Astra Lost in Space – 06 – U for Vendetta

Each mortal threat the young crew of the Astra has faced falls into one of two main categories: threats from without—be they the perils of space or the planets they visit—and threats from within—i.e., the unknown enemy among them who sabotaged their comms and is believed to be on a suicide mission to wipe the rest of them out.

Last week’s cliffhanger of Ulgar pulling a gun on Luca fits in the first category, but not at all the way I expected. Perhaps I was too naive to so quickly conclude Ulgar was the aforementioned enemy, because he isn’t: his quarrel is personal and is with Luca alone—or rather, with the Esposito political family of whom Luca is the eldest son and heir.

During a long monologue with flashbacks to his past that rather kill the momentum and urgency of the standoff, Ulgar tells everyone about his belief that Luca’s father killed his brother, a freelance journalist and the only person in Ulgar’s family who was actually kind to him. Killing Luca is about revenge; about getting Luca’s dad to feel how Ulgar felt when he lost his brother.

There are multiple problems with Ulgar’s position, not least of which the complete lack of evidence that Marco Esposito had anything to do with his brother’s death. But Luca also tells him that killing him won’t change anything, because he’s not the heir; his younger brother is. When Ulgar accuses him of lying to save his skin, Luca disrobes and reveals that he’s intersex.

As the member of a family that values strong male heirs above all, as soon as Luca’s younger brother was born and the truth of his intersexuality was discovered, he became persona non grata, and his brother was named the heir instead. So Luca knows all too well Ulgar’s pain and isolation. Hell, he probably knows it much better than Ulgar. Luca wishes that killing him would make his dad sad. With that, Ulgar drops the gun and the standoff ends.

Naturally, this being Kanata no Astra, it isn’t one minute after one threat is extinguished than another arrives, of the external variety: a massive tsunami that may or may not be an homage to the famous giant wave scene in Interstellar.

Everyone rushes aboard, but Ulgar and Luca are furthest from the ship, and Kanata isn’t able to grab them when the wave arrives. Still, the fact the three of them survived at all indicates the wave was not as huge as it initially looked, even though it appears to swallow up the entire sandbar on which the Astra had landed.

Despite Ulgar having just pointed a gun at him, Luca doesn’t hesitate to extend a helping hand to him, now that he’s confirmed through telling him more about himself that the two are more alike than different and actually friends whether Ulgar knew it or not. But Ulgar lets go rather than let Luca use the last of his strength trying to save them both.

Fortunately, Ulgar’s sacrificial move doesn’t end up costing him his life, as Kanata is lowered down to the water’s surface via bungee cord. With no further earthquakes or tsunamis, Ulgar, Luca, and the rest of the crew are safe and sound.

Ulgar apologizes to Luca and the rest of the crew, and Luca even teases him a bit by acting a little more feminine. Ulgar (rather abruptly) decides that he’s decided to become a journalist like his brother, perhaps a path that had up to that point obscured by his blind desire for revenge. He’s going to find the truth about Marco Esposito. Zack, for one, wonders if it wasn’t simple political corruption Ulgar’s bro found, but something much bigger … maybe even something worth sending them all into space.

Having weathered one big internal and one big external threat, you’d think the crew could enjoy the rest of the episode in peace without further problems, but alas. Since it’s feeling more likely to Aries that Kanata is far too dumb to realize she likes him, she decides to learn more about Charce, and asks a seemingly harmless question about what classes he was in. Charce says he was in biology, but Aries was in that class too; if Charce was in it, she’d remember, what with her photographic memory.

So the episode ends with the prospect of Charce being the enemy. But after what happened with Ulgar, such possibility should be taken with a sizable grain of salt (that is, won’t get fooled again). For one, would someone who’s so carefully blended in make so blatant an error as saying he was in a class he wasn’t actually in? Maybe Aries’ memory is messed up. Maybe Charce is being framed somehow. Heck, even Aries could be the damn enemy. So we’ll see.

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Astra Lost in Space – 05 – The Kids Are Alright…Right??

Even after last week’s harrowing ordeal, the crew is not yet ready to pack up and leave Shummoor—not until they’ve gathered enough food. Thanks to a successful hunch from Charce, they learn that the pole trees, once their nemesis, are actually the yummiest food on the planet, and with the stores filled, the Astra departs from Planet #2.

The crew are also grateful to Yunhua, whose voice had both physical and psychological healing effects for all who were poisoned. That gratitude quickly shifts to straight-up admiration when they learn she’s the daughter of the superstar singer Lucy Lum. She then enlists Luca to give her a haircut, and Quitterie bristles as all the guys swoon.

Meanwhile, back home, Aries’ mom Emma listens to her daughter’s last video message to her, saying all is well—and probably isn’t watching it for the first time. It’s been over forty days since Team B5 was last seen on McPa, and Ulgar’s father has gathered all the other parents to decide whether to call off the search and declare their children permanently lost.

