Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 09 – All Aboard the Friend-Ship

Don’t get me wrong: I like Izumi, and feel he’s both delighted and transcended his male damsel-in-distress archetype. That said, it’s not his name on he show, so to have a whole episode where he’s basically in bed sick is a great opportunity to explore Shikimori’s other relationships, starting with Inuzuka.

Inuzuka has known Izumi far longer than Shikimori, and so when you factor Shikimori’s need to compete in everything, that disadvanage is a sore spot. Thankfully, by spending some time with her (and due to the sleuthing of Hachimitsu) he learns she doesn’t just see him as some kind of rival, but that she often projects her big brother on him.

It’s gratifying that while Shikimori is initially competitive and pouty, she ultimately chooses not to usurp Izumi’s wishes for Inuzuka, not her, to take his notes and visit him while he’s sick. She can rise above those more possessive aspects of her personality.

After the Inuzuka segment, the episode becomes a tribute to girlfriends, i.e. girls who are friends. Nekozaki shines as she and Shikimori spot Kamiya at the bookstore. She invites Kamiya to join them in hanging out and Kamiya accepts, which makes Nekozaki’s day as she’s always wanted to get closer.

Little does she know how close Shikimori and Kamiya already are thanks to their shared adoration for Izumi and their intense rooftop encounter, and after returning from the bathroom she assumes the two became instant best buds in her brief absence.

The truth is that they’d already become closer on that rooftop, but hadn’t quite had the opportunity to build upon that moment to expand a relationship for which there was no reason not to become more of a friendship. Nekozaki is a useful facilitator for that purpose here.

In a wonderful segment, Shikimori and Kamiya team up against two aggressive but also highly virtuous gyarus on the basketball court, mopping the floor with the former high school champs with ease thanks to some baller teamwork. The power of friendship is on full display, but since it’s two-on-two Nekozaki is the odd woman out, and plays referee.

The girls’ bond is revealed to Nekozaki first by watching the two interact at the mall and now play together on the court. Nekozaki heard the chatter from other classmates establishing Kamiya as either a stuck-up/aloof cool beauty or a tragic loner, but the Kamiya she watched today seemed nothing like that externally-manufactured concept.

Later, when Nekozaki is walking with Kamiya, she wonders what or who brought about this change, because from Nekozaki’s perspective, it looked like Kamiya was carrying some pain. Kamiya isn’t quite ready to say who, but she will say that that person told her to treasure what she feels.

Kamiya apologizes for never saying yes to Nekozaki’s many offers to hang out in the past. But being the sweetheart she is, Nekozaki apologies right back for coming off as a little pushy about it. Nekozaki did it not just because she sensed Kamiya’s hurt, but also because she recognized Kamiya was a person it would be an honor being friends with.

Nekozaki is perfectly fine letting Kamiya take her time discovering more of her feelings, and when she’s ready, Nekozaki will be there to hear her or be a shoulder to cry on. Nekozaki wants nothing more than for Kamiya to smile from the bottom of her heart. That desire is at the heart of friendship … where everyone is welcome aboard and no one goes overboard.

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 08 – Stroke of Noon

Izumi learns a lot of new things about his library buddy Kamiya during their quiet library rest area shifts…except what she’s thinking the whole time. That she’s an idiot for “waiting around” and not taking the initiative when he was still single; that she’s a bad person for having such feelings for someone whose heart belongs to another.

When Nekozaki asks if they can trade numbers, Kamiya does so with her usual quiet smile, but holds on just a little bit before letting it go: a wonderfully animated moment. Shikimori notices that hesitation, and also a measure of the pain hiding behind Kaimya’s smile. Kamiya’s face does a lot of heavy lifting this week.

Kamiya puts her hair up returns to her fawning fans, but soon the din of praise and speculation about her grows deafening, and she just can’t be there anymore. The cool beauty is overheating in that gaggle, and especially doesn’t want to hear people praise her when she feels like the biggest, worst loser ever.

Kamiya is soon joined on the roof, under a cloudy sky that matches her mood, by Shikimori, who offers back the number along with an apology. Now that she knows how Kamiya feels, trading with her feels cruel, and she doesn’t want to be cruel to anyone who likes Izumi, because no one who likes who she likes could ever be bad.

We’ve seen jealous Shikimori before, but Empathetic Shikimori is a far superior mode. While admitting she might seem “high and mighty”, she owns that 100% and assures Kamiya that nothing of what she’s feeling is wrong, and she shouldn’t feel compelled to bottle it up or throw it away for her sake.

Suddenly faced with the second person not to put her on a pedestal but simply let her be her (after Izumi, a large part of his appeal for her), Kamiya is overcome and lets those feelings flow out, sobbing uncontrollably. Shikimori does what you’d expect her to: draw the taller Kamiya into a warm, supportive hug.

