Net-juu no Susume – 07

NJS episode 7 is a bit of a let-down, and almost feels like a waste of time, were it not for the development at the very end. Otherwise, we’re in a familiar holding pattern, in which Sakurai tries in vain to give up on Morioka while still interacting with her in Fruits de Mer.

It’s a really untenable position, especially when “Hayashi” gets to talking with “Lily” about her two dates and has a lot more to say about the first one with him than the second one with Koiwai. When Hayashi notes that the first “woman” reminded her of Lily, it really starts to test Sakurai’s resolve.

That resolve is ultimately eroded even further when Koiwai starts playing Fruits de Mer and Morioka creates a new, female avatar, “Molly” who is visually the grown-up version of “Yuki”, whom Sakurai was good friends with in a past MMO.

Koiwai was more irritating than usual this week, for while I can’t fault the guy for wanting to get closer to Morimori, there’s something to be said for letting a NEET have her safe places to escape to, and his sudden imposing of himself into the world of FdM resembled a bull in a china shop (except when he stepped away to email Sakurai; then the bull stood perfectly still).

But if the show is trying to sell us the story of Sakurai and Morioka, there’s something distasteful about every scene with Morioka and Koiwai; it triggers an impatience, especially when combined with Morioka’s continued ignorance of Lily’s true identity and her believe a guy like Sakurai would never be interested in her.

Perhaps once Sakurai creates a new male avatar resembling his old one who Yuki confided in, maybe she’ll start to put the pieces together. But just as I can’t fault Koiwai for continuing to pursue Morioka, I can’t fault Morioka for not knowing the truth, because the easiest way for that to happen is with Sakurai simply telling her, which he has utterly failed to do for yet another week.

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Juuni Taisen – 07

We finally get a bit of story on Snake and Dragon, the only two warriors who came into the Juuni Taisen as a built-in pair of allies, at least until only the two of them were left. The older Dragon is more serious and into hacking, while the younger Snake has a little less caution and prefers to do the smash-and-grabbing.

When the two learn they’ll be in the Taisen, fighting in a battle where there is only one person left standing, they’re…mostly fine with it? I guess? I mean, neither seemed interested in going against the path laid out for them. Of course, we learn that being matched pair going into the battle meant absolutely nothing against the psychotic Usagi.

If Dragon can barely muster a shrug at the death of his younger brother, um…why should I? These two are probably the most boring of the twelve warriors.

Sharyu is more interesting even as the undead servant of a necromantist, as Usagi has her collect the expired Uuma from the bank vault, likely to make yet another servant. He’s really running the table here.

Tiger’s talents seem to include being able to consume an infinite amount of alcohol (though we don’t get her story this week) and striking how and when her opponent least expects it, owing to her drunken-fist style.

In this case, her opponent is the headless Snake. She easily snatches his fuel tanks from him, and then…starts drinking them. Why she just assumed it was potable alcohol (and not de-natured or, worse, gasoline) I don’t know, but perhaps she could smell the difference?

Ox drops in on the headless, tankless, and one armless Snake…and then takes his other arm, and threatens to take his legs too. Why the “genius of slaughter” is being so sporting with a corpse is a bit beyond me; all he does is make himself a sitting duck for the instance when Snake’s disembodied arms fly out from the darkness and put a choke hold on both Ox and Tiger.

Ox ignites Tiger’s flammable mouth foam, seemingly incapacitating the Snake but also seemingly burning Tiger. And above it all, watching closely, is Dragon, still alive, but not seen since the opening meeting.

At this point, I’m starting to wonder if anyone will be able to succeed against Usagi, his growing legion of corpse friends, and his bottomless bag of underhanded tricks.

Made in Abyss – 13 (Fin)

Always cold and hungry yet full of longing to see the wonders of the Abyss, the still-human Nanachi was lured, along with a good deal of other disadvantaged children, to their doom by the dastardly White Whistle Bondrewd the Novel.

On the way down to the unreassuringly-named Sea of Corpses, Nanachi meets the ebullient Mitty. Weary at first, they hit it off almost immediately, buoyed by the exciting, life-changing adventure they’re about to undertake.

Did I say exciting and life-changing? I meant nightmarish and life-ruining/ending. One by one Bondrewd comes for the children until Nanachi and Mitty are the only ones left.

Neither has any idea what’s happening to the others until Bondrewd comes for Mitty, but not Nanachi, in the night. But Nanachi, now all alone, follows them, and sees and hears things she shouldn’t.

Bondrewd takes Nanachi’s disobedience as an auspicious event, and places them in a tube right beside a frightened, already-trapped Mitty, and calmly explains how the “experiment” is going to go down. The two descend to the Sixth Layer, where a horde of formerly-human things gather around their tubes.