Emma is not ready to make that determination, and even correctly conjectures that the reason there’s neither remains nor luggage on McPa is because their kids are somewhere in space, still alive. But many of the parents are past the “denial” phase of loss (or don’t love their kids as much as her) and are ready to give up.

Meanwhile, at the very same time, many thousands of light years away, not only are their kids perfectly fine…they’re living it up on a tropical beach.

Planet #3 is Arispade – which is 99% water with one tiny islet that features a wealth of food and a sugar-white beach on which to break out and show off one’s swimsuit. It’s paradise. It’s so paradise, Quitterie almost loses it; after all they’ve been through, why are things suddenly so easy and comfortable that she can totally see herself living out the rest of her days on that beach?

Since this is, in fact, Kanata no Astra‘s beach episode, it wastes no time delivering the goods, as Quitterie insists on comparing boob sizes with Aries and Yunhua, and also assures Aries she’ll have no problem attracting Captain Kanata with her “spicy” bikini. The implication flusters Aries.

Back on the ship, there’s more good slice-of-life, with Quitterie pressing her attack upon Aries, urging her to go ask Kanata out, or at least find out if he already has a boyfriend. Aries actually musters the courage to ask him if he’s popular with girls (he says he’s popular with “all humans”) and then asks if he has a girlfriend (he says all girls are his friends). Neither Aries or Quitterie are happy with Kanata’s lame replies. Quitterie exacts swift punishment by sticking Kanata’s toothbrush up his nose; Aries goes to bed early; dejected.

Meanwhile, Luca thinks he’s making progress becoming friends with Ulgar, having fashioned a bow, arrow, and fishing poles for him to do what he apparently does best: shoot and hunt. Yet Ulgar remains aloof and hostile, and becomes…something else entirely when he learns that Luca’s last name is Esposito, and that he’s the son of a senator back home.

Ulgar’s reaction—like a switch had been flipped in his head, combined with the image of the gun we saw a couple weeks back, spell nothing but dread for the final scene of the episode, an otherwise placid sunset repast among the crew members, with only one person absent: Ulgar.

After waxing romantic about the time they have and how neither photos nor medically secured memories will ever adequately convey the emotions they’ve felt in the last fifty-or-so days, and Luca remarks that he doesn’t even believe there’s an enemy among them, that enemy finally reveals himself, and points his gun at Luca’s head, warning he’ll shoot if he moves.

And that my friends is how you go from a solid “8” episode that lacked any danger or difficulty for twenty-two minutes, to a solid “9” in the twenty-third. The good-old cliffhanger. It doesn’t even matter if the most likely of the crew to be the bad guy is the bad guy (unless he isn’t, and there are more twists afoot); that was marvelously done.

Fairy Gone – 02 – Wherein Things Happen

This episode doesn’t start on the sunniest of notes, dropping back a few years to chronicle the history of people near Mariya meeting their ends because she sees herself as something of a talisman of bad luck. We also witness a younger Free being bailed out by his friend Jet, who takes a blade to the gut in his place. It’s almost as if both he and Mariya are bad luck to those closest to them.

Thankfully the dreary, muddy browns and grays give way to the greens and blues of the present as Mariya settles into Dorothea and distinguishes herself in target practice. She accompanies Free to some ruins where it’s believed a large-scale “artificial fairy”transaction involving the mafia is about to go down. Mariya seems mostly resolved to honoring her former friend and big sis Ver, who told her the Ver she knew is gone. She also meets Serge, who has a sniper fairy, and Clara, who has a recon fairy.

Free’s old comrade Wolfran Row shows up, apparently now a mercenary hired by the mob to ensure the deal goes down, but Dorothea is there to interdict. Like Ver with Mariya, Wolfran doesn’t hesitate against Free for a second, and while Mariya’s fairy protects her, it loses both of its arms in the process, which means she can’t summon it again the rest of the episode. Thankfully, Serge is able to bail her out and force Wolfran to fall back.

Free and Mariya catch up to Wolfran again, who sics three artificial fairies at them. Once they’re dealt with, Free and Wolfran go one-on-one again, but it basically ends in a stalemate with Wolfran fleeing in a very bizarre transport that uses legs instead of wheels. By the time Free catches up, not only is Wolfran nowhere to be found, but he’s killed everyone on his side, leaving no trail for Dorothea to follow.

This is all still…fine, just fine…but I can’t help but feel like Fairy Gone isn’t leaving much of a trail for me. A lot happened this week, but for the second straight week I didn’t really come away actually caring about any of it. Ichinose Kana does her best, but Mariya is bland…as are her Dorothea comrades, and her and Free’s flashbacks did nothing to change that. Meanwhile the soundtrack, apparently all done by the same band that did the OP, is hit-or-miss.

