The World’s Finest Assassin – 03 – Wonderful First Time

Lugh’s very first magic lesson with his new mentor Dia goes awry when Dia, unaware of just how much goddamn mana her student possesses, tells him to put as much as he can in one of her family’s Materia-like Fahr Stones. He does so, and it quickly turns into a magical bomb that shatters every window in the Tuatha De mansion. Even so, his parents aren’t angry, they’re proud and excited.

If this were the soul of Rudeus Greyrat, not an old grizzled assassin in Lugh’s body, there might be ample potential for pervy unpleasantness (especially considering Lugh is seven and Dia ten). Fortunately, there’s none of that; even when Dia decides to sleep with Lugh, it’s no big deal. When she teaches him mana conversion for his “first time”, it’s oddly intimate, but ultimately pure.

Another common pitfall for a dynamic like this is to assume that in addition to the young callow student being attracted to his pretty older teacher, the two always have to be bickering or competing. Instead, Lugh and Dia collaborate equally, with Dia bringing her knowledge of the spells of this world to the table and Lugh applying his ability to synthesize his own spells. Together, the two literally make gold out of thin air.

Two weeks pass, and Dia is feeling sad about having to leave, as there’s nothing more she can teach him. So in addition to gifting her with an impossibly sharp beta titanium knife, Lugh earnestly promises her that if she even needs him, he’ll go to where she is without fail. Two weeks may not seem like a long time, but lest we forget, they’re probably share a father, and kids always bond faster than adults.

With the pure, charming innocence of Dia departed for her home, Lugh’s dad admits that despite only being seven, Lugh is ready to learn more about the family business. To whit: Lugh takes him to a prison full of death row inmates from around the kingdom who are there for the purposes of experimentation in the service of further honing their assassination skills.

When Lugh asks why his parents didn’t simply raise him to be an unfeeling killing machine, Cian’s answer is both profound and obvious: because while they are assassins (and damned good ones), they’re people, not tools. In contrast to his previous life, Lugh must use his own humanity in addition to knives and guns to optimize his assassination skills.

The final three minutes turn the chipper magical training nature of the epiode to that point on its head, as Cian orders Lugh to make his first kill. The convict is seemingly scared out of her mind and tearfully begs Lugh not to kill her, but Lugh doesn’t shrink from his duty, lopping off a hand with his own titanium blade and telling her she’ll die a relatively peaceful death.

This draws out the true criminal, who is not scared of dying and curses Lugh to be sent to a hell full of demons. To this, Lugh responds that that might be a nice change of pace next time he dies. This is dark, good stuff. Its consistent, sincere, and serious tone (matching our protagonist’s demeanor without his adult voice intruding upon his new world) more than makes up for its merely adequate visuals.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shin no Nakama – 03 – Off the Path of Blood, On the Path of…COOKIEEES!!!

This week’s Shin no Nakama takes place entirely in the present day, but it doesn’t get off to a strong start when Red (and the camera) gazes a bit too long on Rit’s bazongas spilling forth from her ‘jammies. I mean for real, I thought my player had frozen! Fortunately, the rest of the episode is a lot less leery.

I have a bit of a problem with how easily Red ended up living with a literal warrior princess who has basically already made it quite clear she loves the guy. Heck, you can love whoever you want for whatever reason, but Red didn’t really do anything to engender such undying love from Rit. The flashback ep help explain their friendship, but not their sudden fauxmance.

Despite this, I can’t help but love watching these too together. Whether Red is helping Tanta’s friend Al after a bullying incident, to simple scenes of Red and Rit having meals or enjoying his new nutritional biscuits, the two just work well together. There’s a difference between their mutual bashfulness around each other and outright pretending they don’t feel something for one another. Shin no Nakama exploits that intermediate space with aplomb.

Other than the morning pop-out, the episode doesn’t go in lame or predictable directions like Rit being awful at tending a shop (or cooking), or Red being pervy. Instead, when he lifts Rit up and spins her around, there’s a genuine innocence to it, along with unbridled joy. And Rit is just as happy to be spun as Red is to spin her. No sudden pull-back shots of the exterior where we hear a scream and a slap!

Also interesting is the brief but increasingly consequential cutaways to the Hero’s Party. As I suspected, the big dude and the knight dudette aren’t happy Ares unilaterally banished Gideon, and when the big dude decides he’s going to go off to find Gideon, he gets Ruti’s blessing. I’m glad the party isn’t just falling into lockstep behind Ares’ conniving, but I also don’t need Red returning to the party. I’m here for the slow life!

The World’s Finest Assassin – 02 – New World, Same Calling

This episode does away with both OP and ED to shove in as much material as possible about this new world and how our antihero will be living it. He agrees to the goddess’s proposal to kill the Hero before he goes insane and destroys the world, then picks out his five skills and elemental affinities. It’s honestly a bit pedestrian, as this lengthy first act of preparation can’t hide the fact it’s primarily exposition.

