Call of the Night – 04 – Lay Your Troubles Down

Asai Akira can’t sleep. She gets up way too early, and with nothing else to do, simply goes to school early. Her home life seems lonely. There’s nothing for her there but a roof, a bath, and a bed.

For once, Kou doesn’t have to wander all over the city looking for Nazuna; she’s waiting for him in the park. But she doesn’t spot him, so he wanders around anyway. He isn’t ready to see her yet, but when they do meet in the night, he confidently offers her his neck in a way she finds lewd. You see, he believes he’s in love, so drinking his blood now will turn him. He’s ready.

So she drinks his blood as he stands there, half-confident, half-terrified, and…nothing happens. He’s still a human, and his blood still tastes great. Turns out he’s not in love with Nazuna; not yet. Nazuna tells him it’s love’s wild sibling lust. Also, she thinks kissing is just something friends do!

The next night, Akira wakes up before midnight and knows she’ll never get back to sleep, so she heads to school as usual, except she runs into Kou, who invites her to join him in answering the proverbial call of the night. They hang at Nazuna’s for some late-night PSOne games. Nazuna is unbeatable at Street Fighter, while a dating sim leads to talk of bosoms.

Akira was initially worried about what Kou was getting up to of nights, but if this night is any indication, his nights are pretty wholesome. Then Nazuna invites both of them to sleep in her bed, and it’s extremely awkward for Akira, especially when Nazuna drinks Kou’s blood right next to her.

Nazuna tells Akira that Kou’s blood is uncommonly tasty, but Akira wants know know what Kou gets out of their little arrangement. That’s when Kou comes clean about wanting to become a vampire. After all, why keep things from a friend?

When Akira asks if he’s already one since his blood has been drunk, he clarifies that he must fall in love with Nazuna to become a vampire. That causes Nazuna to curl into a ball of embarrassment, unable to handle talk of romance as usual.

Eventually the three settle down for the night, and with rain falling outside and no umbrellas, Akira lies beside them, specifically next to Akira. He tells her he knows she was worried about him so he wanted to show her what his nights are like. She tells him to uncross his arms so he can relax, and when his hand touches hers, she doesn’t mind.

Smiling, Akira tells Kou that he should be what he wants to be, because even if he’s a vampire, they’ll still be friends. She says goodnight and turns over, but her smile remains because she can’t remember the last time she said “goodnight.” It felt good, and with the darkness and Kou beside her and the calming rain outside, Akira finally catches some Zs.

Too many Zs, in fact, as she’ll be late for school. But before she dashes out the door, Nazuna asks if she slept well, because that’s what happens when people are satisfied with their day. Akira must’ve been, for she couldn’t sleep before, but here she did. I wonder if she’ll make it a more frequent thing?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Call of the Night – 03 – Night Fight

While I could absolutely keep watching just Kou, Nazuna, and the night for ten or eleven more episodes, the introduction of Asai Akira doesn’t ruin the vibes. In fact, she brings a unique dynamic: Kou’s only human friend, something he didn’t think he had in her. When he placed the blue watch on the mailboxes, he didn’t mean to place it right above Akira’s, but that’s how she took it.

When Kou was an aloof kid off on his own in the playground, only Akira went to him to see what he was up to. When he said he was fine not joining the others, she joined him instead, and declared them friends. He didn’t object, but he probably forgot that exchange that Akira dutifully maintained. She still considers him a friend, and is glad he’s doing okay.

So Kou begins leaving ever-so-early from his nightly visits to Nazuna’s for some bed-lying and blood-sucking so he can meet up with Akira (who is an early bird to his night owl). Nazuna jokes that he’s going off to see another woman, and immediately senses from his expression that she’d accidentally nailed it. That said, Kou admits in voiceover that he and Akira don’t do much other than exchange inoffensive small talk.

On one such occasion in the park, he asks if Akira is having fun. She puts the question to him, and he says he isn’t not having fun, so she replies that she is. Just as Kou, extremely inexperienced in such things, starts wondering if Akira likes him, Nazuna menacingly emerges from the shadows only to give Kou a friendly pat on the shoulder and congratulate him for doing “hanky-panky”.

She tells Akira her and Kou’s relationship is “purely physical”, and while Akira’s mention of romance (upon hearing Kou call her “Nazuna-chan) once again makes Nazuna blush, she shakes that off by basically marking her territory, sucking Kou’s neck right in front of Akira and announcing she’s a vampire.

At a 24-hour café, the three sit, and Akira tries to grasp the situation. She asks Kou if he’s skipping out on school because of Nazuna. While she may kind of be the reason now, she wasn’t the original reason, which was that he simply couldn’t be bothered with it anymore. Akira feels the same way, especially with Kou gone, but didn’t ditch because she thought she had to go.

She thinks she’d have more fun if Kou were around, so she asks him to come back to school. When Kou doesn’t immediately refuse and seems to hesitate, Nazuna seemingly gets miffed and suddenly splits. Kou follows after her, asking if she’s angry and why, but Nazuna doesn’t feel like spilling it out, and is clearly still mad, so she flips him off and does her vampire warpspeed thing. Kou looks for her all night, without success.

