Summertime Render – 05 – Now She Rises

The bespectacled lady with the shotgun manages to save Shinpei’s life (and her own) not by shooting Shadow Mio, but by shooting her shadow, which is its true form. Shadow Mio glitches out, allowing the lady to set his broken arm, introduce herself as Nagumo Ryuunosuke—the same name as a novelist Shin reads—and deliver some exposition.

Basically, Nagumo lifts most of the mystery of how the shadows operate: they scan humans with light, absorb their information, and feed on human data. The two of them are only survived by staying out of sight, and can discern even a shadow that’s a really good actor by stepping on their shadow, which will cause said shadow to move on its own.

Nagumo was sent to this island to save Shinpei, and seems to be doing it out of obligation for her sister. But after what happens when the two ascend the steps to the shrine grounds, Shin might just wish Nagumo had let Shadow Mio kill him. The shadows have amassed and have made a mountain of corpses out of the festival goers. Shin arrives just in time to watch both Toki and Sou get stabbed in the back of the skull.

When Nagumo shoots Shadow Sou’s arms off before he can kill the real Mio (who was being shielded by the real Sou, which, after hearing his confession and rejecting him…goddamn) but the “lead” shadow, a four-armed humanoid made of black goo, instantly copies her form and her shotgun and shoots back. Nagumo avoids the killshot, but is still gravely wounded.

The lead shadow reaches out with a stretchy arm and restrains Shin, noticing that he bears the eye of the shadows’ “mother”, enabling him to control time. But while Shin possesses the power to reset the game here and now at the moment of his defeat, what if the boss (in this case, the lead shadow) is not only aware that there’s a reset button, but that it’s attached to a console he can simply cut the power to?

We learn that the pile of corpses, and indeed every living soul on the island that is gradually swallowed up by waves of black and blue ooze, are all an offering, a meal for the shadows’ mother, Haine. A scientist at the Hishigata Clinic observes what’s happening and concludes that Haine managed to awaken by devouring a thousand human lives. Something tells me that’s just an appetizer, as shadows can reach out into the water…

The bottom line is, everything is super fuckity-fuck-fucked in this go-around. It’s a wash; by far the worst of the bad endings Shin has experienced so far, and reminds me of the things-can-and-will-always-get-worse progression of Subaru’s loops in Re:Zero. But the option to reset still exists, in the form of the dying Nagumo’s last shotgun shell.

Ushio, who it’s clear is unique among shadows in not being evil or wanting any part of helping Haine rise, punches the lead shadow in the fact, giving Nagumo time to shoot Shin in the head. She promises to save him next time no matter what if he finds her and tells her his name.

In the interstitial plane between the previous loop and a new one, Ushio can now see and hear Ushio clearly. She embraces him from behind and warns him to be careful, for his ability to reset has a limit. Shin figures out what that is soon after resetting: his start point keeps moving further forward in time, locking what came before in stone.

In this loop he has three days, but if he fails too many times, he won’t have the time he needs to save everyone, if he can, and will eventually reset to a time after everything is fucked. Meanwhile, we learn Shadow Ushio (if that’s what she even is) washes up the same day he arrives, meaning she could theoretically go to her own funeral, Huck Finn-style.

Summertime Render – 04 – Ushio Deux

Last week Shinpei encountered Ushio on the beach, dramatically backlit by the festival fireworks. But it’s only this week that she says anything, and actually tackles Shinpei. Nagase Anna has such a refreshing voice that’s perfect for Ushio: crisp, clear, and full of exuberance.

Considering his previous encounters with doppelgangers of people he knows, Shin is understandably weary, as this Ushio must be a shadow. But she’s different from the others. For one thing, she’s not evil. For another, she doesn’t know she’s a shadow (or what a shadow is). As far as she’s concerned, she’s just Ushio. She wished for Shin to return, and he did, so she wastes no time confessing to him.

Shin still doesn’t fully trust this Ushio, but she’s talking and acting so much like Ushio, it’s a complete trip. When she runs off and joins the festival—still in her swimsuit—he chases her down, takes her to a quiet storage area and insists she stay put, lest someone see her and wig out. Incidentally, the only person we see spot her is Shadow Mio.

Shinpei gets back to the gang in time to join Tokiko in witnesseing Seidou totally crashing and burning in his sudden confession to Mio. Tokiko knows full well who Mio really loves, and that her brother is doomed to fail. Mio friendzones Seidou so fast his head spins.

That’s when he’s comforted…not by Shin or Toki, but but someone wearing a magical girl mask. Everyone instantly recognizes Ushio’s voice, and thus she’s found out even faster than Seidou was rejected by Mio. But when Mio sees Ushio, she naturally wigs out…because this Ushio is a monster…or is she?

For the moment, no; Ushio remains a compelling enigma: a shadow somehow gone wrong. When Shin first takes hold of her, I assumed he was going to scold her or lead her back to her hiding spot. But then he grabs her so hard it hurts her, and even causes her to bleed, and that’s when the shoe drops: this isn’t Shinpei.

But wait, when Shin returned, Mio said the code word and he gave the right response, right? Right; but as we see, Shin is jumped by Shadow Mio on his way back to his friends, and Shadow Shin updates his memories. Not only does he know his code with Mio, but now the shadows know he’s experiencing time loops. Shadow Shin’s solution to that? Don’t kill him…at least not until “everything is done”.