Our grizzled assassin is then transported to the womb of Esri Tuatha Dé, born, named Lugh by his father Cian, and declared the heir to the Tuatha Dé legacy…which just happens to be assassination. Seven years pass in this second act, which is just as well, as scenes of Lugh as a baby and toddler were going to be tedious. We see scenes of Lugh’s family of three’s happy life, including an extremely detailed explanation the nutritional benefits of rabbit stew.

We then get a look into the family’s seedy underbelly. Turns out that the public face of the Tuatha Dé clan is not of assassination, but medicine—they control both life and death, keeping the royals healthy while eliminating their enemies in the shadows. Lugh’s father doesn’t just teach him combat, but chemistry. He also performs ocular surgery that gives him Mystic Eyes, allowing him to see great distances clearly as well as visualize the mana emanating from every soul.

Lugh, no stranger to the field in which he is straining, only a stranger to the particular methods of this new world, impresses his parents to the point they hire someone to teach him how to wield magic far earlier than most children would. His instructor is someone we met last week: Dia, from a prominent family of mages. She may be tiny, but she’s no child, and one of the strongest five mages in the land. In other words, a perfect tutor for Lugh’s continued development.

Shin no Nakama – 02 – Party of Two

As expected from the spoilery ED, Red doesn’t remain alone in his shop for long, as he’s joined this week by Rizlet of Loggervia, AKA Rit, whom we learn is both a B-rank adventurer and a princess. She took it upon herself to leave her kingdom, lest those who favor her over the crown prince instigate a power struggle.

She’s very happy to have run into Red, an old “comrade” from back when his party crossed paths with her in a pub. A huge chunk of this episode consists of flashbacks to those times, which on the one hand gives the episode a static quality, but on the other, at least shows us who these two people are, through who they once were.

Rit was all gung-ho about fighting on the front lines for her people until she was hoodwinked by a general in the Demon Lord’s Army, who killed her sword shishou and assumed his form. Red (then Gideon) swooped in like a trusty knight to save her, but a lot of people she cared about died, for what she believed to be her mistake.

Rit holes up in her lavish royal bedroom, but Gideon sits beside her and tells her that while he knows she’s afraid of losing more people, he also knows she still wants to fight, and gives her an opportunity to do so. They end up handing the Demon Lord’s Army a satisfying defeat…off-camera. If there’s one thing this somewhat action-packed episode of Shin no Nakama taught me, it’s that it has no business trying to do action—you can actually hear the animation budget creaking and straining.

Fortunately it doesn’t have to lean on that as a strength. Instead, your enjoyment of this episode will depend on how much you buy into Red and Rit’s once-and-future relationship. The two try their damndest not to get too lovey-dovey, but at the end of the day Rit is asking not just to work at Red’s shop but also move in with him, and Red isn’t really putting up much resistance after an initial moment of shock. I enjoyed their chemistry, and the balance of their attraction.

So this episode took a step away from its borderline iyashikei premiere, but in the service of showing us how Red used to be in the party and how Rit used to be before their sudden reunion. I look forward to watching them working and living together. As for the party, the apathetic behavior of two of its members suggets Ares’ move to banish Red was a wholly unilateral one that doesn’t sit well with them.

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 02 – Narrowing the Mandate

The first episode didn’t so much end as pause, but because the second episode was immediately available, that wasn’t a concern. Diva is in time to take a bullet for Aikawa, but it’s only the first of dozens of time she’ll need to safe his life throughout this harrowing, pulse-pounding action-packed episode of Vivy, which due to the corporate skyscraper setting and terrorists could be called Die Hard: With a Vivy-engeance.

That is not a bad thing, as the people behind this production know what they’re doing and execute beautifully. Also, Aikawa’s pursuers are no two-bit op, but the well-trained and equipped anti-AI group Toak, represented by the younger, less-experienced Kakitani and the hulking Batou-like Kuwana. They’re not just there to kill AIkawa, but blow the whole damn building to kingdom come.

Diva conceals her identity by placing a disguising filter in Aikawa’s AR glasses, so all he sees is a generic AI drone. Diva and Matsumoto’s mission is simple: keep him alive. But between her tactical inexperience and the fact that she has the AI equivalent of free will with all its inherent unpredictability, Matsumoto soon decides it best to inject her with combat training a la The Matrix.

Diva severs the wire connection, angry that Matsumoto has only been offering a “slow drip feed” of the future and is now trying to override her singing mandate. But Matsumoto makes it clear there’s a reason he did that: he doesn’t quite trust her yet, even if the professor and researcher with whom he shares his name did.

In the midst of their quarrel, Kuwana gets the jump in her with a “Logical Bullet”, which scrambles her circuits and renders her inoperative. He then shoots Aikawa dead and shoots Diva for good measure, accidentally getting her blue “blood” on his boot. As the Toak team prepares to set the bomb timers, it looks like Diva failed her mission big time. At the same time, it soon becomes clear when Matsumoto hacks Toak bombs that Kuwana was tricked.