Finally, in that magical in-between time just before sunrise, Kou falls on his face while climbing some stairs, then uses his receiver watch to call Nazuna. She responds, and he proceeds to tell her that while he doesn’t really “get” fights like the one they’re apparently in, but he wants to make up with her. With that, Nazuna suddenly appears, and is once again as honest with him as he was with her, saying she was “ticked off” by him hesitating after Akira asked him to come back to school.

Turns out she misunderstood; Kou hesitated because he wasn’t sure how to tell a human friend that couldn’t go back to school because he wanted to become a vampire. With that cleared up and the two well and truly made up, Nazuna notices the blood from Kou’s tumble, and proceeds to kiss him in order to drink it, remarking that “a lot came out”. She liked how he said human friend, and that it suggested he had a vampire friend too. Kou may not know this since she’s his first, but vampire friends do kiss.

Call of the Night – 02 – Not Just Any Neck Will Do

Kou and Nazuna met quite by chance, so it’s not surprising the next night when Kou looks everywhere and can’t find her. They set neither a time nor a place. Fortunately fortune smiles upon him as Nazuna eventually drops in on him, saying she was busy looking for some rando to drink blood from.

Since Nazuna told Kou before that drinking blood is like eating and “copulating” at the same time, he’s a little miffed that she’d copulate with just anyone, but she tells him that’s just what vampires do. Different necks are like different kinds of food to them.

What matters is they found each other, and Kou wants to make sure it’s easier next time, so asks if they can exchange numbers. Only problem is, Nazuna doesn’t have a phone. Well, she does, but she apparently bought it in the 80s, because it’s almost the size of her boombox.

Nazuna led Kou to her place to find said gigantic phone, and once they’re there, she soon plops into bed after a long night of searching for necks to bite. Kou isn’t sure what to do until she opens the covers so he’ll join her. But the prospect of her sucking other necks sticks with him.

That’s when Nazuna confesses she was looking for him all night too…she was just too embarrassed to say it. Kou accepts her apology, and unlike the last time when he whipped out his neck willy-nilly, here he gets the timing right, and she leans in for a drink.

Both the character design and Amamiya Sora’s voice acting really nail that combination of predation and vulnerability has always made vampires so fascinating. As she dozes next to him, happy as a clam, Kou is relieved and happy not that she finds his blood tasty, but because they both felt the same way: they wanted to see each other again.

The next night they have an equally hard time finding each other, but the inevitably do, and Kou presents her with a solution to her problem that avoids her having to buy a (new) cell phone: a pair of receiver watches. While a desperately dorky thing, I’m not surprised that Nazuna is into it and wants to play with them.

This leads to Kou telling her a story of how he bought a pair when he was younger, even though he didn’t have a friend. Instead of making one, he hid the watch hoping someone would find it, but while it was eventually taken, he never worked up the courage to use it to call that person (or rodent).

Nazuna is right that it’s a bleak story on its face, but Kou is also right that being around people can make some people more lonely than being on their own. The two dorks proceed to have a grand old time communicating and laughing together on their watches, culminating with Kou remarking that they’re like a couple that just started out.

Nazuna puts the perfect capper on the evening by giving Kou another aerial ride over the city lights, this time to a new insert song. At times, the pair look like they’re dancing in the sky, ’cause they kinda are. The puppy love is strong here, and these two are simply the cutest.

Nazuna lands them on the school roof, and even though Kou hates school during the day and has not been going, the night makes it a more enjoyable place to be. Nazuna walks up to him and casually sucks his blood for the first time outside her apartment—and at school, no less! As she puts it, “Talk about indecent behavior!”

But while Nazuna is super casual about drinking his blood, showing a lot of skin, and saying “copulate”, Kou soon picks up that when it comes to love and romance, she gets super-embarrassed, which is how Kou “gets back” at her stolen neck bite by calling her by her first name and adding “-chan”, which turns her beet-red and has her covering her face with her awesome cloak.

On the way home just before daybreak, Kou wonders if the blue receiver watch he left atop the mailboxes is still out there somewhere. Just as he’s dismissing that idea, he gets a signal from his red receiver watch, and a girl in a school uniform and messy dark hair calls him by his name…

Call of the Night – 01 (First Impressions) – Carpe Noctem

Now that’s what I’m freakin’ talkin’ about! Call of the Night is a pitch-perfect vampire rom-com from start to finish with a keen understanding of how to set tone and atmosphere, and the entire episode takes place over a single night—one of my favorite settings, being a night owl myself.

The infrequent scenes from Yamori Kou’s ordinary middle school life are shot relatively normally, but the light (and indeed, normalness) of those scenes feels oppressive, while the sprawling, shimmering night feels like a release. Kou doesn’t get things like “crushes” and “confessions”, but this place? This time? He gets it.

Surfing the web for remedies to his insomnia, many bring up booze as a surefire way to eventually lose consciousness, so he walks up to a very brightly-lit beer vending machine, and just as he’s making his selection, a sinister figure wreathed in shadow sidles up to him, questioning his legal age to purchase alcohol.