Then the ascent begins, and all of the Curse is transferred to Mitty in a graphic, gruesome, and thoroughly upsetting sequence. Nanachi can only watch in the other tube, absolutely powerless to help. Mitty was Nanachi’s one and only true “treasure”, more important than any relic they might have found in the Abyss.

But, as we know, Mitty isn’t gone. Well, not totally. To Bondrewd’s delight, the double-dose of Sixth-Layer Curse not only took Mitty’s human form, but made it impossible for her to die. She is constantly disintegrating, regenerating…and suffering.

Nanachi flees Bondrewd’s clutches with Mitty (though it’s highly likely he lets them go) and eventually finds a place to live. But there is nothing Nanachi can do for Mitty. It’s not that they can’t put Mitty out of her misery due to emotional considerations…it simply isn’t possible.

Not until Reg and Riko came around. With his Incinerator, which Nanachi calls “Sparagmos”, or the “light that returns to the cardinal point”, Nanachi believes she can finally free Mitty’s long-suffering soul from what’s left of her body.

Reg asks for time to think it over, and worries that if he kills Mitty, Nanachi will feel they have no more reason to live, and might take their own life. Nanachi promises they won’t, and convinces Reg of the only right and proper course of action when they tell him that when they one day do die, Mitty will be left alone, suffering for all eternity.

After preparing a tasteful site for “sending off” Mitty, Nanachi only halts Reg from firing Incinerator for one last goodbye to her treasure, then tells him to do it. The ensuing inferno consumes every bit of Mitty until there’s nothing left. Just like that, she’s gone.

It’s ruinously sad, but I’ll admit, a HUGE relief her suffering is at an end. After all, her last words as a human to Nanachi in that tube were “kill me.” Hers was the kind of pure lasting suffering that’s hard to imagine or even comprehend, but I can grasp the catharsis, even if the hurt remains in the hearts of those who sent her off.

Things thankfully take a lighter turn when Reg awakens to find Riko is also awake, and starting her rehabilitation. Riko takes an instant liking to the cute and fuzzy Nanachi, and both Nanachi and Reg appreciate Riko’s far superior culinary skills.

After going through that emotional, visceral ringer, It’s awfully nice to see Riko back to normal. Then she asks if there wasn’t someone else there besides the three of them, and recalls a dream that made her think that.

The creepy dream we saw part of last week is put into context thanks to Riko. She is consumed by a kind of skin (representing her deep illness) and can only cry and panic, but when she sees that terrified, crying eye—Mitty’s eye in the waking world—she calms down, stares back, and tries to comfort her.

Then, after Reg sends Mitty off, Riko perceives it as Mitty (or rather, her soul) being restored to its human form before passing on. Then Riko realizes she needs to “get going”, and follows the light back to consciousness and out of her wounded stupor.

Upon hearing this “dream”, which was likely something more significant, Nanachi looks grateful that someone saw their treasure in the moment she finally achieved her freedom.

Nanachi takes Riko and Reg to a kind of healing hot spring, and enjoys watching Reg squirm as Riko proceeds to have no qualms whatsoever about bathing with him naked, all while quietly asking Mitty to wait “a little longer,” which could either be interpreted as Nanachi planning to take her life and join Mitty soon, or not until after she’s lived a life that now includes two new potential “treasures” in Reg and Riko.

After removing the mushrooms from her arm (another highly painful, unpleasant ordeal), Riko eventually regains the ability to lift her arm and even move her thumb. Reg blames his crappy amputation attempt for the state of her arm, but Riko doesn’t blame him; she asked him to do it, after all. She also heared from Nanachi how tearfully and desperately Reg tried to save her, and thanks him for that, regarding her nasty scar as “precious proof” he protected her.

Riko, like Reg before her, asks Nanachi if they’ll join them as they continue their journey further down the Abyss, and Nanachi agrees. The credits then roll over a lovely montage: Riko ties her backpack to a balloon and releases it, and they prepare for their journey as it makes its harrowing ascent past all the layers they’d passed, even requiring Marulk to free it from a branch and repair it.

It eventually reaches Nat, who looks shocked and elated to finally possess evidence of Riko and Reg’s progress. Having completed their preparations (and the construction of a big, sturdy new backpack), the new party of Riko, Reg, and Nanachi leave Nanachi’s cozy house behind, in search of trying to satisfy that most unstoppable longing for the unknown.

