Vinland Saga – 22 – How to Kill Someone You Hate

Before the latest Thorfinn-Askeladd duel, Thorkell asks Prince Canute who he wants to win, as it who he’d bet money on. Canute doesn’t care who wins. His only task is to stop the duel before someone dies. Ever the King-in-waiting, Canute, looking further out than anyone. The prince then puts the question to Thorkell, who says he’s got Askeladd in this one. When asked why, particularly when Thorfinn beat him, Thorkell goes in real close, and again Canute shows how much he’s matured by not flinching.

Why Askeladd? “Just a feeling. It’s his aura.” Thorkell isn’t kidding. Askleadd just mercy-killed his only friend not a minute ago, and Bjorn’s body is still warm when the duel with Thorfinn takes place. Only it’s not much of a duel. As much of an age advantage Finn might have, he’s missing a fully-functioning arm, and he’s so angry and obsessed with finally cutting his father’s murderer’s throat, he’s rendered an absolute joke of a fighter.

Askeladd, as “in the zone” as a warrior can be, tosses his sword away, so confident he can put Thorfinn down with his bare hands. And he does. Thorkell is disappointed. But Askeladd is fed up with Thorfinn, and moves to deliver a killing blow, seemingly stopped only by a direct order from Canute.

From there, Askeladd declares Thorfinn an exhausting, unrepentant idiot, because he fights like an idiot, both by going into the duel injured, letting his temper get the best of him, and letting his win over Thorkell inflate his opinion of himself. So Askeladd has a seat on the remnant of what could be a Roman wall, and gives his life story, in hopes of teaching the boy “how to kill someone you hate”.

Thorfinn and Askeladd are alike in many ways, but while they both had frail mothers, their childhoods were vastly different. Thorfinn lived in a comfortable, cozy, loving, free family; Askeladd’s mother was a slave his father Olaf raped, and Olaf didn’t bother even naming his bastard children. At age eleven, Askeladd (so named because of his propensity for being covered in ash and soot) had to keep his mother alive as well as himself.

Despite their dire situation, he and his mother were descendants of Artorius, and she never stopped believing that one day he would return from paradise and free his people from bondage and despair. But one day, when his mother snapped and recklessly approached Olaf in the streets, and Olaf raised his sword to kill her, Askeladd knew: Artorius would never return.

That meant someone else—not a hero or a god, just a person—had to save his mother, and himself. For Askeladd, that person was him. Despite having never been trained in swordsmanship, he picked up a blade and used it, putting up a decent fight against Olaf and finally gaining his attention. Far from angry this child attacked him, Olaf sees potential in young Ash, and brings him into his hall.

For two years, Askeladd was trained by his father and half-brothers in both bow and blade, and became someone trusted, accepted and adored by all. Then, one night, the 13-year-old Askeladd made his move, plunging a sword into his father’s throat and killing the only witness, a woman sharing his bed. The sword belonged to the black sheep of the legitimate brothers, and so the murder was pinned on him, not Askeladd.

Olaf’s guard was down, and Askeladd had already determined a path to inheriting his property. Then and only then he struck, with all the certainty his poor mother had that Artorius would come. His people waited 50o years for their hero to arrive, and in the meantime suffered and stagnated. Askeladd only waited two years, until the time he knew he could kill the one he hated.

It’s a stark contrast to Thorfinn, who has been trying to kill Askeladd since the moments after his father died, believing that somehow losing his temper, shouting loudly, and waving his sword around could lead to victory. In this way, Vinland Saga subverts the shounen formula of prevailing by doing all three of those things! His belief that victory will eventually come has been just as futile as Askeladd’s mother’s dream of Artorius’ return.

While it took Askeladd only two years to kill Olaf, it’s been ten years for Thorfinn, and he’s no closer to killing Askeladd. If anything, he’s less likely to do so now that he’s endured so many injuries in battle. He cannot contest Askeladd’s assertion that he’s an idiot, because Askeladd had an objectively worse past and achieved his revenge in less than a fifth of the time it’s taking Finn.

Askeladd’s final barbs before carrying Bjorn away to be buried, about Thorfinn being no better than a dog chasing after food and being “useful” since it’s so easy to “pay” him with these occasional duels he’ll never win, rankles Thorfinn anew, but he can barely stand, and Canute has to prop him up and insist he let his wounds heal before trying again.

Canute also asks Askeladd why he doesn’t just seek the throne himself, Askeladd laughs. Canute is far more suited to being king than either Askeladd or Sweyn. Askeladd considers himself “just a Viking.” If Vikings are anything, they’re decisive, and act to further their interestrs? Had he followed his mother’s path of simply waiting for a hero who will never come, he’d have died long ago.

To be alive today to teach whippersnappers valuable lessons, he became what he hated. Kingship is out of the question.

Shokugeki no Souma 4 – 09 – And Then There Were Four

Tsukasa Eishi’s exquisite, multifaceted Lievre a la Royale easily defeats Satoshi, which is a little disappointing after the latter had been built up as a worthy challenger. Anyone is going to have a hard time beating Eishi, because the kid puts absolutely everything he has improving his art.

The thing is, the rebels are going to have to find a way to beat him, because the fifth bout will be the final, one way or another. Eishi and Rindou will go up against Souma and Erina, with the task of creating both an appetizer and main course that exemplify a “true gourmet meal.”

In the aftermath of the bout, Takumi asks Rindou why he sensed so much unease from her during their match. She dismisses him and runs off, but Megishima also sensed that unease.