Mayonaka no Occult Koumuin has some good ideas but lacks the production values to do them justice; Fairy Gone has the production values (better than MOK, anyway) but lacks compelling ideas and characters. I’m not sure how much more I need to watch.

Fairy Gone – 01 (First Impressions) – Victims of War, Choosing Different Sides

Like Owari no SeraphFairy Gone centers on two friends who went through hell together but separated and then encountered one another years later on opposing sides of the “war after the war.” They are Mariya Noel and the slightly older Veronica Thorne. Their village was burned along with the fairies who resided there, and they had no choice to escape.

Mariya almost gave up, but Ver made sure they got away safely, only to leave Mariya alone to pursue her quest for vengeance. Many years later, Mariya is in a mafia family providing security for a fairy auction, while Ver is there to steal one of the lots—a page from the Black Fairy Tome.

When Ver takes the stage, she doesn’t hesitate to shed blood to attain her quarry. Mariya’s ostensible boss, Free Underbar, isn’t messing around with Ver, summoning the werewolf-like fairy within him to counter her weird birdlike fairy.

Mariya’s loyalties are clearly torn, as the whole reason she joined the mafia was in hope that one day she’d find Ver. In the midst of battle, a glass container shatters and a fairy meant to be auctioned off is released.

It makes a beeline for Mariya and basically merges with her, making her a summoner just like Ver and Free, and thus giving her the power to break up their duel. Mariya does just that, summoning her fairy to grab Ver and Free’s fairies and dispersing them both.

While the characters are 2D, the fairies are CGI, but the juxtaposition of the two styles isn’t jarring, and the designs are cool.

When the dust settles, Ver has fled, and Mariya finds herself in an interesting position: she is a criminal by dint of now possessing a fairy. Free, who had only infiltrated a mafia family, is actually a member of an elite group of policemen called “Dorothea”, who track down and arrest illegal fairies.

So Free gives Mariya a choice: get arrested, or join Dorothea as a recruit. Mariya chooses the latter, as it will enable her to resume her search for and reconnection with Ver—whether or not Ver wants to be found, or considers herself the same person who parted with Mariya years ago.

Fairy Gone is…fine. I’m on board with the estranged friendship angle. The action is decent. The soundtrack is outstanding. But like Zane with some of the new Spring shows, I wasn’t ever really wowed. You can chalk that up to a lack of any original elements to the premise or narrative. This is, so far, basically a period Tokyo Ghoul, a show I had to stop watching when it started adapting its source material so quickly I was totally lost. So we’ll see.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 24 (Fin) – Bigger Fish to Fry

It’s all down to Kirito vs. Administrator now, and their climactic swordfight doesn’t disappoint. Despite having really long hair and only one arm, Administrator is no slouch in the swordsmanship department. She knows all the Aincrad-style moves Kirito showed Eugeo, plus a few that even Kirito doesn’t know about, and seems to revel in the opportunity to teach an insolent cur from the outside world an abject lesson in submitting to his betters.

Kirito looks like he’s just barely hanging on while Administrator is content to draw out his suffering, but Eugeo, barely hanging onto life, reaches out to Kirito, and they have a little tête-à-tête in which Kirito finally recalls the memories he lost of growing up in Rulid Village with Eugeo and Alice. Eugeo tanks Kirito for his friendship, brotherhood, and love these past few years, then bestows upon him the Blue Rose Sword, which becomes the Red Rose Sword in Kirito’s hand.

Now dual-wielding against a one-armed opponent, Kirito would seem to have the upper hand, but it ends up yet another draw, as in exchange for the increasingly crazed Administrator’s last remaining arm, Kirito loses his right one, while Admin reveals her hair is prehensile and can be used to restrain and strangle Kirito, which she does.

Administrator can’t get over how much insolence she has to contend with in this fight, but as Eugeo says, Kirito is going to keep standing up and dusting himself up as many times as it takes. He manages to cut through Admin’s hair, then delivers a strike to her core that does irreparable damage, forcing her to access a console and beam herself out of there.

Before she gets away, promising she’ll be seeing Kirito again in the real world, a naked, burning Chudelkin jumps onto her, seeking her loving embrace, resulting in a huge fiery explosion. Quite the ignominious end for the ruler of the Underworld…though it’s probably not a true end.

With Admin out of Kirito’s hair, he tries to tend to Eugeo, but it’s way too late for anything other than a tearful goodbye, with Eugeo relaying what he now understands about love being something you give, not something you seek. Both a younger Eugeo and a younger Alice appear in Kirito’s head to announce that while their paths may soon separate, their memories of one another will remain forever.

Just after Eugeo passes away, Kirito gets an “external observer call” from Rath: it’s Colonel Kikuoka and Higa. The control room is under assault, either from the military or some other power that wants their hands on the STL tech. They give Kirito instructions to deliver Alice to some place called the “World’s End Altar”, presumably to complete the process of bringing Kirito back to the real world with his brain in one piece. Asuna is also mentioned. But Kikuoka’s foes have other plans.