But the girl is only playing around; she has no intention of snitching. Indeed, she tags along with Kou as his night continues, passing by three older dudes who took the advice of the internet and got rek’d. Kou is awed by how she can so casually high-five strangers, but that’s what the night is all about: it’s a time of freedom; of casting off inhibitions and living.

When Kou is starting to feel a little tired, the quirky lilac-haired girl invites him up to her place, a sparse studio with a futon on the floor. The girl disrobes—as in, removes her robe, not all her clothes—but reveals, well, a revealing crop top, which catches the romance-averse Kou off-guard and makes him wonder what this girl’s intentions are.

She tells him: there’s nothing in the world wrong with two people simply sleeping in the same bed together. Even though the weird girl remains very much awake and basically stares at him the whole time, Kou can’t help but feel far more relaxed with her beside him than no one at all.

Kou is also good at pretending to be asleep; so good that the girl assumes he is, the light suddenly changes from deep purplish blue to warmer fuchsia, she bares her fangs and sinks them into Kou’s neck. For those not paying attention, yes: this chick is a vampire.

If a series is going to spend so much time at night, it had better know what to do with light, shadow, and color, and boy does Call of the Night ever know. Some scenes even reminded me of Fantasia. When Kou wakes up with blood on his neck, her fib about a giant mosquito doesn’t hold water (or blood).

That said, he keeps his head as the girl causally admits what she is, though he wonders why he hasn’t become a vampire. Here’s where the two find they share something in common, besides a love of the night: while some vampires go around making a whole mess of offspring, she’d…rather not. Just like Kou would rather not participate in all the junior high drama.

Perhaps it’s because she feels as comfortable around him as he does around her, the girl lets slip a truth about vampires: one way to become one is to have your blood sucked by a vampire you’re in love with. One thing I love about this girl is that she can get just as frazzled talking about this stuff as Kou.

She redirects the conversation to ask him how his first night “taking a step outside the norm” felt, out here in the place furthest he can hope to get from the things he thinks are a pain. He asks her formally to let him fall in love with her, but she promises nothing. She’ll just keep sucking his blood; if he wants to fall for her, he can go right ahead.

Now that they’re in agreement, they exchange names—her’s is Nanakusa Nazuna—and she resolves to “infuse more night” into him and his blood, which she maintains tastes best at night, just before going to bed. To that end, Nazuna kicks him off the roof of her high-rise apartment building…only to catch him in the blink of an eye long before he hits the pavement.

Thence, Nazuna princess carries Kou on aerial tour of the late night cityscape, flipping him upside down for an even more unique perspective. As he simply sits there in her arms in quiet but intense awe at what’s happening, Nazuna seems to take a great deal of pleasure from it as well.

And that’s the key to this: for as traditionally horny as vampires are depicted and as revealing as Nazuna’s garb is, this is a surprisingly sweet and innocent love story in the works. It’s about two outsiders in their happy place, staying up late and embracing the freedom of the night. With this banger of a premiere, the summer season has finally kicked off in earnest!

SAKUGAN – 12 (FIN) – THICKER THAN BLOOD

The Big Twist that starts the SAKUGAN finale is that Memenpu actually is a “Rainbow Child”, a child with an exceptionally advanced brain. This not only explains why she’s a genius, but what the “place in her dream” is all about: it was never a dream, it was a memory. Rainbow Children retain vivid memories even from their infancy. As Rainbow Children were bred to be the guardians of the Labyrinth, they are anathema to Shibito, who want them all dead.

Fortunately, Muro’s boss doesn’t let her kill Memenpu right away, even though it’s debatable what if anything he intends to do with her before killing her. This gives the remaining members of Team Memenpu the time they need to zero in on her location and rescue her. It’s definitely a team effort, with Yuri using a second-hand computer in a store to guide Gagumber and Zackletu, then Zack distracting both Shibito and the Bureau with sheer ballistic chaos.

Gagumber locates Memenpu, but by then she’s been placed in a bell jar, which soon shatters due to the Animus dripping on top of it. Memenpu seems to be immune to its deleterious effects due to her Rainbow-ness. But by the time her pops arrives, Muro’s boss (I don’t believe we got his name) has convinced Memenpu that she has no father. Whether their surroundings were meant to evoke that same father-y scene from Empire, I don’t know.

All’s I know is, this Shibito guy is a huge prick for messing with Memenpu’s head, and for all her advanced intellect, Memenpu betrays just how sensitive and naïve she his, simply accepting the guy’s words about Gagumber not being her father. She even puts herself between the guy and Gagumber, offering up herself in exchange for her not-dad’s safety.

Gagumber, rightfully so, says fuck that, treading through the shallow pool of Animus to reach Memenpu, melting away his boots and burning his feet. He tells her he is, always was, and always will be her father, and she is, always was, and always will be his daughter. Whatever she wants to do and wherever it leads them, he’ll be by her side on her journey. Memenpu, realizing she does have a dad in Gagumber after all, has herself a good cry in his arms.

