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

Super Cub – 02 – Two-Wheeled Freedom

Koguma discovers how to hang her helmet off her Cub after seeing her classmate stow his under the seat of his scooter. Once in class, she daydreams about suddenly blurting out that she came to school on a motorbike and suddenly becoming Miss Popular. Thankfully, she chooses a much more natural time to mention her new scooter—in Home Ec class when they’re making drawstring bags. Her mention leads to a classmate asking if she can see her Cub after school.

While last week Koguma was thoroughly in her own little world, directly interacting only with Shino, this week we see just how socially awkward she is, first by only tentatively agreeing to meet up and then trying to make an Irish exit, only to forget her newly-made bag.

Fortunately, the other girl doesn’t hold it against her, and reveals she’s something of a motorbike otaku in her appraisal of Koguma’s Super Cub. She also makes plain her biker girl bonafides by presenting her own steed: a red MD4=90 Postal Cub, she’s souped up with aftermarket and bespoke parts.

Their interaction kind of trails off when the girl, named Reiko, has to head out, but Koguma privately hopes they’ll get to talk more tomorrow. Even so, when tomorrow arrives, it takes everything she has to let out a hushed good morning that Reiko only acknowledges with a curt “Mmm.”

Koguma’s fear that their interactions are at an end are alleviated when Reiko takes her arm and leads her to their bikes where they eat lunch together, explicitly mentioning they’re friends now. Yet even here, when Reiko tells her they can go anywhere they want with their Cubs, Koguma seems held back by a lack of imagination.

But once she’s riding home after school, Koguma starts to feel what Reiko was talking about, and instead of going straight through her usual intersection, she takes a right turn. That leads to a supermarket with much better prices on her lunch packets, and she even saves a few yen by using the drawstring bag she made the other day.

You could say that inspiration fueled Koguma’s imagination, allowing her to make a different turn than usual and find a new an unknown place. It’s her first small step to realizing the boundless potential for freedom her new ride represents. As we see Reiko taking full advantage of her Cub to find a gorgeous Yuru Camp-esque vista featuring Fuji-san, Koguma looks forward to her next after-school side trip. So am I!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Fruits Basket – 55 – The End Comes So Suddenly

This final season’s ED pairs off all of the romantic couples, and this week we check in on a number of them, starting with Ayame and Mine. When Ayame asks Mine if she’ll leave him if the curse is never broken, Mine being Mine assures him she’s not leaving his side ever, so if he has a problem with that, tough!

Meanwhile at Mayuko’s bookstore, she and Hatori talk about maybe going on a trip, though Hatori pointedly doesn’t have anywhere in particular he wants to go.

Finally, Machi is falling for Yuki, and hard, such that she’s actually taking her StuCo work seriously. Yuki knows he has to tell her about the curse at some point, but the right time keeps getting interrupted. Ultimately he may have to simply arrange a time—say, a date—for just the two of them to talk with no hangers-on.

Akito, still distraught over her fight with Hatsuharu, gets precisely zero sympathy from Shigure, who continues to mock her for thinking hiding in a dark room will solve anything. He knows that time, people, and emotions will move on in time.

Akito was sold a bill of goods about unchanging bonds and continues to cling to it, but that’s not Shigure’s problem. It’s not often I say this about the most despicable member of the Zodiac other than Akito herself, but…good for Shigure. Scratch that; I want neither of them to win anything, ever.

But Shigure’s not wrong. Would it surprise you to learn that these past four weeks when I watched both the OP and ED, I had no idea who the lanky blonde was, despite the fact that if you discount him, Momiji was nowhere to be found in either? Turns out that’s because Momiji had one hell of agrowth spurt. He’s a full-on man, complete with fully male school uniform.

Despite now looking like yet another handsome prince, he’s still the same playful, cheerful bunny boy who’ll take Tooru by the hand and walk around campus, completely oblivious to the fact it makes them look like a doting couple.

While Shigure is away getting his fix of Akito suffering, his house becomes a hub for all of the young Soumas, as Kisa, Hiro, and Momiji join Kyou, Yuki, Tooru, and Haru for a night of curry and family fun. I love how organically it all comes together; clearly these Soumas have had their fill of Akito’s gloom.