Meanwhile, in Bondrewd the Novel’s lab, he notices one of dozens of lights has gone out; a light signifying Mitty’s life. He is proud of and grateful to Nanachi for having finally gotten it done, as if letting them escape was yet another experiment. And he’s eager to meet her again. Ouzen was right; she’s kind and pleasant compared to this evil bastard.

And there we are; that’s a wrap! At least until a second season comes along. While I can assure you there are very few shows I’d want to jump into the second season of immediately, and this is one of them, I think a good long rest is in order, to recover from the emotional wounds it left in this final, epic, horrendously devastating yet still somehow hopeful, and achingly beautiful finale. I want to believe Riko’s mom is waiting for her. I have to.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 23

War explodes in, over, and around Anatae, as Lucifer joins the battle in his flagship, and the Onyx Soldiers and Charioce loyalists battle the alliance of demons, gods, and men. While these zoom-outs to the wider fighting certainly make for nice eye candy, what truly interested me was when they zoomed back in on the smaller, more intimate moments between various pairs of characters, be it Jeanne and Azazel, or Dias finding Alessand.

Alessand cries, begs for his life, and then stabs Dias when his guard is down, betraying him again. At that point, Dias is done with Al, except to drive a sword into him, but a little demon boy, who can see through Al’s forced smile, doesn’t fall for it, and kills him with a dagger.

After making the wrong choice to murder El in sight of a grander station, Al ended up slain by a small, frail, hungry child and died bleeding out in a dark alley. No songs will be sung of Alessand. But hey, he did get Nina into the palace, right?

Nina doesn’t understand Charioce one bit…but she sure wants to, and that means going to him once more, even if previous instances of doing so didn’t really turn out so well for her or anyone near her. Charioce waits on the top deck of aboard his flagship, surrounded by the Onyx Soldiers…who aren’t doing too hot.

Their bodies reach their absolute limit at just the wrong time: when their king needs them the most to protect him. But the combined force of Jeanne and Azazel proves too much for them, although not by much…if the Commander had had just a few more moments of life, he might’ve managed to stab Jeanne in the throat with a hidden blade.

Lucifer’s flagship, Bacchus’ wagon, and yes, an elevating bridge made out of zombies amassed by Rita bearing her and Kaisar, all descend on the same spot, where Charioce is about to be charged by Jeanne and Azazel. It’s Kaisar who makes it just in time to protect his king, and gets stabbed and impaled by their snakes and spear. Rita is beside herself, while Jeanne and Azazel are sheepish.

Charioce is shocked, but he shouldn’t be: Kaisar Lidfort is, and always has been, a true knight. If the world survives this latest attack from Bahamut, it will need more Kaisars, not more Charioces. A few Favaros wouldn’t hurt though…

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 22

While Charioce is in Eibos, trying to widen a rift, Jeanne is bringing demon, god, and man together in a grand alliance based upon their mutual hate of the asshole king, and Alessand is now in charge of the Orleans Knights, but a few of his subordinates wonder if they’re on the right side, and when Al tells himself he did nothing wrong, he doesn’t sound very convincing.

Kaisar, hopeless idealist to the end, tries in vain to halt Jeanne’s march by trying to shoulder responsibility for El’s death by giving Al free roam of their hideout. But this simply isn’t about who killed El; it’s about everyone Charioce has killed, hurt, or caused to suffer or despair. Like most things with Jeanne, this has grown into something far bigger than herself and her own desire for revenge…though she does want that revenge.

When Nina and Favaro arrive at Eibos via Bacchus’ wagon, through the obscuring fog they learn what Charioce is up to: awakening Bahamut. Nina rushes into the stronghold and takes down everyone in her path with ease, and even outmaneuvers and overpowers Charioce. But even with his own sword in her hand and the opportunity to cut off his arm and the bracelet attached to it, she can’t close the deal, even when he goads her to “do it”,  and backs down. Which…is a bit disappointing.

Instead, Nina and Favaro listen to Charioce’s advisor explain how this day was always coming; when Bahamut had to be dealt with on a permanent basis to prevent him from awakening anew and destroying the world. Charioce was the king that had been groomed to deal with this mission, and it’s one he’s more than willing to sacrifice his life to achieve. The rift opens further, Nina and Favaro escape, and Charioce comes into possession of a fleet of huge, advanced airships.

This is all very cool, it is…but while it’s now been helpfully explained why Charioce did so many terrible things (to acquire the power to destroy Bahamut) it’s still a classic ends-justify-the-means scenario, and just because he’s puting his life on the line doesn’t automatically make him a martyr.