Seemingly moved by this dramatic and cathartic exchange, the Shibito boss decides to let Memenpu and Gagumber go…for now. Gagumber recharges Big Tony and they take the shortest route back to Dream Colony proper—by drilling through the colony’s retaining wall. There, Gagumber zeroes in on Muro and blasts her through a hole in the floor for making his daughter cry.

There’s a ceremony honoring Team Memenpu hosted by Merooro, but when he produces arrest warrants and the team is surrounded by Bureau cops and bots, Memenpu unleashes a cloud of purple smoke from Tony and the quartet escapes with the Bureau in hot pursuit. Not sure why Merooro held a ceremony just to arrest them, but whatevs.

Back on the Labyrinth “road”, Memenpu leads her team on their original mission: to find the place in her dreams, come what may. It’s what she truly wants to do, and that’s more than enough for Gagumber to accompany her, and by extension Zack and Yuri. It’s been fun watching this found family iron out their warts and beat the bad guys…fun enough that I’ll likely give the expected second season a watch.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SAKUGAN – 11 – THE PRINCESS AND THE MARKERS

Memenpu, Gagumber, Zack, Yuri and Merooro arrive in the bustling Dream City, which true to its name is apparently a place where people can live out their dreams. Merooro got everyone tickets for a recital from the Diva Sina, who is also the colony’s princess. When Memenpu catches Gagumber trying to ditch the recital for a gentleman’s club, Sina literally drops in on them and basically declares asylum from her lofty role.

Sina happens to have a stack of drawings she’s made throughout her life, her means of escaping to the world of dreams and possibilities when her actual future was fixed. But just for today, she wants to experience all of the things she dreamt of and drew. Memenpu notes how simple all of these things are, but like any member of royalty, the little things of normal life are what they often yearn for.

A sweet and lovely adventure ensues, as Memenpu secures the three of them disguises (the colony authorities and Bureau have branded the father-daughter a duo dangerous Shibito kidnappers) and Sina gets to wear regular clothes, gets a haircut to blend in, rides the packed rail transport, drinks beer in a bar, and plays video games with kids. Things take a turn when Memenpu tries to ask the kids what their dreams are and they don’t understand.

Turns out Dream Colony has a very strict system wherein your family determines your job. If your parents are electricians, that’s what you’ll become. Obviously this is anathema to Memenpu’s spirit of freedom and self-determination, and is frustrated both by the kids’ inability to get what she’s on about, and Sina’s insistence she can’t follow her dream to be an artist.

Memenpu moves heaven and earth to secure canvases and paint supplies so the two can paint together, and Sina gets into it, and starts to sing, revealing to the bystanders that she is indeed their Princess and Diva. That also attracts her secret service, who secure her and roughly arrest Gagumber and a very upset Memenpu. Sina flexes her political muscle by ordering they unhand her friends, but also agrees to return to the concert venue to perform. Her day of realizing her little dreams was fun, but it’s over.

Memenpu and Gagumber rejoin the others in their box and Diva Sina performs as planned. Sina’s seiyuu Hayami Saori sings a gorgeous song that moves Merooro to tears, but Memenpu remains upset. Even when Gagumber shows her drawings Sina made of being the very Diva she’s become, for Memenpu those only represent a small part of what Sina dreamed of. She can’t understand why Sina has to “lie” and remain in her current unfulfilled life. She may never understand.

I say that, because Memenpu might not have a lot of time left. Even though the episode seemed to end on a wonderfully bittersweet note, after the credits SAKUGAN brings down the hammer it didn’t bring down last week. Shibito attacks as everyone expected, yet still manage to get close enough to Sina to assassinate her. Even so, Muro is singularly focused on Memenpu, and this time she seems to capture her for real.

Muro also says Memenpu neither knows who and what she really is and who her real father is. Could Memenpu be a Princess like Sina? Or an even more powerful “child” that Shibito is resolved to either control or destroy? You could say Shibito is an organization takes Memenpu’s philosophy to a deadly extreme, while Dream City is the ultimate haven for people supressing their dreams in favor of maintaining the societal structure. Surely there’s a happy medium to be found…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

86 – 13 – Tired of Resting

In a wonderful, succinct yet detailed montage, we see that the surviving members of Spearhead have settled into normal life in the Giad Federacy.

Raiden got a job with a moving company and made some buds; Theo draws his surroundings and gains praise from passersby; Kurena frequents the shops and boutiques, Anju takes up cooking classes, and Shin studies up in the library. There he meets Eugene Rantz and his little sister Nina, who has befriended Frederica.

After their horrible ordeal getting to the Federacy, followed by the roller coaster of being confined to a facility until being adopted by Zimmerman, the five former child soldiers have certainly earned some peace and respite.

But while they’re living in peace, they’re still not at peace. There’s a restlessness lurking behind their mundane days in Giad. These are kids who never considered what their futures might be, suddenly being given the opportunity to choose whatever futures they want.