Shadow Mio obeys Shadow Shin, who heads to Shin’s friends. Regular Shin may be badly hurt, but even when Mio breaks his arm, he keeps trying to crawl to the real Mio to keep his promise to protect her. Shadow Mio is about to break his leg as well when her head is blown off by two shotgun blasts from none other than the woman on the Ferry.

The engaging mystery of “New Ushio” and her lived-in rapport with Shin combined with the added suspense and peril of the evil shadows and one hell of a switcheroo return Summertime Render to rare rating air.

Mieruko-chan – 08 – Let Sleeping Moths Lie

While shopping with Kyousuke for a birthday gift for their mom, Miko comes across a very cute dress and decides to try it on, since she and her mom are pretty much the same size. Unfortunately, a ghoulish store rep who says “It looks great on you!” kinda ruins the mood…not to mention Miko wears the dress out of the store, basically nixing it as a gift for mom.

While she and Kyousuke find another gift, the trip home is less than stress-free, thanks to a spectral axe murderer walking down the subway car, swinging its axe right into peoples’ heads. Miko has every right to be scared about what the axe might do to someone like her who can see them.

Thankfully, the axe only hurts other ghouls, and goes right through her head without incident. We don’t see Miko and Kyousuke giving their mom the gift of couple mugs. Rather, we watch as their mom makes two cups of tea with them: one for her, and one for her dearly departed husband.

The balance between creepy/gross/spooky/sinister ghosts and benevolent ones continues when Miko and Hana see off their pregnant homeroom teacher, learning that the child she’s carrying is her second try. This explains the odd white specter that’s so interested in the teacher’s belly: it’s the ghost of her dead child.

This was one of the best and most powerful segments of Mieruko-chan to date, because it once again subverts expectations. At first I thought the ghost was a threat like Miko did. But when we see how it interacts with his mother’s hand, it’s as if we and Miko can see the healing love emanate from her. I was well and truly choked up.

Contrast that with just regular choking due to one of the grosser ghouls Miko has come across. With a dozen slithery three-nostriled tusks leaking snot and some unsettling googly eyes, this particular specimen is not the first ghost Miko decides to face “head-on”. Perhaps she’ll face a less gross one later. For now, Miko joins Senpai’s Futaba as a Fall 2021 character who is partial to canned oshiruko.

The final segment brings back two very different cat people. First, Miko and Hana’s substitute homeroom teacher is Toono Zen, the guy Miko wouldn’t let adopt the stray kitten. Between those nasty demonic cats surrounding him and his blood red eyes, I wonder if he has “the sight” like Miko and Yulia, and knows that Miko can see too?

Whatever his deal, homeroom is not going to be pleasant for Miko for the foreseeable future. As for the tough yakuza-looking guy, he takes his time finding just the right cat food and cake to celebrate his late wife’s life, their anniversary, and the lives of their two beautiful white cats, who continue to watch over his new fuzzy companion as benevolent spirits. Mieruko-chan continues to spook me out and melt my heart.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Star Trek: Lower Decks – 06 – Not-So-Hollow Pursuits

For its latest not-so-glamorous mission, the Cerritos is in a standoff with alien junk traders attempting to salvage 100-year-old Starfleet debris (you know it’s old when the registries are only three digits long). The cold open features Commander Ransom attacking the Lower Decks when he walks past as they all attempt to imitate the hum of the ship’s engine sounds (I myself used to do this as a kid). 

Then the Cat doctor tears into Mariner after she accidentally makes her spill her nachos. Both Doc and Ransom both hold the Lower Deckers in generally low regard in the opening minutes. We also meet Fletcher, Boimler’s academy classmate who feels like a third wheel throughout the episode.

This is also the second straight episode where the Lower Deck Four are split down the middle, with Mariner and Boimler in one plot and Rutherford and Tendi in another. While it makes a certain sense that non-command crew would hang out more, I’d still like to see more of the four interact, or end up in different combinations, something TNG, DS9 and Voyager did so well.

That said, it’s good to see the Rutherford/Tendi friendship continuing to grow. Tendi confesses she never completed a successful spacewalk at the academy, leading Rutherford to show her his holodeck spacewalk simulator. Tendi is so green in magboots hers end up sticking to his, leading to an inadvertent romantic embrace with a shimmering galaxy as a backdrop.

We also meet the Starfleet equivalent of the Microsoft Office Assistant Clippy, a cheerful and worryingly buggy anthropomorphic comm badge named Badgey.

When Mariner and Boimler leave Fletcher to complete their busywork so they can attend the “Choo Choo Dance”, something for which Boimler made special shirts for, we see that these two have clearly become more than bunkmates and colleagues, but genuine friends who make a point to hang out together when off duty.

Unfortunately Fletcher is not like them. When they return from the dance they find him passed out and one of the doohickeys they were working on missing. After initially blaming Delta Shift, Fletcher claims alien intruders could be involved, but as conditions on the Cerritos suddenly go south due to the junk dealers using their tractor beam to sling wreckage at the Cerritos, the doohickey turns up…in his bunk.

Fletch assures his crewmates he meant well, trying to hook the component to his brain in order to become smarter (shades Barclay in TNG’s “The Nth Degree”), but now they have a new problem: the component is now gobbling up all pieces of technology in its reach and becoming a huge menace.