Kamiya walks away from the experience glad that Izumi is with someone like Shikimori, and ready to move forward not in denial but in full acknowledgement of her feelings for him. But later that night, after the after-party when Izumi gives Shikimori a birthday/anniversary present, Shikimori feels weary.

She’s not weary specifically of Kamiya, but she’s a symptom of a larger problem on the horizon that she fears: that so many people will see what she’s seen in him all along, he’ll drift further and further away from her. She doesn’t want him to change, but she’s worrying too much.

Izumi credits much of his change for the better to Shikimori, and he’s not done changing and getting stronger she she can smile and relax and not worry about a grand piano falling out of the sky and onto her boyfriend. Hearing that he wants the exact same she does makes her start bawling like a baby.

One might think this means Izumi is singularly capable of tearing down Shikimori’s badass poise, but they’d be wrong. Shikimori is cool precisely because she’s not afraid to cry big sloppy tears over her love of Izumi. It’s a new high point for this pair of splendidly sweet, honest lovebirds.

Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic – 06 – Countdown to Farewell

If it hits you you die

The first segment of the episode makes it clear this will be an episode about what kind of future Miyuki and Kaguya want, and how to get there. While Kaguya’s parents do not attend her parent-teacher conference, she has the good fortune of relying on both Miyuki’s dad (who already considers her a daughter) and Ai’s mom (whom Ai clearly worships) as “honorary parents”.

Not only is Ai a mama’s girl, but shares mom’s twisted personality. But things get more serious as the sun drops during the actual conference. Kaguya doesn’t really have anything to say about what she wants for the future; she’s probably just going to do what her parents—her real, absent parents—tell her to do. That means advancing to the university to which Shuchiin High is affiliated.

Miyuki, however has different goals. He’s determined that his future involves moving on from Shuchiin and going to college five thousand miles away at Stanford. He seems resigned to the fact this means No More Kaguya, so he declares to us, the audience, that all Kaguya has to do to “win” their long and harrowing battle is to not confess to him by the cultural festival.

At that point, he vows to confess to her, so they can at least date for the few high school days they have left before parting, possibly forever. But if the gauntlet has been thrown only in his head—where no one but the audience sees it—has it truly been thrown?

Conducive to Confession

Miyuki knows he has his work cut out for him to compel Kaguya into a confession before the culture fest; despite his best efforts he’s been frustrated by failure just as she has for lo these many years. At this desperate time, he decides asking Kaguya out isn’t tantamount to a love confession…so he asks her to join him to scout another school’s festival.

The only problem is, Kaguya doesn’t realize he’s asked her out until she’s already casually declined. Because Ai isn’t Doraemon and cannot manipulate the space-time continuum, she suggests that a distraught Kaguya summon the same courage Miyuki did and ask him out.

And she does! Kaguya employs her calming ritual, then tells Miyuki she’s changed her mind. Unfortunately, she says more words that muddy the waters, causing Miyuki to question whether she means for him to go alone. Having already expended all their courage and arrived at a stalemate, they rely on the other council members to pop in and give them the boost they need to make that one tiny final step towards arranging a date together.

Alas, Yuu, Miko and Chika only make matters worse; Yuu by laughing at the fact he witnessed a guy asking a girl to the culture fest in the hall; Yuu for bringing her disciplinary sensibility to the same event, and finally Chika saying Kaguya definitely shouldn’t go because she’ll get hit on too much. Kaguya seemingly breaks through the fog by suggesting a male accompany her, but that somehow turns into Yuu going with Miyuki. The boys have fun, but Miyuki and Kaguya both definitely lose, and not for want of trying!

Tofu EgO DEATH

While observing Chika transferring a guitar song from one musical scale to another, Miyuki considers every high schooler’s dream of rocking out on stage, something Chika immediately shoots down on account of her considerable experience with Miyuki’s artistic pursuits, and begs him to look at himself more objectively.

Miyuki takes Chika’s advice by starting from a place of wanting to know what women think about him, starting with Miko. Unfortunately, it’s all staged and phrased like a confession to her, which she’s actually flattered by until he pulls an identical act on Chika, who clears things up with Iino.

Thus Miyuki endures an onslaught of shit-talking, as Miko admits that looks-wise he’s not her type, and that she’d prefer the kind of ideal prince of a man that may not even exist. Chika admits that the president actually is more or less her type as someone who is always rising to the challenge in a “single-minded, unbecoming way.”

But since she’s just realizing this and also knows of all of Miyuki’s glaring flaws, she takes said realization as a major blow to her ego, which of course continues to eat away at Miyuki’s. Due to Chika’s penchant for turning discussions into “strange events”, the office is filled with a fog of glumness as Miyuki concludes he’s simply a worthless person no one would consider confessing to.