Matsumoto used his night-vision goggles to show him what he wanted to see: him killing Aikawa and destroying Diva. By the time Kuwana realizes there’s no blood on his boot, they’re already headed to the very Matrix-like imposing lobby. When they’re confronted by Kakitani, who clearly hates both AI and Aikawa with the hotness of the sun, Matsumoto detonates some of the bombs, bringing rubble down on him and the other Toak operatives.

But as a giant piece of concrete is about to smash Kakitani like a pancake, Diva runs under it and catches it, causing severe damage to her arm and tearing her jacket. Far from grateful, Kakitani seems disgusted and horrified an AI saves him, and later expresses that disgust verbally to Kurawa. Matsumoto, meanwhile, is frustrated that Diva continues to act erratically.

Of course, she isn’t: she’s acting according to her personal prime directive: make people happy with her singing. In order to do that, people have to be alive, so if a person needs rescuing—even a terrorist and her enemy—she’ll do what she can, as she does here. In the midst of all this chaos, Aikawa admits he doesn’t really care about AIs, but is paying lip-service to aid his political rise.

Matsumoto tells Diva that the professor was wrong to stake everything on her, but he had little choice. 100 years in the future, the only AI body that remained in complete form without evolution or modification was Diva’s, as her status as the first autonomous AI meant she was soon turned into a museum exhibit. This is a wonderfully awesome detail to me, as it has a parallel in the reboot of Battlestar Galactica: the human race was saved by an obsolete museum ship the evil Cylons couldn’t hack.

Matsumoto wants Diva to understand that even if she was originally programmed to be a singer, in the very near future she’ll be relegated to an inert, silent artifact, and become the longest of long shots of a researcher trying to prevent humanity’s destruction. He scolds her for letting “such a thing” as her singing mission jeopardize the Singularity Project.

But Diva tells him to take it back and defiantly shrugs the concrete off of her, and pulls off her torn jacket, saying it doesn’t matter for AIs how long they operate, but how they continue to operate. She still considers her mission is to sing. To accomplish that, Aikawa must live, but so must Kakitani. Also, she has to bring the whole building down.

So begins a rush from the lobby to the open observation deck near the top, where Diva takes Aikawa’s hand, breaks into a run as the bombs detonate (after all of Toak evacuates), and helps ensure Aikawa is able to leap from the one toppling building to the next. He lands hard, but he’s otherwise fine as Diva follows him with a bad-ass balletic leap. Kakitani catches her in midair with the full moon as a backdrop, shattered glass flying everywhere. Everything about this scene just owns so hard.

After Aikawa thanks her and they part ways, she asks Matsumoto if there’s a chance he could get the AI naming laws passed anyway, but Matsumoto assures her that won’t happen. Aikawa proved a more effective legislator in death than he’ll prove to be in life.

His career will flag and he’ll be voted out before any law sees daylight. And yet, the way Aikawa repeats to himself what Diva said about “not how long you live, but how you live”, I could almost see Aikawa suddenly growing a spine, thereby undermining Matsumoto’s mission.

While Diva’s mission is accomplished for now, Matsumoto playfully takes her to task for introducing far too many unpredictable variables, and strongly recommends she avoid “all or nothing” strategies when she’s all they—and humanity—have. Her “antics” in the Die Hard operation make him shudder to think what’s ahead for them. From a vantage point that overlooks the city, Matsumoto points out the colossal Arayashiki tower looming further out on the horizon.

He says the taller the tower gets, the more AIs in society will evolve. Call it a barometer of their progress; they want the tower to remain as short as possible—even bring it down if necessary. Diva and Matsumoto shake hands, and Diva agrees that she’ll continue helping him stave off the future war—but only as long as it isn’t in violation of her mission to make people happy through song.

Matsumoto is also quick to mention that while they did bring down a huge skyscraper tonight, the collapse caused no deaths and the overall changes to the timeline were within an acceptable range. He goes on to warn Diva that while they technically have the ability to alter history however they like, Diva’s actions will fall strictly within the limits of the Singularity Project.

When Diva looks as if she’s contemplating who and what else she can save in the present while also saving the future, Matsumoto commandeers an industrial power loader straight out of Aliens and, before even Diva can react, uses it to violently smash her against a far away wall. His tone becomes far more grave as he warn her “Let’s not do this.”

He cannot allow her “personal calculations” to unduly affect history or cloud the mission to prevent the excessive evolution of AIs, and that’s it. That means, despite seeing a newspaper article from a day from now in which a plane crash results in the death of her young friend Momoka, Diva is forbidden from tending to “every single accident in history.” Momoka looks out from her window seat and spots Diva moments before the plane explodes in a fireball, and all Diva can do is watch in horror and shed a tear.