Up on the bridge, Shaxs implores Captain Freeman to let him target the junk traders’ warp core (Worf almost always advised using the phasers and/or photon torpedoes). But here is where the true Starfleet spirit shines through better in Lower Decks than in either of the extant live-action series: Starfleet doesn’t just not shoot first; they prefer not to shoot at all. Freeman orders Shaxs hold on weapons while she tries to figure out a peaceful solution.

Due to the damage from the tossed junk, main power is compromised and the holodecks are locked and safeties disengaged. Also, the buggy Badgie turns evil and homicidal. When his suit is ripped Rutherford changes their environment to a Bajoran marketplace where Badgie proceeds to literally tear bystanders apart.

As they climb the seemingly endless steps up to the main Bajoran temple (also seen in so many a matte painting establishing shot on DS9) Rutherford apologizes for putting them in such a mess. He knew the program wasn’t ready yet but wanted to impress Tendi, whom it’s clear by now he likes.

The good vibes continue as Mariner and Boimler acknowledge they make a great team, restraining the mechanical monster Fletch made so they can transport it into space. When it grows even larger and harder to drag, they toss it out the nearest airlock instead.

The Cerritos shields eventually fall, but it takes forever, underscoring how unnecessary force is in this situation. The junk traders are ultimately a super-low threat, even to a not-state-of-the-air Starfleet vessel. But Freeman waits so long to finally order Shaxs to return fire, the weapons are offline too.

Luckily, the now space-bound tech-devouring monster soon attaches to the junk traders’ ship and disables it before it can lob any more junk at the Cerritos. In the aftermath of their accidental victory, Fletch begs Mariner and Boimler to cover for him—again—and they grudgingly do, following the adage Lower Deckers Stick Together.

When he notices Badgie laboring up the steps, Rutherford realizes his creation is not invincible, and changes the environment to a frozen waste. A brutal fight between Rutherford and Badgie ensues as Tendi escapes, but Badgie eventually freezes to death before he can kill his creator.

Shortly afterwards main power is restored, and with it holodeck safeties and control. Rutherford (harmed) and Tendi (unharmed) return to the holodeck grid to find a rebooted Badgie who is friendly again. But once they leave, Badgie admits he’s “always there”, which is creepy but also demonstrates that he’s attained a level of sentience not unlike Voyager’s doctor.

Due to Mariner and Boimler’s story about Fletcher intentionally creating the doohickey monster to disable the junkers’ ship, Fletcher is promoted to lieutenant and given a transfer to the Titan (the brand-new ship Riker commands after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis).

Titan transfer is something Boimler has always been working towards, but he’s oddly okay with it. Not only is this a factor of how hanging out with Mariner has softened his hard edges a bit, and that he doesn’t altogether dislike thatbut he also hopes it’s a learning experiment for Fletch.

Alas, it isn’t; he’s fired and demoted after just six days on the Titan (they clearly have a higher standard” and Mariner and Boimler are forced to fake interference to hang up on him. Like them, I won’t miss Fletch. He may have worn the uniform, but he wasn’t Starfleet.

Stray Observations:

  • There are some pretty relaxing YouTube videos of Star Trek engine sounds.
  • Something Boimler has in common with Picard? Both were once hassled by Nausicaans. They stabbed Picard in the heart, but just spat in Boimler’s face.
  • Frozen/in-stasis princess-like characters are a surprisingly common occurrence on the various Treks.
  • Probably everybody knows this, but flip phones (back when they were a thing) were inspired by the clamshell design of The Original Series communicators.
  • Rutherford runs down a litany of holodeck personalities with whom one can interact in the holodeck: Holmes, Freud, Einstein, Da Vinci, and Hawking all showed up at somepoint in Trekdom, while Picard and crew were sent to the world of Robin Hood by Q in “Qpid”, while Barclay played Cyrano de Bergerac in “The Nth Degree”.
  • I honestly don’t know what “Choo Choo Dance” is a referance to, if anything.
  • Jacket flaps were a bit thing in Star Treks II through VI. You undo that, and you’re either ready to rumble…or ready for a pot of black coffee.
  • “FUCK YOU!”: Best Viewscreen Sign-off line, or Bestest?
  • The captain’s yacht keychain sports a tiny, hopefully fake tribble.

Re: Zero – 28 – Desirable Existence

Subaru agrees to join Echidna for her “tea party” and brusquely gulps down the contents of the cup, which she identifies as “a body fluid of mine.” From there, the two proceed to have a spirited yet affable back-and-forth, with Subaru evoking quite a bit of amusement from the Witch of Greed. Echidna strikes a lovely balance between cool menace and warm feline playfulness.

For a few terrifying moments she transports them into an eerie void where she mentions all of the witches and what they were all about before the Witch of Envy killed them all. She then reveals the tea strengthens his resistance to the magical power that would already have caused most others to vomit or go mad.

Subaru is only able to chat with Echidna thanks to the “Sloth Witch Factor” that made him its new vessel after Betelgeuse died. The ruins in the forest are the Witch’s Graveyard, where Echidna’s soul is held prisoner. She grants him the right to face the trial of the Sanctuary, no doubt in hopes she can use him to free her soul. Before he leaves she licks her hand like a cat and warns Subaru: “I’m a very, very evil magic user.”