In a flashback sequence, we see that despite Eishi’s less-than-stellar social skills, he and Rindou were nigh-inseparable friends who always had fun cooking. Somewhere along the way, Eishi stopped having fun. After gaining the First Seat he was always endlessly praised at banquets, but always felt a bit…off.

Then, in Las Vegas and again in L.A., he met Nakiri Azami, who put his off-ness into words: the people who praise him are pigs who don’t really know what true cuisine is. Azami gradually built Eishi up to believe he was the up-and-coming Picasso of cooking, and there’s only two people who can truly judge Eishi’s cooking, him, and Eishi himself.

Meanwhile, on the rebels side, Souma and Erina bicker constantly on who is going to cook what dish and who will take the lead with the main course. I’m with Erina on this one; she’s got the God Tongue and the former Elite Ten seat, after all.

Their dispute lasts until the next day, when the bout is about to begin, an exhausted-looking Erina finally wins a game of rock-paper-scissors against an equally exhausted-looking Souma. It’s not the best start for the rebels’ last hopes, especially since Eishi and Rindou come out looking like a million bucks.

I’m well aware this ain’t gonna end with Souma & Co. getting expelled, but I’m interested to see how the seemingly invincible Eishi is rendered vincible. If anyone can do it, it’s our boy Souma and Miss God Tongue.

Vinland Saga – 19 – What Are You Looking At With Those Eyes?

Having entertained him so much thus far, Thorkell gives Thorfinn a few minutes to rest before continuing the fight. An intermission, if you will, during which he tells the boy about Thors. The two of them were fellow Jomsviking commanders, and Thorkell is Thorfinn’s great-uncle, since his brother, their leader, gave Thors his daughter’s hand in marriage.

In one battle, Thors was thrown from his boat, never surfaced, and presumed dead. But one night, Thors returned. Thorkell was delighted, until he realized Thors didn’t mean to stay. Thors wouldn’t explain to his satisfaction why, only that he learned the secret to being a true warrior, and had a look in his eye Thorkell had never seen.

Thorkell tried to kill Thors for deserting, but ended up with his axe smashed and knocked out cold by Thors…who didn’t even wield a sword. Fifteen years later, Thorkell learned Thors had died for real. Thorkell doesn’t see that same look in Thorfinn’s eyes, which means Thors never told him his secret.

Thorfinn listens to Askeladd one more time, warning him if he loses, the man he wishes to duel will be killed by another. Askeladd is the only one there who has ever seen Thorkell fall in battle, and the reason is almost comically simple: the man has a glass jaw.

Thorfinn jobs for a while, until Thorkell drops his guard to kill him. Askeladd blinds him with the reflection of the sun on his blade, and Thorfinn leaps up and kicks him straight in the jaw, knocking him flat on his back. When Finn tries to go for the kill, he’s surrounded by Thorkell’s men.

The first duty of those men is to keep their commander alive, but Thorkell is furious they disrupted his duel. That’s when Prince Canute arrives, the changed man he became last week, and orders all fighting to stop. When Thorkell bristles, Canute tells him the truth about his father not loving him, choosing Harald as his successor, and sending him to England to die in battle so he didn’t have to assassinate him.

What Canute seeks to do is head to the main camp at Gaineborough and fight his father the king, snatching the crown and the throne from the man who forsook him. Thorkell thinks this is just a tough-guy act, and Canute will crumble if he pretends to punch him, but Canute doesn’t flinch in the slightest. Furthermore, Thorkell sees the same look in Canute’s eyes that Thors had.

Thorkell tells his men his one greatest regret in life was not following Thors rather than trying to stop him. By getting knocked out, he missed his chance to learn what Thors had learned about being a warrior. In Canute, he’s been given a fresh chance to learn, so he agrees to become his follower and fight for him. No doubt Thorkell’s men will follow his lead.

Finally, the wounded but not-as-near-death as we thought Askeladd confesses to killing Ragnar, and offers his sword to Canute with which to kill him. He adds that if Canute spares his life, he will fight for him as well. Canute, loather of pointless deaths, declines to execute Askeladd, instead ordering him to honor Ragnar through leal service.

And with that, ladies and gents, everyone we’ve been following have joined forces behind Prince Canute in what is to be a glorious fight against King Sweyn. Since Thorfinn is Thorfinn, he’s going to follow the man who killed his father. Oh, and he shouldn’t look now, but Canute is now his legit co-protagonist, while Thorfinn remains a callow boy who needs to grow up.

Vinland Saga – 13 – The Prince is Beautiful, But Cautious

After what looked like a no-win scenario had unfolded for Askeladd, Thorfinn, and Prince Canute, the standoff actually de-escalates when Askeladd starts speaking Welsh, to the surprise of even Bjorn.

It’s his assessment that their “hosts” from Brycheiniog won’t do them any harm, but they cannot let a horde of Danes cross their lands unchallenged, hence their intimidating posture. Askeladd tries to get Canute to intimidate them back, but the prince hides behind Ragnar.

Askeladd and Gratianus have a private meeting with the Brycheiniog commander, Asser, in which Askeladd reveals that he is half Dane and half Welsh, and a living descendant of the legendary King Artorius of Brittania, who inspired the legend of King Arthur.

The episode’s cryptic cold open depicts him in his youth bringing his dying mother back to Wales, and Gratianus greeting him. It should be noted young Askeladd looks a lot like Thorfinn. No wonder he’s taken such a shine to him; he’s the son he never had.