They seek to sever the main power line, which will cause a surge that could fry Kirito’s fluctlight, killing him before he can be safely extracted from the Underworld. The line is severed, the surge occurs, and Kirito experiences something akin to a lightning strike, inside of which a blurry image of Asuna from above, fitted out in her SAO regalia. Whether it’s Kirito’s memory or Asuna entering the “game” for the first time, I’ll have to wait until October to find out, when the Alicization saga continues with War of Underworld.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka – 05 – Magical vs. Badgical

War Nurse reattaches Nozomi’s arm, heals her abdomen wound, and gets her to safety, but Abigail catches up to her and transforms into a full-fledged Badgical girl, with razor-sharp barber’s scissors.

As for Asuka, once she expends a great deal of her magic to destroy the Russians’ water spirit, the mercs are no match for her, even when she’s out of practice…which is as it should be. Asuka wouldn’t have survived this long letting herself get beaten by lightweights like these guys.

However Abigail came upon her magical gifts, she proves quite the challenge to War Nurse, especially when she summons not one but two Halloween-class Disas at her (her dominatrix getup certainly stands in stark contrast to Kurumi’s good witch garb).

Kurumi takes one of the Disas out, but Abby presses her attack with the other. Kurumi has to be bailed out by M Squad, who keep Abby occupied until Asuka can relieve them. As Iizuka says, you need a magical girl (or girls) to fight a magical girl.

Now Abby’s against the wall, until she’s rescued by her “Queen”, in masked badgical girl form, who then retreats. While Asuka couldn’t defeat Abby or the Queen, the fact they destroyed two Halloweens and recovered Nozomi makes this a victory.

But there’s a cost: Nozomi may be physically fine, but her PTSD is so bad she can’t look at Asuka or Kurumi for more than a second before going into a paroxysm of terror before passing out. But hey, it’s all good: Kurumi can heal her PTSD too—she just needs to erase all of Nozomi’s memories of the last week to do so.

With that procedure carried out, Asuka and Kurumi wait for her to rest and recover, with Asuka lamenting that she can’t protect anyone or anyting. Kurumi begs to differ, as neither she, Nozomi, or the M Squad would be breathing were it not for her, to say nothing of the bystanders saved when she stopped the terrorists. Suddenly convinced once and for all, Asuka informs Iizuka of her intent to officially join the Spec-Ops M Squad.

Iizuka reports to his superiors, who tell her the powers that be want Nozomi to stay at her current school where she’ll continue to serve as potential bait for their enemies. Kinda harsh, but they’re banking on Asuka and Kurumi continuing to protect her.

Meanwhile, Nozomi seems to be fine; she’s just forgotten their fun pool trip…not the greatest sacrifice if you ask me (Sayoko’s complete absence from this episode was puzzling…if she was there, wouldn’t she have corrected Nozomi?). Even when Asuka resolves never to go see that movie, letting the wind take her ticket, as soon as she turns around Nozomi is there to invite her all over again.

So basically, they got their first good  look at the bad guys and what they’re capable of, but the battle resulted in a draw, while hitting the reset button on Nozomi reduced her horrible suffering to a motivating cautionary memory for Asuka. It’s all rather neat-and-tidy, but at least she’s no longer in denial about having to fight in order to protect those she loves.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka – 04 – Taking the Bait

Asuka has a recurring dream where she’s too late to save her leader Fracine from her injuries. Before she dies, she names Asuka to succeed her, and assures her that while the world has a lot of problems, it is also full of beautiful things worth protecting.

Asuka apparently needed to be taught this lesson in the worst way  possible, as one of the current problems plaguing the world (groups who wish to use magic to hurt people and gain power) takes one of the beautiful things (her friend Nozomi) hostage.

Nozomi’s father is to blame for her capture, not Asuka. It would seem that terrible things need to be done in the name of national security, but it’s clearly better if the ones doing the terrible things didn’t have such lightly-protected family.

In a further display of cynical pragmatism that borders on comical, Nozomi’s dad is told his daughter will be a “sacrifice” that will give Public Safety the budget and mandate they need to go out there and really bust some heads.

Since no police or military unit will mount a rescue, it falls to Asuka. With Francine’s words still ringing in her head she doesn’t spend much time mulling over whether going into action to save Nozomi is the right thing to do.

Considering how sweetly and adorably portrayed as Asuka’s friends were, it was fairly inevitable that one of them would end up in some real shit. But while Sayoko was merely caught in some crossfire, Abigail and her twin Russian sorcerer mercenaries spare no cruelty as they burn Nozomi’s skin off and simulate drowning, all while the cameras roll.