But while Momiji still puts on his usual adorable act, he makes clear to Kyou that as someone who has always loved Tooru and is now big enough to confess to her, he won’t accept Kyou continuing to be wishy-washy about her. If Kyou gives up on Tooru, someone else will come along and take her before he knows it—and that will surely sting.

Shigure, who acknowledges the various kinds of kindness doled out to Akito by Hatori and Kureno, but has no intention of becoming Akito’s “father”, quickly loses all the goodwill he built up kicking Akito when she was down by getting all creepy with a thankfully oblivious Tooru, whom he considers a more worthy “god” than Akito to be devoted to.

That night, Akito dreams of her father telling her how she was born to be loved and how there will be no loneliness or fear in her future, only to see another rope snap, waking her up in a panic.

It comes as both a huge surprise and entirely no surprise whatsoever that the next Zodiac member to be liberated from the curse is Momiji. Akito can feel it, and rushes to his place to beg him not to leave her, and in his newly liberated state he sees Akito for the pitiful, pathetic wretch she is and curses his former self for feeling otherwise.

Still, because he’s also a nice guy he tells her to leave for now; he’ll come talk to her once he’s sorted some things out. The next day at school he is aloof and elusive, but from the roof he catches Tooru gazing at an unaware Kyou in the hall. Kyou goes to the roof and finds him there, and Momiji says “my curse is broken” and tries to pass it off as a joke, all while telling Kyou that he, Momiji, is the one truly being stung.

Later, Momiji tells Akito that he can’t stay by her side all his life, and she can’t tie him down, either magically or emotionally. She tries her best to tell her that neither his parents nor anyone else will welcome him back, but he already knows that. He’s free now, and it’s lonely and terrifying, but he also feels a sense of almost infinite potential.

Even if he can’t find happiness with Akito, and even if he won’t get the girl he wants, he knows deep in his newly freed heart that he can find happiness somewhere, and with someone, at some point in the future. That happiness may only be waiting for him to catch up. But he won’t find it unless he walks his own life’s path.

He then asks Akito how long he’ll stay in that place, which I believe is the very first time someone suggested that Akito could simply give this all up and find her own path. Naturally, Akito ignores the questions and tells him to buzz off, but she’s only delaying the inevitable. I have to believe Kureno and Momiji are only the beginning. The curse is on borrowed time.

While walking to school, Momiji chooses a route that goes past his birth mother and sister Momo. His mom talks about going on a trip soon, and even though Momiji can’t and won’t be going with them, his mood is improved dramatically simply by hearing the words “take care” from his mom.

Higehiro – 02 – Freedom and Choices

A princess raised in castles is going to act like royalty, like Queen Elizabeth. A princess raised by wolves is going to act like a wolf, like San, AKA Princess Mononoke. Behaviors are learned through social interactions and time. Sayu has apparently lived a life where her choices were few and her freedom nonexistent.

Leaving home only gave her a fleeting freedom, and she eventually had to do what conditions at the time demanded her of her to survive. As a result, she still behaves around Yoshida the way she had to behave around other men with whom she treated her body for shelter. He notes that the smiles she flashes often feel forced, strange, and wrong.

It’s doubly frustrating to him that someone so young had been forced into a situation where she didn’t feel safe not smiling when she didn’t feel like it. He calls her out on it with what I’d call “harsh kindness”, assuring her that even if his home isn’t hers, she’s allowed to be there, and doesn’t have to be “weird” or “lie to him” with those smiles.

Sayu understands what Yoshida is on about, and so tells him that she was thinking to herself why he’s so nice. He reiterates that he’s not being overly nice at all; he’s just being decent, the way everyone should be to each other. She says she’ll try her best not to refuse when he offers her things, or smile when she doesn’t mean it.

But she also points out that those smiles and refusals are habits that will be hard to break, since she’s still not quite used to the unprecedented freedom and choices Yoshida has given her. But through her attitude and the housework she does for him, she hopes to make him think he’s glad she came into his life. Despite everything that’s happened to her, Sayu remains a kind and decent person herself.

