Sayaka and Teshi. They’re treated to a glorious display in the night sky, as the comet Tiamat makes its once-every-1,200-years visit.

Taki decides if he can’t visit Mitsuha’s world in his dreams anymore, he’ll simply have to visit Mitsuha. Only problem is, he doesn’t know exactly what village she lives in. Okudera and one of his high school friends, who are worried about him, decide to tag along on his wild goose chase.

After a day of fruitless searching, Taki’s about to throw in the towel, when one of the proprietors of a restaurant notices his detailed sketch of Mitsuha’s town, recognizing it instantly as Itomori. Itomori…a town made famous when it was utterly destroyed three years ago by a meteor created from a fragment of the comet that fell to earth.

The grim reality that Taki and Mitsuha’s worlds were not in the same timeline is a horrendous gut punch, as is the bleak scenery of the site of the former town. Every lovingly-depicted detail of the town, and all of its unique culture, were blasted into oblivion.

Taki is incredulous (and freaked out), checking his phone for Mitsuha’s reports, but they disappear one by one, like the details of a dream slipping away from one’s memory. Later, Taki checks the register of 500 people who lost their lives in the disaster, and the punches only grow deeper: among the lost are Teshi, Sayaka…and Miyamizu Mitsuha.

After the initial levity of the body-swapping, this realization was a bitter pill to swallow, but would ultimately elevate the film to something far more epic and profound, especially when Taki doesn’t give up trying to somehow go back to the past, get back into Mitsuha’s body, and prevent all those people from getting killed, including her.

The thing that reminds him is the braided cord ribbon around his wrist, given to him at some point in the past by someone he doesn’t remember. He returns to the site where the offering was made to the shrine’s god, drinks the sake made by Mitsuha, stumbles and falls on his back, and sees a depiction of a meteor shower drawn on the cave ceiling.

I haven’t provided stills of the sequence that follows, but suffice it to say it looked and felt different from anything we’d seen and heard prior in the film, and evoked emotion on the same level as the famous flashback in Pixar’s Up. If you can stay dry-eyed during this sequence, good for you; consider a career being a Vulcan.

Taki then wakes up, miraculously back in Mitsuha’s body, and sets to work. The same hustle we saw in Taki’s restaurant job is put to a far more important end: preventing a horrific disaster. The town itself may be doomed—there’s no stopping that comet—but the people don’t have to be.

Convincing anyone that “we’re all going to die unless” is a tall order, but Taki doesn’t waver, formulating a plan with Teshi and Sayaka, and even trying (in vain) to convince Mitsuha’s father, the mayor, to evacuate.

While the stakes couldn’t be higher and the potential devastation still clear in the mind, it’s good to see some fun return. Sayaka’s “we have to save the town” to the shopkeep is a keeper.

Meanwhile, Mitsuha wakes up in the cave in Taki’s body, and is horrified by the results of the meteor strike. She recalls her quick day trip to Tokyo, when she encountered Taki on a subway train, but he didn’t remember her, because it would be three more years before their first swap.

Even so, he can’t help but ask her her name, and she gives it to him, as well as something to remember her by later: her hair ribbon, which he would keep around his wrist from that point on.

Both Taki-as-Mitsuha and Mitsuha-as-Taki finally meet face-to-face, in their proper bodies, thanks to the mysterious power of kataware-doki or twilight. It’s a gloriously-staged, momentous, and hugely gratifying moment…

…But it’s all too brief. Taki is able to write on Mitsuha’s hand, but she only gets one stoke on his when twilight ends, and Taki finds himself back in his body, in his time, still staring down that awful crater where Itomori used to be. And again, like a dream, the more moments pass, the harder it gets for him to remember her.

Back on the night of the Autumn Festival, Mitsuha, back in her time and body, takes over Taki’s evacuation plan. Teshi blows up a power substation with contractor explosives and hacks the town-wide broadcast system, and Sayaka sounds the evacuation. The townsfolk are mostly confused, however, and before long Sayaka is apprehended by authorities, who tell everyone to stay where they are, and Teshi is nabbed by his dad.

With her team out of commission, it’s all up to Mitsuha, who races to her father to make a final plea. On the way, she gets tripped up and takes a nasty spill. In the same timeline, a three-years-younger Taki, her ribbon around his wrist, watches the impossibly gorgeous display in the Tokyo sky as the comet breaks up. Mitsuha looks at her hand and finds that Taki didn’t write his name: he wrote “I love you.”

The meteor falls and unleashes a vast swath of destruction across the landscape, not sparing the horrors of seeing Itomori wiped off the face of the earth—another gut punch. Game Over, too, it would seem. After spending a cold lonely night up atop the former site of the town, he returns to Tokyo and moves on with his life, gradually forgetting all about Mitsuha, but still feeling for all the world like he should be remembering something, that he should be looking for someplace or someone.