Anyway, Askeladd agrees to hand over the weapons of all his men and allow themselves to be escorted across Brycheiniog so Asser and his king can save face and look good to the common subjects. In exchange, Askeladd will see to it Canute is the one who succeeds the Danish throne, which means he’ll have a powerful seat at the table with which to ensure a treaty of non-aggression with Wales is arranged.

The fact of the matter is, Askeladd hates the Danes, likely in part (if not mostly) because of what they did to his mother. He seems as intent of keeping Wales unspoiled for her sake as anything else. But between some concerned looks from Bjorn and some groaning of his men, he will be testing their loyalty—and the secrets he’s kept from them—to their furthest limits by changing their route to Gainsborough.

In the meantime, Prince Canute finally hits his limit for enduring verbal abuse and mockery from Thorfinn, and calmly explains that as a prince he must be more cautious with his words…before abandoning that cautiousness to give Thorfinn a piece of his mind. Ragnar is shocked, but in a good way; he knows more than most how he might be hurting the fledgling by not insisting he leave the nest.

Still, Ragnar’s desire to protect a child who has already endured so much (Canute’s childhood was not a happy or peaceful one) seems to override that logic. It’s probably heartening to no end to hear Canute speaking to someone other than him; it means Canute and Thorfinn are, against all odds, developing a rapport. That can only be good for the both of them.

Fruits Basket – 22 – An Answered Prayer

Or: Why Kids Are Total and Complete Trash, Volume #3,692

Present-day Hanejima Saki’s “Waves” aren’t just a rumor about her, or some kind of occult quality she happens to believe in. They are an actual power, like ESP. I shouldn’t be surprised—this is a world where people turn into adorable animals when hugged by the opposite sex—and seeing how much a younger Saki suffered from the inability to control those powers really puts the person she now is into perspective.

But here’s the thing: she didn’t become a different person. She’s always been the same person: quiet, kind and gentle, and loyal to those who love her. Her problem in the past was, she feared her powers, and when human laws couldn’t be employed against her, she decided that whatever horrible bullying she received was punishment she was due.

Kids bullied the hell out of Saki, and it wasn’t until two shitty boys were holding her down to make her eat a live newt that she finally thought I want this boy to die that her ability had a physical effect, knocking the kid out for hours.

While its understandable for her to fear her power and even hate herself for it, that position totally ignores the fact that the little shit instigated things, and bears most of the responsibility. If he’d simply treated her with kindness, he wouldn’t have been hurt.

This week we also learn the extent to which Hanejima’s family loves her. It would be all too realistic for her mom and dad to one day reach their breaking point, but that never happens, and their love, protection, and desire for her to be happy never fades for an instant, even when she starts considering herself nothing but a burden to be discarded.

When the environment at school gets too bad—she has to sit and be burned and fight with everything she’s got not to fight back lest she hurt her bullies—the entire family moves, and urge her not to give up. Her devoted little brother Megumi wears all black in solidarity, and prays that one day someone will come who will love Saki as he does and end her crushing loneliness.

That day comes at her new school, where there’s no black in the uniforms, so she paints her nails black as a “mark of sin”, that original sin of harming the boy that she’ll never forget or forgive herself for. While in line for lunch, Honda Tooru chats her up. Little does Saki know that Megumi’s prayer has been answered in the form of this odd, ditzy, extremely polite and upbeat girl.

Of course, back then Tooru and Arisa were already hella tight, so they invite Saki to lunch with them, and won’t hear any objections based on her low self-worth. They make it clear to her that no matter how strange she may think herself to be, they’re just as strange, and welcome her company.

For the first time, a peer tells Saki “see you tomorrow,” and to her delight, they say “good morning” to her the next day, another first. As much as Saki tries to stick with her M.O. of staying away from people, she finds herself with Tooru and Arisa all the time, until even the once-oppressive sun seems to take on a gentler color.

All her progress with her new friends is suddenly threatened when two classmates ask her about her old school, having heard nasty rumors. But while Saki isn’t the one who burned a girl’s arm, she does own up to almost killing that boy, and for that reason, she believes Tooru and Arisa should distance themselves from her before they get hurt.

Needless to say, Tooru and Arisa..don’t do that. Not two minutes go by after Saki flees that Tooru catches up and declares that no matter what she does or doesn’t know about Saki, she loves her, and doesn’t want to stay away. Arisa joins them and asks simply: Does Saki want them to stay away? Of course, she doesn’t, and so they won’t.

The rest is history! In time, and probably in large part to emotional support not just from her family and two BFFs, Saki learns how to control her power, and the voices vanish. Now, as we know, she only uses it “a bit” to teach shitty people a lesson, but isn’t in any more danger of losing control.

But even if she’s more or less cured from a malady that was as life-debilitating as it was mysterious, she still wears all black, as it keeps her calm, while Megumi keeps wearing black for the same reason. His prayer was answered, but more importantly, Saki never gave up.

Fruits Basket – 17 – Paying It Forward

Uotani Arisa was a broken and rudderless teen, subsumed by dirt and blood from pointless beatings; lost in the darkness. Things were briefly made worse when her idol Kyouko turned out to be the “lame” doting mom of the even lamer and impossibly sweet Tooru.

And yet, when Arisa is alone and on the run from more beating than she can take in a day, who does she barrel into once more but that sweet and polite Tooru, who immediately senses her friend is in danger, grabs her by the arm, and runs.