That applies especially if the ends don’t work out; Bahamut is awakened and blows up most of Charioce’s fleet. Was…that supposed to happen? After all this, is Charioce in over his head? Whatever the case, Jeanne is fighting the wrong war; Bahamut has instantly become the Most Important Thing to deal with at the moment. The rebellion will have to wait.

Made in Abyss – 10

Riko and Reg’s first impressions of the Fourth Layer are that it’s very damp, humid, and majestic. the “Goblets” that give the Layer its name are filled with something that smells “vinegary”, which leads me to think it’s another kind of digestive juice you don’t want to be wading around in too long.

While looking for a place to camp (the first place they found had an odd presence shadowing them), they encounter an orbed-piercer – a predator that can kill them a heck of a lot quicker than gut juice. It’s a fearsome thing to behold – a growling yet unreadable red face with five holes, surrounded by shaggy white fur and poisonous barbs that can cut through steel.

Scary looks and pointy bits aren’t the only things in its arsenal – the piercer is also a lot smarter than the beasts they’ve encountered thus far, as Ozen warned them they would get. It’s quick, crafty, and thinks a step ahead.

Reg can’t get away from it, and in a matter of moments, three absolute disasters occur: they lose the Blaze Reap, their best weapon against tougher beasts (Reg dare not use his Incinerator); their umbrella shield is easily shattered, and one of the barbs pierces Riko’s left hand.

Reg has to deal with that quickly before the poison spreads and kills Riko, so he does something else that threatens her life: he escapes by ascending. In the fourth layer, humans start bleeding profusely out of every orifice, and that’s what happens to poor Riko.

As if that wasn’t grim enough, Riko’s hand swells to three times its size, and before passing out, she tells him the only thing for it is to cut her hand off. Reg breaks the bone first and then fights back tears as he works away at the arm with his knife, but the blood attracts a cloud of bugs that interrupt his work.

Both Riko and Reg are saved when “presence” they felt before makes its appearance – a rabbit-like creature offering help.

After following the creature’s instructions and giving a very purple Riko the kiss of life (without a moment’s hesitation, or bashfulness), she starts breathing again, thank the gods. Their new friend then leads them to her very cool and comfy-looking home in a place where the Curse of the Abyss has no effect, and introduces herself as Nanachi, what the upworlders would call a “Hollow.”

Made in Abyss continues to plumb new depths of acute peril and danger, not treating Riko or Reg—who are only little kids after all—with any more mercy than their surroundings.

I knew things would never be the same the moment Riko’s hand was pierced, and the entire ordeal to stabilize her was simply gutting, as we weren’t spared the most grisly details (haring Reg breaking and cutting Riko’s wrist was bad, but so was watching more blood bubble out of her eye after he wiped it dry).

Here’s hoping this Hollow person Nanachi can work some kind of magic to save Riko’s hand, even if, as she said, it will never be the same. That seems to be the enduring theme of Abyss – the further down they go, the quicker it is to be slaughtered, and the more things will never be the same.

Made in Abyss – 09

Riko and Reg descend the four thousand meters of the Great Fault (over ten Empire State Buildings, for those keeping count) using the “weakling’s way”, as Ozen suggested: the network of tunnels within the fault’s walls.

They quickly learn why when they inadvertently scare some flat, fluffy Neritantans out onto the edge, where a few quickly become lunch for the flying Madokajacks.

The Neritantans are ridiculously adorable, but this isn’t a place where you can be sentimental about such things if those animals are the only thing you can use to distract the predators that make no distinction between them and you.

Riko and Reg find the ancient ruins of a ship embedded in the fault wall, which raises so many questions, chief among them how it got there. In any case, it’s super cool. But just as the Madokajacks were distracted by the Neritantans, Riko is distracted by the prospect of finding cool relics.

She doesn’t realize until it’s too late that she’s strayed right into a Madokajack nest. Ozen warned Reg not to use Incinerator recklessly, but he’s confident Riko will be safe for the two hours he’s out if he uses it, so he does…and it continues to be a fantastic, if terrifying, sight to see.

What Reg didn’t know is that the strange distant sound he’d been hearing was a Crimson Splitjaw, who he grazed with the beam from Incinerator. He and Riko have to book it fast before he passes out, and they seem to receive som karmic justic when their only avenue of escape is blocked by tightly-packed, Neritantans.

If I didn’t know better, I thought I saw the thirst for vengeance in their beady little eyes. But the roar of the Splitjaw spooks them and they disperse. In a place of relative safety, Reg warns Riko to stay where she is and then passes out. Now who seriously thought Riko was just going to sit around?