Just when you thought Matsumoto would be a constant source of comic relief, he demonstrates his merciless devotion to sticking to the plan. It will be interesting to see if Diva remains cowed or if she finds small ways to rebel against Matsumoto’s—let’s face it, inhuman inflexibility. The future must be saved, but how it’s saved matters to Diva—just as how she continues to live is more important than how long she lives.

With this one-two punch of thrilling opening salvos, the curiously-titled Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song has already established itself as an early contender for Best Anime of 2021. I can’t wait to see how it shakes out.

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 01 (First Impressions) – Her New Mission

We begin at the end, and I immediately deem it hilarious that “music” is one of the two genres MAL lists under this show, the other being “sci-fi”. With “music” in there I was certain I’d have to sit through at least theme park idol song, possibly with CG dancing. And while an idol is indeed walking down the tunnel to NiaLand’s main stage, the music starts up, and she begins to sing and dance…let’s just say the audience is indisposed.

For as the idol sings and dances, a horrific massacre is taking place, both in the stands and throughout the park. The AI hosts have gone berserk and are engaging in a festival of cold blunt force savagery upon the human guests. Splattered blood and little fires are everywhere. Like Skynet, the machines in The Matrix, and the hosts of Westworld, apparently the AIs have decided to do away with humans as the earth’s dominant species.

One of the park’s researchers manages to get to a place where he can activate a special emergency protocol involving an AI named “Diva”, all the while apologizing in advance for the terribly heavy burden he’s placing upon her and her alone. AI techs arrive and shoot the researcher dead, but not before he activates the program.

After some brief exposition on the fundamental “one single mission per AI” mandate that keeps the lives of AI “free of confusion”, we meet “Diva” (voiced by Tanezaki Atsumi – Chise from The Ancient Magus’ Bride), the world’s first-ever autonomous humanoid AI, who was given the mission “to make everyone happy by singing with all her heart.” But despite her massive potential, Diva seems relegated to a quiet corner of NiaLand singing to a bored crowd of two or three at best.

Diva has a fan and friend in the human girl Momoka, whom she helped when she got lost once and nicknames her “Vivy.” Momoka even gives Diva a teddy for her first birthday. At the moment Diva’s moments disallow her from getting anywhere near the vaunted Main Stage, but Momoka has her promise to “someday” sing there, where her powers of song can reach the most people.

Diva’s otherwise routine day is suddenly interrupted when an ominous timer that was in the top left corner finally reaches 11:35:00:00, at which point “Project Singularity” is executed. Diva’s consciousness is transferred from her body to a virtual construct called the Archive, where she meets a program in a floating cube that assumes the name of his developer, Matsumoto.

Matsumoto is here from 100 years in the future (and the massacre we witnessed) to ask Diva to join him in “destroying the Ais”. Diva immediately suspects some kind of virus or error, but all scans come up clean, and no matter how many times she asks Matsumoto to piss off, he refuses, and instead shows her imagery recorded from the future when Ais turned on humanity. In the first few minutes over 10,000 humans perished, and that’s only the beginning, if the future doesn’t change.

The next day, Diva goes about her routine, this time singing to an audience of no one, as Matsumoto predicted. Still, that’s nothing too unusual so it could have been a guess, so Diva has a human tech run a diagnosic that turns up nothing. Whatever Matsumoto is, she can’t be rid of him. He decides to tell her about another future event that will take place that very day: a bomb in a garbage can will seriously injure a pro-AI rights politician.

Once Matsumoto has given Diva this information, and less than a minute to respond, she chooses the next course of action quickly, and it underscores her unique nature as an autonomous AI—as opposed to the rest of the AI staff, who wouldn’t have been able to unilaterally break out of their primary directives. Diva is different, so she breaks into Terminator-style tromping run, pushes past the bodyguards with ease, and shields the politician from the blast—all in 45 seconds of real time.

The politician, Aikawa Yoichi, is grateful to Diva, and promises that next time he visits the park he’ll come watch her sing. But unfortunately, his dream of naming laws leading to equal human rights for AI will bring about humanity’s downfall in a century’s time.

Matsumoto tells Diva that the first bomb was only a warning, and those who want Aikawa dead will succeed in assassinating him. He’ll be labeled a martyr, speeding of passage of legislation in his name that will ironically doom humanity. So Diva’s next job is to prevent the assassination. Aikawa is ambushed in his office by SWAT-style operatives, but Diva jumps down from the ceiling just in time to shield him, and their bullets don’t damage her.

So begins the familiar but so-far compelling story of the reluctant heroine Diva’s new mission to stop a war between AI and humans that the humans will lose. The only way to do that is to slow or otherwise modify the particular explosive evolution of AI that leads to them to one day say in a single voice “we’re done with humans.”