Subaru then finds himself out of the freezer and into the frying pan, with the fiery Garfiel about to pummel him into dust (having already done the same with Otto and the ground dragon). When Subaru mentions Frederica, with whom Garfiel shares hair color and tooth sharpness, Garfiel stands down.

Emilia is safe and sound in the wagon, and when she comes to, she adorably, belatedly shields Subaru from Garfiel. Still, her crystal grants her (relatively) safe passage to the Sanctuary, and Garfiel sees to that. Turns out the Sanctuary is a bit of a dump, with an ill-favored aura neither Lia nor Subie can shake.

Still, Ram is a sight for sore eyes, and welcomes Subaru with a Barusu rejoinder. Roswaal’s dulcet voice is also a sound for sore ears, but he looks sore all over, covered in bandages as a result of failing the trial of the Sanctuary. He had to try, you see, for neither he, Ram, the villagers of Arlam, or even Lia or Subie are allowed to leave the Sanctuary…at least not until someone passes the trial and breaks the barrier.

Subie and Lia address the villagers, in that order. While they’re happy to see the former, they’re weary as always of the latter. But again Emilia shows her growth by telling them how she feels, what she intends to do for them, and why. It boils down to her wanting families to be able to stay together.

She isn’t asking for their support in the royal selection in return, but even though she still feels unworthy, she’d appreciate the villagers’ friendship. An impressed Ram wonders what Barusu said to Emilia to enact this change; Subaru says Emilia figured it out for herself.

That night, Emilia stands before the entrance to the Witch’s Graveyard, and it glows with light in a sign that it accepts her as a valid challenger for the trial. Naturally, something soon goes wrong: the light goes out, even though it’s supposed to stay on for the duration of the trial. Subaru approaches the ruins, the light returns, and he rushes in to find Emilia passed out again.

He’s stopped in his tracks, but not by Return by Death. A voices says “first you need to face your own past”, and he wakes up in a bed. His bed…in his world. A world not depicted since he was transported away from the konbini parking lot. Before he can get his bearings his muscular dad rolls in and jumps on him as a wake-up call.

Like his otherworldly meeting with Echidna who definitely has Big Plans for him, Subie’s journey to the home of his past may only last a third of an episode, or it could be the whole episode, or the entirety of a mini-arc. Whatever the duration, this development gives me, to quote Echidna, “such beautiful expectations.” I can’t wait to see where this goes.

Hamefura – 10 – Judgment Day

When Catarina is confronted with a litany of her horrible crimes by a bunch of random resentful NPCs, both she and I knew something was very wrong. This “Judgment Event” she had been dreading was originally led by the conquerable characters circling their wagons ’round Maria.

Of course, the way things have turned out, Maria and everyone else are not only on Catarina’s side, but love her. Like Maple in BOFURI, Catarina’s moves in this “game” have essentially broken its mechanics, meaning that while the judgment event finally arrives, it completely lacks any teeth.

While this is good news for Catarina, one can’t help but wonder what other “glitches” exist in this strange new route she’s created where the lead villainness is now the lead heroine. I just didn’t realize how quickly that “something else” would occur.

There’s no time for tea and sweets when Maria seemingly harmlessly breaks off from the group to investigate some ominous dark shadows…only to never be seen again! In lieu of Catarina receiving judgment, it would seem Maria, the original heroine, paid the price for changing the games fundamental mechanics.

Catarina & Co. conduct a thorough search, but there is no sign of Maria whatsoever. Late in the night Gerald visits her to report his suspicions that dark magic is at play, since it can be used to make both people and their memories disappear.

Needless to say, if someone like that is out there, she and her friends will have to exercise utmost caution and vigilance. When Gerald takes his leave, Catarina proceeds to have a nightmare in which everyone is dead except her, which is an ending so horrible she’d prefer if she had encountered doom flags for herself after all!

Exhausted and anxious, Catarina faints in the hall and must rest in the nurse’s office, but returns to the spot where she and Maria became friends, hoping to glean something. She then encounters StuCo president Sirius Dieke…who is obviously the dark magic wielder and the one who captured Maria.

Catarina learns this by dispensing with any nuance and simply asking him if he’s the culprit, and after a brief denial, he admits that yes, he hates Catarina’s guts and considers her a hypocrite. Then and only then does she remember Acchan telling her about a secret conquerable character with red hair who uses dark magic.

Now Catarina finds herself on the route to the Super-Bad Ending in which all of her friends end up dead just like her nightmare. He grabs her arm and she sinks into the shadows of his dark magic…and no one arrives to rescue her, at least not by the time the credits roll.

Having eliminated all potential routes to her own death or exile, it seemed only a matter of time before something she overlooked came to bear on her idyllic existence; I just didn’t know things would get so dark so fast. Then again, there’s only two episodes left.

If saving everyone means somehow conquering Sirius, it’s going to be an uphill battle. After all, she didn’t mean to make everyone fall in love with her, it just happened as a result of her kindness, which Sirius seems to detest. This will require a different tack.

Fate / Zero – 15

I hope you’ll forgive me if this review doesn’t hold up to my usual vigorous editorial standards, as I must admit I am rather stunned—gobsmacked, you might say—by what I just witnessed, and whenever that happens, I tend to get a bit too florid in my language. Consider yourself warned.