That is, until his soul mate enters the room, is brought up to speed about the legal insulting session, and asked what she’d change about Miyuki. As we know from her little heart incident at the hospital last season, we know Kaguya already considers the president “an ideal human being”. So her answer—Miyuki is fine the way he is. No notes!—comes as no surprise.

His confidence, recently sloughed away like Mars’ atmosphere by the unintentional roast with Chika and Miko, is instantly, fully restored. Such is the power of the one you love saying exactly what needed to hear, when you needed to hear it. Someone who doesn’t overlook your flaws, but cherishes them along with your merits.

Frankly, if Miyuki was being mature about this, the cultural festival is too late; he should simply confess to her now and get it over with. I’m sure he won’t, but while his Stanford declaration has seemingly placed a ticking clock on their relationship, one can’t rule out that she will confess to him at some point, or may even follow him to Stanford.

The important thing is that at the halfway point of what may well be Love is War’s final season, they’re not out of options yet.

Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic – 05 – The Truth Is Revealed

Smells Like Teen Spirit of Expression

Oh, my sweet summer child…you didn’t perchance think Miyuki’s rapping was never going to addressed, did you? It all starts when Kei calls Chika asking her big sis to murder her brother. Turns out he’s been practicing at home. When Miyuki tells her there’s no other way to convey his feelings to a certain someone, she’s eager to help him out, just as she did with his anthem singing.

Alas, not only is Chika not remotely inoculated against the scourge of Miyuki’s sea sluggish rhymes, she’s not that strong a rapper herself in the first place, having never really done it before. Still, she stands by the axiom that it’s not how you express something that’s important, it’s what and to whom. Miyuki sets her straight: rap is both a sport and an art, but most of all, it’s a conversation.

Chika’s first attempt at rapping is like watching a baby deer take its first wobbly tentative steps. But once she locks in on the fact that rapping and piano are not that different, she starts to put out something that does more than just bear a passing resemblance to rap. No sooner does Miyuki tell her he has nothing left to teach her, he proceeds to ask her to teach him how to rap. The teacher hath become the student…

Straight Outta Chiba

It isn’t until their training is nearly complete that Chika bothers to ask whether the person Miyuki needs to rap to is someone she knows. He says she does, and we flash back to that karaoke box, where we learn Ai actually opened up to him (presumably before the rapping) about who she is, what she does, and who she works for.

As a fellow commoner who can empathize with what Ai must be going through, Miyuki embraces her as a friend and gives her his number. He uses it to invite Ai to Chiba Park where he has something he wants to tell her. As Kaguya eavesdrops on her employee-sister’s call, she tags along, while Chika is eager for some BL action, believing Herthaka to be a male butler.

With Chika backing him up, Miyuki spits out his feelings, which challenge Ai’s belief that one needs to put on an act in order to be loved. This rapping Miyuki is being his own best self, and sees no reason why she can’t be hers too.

When Kaguya feels confused, lost, and left out, she eventually cut loose with the illest rhymes of the group, on her first try no less! Then she gets cocky and puts Ai on blast, provoking Ai into delivering her own freestyle rap. As with Miyuki and Chika’s raps, Ai’s is accompanied by music-video style dramatizations.

Ai finally comes out as being jealous of Kaguya enjoying her life as a teenager, with all its highs and lows. She wants a friend in Miyuki…with the option to possibly steal him from Kaguya in the future.

They’re in Nirvana…Never Mind

The final segment somewhat surprisingly does not involve rapping, but is the second of Shijou Maki’s visits that put the council in “student” council. She’s joined the volunteer club at Nagisa’s behest…a club that includes just her, Nagisa, and Nagisa’s boyfriend, whom we finally learn after three seasons is named Tsubasa.

Unaware of Maki’s feelings for Tsubasa, Nagisa is transparently lovey-dovey with him around her. As such, she’s come to think of Nagisa as the devil. Yuu and Miyuki warn her that as the couple is in “nirvana”, breaking them up will be nigh impossible. Maki, as innocent as her cousin, is unaware that the Nirvana they speak of pertains to Nagisa and Tsubasa having knocked boots.

In the end, Maki doesn’t get any useful advice other than the kind that is no longer useful: love is all about speed. Once you know you love someone, it’s imperative to confess to them ASAP, lest they get stolen away, as Tsubasa was. Miyuki, exhibiting the same self-awareness as Kaguya did last week, warns her waiting for the other person to confess is just a passive way to save face.

But Maki’s visit isn’t a waste. She can take some solace in commiserating with and warning these boys not to follow her down the path of inaction. Miyuki envisions Yuu with Kaguya and Yuu envisions Miyuki with Tsubame, and they can feel a glimmer of what Maki feels in reality. So the StuCo office will always be open to her, whenever it gets too hard watching Nirvana from the outside.