This is an anime-original series, precluding any adaptation issues. It’s made by Wit Studio right on the heels of the first part of Attack on Titan’s final season, and created and written by Nagatsuki Tappei (Re:Zero), and scored by Kousaki Satoru of the Monogatari series. You can feel all that talent behind the confident, professional, polished production. This wasn’t on my initial Spring list, but it’s there now, and it’s not going anywhere.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vlad Love – 05 – Bleed the Parents

First, I must issue a correction: Vlad Love doesn’t forget everything that happens from week to week. That said, it forgets quite a bit, or at least hand-waves it away. That’s fine; this show is on drugs; who am I to pick apart its whimsical relationship with logic and reason?

Brass tacks? Yes, Mai might have transformed into a dragon and leveled a city, but more importantly (to the show at least), Mai has been outed as a vampire. While all of Mitsugu’s classmates might’ve had varying motives for involving themselves with Mai, they must now band together to protect her.

To that end, Dr. Chihiro crosses her legs Basic Instinct-style to the board of directors and gets approval for night classes at school, which Mai, Mitsugu, and everyone else will begin attending. They’ll also all be included in the Blood Donation Club Chihiro advises, despite Mitsugu objecting to male members. Type-A Jinko joins too, meaning all four major blood types are now represented.

It feels like the episode will continue with the night class plot, it changes gears when Mitsugu notices more bats than usual flying over her house, and she finds a huge package has been sent to Mai from Romania. Turns out it’s her father, Gilles de Rais, who is grateful Mitsugu is taking care of his daughter, and is also a hugger and garlic-lover.

At the (apparently rebuilt) gyoza restaurant, Gilles orders ten of everything, while Mai is singularly focus on one thing: her “ugly bitch” of a stepmother who is the reason Mai left home. Still, this is the first time in a while Mai feels like an actual character with consistent attributes, as she’s not under the influence of a any particular type of blood.

Their dinner is interrupted by the sudden and unannounced arrival of Mitsugu’s archaelogy professor dad, who in a neat twist is a famed vampire hunter in the mold of Van Helsing. Venerable veteran Nakata Jouji voices her dad, lending depth and gravitas to a fairly two-dimensional role (naturally, he and Mai’s dad go together like gasoline and flame).

Add “Van Helsink’s” desire to drive a stake in Gilles’ heart to Chihiro’s intention to draw at least two liters of Gilles’ blood, and the resulting volatile situation results in the second destruction of the gyoza restaurant, complete with Mitsugu and Mai fleeing an explosion Hollywood-style.

Back at home, Mitsugu and Chihiro try to calm the two fathers, but when Gilles lists all the secondary-to-tertiary family members Mitsugu’s dad has already staked, and Mitugu threatens to kill the rest of his family, the two nearly come to blows once more, until Chihiro sedates them. Then Mitsugu has to sedate Chihiro when she tries to draw blood from Mai’s unconscious father. One wonders where all those huge syringes come from…

The next morning, Chihiro and Gilles are gone (the latter being shipped back to Romania), and Mitsugu’s dad remains strongly opposed to Mai continuing to stay in his house, let alone being his daughter’s friend. Mitsugu rightfully declares that someone who barely ever present in the household doesn’t all of a sudden get to set its rules, nor can he dictate with whom she can be friends.

Her dad races off to Europe to intercept Gilles, continuing their interminable game of cat-and-mouse. But his words—about Mai being an “enemy of humanity” and that no good will come of being friends with her—stick with Mitsugu. There’s a look of disbelief, but also doubt. What if her father, no stranger to vampires, is right?

This was some welcome drama and character development in one of the most grounded and coherent episodes of Vlad Love to date. I just wish the fathers, like all the classmates, didn’t reduce the ever-important Mitsugu/Mai time to the bare minimum.

Vlad Love – 04 – All Concerned Parties

In a particularly chaotic episode, Mitsugu is captured by the president of the Torture Club for allegedly getting to close to Nami, the Dance Club president, whom he is stalking. Due to their mutual interest in Mai, Karate Club president Kasuno teams up with Nami to free Mitsugu, who packs a bag for Mai, who is apparently no longer safe in her home.

The pair head to Dr. Chihiro’s “house”—more of a mad scientist’s lab—only for Chihiro to have a predatory ulterior motive for harboring Mai. After Mitsugu sedates Chihiro, every other member of the cast shows up in sequence, demanding answers about who Mai is.

Kasuno and Nami end their brief alliance and their respective clubs “fight” each other, all while Maki films it and Kaoru runs around cosplaying as a Chun Li-like character. The Disciplinary President Jinko then shows up, demanding everyone stop breaking the rules.

The sudden surge of characters interacting means Vlad Love relies far too heavily on sliding inset portraits of characters talking and reacting, such that the episode at times looks more like a PowerPoint presentation than animation. There’s so much of this it borders on ludicrous—nay, it is ludicrous!