That happens, at this magnitude, very rarely indeed. Of the episodes I consider almost perfect, I must count this among them. At this point in my viewing of Fate/Zero, if there was one and only one episode I had to show someone, it would be this one.

It’s a perfect encapsulation; an epic full-length motion picture, compressed into a scant third of an hour; the crystallization of the ultimate potential embedded in its run thus far. I shudder to think it could ever get better than this, but having seen this, I shouldn’t underestimate this show’s capacity for ever-expanding spectacle. And I won’t.

In case you forgot the events of this episode: Rider decides to trap Caster and his monster in his Reality Marble to buy the rest of the team time to figure out a way to defeat it. Righteousness ensues.

As Berserker and Archer continue dogfighting in their respective badass aircraft, Kariya’s swarm of bugs are harmlessly absorbed by Tokiomi’s magical barrier. As Kariya’s body breaks down, Tokiomi delivers “mercy” by setting him ablaze. The animation used to portray the burning Kariya looked like nothing else in the show so far and was hauntingly novel and chilling in its style and execution.

Once Rider transports the monster to his Reality Marble, Iri gets a call from Kiritsugu, but has Waver answer the phone. Kiritsugu tells Waver to tell Rider to drop the monster at a specific point of his choosing once the Marble prison fails. He also tells Lancer that Saber has the only weapon that can defeat the monster, but can’t use it due the wound made by Gáe Buidhe.

Possessed of that new information, Lancer’s next move is pure Chivalry: That monster cannot be allowed to terrorize innocent people. His spear is preventing the only weapon that can defeat it from being used. Ergo, Gáe Buidhe must be destroyed.

Saber’s claim that she bears the wound as a mark of pride, not as a burden, but Lancer knows she’s being way too nice, and does what a true Knight such as himself would do: snap the spear in half. Once he does, Saber immediately prepares her Noble Phantasm.

As Berserker destroys Archer’s aircraft, Kotomine Kirei approaches the barely-alive Kariya…and starts to heal him, cracking a smile as he does. It would seem the Kirei Rebellion against his father and Tokiomi has officially begun in earnest.

Berserker turns his attention (such as it is) to Saber and her newly-released weapon. It then falls to Lancer to transport onto Berserker’s jet and disable it, and even with just one spear, he gets the job done.

That leaves the area secure for Kiritsugu to launch a flare at the spot where Rider is to release the monster. After the sheer awesome lunacy of Rider’s chariot and Berserker and Archer’s aircraft, it is quite amusing indeed to see Kiritsugu in his unassuming little raft, likely fitted with the most efficient and durable engine that provides sufficient and not excessive power to get him into position.

Once Rider has the signal, the monster is released, and the other end of the grand stage given over to the King of Knights so she can shine.

Saber’s attack is singularly gorgeous in an episode of visually arresting imagery, but its beauty is only enhanced by the reactions of those watching it unfold, and the poetic words of Iri describing what the weapon is, and in doing so, describing who Arturia Pendragon truly is:

That sword is the embodiment of the sad, yet noble, dream of all soldiers, past, present, and future, who lie dying on the field of battle, clutched to their hearts with their last breath. She carries their will as her pride, bidding them to remain steadfast in their loyalty. Now, the undefeated king sings aloud, the name of the miracle she holds in her hand. It’s name is…Excalibur.

This is the unique, nigh divine power bestowed upon Saber in exchange for the tremendous burden she bears. And while Archer laughed at her devotion and Rider doubted her kingship, for all their power amassed across space and time, neither of them could do anything like what Saber does to this monster. This isn’t just Saber saving the city and the day; this is Saber dunking on her doubters. Suddenly they are the ones who look small, puny, and cowed.

As for poor crazy Caster, I daresay I almost feel sorry for the evil son of a bitch when he meets his all-too-beautiful end, which includes a vision of his beloved Jeanne (who does look a lot like Saber). Almost.

While Uryuu went out experiencing something he was looking for all his life and finally found, Caster too experiences a kind of quasi-redemptive epiphany at the very end. Both men end up essentially forsaking everything they had ever done in their miserable lives, condemning it as wasted time and effort in the face of the truths they face at the end.

As the monster Excalibur effortlessly cleaved clean in half dissipates into the night, Archer asks Rider if he’s still not convinced of Saber’s kingship. Rider acknowledges the power, but still feels its too much for one young woman; not so much a legend as a great tragedy. Rider and Archer also agree to duel one another soon…but not quite yet, as they want to recover from this battle and fight at full strength.

Finally, while Saber lost an unwanted admirer in Caster, she gained a new one tonight through her actions: Archer. Where Rider sees tragedy, Archer sees vivid beauty; something to which nothing in his vast treasury can compare. I’ll tell you what’s damn near beyond compare: this episode.

The last episode, in its efficient, businesslike way, laid out all of the various facets of the battle and set the conditions for victory, while also keeping expectations…reasonable. This episode took those facets and resolved them into a gorgeous jewel that shined with golden radiance, blasting through all expectations like Excalibur through a fortress-sized demon. The remaining ten episodes have their work cut out for them.