P.S. There’s a new ED involving the gang rapping and breakdancing on stage. It’s awesome and features some pretty slick animation (as well as more “serious” character design of the characters) and better rapping than any of the raps in the actual episode. Like the Starship Troopers ED, it also ends with a sweet moment of togetherness with Miyuki and Kaguya.

 

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 12 (Fin) – Nishikata’s Quest

For three seasons and dozens of vignettes, we’ve watched Nishikata undertake a gradual journey of enlightenment and awakening, from an origin point of modest, adolescent…dumbness. This season and this episode in particular, Nishikata’s brain has finally started to get wise to the fact that it has never been about winning or teasing with Takagi. It was more simply about being with him.

As these confusing feelings sprout up in his dinosaur-filled mind, Takagi must know that he’s distracted by the imminent coming of White Day, even if she doesn’t know that Hamaguchi urged him to confess to her on that day. Faced with such a monumental task, Nishikata retreats into the games, creating his most elaborate yet: Nishikata Quest, a series of boxes containing riddles leading to other riddles.

But when there are no more riddles, and he hopes Takagi to be at her most frustrated and defeated, that he’ll give her his White Day present In other words, when all is said and done he not only wants Takagi to be comforted, he wants to be the one to brighten her mood. Alas, his grand plan is dashed when Takagi is unable to make it to school on White Day due to strong winds delaying her ferry.

When he thinks she’ll only be gone for first period, Nishikata tries his best to take good notes that he’ll share with her. But when she texts him that she won’t be coming at all, he realizes how lonely he is without her sitting at the desk beside him…how things just feel “off”. After school, Hamaguchi gives Houjou some white chocolate, but just can’t manage to confess his love to her. But Houjou still looks happy he at least made the attempt.

When Mina finds the first of Nishikata’s boxes on the floor of the classroom (jostled off Takagi’s chair when Takao and Kimura are fighting), she leads Sanae and Yukari on his epic mind-bending quest. When they find the final box bearing Nishikata’s name, Yukari realizes this was all one big gesture of love for Takagi, and insists they put all the boxes back where they found them, lest they spoil loverboy’s efforts.

When Kimura kept Nishikata company during solo library duty, Nishikata noticed that Kimura was reading the same novel as Takagi when she said “I love you”. Kimura recommends the book and lends it to Nishikata, who reads it when he gets home and can’t find the “I love you” Takagi purportedly took from the page. It’s here where the dusty light bulb in his head finally switches on. That time she said “I love you”, like so many other times he remembers, were Takagi expressing her honest feelings.

For that reason, Nishikata can’t wait until tomorrow to see Takagi or give her her White Day gift. Heck, he can’t wait one more minute, running out the door, onto the bus, and running some more to the docks. When he spots Takagi getting into her car and driving off, he chases the car…on foot. Finally, fate smiles on him as Takagi’s car happens to turn at just such an angle that she spots him running behind, asks to stop the car, gets out, and runs to meet him.

In effect, it’s a romantic climax I’ve probably seen dozens of times both in anime and movies and other TV. But there’s something about the way it’s executed so beautifully, and with all the accumulated feelings and experiences these two have been through in three seasons, that elevates what could have felt clichéd in less skilled hands to truly epic status.

Even better, we don’t need the classic “I love you” confession; the fact Nishikata is there at all, chasing Takagi down, is all Takagi needs to know how he feels. And then he comes right out and says he’s there “because I wanted to see you.”

He may think he failed when his White Day gift got dropped and smashed by a car, but the gift doesn’t matter; she doesn’t even open it, instead taking his scuffed up hands into hers and saying he’s already given her the best gift she could have asked for: him, there, with her.

It’s pretty much the best ending a Takagi-san fan could ask for, made all the more satisfying because there’s an upcoming movie that could well elaborate on their new adorable normal. As we’ve come to the end of this season, there few things I’m looking more forward to than seeing these two on the screen again as soon as humanly possible.

The Genius Prince’s Guide – 05 – All Out in Antgadull

Lord Geralt’s untimely demise threw a wrench into Wein and Lowa’s plans, but they waste no time pivoting to an alternate gambit, aiming above else to claim the initiative from both the rest of the empire and the nascent rebellion against it.

This results in Wein brazenly arriving at Marquess Grinahae Antgadull’s front door and trying to sell him a rather dastardly fiction of Geralt being the mastermind behind the rebellion, giving Grinahae the option to throw himself at the mercy of the empire (i.e. Lowa) for a relative slap on the wrist in exchange for revealing all about the rebellion.