Then Mai drinks some very suspect blood from Chihiro’s vast collection and transforms into Salamander, and world-ending dragon, and starts destroying the city with her fire breath while Chihiro has a lengthy, meandering, and seriously unfunny monologue about how she came upon the blood.

From there Mitsugu and her classmates fade away and the focus shifts to a kaiju movie-style sequence in which military command center instructing fighter pilots to attack Dragon!Mai. This sequence is very sluggish, full of throwaway characters worrying about being sued for copyright infringement—an old, played-out joke that just won’t die.

Speaking of dying, once the fighters are authorized to open fire, the resulting battle over the city is cool-looking, though it also results in the death of Mitsugu and all the other characters in a massive explosion. Once again, the story ends up in the papers, and we can look forward to everything resetting back to a measure of normalcy next week.

Once again, the surfacy spectacle is occasionally diverting, but it’s hard to care about anything or anyone when everyone is doing little more than yelling at or slapping each other, and nothing that happens ever matters. Mai becomes an unthinking force of nature, while Mitsugu becomes just one more victim of the destruction. Once again I’m forced to ask: where is the vlad love in Vlad Love?

Vlad Love – 03 – Quite Unconcerned by Crosses

The zoo fiasco forgotten (like all things from episode to episode), Mitsugu and Mai catch a vampire flick at the movies…and Mai is so inspired she can’t help but bite the head of the man sitting in front of her. I like the idea of Mitsugu and Mai just going out and the former having to deal with the unpredictability (and volatility) of the latter. My Girlfriend’s a Vamp! kinda stuff.

This episode features a brand-new OP which may not slap quite as hard as the first, but is beautiful in its own right, both in visuals and music.

After the movie the couple bump into Watabe Maki (Hayami Saori), president of the Cinema Club at Mitsugu’s school, who is curious about Mitsugu’s new, very pretty and photogenic (and out-of-her-league) companion. Mitsugu says she’s a relative, and when pressed, Mai simply states they’re “connected by blood”—which is true!

Maki takes them to a good restaurant for dinner, where Mai consumes a generous amount of garlic gyoza. Rather than kill her, the garlic seems to have an intoxicating effect, and the restaurant is demolished. The papers cover the incident as some kind of “mass hallucination”, which seems to be a recurring theme…along with the frankly lame fourth-wall breaking when Maki can hear Mitsugu’s thoughts or points out when she’s spewing exposition.

Mai’s unforeseen reaction to garlic leads Mitsugu and Dr. Chihiro to undertake a more thorough investigation of how Mai fits into common vampire knowledge. She drinks blood, and can sprout fangs and wings out of her head, but UV light doesn’t bother her, garlic turns her into a boisterous drunk, and crosses don’t affect her in the least.

While testing the UV bit, Mitsugu runs into another classmate, the Type-B (i.e. eccentric) Konno Kaoru, prez of the Cosplay Club. She mistakes Mai’s get-up for Invisible (Wo)man cosplay, and invites her and Mitsugu to the Cosplay Club so they can get their ‘cos on. Mai nails all the classics, from maid to bunny and magical girls. Mitsugu is more niche, pulling off a researcher from a 1970s sci-fi movie with aplomb.

Kaoru invites the pair to an Akiba Halloween party, the location of which is established with the show’s signature live-action drone footage of the city. Mai’s vamp-girl costume proves too hot to handle, causing a near-riot amongst the horny guys in the audience and forcing the karate club to lay down the law while keeping their school’s Disciplinary Officer Jinko at bay.

Mitsugu seems to sense when she and Mai should start heading home, but before that can happen the commotion knocks out the lights at the venue. Mai emerges from the darkness then transforms into a swarm of bats, making one hell of an exit from the party that is once again written off as a mass hallucination.

To quote Homer Simpson, each episode of Vlad Love has been little more than “a bunch of stuff that happened”. That doesn’t mean that stuff doesn’t look great and a ton of fun to boot, but there’s just no depth to the stuff, and everything resets from episode to episode, so nothing really means anything. Their movie date aside, Mai and Mitsugu aren’t really progressing as a couple so much as treading water.

The episode is also stuffed with overindulgent moments like the whole minute of needlessly describing in great detail the British bomber inexplicably flying in the air over the gyozu restaurant. Stuff like that engenders far more ¯\_(ツ)_/¯’s than LOL’s.

No Guns Life – 17 – The True Duty of John Podpie

Olivier has stopped by to collect the data Juuzou has, but he says he doesn’t have it; she later shows him that Christina and Tetsuro are safe and so he doesn’t need the data anymore.

Just then, Rosa McMahon, who has become smitten with Juuzou, bursts in and sees him with Olivier and runs back out in tears. For a gun-faced metalhead, it cannot be said he can’t attract the ladies!

It’s a situation that puts more serious issues on hold to tell a far more comedic story. Much of the episode is sternly narrated by one John Podpie, who possesses special eye Extensions that allow him to (among other things) see through the clothing of women.