While last week focused on the establishment of Yoshida’s new normal at home, here we get a look into his work environment, where his crisper shirts, enhanced hygiene, and shorter-than-usual work days have led to rumors he has a girlfriend. But when his immediate underling Mishima’s code has some bugs in it, and she’s forced to work late, he works late with her, and even gets takeout.

Mishima takes their ensuing alone time to learn that Yoshida doens’t have a girlfriend, and was recently rejected by Gotou. Mishima considers herself “lucky” Gotou rejected him, and wouldn’t mind going out for a beer sometime. Like Sayu, she tells him he’s kinder than most by not simply giving up on her, but as with Sayu, he doesn’t think he’s any nicer than everyone should be.

When he gets home, Sayu is wrapped in her blanket like a Yuru Camp character, apparently angry he’s home late after she cooked dinner. But she follows her annoyed tone with genuine giggling, as she was just messing with him. As she reads manga and he has an after-work beer, he realizes that he really should have a way to get a hold of her.

Sayu threw her old phone in the ocean, and while at the mall she refuses to let him buy a new one, so he does so when she’s not around. Hashimoto, the only other person who knows about Sayu, can tell that Yoshida likes Sayu by the care he’s putting into choosing a case for her. Hashimoto gently warns him that it’s fine to be nice, but he should start thinking about how things are going to go, before she settles in too much, or she falls for him, or he falls for her.

Yoshida assures Hashimoto that that won’t happen, but while romance is out of the question, there are already glimmers of familial and paternal love. Hashimoto didn’t go so far as to say “she’s not a lost puppy”, but he’s right that Yoshida needs to come up with some kind of plan beyond keeping her off the streets.

One day at work, Gotou approaches Yoshida and they end up going out for yakiniku and beer, which she confesses she can only go out for with him, since all other men expect her to be a “sweet, proper lady.” That’s now three women who consider him to be uncommonly kind and understanding to them. One wonders why she’s with the man she’s with if she can’t be herself with him!

Gotou commences an anything-goes Q-&-A between them, starting first by asking if he’s dating someone. When he refuses, she lists all the evidence that he is—leaving work on time, cleaning himself up better—and mentions how Mishima seems to have a thing for him. He repeats that there’s nothing there, because in his give years at the office he’s always been in love with her.

When Gotou caught wind of the rumors, she was bothered by the fact he’d immediately been “taken in by another younger girl.” With the rumor staunched, Yoshida loses some points by asking Gotou what cup size she is. I know she said “ask me anything”, but c’mon, man!

When Yoshida comes home, late again, and not eating the dinner Sayu made again, she can tell he’s feeling down and needs a hug, so she hugs him. Like when she put her hand on his earlier, she does it because she wants to, and because she thinks it will make him feel better. And while in the bath he laments being a grown man cheered up by a teenage girl, it shouldn’t be anything to be ashamed of…ask any dad!

When he presents Sayu with a new phone, we learn he chose the white case for her over the black. White, the color of purity and chastity, yes, but also, Sayu just happens to like white! In that same vein, he didn’t buy it for her as a gift or a sign of his affection, but as a practical means of communication when they’re not both home.

Of course, he also doesn’t want her to worry if he is late. He doesn’t want to do or say anything to make her feel bad. He wants her to have every choice and opportunity someone her age should have. In this and in basically everything he’s done for her thus far, he’s acted like a father.

Yoshida acknowledges that Sayu is a woman, but to him, she’s a little kid. Someone to protect unconditionally. Someone who doesn’t have to force herself to smile to make him feel better. Maybe the endgame, then, is to simply adopt her.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Attack on Titan – 73 – Burning Bridges, Breaking Bonds

Note: This episode was interrupted ~17 minutes in by a special news report of a magnitude 4.7 earthquake near Wakamiya. As of yet are no reports of serious injuries or damage, and there is no tsunami threat. We’re hoping everyone is okay.—R.S.

The first eight minutes of this episode contain some of the bitterest, most heartbreaking moments of the entire run of the show. Eren hasn’t come to see his two best friends to ask them to join his cause. They aren’t friends anymore, and according to him, one of them never was.