Bit by bit, those unknowns start to appear before him; a grown Sayaka and Teshi in a Starbucks; a  passing woman with a red ribbon in her hair that makes him pause, just as his walking by makes her pause. But alas, it’s another missed connection; another classic Shinkai move: they may be on the same bridge in Shinjuku, but the distance between them in time and memory remains formidable.

Mitsuha goes job-hunting, enduring one failed interview after another, getting negative feedback about his suit from everyone, including Okudera, now married and hopeful Taki will one day find happiness.

While giving his spiel about why he wants to be an architect, he waxes poetic about building landscapes that leave heartwarming memories, since you’ll never know when such a landscape will suddenly not be there.

A sequence of Winter scenes of Tokyo flash by, and in light of what happened to Itomori quite by chance, that sequence makes a powerful and solemn statement: this is Tokyo, it is massive and complex and full of structures and people and culture found nowhere else in the world, but it is not permanent.

Nothing built by men can stand against the forces of nature and the heavens. All we can do is live among, appreciate, and preseve our works while we can. We’re only human, after all.

And yet, for all that harsh celestial certainty, there is one other thing that isn’t permanent in this film: Taki and Mitsuha’s separation. Eventually, the two find each other through the windows of separate trains, and race to a spot where they experience that odd feeling of knowing each other, while also being reasonably certain they’re strangers.

Taki almost walks away, but turns back and asks if they’ve met before. Mitsuha feels the exact same way, and as tears fill their eyes, they ask for each others names. Hey, what do you know, a happy ending that feels earned! And a meteor doesn’t fall on Tokyo, which is a huge bonus.

Last August this film was released, and gradually I started to hear rumblings of its quality, and of how it could very well be Shinkai’s Magnum Opus. I went in expecting a lot, and was not disappointed; if anything, I was bowled over by just how good this was.

Many millions of words have been written about Kimi no Na wa long before I finally gave it a watch, but I nevertheless submit this modest, ill-organized collection words and thoughts as a humble tribute to the greatness I’ve just witnessed. I’ll be seeing it again soon.

And if for some reason you haven’t seen it yourself…what are you doing reading this drivel? Find it and watch it at your nearest convenience. You’ll laugh; you’ll cry; you’ll pump your fist in elation.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 40

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With the stage so ably set last week, all that was left for IBO was to put on a show. The final pieces to go into the mix? The excellent Akihiro and Shino, who are more concerned with how cool their callsigns should be than whether they’ll get Tekkadan labeled outlaws like the Turbines.

Just when Orga is at a loss about what to do, they enter his office and offer an alternative plan: they, along with Ride, will simply be testing out their booster systems when they come across the evacuating non-combatants at the Turbine’s relay base. They won’t fight Gjallarhorn, so everything should be fine.

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It’s a good-sounding plan, but everything does not turn out fine. Before everything turns to shit, we get a look at the feverish evacuation of the Turbine innocents as Naze empties the Hammerhead, ready to face the music himself. Watching the Arianhrod fleet bear down on them from the radar screen packs a lot more dread-punch than I thought.

Lafter and Azee are ordered to protect the civilians, leaving Amida to pilot her mobile suit alongside Naze in the ship. Becausde she knows and loves her man so much, Amida knows what’s going on here, and she’s not about to stay out of the coming action.

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If only Iok had stuck to procedure and not let his emotions drive his command. He ignores the Turbines’ white flag and orders the use of the illegal Dainsleif weapons against the transports, which should be some kind of war crime if anyone was (or could be trusted to) observe Iok’s actions (alas, Micky sits this one out, his hands tied).

It’s horrifying to watch the vulnerable transports get run through with the harpoons like whales full of innocent people; people who die in large numbers for no reason other than Iok’s realization of a grand and noble battle in which he makes no distinction between combatants and children. When he starts targeting the launches, he reaches a new nadir.

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Not everyone will be saved as Naze had hoped, but thanks to the timely arrival of the Akihiro cavalry, more lives are saved. I love how businesslike Akihiro is when he comes to Lafter’s side. The tide cannot be turned, but she still appreciates that he risked everything to come, and every little bit helps against a reckless, heartless, merciless foe like Iok.

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When Amida gets up close to Iok’s ship, she’s met by Julieta in Julia, and the two have an excellent fight in which Juli’s lack of experience is badly exposed. She may have the superior machine, but Amida essentially has her way with her. Not only can Juli not take Amida out, she doesn’t know why it’s so hard to fight her.