Tales of Zestiria the X – 16

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Rose has just learned the location of someone she’s been looking for for years, Prince Konan. She was betrothed to him as part of a deal for peace, but Konan betrayed her and her father Brad, and killed most of the Windriders. Now it’s time for justice, and Rose drops everything to seek it.

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It’s her duty, both as daughter, scorned bride, and leader of men. Not to mention, killing people “who deserve it” comes naturally to her, having been trained to do so from a shockingly young age. If Prince Konan is “in sight”, unlike “unreachable ideals”, she’s going to take her shot…unless someone stops her.

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Sorey sent Mikleo to follow and watch Rose’s “guardian devil” Dezel, and Edna accompanies him. Once they learn what Rose is up to, Mikleo rushes to get the Shepherd over there before Rose can succeed.

Prince Konan may be another dull, scenery-chewing villain, but it’s Sorey’s and the seraphims’ firm belief that no one deserves to be killed, and more to the point, no one deserves to have to kill. Considering all the malevolence flying around ruining shit, it’s hard to argue with them.

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Somehow Rose fails to kill Konan in her first attempt, but the credits roll before we can see for certain whether she succeeded in her second, or if Sorey & Co. are able to stop her. If Sorey can’t save Rose—whom I’m sure he considers a friend despite not knowing about her other side until now—he may start to wonder who he can save.

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Shuumatsu no Izetta – 09

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This episode’s opening act painted a rosy picture: with Germania not attacking, Izetta continues to build her image across the world by assisting the resistance movements of territories Germania has conquered, and the narrating Lotte is hoping the good times keep coming. Fine even tells Izetta a ceasefire could be in the making.

I didn’t buy this rosiness for a second, since it’s already been established that Berkman has Izetta’s number and has merely been biding his time for an assault, both the map and the crystal are in enemy hands, and even Muller AKA Sieg Reich simply isn’t giving off very trustworthy vibes.

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A reckoning, then, was inevitable, and it comes later in the episode after Izetta ends up on the wrong battlefront and must be quickly transported to the right one. There, the one tactical advantage Eylstadt has over Germania—the White Witch—is taken away, by Germania’s own White Witch, a clone of Izetta’s descendant, Sophie.

The path that led to her creation is hastily told, as Berkman learns of Division 9’s research and cloning methods, and Izetta’s blood is gradually used to “awaken” Sophie from the doll-like clone. Eylstadt’s own recklessness with Izetta’s personal security indirectly led to Berkman’s success.

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At first, Sophie tries to appeal to Izetta’s pride and duty as a witch, telling her what her own family told her: using her magical powers to help affect the outcome of war between non-magical countries is wrong.

But when Izetta insists she must fight for her archduchess and refuses to stand down, Sophie ditches the nice guy act right quick, turning on a dime into Izetta’s enemy, and the two duel in the sky as Germania’s superior military runs the Eylstadt forces roughshod.

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Sophie ends up nullifying Izetta’s magic at a crucial moment, causing her to crash, then for good measure, employs magic chain bondage to crush Izetta’s insides. She’s taken prisoner, photographed and filmed for pro-Germanian propaganda, which is likely to kill morale in Eylstadt as well as anywhere where people oppose Germania.

Now that their “nuke” isn’t unique anymore, or even a threat to Germania, they’re free to attack Eylstadt’s capital, even bombing Fine’s palace. But the lack of chivalry in the assault mirror’s Eylstadt’s own desperate but ultimately foul play: when they couldn’t win with conventional warfare they turned to magic.

They put all their eggs in that basket, and now that basket’s been crushed and burned. It’s not looking good at all for Fine, Izetta, or Eylstadt.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 10

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Thinks are bad for the good guys: Ikoma is in prison, and Biba’s goons are harvesting blood from the Kotetsujou to feed the Kabane, and they’re not exactly being nice about it. Like Mumei, these are people who weren’t taught to think of the weak as people worthy of compassion, but in this case they’re more like livestock. It ain’t pretty.

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When I saw Biba alone in a car with Ayame, my skin crawled, because I knew he wouldn’t be honoring whatever deal he was striking with her. He only needs her until she can arrange an audience between him and his father the Shogun; after that all bets are off; that’s just how villains operate, and Biba is a pretty conventional villain.

He certainly has the look down, as well as the way he creepily wipes blood off Mumei’s cheek, after appeasing her with another promise he won’t keep: that the passengers of the Kotetsujou will not be harmed.

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That’s because a group of passengers are doing the one thing that will make Biba come down on them even harder: planning a revolt. Ikoma is the ringleader, taking note of the comings and goings of the key man. When the moment is right, he breaks out and the group strikes.

Sukari was portrayed early as someone who apparently betrayed his friends because he knew resistance was futile, but I had him pegged as a double agent pretty quickly, and that’s what it turns out he is, having helped slip intel to Ikoma, thus earning a measure of Takumi and Yukina’s forgiveness.

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When Biba gets word of the revolt, of course he makes Mumei choose to either take care of the disturbance—killing Ikoma and her friends in the process—or stop receiving the medication that’s keeping her virus from spreading and turning her into a full Kabane.

At the end of the day, this is Mumei’s most damning weakness: her utter dependence on her brother’s good side, which never really existed in the first place. He even lowered her dosage, anticipating her possible betrayal, so that she doesn’t have the strength to get away when she does bolt.