When Armin accuses him of being manipulated by his big brother, Eren turns the accusation back on Armin. Since he carries the Colossal Titan, he also carries Bertholdt Hoover’s memories, and has thus partially become Bertholdt, whom Eren considers the enemy. Eren isn’t wrong, either: why else has Armin been visiting Annie?

If Mikasa thought she be safe from Eren’s aspersions, she is proven dead wrong, as he dismisses her as nothing but a vessel for the Ackerman blood, sworn to protect the king of Eldia at all costs. The day she killed to save him in that cabin, she was simply obeying orders, like a slave, and every time she’s saved him since was for the same reason.

There’s nothing Eren hates more than people who aren’t free, who he calls “cattle”, and blows right through Armin’s “stop it” by saying just looking at Mikasa would piss him off, and that he always hated her. 

Whether it is true if Eren always hated her (I tend to doubt that), no one can deny Mikasa putting Eren’s safety above everything else, even defining her entire existence. She doesn’t help her case when Armin, who’s had enough of Eren’s lip, leaps over the table to slug him, only to be immediately and easily restrained…by Mikasa, again moving without thinking, betraying her Ackerman programming.

Armin still manages to get a potshot in, and Eren decides to stir the shit a little more, telling him that they’ve never fought each other once in all their lives because it wouldn’t be a fair fight. To drive that point home, he beats the shit out of Armin while Mikasa can only watch in tearful horror. He then asks one of his underlings to take them, and Gabi, away. They’re headed to where it all began: Shiganshima.

I can’t believe Eren always felt this way about Armin and Mikasa, but it is probably no coincidence that the man who has become obsessed with his idea of “freedom” isn’t just breaking his bonds of bondage, but of friendship as well. Even if there was once an Eren Yeager we could root for, that Eren is long gone now.

I don’t care what he says about Armin or Mikasa or how technically accurate he may be about their circumstances. The fact is they both loved him, and dearly. They didn’t deserve to be shit on like this, and he didn’t deserve them, period.

Levi is tired of waiting around for something to happen, and so breaks his bonds of protocol and command by deciding that both Eren and Zeke will be fed to other, more malleable hosts. But he waited a little too long, and also made the critical mistake of letting his unit drink the Marleyan wine usually reserved for the Military Police.

Zeke lets out a shout as he flees the camp, and in moments each and every one of Levi’s solders transform into Pure Titans under his control. At the same time in the capital, Pyxis and a host of other officials are momentarily paralyzed and report feeling strange…including Falco, who swallowed a drop of wine after all.

Zeke may seem to have the upper hand, but makes the miscalculation that Levi would refrain or even hesitate to slaughter Titans bearing the faces of his subordinates. That’s exactly what he does, including two of the three escorting Zeke out of the forest when he catches up to him, slicing them up like spiral hams. Zeke is left with no choice but to transform into the Beast, and repurposes pieces of a Titan’s corpse into deadly thrown projectiles.

Unfortunately, the lumbering Beast Titan is no match for someone as small, agile, and fast as Levi in the middle of a forest full of anchors for his ODM gear. He can attack Zeke from any and all angles, and launches four nape-busting missiles right into the Beast’s neck.

Zeke is thrown from the Titan body, severely injured, but still alive, and Levi’s plan to feed him to someone else are back on. If Zeke was headed to Shiganshima to meet with Eren, like the final six minutes of this episode, he’s been delayed indefinitely.

TenSura – 28 – A War Full of Holes

From Dwargon Rimuru returns to Ingrassia where he announces his five students have passed the exams and will move on to the next grade…but Tiss-sensei will be their teacher from now on. I know Rimuru is doing this because he trusts Tiss with their further education and is a busy slime leader, but as the other events of this episode prove, it’s probably a good thing that he’s returning to Tempest soon.

Youm returns to Tempest before Rimuru, and Clayman’s spy Myulan (AKA Mjurran) soaks up the place like a sponge. You can see she’s somewhat unnerved at how nice everyone is to her. When it’s Youm, she can call him stupid, but even powerful Kijin are offering her friendship. To her eyes, the Federation is a direct threat to many other nations, but only because she cannot yet see any other way forward.