Grinahae has Wein depart his manor believing he’s agreed to the proposal, but Wein knew there was a 50-50 shot of doing so. When he and his handful of guards are ambushed by the leader of the rebels, Wein quickly pivots once again, managing to best their leader (whom he believes to be a spy from the west) by taking his sword arm and forcing them to retreat.

Back at the manor, the rebels execute their plan to assassinated Grinahae and burn his manor down, along with all evidence of the rebellion. This plan fails thanks to the skill of Nanaki, Falanya’s bodyguard whom Wein borrowed to ensure the rebellion couldn’t cover their tracks.

By then, Grinahae is already in hot pursuit of Wein with a speedy mounted force of around 100, with plans to eventually seize the princess. Wein seems hopelessly outnumbered—which is exactly what he wants Grinahae to think as they crest a hill.

Wein knows Grinahae knows his own lands, and that the speed of his force will be able to overtake and defeat Wein’s once they’re out on the wide plains beyond. But Grinahae didn’t consider that Wein brought a Natra force that is puny compared to Antgadull’s combined forces, but in this instance outnumbers Grinahae’s host.

Then Grinahae’s escape route is blocked by another large force, this time of Imperial and Provincial forces. When brought before Princess Lowa, the only defense Grinahae can think of is to condemn Wein for bringing an invading force into Antgadull.

However, Lowa and Wein have this covered too: Wein’s Natran force is part of a joint military exercise, made possible thanks to one Ambassador Tallum, who didn’t want Geralt’s sudden death ruin the meeting of Wein and Lowa. Grinahae has no choice but to surrender.

Back in Natra, Lowa enjoys a cup of tea with Ninym, with everything in Antgadull having worked itself out to both her and Wein’s benefit—or at least to neither of their detriments. It certainly could have gone worse, but the quick and careful planning and adaptability they were famous for at the academy helped them win the day.

Lowa confirms that she’s called off the marriage proposal for now, citing the advantage of remaining unwed when it comes to expanding the empire’s influence, and the fact the empire remains in a state of instability. But Lowa’s cup suddenly gets unstable when Ninym brazenly points out that Lowa has feelings for Wein!

We see that Lowa has a blind spot when it comes to this, as she didn’t think anyone knew when it was blatantly obvious to Ninym (and others) for years. What’s great about this show is there’s an actual good reason she likes him, beyong his looks and brains.

That reason is demonstrated when Lowa asks Wein why he didn’t play things differently in Antgadull. Basically, he broke Grinaahae so he’d be easier for Lowa to control. He promised to help her if she ever got them in a mess, and he kept that promise.

As she returns to the empire, she not only admits she likes Wein, but also yearns to have a relationship like Wein and Ninym: one of absolute mutual trust despite their vast differences. For Lowa, becoming empress means being able to stand proudly beside her two old friends.

It’s a noble, nuanced, and very satisfying mindset that eschews the obvious love triangle dynamic for something less zero-sum. And while I’m sure the show will keep its focus on Wein and Ninym as he resumes his efforts to raise Natra out of debt, I hope we get more Lowa again soon.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Takt Op. Destiny – 09 – New York, Old Problems

While it’s a shame they skipped Baltimore and Philadelphia, there’s definitely a sense of sudden, profound accomplishment when we see Anna’s trusty blue 70s sedan rumble down Times Square. They’ve made it! Now Destiny can get tuned and stop sapping Takt’s life and everything’s going to be okay!

The sense of having arrived at one’s destination after a long road trip (with several exciting detours) is reinforced by the fact that Anna and Cosette’s elder sister Lotte and their parents live in NYC, which means reuniting with them feels like returning home. Anna, having finally gotten Destiny and Takt to the Symphonica, deserves a rest.

Unfortunately there’s no rest for the deserving, as Lotte’s tests on Takt and Destiny bear no promising fruit. Their contract between Conductor and Musicart, while more symbiotic than parasitic, will nonetheless soon result in both dying, confirming that Takt’s corroded arm is not only permanent, but cumulative.

Lotte tells the pair that their only hope is…to not fight. If they settle down, stop hunting D2s and live normal lives, they’ll live far longer. After a full-on New York Day of food, drink, shopping, sightseeing, and aquarium-ing, Takt and Destiny get a pretty decent taste of what that life might be like. The problem is, like everyone else in the city, their lives are constantly dependent on the Symphonica’s protection.

Neither Takt nor Destiny refuse the possibility of settling down out of hand, rather its just that Destiny still can’t imagine a life without battle, which is not only her duty, but purpose. Not to mention neither of them probably like the prospect of being “intentionally useless” by letting others fight and die for their sake. They still have the power to fight, and so they’ll keep hoping that the fighting will end and they can enjoy live music in the park together.

