Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 07 – Deep Breaths

After dreaming about the Mage King Solomon, whom he and Mash were unable to defeat in London, Ritsuka and Mash head to Uruk’s Northern Wall, under the defense of Leonidas of Sparta. Contact has been lost in the still further-north city of Nippur, and the mission is to find and rescue any survivors.

The night before setting out, two Servants have a heart-to-heart, with Ana wondering if it’s time to tell the others about her true identity, and Merlin recommending she postpone that announcement. As a servant who feeds off of human dreams, he understands human emotions, and knows it would be a shock even to any human even Ritsuka.

Upon setting out at the head of a column of soldiers, the party encounters hordes of Demonic Beasts that are larger than expected. Ushiwakamaru and Benkei stay behind to keep the beasts occupied while Ritsuka, Mash, Ana and Merlin head to Nippur. But Ushiwaka senses something unusual about the situation, realizing it is they, not the beasts, who have fallen for a diversionary attack.

Ritsuka & Co. find Nippur already devoid of all life, with a wide and grisly blood trail leading to the highest structure, where Fake Enkidu awaits. When he notices Ana’s ability to slay immortals, he makes her elimination a priority, summoning the lion demon Ugallu. Merlin uses his magic to buff Ana, and she’s able to bisect the beast.

But Ugallu was just more bait. Ana is restrained by the chain of heaven and stabbed by Enkidu. Merlin sends Fou to do what Fou does, teleporting Ana to safety. However, the disturbance causes the awakening of Enkidu (and Ugallu’s) mother, the Goddess of Demonic Beasts, Tiamat. Massive and terrifying, the ordinary soldiers flee before her.

Even Ritsuka and Mash are briefly paralyzed, but Ritsu remembers Leonida’s advice for when you’re scared (which is always the case in battle, or should be): take a deep breath and the muscles will loosen. Tiamat presents the largest threat yet to the last champions of humanity, but for the moment they’re still standing—and a few avenues of victory yet remain.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 06 – Though Our Battlefields Differ

Other episodes of F/GO have presented bigger earth-(and history)-shattering events, but this was the first one I felt best brought all of the series’ myriad elements together. All the adventure, history, action, comedy, and romance levels were set just right so that they complemented each other rather then got in each others’ way.

This was also the episode in which I most felt the humanity of the characters. It’s apropos the cold open should feature the origin of the current Ishtar. It also had the most one-on-one interaction between Ritsuka and Ushiwakamaru. She’d always seemed drawn to him, and I should have known it was because they’re both Japanese.

Among the many servants with whom he interacts, Ushiwakamaru is the only one Ritsuka sang songs of as a kid, something that both astounds and flatters her. He was a real person, after all, and his story is an amazing one. One of the low-key great things about Fate is that it nudges you to learn more about these historical and legendary figures.

As such, wonderful to see these two countrymen assert their bond of friendship as people, not any Master-Servant contract. Ushiwakamaru also sports one of the more awesome costumes in a show positively bursting with them. Like this episode, it’s a satisfying balance of elements—a little cute, a little sexy, all bad-ass. Not to mention Hayami Saori is perfectly cast as Ushi’s voice—warm, caring, and determined.

Another thing I’m enjoying about F/GO is that while there is a larger overarching story arc, it doesn’t get in the way of smaller, more self-contained episodic stories. Last week felt like a road trip with Gilgamesh; this felt more like a good old-fashioned fantasy quest. Their mission couldn’t be simpler: go to the city of Kutha and recover the Tablet of Destinies.

(In a well-placed moment of comedy, Ritsuka asks why Gilgamesh doesn’t remember what he himself wrote on said tablet; Gilgamesh response is Pure Gilgamesh: “Why do I have to retain in my memory a clairvoyant premonition I wrote in a dream?” #DemigodProblems)

Sadly Ushiwakamaru can’t join them, but the party of Ritsuka, Mash, Merlin and Ana is more than adequate. On the way to the city, whose entire population seemingly died peacefully in their sleep, the party encounters the collateral damage caused by Ishtar’s Cautious Hero-style demonic beast extermination, and she’s been making off with the gems of those she “saved.”

The night before they enter the city, Ritsuka has a nice chat with Merlin about how even though he’s just an ordinary human, he has to do what he can to the best of his ability, which means a strict workout routine to stay in shape. From her tent, Mash seems disappointed Ritsuka thinks she only chose him because he was virtually “the last man on earth.”

Once in Kutha, the party splits up to look for the tablet…simple enough, though Mash was weary of Ritsuka going off with only Fou for protection. Turns out her intuition was correct: Ritsuka suddenly strays into the Underworld, which in this age is a very real place people stray into all the time (and in Gilgamesh’s case, even went on a quest there).