At Tooru’s apartment, Arisa finds herself back in an atmosphere of warmth, tranquility and love that is so foreign to her it’s uncomfortable. She figures her dirty delinquent self wouldn’t change even if she had such an atmosphere at her home, with her dad. Nevertheless, she’s jealous of it, and she wants it.

Tooru Kyouko are more than willing to share it with her, and to soothe her crushing loneliness that has been the core of her struggles in life so far. Back in the present, we see that Arisa is no longer lonely, and loves Tooru and Saki very much. That’s when the three young delinquent wannabes finally confront Arisa, but she ignores them as if they were mere gnats.

While her story about how she became besties with Tooru is complete, there remains the rest of her story: how she became the strong, beautiful, wonderful person she is. It’s a story she doesn’t tell the Souma boys, but is generous enough to share with us.

Hanging out with Tooru and Kyouko is a positive force for change in Arisa, but that change doesn’t come as quickly or easily as removing the stems peas. She may have returned to school and studies with Tooru, but her teachers assume she’s bullying her, while her gang takes none to kindly to her efforts to go straight.

Other students are weirded out by Tooru hanging out with Arisa all the time, and rumors spread about Tooru actually being a delinquent beneath a goody-goody facade. To Arisa’s relief and joy, Tooru pays such rumblings absolutely no mind. She’s going to make an extra muffin for her dear friend Uo-chan, no matter what anyone says.

But while the bond of friendship between Tooru and Arisa can’t be easily broken, the same doesn’t go for Arisa’s bones. While in the present she credits Kyouko and Tooru with saving her, it’s not like Arisa did nothing to help her own cause, and while she might not have known it at the time, going back to her gang to tell them she’s out and facing the consequences was actually the first step towards saving herself.

Thanks to her older gangmate Akimoto, Kyouko learns of the horrible beating Arisa’s doomed to receive if no one intervenes, so the Crimson Butterfly dons her duster for one last rodeo, intervening in the fight, extracting the battered Arisa, and carrying her back to her place on piggyback.

As Arisa demeans and insults her idiotic self for not realizing sooner she was on the wrong path, Kyouko offers some sage life advice, having experience quite a bit of that life herself. She tells Arisa that sometimes you need to hit rock bottom to realize you want to change; and that neither the light nor purity of life she seeks would be possible without the presence of darkness and dirt from which she emerged.

Arisa didn’t understand the feelings she bore until she got hurt exploring them, but now that she’s come out the other side, she knows with the clarity of a mountain lake what she wants to do: to become a strong, beautiful, wonderful best friend in whom Tooru can take pride.

So Arisa abandons her delinquent past to become just that, and eventually she and Tooru befriend Saki as well. And while she is utterly devastated when Kyouko suddenly dies, she’s also eternally grateful for the things Kyouko gave her and the things she left behind, with which she can not only continue to be a better person with a kinder soul, but pay the love and kindness and wisdom she received to others.

That means not simply socking the redheaded delinquent punk (Ishi-chan) who keeps bothering her, but offering her words of advice she wished she’d received earlier: Stop acting out while you still can, before something serious happens. If you need someone to scold you, I’ll do it anytime.

Ishi is immediately smitten by Arisa’s blend of warmth and coolness, and her two friends fall in line, becoming fans of Uotani Arisa on the spot. After the credits, Ishi not only cosplays as Arisa, but wears the exact same outfit Arisa wore the day they met! Needless to say, this is exceedingly cute and heartwarming.

Just like Arisa idolizing someone like Kyouko instead of a less savory gang member, it’s almost as if the universe is looking out for these three still very young kids who have a lot of life yet to live before giving up.

Because they chose the right woman to idolize, just as she did. And perhaps, one day, when they’re better people, they’ll pay Arisa’s wisdom and kindness forward, and help others become better too. Along with Tooru—essentially a demigoddess of love and kindness—this is the enduring gift Kyouko left behind, and why she’ll never really be gone.

Fruits Basket – 16 – Her Kind of Place

This week’s cold open is perhaps the darkest scene since the show dove into Hatori’s dark past. It’s not just shot dark, it’s frikkin’ dark, full stop. A younger, short-haired, long white coat-donning Uotani Arisa comes home to a dad wreathed in TV light and surrounded by bottles who doesn’t notice she’s there. She goes to the room and sits in the dark, wondering, perhaps, why she’s even fucking alive; what the point of all this is.

The next we see Arisa, in the present, luxuriating in the pool during P.E., is as bright and upbeat as the cold open wasn’t. Despite their reputation for delinquency, both she and Saki love the pool and would never skip out on an opportunity to swim in it. But the sight of Tooru in the same school swimsuit she wore in middle school reminds Arisa of elderly people buying dinner at the konbini she works at: somehow just really sad and wrong.

So she does something about it, asking—nay, telling—the Souma boys that it’s about goddamn time they get up off their asses and show some gratitude for Tooru constantly cooking and cleaning for them, by coming along to help her and Saki buy Tooru a big girl swimsuit. After some brief Shigure lecherness, the kids hit the mall.

Yuki and Kyou are beyond embarrassed to even be in a store that sells skimpy bikinis, let alone to see one placed in front of Tooru, but Arisa demands they at least lend their opinion as to what color Tooru would look best in.

Naturally, the boys pick opposite colors: Yuki blue, Kyou orange. Saki corrects them: Tooru looks best in pink. Her mom was the Crimson Butterfly while her straightforward dad’s color was white; combine those, and you get pink. When Yuki remarks that Arisa and Saki seem to love Tooru very much, Arisa quickly confirms that assessment. After all, Tooru saved her.