No, She’s Got This, and wraps Reg’s extendo-arms around her and drags him behind her…straight into the digestive chamber of a Amakagame, yet another wonderfully bizarre beast of the Abyss. But this is Riko we’re talking about. Does she panic? No, she breaks out her knife and stabs the shit out of the Amakagame until she’s pierced its skin and escaped.

At first, I thought the legions of Neritantans that amassed around her were there to celebrate her vanquishing of the monster that claimed so many of their own—an “okay, we’re even now, you’re not so bad” kinda moment.

Then I remembered she smells like the fruit they love, and they swarm ravenously at her, the cute fluffy-looking animals suddenly a little more threatening. They cause Riko to fall down another steep tunnel, but far from a shortcut, it dumps her at the bottom of hexagonal basalt cave, and the only way out requires an ascent of several hundred feet.

It’s rough going, as Riko experiences headaches, dizziness, nausea, and the kicker: extremely realistic visual and auditory hallucinations. I mean, she might as well be on the holodeck, because she’s in a full-fledged dreamworld.

She knows what (and who) she’s looking at isn’t real…until her mother appears and they ascend all the way back up to Orth in the same gondola at the Seeker Camp. There, the entire city has come out to celebrate their return to the surface. What snaps her out of it? The fact that Reg isn’t there. He’s her totem, and he saves her butt again, without even being awake.

However, at nearly two hours, it’s really time he does wake up, and none too soon, either, as the Splitjaw that was after them before has found them again. Riko decides it’s time for Blaze Reap, but even as she wielded it and faced down the Splitjaw’s charge, it just didn’t look like she’d be able to do much damage.

Fortunately, Reg does, and uses his superior strength and speed to land a critical blow on the Splitjaw’s jaw, with the axe’s power causing multiple explosions that disable the beast once and for all.

With both kids awake and safe, Reg apologizes for going out so long, but Riko is actually appreciative: she learned by doing that taking this journey all by her self really would have been impossible, while Reg is certain it’d be impossible for him too if he didn’t have Riko with him.

Next up, the Fourth Layer: The Goblet of Giants.

Fate / Zero – 19

In Part 2 of How Kiritsugu Got So Messed Up, young Kiritsugu finds himself in a gender-swapped version of The Professional. Natalia is Leon, the ‘cleaner’ with a heart of gold who suddenly isn’t alone, and Kiritsugu is Matilda, the trauma-stricken, anger-filled youth searching for purpose.

After saving him, Natalia takes Kiri under her wing, gradually teaching him the basics. Before long he’s accompanying her on jobs, and if there’s one complaint I have with this episode (and it’s not a biggie), it’s that there’s really no transition between Kiri’s ‘kid’ and ‘adult’ voices.

What Nat continually drives into Kiri (whatever voice he has) is that her line of work, one’s own survival is the most important consideration. If you’re dead, it’s all for nothing. As a result of her training and care, Kiri becomes a highly capable and reliable apprentice. (She also eventually powders some of his ribs into 66 bullets).

The moment a Dead Apostle named Odd Vorzak appears in the tray of Natalia’s fax machine, I had the ominous feeling that it would be her last job, but while the destination was basically known, I still greatly enjoyed the journey. As a big job in which Kiritsugu plays a crucial role, flying to NYC ahead of Natalia and utilizing his bullets, there’s an auspicious tone to the proceedings.

While there are few things worse than getting the back of your seat kicked on a plane, what Natalia does to Vorzak is most definitely one of them. It’s a great scheme, transporting Kiri’s bullet into Vorzak’s back, and it’s executed perfectly. But it’s also all too easy, and I couldn’t help but think there would have been better, and more importantly safer ways to eliminate him.

Sure enough, while taking care of the bees in Vorzak’s luggage in the hold, all hell breaks loose in the cabin, as Vorzak was carrying more bees in his body. All 300 crew and passengers are quickly turned into vicious ghouls. By some miracle, Natalia is able to reach the cockpit, but it’s a long, tense trip to New York with those ghouls at the doo, and you can feel it.

Kiritsugu keeps Natalia company over the radio, in a beautiful scene that lessons the tension but still feels like it captures the specific emotions of the situation perfectly. As they talk, Natalia gets more an more sentimental, wondering if “playing at a family” is what caused her to screw up so badly, while Kiritsugu subtly talks of her in the past tense, sailing out into open water on one of the small, efficient little boats he loves to use.

There’s a wonderful ambiguity to what Natalia’s particular thoughts are about the conversation she’s having with Kiritsugu, and if and when she realizes that he’s preparing to destroy the plane before it lands. After all, she trained him, and always knew he had way too much potential in her line of work, not to mention her edict that her apprentice think of his survival first and foremost.