You get the feeling even if Kurumi can heal her many physical wounds, unless she can also remove all memory of the ordeal, Nozomi is going to be severely scarred by the torture. But first thing’s first: she has to be rescued. Asuka and Kurumi have no trouble getting past the initial waves of guards, but Abigail isn’t remotely concerned they’ve arrived. In fact, she’s delighted they took the bait. She feints “freeing” Nozomi, but slices one her arms off.

Unfortunately for her, in such close quarters Abigail has the disadvantage, which Kurumi exploits by impaling her with a giant needle, after which she and her familiar Sacchuu grab Nozomi and rush her to safety while Asuka keeps the Russians busy with a grenade.

She knows that won’t be nearly enough to kill them, but is still confident in her abilities to handle the three mages alone. But she underestimates the Russians’ magic, getting smashed into a wall and allowing Abigail to go after Kurumi (who hasn’t even started getting serious yet).

Overall, the stakes were succinctly set: poor Nozomi’s life and many other lives will be lost in gruesome fashion if Asuka and Kurumi (and whatever other magical girls/guys wish to participate) can’t get the job done. I would hope that whenever this is all over, Asuka will cool it with the “not my fight” attitude, and Nozomi’s dad will quit torturing people. Bad guys are going to do bad guy stuff regardless…so don’t give them any excuses!

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka – 03 – The Enemy Disagrees…Vehemently

In Tijuana, Mexico, Mia Cyrus is taking care of business with her anti-cartel unit (her magical bullets can pass through any armor or barrier) when they find an emaciated, tortured prisoner tied up, who is then compressed to death into a magical energy cube. Clearly, there’s more going on here than drug cartels, Mia worries aloud.

Back in Japan, Kurumi has transferred to Asuka’s school to remain by her side in case another threat arises, and also to see the new life and friends Asuka has abandoned Kurumi and her duty to live. Suffice it to say, Kurumi is not that impressed with Sayako’s half-hearted “I guess we’re friends” and annoyed by Nozomi’s “if anything happens the magical girls will save us.”

Still, she tries to keep up a cordial front, as she warns that despite what Asuka might think, the enemy doesn’t agree that it’s not her problem. Whenever a good guy has something to lose, they’d better be ready to fight to protect it, or the enemy will try to take it away.

Kurumi must feel doubly frustrated by Asuka, who has always been in peak physical and mental condition. Kurumi was horribly bullied as a child, came to hate that weak version of her, and has worked extremely hard to become and stay strong and dependable. She sees that Asuka is still staying in shape, in contrast to her mindset of not wanting to fight anymore.

Iitzuka tries to entice Asuka once again by showing her the headquarters for the elite M Squad of the JSDSF, disguised as a maid cafe with training facilities in the sub-basement. Between the rise of illegal magial girls and the distribution and improvement of remnants from the old war, a new, potentially worse war is just on the horizon, and they can’t afford to have someone of Asuka’s skills on the sideline. Still, Asuka insists her war is over. If only repeating it enough would make it true…

Speaking of people with something to lose, Nozomi’s dad continues his brutal torture of the terrorist leader one minute, and is admiring the phone background of his cute daughter the next. It’s admirable this guy can switch from work to family so quickly, but there’s simply no way the enemies he’s made won’t become aware of the existence of his family, if they aren’t already. His work puts a target on Nozomi’s back.

The only solace we have is that, at least for some of the day, Nozomi and Sayoko are safe when they’re hanging out with Asuka and Kurumi, as they do when they all go to a Olympic-grade swimming center together. Fanservice is kept to a minimum as everyone’s in standard issue one-pieces, but Sayoko uses the high dive as an opportunity to get over some of her paralyzing trauma.

For her  part, Nozomi is grateful that Asuka and Kurumi came, since she’s looking out for Sayoko’s well being and Sayoko loves to swim. She also plans for the four to see a movie the next day. Before parting for the night, Asuka maintains her resolve not to fight because she now has things (or rather people) she cares about, which Kurumi feels is the exact opposite of what she should be doing.

Kurumi is proven right (which probably gives her no joy) and Asuka pays for her lack of vigilance when Nozomi is confronted in the street by ominous members of the “Babel Brigade”, a group both tortured prisoners muttered about being involve in a “new, more terrible war.” As I predicted, they know who Nozomi’s father is, and that they can hurt him by hurting her.

The bad guys have a sizable head start on Asuka, who just got the text Nozomi sent about being excited for the movie just before being kidnapped, no doubt lulling her into a false sense that Nozomi is okay, when the exact opposite is true. Asuka is going to have to come to terms with the very problematic opposites that dwell her life…very soon.

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 01 (First Impressions) – Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May

The first Winter 2019 anime to pop onto my screen promptly impressed with its atmosphere, economy, and a nervy Ushio Kensuke synth score that quite simply OWNS. Those elements working in concert make even the most innocuous scenario—a guy in the city apparently being stood up—feel significant.

And oh yeah, the girl who stood him up? She shows up in a witch-like getup, helps a suffering homeless man, chides the bystanders for ignoring said man, and flipping a cop for good measure.