Rimuru is diving into the deep end of the commerce and trade pool by making deals left and right while his nation becomes an all-too-enticing potential new hub of trade. He fails to realize that this is an aggressive act in and of itself, even if not intended to be, especially considering his is a nation of “monsters” the human nations simply do not trust.

And because, say, the Kingdom of Falmuth sees Tempest as a direct threat to their very survival, let alone their continued future as an economic powerhouse, the King and his royal council devise a plan to subjugate Tempest. This is done during your typical “dour guys sitting at a table planning shit” scene.

Archbishop Reyheim announces that the Western Holy Church has already recognized the monster nation as an affront to their God, giving them religious cover. They can call it a Holy War to stoke the support of the masses, most of whom already fear the monsters.

In an interesting wrinkle, Falmuth’s advance attack will inlclude their stable of three Offworlders from in Shougo, Kyouya, and Kirara. Unlike Rimuru, they’ve retained their regular Japanese forms and look down on this new world with contempt as vastly inferior to theirs. Kirara in particular misses cosmetics and the internet.

I believe we’ve heard murmurs about others like Rimuru from Japan, but that we meet them in the flesh for the first time really drive home the fact that Rimiru is about to face the biggest challenge to great experiment, as like him they all possess insanely powerful abilities.

At the same time, there’s a pettiness, complacency, even laziness about the attitudes of these three. This world didn’t have manga, so Rimuru created it, along with the onsen and all the other things inspired by his world. It seems these three would rather bitch and complain than put in the effort to create homes away from home.

At least Kyouya seems the least content with their situation, and intends to use the coming war with Tempest as a vehicle to gain his freedom from Falmuth. They call Shougo “Berserk”, while Kirara’s deemed the scariest of all of them, so it seems easier for them to spread chaos, hatred, and destruction—the polar opposite of Rimuru’s designs for peace, love, and cooperation.

Rimuru wants to create a happy, prosperous world for all races; the other three just want to watch the world burn. After all, it’s not their world, so who cares? Speaking of chaos, Milim Nava makes her first appearance of the season, standing in Clayman’s office. Yeah, Rimuru really doesn’t have time to continue teaching the kids!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Promised Neverland – 13 (S2 01) – Freedom! Horrible, Horrible Freedom!

When the first season of The Promised Neverland wrapped at the end of March 2019, none of us could have imagined what life would be like a year from then: a pandemic unprecedented in modern times spreading death, chaos, and uncertainty across the globe. Now it’s January 2021, and things are looking up in the U.S., a nation that has handled the pandemic the worst proportional to its size and wealth.

A new president will be inaugurated in just two weeks, joined by the first woman vice president. Just today we learned he may have a cooperative Senate on his side. Vaccines to tackle the virus have arrived. Now that the second season of Neverland has arrived and picked up right where it left off, I can’t help but relate to Emma, Ray, and the other kids who escaped the farm.

Like them, we are getting the first taste of freedom in what feels like far more than four years. Also like them, it is far too early to celebrate or rest easy. Yes, elections were won by reasonable, non-sociopathic, non-authoritarian people, and the vaccines are being shipped. But the winners must still implement policies to heal the nation, and the vaccines must still be distributed while maintaining the necessary safety guidelines that have caused so much economic harm.

As for the escaped kids, they are free, and freedom is sweet, but also terrifying. The Grace Field House sheltered, clothed, and fed the kids, but now all their survival needs are up to them, and the threat of being caught or killed by forest monsters is constant. And of the fifteen or so kids, only four (Emma, Ray, Gilda, and Don) are old enough to keep the group organized, and even these four are mere tweens. They’ve had to grow up in a hurry.

Fortunately, the kids have an ally out there somewhere in William Minerva, whose smart pen serves as a map and guide for those who have his books to decipher the code. That code points them to a particular spot on the map; they just need to get there and they’ll (presumably) be safe, though I won’t rule out the possibility Minerva could be dead or this could all be another cruel trap.