As for Ikoma, for some reason he thought the key man had all the keys, but he doesn’t; why would Biba make it so easy for Ikoma to get to the most important part of the train? Instead, Ikoma and his men block Ikoma, and when Ikoma refuses to join his fight (an offer most conventional villains usually give the protagonist), his guys open fire. Only Ikoma doesn’t get shot, because Takumi took the bullet.

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So yeah, RIP Takumi, who at least managed to repay Ikoma for his getting show earlier in the run. Naturally, Ikoma isn’t all that pleased his best mate has been murdered in front of him. Unfortunately, that’s not all he has to deal with on this particularly shitty day.

That’s because Biba brings in Mumei, only she’s not really his friend anymore; likely she’s been “re-programmed” with drugs from the mad scientist car. Without hesitation, she drives her dagger into Ikoma’s chest and lets him fall out of the train, off a cliff, and into the sea.

Now, don’t think Ikoma’s dead, and neither do you—he’s the frikkin’ main character, for crying out loud. So the question then becomes, how will he manage to survive, and how will he get back to where Ayame and Mumei are? Talk about a stacked deck…

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 09

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This week, any illusions about Biba having a shred of good (or nuance) are wiped away for good: this is vendetta, against all who wronged him, and wronging him includes acts of cowardice perpetrated by the Shogunate. Ikoma and Ayame are in agreement that Mumei has to be taken away from this guy, but doing so is no mean feat, at least initially.

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Horobi, who we only just met, is given greater focus this week as Biba’s sacrificial subject. What’s so brutal is that she knows this, and is resigned to it, vowing her loyalty even while betraying a glimmer of regret and fear of death. For Biba has gotten it into Horobi’s head that he’s stronger than her, which means she’s expendable.

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No doubt Biba feels the same way about Mumei, and her time to lay down her life so he can walk over it will surely come soon; that is, if Mumei doesn’t get her mind right and escape. She and Ikoma actually get into quite close proximity this week, but Mumei is still following her brother, opening the gate to Iwato against Iwato’s wishes.

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Once Mumei has opened that gate, all hell breaks loose. Biba unleashes his army of captive Kabane on Iwato’s guards, and his meeting with Lord Maeda quickly turns to bloodshed. Ayame takes up a spear, but Yukina has to take a dart to the chest from Horobi. There’s a palpable feeling that the two are very very unsafe in this room with Biba and his true believer followers.

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Mumei quickly comes to regret opening the gates, since the Kabane proceeded to tear through the station, killing and turning hundreds of townsfolk. Of course, she blames herself, which is what Biba wants, as if perhaps she lacked something that would have resulted in a better outcome. That something is, of course, the awareness that her “brother” is an horrendously deluded evil dick.

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That dickishness is confirmed once and for all when, after Horobi goes berserk—first as the core of a fused colony, then a monstrous super-kabaneri killbot—her blade stops an inch from Biba’s throat. A bead of sweat rolls down his cheek just before he runs her through with his sword, taking advantage of her honor and loyalty to the end. RIP Horobi. We hardly knew ye.

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With Ikoma thoroughly “liberated”, as Biba rather unconvincingly claims, Ikoma, Ayame, and all her people are held at gunpoint and warned not to resist or interfere. Even Mumei has guns pointed at her, on order from her bro. Ikoma can’t really do much, and is beaten by one of Biba’s lieutenants, but if one good thing came out of this episode, is that it caused Mumei to wake up to the truth about Biba, meaning she and Ikoma are back on the same side.

The pace of Kabaneri, and Biba’s treachery in particular, has been breathless in its alacrity, almost to the point of not allowing anything to sink in deep enough, because there’s always more stuff to deal with. That being said, if this is only an 12-episode series, I’m not wholly unappreciative of the show picking up the pace for a showdown in the capital.

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Heavy Object – 02

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This is my courtesy second viewing of Heavy Object, and I can predictably report no significant improvement. It didn’t help matters that this episode spends its first four minutes re-staging last week’s cliffhanger, as if it needed padding. While there was more action and drama in this second outing, none of it came close to meet my quality standards, to say nothing of impressing me with anything novel.

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When the Princess’ Object gets its ass-kicked, she ejects and sends out an SOS to lure the enemy Object, which ignores the white flag and continues attacking the Alaskan installation. Dozens if not hundreds are killed gruesomely, but there’s almost no weight to any of it, because Qwenthur and Havia don’t seem to be in any danger at all out in the open, for some reason. There’s a particularly bad sense of where they are in relation to everything else on the battlefield, and how exactly they manage to stay alive while ducking the Object’s massive, deadly weapons.

Even worse is the pacing and timing of the battle. Q even points out how freakishly fast for their size Objects can move, and yet Q and Havia have enough time to bicker for an extended period with their commander Frolaytia, scamper around, and cover an undisclosed distance on foot out in the open while. Whenever it’s off-camera, the Object ceases to exist as a threat, and when it’s on-camera, Q and Havia survive its attacks and only faceless extras die. It’s a mess.

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I’m not opposed to any and all black-and-white, good-vs.-evil conflicts, but I think I can do better than Heavy Object in that regard, as demonstrated when the enemy troops locate the Milinda and immediately start talking about tying her to the Object and seeing how long it takes for her suit to tear off, then implying she’s in for a night of torture and gang-rape whether she survives the dragging or not. Gee, ya think we should root against these guys?