The hostile undead who surround Ritsuka are eventually dismissed by a man Ritsuka seems to recognized named Ziusu-dra, who castigates Rituska for entering the Underworld while still alive; a big no-no. Still, he sees Ritsuka is a nice guy and so lets him off this time, sending him back to Kutha.

He awakes to find Mash shedding tears of joy and relief after she shed tears of panic and worry for his safety; going back to what he said to Merlin last night, Ritsuka may well not quite grasp just how much Mash cares for him, and is not merely resigned to serving him. And what do you know, the Tablet of Destinies is in his hands. Looks like he was meant to stray into the Underworld, if only briefly.

Of course, the mission was never going to be quite that simple: Ishtar suddenly arrives like a fighter jet; Chaldea only warns the party four seconds before she attacks. She’s there to “save” them just like she saved the ranchers whose lands she ravaged and pockets she picked, and intends to collect payment in the form of the tablet.

Ritsuka’s not about to fail Gilgamesh, so they must fight. And what a fight. From Ishtar’s concussive kicks to Mash’s shield and her graceful gliding through the sky, to Ana’s decisive chain-assisted counterattack, we’re treated to a beautiful, deadly dance. My only complaint is that it’s over too fast, but I’m also glad it didn’t go on too long.

Going back to the cold open, we learn Ishtar was summoned using ahuman girl as a vessel. Despite nearly all Mesopotamian gods being blonde as a rule, Ishtar retained her vessel’s black hair, since the human girl’s will merged with Ishtar. That goes a ways towards explaining her peculiar behavior that both saves and hurts humans.

It may also explain why she’s willing to cooperate when she wakes up finding herself tied up, surrounded by Ritsuka’s party demanding answers. She explains that the other two goddesses were drawn there by Gilgamesh’s Holy Grail. The three of them decided to enter a competition whereby the first to defeat Gilgamesh and claim the Grail shall rule his lands. They also entered a three-way non-aggression pact, so Ishtar won’t go so far as to tell Ritsuka the true names of the others.

The party fails to connect the ease with which Ritsuka entered the Underworld to Kutha’s status as a place where undead congregate and dwell…until they’re surrounded by massive horde of skeletons. With the tablet in hand they make a run for it, but not before Ritsuka frees Ishtar from her binds. Having been treated so kindly despite her hostility (and perhaps motivated by her human half), Ishtar returns the favor by obliterating all of the skeletons with a single all-out arrow burst, sparing the party a tough battle.

When Ritsuka earnestly thanks her before turning back to Uruk, the blonde goddess half of Ishtar wonders if perhaps he’s “a sacrifice too good for the other goddesses.” I enjoyed the ambiguity of that line, just I enjoyed the entirety of this splendidly balanced episode.

Chuubyou Gekihatsu Boy – 05 – Chuunibyou Brilliant Park

It’s summer vacation, and Mizuki is glad to be away from the hero club and free to work on her true love: jigsaw puzzles. I’m glad we finally get to see her be as passionate about something—she even puts her hand on her face in a chuuni-ish manner similar to the others!

She longs for a 10,000-piece puzzle she can really dive into, but they’re expensive. Enter a call from Kei, who summons the Hero Club for a job. A summer cold has created numerous absences at the theme park where Kei’s big sister works. Since she has a hold on Kei, he makes him reach out to his friends to fill in for a day.

As the Hero Club members take their positions around the park, amusing situations ensue, as expected. I don’t ask much of a comedy beyond making me laugh, and CGB did that often this week.

Whether it was watching Yamato go off-script at the “Blasto Rangers” live hero show, Touga and Futaba providing entertainment as well as food service, or Kei slowly going mad at the constant stream of “Meow Meow Trains,” everyone has something to do, and none of them compromise their quirks whilst doing the jobs they’ve been given.

Nowhere is that more evident than Tomoki’s job at the lost child center. With his encyclopedic knowledge of Sora-chan (who is, after all, an idol for kids), he’s able to put sad and crying little ones at ease while their parents are tracked down. He unexpectedly gets a shot at the Big Time when the cool grizzled vet under the Sora-chan mascot mask tweaks his back, and trusts Tomoki to take the stage in his stead.