That’s when three yankees spot Arisa and plan to jump her, but are totally distracted by the gorgeous Souma boys she’s with.

Tooru is very predictably reticent about accepting the swimsuit, claiming she doesn’t deserve such a gift or any gift for that matter, because she’s nuts—but Arisa and Saki insist, so a swimsuit it is. Yuki and Kyou will just have to wait until next time they’re at a pool or beach with Tooru to see what it looks like.

Yuki remarks about how much Arisa and Saki love Tooru (and vice versa), and asks if the three go back to grade school. Arisa says no, only since middle school, when she was still active in a women’s gang she joined in fifth grade. She beat the shit out of people and had the shit beat out of her, and absolutely idolized the Crimson Butterfly, AKA Honda Kyouko.

When her gangmates tell her the Butterfly’s daughter attends her middles school, Arisa keeps her eyes open for “Crimson Butterfly II,” a carrot-topped delinquent in the mold of her mom. Instead, she’s bumped into by Kyouko’s actual daughter: klutz, space cadet, and deeply kind and decent girl, Honda Tooru. Arisa can’t believe it.

When she finally gets to meet the total badass bike empress she placed on such a high pedestal, she was bound to be disappointed, but could never in a million years have thought she’d be a carefree doting parent. When Kyouko and Tooru invite her to dinner, Arisa suddenly feels very uncomfortable and out of place.

Arisa gets up to leave, and when they insist she stay, she lets Kyouko have it: she’s disappointed and embarrassed to see what has become of the Crimson Butterfly. Kyouko’s response is perfect: she “just relaxed a bit”, is all. But it’s just too hard a pill to swallow.

In her rush to leave, she left her trademark black face mask, and Tooru chases after her to give it to her, calling her “Uo-chan.” But Arisa rejects the nickname and rejects Tooru’s open hand of friendship. She can’t look at Tooru without being reminded of how low the Crimson Butterfly fell. So she goes back to beating the shit out of people and getting the shit beat out of her, because what else is she going to do?

That brings us back to the cold open when she comes home, shuts herself in her room, and can’t get the image of Kyouko and her warm, bright, happy life with her “strange” daughter out of her head. Lame as it might seem to her, it may nevertheless be something Arisa wants, but long ago thought she could never have.

After last week’s disappointing Ayame-stuffed lakeside excursion, Fruits Basket roars back into relevance with a much-anticipated look into the past of one of Tooru’s BFFs and one of the most lovable characters on the show, and it didn’t rush things, leaving its resolution for next week.

It reminded me of another excellent backstory episode of another blonde delinquent-turned respectable civilian (Onizuka Hime from SKET Dance) as well as a wonderful exploration of how much a person can change in a short time—and how much Tooru can change them just by being Tooru. More of this, please!

Oh, and as an added bonus, the three delinquents who have a beef with Arisa have a hilarious post-credits sequence where they’re enthusiastically practicing their threatening techniques under a bridge, only for their first “victim” to be none other than Souma Momiji, who inadvertently scares them off with a his terrifying German friendliness. Very good stuff.

Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 02 – Nothing is Eternal

One of Lord El-Melloi II’s basic lessons in his class is “nothing is eternal; everything changes,” and he should know, having once been the master of a heroic spirit of whose vast empire nearly nothing remains. And it is a former student, Mary Lil Fargo (subfamily of the Aminuspheres) who summons him to her mansion, which is the site of her father Ernest’s murder and dismemberment.

The seven parts of the body that were separated and arranged throughout the house indicate the same kind of planetary magic the Fargo family specializes in, but the arrangement is all wrong. Of the four people in the mansion when Ernest died, all have a motive to kill him, be it revenge for abuse (Claire the maid), jealousy over his research (Fernando Li), money to pay debts (his nephew Alec), and of course, his heir, Mary herself.

While this seems at first like a classic whodunit with El-Melloi picking the least likely suspect as the culprit, the murder mystery takes an entirely different and unexpected turn: no one murdered Ernest; he murdered and dismembered himself, all in the service of setting up an experimental spell that would grant him immortality.

El-Melloi confirms this when a hidden section of the rotunda’s floor reveals the part of a human associated with the planet Earth: the soul, not of the body. Once revealed, it contacts the other seven parts and reconstructs Ernest, but it is far from perfect, being his first and only attempt: he’s a grotesque monster, seeking Mary’s life force to complete his immortality.

El-Melloi doesn’t do anything to protect Mary, but he doesn’t have to: his apprentice Gray is on the job. After an incantation, her lantern-dwelling sidekick Add transforms into a mighty scythe, and its power blows her up to then ever-present hood off her head, revealing she bears an uncanny resemblance to Saber, AKA Artoria Pendragon.

While the reasons for this have yet to be revealed, knowing a little more about Gray certainly makes things more interesting. It also explains why she’s such a skilled fighter, such that El-Melloi only needs to step back with Mary and let her do her thing.

Once she dispatches the demented undead Ernest (creepily reciting words that rhyme with “Gray” in the process), she smiles in self-satisfaction before realizing her hood is down, and promptly pulls it back up. El-Melloi—Waver—apparently can’t look at a face that brings up such terrible memories of the Holy Grail War.

Before parting, El-Melloi deduces that Mary is a talented enough mage to know what her father was up to…and that it wouldn’t work and result in his death. El-Melloi won’t be able to prove it, but still wants to know why she did nothing to stop him.