But while the witch-looking figure may have had Miyashita Touka’s body, it wasn’t Miyashita. As Takeda (the not-stood-up-after-all lad) learns when he encounters her atop a school roof, Miyashita’s body is being used as a vessel for an entity calling itself Boogiepop. If it helps Takeda, she likens it to split personalities, and Miyashita lacks any memories of when she’s “inhabited” by Boogiepop.

Both Miyashita and Boogiepop are voiced by the wonderful Yuuki Aoi, and she voices them very differently. Boogiepop speaks more slowly, at least an octave lower, and in a tone that’s an interesting combo of aloof, playful, menacing, and slightly bored. Miyashita sounds, well, more human.

Boogiepop explains to Takeda that she automatically appears whenever a threat to the school (or humanity) arises; in this case, a monster that may be inhabiting one of his classmates. Takeda reads up on split personalities and seems to enjoy his rooftop chats.

But one day Boogiepop appears before him dressed normally, as Miyashita, and tells him their time together is at an end: the monster has already been defeated by someone other than her. Takeda protests this sudden goodbye, but the next time he sees Miyashita, she’s back to being her usual herself, and Takeda almost seems…disappointed.

Peripheral to Takeda and Boogiepop’s interactions are swirling rumors about Boogiepop (some girls think she spirits them away at the peak of their beauty so they’ll die before becoming ugly) and a delinquent among them named Kirima Nagi whom some believe is murdering the girls officially reported as runaways.

So it’s a little unsettling when Kirima pops up out of nowhere to introduce herself to Miyashita and shake her hand. The timing seems too weird considering Boogiepop just “left”…not to mention one of the creepy quick cuts of carnage that dot the episode might just confirm Kirima is indeed what some of the girls suspect:

I guess we’ll find out. I’m certainly looking forward to watching how things unfurl, and to the inevitable return of Boogiepop once things inevitably go south for Takeda and Miyashita. Until then, this was a wonderfully calm, patient, moody start. Like gradually immersing your foot into the pool rather than raucously cannonballing in, I feel successfully acclimated.

Goblin Slayer – 12 (Fin) – Not Just Another Pawn

With all those adventurers fighting together and following the Slayer’s plan, the goblin army is dispatched all too easily. Just when a goblin thinks he has the upper hand with a surprise attack, he’s met by a mailed fist, arrow, or blade. Meanwhile, Goblin Slayer himself informs the Goblin “Lord” that the home he’s trying to flee to is already gone.

That being said, the Slayer is not used to one-on-one combat out in the open, and the Lord, while cowardly, is still huge, and proceeds to stomp all over the Slayer’s head. Fortunately, the Priestess arrives, casting dual protection spell planes that immobilize and crush the lord. Slayer finishes him off, and is then healed by the Priestess, who didn’t use all three of her spells for protection.

The Priestess is cross that he pushed himself too hard once more, as she learns he was only bait, and trusted her to bail him out once the lord thought he would be victorious. When the sun rises, the Slayer needs help getting back home, but the adventurers, his party members, and Cow Girl are all elated to see him in one piece.

At the guild celebration, Goblin Slayer buys everyone a drink, as he promised. The Priestess asks if she can get an extra reward: if he’ll remove his helmet for her. He does, and it causes a right commotion in the guild, many of the members of which had a placed bids on who or what would be underneath.

But more than fascinated with his face, the Priestess, the rest of his party, the other adventurers, all share one thing in common: they now consider Goblin Slayer a friend and ally, and coming to his aid isn’t a matter of luck, but obligation. They do it gladly, because if it weren’t for him they might not have a town.

Thus ends Goblin Slayer’s saga…but only for now. A post-credits announcement promises his return. He intends to start on the path of an adventurer, but I assume that doesn’t preclude him from slaying goblins; it just means he’ll be going to more far-flung places to do it. And he won’t be doing it alone.

SSSS.Gridman – 12 (Fin) – Power of the Finite

“Anyone who can make kaiju is a kaiju themselves,” says Alexis Kerib, after transforming Akane herself into an enormous monster that wails out a terrible lament as it destroys what’s left of the city. Still temporary allies, Gridman (dwelling in Yuuta) asks Anti to deal with the Akane-kaiju, as he and Rikka have something else they need to do.

Akane isn’t feeling particularly good about herself, which is probably what enables Alexis to transform her and control her so easily: he thrives in the corruption of the heart, in hatred, disgust, and aloofness. He chortles when Rikka calls Akane “her friend” not because Rikka is only Akane’s programmed creation, but because he doesn’t believe there even is such a thing as friends.

Right on cue, Rikka’s friend Yuuta-Gridman picks her up in Sky Vitter (to Alexis’ bemusement), and they return to the hospital to snap Shou out of his funk. Regardless of how useless or normal he thinks he is, Yuuta tells him that Junk needs everyone there to work. The Gridman Alliance is more than just a cool nickname for their little circle, it’s the key to unlocking Gridman’s full power.