While he makes a rookie mistake of treading on the wire providing the piped-in voice and music, one of the lost girls he interacted with (and who called him “Sora-chan-san”, which is delightful) starts to sing, and the others join in to help Sora-chan out. Everyone has fun and gets paid, which means Mizuki gets her puzzle money…but little do they know they’re being observed by a rival group of weirdos. To be continued…

Chuubyou Gekihatsu Boy – 04 – A Tough Egg to Crack

As of this week, Mizuki is no longer the “new kid” nor the latest member of the Hero Club, thanks to the arrival of another transfer student, Mikuriya Futaba. She witnesses Yamato immediately assign a Power Ranger color to Futaba—green—and attempt to recruit him, but the aloof English word-spouting Futaba dismisses Noda’s blathering as “ridiculous.”

Futaba proves extremely popular to the girls, what with his guitar, his “avant-garde” drawing “skills”, and as demonstrated in cooking class, his culinary flair. When the class has thirty minutes to prepare an egg dish, the hero club members decide to make it a competition, which is ruined when Yamato’s weird ostrich egg cake goes flying into Futaba’s hot oil. Futaba and Rei put the resulting flame out the same way, and reveal that they are cousins.

Mizuki and Tomoki insist Yamato apologize, and Rei suggests he buy him his favorite pudding at a very specific sweets shop. This requires getting in line at the crack of dawn, but Yamato does that every morning to train, while Rei has to get up to make lunches for his many siblings. We later learn Tomoki timed his arrival at the bus stop for the specific bus wearing a vinyl wrap of his beloved Sora-chan.

The gambit works, as Futaba accepts the rare dessert and membership into the Hero Club, much to Mizuki’s bemusement. But it’s not so strange that Futaba would join, as he possesses his own personal variation on chuuni monologueing that sprang up every so often in the episode, as well as his insistance on being seen as a renaissance man.

As for Mizuki, it seems whether she originally wanted to be in the club or not, there’s no denying that she’s in it now. She’s no longer being nudged into situations, she’s right in the middle of things, even getting up at dawn for the jello run. The stigma of hanging around a bunch of weirdos is gradually wearing off.

Chuubyou Gekihatsu Boy – 03 – Having It Rough

Of the Hero Club members, the aloof and apathetic Tsukumo Rei remains the most mysterious and enigmatic. This week’s episode draws the curtain back on Rei and shows that while he may talk and act like serious or ominous things are going on or about to happen, the reality of the situation is a lot more…ordinary. In that regard, he’s not that different from the others—especially when he runs into a flock of pigeons and laughs!

After a cryptic phone call, Rei rushes off somewhere, and Mizuki and the others follow him, curious what might be up. Noda, Nakamura and Takashima all buy in to the fact that Rei can control walk signals and make merchants sell him things on sale, but Mizuki can tell the signals were a coincidence and Rei just…knows when to shop.

Then they encounter Rei with his three little siblings, who have lost their beloved pet cat in the forest, and accompany him onto the grounds of a shrine to track him down. Takashima jumps at the sight of anything from a fluttering banner to a rusty sign, but he’s so emphatic in his fear that Mizuki starts getting the creeps; it is dark after all.

After “Touga” ends up “sacrificing” himself to save the others from the “monster”, Takashima slips and falls down a hill into a ditch, leaving just Noda, Rei and Mizuki when the “monster” approaches. Turns out it’s just a very burly monk, carrying Takashima and Nakamura…and the cat. The mission is accomplished, but with a lot of completely unnecessary rigmarole along the way.

When Rei returns the cat to his little siblings, the club learns he has three older siblings—the proverbial Cerberus—who demand he make dinner immediately or else. It’s clear Rei’s too-cool demeanor at school and in club is merely a means of compensating for how trod-upon he is at home, having to shop for and feed six siblings despite three of them being older than him.

The others can’t hide their pity for Rei’s situation which is precisely the last thing Rei wants from there. Embarrassed, he’d much prefer to remain slightly threatening and inscrutable as before, but now that they know more about him and how he operates, it require “memory erasure” for that to be possible.

And there you have it: the chuuni kid who believes he’s above all the other chuuni kids, leading them on as a small escape from his put-upon position in his family.

Chuubyou Gekihatsu Boy – 02 – Taking Out the Trash and Making Friends Along the Way

The culprit in the “throwing things at Mizuki” mystery turns out not to be Rei/Purple, but Sekiya, a third-year who asked class rep Watase Nanako out. She never outright rejected him but said she needed time to think about it, and in the meantime, Sekiya has been stalking her, while taking his frustrations out on Mizuki.

In a meeting Nakamura/Black’s house, the club determines that the best way to get Sekiya off Watase’s back is to make it appear she has a boyfriend, even if it’s a fake one for that purpose. While “pretty boy” Tomoki/Yellow is the most obvious choice, Watase picks a wild card in Nakamura, judging him the best guy to get the job done.