But potential threats on the horizon are of far less concern than those more immediate, starting with the giant monster that chases them in the cold open. The forest is very Nausicaä-esque with its giant trees, whimsical plants and creatures, but the kids have inserted themselves into a food chain that would be glad to avail themselves of easy prey.

It’s a good thing the kids practiced “playing tag” so much, because those organizational skills prove crucial to their survival. The group branches off twice, first with Gilda and the slower kids, then with Emma and the rest. Ray volunteers to lure the monster into a vine trap they find on the forest floor. But before he can implement his plan, the monster is beheaded by a sword-wielding demon pursuer, aided by bloodhound-like demons seekers who detect Ray’s scent.

If Neverland stretched credulity a bit by having all the kids run fast enough to elude the beast, and only one little kid stumbles (and happens to do so right beside Emma), it restores that credulity by not forgetting about the fact that Emma is missing an ear, and a wound like that can and does open up if you run around too much.

The blood loss becomes too much and Emma faints at the worst possible moment, but they are met by an unlikely ally—a mysterious cloaked figure—at the best possible moment. Meanwhile, Ray runs as fast as he can as far as he can, but ultimately collapses from exhaustion, at the complete mercy of the demons bent on returning the product to the farm.

Thankfully, their task is made harder by the fact that killing or harming such prime stock would defeat the purpose of catching it. A second mysterious cloaked figure on demon-horseback exploits this by snatching up Ray and riding off, leaving smoke bombs in his wake that confound the seekers.

Ray wakes up in a serene cave, safe and sound, and more importantly not tied up or otherwise restrained. He explores the caves and finds Emma also safe and sound, her ear wound re-dressed. They are approached by the female cloaked figure, who has apparently never heard of Minerva. She leads them to the other kids, who are about to be fed.

Then Ray notices the figure isn’t human, but a demon, based on her clawed bare feet. The second figure, the one who saved Ray on horseback, also appears. Emma and Ray have every right to be suspicious considering recent events (along with their upbringing, obviously). Do these two represent a faction of “good demons” opposed to the ones running the human farms?

Maybe. Then again, this sounds too good to be true. It could be these demons simply have different plans for the kids. For now, I’ll hope that’s not the case, and the fact the kids can roam free after waking up is a sign they don’t have to fear their rescuers, and could even regard them as allies in their ongoing struggle for freedom.

I just hope that we, as well as Emma, Ray, and the kids, don’t end up like the poor space ants who provided the title for this review:

P.S. Crow is reviewing Neverland too.

Attack on Titan – 59 (S3 Fin) – Finally, A Beach Episode

After hearing testimony from the surviving scouts and the opinions of the brass, Queen Historia decides to make the truth public. It’s feared doing so will sow chaos, but as Pyxis puts with his usual elegant bluntness, if they’re going to keep lying or hiding the truth, why did they even bother ousting the last king?

Once the people are told what they really are and what was done to them, there is indeed a measure of heightened chaos, but public reaction runs the gamut from belief to disbelief, resignation to outrage, relief to rage. That’s a as good a sign as any that they made the right choice. The massive lie was another prison, but Eren & Co. found the key, and Historia used it to throw open the gates. People are now free to leave…or stay.

Of course, after the trauma of the battle that claimed Commander Erwin Smith and most of the scout “fodder,” that group’s sole survivor in Floch can’t escape the prison, even with the open door right in front of him. He can’t even see the door.

Floch is chained down by the belief that Armin was the wrong person to revive, and it was a decision born of emotion by Eren and Levi. He tells this to Armin’s face, and stands his ground when Eren gets in his face, because he believes has nothing left to lose. He already lost it all, and believes winning is no longer possible.

The conviction of his words shakes Armin to the core. He can’t help but agree with Floch that he shouldn’t have been the one saved, and that he has no idea how to turn things around. Armin is about to walk right back into his prison when Eren tries to encourage him that it’s too early to say, at least until they finally see what’s beyond the wall.

Since they were kids, Eren and Armin believed freedom was beyond the wall. But now that Eren has been beyond it, though his father’s memories and those of Kruger before him, to which he is now privy, but is being very careful about revealing what he knows to anyone else. In trying to comfort Armin, Eren only ends up bumming himself out when he dredges up the horrible scene of Faye torn to shreds by Marley dogs.