Mary’s answer is rooted in the lessons she learned from El-Melloi himself: nothing is eternal. Letting her father go through with a doomed, incomplete immortality experiment was her way of relaying that lesson to him. Mages shouldn’t seek immortality, except in the indirect way they pass on their knowledge to the next generation.

If Ernest had succeeded, he’d have rendered that generation—made Mary, and her future and that of her children—redundant. Not only that, if I’m interpreting Mary holding hands with Claire at the end, letting Ernest essentially kill himself freed the maid from his abuse.

As first cases go (not counting episode 00) this wasn’t too bad at all; it introduced El-Melloi’s investigative process, showed off his knowledge of magecraft and deductive facilities, had an interesting twist, and of course, revealed Gray’s “Silver Saber” mode. A good week’s work. On to the next case!

Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 01 – Not Even Close to a Hero

First of all, I wouldn’t bother watching EM2CF unless you’ve at least seen Fate/Zero in its entirety; aside from the fact that series is a masterpiece (and is available on Netflix, at least in the U.S.) you won’t have any context to who this Waver Velvet kid is unless you do. It would be like watching Avengers:Endgame without watching any previous MCU films.

Though to me that immediately hamstrings this sequel/spin-off: it has some huge shoes to fill, and from the outset it doesn’t seem interested in even bothering to do so. This is not a Holy Grail War arc, but a totally different, smaller-scale story about how one combatant in the fourth war has managed to honor his heroic spirit’s wish that he go on surviving.

Even with a good working knowledge of Velvet and his role the fourth Holy Grail war, this first episode of a series focused on him makes a lot of jumps backwards and forwards through time—probably more than should be necessary.

That being said, the story moves along well, from one final parting shot of Fuyuki Bridge ten years ago, to hanging upside down in the Archisorte Mansion seven years ago. There, he regails Lord El-Melloi’s blood niece and (sister-by-succession) Reines with an adventure he had while visiting the ancient ruins of Babylon some months after the war.

After being captured by a fellow ex-Clock Tower student Barzan, Waver meets another former classmate in Melvin. They break out of their cell and blow up the archaeological site believed to be where Iskandar is buried, which Barzan has been using as a workshop for illicit magecraft.

Once they’re both free, Waver asks Melvin to forgive him for being unable to pay back the money he borrowed to travel to Japan for the Holy Grail war he then went on to lose. But Melvin was impressed both by the fact Waver even did survive, and with his display of no-nonsense practical magecraft to get them out of a tough spot, so he decides to lend him more money; this time to buy the late Lord El-Melloi’s class.

Three years later, Waver has steadily managed the class, and now finds himself before Reines, who simply wants to know why he did so. Waver simply feels responsible for El-Melloi’s death, and thus feels carrying on the class is his duty. Reines, still too young to be a proper lord, decides to make Waver’s role in El-Melloi’s legacy official by naming him Lord El-Melloi until she comes of age.

In accepting the title, Waver agrees to help the nearly insolvent El-Melloi family repay their debts (through those titular Case Files) and try to restore the family’s heirloom magical crest that was heavily damaged in the war, and without which the family will surely fall. All he asks in return is to have “the second” added to his title, so that he need not bear the exact same title as his mentor; something he feels he doesn’t deserve.

And that’s how Waver Velvet became Lord El-Melloi II seven years ago. Flash forward to the present, and an older, more stately former-Mr. Waver meets his apprentice Gray (introduced in the preview episode) in the hallway, then sits down with a similarly older Reines and Melvin to discuss…the next case.

While this episode had no shortage of F/Z references, if the show keeps doing that it’s going to feel like a crutch. I for one think this show can stand on its own as a supernatural mystery-of-the-week kind of deal. It’s all about managing expectations, something Waver certainly knows a lot about, having always operated on shoestring resources and third-rate magic.

Attack on Titan – 58 – The…Attack Titan

The entire flashback with Grisha being rescued by the Owl, Eren Kruger, is being retold by Eren as Armin writes it down and Mikasa listens in an adjacent cell. Eren is able to provide this information from many years ago thanks to his coordinate status.

Among the things he learns is that once given the powers of a Titan, a subject of Ymir will only live 13 years, something Mikasa dismisses out of hand, as she’s probably committed to making sure her beloved Eren lives to at least 100.

Kruger doesn’t have any comfort or solace to give to Grisha, because he was never given any himself. He’s only been able to survive as an Eldian spy within Marley by actually acting the way a Marleyan would; injecting his countrymen and casting them over the wall one after the other. By the same token, he deems Grisha so suited to save Eldia because he has already set that path into motion by leaving the gates of the ghetto with his sister.

Leave it to Titan to break up all that dourness with a couple moments of levity, such as when Eren seems to pose when he repeats what Eren Kruger called his Titan: the Attack Titan. This is funny on several levels, as Levi waves it off as latent chuunibyou on the teenage Eren’s part, while the older Hange is ignorant about such things. More than that, though, Eren finally gets to say the title line—a title that in English perhaps never should have had that confusing “on” in it…

There’s also the suggestion that for the duration of their imprisonment, Mikasa only ate the bare minimum to stay alive, and thus was literally wasting away without Eren by her side. But their sentences are commuted and they’re free to go, seeing as how they’re heroes of humanity and all.

“Free to go” is relative, however. They’re out of the stockade and back in uniform, but they are ordered to attend an audience with none other than Queen Historia, who feels a connection to Ymir’s letter similar to Eren’s with the books and photo they found in the Basement.