Whatever she feels or knows, the reveal of the missile launcher just as the dawn arrives, with a flock of seagulls circling Kiritsugu as if he were the center of a storm—it’s all wonderfully staged and directed. And before pulling the trigger Kiritsugu makes sure Natalia knows: he was glad to have her as a mother.

As is usually the case with Kiritsugu, I can totally understand why he does what he does, even if it’s absolutely horrible: that plane could not be allowed to land just because Natalia is dear to him. The other 300 people on the plane weren’t people anymore, and if they get out into the city, many many more people would’ve died. Kiritsugu couldn’t allow that, so he does what he couldn’t do when Shirley turned into a vampire: nothing more or less than What Has To Be Done.

There’s such a dark, bleak symmetry to Kiritsugu killing his real father and adoptive mother as bookends to his transformation into the Emiya Kiritsugu currently fighting the Holy Grail War. Natalia was such a great character who came out of nowhere, it was sad to see her go so soon, but we were dealing with flashbacks after all, and I had no reasonable expectation she would survive them.

The break in the present-day story was abrupt (especially since I haven’t watched episode 17 yet), but it was well worth the detour to learn more about the key protagonist of the story. It also demonstrated that whatever the timeline or setting, Fate/Zero knows how to tell a damned compelling story.

Fate / Zero – 18

Per a reader’s suggestion, I am watching the next three F/Z episodes in the order of 18-19-17. We’ll see how this goes. At the end of episode 16, Saber wondered what the hell happened to make Emiya Kiritsugu the kind of person he’s become. Episode 18 begins to answer that very question by taking a trip back to Kiritsugu’s childhood on picturesque Arimago Island.

Things couldn’t start out any more idyllic, with “Kerry” (what everyone calls Kiritsugu) cliff-diving with his friends on an absolutely perfect day before being picked up by Shirley, a very pretty young local who is serving as his father’s assistant. Kerry’s father is mage, developing flowers that never wilt in hopes of someday applying the same principles to humans.

Throughout the episode’s first acts, the gorgeous tropical setting could never quite hide the fact that there was something very fishy about Kerry’s father taking up residence in a secluded property on a remote island for mysterious magical experimentation related to immortality. That’s a lot of red flags.

One night Shirley shows Kerry that her flower has wilted, and that she will never be able to be anything other than a glorified lab assistant. She believes Kerry has a bright future following in his dad’s footsteps, and they both agree that his dad is doing something that will be able to help humanity immensely.

Kerry also recoils from Shirley when she gets too close to him, as he’s of the age where boys typically deny their attraction to the opposite sex despite biological evidence to the contrary.

However, it’s clear Kerry likes Shirley very much, which makes it that much more heartbreaking when I realized that beautiful night they talked would be the last. The next day, Kerry’s dad asks if he went into his lab, then warns him to stay in the house for the day.

When Shirley doesn’t arrive at the usual time, he sneaks out to look for her, and finds an empty medicine bottle on the floor of her house. Shirley herself has set to work sucking the blood of the chickens in her yard, as whatever medicine she took turned her into some kind of vampire.

Kerry, unable to grant Shirley’s wish to kill her, seeks refuge in the church, but before long the entire island turns into a battlefield. The vampirism spreads quickly from Shirley to the other townsfolk, and Church Executors have to work overtime to kill them, while the Mages Association sets everything ablaze in order to protect their secrets.

Kerry ends up running through the middle of this hellscape (and as he’ll say to Saber years later, all war is hell) and almost gets himself killed, but he’s saved by a mysterious woman who is very handy with firearms, using them in an efficient manner that reminds me of Kiritsugu’s own style in the present.

She tells him everyone has turned into “dead apostles”, and she’s there to eliminate Kerry’s father…but Kerry gets to him first. When he asks his dad about his work and what it did to Shirley and the town, his father is, shall we say, not particularly contrite. Indeed, he seems to consider all of the horrible things that have happened a minor inconvenience, and is eager to escape the island get back to work.

Unable to muster any words in response to his father’s despicable attitude, Kerry stabs him in the gut with the dagger Father Simon gave Shirley to protect her from the evils he believed Kerry’s father to be messing with. He then takes a pistol and kills him, before the lilac-haired woman shows up.

By doing so, he did what had to be done, something he wasn’t able to do with Shirley, a misstep that ended up costing the entire town. As he escapes from the island with the woman, I imagine Kiritsugu—no longer “Kerry”—won’t be hesitating that much more from here on out.