She doesn’t get Nakamura Kazuhiro, but Hououin Kyouma Ryushouin Touga, his chuuni alter-ego. This proves highly effective at the mall where Watase tells Sekiya she’s already dating someone. As Sekiya follows them while they go clothes shopping (Kaz gets soaked in the rain during his introduction), the stalker is constantly kept off balance by all of the chuuni jargon and Watase’s apparent fondness for it (and knack for translating).

By the time Touga whips out his “Lost Child Apocalypse” tome (at which which the others got a sneak peak while doing a room search) Sekiya is in full chuunibabble overload.

With the stalker dispatched, Watase expresses her gratitude to Nakamura for helping her out, along with Mizuki for giving her courage to deal with Sekiya face-on. For this, Watase asks if she and Mizuki can be friends, and if she’ll call her by her given name, Nanako. Thus the Hero Club completed two missions: ridding Watase of a pest, and getting Mizuki a new friend.

As for Rei/Purple, there’s still something shifty about him, like he’s hovering over all, controlling things. Mizuki’s suspicions were only intensified when he saw Rei with Sekiya outside the mall bathroom, discussing something. We’ll see if there’s anything to this, or if like last week, attention on Rei is directed to someone else. The preview indicates the latter.

Chuubyou Gekihatsu Boy – 01 (First Impressions) – Those Who are Wise Do Not Court Danger

Transfer student Hijiri Mizuki just wanted to blend into her new class quietly and make new friends. Too bad the day she transferred she has an eye infection necessitating an eyepatch. That eyepatch is a veritable target for precisely the opposite sort she wanted to be associated with: those afflicted with chuunibyou.

They include Noda Yamato, who is obsessed with superhero shows and considers himself a low-key hero. To be fair, he and his fellow members of the Hero Club are known for performing acts of kindness and assistance for people. When she can’t come out and tell the friendly class rep Wakase that she wants help making friends (and who can blame her?), Wakase sends Mizuki to their club, who make her their latest client, and she meets more weirdos.

Takashima Tomoki is handsome but only likes 2D girls. The theatrical Nakamura Kazuhiro dresses like Ikari Gendo and believes he’s the spawn of an angel and devil. Tsukumo Rei, well…aside from wearing bright clothes and cat-themed accessories, we don’t learn much about him, except that he’s by far the most standoffish.

Noda plants the seed that the others (excepting Rei) quickly adopt and embellish: Mizuki’s eyepatch is a result of her having yet to awaken the latent powers contained within, and instances of numerous projectiles thrown in Mizuki’s direction (a soccer ball, a rubber flamingo, and a shuttlecock) indicate that “the Agency” is hellbent on eliminating her before her powers awaken.

This is all delusional chuuni nonsense, but concurrent with that investigation, Noba is hard at work making hundreds of paper airplanes to launch from the roof during a school sports event, each with a call to make friends on Mizuki’s behalf. So Noba is trying to help—just in way she finds incredibly embarrassing. Mizuki also learns that Noba is popular due to his considerable sports acumen (and ability to jump from great heights without injury) and Tomoki also has lots of real guy friends.

Once she’s on the field for the sports event, the biggest object yet to threaten her, a basketball hoop, starts to come down after a gust of wind that blows up mere moments after she sneezes, unwittingly dodging another soccer ball, and her eyepatch falls off. From that point on, Noba & Co. believe she’s awakened, but the threat of the Agency lingers, and Nakamura fingering Tsukumo Rei as the mastermind behind the series of attacks. Rei, for his part, smirks as a found-out villain would.

But this is only the beginning! Mizuki didn’t get the group of friends she wanted, but they’re so damn sincere in their delusions, she actually starts to kinda-sorta believe some of their chuuni nonsense. I first heard Mizuki’s seiyu, Akasaki Chinatsu, in Kill Me Baby! a zany, rapid-fire adaptation of a 4-koma comic. In that she was usually the manic comic instigator, but here she expertly plays the exhausted straight-man.

The rest of the cast is equally game, and while their particular chuunibyou antics are nothing I haven’t seen before, I appreciated the various different styles of chuuni bouncing off each other, and the execution and attention to detail are above reproach.

If you’re kinda over depictions of chuunibyou, I wouldn’t blame you; this wasn’t on my initial Fall 2019 list for that very reason! Nvertheless, the heartening and charm-filled Outburst Dreamer Boys is a fun, breezy, better-than-average-looking show I’ll be watching more of, both to see what further antics Mizuki is subjected to, and to find out if she ever gets used to it or—lord forbid—participates in!

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.

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.