When Q kills the SOBs and rescues the Princess (while Havia saves him from an RPG), Q goes unconscious, and is presumably watched by the other two, while all the while that gigantic enemy Object just…twiddles its thumbs behind some mountain, I guess.

When Q wakes up, Milinda falls over herself wondering why anyone would bother saving her, and then the three decide to try to find a weakness in the Object, as if getting anywhere close to it wouldn’t mean their instant deaths. Q also manages to land on Milina and asses her boobs in his thoughts again, which…yeah.

One would think that the Objects in this world have been effective precisely because they can’t be brought down by a trio of enterprising kids. Then again, the Object was so shy towards them this week, perhaps it’s keeping its distance because it’s pilot is scared of that very possibility, which begs the question: Why exactly are wars fought this way again?

Never mind, I don’t want to know.

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Kamisama Hajimemashita 2 – 10

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This episode features the unlikely but increasingly tolerable pairing of Nanami and a somewhat humbled (and therefore more reasonable) Brother Jiro, as they search for the Sojobo’s soul. He’s still stern and no nonsense, but he doesn’t prevent Nanami from following him down into a secret cavern.

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Jiro even tells her this was where Shinjuro got into trouble with a thunderbolt beast, and where Suiro lost his ability to fly by rescuing him. But when Jiro drops into a deeper chasm, even when lightning shoots up, nay, because it does, Nanami goes in after Jiro, not because she doesn’t trust him, but because he had the bearing of a man going to his death.

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The beast rears its head for Nanami first, and while she’s able to fire off a barrier against evil, it counterattacks with a massive lightning strike. It’s in this moment Jiro finally understands why Suiro saved Shinjuro and regrets nothing: the despair of losing his ability to fly was small compared to the despair of losing someone he loves.

Before Suiro knew it, he was moving to save Shinjuro. And before Jiro knows it, he’s moving to save Nanami, whom he admits he’s fallen for, and can’t bear to watch die.

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I love how over-the-top Shinjuro’s reaction to learning the soul is hidden in the same place where he was traumitized, but he quickly composes himself, knowing that not only is he a far stronger tengu now, in part because of that experience, but he’s also not alone: Tomoe is with him and Nanami is further in.

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Tomoe dispatches the “kitten” with his superior fox fire, but he isn’t able to bask in the light of Nanami’s gratitude for saving her as he usually does. Nanami is too concerned with Jiro, who is badly injured and loses consciousness.

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In a really nice icebreaker, the defeated thunderbolt beast, suddenly not so fearsome-looking anymore, coughs up the Sojobo’s soul like a hairball. Kamisama Kiss has always been great at tempering or punctuating its more serious scenes with lighter fare. Unlike, say, Violin girl, its slapstick never ruins the mood, but rather keeps it in check.

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Nanami’s continued concern for Jiro irks Tomoe, because he doesn’t like the idea of Nanami, whom he likes, worrying about another man. Still, he’s able to comfort her by assuring her Jiro will happily bear whatever consequences he must, because he got to save Nanami. He speaks form his own extensive experience: saving Nanami is always worth it.

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Kamisama Kiss puts on a romantic comedy/drama clinic this week, perfectly balancing Nanami’s joy and relief when Jiro comes to (thanks to her peach pills) with the embarrassment of walking in on a nude Jiro being bathed by Suiro.

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Tomoe initially playfully teases Nanami, but as usual goes a little bit farther than he should due to his own frustration of holding in his true feelings for the lass. When he tells her it makes no difference to him whether she goes back home with him or stays with Jiro to get to know him better, it clearly wounds Nanami, who contrary to Tomoe’s jealous suspicions, hasn’t simply flipped her love switch from Tomoe to Jiro.

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Still, Jiro did manage to do one thing Tomoe hasn’t been able to yet: clearly confess his feelings for Nanami. So at the cherry blossom tree viewing/Sojobo & Jiro recovery party (that’s a mouthful), Nanami is receptive to Jiro’s own attempts at courtship, which aren’t bad for someone who’s never laid eyes on a woman before.

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The beauty of the restored cherry tree makes for about as romantic a locale as one could hope for, but as much charm and respect Jiro has for Nanami, when she tells him how precious the peach pills she used to save him are, and how she wants Tomoe to have them if anything ever happens to her, it becomes clearer to him that he’s barking up the wrong tree.

Consider: when he flew her up into the tree, in a moment of fear Nanami called out for Tomoe. Also, when she has too many high-proof sake-filled steamed buns and gets wasted, she repeats his name again and again. With the walls of sobriety down, she also lowers her toughing-it-out mask. The only one she wants is Tomoe, and she’s far more happy being carried on his warm comfortable back than being in the middle of a cherry tree with Jiro.

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She even unabashedly lets off an “I love you”, not her first nor her last directed at Tomoe. And perhaps knowing she’s passed out and won’t hear it, he says he loves her too out loud. It’s a small step, but he knows it’s a necessary one.

As Shinjuro tells him, it’s precisely because human lives are so short, that if you have to say something, you’d better say it before it’s too late. Tomoe has technically said what he needs to say, but this time doesn’t count. Can he do it when Nanami is conscious? We’ll see.

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