Except…they suddenly have to leave NYC immediately and takt Anna and Cosette’s family with them, according to Lenny sounding as grim as we’ve ever heard him. When Takt assures him he’s not an “outsider”, Lenny agrees to tell Takt the truth about everything: even the infamous incident ten years ago in Boston.

It all starts with Destiny hearing another tuning fork, which means Felix was far from the only Symphonica member using the D2 to fuel his own ambitions. From that musical stab as the camera locked on Heaven’s eyes, the trouble could go all the way to the top. Do Takt and Destiny retreat with their family as Lenny urges, or remain New York, where everything is happening, to see where the cards fall?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Takt Op. Destiny – 08 – Call Her By Her Name

Despite being worn down by a combination of sleep deprivation and Destiny, Takt makes the first move against Felix, and would have socked him in the face with a speed and force Felix didn’t expect, were it not for his trusty sadistic bodyguard, Hell, who breaks his ribs with a kick. Destiny retreats with Takt in her arms, and Hell lets them go, because killing them now won’t be as fun as waiting until they’ve recovered.

When Takt comes to (after she administers water to him with a kiss), Destiny has returned to Normal Girl Mode and made a fire, but her bandage wrapping leaves much to be desired. She acknowledges this, and her shortcomings outside of battle in general. When Takt asks why she didn’t continue fighting without him, she says when she saw him crumpled on the ground, her body moved on its own: to him, and away from the fighting.

Takt tells Destiny more about Cosette, and how now that she’s gone, there’s no one left around to hear his music he might compose. Of course, he’s wrong; not only are Anna and Destiny there, but a whole lot of people who want and need to hear his music so it can warm their hearts like the fire in the cave.

The next morning, Destiny meets Felix and Hell back in the woods with two axes and tries her best to fight. Alas, without her Musicart Mode she’s no match for Hell, who merely toys with her. Just when she’s about to be choked out, Takt arrives, and the two get into a lover’s quarrel, completely ignoring Felix. Lenny and Titan arrive to keep Felix and Hell busy while the two talk things out.

Takt asks Destiny—by name, for the first time—if she also needs to hear his song like all those other people out there. Destiny says she doesn’t simply need to; she wants to hear it. With Felix and Hell standing in the way of that, Takt tells Desinty to use as much of his life as she needs to dispatch them. And what do you know, Destiny actually takes it to Hell, overpowering her giant attack with one of her own and  burning her arm.

Hell is ready to go another round, but the fight is stopped by the ethereally calm and gentle voice of Heaven, Grand Maestro Sagan’s Musicart. Speaking for Sagan, Heaven relieves Felix of his position and fires him from the Symphonia with immediate effect.

Just like that, Hell turns her back on her former Maestro and snaps his baton, and departs with Heaven. There’s an ominous to Heaven’s presence (aided by the music that plays when she arrives) and to the fact that Felix was officially relieved for disobeying orders…not for trying to kill Takt and Destiny.

Still, it’s probably not the last we’ll see of him, and I was a little miffed Takt wasn’t able to land a punch to his smug, villainous face. But in the end I was just glad Takt and Destiny made it out of the predicament alive, and doubly glad to see them reunite with a ridiculously relieved Anna. Like Takt, she calls Destiny by her name for the first time. She lost a little sister, but now realized she gained another.

Watching Destiny evolve before our eyes with an essentially full suite of emotions, and watching Takt and Anna shed their denial and accept Destiny for Destiny, was as fun as watching Destiny, Takt, and Titan kick ass. After all this excitement, could another comparatively relaxing road trip episode be in the offing?

Takt Op. Destiny – 07 – Post-Cosette

Anna, Takt, and Destiny’s road trip takes through the South, passing larges swaths of recent D2 destruction. Once they reach a larger city (Charlotte, North Carolina, I believe) they find it full of refugees living in shanty towns in the park. Takt has also developed the annoying habit of tapping his finger constantly, rather than only most of the time. No wonder Anna puts him in a seperate hotel room!

With Anna about to snap, Destiny nearly snaps Takt’s neck, then insists he tell them what’s going on. Turns out he’s composing a song, but can’t get it on to the page. While he composes in his head night and day, his eye bags growing larger and darker, Destiny drives off some D2s on her own. WHen she mentions “very important plans”, he can’t help but follow her.

What he discovers is shocking: Destiny doing something other than simply fighting D2s. She buys groceries for a refugee and her baby son, and sweets for the displaced little ones. Just little things you woldn’t expect something that is supposedly just a weapon to do. Anna sidles up to Takt and tells him this is nothing new: Destiny hasn’t just improved as a Musicart, she’s evolving as a person.