At the award ceremony, a fully decked-out Queen Historia presents the nine surviving scouts with medals of valor. Eren will do anything, including casting his life aside, to prevent a repeat of Faye’s fate. Anything except sacrificing Historia. And yet, upon taking her hand and kissing it, he pauses, leading Historia to wonder what is amiss.

Eren is remembering the day Grisha stormed into the Reiss chapel, before defeating Freida and eating her. He wears a subtler version of the same crazed, horror-filled face his father wore. Is there really hope beyond the walls, or only despair? Can freedom be achieved without harming Historia, or is Eren as much of a slave to this “cycle” as all who came before him?

Following that ceremony and Eren’s look of horror, a year passes. Wall Maria is purged of all Titans. Refugees return to their homes and begin to rebuild. The Scout Regiment rides again, beyond Maria, into the great frontier. A year older yet somehow much cooler-looking Eren, Mikasa and Armin are among them.

After finding a particularly unfortunate Titan whom Eren identifies as a “fellow patriot” sent to Paradis transformed, and left to crawl along the earth at an infinitesimal pace, he and the scouts simply leave it behind and continue pushing forward, through valleys and sands that were once only illustrations in Eren and Armin’s book.

And then, just like that, they arrive at the edge of the island of Paradis and glimpse the sea for the very first time. It is one of the most epic moments of the entire series, and it’s sold quite well. Everyone is in a giddy sort of shock about it, like it doesn’t quite feel real. They taste the water, splash around, have fun. And why not? It’s a gorgeous day and they’re at the beach!  It’s the kind of day dreams are made of.

As Armin dredges up a distinctive shell (notably empty), the breakers cause Mikasa, standing beside him, to stumble, but she manages to regain her balance. After a beat, Mikasa’s face shifts from surprise to sheepishness, before flashing perhaps her first genuine smile in six years; a smile which Armin returns. Honestly, her sequence of expressions was almost as momentous as the initial sight of the ocean.

Eren, who gesturally speaking is apparently still in that “phase” Levi mentioned to Hange, points dramatically to the horizon, to Marley, and tells his friends for the first time that he was wrong: freedom didn’t lie beyond the sea, enemies did.

As for whether killing all of their enemies will free them once and for all, that remains a question to hopefully be answered in the fourth—and most likely final—season of Shingeki no Kyojin, to air in 2020. Until then, we are all of us trapped in a new prison…of waiting.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 13 – The God Tongue Officially Joins the Rebellion

…Aaaand we’re back. Good! I missed my Food Wars. The Fall cour of the third season ended with Erina learning that the irritating pest and hack chef Yukihira Souma’s father is none other than her beloved Saiba-sama.

Eishi gives a school-wide address about impending Advancement Exams that will no doubt drive this cour, and makes it clear in no uncertain terms that those who stray from Central’s edicts won’t make the cut. The morale among Polar Star’s ranks sinks at the news.

Erina, to her credit, doesn’t go on an “avoiding Souma” binge to forestall telling him what she’s learned. Instead, she comes to his room, in her nightgown, no less! She has something to say, wants Souma to hear it, and it can’t wait.

What she essentially tells him is that she’s lost. As God Tongue from a young age, tasting and cooking were merely tasks to be performed, and she never derived any fun from any of it…until on a rare day off she got to sample some of Saiba’s cooking. From then on, she got it: cooking could be fun and good enough to win over the God Tongue!

But not long after experiencing that fun, her father began her “education” in “good food is only what I say it is” culinary orthodoxy. She cannot easily cast aside that conditioning, even if she wanted to, and part of her understands the need for standards to be set and followed, even if Azami goes about it in far to harsh and oppressive a way.

As such, she’s torn between two opposing philosophies. Souma decides to try to put his finger on the scales, so to speak, and get back at her at the same time for telling him his food was disgusting the first time she tasted it. He wants to make something quintessentially Yukihira, to remind her of those fun yet refined flavors Azami tried to condition away, along with her passion for cooking.