Fate / Zero – 16

It’s no rest for the weary or hungry in the immediate aftermath of the defeat of Caster and his monster. Sola-Ui is hoping her beloved Lancer’s contributions will net her a fresh command seal, but she ends up losing her two remaining seals when Maiya sneaks up and cuts her fucking arm off before calmly reporting to Kiritsugu.

Sola-Ui’s fiancee Kayneth seems to fare better, as he manages to convince Risei to bestow upon him a new seal as a reward, then shoots Risei before peaceing out of the church, though if I were him I’d have checked to see if the brakes weren’t stuck on; he seemed to have some trouble with the wheelchair.

When Lancer returns to report that Sola-Ui is alive but missing, a particularly revitalized Kayneth really lays into his Servant, even accusing him of seducing his fiancee, just like he seduced that of his commander of yore. Lancer has to break into the endless berating, because someone has arrived.

That someone is Saber, with Iri in tow. While everyone is exhausted from the battle, there is yet some time before the dawn, so she (probably wisely) suggests there will be no better time to get their chivalrous duel out of the way.

Lancer assents, and the two have at it with a kind of infectious glee, finally able to fight nobly one-on-one after such a distasteful monster battle. If ever there was a ‘heromance’ on Fate/Zero (not a one-sided one like Caster), it’s these two. Which is why it’s so heartbreaking to see their noble duel cruelly cut short by the implementation of Kiritsugu’s underhanded but ruinously effective gambit to take Lancer and Kayneth off the board for good.

The dueling Saber and Lancer are essentially distracting themselves from the fact their masters are in the shadows, “negotiating.” I use quotes because Kiritsugu has all the leverage and Kayneth has none. Kiritsugu has Sola-Ui, and makes Kay sign a contract of geis in which Kiritsugu will be unable to kill or even harm him or Sola-Ui. In exchange, Kay has to use his final command seal to force Lancer to run himself through with his own single remaining lance.

Kay takes the deal, and the impaled Lancer is disgusted and enraged, cursing everyone—including Saber, whom he assumes is in on it—as he slowly dies and evaporates into the either. Then Kiritsugu holds up his end of the bargain: he can’t kill Kayneth or Sola-Ui…so he has Maiya do it for him, and when Kayneth is begging for death, Kiritsugu must decline due to the contract. Ice. Cold.

It falls to Saber to put Kayneth out of his misery, but no one is more disgusted with Kiritsugu than she, as she openly questions his true motives for winning the HGW, considering the underhanded, dishonorable depths to which he is willing to stoop.

Even Iri, who Kiritsugu points out hadn’t seen “the way he kills” until now, is clearly angry at him and demands he speak to Saber directly and not through her. And Kiritsugu finally explains why he’s been so loath to interact with Saber and so unwilling to heed her council: because she is a knight, imbued with heroic honor and chivalry. And he doesn’t believe a knight can save the world.

Throughout history, knights and other heroes have inspired men to set out, fight, and die. It’s a deadly wheel that Kiritsugu intends to break. If he is victorious, he will see to it the blood shed in the HGW will be the “last blood shed by humanity,” and he doesn’t care what he has to do or how his actions make him look, as long as he gets the job done. It’s the ultimate ends-justify-the-means argument, and it’s hard to argue with it.

Saber’s reaction to Kiritsugu’s passionate rant is to deduce that for someone to speak the way he does, he must have at some point in he past fought nobly and justly, only for something to go horribly wrong to lead to his fall from chivalry. Saber is of the mind that his methods not only won’t break the wheel, but strengthen it by stoking resentment, hatred, and further conflict unbound by any decency.

I can appreciate both viewpoints (a testament to the quality writing and characterization) and while I can’t endorse Kiritsugu’s methods, I can’t argue with their utility and effectiveness thus far: only Rider, Berserker, and Archer remain in the war, and he has all of his command seals.

But I take the collapse of the downright exhausted Iri after Kiritsugu departs as a bad omen; things have been going too smoothly so far. I sense rougher seas ahead.

Made in Abyss – 08

“If they die now, it just means they didn’t have what it takes to go any further.” Harsh they may be, truer words were never spoken. Despite her ice-cold demeanor and gloomy, threatening affectation, I have no doubt Ozen would be immensely disappointed if Riko and Reg died during their ten-day survival test.

Now obviously they’re not going to die—and she probably knows that. There may be a lot of bugs when they use fire and a grumpy hippo-like beast who doesn’t want them near his water, but Riko and Reg make a great team, and they have, after all, lived and survived off the land up until now.

Thus Ozen would be worried, even if she was capable of being worried about the two kids passing the test. Ozen takes us back to when Lyza introduced her to a frail-looking young man named Torka whom she married. In a classic Ozen move, she fast-forwards to after Torka has passed away from the effects of the Abyss, and Ozen has to deliver a stillborn Riko.