But especially for Shin, it’s a false choice. At least his immediate future seems to be returning to the battlefield, for many reasons, not the least of which is freeing all of his colleagues whose souls remain at the mercy of the Legion. They call to him in his dreams, but when he raises the pistol he used to end their lives and spare them further torment, his hand is empty; Ernst returned his scarf, but not his pistol.

Shins new friend Eugene is poor, and in order to provide for and protect Nina, he’s enlisting in the service. The military is lauded in Giad the same as San Magnolia, and Eugene is eager to see the new mechs in the Christmas Eve military parade.

In a wonderful piece of cinematography, Shin looks down at The Skull Knight book, then looks up, and we see laundry flowing behind him through the window, emulating the knight’s cape. There is no pageantry to the military for Shin or the others; only necessity, purpose, pride, and obligation.

After each of them witness the military parade and are each quite put off by the pageantry, it’s Kurena who firsts breaks the dam of complacency. She’s seen and heard enough of this “peace,” and now it’s time to return to where she belongs: the battlefield. The other four quickly concur, glad someone was able to finally vocalize that they’ve all simply spent to much time “resting.”

Ernst objects to their sudden decision, but there’s nothing sudden about it, the five have said from the beginning that this is they always intended. And we the audience can play the concerned parent figure like Ernst and say that they only feel that is all they can do because it’s all they’ve done, and because the Republic and the Legion took everything else.

It’s the precocious Frederica, exhibiting surprising maturity and clarity, who tells Ernst that if he keeps these kids from doing what they want to do he’d be no different than the Republic. She also decides to reveal that she is the last surviving Empress of Giad and carries the responsibility for unleashing the Legion in the first place.

The thing is, that was ten years ago when she was even wee-er than she is now, so Shin and the others don’t hold it against her. It was really the Republic that took everything from them. Ernst grudgingly agrees to allow the five to do as they please, but only if they enter officer training, so that they’ll have more options when the war is over.

Of course, none of them were thinking about that possibility, even though he says it’s a certainty that the war will end. As for Frederica, she’s determined to join them, that they might help her find and put to rest her valliant Knight Kiriya, who was taken by the Legion just like Shin’s brother.

Lena takes the week off, and that’s a boon here in terms of portraying Shin, Anju, Kurena, Raiden and Theo’s transition from acceptance of their new lives to the realization that here, for once, they can choose what to do and where to go, and a mundane peaceful life in the Giadian capital just isnt’ their scene.

Whether next week focuses solely on Lena or is another split episode of the kind the last cour did so well, I’m simultaneously happy and terribly worried for our Eighty-Six. Part of me wishes they would just stay in that capital and live quiet peaceful lives…but that’s not up to me, or anyone else but them.

86 – 12 (S2 E01) – New Home, New Hope

86 is back…and there are some changes. San Magnolia’s awful system hasn’t changed, and Lena is still stuck in it (for now), but she’s adjusted the way she operates within it. Demoted to captain, she wears a streak of blood red in her hair and wears a black uniform to set herself apart from her drunken peers. She has a new squadron of Eighty-Six led by Iida Shiden, AKA Cyclops.

She handles them as she handled Shin’s squad; with as much compassion and care as she can. She learned their names from the start and has built a good rapport with Cyclops, who calls her “My Queen”. Most importantly, Lena is doing what she promised Shin and the others she would do: live on; survive. For her, that means preparing for the massive Legion offensive she senses is coming, even if her superiors are doing nothing.

Lena is maintaining and biding her time. As for her old friends Shin, Raiden, Anju, Kurena, and Theo? Amazingly, they’re all still alive, which is tremendous news. 86 really ripped my heart out, but it went a long way towards repairing that emotional damage by bringing them back without it feeling contrived or out of left field. Shin and the others are now honored guests of Giad, which is no longer the empire that created the Legion, but a diverse inclusive federacy.

That said, they should consider themselves lucky Giad’s President Ernst Zimmerman is, at least on the surface, a man of conscience and compassion, who wants only to give these found children, cast out of their homeland after fighting so long and hard, a measure of peace. Of course, Zimmerman is also a politician, and while I don’t know what his ultimate plan for the five is, I’m certain there is a plan, and his smiles and politeness are probably hiding darker intentions.

That said, it’s hard to argue that Giad is far better adjusted nation than San Magnolia, what with there not being apartheid and battlefield slavery of non-Alba citizens. Alba and non-Alba share the same streets and have families together. Zimmerman also wants his five new guests to be as comfortable as possible, and so arranges for them to live in his presidential mansion. That mansion also happens to be occupied by a haughty little spitfire of a girl named Frederica Rosenfort (Kuno Misaki).

Her hair and eye color suggest some kind of connection to Shin, while it’s clear Zimmerman is hiding the fact she is the last surviving Giadian Empress from the general public; officially, she’s his adopted daughter, as are Shin and the others. You can tell after their ordeal the five are simply tired, but they also look uncomfortable and awkward in such plush surroundings.

Between their new situation and Lena’s maintaining, there’s going to be a lot of adjusting and adapting in store for them. The new OP also indicates it’s only a matter of time before the five are back in the cockpits of war machines, but the president is right about one thing: that’s probably where they want to be because it’s all they know.