Anti succeeds in freeing Akane from her kaiju prison (which seemed to be filled with some kind of clear LCL), but Akane wonders why he bothered with someone as terrible as her. Anti fully owns his “failed creation,” since the fact he failed meant he’s more than just a kaiju, but a human.

Alexis makes no distinction between kaiju and human, or anything else, since to him it’s all below him. Because Akane is still in a bad state, he exploits her negative emotions and literally consumes her to become a kind of “Alexisman”—but the Alliance are back at the Junk Shop, and when they activate the new acceptors that appear on their wrists, a new, final form of Gridman appears: less armored and more like, well, a giant guy in a suit.

This new Gridman fights Alexis in order to free Akane once more, and has some success…until the halved Alexis simply auto-repairs. He is immortal and infinite, so however many times Gridman tries to destroy him, he will just keep coming back forever. Since Alexis has everything “of value” in Akane’s world—that is, Akane herself—he decides to head back to his realm…after killing Gridman.

But before he can skedaddle or kill Gridman, Gridman discovers a new power, and possibly his most important: The pink Grid Fixer Beam, which repairs not only the city Akane created and then destroyed, but succeeds in rescuing Akane’s heart from Alexis’ clutches. The Fixer Beam basically deletes him from the world.

Finally, free, Akane worries about what comes next. “A big world’s too much for me!” she laments, because she’s such a weak, pathetic coward. Rikka, Yuuta, and Shou tell her that no one’s perfect, which is why they—which is why everyone—relies on others.

Her world afforded her godhood and a kind of immortality, but it’s run it’s course, and now it’s time to return to the world of mortality and the finite. Akane’s grateful to Rikka for saving her, but also wracked with guilt over the things she’s done that cannot be undone with any Fixer Beam.

Rikka tells her not to sweat it, and gives her the gift of a wallet that matches her own (and also happens to be the same color as Akane’s hair). Rikka wants Akane to stay in the world and be together with her, but tells Akane not to let that wish come true. No one can force Akane to leave; she has to want to do it; to return to her real life.

With that, Akane disappears from Rikka’s side. Gridman & Co. say their goodbyes to Rikka and Shou before returning to the Hyper World, and not long after that Yuuta wakes up in the junk shop, the Gridman Alliance now just a friendship of three kids. The puckish humanoid kaiju who once guided Yuuta heals Anti, who is grateful, and now sports both a human and a kaiju eye—his past and present.

Finally, in the real world—as in, a live action world—a girl with long black hair much like Rikka’s slowly wakes up and rises from the bed, the Akane-colored wallet on her dresser. This, it seems, is the Real Akane, who left the world where she was a god (i.e., her dreams) and returned to the world she thought she couldn’t handle.

Now the ending with Rikka and Akane makes more sense: Akane made the purple-haired Akane to be her ideal avatar, and made Rikka, who more closely resembled her real-life self, to love her. Ergo, in her world, she loved herself. But Rikka taught her the power of friendship, and the need to wake up from dreams and not sink into Alexis-like abysses of darkness and despair.

A lot of this might sound corny, but the show expresses these well-worn ideals so earnestly and powerfully, it all comes together and works pretty well, which can be said of the show as a whole. Despite only catching a tiny portion of the references to Gridman and Gridman-esque works, SSSS was never not a pleasure to watch and listen to.

The ending could be said to be too neat and tidy, squandering a universe of potential alternate directions. But at the end of the day the lesson holds: just as friendships have value because we aren’t infinite or immortal beings, an imperfect finite ending will do just fine.

Goblin Slayer – 11 – A Home Under Siege…Again

Note: This was originally posted under the erroneous episode number 12; it is actually episode 11.

Goblin Slayer has never been one to use many words. As Cow Girl prepares breakfast, he has only one for her: “Run.” The goblins whose prints he discovdered at the boundary of the farm are too numerous in number for him to take on alone in an open field. He suspects they’re led by a shrewed Goblin Lord, and will likely have Hobs among its forces.

But Cow Girl isn’t running; not again. The farm is her home, and if it’s doomed to be destroyed, so is she. The Slayer can’t change her mind, so he tells her he’ll figure something out. That means going to the guild, helm-in-hand (figuratively), and asking for volunteers to help him slay goblins. At first, they don’t take it seriously. Then, the Lancer tells him they’re adventurers in a guild which means, post a quest and offer a reward.

The Slayer offers everything he has and everything he is, all but his life itself, which he promised Cow Girl’s father he wouldn’t give up lest his daughter cry again. Once the elite adventuers can tell how serious he is, they name the price of a drink or two down the road. The Guild Girl offers a gold piece for every goblin slain, and all of a sudden the rank-and-file adventurers are interested too.