Anna also tells Takt that the one who found a musical instrument for him—a melodica to aid with his composing—was Destiny. She even waited outside his hotel room, looking nervous. It’s enough to make Anna wonder out loud…what if their Cosette is still in there somewhere, gradually adding humanity to the anti-D2-weapon that is Destiny?

The show’s “rules” may have already established that the Musicart replaces the person who used to own the body…but who’s to say Cosette/Destiny aren’t different? Grand Maestro Sagan himself is so certain of Takt and Destiny’s uniqueness and potential that he orders Schindler to leave them alone and let them do their thing.

In what initially looked like (owing in part to the dramatic lighting) what was going to be a groundbreaking conversation between Destiny and Takt is suddenly cut short, if only because Destiny asks too many sensitive questions too quickly and directly, and the memories that dredges up in Takt makes him shut down.

Even so, it wasn’t a matter of Takt not wanting to talk about Cosette at all, just the curt manner in which Destiny was trying to extract biological information about the original occupant of her body. It’s pretty clear that the intended audience for his new piece is Cosette, but Destiny (and Anna) will have to do.

In the meantime, sirens blare outside, indicating a D2 attack in progress. Thankfully it’s only one small unit that Cosette is able to deal with swiftly…but due to Takt’s sleep deprivation even this amount of fighting takes him close to his usual limit. Things get worse when Destiny detects a whole herd of D2 up in the forested mountains.

Once there, they both hear a clear and unnerving tone, which turns out to be the tuning fork of Hell. Apparently Schindler has gone completely off the reservation, and not just in terms of disobeying the Grand Maestro’s orders to leave Takt and Destiny alone.

No, Schindler has decided it’s up to him and Hell to attract D2s in order to get rid of the lower-class, lower-income human “garbage” who in his twisted mind are consuming too much of the world’s very limited resources. He’s trying to make a new world of just the “chosen”—i.e. 1%—with obviously himself being the sole judge of who is worthy of continuing to live or not.

Oh, and he attracted the D2s that interrupted the Symphonica roadshow…and resulted in the death of Cosette. It’s clear that this show has decided to make Schindler (which it’s clear now is not the best name for this guy, considering the reputation of the most famous figure with that name) the Evilest Evil Guy Who Ever Eviled, and while Hell at least looks cool when she’s kicking ass, the pair of them are pretty dull and one-dimensional as villains go.

It remains to be seen if there’s any redeeming them at this point, but Takt and Destiny are in uncharted territory: they’ve only killed D2s…never people, and as angry as Takt is, killing anyone for any reason changes you forever. I imagine Lenny and Titan will make it there in time before Takt has to decide if the Cosette he knew and loved would really want him to kill, even if Schindler deserves it.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 06 – Moon Shot in the Arm

Traumatized by what she saw at the crash site, Irina has a nightmare about suffering the same fate as all those poor test dogs. But as usual, she keeps her troubles within and tries to power through them, training as if nothing is wrong. But her mental anguish results in physical ailments: fatigue, loss of apetite, and anemia. With only days before the launch, this is no time for her numbers to be dropping.

Remembering what Irina told him about drinking the goat’s blood, Lev arranges some blood to drink. Not knowing where it came from, Irina refuses it, saying she’d rather die than defile her body. Unwilling to let her dream die, Lev offers an alternative: she can drink his blood…from his arm.

Irina agrees, and not long after digging into that arm, the light is back in her eyes, and the color back in her flesh. It’s also the equivalent of this particular couple’s first kiss…a vampire’s kiss. As such, both of them act bashfully and nervously before it happens. Once it’s over though, Irina looks and feels so much better, Lev is glad he had blood to offer. Still, Irina seems to feel a bit guilty for taking it.

With Irina back on her feet, the two enter the final stages of her training, including the harrowing parachute spin. Her first such trip to the ground is in tandem with Lev, who keeps her calm when the g-forces start to rattle her. Once they land, Lev tells her that her next jump will be solo. Who knew then that meant he wouldn’t be around for it!

Due to what looks like some shenanigans from Franz, the centrifuge goes haywire. Lev basically breaks the machine in order to stop it, enraging the old asshole researcher, who then decides to start beating on Irina. Lev doesn’t lose his temper, but it doesn’t matter.

When the old coot trips and falls backwards, it’s all the pretext he needs to have Lev hauled away for assault. Irina is now left without a protector…and her capsule will indeed be fitted with explosives in case it lands near the borders. In other words, just as Lev and Irina had their closest and most tender encounter, things couldn’t be worse. The only bright side is that Irina does indeed seem bound for space in just a couple of days.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 05 – Free Falling

A military bigwig arrives to inspect the training facility, and to also tell the two dozen or so candidates that only six of them will make the cosmonaut cut. When one of those candidates screws up their parachuting drill, Lev is suddenly back on the active roster. He might end up in space after all.