Giad is battling the Legion the same as San Magnolia. It’s obvious that if the two nations worked together, and San Magnolia, say, was run by Lena and not opportunists and drunks, that nation would be far better off. Shin & Co. certainly seem better off, while Lena has at developed a thicker armor.  We’ll see if it all pays off.

TenSura – 45 – Demon Lords “R” Us

From the battles of Benimaru, Gobta, Gabiru, Geld, and the Beastketeers we rewind a bit back to Rimuru’s palace, where he sees Shuna off before heading through the ominous portal from which an extremely powerful demon maid named Misery emerges to escort him to Walpurgis. Before heading off, Veldora and Ramiris tell Rimuru the names of the other demon lords: the giant Dagruel, the vampire Roy Valentine (and his predecessor …Milis?), the demon Guy Crimson, and the lazy Dino.

As Rimuru, Shion, and Ranga walk through the portal to a very important and potentiall very perilous meeting, Shuna arrives at the outskirts of Clayman’s castle, flanked by Souei and Hakurou. They’re surrounded by a mist that dulls their magical senses, and before they know it they’re surrounded by an undead army led by Adalman, the Index of Clayman’s five fingers.

While Souei and Hakurou buy time by battling a zombie dragon and knight, respectively, Shuna uses an Alignment Field to cordon herself and Adalman off so they can have a nice little magic battle. It seems like it’s been ages since the good princess got something to do, but it was worth the wait, as she kicks some serious skeleton ass.

Mind you, Shuna doesn’t move around much, nor does she ever raise her voice. But that’s fine; the dignified, elegant princess isn’t one to scurry around or shout. She stands with absolute confidence in her power as she calmly counters his Acid Shell with her Flame Wall and his Curse Bind with her Holy Bell. That last one surprises Adalman, who didn’t know a monster could summon a Divine Miracle.

When she rewrites his suicidal Disintegration mega-spell with Overdrive and disperses most of the undead army, she also inadvertently lifts the binding curse Clayman cast Adalman and Co. in order to have their…er…undying loyalty. But now that he’s been soundly defeated by a worshipper revere-er of Great Rimuru, Adalman is all about meeting the Lord Slime, and happily offers to guide Shuna & Co. to Clayman’s castle.

As for Great Rimuru, he encounters Guy Crimson (who definitely has his game face on), Dagruel, Guy Valentine, Milis (possibly), and Frey for the first time, and has some harsh words for Leon regarding what he did to Shizu that results in Leon inviting Rimuru to his castle…assuming the slime survives Walpurgis.

That’s when the other new kid on the block Clayman arrives, with a very out-of-it-looking Milim in tow. Rimuru surely could tell something was very wrong when Milim didn’t immediately run to him and gather him into a warm embrace—they are BFFs, after all. But what really sets Rimuru off is when Clayman, clearly drunk on power, strikes Milim in the head. Everyone is shocked by Clayman’s conduct, but Rimuru is just mad, and promises Clayman’s death won’t be painless. Can’t wait to see it!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

86 – 11 (Fin) – All Over but the Crying

We arrive at October 30th, the day the five remaining members of Spearhead get into a scrap with the Legion and lose Fido as well as all but Shin’s Juggernaut. Things are getting desperate and they’re running low on ammo, fuel, and food, which means soon their recon mission will be at an end. All of them know what that means, but rather than dwell on that, they simply keep living their lives until the time fate decides to take them.

This means taking shifts piloting the ‘naut while the others rest or watch the rear from the remaining cargo bot. Thanks to Shin’s instincts and a rainstorm they manage to evade another Legion patrol, but the Legion become more legion by the day. The group finds an abandoned town and decide to take shelter in a school—the first school Kurena’s ever been to. They take a final roll call, and “graduate” the next day.

When they hit a literal wall of sheer rock, Shin suddenly asks to switch with Anju, who is piloting, claiming he’s bored. Once they switch, he cuts the tether to split off from the others and uses his grappler to bring down some rocks so they won’t follow. He sensed more Legion were coming; Legion they wouldn’t escape unless he lured them away. The others aren’t okay with this. Raiden, Anju, Kurena and Theo all agree to go after him.

With no Juggernauts, they have to go on foot, and arrive just as Shin’s ride is trashed and a Legion prepares to crack it open like a tin of sardines and claim his head. Only the weakest of the charging Legion are susceptible to their small arms, and even then only headshots, and there are too many of them. First Theo, then everyone else goes down fighting. The light of the Legion prepares to take Shin’s head—but he has his sidearm. Does it succeed?

We finally check in on Lena, who is under house arrest for her little stunt with the mortars. Even so, she pays a visit to the front lines, and to Spearhead’s HQ. A new group of 86 are being processed. The cycle continues.

Lena is greeted by Lt. Albrecht, who reveals he’s an Alba like her whose wife and daughter were 86 and died in battle. Thanks to Shin, he was given a measure of solace in knowing they didn’t become Legion, as Shin never heard them call Albrecht’s name.