But as much of a ‘hassle’ as it was, Ozen remained faithful to her dear apprentice, who had progressed so far only to go through so much pain and anguish, and assures the suddenly-alive baby Riko of her “strong sense of duty” which continues to the present now that Lyza’s daughter has descended to her lair.

The product of her duty returns, dirty and exhausted but very much alive after ten days. Reg points out it feels like more, and when Ozen invites them to sup with her, she tells them of how being in the Abyss warps one’s sense of time (among other parts of the brain), such that while Riko has lived ten years since coming up to the surface, to Lyza down in the netherworld it may have felt like a scant ten months; possibly even less.

Needless to say, this is very heartening to Riko, but Ozen warns her and Reg to avoid the three White Whistles besides Lyza who are lurking in the lower layers as they speak, and when she says one of them isn’t “kind like I am”, you know she’s not joking: she, and everything we’ve seen of her, is still kinder than The Sovereign of Dawn, Bondrewd the Novel. 

I love the idea of White Whistles being their own tiny, elite tribe of eccentrics, and to think they get more eccentric (and less human) than Ozen is…a little unsettling. She’s also still not sure what to make of the note Riko thought was written by Lyza.

After giving Riko her mother’s pickaxe, Blaze Reap, she sits her and Reg down and begins to tell them all of the things they’ll need to know as they continue their descent. These are secrets usually kept between White Whistles exclusively, but as Riko is the spawn of one and is headed to their realm, it only makes sense. It’s a sobering experience for Reg to hear of all the strange things on the lower layers, and Ozen doesn’t mince words.

But Ozen isn’t trying to discourage them; only to prepare them as much as one can be prepared. When it comes time to say goodbye, Ozen isn’t present, so Marulk and the raiders see off Riko and Reg. Marulk is particularly sad to see them go, and her tears not only cause Riko and Reg to tear up, but me as well!

Ozen recalls one final pivotal exchange she had with Lyza after they returned to the surface. Lyza, whose face is finally fully revealed, has not only taken on an apprentice (Jiruo, AKA Leader), but has made the decision to make another descent in order to allow Riko to decide for herself what kind of life she’ll lead. She asks Ozen to tell Riko about all of the miracles that had to occur so she could live; Ozen agrees.

Back in the present, with her duty now done, Riko and Reg set out for deeper depths approaching the terrifying sheer pale walls of the Great Fault and the Third Layer. While it seemed strange and alien at first, the longer we spent in the Inverted Forest, the more comfortable, even cozy it felt.

The edge of the Fault couldn’t be any less hospitable. It will be exciting to see what other wondrous sights they’ll see in this newest setting—and what fresh devilry with which they’ll have to contend.

Fate / Zero – 15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE REFLECTION – 02

This week’s THE REFLECTION didn’t so much move the plot forward as provide voices and context to the various players we saw in action last week. But I couldn’t help but wonder if most (or all) of the new information presented this week could have filled in all of the long pauses last week, adding pace and urgency to what was, if I’m generous, a slog.

Upon inspecting Red’s Baltimore apartment, X-On concludes that she’s stalking him. She wants him to teach her how to use her powers properly so she can use them for good like him, but he’s “not feeling it” and would rather she redirect her focus on someone else…say “Wraith.”

Meanwhile, after his little battle in New York Ian saves some suit fuel by hitching a ride on a jetliner’s wing before landing in his very Tony Stark-like Malibu beach mansion, where a team of men (rather than robots in Tony’s case) disassemble his suit to reveal a bearded old musician who had one big hit, “SKY SHOW”, in the 80s. The Reflection gave him a new life as a hero, a mantle he’s comfortable staying in the suit to nurture.

While the bad guys, seemingly led (or at least counseled) by a guy who looks just like Stan Lee, ponder their next move, eager to gather more ability users to their side, Red researches “Wraith” and notices something on the NYC camera footage (though the zoom-in-and-enhance only reveals a larger blurry black blob to us).

Then there’s that group of high school girls in Japan we saw in last week’s cold open. As their classmates talk about NYC, they prepare to decide on a name for their “group”, suggesting they have powers and are ready to work together to use them. It’s no coincidence that the ED consists of four Japanese girls in what looks like school uniforms singing and dancing.

But again, due to the questionable animation (gutsy in theory, lazy-looking in execution), and inefficient use of time, I’ll have to qualify last week’s “watchable” 7 with this week’s “niche appeal” 5, as this is certainly an acquired taste. Put together, THE REF is an underwhelming 6 so far…but I still want to know what happens next.