Meanwhile, Irina is in the anechoic chamber, which she basically treats like her coffin, only larger and most likely quieter. While in there, she’s left alone with her awful memories of when her village was massacred and her parents torched. At one point she softly calls Lev’s name, and can’t help but grab his sleeve when he finally comes in to release her from her solitude.

Irina probably figures she can’t hide the fact that she doesn’t hate Lev’s guts, so she comes right out and says she considers him the only human who isn’t bad. I’m not sure what that pink-haired researcher did to her! All joking aside, we get another great skydiving scene with Irina ending up in the unenviable situation of having to stare at Lev to keep her head up, even if it means being unable to hide her blushing.

When the two are up in the air they can forget about all the awfulness that surrounds them, but they come back down to earth literally and figuratively when they witness an aborted space capsule flight and the corpse of one of the experiment dogs. Those horrible flashbacks come roaring back, putting Irina in a state of shock.

Lev’s superior picks them up, and tells him that no one was supposed to see that. Back in the command room, the mission commander battles both his ailing heart and the political reality of having to self-destruct Irina’s capsule should she land in another country. You can tell he’s way more in this for the science and discovery, not the patriotism.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 04 – Fly Me to the Moon

With Lev being told Irina will launch in three weeks and her finally trying on a real spacesuit, shit is starting to get very real. If the higher-ups are to be believed, she may not live a long life even if the launch is successful, but Irina doesn’t seem to mind at all, and continues going through the training with nary a complaint (though she does remark that the suit is really heavy).

While Irina is changing out of her sweaty clothes into a fresh jumpsuit, Lev encounters Rosa in the hallway. Rosa is, so far, a completely one-dimensional racist bitch who is a waste of time. But when she lays into Irina to Lev, Irina overhears, and bids that Rosa say what she wants to say to her face. Rosa slinks off, warning Lev not to get his blood sucked. Even though, if we’re honest, it’s Rosa who sucks here!

When Lev and Irina get some free time before she has to enter an anechoic chamber (where you can indeed go mad quite quickly listening to nothing but your body make noises), Irina kinda prods Lev into taking her to a jazz bar. She gets some soda water, natch, but one sip of Lev’s dark red concoction has her slightly tipsy. No matter; she’s never heard jazz before, and she quite likes it.

Later that night Lev and Irina head out to a frozen lake to skate. While last week’s animation really shined with the airplane ride and skydiving, here Irina performs an elegant performance while an insert song plays. It’s really quite something to behold, and the latest demonstration of why Lev should really try to prevent her from being “disposed of” if he can.

Irina and Lev have never been closer. He tells her how he’s wanted to go to the moon since he was five; she told him how her parents were burned alive while she watched…pretty standard date stuff!

As for the whole post-launch disposal thing, Irina volunteered to be a test subject because it meant she would be going to space, and possibly the moon, before the humans defiled it. Even if the Zirnitrans off her afterweards, they can never take away the fact that she danced among the starts before they did.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 03 – Freedom, Not Fear

After a scene involving the pudgy, scheming old men who run Zirnitra from the capital, Sangrad (some who want to kill Irina as soon as the mission is over, some who want to wait and see), we see Lev get his first R&R since taking on the job of Irina’s handler. His former candidate comrades are a mix of curious, pitying, and superior.

It’s clear that due to his time with Irina, he’s no longer one of them…and that might not be the worst thing. As for “things”, it’s clear Anya doesn’t consider Irina one, but a fellow person. As a scientist, she knows the best way to overcome fear of something is to understand it better. She understands vampires to an extent she doesn’t fear them in the least. On the contrary; she adores “Irinyan”.

Lev ends up applying this axiom to Irina’s acrophobia, by exposing her to the most extreme heights so she can eventually realize how goddamn awesome it is when you’re flying and thus overcome her fear. Their moonlight flight is a series highlight in terms of visual panache; it really draws you in, like the great Miyazaki adventure in the sky.

Lev’s experiment on his “test subject” works like a charm, as Irina’s fears are replaced by wonder and a thirst for freedom unquenchable by even the fizziest lemon seltzer available. But the flight doesn’t just change Irina. It continues a gradual but inevitable change in Lev, from a soldier carrying out his duty of handling a test subject, to a young lad developing feelings for Irina Luminesk as if she were an ordinary human woman.

Lev isn’t training Irina in order to achieve the mission anymore; he’s training her so the government won’t dispose of her for not measuring up. Fortunately Irina excels at pretty much everything they throw at her, and once she’s over her acrophobia, flight and parachuting (another bravura sequence) is no exception. One of Lev’s colleagues warns him not to develop feelings for Irina, but it’s clearly already way too late for that!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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