Lena then walks through the now abandoned living space like a ghost looking so out of place after having been in essentially another world the whole time. It’s just so heartbreaking that by the time she was finally able to make it here, everyone she spoke to over the Para-RAID was already gone.

While the cycle of using 86 as cannon fodder continues, there was at least a crucial change. Lena and Shin forged a genuine connection, and it rubbed off on the others too, as they left her a memento: Theo’s drawing of her with handwritten notes from him, Shin, Raiden, Kurena, and Anju. More importantly, they left a Polaroid of the whole group, helpfully labelled by Theo “so she wouldn’t cry” about not being able to tell who was who.

In the end, as a practical matter, all Lena was able to do by breaking protocol and getting in trouble was extend the five’s lives by a few more days. Instead of dying on one battlefield, they died on another. But with Fido gone and his records destroyed, Lena now holds some of the last remaining artifacts of their existence—other than the wrecks and bodies they left behind somewhere out there, after reaching their final destinations.

Lena will surely treasure these things, as well as the cat left in her care, but they’re also primed to fuel her continued rebellion against the broken evil system she’s blindly served for too long. She couldn’t end the injustice for Shin and the others, but perhaps with enough allies and some luck, she can end it for others. Or maybe not. But like them, she’ll fight until fate comes for her.

Maybe then they’ll all get to finally reunite…for the first time.

So ends the first cour of 86. What a powerful show. We’ve known since the start there would definitely be a second one, but now we know there will be a “Special Episode” in between the two. What I’m a little fuzzy on is what exactly became of Shin.

I’d like to hope he managed to shoot himself in the head, and that seems to be supported by the fact he reunites with his brother, whom we know he freed from the Legion. We also see Shin’s headless body. But nothing is certain, which is why I’ll just have to keep watching to find out.

To Your Eternity – 10 – The Grand Gugupest Hotel

When the Enemy is about to attack Gugu, Fushi springs into action and shields his brother from the twisting branches by creating a number of spears to parry them. I guess he has learned a few things since his last battle! Gugu wants fight beside him, but is very lucky to survive when the Enemy throws him across the forest.

It may just be the still Booze Man installed in his stomach that saves him, as he proceeds to barf out all of the liquor stored there. When his torch ignites the liquor-vomit, Gugu gets an idea for how he can help Fushi, and races home. On the way, he turns completely red, drunk off the liquor that escaped the still, while Rean is about to be carried off by her helicopter parents.

Drunk Gugu is naturally a less inhibited Gugu, so he doesn’t mince words about loving Rean more than anyone, no matter to whom she’s betrothed. In any case, he’s not there to solve her family drama, but to get a refill of Booze Man’s best booze.

Pioran, the only other person to have witnessed the terrifying power of Fushi’s Enemy, insists that Booze Man do as Gugu says. The old man fills Gugu up with his strongest stuff and sends him on his way, while Pioran stops Rean’s parents from taking her and leaving…because it’s not safe out there.

Gugu, having sobered up, arrives to find the Enemy has absorbed Fushi’s Giant Bear form, and there is no sign of Fushi. But it’s soon apparent that the Enemy, essentially being made of wood, is vulnerable to fire, and Gugu has a fresh bellyful of fuel to play with.

Using his boozy fire breah, Gugu burns the Enemy to the ground, freeing Fushi, who is only flowing light and energy before transforming into a rock, his first form. When Gugu picks him up, he transforms into a wolf dog, and the two tussle mirthfully…though Fushi keeps his promise to bite Gugu if he came back!

The next morning Gugu and Fushi return to the Booze Man’s house where everyone is very confused about what happened (though Pioran probably has a pretty good idea). Gugu celebrates his return by cooking up a feast so delicious, Rean’s parents deem him better than their professional chef.

Fushi, back in the same clothes and with the same rope as the boy when he died since he “reset”, greets his maker, whom no one else can see or hear, outside. The creator tells him in order to become stronger, he cannot be sedentary, but like Rean with her parents, Fushi protests. He wants to stay. The creator tells him that’s also an option.

Back inside, Rean prepares to leave with her folks, and Gugu dispenses some precocious wisdom: The people who keep us alive aren’t necessarily good people, but we aren’t so weak that we can’t endure it. Granted, he’s had to endure a lot more than Rean, but it’s all relative!

Fast forward…four years. Gugu is no longer a pot-bellied boy, but a swole young man, having never stopped his fitness regimen. He continues to assist the Booze Man and feed him and Pioran (who still starts eating before everyone comes to the table). Rean still “runs away” from home on the regular, to see Gugu and Fushi.

And Fushi, having watched Gugu and Rean grow, has himself grown “older”; his hair growing longer and even gaining a slight stubble on his face. He also speaks a lot more naturally, which isn’t surprising considering his teachers and how long he’s been with them. The tenth episode of a planned twenty ends on Fushi’s new family happily enjoying a meal together. If only that happiness could last…

86 – 10 – We’ve Come This Far

86 eschews dialogue and even diagetic sound, sticking with visuals and music to tell the story of Spearhead’s newfound freedom. Followed by their ever-trusty robot porter Fido, Raiden, Theo, Kurena, Anju and a far happier, less haunted Shin continue their “deep recon” mission by heading further and further from their Republic minders, camping out and keeping a low profile as columns of Legion pass by in the night.