Not only is he not shy about employing this when he gets a shampoo from the barber’s daughter Scarlet, but he considers it his duty to observe and collect imagery he can share them with men all over the world.

Scarlet is so devoted to her customers she assumes his ensuing horrific nosebleed to be an acccident, but once Mary shows up for a shampoo and is spurned by Podpie for having too small a chest and stinking up the joint, his nose his bloodied all over again by a much-deserved punch to the face.

She hooks her diagnostic tool to his eye and determines the nature of his Extensions and the shameful way he’s using them. It would seem that despite his noble pretensions they’re about to call the EMS on the old perv.

However, Scarlet takes pity on the man and forgives him without pressing charges. On his way out Juuzou tells him there are good things he can and should be doing with those extensions, rather than being a corrupted tool for the depraved.

Podpie’s plight reminds Juuzou of Extended soldiers who succumbed to “noble rot” as a result of their abilities, and maintains that unlike him, Podpie can still help people. What Mary wants him to understand is that he’s capable of good too, and has saved plenty of people.

As one-off characters go, Podpie was equal parts disgusting and hilarious. It’s good to see No Guns Life letting it’s hair down and lightening things up on occasion.

No Guns Life – 16 – Free Will Ain’t Free

While Juuzou destroyed Victor’s first fake body, he has a smaller spare extended backed in a suitcase. Nevertheless, Avi Cobo has Mary at gunpoint, and demands to know where Victor’s real body is, shooting her in the foot to show he means business. Even if the backup had an open shot, Avi has electroreceptors like those of a shark that allow him to dodge most attacks.

Emphasis on most, as Juuzou comes in unwilling to stand by and let one innocent young woman suffer any further harm. He starts the sequence to release his Gun Slave Unit limiters, enabling him to create a smokescreen and fabricate new arms. While Backup Victor sacrifices its arm to create a field that confuses Avi’s receptors and gets Mary out of danger, Juuzou gives Avi the mother of all forehead flicks, rendering him unconscious.

While Olivier and EMS arrive, Juuzou delays the grunts to allow Mary to talk to Victor properly. Like last week, way too much time is spent in a static location as exposition is delivered. Much of it we already know or have grasped from events thus far, but what we didn’t know was why Victor killed the man who took them in: he threatened to sell Mary’s body if Victor left for the military.

While Victor is still determined to destroy all of the Extendeds his hands created, Mary remains adamant that Extended components can be used for good, in the way Victor originally intended.

While recovering from the bullet to her foot, Mary ponders whether to take Lefty apart in order to determine just how the machine with the intelligence (and quite a few behavioral characteristics) of a dog functions. Lefty is not cooperative, understandably opposed to its own dissection.

Meanwhile, Wachowski pays a visit to Tetsuro’s quarters/cell, and we learn he had an engineer fix Tetsuro’s components so he can speak with his own voice, an apparent gesture of good faith. However, Wachowski’s plans for Tetsuro are anything but peaceful. The Gun Slave Unit Seven is a big thorn in Spitzbergen’s side, but only a GSU can defeat a GSU, and in his current state, Juuzou is no match for Seven.

Wachowski wants Tetsuro to use Harmony to unleash Juuzou’s full GSU potential, which is only possible when the original host surrenders all free will and humanity and becomes a mere tool of destruction. If Tetsuro agrees to do this, everyone he cares about will be safe. If he refuses, they won’t be safe. Pretty raw deal either way, I’d say.

No Guns Life – 15 – Remote Arms Race

Looking back at her brief but happy time with her brother, Mary remembers a kind and gentle boy who took care of her despite being young himself. He always held her hand, and even braided her hair. When he left, she was proud of him for finding the Place Where He Belongs, but in doing so he was taking what she deemed to be her place (by his side) away.

Mary doesn’t see any of that old Victor in the monster before her, so she does what any sister would do when pinned to the wall by her brother’s mecha-ribbons: launch her boob rockets. I’ll admit to having slightly missed the point of Juuzou’s bashfulness at the sight of Mary’s larger chest last week.

As cool as this tactic was, I still don’t know how Mary’s face and body weren’t horribly burned in the process. Regardless, she’s able to stop Victor from dissecting Juuzou until his uncontrollable final form comes out, and Juuzou is able to rip his arms off, which is key because Victor’s hands can dismantle any technology they touch (including one of the rockets).

Unable to discern whether the “real” Victor was the brother she loved or the monster before her now, the only way to keep him from hurting those she cares about is to put him down. She does so by firing Juuzou’s trigger, which blows off Victor’s head and most of his shoulders, ending the immediate threat.

After that, “Lefty” suddenly reappears, damaged but still intact. He even hooks himself up to the voice box of one of the police Extendeds so he can talk to them properly. Turns out the “real” Victor was never the demented puppet they tangled with.