Bit by bit, virtually the entire guild agrees to assist the Slayer, including the Priestess and his party who now all consider him a close friend. Those who either never interacted with him or found him annoying for his singlemindedness towards goblins, all agree the guild would be lonely without him.

The Goblin Lord’s army is no joke, but with so many skilled adventerers of various skill sets now committed to his side, Slayer can really open up the playbook and utilize a strategy that will exploit the strengths of his assets and the weaknesses of the enemy.

He knows, for instance, the goblin vanguard would arrive with “meat shields”—wooden boards with captured women tied to them—and leaves it to the Dwarf Shaman and Mage to stupor and put them to sleep so the hostages can be rescued and taken out of harm’s way.

From there, the close-range warriors storm the goblin small fry, aided by archers from long range and magical boundaries to repel enemy arrows. When the goblin riders advance, the adventurers are ready with sharpened stakes.

Once the first waves fail, the Lord takes the gloves off and sends in his heavy hitters, goblin champions. But while the Slayer’s party had a big problem with one, the most experienced and powerful of adventurers are actually glad slightly more worthy foes have arrived, having spent their most recent adventures fighting enemies of their skill or above.

That just leaves the increasingly panicky Goblin Lord himself, who apparently isn’t as big or tough as his Hob underlings. While everyone else fights off his army, Goblin Slayer stalks him alone, his right eye glowing red indicating Limit Break Mode. With the close quarters of the woods resembling his preferred battleground of a cave, he should do fine.

If it weren’t for everyone agreeing to fight with him, he wouldn’t have this opportunity. And so someone who had been a loner, curiosity, and eyesore to much of the rest of the guild has evolved into their general in a glorious battle against the evil cruelty of the goblins.

SSSS.Gridman – 11 – Backed Into A Corner

No matter how many kaiju Akane made and Alexis embiggened, they were never able to defeat Gridman. As a god suddenly hemmed in by the intolerable rule that her kaiju will and must always lose, she finally snapped and took matters into her own physical hands.

Rather than use her box cutter to carve a new kaiju, she stabbed Yuuta with it, then wanders away in a haze, hoping that maybe, just maybe, the torturous cycle is over.

It’s not that easy. She missed Yuuta’s vitals, so she didn’t kill him, though he seems to be in some kind of coma. With all the custodian kaiju beheaded, nothing in the city resets, and the chaos just remains. Worse still, as far as Alexis is concerned, nothing’s over.

Lex believes Anti to be the “next Gridman in line” and thus needs Akane to keep creating more kaiju for him to use. When she categorically refuses (pointedly saying she “can’t”, not “won’t”), he simply brings back all the kaiju she already made…at the same time.

A scenario entirely beyond Akane’s control and will thus unfolding, Anti arrives in the hospital room, not to apologize for what he did as a kaiju but to settle his debts as a human. He’ll fight off the kaiju as Gridknight, as Neon Genesis set to work repairing the computer so Yuuta and Gridman wake back up (they can’t sortie without Gridman).

In a brief dream sequence before he wakes up, Yuuta sees Gridman in the mirror, and it dawns on him: He’s not Yuuta; not really. Rather, he’s Gridman dwelling within Yuuta, using his body and mind as a vessel. The matter all along, then wasn’t that Yuuta had amnesia; he was never Yuuta to begin with, and thus whatever memories he had as Yuuta were as repressed as the real Yuuta himself, whom we’ve apparently never even met.

Shou is feeling particularly useless this week, and we can’t really blame him; aside from being the only person with the time to stay by Yuuta’s bedside when he wakes up, he is pretty useless this week. He can’t dissuade Gridman from a course of action that could get his friend killed.

Instead, Yuuta and Neon Genesis mobilize and fight beside a battered Anti against the kaiju “greatest hits,” destroying them all. Alexis can bring back the defeated kaiju all he wants; the fact remains they exist only to be beaten by Gridman.

Meanwhile, Rikka seeks out Akane, not to seek revenge or to give her a piece of her mind, but just to be there for her as a friend. Yes, Rikka may only think she’s Akane’s friend because Akane “set it up” that way, but Rikka doesn’t care; it doesn’t change the fact they are friends, through and through.

Before Rikka can hear what Akane thinks of her, they’re interrupted by Alexis, who labels their conversation “pointless” and tells Akane that new kaiju are needed post-haste. Again Akane tells him she can no longer make kaiju, but Alexis rephrases his position: he’s going to have a new kaiju, even if he has to transform Akane herself…which he promptly does, much to her and Rikka’s bewilderment.

Thus the downward spiral of Akane’s world reaches a new nadir: in which the creator of the world herself prepares to become just another one of the monsters programmed to fight Gridman. This seems to be breaking some fundamental rules of the “game” that’s been played so far, but Alexis doesn’t seem to mind. If Akane really does become another kaiju, isn’t she just as doomed to lose as the ones she created…or is that just another rule poised to be broken?