It’s so nice to finally see these good kids get to live like the kids they are, not always having to worry about going into battle or being killed or being turned into a Legion. Being in the vivid blues, greens, and purples of nature make for a nice change of pace from their usual gunmetal grays and blood reds. They wash their uniforms, and trip to an old Imperial town nets them a boiler in which to heat a much-appreciated bath.

Shin is smiling and laughing the whole time, but still seems distracted by something, though it’s no longer his brother, whom he’s satisfied is now at rest. Like the others, I feared the worst when they woke up to find him gone, but Raiden remembered the tunnel in the town Shin took a good look at, and it leads them to a zoo where he’s found an immobile Legion with the brain of an 86, which Shin puts out of its misery.

The five stare for a long time at the skeleton of an elephant and other beasts who died locked behind bars, and wonder if they’ll end up the same way. It’s Fido, of all of them, who tells them to stop talking about such things and keep moving forward. While Raiden withdraws his question of whether Shin will be going across the water by himself—and possibly to the good Major, who doesn’t appear this week—he probably already knows the answer.

After the credits roll with almost ten minutes left, we get a retrospective of sorts of the life of Fido, starting with him finding and befriending Shin. He’s been there since this most recent cycle of Spearhead began, and probably before that, and all this time has been capturing all of these small moments of joy and grief. Shots of characters long gone smiling and playing are shown, then immediately juxtaposed of images from the day they died.

The most foreboding and indeed deeply upsetting moment we see happens at the very end, with Fido, and all of the memories he contained that for many of the 86 represented their only record of having existed on this earth, is blown up, most likely by Legion, on October 30, the latest date we’ve seen so far.

On one level, I have to think Shin and the others will be alright, even if Fido very clearly isn’t. And even with Fido’s stored “memories” have gone up in smoke, those five still carry memories of the fallen—all 576 of them, including Shin’s brother. The question is, assuming they’re alright, what will become of them? Will Shin find a way to get to Lena? I suspect next week’s season one finale will focus exclusively on her, and what progress if any she’s made in her one-woman crusade to save the soul of her nation.

Super Cub – 03 – Calling Out to the Universe

Koguma notes how it’s been a few days since her “life of emptiness” was suddenly filled by her Cub, and then by a fellow Cub rider. She acquired the Cub by actively visiting a dealership, while befriending Reiko happened more by chance when Reiko approached her. Koguma is gradually getting more comfortable with both of these things.

During lunch (the running gag of Koguma never being able to microwave her meals is great and very relatable) Reiko announces her intention to go touring during summer vacation, and is glad to have the big luggage box that comes with the Postal Cub. Koguma would like one too, so Reiko reaches out to a fellow Cubber and finds another box within walking distance.

Reiko has Koguma remove the box from the worn-out Cub, and using tools on a Cub for the first time must feel satisfying. That feeling is repeated when a teacher gives her a free front basket from his Cub he doesn’t need anymore. As she vicariously revels in Koguma grinning like a goofball, Reiko tells Koguma that whenever she needs a part of something, the universe will provide if you “call out” to it.

As Koguma tries opening up the pipes on her Cub, she learns she’ll have to call out for something else: a means of blocking the wind from hitting her face. I must say these three episodes have been an absolute face clinic, and Koguma’s wind-in-her-face face is as priceless as her satisfied grins. It’s great watching Koguma discover the simple but powerful joy of upgrades.

That night, Koguma considers how to solve this problem as she cooks a dinner of fried rice—not a microwave packet—perhaps indicating she’s taking more pride in the process and effort of all things, not just her Cub. Reiko takes Koguma to the library to search the web for a face shield, but even the cheapest are around $40.

Then, as if the universe were answering Koguma’s call for an alternative, she spots a custodian wearing safety goggles, which are both cheaper than a mask and tough enough to withstand the rigors of riding. Koguma had to go to the hardware store to buy a chain lock anyway, so kills two birds with one stone. Goofy grinning ensues, and that night Koguma dreams of riding her Cub on a road through a flower-strewn meadow. She’s officially got the Cub Bug.

Koguma’s mood extends into the morning, and Reiko notices her friend’s extra pep. After school, both of them want to go riding, so they do, although I was a little confused when Reiko left first, because I thought they intended to ride together. Another time, perhaps. In the meantime, Reiko gives Koguma her cell number, tells her to call if she needs anything, and to be careful on the road.

Koguma admits that getting her licesne wasn’t a particularly emotional moment, but getting Reiko’s number was another thing entirely. She isn’t sure yet if she and Reiko could be classified as friends, but that doesn’t matter, because they’re something she considers deeper and more profound: they’re both members of that ancient and noble tribe of Honda Cub owners, and they are legion!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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