Souma’s Polar Star peers worry he may be up to something, but Megumi assures them he’s on a mission to make her understand not only his philosophy, but all their philosophies. The rewards of “awakening” Erina to culinary freedom may be the key to Polar Star’s survival.

Souma ends up preparing a tempura egg rice bowl, the process for making which neither Erina nor the eavesdropping dorm-mates understand, until Souma lets them in on the secret: freezing the egg before coating and frying it. And not just any egg: a low-quality egg that was on sale at the local shops.

Not only does Souma achieve an aroma, texture and flavor that have Erina imagining countless tiny Souma-chickens gently pecking her naked body (yikes, that’s a foodgasm for the books), but he manages to debunk Erina’s firm belief that only the finest, rarest, highest quality ingredients can make a great dish. In this case, a finer egg would be too overwhelming due to the freezer’s effect on the protein.

As expected, Erina never actually says “delicious” as Souma bet he’d make her do, but he does remind her of Saiba, not just in his style of cooking, but how he talks about it. Cooking isn’t about following a book, it’s about taking risks. To paraphrase Julia Child, great cooking requires a multitude of failures. It takes risks that sometimes won’t pan out. And taking those risks is what makes cooking fun.

So even though Erina craftily takes her leave before giving Souma any answers about the taste of his bowl, the effects of the meal inspire her to call for all of Polar Star to assemble out front the next morning. It’s cold, and her first words to them are cold as well, rattling their cages before praising them for helping to teach her that not only is their value in cooking food that is “free”, but that such innovation-through-failure is essential to stave of culinary stagnation.

To that end, she challenges each and every Polar Star member to keep doing what they’ve been doing—cooking free food, failing, learning, and improving—and she’ll summon the full powers of her God Tongue to see to it each and every one of them pass the Advancement Exams. And so, Erina has officially taken a side against her Azami and Central.

I have no doubt that if the dorm-mates can cook food that impresses her, they’ll impress any and all impartial exam judges. The question is, how are they going to get non-Central-sanctioned food to the judges’ table? The Rebellion Continues…

Kino no Tabi – 11

This episode was both illuminating—due to the light it shed on Kino’s origin—and dark, because of the particulars of that origin. Our Kino, it turns out, isn’t the first Kino, nor is Hermes the first Hermes.

The original Kino was a traveler too, and when he visits the Country of Adults, he approaches the future Kino II, a girl of twelve whose original name we never learn, and the daughter of innkeepers.

The girl helps name the derelict motorrad Kino is fixing behind the inn, giving it Hermes, the name of one of Kino’s friends.

In the girl’s country, all children get “surgery” at the age of twelve to make them “proper adults” overnight, (evoking dark shades of FGM) whereupon they inherit the jobs of their parents, as is their one and only job in life. What about what she wants to do, like singing, which she’s really good at? Not allowed.

Her country has a very strict idea of what an adult is and when a child becomes one, and this girl is trapped. Kino is sympathetic, but his transitory nature means that whatever happens, it has nothing to do with him; he’ll be on his way to the next country after his three days are up.

Only Kino never leaves the Country of Adults, because the girl can’t stop pondering his words about adults being able to do things they enjoy, like traveling and being free. When she tells her parents, in the company of the preist and other townsfolk, that she doesn’t want the surgery, they explode at her with manic rage.

The girl’s father confronts Kino, but the priest pleads for peace. They ask that Kino take his leave, but when the father produces a knife with which ti kill his “defective” child, Kino leaps in the way and is stabbed to death before the girl’s eyes. Shocking. A voice familiar to us as Hermes urges the girl to get on and tells her how to ride him if she wants to live…which she does.

And so off she goes, like a bat out of hell. The Kino we know and love was born that day, named the new Kino by Hermes. In the present, Kino and Hermes find themselves in the same field of crimson flowers where she stopped to rest when old Kino’s blood still fresh on her cheek.

In a lovely transition from past to present, Yuuki Aoi treats us to her pipes with a stirring a capella performance. Free of her nightmarish home country of control and stifling of individuality, Kino is now free to be the adult she wants to be. Like Tifana and Photo, she came from a dark place, but now she glows with joie de vivre.