While the words of the letter seem to be not much more than the “love letter” they appear to be, it’s clear Ymir sent it in its form in order to deliver far more and different information to Tory; she’s just not sure what to do with it, or even whom to tell. She’s just glad to see Eren, Mikasa and Armin, and embarrassed when they all bow before her.

At the hearing, Hange delivers the report full of revelations provided by Eren and recorded by Armin, all about the reality that their kingdom within the walls being but a tiny sliver of the real world, and that the vast majority of that world is dedicated to their destruction.

As he listens to the testimony with everyone else, the new memories provided by Grisha continue to swirl in his head. He notes that the Titan into which Dina Fritz transformed was the same Titan who ate his mother and Hannes. When he met that Titan later and touched it, a similar surge of information suddenly flowed into him.

Now he knows why, and he almost blurts it out, but thankfully Hange can sense why he ends up holding his tongue, and chalks it up to his chuuni phase to the assembled bigwigs. What Eren now knows is that it’s possible for him to gain the vaunted powers of the Founding Titan—the main mission Kruger gave Grisha when he sent him to the walls—by touching Historia while she is a Titan.

He’s loath to bring this up because he doesn’t want to see Historia suffer any more than she already has. But what if, like Grisha and Kruger and so many other subjects of Ymir before them, he’ll have to sacrifice something important in order to gain that which will restore Eldia.

Or perhaps not; perhaps Eren is supposed to break that cycle. After all, another part of Kruger’s mission to Grisha was for him to fall in love with someone in the walls, raise a family, and love them. Now there are people Eren loves, and perhaps there are lines he won’t cross, even for the sake of saving the world.

Attack on Titan – 57 – Prisons

We return to Grisha’s accounting of the day he learned he was a prisoner, and always was. A prisoner of the oppressive Marleyans who confine all the Eldians to internment camps. A prisoner of history, for the Marleyans punish the Eldians for the crimes of their ancestors.

He’s a prisoner in his powerless child’s body, unable to save his little sister Fay from a terrible fate—being attacked and eaten by guard dogs—just for the crime of leaving the camp without permission. And he’s a prisoner to his father, who is a full-on collaborator who is happy to condemn his ancestors if it means being able to live out his humble life.

We also learn that the lands where the three walls that were the entire setting for Titan up to this point are only a tiny sliver of the world; in fact, everywhere Eren & Co. have ever known occupy a relatively small island called Paradis—the last refuge of King Fritz and the Eldians.

When Grisha learns the truth about Fay (confirming his suspicions), he joins an underground movement of “restorationists” bent on restoring once great Eldians—and of course, exacting revenge on Marley for their brutal oppression. They are aided by a member of Marleyan security, known only as the “Owl.”

That informant sends them the last surviving descendant of the Eldian royal family: Dina Fritz, and she and Grisha soon fall in love, get married and have a son, Zeke. But their attempts to indoctrinate him and make him the instrument of Eldian salvation fail miserably, as he turns in his own parents to save himself and his grandparents.

Grisha doesn’t blame his son—after all, he ended up building a prison for Zeke just as his father had tried to build for him: the prison of adopting the beliefs (and grudges) of one’s predecessors. But after thorough torturing, he, the other members of his cell, and Dina, are all sent to the island of Paradis, to be injected with serum to transform them into wandering Titans. Dina is transformed first.

Eren suddenly wakes up in a stockade in the present—he realizes he’s been connected with his father’s memories, such that it feels more like he’s been re-living Grisha’s experiences rather than simply having a normal dream. He and Mikasa are behind bars for their insubordination of Levi, but Armin, whom they defied Levi to save, is there with them.

Back in Grisha’s recounting, he finds himself at the boundary of the Titan penal colony, having just seen his friend and his wife transformed into mindless giant monsters, and the same officers he and Fay encountered the day she was killed are present with him. The mustachioed officer tells him he doesn’t feel remorse for the terrible things he does to Eldians because it was their ancestors who started the fight. Besides, life is more “interesting” if every day is lived like it’s your last.

As it happens, it is the last day for Mr. Mustache, as his colleague, Kruger, who was there back when Fay died and is here now, pushes him and not Grisha into the pit to be eaten by a Titan. Turns out Kruger is the Owl, and he cuts himself to transform into a lucid Titan, in order to demonstrate to Grisha what a Titan can do.

This was another trippy journey that vastly expanded the show’s universe and revealed more crucial answers about What This Is All About: a seemingly endless, vicious cycle of retribution between two races of men, neither of which can ever forgive the previous generations of the other; one ultimate prison, containing everyone in the world. So, when will Eren & Co. try to squeeze through the bars?

Attack on Titan – 56 – The MacGuffin Unveiled

After a very creepy dream, Armin wakes up atop the wall, beside an injured Sasha, remembering virtually nothing after Bertholdt transformed. Eren fills him in on everything that’s transpired since then. He learns he was chosen to live on over Erwin, not just because Eren and Mikasa insisted to the point of insubordination, but because Erwin gave Levi the final call, and he made it.

Furthermore, only nine members of the Scout Regiment remain: Hange, Levi, Eren, Mikasa, Armin, Sasha, Connie, Jean, and Floch…and that’s it. It’s a very end-of-The Last Jedi situation, with one important difference: they’ve dealt a serious blow to the Titans by freeing Wall Maria. Now there’s nothing between Eren, the others, and the mythical Basement. An an anime watcher only, I’ve been waiting for this for six years.