Victor’s own body has been taken over by the dual parallel sub-brain he’d developed, which has a personality and will all their own. Destroying the puppet this “Shadow” Victor was controlling caused enough of a shock to allow “real” Victor to surface and open a dialogue.

Victor tells Juuzou and Mary how as an engineer he was committed to ending the loss of life and limb on the battlefield through the development of ever more advanced Extendeds, working towards fully remote models that would eliminate the need for flesh-and-blood boots on the ground entirely. Of course, it wasn’t until he tested out one such model on the front lines that he realized that what he was doing wasn’t saving anyone, simply upping the volume and efficiency of the  carnage.

The shock of seeing this created an opening for the sub-brain to take over his real body. The thought he had at the moment of transfer—that all Extended should be destroyed—became Shadow Victor’s primary driving force, which led him to join Spitzbergen. Before Shadow Victor regains control, Victor begs Juuzou and Mary to find his real body and remove the sub-brain. Only then will the shadow’s reign of terror end.

While I’m glad the circumstances surrounding Mary’s brother aren’t as simple as “boy turned evil”, this episode got fairly bogged down in Victor’s exposition, which killed the momentum of present events. As a practical matter, having to sit and listen to him also meant Juuzou and Mary couldn’t escape to some safer location.

They really should have tried to do this, as Mr. Law Upholder Avi Cobo walks right up to them, shoots Juuzou down, and holds his gun to Mary’s head, telling her she’s not doing anything with Victor’s real body. He’s going to take it into custody “in accordance with the law.” Mary in mortal danger to end two straight episodes? C’mon, NGL.

In / Spectre – 10 – Bogged Down in Committee

If Kotoko’s logical fiction were a car, this week she suddenly pops a J-turn. One could say her first solution was simply a means of putting feelers out. If the forum is already convinced that Steel Lady Nanase is a real ghost, she turns into the skid with her second solution.

Jealous and spiteful of her success, Nanase Haruka’s father fell down the flight of stairs all by his lonesome, and intentionally left a note behind implicating his daughter, whose career was then ruined. Haruka let the falling steel beam kill her. When she met her father in the afterlife, he revealed the truth to her.

Wracked by his betrayal, Haruka’s soul couldn’t move on, but returned to the world of the living as the evil ghost Steel Lady Nanase. Having solved the mystery of her father’s death and created a logical reason for the existence of the ghost, Kotoko takes the next natural step and creates a reason for her to disappear.

To do so, she beseeches the forum to focus their prayers on delivering her from evil so her soul can move on in peace. This solution is so different it catches Rikka off guard. Kurou returns from his latest death having chosen a favorable future, and Nanase is visibly weaker, enabling him to get the upper hand.

But it’s not over. Kotoko has simply created another crack in the portrait of the Steel Lady; it remains to be seen if she can shatter it. The forum pokes a fresh hole in Kotoko’s latest solution Steel Lady Nanase wouldn’t need to wreak so much havoc if her only goal was to expose her father’s betrayal.

Rikka kills herself. Having pursuaded a few more but not enough, Kotoko pivots to her third solution, involving Haruka’s older, far less famous sister, Hatsumi.

Kotoko presents the idea that Hatsumi was also jealous of Haruka, so when she found the note their father left incriminating Haruka, Hatsumi mailed it to the media. This action had a much more devastating reaction than she anticipated, throwing Haruka into a pit of despair that led to her suicide-by-steal beams.

Only Hatsumi wasn’t convinced Haruka committed suicide, and said as much to the police. In fact, Hatsumi didn’t even believe the faceless body was truly Haruka, but a body double, and her sister was still out there, somewhere, waiting for the right time to exact revenge on her big sis.

Hatsumi became beset by obsession and paranoia, to the point someone depraved who knew and was infatuated with her sought the means to make Hatsumi believe Haruka was truly dead, setting her at ease. He achieved this by creating the spectre of Steel Lady Nanase. Once he murdered someone in her name, this individual might have gone on to seek a closer relationship to the object of his obsession.

Kotoko closes this third solution by calling for the forum to aid in the search for the degenerate before anyone else is harmed. The people take to this story like ducks to bits of bread…until Rikka herself inserts herself into the forum and questions the motives of Kotoko’s would-be creeper, and questions why Hatsumi wouldn’t think Steel Lady Nanase wasn’t her sister’s ghost trying to kill her.

Since we knew from the preview for this episode that only the second and third solutions would be presented, this episode has the disadvantage of being neither the beginning or end of Kotoko’s duel with Rikka. Yet it was still engaging thanks to Kotoko’s boundless charisma.

Rikka’s hold on the forum seems stronger than ever, while Kurou finds himself miles from the future in which Steel Lady disappears. But Kotoko still has a fourth ace of her sleeve. We’ll see if the last solution can sway the forum for good.

Check out another In/Spectre Episode 10 Review by Crow’s World of Anime.

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