Amida gets free and sets a collision course for Iok’s flagship’s bridge, which he helpfully left out of combat mode. I really hoped the hubristic Iok and his reign of idiocy could have been wiped out; it might have been a step towards making all this slaughter not in vain. Alas, a Dainsleif spear stops Amida in her tracks, and her last shot only cracks the viewscreen.

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Now truly all alone, Naze tries desperately to finish what Amida started, and comes so tantalizingly close, only to bounce off the side of Iok’s ship, leaving the bridge unscathed, and crashing and destroying another ship along with his own. Seeing all the familiar places in the Hammerhead be consumed by flames awful to behold.

Is this the end of the battle? Not sure why Iok wouldn’t mop up what’s left of the Turbines, or why the forward mobile suits aren’t recognizing Tekkadan forces fighting them, which as Merribit said, could “crush” them. Perhaps Iok is satisfied and retreats before his screen cracks. In either case, plenty of damage is done.

Naze Turbine and Amida Arca are gone, and the Turbines are history. It’s a huge blow to everyone, and the tears flow accordingly. McMurdo promised he’d take care of Naze’s people (by placing them in groups under his direct control), but the lives of the survivors will never be the same. The episode doesn’t take any further steps to indicate what happens next, for first the dead must be mourned.

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 25 (Fin)

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This was an episode full of tying up loose ends, the most important of which being Subaru presenting himself before Emilia a better and more useful man than the last time he saw her. He even gets to be a badass action hero! But as a loose-ends episode, it works very nicely, even if it’s not perfect, and leaves a lot hanging in the air (likely for another season, but not anytime soon).

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The first loose end is Betelgeuse, who very annoyingly won’t go down much of the first act. I was pleased Subaru used the Witch’s curse to expel Betelgeuse from his head so Julius could finish him, especially since we got a good look at the witch Satella herself. She does look a lot like Emilia…if Emilia were all black with a purple outline and glowing eyes!

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I rolled my eyes a little when moments after defeating Betelgeuse, Juli and Subie get a call from Felix about another problem fresh out of the blue: an unaccounted-for sack full of fire stones.

There wasn’t any doubt that sack would be stashed in the wagon Emilia and the village children just happen to be riding in, nor was there the slightest chance, even in an often sadistic show like this, that this latest particular bomb would go off.

When Subie and Otto are acting like a comedy duo in a wagon Otto has nitrous’d with his magic in the last episode, it’s reasonable to assume things will work out.

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The whole rescue attempt felt like an excuse for Subaru to confront Emilia as the one who led the army, something she only just learned about from some snot-nosed kids who don’t know how to keep their damn mouths shut. Betelgeuse’s extended demise further delayed the inevitable reunion, and by the time Betel had become a Ghibli Goop Monster with his head on fire, I had long since had my fill of the manic bastard.

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But the how of how Subaru came to triumphantly reunite with Emilia didn’t mar the fact that this episode took great strides to repair what had been an estranged relationship not just between these two, but between myself, representing the non-manga-reading audience, and Emilia. Takahashi Rie does a great job reintroducing Emilia-tan to us, as she gets to express a good number of powerful emotions during the final ordeal.

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Subaru basically gets to make the perfect series of gestures to reunite with Emilia, swooping in, grabbing the bomb, and running off to get it away, but not before telling Emilia he loves her. After smashing the whales, the giant fallen tree is the gift that keeps giving, as its trunk largely shields Subaru from the blast he’s still pretty close to when the stones detonate.

It is here when Emilia, still processing everything Subaru has done for her these last few days/weeks, completely unbidden, springs into action, rushing into the danger, desperate to find Subaru alive and alright. And perhaps because the show is finally done torturing us, he is!

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From there, there’s no long, sprawling epilogue, showing what becomes of who. Just a simple scene of Subaru lying on Emilia’s lap, the two of them overjoyed to be together again.

The way Subaru describes it, Emilia is made happy for the first time by the prospect of “special treatment.” This can’t quite match the Rem Confession episode in emotional power, but it comes darned close with much less time to work with.

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I also appreciated that Emilia doesn’t have an instant reply to Subaru’s confession. It’s all well and good to say “I love you too”, but loving and being loved are so new to her it’s going to take time. Time Subaru assures her she has.

Subaru doesn’t wake up back in front of that convenience store, but merely admires Emilia’s tearful, radiant smile, as the episode fades to white and we’re treated to an extended mix of the original ED.

All in all, an imperfect but still solid and satisfying, and entertaining finale. If a second season comes along one day (April 2020!—Ed.), I’ll surely be tuning in. If not, it was a fun ride. Often stressful, enraging, and heartbreaking…but also fun.

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