With such a long and drawn out buildup, a disappointment seemed nigh inevitable. And boy, do they ever lay the final buildup on thick, splicing scenes in the present day with scenes of Eren and Mikasa on the day the Titans came. But it works very well, thanks to the gorgeous scenery, haunting soundtrack, and all of the brooding closeups of the pair as they draw closer to the place where it all began.

After moving a boulder blocking the trap door, they access the hidden stair, but to Eren’s shock, his key doesn’t fit in the lock of the door they find. Levi simply smashes the door, and they walk into a seemingly innocuous chemist’s laboratory and office.

Even behind a locked door and hidden stair, Grisha took great pains to hide the secret of the basement from any possible incursion from the Interior Police. It’s not until Mikasa knocks a wooden cup on the ground that she spots another keyhole in the desk – one in which the key does fit.

Inside the unlocked drawer are three preserved books, the first of which contains a strange and very detailed and lifelike portrait. Grisha’s handwriting on the back describes it as a “photograph,” and reveals an entire society outside the walls that “lives elegantly.” Needless to say nobody in that room had ever seen a photo before, and there’s something very unnerving about that.

There’s an odd flash-forward showing Eren, Levi, Mikasa and Hange returning to further within the walls, where news has come Wall Maria has been taken back and the streets are full of celebration. Hange is holding the books they found in her arm. We don’t see their faces, but no doubt what they say in those books has changed them forever.

Post-credits, Grisha’s story begins when he runs out of the house with his little sister Kay in tow. His mother makes sure they’re wearing their armbands, and along with the whole bleak look of the place, high walls, loudspeakers, guards, and zeppelin, there’s a Nazi Germany ghetto vibe to the whole place, suggesting that life wasn’t so “elegant” for Grisha and his family.

Thousands of words could be written attempting to complete the picture this sequence only begins to paint. For instance, are the walls behind which Eren lived most of his life merely an upgraded version of the ghetto from which his dad hailed? What made the people in the ghetto different, besides clearly lacking the money of the zeppelin-riders?

Still, I’ll have to be patient at least one more week (since the French Open is wrapped up the next episode shouldn’t air late); no need for wild conjecture when the series seems committed to finally delivering the answers that had been delayed so long some feared they’d never come. But now here they are, and from what we’ve seen, they’re strange and disturbing…Classic Titan.

Fruits Basket – 07 – On the Outside Looking In

Tooru arrives for her mysterious meeting with Hatori and is brought to her office by Momiji. Hatori doesn’t mince words: when most of the members of the Souma clan aren’t aware of the Zodiac members’ secret—only around fifty “insiders” do—it’s an “outrage” that Tooru knows, and she should leave the Soumas and never have anything to do with them again.

It seems like a classic case of trying to scare someone off by making things sound far worse than they are, but when Momiji explains why Hatori is so resolute. He once had a girlfriend named Kana, who was a Souma but an “outsider.”

They loved each other deeply, and asked Akito for permission to marry, but Akito blew up at them, resulting in Hatori being blinded in one eye by glass from a shattered mirror. Kana blamed herself, and that blame turned into an obsession and an illness. The only way Hatori could save her was by wiping her memories of loving him.

Tooru is empathetic of Hatori’s position, but doesn’t want to leave Yuki, Kyou, and Shigure, the latter of whom suspected Hatori was up to no good and comes to put Tooru’s mind at ease, as Hatori is prone to over-drama. Still, he and Momiji have New Years-related matters to attend to, so Hatori escorts Tooru back to the front gates.

While doing so, Tooru gets lost in thought and slips down some stairs, and Hatori catches her, which technically means hugging her, and transforms into his zodiac animal: a dragon. But not a big dragon; a tiny, defenseless seadragon. As Tooru rushes to get him in water, he remembers this is exactly how Kana first reacted when she learned his secret.

That takes us down memory road, to when Hatori’s ice-cold heart was warmed by Kana’s warmth. A man who neither knew nor felt he needed love suddenly found himself not just receiving it, but giving it back in return. Kana accepted him for who he was, and if anything only loved him more because of it.

Things went seriously pear-shaped when they attempted to ask for Akito’s approval, an absolute must, considering he’s the boss. But Akito sees Kana as nothing but an outsider, not someone who would do anything about “the curse.” He says a great many terrible things to Kana that day, including that she’s to blame for Hatori if he goes blind.

That sets Kana on a downward spiral that leads to her memory being wiped, which was probably what Akito was going for. I must say in my limited exposure to him I’m not a fan of Akito…but hey, I wasn’t a fan of Hatori last week and here we are, seeing him in all his humanity, passion, and tragedy. Perhaps Akito’s story is even worse than Hatori’s!

Hatori comes to on a bench beside a worried Tooru, who then runs off to find his shoes that she dropped. While she’s gone, a newly-engaged Kana walks past as her friends congratulate her. From her perspective, Hatori never loved her, but it doesn’t change the fact she finds him more handsome than the man she’s going to marry; his dream man.

Tooru returns, it starts to snow, and when Hatori asks what Kana told her, she has the same answer Kana had: when snow melts, it doesn’t simply  mean water, but that Spring is coming. Tooru reminds Hatori of Kana on more than one occasion; he just hopes she doesn’t suffer the same fate.

As for “the curse,” Tooru tries to ask Shigure about it but he demurs, stating it’s not quite time to tell her, should he choose to do so. Then again, she wasn’t supposed to learn the Soumas’ secret; perhaps she’ll learn about the curse through plain happenstance…